All reviews on newsoundwales are the personal opinions of the reviewer. We are not responsible for your listening enjoyment and cannot guarantee that you will share our views. Buy the music, go to the gigs, listen and make your own mind up.
The Keys – Christmas EP
This band were formed from the ashes of Murry the Hump – a John Peel favourite - and this is the 2nd of their planned 4 EPs in a year project. Lots of harmonies and 60s loveliness make this something of a treasure and one of the freshest things we have heard in ages. Lead track ‘Queing up for Christmas’ sounds timeless and is probably the best new festive tracks of 2009. Yes it is a bit Super furry Animals but then they share the same influences so that is hardly surprising. Elsewhere ‘Strange garden’ is a Byrds style freak out and is superb. It’s also worth mentioning the sound quality on this recording. It has a full and warm sound you don’t always get on small studio recordings. Someone obviously knows what they are doing it. A Christmas record to play before, during and after the festive season has long gone.
Think of the Stereophonics and the sort of words that spring to mind are reliable, workman like, predictable. Having produced 7 studio albums over the past 12 years you begin to wonder if the band are playing it too safe and not stretching themselves enough. There is nothing here that will surprise you. It is solid and contains just enough strong tracks such as the catchy ‘Innocent’ and the haunting ‘100mph’ to penetrate your memory banks. One thing that is often overlooked is just how good a singer Kelly Jones actually is. He has one of those voices that ranks alongside the likes of Rod Stewart and Robert Plant and as a band the Stereophonics have been a veritable hit factory year in, year out churning out 3 or 4 standout tracks from each album without fail. The question now is just how long can they keep making albums like this that are solid, reliable but ultimately predictable without real change or development? Maybe they need to look to their predecessors such as U2, Oasis or the Rolling Stones to see what paths or pitfalls might be open to them.
If I never hear Band Aid, or Lonely This Christmas again I can die happy and content. So receiving notification of this Christmas compilation was not greeted with seasonal joy by this particular reviewer. However, this is not the usual Christmas fayre. Put together by Bubblewrap and Businessman Records the project involved 12 artists being given 31 days to write a song incorporating one of the 12 days of Christmas. The result is surprisingly listenable and should last way beyond December 25th 2009. Artists featured include local heroes such as Little My whose post modern pop is well suited to their child like countdown to Christmas on ‘When the turtle doves have flown away’. Sweet Baboo’s contribution is the slightly ethereal ‘I can see geese in your eyes’ which has his trademark vocal, but with its ambient backing is slightly disconcerting - but in a good way. Other acts include Allo Darlin, The School and the very wonderful Lucky Delucci. This is limited to 500 copies so get one quick and throw your old Now! Christmas compilation away in the process! More information at:
Stylusboy – Fingerprint EP
Stylusboy is yet another talent to emerge from Coventry area, home to Tin Angel and a district that is fast becoming a real hotspot for interesting new talent. There is nothing particularly new or original about Stylusboy, however, he has produced an excellent ‘calling card’ with this EP featuring 6 self-penned songs of mellow blissed out folk grooves. ‘Jigsaw’ offers is an affecting love song with its missing piece analogy. Elsewhere ‘Stopclock’ drifts along in a beautifully melancholic way. All in all very promising. It will be good to see a bit more musical variety on future releases and perhaps vocals with a bit more passion and fire. However, in a sea of seemingly never ending supply of singer songwriters he stands out above many and it will be interesting to see how he develops in the years ahead.
David Mysterious – Jongleur Du Morte
Released on Peski Records the blurb that came with this described Mysterious David as having disappeared for good leaving behind this album. Presumably all a marketing ploy. Whatever the truth is there are some pretty good tracks here alongside some real duds and production failures. When it works as in the case of ‘Oyaji’ and ‘Dr Manhattan’ it sounds magical. However at times with poor production and it has to be said the occasional off key, out of tune guitars such as ‘Sometimes my arm bends backwards’ and ‘Asgwrn’ it is virtually unlistenable. If this is a collection of loose ends it could have done with heavy editing. If this was made as an album it would have benefited from better production. All that being said the best tracks here would have made a great EP.
Three years have elapsed since their last studio album and that time seems to have been used to good effect. Yes their familiar hallmark sound is evident on a number of tracks such as ‘In the Na’ and ‘Underage’. However, what marks this album out as special are the songs that broaden their sound and take them to a whole new level. Many of them are slower and definitely a ‘darker shade of pale’. ‘Walk On’ is currently topping the indie charts in their homeland of Canada and you can hear why. With its orchestral hook lines and aching vocal it draws you in. The one track that takes this album into the stratosphere however, is the title track ‘Origin:Orphan’. If you hear a more sombre and heartbreaking song this year I will be surprised. As with much of this album Joel Gibbs is obsessing about himself and these self doubts sound almost like cries for help. The Hidden Cameras have never had the recognition they deserve in this country which may partly be down to homophobia amongst some journalists and broadcasters. However, this album should change all that. It is simply one of the best things I have heard all year.
.............................................................................................................Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be
On first sight this CD has the usual hallmark Banhart artwork. However, look more closely and in very small letters you see a small but significant difference to previous releases – ‘Warner Bros Records’. Yes folks the king of the desert psych folk shamans has signed to a major. What made his previous releases so special were their variety and twists and turns. You really never knew what to expect next. There is still variety here but he seems to have more of a uniformly consistent sound and style. Not sure what his diehard freak fans will make of it. Has he sold out to the man? Has he compromised? Decide for yourself but there are lots of gems here from ‘Angelika’ and ‘Rats’. The most commercial track here is ‘16th & Valencia, Roxy Music’. This makes his Bolanesque vibrato even more prominent and it sounds like the 40 year delayed follow up to ‘Ride a White Swan’ and it could provide him with his first radio hit. Devendra Banhart is a true original constantly exploring and long may he do so.
The Young Republic – Balletesque
Hot on the heels of their barnstorming SWN performance this 2nd album from Tennessee’s Young Republic should see them to making their mark in an increasingly crowded field. What gives the band an edge are their superb arrangements that flit from semi classical, swampy blues through to controlled cacophony. If there are influences and nods to be had, look towards Arcade Fire, Pixies and at times even Tom Waits. Standouts are the Alchemist which sets the tone with its grand ambitious neo classical style, the catchy indie-pop of Napoleon Roses and Bows in your arms. This track works brilliantly live and really allows Kristin Weber’s violin to shine. Julian Saporiti is a great front man, however, his voice does get a bit wearing after a while and beyond 30 minutes of listening to the album my interest began to flag. That being said this release gives the band a great platform on which to build especially if they can develop their song writing and really bring their own style and personality to the fore. In the meantime the band is deservedly making its reputation as an excellent live draw and if UK festivals are deciding on which acts to book for next summer then they should look no further than the Young Republic.
Cate le Bon – Me Oh My
I honestly wasn’t looking forward to having to review this. I saw Cate a few times last year at Green man and SWN and quite honestly wasn’t that impressed. She seemed ill at ease and failed to connect with the audience. At the time I said I thought her future lay in her recorded work and on the evidence of this it does. It is quite simply a fantastic album. By herself she is an average folk singer, but by surrounding herself with the likes of Gruff Rhys and the ubiquitous Stephen Black she has found a haunting and atmospheric sound that will be casting its shadow over the Welsh landscape for months to come. ‘Terror of the Man’ grabs your attention with its doom laden vocal and late 60s pysch backing. Elsewhere there are sub-velvet sounding tracks such as ‘Sad Sad Feet’ which is exquisitely beautiful although the hideous off pitch keyboard grates more than is bearable. That is a minor quibble; Cate le Bon has just released probably the best Welsh album of 2009.
Editors – In This Light On This Evening
This is the 3rd album from the band from Birmingham who have been dogged by Joy Division comparisons since ‘The Back room’ their stunning debut 4 years ago. There are signs here that the band are gradually forging their own path and creating a sound of their own. Yes, Tom smith will forever be compared to Ian Curtis because of the tone and quality of his voice. However, musically they have moved on - almost. The title track is perhaps the best thing here. It opens the album and yes there are overtones of ‘Closer’ but it is captivating, atmospheric and a great way to start the album. Things do drift a bit after the opening although ‘Papillon’ with its Blue Monday vibe is upbeat Blue Monday revisited and would yet become a club hit with a remix. ‘Eat Raw Meat’ works well and should be a future single. Nothing here quite comes close to the quality of their debut, but they seem at last to be finding their own voice.
Tom Bevitori – Thank You, I Love You
Tom Bevitori plays bass in Alela Diane’s touring band and this mini album was produced by fellow band member and Alela’s father Tom Menig. Bevitori looks like a classic stoner hippy and seeing him on stage he seemed the epitomy of the cool stoner dude. The album came as a bit of a surprise as it is pure country, not even alt country. It sounds authentic and there are some fine songs here. ‘On fire’ is particularly strong and memorable. I wouldn’t be too surprised if this was picked up by a major artist for a cover version. This album demonstrates that Alela Diane is surrounding herself with some pretty special and talented individuals at present. Tom Bevitori is not only one hell of a cool dude he is also a fine country singer with huge potential as a song writer.
Don’t Move – The New Pop sounds Of
After all the plethora of 80s sounding new bands it is something of a relief and refreshing change to hear a band that are rooted in music from the 1960s. Sounding as if Pete Townshend had joined David Bowie & the Lower Third in 1966 and made an album produced by Roger McGuinn. The music consists of swirling guitar motifs, at times psychedelic raga infused and at times almost free form jazz. The songs are mostly about broken relationships which is a bit one dimensional, however the variety and quality of the music makes up for that. The guitar work of Mason le Long is exceptional and his vocals are very distinctive. Produced by Tin Angel label mate Paul Curreri which a rather strange choice bearing in mind his Americana roots but perhaps he has given the band the broader horizons they needed. The band will be appearing at this year’s SWN festival 22nd October in the Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff and they could well prove to be the surprise hit of the festival. Don’t be too surprised if Don’t Move are making some very special albums during the next 5 years.
FrYars – Dark Young Hearts
FrYars has been around for a good few years. He was hotly tipped and looked set to break through but then a deafening silence. So was it worth the wait and has he missed the 80s influenced boat? The answer is partly yes to both questions. The best tracks here have already been released as singles, such as the ‘Ides’ and the ‘Visitors’ featuring Dave Gahan. The influences are writ large but if Little Boots is the Human League, La Roux Yazoo then FrYars is in danger of being Blancmange or worst still Classix Nouveaux! The sound here is fairly robust and colourful and there are some interesting and ambitious songs such as ‘A last resort’ . FrYars is still an artist worthy of attention, but he probably needs to concentrate on getting some stronger melodies, less affected vocals and better lyrics for his next release if the early promise is to be fulfilled.
Rufus Wainwright – Milwaukee At Last
Rufus Wainwright has already established himself as one of the best songwriters of his generation having released several classic albums, toured extensively and branched out into Judy Garland tributes, modern dance scores and opera. Material here is very familiar and all previously available elsewhere with the exception of the traditional Irish song ‘Macushla’. A song his mother suggested he sing to stretch himself and that he sang unplugged and without microphone to great effect when he played in Cardiff in 2007. Noel Coward’s ‘If Love Were All’ has the edge on the Judy Garland concert CD version and ‘Leaving for Paris’ is breathtaking. This album with CD and bonus DVD acts as a great souvenir for die hard fans and accurately captures the sound and spirit of his recent live shows. However, now is the time for Rufus to get back to doing what he does best; writing and recording classic songs that will no doubt match and hopefully surpass the brilliance of Want 1 & 2.
Euros Childs – Son of Euro Child
Last year’s album ‘Cheer Gone’ seemed aptly titled. It sounded world weary, ever so slightly dreary and like a man running of inspiration and enthusiasm for his craft. What a difference a year makes. I am not sure what has caused it but Euros sounds like a man reborn with an album that is playful, melodic and at times inspired. The opening of ‘Shithausen’ sets the tone and acts as the overture for the collection. There is then a run of half a dozen songs that are brilliantly simple pure pop whimsy. ‘Gently All Around’ is a thing of beauty, ‘Like This Then Try This’ is a wry and amusing, ‘How Do You Do’ as good as the best of the Gorky’s and contains a classic re-poste; “If I had a monkey he would shit in your shoes”. The latter half of the album seems to peter out slightly and some of the songs are undeveloped. For instance ‘1000 Pictures of you’ is perfectly fine, but would have benefited from more of an arrangement and instrumentation. It could have been a minor classic. Overall this is a huge success and will help re-energise the career of Euros Childs and put off that Gorky’s reunion for a few more years. Even better it is available to download for free at:
Wilco - The Album
I was lucky enough to see Wilco recently as they headlined Sunday night at this year’s Greenman festival. The band were formed in 1994 in Chicago and have an impressive back catalogue of 7 albums. Their line up has changed over the years, but Jeff Tweedy remains a constant as does bassist John Stirrat. As was apparent at the Greenman they have also introduced an experimental element to their music which makes it on occasion more classic rock than alt- country. Coming at a time of loss and renewal with the inauguration of President Obama and the sad passing of Jay Bennett the album is a mixture of sounds and styles and often tinged with sadness and darkness. It moves from simple sweet melodies to guitar driven angst. “Deeper Down” (apart from the steel guitar) could have been an offering from an Indie Band. “One wing” has the beautiful woven guitar sounds that I loved at Greenman. The strongest track “Blue Black Nova” is more edgy and again with great guitar sounds. “You Never Know” has a 60’s feel with harmonies reminiscent of The Beatles and “Country Disappeared” is also somewhat Lennonesque. “Solitaire” is somewhat personal and introspective would have been worthy of the Eels.” Having arrived late to the party this album has made me want to explore more of the back catalogue in order to appreciate this latest offering in context. Reviews of this CD however have been universally good and I would particularly recommend seeing them perform it live in London on November 4th.
Lightning Dust is a side project by members of Canadian band Black Mountain. Down tempo and brooding this record glides along majestically. Amber Webber’s vocal has a rather extreme vibrato which is unnerving at first, but becomes a thing of great beauty once you get used to it. The arrangements are stunning and in many ways exceed the best work of Black Mountain themselves. Songs such as ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Never seen’ bristle with intense emotion and atmosphere. However, the absolute highlight is the closing track ’Take it home’ with its doom laden melody looks set to be in our top 10 tracks of 2009.
Jimi Alexander & the Satellites
Jimi Alexander & the Satellites have been around the south Wales music scene for a few years now and have already established themselves as a fine alt country rock band. Jimi’s voice can be incredibly intense and is instantly recognisable, conveying strong and often painful emotions. It’s clear that the band has been influenced by various inhabitants of Laurel Canyon circa 1971; not a bad starting point. This is most evident on the opening 2 tracks which are in the Neil Young, Eagles vein. However, as the album progresses the band find their own voice and when they have songs as good as ‘Queen of Denmark’ , ‘Held in my arms’ and ‘Burn a little brighter’ the effect is simply stunning. If the band continue to grow and develop and write songs as good as these then they look set to make an impact not only in Wales, but throughout the UK and beyond.
Bowerbirds – Upper Air
I remember seeing the Bowerbirds last year and after about 20 minutes getting every so slightly bored by the lack of variety in their material. Don’t get me wrong ‘Hymns for a Dark Horse’ was a great debut. However, they just don’t seemed to have progressed and are to be repeating themselves too much. I have tried but after 3 or 4 plays it just drags after about 20 minutes. Traditional instrumentation, decent production and solid enough performances. It just lacks memorable songs and is too one dimensional.
Martin Carr – Ye Gods (And Little Fishes)
Cardiff’s adopted son, Martin Carr has come out from behind his bravecaptain moniker to produce a quietly gorgeous collection of high calibre songs as good if not better than his Boo Radleys material. This is the album that should make people realise that there is more to Martin Carr than the man who wrote ‘Wake up Boo’. That was then, this is now. Carr hasn’t got the best voice in the world but with simple but effective arrangements and production this is overcome by the sheer quality of the material. Echoes of the Beatles and at times, rather worringly, Oasis can be heard. However, songs such as ‘Orpheus Lament’ and the majestic ‘Goldrush ‘49’ see Carr come into his own. Most of the songs take a while to sink in, but repeated plays reveal melodies that you realise have quietly been permanently etched into your memory banks.
The Low Anthem – Oh My God Charlie Darwin
Like punk never happened some might say! Viva Machine have been around for a few years now and have steadily built a loyal fan base and made a reputation as a live band. This has been released on the band’s own label and in a way I can see why the majors might have been reluctant to invest in the band. This is rock but much of their material is quite dense and may not appeal to the average Feeder or Queens of the Stone Age fan. The layered vocals are quite spectacular and if Viva Machine fail to take off I wouldn’t be surprised if vocalist Chris Seacombe does something special in the next 10 years. The album starts well with ‘Robot Bodyrox’ sounding like a kind of updated mid 1980s Yes. The songs and themes on the album begin to wear a bit thin after a while. However, the epic closing track ‘Mental State’ is brilliant with a strong hook and leaves a lasting impression. If the band can develop more material like this and find an audience willing to go along with them they could yet prove the majors were wrong after all.
Sweet Baboo – Hello Wave
Hot on the heels of last year’s debut Sweet Baboo has produced another fine selection of idiosyncratic and carefully observed folk/gospel songs about life, albeit from an unusual angle. What he does best is write memorable songs about characters and incidents that may or not have actually happened. This collection was recorded ‘live’ and bolstered with full backing band Steve’s songs really fly. ‘Little Bernadette’, an ode to his cat I think, encapsulates what’s best about his work with its strong melody, intriguing lyric and a voice that is both expressive and instantly recognizable. There are a couple of instrumentals on the album which are slightly frustrating especially ‘It’s three, let’s go’ sounding like demos waiting for the vocal to be added rather than the finished article. However, overall this is a fine album and is a step up from his debut. A couple of plays on national radio and a slot on Jools Holland should see the nation take Sweet Baboo to its heart.
Little Boots - Hands
Every year dozens of artists get pushed as the next big thing for the year ahead. Often manipulated by record company PR and their media mates. This year’s crop has produced some success stories such as Lady Gaga and White Lies who were rightly tipped for big things. However, most of the hopefuls have already disappeared without trace. Whatever happened to Pageboy, Rusko Cars Can Be blue??? This weight of expectation doesn’t seem to have had any ill effect on Little Boots who has produced a solid album full of potential hit singles. The sound is definitely rooted in early 80s synth pop and the backing for ‘Earthquake’ is pure Gary Numan. Elsewhere the guest appearance of Phil Oakey duets on ‘Symmetry’ confirms this beyond doubt. You get the feeling that Victoria Hesketh is a bright young thing who is destined for a long career in pop. If and when her star should wane she will no doubt end up writing/producing hit singles. I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful but she is probably the next Cathy Dennis.
This is an ambitious, almost audacious debut from Atlum Schema. Back in the mid eighties this would have been called ‘big music’ full of ideas, aspiration and emotion. The album has an incredible depth and variety, some memorable songs and sounds excellent. ‘Hold On’ could easily be a hit single if it got any airplay and elsewhere ‘I can’ is a moving story of lost love and regret. This is the sort of album that is either going to disappear without trace and be picked up on in 20 years time as a lost classic or it might just make its way onto this year’s Mercury Prize list. Either way give it a listen now. You will be intrigued and impressed.
On the eve of their European visit CS&N have released an album of demos put together from 1968-70 the majority of which ended up on their eponymous first LP. There are some classic songs here such as a stripped down version of ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ by David Crosby, a jaunty ‘Marrakesh Express’ by Graham Nash and ‘Singing Call’ by Stephen Stills. Most of the tracks were recorded solo so the distinctive CSN harmonies aren’t much in evidence. However, for completists this is an interesting record of works in progress. My only complaint is that compared to the recent Rhino compilations by David Crosby and Graham Nash there is little information here, not even a booklet which is a missed opportunity.
War Ina Babylon
Island Records Reggae Anthology
To help celebrate 50 years of Island Records this 3 CD box set is incredible value for money featuring over 60 tracks most of which are essential classics. It is a fascinating journey through 5 decades of musical development. CD1 covers the early years and the growth of Ska with tracks by such people as Derrick Morgan and the Uniques. CD2 is the 1970s golden age when reggae achieved global recognition. There really isn’t a bad track on this CD and tracks by Burning Spear and Augustus Pablo are breathtaking. CD 3 ironically sounds the most dated and tracks by Chaka Demus & Pliers and Apache Indian represent a decline in standards and have not worn well. Overall though the majority of tracks here sound classic and timeless. There is no better soundtrack for the sun soaked months ahead.
After his million selling debut it would have been very easy for Paulo Nutini to follow the easy route and churn out more of the same. However, he seems to be following his instincts and has produced an album that shows he is in a period of exploration. This makes the album a bit disjointed switching as it does from the reasonably authentic reggae of ‘10/10’, the Otis Redding soul of ‘No Other Way’ to the quiet introspection of the Cat Stevens sounding ‘Chamber Music’. The only track that fails to please is the dire ‘Pencil Full of Lead’. Believe me you won’t hear a worse song this year. Someone should have told him to press the erase button. Where this leads is unknown and in 5 years time Paulo Nutini may have several classic albums under his belt or he might be back at his dad’s fish and chip shop. Either way it is good to see a young artist step off the treadmill and follow his heart and soul rather than a fat pay check.
Jarvis comes a cropper on sophomore album? Well not quite but almost. The best aspect of his music has always been its subtlety, wit, charm, understanding of pop music and strong melodies. Unfortunately with Steve Albini in the producer’s chair these characteristics often get overshadowed and lost in Albini’s bombastic high octane metal blasts. This reaches its nadir on tracks such as ‘Caucasian Blues’ & ‘Homewrecker’. Cocker just isn’t suited to this style of music and ends up sounding like the worst PIL recordings from the 1980s – an unpleasant racket. The album is saved from being a complete turkey by tracks such as ‘Angela’, ‘Leftovers’ and the superb ‘I never said I was deep’ which is as good as the best of Pulp.
Iron & Wine
This is a value for money double CD of just some of the numerous ‘B’ sides, soundtrack contributions and EP’s that Sam Beam has put out under the moniker ‘Iron & Wine over the past 5 years. Although it is not complete by any means – that would require at least a 4 CD box set – it does enable most of us to have our fix of Mr Beam until such time as his new recordings are finished. Much of the music has the Iron & wine trademarks with Beam’s breathy vocals, stripped down lo-fi production, striking imagery and gorgeous melodies. Highlights are ‘Peng’, ‘Waitin for a superman’ and ‘Sinning Hands’ with its ‘albatross’ sounding guitar. If there are any gripes about this set they are that there is no discography in the booklet or indications of original release information and also that the version of ‘The Trapeze swinger’ is the inferior studio version whereas the live version, as evidenced in this video clip, is far superior and is probably the most sublime and perfect song Sam Beam has written to date.
Manic Street Preachers
Shortly before vanishing from his flat on Schooner Way Richie Edwards gave a folder of lyrics to his band mates. Now that 14 years have elapsed and he has officially been declared ‘presumed deceased’ the band decided that now was the right time to bring Richey’s last words to life. Teaming up with Steve Albini the band has produced some of their best work to date. Combining energy, passion, emotion and strong hooks they sound like a band reborn and re-energised. Lead single from the album ‘Jackie Collins existential question time’ is a perfect example of what this band does best and it is already up there with the best of their work such as ‘Motorcycle emptiness’ and ‘A design for life’. Yes the lyrics are obtuse, intense and at times sound a bit ‘worthy’, however, I fail to see how anyone can remain unmoved by this collection, especially the poignant and prophetic ‘Williams’s last words’.
“You're the best friends I ever had
This is Huw M’s debut album and he looks set to be another Welsh artist to watch out for. Huw performed at last year’s SWN festival and has already received praise from the likes of Stuart Maconie who described his debut single as ‘stunningly beautiful music’. The music is a mix of original melodies, folk songs flavoured with a dash of world music.
The album opens with ‘Hiraeth mawr a hiraeth creulon’ and what grabs you immediately are the arrangements and in particular the beautiful cello of Lucy O’ Connor drawing you in. It speaks of ‘hiraeth’ or ‘longing’. ‘Y dror sy’n dal y sanau’ is very cinematic and with its evocative cello would fit nicely on a film soundtrack. It tells the story of people’s lives with everything in its place and lists by the bed. One of the stand out tracks is ‘Gad y diwrnod wrth y drws’ with its gentle rolling melody talks of leaving the day at the door, washing your fears in the rain and putting the past behind you as a new day is ahead. Good advice indeed. All songs on the album were written by Huw with the exception of ‘Hiraeth mawr a hiraeth creulon’ and ‘Michelle Michelle’ which are arrangements of traditional songs.
There will be the inevitable comparisons with the likes of Alun Tan Lan, The Gentle Good etc but what makes this stand out above the crowd are the quietly ambitious arrangements which although modest do help to underpin the melodies and add light and shade that make them stand out. You sense that with a bigger budget for studio and production Huw M will be producing something very special in the future. A welcome addition to the growing number of Welsh artists worthy of wider recognition.
Bat for Lashes - Two suns
The second CD by Natasha Khan aka Bat for Lashes sees a welcome inclusion of new band members; Charlotte Hatherely former Ash rock chick and one of my all time heroes keyboard virtuoso and general purveyor of wonderful sounds Ben Christophers. This does not mean that in essence Bat for Lashes has changed direction but it makes it a more polished confident offering. The track that stands out is ‘Daniel’ and others tend to wash pleasantly over you. The mood is sometimes edgy such as in ‘Piece of Mind’ which sounds at times a bit like PJ Harvey with a gospel choir backing, or mournful such as ‘Good love’. ‘Siren song’ is more old school Bat for Lashes. ‘Sleep alone’ is modern folk driven by electro beats. ‘Pearl’s dream is according to Natasha not an alto ego but a character and is another stand out track. ‘Two Planets’ is heavily overlaid with timpani and very evocative and drifts into Bjork territory with a dash of Annie Lennox. ‘Travelling woman’ could reference her hopeful move to New York and return 3 months later to Brighton. The last track ‘Big sleep’ a duet with Scott Walker is very dark. It is definitely a grower and should be played loudly and for the most part cherished
Esser – Braveface
Ben Esser, former Ladyfuzz drummer, has been around for a year or so steadily releasing a series of catchy indie pop singles all of which are included here. Tracks such as ‘I Love You’ and ‘Headlock’ are near perfect and have certainly helped become one of the artists hotly tipped. The music is not dissimilar to the likes of Just Jack and coming from London there is the inevitable Blur influence, most evident on the atmospheric ‘Real Life’.
Esser has a strong sense of melody and is adept at writing catchy choruses and hooks. At times these get a bit repetitive and if he is going to have continued success his song writing is going to need to become more sophisticated. The opening track ‘Leaving Town was co-written with Gerald Roslie and such collaborations maybe point the direction he should go as it is one of the most successful songs on the album.
With his pop star looks and the best haircut in music at the moment Esser is surely guaranteed at least a handful of top 10 singles before the decade is out.
This is Dylan’s 33rd studio album and his first number 1 chart placing in the UK since ‘New Morning’ in 1970. Most of the songs on the album were co-written with Robert Hunter from the Grateful Dead and the band includes David Hidalgo from Los Lobos and Mike Campbell from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
Dylan’s studio approach in recent years consists of the assembling a brilliant set of musicians, running through the song a couple of times and then recording the result. On the positive side this makes the music sound fresh and spontaneous, however, on the down side this leaves little time for production or arrangements.
This works to good effect with some of the tracks here such as ‘It’s All Good’ and ‘Shake Shake Mama’ which suit that bar room sound. However, other tracks such as ‘Jolene’ and ‘Life is hard’ are brilliant songs in the making, but end up sounding like promising demos in need of instrumentation and arrangements and more time. ‘Jolene’ with full brass section would be a killer. Dare I say it but Mark Ronson in the producer’s seat would have probably given Bob a top 10 radio hit.
Together through life with Bob Dylan – for better, for worse. Not classic Dylan, but as good if not better than ‘New Morning’.
I am going to have to use the dreaded ‘C’ word. Yes this is a concept album. However, those of you who still have nightmares about Rick Wakeman or Genesis you can rest easy as this is truly brilliant.
The album features guest appearances from Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Jim James, and Robyn Hitchcock and is a magnificent collection of narrative songs detailing the tale of Margaret and William and strange goings on in a forest.
It is clear that the band has listened to a lot of Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin, however, they have their own sound and some of the songs are truly excellent. There are 4 versions of the title track all of which stand in their own right. ‘A Bower song’ has a riff that would have made Jimmy Page proud and ‘Annan Water’ is as good as anything on ‘Leige & Leif’.
This isn’t an album you can dip into or put on shuffle. It is also slightly frustrating as at times it feels like you are listening to a soundtrack or a rock musical you haven’t actually seen. However, this is a minor quibble. A stage production would be fascinating.
If I can use another ‘C’ word; I suspect this is going to become a classic.
There are several reasons why live albums are usually best avoided. If the artist is able to reproduce the studio sound intact or if the live versions are sub-standard then the exercise seems pointless. Only a small handful of artists such as Hendrix or Dylan display their greatest work on live recordings and produce recordings that are actually worth buying and bare repeated plays. Cohen has joined that select number.
Last year he was the hottest ticket in town this is one of those occasions when it is actually worth buying a live recording. This 2 CD collection includes the between songs banter and in doing so helps capture the genuine warmth of the reception he received and his genuine response to it.
The musicianship is faultless and almost all of Cohen’s best songs are here. Some of the songs such as ‘Democracy’ are fairly faithfully reproduced from the original recordings whereas others such as ‘So long, Marianne’ have been updated, but retain their original beauty and impact.
This is probably going to be the best live album of the year and it is a fine memory for those that were lucky enough to have seen him in concert.
The best bands are able to transform themselves and keep evolving without losing the essence of what makes them great or instantly recognisable. Super Furry Animals prove yet again they are one such band.
Another recollection of 12 fine tracks kicking off with ‘Crazy naked girls’ a Prince meets Howlin’ Rain swamp rock. Only SFA could go from this opener to the pop stormer ‘MT’ with its deadpan lyrics and stomping beat. The most commercial track here is ‘The very best of Neil Diamond’ which deserves an award just for its title alone. However, the track itself is superb with its hypnotic Middle Eastern drift. A hit single? - provided Neil Diamond’s record company don’t object – most certainly!
The most interesting track is ‘Cardiff in the sun’ which resonates for anyone residing in the Principality with its lyrics talking of Cardiff bay with its luxury boxes and a musical backdrop of complete with Edge guitar circa ‘Boy’ and ‘October’. At over 8 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
This is the bands 9th studio album and at this rate they show no sign of compromise, self parody or running out of interesting ideas. Wales’ premier league band does it again.
Things didn’t bode well when I opened the CD case to see a morphed picture of Arthur Rimbaud and Peter Doherty. This seemed like a huge conceit or maybe he was just being ironic. The great French poet’s lifestyle was, by all accounts, not dissimilar to Doherty’s. However Rimbaud was a genius and as yet this isn’t a title he has come anywhere near attaining.
Produced by Stephen Street and featuring Graham Coxon this is actually pretty good. Had he stuck to the usual production team this would no doubt have had the usual ram shackled/thrown together sound. However, with at least some production values songs such as ‘Last of the English roses’ work really well and sound finished as opposed to works in progress. ‘1939 returning’ is an ambiguous tale of a man returning after the war and demonstrates his ability to weave a tale. ‘Broken love song’ and ‘Lady don’t fall backwards’ show real emotion and prove that he can write great songs and sing with real passion. It’s not all plain sailing and a nadir is reached with ‘Sweet by and by’ a bad version of Chas & Dave that is best skipped over.
You sense that if he could just find his own McCartney, Bernard Butler or Johnny Marr his work would be taken to a much higher level. Come to think of it maybe he just needs Carl Barat back in his life. If he can build on this collection and strengthen the musical relationships with the likes of Graham Coxon and Stephen Street then maybe he could prove the doubters wrong and be the great British hope after all.
Marianne Faithfull – Easy Come Easy Go
In the 1960s she was the golden child who ended up with Mick Jagger. In the 1970s she was a heroin addict who ended up homeless and on the streets in London. Then things turned around with the classic back from the dead album ‘Broken English’. Since the she has beaten her demons, including cancer, and continues to be one of the best interpreters of songs both ancient and modern.
This release is partially successful. Some of the songs are fairly standard jazz covers and sound pedestrian. Others just don’t suit her voice and in fact reveal inherent weaknesses. ‘Ooh baby baby’ where she duets with Antony is a case in point. At over 8 minutes long it just drags on and goes nowhere. A smouldering jazz take on ‘Somewhere’ with Jarvis Cocker also sounds ill at ease.
Where it works best is with the brilliant interpretation of Randy Newman’s ‘In Germany before the war’. She has made this her own and transformed it into a classic Brecht/Weill song. ‘Down from Dover’ by Dolly Parton is a fairly straight version but very effective and demonstrates just what a good song writer Parton actually is. The Espers cover of ‘Children of stone’ with Rufus Wainwright is hypnotic and works well despite its length. Morrissey’s ‘Dear God please help me’ in which she sings that she has explosive kegs between her legs is slightly bizarre but she just about pulls it off.
Marianne Faithfull remains one of the best British female singers of her generation and there are few others that possess voices of such ravaged intensity or the ability to interpret other people’s songs and make them their own.
I can’t think of a better album to listen to on a fine spring day in March. Although it lacks innovation and at times seems so laid back its falling over it is still thoroughly enjoyable. I can imagine this is going to get a lot of late night plays over the next 6 months with friends sitting around winding down the night.
There is very little here that sounds like it was recorded in 2009. If it had been released in1969 it would have sat well alongside Jefferson Airplane, Love and Fairport Convention. ‘Through the front door’ is gorgeous and seems to be channelling George Harrison. Almost ‘All things must pass’ part two. Not exactly original, but it is a blissful sound. Elsewhere we are in Jack Johnson territory with ‘Everyday’ which might give them a surprise summer airplay hit. We even get some pseudo southern swamp music with the vibrant ‘Another reason to go’.
Andy Cabic has written a fine collection of songs and you can tell the band is really enjoying the experience. This isn’t going to set the world on fire, but can’t think of a better album to listen to in 2009 as the sun begins to appear and our thoughts turn to the summer festival season ahead. Bella Union do it again!
Loney Dear – Dear John
Sweden’s Emil Svanängen has talked about aspiring to make a masterpiece. This isn’t it, but it comes perilously close. The subject matter seems to be self-examination and is intimate and at times a little intense and uncomfortable. The music however, is ambitious and every track sounds like a mini epic. All the more impressive when you realise it was recorded alone at home.
The sound is a combination of Emil’s high tremulous voice and mostly keyboards which at times are built up to a full production level. If there are influences then Brian Wilson seems to be the main one.
Tracks such as ‘Harm’ and ‘I got lost’ are sombre and quiet. Other tracks such as ‘Everything turns to you’ and ‘Airport surroundings’ are fast paced and driving. ‘Under a silent sea’ is fascinating starting as it does with voice accompanied by just an acoustic guitar yet within a few minutes it turns into a kind of lo-fi euphoric trance epic – simply stunning. The best is saved for last with the closing track ‘Dear John’ a full scale production number. It is a brilliant climax.
‘Dear John’ is an ambitious record and if Loney Dear can achieve this glorious and rich sound at home alone what on earth could he produce in a major studio with a producer, full band and maybe a symphony orchestra thrown in for good measure? Young man your masterpiece awaits you!
Sibrydion – Campire Classics
This is Sibrydion’s 3rd album and their first in the English language. The various connections to the Super Furry Animals and obvious shared taste in musical influences have left their mark and given them a similar sound. That being said, from the opening Spaghetti Western theme of ‘God forgives I don’t’ to the closing ‘Campire epilogue’ each track sounds like a text book perfect exercise in re-imagining the myriad of songs and artists that have influenced them most.
Some of the tracks sound a bit too close for comfort. ‘Femme mental’ is pure Bo Diddley, ‘Shangrila’ sounds like a thousand cheesy sixties hits in one and ‘Bleeding heart’ could have been a Sticky Fingers outtake. Elsewhere, however, there are some fine tunes with ‘Praying for Rain’ and ‘Rosalyn’ with it’s tin whistle and Welsh choir already sounding like a mini classic.
With SFA releasing a new album in March, The Peth supporting Oasis and now this release by Sibrydion, it looks like Welsh rock bands are becoming a force to be reckoned with.
The Joy Formidable –
A Balloon Called Moaning
This is the debut album from one of North Wales’s finest exports. Sounding as if the Cocteau Twins had been re-launched as a power house trio for the 21st century this is high octane muscular indie-rock that never looses sight of melody or self control.
Lead single from the album “Austere” moves along at a cracking pace with fuzzed up guitar and driving drum and bass over which Ritzy Bryan’s vocal sounds assertive and full of character. For me the most interesting track here is “9669” partly because it breaks with the usual ‘cranked up really high’ backing and points towards experimentation, variety and great things yet to be recorded.
This is by no means a classic debut, however, it is a fabulous calling card and screams loud and clear that the UK has another great band with a female vocalist – a relatively rare thing indeed.
Alela Diane – To Be Still
Alela Diane came to prominence alongside experimental artists such as Joanna Newsom. However, her style is largely traditional folk/country and wouldn’t have sounded out of place alongside Fairport Convention 40 years ago. This is her second release and is again co-produced by her Father Tom Menig.
Somehow you just can’t imagine Alela Diane living in a modern city environment. She sings as if from a bygone age; an age of wooden shacks, dogs on porches and where experience of the outside world rarely goes beyond the town border.
The title track “To be still” is perhaps the most immediate song here with magnificent pedal steel guitar from Peter Grant. It is both beautiful, confident and has a melody that lingers. Elsewhere “Take us back” employs an exquisite cello that matches perfectly her mournful vocal as she sings of future nostalgia for a world ravaged by environmental calamity.
Not everything here is perfect. Alela’s voice can be a thing of beauty, but it can also begin to grate. On a couple of tracks, such as “White as diamonds”, the falsetto flipping is a bit overdone and comes perilously close to sounding like a doleful yodel. Overall though, this is a great album full of intimacy, observation and authenticity. Alela Diane has the potential to be one of the best female singer songwriters of her generation. To take her to the next level it would be worth getting someone like T-Bone Burnett (‘Raising Sand’ - Plant & Klauss) in the production chair. That should give her the sonic force that would raise her up to where she belongs.
Rod Thomas – Until Something Fits
Our regular visitors will know that back last year we selected Rod Thomas as our Welsh act for 2009 and on the eve of his trip to this year’s South by South West he is releasing a mini album which collects most of the tracks he has released so far. The singles “You get goodbyes” and “Same old lines” are catchy intelligent folk pop and deserved much wider attention than they achieved. The track that for me stands out most is “Hints of him”. A haunting melodic song that intrigues with its lyric and makes you realise why Elton John is apparently already a fan. The title track includes the lines
“I’ll keep on smiling until something fits or just sticks,
I’ll keep on talking until something trips and falls into place.”
With material of this standard, the career of Rod Thomas Welsh folk disco star is beginning to fall into place.
Lily Allen – It’s not Me It’s you
Repackaged in girly pink for the new album, ‘It’s not me It’s you’, Lily Allen, the voice of the facebook generation, shows how pop should be done. Some of the tracks are so up close and personal that it is like reading her blog. She rants about failed relationships, politicians, drug culture, and celebrity lifestyle and shamelessly raids the pop archives of Take That amongst others. It all makes for very good listening and should be enough to see her re-established as the princess of pop she clearly is. She is rumoured to be booked for Glastonbury, poised to take on America. It promises to be a good year for Lily Allen.
Just what is going on over there in Canada? Every so often districts and countries seem to have a golden period and bands and artist just seem to come from nowhere and keep on coming. Right now Canada is a really furtile territory for some truly awesome music. In recent years they have given us Caribou, Chad Vangaalen, Black Mountain, The Hidden Cameras and now Wintersleep.
This album came out a few years ago but has only now appeared here. The opening track “Drunk on aluminium” is a great way to kick start the album. It is brooding, moody and has a haunting and plaintive melody. It’s worth buying the CD for that track alone.
There is a slight lack of coherence to the album and it’s difficult to pin down what exactly is the Wintersleep sound. If there is a band to reference it is probably REM in their jangly early 1990s period. Elsewhere you can hear songs that wouldn’t be out of place on a Snow Patrol or Coldplay album. If they are looking to become more distinct “Weighty ghost” may point the way. It is radically different to the rest of the album and could prove a furtile area to explore.
This is Morrissey’s 10th album from a solo career that is now over 20 years old and during which time he has tested the patience of even his most ardent admirers i.e. people like myself. However, we still come back for more regardless of the quality and his output has certainly been patchy. I am pleased to say that on this occasion it doesn’t seem like a chore at all. This is actually a very pleasing Morrissey album on many levels. There are even moments here that justify the ‘godlike’ status he was given all those years ago.
Lead single “I’m throwing my arms around Paris” already sounds like something of a classic with its dramatic metaphors sung against some beautiful guitar reminiscent of his ‘Viva Hate’ period. It is timeless and perfect. “It’s not your birthday anymore” is Morrissey at his most vitriolic and nobody does it quite like Morrissey. Health hath no fury…..
Morrissey has always maintained a sense of mystery about his personal life and this still works to good effect. When he sings about Carol we want to know who she is and what she means to the man. When he sings to someone at the end of their days in “You were good in your time” we want to know just who is it about. Indeed forums are already awash with different theories. Some are even suggesting it is about the man himself.
There is a slight problem with this album and Morrissey in general. At the age of 50 he is still singing about the type of things that young men half his age dwell on. It would be far more interesting in the years ahead if he can address some of the issues that affect someone reaching his more senior years. Morrissey singing about bus passes, zimmer frames and residential care – now that would be something to look forward to!
Emmy the Great – First Love
Having been around for a few years I’m not sure why it has taken longer for this to be released than contemporaries such as Noah & the Whale or Laura Marling. However, the wait has just about been worth it with a solid album of contemporary folk with a number of standout tracks.
Much of the subject matter seems to be autobiographical and most concern relationships. “We almost had a baby” is the truth laid bare and although it is memorable and catchy it is also quite uncomfortable to listen to. Elsewhere “MIA” documents a fatal car crash she was involved in. This is a moving song that uses the pronunciation of the title as the hook and is probably the best constructed track here. “The Easter Parade” is one of a number of songs with religious imagery and references. The songs uses the latin ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’. However, the way she sings ‘deo’ has an unfortunate similarity to the “Day-o Banana Boat song”. If this is intentional it is annoying and if not it is an unfortunate concidence!
There are some drawbacks to all this diary laid bare. After 13 songs and 45 minutes the cumulative effect is all a bit wearing. Lots of songs about ex boyfriends and the excessive use of the word ‘you’.
So is it Emmy the Great? Well perhaps not yet. Emmy the ‘promise as yet not yet fulfilled’ for now. Greatness will come in time I am sure.
Graham Nash – Reflections (boxset)
Rhino Records have done it again! This 3 CD set follows on from David Crosby’s magnificent ‘Voyage’ collection and is in the same format. It resists the temptation to include too many obscure and unreleased tracks and instead covers the timeline from the Hollies, CSN, CSN&Y and is bang up to date with his recent magnificent recordings with David Crosby.
CSN were always greater than the sum of their individual parts and what Nash brought to the group was a strong sense of melody, a pop sensibility and of course that ability to harmonise like no other. His best solo work was without doubt contained on his first 2 solo albums ‘Songs for beginners’ and ‘Wild Tales’. There was a tendency in later years as the wealth and excesses of the 1970s crept in for the music to suffer and lean towards MOR and sloganising. However, Nash’s heart was always in the right place and he was campaigning for environmental issues long before it was trendy or widely understood and that should be recognised.
The only downside to this set is that it is a bit pricey. You won’t see much change out of £50. However, if you are a new convert to all things CSN related this collection is a good place to follow on from Crosby’s. With a similar set due from Stephen Stills and Neil Young’s archive on the horizon even the most die hard fans will have plenty to keep them occupied for the years ahead.
Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour (re-master)
On the eve of receiving their lifetime achievement award at this year’s Brits, the Pet Shop Boys have released re-mastered versions of much of their back catalogue. This particular album is probably their most consistent and most likely to be enjoyed by a more traditional rock/indie audience.
The album was released in 1990 a time of the last recession and at a time when AIDS was taking its toll and prior to drugs such as AZT being widely available. The opening track ‘Being boring’ is perhaps one of the greatest serious pop songs ever written. One of those poignant, zeitgeist moments and for those of us who were around at the time it resonates loudly.
Now I sit with different faces
The somber mood permeates much of the album with tracks such as ‘This must be the place I waited years to leave’ and ‘Only the wind’ sounding bleak and being perfectly suited to a Welsh winter in the middle of an economic downturn and Tennant’s own relationship issues at the time.
25 years – who would have thought it!
Beirut – March of the Zapotec and the Realpeople Holland
This is Beirut’s first release since the ground breaking ‘Flying Club’ (2007) which brought them to prominence in the UK. In reality it is 2 EPs spliced together and 2 more different sets could you expect or hope for.
The first half of the album is Zach Condon alongside what sounds like a Mexican funeral band. This combined with his somewhat lugubrious singing style begins to wear thin after a few tracks, 3 of which are instrumental. After 2 minutes of silence we get the Holland EP and what a difference! We suddenly have keyboards and things are transformed into a upbeat, colourful world of melodic hooks and is much more suited to Zach’s vocal style. Whether the 2 minutes of silence is simply a way of bridging 2 radically different sets of songs or whether it is a symbolic 2 minutes of silence to mark the passing of one stage of their career for the next remains to be seen.
The 5 tracks that comprise the Holland section sound fresh and reward repeated listening. Something it has to be said I have failed to gain from previous Beirut releases. ‘Venice’ is the most successful and incorporates some of the brass instrumentation he is best known for. It is already one of my favourite tracks of the year so far.
Hopefully the Holland tracks on this collection will point the way for Beirut’s new direction rather than just a one off experiment.
Mary Hopkin – Recollections
If you mention her name most people automatically think of ‘Those were the days’ her massive hit from 1968 produced by Paul McCartney. If that is all she is known for it would be a shame because she was, and thankfully still is, a fine folk singer with a voice of purity and beauty. Had she not had such commercial success she would probably be ranked alongside the likes of Anne Briggs and Vashti Bunyan
In recent years Mary has been working on releasing archive material from her vaults (actually her attic!) with Jess & Chris at Cardiff’s Space Studios. This is the follow up to ‘Valentine’ and contains a further 11 tracks recorded between 1970 and 1986.
The opening track ‘Long time ago’ sounds as though it could have been a hit single back in the late 1960s and it makes you wonder why it has taken nearly 40 years to be released. ‘Lion tamer’ the Stephen Schwartz show tune from ‘The Magic Show’ sounds a little whimsical in the cold light of 2009, but it has a period charm about it. There are 2 stand out songs on this collection. The first is ‘Quiet moments’ written by Dominic King & Frank Musker. This sounds like it should be a standard by now, but I can’t locate or recall any other versions. The other is Mary’s own composition ‘Another day’ which has a haunting refrain. It does suffer a little from a slightly dated production and being such a fine song it would be worth while remixing or possibly re-recording the backing track.
Overall this will be a welcome addition to the Mary Hopkin archive and will be much appreciated by Mary's devoted followers.
Reports suggest that Mary Hopkin will be recording new material again this year and it would be interesting to hear her covering contemporary songs from the likes of Alela Diane, Vetiver, The Gentle Good, Fleet Foxes or Laura Marling. This would not only be a fascinating project, but it would also help bring her to the notice of a whole new generation.
Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light
The first album was visceral and challenging, the award winning second with its wide range of styles made him known to a wider public. After the shift in status that the Mercury Prize gave him he could have been forgiven for letting it go to his ahead and the third album could have been overblown and pompous. However, the ‘Crying Light’ is restrained, delicate and succeeds through its power of understatement and often by its brevity.
Antony’s voice has to be one of the seven wonders of the modern musical world. It is a thing of extraordinary beauty. That, together with the backdrop of his life story, make for fascinating listening.
Much has been made of the Nina Simone influence, however, on more than one of these songs you can hear the impact that Boy George had upon the young Antony growing up. In another world and if things had developed differently with his solo career, I could imagine Mr O’Dowd singing songs such as ‘Kiss my name’ and ‘One dove’.
The album works as a whole and there is a definite sound to the record. Much of it is slow, almost ponderous with use of piano, woodwind and violin. There is little percussion or guitar to be found. This could become one dimensional and on some of the songs, such as ‘Daylight and the sun’ at over 6 minutes, things do begin to drag. Far more effective is the title track ‘The Crying Light’ which at just over 3 minutes and one chorus has far more impact.
There are two tracks that are destined to become classic Antony & the Johnnsons. ‘Eplipesy is dancing’ with its refrain of “Cut me in the quadrants, leave me in the corner” is both intriguing and disturbing. The other is song ‘Aeon’. It is not uncommon for singers to write songs about their parents; John Lennon (Julia), Rufus Wainwright (Dinner at eight) even Ian Dury (My old man). Antony’s homage to his father is that moment on the record that really takes things onto another level. When he sings the line “Hold that man I love so much” it really does take your breath away. This is Antony’s take on Otis Redding and is Stax slowed down, deconstructed and placed firmly away from the dance floor. It is a thing of perfection and makes the album worth buying for this track alone.
So where does Antony go from here? An album of covers? A dance album? After three albums of such variety and change he deserves to do as he pleases and that freedom is what makes the outcome all the more intriguing. We will wait with baited breath.
This band have seemingly come from nowhere and the only information I could find was that they come from Salem Boston USA, have two drummers and that the Sunday Times said they were “a rougher brighter form of Arcade Fire”. They have also found favour Radio 1.
Lead singer John Francis Murphy has a voice which reminded me at times of Kevin Coyne and the tracks were so diverse that it does get a bit confusing. I found it difficult to form an opinion of the CD as a whole. Definitely “a multi-part miniature pop odyssey” to quote the Sunday Times again.
You definitely need to hear this on your HiFi rather than iPod as there are layers of instruments on some tracks such as harmonium and Banjo that you might miss otherwise.
I just wasn’t sure where they were going with it all and maybe I need to give it a few more plays for it to become more familiar. Standout tracks are “Over your heart” and “Sleepy lion”.
The CD is currently only available via Rough Trade at www.roughtrade.com
This is the experimental quartet’s 9th studio album and takes its title from an outdoor venue in their home city of Baltimore (difficult to imagine a Welsh band calling an album Cardiff International Arena or Dempsey’s but you never know!) What is so refreshing about this collection of tracks is that it sounds fresh, original and uplifting, containing a genuinely new sound that is infectious – once you get hooked.
So how is this sound constructed? Vocals are Beach Boy sweet with strong hooks and harmonies. There are repetitive refrains over samples, keyboard arpeggios, white noise beats and other found sounds. In its own way the impact and effect reminded me of the best of house music, burrowing its way into your mind and memory. It is experimental yet still accessible and could do for Animal Collective what ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ did for Underworld back in the 1990s.
The CD works as a whole but songs/tracks that immediately stand out are ‘My Girls’, ‘Bluish’ and the final track African infused ‘Brother Sport’ brings the album to a driving, climactic, joyous conclusion.
Euros Childs – Cheer Gone
This is Euros’ fourth solo release and was recorded over 6 days at ex-Lambchop Mark Never’s house in Nashville. Musicians appearing on the CD include Steven Black a.k.a. Sweet Baboo.
Euros has a very distinctive voice instantly recognizable and here he seems to be doing what the does best. There is nothing particularly original, but it is a good collection of songs with a country feel. The playing is solid and authentic. Stand out tracks are “Farm hand murder” which is quite sinister and brooding and the charming and sweet “Saving up to get married”.
The album is a bit on the short side at just over 30 minutes and it probably won’t win him any new fans. However, it should keep his merry band of followers happy for the time being. I’m not sure though if he can keep producing records like this indefinitely. It makes you ponder whether a Gorky’s reunion isn’t too far away.
Chad Vangaalen – Soft Airplane
This is the third album from Vangaalen with previous release Skelliconnection being short-listed for the Polaris Prize - Canadian equivalent of the Mercury Prize. Apart from being a fine singer and musician, he is also an illustrator an animator. Needless to say his art and animation have been used to full effect for his album artwork and videos.
This CD was given to me by Trevor Anderson from Wet Secrets when he was over in October. Having surveyed my CD collection he concluded, quite rightly as it turns out, that Chad would be up my street. The first thing that you need to overcome with Chad’s voice is that he sings in a quivery high octave, he occasionally plays the harmonica and yes he is Canadian. Yes the Neil Young comparisons are inevitable but they soon disappear once you get to know his work better and realise just what a cracking collection of songs and performances there are on this record.
The opening track of “Willow Tree” is perhaps the most Neil Young sounding on the CD. It is a simple and beautiful melody with a gently upbeat banjo backing. There is huge range throughout from the fist in the air crunchy power pop of “Bare feet on wet griptape” through to the quasi electro “TMNT mask”. The track that stood out for me and was included in our top 50 tracks of 2008 was “Rabid Bits of Time”. A solo acoustic number with one of those guitar parts that seems almost suspended in mid air before leading into a haunting chorus
‘No one knows where we go when we’re dead or when we’re dreaming’
Chad’s work is supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage amongst others. This does make you wonder why institutions such as our very own Welsh Arts Council don’t seem to fund singers and bands in the same way they do the visual arts, dance etc. If such support helps produce work of this standard then perhaps they should consider this option and enable artist such as Chad Vangaalen to focus on making music rather than having to grab work in call centres or burger bars to pay the rent. Rant over but why not???
It has been decades – pardon the pun - since we were reliably informed that the Neil Young archives were about to be released. It now seems as though they might actually start appearing early in 2009 with Amazon America already advertising a 10 DVD collection (how do you get that on your iPod or play in your car??). If this collection is anything to go by our wait will have been well worth it.
Some of the best Neil Young songs have either never been officially released such as “Sweet Joni” “Give me Strength” and “Traces” and others such as “Ordinary People” have taken years to finally get recorded and released. Of course numerous illicit ‘live’ recordings exist throughout Neil’s career, however, to my knowledge there is little available as early as this. Recorded shortly after he had left the Buffalo Springfield and before his debut solo LP had been released this provides a fascinating insight into exactly where he was during this particular time.
This recording catches him in a playful and relaxed mood happy to share his new songs as well as performing some old Buffalo Springfield tracks. Highlights include “Birds” which would later appear with piano accompaniment on ‘After the Goldrush’ and a stripped down acoustic version of “Loner” that is radically different to the recorded version. There is also a tantalising snippet of a new melody he had written that would later become “Winterlong”.
The in between song ‘raps’ are often highly amusing “I used to be a blues band!” especially as they would normally be removed from official live recordings.
There is a slight health warning for this release as there is audible hiss throughout. This didn’t detract from my enjoyment, but might be a problem for the hi-fi buffs out there. It is worth bearing with and you will probably find you are tuning it out after a few tracks.
If this is anything to go by the forthcoming archives should prove to be an incredibly rich body of material that will keep Neil Young fans and aficionados occupied for decades to come.
This is an incredible album and I’m not sure I mean that in a good way.
This was produced by Stuart Price aka ‘Jacques Lu Cont’ and ‘Les Rythmes Digitales’ who has also worked with Madonna and Keane. The sound is inspired by the 1980s, but apparently the worst apsects of 80s music, much of which was not built to last and now just sounds dated.
The album starts well enough with “Losing touch” with crunching guitars and a strong melody. However, next up is the first single from the album “Human” which is catchy and memorable, but to these ears it sounds as though the Pet Shop Boys had been persuaded against their better judgement to produce a track for Chris de Burgh in 1985 which then went on to be a minor hit in Germany. The lyrics have been described elsewhere as clunky, but they are just nails on the blackboard bad. “Are we human or are we dancer” indeed.
Elsewhere it plays like spot the influence “Joyride” – sub standard Duran Duran, “This is your life” – Talking Heads etc etc.
There are a couple of tracks that prevent it being a complete turkey, such as “A dustland Fairytale” and the closing track “Goodnight travel well” although even this reminded me of “For Your Pleasure” period Roxy Music.
Having listened to this several times I had to go back to ‘Hot Fuss’ which by contrast sounded fresh, energised and orginal. Stuart Price has enabled Keane to try new ideas and sounds without being smothered. However, with the Killers he has revealed weaknesses rather than enhanced the band’s sound.
Maybe the album will grow in stature and in five years time we will look back and hail it as a classic. Somehow I doubt it. Give the band a bunch of Nugget compilations and get John Cale in the studio. Now that would be interesting.
Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom (re-issue)
Work on this record began back in 1972 when ex-Soft Machine Robert Wyatt was staying in Venice with friends involved in the filming of ‘Don’t Look Now’. A year later, on the eve of rehearsals for the recording, he fell from a 4th floor window and broke his back. The impact of this was not only physical and no doubt emotional, but as a drummer it also made him reassess his future in music and made him give more emphasis to his singing and the need to work with other musicians.
1974 wasn’t a particularly good time for music. Glam was on the wane and bands such as T.Rex and Slade were off chasing a fairly fruitless quest for fame Stateside. Progressive music was largely wallowing in the pompous and grandiose with the likes of Yes, Genesis and god help us ELP. There were however, a small band of musicians such as Wyatt, Eno, Gong and Henry Cow who continued to explore new areas of music. Some of it hasn’t worn well, but the odd gem emerged and continues to influence musicians today.
The album opens with “Sea Song” recently covered by Rachel Unthank. This drifts and shimmers with a haunting and delicate melody sung by Wyatt’s tremulous voice. The rest of side one does veer towards drawn out progressive passages which can sound overlong. However side two more than makes up for this with an incredible triptych of “Alifib”, “Alife” & “Little Red Robin Hit the Road”. The nonsense poetry of Alifib is disconcerting at first but as nonsensical as it sounds it kind of makes sense or at least sounds as though it should. No doubt the ‘herbal’ tea at the time had at least some part to play in this!
No nit not
Nit no not
Nit nit folly bololey
Alife my larder
The album reaches a finale with the multi-layered “Little Red Robin” featuring the much missed Ivor Cutler and the instantly the recognisable guitar of Mike Oldfield.
Records like this probably wouldn’t get made today, or at least not by major labels. Back in 1974 labels such as Virgin, largely bankrolled by Tubular Bells, were willing and able to give artists the time to develop and grow. As a result treasures such as this emerged and if you can overcome the occasional hippy whimsy and indulgence it is a treasure well worth seeking out.
Having read some rave reviews of this, including 5 stars from the Sunday Times, I had high expectations of this release. My initial reaction was disappointment. On first listening it seemed a bit bland and ever so slightly soporific and so I didn’t rush to review it. However, I stuck with it and having listened to the album repeatedly it has slowly revealed itself to be a thing of beauty and to put it simply I can’t stop playing it.
Broderick is just 21 and had already established himself in Portland as a live musician and session player before accepting an invitation to join his heroes Efterklang in Copenhagen. No doubt his friends and family might have questioned the wisdom of this move, but it has paid off in droves.
‘Home’ is subtle and atmospheric, almost ambient in places. If Brian Eno had played acoustic guitar 30 years go his ‘Music for Airports’ might have sounded similar to tracks such as “There and here”. Others like “Sickness, bury” begin slowly with a repeated motif which keeps growing and growing until it reaches a crescendo of colossal proportions. You can just imagine how it could be used on a soundtrack as the backdrop to the climax of a film, particularly if there was a dramatic frozen landscape involved. Probably the most accessible track is “And it’s alright” which seems destined to be adopted by the likes of radio chill and could do for Broderick what “Blower’s Daughter” did for Damien Rice.
Sometimes the people you meet who seem quiet and not that interesting slowly reveal themselves over time and as a result turn out to be lifelong friends. Spend a few weeks listening to this and you will be listening to this album for rest of your life.
Like most people my first exposure to Novice Theory was on a recent episode of ‘Later’. Apparently a last minute addition after the producer had seen him by chance performing live in London. First reaction was one of intrigue and by the end of the song I was heading for Google to find out just who this talented young American was.
The best songwriters make use of their personal life experiences as song material. Novice Theory (AKA Geo Wyeth) has more than most to draw from. Mixed race, Yale educated and transgendered (born a girl now a young man).
This collection of songs is available on iTunes but has not yet had a physical release in this country. It has the feel of a series of demos and judging by the pitch of the vocal was recorded over time. On certain tracks such as “A coming of age song” the vocal sounds unmistakably female. However, on others such as “Vignettes” the sound is that of a young man. This song is particularly fascinating dealing with the conflicts that occur when you are young, mixed race, trans etc and trying to seek a place to fit in and parental understanding.
Influences are varied ranging from classical to jazz and the fairly obvious Keith Jarrett obsession through to musical show tunes. The use of the accordion on a couple of tracks causes me problems, but only because I am still overcoming an early exposure to Captain Pugwash that has left me deeply scarred!
Given a record deal, a decent budget and a full selection of musicians it will be fascinating to see what Novice Theory can produce. Early days, but I for one cannot wait to hear the results.
This is Eugene’s 2nd CD although last year’s “The Early Learnings of” seems to now be classed as a mini album.
According to the dictionary vignettes are short, impressionistic scenes that focus on one moment or give a trenchant impression about a character, an idea, or a setting. This is a collection of great ‘vignettes’. Songs that in the space of just a few minutes really enable you to fully comprehend a character or situation brilliantly. It is also a collection of extreme diverse, but traditional, musical styles from the opening skiffle of “Rings Around Rosa” to the 1930s ballad of “Those Old Black and White Movies Were True”. He seems to be at ease with them all. He is alo proving to be a sharp witted lyricist. Concise, precise and at times highly amusing.
“We said farewell
It is worth mentioning the production from Ant Whiting which provides a sympathetic sound that has just enough going on to be interesting without smothering the songs.
This is a great album and one which should help establish him as one of the brightest young singers we have and if it isn’t too much of a heavy burden of expectation to put on his young shoulders, this release also demonstrates that he has the potential to be one of the best British songwriters of his generation.