Deadmau5 – At Play
DJ du jour, Deadmau5 (pronounced Dead Mouse), has been lighting up dancefloors for the last couple of years, receiving a prestigious Juno award with co-producer Melleefresh and being the most talked about tip from heavyweights like Tiesto and Armin Van Burren. After his 2008 album, Random Album Title, Ontario born Deadmau5, or Joel Zimmerman as he’s known to his gramps, he gives us an insight into early Mau5 activity with a repackaged and released compliation of 10 unmixed tracks – mostly his – that were the basis for what his since become a Mau5trap for house fans globally. With chart friendly sounding ‘Hey Baby’, the dirty vocals are reminiscent of Miss Kittin or Princess Superstar and just as nasty, with ‘Sex, Lies, Audiotape’ also carrying that mantle. Club hit, ‘Faxing Berlin’ is a strong inclusion to the album, as one of the tracks that helped the fledgling DJ shoot to fame. The album isn’t varied enough in pace to keep me fully switched on, but as tracks on their own, they are a tasty slice of dirty-techy-electro house and if they cite the early workings of Deadmau5, then his later work must be hugely anticipated by Mau5 House fans worldwide.
7/10 Tiny Dancer
The Irrepressibles - From the Circus to the Sea (Of Naked Design)
This CD is shabby looking to say the least and the cover design is at best amateurish, so just what The Irrepressibles going to sound like if they couldn’t even be bothered to present their disc nicely? Well before getting to that I had a quick squizz at the PR sheet and my interest was piqued. This mini-album is the accompaniment to a film called The Forgotten Circus by Shelly Love, and The Irrespressibles themselves are effectively one Jamie McDermott leading a 10 piece orchestra - potentially interesting stuff then. The album opens with the sound of a bow being drawn across the strings of a cello with too much force to get an interesting scratching sound before the rest of the orchestra comes in for a short, instrumental intro tune. I like. Track 2 starts with Mr McDermott’s vocals and I’m a little surprised; the most obvious comparison to draw is to that of Anthony from Anthony and the Johnsons. It’s got that same theatrical power to it and works really well. The rest of the album continues similarly, with sprinklings of the Baroque, Gershwin and Samba thrown in for good measure. I really like this album and hope it does well – I’d love to see the film it goes with too, to see how the thing holds together as a complete unit.
zZz – Running With the Beast (Anti)
Dance rock outfit zZz’s third album kicks off with a lively trio of 80s influenced stormers that work their basic organ and drum set up to the maximum. Opener ‘Lover’ sounds like a soundclash between The Rapture and Kasabian, while ‘Grip’ is reminiscent of ‘Contino Sessions’ era Death in Vegas. The spaced out groove of ‘Spoil the Party’ picks up the pace again and has you eager for more, but sadly the middle section of the album doesn’t maintain the same level of quality. A series of psychedelic workouts that drone from one track to the next nearly had me nodding off before ‘Loverboy’s breezy vibe gets things back on course. Funky head-nodder ‘The Movies’ follows and the menacing ‘Angel’, which would sound perfectly at home on the soundtrack to Bladerunner, leads onto the mellow ‘Islands’ which rounds things off nicely. By the time it ends you’ve almost forgiven them for the dirge in the middle. Overall, zZz have crafted an album of dark, spaced out electro that should please existing fans, but might prove a little too experimental to win them any new converts.
6/10 Jimmy James
Fight Like Apes - The Mystery of the Golden Medallion (Model Citizen)
It’s fair to say that a band who are about to go on tour with Prodigy must be pretty good and Fight Like Apes have proved that they’re better than just that with their first full album. The band, who hail from Dublin, formed in 2006 and managed to get radio play on Phantom FM in Dublin in the same year. They are now being played on the BBC radio stations by the likes of Zane Lowe, Marc Riley and Steve Lamacq, and no wonder with this LP. It’s catchy, fast and unique with a sort of indie/rock/pop/disco feel to it with the female vocals lifting the songs. Songs such as 'Jake Summers' are the catchy tunes which will make this a successful record in 2009. As you go further through the album you can see why Fight Like Apes are a good live act, through things such as the guitar riffs and the keyboard. No wonder they were one of the gems in the festival circuit last summer, performing at Glastonbury and Oxegen. They have also rubbed shoulders with the likes of We Are Scientists, Ting Tings and Kasabian on tour, and are about to embark on their very own headlining tour in February 2009 - catch them before they are bigger than the American waistline.
7/10 Joe Goodwin
The Rifles – Great Escape (679/Universal)
London boys The Rifles return with a second album of indie rock anthems that’ll sound great down the pub after a few beers. Stand out tracks include blazing opener 'Science In Violence' and 'The General', which tells the sad tale of a bloke (Mike Tyson as it turns out) who "could rumble like a hurricane" when he was young, but is "not the man he used to be" now. The general vibe is raucous and vibrant but the band manage to shift down a gear on closer ‘For The Meantime’, which sees them in a more melodic and reflective mood. ‘Great Escape’ won’t change the face of music but it’s certainly good enough to promote The Rifles to the Pigeon Detectives league of popularity. While I wouldn’t necessarily put them at the top of my New Year albums list, they have the sound of a band that would be great live; so until they next tour check out their recorded efforts and prepare to get down the front and bellow along to those choruses.
7/10 Tiny Dancer
Nickel Eye – Time of the Assassins (Rykodisk)
While we’re assured of new material come February, it seems hard to place your trust in a Strokes reunion when three of the four members have been driving down Solo Rd during this, the band’s four year sabbatical. With Albert Hammond Jr and Fabrizio Moretti already pedaling their wares on the road, the spotlight turns to Strokes’ bassist, Nikolai Fraiture and his solo project, Nickel Eye. Clearly having had his fill of daytime TV and alphabetizing his CD collection, he ends his unemployment with Time of the Assassins, his first solo album. Formed from his early writings as a youthful pre-Stroke, he has put his musings to music, with mostly credible results. The album opens with a funky bass riff, which reminds us of his strong position in the Strokes, and carries the track on with a decidedly funky feel. If this seems a departure from the garage rock of his band, the album takes a rockier route from track 2 onwards. Fraiture’s yearning, dirge-like voice gives the tracks a grungey tone in places, with clever lyrics and well calculated riffs giving the album a place in the alt-rock Americana stronghold. ‘Dying Star’ is reminiscent of the Strokes bouncey, dirty rock, but for the most part, songs like ‘Brandy of the Damned’, with a reggae beat and ‘Back from Exile’ a feisty blues-rock number make this album a highly original grower of a record. With a three-record deal signed, the Strokes comeback seems ever doubtful, but if each of the members keep churning out material of this calibre on their own, keep us waiting a little longer…
8/10 Emu Robot
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (Domino Records)
I’ve been privileged enough to see Franz Ferdinand play live twice – the first time was in Cambridge in 2003, just months before they stormed the charts with debut ‘Take Me Out’, when they performed in front of a crowd of about 10 people. Knowing little about the band, I was instantly taken with their no-nonsense approach and the undeniable charisma and likeability of lead Alex Kapranos. The second time was five years later, when they headlined the main stage of last years’ Latitude festival in front of thousands of fans, as one of Britain’s biggest bands following the huge mainstream success of their first two albums. I can remember two things from that night at Latitude. One - their new material sounded great. And two - I do not enjoy having my face squashed into the sweaty armpit of a hairy topless Neanderthal who insisted on moshing to the Glaswegian quartet, whilst somehow managing to get confused by the words in the line ‘Well do ya, do ya do ya wanna?’ But I digress… Franz’s third studio album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, is no doubt one of the most anticipated UK releases of 2009, and puts Franz in the unenviable position of trying to overcome the ‘third album curse’ that affects so many bands. Do they manage it? Well, almost. This isn’t their best record by a long shot. That being said, there is enough on the album to keep fans happy – new single ‘Ulysses’ is a fantastic example of the bands’ musical ability, and the incredibly poppy ‘No You Girls’ will have dance floors filled in no time. With a healthy sprinkling of electronica thrown in, Franz have taken a chance with this album which doesn’t completely pay off, but at least ‘Tonight’ is the sound of a band that is looking to the future.
7/10 Max Vealocity
LeAthermouth – XO (Epitaph)
Leathermouth was formed in 2007 but after the original lead singer failed to come up with any lyrics (!?) My Chemical Romance’s rhythm guitarist Frank Iero took over, or so the story goes. After signing to Epitaph ‘XO’ is the bands’ debut album, featuring Iero on lead vocals and friends of his taking up the other positions in the group. Now, enough history and on to the music; oh dear... Iero is quoted as saying “LeAthermouth is his vehicle for releasing his pent up rage and anger, and a tool for making people aware of all the injustices in the world.” The first statement is true, as for the second, I couldn’t possibly comment as the lyrics are indecipherable as Iero screams his way through all 10 tracks while the music fades into the background. Track 4, ‘I am Going to Kill the President of the USA’ is probably a little out of date, as I’m sure he is not referring to Obama, and is the only song with anything resembling singing in it. The last track ‘Leviathon’ includes some backing ‘vocals’ but other than these two songs ‘XO’ is MCR style, (but constant) screaming with a fairly standard and unimaginative rock guitar and drumming accompaniment. Not just awful but pointless too.
Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream (Columbia Records)
It’s official. I’m in my mid-20s, and I like the music of Bruce Springsteen. There, I’ve said it. And I suspect that I’m not the only one, as the returning (and aging) Springsteen made a very shrewd move in aligning himself with, and providing the soundtrack for, hit film The Wrestler. This gritty insight into the backstage world of the pro wrestling indie circuit provided a vehicle not only for comeback star Mickey Rourke (robbed at the Oscars) to showcase his abilities, but also provided the opportunity for Springsteen himself to reach out to a new cluster of fans. It’s an amazing fact that ‘Working on a Dream’ is the twenty-fourth studio album released by the gravelly-voiced superstar from New Jersey, and it really is a guilty pleasure. Whilst lyrically it may at times offer very little, structurally it’s a different story, with tracks like ‘Queen of the Supermarket’ and the truly anthemic eight-minute opener ‘Outlaw Pete’ building to a veritable crescendo. Standout track is beautiful ballad ‘The Wrestler’ written to accompany the aforementioned film. Several songs seem instantly familiar and can be readily sung along to after just one listen which, let’s be honest, is what Springsteen is all about really. Having been heavily involved in the Obama Presidential Celebrations at the start of ‘09, and with a Glastonbury headline slot just confirmed, it’s already shaping up to be a busy year for old Brucie – but ‘Working on a Dream’ shows that, unlike Rourke’s character Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, Springsteen still has a lot more fight left in him.
8/10 Max Vealocity
The View – Which Bitch? (1965 Records)
After having my ears spammed with Same Jeans last year, my expectations for this record were minimal – I am happy to report however, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s obvious from this album that The View have matured into a band that orders to be taken seriously – they duetted with Baby Shambles (minus Mr Doherty) for Diesel xXx at Matter in London, and their musical ability was not overshadowed by the more established band on stage with them. The quality and depth of the music has increased to an undeniably higher level, and this album gives the impression that The View aren’t just a quirky Scottish band, but a unique and now indisputably talented group of musicians. Track 3 impressed me massively – “One Off Pretender” sees singer Kyle Falconer engrossing in a vocal style reminiscent almost of Park Life. Addictive bass riffs a-plenty provides a real foot-tapping / head-bobbing (whatever you fancy) listening experience, and I found that there are no songs on the album that I’ve been inclined to skip over. “Unexpected” is quite a beautiful ballad – it’s so refreshing to hear the sound of strings opening up a song which blossoms effortlessly into a nearly haunting piece of music. The album starts fantastically but declines gradually into mediocrity – Track 14 begins/ends very bizarrely, and although Which Bitch? will never be hailed ‘classic’, it’s a vast improvement on their previous album, and everyone deserves credit for effort.
The View - Which Bitch? (1965 Records)
When I hear someone mention The View, my head is always instantly filled with the sounds of their anthem-like hits such as ‘Wasted Little DJs’ and ‘Superstar Tradesman’ that were used persistently to cover all the festivals the year I really started watching them on TV. The band has managed to keep this anthem-like feel to their new album, especially in the tracks ‘5 Rebbecca’s’ and ‘Temptation Dice,’ which sounds like it could have been straight from their first album. ‘5 Rebbecca’s’ has what I think sounds like an oasis opening which then leads into the sort of song you can see filling tents this year at numerous festivals. As well as some anthem-like hits, ‘Which Bitch?’ also features tracks which seem to be heading in a slightly newer musical direction. I have always seen The View to be heavily influenced by the Libertines and this is really shown in this album. Their lyrics seem to be going off on a Libertine-esque tangent and their songs feature chanting and the odd gritty riff, neither of which would look out of place in the majority of the songs found on ‘Up the Bracket’; the opening of ‘Double Yellow Lines’ could even be mistaken for the opening of ‘Can’t Stand Me Now,’ the late Libertines’ hit. Some of their songs even seem to have a slight sound of ‘The Last Shadow Puppets’ with their new use of numerous instruments as featured on ‘Covers’ and ‘Unexpected,’ the latter especially has an almost epic feel to it. Over all I think Which Bitch? is a very good effort on behalf of The View and could easily be as popular as their debut.
Jake Island - Do It Like This (Toolroom Long Player)
Having briefly appeared on Radio 1’s unsigned pages, Jake Island was snapped up by Toolroom Records, an independent UK record label who pride themselves on their “house music with a twist of funk”. The result? His debut album, Do It Like This. Following a soft and lilting prelude comes Jake’s first single and album title track “Do It Like This”, which features the vocals of Alex Sun Drae. The album hosts a range of guest vocalists, which include Nicole Tyler, Joanna Christie, and of course Alex Sun Drae. All add to the soulful, upbeat yet chilled out vibe that this album exudes. Timed perfectly comes Interlude 1 and Interlude 2; lovely short bursts of soft, layered instrumentals. Whilst I don’t think this album will come out to play all that often on my iPod, I can totally understand its appeal and can imagine hearing it in a variety of settings - a funky bar with a great view, full of beautiful people chilling out to it at a house party or it being used as background music in a film. At times this album is sultry and seductive and all in all a tasty little treat.
The Qemists – ‘Join The Q’ (Ninjatune)
In what has proven to be a freezing start to the New Year, the forthcoming album from the Qemists – ‘Join The Q’ - should definitely get the old blood cells pumping around the body. I can’t promise that this will result in a hard-on, but I can say that the album’s combination of drum n’ bass and rock music is definitely worth a listen. Some people may scorn at this amalgamation for being similar to that of Pendulum, but that would be a little unfair. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pendulum, but the Qemists are different in that they don’t appear to be as commercially orientated (not yet anyway). However, they deserve to be commended for this album as it features some well-composed catchy tracks. Nothing too technical or hardcore to scare off people not used to delights of drum n’ bass, but a halfway point that would encourage new listeners whilst satisfying existing fans. However, the Qemists may need to work on their track names as the likes of ‘Stompbox,’ ‘Drop The Audio,’ and When UR Lonely’ don’t seem to do any justice. Maybe it’s a good thing they just stick to making music.
9/10 Tommy dog
Oh, Atoms – You Can’t See the Stars from Here (Lucky Motel)
Oh, Atoms are a sugary sweet, happy, cheerful band. Sounding a lot like Magic Numbers, Gwen and Mark “Atom” have done well to produce a 12 track album in an attic in Hackney. Of course, Atom isn’t their real surname, but it does add to their surrealistic stage façade. The band have a sound that is similar also to The Ting Tings, especially as both bands have only 2 members, but Oh, Atoms play all their own instruments – and we all hate bands who don’t play their own instruments, don’t we! The duo was propelled to fame rather quickly last year, when their material was used in the film “Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging” – it is from this that we can see their target audience tends to be young teenage girls. Although having been a young teenage girl once, I can’t remember liking this style of music. My reluctant favourite track of the album is Ice Cream Blonde, as it seems to have a glimmer of substance in the lyrics and the melody itself isn’t all that bad. The whole album is a bit too sickly and syrup-tasting for my liking, though I can’t deny the obvious time and effort that has gone into making a record which really should be heard, if only to keep up with the underground charts.
Random Hand – Inhale/Exhale (Rebel Alliance)
It was last year that I first saw West Yorkshires' Random Hand supporting Voodoo Glow Skulls and they impressed me then with their energy on stage and their ability to combine different music genres effortlessly. Their recorded material is no less amazing with the same force of sound coming through the speakers. The second album from Ska-punk-metal-oi four piece Random Hand sounds like each member has taken their favourite parts of music and created a flowing, fighting record that you can't help but get swept along by. A mash-up is too simple and crude a term for the precision and work that has gone into this album, the guys are tight as, their anger measured and well vocalised, the courage of their convictions clear and the simple and the buzz that comes from their metal-ska mutant child is infectious. No one with a half-decent taste in rock music could dislike this album, there is literally something for everyone without getting the sense that the band are trying to please. This is honestly just what they like to play, and while they probably love the fact that they're playing festivals and supporting bigger and bigger bands, I get the feeling that these guys would play regardless, they would probably explode if they didn't.
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Goodnight Oslo (Proper Records)
England's acclaimed singer, guitarist and songwriter Robyn Hitchcock has returned to music after an absence of three years with a new album, "Goodnight Oslo". It's on the short side - only ten songs - but not a moment is wasted and it is welcome return. Hitchcock always seems to be the darling of the critics but never seems to transcend into the big time. It's not apparent that this will now happen but it's a good album nevertheless. Long time cohorts Peter Buck (REM), Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin add their weight and it is a well crafted record with no "album tracks". The languid opener "What you is" sets a relaxed tone and this is followed by the jangling "Your head here", with echoes of an experimental Ian Dury. Hitchcock seems to have aged well and come to terms with things in his almost dotage. Saturday Groovers is an almost Kinks-esque experiment and you can't help but smile, however twee the chorus! Notable other tracks are Upto our Nex and Intricate Thing, celebrating the complexities of love and happiness. There are sixties influences throughout and it ends on a high, with the wistful title track Goodnight Oslo, celebrating the carnage of youth and the way humans (or Hitchcock) carry on regardless. All songs are co-written or written by Robyn and whilst it may not be anything new, it's a pleasurable listen and it's good to have him back.
7/10 Neil Burrage
Sergeant Buzfuz – High Slang (Blang Records)
Sergeant Buzfuz’s fourth album sees the band continue to develop their unique blend of pop, psychedelia, Celtic folk and punk. It’s an odd mix that works on the more straight forward numbers such as catchy opener ‘God to Holloway’, the uptempo folk of ‘My Drinking Friends’ and the amusing ‘In The Back Of My Cab”, but it can give the album a slightly disjointed feel. You also have to give them credit for their bizarre series of 5 songs about Popes of the 11th and 12th centuries, ‘Here Come the Popes’. Parts 2, 3 and 4 are collected here, with part 4’s funky bass making it the standout of, not only the series, but the whole album (and really I never thought I’d find myself thinking, ‘that song about Popes and the Magna Carta’s pretty good’). While I can’t imagine ‘High Slang’ launching Sergeant Buzfuz into the mainstream, it’s certainly an interesting proposition. If you fancy something a bit different to the indie landfill of recent times it’s certainly worth a listen, and in the case of the Pope trilogy, an educational experience!
7/10 Jimmy James
Lily Allen - It’s Not Me, It’s You – Regal Recordings
Lily Allen has changed. Sporting some super glossy locks, clad in vintage Chanel, she has grown up and she is looking good. Lily’s week has got off to an amazing start by celebrating being Number One in the singles charts for the 3rd week in a row with, 'The Fear’. Her 2nd album, ‘It's Not Me, It's You’, has also gone directly in at the top. Not content with this she has dominated the airplay charts and is top of the download charts too – the 1st UK artist to do so. On this second album Lily’s songs delve a little deeper, however the listener is never deprived of the cutting wit we are accustomed to... “Now I lie here in the wet patch in the middle of the bed, I’m feeling pretty hard done by I’ve spent ages giving head” showcases this. She may have grown up, but is clearly still capable speaking her mind. This album continues with the upbeat “poppy” sound that we are so familiar with, but listen closely and you get a refreshing education on life and society. Lily lives her life through her songs, giving the listener insights into her life and her mind. Some of it pretty, some of it not. Everyone has an opinion on Miss Allen. She makes it hard not to. She has been called a lot of names. Some nice, some mean, some deserved and some perhaps not. However, her honest, no bulls**t attitude, combined with her unique talent makes her incredibly likeable.
Saint Etienne – London Conversations (The Best of Saint Etienne)
It is a rare thing, in these times of “instant” fame to see a ‘Best Of…’ album that has so much depth and history behind it, so you can imagine my shock to see that this album is comprised of two discs and contains a total of 35 tracks! Saint Etienne celebrate nearly two decades of success with this release and it reminds us all, once more, what an important role they played in defining the Brit pop / indie dance scene of the 1990s. Atmospheric vocals, flashes of luscious strings and piano combined with their upbeat and uplifting sound, have made it difficult to put Saint Etienne in “a box”. Songs such as ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, ‘Nothing Can Stop Us Now’, ‘You’re In a Bad Way’ and the club classic ‘He’s on the Phone’, all capture their ethos perfectly and it continues to this day with the two new singles, which also feature. Saint Etienne it would seem, were one of the best-loved things about living in London in the early 90s. By all accounts, they ‘were’ London. Whilst I would love to be able to say I was part of the crazy London party scene which they were the apparent staple soundtrack of, both “Underground” and “Over Ground”, I was but a mere teenager who had been cruelly whisked to the Highlands of Scotland. Fair - I think not!
Empire of the Sun - Walking On A Dream (Virgin Records)
The debut album from Empire of the Sun is one of 2009’s most hotly tipped releases, so I approached it with high expectations. I generally feel a little let down by the kind of hype that surrounds ‘must have’ releases, but I’m happy to report that ‘Walking on a Dream’ doesn’t disappoint. From the second that opener ‘Standing On The Shore’s Balearic guitar kicks in, to the final synthesiser note of closer ‘Without You’, the quality of Australian duo Luke Steele (of The Sleepy Jackson) and Nick Littlemore’s eclectic mix of musical influences shines through. The lush ballad ‘We Are The People’ contrasts sharply with ‘Swordfish Hotkiss Night’, which sounds like the best song Basement Jaxx never wrote, while former single ‘Walking On A Dream’ is so bright and breezy it can’t fail to lift your mood. Empire of the Sun cover a lot of ground over 10 tracks, but the sequencing is perfect and the end result is an album that exudes class. If you fell in love with MGMT’s album last year or feel like getting in the mood for summer early you’ll love this. In fact, I’d urge everyone who likes good music to rush out and grab/download a copy now.
9/10 Jimmy James.
Morrissey – Years of Refusal (Polydor)
Morrissey is one of a small number of musicians that can truly be classed as a living legend. Since the days of The Smiths and then through a long and successful solo career he has constantly managed to challenge people with his highly articulate lyrics and often controversial opinions. In a sense then that might be why I felt a little disappointed by the overall feel of this record. There aren’t any bad songs on it, but there isn’t anything that particularly stands out either. Lead single ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’ sees him proclaiming, “Nobody wants my love,” and sets the tone for much of the lyrical content, with ‘One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell’ warning, “You will never see your love again.” By the time album closer ‘I’m OK By Myself’ finishes he’s concluded, “I don’t need you and I never have, I never have.” Overall this is a good, solid collection, but I was often left with the feeling it could have stepped up a gear and reached greater heights. However, while ‘Years of Refusal’ isn’t Morrissey at his best, it’s certainly still head and shoulders above most other music that will come out this month.
7/10 Jimmy James
First Aid Kit – Drunken Trees (Wichita Recordings)
Occasionally, a record comes along that reminds me just how magical music can be. It’s a fairly rare occurrence but, just sometimes, a record truly captivates and enchants me. ‘Drunken Trees’ did just that. A truly charming musical offering, this is the first EP from Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, hailing from Enskede, a suburb south of Stockholm, born 1990 and 1993 respectively. Yes, that’s right, 1993, making Klara a mere 16-years-old. It’s truly staggering and awe-inspiring that Klara picked up her first guitar at the age of 13, and that the pair did not even begin composing songs together until the spring of 2007, yet the duo have produced an immensely beautiful, mature and accomplished sound that vastly belies their meagre years on this planet, and a first record that is hopefully a sign of greatly promising things to come. With Klara describing her first encounter with the song ‘First Day of my Life’ by Bright Eyes as a “revelation”, the influence here is clear, with wonderful lyrics, beautiful melodies and a real innocence to their forest folk sound. This is a true, true delight.
9.5/10 Max Vealocity
Karima Francis – The Author (Kitchenware Records)
21 year old, Blackpool–born, Manchester-based Karima presents her debut album “The Author”. Tarred with the usual brush of ‘singer/songwriter’, it is for once used in its true form; Karima has a striking voice and her music exudes the passion she has for what she does. A self proclaimed show-off she has said that she is amazed that this is her job. This gives her something to wake up for. Practising Celine Dion songs as a child for her Mother, her Mother knew that great things were to come. An older and embarrassed Karima sought out the “Celine Tapes” and duly disposed of them – in a field! It wasn’t until moving to Manchester that she really started singing and her true talent was discovered two years ago at ‘The City’ music conference, where by accounts she silenced the ‘Big Wigs’. This brings us to the present and her tour which she embarks on next month to showcase the album. Karima has a striking voice, she has soaring vocals and her music has a real sense of intimacy to it. Her lyrics have rawness to them and touch upon the hard upbringing she has experienced. As an artist she is believable. She has a huge amount of potential and is a refreshing change from what her genre offers. Sadly this album hasn’t grabbed me. It hasn’t captured my heart and there is nothing on it which makes me want to turn the volume up and let go. However that said, I think she will carve a well deserved niche for herself.
New Rhodes – Everybody Loves A Scene (Salty Cat Records)
New Rhodes kick off 2009 with ‘Everybody Loves A Scene’, their second album following their critically acclaimed 2006 debut ‘Songs From The Lodge’ which saw the band pick up a Vodafone Award and share a stage with the likes of Razorlight, Bloc Party and The Killers. Judging from this new offering, it’s no wonder that they have already made a solid name for themselves and got some bigtime musical friends. Recorded in North Wales, the album kicks off with opener ‘Everybody Loves A Scene’, a track brimming with infectious melody which vocalist James Williams sums up as a “statement of intent that shows a harder and edgier side of the band”. Instantly memorable new single ‘The Joys of Finding and Losing That Girl’ is one of the best tracks of the album, ‘Is This The Life You Want?’ is the very definition of an angry pop track, and the album ends on a high with the powerful and emotive ‘You Can Have It All’. New Rhodes certainly have the potential to make a big name for themselves on the music scene. They’ve got a hard to define sound, but their various influences are instantly recognisable – there’s definitely a strong whiff of The Smiths about them, for example. Having produced a solid outing in this album, they are one to watch out for in the coming months.
7/10 Max Vealocity
Mongrel – Better Than Heavy (Wall of sound)
Imagine this, vocalist Jon McClure along with keyboard and horns man Joe Moskow both from Reverend and the Makers joining forces with such artists as, vocalist Lowkey, Arctic Monkeys’ bassist Andy Nicholson and Babyshambles’ guitarist’s Drew McConnell in order to create a chart topping fantasy band…Well it’s only gone and happened and as a collective they call themselves Mongrel. As if the line up of the band wasn’t enough, for their debut album ‘Better Than Heavy’ they have collaborated with 20 of the finest names in the UK hip-hop scene on various tracks and also use 16 of the 20 artists on one track ‘All Your Ever Afters’. This bizarre concoction of artists is not only braking down the genre barriers of the UK music scene, but together they are tackling issues on this album that are pretty key right now, politically and economically speaking; this album is like a breath of fresh air pointing out the flaws of the UK today and how we can all join together to change things, also on a happier note celebrating everything that is good about the UK. The album was mixed and dubbed by Adrian Sherwood of ON-U-SOUND and features artists like Mpho, Pariz 1, Logic, Skinny Man, Wordplay, Frantic Frank, Doc Brown and more, so you better go get on board with Mongrel before you get left behind!
Red Light Company - Fine Fascination (Lavolta Records)
As soon as I was handed this CD and caught a glimpse of the front cover’s art work, I was expecting Red Light Company to be a very, very indie band, as I had not heard of them before. However upon hearing their opening tracks it became blatant to me that this is not just another run-of-the-mill-lyrically-abstract-indie-band. While listening to ‘Fine Fascination’ repeatedly, I have been trying to think of someone that I can relate RLC to and to be quite honest I cannot think of anyone else who they sound like. The closest I could really come up with would be Razorlight, which as insulting as it may seem, is not necessarily a bad thing. The opening riff of ‘Words of Spectacular’ would fit perfectly on Razorlight’s, self named album ‘Razorlight.’ Other than that all the sounds, vocals, riffs and beats on the album come across as being completely original to me. The strange twist is that as original as the album is, it also sounds like it has great mainstream potential, almost like The Kooks or someone - mainstream yet indie. The clash of mainstream and indie is sealed together with the catchy riffs, clever lyrics and upbeat style of the RLC creates a very likeable album. With ‘Scheme Eugene’ already a hit, this overall excellent album will provide strong foundations for RLC to develop their future career on.
The Answer – Everyday Demons (Albert Productions)
Northern Ireland's The Answer release their second album this month and after the success of their debut 3 years ago, it could not have come sooner for fans - especially as their fans include celebrities like Jimmy Page. After supporting the likes of the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, they are currently touring with AC/DC on the U.S. leg of their tour so are sure to break the States soon and it is easy to hear why. This 4 piece have a classic old American sound, without mimicking anyone else, and their influences are evident – Lynnrd Skynnrd, AC/DC and the like. Their tracks have the power of bands like Creed, but more sincerity, and the 'Easy Rider' feel of 70's Southern hard rock but with a little more depth. The album charges right from the get go with opening track 'Demon Eyes' and 'Pride' is the kind of track you can't stay still to. While The Answer are not going to change the face of music or produce revolutionary new sounds, they certainly know how to make a great album full of driving tunes and introduce a whole new generation to classic melodic rock.
Shinedown - The Sound of Madness (Atlantic Records)
Imagine taking the gritty vocals of Chris Cornell (Sound garden and Audioslave) and putting them over a contortion of System of a Down and Blink 182, this powerful combination leaves you with the best new alternative/metal band to reach us from over the pond since Velvet Revolver. The Florida based band ‘Shinedown’ have been thrashing their way around the US rock scene since 2003 and finally they have found their way to the UK. As I am sure many will agree with me; it’s so refreshing to hear new upcoming metal that doesn’t sound like it has been recorded in someone’s garage or that lacks actual singing, coming over the pond from the states. All of their songs feature heavy riffs, fast paced drum beats and loud lyrics. They are almost like Incubus in the way that they manage to restrain from screaming and keep to understandable words, even with their heavy music in the background. Although they have not yet announced a full UK tour, you can find these guys playing at Download on the Sunday. I am sure this will soon change though, once the UK has gotten its teeth into soon-to-be hits such as ‘Devour,’ ‘Sound of Madness,’ and ‘Cyanide Sweet Tooth Suicide,’ they would be stupid to not set out a full UK winter tour.
Polly Scattergood – Polly Scattergood (Mute)
The opening track on this album is mesmerising - I Hate The Way reignited my love of Portishead and at 7:08 minutes long, it never lets up in it’s relentless efforts of enticing and somewhat bewildering lyrics. Half of the songs on this debut album hit and exceed the 4 minute mark in length showing, if nothing else, the time and effort taken to perfect these pieces of music. The entire album is particularly well produced, which creates pleasant and professional sounding listening experience. Track 7 is simply beautiful – written from the heart, “Poem Song” is a story about the break up of a meaningful relationship, with Polly’s unique cocktail of digital sounds and soporific lyrics giving birth to a brand new breed of love song. Polly herself is infuriatingly adorable, and sometimes it’s hard not to feel a sense of naivety coming out through her songs. “Bunny Club” is a bizarre song, but delightfully electronic, and tells her story of leaving home in Colchester and moving to London at only16 years old. On his late night radio show, Rob Da Bank dubbed Polly Scattergood of “the Kate Bush of the 21st Century”, which is a fair claim. Her sound is a strange combination of Bjork and Damien Rice, two of the artists she states as her strongest influences. Although not my favourite style of music, this album defines the term “grower”, and is definitely worth a few listens before judgement.
Xrabit & DMG$ - Hello World (Big Dada)
As a massive fan of hip-hop I was really excited when asked to review ‘Hello World’. I slid it into the CD player and waited for the familiar feeling of the first track to start. I was met with the cool lyrics of “Damaged Goods” which has a beat you’ll find on a lot of recent hip hop but with very tight rapping harking back to the classic artists of old. The trio are obviously confident enough in the strength of their lyrics to make them easily accessible. Or so I thought until the heavy bassline of “Ferris Bueller” was replaced by pretty uninspiring lyrics disguised as an outward look at the ‘too-cool’ hip hop world. Unfortunately, Xrabit & DMG$ seem to have fallen into the same trap as they preach about their home state of Texas, not dissimilar to the very artists they are attacking. Fortunately, there are a couple of good songs on this album, ‘Salt Shaker’ and ‘Follow the Leader’ are both head bobbers but this has got to be attributed to the bass heavy backing tracks all the way through, which kept me interested even when the lyrics didn’t. Despite the assertion that you won’t have heard anything like this album before, it doesn’t seem like the artists have tried hard enough to either make ‘Hello World’ different, or to make it better than the norm. This is not a bad album, it just isn’t a good one and whilst if you just like your beats, it’s definitely listenable, I’m afraid I demand rather more from my hip-hop.
The Balky Mule – The Length of the Rail (FatCat records)
I love FatCat records and have done for quite some time. And I think having listened to this album by ex-Bristolian Sam Jones, aka The Balky Mule, I may now love them even more. This album was, apparently, created over a period of 5 years and grew out of a library of sounds and noises that Sam had created using bootsale-found and salvaged keyboards, synths and other electronic kit, coupled with acoustic guitars, zithers and traditional percussion and it’s a wondrous thing to listen to. The aesthetic of giving new life to otherwise redundant and abandoned instruments aside, the sounds and layers here are many and subtle and work better together than they perhaps ought to but they really do. Whilst the overall tone of the album is something that could be described as being very British, there’s also an element of Eels about it in places. The lyrics here are quite grounded and on the wry side and, coupled with the more upbeat instrumentation, the overall tone of the album is both sad and charming at the same time. I really, really like this album and am excited by the promise of a follow up EP to be released later in the year.
Filthy Dukes - Nonsense in the Dark (Friction)
When the information given about this, the debut album from London electro outfit Filthy Dukes says that the album was made on the very mixing desk of Krautrock producer Conny Plank that was famously used to make the inimitable Kraftwerk sound, you expect something electronically progressive. On initial listen, what I actually detect is that although they’ve worked from the desk of Kraftwerk, they also seem to have sipped from the same coffee cup as video pioneers of the eighties, A-Ha, shared a bed with Justice and used the old bathwater of Spank Rock. We are in danger of being over saturated with vocal-electro groups, so this melee of influences may seem like a bit of re-hash, but there are some real gems on this album. Guest vocalists Samuel Dust (Late of the Pier) and Orlando Weeks (The Maccabees) provide weight to the record, with title track, Nonsense in the Dark featuring Mr. Weeks being the standout track – confidently slow-paced and simply arranged, I hope it is a sound they develop. Tupac Robot Club Rock is a complete contrast with fierce hip hop vocals mixed with a sound not unfamiliar to the products of Daft Punk, Justice and the like and has received big plaudits from industry figures on the radio and in the press. Filthy Dukes may improve upon their predecessors if they concentrate on their strong points – the thoughtful electronic laments – and steer away from some of the fillers.
7/10 Emu Robot
The Score – Opus
Hold up, what do we have here? We have five dudes that have enough cheese to be a real threat to JLS’s global domination. It’s possible that they may be good at what they do… but I’m not a massive fan of R&B. However, in my defence I always feel that if something is good enough it doesn’t really matter whether you like that type of music or not, it should be good enough to tempt you into an unfamiliar genre. Anyway, this does not have the necessary ingredients for me to wear a jaunty Justin Timberlake hat and take myself seriously. On the other hand, if you fit the tw*t bracket above you may like this album. After all, Rollo from Choice FM (who?) is quoted as saying ‘I really like this track’ and DJ Q (BBC 1Xtra) said ‘ Yeah man I like this.’ I have to admit that the PR company have balls promoting the record with such uninspiring words. At least their artist has either written for, performed with, or opened with Natasha Beddingfield (the PR company listed these without specifying which one). My response is that it’s a shame The Score weren’t involved with Daniel Beddingfield, I miss that beat-boxing piggy tw*t in a vest.
4/10 Tommy dog
Doom – Born Like This (Lex Records)
Whilst listening to the radio the other day, I was stopped dead in my tracks by some happening Hip Hop DJ referring to Curtis ‘Fifty Cent’ Jackson as Old Skool. Now come on, that’s ridiculous, I’m mean if this guy is right it would make me a Werther’s Originals eating, voluntarily pissing in a bag and sprouts smelling Granddad of Hip Hop, and I’m only 32. Even I wasn’t cool enough at the tender age of 10 to be in to the likes of RUN DMC, LL Cool J and Public Enemy, and not to forget their forefathers who came nearly a generation before them in the form of DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. For me and my own personalised Old Skool, it was Wu-Tang and anything affiliated to them. So I had great aural pleasure upon hearing the opening track from this, the masked MC, formerly known as MF Doom. Not only do the beats bang down with that unique Wu-Tang sound and swagger but the listener also gets appearances from two of the Clan’s founding members in Raekwon & Ghostface. This is heavy stuff with a cartoon-esque soundscape backed with intensely charged social commentary entwined with political satire. Not a cliché in sight, which is a refreshing treat in comparison with the R‘n’B backed tripe which seems to fill the airwaves of most radio stations at the moment. Thanks to the perils of modern technology the greatly missed J Dilla also makes an appearance which just reinforces the quality of the swirling psychedelic production of offer here, which is all helmed by Doom. Not for the faint hearted, but if you feel like you’re in need a reality check then this one will get you started.
8/10 B Funk
Navvy – Idyll Intangible (Angular Recordings)
Navvy wear their influences proudly on their sleeve and the Sheffield four piece’s debut ‘Idyll Intangible’ owes a massive debt to post-punk band Wire. The resulting collection of short, choppy tunes sounds distinctly like Elastica and The Rakes. Lyrically however, the album draws on the mundane aspects of everyday life, rather than the themes of relationships and love favoured by many bands. These lyrical roots are obviously referenced in song titles such as ‘Plastic Bag’, ‘Sticker’ and ‘Robot’ which may not initially fill you with excitement. Thankfully they manage to expand on their initial concepts to create something more satisfying than I expected, but only just. ‘Idyll Intangible’ is a fairly decent album, but unfortunately there aren’t many tracks that stand out from the procession of angular pop. ‘Disco’ has a strong, driving riff while ‘Robot’ has a welcome anarchistic tone which sees singers Claire and Keith declaring they’re, ”the master of my future” compared with those who, “don’t complain, don’t know what’s what”. It’s a shame there aren’t more of these moments as at best this album is solid, but unfortunately not especially interesting.
6/10 Jimmy James
Frightened Rabbit – Quietly Now! Liver! Lung! Fr! (fatcat records)
Bands release live albums for a number of reasons; for touring behemoths like The Rolling Stones they can act as a great way to cream money out of your fans, without having to do anything other than play a gig you’re already getting paid for. They also act as a great stopgap when you can’t be bothered to write any new songs. However, for less well known bands like Scottish indie hopefuls Frightened Rabbit, they can provide a unique opportunity to present your music in a different light. ‘Quietly Now! Liver! Lung! Fr!’ delivers an acoustic rendition of last years ‘Midnight Organ Fight’ to stunning effect. The stripped down approach lends itself perfectly to their bittersweet tales of love lost. On ‘Good Arms vs Bad Arms’ singer Scott claims, “I might not want you back, but I want to kill him” whilst ‘My Backwards Walk’ sees him “get hammered to forget that you exist, but there’s no way I’m forgetting this”. The intimate atmosphere of The Captain’s Rest in Glasgow isn’t lost in the recording and perfectly captures the intense, raw nature of the lyrics. I’m pleased to say that Frightened Rabbit have achieved something rare in releasing a live album with purpose and reason, that I’d urge everyone to investigate.
8/10 Jimmy James.
The Xcerts - In the Cold Wind We Smile (Xtra Mile Recordings)
Do you like boys in tight jeans, plaid shirts and cardigans? Do you like said boys expressing your heartbreak for you through the medium of emo/rock/indie? Hey, who doesn’t?! Why not try the debut album from The Xcerts? Originally formed in Aberdeen, Scotland and now with members from Brighton and Exeter, this fresh new band of boys may be the way forward from emo-weariness to a new world via “distorted pop”. There are a lot of sad and angry lyrics about girls and that, but there is none of the self pity that is often present in modern indie bands (I’m looking at you, The Fray) .Coupled with some kick-ass guitar action and tight drumming fashion, there are the heart breakingly gentle, hair-stroking parts that are simply lovely… think Snow Patrol. I really enjoyed hearing the Scottish accent proudly used instead of covering it up with a faux American twang. I do feel that they have a little work to do yet to really stand out from other similar bands but no doubt this will come in time; they’re still young and have a growing fan base, including Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, so we’ll be hearing them during a tender moment on Hollyoaks very soon. But in a good way. Oh, by the way, their influences include Bruce Springsteen, Mickey Rourke and food poisoning. Hmm.