The Sounds of Now JULY-AUGUST 2009
|THE GREEN PAJAMAS
Camera Obscura LP
Poison In The Russian Room
Hidden Agenda CD
Hidden Minutes is a fitting return from Australia’s finest indie label, who singlehandedly rescued Jeff Kelly and his band of merry Seattleites from oblivion via 1997’s comeback, Strung Behind The Sun. Nineteen releases later, Kelly had “a double album’s worth of stuff that [didn’t] really go together all that great”. So he split them into “the ‘album’ sort of tracks” and “a whole other batch of songs that sound more like singles,” resulting in these simultaneous releases. Like previous compilations, Narcotic Kisses and The Night Races Into Anna, it offers a fine bird’s eye view of Kelly’s songwriting styles, from dreamy power pop to paisley underground psych. Highlights include the bouncy, keyboard-driven title track(s), the heavy-lidded, enveloping warmth of ‘She’s A Dream’ and the pure pop bliss of ‘Claire’s Knee.’ Kelly’s blistering Neil Young-styled solos on ‘Between Yourself and Me’, his ringing fretwork on ‘Watching Jamie Dance’ and the crystalline latticework of ‘The Mystery’ also demonstrate why he is one of our most underrated guitarists.
Hints of Andy Partridge and Robyn Hitchcock lurk within Kelly’s pen, but his frequent literature (Lewis Carroll), film (Pandora’s Box, Claire’s Knee et al), and musical references (the wonderful faux-‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ synth ending to ‘Hidden Minutes 2’) demonstrate a unique modus operandi that explains why the GPJs (who just celebrated their 25th anniversary) may be the most cerebral (and best) band in America.
Poison… has a fuller, band vibe, with occasional sax outbursts. Keyboardist, Eric Lichter’s compositions (‘Subway Suicides’ – about Tokyo’s gruesome “human accidents” – is the best, with the spectre of Elliott Murphy tugging at the sleeve), and guitarist Laura Weller’s harmonies (and lead on the pensive ‘Queen Of Broken Hearts’) balance the garagey snarl of ‘Lonesome End Of The Lake’ and the full-throttle aural assault of ‘This Angel’s On Fire’, which sounds like something smuggled out of a Neil Young/Crazy Horse session. ‘Any Way The Wind Blows’ is one of their strongest rockers to date, but the second half of the disk, a moody, jazzy conceptual suite, unfortunately zaps the record’s energy and might have worked better as an EP.
|THE HIGHER STATE
Darker By The Day
13 O’Clock Records LP
With their fuzz-o-meter and spangle-jangle set on high, you just know this is gonna be the full-on definitive sound explosion we’ve been waiting for. Some of us already have worn-out copies of the mesmerising ‘And In Time’ on a previous State 45 outing, which I rave-reviewed here several issues back.
They blew our minds a little more with their fine crystalline-etched ‘Automatic Motion’ / ‘Trip On High’ 45 earlier in the year, their first for the 13 O’Clock label. The group has now gathered up even more energy and momentum and almost every cut on this, their second long-playing effort, is nothing less than essential. Knowing one’s own mind and not being told what to say, think or do – a popular stance and attitude especially with groups who revisit the many sounds and ideals originally championed back in the ’60s – are the recurring themes that form the majority of Darker By The Day’s selections: ‘You Are What They Want’, ‘Do You See Me?’, ‘Know That You Know’, ‘If We Don’t Realise’. However, The Higher State’s unquestionable empathy with vintage garage-psych and folk-rock players means that their own variety of stylistic moves and moods are given that extra edge of authority. They even dedicate the record to the late great Rex Gregory, bassist of Texas legends Zakary Thaks.
The group has been recording at vocalist/guitarist Marty Ratcliffe’s home and the results are quite spectacular; unadulterated and pure sonic cool. The title track and ‘Just Not Today’, for example, paint them as autumnal as the cover imagery itself: all blacks, browns, gold and burnished orange imbued with paisley-patterned wistfulness. They peddle cynicism and disdain on ‘(Wandering Thru) Fields Of Green’ and the final cut ‘Ladder Of Death’ while ‘Electric Cowboy’ finds them offering up the kind of extended SF ballroom-style freakout that was de rigeur on those ’67/’68 albums.
The Higher State want their records to sound like real records – well hey, guess what, they’ve got their wish (and they look like real ones too; although the vinyl itself is modern US style, pretty flimsy, so come on guys get them told!) Nit-picking aside the whole sound of the group, and in particular the sound of Mike Warren’s drums (and his drumming) just gets better and better with every new outing. The coruscating, melodic clash of strings, both twelve and six, is very effective and can, at times, be truly spine-tingling. Marty and Mole’s lead vocals and their harmonising ability (I’d love to hear them try something a little more adventurous now and again) are excellent. I’ll leave it at that.
Ignore this album and it’s at your own loss.
Music From The North Country: The Anthology
First of all allow me to point out that I’m writing this from the perspective of a Jayhawks fan who thinks the band was a significantly more interesting proposition after the departure of Mark Olson in 1995. For me, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass always left me wanting and unfulfilled while simultaneously tantalised at the prospect of how good this band could be. So, when Sound Of Lies appeared in ’97, I found its bright pop pretensions, modern sonic bravery and dark heart a joy. Just call me awkward.
Those last 10 years before their “final” split in 2005 were turbulent times for The Jayhawks. Their line-up fluctuated with each record they made and those records – just three in seven years – portrayed a band struggling with its identity and direction. Adrift from their country-rock roots, they followed Sound Of Lies with the over-produced Smile, which found them trying a little too hard to contrive that elusive hit single. A valedictory return to form with Rainy Day Music in ’03 seemed to pass almost unnoticed despite giving them their highest-charting US album. And that was that.
Front man and co-founder Gary Louris cut a solo set before reuniting with Olson for this year’s Ready For The Flood where nary a sniff of the pair’s former glories as band mates is to be found. A full-scale reunion to accompany this release looks set to happen in July.
So what exactly do we have here? Well, it’s a two-fisted set.
Firstly there’s a “no surprises” chronological canter through their half dozen studio albums that takes in Olson-era favourites ‘Waiting For The Sun’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Miss Williams’ Guitar’. This was plainly a band hugely in thrall to the coruscating guitars and organic harmonies of Neil Young and Crazy Horse that had much less to do with “country” than you might have been led to believe. With Louris at the helm, The Jayhawks let their pop side shine and embraced a richer, more contemporary production style resulting in Sound Of Lies gems ‘Big Star’ and ‘Trouble’ and Smile openers ‘Smile’ and ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’, neither of which feature the sequenced drums and overwrought guitar effects that blighted much of the album. Rainy Day Music saw a paired-down band return to a stripped-down production armed with a dozen superb songs. ‘Save It For A Rainy Day’, ‘Angelyne’ and ‘Tailspin’ seemed to reach back into a pool of mid-60s Anglophile pop and West Coast folk-rock; further than the band had delved before.
A deluxe edition of the set adds a second disc of demos, out-takes, B-sides and other sundries that serve as an alternate history of the band as well as giving fans something to get their teeth stuck into. A DVD gathers half a dozen music videos and other electronic multimedia. Personally I would have expanded the main body of the release to two discs with further album tracks and B-sides and ditched the disc of visuals but there we go.
A fine document of an exceptional band.
CHURCH OF MISERY
Houses Of The Unholy
Tombs Of The Blind Drugged
Rise Above CD/LP
THE HEADS/WHITE HILLS
Rocket Recordings LP
All four bands presented here ply various brands of retro flavoured rock with a few modern twists.
Church Of Misery is a Japanese band blending ’70s influenced hard rock with a healthy dose of stoner doom. All bar one of the songs are dedicated to, and inspired by, various serial killers with only light relief provided by a Sir Lord Baltimore cover. Yikes! The uber-gruff sub-death vocals spoil things for me but other than that it’s awesome.
Firebird exists firmly in ’70s AM radio territory, which is certainly no bad place to be. Songs about booze and birds signpost the way and the there’s even a token Celtic tinged ballad that strays just to the right side of cheese. There are some gargantuan riffs and tasty chops on this album and, at its best, it’s a towering, swaggering beast though it occasionally strays into tedious trad territory. The opener, ‘Blue Flame,’ is perhaps the best track comprising of one long cool jagged riff underpinned with a whisky soaked exposition of grabbling life by the balls.
Moss play ‘occult horror doom’ according to their label. I would describe their sound as like being entombed in a freezing crepuscular crypt with only rats and ghouls for company. Whether this is a compliment or an insult depends on your frame of mind.
The Heads and White Hills have a 20-minute song each on this split LP. The Heads play a kind of classic doom with submerged vocals, distorted heavy guitar tone and a monumental central motif. It’s solid stuff but lacking any real fireworks. The Heads style is more of an experimental space-doom and they display an invention that makes them the pick of the bunch for me.
THE BOOBY TRAPS
Makin' It With The Booby Traps
Off The Hip CD
Since their first album The Booby Traps male/female ratio has changed from 2:3 to 3:2 with the departure of bassist Fiona. Girls are no longer in the majority, but The Booby Traps sound hasn't changed; they still play a lively brand of contemporary 60s-influenced garage punk with strong and tuneful female vocals. The vocals are a strength, as they give the music a softer and more attractive and poppier edge that is sadly lacking among many modern bands fronted by guys who just shout and growl. The rockier songs, like the title track, are solid rather than spectacular, but nevertheless enjoyable.The most memorable songs highlight the Traps' garage pop side, such as 'Searchin' and 'L.A. Kind Of Day'.
To Have And To Hold
Some would describe Glowfriends music as 'modern Shoegaze', but 'Dream Pop' is a much better term. Glowfriends is a family affair, with singer April Morris and singer/guitarist Mark being sister and brother. Mark's wife Holly plays bass. When April sings lead, on tunes like 'Miraculous', the band have a very English late 60s/early 70s folk-pop style, despite living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Most of the songs have a fragile, pretty, barely amplified feel - tellingly, three of the members are credited with glockenspiel and vibraphone. The rare occasions towards the end of a song when the band get all noisy sound incongruous. They are much more at home on reflective, bittersweet songs like 'Sensible'. Individually and collectively the songs are not so much stirring as soothing and melodic.
THE JUNIOR LEAGUE
Smile Shoot Smile
Greenleaves Sound CD
New Orleans singer/songwriter Joe Adragna is actually a league all on his own, as he writes, produces and plays virtually everything on this, the second Junior League CD. Interestingly there are no photos of Joe. He has chosen to represent the Junior League with shots of 60s beach babes and mini skirts - possibly a wise move! Whilst Mr.Adragna is clearly a fan of The Beatles, The Monkees and many classic pop influences, but he doesn't allow the influences to become blatant. 'Smile, Shoot, Smile' is brimming with subtle, slightly understated melodies, nice harmonies and inventive, economic guitar parts. This is not loud and perky power-pop - on the rare occasions when he does rock it up a bit, as on 'Hey Pop Life', the tunes are nowhere near as engaging as subtler material like 'Man Called Disaster'.
ROCK'N'ROLL MONKEY & THE ROBOTS
Back to Beatsville
Rock'n'Roll Monkey (USA)/Motor Sounds (UK) CD
Craig Campbell called himself Rock'n'Roll Monkey after the guitar sound of the 1959 Japanese tin toy. He sounds a lot better than a two string wire guitar though! His Robots are a homage to the tin toys he collects. Campbell clearly pays attention to detail, right down to Liz Adams' stylish graphics. The sound on Back to Beatsville is 60s garage filtered through late 70s US New Wave. The Fleshtones, B-52's and early Talking Heads spring to mind, with choppy rhythms, sax and a 50s R&B edge. The urgent vocals are nicely complemented by Jackie Herman's girl-group style backing vox.
The album was recorded in various towns, sometimes with guest guitarists, yet the best songs are by the core group, with Campbell playing guitar. Often the guests play standard rock changes which are OK but don't really enhance the tunes. There are some fairly ordinary, repetitive tunes such as 'Sad Clown' and 'Zombie Attack', but there are far more high points, like the swinging 'Hitch a Ride to Beatsville' and 'Do The Monkey', the electric sitar and female vocals on 'I Need You Here By Me' and the lyrics to 'Time Machine'. When they get into a groove, I can't imagine an audience staying in their seats.
My Big Three Wheeler
Shplang make alternative pop without regard for markets, trends or commercial success. As on their previous three albums, Shplang present a diverse and eclectic range of styles and influences, liberally laced with a sense of humour and unusual arrangements. Don't get the impression that the 'quirky' approach means that the tunes are annoying and clever-clever. It is almost impossible to describe or pigeonhole Shplang. Songwriters Peter Marston and John Krause claim that "if you don't like a particular track, you'll find something different coming right up". Actually the songs have a melodic consistency that will probably appeal to fans of intelligent and well crafted pop. You really need to hear this for yourself.
The cover and song titles tell the casual punter exactly what sort of record this is. There are lots of shots of a very attractive cave girl sporting Raquel Welsh's prehistoric bikini from the movie 100,000 BC. Songs include 'Back From The Grave', 'Primitive Love' and 'Goin' Ape'. Yep, The Texreys have got the 80s garage sound down pat, which isn't surprising, as they are veterans of the scene. Singer and songwriter Brendan Kibble was in Australian outfit The Bam Balams, and guitarist Eddie Best played with Stiv Bators. Kibble has the requisite snotty, bluesy snarl. Although all the tunes would have passed muster on Voxx records in 1986, some, like the title track, are a little predictable. The best add a little extra, like Ugly Beat Jeanine Attaway's organ on 'Melt My Mind', or the jangly guitar and backing vocals on the gentler 'Configuration'.
Odd Fellows On An Even Day; Anthology, 1977-95
Oho Music CD
Dark Side’s first album from 1979 is included in this 26 song compilation. There are some good guitar parts on tunes like the jangling ‘Lamented Love’ or the driving ‘Bondage’, and lots of cheesy Farfisa organ. Unfortunately it was 1979, and the vocals are in a style favoured by several US ‘New Wave’ artists. Only the likes of Springsteen and a few others managed to pull off this melodramatic, almost histrionic approach. Although Dark Side used different lead singers over the years, they all seemed to go for this style, which ultimately spoils their songs. The Baltimore band had some good garagey tunes and hooks but the ‘trying-too-hard vocals’ will consign them to obscurity.
Time Gentlemen Please
Radiant Future CD
Martin Gordon hints that this, the fifth and final part of ‘The Mammal Trilogy’ will be his last release. Hopefully not – one of the beauties of this age is that musicians like Gordon, the epitome of the eclectic individualist, can release records without having to make any compromises with a major label.
Unfortunately the production is too clean and perfect, giving an AOR sheen to tunes that contain influences like English music hall, big band swing, pub sing-alongs and other styles that sit uncomfortably with pop-rock. This is a long way from the simple snappy punk pop of Radio Stars. And the cover of the Beatles’ classic ‘I’ll Feel Fine’ is a brave attempt, but ends up as a dire dirge.
THE GUILTY HEARTS
Pearls Before Swine
Voodoo Rhythm CD
Like most modern ‘garage-blues-grunge-rock’ I can listen to The Guilty Hearts in small doses. Songs like ‘Shake’ or ‘Glassell Park’ sound pretty good on their own, in a Gories kinda way. The trouble is that the songs are individually OK but collectively depressing, because this is downer music that makes you miserable. There are few tunes or choruses, lots of heavy riffing and lots of bluesy growls and whines. This is tough, macho, relentless music made by guys for guys. Sorry, but I need more fun and sun in my life.
IT’S A BUFFALO
Don’t Be Scared
Akoustic Anarchy CD
Manchester’s It’s a Buffalo have been described as having alt.country influences, but I don’t hear many. Their sound is much closer to that of 80s’ indie pop bands like the Woodentops, with elements of the chiming NZ Flying Nun sound from the same era. The engaging and melodic tunes have a slight whiff of English psych pop about them too, in common with the band’s name, the cover art and the unusual lyrics about marbles, seafronts and broken toys.
Opener ‘Marbles’ has a wonderfully rolling, chiming guitar part. Elsewhere the call and response vocals of ‘Bang! On The Seafront’ and ‘Outlines’ are appealing. None of the guitar parts are obvious or clichéd, but, having developed an original sound, it’s a pity that all the tunes aren’t of a similar quality.
Even The Blues
Peeled Label CD
The Kickbacks’ fifth album isn’t a blues record - ‘Even The Blues’ is a song title. Lead singer Tad Overbaugh writes songs in a rootsy pop-rock style. The main vocal is rough-but-tender, ably supported by sweeter backing vocals from guitarist Steve Scott.
The Kickbacks’ strength could also be their weakness. There are some good tunes here, like the romantic ‘Bulletproof’ or the raw Stonesy Americana of ‘Expect Delays’, but the overall sound is very close to that of Paul Westerberg and The Replacements. Fans of this style will either love this record or pass on The Kickbacks’ as sounding too similar to their influences.
The Truth About Push Me Pull You
Lemanis are a Plymouth based four piece who augment their sound with the Lemanis Orchestra, a large ten piece string and brass section, as well as a choir and extra sax players and singers. On this, their second album, the sound can be reminiscent of the similarly large folk band Bellowhead, although the tunes are not traditional material but originals, composed by multi-instrumentalist Phil Baker.
Lemanis are to be congratulated for their ambitious approach. There is a lot of good playing and singing here, and the arrangements are well done, but often I found myself admiring parts of a song rather than the entire tune. Live, they must be a great proposition, but they aren’t quite at the point where their songs are as striking as their ensemble playing.
THE LONG STRIDES
The Long Strides
Off The Hip CD
Australian’s The Long Strides wanted this record to sound old and 60s authentic. To this reviewer it actually sounds like the 60s filtered through the 80s via the sound of The Jesus And Mary Chain and Spaceman 3. Although the boys cite a list of 60s influences, the echoey vocals and walls of distortion and fuzz sound so close to the JAMC that it’s almost a tribute album. There are some decent songs, like ‘Little Lost Soul’, but overall the similarities to the JAMC are too blatant. Occasionally mellotrons, electric sitars and acoustic guitars appear, and the Strides begin to sound less in awe of their major influences.
This is a CD reissue of Jeremy’s first album from 1983, with a generous eight bonus tracks. 50 albums later, Jeremy deserves great credit for his major contributions to melodic guitar pop, through his own releases and his own Jam label.
Whilst I like lots of Jeremy’s albums, this one isn’t really my thing. A typical tune, ‘Love I Never Knew’ explains why. It begins with a big hard rock guitar sound, which is too much in evidence elsewhere. The vocals are done in a tuneful, attractive power pop style. A cheesy prog guitar solo follows, and 30 seconds later a lovely melodic break…all in the first two minutes of the song! A Boston reviewer said: ‘Musically this is all over the map, merging hard rock, power pop, folk, new wave and progressive rock’…sometimes in the same song. In some cases an eclectic and irreverent mixing of styles and influences can be a good thing, but I don’t think this works. There are some good tunes here, but they are buried behind too much prog and ‘classic’ rock guitar. It would be interesting to hear how Jeremy treated some of these songs if he was to re-record this album today.
Self released CD
Miles Neilsen sensibly avoids the fatal mistake of sounding exactly like his dad Rick’s old band, Cheap Trick. It’s probably an advantage to have a strongly musical background without having a parent so famous that you can never escape from his shadow. Miles aptly describes his debut album as ‘Beatlesque Cosmic Americana’. His main collaborator is Daniel James McMahon, with whom he also plays in the alt. country outfit Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons.
Miles’ songs are a pleasantly mellow pop/alt.country mixture, with strong pop vocals. Whilst all the songs are well played and tasteful, I wish there were more direct songs like ‘Gravity Girl’, which is brimming with really direct but memorable hooks.
There Is No Other Life And This Is It
There was a time in the mid-80s when Glasgow’s Primevals were really going for it. It was a while ago - I bought the C90 rather than the LP version of their fine New Rose album ‘Live A Little’ because it had so many bonus tracks. On this new release it seems like the boys have never been away, as all the best elements of their sound are still very much in evidence. The stand-out opener, ‘Wicked Willow Blues’ possesses a huge, deep, cavernous riff, raucous harp and Michael Rooney’s distinctive vocals, which always had a whiff of Jeffrey Lee Pierce about them. The early Gun Club/Cramps vibe is still to be heard, plus a sense of dynamics and some raunchy slide guitar.
Basically this will to old fans and possibly attract newer, younger fans of proper kick ass rock’n’roll. The closer is a great version of the Fleshtones’ ‘Screaming Skull’.
THE RIP-OFF ARTISTS
Ripped Off CD
The Rip-Off Artists, Nick Pipitone and Peter Batchelder, have created an honest and admirable musical manifesto, which appears on their website. They remain faithful to their commandments, notably ‘Lennon and McCartney, Costello, Bacharach and Barry are the primary influences’. and ‘lyrics are 50% of a song-they should make a philosophical point or tell a story’. For example, ‘The Wishful Thinker’ is a fine song with lines like ‘He had a better chance of changing the world than he ever had of changing his girl’.
On occasions the duo tries a little too hard to emulate their heroes. I prefer it when they are inspired by the melodic and lyrical intelligence of of Costello, Joe Jackson or McCartney, but sing in their own style. On some tracks they sound exactly like their influences, and inspiration strays close to pastiche. Luckily, tunes like ‘What Just Happened’ are strong enough for them to carry it off.
True North CD
A few clicks of the mouse informed me that this isn’t 54 40’s first album, as I first thought. The band have released at least 16 other albums since the early 80s in their native Canada. It’s strange how some artists are famous (or obscure) all around the world, whilst others are only a big deal in their own country.
Apparently the band’s music has gone through many stylistic evolutions over the years, including punk and R.E.M – ish influences. On this album they retain their four piece guitar band line-up, producing a bunch of highly melodic, well crafted tunes with a slightly mournful and world-weary feel that is slightly reminiscent of the Go-Betweens. The occasional female lead vocals and more frequent female backing vocals are highly effective.
Although legions of bands are covering similar territory, 54 40 have clearly honed their skills over the years and deserve the attention of anyone who loves melodic indie guitar pop.
Art Brut Vs Satan
Cooking Vinyl CD
I am pleased to report that it’s business as usual with Art Brut’s third album; Buzzcockian power-pop played with great verve and set to Eddie Argos’ wry and witty self-referential spoken-word lyrics. If you haven’t liked their first two, there is nothing here to persuade you otherwise. They haven’t developed or changed tack or experimented… yet why should they?
Starting with the morning after single ‘Alcoholics Unanimous’, Eddie chronicles girls, chocolate, milkshakes, DC comics and the importance of music. Best track is ‘Slapdash For No Cash’, claiming “those are the records I like”. He has an infectious joie de vivre and is one of the best front men I have ever seen.
I also love their affectation for writing new songs with sounds-familiar titles – ‘Pump Up The Volume’, ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘Jealous Guy’ on 2007’s It’s A Bit Complicated are followed here by ‘The Passenger’ and ‘Twist And Shout’.
Experiment In Colour
Area Pirata CD
I’m sure no Shindigger needs further explanation upon seeing an album title like this. Some might expect to be taken to a more colourful and psychedelic audio sphere, while the Fuzz, Flaykes & Shakes reference is enough for us to know that the ’66 time barrier is not likely to be crossed too often. The snarling Jagger-meets-Dave Aguillar vocals keep the reference points close enough to each other throughout most of the album, with only an exception or two such as The Music Machine-like pair of extra masculine punkers ‘Gin Fuzz’ and ‘Almost Gone’, the latter sounding kinda like the Machine covering an unknown Graham Gouldman tune.
The ones that provide a more-than-usual British feel, are ‘Senior TT’ (by way of The Small Faces, complete with a mock accent), along with the Medway-powered pairing of ‘When I Love You’ and ‘Out Of Control’. Not too much of an experiment, but more than worth your dime if mid-60s garage punk revival is your thing.
BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW
Memphis Industries CD
Fêted by the likes of MGMT, The Flaming Lips and The Go! Team, Black Moth Super Rainbow must have something going for them. But on first listen the spectre of Air and Goldfrapp (all vocoder vocals and dreamy synth-based melodies) hang over Eating Us like a cloud of skunk smoke at a post-rave chill-out session. Nothing wrong with that you might say, and quite right too perhaps, because once I persevered I quite warmed to them, especially when listened to in the right frame of mind. Not a million miles distant from certain Stereolab numbers, ‘Born On A Day The Sun Didn’t Rise’ and ‘Dark Bubbles’ are particularly rousing.
Mood music then certainly, and elsewhere they do possess an ethereal charm all of their own: their brand of ambient folktronica really casts its spell on numbers like ‘Bubblegum Animals’, ‘American Face Dust’ and the untitled hidden track.
GEORGE BOROWSKI & THE FABULOUS WONDERFULS
First of all, how could you not like an album bearing the same label as some of the early Who or Cream records? After remixing The Who’s back catalogue on the infamous Robert Stigwood-run ’66/’67 label, a guy called Andy McPherson is now carrying on the brand name, sticking that same old logo as first seen on the ‘Substitute’ single. As for George Borowski, he’s a Mancunian who happens to be a great-nephew of Rachmaninov (really!), as well as the same Guitar George that Dire Straits want you to “check out” in ‘Sultans Of Swing’. He’s also a guy you might’ve noticed tuning Pixies and Teenage Fanclub guitars on stage, along with playing occasional keyboard or bass with the latter, and as soon as you hear ‘Rollerball’ or ‘Partly Dave’ on this album, you’ll understand why Norman Blake considers him a close soul mate. ‘Into The Light’ doesn’t fall too much farther, with a tad more patina, which makes it sound kind of like The Travelling Wilburys and the post-English Settlement XTC-like ‘Tonight Could Be The Night’ could’ve been a hit single.
Wasted Fuzz Excessive
Brain Donor Records/Head Heritage CD
Julian Cope’s proto-metal power trio Brain Donor continue to mine heavy nuggets from a similar vein as 2001’s Love, Peace and Fuck and its follow up Drain’d Boner – conjuring up more pagan and Norse imagery in the process. No surprises then that Brain Donor comes on like some Viking harbinger of doom to thoroughly assault the senses with an hour long exercise in Sturm und Drang: all thunder and lightning sound effects, shrieking feedback, ear piercing displays of wah-wah, fuzz, and gut rumbling bass, with only the occasional prog-style classical interlude bringing a certain calm to the proceedings.
Never mind the historical anomaly, just imagine a B-52 bomber and a squadron of Stukas diving to deliver their deadly payload: think Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Sir Lord Baltimore, MC5 and The Stooges all rolled into one and you’d be getting close, but only just, as this is really heavy stuff and way out there. Descriptively, the title says it all.
My Maudlin Career
Once again, Tracyanne Campbell sets our feet alight and hearts aglow with effervescent pop that’s lighter than champagne bubbles! Her genius is in constructing simple melodies that lie dormant for days, only to pop up later when you find yourself humming them at the laundromat, supermarket or commute to work. Dreamy violins, tinkling bells, and mandolins flesh out the soft-shoe waltz of ‘You Told A Lie’ and the sprightly ‘Sweetest Thing’. The joyful exuberance and twinkling vibes backing of ‘Swans’ put a fire in my eyes I haven’t seen since The Smiths’ debut – finally, someone has stepped forward to reclaim the queen of bedsit pop crown that’s been headless since Harriet Wheeler, Tracy Primitive, and Sarah Cracknell faded away.
And if the title track evinces a steady diet of Smiths’ records, the fact that it outshines anything Moz has offered up in the last decade is an encouraging sign that British pop has a new standard bearer.
Second Motion CD
The Church are a busy lot. Steve Kilbey released a solo album in late 2008 (Painkiller – it’s quite good), Marty Wilson-Piper had one appear in March, and now the band are simultaneously putting out two albums and two EPs. While the other new full-length work is an ambient collaboration with sci-fi writer Jaff Vandermeer, Untitled #23 is an honest-to-goodness Church long-player.
The songs offered are something long-time fans of the band will feel comfortable with, yet they’re just forward reaching enough to convince critical listeners that Kilbey & co still have something vital to offer. The best tracks combine textured psychedelia in the instrumental backing with Kilbey’s impenetrable lyrics and understated vocal delivery – the same recipe that made ‘Tantalised’, ‘Under The Milky Way’ and the rest such effective and memorable songs. But there’s also some driving guitar and pulsating rhythms, and moments of what feel like barely-controlled desperation in Kilbey’s vocals, all of this showing the band to still have an edge about them, some 29 years after they first formed.
Dopers, Drunks And Everyday Losers
Blind Pig CD
Ever since the late ’60s and his early, adventurous days as the founder and front man of The Lost Planet Airmen, the Old Commander (AKA George Frayne) has steered his own way through the American musical scene as one of its truly iconoclastic figures. His patented blend of rock ‘n’ roll, redneck country, rockabilly, boogie and Western swing has come to pretty much define the wild and woolly side of the roots music arena and this appropriately titled 14 tracker, his first studio project in twenty years, is delightfully more of the same.
Recorded up in Woodstock, New York, highlights include updated takes on Cody classics like ‘Seeds And Stems Again’ (where captivating Circe Link takes the lead vocal), ‘Seven Eleven’ and ‘Wine Do Your Stuff’ along with covers of John Hiatt’s ‘Tennessee Plates’ and Hoyt Axton’s ‘No No Song’ and new surprises like the saga of the seedy ‘OK Hotel’ a compulsive ‘Lone Ranger’, both Cody originals.
Welcome back Commander!
Gary von Tersch
Waging War On The Obvious
Original Ikon Music CD
Two singles and an EP down the road and with each new release Darron J Connett is getting closer to the long-playing format. With this latest seven-track mini album, he’s half way there. The new line up (with Darron stepping out of the solo spotlight) not only looks the full-on Dandy part but sounds much tighter, “with enough self-assured cockiness to kick you in the orchestras”, as put in the press notes.
Waging War On The Obvious is said to be a London-themed, Kinks-inspired Nu-Skool Music Hall, and it does sound like that indeed, especially throughout it’s last two thirds, which mix mostly semi-acoustic storytelling, string arrangements, pub singalongs and even some Spectoresque drama. The “kick you” part goes for the opening pair of the latterday Small Faces punch of ‘Running Miles’ and the Eastern-tinged garage punk vibe of the lead off single ‘Son’, said to be praised by the modfather himself.
Companions Of The Rosy Hours
Hailing from Brighton, The Dials’ bold claims of encompassing everything from psych to surf, through country folk, is a claim they answer utterly on Companions Of The Rosy Hours.
Although despite this widely stretched frame of musical reference, the finest moments on this record are found not in the upbeat surf instrumental ‘Sandycove’ or balls indie hipshaker ‘N.Y. Radio’. Instead, the waves of Byrdsian wonder, ‘Watch Her Walk Away’ and the Xian trad-ballad ‘Goodnight’ provide the most straight up and no nonsense examples of a band that never throw themselves wildly on a great idea, but instead nurture and raise it in absolute perfection.
Sometimes their eagerness to please finds you wondering about how solid a record this could have been had it been a more straight up long player, but even without the jump from Crosby to Barrett, The Dials have made one of the most promising LPs in ages.
Richard S Jones
THE DIRTY STRANGERS
West 12 To Wittering
The Dirty Strangers have paid their dues over the years and old pals Keef and Ronnie (yeah, them!) lend a hand on a number of tracks, contributing piano and slide guitar respectively. Having said that, the Dirty Strangers are more than capable of holding their own, even in the exalted company of these two hoary old rockers.
A couple of the slower numbers may lack the immediacy of the majority of tunes here, but The Dirty Strangers err on the side of energetic R&B most of the time. Their version of Gene Vincent’s ‘Ain’t That Too Much’ punches you right between the eyes, whilst ‘Gold Cortina’ and ‘Nowhere Maybe’ are fine examples of their own making. Also exuding flashes of punk energy à la Stooges, MC5 and Johnny Thunders at times, they’ve conspired to produce a nicely rounded collection of heads down, no nonsense, uncomplicated rock ‘n’ roll, just like it ought to be.
A Beard Of Beers
Dollboy specialise in a psychedelicised folktronica that is as equally of the here-and-now as it is of the beardy-lying-in-a-field-at-festival-days of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Gentle English vocals supply rich melodies to washes of
sci-fi bleeps and flutters whilst autoharps, accordions, flutes and all manner of folk embellishments drift around in the ether undecided whether to head for the future or return to a mythical past. Successful on all parts, A Beard Of Beers give contemporaries something to worry about and fans of July and early Floyd something new to appreciate.
Jon ‘Mojo’ Mills
Raccoon Cabinet CD
I worry that after one listen of this humble looking LP, you may fall foul of its unflinchingly psychedelic objective. Basically it comes down to misguided assumptions surrounding new psychedelic rock.
Overly placated platitudes and droned nods toward drug use and/or the cosmos right?!
Not really. Anyone who discovered Dark Meat on Vice a few blue moons ago will dig Fauna Valetta’s vehemently cool (but unassuming) mantra. The effortless punk tumble of ‘Witches’ is a cosmic comedown that smacks of Evol-era Sonic Youth whereas ‘Yr. Arms’ unsubtly hints at ‘Have Love Will Travel’. So much so that had they just bit the bullet they could have sat comfortably next to Screaming Trees or Nomads on !!!Here Ain’t The Sonics!!!
I’ve often been told that those who assume make an ass out of you and me, so should you assume the worst and not give this a chance, then you my friend, are indeed, an ass.
Richard S Jones
Failing In Biology
Pink Hedgehog CD
The Pink Hedgehog label, a respected brand in power pop circles, received a welcome shot of recognition when one of its alumni, Hamfatter, memorably appeared on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme. Failing In Biology sees the label’s head honcho, the avuncular and ever-enthusiastic Simon Felton, receiving a welcome chance to shine in his own right.
Long-term fans of Simon’s band Garfield’s Birthday will gleefully recognise his bulletproof pop sensibility and signature self-deprecating wit in this latest set of songs, but may be bowled over anew by the heft and muscularity of ‘Mister Magic Eyes’ and ‘Me’, which call to mind The Posies and Husker Du respectively. Elsewhere, a fresh palette of production ideas including tastily-deployed melodica, vibraphone and percussion lends a fitting depth and space to more introspective compositions such as ‘Paisley Man’, ‘Stupid Song’ and ‘Goodbye’.
Gold star collaborators Anton Barbeau and Alan Strawbridge bring brio and understated panache to the party, and the whole enterprise exudes sure-footed class.
FUTURE CLOUDS & RADAR
Star Apple Kingdom CD
FC&R’s sprawling 2007 2-CD debut divided listeners with its swathes of self-indulgent experimentalism and paucity of great tunes, not to mention its sheer vastness.
Eight-track follow-up (stop gap?) Peoria seems to have further eschewed the winning combination of musical muscle and blinding pop chops that permanently welded Robert Harrison’s previous band Cotton Mather to the hearts and minds of many, leaving instead a series of less-developed, occasionally unfinished songs and an ultimately tiring penchant for giddy and over the top instrumental arrangements (witness ‘The Mortal’) and overlong songs (stand up ‘Mummified’).
As a major fan of Harrison’s past work it’s sad to admit that there’s nothing of the caliber of even FC&R or Cotton Mather’s filler-blighted The Big Picture’s most average moments here.
THE GREEK THEATRE
The Greek Theatre
We very rarely review CDRs of unsigned bands but this sweet sounding Swedish group deserve an entry. Not unlike other contemporary pop melodicists Hopeful Monster and The Junipers, The Greek Theatre play laconic-yet-bright songs with thoughtful lyricism and delicate musicianship that update the floral elements of late ’60s pop. More dreamy than dream pop. Jangling, chiming guitars and West Coast harmonies (‘The Sunniest Day’), desolate piano driven ambience that recalls Big Star’s Third and Pink Floyd (‘Hold On’) and elements of soft pop vocals and brushed drums, make for a beautifully relaxed sound. Sure, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel and Moby Grape are referenced, but this set of six sumptuous pop meditations could and should impress a large audience.
Jon ‘Mojo’ Mills
TANDY LOVE & MAD SMOOTH
Fat City CD
Only the most casual of listeners will fail to spot the anagrammed monikers of Tandy Love & Mad Smooth.
Anagram Jam is a captivating mix for connoisseurs of obscure psych, proto-glam, Lollywood and all those other genres that have become very much a part of Andy Votel & Dom Thomas’ (a-ha!) “collective” repertoires. Working new structures around cuts, the brass and riff heavy ‘A Zabu Nuclear Junco – Jono Pelicio’ particularly stands out and ‘Gentle Unto God – Eileen Jawsin’ and ‘Alias Earth-Lab – Alain Fish’ melodically swirl righteous synth-library music passages to the sounds of looped flutes and phased keys.
Part of the charm, aside from the obviously danceable and highly sample-able jams is the need to discover exactly how much of these ingredients are fresh and how many are fresh-frozen. But even with the Countdown angle – the confused consonants and ill-placed vowels – keeping the two-man psych preservation society undercover, there’s no denying, this is special stuff.
Richard S Jones
IAIN MATTHEWS & SEARING QUARTET
Perfect Pitch CD
It only takes the quickest of glances at Iain Matthews’ discography to conclude that he’s taken the road less travelled. Any man who can start out in a British surf band, journey through folk and rock and then end up with Joy Mining – a kind of urbane jazz album – is one unsettled soul.
While musically it’s quite gentle, the seen-it-all vocal husk of Matthews is as thorny as ever. However, the real treat of Joy Mining lies in its deeply personal lyrical content. The introspection is intimate like never before and, particularly on ‘My Old Town’, a really effective mix of defiance and sorrow. Some of the lyrical cynicism on display is in such direct contrast to the polished decorum of the music that it goes full circle and seems the perfect setting for Matthews’ wracked soul searching.
A thoroughly interesting album, if (again) an unexpected one.
THE MILK AND HONEY BAND
Dog Eared Moonlight
It’s no wonder that Andy Partridge was wowed enough by Robert White’s songwriting to sign White and his Brighton-based Milk And Honey Band to his Ape label. White, who fronted psych rockers Levitation before forming M&HB in the mid-90s, sounds remarkably like Partridge – specifically Andy’s more pastoral work on Mummer and Skylarking. However White’s singing voice is more of an acquired taste, something like Morrissey’s. Imagine The Smiths doing ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’ and you’ll have an idea of what to expect here.
While it would be nice to hear someone with a more straight-ahead melodious vocal style belt out some of these numbers, there is no questioning White’s mastery at crafting gorgeous pop songs. ‘Just You’, ‘No World At All’ and ‘Disappear’ are tracks that will stop you dead and have you humming all day. Fans of XTC’s more flowery work, The Dentists and even mainstream Britpop like Elbow will find much to savour here.
Alive Natural Sound CD
Not unlike label mates Left Lane Cruiser, these guys should be seen live to be experienced good and proper. Until you get your own chance to be blown away, the best you can do is to follow the instruction on the back cover: “best played very HIGH”.
Brain Cycles would’ve made a perfect double set along with their self-titled debut from 2007, continuing the same acid blues trip by way of classic power-trios like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, The Groundhogs and Taste, with the spirit of Peter Green hanging somewhere above it all.
On stage, the young J Mascis lookalike Parker Griggs handles the vocals and guitar-hero duties, backed by the new-born Jack Casady on bass, in the shape of Zach Anderson, and powerhouse drummers Keith and Cory Berry (but not together), both of them being one half Keith Moon; one half Mitch Mitchell... at the same time! In the studio, everything you hear is Parker and Anderson.
That Evil Drone
This is The Resonars’ (AKA Matt Rendon who plays all instruments) fifth album to date and, to my ears, the strongest. Drone continues the familiar Rendon blueprint of a day-glo self-harmonised vocals over killer riffs. It makes an immediate connection to the cerebellum and will appeal to both modern popsike and power pop fans. Think The Pillbugs or The Lolas.
There are a few deviations on the two instrumental numbers; ‘One Part Moan’ (with it’s shades of Jimmy Page’s ‘White Summer’ at the outset) and ‘Yes Grosvenor’ (an acoustic number) and the country-rock feel of ‘Sister Sally’. The other nine cuts though, are all kickass, surging power pop with hooks and chops you’ll love.
The standout for me is closer ‘Riding Backwards’, which pulls out all the stops. Originally issued on vinyl last autumn (in an edition of just 300) it is now available on CD. Don’t miss it!
THE SHE CREATURES
She Creatures Invade
She Creatures CD
As documented on last month’s My Generation page, The She Creatures are a group of cute girls who claim to be from Venus, where the fashion is for crazy blue wigs and skin tight silver costumes. They claim inspiration from ’60s radio waves which have only just reached Venus, moving them to create a ’60s style girl garage band and beam down to Bristol.
The five songs on this, their first release, show that they have the sound and the songs to go with the style. Nancy Raygun is a great, confident and tuneful vocalist who is ably supported by lots of neat backing vocals. All five songs are full of driving dancing beats and cool organ, particularly the excellent signature tune, ‘She Creatures Invade’. The sound is not unlike a young Pandoras – Paula Pierce would have been very, very impressed.
Poppy Disc CD
If you consider yourself a fan of any form of pop music that comes from Glasgow, it’s most likely that you’ve already crossed paths with each one of St Deluxe members, be it through Speeder, Francis McDonald’s Bad Boys or the current line up of The BMX Bandits. However, there’s no mistake what made them gather under this new moniker, breathing 21st Century air into the best of what used to define “indie” during the second half of the ’80s. In case you’re too young to remember, consider Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub.
However, it seems to me that the best way to experience this band is to catch them live and get lost in the psychedelic haze, before you hit the wall of noisy fuzzed out guitar crunch. With St Deluxe already proclaimed for “Scotland’s next big thing” and “a Scottish Nirvana for the 21st Century” by no other then Alan McGee, I can almost hear Duglas Stewart soon getting mentioned as “that guy, backed by St Deluxe”.
Merge Records CD
There are some albums that have one track so strong they earn a high rating and a place in your permanent collection, no matter how good the rest of the material is. Such is the case with the Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie)-produced debut from Seattle’s Telekinesis! ‘Coast Of Carolina’ is an infectious, addictive blast of pure powerpop with a blistering guitar line and a vocal hook that almost makes you want to cry for being so perfect.
There’s nothing else on the record that quite stands up to ‘Coast’ but it’s all pleasant enough. ‘Great Lakes’ is breezy mid-tempo pop that would be nice to blast through open car windows while driving down a beach road in July. ‘Imaginary Friend’ recalls The Who doing ‘Pictures of Lily’ and ‘I’m A Boy.’ The record on the whole is an impressive first effort that sits nicely alongside the output of label mates Spoon and The Rosebuds.
Yellowhead To Yellowstone And Other Love Stories
Stony Plain CD
Iconic Canadian singer and songwriter Tyson, who lives on a ranch in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, is perhaps best known for his ’60s success with the folk duo Ian & Sylvia and for penning songs like ‘Someday Soon’ and ‘Four Strong Winds’. This recent, originals-packed project – his 14th for the Edmonton-based roots music label – is the first featuring his “new voice,” severely changed when he “fought the sound system” at an outdoor Ontario concert.
Produced by drummer Harry Stinson, Tyson’s now much grainier and more gravelly vocals imbue many of the songs with the intimacy and whispered emotional depth they deserve — the old Western, Sons of the Pioneers-flavoured take of ‘Ross Knox’, a drifting, detail-rich tale of an ‘Estrangement’ and the electric steel-saturated, philosophical ‘The Fiddler Must Be Paid’ are good examples. Likewise, a resonant ‘Blaino’s Song’ and the word portrait of aged buckaroo ‘Bill Kane’. Quite rewarding.
Gary von Tersch
A Psychedelic Guide To Monsterism Island
Lo Recordings CD
Perhaps best known for his Super Furry Animals artwork, Pete Fowler has assembled a veritable cast of his musician friends from the hip underground, as well as the more mainstream, to create a prime slab of modern psychedelia in excelsis. The likes of Jonny Trunk, Wolf People, Cherrystones and Advisory Circle rub shoulders quite happily with Gruff Rhys, Jerry Dammers, Richard Norris and Amorphous Androgynous. In the process they proceed to stimulate the synapses by creating all manner of aural delights.
A largely instrumental affair, a number of spoken links intersperse proceedings, but the song titles and music do the real talking here, and are evocative enough to bring Fowler’s trippy otherworld vividly to life. To quote the press release, Monsterism Island spans “monstrous rock fry ups, electronic exotica via psychedelic folk and spooky krautrock”. Uplifting and eerily sinister in equal measures – you get the picture – absolutely enchanting.
Do You Wanna Be In The Show: A Pop Tribute To The Jetset
As with its “pop tribute to Anthony Meynell and Squire” two years ago, Twist Records once again revisits the time of second-hand modernism initiated by The Jam, and taken well into the ’80s by the likes of Secret Affair, The Chords, Merton Parkas, The Moment, The Times, The Risk, the above mentioned Squire and, of course, The Jetset. With their much talked about mid-80s visits to California, both Meynell and The Jetset’s Paul Bevoir, had made a much bigger impact on the local scenes over there, than back home.
That’s why it’s no surprise that both tributes, issued in England, are being handled mostly by Americans. One of the ace faces of the San Diego mod revival scene, Bart Mendoza (then of Manual Scan), provides not only a version of ‘Hard To Say Goodbye’ with The Shambles, but an overview of said British Invasion as well. I hope no one will mind me saying this, but a few entries even manage to surpass the originals. Mega Super Ultra’s powered up version of ‘What A Way To Go’ is upgraded to a Small Faces-like ballsy stomper; all-round pop guy Jeremy delivers a Lennonesque take on ‘Every Little Moment’; while The Jetset’s soul mate Steve Rinaldi (formerly The Moment’s trombonist) sticks to the horn-laden original of the compilation’s title tune while considerably improving the vocal delivery.
The next band scheduled to Twist again are The Risk, so keep your Lambretta motors running.
Tomorrow Is Today, A Tribute To The Australian Psychedelic Scene 1966-70
3cr/Off The Hip 2-CD
This record was compiled as a result of one of the Melbourne festival to celebrate the late ’60s Australian psych scene. On The first CD 19 contemporary artists cover well-known (Master’s Apprentices, Loved Ones) and obscure (Glass Web, Oakapple Day) songs from the era. On the second disc, each contributes an original of its own.
Most of the music was recorded live in 2006 and ‘07 at Community Radio 3CR. Of the artists involved only Even and The Green Circles were previously known to me, and their contributions are predictably fine. The other bands are so diverse that the results are varied, but there is something fro everyone. The female-fronted Amaya Laucrica, Thee Stag Knights, Ninetynine and The Sand Pebbles all impress, but other versions are spoilt by shouty male vocals, or because the original song wasn’t great in the first place. Oddly there’s plenty of garage, mod, guitar, folk and orchestral pop on CD2, all of which will appeal to Shindig! readers, but almost nothing that could remotely be called psychedelic, unless the term has been used so broadly as to become meaningless.