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.
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.
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.