The Travellers: For The Waves

The Travellers are the duo of Gemma Marchi and Robert P, a couple who seem to have been born 60 years to late. Their sound harks back to the Sixties, so much so that they got this ep mastered at Abbey Road using the vintage TG12345 mixing console and pressing their vinyl at the EMI pressing plant. Groovy.

Marchi is the voice of the duo and her vocals are reminiscent of Camera Obscurer's Tracyanne Campbell but without the twee charm or personality. Tracks like Waiting, Never & Ever and Rain sound sterile with none of the warmth of the records which have influenced them. The one word that springs to mind about their music is boring. They claim that their music is organic and human but the reality is that it is soulless, contrived and very, very ordinary. Leaning On The Wind is the only track that shows any sign of originality but the endless drum loop and unimaginative vocals mean that it goes nowhere.

I like the idea of what they are trying to do. It is just that the reality is so different.

~ Thursday, 26 May 2011

Fear No Fish: Now Or Never (ep)

Fear No Fish have been gigging and knocking on the nearly door for a decade now. As the title of this 5 track ep says, it is now or never for the band. They may be in luck as their sound is bang in fashion at the moment with bands like Biffy Clyro making a similar noise. With the exception of Mick-e Bubbles, which suffers from lightweight vocals, all the tracks rock. Stay, Paint By Numbers and particularly The Truth are brilliant slices of polished rock.

If things don't work out for these guys, then this ep will serve as a fitting epitaph.


Billy Vincent: King Island Coyote (ep)

Billy Vincent are a band from South London. Yes I know it is confusing. Name aside, they are a pretty formidable outfit. They describe themselves as 'Dirty Folk' and I suppose that is as good a way to describe it as any. To my ears I hear Dexy's Midnight Runners, early Del Amitri and The Waterboys making up part of their sound but they are far more difficult to pigeon hole than that.

With 'Nu Folk' enjoying a boom time with bands like Mumford & Son and Stornaway getting music hacks worked up into a frenzy, it is refreshing to find a band who make folk music that is not some figment of a suburban middle class imagination. Billy Vincent are dirty, so 'Dirty Folk' it is.

This four track ep kicks off with Prairie Wolves, a punk infused fiddle led romp which is the type of song likely to have punters astride a table top with a flagon of ale in hand singing at the top of their voice as everyone around cheers them on. They Break Bones follow a similar formula with shades of Thin Lizzy about it. Trouble Never Comes Alone takes the tempo down a notch and is perhaps the 'folkiest' of all the track. Last track Tubes/Wires strays into country territory and sounds decidedly out of sync with the other tracks, like a Irish wedding band attempting John Denver's County Roads. Don't get me wrong, it is not that bad a song, just a bit out of place.

There is enough about this ep to suggest that these guys are an interesting proposition well worth checking out in the future although you do get the feeling that it is in a live environment that they really come into their own.


Ben Glover: Before The Birds - Album of the Month no2 - May 2011

Before The Birds is Glover's follow up to the hugely impressive Through The Noise, Through The Night which was our album of the month for May 2010, so it was always going to be a hard task to match its quality. Glover again went to Nashville to record with producer Nelson Hubbard. This is obviously a fruitful relationship that the pair posses as Before The Birds is simply stunning.

The overall vibe of the album is laid back and atmospheric with Glover's voice having developed a slight husky growl that gives his vocals an endearing world weariness. The opening track Trick Of The Light sets the tone for the whole album. The whole approach seems to be that less is more from the sparse instrumentation to the retrained production. The songs are allowed the space to envelope the listener and have a soothing, almost cathartic effect. I Am With You and To Believe, like Trick Of The Light, make nods to Dylan (Bob) in their structure and approach but Glover's voice is far more appealing than his Bobness's nasal tones.

The wonderful Almost Home and Song Of A Caged Bird Singing are things of rare beauty, like the type of songs that Springsteen was capable of in the early 80's with Nebraska. The pop feel of Lockdown is toned down by the interaction of banjo and hammond but it is still perhaps the most radio friendly of all the tracks. My favourite track is also the albums final one. At The Car park is an intensely dark and mesmerising song which reminds me of The Blue Nile and this is perhaps the strength of both this album and Glover himself. His sound has a familiarity to it, like all the best bits of artists he loves, yet he has nailed a sound which is uniquely his.

At only 32 minutes long and 10 songs it is over all to quickly but hey, that is what repeat button is for. With each album release he is laying down a new benchmark for himself which is going to be harder and harder to better. The thing is though, you just know that he will better it, as hard as it is going to be.

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


Hanson: Shout It Out

Hanson. Yep the brothers from Tulsa have grown up. In reality they have never really ever gone away as this is their 8th album. Best known for their 1997 hit MMM Bop, they certainly had an ear for a catchy pop tune and it has not deserted them in the intervening years. Shout It Out is, and I didn't think I would be saying this, a mighty fine album. It is a seriously infectious slab of pop in the mould of Barenaked Ladies and has a real feel good factor about it.

I've not exactly kept up with the boys career over the years but I was stuck by just what great musicians they are. The keyboard skills of the brothers play a big part in the enjoyment of this album and is the driving force, along with vocal interaction of the siblings. Waiting For This kicks the album off in rockin' fashion but it is Thinkin' 'Bout Somethin' that really grabs the attention. It's soulful brass stabs, funky keys and heavy percussion give it a retro summery feel that is hard to resist. The balladry of Carry You There could have been written with the likes of Westlife or Backstreet Boys in mind and shows they still have one eye on the charts. Make It Out Alive brings to mind the indie pop posturing of The New Radicals, pop music that is commercial but with an undeniable hint of cool.

And I Waited is a contender for stand out track for me with a killer chorus and some fantastic drumming. This is the type of song that Maroon 5 have built their career on. Voices In The Chorus is also a highlight with bubblegum lyrics, great brass, funky guitar and an inspired piano riff. This is seriously good quality pop music. The album closes on the song that edges it as my favourite. The epic Me Myself and I is a tender ballad of piano and vocals, which at 5min 30 is the longest track on the album yet I honestly wouldn't have minded if it was twice that length. Lyrically, musically and personally the guys have grown.

It is hard to believe that it is 14 years since they first invaded our charts and it is unlikely that they will find themselves there again anytime soon given their lack of airplay here in the UK, but that is a pity as this album shows a band who have everything needed to be massive all over again. I really like this record and there is no one more surprised about that than me.

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


Martin & James: Martin & James - Album of the Month - May 2011

The Scottish duo of Martin Kelly and James O'Neill are relatively unknown here in the UK but have been building a fan base and live reputation by touring and gigging relentlessly from their adopted home of Berlin. Unable to get picked up by a label in the UK, the lads relocated to Berlin and had signed to a major, Vertigo records, within 6 months. 2 years of touring with the likes of Millow, One Republic, The Stereophonics, Taylor Swift, Simply Red and Bryan Adams honed them into a formidable live experience. This is the point where I put my cards on the table. I've been a fan of these guys for many years. We grew up in the same town and I have followed their career with great interest. I think they are a truly brilliant band. Now, having said all that, if I didn't like this record, I would not be shy in saying so.

Their trademark sound is intelligent folk/pop with a strong lyrical edge, all topped of with Simon and Garfunkelesque vocal harmonies and they have managed to capture the essence of this with this record. Sure the production is slightly over polished so we lose that raw edge that makes them such an exciting prospect live, but the songs... the wonderful songs shine like a beacon in the world of mass produced style over content approach of Lady Gaga and her kin.

The album kicks off with the off kilter beats of Tides. The dual vocal approach is embraced from the off and shows their acoustic based sound to contain hints of Crowded House and Simon & Garfunkel. The jangly pop of Wheels is built for the hazy summers festivals with a driving beat to keep the crowd bouncing and a killer chorus to have them singing along in full voice. Live favourite Crashing Into Love makes the transition onto record with surprising ease and sounds as dark and brooding as it does live with thundering drums, jangling 12 string and impassioned vocals.

The spartan piano and acoustic guitar of Broken Sword are atmospheric and hypnotic, especially when the layered vocal harmonies introduces an additional melody into the mix and makes this one of the albums most memorable moments. Former single Wrong Direction is gloriously downbeat and unapologetic for it. Martin Kelly's voice cuts through like a ray of sunshine on a overcast day with snippets of guitar acting like little explosions of raindrops on a barren landscape.

This is a record of songs that delight the ears and grow stronger with every listen. With songwriting of such quality it is hard to pick favourites but I Was Blind and Beautiful keep me reaching for the repeat button. The former has a simplicity to it that makes it sound familiar yet fresh while the former has a delicate beauty and a chorus that gets lodge in your head and stays there so long it should be paying you rent. Within the first few bars of Bad Dream I have a new favourite. The rhythmic percussion is matched by some fantastic finger picking courtesy of Kelly while O'Neill takes on vocal duties.

This album has a strange trick up its sleeve. Every track on it works yet there are no obvious singles. Damian Rice's O was a bit like that. It had songs of great beauty that connected with people yet it was hard to see where the airplay would come from. Perhaps the upbeat Found You or Wheels stand the best chance of appealing to the fickle bosses of commercial radio but it would be a shame if this album was not to get the commercial appreciation that it deserves.

I can genuinely say that you could not meet two nicer or more talented guys than Martin and James. This is a fantastic, uplifting, emotional and refreshing record that if there is any justice in the world will bring them the success they deserve.

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

~ Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Orwell: Continental

Orwell’s fourth album is keen to be regarded as a concept, “Lyrically pointing the way to a future untroubled by the irrational fears and tribalism that hamstring so much of our political thought”. This statement of intent is arguably questionable but what Orwell do bring to the table is melodic classic pop influenced by Eno, Krautrock and 80’s (1984 even?) influenced productions that are both enigmatic and cinematic at once.

Orwell is basically the vehicle of songwriter Jerome Didelot who is arguably on par with and sounds a lot like the Prefab’s Paddy McAloon and Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside. The 80’s comparisons are not criticisms and Didelot’s songs flourish in this environment. Echoes of ZTT darlings Propaganda come to mind and Trevor Horn is undoubtedly an influence here, coupled with the ghost of Eno’s Music For Airports.

The album starts with the title track Continental and is at once optimistic, spacey and fresh whilst Didelot sings in English, German and French. Musically it is Kraftwerk meets Howard Jones having a white wine spritzer with Nik Kershaw. Lonely Ride sounds like a journey and is also a song that I would listen to again. A wonderful production that tastefully uses both melodica and stylophone, with arrangements and embellishments that recall early solo McCartney and traces of fellow Frenchmen Air. It is the best song on the album. Disappointingly, On This Brightful Day is filler and the McAloon/Gartside comparisons grate on the vocal front. The Wife, The Battlefield continues the dip in quality and pinpoints the main criticism of the album in that it is too lyrically obtuse to mean anything and its underlying concept is hidden.

However it picks up again with Lovely Boy, a tale of the passing on of dreams and Eastern is an instrumental collage/soundscape that is heavy with Eno’s influence and also short and sweet. Always starts off like Autobahn being played by Air but disappoints in its lack of lyrical theme. Anytime Is Now is very cinematic in a Beverley Hills Cop soundtrack stylee and is also very well written with an excellent chorus. Them starts like Beck’s Deadweight and segues into Paddy McAloon singing about something that sounds intelligent but alas indecipherable and thus again meaningless.

Secret Movies is an excellent instrumental that is darker in tone and dripping in Moog and melodica. A Long Way To The Start has a heavily George Martin influenced orchestration and is a wonderfully crafted song but it does emphasise a minor criticism of the album’s production in that there is a distinct lack of bass at times. The penultimate Following… is a short soundscape that leads on to Everytime The World Is Too Loud and alarmingly ends the collection with a whimper. There are some nice Mantovani strings but it’s too much like advertising muzak.

Orwell’s latest offering has the duality of brilliance and frustration. The music created is both settling and boundary pushing but the lack of lyrical direction stifles the album in places. The press blurb states, “The listener can give its underlying concept as much or as little attention as they please”. Arguably, Sherlock Holmes would be hard pressed to find the concept contained in this album as the lyrics, if political add up to nothing more than a manifesto of apathy.

However with this generation’s political impassivity, Orwell’s Continental could prove to be in tandem with the zeitgeist.

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

Review by Captain Dhilin Kunderan

~ Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Musgraves: Lost In Familiarity (ep)

The Musgraves press statement would have you convinced you’re listening to something truly classic. You won’t. What you will hear is American influenced MOR from the English Midlands which is harmless, unchallenging,’ you have been put on hold’ music. The premise of the EP is to exemplify that the Musgraves songs are so familiar that they are classic. They are not classic, just familiarly ordinary. Like subliminal advertising this EP is here to convince you that bland is beautiful.

The EP starts with So Sofia which reminds me of the ‘How Bizarre, How Bizarre’ song genre. Again apparently instantly classic, just the way Nescafe is instantly coffee. Then we have Back To Me and it’s more MOR of the Hootie, Crash Test Dummies, and Bare Naked Ladies variety and wouldn’t be out of place as the soundtrack to a Friends type show. Called ‘Acquaintances Met Briefly Who Didn’t Make Much Of An Impression’.

We then trundle on to Discover Me which is David Gray at his neck break-dancingly best. The blog says The Musgraves are, ‘using their considerable talents for something a little different’. What, sounding like David Gray? However it’s a very well done appreciation of somebody else’s talent but it’s as wet as a weekend in Greenock.

Fortune Teller is more up-tempo but the shrill/vibrato of singer Matthew Bennett is starting to cloy and is as annoying as the chorus. It is familiar and it does feel like I’ve always known them and that’s because they’re Counting Crows. No sorry The Musgraves.

The premise of the EP is only served in that these songs are sound-alikes of the other bands mentioned and it is only in this way that they are familiar. Did you know The Specials came from the Midlands?

Review by Captain Dhilin Kunderan