'It Happens Quietly'
'Depend On Your Alter-Ego'
'Supply For Demand'
'And So The Morning Comes'
'Confessions Of A Nice Girl'
'More To Be Revealed'
'Road Of The Loving Heart'
'Causes And Cures'
'Great British Songs'
'Crazy For You'
Albums & Promos : Shorts
Albums & Promos : Shorts
December 2011Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes *** / *****
Swedish singer Lykke Li releases her 2nd album, a set of often stark song about heartbreak. 'Unrequited Love' for instance tackles familiar lyrical themes yet her passionate vocal and occasional electric guitar for backing really frames the vocal well - an unobrusive frame for a dark, mysterious painting, if you will. The flip of this is perhaps 'Sadness Is A Blessing', another lyrical tale of heartbreak yet married to Phil Spector styled drum beats and a distinctive high vocal that at times sounds a little shrill, but the production overall seems designed to enhance that aspect of her voice rather than attempt to cover it up, make an asset of it, if you will. The chorus of 'Sadness Is A Blessing' is surprisingly catchy and memorable given the lyrical matter and it seems that Lykke Li likes occupying a particular artistic place, it's one attributed to the likes of Adele, yet 'Rolling In The Deep' hardly seems to come from the same emotional heart-break at all. Adele of course is richly overproduced, not something that troubles 'Wounded Rhymes' with its lo-fi, indie production values. An early highlight arrives with 'I Follow Rivers', the sort of song Florence And The Machine can dream of writing and a song that should in a proper world be a massive hit single. The chorus is singable and anthemic and the whole thing is almost entirely constructed from percussion. On the otherhand 'I Know Places' is acoustic and voice alone, her Mazzy Star styled vocal reaching proper heights and emotions during this slow, lo-fi and proper lonely ballad performance. ( reviewed 21.12.2011 )
Jacqui Dankworth - It Happens Quietly *** / *****
Daughter of Dame Cleo Laine and the late Sir John Dankworth, Jackqui Dankworth has long been considered one of the premier Jazz voices in Britain. 'It Happens Quietly' was recorded in collaboration with her late father and indeed is lovingly dedicated to him. She's already enjoyed previous album success, starting with 'As The Sun Shines Down On Me' from 2003, a collection that picked up a steady stream of BBC radio-play. Known as a singer/songwriter as well as Jazz interpreter and actress. One of the twelve songs here is co-written by father and daughter, one composed by John and the rest are classic, timeless ballads. 'At Last' for instance will be better know performed by Etta James, but it's testament to the talents of the vocalist and musicians how this version manages to stand firmly on its own. 'A Nightingale Sung In Berkeley Square' opens the set strongly, a romantic British song that was written in 1939 and subsequently performed by the likes of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. Now, I love warm recordings, natural acoustics that bring out a string section particularly. This is lovely, gently and laid-back Jazz, but not wallpaper music - the strings are exquisitely arranged and the vocal perfectly and romantically pitched. Her voice is pure, deep and absolutely clear. 'In The Still Of The Night' is another well-known classic and here it's given a unique and distinctive, almost Samba-like arrangement. As a fan of not just rock and pop, but also dance, Samba and world music as well as Jazz, Jacqui Dankworth, yes, is someone I can appreciate.( reviewed 21.12.2011 )
Katherine Jenkins - Daydream *** / *****
Her appearence on the Doctor Who 2010 Christmas Special was her major acting debut, 'Daydream' is her eighth studio album. Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins' largely concentrates on her classical and opera roots, although 'Abigail's Song' appears at the end as a bonus track, the beautiful Jenkins and Murray Gold penned effort which floated dreamily and wonderfully over the last few minutes of 'A Christmas Carol', one of the very finest of those already fine things, a Doctor Who special. Several of the other songs highlight her multilingual skills - she performs a French version of Les Miserables's theme 'I Dreamed A Dream' for instance and two songs recorded in Welsh, her native tongue. Certain songs here, 'Can't Slow Down' for instance have a well-produced Radio Two pop feel, Katherine remembering her crossover audience's expectations. Some may criticize her for not being a serious opera artist, but that's besides the point - we've already got plenty of those. She does offer a gateway into that world, and what's wrong with that? The music here is plesant, her voice is pure and doesn't resort to histrionics, something any contestant of X-Factor could do well to remember. Musical points to recall from listening to 'Daydream'? The French version of 'I Dreamed A Dream' is richly orchestrated and the very fact of singing the French version get's over the problem of the songs overly familiar nature. The highlight of the set however is clearly 'Abigail's Song'. Penned by renowned soundtrack/TV composer Murray Gold, it dreams of dreams for you, is melodically rich and the orchestra warm (yet subtle) enough to last all winter.( reviewed 21.12.2011 )
The Raghu Dixit Project - Raghu Dixit *** / *****
Raghu didn't touch a guitar until he was nineteen years old and at College tried to impress girls by singing English rock songs. Early in his life he relocated to Bangalore, then to Belgium where his music got played on local radio. Subsequently his songs got noticed by Bollywood composers Vishal and Shekhar despite the fact his music owes very little to the Bollywood style. He mixies Indian folk music with blues, rock, reggae and Bhangra, a heady brew. In 2009 then his self-titled debut album became the biggest selling non Bollywood album in India and now he's trying to launch his career in the UK. His band features bass, violin, lead guitar, drums/percussion with Raghu on acoustic guitar and singing in English, Hindi and Kannada. The opening track combines soulful vocals with funk guitar riffs and melodic, driving violin, 'MySore Se Ayi' is more traditionally 'Indian' although does still cross boundaries with a faint dance feel to proceedings. 'Khidki' is reggae inspired, 'No Man Will Ever Love You' a soul inspired Indian ballad and quite exquisite whereas 'I'm In Mumbai Waiting For A Miracle' complete with more stirring violin work places the Raghu Dixit Project, quite unexpectedly as some kind of Fairport Convention rock/folk/indian fusion act. ( reviewed 21.12.2011 )
August 2011Shibuya Crossings - Depend On Your Alter-Ego *** / *****
London band 'Shibuya Crossings' received plenty of positive press earlier this year for their single 'At Eight In A Spanish Bar'. Everyone mentioned Pavement, a lazy comparison for a reviewer to make and i've just made it too. Other reviewers noted comparions with The Posies, Teenage Fanclub, Velvet Crush, The Gigolo Aunts, Super Furry Animals, Blondie, Sparklehorse, Stereophonics, Hefner, Blur, The Vaselineís, Travis and Weezer. Now, no single band couldn't possibly remind anyone of all of those disparate groups but it does potentially reveal an issue for 'Shibuya Crossings'. Well, who the hell are they? Essentially as if the above list didn't convince you, they are indie rock. That's all and I don't know why such confusion exists. They are a 3-piece who write undemanding yet undeniably catchy rock songs. That's it, they're not The Beatles or Prince.
Baby Scream - Secret Place **** / *****
When I last heard Babyscream they played songs that reminded one of John Lennon recording into a tape recorder in his bed-room. This time round, their sound is brought together by a rhythm section, keyboards, guitar as well as these floaty, romantic sounding vocals. Particularly during 'Hit And Run', which sounds gloriously like a quality Seventies Rolling Stones ballad. Argentinean Juan Pablo Mazzola has released something like eight albums now including this one so the last release I heard was perhaps not typical. A love of Sixties rock and pop clearly shines through, the title track being particularly enjoyable and weird and simply very happy and lovely indeed. 'Cold Weather Reggae' wants to sound like The Police to my ears, not an overly pleasant sound as far as my ears are concerned. I like Reggae very much when done properly, but don't often go for these sub-reggae iminations. Sorry Juan!
Scuba - Triangulation ***** / *****
Paul Rose (Scuba) releases his dub-step influenced music on Hotflush records, also home to Mount Kimbie and Joy Orbison. Scuba may well not have the stand-out, standalone tracks that have earnt the likes of Joy Orbision acclaim yet 'Triangulation' is a rare beast, a fully coherent electronic album. If you wonder why Aphex Twin has been quiet for years, perhaps a track like 'Heavy Machinery' explains it, this is the sort of shifting of a couple or three melodic strands, soft and soothing yet utterly absorbing that Aphex Twin used to do so well at his peak. With a song title like 'Heavy Machinery' you expect something marvellous yet Scuba doesn't really evoke the feeling the song title might suggest, instead going for some fairly standard beats and a trickling water effect, presumably oil? Yet, he does layer in some decent ambient melodies over the top and the track is fairly hypnotic overall.
Damu The Fudgemunk - Supply For Demand *** / *****
Born and raised in Washington D.C., Damuís parents were both classically trained musicians; his mother was a pianist and his father was a drummer. Through a combination of free downloads/videos and traditional retail releases from his own label, Damu provides early nineties influenced Hip-Hop instrumentals and occasionally, vocals. Damu produces beats and instrumental tracks that at first seem deceptively simple. 'Bright Side (OG Mix)' is an example of his sound via a vocal mixed into the beats, which repeat with resonance yet we've got the subtle funk of the bass lines and a piano sample, just a brief melodic phrase which weaves in and out. It shows thought has gone into the constuction of the track as an artistic slice of hip-hop from the underground rather than trying to match any commercial thing that might be going on toward the top of the bill-board charts. 'DC Joint' has a delicious slow funk groove with lots going on over the top. Several tracks are entitled 'Wonka Beat' and given subsequent numbers, number six is particularly bass-heavy and melodic and funky. Play it to your dad and watch him frown in puzzlement as his feet start to move across an imaginary dancefloor.( reviewed 23.08.2011 )
The Mary Onettes - Islands **** / *****
Synth-fused indie-pop from a Swedish band who owe a clear debt to eighties Cure and eighties indie melancholy. The Mary Onettes fuse this melancholy with a wistful nostalgia and often up-lifting melodies that all-in-all create a classy act. 'Islands' is a special kind of indie album of the type bands arguably stopped making circa 1993 when everything became loud and laddish. If you love 80s Cure and the romance of Echo and the Bunnymen circa 'The Killing Moon' then you'll immediately make sense of 'The Disappearence Of My Youth', kind of 'Boys Don't Cry' without being a pop-single. Yet, classy synth lines, simple and jangly guitar lines mix with the bass melodies and 'younger brother of Robert Smith styled vocals attached with just the right amount of echo to make them stand-out.
May 2011Evi Vine - And So The Morning Comes ** / *****
Being signed or unsigned doesn't really make a lot of difference these days. Well, Evi Vine from Kent, England isn't signed, yet here is her debut LP. Recorded during the winter or 2009 and spring of 2010, it's clear immediately that here is an artist that takes her work seriously. The album is sparse and atmospheric instrumentally and her voice at times recalls a Stevie Nicks. Only at times. There is a sense of mystery as her bio on myspace is a picture of a tree. She does list Mazzy Star as an influence, something which does make sense of this fifty-three minute long LP. Second track 'Down' recalls a mournful country singer lost in the fog without senses. Hang on though, fifty-three minutes is probably too long for the album. I know people bang on about value for money, yet if this were thirty-three minutes long, the singular vision and sound of Evi Vine should shine through all the greater - due to the intensity of the material on offer. Often beautiful material, 'For You' is all the world a great Mazzy Star type song. Some songs simply don't go anywhere other than showcase her voice, often tinged with echo to enhance the apparent otherworldiness. Still, there are some good songs among the forrest of slow to mid-tempo trees here.( reviewed 22.05.2011 )
Katie Armiger - Confessions Of A Nice Girl *** / *****
The opening 'Best Song Ever' isn't... but is a very commercial slice of country tinged pop music. We've got a full band sound and a sudden ending which enhances the overall track, no out-staying a welcome here. Reminiscent of Sheryl Crow in places if you, dear reader, ever liked Sheryl Crow, Katie Armiger releases her third album here and she's still only nineteen years old. The rock band behind her crank out a few tasty solo's here and there and everything is polished and presented as radio-gold. She co-writes nearly all of the material yet it's song number three, 'That's Why' which first really attracts me, if being old fashioned and listening to the album in order. The earnest nature of 'listen to me' and trying to impress goes and she relaxes with a surprising mature and strong vocal. 'Nice Girl' sees someone get out the fiddle to lend an authentic touch yet it's surrounded by the pop/rock radio-friendly backing the majority of the album receives as treatment. Thing is, it's almost impossible to resist such a strong, melodic song. Shania Twain may as well retire. Another quality tune is 'Leaving Home' and it's almost certain that, at some stage, Katie Armiger will attract a huge audience in the USA. Here in the UK, that's far less certain because Country music, whether pop/rock crossover or not is not a music we usually feel a natural affinity for. Yet, with a few TV appearences singing live - she's got a good voice - she could well win fans over here as well. ( reviewed 22.05.2011 )
Mike Reinstein - More To Be Revealed *** / *****
Mike's debut LP was released on the 9th of May, 2011. Already around Sixty years old, it's fairly clear Mike Reinstein won't be appearing on MTV or MTV Base any time soon. Yet, writing and performing in the evenings whilst teaching children during the day seems like a good life to me. The lyrics are smart, often humourous (but not also) and the music contains good melodic strands and memorable moments. Surprising for me when he is essentially a folkie performing rock music are the vocal harmonies that decorate several of the tracks. Oh, I like him anyway naturally because he's married to Carry On star Sid James daughter Reina. Well, maybe just me? You know, there are any number of artists of Mike's vintage who won fame and acclaim and money, highly well-known performers who are still releasing albums that sell in the many, many thousands who would give their right arm to be writing a song as good as the title track here. Other songs go for the political and sly and funny, 'Hitler's Little Pinkie' and 'The Last Two Jews In Kabul', for instance. This is a strong album all told, maybe he will get that MTV appearence after all? ( reviewed 22.05.2011 )
Phamie Gow - Road Of The Loving Heart **** / *****
The piano Phamie Gow plays on this, her latest album is catching the interest of both Prince and Lady Gaga. Worth in excess of £100,000 the beautiful tonality and sound has pricked up discerning ears everywhere it's been heard. Naturally, it helps that Phamie Gow plays utterly beautifully too, with real feeling for those gaps between the notes as it were. Phamie captured the attention of the UK media a few years ago appearing at New York's Carnegie Hall after an invitation from none other than Philip Glass to take part in a benefit concert. 'Peace Song' weaves in and out beautifully then 'Carousel' really ups the ante with wonderful striking melodies. I should really say something around the music, this is classical/new-age comprising original compositons. Her talents were noticed at a young age and with music as good as 'Carousel' you could almost say, ignoring genres of course, that she's the Sandy Denny of the Piano. Me, I weave in and out of all genres and really have never covered classical Piano instrumental music before. Well, why would I? I do and have always loved the sound of this instrument, hearing it played by my Grandmother in the local church my whole life. Well, the first half of my life before I moved away. Yes, this is a mood album but there's something here. This isn't edited, it's all recorded live and that makes a massive amount of difference. She's touring during 2011 and you probably should make every effort to find her.
( reviewed 22.05.2011 )
March 2011Al Baker And The Dole Queue - Causes And Cures **** / *****
Al is influenced by Phil Ochs, Billy Bragg and Riot Folk records and hails from Manchester. Popular on the live and festival circuit, 'Causes And Cures' is his 2nd full length LP. These guys create a lively lo-fi sound full of good musicianship and intelligent, story-telling contemporary lyrics. Song titles include the likes of 'Thank God I'm An Atheist', 'Grandad Was An Anarchist' and 'Reinventing Kevin Bacon'. Both humour, finger-pointing and general cheekiness abound lyrically. Musically, punk is a clear influence but a blend of folk-instrumentation clearly comes through, particular with 'The Minstel Boy' which sounds like The Pogues or 'Storytime' which blends acoustic guitars with piano. 'The Minstrel Boy' is an absolute blast, really energetic happy music i'm sure goes down a storm with live audiences. 'Thoughts Of You' is surprisingly genuinely lovely in amidst all the energy and quickly blasted through party-modern folk tunes, all original compositions, mind. He begins by wanting to rule the earth, 'but thoughts of you distract me'. Decorated with touches of Piano, climbing/marching drums, delicate and melodic bass and damn it, really fine lyrics. Essentially, 'Causes And Cures' is packed full of both great tunes and great words, something of a welcome rarity these days. ( reviewed 09.04.2011 )
Braids - Native Speaker *** / *****
This Montreal group and can be planted either in post-rock or dream-pop, whichever side of the fence you like to sit on. In fact, Braids blur the boundaries between the two and it's difficult to get a grip on what each band member is actually doing. I like surprises and music that sits somewhere left-field, so that's all good as far as i'm concerned. The opening 'Lemondade' gives you as good an idea as any of what to expect, looping melodies and ghostly vocals that blur into the music, a female vocalist that sounds from the Cocteau Twins school with lyrics that come from the shoegazing school, best not to focus on the lyrics for their meaning, rather their actual sound. The music is lushly textured and each song an six/seven minute epic of dreams and nightmares. The electronica aspect of their music is vitally important, they use it in to create a lot of these additional textures and swirls. The vocalist can also move from soft Cocteau style to early Kate Bush track to track, check out the second song 'Plath Heart' which actually is something almost impossible to describe. Yes, there are bass drums and guitar here but not put together in such a way you can actually guess how they've managed to pull it all off. Of course, the danger with an album such as this is that at times the experimentalism will obscure any sense of purpose and melody. The album tops forty minutes yet when track three (out of a total of seven) falls rather flat, bar some very lovely wordless vocalising in the middle, the album naturally suffers as a cohesive whole. Arriving after the eight minute plus 'Glass Dears' is the title track, spooky and soft at turns like Bjork singing a lullaby and then instumental ambient gold. Certainly a band to watch, wonderfully out there yet it seems they have hugh potential to one day get everything right in order to produce something utterly magical and unforgettable. ( reviewed 09.04.2011 )
Night Noise Team - Slow Release *** / *****
Night Noise Team have been described strangely as bridging the gap between Joy Division and Scissor Sisters, an unassailable gap, one would have thought. Frenchman Fabien Pinardon and Sean Ormsby from Ireland are the core of Night Noise Team although have been helped by various others along the way, for this release Marco Morelli on guitar with drums provided by Mike Walker. Swathes of keyboards underline jerky guitars with doomy sounding vocals all alternating with the sound of the dancefloor in a cold, dark alley somewhere. They have more straightforward songs, less straightforward songs but somehow have, for all the touchstones of artists gone by, managed to forge very their own sound. The vocalist drifts between Ian Curtis and something far more tripped out and quirky, the music is alternatively electronic, gothic, funk and rock and the whole adds up to 'Slow Release' being an album that's yes, intense but also contains shards of fun and light which really bring the whole thing upto a good standard. 'Drifting' is a brilliant track, a weary indie-gothic hallucination. ( reviewed 09.04.2011 )
Nicol Atkins - Mondo Amore *** / *****
'Mondo Amore' is New Jersey's Nicol Atkins 2nd solo album, released in the United States February 2011 by Razor & Tie. The record had a painful gestation with Nicol splitting from Columbia Records, a long-time boyfriends an her backing band. 'Mondo Amore' is described as blending "rock, blues, country and soul" yet there are different flavours of these across the record. At times, we've got scuzzy indie-rock and other times more straightforward songs that are county tinged, for instance. It's a record that covers a lot of ground actually across the ten songs chosen from eighteen that Nicol had written. 'You Come To Me' is almost Nick Cave then whereas 'Hotel Plaster' is a great, dark cinematic piano-led ballad where her vocal really scales rare heights of glory. Ten accomplished tracks then for 'Mondo Amore' and yes, some of them are really very good indeed. I wanted strings on 'Hotel Plaster' rather than bass and drums coming in. I get my wish with 'War Is Hell', another beautiful and impressive vocal performance scored with strings alongside a subtle rhythm section. 'You Were The Devil' could be played on a decent radio station, the closing 'The Tower' has an epic quality that really should be decorating the end credits of a particularly clever and grittily thrilling movie. ( reviewed 09.04.2011 )
February 2011Ali Campbell - Great British Songs * / *****
Former voice of UB40 returns for his fourth solo album to utter indifference, even among huge swathes of his by now dwindling fan-base. Their is only so long you can release album after album of cover versions. It's hard to believe now, but once upon a time UB40 were an important and even radical band, before they started having hits with cover versions, that is. True as UB40 without Ali isn't as good, Ali without UB40 isn't as good. The music is plastic, cheap and resembles a childs bouncy castle, such is the un-relentingly upbeat feel. Well, the opening cover of a Beatles tune is okay, Beatle tunes are generally hard to completely ruin yet 'Paint It Black', the stones classic, should have been left well alone. Yes indeed, the third track is by The Hollies and you get the picture here, how utterly uninventive it all is? He could have covered The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Richard Thompson or Nick Drake and done something else. Doing the utterly obvious with a whiny, unemotional voice as he clatters through the usual bakers dozen simply isn't going to cut it, i'm afraid. Actually, I am afraid. Agh. AGHH! Turn it off, ouch, aaaahhhhh!!!( reviewed 20.02.2011 )
Best Coast - Crazy For You ** / *****
Best Coast like Fleetwood Man, Brill Building songwriters and surf-pop. They list a love of cats (the pet, not the musical) among their influences, which is fine with me. The sound overall is happily lo-fi with jangly, indistinct guitars, plenty of echo everywhere, an almost invisible bass sound so when it does pop up, all the better. The melodies continue to flow, the title track building well upon the opening and rather sweet 'Boyfriend'. Add in some Motown/Girl Group harmonies and all is sunshine in our house. I suppose some may get irritated by the 'recorded in a toilet' style of production here, others may realise it's a deliberate effect designed to evoke times gone by, much like the style of music in general. I mean, the songs are short and pretty good, nothing outstays its welcome yet with a more sterile, 'professional' modern digitial production, 'Crazy For You' would lose a lot of its charm, for me. It's perhaps the only modern album that sounds exactly the same out of your tinny mobile phone speaker as it does played out of an expensive hi-fi system. Hurrah!( reviewed 20.02.2011 )
Hurts - Happiness ** / *****
Imagine all the synth-pop bands from the early to mid-eighties rolled into one and fronted by Jim Kerr from Simple Minds. Imagine a straight Pet Shop Boys? Imagine somebody tried to capture the sound of those early synth acts, threw in a modern twist with the programmed drums yet forgot the most important thing all those old classic bands learned very early on. What did Hurts forget then? Well, tunes for one. Quite an important thing, I mean, listen to OMD 'Enola Gay' or Pet Shop Boys 'West End Girls'. The latter demonstrates the ability for a quite simple melody to still sound utterly sophisticated thanks to stellar production work, the former how an utterly simplistic two or three note melody can be utilised to produce a classic. Now, I know the 80s are all back in fashion but Hurst simply miss the point of the entire thing. It's not meant to be so much a stylistic shift to reproduce these sounds as a shift in mind-set back to a time when the single was still king. Every song here is nearly five minutes long, presumably drawn out to disguish the lack of lead melody lines. 'Wonderful Life' is ok I guess, as is the Kylie collaboration 'Devotion' yet such is the superficial nature of 'Happiness' that after listening to it, somewhat ironically, I think i'm going to go away and drown myself. ( reviewed 20.02.2011 )
Teeth Of The Sea - Your Mercury *** / *****
Post-rockers from London is a lazy way to open a review yet at times 'Teeth Of The Sea' seem to lazy for their own good, atmospherics overtaking sense and purpose. It's Pink Floyd circa 1968 without any tunes - harsh I know and slightly missing the point but occasionally we need such easy soundbites to draw people in. Let's continue. Things ease into gear some seven, eight minutes in when 'Cemetery Magnus' appears. We suddenly gain a sense of purpose, mysterious voices and sounds pop up but the track is both self-contained and a part of the ever flowing onwards style of the album as a whole. This naturally isn't a record to dip in and out of, rather it's an old-fashioned single piece of artistic worth. The title track is a spooky thing of beauty and suddenly one gets it. Recently The Orb released a jam with Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour which was largely disappointing. 'Teeth Of The Sea' sound like Dave Gilmour and The Orb. Well, the sound of themselves in their dreams.( reviewed 20.02.2011 )
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