Album Reviews Jan-Mar 2013
out of view

The History of Apple Pie - Out Of View

Marshall Teller

Released: 28th January 2013


Ignore the fact The History of Apple Pie have one of the worst names in the history of music and that much of their artwork has you reaching fearfully for the twee alert button, just one listen to their debut album, Out Of View, will have you bubbling over with reckless enthusiasm. Formed when their leading duo, Stephanie Min and Jerome Watson, began to attract a ridiculous amount of attention after knocking up a few bedroom demos and posting them online, it's clear from the start the pair were not only listening to the right kind of records but that they have the happy knack of translating their love of eighties and nineties indie pop into something quite bitingly contemporary. From the opening pops of background noise before 'Tug' to the rumbling feedback at the conclusion of 'Before You Reach The End', Out Of View sweeps you away in a tidal wave of brilliantly executed and helplessly appealing fuzzy guitar pop. Min sings as if she has a terrible cold, bassist Kelly Lee Owens harmonises beautifully and Watson and Aslam Ghauri weave all kinds of magic from their overworked guitars as THOAP manage to blend intricate melodies with bitingly hard guitar blasts, walking the line between cute and cutting to produce something surprisingly refreshing. With drummer James Thomas completing the line-up, THOAP not only play love songs that don't sound remotely corny, but also conjure up moments of sheer brilliance that take your breath away. Nobody is going to tell us 'Mallory' is not one of the best pop songs written in the last ten years: a driving, harmonious, four minutes of pure, unbridalled joy. Add to that 'The Warrior' where the thoughtful intro is ripped apart with lashing and scraping guitars before pausing brilliantly halfway through, and the rumbling final track which drags you along insistently while its vicious guitars pare you down, and you have a very special record indeed. Indeed, there are highlights everywhere and very little to moan about. Of course, it's not all new with five of the ten tracks having appeared on earlier released singles, but it is more than welcome to have them all together in this one admirable collection. We can't think of any better way to start the year and the band is touring now so catch them if you can. Quality with a capital city.
bostin steve austin

Fuzzbox - Bostin' Steve Austin (Splendiferous Edition)

Cherry Red

Released: 28th January 2013


When they exploded into prominence in March 1986 with the fantastic 'XX Sex' single, Fuzzbox were a welcome burst of sunshine in an indie world that often confined itself too much to the shadows. Released as a brightly coloured vinyl seven inch single on Vindaloo Records, this attack on the sexploitation of women was as catchy as it was shambolic, pieced together by four Birmingham girls who may not have been the greatest musicians in the world, but who made up for this with unbounded energy, a couldn't care less attitude, and a desire to confront the issues that mattered most to them. The band released two more great singles in 'Love Is The Slug', which reached No.31 in the national charts, and 'What's The Point?' which hit No.51, with the debut album, Bostin' Steve Austin, seeing light of day in December of that year. Most of their tracks featured the fuzzbox from the band's name which was utilised, as admitted by drummer Tina O'Neill, to "totally disguise our utter ineptitude under an echoey, fuzzy wall of almost melodic noise", but despite any musical weaknesses the band here manage to produce an album of appealing brightness which was housed in a perfect painting-by-numbers sleeve and in truth is as true to the punk DIY ethos as it is possible to get. Violin, piano, sax and keyboards are all thrown into the mix as Fuzzbox debate issues ranging from the serious to the ludicrous in eleven original tracks while also offering up a heinous cover of Norman Greenbaum's 'Spirit In The Sky'. Cherry Red have now released Bostin' Steve Austin on CD for the first time in a 2CD set which contains a disc of bonus tracks O'Neill admits should have been "killed at birth". These include the band's brilliant take on 'Bohemian Rhapsody', originally the b-side of 'What's The Point?', as well as 'Rockin With Rita', recorded with Vinadaloo labelmates The Nightingales and Ted Chippington. Throw in all the other b-sides and various mixes and these add up to twenty-two bonus tracks, two of them mercifully unreleased before now, and all of them combining to provide an utterly bewitching listen. Sadly Fuzzbox fell into the grip of the majors who quickly began to promote them as sexy dance vocal group, complete with Barbarella costumes, and the band fell apart rancorously with some seeing the irony of this move given the subject matter of their first single. But Bostin' Steve Austin remains as a testament to what can be achieved with a load of front and a refusal to be knocked down.
broken english

Marianne Faithfull - Broken English (Deluxe)

Commercial Marketing

Released: 28th January 2013


Forever famous for her association with the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull was a successful singer with two top twenty albums to her name when she walked out on her husband of less than a year to move in with Mick Jagger in 1966, the unhealthy environment surrounding the Stones at that time seeing her sink into a life of hopeless drug addiction that utimately led to her losing custody of her child, suicide attempts, vagrancy, mental illness and homelessess. Splitting from Jagger in 1970, the following decade saw several attempts by others to help her beat her addictions and revive her career, an album recorded with Mike Leader in 1971 failing to see light of day, while the country tinged Dreamin' My Dreams met with some success in 1975. Moving into a squat with boyfriend Ben Brierly of the Vibrators in the late 1970s, Broken English was released in October 1979 to much critical acclaim. Partly influenced by her experiences of the punk movement, the album adopts plenty of new wave sounds alongside more traditional rock and dance elements, including the heavy use of synthesisers. The merging of styles is the perfect frame to Faithfull's now throaty vocals; not here the melodic sweetness of her early releases with her voice having been ravaged by too many years of cigarettes, alcohol and drug abuse. The whole is gloriously bitter and defiant with Faithfull co-writing about half of the material and the rest comprising of suitably downbeat cover versions that resonated with the ongoing traumas of her existence, more than one touching upon the confusion of drug dependence. Of the original numbers, the title track, influenced by the Baader-Meinhof terrorst group, is a stone cold classic, chillingly laid out to a sythesiser loop with excellent mock-Jagger backing vocals, while the foul mouthed 'Why D'Ya Do It?' is adapated by the singer from a poem by Heathcote Williams and played out in a punk reggae style. Some thirty-four years down the line, this 2CD reissue includes the remastered original album, which still packs a punch, alongside a bonus disc adding thirteen extra tracks. The whole album is included again in its previously unreleased original mix while the twelve inch version of 'Sister Morphine' from the 'Broken English' single is terrific; Faithfull having fought for years to get her name added to the writing credits of this classic Stones' number. Also included is a suitably oblique short film by Derek Jarman which includes Faithfull singing three tracks from the album, with a brilliant use of Space Invaders on the video to the title track. This is a nice package and surely no story of the freedoms conferred by the 'Swinging Sixties' is truly complete without taking into account Faithfull's dark and bitter appendix?

My Bloody Valentine - MBV


Released: 2nd February 2013


In all honesty, it shouldn't really take twenty-two years to follow up your last album. If, as rumoured, My Bloody Valentine bought Creation to the edge of bankruptcy with the three year gap between Isn't Anything and Loveless (with all its associated studio costs), it's just as well they weren't waiting for this one to turn up. In fact, all rumours of this record being released at all were met with a degree of scepticism but, true to his word (just a short time after the Creation material was reissued in impressive packages last year), Kevin Shields finally opened the shutters and MBV was made available at the beginning of February as a digital download only. This came as somewhat of a surprise as the band had taken pains to record the album in analogue, though there was slight relief for dedicated download haters when CD-quality files were made available immediately to those who had decided to order the physical formats of the record which will not be available until the end of the month. Thirty-four new countries have come into being since Loveless first emerged into the light, let alone the onset of the audio digital age and the closure of most of the shops that would have stocked it. Yet for My Bloody Valentine it seems time has stood still and there really is very little to separate the previous album from the current. Similarly disembodied and free from the constraints of traditional forms, MBV is another impressive experiment in sonic sculpture, though familiarity with its approach and the passage of time will undoubtedly minimise its impact. That said, this is still a splendid thing with a gently twisted beauty that at times is quite bewitching. Like the band's other albums, the tracks vary in the degree of distortion applied with 'New You' a relatively straightforward, bright pop song while, at the other end of the spectrum, 'Nothing Is' is three and half minutes of brutal, repetitive noise. Most of the tracks fall somewhere between the two, the highlights being the sumptuous 'Only Tomorrow' with its thrumming guitar and breathy Bilinda Butcher vocal, and the tracks most redolent of Valentines Past, 'Who Sees You' and 'In Another Way', which slide through your consciousness like half forgotten dreams. No longer groundbreaking but nevertheless impressive with lots to admire. But if they keep releasing albums at this rate we'll be dead before the next one comes out.
dwelling and druss

GNOD - Presents ... Dwellings & Druss


Released: 4th February 2013


If you like little less form to your music then you need to look no further than Ireland's Trensmat Records which has been producing a series of quite beautifully produced limited edition releases for nearly seven years now, specialising in drone and noise music. Selling only to those who have signed up to their mailing list with what few overs remain being shared among a very select band of retailers, Trensmat releases normally emerge in all types of multicoloured formats, often with silkscreened sleeves, and they are very nice things indeed. Take the excellent recent release by former Cheree and Creation band the Telescopes which emerged as a seven inch with 126 copies in purple vinyl with a black silkscreened sleeve, 63 copies in maroon with a similar sleeve, and 11 in black with a xeroxed three-quarter wrap sleeve. The numbers, then, are strictly limited; the choice and value for money is tremendous. The latest offering from the label is an album by Manchester noise collective Gnod who have been extremely prolific over the past nine years, unleashing their trippy drone and psychedelic sounds on a vast number of labels. Having released their heavy '5th Sun' single on Trensmat last July, this new album is a completely different animal, far more restrained, with guitars replaced by keyboards creating a more industrial, unfettered sound. Just three tracks grace the album: the opener 'Revelation 9' bounces along moodily but reveals little, while the near nine minute '20 Sides A Minute' is more threatening, pounding relentlessly and growing in menace as it progresses, like the soundtrack to a particularly unsettling futuristic thriller. Side two is completely taken up by the sixteen minute 'Defeatism' which is by far the most adventurous track here, bass heavy and feeling almost uplifting alongside its doom-laden counterparts. Released as a limited run in gold vinyl, GNOD Presents comes with an otherwise unavailable download of the album and an exclusive 50 minute live set entitled 'In Orbit' and recorded in November 2012. It's a certainty this isn't for everyone, but if you feel like stretching your mind every once in a while, you could do a lot worse than teeing up some GNOD, or dipping into the Trensmat archives.
france 98

Girl Band - France 98

Any Other City

Released: 4th February 2013


You see kids, it's not that hard. All we ever ask for is some blistering guitars, half an ear for a melody and uncompromising belief in yourself. Not only do Dublin's Girl Band have this in abundance, but they have produced one of the finest looking records we have seen in a very long time. This limited edition (300) six-track twelve inch single is wrapped in hand-stamped brown paper tied up with string and it feels like all your Christmases have come at once. For not only do you get to fondle this magnificent article but when you actually manage to bring yourself to open it and play the record inside it seems that Santa knew what you really wanted all along. This is blistering stuff. Forget any lazy reviews dragging up such names as The Jesus Lizard and Bleach-era Nirvana. The band may well have grown up on that sort of stuff, but they don't sound anything like those bands; Girl Band don't throw any rock shapes and what we have here is something more primal, harking back to the post punk revolution. This is inventive, intelligent, driving and uncompromising stuff. Take 'Handswaps', opening to some low feedback and distorted handclapping before searing guitars rip at your ears and a rumbling Wobble-like bass swagger drags the song across the floor. Attacked by Alan Duggan's tangental, raking guitar fury, Dara Kiely's excellent vocal never falters under the assault before explosions of noise bring the whole to a stuttering climax. It's quite magnificent. Take 'Second One' where Daniel Fox's bass dances along to Adam Faulkner's rattling drums while the vocal grows more insistent and the guitars turn early whispered hints into messy promises, like some parasitical disease finally taking a grip and doing its worst. Bloody hell, this is good. Take 'You're A Dog', crushed by a bludgeoning guitar riff and pounding drum and bass while Kiely sings as if he doesn't have a worry in the world. It just oozes class. There's three other tracks, maybe not scaling quite such heights, but all hugely decent and obliquely fascinating. Having been released earlier in Ireland, the record has now found its way to the UK and is currently available from Rough Trade, though you can bet your life it won't be for long. If you miss out on a copy, you can download all of the band's music for free on their website and with a UK tour in the offing don't miss them for love nor money. This record has made us very, very happy. It's absolutely blindingly, staggeringly good. Come on, 2013.

UK Subs - XXIV

Captain Oi!

Released: 4th February 2013


You have got to take your hat off to Charlie Harper, you really have. Already a singer in a band when he was caught up in the euphoria of the punk explosion of 1976, the man has not budged an inch since that date, remaining true to his beliefs and driving the UK Subs on towards his goal of releasing an album begining with every letter of the alphabet. Being the sole singer since the band's formation, Harper has recruited twenty-one guitarists, nineteen bassists and thirty-four drummers to help him fulfil his quest and now presents album number twenty-four, fittingly entitled XXIV, or Revolution No: XXIV as is stated inside the sleeve. Given that Harper was already thirty-five when the the excellent debut Another Kind Of Blues was first released in 1979, his achievement is all the more remarkable. Now just a couple of months off sixty-nine, he surely has the constitution of an ox as the Subs remain one of the hardest working bands on the circuit and XXIV doesn't lift its foot a single inch off the accelerator. What passes for punk music now has changed dramatically since the seventies; today we are presented with fast metal bashes, American style, and it is sad that the simple, attacking guitar riffs leading into effortlessly catchy, singalong choruses are pretty much a thing of the past. The first fourteen tracks here are generally in that vein, with the odd standouts including 'Implosion 77' with its 'Wardance' style distorted verses and simple single-refrain chorus in which Harper sounds uncannily like a youthful Johnny Rotten, 'Las Vegas Wedding' which harks melodically back to the heady days of the 1970s, and 'Failed State' which has more than a hint of the Pistols about it. Add to that the topical 'Coalition Government Blues' with its harmonica and the pure blast of Oi! in 'Monkeys' and there is just enough here to make this more than a heads down thrash, though it has to be said that when the Subs do get fast and heavy, they do it far better than most. The band's label Captain Oi! has continued to evolve and this release is packaged beautifully in a hardback digipak with lyric book with twelve acoustic tracks added to the mix which offer a whole new perspective on the band. It's a fascinating listen, and made essential by the inclusion of an appealingly robust cover of the Mott The Hoople classic 'Angel of Eighth Avenue'. Lyrically, XXIV is unrelenting in attacking politics, bigotry and religion and at one stage calls for a 'workers' revolution'. Well, Harper is certainly a worker, so we'll give him that one, but you get the impression if everybody worked as hard as the UK Subs, there would be fewer problems in this world to have to deal with in the first place. Big respect to them.
five lives left

The Family Cat - Five Lives Left: The Anthology

3 Loop

Released: 4th February 2013


If you made a list of the most criminally underrated bands in history then The Family Cat would surely feature high in that list. From the release of 1989's jangling 'Tom Verlaine', which achieved a Single of the Week accolade from the NME, to 1994's sublime 'Goldenbook', which failed by a whisker (ahem) to break into the national top forty, this West Country five-piece barely put a foot wrong, releasing eleven largely glorious singles and two very fine albums of intelligent, guitar-driven indie rock as well as an early mini album of only intermittent quality. With the band's material unavailable for some time now, singer Paul Frederick (universally 'Fred') has helped piece together this very welcome 2CD set of the band's work. Thirty-six tracks in all, this compilation includes all of the band's singles as well as some b-sides and album tracks, seven BBC session tracks and five previously unheard songs which were recorded for the band's third album which never saw light of day. A detailed booklet also gives Frederick's thoughts on every track as well as accounts of the band's history, all housed in a nice trifold digipak from 3 Loop who exist to bring such lost classics back to light. It is difficult to pick out highlights as there are so many. Second single 'Remember What It Is That You Love' remains joyfully uplifting; 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' is overbrimming with delights (Jelbert, you are wrong); and 'Steamroller' is astonishing despite never fulfilling Frederick's ambition of being played as the Southampton football team took to the pitch. Where else in the indie world would you find a singer dragging the word 'roll' out over eight seconds? And how many changes of direction can you squeeze into one song? It's a gem and no mistake. Add to this the chugging, melodic 'Wonderful Excuse', the psychedelically-charged b-side 'Thought I'd Died And Gone To Heaven', the gorgeously smooth 'Goldenbook' and soaring 'Place With A Name' and it would take a brave man to deny this is a very fine collection indeed. Delightfully pieced together songs with intelligent lyrics draped in swathes of guitars; it was often said the Family Cat could never capture their stunning live act on record, but here's a collection that will lay that lie for once and for all. Much needed and truly excellent.
the new life

Girls Names - The New Life

Tough Love

Released: 18th February 2013


The post-punk renaissance that seems to be growing in momentum is a wonderful thing to behold; for so long we had wondered if there was a place for us any more on the musical landscape or whether it really was time to take up lawn bowls. The latest recruits to the fold appear to be Belfast four-piece Girls Names who have ditched the jangly pop of their 2011 debut Dead To Me to move into the shadows with their second album, appropriately named The New Life, and a very tidy piece of work it is too. This is the sort of album lazy journalists used to dismiss as "second rate Joy Division" because there weren't four blokes in baggy shorts in the band leaping around like imbeciles. In other words, it is intense, atmospheric, intelligent and will endure more than a couple of listens before being cast into the bargain basement. Built on the doomy basslines of Claire Miskimmin, the cleverly unobtrusive drumming of Neil Brogan and some gently sighing synths, the ten tracks here are dominated by the cultured guitars of Philip Quinn and Cathal Cully which tease the fringes of Cully's unwavering baritone to create an atmosphere of heart-warming caliginosity. There are some monstrously good touches here: the horn-like howls at the opening of the terrific 'Pittura Infamante', the bass dive at the beginning of the evocative 'Drawing Lines', the swooping guitars of 'Hypnotic Regression', and the six string death throes that decorate the conclusion of the epic, repetitive 'The New Life'. There's not much to criticise here; this album is beautifully made, thoughtfully put together and darkly appealing. At times it touches on gorgeous, and it's not often we can say that. One downer is that there is apparently a bonus track with iTunes downloads and that is wrong on every single level, but don't hold it against them, give this record a spin and you won't find it wanting. Hell, this year is looking promising.
push the sky away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

Bad Seed

Released: 18th February 2013


For those of us who grew up with and fed upon the Birthday Party, Nick Cave's solo recordings have not always captured the same place in our hearts and, to be fair, haven't always merited to do so. The last Bad Seeds album, Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!, released back in 2008, showed a welcome return to grating nastiness after a particularly fallow period and the two Grinderman albums that sandwiched it were pleasingly raucous treats. Now having left that project behind him, Cave has reassembled his Bad Seeds, for the first time without his old Birthday Party colleague Mick Harvey, and has produced an album from completely the other end of the spectrum, possibly the quietest record he has ever made, yet certainly one of the most uncompromising. For Cave here has delineated his boundaries before building the city, allowing him to undertake a careful construction without a single raised hackle, an untamed guitar or a reckless drumbeat. Pieced lyrically around the oddities the singer has trawled from the internet, Cave has melded together some intricate and deeply intelligent verses before layering them over a minimal accompaniment where there is never anything added where it is not needed. Thus the aching flute on the opener 'We No Who U R', the text speak a startling contrast to its cute conception; thus the rationed strings on 'We Real Cool' or the gorgeous bass on 'Finishing Jubilee Street'; thus the gentle, mirroring backing vocals that grace the narratives with an evocative beauty. There is a bewitching subtlety of touch throughout; Cave's voice is as good as it has ever been, his phrasing through even the wordier songs such as 'Water's Edge' is little short of immaculate. And has he ever written a better lyric than 'Higgs Boson Blues', touching on a myriad subjects, namechecking Robert Johnson and Hannah Montana, throwing out light and dark while darkening light and lightening darkness? "Look, here comes the missionary with his smallpox and flu," he sings. It's clever, clever stuff. It's difficult to comprehend the amount of work that has been put into this record, but Cave can rest assured that his efforts have been worthwhile. Painstakingly built, impressively intelligent and displaying no little beauty, this is a giant of a record; one of the first of its kind in this twenty-first century. Marvel at it.
you're nothing

Iceage - You're Nothing


Released: 18th February 2013


Iceage's debut album, 2011's New Brigade, was a scary fucker, twenty-three minutes of brutal instability masquerading as a record. Two years later and the Danish punks have managed to stretch their second long player to a whole twenty-eight and a half minutes though little else appears to have changed. It's true You're Nothing is a little more focussed than its predecessor and less likely to pull apart at the seams, but the band's approach remains untamed and chaotic and you really wouldn't want to test the stitching too hard. There are twelve tracks here, averaging two minutes twenty each, each a crashing assault on the senses underlined by bleak desperation and gnawing anxiety. "There's a vile fury with us," spits singer Elias Rønnenfelt, and the band take no pains to disguise it. The opener 'Ecstasy' is a distorted trail through a million shades of grey; "bliss is momentary anyhow," they complain, "Pressure, oh god no." It's a great start to a bewildering journey through the eyes of the isolated where nothing is connected and dislocation is taken for granted. "She gives out signals but our hearts are not the same," Rønnenfelt screams in the storming 'Coalition'; "I touch through skin, damage everything," cries the pounding 'Burning Hand', "Do you hear me? Do you hear me? Do you hear me?" This is great. And You're Nothing is unrelenting as it builds to its furious conclusion. "These walls are growing higher and we're running out of time," warns the switchbacking 'Awake' before the album comes to a grinding halt with the fantastic title track where warped guitars cut through a punishing rhythm section while Rønnefelt screams, "Look at yourself, that's right you're nothing. Feel the void grow." One minute forty of stingingly melodic carnage. The power here, the attitude, speed and venom are punk through and through and there are moments when Iceage sound like just another hardcore band released into the community. But at the very heart of this record is a sensibility that transcends genre. There are touches of guitar playing that are astonishingly subtle and cultured, changes in pace and timing that are more than just accidents; it makes you wonder just what these boys could do in a couple of years' time. Deeply encouraging.
pearl mystic

Hookworms - Pearl Mystic


Released: 4th March 2013


It has been a very long time since a British band made psychedelic rock music appealingly accessible; you would have to go back to Loop's early days to find anything that lifted the genre out of the narrowest of niches, and if you were going to bet on anyone to have managed to achieve this feat it probably wouldn't have been Leeds five-piece Hookworms. For some years this most elusive of bands have been doing virtually everything they can to avoid any sort of recognition, dribbling out a ludicrously limited series of home made releases, refusing even to reveal their names, and turning their backs to the light while simultaneously creating major waves with every live performance they have undertaken. Now with Pearl Mystic Hookworms have truly emerged from the alleyways of obscurity with a record of such dazzling luminosity the band will find it hard to escape from its glare. Not that this is any sort of commercial gem; Pearl Mystic is a hard, bitter and confrontational release consisting of six tracks and three bridges over forty-four minutes, yet the band's ability to interweave their anger and despair with helplessly appealing melodies underscored by a sunny production gives the album a heart and approachability that cannot fail to touch you. Opening with the near-nine minute 'Away/Towards', Hookworms take exactly three minutes to emerge from their shells, their muffled howls then bursting into exposed life and lashing out with barely surpressed fury while simulataneously enticing you into a sonic dreamland with a blisteringly reverberating chorus lit by a light keyboard refrain which leaves you thinking nine minutes is not nearly long enough. Vocally, unlike so many bands of their ilk, Hookworms make no attempt to bury themselves under their swathes of noise, singer MJ taking a prominent role in proceedings as he unleashes narratives of darkness and depression, creating a raw garage edge to the carefully formulated backing. 'Form And Function' shakes to his passion while the band responds with melodic backing vocals and a glorious submerged guitar solo. The slower paced 'Since We Had Changed' is the most retro-sounding number here, mantra-like swaying with whispered vocals leading into a spaced-out outro, but it merges into the furious blast of 'Preservation', its distorted, largely indecipherable vocals for once taking second place to the enveloping sonic storm. Final track 'What We Talk About' is also more measured, again making fine use of a backing chorus, with bridge 'iii' dragging Pearl Mystic to a fitting droney conclusion. Get hold of this abum before it disappears into the ether like all other Hookworms releases; it's a dog of two heads, biting yet appealing, and it deserves to be heard.
graffiti on the train

Stereophonics - Graffiti On The Train


Released: 4th March 2013


It is some sixteen years now since Stereophonics burst on to the scene with the absolutely blinding single 'Local Boy In The Photograph' and underlined their potential with the mightily impressive second album, Performance and Cocktails. Their story after that landmark release largely centres around the band's depressing transformation into stadium rock bores, with their music assuming appropriate blandness and the use of their name sounding more like a career path than a group with anything vital to say. As their popularity has waned a little over recent years, Stereophonics have showed some signs of returning to their alternative roots, and their first album in three and a half years is far from the car crash some would have you believe. If you can ever use the expression 'grown-up' in a good way, then this is as good a moment as ever. Kelly Jones has always had a great rock voice, but it is clear from Graffiti On The Train that his songwriting has matured enormously and there are some lovely little touches in these songs that lift them far above the mean. There's some latter day Oasis about the charging 'Catacomb' with a nicely messy build to its climax; there's a pleasing unconformity to the chameleon-like 'Roll The Dice'; and more than a bit of an edge to the burgeoning 'Violins and Tambourines' and the throbbing 'In A Moment'. Yes, there are strings draped all over these songs; yes, there are some strategically placed horns; and, yes, there's a even blues number. But they are all done well, and that's the crucial point. Stereophonics are no Rolling Stones and no Doors, but Jones does not sound out of place with his maudlin howl on 'Been Caught Cheating' and even the Fleetwood Mac guitars on 'Take Me' come over as classy rather than sickening. There's too much going on here to dismiss Graffiti On The Train lightly and enough of an edge to keep it out of the middle of the road. Sure as hell this record won't change your life, but there will be moments when it will do just nicely thank you. With no intention of sounding mean spirited, Graffiti On The Train really isn't crap.
the next day

David Bowie - The Next Day


Released: 11th March 2013


From 1969 to 1980, the series of albums David Bowie released (at the rate of one a year) was of unimaginable quality and must stand as the most consistently excellent run of recordings any rock artist has ever made. Over the rest of the eighties he released four albums of such intellectual and musical poverty it was difficult to believe they had been produced by the same man. From 1991 to 2003, realising what he had done, Bowie tried to make amends for this shameful lapse but, despite some interesting projects, largely failed to recapture the magic of his halycon days and when he disappeared from the public eye in 2003 following a heart scare, it seemed that his amazing musical career had come to an end. After nearly ten years of silence, however, the artist formerly known as David Bowie revealed a new single, the maudlin 'Where Are We Now?' on his 66th birthday and the news of a coming album had the senses tingling in that old, familiar way. With the cover artwork harking back to 1977's Heroes, this futher whetted the appetite, forging a clear link with the time the man was at the height of his powers and the mere suggestion he could release something as appalling as Never Let Me Down would have had you laughed out of town. There were two ways this could go: The Next Day would prove to be the return to form for which we had prayed, or it would again fall short of the mark, earning a sympathetic four stars (or eight out of ten) from every music magazine to go along with their twelve page features on the man to which he would not have contributed a single word.

First of all, don't be fooled by the cover. The Next Day owes nothing musically to Heroes, though lyrically in places it may touch upon the Berlin era. It also owes little to any of the other classic albums namechecked by its contributors over the past month or two. This record lies far more comfortably with Bowie's four or five previous outings, though at its best it does has moments that throw up memories of Lodger, most especially when the welcome bursts of guitar dominate such as in the positive opener 'The Next Day', and the grinding 'Love Is Lost'. Elsewhere 'Valentine's Day' could have been tucked in nicely on Hours, 'If Can See Me', with its familiar drum and bass backing, on Earthling, and most of the other tracks on Heathen or Reality. Despite all of producer Tony Visconti's claims, innovative it ain't, and the Bowie able to reshape his sound into something new on every release is obviously a thing of the past. That said, The Next Day does have qualities of its own and it is clearly the most positive statement Bowie had made for any number of years. There is an energy and even playfulness about this record that is quite refreshing, injecting such numbers as 'How Does The Grass Grow?' with a vibrancy that makes it clear the singer has refound a zest for his craft. Even 'You Feel So Lonely You Could Die' manages to pass the test despite sounding like a cross between 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide' and Mud's 'Lonely This Christmas' and concluding with the unmistakeable drum pattern of 'Five Years'. The biggest down side is that the backing is too big, too layered, and too predictable, often fighting the vocals, and a much sparser sound would have suited better. After all, take the voice out of the equation and there's not a lot left; Bowie has had no Ronson or Eno to shape his dreams for over thirty years. And though a resident of the world, Bowie remains quintessentially English and sounds so wrong singing the grating 'Boss Of Me'.

The Next Day is crying out for more innovation in its musical approach; the songs are way too conservative and unleashing the odd burst of guitar appears to be Bowie's only answer. Despite his marauding through most musical styles over the years, Bowie has never embraced the alternative scene with any enthusiasm and that is a disappointment. What wouldn't we give for the man to buy a flat in England and map out a record with Gemma Thompson and Ayse Hassan of Savages, or even the reanimated Jah Wobble and Keith Levene? The Next Day does have a lot to commend it, but it doesn't cross boundaries and doesn't challenge enough. It's thoughtful, crafted and in places bloody good, but it's not enough for Bowie to be the curate's egg: anyone can do that. From the man, we want more.


The Cribs - Payola


Released: 11th March 2013


Has it really been ten years of The Cribs? Of all the bands in the world, you would have thought a retrospective from the Jarman brothers less likely than sunshine in March, an enduring career by definition at odds with the band's tumbledown and, in the early days at least, distinctly laddish approach. But here we are, five albums down the road with a twenty-two track shufty at The Cribs' best moments and a decent article it is too. Indeed, grab the 'deluxe' version at a very few more pennies and you get an extra disc of (largely) b-sides containing another eighteen songs, making a total of forty for less than a tenner and that's a pretty decent return. With three tracks from The Cribs, four from The New Fellas, five from Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever, four from Ignore The Ignorant, five from In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull, and a bonus of the last track recorded with Johnny Marr before his departure from the fold, a pretty decent overview of the band's history is presented, with clear signs of the progression the band made in that time. How can you fail to thrill to the rush of the early tracks with their haphazard vocals, squealing guitars and studio asides, all underpinned with glorious melodies and an unsated lust for life? How can you fail to warm to the growing confidence and assurance revealed in the utterly addictive 'Man's Needs', the frantic 'Our Bovine Public', and the brilliant 'I'm A Realist' with its unforgettable lyric, "I'm a realist, I'm a romantic, I'm an indecisive piece of shit"? And how can you fail to admire the warmth of such later numbers as the almost delicate 'Anna', the menace of the crawling 'Back To The Bolthole', the sheer enormity of 'Come On, Be A No-One', or the punk frolic of 'Chi-Town' with its magnificent "Woo!"? The Cribs' approach may have been shambolic at times, their recordings haphazard, but they have always been a life force, always lived for the music and always looked to evolve and improve. There's not many bands these days who survive ten years in the field, and fewer still who remain as relevant after that time as when they first appeared. And there's not many who would have titled a song 'Glandular Fever Got The Best Of Me'. Five albums and now a retrospective: The Cribs are in danger of becoming national treasures.
spectre at the feast

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Specter At The Feast


Released: 18th March 2013


Three years and nine days after the release of Beat The Devil's Tattoo, BRMC return with their seventh studio album, apparently rejuvenated after taking a long rest from incessant recording and touring commitments. Whereas their previous offering was dark and unrelenting, the release of the single 'Let The Day Begin' last month saw the band adopting a lighter approach, the song a pounding, glam stomp with quite celebratory guitar riffs. A cover version of a song originally recorded by The Call, this also gives the answer to the story behind the new collection's title, the Banquo in question being Michael Been of that band, the father of Robert, who was BRMC's mentor and who sadly died in August 2010. Dedicated to the man who played on and produced their previous records, and whose spirit was clearly present in the recording studios, Specter At The Feast lyrically maintains an aura of reminisence and regret, though musically it swings from joyful swaggers in the same vein as the single, to mournful laments and furious, grinding rockers. Indeed, it fittingly tips a hat to every style the band has embraced over the years, ranging from a whisper to a howl, a true feast in the sheer variety on offer, with just under an hour of music over twelve tracks. And, at its best, it is blinding. 'Sell It' is a monster of a song, building from its edgy, rumbling intro with withering guitar asides into a furious roar through the underworld as the souls of a thousand lost guitars make a vain bid for freedom. It's exhilarating and just one of a number of stand-out rockers. The storming middle section of the album offers the wordy 'Hate The Taste' with its big T. Rex breaks, the heavier 'Rival' powering along in more traditional BRMC style, and the heavier still 'Teenage Disease' which is brutally messy with a nicely incontinent solo. Add to that 'Funny Games' with its huge bassline, upliting refrain and rampant outro and BRMC have demonstrated no little will to fight. But this album is not all fury. The opener 'Fire Walker' is an absolute beauty, atmospheric and dangerous with its grinding bass backing, threatening to run riot and tear you apart but ultimately remaining content to flicker wickedly at the very edge of your vision. 'Returning' is an affecting lament, 'Sometimes The Light', a keyboard-drenched hymn and 'Lullaby' borders on psychedlic country. A mixture, then, and a decent one. Most albums this length are in need of some judicial pruning. Not this one. Wallow in the feast.
suede bloodsports

Suede - Bloodsports

Suede Ltd

Released: 18th March 2013


We were delighted to hear Suede had reformed and that new material was being written; their disappearance from the scene had been more of the whimper variety than the bang, with the poor A New Morning meeting a deservedly apathetic response on its release in 2002. Now some ten and half years later (bloody hell, is it really that long?) the original 'Best New Band in Britain' has offered up Bloodsports, a ten-track forty minute collection housed in artwork that hints back more to the glory days of the stunning Coming Up than the patchy Head Music of 1999 or the weak final release. The reformed band is, of course, Suede Mark II, with Richard Oakes on guitar instead the enigmatic Bernard Butler, and Neil Codling on keyboards, and though Butler would be a loss to any band, Oakes has always been a prodigious talent in his own right and helped lift the band to a different sphere on his recruitment to the fold.

Pleasingly, Oakes shows on Bloodsports he has lost none of his creativity, unleashing torrents of swirling and uplifting guitar tracks, which as much as Brett Anderson's distinctive vocals define what is unmistakeably the Suede sound; the sole reaction to the first listen to Bloodsports being that this is definitely a Suede album. And it's one hell of a slow burner. Whether absence from the arena has detuned the ears to their sound, or the lack of glam anthems here makes them less immediately accessible, initial thoughts turn to whether this is simply Suede-by-numbers and lyrics such has, "Her touch is like a raven's shadow," do little to lift the doubts. Yet, on repeated plays, Bloodsports proves to be insidious and before long you are completely immersed in the splendour of it all, and even tracks such as 'Hit Me' which really do sound like they have been lifted straight off earlier works begin to taste like the best medicine in the world, with familiar "la, la - la, la, las" and Oakes's simple, but naughtily buzzing solo. This, of course, means that the better tracks, which offer something new, sound even more impressive. Opener 'Barriers' builds slowly but soars to freedom, while 'Snowblind', the song most closely related to the Coming Up approach, is a bit of a stormer, with Oakes and Anderson in full flow, something that can't fail to impress. That Oakes manages to sound so vital here just makes you wonder what he was going through his mind when he recorded his not-very-envigorating recent solo album. 'It Starts and Ends With You' continues in the same vein, with lovely changes of pace, and Anderson's phrasing immaculate, while of the slower numbers 'For The Strangers' sees Oakes at his teasing best, dressing Anderson's vocals in delicate layers. Not that Oakes and Anderson are all that is happening here; Bloodsports has been given a very rounded production which leaves none of the band in the shade and Codling's contribution is far from insignificant, spreading the glue which holds the whole album together, underpinned by the steady work of bassist Mat Osman and drummer Simon Gilbert. The trio excel on the epic 'Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away' as Bloodsports concludes in a far gentler manner than it opens.

There's little doubt that things are changing, and the re-emergence of guitar bands is the answer to unending prayers. That one of the best guitar bands of the independent era have returned is something to applaud, and that they have returned in such fine fettle is heartwarming indeed. Bloodsports certainly does the business, but you may need to give it a chance.

American Twilight

Crime & The City Solution - American Twilight


Released: 25th March 2013


Another welcome return after twenty-three years is that of Crime & The City Solution, reconstructed by singer Simon Bonney in 2011 in Detroit, with just violinst Bronwyn Adams, guitarist Alexander Hacke and the man himself remaining from the band's last Berlin incarnation. A successful tour last year served as showcase for American Twilight with the new songs sounding powerful in a live setting, and Bonney's voice still able to dominate over two guitars, bass, violin, keyboards and drums. Add some horns to the equation here and it's not surprising this record is musically dense with one hell of a lot going on the background. It's a huge contrast to some of the band's earlier recordings in which there was plenty of space for Bonney to work his magic; the sparseness of some of the accompaniment on 1988's majestic Shine putting it among the most affecting albums ever recorded. Here, the singer is not only competing with a potentially overpowering backdrop, but the American approach naturally gives this collection a more traditional rock sound than any of the previous recordings, and it comes as a blessed relief that Bonney's inate complexity manages to infuse the record with enough edge to lift it above its inherent limitations to create something that is truly subversive: a sound that is reassuringly familiar yet imbued with undercurrents of terror that keep you looking nervously over your shoulder. 'Domina' is case in point with its weeping western guitars, fiddle and hymn-like choral backing; it is unsettling enough before it builds through a huge guitar break into an obsessively disturbing conclusion like a pagan rite of passage in virgin fields. 'The Colonel (Doesn't Call Anymore)' prolongs the mood of unease with its barely formed guitars giving the singer room for manoeuvre, allowing for Bonney's strongest vocal, and which concludes with a scratchy, uncertain outro before 'American Twilight' goes straight for the jugular, sounding like a bastardised Rolling Stones, with everything thrown into the mix including a disturbing warning of "Armageddon coming to the city of fun." The nicely wordy 'Streets Of West Memphis' with its delicate accompaniment and Bonney's unistakeable inflexion closes proceedings with the repeated refrain of "here comes the rain", leaving you with the uncomfortable feeling this is not a good thing at all. Bonney talks of 'cautionary tales' on American Twilight and it is not easy to miss the shadows flickering at its periphery: a dream turned sour; stagnation; disaster on the horizon – all wrapped up in traditional forms ever so slightly falling apart at the seams. Yep, it's clever stuff and decidedly refreshing. In these unhappy days we need our visionaries and we need our mavericks; Bonney is both and again has shaped an album sounding like no other on earth. And what more can we ask of anybody?
everything's shining bright

The Primitives - Everything's Shining Bright

Cherry Red

Released: 25th March 2013


The beauty of independent music is that there is always room for the have-a-go approach as well as for the innovative ground breakers; let's face it, punk was built on the DIY ethos as well as furnishing us with some of the most visionary and explosive artists the world has seen. The Primitives, from Coventry, were of that ilk, their recordings for the Lazy label not being the most sophisticated the world had seen, but full of charm in their tumbledown enthusiasm and offering an outlet for those who could often take their music far too seriously. Of course, they would eventually move on to RCA and take the charts by storm with the imperious 'Crash' in 1988 and fall from grace as their music became more refined, but for two years before that landmark release, The Primitives would record a series of exhilarating singles for the label started by their manager which are here gathered together not for the first time. Indeed, Lazy themselves initially knocked up a similar compilation in 1989 and the first disc of this 2CD set follows its track listing exactly with the addition of 'Ocean Blue', first seen on a seven inch single given away on tour, and six demos, some previously unreleased, and some live. There are eight more demos on the second disc, and it is interesting to hear early Lazy recordings of 'Crash' and six other tracks that were eventually to be re-recorded for the band's debut album Lovely on RCA. On top of this the second disc also contains the 14-track promo-only live album of the band performing at the ICA in 1987 (though this was previously included on the Sanctuary box set of 2008). In all, then, it covers the whole of the band's output on Lazy, some of which is admittedly painful to the ears, but other tracks of which are near-on essential listening. The original recording of first single 'Thru The Flowers' is stunning with its primitive rumbling bass and sawing guitars cut through by Tracy Tracy's unfluttered vocal. The more sophisticated re-recording released as a single a year down the line is equally as appealing, despite its refinement, revealing the song to be a gem in its own right, something the band would struggle to emulate in later years. Second single 'Really Stupid' is a likeable blast despite its huge upfront drums and barely audible bass, while 'Stop Killing Me' is equally as storming and more roundly produced with a fiery brief guitar solo and tiny bursts of feedback which seem to capture the spirit of the age. None of this will change your life, but the world would be a poorer place without it.
oh no's the wonder stuff

The Wonder Stuff - Oh No It's ...


Released: 25th March 2013


Another blast from the past, The Wonder Stuff were pretty major stars back in the late eighties and eary nineties, with three top ten albums to their name (four counting compilations). The snotty midlanders were not everybody's cup of tea as they released a series of in your face singles with an uncompromising outlook on life – "I didn't like you very much when I met you ... and now I like you even less" – but by the time they hit the top ten with 1991's 'Size Of A Cow', they had pretty much managed to charm all and sundry and even claimed a number one in the company of comedian Vic Reeves with a cover version of Tommy Roe's 'Dizzy'. The band split in 1994, but reunited in 2000 since when all of the original members have gradually dropped away, apart from singer and guitarist Miles Hunt who has written and produced eleven new songs on Oh No It's ... The Wonder Stuff which is released accompanied by a second disc of cover versions of songs originally written by bands from the Midlands. This is the third offering from the band since their resurrection and their first for seven years since Suspended By Stars saw light of day in February 2006, and it will come as no surprise that the older Stuffies are not half as spiky as their old selves, though on occasion there is a familiar ring to their approach. 'From The Midlands With Love' has the recognisable Stuffies' stabbing guitars, though the prevalence of the fiddle through most of the tracks makes any similarities closer to their later material. Most of the songs here are refined and harmonious, lacking any sharp edges, with Hunt clearly concentrating on his lyrical dexterity rather than making waves with his riffs. There are some nice moments. 'Yer Man's Alright' is catchy as hell, 'Oh No!' is bouncily appealing, and 'Steady as You Go' even has an Oasis thing going on. Of the bonus tracks, the band have a decent stab at Duran Durans' 'Planet Earth' and the Move's 'Blackberry Way', though attempts at covering Slade and Dexys fall a bit flat. Worst of all is the acoustic attempt at The Primitives' 'Crash' which should have been left well alone.

The Horrors - Higher


Released: 25th March 2013


In this age of box sets, it is difficult not to be impressed by the attention to detail that is lavished on some of the packaging and this collection from The Horrors is a stunning thing: four twelve-inch singles in marbled paper-style album covers with inner sleeves and a further album cover containing a card board holding a DVD and two CDs, all slipping nicely into a well-made inner tray which in turn slides into a easily fileable twelve-inch outer box. Apparently created because the band wanted to see twelve-inch vinyl releases of the singles from their rather good Skying album, the DVD contains the three videos of the singles while each single sits on a vinyl disc in its original form surrounded by various remixes of most of the album tracks from the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Andy Blake, Daniel Avery and others. All of the remixes are contained on the two CDs, along with three extras for which vinyl space could not be found. Now, we are not fans of remixes in any way, generally consigning them to the grumpy list along with downloads and list journalism, and these reworkings will force no change in our beliefs, the original tracks being totally unrecognisable after being torn to pieces and reconstructed. Um, if you want to make a completely different record, why not just make one rather than fabricate one? It remains a mystery. Of the videos, White Rabbit's direction of 'I Can See Through You' is rather a stunner in its wide screen format, while Oliver Murray's 'Still Life' has a good go with what is an unremarkable song, and Pete Fowler's 'Changing The Rain' in cartoon style doesn't really appeal in any sense. That track also remains one of the few not tackled by the remixers, being a bit of a dub in its own right, but still a stand-out number. Of the remixes, The Pressure Ridges' reworking of 'Dive In' is sensitive to the original and holds your interest, and Weatherall's take on 'Wild Eyed' also shows a lightness of touch, but elsewhere there is a lot of beeping, twanging and thudding with very little sense of empathy or belonging in an hour and half of over indulgence. Just goes to show, you can't judge a book by its cover.
she paints words in red

The House Of Love - She Paints Words In Red

Cherry Red

Released: 25th March 2013


French novelist, art theorist and Minister for Cultural Affairs, Andre Malraux, died exactly a week before the Sex Pistols made their legendary TV appearance with Bill Grundy. When asked to sum up what he’d learned about the human condition, he quoted the words of an elderly priest, "First of all, people are much more unhappy than one thinks … and second, there is no such thing as a grown-up person." Early offerings from indie musicians, particularly in the 1980s, handsomely back up that first point, with entire oeuvres composed of different ways of saying "I suffer". The great acts transcended the anguish, the lesser ones stayed stuck in the mire. The House Of Love were a truly great transcendent act, taking the existential cry, "I don’t know why I feel this way" on 'Shine On', and soaring elsewhere with it. To go fancy French theory for a moment, they combined plaisir, that’s to say familiar enjoyment, with jouissance, a crazier, untethered sensation. Indie pop that went where indie pop didn’t usually go, thanks to the liquid light of Terry Bickers’ guitar.

And so to part two of Malraux’s thesis. Quarter of a century on from their inception, have The House Of Love tried to grow up, and has it worked? Is their new album any good?

Statisticians and completists will regard She Paints Words In Red as the sixth House Of Love studio album, whilst others may see it as the fourth ‘proper’ offering, given that two of those six didn’t feature the Guy Chadwick/Terry Bickers partnership. Whatever one’s leaning, it’s definitely the second release since they reconvened in 2005. And it’s a delight. It’s a plaisir rather than jouissance album, with little of Bickers’ reconfiguring of the sonic lansdscape, but that’s fine. It’s of a pastoral stripe, it recalls Stephen Duffy’s Lilac Time, Simon & Garfunkel, mid-period Kinks, at times jaunty, at times melancholic, anthemic in an acceptable way. Chadwick and Bickers have never sounded better together, which may be a problem for those who believe their friction was integral to the classic early material, but there’s now a wonderful sense of collaboration, dissolution of egos, as evidenced on the recent tour. Chadwick’s lyrics are reflective and contemplative, Bickers’ licks bang on the money. The final track, 'Plans', has a beautiful circular structure, with Chadwick’s refrain, "Plans, don’t they always change, nothing stays the same, everything we have is just a shallow grave, a world that can’t be saved", offset by a lovely, languid melody. Great stuff.


let the day begin
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Let The Day Begin
The first offering from BRMC's forthcoming album, Specter At The Feast, is available as a free download from the band's website and it's a bit of a stormer. Huge glam drums, a pulsating riff and a terrific vocal make this a class above and its positive energy couldn't be more different from 2010's bleak Beat The Devil's Tattoo. Can't wait for the album.

Crime & The City Solution - Goddess
Native drums lead the way into the new incarnation of C&TCS's first recorded offering, available as a bought download but accessible with its video from You Tube. There's a lot thrown into the mix but, as usual, Simon Bonney's magnificent vocals steal the show, though they are run close by the spiralling guitars of David Eugene Edwards and Alexander Hacke. Nicely messy and pleasingly hard and rocky.

Wolf Alice - Fluffy
Second offering from the much fancied Londoners who produce self-proclaimed 'psychofreak poprock' and it's a lot harder than 'Leaving You'. There's nothing particularly innovative here, but there are purposeful guitars, a pleasing ebb and flow and a decent full stop ending. Well worth investigation; there's more to be had, we suspect.

Drenge - Bloodsports
Derbyshire duo Drenge offer up two tracks available now on Spotify or for download and which are apparently getting a physical release in early March. 'Bloodsports' offers nicely bruising guitars, a lot of metal crashing and a calm, assured vocal. 'Dogmeat' is less frantic but just as mean and just a little bit deranged. All in all, a pretty fine debut.
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