'The United Nations Of Sound'
'Really Kind Of Moving'
'Red Light Fever'
'A Strange Arrangement'
'Boy Who Knew Too Much'
'A Glorious Egg'
'Love Is Not Rescue'
'Valley Of The Bears'
'Heart And Soul'
'Persistence In This Game'
'I Dreamed A Dream'
Albums & Promos : Shorts
Albums & Promos : Shorts
RPA / United Nations Of Sound ** / *****
Following 'Forth' by The Verve with RPA & The United Nations Of Sound rather than a more traditional solo album by Richard Ashcroft is perhaps telling. After all, who would really care about yet another flat and dreary Richard Ashcroft solo effort? Well, a new band formed by Richard Ashcroft, that's surely more exciting? Well, it would be if he wasn't surrounded by various session musicians rather than forming an actual new band, as such. Gets rid of the ego conflicts does it, Richard? Well, to give him his due, he's hooked up with Dion Wilson aka No ID who helped out Common and has worked with Kanye West and Jay Z. Don't expect a hip-hop album, although do expect some American guitar player to show his apparent chops with a twiddly guitar solo throughout the closing sections of the acceptable and apparent anthemn, 'Are You Ready'. If 'Let My Soul Rest' is meant to be moving with easy lyrical platitudes, lumpen accompianment and a complete lack of genuine passion from the musicians then I think something has gone seriously wrong, here. The production throughout the LP is awful, even when Ascroft is just backed by piano and strings, as with 'Bring Me The Music (another super inspiring song title...) there's just something lacking, it's called natural acoustics and believability, I think. ( reviewed 30.09.2010 )
Gigi / Maintenant *** / *****
A massive 39 person guest list helps create Gigi's 'Maintenant' LP. For those not familiar with Gigi they are essential an American indie super-group formed by No Kids' frontman Nick Krgovich and engineer Colin Stewart (the Cave Singers, Black Mountain, Destroyer). Reverb reminds one of Phil Spector, there is more than a plesant odour of Swedish indie-pop yet also an annoying level of inconsistency across the albums fifteen tracks. Rose Melberg from California adds the perfect vocal touches to album standout 'Alone At The Pier', a great mix of sixties girl-groups, Swedish pop gold and inevitably, Phil Spector. I'll try not to mention Swedish pop and Phil Spector again, but such things are writ-large all over Maintenant. Sometimes it becomes too sickly sweet, the album lacks enough romance lyrically to really nail The Sixties - well, 'Alone At The Pier' excepted, of course. 'I Can't Bring Myself To Smile' is VERY sixties-girl group prettiness and quite enjoyable yet you do yearn for less style and more substance from Gigi and Maintenant. ( reviewed 30.09.2010 )
Phil Selway / Familial **** / *****
Radiohead drummer Phil Selway releases this low-key debut album inbetween recording dates for the next Radiohead LP. It seems, as the album title indicates, to be a personal affair - eleven pieces of quiet, almost whispered examples of singer/songwriter craft. Fears over his vocal abilities are quickly laid to rest, sure his voice isn't as expressive or impressive as Thom Yorke's yet Selway plays to the strengths of his emotional songwriting. 'Don't Look Down' is definitely a highlight, a tune full of atmosphere, a beautiful vocal melody and wonderfully if subtly played by Phil on acoustic along with several of his friends from Wilco. 'By Some Miracle' opens the album and it's immediately clear that Phil Selway is no Ringo, more a Dave Grohl, if mentioning rock legend Dave Grohl is at all appropriate, which it isn't. Let's see..... ah, Dennis Wilson! Drummer for the Beach Boys, later solo artist playing piano and guitar as well as Drums. No drums from Phil here, he strums away and his voices floats off in the distance, but the songs are all actually pretty good. ( reviewed 30.09.2010 )
The Xcerts / Scatterbrain **** / *****
'Distant Memory' in places evokes one of The Xcerts influences, Bon Iver, certainly vocally during the light to contrast the dark. The band from Aberdeen also list Nirvana's 'In Utero' as an influence and yes, I can hear anguish here but the sound of the music is more often akin to a grimier Foo Fighters and there's nothing wrong with that, of course. 'Lament' which closes the record with acoustic/electric drone has very powerful vocals over a skeletal backing that evokes the cold sparseness of the more remote areas of Scotland. It's a very good, very moving track that leaves you wondering whether to ever move again - yeah, that kind of powerful emotional sadness. The title track though is all pumping iron, heavy rhythms and screamed vocals. The Xcerts it seems have worked hard to make this a rounded, cohesive album experience rather than a bunch of songs chucked together on vinyl. 'Hurt With Me' rounds out the highlights, a driving slice of danceable rock music. Rock discos, remember them? ( reviewed 30.09.2010 )
Audiokiss / Really Kind Of Moving *** / *****
Audiokiss are a pop/rock outfit from Dublin. They are Siobhan Mahon (Vocals), Jack Dublin (Bass), Alan Brennan (Guitars), Declan Carey (Guitars) and David Hart (Drums). Well established musicians on the Irish circuit and it shows, although playing professionally and well is nothing without good original material and here Audiokiss also provide. Sure, Siobhan reminds one a little of Stevie Nicks, but that's no bad thing. The songs are snappy, well-constructed pop/rock material, seemingly ideal for radio. 'A Little Realisation' opens the set strongly with beating drums and the three guitars filling out the sound well. Classically trained Siobhan Mahon reveals what a good vocalist she is and yeah, good stuff. Sure, 'Waiting' reminds me of Joan Osbourne's 'One Of Us' melodically and the slower material such as 'One Life For Now' suffers from not having more detail in the arrangement, but overall this is a strong set of eleven songs.( reviewed 23.05.2010 )
Wooden Shjips / Dos **** / *****
Wooden Shjips ramblingly noodle away around simple yet effective grooves. They sound straight out of late-sixties San Francisco, and that's no bad thing. This five track album is repetitive then by design, revolving around the sort of psychedelic grooves your parents might have once told you about, depending on your age. So yes, drone-rock with fuzzy guitar and a singer trying to sound like Jim Morrison. Sounds awful? Actually, it's very good indeed. Two shorter tracks, 'Motorbike' and 'For So Long' ease you into the album, both running for a combined time of ten minutes. Both are excellent slices of atmospheric guitar and throbbing bass and spooky vocals. Track four is six minutes long and also the weakest here, and that leaves two songs running for ten minutes each in length. 'Down By The Sea' has another stupidly simple yet addictive riff and yes, it does pretty much run for the whole ten minutes, kind of like an early b-side by The Verve. The closing track opens with stupidly ancient sounding, genuinely sixties vintage styled keyboards, which raises a smile in our house. ( reviewed 23.05.2010 )
Ska Cubano / Mambo Ska **** / *****
A group from London who combine Ska and Cuban music? Well, yeah. It's a weird sound but an utterly eccentric and uplifting one. You get these jazz trumpets alongside ska beats and cuban rhythms and amazingly, it works. Well, at least it does throughout opener 'Lipita', a tune you imagine should be played at every single music festival this summer, it's that good. There's about 13 musicians involved, some British, some Cuban, some Caribbean, some 'something' else. Truly multi-cultural then and having never heard them before, discovering 'Ska Che' on a sampler I just knew I had to investigate further. Latin standards and ska originals makeup the bulk of this set but everthing ends up wound through the Ska Cubano mixer, satisfyingly so. The apparent talent of the musicians shines on disc and yes, they're retro. Yes, they're unrelentingly good time music. They even get away with a cover of 'Tequila' and manage to make it sound genuinely new once again. Ah, I love the horn section these guys have. I love 'Hit The Track', it's Ska, it's dub, it's got a harmonica on it and plenty of other weird touches. The title track of this, their third album is pure sunshine, foot-stopping 'stuff'. Believe. ( reviewed 23.05.2010 )
Taylor Hawkins / Red Light Fever *** / *****
I first knew of Taylor Hawkins through his Foo Fighters drumming, then through his wonderful 'Holy Man' Dennis Wilson cover version. 'Red Light Fever' it must be said is more Foos than Wilsons. Heck, it's more Queen than anything else. Well, some tracks are and some aren't - the opening 'Not Bad Luck' actually sounds like a cross between Queen and Bon Jovi. Such classic rock influences are all over this set, a set of songs that Hawkins himself said may well sound like him having sex with his record collection. Yeah, it's a set of tunes that aren't aiming to make everybody wonder what this brand new form of rock Taylor Hawkins has reinvented is, he's not doing anything other than having fun with sounds, styles and even sees fit to invite in two members of Queen and his Foos band-mate Dave Grohl somewhere along the line of this albums twelve, mostly satisfying songs. 'Way Down' features Brian May and fellow Queen member Roger Taylor contributes backing vocals to 'Your Shoes', a slice of music so Foo Fighters it may as well be. ( reviewed 23.05.2010 )
Mayer Hawthorne / A Strange Arrangement ***** / *****
Really, I should have many of the same critiscms reviewing this as I did when reviewing Lawrence Arabia. Yet, 'doing the beatles' is just so obvious isn't it, whereas nobody else seems to be trying to return to the sound of Stax and Motown during the Sixties/Seventies. So, hurrah for Mayer Hawthorne and particularly for being able to pull off the sound so authentically. Whereas anybody can weakly copy another sound, getting it pretty much spot on is very rare indeed. This is made all the more impressive when you learn that Mayer Hawthorne self-performed this entire set, right down to playing bass and drums. Vocally, this record sounds best when Andrew Mayer Cohen (for it is he) is harmonising with himself. When singing solo lead his voice sounds considerably weaker. Highlights include the twenty-six second long 'Prelude' where Cohen gets vocal harmonies stunningly right and the catchy 'Just Aint Gonna Work Out' which highlights Cohen's falsetto well. ( reviewed 25.04.2010 )
Lawrence Arabia / Chant Darling ** / *****
New Zealand-born James Milne sounds like John Lennon. Well, lots of people do, don't they? Anyway, we have some good old fashioned craftmanship on display, well effected melodies and stirring George Harrison/Jeff Lynne string arrangements. The bass plunks away like something out of the Brill Building and if this sounds like i'm about to rage on the man for apeing the sixties when I actually love sixties bands, then you'd be right. The talent is here, the songs are nice but it's akin to listening to a collection of solo-beatle era b-sides rather than the main thing. He needs to move away from so much Beatles and at least try a little Kinks/Rolling Stones or whatever instead. Variety is the spice of life, as they all say. If you want a sample, one of the better tunes is 'Apple Pie Bed'. I know the very title is generic and Beatles/Lennon dot-to-dot, but at the very least this sounds like it was recorded after 1974. ( reviewed 25.04.2010 )
Mika / The Boy Who Knew Too Much ** / *****
The curly haired one returns after thrilling T4 viewers with his sunshine, adolescent pop. Fairly harmless stuff as always from Mika, with a couple of catchy tracks albeit always aiming for lowest common demonimator musically, repeating motiffs and not really trying to craft a song. Attempting to pack his albums with shedloads of potential singles just becomes trying after awhile. Still, we do have 'Pick Up Off The Floor' which proves Mika does have talent, but then, this tune is classical, it's jazz and other things which include not having a good vocal. His trademark high-pitched squeal works better on the pop tunes, yet the pop tunes don't best demonstrate his writing abilities. It's a dilemna for a man who would probably be better working behind the scenes as a writer/musician/producer. As for what to expect from his third LP, he either goes for continuing diminishing returns both commercially and artistically or accepts he's already peaked commercially and takes a few artistic risks instead.( reviewed 25.04.2010 )
Nelly Furtado / Mi Plan *** / *****
In an everchanging, neverchanging career, Furtado side-steps expectations as to how she would follow her Timbaland produced monster 'Loose' by releasing a Spanish language album. Well, she has a natural affinity for Latin pop and 'Folklore', her second album, demonstrated she knew her way around certain musical areas of the world. 'Mi Plan' witnesses Furtado working with several Latin artists for an uptempo, undemanding set of happy melodies. At times the music is a little too mainstream european, lacking any real edge as Furtado seems content to just wail away over whatever her collaborators have come up with. 'Vacación', i'm thinking of you. Fans of 'Loose' meanwhile do have some reason to tune in, dance tunes such as 'Suficiente Tiempo' are ryhthmic and demonstrate that our Nelly has learnt something from her time spent with Timbaland. ( reviewed 25.04.2010 )
Maneatlikepig / A Glorious Egg ***** / *****
Cross Nottingham with The Fall/Beefheart and The Hives and add in a healthy stew of dirty blues and you'll have something approaching 'A Glorious Egg' by Maneatlikepig. Nottingham in England isn't just known for Robin Hood - it's got a long history and love for rock and alternative and 'Maneatlikepig' fit right into that particular area. 'Freak Em Out' opens with grinding guitars and a chanted 'Freak Em Out' refrain which manages very well to do just that. 'Kiss Me Baby' is more frantic, almost punk-like and these kind of transitions between alternative noise genres continues throughout the LP. The tremendous 'Soakin My Mind' is schizo and psychedelic and mentions nicotine in a growled Iggy Pop kind of way. Everything here is prime UK garage rock of a kind not heard for a good few years in these tame 21st century ways of ours. I mean, there's a recession on, what better way to get mad than to listen to Maneatlikepig really loud. 'Black Oil Blow' would sound great produced by Steve Albini. It sounds pretty great anyway, but his particular way with dynamics could bring out the rhythm section more. The lyrics are occasionally bordering on cliche but for the most part they do their job and the lead guitarist, you suspect, has lots to give over forthcoming releases. I look forward to this bands development, that's for sure. I mean, on 'English Town' they even turn into 'The Stranglers' circa 1977. What more could you ask for?( reviewed 28.03.2010 )
Chris T-T / Love Is Not Rescue **** / *****
A modest collection of sincere and personal songs displaying no little talent along the way. 'Love Is Not Rescue' is Chris T-T's seventh album. If you're not familiar with him, then 'Love Is Not Rescue' is a set of Badly Drawn Boy styled mellow folk-pop with piano and light guitars and a overall melancholy feel. Whether is other material is quite the same I couldn't say, other than I suspect it isn't. Well, online reviews suggest this set is a little more downbeat than his usual style but that's not to say the album is any kind of hard-work. 'Elephant In The Room' seems weighty and important, yet the melodies win through ultimately, not through any kind of cleverness, the guitar strums and that's about it, but rather through a lightness of touch and through genuine poetic wordplay. Chris T-T doesn't have very, um, varied vocal chords, at times resembling The Decemberists brand of indie-pop, yet he uses his voice within structures defined by his undoubtedly talented wordplay. 'Market Square' is almost breezy by the standards of 'Love Is Not Rescue' and the words again draw you in. A good songwriter? Definitely. 'Love Is Not Rescue' worth investing in? Certainly.( reviewed 28.03.2010 )
Baby Scream / Identity Theft ** / *****
Baby Scream was formed in 2001 by Juan Mazzola in Argentina and Juan has clearly been listening to John Lennon, both Beatles late sixties and solo mid-seventies are touched upon. Well, the vocal intonations and there and this seven track mini-album is pretty easy going as a result. The lyrics are fine and clearly say something about Juan's life, particularly the second track 'Dead Woman Walking' and also, the instrumentation is varied enough to make this LP more than just Lennon karaoke. Well, 'Memories' is clearly late sixties with something that's possibly meant to sound like a sitar but really doesn't in addition to hazy summer vocals and trippy early Marc Bolanisms. 'Underground Blues' is grittier than much of the material here yet only lasts for ninety seconds. The biting guitar and distorted vocals add needed texture to this release. 'Ojos Orientales' turns into a cross between Lennon and Harrison circa 1980 and although Baby Scream certainly have songwriting craft, you do worry he's taking the imitation as greatest form of flattery a little too far. ( reviewed 28.03.2010 )
Laroca / Valley Of The Bears *** / *****
I last heard Laroca a few years ago and enjoyed what I heard, a cinematic mix of instrumental music far more accomplished than any 'non-major' band seemingly had any right to put out. 'Valley Of The Bears' continues in such a vein, with electronica, world music, flutes, guitars and trumpets. NME gave 'Valley Of The Bears' 3 out of 10, mostly because it isn't guitar rock music. Knowing such a fact, don't you just want to check it out, I mean, we all know how narrow-minded and ignorant the NME are, don't we? Yes? Good. If you like David Holmes or Air, you should find much to enjoy here, although in actuality, Laroca have their own take on such things. On the one hand, this album is a CV, a job interview, a way to try and get Laroca into TV and movie soundtracks. If I was a director, i'd employ them as many of the tracks here are soundtracks waiting for a reason to be - the opening 'Brassic' is oh so atmospheric, for example. Trumpets galore for 'Eerie' and a faint prog-jazz feel. Fuzziness for 'Unit 125', so on and so on. ( reviewed 28.03.2010 )
Connie Bailey Rae / The Sea *** / *****
Connie Bailey Rae is a charming person when interviewed, a really nice, natural person with loads of character, a wonderful personality, all told. The death of her musician husband in 2008 has clearly played a part for a four year wait since her debut album, a debut that sold well across all territories, including the all important American market. Connie Bailey Rae has suggested she deliberately went for a live sound for 'The Sea', recording the songs in the time honoured fashion of playing them in the studio with little studio trickery. I wasn't overly enamoured by her debut I must admit, but the natural soul of this album does attract. The emotional opening cut 'Are You Here' is a wonderful slice of music whatever genre you are normally attracted to. Interestingly in this day and age, there's no particular decade you can pin the sound down to, this isn't a retro slice of fakery. We've acoustic guitars, mellow bass and what I would call 'proper' soul drums, lending support rather than drawing attention yet clearly expertly and subtly played. 'The Blackest Lily' is fairly joyous music with organ swirls and strong drum beats. 'I Would Like To Call It Beauty' is a great showcase for her delicate yet powerful vocals and although the album is a little too polite at times for my liking, you've got to admire the craft and genuine feel on display.( reviewed 13.02.2010 )
Dakota / Heart And Soul ** / *****
Dakota’s debut album 'Heart & Soul' is due to be released March 2010. You can listen to an exclusive preview of the album via their web-site and you'll notice some rocking going on. Melodic power-rock? Sounds like a dirty phrase or term but it's not really. Dakota's hearts are in the right places. Well, a broken heart inspired many of these songs and why not? Quite a few songs down the years have been, after all. Dakota add some atmospherics to their rock mix, some dashes of melody and once 'Wild Child' follows the statement of intent that it 'On My Own' you'll enjoy 'Wild Child' if you've ever enjoyed the likes of Manic Street Preachers. Well, certainly the guitar sound here is worthy of the comparison even if the production overall lacks a certain power to propel Dakota onto our radio-waves in any quantity just yet. First single 'We Get Along' is all about bruised hearts and cliches yet certainly done with sincerity and the chorus is catchy. The likes of 'Even If You Go Away' sound a little too polite for my liking, as if they should be playing along in the background to a FOX/Sky One good-feeling drama series. 'Can't Remember' is better, it even sports effective backing vocals lending the track extra texture. No doubting the songwriting talent within the band really then, although more varied lyrics next time as well as beefier production wouldn't go amiss. ( reviewed 13.02.2010 )
Straight Lines / Persistence In This Game *** / *****
A 12 track rock album recorded in a garage over three weeks, Straight Lines are a four piece band from South Wales. Straight Lines' album 'Persistance In The Game' is available now if you like melodic welsh rock with a hint of alternative rock vocals - a little influence of Placebo vocalist Brian Moloko in the vocal pot somewhere. Really though, 'Straight Lines' remind me of when I first heard Lost Prophets, also a band from Wales funnily enough. Lost Prophets have become huge worldwide and I may not always like the directions they pursue these days, but when they first emerged their energy was hard to deny. Straight Lines have a similiar energy and apparent desire, married to no little amount of talent. These are very well constructed tunes, from the blast of 'Versus The Allegiance', a tune big enough to fill any rock disco, through to album closer 'Set Me On Fire And Feed Me To The Wolves' where pop influences shine, particularly the crunchy bouncy bass lines. Power rock ballad did I hear you cry? Well, yes 'Persistence In This Game' is perfectly rounded so 'Oh Blue Eyes' indeed touches ballad territory and does it very well. Good musicianship, emotional vocals and you can believe. Believe? Well, 'Straight Lines' have produced a debut good enough that no doubt people will already be anticipating the follow-up. ( reviewed 13.02.2010 )
The Irrepressibles / Mirror Mirror **** / *****
Theatrics and operatics from ten piece orchestral band 'The Irrespressibles' who haven't so much released a debut album as released a series of individual audio operas. The singer will remind many of Anthony and his Johnsons but there's more going on that that. There's more bombast, more falsetto, more switches of direction. Well, you wouldn't get a track as ridiculous as 'Splish Splash Sploo' on an Anthony And The Johnsons album. On the otherhand, you wouldn't get as much fun on an Anthony And The Jonhsons album either. So, we switch from spectacle to almost withdrawn, the strings are well orchestrated and sound great coming out of your speakers, or by lakes, or in amphiteatres....
Peter Andre / Revelation ** / *****
Former husband of model Jordon/Katie Price, Peter Andre ambitiously titles his album 'Revelation'. We know from ITV2 reality shows that he's worked long and hard on this album and deserves credit for putting together something so contemporary and easily pleasing. Naturally, 'Revelation' isn't the next coming of Michael Jackson, yet again, what is? Naturally, Peter's voice relies on studio trickery to the point where on dancefloor numbers like 'The Way You Move' it hardly matters who is singing. He's a spectator, vocally speaking, on his own track. On the plus side, if this came on in a club and you didn't know it was Peter Andre, yes, you'd dance to it. I kind of believe that's a deliberate effect he was going for, eg, musical credibility. In that sense, he's acheived everything he set out to achieve. True, the first single 'Behind Closed Doors' is very Peter/Jordon docusoap, strained and attention seeking, right from the unexpected burst of guitar to the surprisingly gritty quality of Andre's vocals. Yet, he could hardly have ignored recent and such well know events as his relationship took place in the public eye. A reasonable album then although whether anybody will be desperately craving for a follow-up in two/three years time is another matter. ( reviewed 16.01.2010 )
Susan Boyle / I Dreamed A Dream ** / *****
Susan Boyle in cat name stealing shock! Well, ok - she had her cat first but I wasn't happy I can tell you when I discovered her beloved pet was also called 'Pebbles'. I named mine after The Flintstones character. Daughter of Fred and Wilma? You know?? Well, what am I supposed to talk about here, Susan Boyle's dramatic rise to fame, how she literally embodies the 'American Dream' even though she's from a small Scottish town nobody has heard of? We all know the story, we also know this LP will be polite, tasteful and 'of a kind' - largely aimed at people who are thirty years plus in age. Nothing wrong in that, of course, apart from the fact I am of course generalising hugely. As for this album, it's a mix of showtunes, ballads and the Rolling Stones 'Wild Horses'. Boyle's perfectly sang and pitched rendition is coated with quiet orchestrations. I do far prefer the version by British band 'The Sundays' which is far more deserving of sales than Boyle's cover, but we can't have everything in this world, can we? I wish Boyle hadn't turned The Monkees 'Daydream Believer' into a quivering ballad, either. ( reviewed 16.01.2010 )
Take That / Greatest Day *** / *****
At a recent charity gig, Robbie, Gary, Paul McCartney and a cast of thousands shared the same stage. There was a great and very telling photo of the musicians and Paul all giving Gary respectful and admiring looks whilst Robbie Williams stood in the background, somewhat ignored. If Paul McCartney, member of The Beatles, thinks Gary is a decent songwriter and that Robbie only needs to be indulged at best - who am I to disagree?. So, 'Greatest Day', well played and well orchestrated run throughs of songs far more familiar than they have any right to be, even to non-fans. A few of the tracks appear as a bonus disc, recorded in London's 'Abbey Road' studios, 'unplugged' style, which just goes to prove how good structually Gary Barlow's best songs can be, 'Greatest Day' sounding particularly impressive with acoustic guitars and the odd electric bass line. Older songs like 'Relight My Fire' benefit from being played by real musicians in a live context, removing some of the fakery and plastic nature of older Take That studio work. I do have critiscms of course, 'Back For Good' and 'Rule The World' are taken at a slower pace than usual, no doubt allowing the crowd to more easily sing-a-long but this pace takes away from the charm of these compositions. Well, you probably had to be there. ( reviewed 16.01.2010 )
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