October Reviews

Your intrepid reviewer wasn’t quite as lucky with October’s pile as he was in September, but there’s still a couple of things worth your attention here.

Oct Reviews 1

PAUL SMITH – ‘Margins’ (BILLINGHAM RECORDS)

Sometimes it’s not all that wise to strip back the layers and see what lurks behind. How many special deluxe edition bonus discs full of murky sounding demos do you actually play more than once? Certainly, Paul Smith is finding it difficult to stand tall without his fellow Maximo Park-ers providing him with some much needed oomph. Smith’s occasionally clumsy and unashamedly verbose lyrics are left exposed with undercooked musical accompaniments and vocals which at times sound rather lifeless. Album opener ‘North Atlantic Drift’ is the highlight and things tail off from there. Not a disaster but largely unremarkable. 5/10

I was really disappointed with this record. I’m quite a Park fan and have a strange soft spot for Smith’s often ludicrously pretentious lyrics but this is just so mediocre it almost evaporates before it finishes. The NME review last week was even more harsh so I’m feeling a little less bad about gently sticking the knife into someone I actually rather like. That said, it’s a vanity project that doesn’t work and a collection of songs not worth listening to in their entirety. A shame.

FRAN HEALY – ‘Wreckorder’ (WRECKORDLABEL)

Having lost momentum after the uncharacteristically awful ’12 Memories’, Fran Healy’s band Travis seemed destined to have been cast aside, despite a recent return to form. ‘Wreckorder’, his first solo outing, features Healy’s best vocals in over a decade and is a melodic tour de force. While the voice is unmistakable, this is more than just a Travis album by another name. The addition of Neko Case’s vocals to ‘Sing Me To Sleep’ and Paul McCartney’s bass to ‘As It Comes’ will grab the headlines, but it’s actually Healy’s accomplished singer-songwriter turn which deserves all the attention here. 8/10

A better frontman goes solo effort, this one. All the reviews seem to be saying this is more of the same and that it’s hard to figure why he bothered releasing this solo rather than using the songs for Travis. These people either don’t listen to much Travis or didn’t listen much to the record before writing their review because this is a mature and individual record, quite apart from anywhere Travis have been in the best part of a decade and made by a man who has lived a little. Beautiful, beautiful vocals are the key to its success but there are plenty of nifty melodies to enjoy too. If you’ve never really got Travis, I probably wouldn’t bother, but if they’re ever meant anything to you, you really should treat yourself to this one.

Oct Reviews 2

PRINCE RAMA – ‘Shadow Temple’ (PAW TRACKS)

I’m sitting here desperately trying to hum any bit of any piece on this record. And failing. Even after numerous listens, I can only conclude that ‘Shadow Temple’ is to be admired for its textures and tenacity rather than loved for its actual sound. Many of these pieces would work as atmospheric backdrops in a film but taken in one sitting it’s a little underwhelming; what sounded clever on early tracks seeming a little tired by the second half of the album. The involvement of members of Animal Collective in the production fails to invigorate these samey and unremarkable dirges. 5/10

This might just be me. Sometimes, there are albums I just don’t get. This, it must be said, is one of them. It sounds clever and it sounds like there might be something interesting going on there. I just couldn’t find it. I was tempted to go for lower than 5, but I couldn’t find it in me to actively dislike it either. I would advise a try before you buy on this one, at the very least, but if I were you, I’d save the tenner and, instead, spend it on…

THE PHANTOM BAND – ‘The Wants’ (CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND)

Wilfully but marvellously perverse, The Phantom Band don’t really sound like anyone else you know. ‘The Wants’ builds on their debut’s grand designs and showcases a band with a clear artistic vision. Equally at home atop both jagged guitars and dilapidated drum machines, vocalist Rick Anthony is a commanding presence on this fascinating, cerebral and frankly splendid record. 8/10

Typical. A bloody marvellous record and I only get 60 words to write about it. If you enjoyed ‘Checkmate Savage’ then you should be lapping this one up. This is a record bolstered by ambition and unencumbered by commercial concerns. There is every likelihood of it being a bit of a grower too – not at all bad for something already getting 8/10. I seem to remember an early version of this review said something about Nick Cave and Tom Waits trying to carry an old Joanna up the stairs. In Scotland. If that helps. Sometimes redrafting is truly necessary.

2010 inverted

Shameless Nudity

It would seem that at least one person has visited this blog in the last week in the hope of seeing pictorial evidence of Lady GaGa‘s lady parts, judging by the search engine referrers list. How quaint. Not that kind of site, I’m afraid. I’m really resisting some weak pun linking this information and the new Bloc Party single. Oh, just do it yourself, you know you want to.

Anyway, I’m still suffering a bit of Glasto withdrawal. What am I supposed to watch on the telly now? I know, it’s hardly the same as those people who actually depressed at no longer physically being in Pilton, but I so love the five-screen red button pleasure. Maybe it is that kind of site after all? Blur was everything I’d hoped they’d be and they genuinely seemed to be bombarded with love by the enormous crowd. Admittedly, watching Jo Whiley nearly crying and Zane Lowe over-analysing some songs, played by a band, on a stage, was pretty disturbing but I still went to bed happy, despite their best efforts. I particularly enjoyed viewing the rest of the night’s footage the following evening via Sky+ and finding a really-quite-pissed Mark Radcliffe confusing the hell out of lovely Lauren Laverne. She genuinely seemed surprised by how ridiculous Radcliffe was being. Brilliant, but ridiculous. The best TV presenting I’ve ever seen him do. In fact, I loved it so much I went out and bought his recently published memoirs. I also picked up new musical writing magazine/glossy-book-thing Loops – a joint venture by Domino Records and Faber & Faber. I’ll report back on what could be an exciting new development in due course, but I think Norman Records summed it up quite nicely in their review: “It’s an attractive little thing, all glossy and professional-looking with words in it from such legendary titans as Nick Cave (who seems to be writing largely about Avril Lavigne‘s vagina), Nick Kent, David Shrigley, Jon Savage, Simon Reynolds… Erm. It smells really nice too. You should probably buy one!” Hmm. I sense the Lady GaGa fans returning via Google again, anytime soon.

I think I’m coming round to the idea that La Roux‘s ‘Bulletproof’ is one of the singles of the year. It’s crept up on me and now I really, really like it. She does need to smile a bit though. She still has that look of the aggressively curious baby. You know the type. Friend shows you baby, you’re supposed to say ‘awww, how sweet’, but, on this occasion, you nearly soil yourself at the sight of ugly baby glaring at you angrily. That’s what she looks like in the video. Ten times more disturbing than any banned Manics album art. Still, the song is brilliant.

The Duckworth Lewis Method‘s album is now actually available for purchase and, as my review has appeared in print, I guess I can gush about it on here now. It’s a wonderful new set by Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh (of Pugwash fame-ish) that is a delight from the first second to the last. Joyous and unashamedly pop, it rips off the embarrassing side of 70s pop/rock, wafts off into classic Divine Comedy balladry and takes a brief detour into Noel Coward country. (For all Googlers, that was count-ry, ok?) There are some iTunes bonus tracks that they’re currently allowing you to buy individually to go with your proper shop-bought copy of the album (which is in a lovely digipak) but I’m not sure that that will always be the case. HMV in Leicester had a whole chunk of the Artists Alphabetical section set aside for this album’s physical release tomorrow. Bodes well for sales.

Other music I’m thoroughly enjoying but not especially willing to write a lot about right now: Ohbijou, My Latest Novel and Banjo Or Freakout – all brilliant, all on Bella Union (do they ever get it wrong?) The Hot 8 Brass Band and some classic Tony Christie. You know you want to.

A nice little shuffle

It’s the question that music obsessives hate even more than, "do you really need a fifth copy of that?" It’s the moment when the brain melts and it becomes impossible to act rationally. It’s the moment when somebody says, "so, what are your top three songs of all time."

How are you supposed to be able to answer that off the top of your head? It depends on the weather, time of year, the bloody time of day on some occasions. You can’t just nail three songs on, can you? Or can you? I try from time to time and get abso-bloody-lutely nowhere. I keep using bloody today. I’m trying to avoid too much fucking near the start of the piece. Ah well, not to worry.

Anyway, the good lady wanted her mp3 player filling up prior to a long journey and was sat alongside me as we scrolled through a quite disturbing number of tracks in iTunes. Now, I still don’t find this anywhere near as satisfying as rummaging through the racks for hours on end, but it offers a different perspective on the collection. What it’s really good at is throwing up odd songs that you’d pretty much forgotten about. 4 Non Blondes anyone? Clarence Carter’s ‘Patches’? Oh yes, just two of the delights I heard again this afternoon.

As these long-ignored tracks blare out, you suddenly find yourself thinking how good they are. Before long you’re vowing to listen to them regularly, only for them to slip into oblivion as quickly as they came forth.

So, rather than do a ‘my favourite tunes’ piece, I thought I’d embark on a shuffling project. I know it’s not a new idea, just look at most music based message boards right now and you’ll see this topic with umpteen replies. But, as I find it makes me dig out old records and influences my listening habits for the week, it might make interesting reading. Where possible, I’ll include the opportunity to hear the songs I refer to. Right then, let’s get this going with…

1. Maximo Park – Nosebleed

Loved ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’ more than I could ever have imagined. I’d written Maximo Park off as another one of those ‘famous for fifteen’ indie types. I was, quite unreservedly, wide of the mark on that one. Both of their albums to date have the feel of a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection about them, and this is a fine example of why. Any album that can overlook this, and yet still release four singles as fan-fucking-tastic as ‘Our Velocity’, ‘Books From Boxes’, ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ and ‘Karaoke Plays’ must be doing something right. Can’t recommend them enough, and from what I’ve witnessed of them on telly and in print they seem like truly splendid chaps.

This performance of the track is from the Glasto 2007 footage that convinced me of their genius once and for all. Enjoy.

2. Super Furry Animals – Y Gwyneb Iau

I have to be honest about this one. When it first started I couldn’t be absolutely certain what it was. It is, it transpires, a lovely little tune. I’m accustomed to taking ‘Mwng’, the album from which this is taken, in one sitting as a result of having little understanding of the song titles, and thus the lyrics. Any Super Furries fans reading this who don’t have this little gem of a record should set about rectifying that oversight. It catches Gruff et al just before everything had to be quite so BIG. As close to a bare bones record as they’ve ever done, it contains some splendid moments, in particular Ysbeidiau Heulog. Listen here.

3. Bill Wells and Isobel Campbell – Somebody’s On My Mind

A recent addition to the collection, this one. Weirdly, the death of Kevin Greening over Christmas (see my other, more specialist, blog) brought about my interest in pretty much everything Bill Wells has ever done. I was listening back to a tape of Kevin filling in on Xfm’s ‘X-Posure’ show and he used a track from ‘Also In White’, Wells’ 2002 album in the background. Further exploration of his back catalogue led me to this little beauty. Combining minimalist beats and ethereal bleeps, the mini-album from which this comes, ‘Ghost Of Yesterday’ is a slow-burning collection of rather fragile pieces of music that serve to underline Isobel Campbell’s quite magnificent talent as a singer. Recommended, although nab Bill Wells’ ‘Also In White’ first. Listen here.

4. Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet – Eleanor Rigby

Hmm. Not sure about the origins of this one. It’s labelled as ‘A Royal Performance’, although that could mean anything. It’s rather nice, in the sense that pretty much anything with The Brodsky Quartet involved tends to be. It’s a little bit ponderous, and the presence of Sir Thumbsaloft ensures the usual amount of teeth-itching. In fact, Costello doesn’t appear to be on the bloody thing at all. It’s sparse and beautiful thanks to the Brodskys, but I’d rather have heard Costello having a go at it. If you wish to subject yourself.

5. The Innocence Mission – Now The Day Is Over

This band came to my attention as a result of that lovely, lovely man, Richard Hawley. He has quite a regular presence on his own forums over at his website, and in amongst many other topics he’ll occasionally mention music he’s enjoying. He refered to the heartbreakingly delicate, ‘Tomorrow On The Runway’ by this band last year and over time I’ve added a number of their albums to my collection. This is the title track of one of their latter day albums. It’s not their best, but it’s still pretty decent. Karen Peris’ lead vocals remain as eerie and slightly juvenile in their delivery but the overall sense that you’re hearing something special remains throughout. Go get ‘Tomorrow On The Runway’. This, on the other hand, is here.

Baldy

Something new for you, although if you’ve taken my advice then you’ll already know this from the second Maximo Park album, ‘Our Earthly Pleasures.’ Not sure about the video just yet, but it’s another cracking single.

Anyone for Chocolate Cake?

The quite superb CD/DVD edition of The Finn Brothers’ ‘Everyone Is Here’ arrived in the post today. £4 in the play.com sale. T’was enough to convince me that I could allow myself to buy the album again for the bonus disc. It’s well worth – a bundle of hi-res audio tracks and some terrific live performances, also with hi-res audio. Lovely stuff. Reminded me of just how great that album is. Here’s ‘Won’t Give In’ from said record…

Oh, and one more.
Found this today on Ver Tube. An amazing little video of my current faves, Maximo Park, live in a little record store, with no amplification whatsoever. Great stuff.

There’s also a great version of ‘Going Missing’ on there, but you’ll have to go to the Tube site yourself and search ‘maximo pure’ for that one, as it won’t let me embed it.

You’re like House without the limp

Musical Revelations Of The Week:

Maximo ParkEvery last thing they’ve every done, seemingly. As I may have mentioned, Maximo Park’s performance at Glastonbury last weekend sparked something in me and another ‘new favourite band’ was born. I’m well aware that they’re not ‘new’, indeed I already had both of their albums prior to seeing this performance. But something about their presence on stage, in particular that of frontman, Paul Smith, pushed all the right button. It’s spiky, literate indie with no shortage of noise and thrust. It doesn’t come across as particularly fashionable, just hugely enjoyable. As a result of that dawning realisation I reverted to my teenage approach to music and started to hoover up everything I could find. Only difference being I now have access to eBay and Amazon marketplace, which makes it both easier and more expensive. It’s been fun though. Lovely assortment of colours on the 7″ vinyl.
Ryan Adams – ‘Easy Tiger‘ It’s a very nice record. I’m sorry to use the word ‘nice’, but that’s where I’m up to at the moment. Considering he releases a recording of pretty much every noise that is ever emitted from his body, simply being nice isn’t too bad an achievement. There is a very limited edition orange vinyl pressing of this one, and unlikely previous Lost Highway vinyl outings, it’s a pretty quiet pressing. I think I like it, although I couldn’t hum you a tune from it if you put a gun to my head. That said, if you’re the kind of person who would put a gun to someone’s head over a Ryan Adams album then I suspect you’re probably unhinged enough for me to get away with a brief doo-doo-doo. Is this the worst review ever written. Possibly.
Super Furry Animals – ‘Show Your Hand’ Possibly the greatest comeback single of the year. The album, ‘Hey Venus!‘ is yet another sun-kissed SFA masterwork. Is any other act this consistently bloody brilliant? Caught a performance of the new single from Glasto last weekend, and it really is as good as it first seemed. Sixties harmonies, pure-pop melodies and a real sense of urgency. It’ll probably get to Number 22 and then drop like a stone, but then this is the same public that thought Michelle MacManus had a pop career in her. (Do your own joke)

Non-musical Revelations Of The Week:

Scrubs – It returned to E4 this week, for season six. This prompted me to resume devouring season five on DVD. It really is never less than hilarious, and often much funnier than that. The shift in JD’s character as he is now, at least nominally, Cox’s equal is well handled, while Cox’s breakdown after a wrong decision made for some genuinely lump-in-the-throat viewing. An undervalued work of genius that nobody will shout about until it’s long gone, no doubt.
News 24 bloke with enormous bouffon grey hairdo – Good grief. I happened to have News 24 on yesterday morning, while they were covering the Queen‘s visit to the Scottish Parliament. Listening to this bloke trying to string a sentence together was genuinely disturbing. Every so often you were on edge as you waited to see if he’d actually died or simply forgotten every single word in the English language. Thank God that Peter Sissons was on duty when the burning car got stuck in the automatic doors at Glasgow airport.
Buying shops that have been in administration twice already isn’t a good idea – ‘Nuff said.

Certainly triggered

It’s the dreaded British indie episode of ‘Seven Ages Of Rock‘ tonight. I’ll be recording it, as ‘Jekyll’ is on at the same time, but whenever I get around to viewing it I’ll report back on how traumatised I was by the whole experience. I guess there’s a chance they’ll do it well.
Ha!

Maximo Park live from the Oxford Union tonight on Channel 4, apparently. It’s one of those Vodaphone TBA things, that seem to exist only to get the name ‘Vodaphone’ into the tv listings. And blogs, evidently.
Maximo Park are my current love affair. I have a habit of throwing myself into the collecting of a band or artist as soon as that magic ‘click’ occurs and I realise their greatness. I’ve stubbornly held out on Maximo Park for some time, but thinking back, I’m not sure why. I took a punt on ‘Our Earthly Pleasures‘ back in April because the CD was fairly cheap, and realised that they weren’t at all bad. A chance to buy the special edition of the debut at a good price ensured that that was in the collection too. However, the adoration didn’t happen until the Glastonbury performance (See video clip in a previous post.) They delivered a blistering live set and suddenly I realised what I’d been missing.
As a result, this week has involved tons of Maximo Park stuff pouring through the letterbox, including a multi-coloured pile of 7″ singles, a Japanese b-sides collection, a limited edition CD/DVD book thingy and both albums I already own, but this time on vinyl. Ok, so they didn’t come through the letterbox, but you get the idea. I have form for this kind of behaviour. But, it’s not like I don’t listen to it all, and thoroughly enjoy it.
I really do recommend that you check out the Field Music re-version of ‘I Want You To Stay‘, available on the single of that name, or for download via the excellent Bleep.
The music’s spiky, the lyrics are just the right side of odd and the presentation is perfect. An indie band that’s a cut above the rest. It’d be nice to hear about an act such as this lot on tonight’s ‘Seven Ages’, but I suspect it’ll be the Oasis show. I’d love to be proved wrong.