Nuclear Sounds (Infectious)
After what seems absolutely ages since Ash did anything except instate new guitarist Charlotte into their ranks, comes the follow-up to '1997'. And yes, while the band have progressed to include a beefier sound and some cool effects, the fizzy pop of their earlier material is still here in force, particularly on the penultimate track, 'Fortune Teller', which is a speedy, punky song and one of the best on the album.
Where the band are at their most experimental is on the thrashing, mutilated 'Death Trip', which also incorporates some electronic whizzes. The band go one stage further on 'Numbskull', which is one of Ash's grunge-lite tracks, but also includes a DJ scratching. These tracks work well, and it's good to see a band not just sticking to a formula, but bringing in some fresh ideas.
Where Ash are still at their greatest though is at their most melodic, and they've produced some classics here. 'Wildsurf' is a cool, chilled out track and 'Folk Song' is one of Ash's most delicate tracks to date. There's a few slightly ropey songs on 'Nu-Clear Sounds', but this is still a quality album which sees the band shift from hardcore to gentle lullabies in a stream of exciting tunes.
Quality But Hers (Shifty Disco)
If albums were judged on their packaging, 'Quality But Hers' would be a classic because it comes in a grey spherical plastic case to look like an actual dustball. It's totally impractical, but still quite cool. However, it's the music that should be analysed here, and fortunately it is, at points, superb.
Dustball take the punk-pop formula one stage further than most of their peers. Although all the songs are set in a punk vein they manage to sound very fresh, by incorporating different guitar sounds, rather than relying on the same three chords repeated over different rhythms. The majority of tunes are impressive, particularly the rush of 'Such An Eyesore' and the still reflection of 'Mind', in which a cello is even used. A typical Dustball song, such as 'My Life Thrill' is a blend of agitated guitars, lingering hooks and singer Jamie's chirpy, but fairly varied, voice.
Of course, there's a couple of weaker tracks in there still, especially the opener 'Owe It All Too...', which is a poor start to the album. Still, as soon as the melodies began on the second track and continued to the finale, I knew that 'Quality But Hers' would make an enjoyable listen, and comes highly recommended.
Electro-Shock Blues (DreamWorks)
It seems the whole world has forgotten about the Eels. However, you can hardly blame the public for this; their lo-fi and samples sound hardly appeals to the mainstream, especially when the bulk of the album revolves around one subject, the death and illnesses of some of E's closest family and friends. This is a pretty grim affair lyrically, and this is highlighted further by the contrasting beauty of the music. An example of this is 'Going To Your Funeral' which is, as the title suggests, very sombre, yet it has a gorgeous xylophone running throughout.
'Electro-Shock Blues' is a beautiful album, with some terrific songs on it, and is much more consistent than their debut 'Beautiful Freak'. The single 'Last Stop: This Town' is, if not the finest, then certainly the most catchy track on the album, although it is full of little string and sample hooks. This is not the sort of thing I usually listen to, but I liked it.
Last year's mini-album, 'Alco-Pop' saw Midget showcasing their gift for producing noisy, energetic punk-pop tunes. Their debut full-length album, 'Jukebox', is, on the whole, considerably less frantic, although still contains a fair amount of melodies. Where the guitars thrashing the most are on the singles 'All Fall Down', which is two and a half minutes of punk bliss, and Midget's greatest track to date, the astonishingly tuneful, 'Invisible Balloon'.
Some of the more mellow moments are memorable also. These include the pop hook filled 'The Day Of Your Life' and the shrill harmonies of 'A Guy Like Me'. However, some of these slower tracks are very insubstantial musically and lyrically and become tiresome quickly. Where Midget are at their best is during their agitated tracks, such as the wonderful and crazy 'Ben Wants To Be A Secret Agent', which must surely be the next single off the album. Credit must also must be given also to the band for developing their sound, in ways such as incorporating horns into much of the album, even if it doesn't always come off.
Snakebite City 8 (Bluefire)
It's Snakebite City time, and once again it includes some great tracks, but also a fair smattering of bad ones. Going through the album, the first track that stands out is Drugstore's demo version of 'Hanging On Thin Air'. I'm not much of a Drugstore fan, but this is a cool, chilled out tune. In a heavier mold is 'Machine' by Pala, definitely one of the rockiest tracks on the album, with a great vocal performance. I was a bit disappointed with Co-Star's contribution, 'On The Verge'; it has none of the vigor of some of their other material. There are a couple of quirky songs on the album, in the form of 'I Was Starving Hungry (In Tescos)' by Mogul and 'Drinking Song' by The Scrutineers which are fun and catchy.
Two of the finest songs on the album are from Oxford's Shifty Disco label: 'No Head' by Beaker is a crazy listening experience and 'Volume' by Crackout is a lovely strangled pop song. My ultimate favorites come right next to each other. Agebaby have produced another Teen-C anthem in the form of 'We Don't Care', complete with girly vocals and wacky keyboard sounds. Completely different, but still brilliant, is 'We Felt Maroon' by Seafood, a fragile, acoustic number, quite a rarity for a Snakebite City. As you can see, there are certainly enough good tracks to justify buying Snakebite City 8, especially as it's only four pounds, so go and discover some new bands!
Single and Demo Reviews
Issue 1 Contents
Issue 1 Autumn '98 © Tim Bragger