Recommended gig

Sion Russell Jones, Brigyn & Little Arrow at St John's Church, Canton, Cardiff on Saturday 10th November 7.30pm. Tickets available from: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/189421.












.... 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

Top 50 Albums of 2011

Newsoundwales has trawled through the past 12 months and made a selection of our top 50 albums of the year. Perhaps not a classic year for music, but there were some exceptional recordings and an ever growing array of Welsh artists who are beginning to make their mark throughout the UK and beyond. The selection is varied but all are recommended and have, in differing ways, given us hours of aural pleasure during 2011.

1. Destroyer - Kaputt

http://youtu.be/puu3IvKnSb4

2. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

http://youtu.be/5tFBo1QunlA

3. Jonathan Wilson - Gentle Spirit

http://youtu.be/-hYiY1vOOVw

4. Low - C'mon

http://youtu.be/wXgc0I0zsYs

5. Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo

http://youtu.be/usGdERPWoPU

6. James Vincent McMorrow - Early in the Morning

http://youtu.be/29zK3hdQC48

7. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

http://youtu.be/FPZi07zckWA

8. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

http://youtu.be/j-TMl5oCRjk

9. Wild Beasts - Smother

http://youtu.be/qUJYqhKZrwA

10. Zervas & Pepper - Somewhere in the City

http://youtu.be/RoyD7PWETWw

11. The View - Bread & Circuses

http://youtu.be/R3OpXan8CD0

12. Elbow - Build a Rocket Kid

http://youtu.be/NItwaz0nLJA

13. Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi

http://youtu.be/4KVVCHeHKXM

14. Y Niwl - Y Niwl

http://youtu.be/hLZPdHn0RQo

15. Noel Gallagher - High Flying Birds

http://youtu.be/kFx_IniNjfE

16. Metronomy - The English Riviera

http://youtu.be/sFrNsSnk8GM

17. The Soft Hearted Scientists - Wandermoon

http://youtu.be/QpLpVnQFWYw

18. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

http://youtu.be/0KrmxavLIRM

19. Ed Sheeran - +

http://youtu.be/c4BLVznuWnU

20. Wibidi - Tiger Baby

http://youtu.be/2UhGZDdi9MQ

21. Baby Dee - Regifted Light

http://youtu.be/X1-LTGCgzuM

22. Ben Howard - Every Kingdom

http://youtu.be/UzzCthKw_C0

23. Jonny - Jonny

http://youtu.be/0yhaEch_Iuc

24 . Noah & the Whale - Last Night on Earth

http://youtu.be/fbGUEelmzxo

25. Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

http://youtu.be/0aV9YmaZZTU

26. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow

http://youtu.be/A-DB2btV2oQ

27. Al Lewis - Ar Gof a Chadw

http://youtu.be/mGnz_FjqA5s

28. Gillian Welch - The Harrow & the Harvest

http://youtu.be/qkjBZlcB66M

29. Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting

http://youtu.be/BvsfGhEqnXE

30. James Blake - James Blake

http://youtu.be/MVgEaDemxjc

31. Misty's Big Adventure - Family Amusement Centre

http://youtu.be/FJSZN1DS9_A

32. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine

http://youtu.be/M-Lr0igwLIY

33. Los Campesinos - Hello Sadness

http://youtu.be/_ku_ZMPJ5M0

34. Florence & the Machine - Ceremonials

http://youtu.be/HGH-4jQZRcc

35. The Decemberists - The King is Dead

http://youtu.be/iNr4imfMUeE

36. Texas Radio Band - Bluescreen

37. Marianne Faithfull - Horses & High Heels

http://youtu.be/8YQdjL8nwW0

38. The Antlers - Burst Apart

http://youtu.be/QNcSy_jPMcM

39. The Waterboys - An appointment with Mr Yeats

http://youtu.be/HHSPSL64R-8

40. Ffred Jones - Welsh Whiskey Society

http://youtu.be/vM7dO3NJqBM

41. Christopher Rees - Heart on fire

http://youtu.be/7Y_-1ehqAx4

42. Jeffrey Lewis - A turn in the dream songs

http://youtu.be/aDINJ7BvjyQ

43. Jam with Robina - Dark Recollections

http://youtu.be/z1Js_3ZCd3g

44. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

http://youtu.be/vZYbEL06lEU

45. The Unthanks - Last

http://youtu.be/4IrA9HqPNlM

46. Radiohead - King of limbs

http://youtu.be/cfOa1a8hYP8

47. H Hawkline - Strange uses of ox gall

http://youtu.be/rYsT-UDfXtI

48. Rebecca Pronsky - Viewfinder

http://youtu.be/phsxNmYqefk

49 . Arctic Monkeys - Suck it and see

http://youtu.be/TlYJKfunfC0

50. Bombay Bicycle Club - A different kind fix

http://youtu.be/oDuif301F-8


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Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness



Hot on the heels of relationship break ups this album isn't quite "Blood on the tracks" nevertheless it is exploring darker and more intense territory than previous releases. This is the band's fourth album and they have a definite sound of their own that is instantly recognisable, mostly due to lead singer Gareth's lyrics and vocal style. The subject matter may be heartfelt, but is never maudlin or self indulgent. In fact at times the music sounds liberated and cathartic. " By your hand " is classic Campesinos with its cleverly constructed melody and lyrical twists. In an alternative universe this would be a top ten hit. Los Campesinos are growing and demonstrate that the best bands need time to develop and fulfil their potential. They could yet be as big as bands such as Noah & the Whale, although to their credit you suspect that isn't something that registers on their radar.



.............................................................................................................

Wibidi - Tiger Baby



If you like subtlety, obscure lyrics and mellow music then don't buy this album. If on the other hand you like clarity, killer rhythm tracks and a general good time this is the album for you. Yet another off shot of the Super Furry Animals, Wibidi burst onto the scene over the summer and recently undertook a national tour of Wales. On stage it is clear that the band are up for a good time and seem genuinely enthused to be performing. Much of the album is up tempo with the occasional reggae vibe. Lead single " What gets you home at night " should get deserved airplay and "I hate Nazi bastards" pulls no punches with its smouldering diatribe against intolerance. There are some 1970s influences with the odd snatch of Bowiesque saxophone and there is also a cover of T.Rex's "Life's a gas" which serves as a reminder of just what an underrated song writer Marc Bolan was. Buy this album and play it loud.



.............................................................................................................

Texas Radio Band - Bluescreen

You could have been forgiven for thinking that the Texas Radio Band had gone away to have babies never to be seen again. Certainly leaving 4 years between albums is a high risk strategy. However, they have come back with a solid and varied album well stocked with some killer tracks. There is always going to be the Super Furry's comparison largely due to some vocal similarities and this is most evident this time around on ' Bicentennial Man' . However, elsewhere their own character takes shape and shines through. ' Telescope ' is a mellow, drifting beauty and ' See what you're saying' is a 70s glam fest bonanza. Life is that much better with the Texas Radio Band making music again.

www.texasradioband.com
.............................................................................................................


John Cale - Extra Playful EP



Cale is newly signed to the Domino Records imprint ' Double Six'. This tater EP is refreshing and jam packed with ideas and serves as a timely reminder that he is still capable of producing music that is as vital as players a third his age. Tracks such as Hey Ray are playful and often surreal with some of the most intriguing lyrics you'll hear this year:

The Russians are coming - no they're not

The French are coming - ooh la la

The Italians are coming - whoopee

The Americans are coming - oh shit

The British are coming - not again!

Amongst the other songs What ya mean by that is the stand out illustrating his more sensitive side and often overlooked vocal ability. If this EP is anything to go by then next year's album could just kick start the long overdue John Cale renaissance. Now that would be a nice 70 th birthday present!



.............................................................................................................


Bright Light Bright Light - A Disco Moment EP



Neath's very own Rod Thomas has certainly evolved over the past few years from ukulele folk to the full blown electro pop of his new venture Bright Light Bright Light. This new EP is incredibly polished and manages to pull off that Pet Shop Boys trick of making pop music that sounds current, is extremely infectious and danceable at the same time as being emotive and bitter sweet. Bright Light Bright Light's debut album should finally see the light of day early next year. The future's bright, very bright.


.............................................................................................................


Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know



There was a moment of extreme hyperbole this year when Laura Marling was introduced at one of the summer festivals as 'one of the greatest folk singers of all time'. Give the girl a break she is only 20 and this is only her third album! It is rather good though and further evidence that she is a genuine talent. That gentle falsetto flip; that synchronised guitar vocal interplay are helping to establish her own identity and distinctive sound. The opening track The Muse has an unfortunate resemblance to the blankety blank theme. However, that aside there are some truly spine tingling moments such as Sophia and Salinas . No she is not he new folk messiah, but she is very, very good and getting better.



.............................................................................................................


Paper Aeroplanes - A Comfortable Sleep EP



Paper Aeroplanes are gradually establishing a strong reputation as a live band with a growing catalogue of memorable, well crafted songs sung to perfection by Sarah Howells. This EP is a strip backed production featuring 4 new songs. The highlight is most definitely " Tuesday " with its strong heart felt narrative and perfectly matched arrangement. The EP is due for release 15 th September.


.............................................................................................................

Jonathan Wilson - Gentle Spirit




If you shudder at the thought of a debut album in excess of 70 minutes long released by an artist so obsessed with music of early 1970s laurel canyon that he recorded it on original analogue equipment from the period then maybe this album isn't for you. However, if you are happy to sit back and absorb mellow grooves that drift into blissed out jams then this could be one of your favourite albums of the year. The starting point is most definitely California rock 1968-1972 which was well past its prime before Wilson was even born. In lesser hands this could have become mere mimicry if it weren't for the incredible musicianship, excellent song writing and sense of melody. Although the tracks are long with few less than 6 minutes very few outstay their welcome. Neil Young is obviously a key influence and the epic closing track " Valley of the silver moon " travels perilously close to " Tonight's the night ". Elsewhere however, Wilson's superb guitar playing and excellent production is close to perfection reaching its zenith on " Desert Raven ". I doubt you will hear a more beautiful track this year. Yet further evidence, if any were needed, that Bella Union is the zeitgeist label of the moment.



.............................................................................................................

Lowri Evans - Dydd a nos




Browsing in record stores on holiday recently, in a Welsh-speaking part of north Wales, I noticed that Lowri Evans' fourth album Dydd a nos (Day and night) was one of this summer's best-sellers. Released in June in Wales, Dydd a nos has now been released UK-wide (on 8 August). It will be promoted on a tour of festivals and other venues throughout the UK. The album, on Sain's Rasal label, comprises six tracks in Welsh and four in English. The sound is commercial and catchy; Lowri's vocals warm and charming. A range of musical styles are referenced by her accomplished band, from jazz to country. For instance, cello and pedal steel guitar set the mood, respectively, on Rhywbeth gwell na hyn ? (Something better than this) and How do you do? Other highlights include the uplifting Pob Siawns (Every chance) and The Only Woman . Overall, the album settles into a likeable radio-friendly groove: just the thing for a relaxing Welsh summer holiday.

(Reviewed by Stephen Nottingham)

.............................................................................................................

Misty's Big Adventure
The Family Amusement Centre



This much delayed album was finally released following pledges from fans of the band and yes we put our money where our mouth was in order to hear this album. Misty's Big Adventure have always managed to combine dark humour, political commentary and great pop music. There is plenty of that in evidence here such as " Mickey Mouse " which is subversive pop at its very best. Elsewhere " Queen Betty " deals with the loss of a relative and could easily have been cheesy, but manages to avoid this to be poignant and touching and sounds like a lost Madness classic. The album also features a guest monologue from Sir Patrick Moore on " General Confusion " who apparently bought fish and chips for the band after the session had finished. Misty's Big Adventure are the closest thing in 2011 we have to the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band and as such should be treasured.

Misty's Big Adventure, The Family Amusement Centre from Grumpy Fun on Vimeo.

.............................................................................................................

Sibrydion - Uwchben Y Drefn




Fourth album from the band from Waunfawr and the first since their breakthrough English language album 'Campfire Classics'. Rather than pursue easy bucks the band have returned with a Welsh language album of well produced genre hopping. From from the opening salvo of " Drosty Byd I Gyd " where the Pistols meet the Rubettes, to the phone in the air beauty of " Codi Cestyll ". At times the band drift perilously close to sounding like an 80s S4C show band such as " Cadw'r Blaidd O'r Drws ". The sort of track which is more fun to play than listen to. That being said Sibrydion are fast overcoming the SFA comparisons and forging their own path. A great Welsh band? Not quite yet, but they're getting there.



.............................................................................................................

Destroyer - Kaputt

Dan Bejar is probably best known in this country as part of Canada's New Pornographers. However, he has recorded and released much more material as vocalist with his other project Destroyer. Kaputt is the band's 9 th album and has been short listed for this year's Polaris Prize, Canada's equivalent to the Mercury's. Dan Bejar's vocal style has been described by Rolling Stone Magazine as 'Glam folk' but on this album it's more like Glam folk meets 80s electro pop. Possibly not good on paper, but the result is a thing of great beauty with Bejar's unique vocal style and unorthodox lyrics matched with strong melodic mellow electronic pop. This apparent mismatch might irritate or confuse some, but given time its magic seeps into your soul. Highlights are the title track Kaputt and Song for America that with its "who knew" refrain is probably the most accessible track here. If that isn't enough there is a stunningly gorgeous 20 minute near instrumental The Laziest River that closes an album that has already guaranteed itself a high placing in our top 50 albums of 2011.


.............................................................................................................

Soft Hearted Scientists - Wandermoon

Much delayed new release from one of Wales' finest bands who set their stall by stating that " psychedelia may be the greatest cultural achievement of humanity ". That's up for debate, however, there is no doubting that this band are progressing organically and in the process producing some truly wonderful music. Gentle melodies, rich vocals and intriguing lyrics. There is always a danger that musicians who are obsessed with 60s psychedelia will simply emulate their heroes and end up sounding like a pale imitation. However, with this album, The Soft Hearted Scientists demonstrate that such inspiration can work wonders by taking the elements from a bygone age and gradually evolving their own sound which is instantly recognisable and enchanting. I sincerely doubt you will hear a more magical track than " Tornadoes in Birmingham " or a more beguiling one than the title track " Wandermoon " this year.

.............................................................................................................

Iridescence - Iridescence




Liam Davey and Graham Shimell formed Iridescence in 2010 after meeting on an arts course in Cardiff. This eponymous six-track EP of self-penned material is their first recording. Liam plays acoustic guitar, classically and percussively, while Graham has an impressive vocal range. Their cited influences include Bjork, Rodrigo y Gabriela and The Smiths. They move between two modes on this EP: Muse-like rock ( Overkill and Nightmare Epiphany ) and a slower, acoustic sound ( How Sad I Was ). The best track here is the dreamy Languor and Ecstasy , featuring classical guitar, warm vocals and spacious background electronica. It is one of two tracks with words by symbolist French poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). I lied about the six tracks, by the way. There's a bonus seventh - a fine acoustic cover of Led Zeppelin's Friends . More a work in progress than the finished article, Iridescence display consummate musicianship and, when in literary acoustic mode, are an interesting prospect.
(Reviewed by Stephen Nottingham)


.............................................................................................................

Houdini Dax - You Belong To Dax Darling




Yet another Welsh act from the ' seemonkeydomonkey ' stable; a label that is definitely making its mark and establishing a house style. Unlike some of the other acts on the label, Houdini Dax are still in their teens. What strikes you is how tight they are as a band with superb guitar work. What works well here is the variety of the music, the arrangements and their sheer energy and enthusiasm. There is room for growth especially on the vocals and song writing - more hooks please! Overall, yet more evidence of how strong Cardiff's indie band scene is in 2011.


.............................................................................................................


Daughter - His Young Heart EP




Some of you may have seen Daughter when she supported John Grant in Cardiff recently. On the face of it you may well ask do we really need yet another young female singer with an acoustic guitar singing songs of angst and heartbreak? The answer is a resounding yes when the songs are as good as this. The lead song on the EP " Landfill " is the most beautiful break up song since Bon Iver's Skinny Love full of loss, anger and hurt. If you like Laura Marling then track down this EP on iTunes. You won't be disappointed.



.............................................................................................................


Sarah Jarosz - Follow Me Down



The popularity of country music may ebb and flow but it never goes away. The recent success of Scott McCreery on American Idol demonstrates that in the States, it is as popular as ever. Alongside the more commercial red neck variety there is a healthy supply of authentic roots music being made. One of the best of the new singers is Sarah Jarosz who has just released her sophomore album 'Follow me down'. Although she works within a traditional musical form, she is not afraid to experiment as evidenced here by the superb and haunting cover of Radiohead's " The Tourist ". Her abilities as a songwriter are growing and she has stretched herself to produce songs that belie her 20 years such as the flighty, jazz tinged " Come Around " and the tender " My Muse ". Sarah Jarosz is a special and rare talent whose best is yet to come.



.............................................................................................................


Zervas & Pepper - Somewhere in the City



This is the debut album from songwriters Paul Zervas & Kath Pepper who are Cardiff based, although if you had told me they were from Laurel Canyon and this album was recorded in 1971 I would have believed you. The songs are sun drenched, powerfully melodic and contain harmonies to die for. Wearing their influences clearly on your sleeve isn't always advisable and there is no escaping the band has been influenced by artists such as James Taylor, the Eagles and CSN. However, with the likes of Midlake and Fleet Foxes referencing UK acts from the late 60s why shouldn't a band from Wales emulate their American influences? This is not, however, a mere tribute act. Zervas & Pepper have some strong material and songs such as " Running solo " and " Somewhere in the city " are well constructed, strong on melody and perfect for radio. Zervas & Pepper are not too dissimilar to Paper Aeroplanes who are currently in the ascendancy. I see no reason why Zervas & Pepper shouldn't follow in their slip stream on the upward trajectory.



.............................................................................................................

Omega66 - Nools and High Horses




Dance music is notoriously fickle and so fast moving at times that tracks recorded today can sound tired and dated tomorrow. There are also very few bands that have managed to operate sustain success in the dance field for any length of time with most of the success and rewards being enjoyed by producers, DJs and promoters. Despite this, Omega66 have battled on and as a result have become Cardiff's finest exponent of funk and dance pop. Admittedly a few of the tracks here do sound a tad dated. However, these are outweighed by the ridiculously catchy ' Celebrity Burn Out' and the title track " Nools and High Horses " both of which could be hit singles with the right amount of airplay. There are also signs of development and a move away from pure dance music with the Bootsy Collins / Air mash up of " Magic Notion " and a stunning vocal on " Unbreakable one ". A fine, solid dance infused album with much to recommend itself to Welsh dance music aficionados.

.............................................................................................................

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues




When the Fleet Foxes first started out and there was a growing SXSW buzz their myspace influences were listed, tellingly, as Crosby Stills & Nash, Judee Sill and the Trees Community. As their reputation quickly spread these were replaced with more generic and less revealing ones. Listening to 'Helplesness Blues' you can clearly hear how those artists have had such an impact upon their music. The Plains/Bitter Dancer is pure CSN and at times you wonder whether Robin Pecknold is yet another of David Crosby's long lost love children. There is little musical development from their debut, more of an enhancement and more depth. Songs such as Sim Sala Bim and Lorelai have glorious harmonies, lush pastoral instrumentation and intriguing lyrics. If you are a fan of late 60s folk rock you will love this album.



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Christopher Rees - Heart on Fire


Some might find the genre hopping of Christopher Rees something of a challenge. However, you have to admire his ambitious vision and with a result as fine as this, it is definitely worth any confusion it might cause amongst his audience. On this occasion he is living the Stax dream having teamed up The South Austin Horns. Rees wrote all of the material and helped arrange the music. The resulting sound is authentic and powerful. Singing against an ensemble such as this can be a tall order and on some songs, such as In the Middle of the Night, he doesn't quite have the power house of a voice to match the band in full flight. However, elsewhere on songs such as Warm by the Fire where the horns are more muted or Unstoppable with its rich Hammond organ and a guitar part the Steve Cropper would be proud of the balance is perfect. Exactly where all of this style changing will take Christopher Rees is something of a mystery. However, the process is certainly taking us on a fascinating and fulfilling journey of musical discovery.

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Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting

Jamie Woon came fourth in the end of year sound of 2011 poll losing out to Jessie J. Hearing this album you can kind of see why. His music is subtle and takes time to penetrate, something the attention span of the mass music buying public might struggle with. Mirrorwriting is an impressive debut by any standards and deserves the time it might take to fully appreciate its worth. The sound, crafted almost entirely by woon himself, is a master stroke with depth subtlety and at times sheer beauty. The backing on
Night Air
alone is magical, add Woon's haunting vocal and you have a masterpiece. Perhaps the song that will achieve the widest recognition is Shoulda a simple, restrained and powerful song of regret with a perfect melody. Although the sound is consistently high the best songs are front loaded and towards the end attention wanders off as the standard dips and veers towards uninspiring chill out. If Woon can continue writing songs as fine as Night Air and Shoulda he looks set to leave the likes of Jessie J way behind producing music that rewards repeated plays and has longevity at its core.



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The Method - Dissident Dancers



A damn fine and impressive album of yet more 60s tinged psych rock from See Monkey Do Monkey records. Many of the tracks here wouldn't have sounded out of place alongside the likes of the Seeds or the 13 th Floor Elevators on a nugget compilation and the title track ' Dissident dancers' comes perilously close to of Paul Revere & the Raider's ' I'm not your stepping stone' . There is always a thin line between pastiche and homage and the Method just about manage to keep to the right side and preserve their credibility. The lead singer does at times have an uncanny resemblance to Alex Turner and the band need to work on getting more variety with their material. However, they have a great sound, full of energy and they are a bundle of adrenalin live. Overall this is a debut album full of potential and promise.


.............................................................................................................

Ffred Jones - Lions in the Dark

(single)




This new single from Ffred Jones serves as an excellent calling card for his forthcoming album due out later this year. Having played throughout Wales for the past few years he has gradually established a strong reputation which is beginning to pay dividends. "Lions in the Dark" is more introspective and emotional than some of his previous work and indicates a positive development in his song writing. It also helps to highlight his assured and confident finger style guitar playing.


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Barefoot Dance of the Sea/Evening Chorus
(Double 'A' sided 7")



This is the debut single from both bands and is released on Bubblewrap Records; increasingly Wales' most interesting and rewarding label. Barefoot Dance of the Sea were formed out of the remnants of the Hot Puppies and their song "513 Miles From Aberdeen to Cardiff" is sweet and poignant with a lilting melody and glorious harmonies; perfectly charming. Evening Chorus give us "Decisions" which starts quietly and builds to a crescendo giving their extensive line up a chance to shine. All told this is an excellent value single highlighting two of the best new bands to have emerged from Wales this year.


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The Keys - Bitten by Wolves
(review by Stephen Nottingham)



Once, a critically acclaimed band called Murray The Hump recorded three John Peel sessions before hanging up their guitars. A decade later, in 2010, they resurfaced as The Keys with a mini-album Fire Inside . The new long-player by the Cardiff-based band, Bitten by Wolves , on See Monkey Do Monkey Recordings, sees them spearheading the Welsh psych-rock revival. The Keys - Mathew Evans (vocals and guitar), Gwion Rowlands (guitar and vocals), James Bell (bass), Tomos Lewis (drums) and Carwyn Ellis (keyboards, vocals and percussion) - distil the essence of 1960s visionary music and track its route to the present (from Spirit to Spiritualized). They self-produce, using analogue rather than digital technology, to produce a distinctive soundworld of swampy reverb guitar, voodoo percussion, dirty rhythms and garage aesthetics. We encounter retro pop ( Teacher's Daughter ), the ghost of Hendrix ( Everyone Loves You ) and trip onwards ( When You're Young ) through the keyhole to a realm of time-travelling chaos ("that was now this is then"), where wolves howl in The Valleys.


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The View - Bread & Circuses




Any band that seeks to develop and mature their sound is likely to alienate critics and fans along the way. This seems to be the case for the View who have come into some flack in some quarters for this their 3 rd album. That's a shame because this is a very good album and there is the whiff of potential greatness in the wind. Producer Youth has given the band a much richer sound, with swelling choruses and polished vocals these songs should move the band from indie crowd pleasers to sell out arena tours. From the power pop opening of ' Grace ', the evocative melody of ' Friend ' to the phones in the air anthemic closing track ' Best lasts forever' ; this album is jam packed with potential singles. If the band can keep developing at this rate they could yet be one of the great British guitar bands.

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Lleuwen - Tân

Reviewed by Stephen Nottingham



Lleuwen Steffan has forged a singular path with her fusion of Welsh folk and jazz. She sang with multilingual jazz group Acoustique in 2003, released a jazz-infused album of Welsh hymns in 2005 (Duw a Wyr / God Only Knows), and followed this in 2007 with a record of self-composed songs, Penmon, named after her home in Anglesey. For her new album, on the Gwymon label, Lleuwen has branched out and immersed herself in Breton culture - learning the language and performing in Breton theatre plays while living in Carhaix in Central Brittany. Tân means fire in both Welsh and Breton. It's a metaphor that runs through the album, on which Lleuwen collaborates with Vincent Guerin. They co-produce and play all the instruments; singer Lleuwen on guitar and Vincent on double bass (his preferred instrument), while they take turns on zither, drums, kitchen pans and, seemingly, anything else to hand. The record is characterized by a freedom and lightness of touch. Lleuwen contributes eight songs in her native Welsh-language and four in Breton. The poignant song Lludw (Ashes) was co-written with Guerin, while a War Varc'h d'ar Mor (Ride The Love Horse) has lyrics by the Breton poet Lan Tangi. Tachwedd (November) and Mab y Môr (Son of the Sea) are especially beautiful, with Lleuwen's soulful voice at its best against subtle and highly sympathetic accompaniment. This sounds like the start of a productive musical collaboration.

.............................................................................................................


Marianne Faithfull - Horses and High Heels



Marianne Faithfull has the perfect example of a voice that portrays a life that has been lived to the max. A life that saw her going from being a sweet innocent convent girl to Mick Jagger's girlfriend and ultimately to being homeless in Soho within the space 10 years. It took her the best part of a further decade to rebuild her life before returning in 1979 with Broken English ; the mother of all comeback albums. She has always been at her best when interpreting other people's songs and this album is no exception. Horses and High Heels isn't exactly a return to her best form; however, there are a number of songs here that perfectly match her lived in voice. The opening salvo of the Gutter Twins ' The Stations' is more or less faithful to the original and she adds little to make it her own. Much better is ' That's how every empire falls' where every word is articulated to perfection and every ounce of emotion and pathos is dragged from the depths of her soul. Her take on Lesley Duncan's ' Love Song' sounds like a Pink Floyd mash up and if nothing else serves to demonstrate what a fine song it is and will hopefully bring the much neglected Lesley Duncan to a wider audience. At times pedestrian, at times frustrating and at times mesmerising; this album perfectly echoes the life lived by one of rock's finest female singers.


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James Vincent McMorrow
Early in the Morning




So the question is do we really need yet another CSN&Y inspired singer to take himself off to a deserted location, Bon Iver style, and return 6 months later with an album of epic soul laid bare acoustic songs? On the evidence of this debut from Dublin's James Vincent McMorrow, the answer is a resounding yes. Already a huge success in his homeland and nominated for the Choice Music award his album is finally released in the UK. The operative word seems to be songs and vocals that are crafted i.e. McMorrow has spent time developing his vocal style and learning how to write songs that match the quality of those that inspire him. The result is that some may find the album slightly too polished and lacking a certain authenticity. However, the standard of the songs and the quality of McMorrow's voice should overcome this nagging doubt. The album begins with ' If I had a boat' which is brilliantly structured building to a vocal climax that alone is worth the purchase price of the CD. The rest of the album doesn't quite match this level although songs such as ' We don't eat' and ' And if my heart should somehow stop' come close. This is an album that demonstrates huge potential and promise.

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Teddy Thompson - Bella




Teddy Thompson has to be one of the most frustrating singers around. Musically he is honing his song writing skills and producing some fine cowboy tinged middle lane rock songs. However, the subject matter of his lyrics is holding him back from being a truly great artist. The album begins well with songs such as the recent single " The one I can't have " and " Delilah " has a great melody lifted by some soaring strings. However, lyrically he just seems unable to move away from his low self esteem or his inability to find a girl. On ' Over and Over' he declares:

" Some time ago I came up with a plan, shit on myself so no one else can "

This takes self-deprecation or perhaps I should say self-defecation to a new low! Five albums in Thompson's self- absorption has just about reached saturation point. Let's hope he either finds a partner he is happy with or failing that starts singing about something other than himself for all our sakes. Perhaps a song about his best friend Rufus Wainwright's new baby, who has DNA from Leonard Cohen, Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle might be a good place to start.



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Jam With Robina - Dark Recollections



Most bands face a real dilemma with their sophomore album. Do you replicate the first, change direction or try and find a natural progression? Pontypridd's Jam with Robina have pulled no punches and gone for a grandiose Lord of the Rings style concept album full of mysticism and storytelling. If you handed me this CD and said it was by a hidden treasure from the late 1960s by a folk rock band from Canterbury I wouldn't have doubted you. On paper it could have been a grand failure, but it actually works extremely well. There is some fine guitar work, excellent vocal harmonies and solid song writing. The album begins with a spoken introduction ' prologue ' before launching into ' Forbidden Wood' a tale of mermaids, crystal balls and it has to be the first song I have ever heard that mentions snooks! "Lunatic" has a beautiful melody and is one of the many songs that are haunting or perhaps I should say that will tarry! This is an audacious and ambitious album that should help move Jam with Robina from 'pleasant folk duo' to serious contenders.

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Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo



When we were less than enthusiastic last year about Gruff's experimental collaboration with Tony da Gatorra we came in for some flak for questioning the emperor of Welsh indie music. However, with this album he has produced a glorious collection of songs that drip with warm pop loveliness. He is a master of pop genres and he demonstrates this by switching, with apparent ease from infectious Latin beats on Sensations in the dark to 60s pop with Christopher Columbus . Many of the tracks here are potential singles and if anything the material is as good, if not better, than the last SFA album. Last year the emperor had no clothes and we told it like it was. We are glad to say in 2011 he is fully dressed and looks resplendent in his hotel robes.




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Jonny



This is a new project featuring Euros Childs and Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub. On paper this was promising and intriguing. In reality it ranges from perfect pop to undeveloped nuggets. By all accounts the pair spent time listening to late 60s psychadelia before recording the album. However, judging by the results it sounds as though they had been listening to early 70s McGuiness Flint and Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance. The album starts well enough with some glorious harmonies and gentle rolling melodies such as Candyfloss and You was me . Elsewhere the band 'rock out' on Wich is wich a song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Status quo album circa 1971. As the album progresses frustration sets in. An example of this is Cave dance which starts out as a very promising 60s pastiche only to deteriorate into a sludgy 10 minute 'epic'. So this is definitely a mixed bag that probably should have been edited down to an EP and more time spent developing and honing the ideas. Despite all of this there is real chemistry here and hopefully this will be an ongoing project rather than a one off.

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Y Bandana - Y Bandana
(review by Stephen Nottingham)




The eponymous début album from Y Bandana is a lively affair. Seasoned performers, despite their teenage years, this energetic Caernarfon band are attracting young fans across Wales to their live shows. The twelve self-penned Welsh-language songs on their Copa label release Y Bandana suggest a sound knowledge of their parents' record collections; band members Sion Owens (bass), Robin Jones (drums), Tomos Owens (keyboards) and Gwilym Rhys (lead vocal and guitar) cite The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Arctic Monkeys among their influences. There is plenty of variety on offer. Highlights include first single Cân Y Tân, the anthemic guitar of Siwgwr Candi Mêl, the Madness-infused Wyt Ti'n Nabod Mr Pei?, the jaunty-punk of Rheda Am Dy Fywyd, and the sing-along Anturiaethau Sali Mali. The short electronic instrumental P.R.@ may be less successful, but points to a willingness to experiment. Y Bandana are musically accomplished, write catchy tunes, and have good instincts when it comes to backing vocals; they all sing harmoniously throughout and close with the humorous a cappella of Be Nawni?


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Kadesha - Take One EP

We first featured Kadesha a few years ago in our new artist category. Since then her song writing and vocals have matured and with Colum Regan now in the producer's chair the quality of these recordings is a marked leap forward. The EP contains 5 songs all of which are commercial and would not sound out of place on daytime radio 2. Kadesha's sound naturally leans towards laid back, mellow folk. However, bolstered by Regan's production, on songs such as ' Whatever makes you feel happy' the music is more up tempo and driven and this could point towards her future direction.

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Anna Calvi

On hearing the first few bars of the opening instrumental ' Rider to the sea' you can tell that Anna Calvi is ambitious, uncompromising and hugely talented. She has been dismissed by some as a PJ Harvey copyist and Florence sound-alike. However, this is no Brit school MOR graduate taking the easy path to success. She has some genuinely innovative and challenging material that bodes well for her longevity. Whereas much has been made about the merits or otherwise of her voice, it is her guitar playing that is perhaps the most striking aspect to the album. It is confident, self assured and immediately establishes her as one of the best and most distinctive new guitar players around. With standout tracks such as the swaggering ' I'll be your man' and the climatic ' Love won't be leaving ' she should win over more than she turns away.

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