ADD N TO (X)
Avant Hard (Mute)
I bought this as a rare impulse purchase, after reading loads of positive reviews and liking the tracks I'd heard on the radio. For those of you who don't know, Add N to (X) are a bizarre instrumental band who are trying to create music as an abstract art form. Sometimes this can result in a bit of a mess, such as in 'Ann's Eveready Equestrian' where weird atmospheric noises are fused together with the sound of a horse galloping, but very often the band create some genuinely interesting and invigorating pieces of music. Some of the finer tracks are 'Skills', which has a bouncy rhythm and strange cacophonies mixed over the top, and 'Revenge of the Black Regent' which combines dark, growling instrumentation with an operatic voice. Where Add N to (X) work best is when they get the balance between the avant garde and pop music just right, as on the wonderfully chaotic single, 'Metal Fingers in my Body'. In my opinion, this is the standout track of an album that is difficult to love, but easy to be impressed by, and becomes increasingly good as you familiarise yourself with it.
Social Dancing (Wiiija)
Having not heard much of their old material, I bought 'Social dancing' on the strength of their single 'The Hit Girl' which I heard on the evening session. What I like about the album as a whole is the variety between the songs. Although it feels a bit samey towards the end, Bis cheerfully skip from the eighties pastiche of 'Eurodisco' to the punk pop of 'The Hit Girl' and on to the sultry dub beats of 'Detour'. The songs may be almost throwaway, but the album is an enjoyable listen, especially for the infectious harmonies and sugar high singing/shouting of Manda Rin. As it says in the sleevenotes: "The pop group Bis are here to establish that the best music is made when popular music collides with what is considered left-field". If you agree with this, go and buy it. (Jess)
Last year, Clinic released three singles on their own Aladdin's Cave of Golf record label, which were highly praised by just about everyone really. I only caught up with the Clinic craze when their third single, 'Cement Mixer' was released in August, and I had to admit that, yes, this band were something to seriously look out for. There was nothing particularly original in what they were doing, and one can particularly hark back to the Velvet Underground, but here were a band who wrote cool songs and, thanks to their mysterious hospital costumes, looked the part as well, and at a time when everyone wanted to be either grim and moody or a pop-star, a true piece of underground rock spirit was something to be cherished. Their debut single 'IPC Sub-Editors Dictate Our Youth' is evidence of a band who have a drive to create sublimely brilliant, but independent music. This album compiles all their singles, complete with b-sides, to date, and all I'm going to say is try your hardest to get this album. If you can't afford it, tape it off a rich mate who can, because Clinic are a superb band who write inspired, hypnotic and challenging music.
The first attraction of this album was the beautiful presentation of the CD case- in the form of a hard back book full of artistic photographs and lyrics. Some of this ornate crafting is reflected in the production of songs like 'Hawaii' with the help of Nellee Hooper who has given the album, at points, a fantastical atmosphere reminiscent of his work on Bjork's 'Debut'. Furslide have used their traditional instruments to a loud rocking effect on songs such as 'Bring You Down', whilst taking a more background role in orchestral tracks like 'Faith'. The band's influences are widespread, attracting comparisons as eclectic as Alanis Morrisette covering Addict on 'Skinny Girl'. My only criticism of the album is the lack of tempo change, with no songs exceeding a moderate speed. However, if you are looking for something both aesthetically pleasing and passionate I would recommend 'Adventure'. (Jess)
The Fidelity Wars (Too Pure)
The theme that dominates this album is pretty evident looking at the title; and yes, there are plenty of tales of failed relationships, mistrust, bitterness and, more infrequently, mentions of sparkling love in 'The Fidelity Wars'. Whilst the lyrics are sombre, Hefner rarely touch truly depressive territory, and very often there seems to be a slight twist in their words. I think this is a good thing, because there would be something quite perverse in singing about such grim subjects when the music is so beautiful. Some of these songs are complete genius; it's amazing the way that Hefner can create such a poignant atmosphere through a mere key change in the fragile 'Fat Kelly's Teeth'. Other tunes have more production and the guitars are cranked up slightly, such as the finale 'I Love You' which even features a bit of record scratching, but the honest and sublime song writing is still so prominent. I expect you've heard the 'Hymns...' singles by now, and I'm pleased to say that Hefner have produced an album that betters even those gorgeous singles. It may be bedroom indie, but it's engaging, tender and terrific.
Halfway Between San Juan and Mendoza (Choosy)
I listened to this album several times whilst working before realising that I actually couldn't define it or describe it at all. Even when I sat down and concentrated upon it I fared little better. I guess Ligament produce bouts of noise that have elements of both hardcore and post-rock experimentation. The tunes aren't always the most important thing in 'Halfway Between...'; the emotion is created through the guitar dynamics in songs like 'Good Right Hand', and the desperate energy of 'The Ambassadors Reception' is exciting in itself. There are some patchy moments in the album too, particularly at the start, with the rather monotonous 'I Want To Take You Outside', but this I feel is the band withholding their intensity before it is released with fantastic effect later on. There is no doubting that 'Halfway Between...' is a difficult experience to listen to, but with perseverance you'll find that Ligament know how to rock, just less obviously than most other bands.
Monkey Island (Ultra Recordings)
You've probably read the Monkey Island interview by now, and if your not already impressed by their fiercely independent stance, then hopefully my description of their sound will convince you as to what a great band they are. Their self-titled second album on their own Ultra Recordings label is a concise affair, at only twenty eight minutes, but the band squeeze just so much energy into the thing you'd feel quite drained if it went on any longer, particularly after the intense, sporadically chaotic, ten minute finale of 'The Cha Cha Cha Champion'. During the album, the band focus primarily upon their fascinating lyrics, although the sleazy combination of garage punk and old style rock 'n' roll complement the dark poetry perfectly, as best demonstrated on 'Ansonia Hotel'. However, there's also an instrumental track on the album, and a rocking opener in the form of 'Prime Time', which add considerable variety. In all, 'Monkey Island' is completely enjoyable listen which, unlike their debut, doesn't outstay it's welcome. Monkey Island are one of the finest bands I've discovered in the last few months and I advise you to investigate into them too.
THE MONSOON BASSOON
I Dig Your Voodoo (Weird Neighbourhood)
Start this album, and you'll soon find yourself thrust into the dark, chaotic and frequently deranged world of The Monsoon Bassoon. The band's totally unique sound, which revolves around mad rock guitars, joint male-female vocals and woodwind, has made them many friends. The singles are all here, the finest being 'Wise Guy'; I love the way it builds up from being a simple punkish tune, through a clarinet workout, before exploding into a fit of bizarre noises. Most of the very best songs are at the beginning of the album; these include the slightly anthemic 'The Very Best of Bad Luck '97' and the more mellifluous, but rather sinister 'Volcano'. And even though the album appears to make a slight glitch in standard towards the end, it finishes in the most fantastic of fashions, the amazing 'In the Iceman's Back Garden'. It's not just psychedelica, there's elements of all sorts of music in this song; punk, jazz, even heavy metal! It's a glorious way to finish off an album that is full of complex songwriting and exciting intricacies.
NUMBER ONE CUP
People People Why Are We Fighting? (Cooking Vinyl)
Does anyone remember the fantastic radio-hit 'Divebomb' of a few years back? Well you may be surprised and pleased to know that Number One Cup's new album has a whole clutch of songs easily as good and as catchy as that. The band's sound has changed slightly. They are still essentially an off-kilter indie-rock band, but 'People People...' has less of the quirky guitars and effects, and more of a conventional and dare I say it, mainstream, sound and production, which could see them sell a few more copies of this album that previous efforts. Don't go thinking however, that Number One Cup have gone soft-rock on us; 'People People...' is an excellent collection of tunes. The songs vary from pure pop efforts such as 'What Does it Mean?', through eerie, piano led mumblings in 'Caught on the Crown', to rock gems such as 'Vintage Male Singer' which is loud, fuzzy and has a great time change at the end. Instantly likable, 'People People...' is a lovely album, full of rock riffs and tunes that will infectiously remain in your head.
Terror Twilight (Domino)
This is my first ever Pavement album, and even then I only bought it because the tape was cheap in the first week of release. After listening to this album repeatedly over the past few weeks however, I want to go and buy their entire back catalogue. I mean, their influence on the current crop of new bands that I love, like Seafood, Cay and Idlewild, is so evident. And, as they say, the original is always best- 'Terror Twilight' is a fantastic album, that dips a toe into the mainstream, whilst still ensuring that Pavement remain one of the underground's premier acts. Rather perversely, the band decided to release the weakest song from the album, 'Carrot Rope', as the lead single. Forget that, it's tagged rather reluctantly on at the end, the rest of the album is much better. 'Cream of Gold' is a big rock song, with plenty of agitated guitars, whilst 'Folk Jam' mixes a bit of country into the sound. I also think the docile 'Ann Don't Cry' is a gorgeous track but the truly outstanding song is 'The Hexx'; it grows from mumbles into a downbeat rock song, before burning out in a resplendent guitar solo, that cuts through the buzz the rest of the band are making. Mesmerising, I am a massive fan of this album, it's easily going to make my top ten of the year.
SPY VERSUS SPY
Spy Versus Spy (Subjugation)
Right from the ferocious opener 'Game Ruiner' you know Spy Versus Spy are angry and have something serious to get off their chest. Even if you can't always make out the words, the singer roars with such a savage scream over the six track mini-album that you can't help but take notice. Spy Versus Spy play emo-punk, and so their music is occasionally pretty brutal too, but very often they prefer a more hushed, angular, lo-fi guitar sound and there’s even a trumpet in 'Union Station Still'. The band have got their dynamics just right with this release; the tender moments really highlight the aggresive sections. It's all very intense stuff, and one of the best punk records I've heard this year, but it's that terrifying voice that really makes it something special.
Things That I Discover (Fierce Panda)
Many bands that release a single on Fierce Panda go on to greater things. Remember that Supergrass, Placebo and Green Day have all featured on Fierce Panda records in the past. However, despite releasing three singles on the label, Tiny Too have failed to generate an A&R frenzy. Maybe this is because of singer Elin's peculiar Norwegian accent; perhaps it's that distinctively brittle guitar sound; it could even be the way that the band cannot be pigeonholed into either punk or indie. Whatever, it is clear that the Tiny Too sound is definitely an acquired taste. Their are some more accessible moments; the silky pop melody of 'World Between Us' is especially memorable, 'Burn It Up' offers a flash of pure punk energy and 'Waiting For The Ships' is a relaxing, hushed lullaby. As a whole though, I'd class 'Things That I Discover' as a mixed album. There are some lovely songs, a few duff tracks and a large dose of awkward sounds.
Shrug Off Ya Complex (Ankst)
In the middle of a long overdue Manics backlash comes what, in my opinion, are the most exciting new band to come out of Wales. Hip-hop outfit Tystion sing mainly in Welsh, but their angry agenda is still evident. In amongst the fragmented English lyrics is frustration supporting Welsh nationalism, socialism and the minimum wage; it's the first time I've heard a band deal so directly with these issues. Unfortunately, it's the songs in English which have the weaker tunes; some of the Welsh tracks are outstanding, combining a hybrid of musical instruments and samples. The best track is 'Dallt Y Dalltins', tough rapping over a smooth, bass-heavy groove. Basically, if you can understand Welsh, this is essential, and unlike most hip-hop bands, Tystion sing about issues relevant to Britain, not gang warfare in New York.
Rydell, Sun Factor, The Babies Three (Scene Police)
What a great idea; get three bands to put three songs each on a CD, and then release it at a really cheap price. The only problem is what to label it. It's not really an album, but at nine tracks it's not really a single either, is it? Oh well, at least the music's good. I suppose it would come under the wide banner of 'hardcore', but it's only The Babies Three who have the vicious sound typical of the genre. Ferocious stuff it is too; 'Eleven' is particularly intense. The other two bands are more original. Rydell inject a bit more melody into their tracks, the slightly quirky 'Time of our Time' represents them well. Sun Factor (from Guildford!) are probably the best band on the CD. Their songs are hardly fragile, but have more lo-fi tendencies, combined with occasional surges of guitar noise, creating a brooding, almost dramatic sound. The only criticism I have of them is their songs titles; I mean 'Fall in New England'... this is Surrey not the East Coast of the USA! I've enjoyed listening to this album though, and don't be scared of the 'hardcore' tag, because there's more than enough tunes amongst the rage.
Issue 4 Contents
Issue 4 Summer '99 © Tim Bragger