Circle Of One: Tied To The Machine

The first thing that strikes you when you first listen to Tied To The Machine from Welsh rockers Circle Of One is that this is a big sound. The second is that it is old school rock. Riff laden power/pop/rock ala The Scorpions and Queensryche that our European cousins in Germany and Sweden lapped up with gusto but was never really that big here in the UK. You kind of expect to find four guys dressed in spandex with big hair and a pout behind this kind of music, yet apart from the pouting you could not be further from the truth. (See the pics on their myspace).

Rich Gardner has a voice with all the same overblown theatrics of James Dean Bradfield and the pomp of Bruce Dickinson which in reality is perfect for their brand of stadium rock. Imagine if The Darkness took themselves seriously and you're close to what Circle Of One are all about. They rock, of that there is no doubt and their attempt at an anti establishment anthem,
Tied To The Machine proves this as does the mighty fine Watch Her Fall but they are prone to laying on the sugar a bit to thick with limp soft rockers like Everyday Miracles and Automatic. I can see the sea of lighters waving in the air as I write.

At 13 tracks it fails to hold the attention and could have done with a wee bit of self editing to tighten it up, but it is what it is and what it is is a polished piece of pop metal that will I'm sure win them many admirers. Personally... I've heard it all before and seen it done better.

[][][] (3/5)

~ Wednesday, 31 March 2010

No Machine: Toast The Toaster (single)

No Machine is the moniker of Greek born brothers Al and Emil Rivers who have taken their influences from Ska, Punk and Pop and crafted it into an infectious pop sound that should find themselves a permanent fixture on a radio near you. Their sound has as much to do with the 80's pop of Johnny Hates Jazz and Hue & Cry as it does with the indieness of The Arctic Monkeys and The Editors giving Toast The Toaster a fresh yet retro feel that will be equally welcome on the dance floor as it will on the radio.

Driven by chopping guitars, lush strings and stabbing brass it really is hard to resist when in full flow and you certainly won't be able to keep your feet still. Pop doesn't come much more perfect.

~ Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Lisa O Piu: Behind The Bend

This new mini album from the Swedes follows hot on the heels of last years wonderful debut album When We Were The Future, a former album of the month here at TMC towers, so it was with some anticipation that we greeted this new release. Based around the talents of Lisa Isaksson, the music is folk with an ethereal and haunting feel to it that can, as proved on their debut, be totally captivating. This new release had a lot to live up and to be fair they have tried to develop the sound but sadly it falls short of the charm of its predecessor. The texture and layers of instruments are still here as are the melting vocal harmonies, if somewhat toned down, but it is the production that is the biggest departure. The wonderful production of Mattias Gustavsson on their debut was faultless, rich and warm while here the production is cold and... well... boring.

I found listening to Behind The Bend a somewhat frustrating affair. I like both
Simplicity and Dreaming Of Goats but both have a clinical feel to them that strips away much of the emotion and leaves them sounding flat yet along comes the epic Child Of Trees full of warmth and can only be described as a masterpiece. At nearly 12 mins long it twists and turn with delicate melodies and intricate instrumentation and is truly magical. The album closes on the same track as it opens with, Was It The Moon. The difference being the latter is the single version and yet again shows what they are capable of but still comes nowhere close to anything on their debut. The inclusion of the tiresome Gong For Hours is a pointless exercise in banality. Who wants to listen to 30 seconds of silence followed by a gong reverberating to bird tweets. Hardly music.

Isaksson is capable of creating understated music of real beauty but Behind The Bend, while interesting, lacks the ingredients that made her debut so wonderful.

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


Soulcage: Soul For Sale

We do like a bit of rock here at TMC towers but we're old fashioned. None of this poodle permed make up wearing candles in the air nonsense for us. Give us bearded men dressed in denim, leather and a cod piece and we're happy. Musically speaking of course. Finnish rockers Soulcage fall into the latter category and are thankfully a million miles away from the pantomime of fellow country men Lordi and The Rasmus. Soulcage play good old fashioned rock that takes it cue from the likes of Queensryche, Whitesnake and Dio.

Guitars and organ are to the fore with catchy opener Flaming Flowers (Send in the Clowns), an anti capitalist anthem that is driven by a relentless beat and singer Aleski Parviainen's powerful vocals. His vocals impress again on the dark My Canvas, My Skin with its soaring chorus building out of the sparse arrangement of the verses.

Classic 80's rock fans will love Until You Find Me, all retro synths and harmony soaked chorus but they don't cover them themselves in glory with the sickly soft rock ballad Satellite Children. It sounds completely out of place and certainly wouldn't be missed if they had left it out. Thankfully there is enough quality on here to forgive them and they redeem themselves with the blistering You Get So Alone sounding like The Foo Fighters with Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson on vocal duties.

As rock albums go this is mighty fine. It's not perfect but it is hugely enjoyable.

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

~ Saturday, 27 March 2010

Paper Aeroplanes: The Day We Ran Into The Sea

From the Western fringes of Wales comes Paper Aeroplanes with an album that is packed full of pop charm and folk melodies that recall The Sundays in full flight or a poppier Alanis Morissette. The Day We Ran Into The Sea is a hugely self assured debut from the duo of Richard Llewellyn and Sarah Howells and while the songwriting is impressive, it is Howells vocals that are most certainly the star.

Opener Cliche is built for radio 2 with its intro sounding like The La's There She Goes before settling into the pop/folk that the Corrs have made their fortune from. Howells gets to show the full range of her vocal talents on the sweeping Lifelight and the dark Pick Me, both real highlights of a quite excellent album but standout track is reserved for Lost. A song of real beauty with a stark arrangement and some heart melting harmonies.

This is an album that will quite easily work on both sides of the Atlantic with several of the tracks on here having an Americana feel much loved by the likes of Sarah McLachlan but without the insincerity and overbearing self righteousness. Take It Easy and Newport Beach being the prime examples with the latter bringing to mind Irish chanteuses Cara Dillon.

As I said before this is a mighty fine and accomplished debut that deserves to be heard and if there is any justice it will be as Sarah Howells has one of the finest female voices I have heard in a long time.

[][][][][ (4.5/5)

~ Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Nick Harper: The Last Guitar

I'll start out by declaring that I am a Nick Harper fan. Live, the man is bordering on the verge of god like status but his recorded output has been... well lets say... erratic. Seed will remain one of my favourite albums of all time no matter how many times I press replay. The reason for this is it is a honest representation of what Nick does live. With The Last Guitar we find ourselves in a metamorphic stage that has lasted 12 years and shows a man who is fighting with the rock god that has been trying to get out. Harper has always wore his heart on his sleeve, his albums having autobiographical elements to them and this one is no different. Fatherhood, death, marriage and spirituality are explored with a sense of humour that much of today's music lacks.

Album opener One Of The 38 recounts His recent accent of Everest with the Love Hope Strength foundation, a charity close to Nick's heart, and comes across like an excerpt from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, all bluesy and angst ridden. The Story Of My Heart is a perfect example of a man being left alone in the studio with no one to tell him when to stop. Over fussy percussion and to much instrumentation detract from a song that is crying out for the simplicity of one man and his guitar. In fact the whole album cries out for the beauty of Harper's songwriting in its honest and purest form instead of the over production we find here. Harper has a voice that boasts a wide range that is equally fragile and stunningly pure, yet we don't get to see it hidden behind all the studio trickery.

This is a descent album. Not great, not bad, just descent and that is a real shame as in Nick Harper we have an artist of extraordinary talent which never quite seems to be captured on record. Freestyle stands head and shoulders above everything else on this album and gives a glimpse into what he is capable off.

I would love to have been able to tell you this album catches the sheer majesty that is Nick Harper in all his live glory... but I can't. Go buy Seed instead and please... see him live. It may just open your eyes to a man who deserves your attention.

[][][] (3/5)

~ Monday, 22 March 2010

Kirsty McGee & The Hobopop Collective: No 5 - Album of the Month - March 2010

I first came across Kirsty McGee way back in 2002 when a copy of her album Honeysuckle popped through the letterbox and it has remained one of my favourite albums ever since. Over the years McGee's sound has changed quite considerably moving from the English folk tradition to Americana with considerable ease. One thing that has remained the same however is that wonderfully distinctive voice.

This live album takes in work from her later releases and some new tracks, providing us with a flavour of what she is capable of. Opener Omaha is fueled with a Southern charm that transports you to a hazy summer evening in New Orleans with a front row view of the underbelly of life. Last Orders is another song that is packed with atmosphere that features some fantastic double bass playing from Nick Blacka and Clive Mellors harmonica playing is both haunting and inspired.

The stark beauty of Bliss is mesmerising in both its instrumentation and McGee's vocal performance. This is a song that is capable of raising the hairs on the back of the neck and is one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear.

If McGee is a new name to you then this album is a fantastic introduction to one of the UK's finest and most underrated songwriters. The album closes with Faith, which appears on the excellent Kansas Sessions album, and sums up everything that McGee is about. Great songs, great voice, passion, emotion and self belief. Why she is not a household name is a mystery to me.

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

~ Thursday, 11 March 2010

Everyone's Talking: Dragonflies

The Canadian duo of Dani Rosenoer and Evan Kuhn have a sound that flirts with classical arrangements while being based firmly in the pop rock arena. It is hard to pin down what their influences are but I would edge my bets on Muse, Michael Nyman, Marillion and Mike Oldfield. This, their debut album is driven by Rosenoer piano giving it a very European feel.

The title track opens the album and I find myself transported back to the 80's with Aha and Red Box ringing in my ears. The title track resurfaces later in the form of Dragonflies II and is given an out of place euro dance makeover that is so bad as to actually be funny. This is an album that is music by numbers from start to finish. There is no passion on display here. It reeks of blandness from start to finish. The fact that Rosenoer composes soundtracks comes as no surprise. The workman like War part 1 and 2 are so mechanical in their execution that they supply nothing more than background muzak.

The inclusion of two bonus tracks serves only to prolong the boredom. Adventure has lyrics so cringingly bad that it is hard to believe that they are to be taken seriously while the vocals are lightweight and soulless.

The musicianship is hard to fault but the execution, songwriting and vocals just don't cut it. If everyone is indeed talking, it ain't about these guys.

[] (1/5)

~ Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Rory McVicar: Another Sleepless Night

I suppose you could call Another Sleepless Night a concept album. The theme of the album is based around the premise of being unable to sleep for a whole night and McVicar wrote and recorded most of the album on that premise. Despite his lack of sleep the songs contained here show he is a capable songwriter with a quirky mellow edge. Think Stephen Fretwell covering Radiohead and your in the ballpark.

McVicar is blessed with a sweet falsetto voice that complements his sparse arrangements to great effect, especially on the haunting That's Life and Darlin' Wait where the vocal interaction with Nat Johnson (of The Figureheads) works brilliantly, but
most of this album suffers from a sameness. From the guitar sound to the drums, to the twee production it becomes hard to tell tracks apart. When things work they work brilliantly like on I Will Take The Blame, a song that captures the heartache of Richard Hawley with the folk/country sensibilities of Johnny Cash. (Don't You) Call Me Names sounds like a long lost Lloyd Cole gem while album closer Another Sleepless Night with its tin can vocals and reverb laden keys is the undoubted highlight of a patchy album.

You get the sparks of a formidable talent with McVicar, just not the fire at the moment.

[][][] (3/5)

~ Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Lee Harvey Osmond: A Quiet Evil

What a great name. You gotta love it... Choosing a name like Lee Harvey Osmond means that you have also got to be able to back it up musically if you are going to pull it off with any aplomb. The Canadian band (yes another one), are an interesting beast. Musically they have much in common with the likes of Ry Cooder and fellow countrymen The Band, so the music is as you might expect slick, inventive and engaging, earning them the label of 'Acid Folk'. Led by former Junkhouse front man Tom Wilson, the band has a stellar cast of musicians on display, 17 to be precise and each one of them does indeed pull it off with aplomb.

This is a vibe album. It sound superb. Credit must go to producer Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies for capturing an earthiness while retaining a beautiful warmth. Opener The Love Of One
is a mellow rhythm driven slice of Americana that sounds like Chris Isaak jamming with Robbie Robertson on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon while throwing back a few cold beers. Contender for stand out track is Cuckoo's Nest with its mix of Americana, Blues, Soul and Jazz. A strange combination but believe me it works beautifully.

You could hardly call A Quiet Evil an upbeat album with only I Can't Stand It and Parkland taking the tempo to more than a stroll but that is this albums charm. It is a record for chilling to and for turning the lights down low. As I said it is a vibe album and as such it works perfectly.
Put on Lucifer's Blues and pour yourself a 15 year old Laphroaig and tell me if I'm lying. This is a great album, different but great.

[][][][][ (4.5/5)

~ Friday, 5 March 2010

Chris Bradley: At The Outpost

Edinburgh based singer songwriter Chris Bradley caught the public attention with his much praised debut album, Voices and is looking to build on its success with the follow up, At The Outpost. When he is not doing his own thing Bradley plays guitar with the wonderful Aberfeldy. While Aberfeldy's stripped back sound is coated in pop melodies that are simply irresistible, Bradley's Americana sound lacks that instant appeal and requires a bit more work on the listeners behalf. Don't get me wrong, Bradley knows how to write a catchy tune but the rather cold production means that it takes a while to warm to this album.

Bradley's influences are on display for all to see. Steely Dan, The Byrds, Richard Thompson etc have all made an impression on this album. The album opens with The Man I Love, a song whose intensity builds throughout while never losing its simplicity and definitely shows where Bradleys talents lie as a songwriter. Running Song wears its Steely Dan sound with pride and is by far the best and strongest track of the 12 contained on this album.

At The Outposts has some moments of pleasure but Bradley fails to maintain that standard with too many of the songs lacking any soul or passion, sounding like music by numbers. Hand Me Down, The Beatles and Your Close Friend being the prime examples. When Bradley is capable of writing songs of the quality of Not What It Was and Waltzing
you wonder why he didn't maintain this standard throughout.

I have been listening to this album for over 2 weeks now and to be honest I hated it after the first few plays but it has grown on me. It has its charms but not enough to lift it above the ordinary.

[][] (2/5)

~ Thursday, 4 March 2010

Barney Bentall: The Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is the 3rd solo studio release from Bentall. In a previous incarnation he was the front man of The Legendary Hearts, who had considerable success in their native Canada, before leaving to start a cattle ranch. Thankfully for us Bentall could not resist the lure of the music industry.

The Inside Passage mixes pop melodies with Americana while taking a detour for some blues, country and rock all pulled together by Bentall's expressive voice and some lovely warm production. Album opener Hold My Heart is an upbeat country rocker that is a slice of summer in music form. The first thing that struck me when the singing started was how much Bentall's voice sounds uncannily like Bap Kennedy. There is also a lot of similarities musically between the two. Both know how to craft a song and have a penchant for the melancholy in their lyrics.

There are some real gems on this album and none more so than On This Beautiful Night. The brass section is inspired, the stabbing rhodes piano hypnotic and Debra Jean Creelman's backing vocals suitably restrained.
Face to Face is a touching ode from a father to his daughter on her wedding day and is quite beautiful, both lyrically and musically. Papa Henry's Boy finds us in territory much loved by the likes of Steve Earle and Bentall more than holds his own with this bluegrass/zydeco tinged foot stomper that is built for dancing.

Bentalls strength is that he is a consummate storyteller, his lyrics painting pictures that are framed by his songs and this album is his picture book stuffed full of family photos, mementos and memories of his past. The Inside Passage is an album of considerable charm and beauty from an artist that writes and sings with conviction and passion. Buy it.

[][][][][ (4.5/5)