Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Review Of The Year 2008

January 2008

I went into 2008 with renewed enthusiasm for my new blog and the current music scene. 2007 had been an interesting year for music with new material from Arcade Fire, Coheed & Cambria, LCD Soundsystem, Maps, Rilo Kiley and The White Stripes. All these bands did not feature in 2008 and it was Radiohead who dominated the early headlines. The In Rainbows album, available for free on the internet, proved to be a radical and inspired move. In reality you could pay whatever you wanted so this meant nothing to most people. It was later revealed that the members of the band had downloaded their own album and also paid nothing. Anyway, off the back of this media driven publicity, the band played a ‘surprise’ gig which had to be moved from a record store to a proper venue for health and safety reasons. Radiohead played the whole of In Rainbows from start to finish. It was a triumph. The album is not that bad; not a patch on the early work of course but an interesting new direction.

On the blog I talked about the BBC Sound of 2008 - new and emerging bands and artists likely to find success in 2008. It looked like a strong line-up. Duffy had already appeared on Later…with Jools Holland and I was hearing great things from Adele (who topped the list), Glasvegas, Foals and The Ting Tings. The second half of the list was pretty inconsistent but MGMT and Vampire Weekend have since topped many people’s favourite bands lists of the year and the albums were a huge success. Being an avid listener to BBC 6music, I was introduced to many new bands, including most on the Sound of 2008 list. But there were a few omissions. The Duke Spirit were making great noises and quickly became a good prospect for 2008. A solid debut album was followed by a support slot for REM at The Royal Albert Hall later in the year. But plenty of gigging and radio slots fizzled out as the year rolled on.

I was not reviewing albums for other websites until June (was it really that late?) so I filled January with some content from previous years. This was something I hoped to continue in future months but as the new albums started to emerge there was far too much to write about. The first big album of the year was from British Sea Power with Do You Like Rock Music? It proved to be a good benchmark for the year. Another new band Sons & Daughters caught my eye (and ear) and the debut album This Gift had real promise. Sadly the early hype faded fast.

I wanted the new blog to have some regular posts - previewing new artists and albums, talking about what was new and interesting etc. I tried a MySpace feature. This was inspired by the Tom Robinson ‘Introducing’ show (again on 6music) and started as a great idea. But I quickly realised that there is far too much new music on the internet and lots to trawl through. As with all these things, it was a great idea and I had a lot of fun going through the pages but I failed to follow most of it up. The play list idea was quickly dismantled due to the introduction of Last.fm (songs and artists listed straight from my music library). But I continued the usual feature of updating the ‘albums of the year’ chart at the end of each month.

February 2008

The start of February brought us another new series of Later…with Jools Holland. Music television is in a horrible state with very few shows dedicated to ‘live’ performances. This may have something to do with the influx of music television channels churning out videos 24 hours a day and saturating the market. So Jools is keeping the formula alive and continues to attract the stars - both old and new. The first show of series 31 (yes, really!) had Radiohead (still dominating the news) as headliners and a rejuvenated Mary J. Blige. Off the back of this, I looked into other music television and found BBC Sound - a kind of Radio One on television with bands like The Feeling and Hoosiers. The only band to capture my interest was Paramore. I continued to keep an ear on who was on each week but quickly lost interest.

The Duke Spirit debut album was released in February. It was one of a few new albums to really start shaping the year. Laura Marling released Alas, I Cannot Swim and new band I Was A Cub Scout quickly topped my ‘best of’ list with I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope. It is still one of my favourite albums of the year, in spite of what was to happen later in the year to end such a great career. In the news there was new album information from Death Cab For Cutie, and new singles from Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and Goldfrapp back with a new folk sound.

Three more editions of Later…with Jools Holland gave us great performances from British Sea Power, Ida Maria, Morrissey, The Imagined Village (lead by Eliza Carthy), Jacob Golden, Duffy, We Are Scientists, The Kills, Devon Sproule and Supergrass. Disappointments were lead by Sheryl Crow, Hot Chip, Martina Topley Bird and MGMT.

March 2008

Quickly into March and there was some Nine Inch Nails news. I had been following details of a new experimental project from Trent Reznor and now it was actually going to happen. Ghosts was not so much an experiment as a masterpiece. Following on from Radiohead’s In Rainbows ‘free’ download, NIN decided to try a similar concept (also this month The Charlatans did the same thing with You Cross My Path). Ghosts is a four part instrumental album and Ghosts I was (and possibly still is) available free. My initial thoughts on the album were not great - I was expected too much but also I understood that this was just the start. After a technical glitch on the NIN website I finally got the whole album. It was well worth the wait. Ghosts is astonishing - a modern classical work beautifully conceived and crafted.

There were several more great albums in March. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds released Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree is excellent and Counting Crows were back with the spirited Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. The Kills released Midnight Boom this month to mixed reviews.

I listened to and then reported on the REM concert at The RAH. REM were great - full of energy as they previewed new songs from the Accelerate album.

April 2008

April was marked by the sad passing of Humphrey Lyttelton. He was best known to me (and many) as the chairman of the BBC radio series I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. But he was also a very good musician and radio host.

After a month break, Later… was back with a brand new format. The idea was to have a ‘live’ Tuesday show for half an hour and then back it up with a full hour long show on Friday (as normal). The Tuesday preview worked well and gave a lot more to talk about. The first show saw Adele out shining American counterpart Estelle. The was followed by Goldfrapp and Yeasayer, then The Last Shadow Puppets and the mighty Portishead. The Charlatans showcased the new ‘free’ album on the same show as Eartha Kitt. This was one of her last TV performances as she sadly died on Christmas Day this year. It was another interesting show with Was (Not Was) and The Pigeon Detectives. Where else can you get this much diversity?

In the reviews, REM and The Last Shadow Puppets outshone The Raconteurs and The Gutter Twins. As a huge Mark Lanegan fan I was very excited about The Gutter Twins. The album is disappointing and it was made worse by a bad performance on JH in May.

May 2008

I found it more difficult to find time for posting in May due to holidays and other commitments. I kept up the Jools Holland reviews and continued to enjoy the shows, in spite of inconsistencies and a few duff performances. James made a great comeback and Melody Gardot was great but The Gutter Twins were terrible. It was also the debut performance from Operator Please, another band I knew from BBC 6music. Moving through May, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss and Spiritualized were great but Santogold proved why they shouldn’t be in the Sound Of 2008 list. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds put in the performance of the series in Show 7 against The Raconteurs and Glasvegas. All three were excellent live. In contrast the last show was a let down. Paul Weller was trying something different with 22 Dreams with mixed results and both Martha Wainwright and Tricky are acquired tastes.

May was sparse for reviews. The first Portishead album in ages was well worth the wait and any year with a new Death Cab For Cutie album is always a good thing. Narrow Stairs is full of great moments but ultimately not as good as Plans. In the news Trent Reznor announced another NIN album. The Slip would be more like a conventional NIN release - but again it would be free on digital download. Two NIN albums in one year! Result.

Into June, everything was about to change…

June 2008

At the start of June I got in touch with Scott Goodacre, the editor of The Music Magazine - an online music review site. The set-up was simple. Get sent free music in exchange for a review. My first attempt was an EP (Neon City by The Exits) and a single (Boys by The Maybes?). I had just completed a review of We Started Nothing by The Ting Tings and was eagerly anticipating the new Sigur Rós album Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust. I had heard the first single Gobbledigook and could not wait to hear the rest. So when The Music Magazine sent my the album I was amazed. It was my first album review and quite punchy compared to later efforts. I don’t write ‘short’ pieces and I like to comment on every track, which makes it difficult to keep to the word limit. But most editors I have spoken to use this only as a minimum guide and prefer people to put in more effort and write more. Of course more is not always better and I do profess to quality over quantity.

During this new and exciting time I heard some sad news. I Was A Cub Scout announced a split and that the band would no longer be making music. There was an incident a few weeks before during a show but I’m not sure that directly contributed to the split. However, it was a sad day as the album is tremendous. I missed out on reviewing the new Coldplay album Viva La Vida. I didn’t think I would get the review and wasn’t sure if I wanted it. The review that actually appeared was a hugely positive one, contrary to my own feelings about the album. I think it is musically accomplished but lacking ‘songs’. Coldplay are no very good at sounds and texture but Chris Martin cannot be taken seriously as a lyricist. They are now a band who have their own high standard, like Radiohead, REM, etc… You have to hold them to a standard, at all costs. And that is what I did in my review.

I was (again) amazed when I was offered a new Bowling For Soup DVD. Live And Very Attractive captures the band at their manic best - concert footage mixed with before and after show and backstage antics. It is a mixed bag and I would like to have seen a pure unedited gig as an option. The commentary option is just the band sitting in a local bar and messing around. Even though I am a huge fan, I thought my review was thoughtful, mature and honest.

I finished up the month with a few more single reviews. I spent a few days catching up on the Glastonbury footage and trying to sum up the weekend. I can’t say I missed being there. It was marred by the Jay-Z controversy (which lead to him opening with Wonderwall to show Noel Gallagher how it should be done…not) and Amy Winehouse looking and sounding very ill and then punching someone in the crowd who tried to steal her hat…or something. There were some great highlights though - Elbow were excellent.

July 2008

The summer heat brought a busy month and another set of website reviews. I signed up with AltSounds as a reviewer and immediately looked through their huge list of available music. This was a different set up from The Music Magazine. Reviewers pick from a list and are encouraged to take two or three albums and a single. Otherwise you get sent a few random CDs to fill the postage. My first review for AltSounds was The Well by Sarah Perrotta. My review selection process is based on the simple principle of searching for an interesting sounding artist on MySpace and listening to a few tunes. If it sounds great, I add it to my list. And Sarah Perrotta sounds great…she just can’t control her voice enough and has way too many ideas. Anyway my review was fair and it was a 6/10. One thing about these reviews is that I have to give a rating - something I never do. I want people to read what I have to say and not just skip to the end and say ’oh a four star review - I’ll buy that’. If only life was that simple. For me 8/10 is Nevermind or Blood On The Tracks or St. Pepper. That is my benchmark. So when I had an email from the editor of AltSounds saying that the artist was no pleased with my ‘negative’ review, I was more than just a little surprised. It was my first direct feedback and it would not be the last.

July was an incredible month for reviews. I wrote a piece about the new Mogwai single The Sun Smells To Loud, in anticipation of the new album The Hawk Is Howling. I asked The Music Magazine to feature it and they obliged. I was introduced to an old band called The Lines who released two compilation albums this year, the first was Memory Span. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the band churned out singles and EPs and gigged extensively without much recognition. The album shows an interesting transition from guitar-based indie to dub and ska influences. Seth Lakeman released Poor Man’s Heaven (just in time for the Cambridge Folk Festival) and I discovered two new Canadian artists: the wonderful Catherine MacLellan and Elliott Brood. Another review cam my way from The Music Magazine from XX Teens. I had heard a 6music session earlier in the year and was eager to hear the album. It is one of the most original and compelling records of the year, even though it is missing the brilliant, but controversial, How To Reduce The Chances Of Being A Terror Victim. And new band Black Kids were all over the news, for the wrong reasons. After hyping them to the extreme, Pitchfork replaced their original review with a photograph of two pug dogs by means of an apology for a 0/10 review. This was then upgraded to 3/10.

To make things even busier, the end of June brought a new music TV series: Live From Abbey Road. This was the start of the second series. I had seen some of the first so I knew the format. What intrigued me is that there is very little ‘live’ music going on. It is essentially a glorified recording session and some interview. So completely different from Later… The first of the Live From Abbey Road shows had James Blunt, Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Stereophonics, Colbie Caillat, Joan Armatrading, David Gray, Suzanne Vega and The Black Keys among others.

August 2008

Into the autumn and I was busier than ever. A new music site was launched called GobShout and I signed up with an account. I haven’t written any reviews for them, as The Music Magazine and AltSounds have been more than enough for now. I did write an introductory article about The Tragically Hip for the ’They Should Have Been Huge’ section. I still have no idea if it was posted.

It was a month for singles with good new songs from Red Light Company, The Automatic, Does It Offend You Yeah?, Colbie Caillat (I couldn’t resist after seeing her on Live From Abbey Road) and David Holmes. I caused a lot of discussion from my review of the new Queen and Paul Rodgers single C-lebrity. It is a shame as most of the new album is very good and they should not be getting bogged down in all this nonsense. In albums, it was the month for Noah And The Whale and Proceed. The latter got me some great positive feedback from the band! They emailed me directly to thank me for the review. It is definitely an album to preserver with. I began to challenge myself and picked the new Soft Cell remixes album from AltSounds. A huge amount of work with plenty of reward.

Live From Abbey Road rumbled on. Matchbox Twenty made a surprise appearance and Def Leppard were terrible, It was the first of two from Herbie Hancock who I just don’t get at all but Kate Nash was great, The Kills turned up and did a few songs first take and posed a lot and Sara Bareilles was excellent even though no one is talking about her or her great album, The Subways were full of energy but lacking in sound and Gnarls Barkley were a mess. It was all becoming a bit too inconsistent.

September 2008

In September we lost Richard Wright, an influential and core member of Pink Floyd. This was acknowledged in the first show of the new Later…with Jools Holland and followed up on the second show when David Gilmore appeared as a guest. He seemed embarrassed to be there given the tragic circumstances.

New albums continued to astound me. I was given the Mogwai album to review - another great honour, made even better as the album is fantastic. It remains the best record of the year. Metallica were back with Death Magnetic and I reviewed that - also for The Music Magazine. An excellent comeback with some amazing moments. Of the rest, Rosie And The Goldbug released their eponymous debut as did Attic Lights. Another great find was French band Arther.

Music television migrated back to Jools Holland from Abbey Road with a strange final show. Brian Wilson tried his best to recapture the glory days of the Beach Boys with mixed results, and Martha Wainwright and Teddy Thompson finished on a Beatles duet. Metallica opened the new series of Later…with Jools Holland but it all felt like a novelty act. They were sharing the bill with France’s first lady Carli Bruni - who was genuinely good. Fresh from their Mercury Music award, Elbow stole the second show.

October 2008

In contrast, October was terrible month for reviews. I Am Ghost failed to impress and I was sent an album sampler of No Pint Wasting Tears by Ironik. His music is not my taste but I know talent when I see it. And he has very little. The only saving grace for October was the release of a new album from King Blues. Save The World, Get The Girl is wonderful stuff. I was asked to review first single My Boulder by The Music Magazine and then along came the album.

During this time I was contacted by another website, LastBroadcast. While not exclusively music oriented, the site is an excellent mix of popular culture. I signed up for a few reviews including the new singles from Dido (dull) and Razorlight (great), as well as the new Ray LaMontagne album (again massively overlooked) and Ra Ra Riot by The Rhumb Line. I also reviewed the very disappointing Seaside Rock by Peter, Bjorn and John. This introduced me to another side of music review writing: the edit. My Dido review was changed, no massively, but enough to provoke a response. In one case, important tense had been lost, changing the meaning. I’m not going to get all Giles Corren here but that sort of thing really winds me up. We are all amateurs here (at least for the time being) and our copy should not be subjected to changes. If it is rubbish, don’t post it. Simple. Anyway, some of the changes were justified and I can understand why they were made. This is not the reason why I haven’t reviewed more for LastBroadcast. I simply did not have the time for a third website. This was a great experience and I learned more about writing within constraints.

Back to Jools Holland and his guests in October were Kaiser Chiefs, The Streets and Seasick Steve, Coldplay and Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Snow Patrol and Eliza Carthy, Keane and Bloc Party. Everyone was eager to showcase new material and Jools is only too happy to oblige. Only Snow Patrol caught my attention and the new album sounded great. I avoided Keane and Kaiser Chiefs and we know about Coldplay. Glen Campbell was still peddling his horrible covers album and stumbled his way though songs he clearly doesn’t know, reading clumsily from an auto queue and messing up. Shame that such a great musician is reduced to this.

November 2008

November began with another good album from a band who were making a comeback. Snow Patrol released A Hundred Million Suns and I asked The Music Magazine if it was available. Again, and to my surprise, it was! Another scoop.

Later…with Jools continued to keep my attention. Grace Jones, Razorlight, The Killers, Fleet Foxes and Pendulum are all artists I ignored this year. The new material from Razorlight and The Killers failed to impress and I never got Fleet Foxes, despite heavy endorsement from Bob Harris. The final show of the series had Stereophonics doing exactly what every other band had not done - they played their greatest hits rather than weak new stuff. Ok, so they have a ‘best of’ collection out in time for Christmas but still, they were great. It was a very interesting show with good turns from Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dengue Fever and Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed. I like it more when I don’t know what to expect…

December 2008

December has flown by and I scaled down the reviews. I spent much of my time posting on other sites, talking about Christmas singles, X-Factor and my top 5 singles/albums of the year. One surprise turned up, from AltSounds. The second complication from The Lines was released. Flood Bank is two albums, mixed up and even better than Memory Span. Before this I was given an album by a new band Ribbons. Royals is not a great album and I was constructive in my criticism (as always) but still got some grief. The record company withdrew future mailings and I got very negative feedback from comments, including crap about my writing style and some of my phrasing. Oh well, I guess when you put it out there, this is what you expect.

The BBC Sound of 2009 Longlist was out and I gave it a look. It is less appealing than this years list was and I hardly recognise the artists. I cannot believe that VV Brown is on the list after her woeful showing on Jools Holland earlier in the year.

I ended the year with a review of the new Jacobi Wichita album Bonex Malone. Who?, I hear you ask. That was my first thought. The reviews I wanted from Altsounds had already gone, apart from The Lines, so I was sent this is an extra. I was surprised that the first couple of listens revealed a mess and then real potential and talent start to emerge as the music progresses. It is challenging but rewarding. Just as music should be.

I intended to end the year with a few Christmas reviews. Kate Rusby released an album later in the month called Sweet Bells. Naturally I got it straight away after checking the review sites. It is a well-intentioned and genuinely heart-felt collection of Christmas songs, traditional and new. Excellent. I just wish I had time for a review.

They say everything happens in threes. On Christmas Day Eartha Kitt sadly passed away. She was in such fine form earlier in the year when she performed with Jools Holland and I had no idea she was ill. Many of the newspapers posted obituaries.

And what better place to end the year than the annual Hootenanny (Hootenanny!). I know I have mentioned Jools Holland way too much in my blog and indeed this post but I did see the new year in with Jools and his guests. It was the usual audience of celebrities and start turns, most backed by the Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. The line-up was Duffy, Adele, (a still going strong) Dave Edmunds, Annie Lennox, The Tings Tings, The Hold Steady and (a way past their best) Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. It was all a bit too loose and lacking the polish of the normal shows. Still, it was entertaining. Kelly Jones and Lily Allen put in good performances of old hits to bring us into 2009.

Monday, 29 December 2008

2008 Music Chart - December

Another quiet (short) month for music with three website reviews: one good (Jacobi Wichita), one bad (Ribbons) and one exempt (The Lines). Also added is a late addition from the marvellous Kate Rusby with her Christmas album Sweet Bells and an album I missed the first time around: For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver, which is not as great as it could be.
  1. The Hawk Is Howling - Mogwai
  2. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails
  3. I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope - I Was A Cub Scout
  4. Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - Sigur Rós
  5. Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down - Noah And The Whale
  6. The Rhumb Line - Ra Ra Riot
  7. Death Magnetic - Metallica
  8. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  9. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
  10. Third - Portishead
  11. A Hundred Million Suns - Snow Patrol
  12. Save The World, Get The Girl - The King Blues
  13. Mountain Meadows - Elliott Brood
  14. Accelerate - R.E.M.
  15. We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings
  16. Church Bell Blues - Catherine MacLellan
  17. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow
  18. Gossip In The Grain - Ray LaMontagne
  19. Arther - Arther
  20. Poor Man's Heaven - Seth Lakeman
  21. The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets
  22. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
  23. Consolers Of The Lonely - The Raconteurs
  24. Do You Like Rock Music - British Sea Power
  25. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - Counting Crows
  26. Seven Months And A Fire Blanket - Proceed
  27. Sweet Bells - Kate Rusby
  28. Silent Cry - Feeder
  29. Liejacker - Thea Gilmore
  30. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab For Cutie
  31. Attack & Release - The Black Keys
  32. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  33. Alas, I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling
  34. Little Voice - Sara Bareilles
  35. Midnight Boom - The Kills
  36. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver
  37. This Is A Fix - The Automatic
  38. Friday Night Lights - Attic Lights
  39. Bonez Malone - Jacobi Wichita
  40. Welcome To Goon Island - XX Teens
  41. Viva La Vida - Coldplay
  42. I Am Undone - My Epic
  43. Rosie And The Goldbug - Rosie And The Goldbug
  44. Songs In A&E - Spiritualized
  45. Neptune - The Duke Spirit
  46. You Cross My Path - The Charlatans
  47. @#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
  48. Under Summer Sun - Matt Wertz
  49. The Slip - Nine Inch Nails
  50. Toy Tugboats - Sunfold
  51. The Hollow Of Morning - Gemma Hayes
  52. When The Night Time Comes - Jenny Lindfors
  53. The Well - Sarah Perrotta
  54. Those We Leave Behind - I Am Ghost
  55. Elliot Minor - Elliot Minor
  56. Saturnalia - The Gutter Twins
  57. Heat: The Remixes - Soft Cell
  58. This Gift - Sons & Daughters
  59. Sunny Day Sets Fire - Summer Palace
  60. Seaside Rock - Peter, Bjorn and John
  61. Royals - Ribbons
  62. Kids Aflame - ARMS
  63. Revolving Doors - Nelson

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Jacobi Wichita - Bonez Malone Album Review (2008)

Latest review for Altsounds.com.

How do you sum up a band like Jacobi Wichita? This line from the Thrust Music biography is typically attention grabbing: "Intense dedication mixed with incredible musical knowledge, as well as a strong desire to stand out from so many 'sheep-like' bands, is what Jacobi Wichita is all about". After an initial listen to the Connecticut post-punk's debut album Bonez Malone, you cannot disagree with the three points. Jacobi Wichita is clearly dedicated to being different and the band 'know' music. But...this approach to life and art does not always yield good results. A gargantuan out-pouring of emotions and sounds, a melting pot of textures, and countless twists and turns thread through the core of Bonez Malone.

The first half of the album is a glorious mess. Opener 'Hey, Hey, Hey...Take It Easy' is a great introduction to front man Brendan Rodriguez - part Mike Patton, part Chester Bennington, part Ian Watkins, part Conor Oberst. The music is thrown at you in waves of guitars, drums and vocals, unstructured and uncontrolled. Into the last minute, genuine melody makes way for a multitude of vocals to end. 'Belly Up' is a frantic explosion with aftershocks of "I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die...." repeated ad nauseam. The half way point is excellent, making way for a soaring last minute. From here, the songs veer off course musically. The obvious drug referencing 'There's No Business Like Snow Business' is a great song ruined by a lack of direction and some absurd musical choices. "This is why I'm thinking in colour schemes and punching walls to awaken my fingers" is gloriously graphic. Ironically 'Violets Aren't Blue, They're Violet' is the first sign that there are dark forces at work within Jacobi Wichita. Opening with the line "I'll make a milk carton out of you yet, my precious..." is certainly a cry for attention. The song is challenging stuff, a combination of horror imagery, machine gun drumming and soaring vocals. Apart from the fact that 'Gucci Girl' just does not sound right, there is some amazing guitar work from Ben Lopez. But the production is more Justin Timberlake than Coheed & Cambria and the vocals are all over the place. Unfortunately 'Bloody Pelvis' suffers the same fate.

The stand-out song is the slow moody hip-hop centre-piece of 'Mental Crown', an emotional but clumsy recount of a descent into drugs and subsequent escape, wrapped up as an anti-love song. It is the first time the lyrical skill of Jacobi Wichita is pushed to the front. "Don't strive to be perfect. A perfect world is too quiet" is followed by "Damn the day I found you. Take another look around then you'll know why". All this is set to a weird soundscape of vocals, from Jennifer Reyes' contribution to demonic vocoder-effected monologue. Even though it is more stripped down than most of the album, the song is still over-complicated with ideas and it is a departure from the 'usual sound'.
This makes way for the second half of the album, which, if you discount the appalling nonsense of the closer 'Jammin' On The One', is home to some of the best songs. 'Gullyhead' glides from delicate synth intro into hardcore and then back to melodic emo within the first minute. Then we get a Mars Volta guitar and vocal break leading to bongos and then more shouting. The last minute of this four minute prog-rock master class goes from stuttering vocal to choir to finish. Sublime. 'The Eye-Touch Of Brilliance' has more great guitar work from Ben Lopez who delivers everything from Jimmy Eat World to Metallica. These last songs show a real progression into more melodic song writing, while maintaining a dark menacing edge. 'Baby Gorilla Teeth' switches from melody to horror movie with effortless disregard for the listener - transporting them from safty to danger before there is a chance to escape. Completing the wonderful quartet in some style, 'I Only Draw Chairs' would not be out of place on a Coheed & Cambria album - an excellent love song full of dark imagery and goth-metal twists.

Ultimately Bonez Malone is an engaging, if frustrating, listen. This may have something to do with the chronology of the songs or maybe just the need to go against the trend of stacking all your best songs at the start. To begin with, just as you get hold of one particular groove or vibe, a song will dive off in a different direction, latching onto yet another idea or concept. The music may not be to everyone's taste every time but there is enough to grab your attention. The problem is, like the song writing, this attention span is limited to fragments at a time. While trying to stay vehemently genre-free, Jacobi Wichita has thrown just about everything into the music. From post-punk to screamo to hardcore and hip-hop, there is also Latin-soul, funk, blues and R&B. Every song on Bonez Malone plays like an entire album without breaks, such is the wealth of ideas and sounds. And Jacobi Wichita are a real 'ideas band' and these ideas really start to come together as the album progresses.

-- CS (for AltSounds.com)

Thursday, 11 December 2008

BBC Sound of 2009 Longlist

It's that time of year again...the BBC has announced the artists and bands who are most likely to find success in 2009. This year, the list was impressive and topped by Adele and Duffy. The Ting Tings and Glasvegas both made albums of the year - really impressive debuts. Foals were also impressive, producing some good singles and live shows. But out of the top 5 it was all a bit predictable. Vampire Weekend, Black Kids and MGMT failed to impress me, as did the exciting Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong. And the least said about Santogold the better...

So in 2009, who is on the longlist for January?
  • The Big Pink
  • Dan Black
  • VV Brown
  • Empire of the Sun
  • Florence and the Machine
  • Frankmusik
  • Kid Cudi
  • La Roux
  • Lady GaGa
  • Little Boots
  • Master Shortie
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Passion Pit
  • The Temper Trap
  • White Lies
Yes I haven't heard of any of them either. No that's not strictly true. VV Brown has been on Jools Holland and she was terrible. On the plus side Little Boots sound great, as do Florence And The Machine. As for the rest, who knows... So plenty of Googling and MySpace searching beckons...

Link: BBC Sound Of 2009

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Lines - Flood Bank Album Review (2008)

A review for AltSounds.com. So glad I got this album to review. Following on from Memory Span, reviewed earlier this year for The Music Magazine, this continues my new obsession with The Lines - a band I had never heard of until this year. If anything this is better than Memory Span as it's more creative and the band's experience really shows in the songs.

The review:

In the summer of 2008, the world was reintroduced to The Lines. The band released Memory Span, a great collection of early singles and EPs including Cool Snap! and Nerve Pylon. Since the early 80s, The Lines have been something of a cult band with a small but loyal fan base. This may have much to do with the band's lack of commercial know-how. It was a different music industry back then and self-promotion was virtually non-existent; unless you got your faces on the cover of NME or managed to bag a Peel Session, you faded into obscurity. Following on from Memory Span, Flood Bank is the two albums Therapy and Ultramarine, from 1981 and 1982 respectively, building upon an early sound and an obsession with the ever changing music scene.

As front man Rico Conning tells us in the album sleeve notes, Flood Bank has been assembled not as two separate albums but as a 'Pulp Fiction' edit, the songs from each album interspersed while maintaining chronological order. It is a strange approach but does create a flow, even if the original material is two individual bodies of work. This is clear to see (and hear) as the listener progresses through the album. Ultramarine is home to some of the best songs in The Lines' catalogue, but also one of the worse, and Therapy is more inconsistent as the band play around with sounds rather than songs.

Flood Bank opens with the drum and bass driven Come Home and is a beguiling mix of distant vocals and animal noises. Stripe is the first really great song, a mix of early Cure and Level 42 slap bass. It is certainly music of it's time: gorgeously gothic and new wave. Conning's vocals are magnificent as he switches between croon and falsetto and the piano arrangement is a real highlight. The first signs of truly great song writing start to emerge, summing up the troubled times of a new Tory government, strikes, riots and unrest: "tonight down at the dockside; violence, screaming over low tide" and the prosaic yet menacing "I lay awake at night; I'm thinking...". Airlift tries the same tricks musically, with the ever-present bass, added melody but stuttering vocals. The added trombone creates a stark musical landscape of alienation and escapism. Blow A Kiss is a real surprise - the band keep it simple with an Elliott Smith style ballad. Conning excels again with "I sit beneath the trees; my arms around my knees...feeling envy - how they hurl those words around, then claim meaning at the lost and found". More prophetic, poignant song writing.

After such a great start, the following trio of Instincticide, Bucket Brigade (both from Therapy) and then Tunnel Party (the only failing on Ultramarine) are a sudden down-turn. This is the band experimenting with textures which results in an incoherent mess. The latter is an antidote to the New Romantic bands of the day but too obvious. Conversely Ursa Major and The Landing are both superb. The former has a Massive Attack intro with soft drums and delicate bass framing ghostly vocals and more brass. The latter is the centrepiece of Ultramarine and wonderful prog-rock storytelling into a soaring three minute semi-instrumental. The Gate brings back the pain of Therapy - soul purging with barking dogs and screams from the depths of hell, leading into the more frantic Have A Heart. Conning is annoyingly flat and laboured and the song would be great with a better vocal. Continuing the roller coaster, No Hiding is Conning at his best and the guitar work is sublime.

The final trio from Ultramarine is real signs of a band in serious progression. Everything The Lines made up to this point contributed enormously to the end of the album. Flood Bank is all eerie atmosphere and goth guitars. If there is a negative it is that the song is a minute too long and after some wordless vocals begins an unnecessary repeat. Fury has another great vocal melody and contrary to the title, it is focused and controlled. The title track of Ultramarine is both understated and epic - Joy Division with a twist of subtle bass and sharp piano. In place of a huge build up the song chooses to drift away reflectively. The end of Flood Bank is the only time the track ordering is in question. The final song of Therapy is the buzzing chaos of Disenchanted and as the closer for Flood Bank, it is a real downer and paradoxically not how the band should feel after such an uplifting cathartic experience.

On the title track of Flood Bank Conning sings "would you be so good to call the dogs away and I won't be any bother to you". Maybe this standoff attitude contributed to The Lines' lack of commercial success - just as the rabble rousing began, the band ran away from it. Nico Conning said in an NME interview that the band cannot sell themselves. He went on to say "We're shitty hustlers and anyway up until now we've never had any desire to do so", making it sound like it was all self-inflicted. But life was more complicated for The Lines, a band that were never part of the scene, disillusioned by the media and not fully aware of their own talents. As a compilation of two albums, Flood Bank is impressive - always engaging and interesting. If Therapy is the released tension and angst then Ultramarine is the gathering together of all that is left to form something truly great.

-- CS (for AltSounds.com)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Ribbons - Royals Album Review (2008)

Radiohead has a lot to answer for. Thom Yorke and his cohorts are now the public face of lo-fi after abandoning a very successful guitar-based indie career. What they are doing now is nothing new. Bands evolve and musicians reinvent themselves all the time but one thing remains: the core sound that made them great in the first place. In an attempt to be innovative and different, to throw off the shackles of predictability and stereotype, the band are now a changed entity - newly invigorated, motivated and making interesting, if challenging, music. So why all this talk of Radiohead? Well, producer and musician Jherek Bischoff's new band Ribbons make Radiohead sound like Kid A never happened.

As you might expect Royals is all over the place. At times it is impossible to conceive that anyone has actually written most of the music. Some of the arrangements are so random that they could only be created using a stopwatch. But most of the time it all feels like a stream of consciousness unhindered by the usual rules. The album opens with the drawn-out wavering vocals of All Of Us and from the first lines it is clear that Bischoff has not been blessed with a great voice. There is a connection between despair and beauty but melancholy does not always work as a creative artistic force. What starts off compelling quickly becomes annoying and half way through a huge string arrangement tries to rescue the listener from the eerie apocalyptic trance. All We Know takes a similar approach but without the inevitable search party. The vocals are operatic, the soundscape is David Gilmore meets Vangelis with electronic percussion, lush guitars and fragments of piano. The soft vocal outro is spoiled by the drums. If Bischoff is such a good producer of minimalism, how could he get the mix so wrong? The third of this unsteady trilogy is the spooky instrumental Automatism, a piece played out in negative by a very small orchestra playing tiny instruments.

The best song on the album, undoubtedly is The Last And Least Likely. From the big Bond-themed string arrangement into the buzzing electronics, a complete change of direction in the mid-section and then an ambient outro - it glides through the five minutes. Children's Song could be described as pop: annoyingly catchy and familiar making way for some very cool guitars to finish. But this is a brief highlight. The second half of the album is plagued with more pitfalls. Miu Miu is just too weird, random and directionless. The introduction of an Eastern feel is at first interesting but then goes nowhere and the end is a noisy mess. Silver Locket is very slow folk accompanied by ghostly backing vocals and blasts of 'sound'. But it is not all bad news. Tongue Tied is the first glimpse of structure and a pleasant duet with added female vocals. It suffers from persistent soulless electronica and staccato leading to crashing drums and more big strings. For something so challenging, it is all too predictable.

But the biggest disappointment is the final song All I Was. Given the blatant self-indulgence on display, a fifteen minute sprawling epic of twists and turns, highs and lows, and a wealth of ideas would be appropriate - even if it did not work. At least it would be embracing the spirit of the album. What we get is the dreadful All I Was, one of the worst songs on any album this year. Bischoff tries to sing with clarity which falls flat, a delicate arrangement is interrupted by the sound of frogs being hit with big hammers and then just to top it all off, he adds in some whistling. Put in some handclaps and it would have everything. The last minute sounds revisited and uninspired.

Ground-breaking, innovative, different and challenging - these words all have one synonym: Crap. Even if the songs are non-existent, the music is not that great and there is very little talent on offer, the end result can be compelling. This generates a compulsion to listen and to keep listening, so that every note is explored, every word is understood, and every beat is felt. Royals does not pull you in as much as it wants to, mainly due to the improvised feel and the vocals delivering incomprehensible lyrics. What should be free-flowing and natural is more like trying to swim in Marmite.

So what of the Radiohead comparison? It still stands. The approach is the same, but as Ribbons has no core sound to rely on, the songs lack coherence and focus. At least Radiohead are still interesting. The constant use of string arrangements to desperately get things moving, the tendency to fill voids with empty wailing vocals and the creation of atmosphere over genuine substance - all these things make Royals a very frustrating listen which does not improve over time. Some really great ideas are ruined by a lack of discipline and structure. This is obviously the effect Bischoff is going for but the music always suffers when you don't have a plan. Pure production with very little to produce.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Sunday, 30 November 2008

2008 Music Chart - November

Only one new album for November in a quiet month. Snow Patrol return after a few years out with A Hundred Million Suns.
  1. The Hawk Is Howling - Mogwai
  2. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails
  3. I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope - I Was A Cub Scout
  4. Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - Sigur Rós
  5. Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down - Noah And The Whale
  6. The Rhumb Line - Ra Ra Riot
  7. Death Magnetic - Metallica
  8. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  9. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
  10. Third - Portishead
  11. A Hundred Million Suns - Snow Patrol
  12. Save The World, Get The Girl - The King Blues
  13. Mountain Meadows - Elliott Brood
  14. Accelerate - R.E.M.
  15. We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings
  16. Church Bell Blues - Catherine MacLellan
  17. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow
  18. Gossip In The Grain - Ray LaMontagne
  19. Arther - Arther
  20. Poor Man's Heaven - Seth Lakeman
  21. The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets
  22. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
  23. Consolers Of The Lonely - The Raconteurs
  24. Do You Like Rock Music - British Sea Power
  25. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - Counting Crows
  26. Attack & Release - The Black Keys
  27. Seven Months And A Fire Blanket - Proceed
  28. Little Voice - Sara Bareilles
  29. Silent Cry - Feeder
  30. Liejacker - Thea Gilmore
  31. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab For Cutie
  32. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  33. Alas, I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling
  34. Midnight Boom - The Kills
  35. This Is A Fix - The Automatic
  36. Friday Night Lights - Attic Lights
  37. Welcome To Goon Island - XX Teens
  38. Viva La Vida - Coldplay
  39. I Am Undone - My Epic
  40. Rosie And The Goldbug - Rosie And The Goldbug
  41. Songs In A&E - Spiritualized
  42. You Cross My Path - The Charlatans
  43. @#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
  44. Under Summer Sun - Matt Wertz
  45. The Slip - Nine Inch Nails
  46. Toy Tugboats - Sunfold
  47. The Hollow Of Morning - Gemma Hayes
  48. Neptune - The Duke Spirit
  49. When The Night Time Comes - Jenny Lindfors
  50. The Well - Sarah Perrotta
  51. Those We Leave Behind - I Am Ghost
  52. Elliot Minor - Elliot Minor
  53. Saturnalia - The Gutter Twins
  54. Heat: The Remixes - Soft Cell
  55. This Gift - Sons & Daughters
  56. Sunny Day Sets Fire - Summer Palace
  57. Seaside Rock - Peter, Bjorn and John
  58. Kids Aflame - ARMS
  59. Revolving Doors - Nelson

Friday, 28 November 2008

New Christmas Single from Chris Difford

Yes it's that time of year again...


The BBC One Show and, the talented one from Squeeze, Chris Difford (with the Decorations) release a new Christmas single entitled "Let's Not Fight This Christmas". The song is released (download only) on 8th December and will be previewed on The One Show next week. All proceeds to Children In Need.

I haven't heard it yet so no review but thought I would mention it as there is very little else to talk about atm :P. Looking forward to hearing it soon.

Monday, 17 November 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 9)

So the end of the current series and last Later until the famous Hootananny! at New Year. One thing I always criticise the show for is not being diverse enough - more often than not it is safe and predictable with the guests. When I saw that Stereophonics were on this week I thought 'oh no, another fading 90's band trying to peddle new material', but they don't have a new album as such. The band's new Greatest Hits compilation just gets a passing mention which is exactly what the band give us - something sadly missing from other so called 'big' artists. As for the rest of the line-up, with the exception of Jools himself with singer Ruby Turner, I must admit I don't know any of them. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday

Stereophonics - Dakota
Solange - Decided Pt 1
Ray Davies (Chat with JH)
Dengue Fever - Tiger Phone Land
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Don't Get Trouble In Your Mind
Jools Holland & Louise Marshall - I Went By
Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves - Take My Love With You
Stereophonics - Local Boy In The Photograph

Friday

Stereophonics - The Bartender And The Thief
Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves - Take My Love With You
Dengue Fever - Tiger Phone Land
Ray Davies (Chat with JH)
Solange - I Decided (Decided Pt 1?)
Jools Holland & Louise Marshall - Waterloo Bridge
Stereophonics - You're My Star
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Real Old Mountain Dew
Sanjeev Bhaskar (Chat with JH)
Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves - It's Easier
Dengue Fever - Seeing Hands
Jools Holland & Ruby Turner - St. Louis Blues (with the Carolina Chocolate Drops)
Solange - Sandcastle Disco
Stereophonics - Dakota

Starting with the 'big' name band Stereophonics - the band were supreme. They opened the Tuesday live show and closed Friday with the mighty Dakota, easily the best song from the band's later years. Kelly and the boys were on top form throughout and also performed the slow melodic You're My Star and the more rough and ready The Bartender And The Thief. But the big song was the best in their catalogue: Local Boy In The Photograph - and it took me right back to when I first head it, and was then told what it was about. I guessed immediately that the band were on the show to promote a new Best Of collection but this can be excused because they gave us exactly what was needed - good renditions of familiar popular songs, not just new weaker stuff from a new album, something which has plagued this series. No interview with the band and just a passing mention of the Greatest Hits record.

Where on earth do I start with the rest? Eclectic, diverse and just plain odd on the surface. Things did not start well with Solange who does a bad Diana Ross impression. The empty soul of Decided (credited with two different names on each show, confusingly) had a self-centred stupid intro that the song failed to live up to and the clumsy girl pop of Sandcastle Disco was terrible. After a quick chat with Ray Davies about his musical Come Dancing (he didn't perform, sadly) and some good advice - stay true to your heart and only write while disparate, we were treated to a very interesting band: Dengue Fever (named after an actual tropical disease) is one of those multi-cultural bands from different parts of the world. Cute singer Chhom Nimol has a very amateurish voice but such charm. That said, Tiger Phone Land was awful, worse on Tuesday after a bad start, but the Khmer vocals of Seeing Hands were much better, and the song has a great vibe. Ray Davies described the band as a cross between Blondie and Led Zeppelin. Hmm...not quite Ray.

From here things get much better. The wonderful Carolina Chocolate Drops are real musicians making real music - a frantic swing stomp from the buzzing Don't Get Trouble In Your Mind to the great Real Old Mountain Dew, in spite of two many wordless vocals. The violin and banjo were exchanged for the latter performance showing such diversity. Also good was Eli "Paperboy" Reed - far too showy on Take My Love With You but great on the slow bluesy It's Easier. He has a great voice, when he uses it properly, and a style more akin with BB King.

Jools had to finish the series with a bit of piano but the two performances were predictable JH and 'his big band' stuff - and why not? It is what he does well and it wouldn't be the same without him. Louise Marshall was great, as was Ruby Turner and thankfully we didn't have to endue the new single. Instead Carolina Chocolate Drops helped out on St. Louis Blues with steel guitars and kazoo. Yes really!

The second interview, oddly, was with comedian and now musical performer Sanjeev Bhaskar. He is currently in the Monty Python influenced show Spamalot.

All in all it was a subdued end to the series and much more of a 'party' atmosphere. Obviously all of the performances were not to my taste but that is life. But this was almost the perfect show - a great band with their best songs, a bit of JH and his piano, and loads of people I have never heard before. Excellent entertainment. If only every show was like this.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart EP Review (2008)

A review for The Music Magazine.

Musical collaboration can create the most interesting of partnerships. Who would have thought that Scottish singer Isobel Campbell from Belle & Sebastian would end up making music with Mark Lanegan, the dysfunctional front man of 1980s post-grunge US rock band Screaming Trees. They have now released two albums together and 'Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart' is an extra EP taken from the 'Sunday At Devil Dirt' recording sessions. Now that Lanegan has got the latest bout of angst out of his system, with the semi-disastrous Greg Dulli project The Gutter Twins, it is now back to business as usual.

The title track, and only song to be taken from the album, is a short simple country blues ballad with Lanegan's baritone taking the lead. Campbell provides the softness for this gorgeous love song. 'Fight Fire With Fire' is much more complete, again with Lanegan in Tom Waits mode set to an upbeat rolling backdrop. The chorus is ludicrously jolly. Campbell again adds a delicate breeze, letting her voice wash through the song like Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star. A key line, and maybe an echo to Lanegan's current uneasy situation, is: "My mind's in the gutter; my heart's solid gold", followed by the more heartfelt, but clumsy, "When they made you, they busted the mould". The lyrical journey through the songs is a constant rocky road but always compelling.

'Asleep On A Sixpence' is an old-time piano melody coupled with more of Lanegan's rasping vocals. He is going solo this time. The strange outro appears to be a few bars of 'While Shepherd's Watched Their Flocks By Night'. The scratchy 'Violin Tango' provides a brief interlude before the true country duet of 'Rambling Rose' gets things back on course. This is like the antithesis of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant with both voices intertwined. Campbell's only solo effort 'Hang On' closes the EP and is hard to place - like Juliana Hatfield fronting Fountains Of Wayne. As pleasant as it is, the song becomes a relentless plod and could benefit from a stronger vocal.

This very unique pairing is a genuine combining of souls. Campbell is the calm for Lanegan's storm, keeping everything in balance; in spite of a dominating male presence, it is a near perfect equilibrium. The EP captures the dark focus of Lanegan's fantastic solo album 'Bubblegum' and echoes the more stripped down feel of 'Sunday At Devil Dirt'. This never feels like a side project, nor a sordid affair in a downbeat seedy motel, more a safe place to hide out when things get heavy. Both singers sound at home in each other's company. The ever wandering Mark Lanegan has his muse and may eventually rest his boots - but for now, Isobel Campbell is drawing the best out of him, whenever and wherever they meet.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Monday, 10 November 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 8)

This week on Later...was a return for another band trying to prove new material, The Killers. Also a special guest in the form of Al Green, plus Fleet Foxes and Pendulum. A strange inclusion was the latest project from Damon Albarn: Monkey Journey To The West which thankfully did not include the music used extensively in this years Olympics coverage.




Tuesday

The Killers - Human
Monkey Journey To The West - Monkey's World
Al Green (Chat with Jools)
Pendulum - Granite
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
The Killers - Spaceman

Friday

The Killers - Human
Pendulum - Granite
Monkey Journey To The West - Monkey's World
Marc Almond (Chat with JH)
Fleet Foxes - He Doesn't Know Why
The Killers - Losing Touch
Little Boots - Meddle
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett (Chat with Jools)
Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
Monkey Journey To The West - Heavenly Peach Banquet
The Killers - Neon Tiger
Al Green (Chat with Jools)
Fleet Foxes - Your Protector
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
The Killers - Spaceman

Unlike many bands recently making a comeback after years away, including Razorlight and Snow Patrol, The Killers has been busy grafting away through a series of albums. The latest offering is a mixed bag of stuff. The band perform four new songs, opening and closing both shows: latest 80's synth pop single Human, the aptly named soft rock of Losing Touch, the string pleasantries of Neon Tiger, and the ever so long and boring Spaceman. It all sounds a lot more consistent than the usual Killers 'one great song and a bunch of fillers' albums but with no really great song. There is no Mr Brightside or When You Were Young. I lost interest in the band with Sam's Town which is hard work, and then I skipped the compilation Sawdust. Day & Age seems to be well received but does nothing for me. No interview with the band either.

Pendulum were very disappointing. Only two songs : the powerhouse riff-heavy space rock of Granite and the more mixed up Propane Nightmares. The big problem was the weak vocals and repetitive nature of the guitars and guitar/keyboard hybrid. Likewise Fleet Foxes, one of the best vocal harmony groups around only really impressed with the heavier Your Protector - the choral ending is sublime. Tuesday's White Winter Hymnal was decent enough but the balance was all wrong on He Doesn't Know Why. And the legend that is Al Green gave a very messy interview on Tuesday and rattled his way through Let's Stay Together, his ageing vocals getting more and more croaky. He obviously still has the passion for touring and performing but like many of Jools' guests, he probably doesn't know when to stop. Friday was a better interview in which he talked about his early life and career - his brothers threw him out of their group so he went solo, struggled with music synch on his first video and told new musicians to "hold on to your dreams". Wise words.

Far too much of the show was dedicated to the Monkey Journey To The West project. The central interview on Friday was a real mess - confrontational, incoherent and showed the annoying side of Albarn. He said that they had attempted to scale down the usual orchestra into more of a band for the show - a completely pointless half-arsed exercise. The two songs: the baffling Monkey's World and the giggling, la la la vocals and bleeps of Heavenly Peach Banquet work brilliantly as part of a soundtrack and stage show but not in the studio. It all looked like a budget version of The Lion King with Chinese songs remixed by two guys in a shed.

So the best is left until last: the wonderful Little Boots. Victoria Hesketh performed Meddle with effortless talent. At one point she was singing, playing piano and stylaphone all at the same time. She even found time to add a few hand claps. Breathtaking to watch and a good song. But one only one. She could have been a headliner for me.

This weeks pointless interview went to the great Marc Almond - which doesn't make it excusable as he was just plugging a new DVD/CD of his latest stageshow in an seedy part of old London. Jools asked him about his accident and subsequent recovery and Almond thanked Jools and his band for supporting him. Good stuff...but it would have been nice to hear a set from him.

So one average headliner, a fading legend, a pointless interview from someone plugging a new product, a couple of disappointing new bands, a scaled down show which didn't work and a superb unknown artist who only gets one song. Business as usual then...

Ray Lamontagne - Gossip In The Grain Album Review (2008)

Ray Lamontagne - Gossip In The Grain reviewed for Last Broadcast.

Ray Lamontagne, everyone's favourite grizzly bear mountain man with a voice that can melt stone and iron hearts, releases his third album 'Gossip In The Grain'. There are major differences from his previous albums: this is less of a solo project bringing in Lamontagne's touring band and in his own words he wants to "open up a little bit more". This immediately hints at lack of inspiration and the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind. But in branching out and trying to be different, the New Hampshire singer song writer has achieved a remarkable thing. It actually works.

Opening song 'You Are The Best Thing' kicks off with a blast of big band horns before Lamontagne's wonderful gruff yet soulful voice launches into what it does best. The song is a simple offering, with a less than inspired chorus, lots of repetition, some Motown backing vocals and a neat 'happy' vibe. It proves to be a deceptive start. Things settle down with 'Let It Be Me', a gorgeous ballad of hope and longing: "Feels like you're always coming up last; Pockets full of nothing ain't got no cash; No matter where you turn you ain't got no place to stand; You reach out for something and they slap your hand". The music around him lets Lamontagne always do his thing - he is always at the centre even when the piano and strings begin to rise. 'Sarah' brings in a third style: delicate winding instrumentation underpinning a more earnest, soft and urgent vocal performance. A central string break provides a brief respite.

From the outset 'I Still Care For You' is more loose and ragged around the edges. But the song immediately softens into a breathy ethereal chorus and rolling drums. The first contribution from Leona Naess almost goes by unnoticed. The last minute and a half briefly transforms into something much more organic before more of the same. 'Winter Birds' is an atmospheric poetic ramble of a love song - one of those songs that is difficult to pin down thanks to the lack of a defined structure. Six songs in and we are treated to a huge surprise. 'Meg White' (yes, the one from The White Stripes) is a no holds barred (ironic or otherwise) tale of love and obsession. It starts like a Ennio Morricone western score then quickly into thumping drums (a tribute indeed) and Lamontagne declaring that "Someday I'd like to take a walk with you; maybe ride our bikes down by the seaside". The line "Oh Jack is great, don't get me wrong...but this is your song" is bordering on comedy. All this with Pink Floyd style backing vocals and a slightly creepy vocal arrangement adds to the insanity. Totally unexpected and utterly brilliant.

'Hey Me, Hey Mama' does not quite get the album back on track but it is more familiar - a slick old-fashioned country-blues number that never lifts from mid-tempo drawl. The brass section in the second half is a nice touch and even when a horrible chord change is dropped in, it all holds together. 'Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's A Shame)' veers left once more with dark brooding railroad blues. Halfway through when Lamontagne begins panting like a dog, you get the feeling he really wants to just let go - but he never does. 'A Falling Through' is much more of what we expect, but sounds a bit of a let down given the surprises that have come before. Saying that however, it is a wonderful heartfelt ballad, again with Naess on backing vocals - this time more obvious and relevant. The subtle complexity of the music is incredible. The title track closes the album in understated style with a beautiful arrangement into the final minute - one of the best moments of the album. Then Lamontagne parting shot: "Truth be: Beggar that holds his tongue; Dines on none...none but air alone".

In spite of every attempt to "open up" and try new things, 'Gossip In The Grain' still plays it very safe. Producer Ethan Johns still adds to the mix but the musical contribution from others is much more consistent. It feels more complete, and even with the unexpected twist in the middle of the album, this just adds to the album exactly when it needs to do something different; something more. This is not the huge disastrous experiment which befalls many artists. On the contrary: this is a rewarding, consistent and compelling piece of work.

13th October 2008, 14th Floor Records

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line Album Review (2008)

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line reviewed for Last Broadcast.

Formed a couple of years ago in New York State, Ra Ra Riot build on the early promise of an eponymous EP with a new full length album, 'The Rhumb Line'.

The first thing that strikes you on the album is the consistent use of string arrangements. The violin and cello, from Zeller and Lawn respectively, transform each song into a delicious slice of chamber-pop and at its most simple (the Beatles-esque 'Winter '05' for example), the effect works incredibly well. But when there is a juxtaposition of guitar-driven indie and orchestral backing, the contrast can split a song in two - and coupled with the unstructured and wavering vocal style of Wes Miles, initially it can be a frustrating listen.

'The Rhumb Line' has at its core the wondrous 'Dying Is Fine', an obvious tribute to former drummer John Pike who died in 2007. It is a great example of how everything comes together as one - when the strings build with a minute and a half to go, rising above the guitars and drums to bring back Miles, it marks a distinct highlight. The uneasy mix of upbeat music and dour subject matter adds to the feel. This sentiment continues later with the string laden 'Oh, La' and the chorus: "We've got a lot to learn from each other, we have got to stick together". After tragedy is hope.

Opening song 'Ghost Under Rocks' suffers from a very loose vocal arrangement and drum track. Most of the time the strings are swamped by everything else and only when the song settles into the final stretch - the gorgeous combination of vocals and delicate backing - does the strength immerge. The chorus is expertly arranged to be both obvious and original. It becomes another fine example of the band working together. Likewise album closer 'Run My Mouth' is a compelling journey - a simple chorus framed by swirling arrangements and Miles on top form.

Elsewhere the band expands their core sound. 'Too Too Too Fast' is mesmerising electro-pop fronted by Johnny Borrell, with a Human League quality - female backing vocals, elegant strings and lush keyboards. The feminine touch washes through the entire album but never more so than here. The best thing about 'Each Year' is the ever-present guitar melody and remains an odd choice for an early single. Kate Bush cover 'Suspended In Gaffa' is a stupendously brave attempt to do something a bit different - complete with kooky verses, talky bits and a swinging chorus. A fine tribute the band just about gets away with.

Ultimately 'The Rhumb Line' is an accomplished piece of work - always interesting and never overstaying its welcome. The combination of instrumentation and styles quickly moves from frustration to delight as hidden depths are revealed at every string soaked twist and turn.

Released on 29th September 2008 on V2/Co-Op.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Peter, Bjorn And John - Seaside Rock Album Review (2008)

Peter, Bjorn And John - Seaside Rock reviewed for Last Broadcast.

Pop Quiz: What do you do after releasing a critically acclaimed album (9/10 from the NME), have a successful underground indie hit single and become a household name on the pop circuit? You make a downbeat and kooky semi-instrumental album without any obvious singles. And this is exactly what Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn And John have done with 'Seaside Rock'.

The album opens with two decent songs. The furious mix of 'Inland Empire' from the Spanish feel and delicious piano to whale sounds, harsh percussion and car horns, it is a compelling fusion of ideas. The big guitars and brass outro set things up for 'Say Something (Mukiya)', a steel drum and bass driven ditty with wordless warbling and a jolly melody. But from here, things go downhill fast. The worst of the compositions are centred round three 'songs' involving strange monologues: 'Next Stop Bjursele', 'Erik's Fishing Trip' and 'Norrlands Riviera' fail on many levels. Only the latter is lifted by a nice harp arrangement, seagull samples and simple ambience. The previous two get annoying very quickly.

After the lull, 'Needles And Pills' provides a much needed lift. The first half is great - guitars and a recorder make way for layers of percussion before whistling arrives and heavier guitars lead to a tuneless orchestra. Likewise, 'Barcelona' is not as great as it could be - it takes too long to get moving and when it does, the delicate ambience holds it back. Only the piano stands out among the beach samples.

After the compelling 'Writer's Block' (how ironic is that title now?), this album feels like a very noticeable step backwards. On the surface it is comparable to Radiohead's 'fall from grace' - after 'OK Computer' comes 'Kid A' - even hardened fans will be perplexed. The success of 'Young Folks' was justified (also thanks to Victoria Bergsman, formerly of The Concretes), even if the song is annoyingly catchy in the way only Scandinavian pop can be. But Peter, Bjorn And John have failed to capitalise. In spite of a few moments of true class, 'Seaside Rock' feels lazy, self-indulgent and uninspired.

Released on 23rd September 2008 on Wichita.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Last Broadcast Single Reviews - CSS, Dido and Razlorlight

Last month I wrote three single reviews for Last Broadcast.

Here they are in full:

CSS - Move

Brazilian sextet CSS has been making catchy infectious indie synth-pop for over two years and are veritable freshman in today's music scene. 'Move', which sees a departure from the cheeky playful approach of the band's early songs, is the third single from the band's second album 'Donkey'.

Like former singles 'Left Behind' and 'Rat Is Dead (Rage), 'Move' is a pulsating slice of spiky electro-pop with one major difference: consistency. The song rolls along with an upbeat keyboard melody coupled with a choral vocal before lead singer Lovefoxxx takes over. Her insatiable charm is slightly muted here and the chorus especially feels tinged with melancholy; reflective and considered. The rest of band provide some very subtle backing vocals. If there is a problem it is that the song doesn't stop at the usual three minute cut-off point. Lovefoxxx attempts a clumsy pseudo-rap, continuing the warning theme. It feels like a step too far.

CSS has gone a long way since early hit 'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above'. The sound is now more solid and at the risk of a cliché, more mature. The production is slick and smooth, so the instrumentation glides with clarity and purity. The sound of progress.

Released on 13th October 2008.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Dido - Don't Believe In Love

The huge success of Dido is a mystery. She rose to prominence as 'that singer' on 'Stan' by U.S. rapper Eminem, which samples her song 'Thank You'. Her debut album No Angel had such great promise, but her vocal delivery and her voice remains something of a dividing line. 'Don't Believe In Love' is the first single taken from Dido's new album 'Safe Trip Home'. From the outset it is business as usual.

The opening bass sets up the first line "I want to go to bed with arms around me...wake up on my own" followed by "Pretend that I'm still sleeping...til you go home". This is a twist on the anti-love song, seeped in self-doubt and depressive loathing. Even the chorus, a sweet rolling melody, is weak and uninspired. The drum arrangement is basic and the inclusion of a string section, barely audible, is predictable and listless. A minute and a half in, there is little attempt to change things. Only into the third minute, after a very dull string-based instrumental, Dido again shows no emotion. But that is probably the point. The line "If I don't believe in love, what do you get from me? When I don't believe in love, nothing is real for me" sums it up.

The big problem with Dido is her flat lifeless vocal style. Coupled with obvious lyrics, devoid of any imagination and metaphor, this is song writing at its most basic. 'Don't Believe In Love' may be deliberately free of emotion, in line with the dispassionate subject matter but this translates badly into a listenable song. Even a spirited guitar outro does not break the monotony. So, as expected, Dido continues to bring us more of the same.

Released on 3rd November 2008 on RCA and available to download from 26th October 2008.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Razorlight - Wire To Wire

Over two impressive albums, Razorlight has gone from being a punchy pseudo-punk indie band to a colossal rock act. The 2006 eponymous album was well received by fans and critics alike and in spite of a more polished focused sound Johnny Borrell did not become the new Chris Martin. 'Wire To Wire' is the band's first single since the huge success of 'America' and the two songs could not be more different.

Opening with chilling piano, the first thirty seconds has Borrell crooning the first verse. His voice changes dramatically with "She lives on disillusion row; we go where the wild blood flows; on our bodies we share the same scars; love me, where ever you are...". The last refrain has Borrell hitting an impossible note, never to be repeated with such spine-tingling accuracy, and a short interlude brings in the rest of the band. The mid-section is typical flowing Razorlight. The song soon lifts again for more drama, climaxing with the line "How do you love on a night without feeling? She says love, I hear sound, I see fury; She says love's not a hostile condition..." complete with huge rolling drums. But the song soon backs off for a calm vocal and piano outro.

Borrell has talked about the new album 'Slipway Fires' as impulsive and not over worked. The band did not want to over-think the new material, keep things simple and let the song writing out. This may not be the best song in the Razorlight catalogue but it is a great teaser for the new album. In near-three minutes of perfection, it has plenty of space to breathe. Haunting down to the very last note, not since 'Drive' by R.E.M. has a debut single from a new album had such an impact as 'Wire To Wire'. It is subtle, understated and remarkably brilliant.

Released on 27th October on Vertigo and available to download from 26th September 2008.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

I hope to write more reviews for Last Broadcast in the near future. So watch this space, as they say...

Friday, 7 November 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 7)

A journey into the strange and wonderful this week - a really messed up, mixed up and musically diverse couple of shows. In anticipation of an Obama win in the upcoming US elections, it was a very 'Black' line-up: Grace Jones, Akon and Seu Jorge forming the core sound. It was also a return for Razorlight, back with the new album Slipway Fires.



Tuesday

Grace Jones - Williams' Blood
Razorlight - Tabloid Lover
Seu Jorge - Burguesinha
Grace Jones (Chat with JH)
Akon - Right Away (Na Na Na)
Geraint Watkins - Easy To Say 'Bon Temps Rouler'
Razorlight - Wire To Wire
Grace Jones - Slave To The Rhythm

Friday

Razorlight - Burberry Blue Eyes
Grace Jones - Williams' Blood
Seu Jorge - America Do Norte
Grace Jones (Chat with JH)
Akon - Birthmark
Razorlight - Wire To Wire
Geraint Watkins - Champion
David Arnold (Chat with JH)
Grace Jones - Love You To Life
Akon - Right Away (Na Na Na)
Novice Theory - About The Dream
Dave Edmonds (Chat with JH)
Seu Jorge - Burguesinha
Razorlight - Hostage Of Love
Grace Jones - Pull Up To The Bumper

The show's reputation as an exercise in promotion started with Grace Jones, back after 19 (not 20 as she corrected Jools) years with new album Hurricane. Thankfully she closed both shows with the classics Slave To The Rhythm and Pull Up To The Bumper. She opened Tuesday with a new song Williams' Blood and on the Friday introduced us to Love You To Life. You can probably tell which duo was the more superior. The new songs paled in comparison with the former marginally better than the latter. Love You To Life is a mess of talky vocals and such obvious vocals after the chorus: "and not to death" - yeah, Grace we get what you did. No need to patronise us with an explanation. I wondered how Jools would handle an interview but it went much better than anyone expected - she declared herself a huge JH fan which probably helped. The Friday chat talked about her new album, her childhood in Jamaica enduring 'boring church hymns' and people singing off-key. She regards modelling as 'prostitution' and did it just to pay the bills - not a glowing endorsement of what got her noticed in the first place. And her love of jigsaw puzzles and hula hoops came up. It was compelling. On the Tuesday it was a bit more frosty - she was asked by Jools why she mesmerises men. Her slick sharp reply was "I hope I mesmerise women too". Brilliant. In the now obligatory question about advice, it was simple: "do it don't talk about it".

Now to Razorlight, also plugging new material from Slipway Fires. It's a real mixed bag and I'm not too sure about it. Wire To Wire (performed on both shows) is superb, even with looser vocals and bit too much power from Borrell at times. But the stomp rock of Tabloid Lover, Burberry Blue Eyes (opening Friday) and the rushed and noisy Hostage Of Love left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. The band obviously think the new songs are great - like Coldplay - it is all very efficient and well presented but lacking decent songs. Maybe time will be kind. And no interview with the band which was a real let down. Instead there was another (and I know I go on about this a lot) completely pointless chat with someone not performing, just on to show us their new Greatest Hits collection.

Sadly, two of the best performers: Senegalese-American soul rapper Akon and Brazilian singer/songwriter and actor Seu Jorge were both pushed down the order. Akon's set suffered from over-produced vocals but Birthmark was a decent highlight. Likewise Seu Jorge was great, really embracing the spirit of show - at one point the entire ensemble was bopping along to Grace Jones. A wealth of musicians added percussion and backing vocals to the apt America Do Norte and Burguesinha. Also Geraint Watkins performed a couple of songs. Apparently Jools had been introduced to him after a Bob Dylan Radio 2 show. Champion was a wonderful slice of old time storytelling like a lighter Nick Cave.

A real surprise, forming almost the centrepiece of the show was a performance from Novice Theory (aka Geo Wyeth). One man/women with an accordion had the entire studio enthralled as About The Dream unfolded. The vocals in part were very Seth Lakeman (no bad thing) but at times the music was too fast. The key line is: "we had blood on our white hands". Given such a positive message, it it strange the show wasn't arranged for next week to coinside with next week's US elections. The bizarre 'drunken' ending saw Wyeth disappear into the darkness. Utterly captivating.

In a blatant attempt by the show to jump on the latest Bond bandwagon, David Arnold turned up for an interview. Again, nothing to do with the performances, but also not really plugging anything (except the film score), and it was a surprisingly good chat. He clearly understands the nature of scoring films and did not expect to do more Bond films after 'Tomorrow Never Dies'. This is now his fifth. He describes it as trying to scale Everest each time with history and responsibility to keep in mind. Also the famous signature tune is not really used in the Daniel Craig films. Arnold explains why: he is a very different Bond and every time the theme is used, you know he is safe and will win. It dissolves any kind of danger from the action. A victim of success perhaps? I suppose this was an example of a good 'pointless interview', even if it was so obvious.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns Album Review (2008)

My latest review for The Music Magazine. I would not say that I am a huge fan of Snow Patrol which is why I wanted to review the new album. I liked Final Straw - up to a point - but did not get on with the follow-up Eyes Open. Then the band disappeared for a bit. The band appeared recently on LATER... and were impressive. I wanted to describe the album as 'being aurally assaulted...with marshmallows'. But I didn't.

The review:

In 2005, between the releases of 'Final Straw' and 'Eyes Open', opening for U2 across Europe and performing at Live 8, Snow Patrol was as big as Coldplay. And then the momentum faded. After the release of 'Eyes Open', which shadows 'Final Straw' in terms of sales but lacks the quality, all the break through success vanished. In the wake of extensive touring, the band disappeared to make a fifth album. And like the band's career so far, ultimately 'A Hundred Million Suns' feels like the build-up to a climax which never happens.

Opener 'If There's A Rocket Tie Me To It' is an impressive introduction, once it gets going, even if it does get sucked into a vacuum of empty vocals and big drums. 'Crack The Shutters' starts as simple piano and vocal and is near perfect three minute pop. The chorus lifts with underwhelming majesty. The first single 'Take Back The City' is brilliantly arranged, full of little twists and ideas and a lot more urgency. Vocalist Gary Lightbody delivers a great vocal but this is coupled with many annoying 'woahs'. At least there are no dreaded handclaps. The chorus, in two parts, is first framed with harsh guitars and then softened with more soaring instrumentation swamped with slack production (the only time the superb Jacknife Lee drops the ball). The mainly acoustic dark charms of 'Lifeboats' is also excellent, like a lost Ray LaMontagne album track but with odd electronic strings and fragments of guitars. Lightbody sums up the nature of the album with "Life is too short to scream and shout".

After a brief lull threatened by the Kate Bush styled and limp backing vocals of 'The Golden Floor' and then the indie plod-rock of 'Please Just Take These Photos From My Hands', things pick up again with 'Set Down Your Glass' - all delicate guitar melody, soft vocals and a pleasant lift in the second half. The understated yet beautiful 'The Planets Bend Between Us' is even better, in spite of suspect falsetto vocals, with wonderful bubbly electronics. It is simple yet epic, not unlike the album as a whole. Penultimate song 'Disaster Button', apart from providing the album's only (and slightly unexpected) expletive, is a fast-paced self-destructive rant with not so much a chorus as another build-up. There is a great (yet brief) space-aged guitar solo and again it is a unique moment.

But all this is a prelude for the final act, a sixteen minute Craig Armstrong inspired three part odyssey entitled 'The Lightning Strike'. It starts with one of the best pieces on the album: 'What If The Storm Ends?'. Lightbody earnestly delivers in dramatic style as the story unfolds. It is the only time an orchestral arrangement is used with true effect. From here 'The Sunlight Through The Flags' is more like Moby but soon descends into muddy guitars. 'Daybreak' ends the proceedings, a stirring electronic upsurge of storytelling: "You held on to me like I was your life raft" conjures up images of hope and survival in rising waters. Like British Sea Power, the members of Snow Patrol have been reading far too many National Geographic magazines. A great 'concept album' style track to close.

'A Hundred Million Suns' does not quite get the big stadium-rock finale it so rightfully deserves but there is considerable quality throughout. Each song rises like a torrent of emotion but never quite reaches the peak, not backing away as such just never getting to that point in the first place. Lightbody is excellent, his best vocals so far - strong and taking risks with good results. Musically, the band make up for a lack of interesting moves with skill and precision. And each song is perfectly inoffensive and welcomed, with the only real down point being the overlong clumsy 80s sounding and disjointed 'Engines'. Otherwise the album has an unwavering consistency; something lacking in the last two albums. Yes, Snow Patrol are as self-absorbed and as universe embracing as Coldplay, while trying to strive for a similar style, but at least they are not resorting to image-altering gimmicks and mind-scrambling production. Oh, and 'A Hundred Million Suns' has some great songs which is always a good idea.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Friday, 31 October 2008

2008 Music Chart - October

Some good new albums this month, specifically from Ra Ra Riot and The King Blues. Nothing to challenge the big top 5 though...
  1. The Hawk Is Howling - Mogwai
  2. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails
  3. I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope - I Was A Cub Scout
  4. Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - Sigur Rós
  5. Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down - Noah And The Whale
  6. The Rhumb Line - Ra Ra Riot
  7. Death Magnetic - Metallica
  8. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  9. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
  10. Third - Portishead
  11. Save The World, Get The Girl - The King Blues
  12. Mountain Meadows - Elliott Brood
  13. Accelerate - R.E.M.
  14. We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings
  15. Church Bell Blues - Catherine MacLellan
  16. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow
  17. Gossip In The Grain - Ray LaMontagne
  18. Arther - Arther
  19. Poor Man's Heaven - Seth Lakeman
  20. The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets
  21. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
  22. Attack & Release - The Black Keys
  23. Consolers Of The Lonely - The Raconteurs
  24. Do You Like Rock Music - British Sea Power
  25. Little Voice - Sara Bareilles
  26. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - Counting Crows
  27. Seven Months And A Fire Blanket - Proceed
  28. Silent Cry - Feeder
  29. Liejacker - Thea Gilmore
  30. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab For Cutie
  31. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  32. Alas, I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling
  33. Midnight Boom - The Kills
  34. This Is A Fix - The Automatic
  35. Friday Night Lights - Attic Lights
  36. Welcome To Goon Island - XX Teens
  37. Viva La Vida - Coldplay
  38. I Am Undone - My Epic
  39. Rosie And The Goldbug - Rosie And The Goldbug
  40. Songs In A&E - Spiritualized
  41. You Cross My Path - The Charlatans
  42. @#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
  43. Under Summer Sun - Matt Wertz
  44. The Slip - Nine Inch Nails
  45. Toy Tugboats - Sunfold
  46. The Hollow Of Morning - Gemma Hayes
  47. When The Night Time Comes - Jenny Lindfors
  48. The Well - Sarah Perrotta
  49. Those We Leave Behind - I Am Ghost
  50. Elliot Minor - Elliot Minor
  51. Saturnalia - The Gutter Twins
  52. Neptune - The Duke Spirit
  53. Heat: The Remixes - Soft Cell
  54. This Gift - Sons & Daughters
  55. Sunny Day Sets Fire - Summer Palace
  56. Seaside Rock - Peter, Bjorn and John
  57. Kids Aflame - ARMS
  58. Revolving Doors - Nelson

Friday, 24 October 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 6)

A really poor couple of shows this week for a number of reasons. Yet again the 'headliners' failed to impressive with their brave new material from new albums. Both sets from Keane and Bloc Party yielded mixed results and an injection of 'world music' from Amadou & Mariam did not lift my spirits. There was another pointless interview with a non-performer plugging a new 'greatest hits collection' and the promising new band, thecocknbullkid was simply awful. The best artist on the show Jakob Dylan only got one song each show - it was a brief uplift to the rest of the acts.


Tuesday

Keane - Spiralling
Amadou & Mariam - Ce N'est Pas Bon
Dave Clark (Chat with JH)
Jakob Dylan - Something Good This Way Comes
Allen Toussaint (Chat with JH)
thecocknbullkid - On My Own
Allen Toussaint - Working In A Coal Mine
Tribute to Levi Stubbs
Bloc Party - Mercury

Friday

Bloc Party - Talons
Keane - The Lovers Are Losing
Amadou & Mariam - Mogosa
Allen Toussaint (Chat with JH)
thecocknbullkid - I'm Not Sorry
Jakob Dylan - Evil Is Alive And Well
Bloc Party - Signs
Allen Toussaint - Southern Nights
Keane - Better Than This
Dave Clark (Chat with JH)
Amadou & Mariam - Ce N'est Pas Bon
thecocknbullkid - On My Own
Bloc Party - Ares
Keane - Spiralling

Keane performed three tracks from the new album Perfect Symmetry, opening the Tuesday show and closing the Friday with Spiralling. The song has grown on me a lot but it doesn't work well live - lacking energy. Current single The Lovers Are Losing was also flat and the least said about Better Than This the better. It would be a horrible cliché to say 'right back at ya boys' as Tom sings the lacklustre chorus - just about everything on the band's impressive debut is better than this. But that was old world Keane and this is new world Keane. Bands move on and they evolve. Even with the past indiscretions, give my old Keane every time.

Another band trying something new is Bloc Party. They closed Tuesday with Mercury - a great experiment with Kele Okereke recording his opening vocals to play it back as a stuttering sample, with his feet then down on his knees at the end. The band had the privilege of opening Friday with the boring Talons. Signs was much better - a decent vocal but Ares is a noisy mess with a bizarre falsetto mid-section then more of the same noise. It was like a bad reworking of Setting Sun by Chemical Brothers. I am all for bands trying new things but as Radiohead found out, it takes not only guts but some decent ideas.

African duo Amadou & Mariam are a breath of fresh air. The guitar work on Ce N'est Pas Bon is excellent and for some reason they were joined on the Friday by Romeo from The Magic Numbers on bass. No idea what that was all about. The other song Mogosa was dull and repetitive after three minutes. A shame, as the show needs more diversity and we didn't get it here.

On a positive note, ex-Wallflowers Jakob Dylan was really great. After missing the chance to review his new album I was looking forward to hearing some of his songs. Only one on each show: Something Good This Way Comes and the exceptional vocal and guitar of Evil Is Alive And Well. It was captivating. Allen Toussaint's solo piano version of Working In A Coal Mine on Tuesday was also great and he was an engaging and entertaining interviewee for JH. His Friday song Southern Nights was not so good. London's very own thecocknbullkid are now officially the worst band to appear on Later. Whether they were nervous or just lacking experience, both On My Own and I'm Not Sorry were instantly forgettable, tuneless and poor. A real shame.

There was a brief tribute to Levi Stubbs from the Four Tops, which was good to see, but the interview with Dave Clark - repeated on Friday, was just a blatant plug for his new 'hits' record. I really wish JH would not just use this great show as one big advertising campaign. It is cheap and poor judgement - no longer about the music but promotion. And if the new matrial is weak, so is the entertainment. It was so obviously the case for show 6. Poor.