Reviews July-September 2013
cerulean salt

Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt


Released: 1st July 2013


The rather blow-away first album released by Katie Crutchfield last year, American Weekend, was the haunt of acoustic shades offering little more than hints of future promise, a point that makes her second album under the Waxahatchee moniker, Cerulean Salt, all the more of a welcome surprise. For Crutchfield has here ditched her acoustic for an electric guitar, at times joined by drums and bass, thus imbuing the new release with altogether more substance and purpose, aided additionally by a more professional overall recording. But despite playing with a full band at times, Crutchfield never allows the accompaniment to sway the focus from her thirteen resolutely downbeat narratives; the arrangements remain spartan and firmly invite the listener to trawl for beauty in the depths of the vocals themselves, and depths they have as Crutchfield's Southern-inflected voice sways from husky imploration to gently strained heights where they pleasingly begin to rip at the edges, but always maintain the tug at the heart that all great voices inspire. Indeed, it is difficult to listen to this album and not conjure up visions of the solo work of Kristin Hersh; the tone and intonation blessed with the same enthralling magic. Lyrically, Crutchfield inhabits only the realms of desperation and decay, no doubt the cover image of the singer submerged is metaphorical; certainly the music here is far from claustrophobic though it is clear there is a weight bearing down emotionally, "We're not alone here, we invent our own fear," she admits on closing track 'You're Damaged', "And separately we will seek chaos, condolence, defeat." The all-encompassing darkness is oblique, almost poetic, and captured in short bursts that do no more than convey their intent before being killed off abruptly. Some fly by insubstantially, others hit you harder. 'Dixie Cups And Jars' spins an enchanting web, the furious 'Misery Over Dispute' hits below the belt, while the simple 'Blue Part II', sung in harmony with sister Allison, quite beautifully captures the helplessness of its subject, "The atmospere is fucking tired it brings us nothing. If you think that I'll wait for ever you are right and I'll give you everything you wanted when I can." This is clever stuff, nicely done, and warmly welcomed.
the weight of your love

Editors - The Weight Of Your Love

Play It Again Sam

Released: 1st July 2013


OK, we wouldn't normally do this, but us and Editors have been there from the start. When they released their first single, limited to 500 copies, we bought five of them to help spread the word. Our names sit proudly in the book which was part of their collected box set and we were at the sweaty gigs in tiny venues that blew our minds and underlined the fact that Editors were the best thing to happen to music for any number of empty years. We were dismayed in April 2012 when it was announced that brilliant guitarist Chris Urbanowicz had left the group due to differences in musical direction and this threw up any number of horrific thoughts in our minds, but now with The Weight Of Your Love, the first release from the band in four years and the first with new members Justin Lockey and Elliott Williams, Editors have confirmed that these thoughts were way off the mark and far from being a new record, The Weight Of Your Love is, in fact, little more a brutal kick in the testicles. In truth, it's hard to start on how awful this thing is, capturing the terrible moment when inspirational alternative musicians decide what they really want is to be serious stadium rockers and in the process throw everything that made them great out of the window. At its very best it sounds like an over-polished Echo & The Bunnymen and at its worst, which it is most of the time, it sounds like an overly-pretentious West End show whose backers fled the country after initial reviews and whose performers were never taken seriously again. There's awful falsettos, repulsive horns, god-awful orchestrations, nausea-inducing backing vocals and a lack of any darkness, danger or the slightest trace of an alternative edge; we would have laid our lives on the fact the band we loved would be incapable of producing anything quite so inspidly horrific. Hell, we usually only review records here that inspire us (and we feel could inspire you) and if this had been put out by anybody else it wouldn't have a got a look-in. But we are regarding this record as a personal insult and feel a warning is in order. Total respect to Chris Urbanowicz for not wanting to be a part of this. Total. Respect.
taking no prisoners

Dr Feelgood - Taking No Prisoners


Released: 1st July 2013


The rehabiliation of Dr Feelgood in recent years has been great to see with some splendid remastering work leading to decent quality CD releases of most of their albums for the very first time. Now last year's excellent four-disc collection All Through The City (with Wilko 1974-1977) has been followed with Taking No Prisoners (with Gypie 1977-1981) featuring the six albums on which Gypie Mayo played guitar after Wilko Johnson's traumatic departure from the band in 1977. In truth, the music world couldn't have provided a tougher ask for the largely unknown guitarist. Stepping into the shoes of an iconic figure who had been largely responsible for the Feelgood's meteoric rise to the top was not only a daunting prospect, but one that was largely considered to be impossible. That Mayo managed to succeed in the task was not only a tribute to his own musical skills, but underlined the fact that in Lee Brilleaux, John Sparks and John Martin he had a pretty good base on which to work in the first place.

Be Seeing You emerged in September 1977, only four months after Sneakin' Suspicion, the band's last album with Johnson, and it featured four tracks co-written by the new guitarist as well as the first offerings from Brilleaux and a host of cover versions of blues classics. Whilst perhaps lacking the idiosynchratic charm of Johnson's guitar playing, the record still carries Feelgood authenticity, remaining weighty and biting, and the band composition 'She's a Wind Up' gave the Essex men only their second chart single, reaching No.34. Having fallen apart just as punk rock and the new wave were taking the world by storm, the Feelgoods turned to Nick Lowe to produce the record and he keeps everything admirably bare: Brilleaux's voice remains pleasingly grubby, the back line solid as a brick shithouse, and Mayo dipping in an out with no little style, technique and sensitivity. If that was impressive given the short amount of time the band had to regroup and prepare for the record, October 1978's Private Practice was even more of an eye-opener. With Mayo contributing to six tracks and Brilleaux three, this was more of a band effort than its predecessor and spawned two terrific singles, 'Down At The Doctors' reaching No.48 and the marvellous 'Milk And Alcohol', written by Mayo and Lowe, becoming the band's first top ten hit. Throughout there is an intoxicating edge to Brilleaux's vocals which sound even more sinister than usual, the songs are full of blockbuster riffs and everywhere Mayo displays his virtuosity - just listen to 'Every Kind Of Vice' or 'Night Time': it is as if Johnson had never been away.

With the big hit single taking Private Practice to No.41 in the albums chart (still a long way off the chart-topping successes in the pre-punk world with Wilko), the band almost managed to emulate that feat with their second live album As It Happens, though sadly this was to be the last time the Feelgoods bothered the UK charts, their next studio album, September 1979's Let It Roll, with six Mayo compilations, failing to make many waves with the record-buying public. In truth, it is an odd collection with the band moving away from the dirty blues at which they excelled into more intricately constructed songs with funk, reggae and pop sensibilities; this was certainly the wrong move in the age when the three minute single was again god and it didn't fit very well with the album's cover of the band members depicted as toby jugs in a obvious reference to their pub rock origins. A Case Of The Shakes, released exactly one year later, was to be Mayo's last studio effort with the band, though he was to feature on the European-only live album On The Job, released in August 1981. A Case Of The Shakes, with Lowe again at the helm, saw a return to a more basic blues sound, though it lacked many killer riffs and much of the magic shown on Private Practice. It also marked the end of the Feelgoods' time on the United Artists label who had released all of the band's albums, leaving Chiswick to put out 1982's Mayo-less Fast Women & Slow Horses which would also be the last release to feature the original rhythm section, Sparks and Martin.

EMI have put together another terrific package here, housed in a hardback book cover and featuring all of the six Mayo albums plus extra tracks such as the brilliant 'As Long As The Price Is Right' single and a whole host of live songs. The fifth disc contains DVD footage featuring the BBC's In Concert, The South Bank Show and Top Of The Pops, promotional clips, snippets from Tyne Tees Television's All Right Now and an interview with Gypie Mayo himself. The remasters are excellent and the whole represents a fine document of one of the country's most important bands in a transitional stage. Loads of great stuff here and well worth the investment.

PS All Through The City is available at the moment for less than twelve quid, an absolute bargain. If you don't aready own it, snap up a copy while you can.

over you

Throwing Up - Over You

O Genesis

Released: 8th July 2013


Eleven tracks in just over 21 minutes: none of them reaching three minutes, six failing to hit two minutes and one not even surviving to sixty seconds. London's Throwing Up aren't a band who like to outstay their welcome, though the time they do deign to spend with us is pretty well spent, their one-eyed punk-infused guitar pop having a primitive appeal that at its worst engenders grudging respect and at its best hits you straight in the heart. Released on Tim Burgess's O Genesis label, Over You contains all four of the band's singles to date, March 2011's 'Toothache', October 2011's 'Mother Knows Best', March 2012's 'Big Love' and the current offering 'Medicine'. All follow the same pattern, with plenty of chugging punk riffs and one-armed drumming while guitarist Camille Benett and bassist Clare James Clare inject the melodies with their smooth vocals. There is no spitting fury here; even at their most vigorous Throwing Up offer up a gentle take on punk, focusing on a producing a pared down sound which leaves their offerings half naked in the spotlight to stand or fall on their own quality and honesty. More often than not, they pass the test. Some nice harmonies and a flash of unexpected guitar lift 'Red Ribbon', 'Big Love' rumbles along to a pleasing Primitives' bassline, the epic 'Snake' (2:49) is lit by a quite lovely vocal and a squally guitar solo, 'Sarah' hits see-saw high and lows, while the grating 'Toothache' is lifted by a soaring refrain that fights against the downbeat lyrics: "When you're out in the road / And you feel like a dog / And you're sick to the bone / And you're always alone..." Snapshots of life flashing by in the blink of an eye to a soundtrack of punky guitars ... twenty minutes well spent we would say.
major arcana

Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana


Released: 8th July 2013


Speedy Ortiz are relative new kids on the block, having only evolved from singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis's solo project in 2011, but they are rapidly becoming the leading exponents of that particular brand of indie guitar pop that is quintessentially American, and quite possibly quintessentially New English, consisting of resigned, deliberate vocals narrating often abrasive tales to the accompaniment of rummaging guitars, blasts of noise and the odd racheting solo. Last year's five-track Sports EP marked the band out as one to watch and now Dupuis, Matt Robidoux (guitar), Darl Ferm (bass) and Mike Falcone (drums) have presented their debut album proper, ten tracks over thirty-four minutes, which only serves to underline that potential. Musically, like Massachusetts predecessors The Blake Babies, the guitars leap from the simple to the forceful, with plenty of quirky touches in between from stuttering progressions, random squeals and extraordinarily detached notes that slap you round the face as they emerge from the speakers. All this provides the dressing for Dupuis's relatively unaffected vocals. There's plenty of resignation here, some obvious distaste, but not a lot of emotion; it's as if she can't be arsed to get out of the way of bad situations in spite of her disinclinations and takes life's pitfalls as they come because it's too much effort to walk around them. "Don't even care if they take my legs," she declares in 'Tiger Tank', "I've limped before, I could limp again." "I wanna be with somebody just like me," she affirms in the blistering 'Cash Cab', "Someone who laughs at a crashed car rental, someone who hurts in an accident." But it isn't all darkness here, with 'Casper' a rare beacon of positivity and light, rejoicing in how unbearable pain the past can fade away in the warmth of new love, and adorned with a lovely, bristling guitar break just before its heartfelt conclusion. Light and dark here, then, appropriately decorated and thoroughly worth further investigation.
dayglo dreams

Helen Love - Day-glo Dreams!!!


Released: 22nd July 2013


Astonishingly, it is now over twenty years since Welsh trio Helen Love first started recording and thankfully they haven't budged an inch in that time, surely making them one of the most remarkable cult bands in music history. Six years on from their last album It's My Club And I'll Play What I Want To and some four years since the release of their terrific Bubblegum Killers EP, the girls are back with an eleven-track new offering released by the Spanish Elefant label in a splendid four-fold digipak with an enclosed monochrome poster for purchasers to colour in. Musically, there's no real shift from the trademark bubblegum punk disco, though there is an abundance of keyboards here from a band who once claimed never to listen to anything other than The Ramones. Lyrically, there are plenty of boy-girl tales, hopes for relationships and talk of space and Japan, but at times real life intrudes and the band produce moments of real perception and intelligence, with the touching 'Our Mum And Dad' striking a chord with anybody who grew up in the same era: "Our mum, I see her outside the school gates / Looking all anxious if we come out late / Oh to have her arms around me now! / She worked part-time, 3 days a week at the bank / Saving us bottle tops and Green Shield stamps / That damn Ted Heath he don't understand / I can see you hanging washing on the line / I can hear your laughter every Christmas time / Our mum and dad they turned older and grey / I watched Margaret Thatcher take their jobs away / Our mum said she could try the patience of a saint / The 90s flew by and dad moved to his chair / Mum left the choir as she couldn't get there / And nobody came to the house / And we pin our hopes on things that are so frail / We try so hard but fabulously fail." This is yet another glorious collection of candy-floss flavoured pop from Helen Love, but we love them even more for writing that. Bloody hell, make them number one.
live 1981-82

The Birthday Party - Live 1981-82


Released: 29th July 2013


Words haven't really been invented that can describe how good The Birthday Party were. Even among the giants who sprung up in the wake of punk to push musical boundaries to unheard of extremes, they were the ones who pushed the hardest, accepting no limits on what could be achieved, however fractured, repulsive or threatening. They were genuine extremists who could turn simple tales into splintered nightmares and there has never been a band like them. Seeing them play live was a hit and miss experience. At their best they were like nothing on earth, thrilling and scalding. At their worst, probably depending on the state they were in at the time, they could be awkward and cold. This double album from 4AD, first released in 1999 and now seeing light of day on vinyl for the first time, obviously captures the former, the songs taken from a show in London in 1981, the year the remarkable Prayers On Fire was released, and an appearance in Bremen in 1982, the year that spawned Junkyard. Consequently we have four tracks from the former album and eight from the latter, along with the singles 'Release The Bats', 'Blast Off' and 'The Friend Catcher', Peel Session tracks 'Pleasure Heads' and 'Bully Bones', and a cover of The Stooges' 'Fun House' added from a show in Athens with Jim Thirwell on sax. Pressed on to two twelve-inch, heavy duty, vinyl discs, this is a nicely housed package in a thick gatefold sleeve and containing the bonus of the album on CD in a clear plastic wallet. Despite the existence of numerous live recordings, Live 1981-82 remains the only live release endorsed by the band and there is little wonder at this as the sound is superb, picking up all the subtleties of guitarists Rowland S. Howard and Mick Harvey as well as Tracy Pew's blunt attack on the bass and Phill Calvert's bombshell drumming. Nick Cave is in fine fettle, his ferocious vocals in sharp contrast to his mild inter-song commentary. This is a stunning release, magnificently capturing one of the most important bands of all time at their very peak and every home should have one. It is the second new vinyl package from the band issued by 4AD following on from last year's reworking of Junkyard and hopefully there will be more to follow. It's just a shame no band has ever had the courage (or ability) to follow in their mighty footsteps.
to the happy few

Medicine - To The Happy Few

Captured Tracks

Released: 5th August 2013


The way things have gone over the past two years, it would hardly register as a surprise if Glenn Miller flew into Croydon Aerodrome to take up a week's residency at the Fairfield Halls, so many bands having got back together after long interludes to bash out new sounds. Medicine are the latest to be dragged from the depths of history, having originally split some eighteen years ago following the release of their third album, 1995's Her Highness, and this is a welcome return in our books as the Californians had produced one of the best albums of the nineties in Shot Forth Self Living, their debut on the Creation label, and the path to their return had been neatly paved by US Shoegaze fans Captured Tracks who last year issued splendid 2CD sets of both that masterpiece and 1993's The Buried Life. With the band's sound based around the distorted visions of guitarist Brad Laner, it would be fair to say that Medicine made more impact in the UK than in their homeland, with Britain tuned in to the sonic sculpting of My Bloody Valentine and their ilk, though the recent awakening of interest in the States in that era of our musical history, aided in no little part by Captured Tracks themselves, has seen the band's profile raised considerably. With MBV finally returning to the fray with their terrific mbv album, it seemed the time was ripe for Medicine to throw their hats back into the ring and as opener 'Long As The Sun' erupts into life it appears that little has changed, a twenty-six second burst of guitar leading into a blast of drums before the lilted tones of typical Medicine number intrudes, Beth Thompson and Laner's gentle vocals submerged in seas of Laner's wildly distorted guitars. It's heart-warmingly familiar and a whole album of the same would have been just the ticket, but To The Happy Few is far more eclectic than the band's previous outings, and though the charging 'It's Not Enough' doesn't break the mould, the pulsing 'Burn It' has unmistakeable hints of a distorted Bananarama while 'Holy Crimes' sticks its fingers in so many pies, it is difficult to work out exactly what it is. Drum and bass percussion fights with a nice MBV loop, a choral break, an explosion, a bass saunter and some Bay City Rollers harmonics. Perhaps Medicine are trying too hard to be different but the result is little more than a jumbled mess. The dreamy 'The End Of The Line' gets things partially back on track, but 'Butterfly's Out Tonight' is again an amalgam of too many diverse snippets and offers up painful hints of Laner's unwelcome stabs at electronica in 2003. Thankfully, the record concludes more convincingly, 'Find Me Always' pleasingly raked and torn, 'Pull The Trigger' spitting and swaying, while closer 'Daylight' is a constant building and crashing and concludes with the same guitar burst with which the album opened. A full circle? Certainly not a perfect one. There's great moments, but some forgettable ones as well. Still, it's nice to have them back.
I want you to destroy me

Ghost Outfit - I Want You To Destroy Me


Released: 12th August 2013


With Salford label Sways regarding themselves as an "independent label and cultural regenerator", then rightly much should be expected from the release of their first long player and, to give them their due, they have certainly delivered the goods with this debut collection from Ghost Outfit. The Manchester duo of Jacq Hardman (guitar, vocals, samples) and Michael Benson (drums, vocals, samples) have produced a record so refreshingly disclocated from the mean in both sound and quality that it is almost impossible to pin it down. Imagine listening through a wall to Arcade Fire playing in your back room after you had kept them there in the dark for a year fed only on salt and vinegar crisps and mescaline and you are just about there. Ghost Outfit's songs are built on some primal drum tracks which are swathed in a distorted blanket of chugging, squealing and buzzing guitars, decorated by imploring, chanting and screaming vocals and then buried alive for their own good. This is music from a different plane, and so distant does it sound that you are almost forced to reach out with your ears to drag it in before it passes you by without caring to invite any form of contact. This makes it all the more challenging and adds another tick in the box for what is turning out to be a quite fabulous year for music. The band's label declares that the album documents the "bitterness of separation and young love gone wrong" and indeed it might, but with no printed lyrics and most of the vocals drowned and distant, it is pretty difficult to tell, though sonically it certainly mirrors a mood of desperation, pain and regret. And where the vocals are more distinguishable, say in the almost punky thrash of 'What You've Got', the message seems very clear, "I hope you sit on your own at home / And think about what you've done." The band themselves insist in a Guardian interview that their "textural" approach does not mean they are necessarily writing abstract songs, merely pop songs approached in a different way, but if the intent is simple, the results are far more complex with some quite beautiful moments emerging from its dark folds of sound. This a record that forces you to listen and, on your surrender, drags you into its troubled soul to impale you on the twisted shards of its broken dreams before finally disposing of you without a second thought. And in a year of great releases, this is the most challenging, original and enchanting record we have yet heard. Quite stunning.

Drenge - Drenge


Released: 19th August 2013


Another debut album following on the back of a fine year for perhaps the most unlikely band to have risen to prominence over the past few months. Singer-guitarist Eoin Loveless and his younger brother, drummer Rory, hail from the picturesque Castleton area of Derbyshire which, for many, would be an ideal place to live, but for this musically-obsessed duo, remains a stifling prison of boredom and isolation that has inspired this twelve-track collection of abrasive blues-tinged rockers. Let's face it, boredom is a state of mind in your younger years, but thankfully it remains the driving force behind a load of great music and it has certainly spurred Drenge into making an uplifting racket that lifts them head and shoulders above most of their peers. Musically, there is no delving into the complicated: Eoin grinds out some big riffs while Rory crashes a lot of metal, but the secret of the band's appeal doesn't lie in the craftsmanship but, like the best blues music, in the feel and delivery. There's a brutal sense of melody and an instinctive nod to the right chord, the right pause, or the right word at the right time. It's blues, but with a very British feel, and the temptation to mention Blue John here is almost unbearable, but we'll resist it and settle on the Carry On Blues element that leads the duo to tamper with the legendary Willie Dixon's words to change 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' into 'I Don't Want To Make Love To You', proclaiming, "I dont want you to be my slave / Cos I don't want to see you again." It's great stuff. The terrific single tracks 'Bloodsports', 'Dogmeat' and 'Backwaters' are all included, along with new single 'Face Like A Skull' in what is pretty much the band's live set, and as such honed to ragged perfection over a year of constant touring. And who can fail to love a band who adds a little note to their artwork stating, "The album can be listened to at any desired volume. Let's Pretend is the sole exception and should be listened to at the highest volume you can possibly bear." This is the band's grand set closer, beginning deadly slow before exploding into a hail of howls and feedback before pounding its way to an abrupt full stop, all the frame for another tale of alienation, "It's the worst when I'm alone / Cos I'm always on my own / I want to be your friend / So baby, let's pretend." Great album, great cover as well.
right thoughts

Franz Ferdinand - Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action


Released: 26th August 2013


When Franz Ferdinand first emerged in 2003-04, their clean-edged guitar pop cut through the mainstream with razor-edged precision, exposing their rivals as cumbersome, bloated and out of touch. Like the new deco, sweeping away the over-indulgent proclivities of the recent past, they offered a sharper focus on style, no little glamour and an overriding confidence in their approach. Three top ten singles followed in short order as the band conquered all in their path, with the first three albums reaching number three, number one and number two in the UK and seriously denting the Billboard charts over the Atlantic. The problem was with the third of those, 2009's Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, which failed to hit the same heights as their previous work, having been three years in the making and intended to be "quite different sounding from everything we've ever done before", as singer Alex Kapranos related to the NME. Imbued with electronica and a heavy, reggae-influenced bass sound, the record was attacked in places for being sterile and unloveable and, in truth, when a band abandons the style which was largely responsible for their initial dramatic impact then they can only stand or fall on the quality of their latest offering and, though it was by no means a terrible record, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand was never going to be written into legend. For a while it appeared that the band had ground to a halt after this apparent own goal, but now, some four and a half years later, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action has appeared, the title an apparent message that things are now back on track, and another top ten placing in its first week of release clearly showing that Franz Ferdinand have not altogether been forgotten.

Opening with single 'Right Action', it is clear from the offset that the experimental approach of the previous album has been left behind and the the band are back in familiar territory. Indeed, the song is almost distilled essence of Franz: punchy, pointy and funky, though perhaps lacking the killer hook that made 'Take Me Out' so irresistable. The big question all this raises is where do even a reborn Franz fit into the new sonic landscape? Ten years ago the band were shining lights among a dull collection of journeymen; today we are in the middle of a glorious renaissance which has embraced the post-punk / No Wave ethos, showering the country in cascades of delectably spiky, uncompromising noise which leaves Franz Ferdinand sounding just a little bit, well, shiny. Whether or not their moment has passed, the Glasgow boys are determined here to do what they do best in the manner of nobody else and to their credit they certainly put in a decent shift. 'Stand On The Horizon', opens softly but grows into a towering jazz-disco-indie-funk gem that leaves you shaking your head in admiration, while the light pop of 'Fresh Strawberries' even succeeds in being charming, which is not an adjective often applied to this band. 'Evil Eye' pays a visit to the Ghost of Ferdinands Past, 'Love Illumination' sizzles, 'Bullet' is frantic, 'Treason! Animals.' is stylish and knows it, proclaiming, "I'm in love with a narcissist / I know for the mirror told me", and closer 'Goodbye Lovers And Friends' ebbs and flows like a modern day Sparks with all of the ugly edges smoothed to perfection. "Goodbye lovers and friends," it concludes, "You can laugh as if we're still together but this is really the end." It's probably not. Franz Ferdinand may not be trailblazers these days, but Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action shows they are still as sharp as a tack, and as long as there is substance to back it up, there's always room for style.

the nextwave sessions

Bloc Party - The Nextwave Sessions


Released: 26th August 2013


Following on from the rather excellent Four album which saw light of day in August 2012, Bloc Party conclude this phase of their somewhat turbulent existence with the release of a further five new tracks, available on either twelve-inch vinyl or on CD as a bonus disc with special editions of Four. As the retail price between the two options is very little different, this gives you the chance to snap up the two together if you somehow missed out on buying the album, which could only be due to temporary insanity as it is pretty much as essential as 2012 came. Don't expect this collection to sound much like the album, though. Whereas that release was clearly guitarist Russell Lissack's baby, The Nextwave Sessions have the mark of singer Kele Okereke all over them. This is Bloc Party at their funkiest, with the rampaging guitar attacks of Four left well in the background and keyboards brought to the fore. Okereke's vocals dominate, spilling out in wordy torrents and occasionally moving into slower territory where he is able to demonstrate his abilities with some grace as on the elegant 'Montreal' and gently simmering 'Obscene'. 'Children Of The Future' is also on the gentle side, sounding like something David Bowie may have recorded, its positive message an unmistakeable contrast to the terrors of the preceding record. The remaining tracks show the band at their spikiest, bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong excelling throughout, and with the underused Lissack adding a grating pulse to 'Ratchet' and a tumbling accompaniment to 'French Exit'. It's nice stuff, but given the choice between the Bloc Party of the album or the Bloc Party of the EP, we'll take the first every time.

Disappears - Era


Released: 26th August 2013


If Speedy Ortiz offer us a typically American sound, Chicago band Disappears have made their name by producing some spectacularly un-American sounding records, harking back to the British underground scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, their post-punk approach further embellished with healthy doses of Germanic rock and electronica. Their 2012 album, Pre Language, was quite simply a stunner: dark, foreboding and completely merciless, and with Era they now offer up something that is even more heartless and faceless, with the cutting guitars stepping more into the background as the band splits moments in time down to bare atoms. The fabulously messy, heavy and crashing opener 'Girl' may be the best thing here but offers no hint of what lies ahead as the probing 'Power' takes a completely different approach, content to move from A to A with a blinkered focus that borders on psychosis. This is developed further in the nine and half minute 'Ultra', disturbingly repetitive and monolithic, which makes the creepily stalking 'Era' almost light relief. 'Weird House' doesn't lighten the mood, with its drowned guitars making no atempts to break into the light, and 'Elite Typical' drags us through nearly eight minutes of bass-driven despondency that occasionally flickers into half-life but eventually gives up trying. Closer 'New House' taps away maliciously but fails to remember better days before its heartbeat dies into silence. It's difficult to bring to mind any records that beter capture such a feeling of isolation and detachment and though Era doesn't come close to matching the jagged power of Pre Language, this is a totally different animal and a mighty fine record which warrants investigation. Catch the band live in November if you get the chance.
bolan at the bbc

Marc Bolan - At The BBC

Commercial Marketing

Released: 26th August 2013


The current series of releases from the BBC archives have been extremely impressive. The recent box set featuring The Kinks sold out quick time leading to a very limited repress which is well worth the investment, while none of the earlier outings from Siouxsie & The Banshees, SAHB, The Jam and Be Bop Deluxe amongst others failed to impress. The secret is in the care and attention to detail and the sheer comprehensive nature of the sets. These are not just random selections of BBC recordings, but complete collections of the tracks still in existence at the Corporation including sessions, live concerts and interviews. These have been gathered with love, beautifully packaged and accompanied by annotated notes that make the listening process a pure pleasure. Marc Bolan at the BBC opens with the shoddy glam of John's Children before wending its way through the hippy bollocks of the acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex, the dawning of electric enlightenment with Mickey Finn and the untouchable superstar years before concluding with songs from the stuttering post-cocaine fightback. 118 tracks, then, including numerous interviews and 'chats' and virtually the whole of the Marc Bolan story is laid out before you. There are innumerable highlights: a rare Bolan vocal contribution to John's Children's 'Hot Road Mama', nine minutes of 'The Wizard' from The Sunday Show, the 'Woodland Bop Medley' from John Peel's Sunday Concert, a terrific version of 'Jeepster' from The Bob Harris Show, and a handful of The Slider era numbers from Radio 1 With T Rex. It's all good and if you can afford the forty quid asking price, there are a lot worse ways to spend a few hours.
shadow of heaven

Money - The Shadow Of Heaven

Bella Union

Released: 26th August 2013


Another debut album from a band who have been garnering accolades over the past couple of years thanks to a series of low key releases on the Sways and Almost Musique labels which have identified Money as a band with a fascinatingly different approach, insisting on their music adopting an almost hymnal feel to its texture and resonance. As a result this is a carefully worked collection of songs with every note in the correct place and no superfluous filler to distract the listener from exposure to its inner core. It's joyfully melodic and excruciatingly pretty which is the perfect environment for singer Jamie Lee's incredible voice which manages to hit every height and capture every emotion. The rhythm section of Scott Beaman (bass) and Billy Byron (drums) find themselves in the curious position of not holding the music together and driving it on, but of ever so gently pulling it back down to earth while magical guitarist Charlie Cocksedge infuses it with celestial wings which want to carry it soaring to the skies. Appropriately named The Shadow Of Heaven, this is heady stuff and it's almost impossible to pick it apart to find highs and lows; it's all good – all fifty-one minutes of it – it's uplifting ... and it's bewildering that there aren't more bands producing records as innovative, important and inspiring as this. Why it hasn't been garlanded and paraded through the streets we have no idea, but if you have any spare superlatives, chuck them in here. This is a quite brilliant album and hats off to the increasingly astute Bella Union for grabbing hold of this band. Available as a double vinyl set with the CD thrown in, there's little more in life you will need. What a year, what a bloody incredible year.
sequel to the prequel

Babyshambles - Sequel To The Prequel


Released: 2nd September 2013


It's such a shame that Pete Doherty has been turned by the media into some sort of comic book character. Having been caught in the vice-like grip of the vampiric tabloid press who prey on the weaknesses of talented individuals in a shameful lust for blood, it is a relief that he has managed to withstand all of the pressure and remains firmly on two feet. Pete would no doubt be the first to admit he has had his struggles with life, once stating, "I'm quite a lonely character, most of my friends are dead and have been for hundreds of years," but despite his well documented troubles, he remains quite probably the most talented artist this nation has produced in any number of years.

We'll never forget that The Libertines saved our lives. The early twenty hundreds were the worst time ever for underground music. Vinyl had disappeared, along with the record shops that used to sell it. The alternative had dissolved into DJs, dance and the hip and the hop; there were hardly any decent British independent bands and the fading music press had been forced into the adulation of little more than moderate acts from across the water to keep their flagging sales alive. The sense of belonging was gone; the values which had defined our existence for twenty years had seemingly been swept away ... and then The Libertines turned up, with a seemingly easy grasp of everything that was ever important, and with an irresistable call to arms. They were raw yet melodic, cultured yet yobbish, fiercely intelligent yet hopelessly romantic. They had no lust for fame nor glory, but knew they were of the people and for the people and they gave the people music of such staggering beauty that few have come close to touching its shadow. No, it didn't all work, but when it did, it was poetry. Four hundred years down the line, if 'Time For Heroes' isn't regarded as highly as 'King Lear' and 'Paradise Lost' then this nation will have lost its way. Bill Bones knows what I mean.

Sequel To The Prequel, then, is a welcome return to the fray for Doherty, nearly six years on from 2007's Shotter's Nation. Currently comprising of guitarist Mik Whitnell, bassist Drew McConnell and drummer Adam Falkner, Babyshambles have never yet managed to scale such heights as The Libertines once did, but they have produced some mighty fine work and the first few seconds of opener 'Fireman' is enough to immediately raise spirits to the heavens as a typical burst of Libs' guitar paves the way to Pete's vocal, all delivered with his inimitable, drawling intonation, and crowning just over a minute and a half of pure joy. The single 'Nothing Comes To Nothing' which follows takes things to another sphere altogether, a quite gloriously commercial gem of a song opened by a single drum beat which reaches every kind of peak from its lovely rambling bass, effortless melodic weaving and brilliantly rough falsetto. "Music sways, it forays, and surges / And says I'll break your heart in two," Pete suggests and he's damn well right. It's not a stand-alone blinder either. 'Maybelline' sees the singer crooning like a modern day Steve Harley in a charmingly jagged pop cameo, while at other times the band take on a completely new direction which sees them breaking fascinating new ground. Closer 'Minefield' is a brooding, atmospheric menace, while 'Farmer's Daughter' is a far more classically structured rock number with a soaring, almost anthemic chorus and a nicely stuttering musical interlude. In between, there is plenty to enjoy from the measured jangling of 'New Pair', the country airs of 'Fall From Grace', the light reggae of 'Dr No', the see-sawing 'Penguins' and the fiddle-fest of 'Picture Me In A Hospital'. None of these will change your life, but add to an impressive whole which is certainly a pretty fine first step back into the limelight, and if the band can build upon the glory of 'Nothing Comes To Nothing' then the future is very bright indeed.

There are five extra tracks available on the limited 2CD set, including a demo of 'Dr. No', while the vinyl version comes with the standard CD as well as a poster featuring the fine artwork from Damien Hirst. That such a powerful artist should get involved with this project is no small testament to the importance of this band and their remarkable lead singer. It's great to have him back; hopefully he can now focus on what he does best and keep far from the clutches of the gutter press. Touches of brilliance here.


Splashh - Comfort

Luv Luv Luv

Released: 2nd September 2013


After the nightmare of 2011 and the gentle improvement of 2012, the sheer number of decent albums being released this year is bordering on life affirming. East London-based Splashh (an Anglo-Antipodean four-piece) are the latest to turn some promising single releases into a debut long player of note, with Comfort an excellent collection of dreamy tunes, sucking in a diverse range of influences from sixties pychedelia through indie jangle pop to the Pixies, and emerging as the perfect accompaniment to the early Autumn evenings. All three of the band's singles are included, the earnest 'Need It' chugging along to swirling synths, the dream-punk of 'Vacation' driven by a bubbling bassline as it proclaims the need for escape, and – best of all – 'All I Wanna Do' which jangles along like Pale Saints on acid with plenty of woozy rushes of blood to the head. It's a major highlight, but there are plenty of others, not the least the opener 'Headspins' which opens with a Kim Deal bassline before crashing into life with an assurance sadly lacking in the output from the current, truncated Pixies. Strangely, it borrows the riff from the Skids' 'Into The Valley' before heading off into a lightly psychedelic charge with singer Sasha Carlson's vocals kept in the background, as they are throughout, hemmed in by mighty walls of reverb. 'Feels Like You' is another high, bubbling away fiercely and taking no prisoners as it declares, "You're a danger to yourself, a danger to no one else", and the teasing 'Green & Blue' jangles for its life through a nice mess of guitars. If there is a downside to Comfort it is probably that it is a little too comfortable, never breaking bounds to charge in different directions, but it is one hell of a decent collection and offers impossible promise for the future. The vinyl version of the album offers a bonus four-track ten-inch single containing tracks not available on the CD so is well worth investigating. Great stuff.
Swan Song Volume 2

Tanya Donelly - Swan Song Series Vol.2


Released: 6th September 2013


There's no doubt in our minds that Tanya Donelly has recorded some of the greatest songs of our time, wriggling through exquisitely twisted arrangements, underscored by her phenomenonly versatile and expressive vocals, and graced with lyrics of pure poetry dwelling just the other side of the shadowline to remain intriguingly out of reach. That the second Belly album, King, did not receive the accolades it deserved is an unfathomable mystery; the quality of songs from that era such as 'Judas My Heart', 'John Dark' and 'Thief' (two merely given away as b-sides) remains as obvious as the noonday sun in unlidded eyes. Belly's demise was sadly mourned, though Donelly's first solo album, Lovesongs For Underdogs, was another quality item which made her consequent disappearance from sight not only a mystery but nigh on a tragedy. Two albums over the following seven years showed a gentler approach, lacking in the beguiling depth of her previous works, and for the past six years very little has been heard from the founder member of Throwing Muses and The Breeders. It was out of the blue, then, that in August the singer released the first collection in a series of new works (which has now reached three volumes) available only as downloads from the Bandcamp website. Guttingly, Donelly has declared that these recordings are her way of taking control of an exit strategy from the music industry (hence the title) and it seems there will be no more offerings after their conclusion. Each song is accompanied by notes on its theme and the musicians involved in their recording and though these are simpler beasts than the gorgeously complex gems of her halcyon days, there is still much to admire. Donelly's voice is remarkably pure as she lifts the gentle opening to 'Still' and is pleasingly stretched throughout, 'Why So Sad' is penned in by the saddest of strings, and 'Making Light' is injected with pleasing, recognisable energy. This is a pretty collection of songs and though Donelly is no longer pushing boundaries, she remains a class act and you could do a lot worse than invest a few measly quid in gathering the set.

Holograms - Forever

Captured Tracks

Released: 9th September 2013


How Holograms ever managed to find the time to record a forty-minute second album we have no idea. Having toured unremittingly since releasing their rather good debut album last August, over the following year it seemed as though the Stockholm band turned up in every town and village on the globe in order to broadcast their bitter tales of desperation and alienation. Having finally managed to make it home, where unremarkably they found they had lost their jobs, the songs on Forever are inspired by their comedown after months of madness, exhaustion and exhilaration on the road and, as such, there is little surprise the end result is a little frantic, rough at the edges, and unremittingly punishing. Missing here are the hollow post punk gems that decorated their eponymous first album, these being replaced by heavy, battering onslaughts where there is little to lift the crushing mood of darkness. "I'm so tired, I'm so tired, I'm so tired," Andreas Lagerström declares in 'Ättestupa', in Swedish tradition a steep precipice over which elderly people during Nordic prehistoric times were said to have thrown themselves – or were thrown – when they were unable to support themselves any more. Grim times, then, for our weary Swedish punks with little light at the end of the tunnel and the strain shows. However, hidden among the folds of this crushing blanket of despair are a handful of gems that prevent the album from suffocating all who dare to let it envelop them. 'Luminous' positively sparkles as it pummels your face in, ending in an absolutely glorious guitar solo which is crowned by Lagerström's fantastic "La, la, dah dah da dahs" whch are as out of place as Mr Happy on the front cover of a Leonard Cohen album. 'A Blaze On The Hillside' also hits hidden heights with its addictive punk guitars which are the best soundtrack we could imagine for falling off a mountain, but on the whole there is a lack of subtlety and variation on Forever which can make it somewhat of an endurance rather than a pleasure.
weird sister

Joanna Gruesome - Weird Sister

Fortuna Pop

Released: 16th September 2013


And still they come. Cardiff five-piece Joanna Gruesome embody everything you want in a contemporary band, absorbing all manner of influences from the past forty years of independent music to create a sound that is naggingly familiar, yet brash, exciting and pretty much unique. Yes, you can pick it apart and analyse it, rummaging through its entrails to discover bits of My Bloody Valentine here, bits of Subway there, and strains of a mutated punk virus, but when confronted with a black and white splatter vinyl record that fizzes so marvellously off your turntable as this one does, lighting up your world, it's probably better to just sit back and enjoy the ride before starting all over again. Weird Sister starts off brilliantly and then just gets better. 'Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers' opens the show with a punky riff leading into a gentle, melodic vocal, a shouty, bustling chorus and a crashing finale; the forthcoming single 'Sugarcrush' charges along to warped guitars before going supernova; 'Wussy Void' jangles along neatly before ending in a slappy fight; 'Madison' romps along drowned in fuzz, feedback and froth; and side one concludes with 'Lemonade Grrrl''s strobelight guitars and racing beat. If you've still got your breath by then the remarkable thing is that the record's second side is even better. 'Secret Surprise' flows gently and rages furiously, 'Do You Really Want To Know ...' shambles along purposefully before breaking in the middle, 'Graveyard' is a twenty-first century 'Neat, Neat, Neat' though a minute too long, and 'Satan' terminates proceedings in style, its gently feedbacking intro framing a gentle ballad that builds itself up before dying with a brief, insane slash of guitar which is about as a nice a touch as you can get. Recorded in Leeds under the auspices of Hookworms genius MJ, this is a lyrically dark record which conversely lifts your mood with its wonderful display of suss and pyrotechnics. The vinyl is limited to 500 copies, but you can grab the CD. Just do it.
seasons of your day

Mazzy Star - Seasons Of Your Day


Released: 23rd September 2013


With seemingly half the bands that ever existed reforming over the past couple of years, it is uncertain whether the first album from Mazzy Star in seventeen years marks a reunion or whether it has simply taken that long for them to finish their drinks and get out of their chairs. Let's face it, this band could have redefined the world languid had they the motivation, and Seasons Of Your Day shows little in the way of renewed vigour or zeal, being content to tread the same water as 1996's Among My Swan or 1993's So Tonight That I May See. This is a pity as Mazzy Star are at their best when they manage to inject a bit of life into the proceedings as witnessed on 'Blue Flower' on their 1990 debut, but since the release of She Hangs Brightly on which only two of the eleven tracks drifted over four minutes, the songs have grown longer while all vital signs of life have grown weaker. Only three tracks on the following two albums dropped beneath that mark while only one of the ten on offer here achieves that feat. Five drag on over five minutes, with one of those breaking six minutes and another seven. This would be fine and dandy if the extended time was being used to say something innovative, but when somnolence is your weapon of choice, there are only so many ways you can dust the eyelids. Not that this is altogether a bad record. Hope Sandoval still has the kind of voice that tugs at your testicles and Dave Roback occasionally consents to gaze at the stars as he embellishes 'I've Gotta Stop' and 'Flying Low' with some pleasing guitar work, but on the whole Seasons Of Your Day is a languorous dawdle along the road to nowhere in particular. And that's a shame.
girls like us

Pins - Girls Like Us

Bella Union

Released: 30th September 2013


Another debut album emerges from the remarkable period of creativity we are happily experiencing at the current time. Released on Bella Union, who are quickly becoming a label to treasure, this first offering from PINS is available in both vinyl and CD formats, but with the vinyl version containing a copy of the CD, this appears the one to get hold of, especially the limited-to-three hundred white version of the disc if you can find a copy. Thirteen tracks here (plus a half minute 'Interlude'), running in at just over thirty-three minutes show that PINS are not a band to over-labour the point. Only closer 'The Darkest Day' hits the four-minute mark, opening slowly to an ominous bassline before daubing palettes of bleak greys and closing with the repeated refrain, "I am here, let me disappear", and ending with the clever "...with you". It's a nice touch of maudlin obsession in a collection of songs pleasingly blackened around the edges, in the post punk tradition even if direct influences are not immediately apparent. Two other tracks scrape over three minutes and are more charged: 'Girls Like Us' is darkly anthemic with a nicely trembling bassline, while single 'Stay True' is decorated with the band's trademark backing vocal chants which add a nice depth to the chattering, spiky guitars and hollow drums. There is something tribal about PINS as there used to be with The Slits, though musically they are worlds apart. There's a paring down of fripperies, a disdain for unwelcome decoration and fabrication yet the simplicity has a cleverness that can be quite uplifting. Take the excellent 'Get With Me' where the little pause in the vocals before the word "too" leads into a short but pleasing guitar break and it's just splendid; that the band pick this up again in the song's outro and take it to even greater heights is just an added bonus. OK, not all of the tracks here are quite so accomplished, but in general this is pretty damn fine collection, with some great guitars, flowing basslines, stomping drums and primitive voices. Boy or girl, you'll struggle not to like this ... and we'll forgive the cardinal sin of a talking song. Top work.
made glorious

March Violets - Made Glorious


Released: 30th September 2013


When we heard that The March Violets were not only back together but about to launch an album and a tour it nearly knocked us off our feet with excitement. For not only were the Violets one of the greatest dark loves of our formative years, they had ground to a halt before ever managing to put an album together and, moreover, every time we had attempted to see them in the eighties the gig had ended up being cancelled for some reason or another. That the opportunity would arise for righting the wrongs of the past had never entered our wildest dreams and with the band's fabulous 'Crow Baby', 'Snakedance' and 'Walk Into The Sun' singles still regulars on our playlists, any potential additions to the canon after nigh on thirty years would be embraced with a particularly unwholesome relish. With original members Simon Denbigh, Rosie Garland and Tom Ashton being joined by new bassist Joanna Moy, a successful campaign on Pledge Music enabled the band to release into the community the sixteen-track, 72-minute Made Glorious, initial copies of which were also blessed with twelve bonus tracks in a double CD package, showing that the Violets have certainly got back to work with some determination and drive.

The biggest surprise on a first play of Made Glorious is how slow and measured it all is. We're no believers of going gentle into that good night and have never seen why older bands should naturally blunten their edge, but while Made Glorious largely manages to maintain a dark edge, there are no explosive bursts of howling noise in the manner of the early singles and far more emphasis is placed on creating plangent atmospheres that capture the essence of the lonely slower songs on a Sisters Of Mercy album. That doesn't make it bad, by any means, but it does leave everything a little one-paced as though the band had deliberately hobbled themselves before setting off. There are high points. Closer 'My Demons' has some fire up its arse, if a little belatedly, and opener 'Made Glorious' actually sends spirits soaring when Rosie Garland's instantly recognisable vocals come into play, but sadly there is quite a lot that could have been left behind to make a more compelling 40-minute collection. The piratical 'Ramming Speed' should have been drowned at birth, while others such as 'Of Roses' drop you off at the same place you started without actually providing a journey of any note. A mixed bag here, then, with some great guitars and bass work but an overall need of a course of amphetamines. And we don't want Rosie backing Si up, we want her to spit contradictions in his face. It's great to see the Violets reborn; here's hoping this is just the first step on a path back to greatness.

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