April & May Reviews – Richard Hawley, Rufus Wainwright, Tom Williams & The Boat, Wedding Present and more

I thoroughly enjoyed my Record Store Day 2012 – I hope you did too. Now that I’ve had a chance to recover, here are April and May’s album reviews for Clash, along with the usual commentary.

April May 1


Having rounded out the first phase of his career with a lavish boxset, Wainwright turned to Mark Ronson to smooth down the flamboyant edges and ensnare the music-buying masses. The result is a surprisingly effective 21st century take on the Seventies singer-songwriter album, with tight band performances from the likes of the Dap-Kings and sympathetic production from the king of the trumpets. ‘Perfect Man’ is a pure pop gem, the feel of which Wainwright has never previously achieved and it is this lesson in restraint which Ronson brings to the table. Although, quite how the bagpipes which close the album slipped through, is anyone’s guess.

A genuinely splendid record this, which should draw in some more mainstream attention even if it won’t change the minds of those who couldn’t be doing with his previous work. The pairing of Wainwright and Ronson is clearly one of those moments where something just clicks and anything and everything works. There are at least four stone cold classics on here and some of the finest tunes he’s released to date. Well worth seeking out.


After the spacious soundscapes of 2009’s ‘Truelove’s Gutter‘, the Sheffield-drenched psychedelia found here may surprise but, thirty years from now, crate diggers of the world will seize upon this album in rapture. ‘She Brings The Sunlight’ is a stellar statement of intent, slowly building to a euphoric squall of droning guitars and sugary harmonies, while ‘Down In The Woods‘ buries an echoey vocal at the heart of a bluesy rattle. Even when ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’initially evokes memories of tunes gone by, upon reaching the three-minute mark it soars in muscular fashion, the easy emotive colouring of strings left untouched. An unconventional masterpiece.

Regular readers will know that I love Richard Hawley. I love his voice, I love his lyrics and I love the production of his records. All of this triumvirate of loves remains intact after spending time with these nine songs. Stuart Maconie was spot on when he wrote, in his review for The Word, that parts of this album hark back to the sound of Oasis when they tried to vary it a little – ‘Who Feels Love’ was the track I immediately played after listening to the album’s opener, ‘She Brings The Sunlight’. I know it’s hard not to construe this as an insult, but please try. This is a wonderful album and one which becomes familiar in no time and a favourite soon thereafter. Brilliant double vinyl pressing too.

April May 2


I’m always deeply suspicious of anyone who says they don’t like The Wedding Present. They’re certainly not toiling away at the avant-garde coalface of musical invention, but they don’t seem to ever deliver a stinker. ‘Valentina’, their third outing since rebooting as part of David Gedge’s metamorphosis back from Cinerama to one of Peel’s favourite bands, features the odd surprise – not least some vocals in German – but it’s largely business as usual. Blokey but heartfelt vocals from Gedge and lyrical lovelies like “if I were a painter, I’d just paint portraits of you. You’d be in everything I do.” Predictable, yes. But really comfortingly so.

If you like the Weddoes, you’ll be happy. If you don’t, you probably don’t care by this point. If you’ve never heard them before, it’s as good a primer as any. I do and I am.


Having toured with the likes of Coldplay and U2 and performed for Barack Obama, this husband and wife duo were keen to both pursue a rootsy take on their Malian blues and also record an album of collaborations with a wide variety of musical acquaintances. As it happened, two become one on this warm, soulful record, which features performances from Jake Shears, Santigold, Amp Fiddler and, most mesmerisingly, TV On The Radio. Some collaborations are more successful than others, but what never changes is the punchy sense of melody which runs throughout ‘Folila‘, a title which simply means ‘music’ in the language of Mali, Bambara.

An album I found hard to warm to massively but I can admire it. I know that sounds HUGELY patronising but it’s just a little inoffensive to me, even though I can tell that it’s the sort of thing that will inspire passionate recommendations. The middling, pleasant records are always the hardest to review. Give me a crap album anytime. Oh look…


The feeling on a June day when you think the sun’s going to come through, but it doesn’t. When you sup your post-work pint on a Friday, having imagined its capacity to remove all of your stress, only to find it’s a bad barrel. Spotting a book in the bag of the person you’re hopelessly infatuated with which, upon reading, is really nothing to write home about. Inoffensive, occasionally melodic plod-pop-rock which talks a good talk and doesn’t really deliver.

Hahahah! See what I did there. The album’s called ‘Analogies’, so I…oh, never mind.

April May 3

M. WARD‘A Wasteland Companion’ (BELLA UNION)

In the three years since Matthew Ward released career highlight ‘Hold Time‘, he’s been kept busy as a quarter of Monsters Of Folk and half of retro-pop combo She & Him. Both had their moments but, after the scope and ambition of that last solo outing, hopes are high for the next instalment of the day job. ‘A Wasteland Companion‘ partly delivers, not least on the uncannily Ed Harcourt-esque ‘Primitive Girl’ with its hammered piano refrain and syrupy backing vocals. The gorgeous ‘Crawl After You‘ gets inside you like the smell on a rainy day, but such emotive responses are less common that you might expect.

I do really rather like M. Ward, and he has released some fine albums including the aforementioned ‘Hold Time’, but I find this a little below par. Still a number of fine moments but it didn’t woo me as a complete outing. The blurring of the She & Him/M. Ward venn diagram didn’t help. I’ve still not forgotten that bloody Christmas album.


Grandiose orchestral clout mixed with a neat pop nous and a voice pitched somewhere between We Are Scientists and Mull Historical Society, the music of Brad Oberhofer is pretty much adorable. Drums clatter and stutter in frenetic fashion beneath chiming xylophone, indie harmonies and riff-heavy guitar for much of ‘Time Capsules II‘, and its relentless energy is utterly addictive. It perhaps never quite manages to live up to the genuinely breathtaking magnificence of opening track ‘Heart’, with its spectral wall of sound production effects, but those are high standards indeed. The shamelessly repetitive ‘I Could Go‘ comes close, mind, with an embarrassment of hooks.

Took me ages to click with this one. Until the last couple of listens, this was heading for a fence-sitting 5/10, but then it all seemed to make sense. It’ll work well in the sun. So, er, take it on holiday if you go abroad this year.


With bass from Colin Greenwood and production duties fulfilled by Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden, this is a lot less fragile than it first seems. While it owes more to Kathryn Williams than either of its distinguished collaborators, their touches are still noticeable and the rhythmic backdrop to many of these songs is disarmingly complex. Kathryn Bint – who, perhaps understandably, trades as One Little Plane – possesses a gorgeous, whispered burr, best highlighted on the chiming, hypnotic shuffle of ‘Nothing Has Changed‘.

Not the sort of thing you’d immediately think of if somebody told you it was a new release on the TEXT label, but rather charming nonetheless. Gilles Peterson has played a track recently on his splendid new Saturday afternoon 6 Music show and it seems to garnering positive notices from most corners. Worth a listen.



At a time when alternative music seems so often preoccupied with fitting in rather than standing out, it’s refreshing to hear such a wilfully individual sound. With roots in the melodic world of the mainstream, ‘Teenage Blood‘ is an instantly endearing proposition, although repeated listens unveil the twisted, writhing soul at its heart. The dextrous band ooze and explode thrillingly with each emotional turn, while Williams’ sung-spoken vocals are perhaps the band’s trademark, variously murmuring, bellowing and spitting out lyrical delights such as “my sister was a referee, reffing Sunday morning leagues, south of Sheffield at a park, showing yellow cards to rapists and thieves.”

Ah, one of the Just Played favourites. The product of a Pledge Music campaign, ‘Teenage Blood’ builds on the majesty of the debut and is a great example of albums where you should listen to the whole thing in one sitting. It’s wonderfully sequenced, brilliantly produced and blessed with some excellent tunes. ‘Trouble With The Truth’ is one of the year’s finest songs to date. There’s a lovely, heavyweight vinyl pressing out there but don’t mull for too long as they’re pretty limited.

January Reviews: Trailer Trash Tracys, Boy & Bear, Hundreds, Craig Finn, Nada Surf

In amongst the excitement of counting down all of the wonderful albums which were released last year, I’ve been a little slack in posting up my monthly reviews which continue to appear in the pages of fine music and style bible Clash. February is a genuine avalanche of goodness, so be warned, and it goes some way to making up for some of the slightly mediocre stuff which has come my way of late. Way to make you read on, eh? I’ll endeavour to post up my more substantial musings on the forthcoming albums from Tindersticks and Mark Lanegan in the near future but, for now, here are January’s reviews, with December’s uninspiring pairing tacked on the end.

Jan 12

BOY AND BEAR – ‘Moonfire‘ (V2 RECORDS)

For a band wanting their fans to “expect the unexpected on each record,” this is awfully pedestrian fare. The polished, even bland, sound here is largely shorn of the character they showed when supporting Laura Marling on her UK tour back in 2010. Having conquered their homeland of Australia off the back of such sterling live work, the record falls flat. The songs are pleasant – ‘Part Time Believer’ the best with a chugging rhythm and a good bit of folk whistling – but imagine that somebody asked you to imagine what a not-as-good Fleet Foxes might sound like. Why bother, you may ask? Well, quite.

It’s alright. I would hope that the above text conveys a mildly withering sense of ambivalence. Any yet, without really tweaking the words, it appeared in print with an amended score of 7/10, raised two from my intended 5. Quite how those words might suggest that number is beyond me but, rest assured, forget it and just buy something else.


Beloved of those fond of denim, Finn’s home band, The Hold Steady, plough the old American rock furrow, merrily offering new takes on old sounds. Having crafted a set of songs which didn’t fit with his day job – “a little quieter and perhaps more narrative” – Finn decided to go it alone. His gruff, often spoken, singing style is not the easiest voice to warm to and the general lack of pace fails to excite. There are several lovely moments, despite this, not least ‘New Friend Jesus’: a bouncy singalong with plucked guitar and a chorus to die, if not be reborn, for. Worth judicious sifting.

I know a certain type of music fan is quite fond of The Hold Steady but they’ve never done much for me. They conjure images of Uncut editor Allan Jones in lots of denim.*Gags*This is a slightly different beast but it didn’t really excite me much, beyond the odd song. Although, from the moment I thought of the weak Second Coming themed conclusion, I was in my own little world of smug reverie.


This London four-piece arrive as members of the dependably decent Domino Records offshoot, Double Six, and certainly don’t let the side down. Distortion, fuzz and more than a little Kevin Shields homage are where things are headed here, with a rather delicate twee-pop sound chiming away beneath all of the, admittedly fantastic, production effects: think The xx after a few drinks. Having released a critically lauded single in 2009 – ‘Candy Girl’, presented today in more muscular form – the band have taken their time to get from there to here and, while they still don’t quite seem to be the finished article, there’s plenty of promise.

It’s good this. One of the first releases of 2012 worthy of note and, predictably, it comes from one of the dependable indie staples – Domino. Veronica Falls, Cults and Cat’s Eyes fans should make a beeline for this. Despite the name and artwork, that is.

Jan 12 2


A German brother and sister electronic double act who sing in English so as “to be international; we wanted to travel,” you’ll likely have no idea who Hundreds are. You might want to set about changing that, as this self-titled debut outing is a gorgeous collection of gently pulsing electro-pop. The influences of Moloko and Lamb are discernable here and there; quirky percussion, euphoric piano riffs and synth stabs are all over this album, accompanied by Eva Milner’s razor sharp vocals. Think Our Broken Garden crossed with Little Boots and you’ll be somewhere close to the sound on this massively uplifting and hugely compelling record.

Released on vinyl before Christmas and appearing on CD any day now, this is a fine listen for the (possibly, who the fuck knows anymore) cold months ahead. In print, the Little Boots reference was tweaked to qualify it as “the better bits of Little Boots” or some such. The indier-than-thou police obviously out in force for that one.

NADA SURF –The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy’ (CITY SLANG)

We’ll just let the title go, yeah? After almost twenty years of pop-rock riffery, New Yorkers Nada Surf have hit form again. Excellent third album, 2002’s ‘Let Go’ – containing career-highlight ‘Hi-Speed Soul’ which you’ll be wanting to hear – was their last to really soar. A change to the way they work, trying to capture the urgency of live performance or the first rehearsal, has reinvigorated the band. Matthew Caws has one of those gorgeous indie voices – think Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard – which stretches but doesn’t quite break. Coupled to joyous tunes like ‘Looking Through’, recorded in one take, it’s hard to resist.

Nice to have them back. I find it hard to imagine that they’re anybody’s favourite band, but they have a fine knack for melodic indie and this is an intermittently cracking set of songs which demonstrate that. Nice artwork but, as I said, a woeful title.

PAPER DOLLHOUSE –A Box Painted Black’ (BIRD)

An off-shoot label from the largely excellent Finders Keepers – curators of the curious – is very much the logical home for this unusual record. With a stage name based on cult horror film ‘Paperhouse‘ and apparently inspired by the primitive electronic noodlers of the 1960s, Astrud Steehouder possesses a bewitching voice. Lo-fi, distorted recordings seem a wilfully contrary way to present what is often quite special material. That said, anyone who lists “bewildering post-nuclear landscapes, bleak fields, forests, thunderstorms and archaic industrial objects in the middle of nowhere” as their influences is always at risk of taking themselves a little too seriously. Worth a patient cherry-pick.

My thanks to tramadol and paracetamol for their assistance in completing this and the next review, both of which were in the December issue and were due within days of me opting to feng shui my ankle. Short of putting it back on now, I can’t really remember much about it and, for that reason alone, I’m not going to put it back on to check. I’d move on.


Never is the reviewer’s list of trusted clichés more likely to figure than when reviewing ambient records. However else I may try to dress it up, Polish modern classical musician Michal Jacaszek makes music which really is cinematic and ominous. It broods thunderously and it loiters claustrophobically and it successfully draws you in, avoiding being cast aside as simple background fodder. The press release describes it as “sonically challenging”, which I suppose it might be if you’re used to a diet of over-produced three minute pop songs, but ‘Glimmer’ actually covers little new ground even though Jacaszek continues to do what he does rather well.

Seriously, ambient records are a pain in the arse to describe, even if they are often lovely to listen to. Which this kind of is, in parts. Well done for lasting seven of my reviews, by the way. I should probably buy you a pint if I ever meet you.

September Reviews–Laura Marling, Bjork and A Winged Victory For The Sullen

Sorry about the wait. Moved house, you see. I’m typing this from the floor of the third bedroom, surrounded by boxes still full of CDs as yet unboxed. Not that you really need to know that. Anyway, here’s this month’s Clash pieces. Two amazing albums and one I suspect I’ll grow to like more.

LAURA MARLING – ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ (VIRGIN)


With two Mercury Music Prize nominations and a BRIT award in the bag, you might expect Laura Marling to capitalise on the exposure and tweak her sound in a push for the big time. Fear not, folk folks. The jazzy whirl of opener ‘The Muse’, sounding, at times, like a more forceful and jagged ‘Poor Boy’ by Nick Drake, is a stunning statement of intent and the most relaxed start to a Marling album to date. The sense of an artist no longer feeling the need to prove herself runs throughout these ten songs, and it is clear that the transition to songwriting great begun on ‘I Speak Because I Can‘ is now complete.

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August Reviews – Jonathan Wilson, Bombay Bicycle Club and Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell

It’s all picking up again now, after the dreaded summer lull. The beefy September releases are popping up and there’s plenty to like about August too. In addition to these, there’s the mighty fine debut from I Break Horses forthcoming on Bella Union and I can tell you now that both The Rapture and Laura Marling have fine albums on the way in September, Marling in particular having taken another massive leap between albums. Anyway, let’s do these three splendid releases, shall we?



Warm, fuzzy and unashamedly long, this gloriously languid debut solo outing puffs into view seemingly all the way from the late Sixties, with little interest in breaking new ground. Wilson has learnt his craft impeccably, having previously played for Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis and Jackson Browne amongst others, and ‘Gentle Spirit’ serves to unleash his own voice, even if it is a slightly stoned whisper. Recorded sporadically over a long period of time, and very audibly unhurried, the title and pace of the album suggest that we could all do with taking stock once in a while, hazy guitar lines lulling the listener into a state of serene bliss. ‘Can We Really Party Today?‘ aches beautifully over almost seven minutes, gently sashaying through the verses, before shifting down several gears for the sombre chorus.

While the lyrics may be a little platitudinous at times – "When it’s all said and done, we are just dust on the horizon" from ‘Natural Rhapsody’ – on occasion a little simplicity and sincerity is all we need. Recorded to analogue tape, the sound is warm and earthy, Wilson professing that he envisages it as a double album designed for vinyl. As he suggests on album closer ‘Valley Of The Silver Moon’, his music is out of step with current trends. All of which is not to say that ‘Gentle Spirit’ is diluted pastiche; everything here is gorgeously sung and this woozy, gently uplifting collection of songs is pretty close to perfect.

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July Reviews – Rufus, Liam Finn, Jill Scott & She Keeps Bees

A bizarre mix this – two I was absolutely desperate to hear and two about which I was mildly curious. I imagine it’s pretty obvious which ones belong in which pile. 220 words simply do not provide an opportunity to do the Rufus box set justice but I tried. Most other magazines appear to have given it a full page and, I would argue, it deserves it. Anyway, here’s to July…

July 11 trio


Anyone who heard Finn’s excellent debut, ‘I’ll Be Lightning’, will know that the knack for melody was passed down the family line from his father, Neil from Crowded House. On ‘FOMO’, short for ‘fear of missing out’, Liam Finn manages to do the whole ‘second album about life on the road’ thing without sounding like some pissy grouch. Instead, the euphoric, floating 60s guitar sheen and carefree swagger which dominates proceedings is utterly uplifting, with ‘Cold Feet’ the massive summer smash that will never be. The early-Nineties indie guitar excess on ‘Reckless’ offers another standout moment on an album which takes bold and successful strides.

Oooh, this is a good ‘un. If you never partook of his aforementioned debut, get yourself caught up. I won’t tell anyone you. This is a more fully-realised outing sonically but it’s the sheer joy of his songwriting that makes him worthy of your attention. As something of a Finn Fann, I was always predisposed to like him but he’s more than earned his stripes with this release.

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June Reviews

The new issue of Clash has hit the streets so it’s time to round up this month’s scribbles for you. An interesting range of stuff this month, including probably the second best jiffy bag of promo goodies I’ve ever received in the form of all four Cave reissues in their final, retail packaging. I remain mildly smug that my Black Lips review made it to print entirely unaltered. Anyway, let’s crack on, shall we?

June 1

KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS – ‘Smoking In Heaven’ (SUNDAY BEST)

After a solid and well-received debut, these analogue purists with a knack for good old-fashioned rock and roll deliver a follow up which oozes class. Sounding fifty years out of time and traversing genres without concern, it is unlike anything else you will hear this summer. And you really must hear it. Boldly commencing with the ska-infused ‘Tomorrow’, the album ranges from straight up rock and roll through raucous R’n’B and folksy swing. A band at ease with their sound, the joy of recording these songs is conveyed explicitly throughout, most notably on ‘Messing With My Life’ and ‘Don’t Make A Fool Out Of Me’.

Oh my, this is a very fine album indeed. You’ll be wanting it on vinyl and it will be a rather beautiful soundtrack to your summer. While the debut was perfectly decent, this is a massive leap forward and a wonderful, wonderful listen. Its appeal must be sufficiently obvious as my 9/10 rating wasn’t downgraded for once! That said, print readers beware: I did not, as you can see, finish my review with the line “We urge you to dance here.” Frankly, why would I? What does it even mean?

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Classic Album: Manic Street Preachers ‘Everything Must Go’

Having released the bleakest record of their career, and quite possibly of the entire decade, with 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’, the Manics were reaching critical mass and it seemed something had to give. Chief tunesmith James Dean Bradfield was becoming worried that he wouldn’t be able to fit the increasingly polemical lyrics of Richey Edwards, permanent icon and sometime guitar player, to workable melodies. After poor sales of their bold third album, the band feared they might be dropped and, in February 1995, an American tour was looming on the horizon when Edwards disappeared.

Manics EMG

After several months of uncertainty, the band vowed to go on. Convening for a nervous get-together in a Cardiff studio, they attempted a run-through of a song called ‘A Design For Life’, assimilated from two different lyrics Nicky Wire had provided Bradfield with in the months after Edwards’ disappearance. Realising that they had something special on their hands, the Manics attempted to record, with Stephen Hague in the producer’s chair, but found the results to be mixed. Opting instead for Siouxsie and Associates producer Mike Hedges, revered at the time for his stellar work on McAlmont & Butler’s ‘Yes’, the band decamped to a French Chateau and got to work. Described by Bradfield as “the most idyllic experience the band has ever had,” the results were to reverse their commercial decline and redefine how the band was viewed.

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