The Method Actors: This Is Still It

The Method Actors were influential players in the 1980’s Athens, Georgia music scene, along with The B52’s, Pylon, Love Tractor and REM. Vic Varney (guitars and vocals) and David Gamble (drums and vocals) made an interesting noise for two guys with an ear for indie angst ridden post punk. This collection of The Method Actors work, released on Acute Records, is musically entertaining but more importantly it’s a fitting and deserved historical calling card.

This Is Still It opens with Do The Method, the band’s first single from 1980 and at the time, NME’s single of the week and is a fitting opener. The brilliant Bleeding, a mix between PIL and Television also appears sounding as fresh as ever it did on their debut LP Little Figures.

For two guys, the music they created in such a cool scene is startling. There are influences from the Sex Pistols to the Dead Kennedys, Captain Beefheart and Gang of Four throughout. When you consider what you’re listening to is 30 years old it sounds as if it could be the next big thing featuring on 2010’s NME tour. Tracks like Distortion, No Condition, She and E-y-e still sound as fresh as ever.

Sadly, the overriding feeling you’re left with is why a band with so much invention and energy, who were such a seminal influence on so many groups didn’t become as hugely successful as some of their contemporaries. Sometimes the stars just aren’t aligned.

[][][][] (4/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Saturday, 27 February 2010

Brooks Williams: Baby O!

When you read in the press release that accompanies this album that this is Williams 17th album release you find yourself wondering why you've not heard of him before. The American has been a regular visitor to these shores for over a decade now, slowly building a following and reputation as a pretty mean guitar player. Now dividing his time between the UK and the US, Williams decided to record this album here in the UK with producer Andy Bell of Seasick Steve fame. While Williams sound is rooted in the Blues, that is where any similarities with Seasick Steve end.

Williams infuses the Blues with hints of Bluegrass and Country, the resulting mix is enjoyable and spirited. Opening track Frank Delandry has shades of John Martyn about it with lyrics that focus on the seedier side of life and a percussive acoustic driving the whole thing along with flashes of slide dropping in and out of the mix. When Williams picks up his National
Resonator the stakes are raised as its rasping sound really does bring Walk You Off My Mind and Amazing Grace to life. The former features some fabulous harmonica playing from Keith Warmington while the latter is an emotional and inspired cover of the old hymn.

While there is much to admire on this record it could hardly be called original. The fact that the best track on here, Louis Collins, was written by Mississippi John Hurt seems to sum it up. Williams is a great guitar player, has a great voice and is a great interpreter of music. Other peoples music. The album closes on a sublime version of the old Jazz standard I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good) which only reinforces the argument.

Despite the odd inconsistency in the quality of the songs, this is still a mighty fine and enjoyable album that won't do Williams reputation any harm.

[][][][ (3.5/5)

~ Friday, 26 February 2010

Slaraffenland: We’re On Your Side

Slaraffenland are an experimental pop band from Denmark. Track one isn’t that experimental or original. On Long Gone they sound like the Polyphonic Spree jamming with The Arcade Fire. Meet and Greet sounds like XTC. Not that’s there anything wrong with this especially if it delivers in such an entertaining way.

We’re on Your Side is the eagerly anticipated follow up to the band’s 2007 well received album Private Cinema. Slaraffenland is translated as the land of Milk and Honey. With this album they might be getting there, though very slowly. The road has flattened into a long endless highway out of every Americana road movie, going on forever.

The truth is, with a bit more structure to their songs and less work on studio techniques and wall of sound vocals and drum overdubs this could’ve been a great record. The Right Place is the perfect case in point. It could be a hit single if it was longer, better arranged and had a bit of structure and less going on in it. It’s too busy. On Hunting they stray too close to comfort toward the clich├ęd banality of The Fleet Foxes or Midlake which is a shame as the song deserves better. When they are less busy and keep the kitchen sink out of the mix on songs like Postcard, they sound so much better. Someone has to shout 'Less is more' if they can be heard above the noise.

Here at The Music Critic office we often have to say what a band is like with brevity and clarity, almost like a Tweeter feed. I’d say ‘A Scandinavian XTC doing cinematic experimental pop, close to the Polyphonic Spree, Arcade Fire and at times Midlake’.

[][][][ (3.5/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Jack Skuller: Love is a Drum (single)

Reading the accompanying press blurb from the Hoboken, New Jersey based Bar None Records, it appears they have pulled in a few favours for Skuller's debut single. The reason we say this as it is produced by Daniel Rey who has worked with the Ramones, Misfits and Ronnie Spector and he also plays guitar on it. They have also called in Nada Surf's Ira Elliot for the drums.

With all this punk and rock pedigree on display you can't help but feel you have been hoodwinked as the reality is a passionless piece of bubblegum skiffle pop that is instantly forgettable while Skuller's vocals are lightweight and devoid of any power or likability. Given his tender years he may mature into something more substantial but as it is obscurity knocks.

I've always had a soft spot for Bar None Records but they are well off target with this release.

~ Monday, 22 February 2010

Cam Penner: Trouble & Mercy

Canadian Penner is one of those fiercely independent artists untouched by the big wheel of the music industry that ploughs his lone furrow with considerable skill. This is his third album release, the first that I have heard and after listening to it I can't wait to track down the other two. Penner sings and writes with a conviction, passion and beauty that is missing from much of today's music. The music is Americana but it has the depth and soul to appeal far beyond those boundaries. Penner really has created something quite beautiful.

All Of Yesterday provides our introduction with its gentle guitar pickin' and subtle vocal harmonies that lay down the Americana roots that are the heart of this wonderful album. The beautifully atmospheric Thirteen is a sparse tale of Penner's 'lucky number' that you could imagine the late Johnny Cash covering in one of his sessions with Rick Rubin.

The songs contained here were written while Penner was on the road for 6 month of touring and he has taken his experiences, the sights, sounds and the characters of that period and turned them into a palette of stories that have no trouble in securing themselves into your soul. This really is a wonderful, evocative and passionate record. She's In My Head is as uplifting as the lyrics are downbeat, a road trip transposed into music. Too Tired to Pray is achingly beautiful and the perfect showcase for Penner's simple and soothing vocals while Once A Soldier shows his ability as a storyteller and easily puts him up their with Loudon Wainwright III or Tom Paxton.

If You Love Somebody may just edge it for me as the standout track but with an album of this quality it is liable to change with every listen. This record has caught me completely by surprise and has touched me in ways that music rarely does. This is 46 minutes of honesty and beauty that is quite simply wonderful.

[][][][][] (5/5)


Temposhark: Threads

There is a revival going on at the moment with the whole 80's electronica sound. Bands like Blancmange, Heaven 17, Yazoo and Kraftwerk are finding their names being dropped by the likes of Lady Gaga, Little Boots and La Roux, yet none of these acts have managed to capture the true sound that made the afore mentioned bands so influential in the first place. That is until now. Robert Diament, aka Temposhark, has got the 80's electronica sound pretty much sussed and has put together a catchy batch of tunes for his second album.

When we reviewed the first single from the album back in August of last year we were impressed. The World Does Not Revolve Around You was and is an extremely catchy piece of pop that should have been wedged at the top of the charts but a lack of radio play meant that it passed under most peoples radar
. It is by far the strongest song here and surely warrants a re-release. Another former single, Bye Bye Baby is perfectly suited to the American market and is of a quality that La Roux could only imagine coming close to.

Diament and his songwriting partner and producer Sean McGhee certainly know how to craft a pop song as
Cold, Green Light and Frames prove with shades of Aha and Duran Duran about them and the duo only lose their way with the awful Stuck. A song that sounds like a bad remix lifted straight from Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds album and sits completely out of place with the quality around it. The album closes with two remixes of the title track and latest single but they are not a patch on the excellent original version which if there is any justice should be a hit.

This is a great album from an artist that certainly deserves more recognition that he is currently getting. Threads may just rectify that situation.

[][][][] (4/5)


Willie Logan: Devil in the Detail

Willie Logan knows his way around a guitar. The blues is his forte and he has shown in the past that he knows how to rock out like the best of the them, but this album shows a more mellow side to both his playing and songwriting. Logan may hail from Fife in Scotland but the music on here is firmly planted in the Mississippi delta. The influences are here for all to see, BB King & Robert Johnson are the most obvious but Satriani is also in there.

Things kick off with the blues of Angelina where Logan shows he has a voice to match his guitar playing. The overall vibe of the album is pretty mellow with a batch of laid back ballads in the shape of Guess Who and the particularly fine acoustic Hollow Man, with shades of Steely Dan about it, setting the mood.

Losing The Plot has a darker edge that sounds like a bluesy Deep Purple while on Let Life Flow Logan's vocals at times sound uncannily like Robert Plant circa the Fate Of Nations album. This is a great album with some undeniably good songs on it, but at 14 tracks it perhaps suffers from being to long.

If your bag is guys like Joe Bonamassa and Eric Johnson then I'm sure you will love the songs on this album and Logan proves he certainly has the guitar skills to match both them. Which begs the question... Why is Willie Logan not as big as these guys?

[][][][] (4/5)

~ Monday, 15 February 2010

Tom Conway: Now It's Your Turn

Tom Conway is a Cambridge based artist with an ear for a decent tune. He is also a contradiction. He’s country but blues and folk, downbeat balladeer, upbeat troubadour, funny but serious, very English in terms of his folk tradition sound, yet is actually Scottish.

There’s some delightful moments on Now It's Your Turn from the opening 10,000 Leagues Out of Mine to the irritatingly catchy Hanging Around Waiting. Lyrically he’s sharp and at his best in my favourites Modest Proposal as he sings your ‘body is a temple, think it’s time for me to kneel’. On The Paper You Brought You Home he has a song that James Blunt, David Gray or James Morrison could only dream of writing and Richard Thompson would be happy to call his own.

There seems to be no mainstream outlet for this type of artist anymore. In the 70s and 80s there was someone on the TV just about everyday sounding like this, with a guitar and a song to sing, guys like Hank Wangford and Loudon Wainwright were never off the box. In a time when record companies invest millions in fake troubadours the likes of Tom Conway, the real deal have to invest in themselves. Makes you wonder why a talented song writer and player doesn’t have the profile he deserves but then again why would anyone with integrity want to sit at the same table as Simon Cowell?

There’s no denying his playing ability and song writing skill and Conway can dip his toe into folk, country, rock and the odd good old fashioned pop song and does so with a dry humour and observational skill.

This is a charming album and I definitely got it. You should too.

[][][][][] (5/5)

Review by Charlie Brown


Poostosh: Herbarium

Poostosh are a Moscow based trio and this is their third album, available on Untime Records. Herbarium is in the ambient/instrumental/cinematic style. It’s interesting that I was listening to this while out walking on a Saturday morning in a freezing winter’s day and the whole vibe perfectly suited the moment.

My first impression is this would be wonderful music for a movie. Let’s set the scene. A Black Merc, tinted windows, drives slowly into surreal chaos and confusion. We focus on the eyes of the driver. He’s dead. A car chase with a dead man. OK, it’s a weird David Lynch movie? That kind of look, maybe they are alive, driving at 3AM in a concrete jungle with fast cut aways. Maybe if there’s a Moscow version of the Wire, with scenes from decaying deserted Russian train stations. Sorry, enough already.

On the songs Rain Autumn DPRSSN and Information Pressure Doesn’t Affect an Eagle those who are fans of Neu, Faust and Can will be left happy. On Life As We Forgot It those with a fondness for Pink Floyd will sit up and listen. It’s also close to the Brian Eno envelope and certain small parts reminded me of U2’s The Edge 1986 movie soundtrack for the film ‘Captive’.

Ambient electronica isn’t normally my bag but there’s an interesting quality that’s sets Poostosh apart. There’s a tension, imagination and evocative nature to their work and with any luck if Herbarium reaches the discerning ear of any Hollywood directors then we could see their music reach the stage it deserves.

[][][][ (3.5/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Saturday, 13 February 2010

Barricades Rise: You and Yours Adored

This, the debut album from the Midlands duo of Jonathan Coates and Michael McEntee has been around for a few months now and has seen them garner some impressive reviews off the back of it. One thing in particular stand out when listening to this album and that is that Coates has an impressive voice on him, kind of like a cross between James Dean Bradfield and Olly Knights. The music is acoustic with Turin Brakes, Elbow, Manic Street Preachers and even Jacques Brel making their presence felt.

Their nu-folk sound has elements of pop and rock about it which certainly gives it broader appeal. This Creation and Aftermath can't hide from Turin Brakes comparisons, not necessarily a bad thing but hardly original. Don't get me wrong, they do know how to write a good song as Penelope and Wake prove but wearing your influences on your sleeve to the extent that they do may not be the best direction to go in.

This is pretty decent debut that shows a lot of promise, but suffers from sounding like to many other bands. There is no doubting that Coates voice is the star of the show here but taking more time to perfect their sound and with better production these guys could turn into something beautiful.

[][][][ (3.5/5)

~ Monday, 8 February 2010

Jason & The Scorchers: Halcyon Times

If you have ever had the pleasure of catching Jason Ringenberg and co live, then you will most definitely have became a fan of these guys there and then. Their live shows are the stuff of legend, so trying to replicate that sheer energy and majesty on record was never going to be an easy thing but they certainly prove they can with this ramshackle beauty of an album.

The music is country infused with rock, punk, bluegrass and blues that the band has built its reputation on for the past 30 years. The Scorchers paved the way for the likes of Wilco, The Jayhawks and Matthew Sweet to enter the mainstream. Their legacy is indeed great, but as this album proves, the future is looking just as exciting.

It's been over a decade since they last released a record together and tastes have changed, but these guys never cared about being in fashion or hip. They just made good music and that is something that has not changed. Album opener Moonshine Guys is a full frontal slice of cow-punk that is packed with self deprecating humour and exudes fun.
If your feet ain't tapping there is something wrong with you. The rockin' continues with Mona Lee, sounding like Status Quo playing country (it's better than it sounds) and features some mighty fine guitar licks. We see a more tender side of the band on Mother of Greed, a possible contender for stand out track, with the lyrics an eloquent social commentary that rings true as much today as it did 50 years ago.

There are some seriously good songs on here. Land of the Free rocks out like Pearl Jam covering Lynard Skynard and is sure to become a live fav. Deep Holy Water is a dirty blues fueled stomper that wouldn't sound out of place on an AC/DC album while Better Than This is classic Scorchers. Of the 14 tracks on here you won't have to reach for the skip button once. The repeat button... certainly.

You could say that Mr Ringenberg and the guys are back to their best. You could say that but I don't
think they have sounded as good on record as they do here. Welcome back... we've missed you.

[][][][][] (5/5)

~ Friday, 5 February 2010

Whitefield Brothers: Earthology - Album of the Month 1 - February

Every so often there is an album that comes along that just blows you away and this album has done that to me. Coming across like a soundtrack to a Blacksploitation movie, this is Gil Scot Heron meets Miles Davis with a bit of Stereo MC's via the Chemical Brothers. Oh yes.... this is seriously good. The music featured here spans 15 years of recording from legendary Poets of Rhythm brothers Jan and Max Whitefield, but it could have been recorded 30 years ago or last week. It just doesn't matter as the music is timeless.

The soul funk sound of this record is no accident. The siblings did their homework and used a wide array of musicians and instruments to get the sound they were after, and boy did it work. Joyful Exaltation open the album with some blistering bass and drum action that is almost euphoric. There is no letting up as Safari Strut and Reverse lay down some African roots into the soul mix, the later featuring some excellent rapping from Percee P and MED.

With Pamukkale the guys create what sounds like some bastardised remix of the Mission Impossible theme with Middle Eastern and Oriental influences fighting it out with the underlying soul sound. Mad maybe, but it works. Breakin' Through could have been lifted straight from the soundtrack of Shaft. It's edgy and full of discord. Its menace is palpable. The icing on the cake however is the irresistible Lullaby for Lagos. Like a long lost James Brown treasure that has resurfaced and been given a remix by John Coltraine. Amazing.

I seriously love this album. I know some people will just not get it, but that makes me love it all the more. It has been a long while since a record has made me feel this way.

[][][][][] (5/5)

~ Thursday, 4 February 2010

Race Horses: Goodbye Falkenburg - Album of the Month 2 - February

Meilyr Jones, singer and bassist. Dylan Hughes, keyboards, synth, guitars and vocals. Alun Gaffey, guitar and vocals and Gwion Llewelyn, drums and backing vocals. I’m just introducing you to them. Race Horses. Trying to do it before they get all Johnny big time and leave the little people to hang out with all the talentless oafs at the Brits or in some poncy soulless Tofu Bar with Coldplay. With songs like Cake and Glo Ac Oren I don’t know what they’re doing but I’m melting.

Race Horses met in the Welsh town of Aberystwyth and are currently based in Cardiff. They seem perfectly in tune with their geography both spiritually and musically and seem to prefer to be away from the limelight. Is there something in the tea in Wales? What is it with Welsh bands? How come they get delicious pop harmony and 60’s psychedelia so bang on the money? Goodbye Falkenburg, released on Fantastic Plastic proves, that they are pretenders to the indie pop psychedelic throne. Not only do they play the part but even look the part, right down to the 60’s hair and the Pink Floyd shirts.

On Captain Penelope Smith we could be listening to the Bonzo Dog Band at their best and with Intergalactic Space Rebellion there’s a feel of Floyd and Stereolab. Fans of their former band Radio Luxembourg will know this territory well but there’s an improvement and that’s in the structure and quality of the songs.

The last band to release such a clever and interesting debut album was Blur.


[][][][][] (5/5)

Review by Charlie Brown


Built To Spill: There Is No Enemy

If you believe the press for Boise Idaho’s Built To Spill’s seventh album, There Is No Enemy, then, as far as all the leading rock mags go, 2010 is their year. They all might think they’re bound for glory but for me, there was nothing immediate or exciting or pulsating or refreshing or anything of any great excitement on the first hearing of this album. I listened to it again to see what I was missing. By the fifth listen it still didn’t connect. I made myself listen for a sixth time while making the dinner, then it started to work its magic and I was singing along to Hindsight.

There Is No Enemy took three and a half years to make and is far more breezy than their normal fare. Pat is a strong contender as the stand out track but that’s more to do with the fact that it’s a bit more punky than the rest with a rawer edge. On Nowhere Lullaby and Good Ol’ Boredom we meander through Roxy Music terrain and with songs like Things Fall Apart maybe the critics are right.

Overall we’re never too far from the safe hinterland of The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev with a massive dollop of long Neil Young and Crazy Horse guitar work and some clever drumming for good measure. Vocally, things are just a bit one dimensional for it to be their year but equally there’s loads of warmth and some rustic Americana charm.

It’s a slow burner but worth it in the end.

[][][][ (3.5/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Monday, 1 February 2010

Domus: Epimetatmospheric Paradise (ep)

The Argentinian duo of Diego and Tomas have been described as 'the Simon & Garfunkel of Argentina' (why?) but it is David Bowie whose shadow hangs large over this 4 track ep. From the vocals to the arrangements it's there, but sadly the music is nothing like the quality of the Thin White Duke. The first thing that strikes you is the amateurish muffled production. The music sounds like it was recorded on a 4 track using a C60 cassette with reverb set to eleven.

Opener Teysela brings blandness to a new level. The plodding acoustic guitars go round in a monotonous loop while the inaudible lyrics only serve to irritate as they are too far back in the mix. The Bravest Girl On Earth continues the pain for the listener. The vocal harmonies, well I say harmonies in the loosest term of the word, are so disjointed and out off tune as to be painful. Thankfully the quality of the songs, if not the recording, do improve with the last two tracks. Fingertips is still miles away from being the finished article but is at least more structured while the only true relief comes in the form of God Knows I'm You. The overbearing 'harmonies' are gone and the music is allowed to breath revealing what is actually a pretty decent song.

This is a pretty appalling piece of work that shows a great deal of disrespect to the listener in terms of the quality of the production. There is simply no excuse.


Two albums of the month for February

There has been some truly outstanding records come our way in the last few weeks, so for the first time we have been unable to just choose one album for album of the month. We have two albums of the month for February, Whitefield Brothers and Race Horses. Both very different from each other, but totally brilliant.