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.


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


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.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The King Blues - Save The World, Get The Girl Album Review (2008)

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached this album. Having reviewed the second single My Boulder for The Music Magazine and checking out the band's MySpace pages, I thought maybe the album was just two decent singles and a lot of nonsense. I was very surprised. Only a couple of songs in the middle of album get a big bogged down and the rest is excellent.

The review:

Ever since Bob Dylan sang "The times they are a-changin'" in 1963, music and politics have been forever combined. Music is now used extensively as both megaphone and soapbox to promote good causes, to rabble-rouse and to protest against injustice. Artists have always been politically aware, motivated by dramatic current events, the decisions of world leaders, wars, invasions etc. But not all are too keen to make music about it. Drawing inspiration from Bob Marley, Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg, London trio The King Blues are immediately labelled as a political band, even before the first note is struck. Ironically sporting dark glasses and bandanas on the cover of 'Save The World, Get The Girl' does little to help the PR.

The album opens with the brilliant 'My Boulder' - a tearful Tubthumping-esque tale of two men in a pub. The message is obvious: stop whining and start helping each other. The song kicks off with the big sing-along chorus before we are introduced to the bag-of-nails vocals of lead singer Jonny Fox AKA Itch. The transformation in the last minute brings in a sample of 'The Pied Piper Of Hamlyn' by Robert Browning (a tale of revenge and injustice) before Itch begins an aggressive tirade. A great start.

This promotion of peace and harmony continues with the deliciously tuneful chorus of 'I Got Love', starting with acoustic guitars before Itch starts the positive vibes. It is a deceptive move as 'The Schemers, The Scroungers And The Rats' is much more venomous: a country-blues melody from the Conor Oberst songbook ironically praising the non-working classes with tongue firmly in cheek. 'Underneath This Lamppost Light' changes the mood again, this time into delicate drunken love song. Itch declares to the subject that "The smell of kebab meat and sausage in batter will always remind me of you..." and "I know it smells of piss, but you look beautiful tonight". James Blunt it certainly is not. A cheesy string arrangement frames the chorus and then rises in the last two minutes with mesmerising guitars. The title track is a superhero metaphor with a twist as Itch introduces the chorus with "If we lean on you, we are gonna fall...when it's all for one and one for fuck all". The second verse is a blatant attack on America and the motivations of the Iraq 'war', poking a finger but considered and controlled. Excellent.

The start of 'For You My Darling' is just over a minute of gravely crooning before the band launch into a Gogol Bordello style folky rant. As interesting a sound as it is, the song is laboured and strained, overlong and repetitive. 'The Streets Are Ours' continues the sound, with similar effect, but injects the poison again. With just over a minute to go, the song descends into bizarre carnival drumming before the final outburst. The problem here, other than the lack of a tune, is the deliberate provocative pro-riot delivery which oversteps the mark. These two songs form a lull where the album becomes too wrapped up in misguided self-indulgence. A minor but noticeable glitch.

The first single to be taken from the album 'Let's Hang The Landlord' gets the balance just about perfect. An autobiographical account of an early punk life of squatting, crime, drinking, playing music and fantasising about dispatching the owner and take over the building. Again, another cracking chorus forms the core of the song which cumulates with a poignant account of what happened to the 'old crowd' and then a rousing crescendo in the last minute. 'Out Of Luck' starts where 'Underneath This Lamppost Light' ends - a heartbreaking acoustic ballad of surviving in the face of adversity. The dub-influenced 'Hold On Tight' has some of the best song writing on the album - highlighting again that first impressions are often wrong. Itch tells us that "they want soap operas and not soap boxes" before the money shot: "I would rather be pissed off...than be pissed on". It is not the raucous punk anthem you would expect from the lyrics; instead a soft rolling poetic masterpiece. Predictably this measured demeanour does not last and Itch launches another attack, concluding with the best lyrics on the album: "I demand no rent, no bills, no council tax; I demand love that isn’t measured by the relationships of the characters on Friends; Or the words to some dire R&B song about what a good man, what a mighty mighty good man is".

All of this leads to the album's epic conclusion. 'What If Punk Never Happened' is a huge tribute to the music which 'changed the world', opening with a Back To The Future influenced journey into an alternate 'hippy, grunge reality'. Above all this is a wonderful piece of poetry set to a simple Streets rising keyboard melody. Effortlessly blending in the politics with "There’s no-one around to fight Margaret Thatcher" and the arguable "With no punk rock everything went unchallenged", the story takes a sinister modern day twist as Itch talks about CCTV, ID cards and 'identity theft'. Into the final stretch, he namedrops everyone from Sham 69, The Ramones and The Buzzcocks to The Dead Kennedys and The Clash, all while the music rises behind him majestically. The ultimate message of hope ends with the words, left echoing as the music fades: "Take pride in being whoever the fuck you want to be; Throw your fist in the air in solidarity; And shout Viva la punk, just one life, anarchy!".

The Kings Blues is more socially aware than overtly political. Itch's lyrics are both profound and earthy; a clever mix of open-hearted reality and street-talk charm. It is like Mike Skinner fronting Glasvegas. Even if you never had an underprivileged youth, you can immediately relate to the life and culture being portrayed - and the need to, as Nick Cave puts it, "kick against the pricks". This sympathetic attitude may seem snobbishly patronising but it is a genuine empathy. Musically the band's initial sound was ska and punk, now developed wonderfully into a kind of urban-folk fusing acoustic guitars, ukulele, strings, bass and drums. Instead of off-the-shelf drum machines and looped rhythms, the music is 'real' - never overusing reggae and dub, rarely resorting to screaming tuneless punk, and never sounding tedious and out-dated. A band so saturated in obvious influences should not sound this fresh. 'Save The World, Get The Girl' is inspiring, uplifting, ballsy and brimming with self-aware and socially-motivated attitude.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Monday, 20 October 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 5)

A real mix of stuff this week with the mighty Tom Jones and a return for Snow Patrol. Also the brilliant Eliza Carthy and new indie stars Friendly Fires. No big surprises on Tuesday this week with everyone professional and focused.


Tom Jones - If He Should Ever Leave You
Snow Patrol - Take Back The City
Eliza Carthy - Like I Care (Wings)
Tom Jones (Chat with JH)
Friendly Fires - Paris
Camille O'Sullivan - In These Shoes
Tom Jones - Give A Little Love


Snow Patrol - Take Back The City
Tom Jones - If He Should Ever Leave You
Friendly Fires - Paris
Stephen Stills (Chat with JH and short piano version of For What It's Worth)
Eliza Carthy - Like I Care (Wings)
Snow Patrol - If There's A Rocket Tie Me On It
Stephen Stills - Helplessly Hoping
Tom Jones - 24 Hours
Friendly Fires - Jump In The Pool
Tom Jones (chat with JH and duet)
Eliza Carthy - Two Tears
Camille O'Sullivan - God Is In The House
Tom Jones - Give A Little Love
Snow Patrol - What If The Storm Ends?

Top billing this week was between Tom Jones, back with a new album and a new old-yet-new sound, and Snow Patrol, a band which showed great promise and made a huge impact but failed to keep the momentum going - at least commercially. Jones opened and closed the Tuesday live show and was impeccable but Snow Patrol got the same honour on Friday. New single Take Back The City is still not working for me but the epic If There's A Rocket Tie Me On It and big sound of closer What If The Storm Ends? were great. The latter was one gigantic orchestral infused vocal build up into a choral crescendo. The band has been around for over 12 years and the album Final Straw put them up there with the likes of Razorlight and Coldplay as one of those big new bands everyone was getting excited about. But Gary Lightbody still looks very awkward as a front man. The new material is engaging but does nothing new and different...

Which brings me to Tom Jones - again new single If He Should Ever Leave You is a bit too retro compared to the more upbeat Give A Little Love. But, one of the best performances I have ever seen on Later was 24 Hours - utterly compelling with Jones as the condemned man, standing at the end in angelic spotlight. Magnificent. He talked to Jools about his days on Decca records and being discovered by Jimmy Saville - who advised him to make a proper demo disc for the record label - as well as his new songs. Bono has written a 'tribute' track called Sugar Daddy. The 'impromptu' duet at the piano gave JH a chance to show off while giving all the limelight to his star guest. He advised people starting out - now a running theme of the questions - to have humility and a sense of humour and to be influenced without copying. Wise words.

Of the rest, Eliza Carthy (and band) performed two songs, both suffering from a very loose arrangement: the fiesty Like I Care (Wings) and the great Two Tears - much more controlled and with effortless addition of violin. Friendly Fires only had two songs - the messy Paris and then Jump In The Pool - easily their most accessable single. The band has two drummers and a keyboard which plays itself. New, exciting, vibrant? Yes. Great? Not quite.

The addition of Stephen Stills to the line-up for Friday was great to see but largely pointless. Obviously not a well man, he struggled with his voice on both the interview, short piano version of his own song but Buffalo Springfield's most successful song For What It's Worth (should have been longer which was shame), and his solo performance of the poignant Helplessly Hoping. I wish him well but it looked very much like a sympathy vote.

The final performances went to Irish burlesque singer Camille O'Sullivan. On Tuesday was a very sexy version of the Kirsty McColl song In These Shows - theatrical, over-the-top and complete with flashes of red knickers. It was like something from Cabaret. Her second cover (on Friday) was the brilliant God Is In The House by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. A great song and a good rendition but with one major flaw. When Cave sings it, he plays it straight and lets the song do all the talking. O'Sullivan gives it way too much characterisation - which I guess is the point but her voice and face transform the song, like too much canned laughter in a bad sitcom. There are certain things you just don't mess with and this is one of those things.

Great show. Entertaining and interesting in equal measure. A third song for Friendly Fires and Eliza Carthy would have been the icing on the musical cake.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Last Broadcast Reviews

I have started reviewing for Last Broadcast, a popular music and culture website.

Links to the review are below:


Ray LaMontagne - Gossip In The Grain
Peter, Bjorn And John - Seaside Rock
Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line


CSS - Move
Razorlight - Wire To Wire
Dido - Don't Believe In Love

The complete (uneditted) reviews will be posted separately at a later date.

Monday, 13 October 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 4)

Coldplay make a return to LATER this week to showcase five songs from their new Viva La Vida album. The other big name is Glen Campbell, performing a mix of covers from his new album and a couple of classics - with mixed results. As ever I was more interested in the other lesser know guests, such as Cage The Elephant and Amy Lavere. The Friday show was fairly straightforward but the Tuesday live show was the most entertaining, mainly for the wrong reasons.


Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Glen Campbell - Good Riddance (The Time Of Your Life)
Sia - Buttons
Coldplay (Chat with JH)
Cage The Elephant - In One Ear
Amy Lavere - Killing Him
Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman
Coldplay - Lost


Coldplay - Violet Hill
Cage The Elephant - In One Ear
Sia - Buttons
Mick Fleetwood (Chat with JH)
Glen Campbell - Times Like These
Coldplay - Lovers In Japan
John Mellencamp - Longest Days
Amy Lavere - Killing Him
Coldplay - 42
Glen Campbell (Chat with JH at the piano + William Tell)
Sia - Soon We'll Be Found
Glen Campbell - Galveston
Amy Lavere - That Beat
Cage The Elephant - Ain't No Rest For The Wicked
Coldplay - Viva La Vida

A really strange set order for the Friday show with Coldplay taking centre stage and performing four songs. Even though the material is not strong, the band are incredible live - full of energy and commitment. The polish of the Viva La Vida album was put to one side in favour of a more loose sound with only Chris Martin's vocals letting the side down - they tend to waver in and out and get lost in falsetto a bit too much. Opening and closing each show respectively, Viva La Vida is a decent song, as is Violet Hill but things go wayward with Lost, Lovers In Japan and 42. Lost is all sound and no substance, empty lyrics and quite monotonous (and for some reason there is a comedy ending which doesn't work - and in light of what happened to Glen Campbell on the Tuesday show it seemed like a piss take), whereas Lovers In Japan is an odd choice and the piano seems to play itself in the middle. 42 is all about the Radiohead-esque guitar break and Chris Martin trying to jump between guitar and piano and back again. For the most part the band seem to be determined to shake off the serious exterior and show some of their playful side. During the main chat with JH on the Tuesday they present Jools with a Zimbabwe bank note and talk about their refrigerated awards room. Jools confronts them over their absurd revolutionary image stolen from Adam Ant and CM freely admits the plagiarism. What I don't like to see is well established musicians, who are successful in name only while producing substandard music, joking and smiling - it smacks of complacency and arrogance and does nothing to help the image.

Which brings me to Glen Campbell. He seems to be everywhere these days, peddling classics and plugging his covers album. The Tuesday performance of the Green Day masterpiece Good Riddance (The Time Of Your Life) was the worse rendition I have heard in all my years of watching Later. It is not a good cover which isn't a great start but it was like bad karaoke with Campbell reading the words from an auto queue. He messed up twice, once at the start and then again on the last verse which is inexcusable, especially from such a legend of music. Thankfully Wichita Lineman was supreme and everyone looked much more comfortable. Likewise Galveston was great, the guitar playing was amazing, but Times Like These suffered from the same auto queue problem and there was no connection between Campbell and his audience. He spent the entire song looking down at the screen. The main Friday interview was a bit dull - at least they honoured Jimmy Webb and there was a neat guitar and piano rendition of William Tell which was a lot of fun.

Of the rest, Cage The Elephant were a big disappointment mainly due to only getting two songs: In One Ear and Ain't No Rest For The Wicked. The live energy is fantastic mainly from the weird and wired lead singer and a cool guitar sound, but the songs weren't that great. Amy Lavere was very good, singing and playing the double bass effortlessly. The dark overtones of Killing Him was the most impressive song, played on both shows. John Mellencamp made an appearance (on his birthday) and showed why he is always in the shadow of Bruce Springsteen. His only song Longest Days was superb but short. To complete the line-up Sia attempted to jazz up her rather listless voice with a psychedelic flower-pop show in the dark and some bizarre sign language from painted blue hands. I just don't get current single Soon We'll Be Found and Buttons isn't much better. Again there was a chat with a 'friend of the show' Mick Fleetwood, on to plug his new tour with the not quite Fleetwood Mac. It was very out of place.

So a frustrating show - something we expect these days. Coldplay did the best they could with weak songs, Glen Campbell showed us why he is still performing...and why he should stop, and I was introduced to the lovely Amy Lavere. Onward and...onward.

Friday, 10 October 2008

The King Blues - My Boulder Single Review

A single review for The Music Magazine.

Edwin Collins once famously sang, "Too many protest singers; not enough protest songs". We all know what he means. From Bob Dylan to Bono, Bob Geldolf to Chris Martin, musicians have been politically aware and they love nothing more than to tell the world about it. London's The King Blues may not have been around for very long but they sure have fingers firmly on the social and political pulse. 'My Boulder' is the second single from the band's second album 'Save The World. Get The Girl'.

There are immediate and striking similarities to 'Tubthumping' by Chumbawamba - not so much musically but definitely in spirit. The basis of 'My Boulder' is a tearful conversation, predictably in a pub, between lead singer Itch and someone who has "lost everything that ever meant anything" . The sing-a-long chorus does not quite reach the rabble-rousing heights of its predecessor but it crashes in before the first ten seconds and makes an impact. Itch has a charming Joe Strummer gravely lilt to his voice as he recalls the reassuring chat with his alcohol-soaked comrade. The message is a simple one: instead of whining at the government and the establishment for handouts, we need to start helping each other.

'My Boulder' packs the same punch as 'Tubthumping' but approaches the concept from a different angle - less of a valiant last stand after being flattened and more a comforting hug. Two minutes in and there is a slightly comical reading of 'The Pied Piper Of Hamlyn' by Robert Browning which is lost under the music. Maybe that is the point - to ironically drown out the sorry tale of revenge in favour of the more positive message. After another blast of the chorus, more vocals tread all over the ending which would benefit from a quieter approach. These problems can be excused as the overall effect overshadows any indiscretions. 'My Boulder' is not quite the protest song Edwin Collins was looking for but a genuine message of hope and its subtly is its power.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

The Faint - The Geeks Were Right Single Review

A single review for The Music Magazine.

Schism can be a wonderful thing. In 1995, shortly after Todd Fink formed The Faint (then as the peculiarly named Norman Bailer), guitarist Conor Oberst quit the band and both parties went their separate ways. That is to say Oberst formed Bright Eyes and in retrospect it is easy to understand why the split happened. The existing members of The Faint were simply not making the music they wanted to make and their quest to break down stereotypes and define new boundaries forced them away from guitar-driven indie and country-rock. The band has produced six albums and two remix collections yielding varied results; not everything works with the best being 'Danse Macabre' following on from the cult success of 'Blank-Wave Arcade'. Now with a new record label (their own), The Faint release a new album 'Fasciinatiion' and first single 'The Geeks Were Right'.

From the opening few bars, 'The Geeks Were Right' sounds like a remix of The Killers - all buzzing electronica over stabbing guitars. Fink's vocoder-esque vocals simply echo this melody, right up to the hapless unimaginative chorus which should come with the warning: 'Mind The Gap'. Only in the second half does the song shake off this familiarity and attempt to take a different course. Fink's lyrics tell the prosaic tale of a distant future from "Egghead boys with thin white legs. They got modified features and software brains" to the Terminator influenced, but slightly obscure "Predator skills; Chemical wars; Plastic islands at sea; Watch what the humans ruin... with machines". You can see immediately what they have tried to do. Two minutes in and the electronics go haywire, just for a few seconds, before more of the same, to a very flat depressing ending.

Fusing dance and punk to create something new and compelling is proving to be a difficult art. Gone are the dark overtones and striking electronic gymnastics of the band's early work and the in-your-face punk stylings of previous album 'Wet From Birth'. The Faint has persevered were Oberst has simply flirted (see 2005's inconsistent 'Digital Ash in a Digital Urn') but this is like a modern day Kraftwerk without the charm or the innovation. The persistent guitar plodding lacks any form of deviation as does Fink - predictably in 'robot mode'. In searching for an identity, The Faint have not only failed to find it here, they have lost the one they once had.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Ironik - No Point In Wasting Tears (Album Sampler)

A review for AltSounds.

I would not have chosen this to review but I never back out from a challenge and personal bias is all part of the process. Not that I hate hip-hop or RnB - I just don't go out of my way to listen to it. But I recognise good music, whatever the genre and this just isn't it. The main problem is the guy cannot sing or rap or do whatever he is trying to do. He needs a song writer or learn very quickly and his accent/language choices do not help. I reviewed this sampler as an advert for the album. Even though this is just six of the first eight songs, I doubt they are the best it has to offer.

The review:

In anticipation of his debut album 'No Point In Wasting Tears', twenty year old London rapper and DJ Ironik has previewed his songs with a six track album sampler. After winning Best Newcomer at the 2008 MOBO awards, we expect great things from this young UK rapper. Sadly, it is a truly annoying and frustrating listen. Maybe 2008 was a bad year for MOBO newcomers. Or maybe Ironik (if you excuse the lame spelling) is living up to his name and has everyone fooled.

When RnB and hip-hop is good, it is really good. It can be uplifting and challenging but also inspired and original. With a DJ at the helm, a wealth of songs and samples are fused into the mix to create unique textures and sounds. Ironik has done none of these things and to make matters even worse, his rapping is as hopeless as his song writing. Every song, with the exception of 'Broken' (sung by Digga) is plagued by his weak voice and some of the worse lyrics heard this year. A series of attempts at the same love song formula, in which he has to introduce himself every time, would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. He also consistently breaks the fourth wall and makes reference to the songs he is singing, as if he is doubting his own belief.

If you had the vinyl cut of the album you would be mistaken in thinking that the opening song 'Stay With me (Everybody's Free)' is being played at the wrong speed. But no, the sampling is supposed to be like that, lifted straight from Alvin And The Chipmunks. How this reached number five in the UK singles chart is a damning indictment of the world in which we live. At one point Ironik sings "Sometimes I sit and wonder, is this life really for me?". On this evidence, and in spite of his earnest outpouring of emotion, we all know the answer. 'I Wanna Be Your Man', introduced by another name proclamation, is more high pitched sampling and weak lyrics. Ironik keeps resorting to saying things like 'listen' and 'understand' when he has nothing useful to say, which is often. So yes there is a vibe but it is empty and soulless.

'Tiny Dancer (Hold Me Closer)', featuring the best of the guests: Elton John, almost works but sounds like a DJ singing over the original tune at a wedding. Another weaker song plagues it like a parasite. Due to this thin cohesion, the entire composition has no depth; there is no solid connection between the two singers of this 'duet'. The only song not to feature Ironik on vocals is 'Broken' and that is not much of an improvement. Instead of amateurish hip-hop, there is wet crooning. As the album progresses, the final two songs on this sampler show signs of promise. 'Tracy' makes a decent job of reworking the acoustic guitars of 'Dreams' but then Ironik starts singing - his worse vocals so far. In an attempt to make things more interesting on the chorus, a horrible vocoder is used. No quantity of technology can disguise his voice. Moving on, 'I'm Leaving' is a combination of sharp percussion, female backing vocals and a very dull piano track. The lead vocals are better but unfortunately the song writing is not.

The album has eighteen tracks so on the surface you certainly appear to get plenty of music for your money. But appearances are deceptive. Three of the songs are from other artists (Digga, Iain James & Ny and Daniel De Bourg) and only five songs do not feature some sort of collaboration. Not that this is a problem, as Ironik has obviously earned the respect of comrades and but it all looks and feels superficial. The sampler is only six out of the first eight songs but if these are the best he has to offer, something is seriously wrong. As a closing point, a cheesy line saying something like 'Save yourself the pain, there is no point wasting tears on this album' would be crass but entirely appropriate. But it really isn't worth the effort.

-- CS (for AltSounds)

Monday, 6 October 2008

Q Magazine Awards 2008

Q Magazine has yet again hit another low with this years awards.

If Keane's 'Spiralling' was not bad enough as the "best track" (ok, it's a grower but there are many better songs this year by far), Coldplay scooped the best album for the hopeless Viva La Vida! Seriously? Innovation In Sound (whatever that is supposed to be) went to Massive Attack instead of Sigur Rós. And four (because three is just not enough) "lifetime achievement" type awards for Adam Ant, Grace Jones, Glen Campbell and David Gilmore.

The only saves are awards for The Last Shadow Puppets and Duffy. Predictable yet deserved.


Best New Act:
The Last Shadow Puppets

Breakthrough Artist:

Best Track:
Spiralling - Keane

Best Video:
A-Punk - Vampire Weekend

Q Classic Songwriter:

John Mellencamp

Q Classic Song:

Bat Out Of Hell - Meat Loaf

Q Inspiration:
Cocteau Twins

Q Legend:
Glen Campbell

Best Live Act:
Kaiser Chiefs

Best Album:
Viva La Vida - Coldplay

Q Innovation In Sound:
Massive Attack

Q Icon:

Adam Ant

Q Idol:
Grace Jones

Q Outstanding Contribution To Music:

David Gilmour

Best Act In The World Today:

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 3)

After a good start to this series of LATER...with Jools Holland, this week was a bit disappointing. No really great rock or indie bands, and only Seasick Steve was truly impressive. The special 'old' guest this week plugging something new is Boy George, who only performed one song and that was a cover. The headliners Kaiser Chiefs and The Streets both failed to live up to the task as they peddled new songs from new albums - material that is simply not as good as previous work.

  • Kaiser Chiefs - Never Miss A Beat
  • The Streets - Everything Is Borrowed
  • Boy George (Chat with JH at the piano)
  • Seasick Steve - Started Out With Nothin
  • TV On The Radio - Golden Age
  • Boy George - Down By The Riverside
  • Little Jackie - The World Should Revolve Around Me
  • Kaiser Chiefs - Like It Too Much
  • Kaiser Chiefs - Never Miss A Beat
  • The Streets - Everything Is Borrowed
  • Little Jackie - The Stoop
  • Seasick Steve (Chat with JH)
  • TV On The Radio - Golden Age
  • Seasick Steve - Started Out With Nothin
  • Kaiser Chiefs - Like It Too Much
  • Boy George - Down By The Riverside
  • The Streets - On The Edge Of A Cliff
  • Boy George (Chat with JH at the piano)
  • Little Jackie - The World Should Revolve Around Me
  • TV On The Radio - Dancing Choose
  • Seasick Steve - Walking Man
  • The Streets - The Escapist
  • Kaiser Chiefs - You Want History
The big problem with Kaiser Chiefs these days is that the band expend a lot of energy for very little return. Latest big single 'Never Miss A Beat' is not as good as say 'I Predict A Riot' or 'Ruby' and the rest of the set was just as weak. It's a shame that the show is used as blatant advertising rather than to showcase great music these days. Only final song 'You Want History' was decent enough and even then it suffers horribly from awful lyrics (I mean rhyming history with mystery hasn't been done a million times before). The energy however is always amazing even if the material is not.

The Streets were the same but without the energy. Skinner looks totally disinterested, treating it more like a job than art. Maybe he was just trying to remember the convoluted lyrics. Without a doubt he is a great story teller but he has become very formulaic. At least he is not messing around these days and sounds much more mature. 'Everything Is Borrowed' is okay but 'On The Edge Of A Cliff' loses it at the chorus. 'The Escapist' is genuinely great - with a wonderful gospel chorus - but the lack of scansion is a constant distraction.

As said before, the highlight was Seasick Steve - a huge favourite in the UK and now a regular guest for JH. This time we have a chat, like always not really giving much away, but great to see. They talk about his success later in life and his Dad's influence from boogie to blues and his early guitar lessons. He only performed two songs: the bluesy stomp of 'Started Out With Nothin' and the sublime 'Walking Man' which was introduced as "for all the girls...for real". A simple gorgeous melody and quiet guitar was captivating.

Elsewhere, the appearance by Boy George was largely pointless and his rendition of 'Down By The Riverside' was drowned out (sorry, bad pun) by overwhelming backing singers. His chat with Jools descended into innuendo about his recent social exploits and then was cut off before any of it was explained. Apparently he has been hanging out with Amy Winehouse which explains a lot. Little Jackie was a mess of pseudo-rapping with 'The World Should Revolve Around Me' better than 'The Stoop' - ruined by bad whistling. But she seems like a pale imitation of Lauren Hill. I was looking forward to new band TV On The Radio but was hugely let down. The falsetto mumbling of 'Golden Age' made way for the curiously titled and more frantic 'Dancing Choose'. An attempt at melody on the chorus was a huge mess.

I think what was missing this week was a surprise. I was hoping that TV On The Radio would be more interesting than they were. The Streets, Little Jackie and TV On The Radio steered things too far in one direction and there is a distinct lack of variety. No folk or country or a decent rock band. Too boring?

Friday, 3 October 2008

I Am Ghost - Those We Leave Behind Album Review (2008)

A review for Altsounds. I don't like calling bands boring. I don't like saying an album is dull. I hate it when people use the phrase "it all sounds the same" - it means they aren't trying hard enough. I really hope that this review is not a subtle way of saying these things. I like the genre of post-hardcore when it is done really well. And the problem is this is not showcasing the music at it's best. Not by a long way. Another case of style over substance for a band still coming to terms with some drastic line-up changes. I hope they get it together soon and start making some really great albums.

The review:

It hasn't been the best of starts for California post-hardcore five-piece I Am Ghost. The band's debut album 'Lovers' Requiem' was tentatively received, making about as much impact on an already saturated genre as a marshmallow mallet, and debut EP 'We Are Always Searching' was almost as anonymous. In 2007 the future of the band was thrown into turmoil with the departure of Kerith and Brian Telestai and drummer Ryan Seaman (who was actually the band's second drummer and had only just recommended Ron Ficarro as a replacement for Brian Telestai). Gabe Iraheta quickly joined the quartet of ex-members but founder and lead vocalist Steve Juliano vowed to strive on with replacements. Complicated history and confused line-up changes aside, I Am Ghost release a second album entitled 'Those We Leave Behind' - an appropriate name considering past events.

It is clear from the first few songs that 'Those We Leave Behind' has a strict formula and any deviation will in no way be accepted or tolerated. All the ingredients for a great dark rock screamo album are present but there is a lot of separation during the culinary process. This is not caused by the clarity of production or an overly clean and crisp sound; it is just fragmented and lacking cohesion. There is a heavy reliance on starting each song with big soaring guitar loops, the drumming is very one-dimensional, and each huge epic anthemic chorus is not as huge, epic and anthemic as it could be. Singer Juliano has an interesting voice, only in that it is not the typical strong baritone it could be - his delivery is much more loose and free than say Ville Valo or Gerard Way. Even after repeat listens, the hidden depths beneath the superficial surface are just not there.

One of the main problems with the album is the lack of anything truly interesting. There are no really great standout songs, but no obvious low points either. The sound is so consistent and flat, lacking in risks or imagination. In spite of a morbid subject 'Buried Way Too Shallow' is a wonderful metaphor transformed into a great punchy song. The uplifting chorus is one of the best and musically it drifts toward psychedelia at times. 'So, I Guess This Is Goodbye' is also good from the acoustic opening, into some different guitars getting quickly to the hook. The addition of some female vocals helps break the monotony. After the quick poetic introduction of opener 'We Dance With Monsters', 'Don't Wake Up' has the best of the guitar loops and the blend of vocals, again including female backing, is effective. 'They Always Come Back' is a much needed lift late on - it sounds fresh and new, not the typical screamo formula and the best thing about closer 'Set Me Free' is the delicious guitar solo but the rest remains average pseudo-metal.

The worst of the songs usually manifests when the band seem to just go through the motions or Juliano's lyrics get too trite. The messy 'Bone Garden' has a decent chorus but lines like "When it rains, it pours...when I rain, you call...delicious" sound empty and pointless. 'The Saddest Story Never Told' attempts to do something different but seems to start halfway through a huge guitar break. The line: "We were lovers burned alive" is more obvious than Dido. On 'Make Me Believe This Is Real', the massive over-produced vocals do not work at all. 'Smile Of A Jesus Freak' is absurdly confused. Is it overtly controversial or simply ironic? Mixing gun metaphors with religious zealotry is never a great idea at the best of times. And the serial killer musings of 'Remember This Face, Baby' deserves only to be part of subsequent song 'Burn The Bodies To The Ground', which in itself is a mess: based on a chorus that does not work and a late injection of melody leading only to more noise. One of the biggest disappointments is the title track - a noisy start, the rolling drums, the 'not quite so epic' chorus, and then squealing guitars. It all descends into a horror movie, finally dying with an awful key change at the end.

I Am Ghost seem to be pushing all the right buttons but there is no injection of explosive fuel to get 'Those We Leave Behind' moving. This is the album people could quote as an example when they use the phrase "It all sounds the same". Of course it doesn't but there is a good case after a first listen. With genres expanding and evolving all the time, there is no excuse for at least some experimentation. If the music was more interesting and not so in-your-face, more of the lyrical subject matter would be exposed. Juliano's imagination never strays too far from macabre tales of lost love, hope in the afterlife, and challenging faith - so like the music, the song writing is extremely narrow. In the ocean of post-hardcore and dark-rock bands, I Am Ghost should be a tsunami. Instead they are merely a few waves in a brief and harmless storm.

-- CS (for Altsounds)

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Noise Control - Cities Of Dreams / Mudbath Single Review (2008)

A review for AltSounds.

Fusing guitar rock and electronic dance music is nothing new. Musicians have been trying to get away with it for years. The latest band to try this is Irish five-piece Noise Control, the name immediately setting it up for a fall with the inevitable question: There is noise but is there control? The debut double A-side single (this term no longer makes sense in the age of the CD but we get the idea) of 'Cities of Dreams' and 'Mudbath', packaged with three other songs making it more of an EP, is a good introduction to the band who sound like Kasabian meets Senser as remixed by Orbital.

What is strange about 'Cities of Dreams / Mudbath' is that the two lead songs are the weakest. The music on 'Cities Of Dreams' is great in contrast to Mark Kid's awkward vocal delivery. The song becomes a vacuous attempt to stir things up rather than make a statement. Only when the guitars kick in do we get the full force. The hapless lyrics let things down enormously. The festival experience inspired 'Mudbath' is even worse, going nowhere from Kid's opening gambit: "Do you wanna get dirty? I wanna get dirty too". It is all incredibly sleazy and embarrassing. But the music is a wonderful blend of guitars, bass, electronics and sample scratching.

Of the rest, 'Our Life' is excellent, mixing electronica and classical strings, and at last some controlled rapping from Kid. This time the lyrics are simple and to the point, like a watered down Rage Against The Machine. The message is anti-capitalism: "Some people, they are living in pity, with their conscience they can conquer the city". Kid goes on to declare: "People are dying on the streets" and "Some people, they are living in pain; Some people, they are living in greed". It may seem obvious and old-fashioned but it works and everyone's hearts are in the right place. 'Addiction' is a short guitar blast - a furious mix of rock and rap after a grunge start. Kid sums up the anti-drug message: "Why can't he just walk the straight line?". Simple yes, but effective. Final song 'Steel' is a massive fusion of everything, a great sound let down again by some more dodgy vocals. This sounds like a remixed older song.

Whether Noise Control with survive in the current musical world is a matter of debate - and time will tell. The band desperately needs to improve the lyrics from Kid and play to the strengths of the music. On the first listen to 'Mudbath' you can't help thinking the band should just sack the singer and find someone else - a drastic overreaction given that Noise Control has such promise. By all accounts the band is a fantastic live experience and something that needs to translate to the recording studio.
-- CS (for AltSounds)

New Mercury Rev Albums!

Mercury Rev has released not one but two albums: Snowflake Midnight and Strange Attractor - and one is absolutely free!

Check out the Mercury Rev homepage for details of how to receive Strange Attractor for free as an mp3 download.