Midnite Vultures (Geffen)
Look, I'm really sorry, but although this is the first album listed alphabetically, it is in fact the final review I'm doing. Hence, I'm really rushed, because I've only got one evening to finish about four pages of the zine if I want to get it out on time. I haven't listened to 'Midnite Vultures' enough to review it properly, and my words probably won't do it justice. Just remember, whatever nonsense I put down, this album is a good 'un. First up is 'Sexx Laws', a glorious hybrid of boogie piano, triumphant horns, cute banjos and computer voices. You could have a good dance to it, and maintain any street cred you have as well. What could be better? One of the songs of 1999. Actually, on that subject, Beck has transformed on 'Midnite Vultures' from the modern Bob Dylan to Prince for the new millennium. This is most evident on the grinding rhythms and shrill falsettos on 'Peaches and Cream'. Also pretty funky is 'Mixed Bizness', especially the slap bass line that runs throughout the chorus that reminds me of chase scenes from dodgy Seventies police dramas. One major downside of the album however, as on 'Odelay', is that Beck rather outstays his welcome. I think listening to all fifty-eight minutes of this would be pretty challenging. The songs are maybe just a bit too long. It's a minor glitch though, in what is probably Beck's best album to date.
The Big Dig (Too Pure)
Let me get straight to the point; if this fantastic album doesn't convert you to the sound of instrumental guitar music, nothing else will. In the past, I have been rather wary of wordless music, often finding it hard to focus upon. However, Billy Mahonie have created a sound that doesn't need lyrics. 'The Big Dig' is a gripping album that hauls you all over the place, but ultimately leaves you bruised but satisfied. Sometimes it's the sonic noise that impresses, such as one member of the band appearing to strangle his guitar, such is the sound produced at the end of 'Glenda'. Other times I feel more in the frame of mind to listen to something rather more gentle, such as the frangible lullaby, 'Manywhere'. Throughout the album there is a vast selection of dynamic chords, tempo changes and sporadic bursting into guitar noise, although unlike many of their post-rock contemporaries, Billy Mahonie restrain themselves from self-indulgent solos, and the entire album clocks in at an ideal forty minutes. After repeated listening, it's the little intricacies that keep things really interesting, for example the threatening rumble of bass that preludes a guitar attack in the superbly titled 'Watching People Speaking When You Can't Hear What They're Saying'. In all, lovely stuff, often exhilarating, occasionally beautiful and Billy Mahonie may even (whisper it) be better than Mogwai.
Nature Creates Freaks (East West)
While Cay have so far failed to quite break into the mainstream, there is no doubting that the success they have achieved over the past year has been amazing: best new British band at the Kerrang! awards, a fantastic Reading festival performance, loads of Evening Session airplay and most importantly, this brilliant debut album. Those of you who were wise enough to snap up the Org single last year will be pleased to hear that all the best tracks from that EP are on 'Nature Creates Freaks' but in a newly recorded form, sounding beefier and scarier. Check out the frenzied rush of 'Princes and Princesses' to see what I mean; it sounds dangerous, anxious and frustrated. Some of the new songs really rock too. I particularly like the intensity of guitar noise in 'Senseless' that you think is going to be an instrumental before Anet's screaming voice kicks in. Where the band fails slightly is on some of their slower numbers. They're fairly good still, and essential in ensuring the album has a sufficient amount of tempo changes to ensure it doesn't become boring, but they don't match up to Cay's louder material. Maybe I'm just being too picky though, trying to find small glitches in an album that I think is exciting throughout. Trust me, they're going to be big eventually, and hopefully because they keep writing albums as downright enjoyable as this.
ELECTRIC SOUND OF JOY
Electric Sound Of Joy (Foundry)
When a band's lead singer leaves just as a band is beginning to make waves, quick reorganisation is usually needed. The Electric Sound Of Joy however, since their singer departed a couple of years ago, have continued unabashed. Their sound has changed remarkably little too; that same brand of drifting, keyboard led lo-fi is still in full swing just, um, without the vocals. This is their debut album then, and very nice it is too. The Electric Sound Of Joy produce ambient soundscapes that are perfect to relax to. And I'm not talking about ambient as in that dull form of dance, but rather in that they conjure up images of idyllic bliss. As I mentioned, many songs are centred around the band's distinctively refined keyboard sound, that washes the album with gentle sounds. This is particularly evident I songs like the lush 'Night & Day'. However, the band also work well when the guitars kick in a bit in a bit, 'Okay Oko' is a fine example of such a song. I think it's a bit unwise to pick out and scrutinise individual songs from this album, because it is a definite 'whole', that blends perfectly into itself. My one main criticism of the album however, would be that, because of having no lyrics to pick up on, it is difficult to focus upon for a sustained period. Don't let that put you off though, because the Electric Sound Of Joy make gorgeous music, and there's no better soundtrack to do your homework or to fall asleep to.
Illegitimate Targets (Mercury)
This isn't indie! Fixed Stars are unashamedly pop, fusing together a mix of eighties tuneage and slick nineties production. Underneath this shimmering gleam of pop however, the Fixed Stars sing of the more sordid things in life; urban decay, broken relationships, depression... a veritable episode of Eastenders! All the songs on this six track mini-album are worthy of a decent listening to, and the band are proving themselves to be not only master crafters of three-minute pop songs (listen to those gorgeous harmonies on 'Sunny Suburban Lights'), but pretty good at writing bitter, slower efforts like 'Every Morning After'. Occasionally Fixed Stars may stray too much towards MOR adult pop like the Lightening Seeds, but very often 'Illegitimate Targets' makes the tried-and-tested formula of pop seem strangely special again.
Bruised (Words and Works Rejected)
The album cover says it all; a dark photo of a storm emerging over a beautiful but barren landscape. Yes, Freeway produce pretty acoustic tunes with an underlying hint of melancholy, that finally erupt into crescendos of noisy feedback at the end of final song 'High Rise'. Throughout much of 'Bruised' therefore, the tone is gentle and the songwriting carefully structured to produce songs that float carefully into your head. My favourite of these is 'Today Would be Nice' which has a slide guitar to increase the tense atmosphere that typifies many of Freeway's songs. Sometimes this rather overt sensitivity can become a bit wearying, particularly at the start of the album, but more often the band have a gorgeous sound that is impossible not to completely drift away to. However, just when you thought things were sounding a bit too easy, the band attack you with the sonic assault of the final track, which is very welcome and a memorable end to the album. This comes recommended then; it may be more unchallenging than most of the other Words and Works releases, but sometimes being pleasant is an ample enough requirement.
King Of The Road (Mammoth)
Oh yes, forget your indie-schmindie and ambient lo-fi, Fu Manchu play rock in the most thrilling form imaginable. Just one listen to the lead track from the album, 'Hell On Wheels', on the Radio One Rock Show convinced me that Fu Manchu were a band worthy of more investigation; low-slung, sleazy, relentless stoner rock. 'King Of The Road' is as exciting as I thought it would be and, of course, it completely rocks . 'Over The Edge' has the kind of killer riff that some bands spend their entire careers striving to attain. 'Blue Tile Fever' appears to slow the pace down a bit before the buzzing guitars kick in during the chorus. Admittedly, some people would find the pace of the album rather too unmerciful, but if you have the need for speed then you'd be very impressed by the blistering burnout of 'Breathing Fire' . There are some slower moments, such as 'Hotdoggin'' but these are the most unsatisfying numbers. The band definitely seem to have the most passion at full throttle. Are you ready for them?
C.B. Mamas (Bright Orange Biscuit)
Hmmm, psychedelia. It sounded great in the Sixties, or so we're led to believe, but is it really relevant in this day and age, especially when modern advances in technology have been practically ignored? Jumbo, with their straight-down-the-line guitar and organ sound, certainly seem to think so, but their album, 'C.B. Mamas' is rather a mixed bag. There are some fantastic little moments throughout; the groove-laden 'The Pleasant Blue Sky Radiation Company' with its very funky bass line, the trumpet fuelled pop noise of the album opener 'Sirocco' and I love the way the harmonies collapse into a classy tune in 'We Come In Pieces'. Unfortunately, Jumbo are far from perfect, and some elements of their sound are decidedly dodgy. The worst track, 'Sunrise 3000' uses a twelve bar boogie sound not entirely different from Status Quo! Whilst there is potential displayed in 'C.B. Mamas', and some songs are very likeable, Jumbo are just too patchy and retro-sounding to appeal to me. There is a place for psychedelic music, but it needs to be forward looking as well, not just reworking the sound of previous decades. Comparisons between Kula Shaker and Jumbo made by the NME are cruel therefore, but ultimately not unjustified.
Le Tigre (Wiiija)
The 'Riot Grrl' movement of the early nineties spawned a hoard of noisy, angry and often excellent bands that have gone on to influence many other groups, and not just female ones. One of the most infamous were Bikini Kill, and Le Tigre are fronted by Kathleen Hannah, formerly of that band. Despite these origins however, Le Tigre's sound has more in common with the blend of pop, punk and disco that British bands like Bis and Brassy produce. The angular guitars are still there in force however, most effectively on the band's raw and screaming reworking of 'Who Put The Bop?', the album's opener 'Deceptacon'. Refreshingly, the band also base several songs around electric beats and samples, creating more of an industrial sound. When you add understated guitars, a pulsating bass and Hannah's vicious voice you are left with fascinating songs like 'Phanta'. There are more reflective moments as well; the gorgeous pop of 'Eau D'Bedroom Dancing' and the haunting instrumental 'Slideshow at Free University' are weirdly atmospheric; songs that suck you in before surprising you, such as the smashing bottles sounds at the end of the latter track. As you can see then, this album has a lot of ideas that work really well together, and it's good to see Kathleen Hannah not sitting on her laurels, but taking the essence of her old work and improving and modernising colour it. Overall, a superb selection of brisk and brittle punk songs.
'Despite the commerce involved, we hope you will consider this our gift to you' reads the inner sleeve. Low are devout Mormons, and over the course of this extended EP they are determined to bring out the real meaning of Christmas from amongst the commercialism and materialism of modern culture. This is most evident on the almost silent final track 'One Special Gift'. Before all that however, Low treat the listener to some of the best Christmas music ever. Okay, so the standards set by Shakin' Stevens, Wizzard et al aren't very high, but trust me, this short album contains some of the year's most beautiful sounds. The album's gorgeously melodic opener, 'Just Like Christmas' is quite a contrast to Low's usual slo-core sound. More typical is something like 'Long Way Around The Sea', which trembles delicately, as if the band recorded the song on ice, scared that it would break. There's also a few festive cover versions, the finest of which is a tender rendition of 'Silent Night', where the minimal guitar accompaniment becomes secondary to the honest and quivering voices of Mimi and Alan. It may be too late to buy as a stocking filler now, but a purchase of this resplendent album still comes recommended.
Sounds From The Gulf Stream (K)
Although seeing Marine Research at Reading was not very inspiring, 'Sounds From The Gulf Stream' has been exactly that. It speaks to girls everywhere without frightening the boys- a gentle kind of girl power. Musically the album is driven by the mix of tuneful melodies and imaginative backing vocals on songs such as the single 'Parallel Horizontal' and the brilliant 'Hopefulness To Hopelessness'. Some would dismiss them as classically indie; some would commend them for it- the fragile guitar based sound combined with some interesting lyrics are a refreshing change from all the heavy stuff I seem to be hearing recently. [Jess]
Jahoda Witness (S2)
On the inside sleeve of this album, Nojahoda express their aim: to create the ultimate rock band. By these impeccably high standards the band fail dismally, but their debut album 'Jahoda Witness' does still show some merit. The band try to encompass as many different sounds as possible and there's a real eclecticism to the album. Whilst this does provide an aural variety for the listener, I get the feeling that it also points to a lack of direction. Added to this, after listening to the album several times, it's the rock tracks that stand out. 'Drown' is garage rock at it's very best, packed with crunchy riffs and punk snotiness. Veering more towards eighties rock is 'I Don't Have Time For You'. It is cheesily epic, but a fantastic hate-song. I have to give the band respect for trying something a bit different, but the kazoo heavy country of 'Pinata' is extremely irritating, and the more Eastern influenced 'Most Folks Know' falls flat on its face. I also have a bit of a problem with the production. It's so perfect that it gives the album an airbrushed, almost lifeless feel at points. To conclude, don't ignore Nojahoda because some of their songs are ace and their live performances are always exciting. However, in my opinion, 'Jahoda Witness' is just too patchy.
A Perfect View Of Everybody Else (Do-Little)
Every now and again, A&B gets sent something through the post to review. That's really cool and everything, but it is very rare that I get sent something that I really like. Ovahead however, are something totally different. They appeared through my letterbox one morning, went straight into my CD player and then blew me away! The band come from Norwich, and the closest comparison I can make to their frazzled space-pop sound are fellow East Anglians, Magoo. I don't know what they're putting in the water up there, but the area is producing some fantastically weird bands. There's a fair mixture of styles on the album. Probably the most straight out pop song is 'Tinkerbell', driven by slightly off-kilter vocals and a furious little chorus. 'The Boy Who Loved To Shop' shows a more experimental side to the band, with a gentle piece of piano playing slowly degenerating into a droning guitar attack. For those of a more post-rock disposition, there are a few dynamic instrumentals that work particularly well on the album. The best of these is 'Fade To Black', which crams the sonic fury of Mogwai into a deeply intense four minute package. There are a few weaker moments on the album, but I'm not going to delve into them because there's more than enough brilliant material to make the purchase of 'A Perfect View...' one of your top priorities.
Veterans Of Disorder (Domino)
As the name of this, the band's fifth album, suggests, Royal Trux have come a long way from their early art house rantings. Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema have refined their sound into one of the most powerful around. Sure, there are still moments of extreme weirdness, such as on the space-rock ambience of 'Sickazz Dog'. More often however, Royal Trux appear to have the objective to rock, in the most narcotic-fuelled, slurred and sleazy fashion possible. In fact, I rather liked the NME's description of 'cyber-boogie'. 'Second Skin' has one of those steamy guitar licks that you think every fine rock blast should open with, whereas 'The Exception' sees a quite fantastic honky-tonk piano combining with some subtle blues guitar lines. My favourite track is 'Witch's Tit' which begins with some lovely psychedelic guitar playing before crashing into a hybrid of hot riffs and downbeat vocals. It's also this track that the band's slightly retro sound comes to the fore. I can almost see the Rolling Stones giving it a blast. Don't let that put you off though! 'Veterans Of Disorder' is not an immediate favourite, but give it time and I promise that you'll become absorbed into their world of hot rock science-fiction.
Panoramic (Do-Little/Noise Product)
Switzerland, eh? Famous for being neutral during every war there has ever been, and hardly the most rock 'n' roll country in the world. Well, things look set to change; firstly Chewy burst onto our shores, and now we have the much better Sinner DC. The debut album 'Panoramic' fuzzes into life with opening track 'Gazm or Gasm', a rough-edged, riff heavy, dirty pop song. Every album should begin with one. The band appear to develop their sound as the album progresses. After a few more garage-pop songs, we're into space-rock territory with the mildly psychedelic 'Fifty': guitar lines and electronic noise gradually weaving themselves together. Later on in the album, Sinner DC also prove they can write more sublime efforts. 'Heaven Was Our Home' is the band stripped back, armed with only their basic instruments, and perhaps an effects pedal too. I can't say I like every track on 'Panoramic' and perhaps fourteen tracks are too many to truly love. I have enjoyed listening to the album though, and there is certainly an interesting variety of noisy sounds throughout.
Knock Knock (Domino)
The eerie opening track 'Let's Move To The Country' sets the tone for an album that is subtle, fragile and mysterious. Smog, otherwise known as Bill Callahan, has produced an album that is reminiscent of the darkly beautiful songwriting of Leonard Cohen. Musically 'Knock Knock' is a blend of downbeat lo-fi and country, but lyrically it is much more complicated than that. The storytelling on this album raises so many questions, whilst providing so few answers. Even the innocence of children singing on 'No Dancing' fails to hide the poetry of a world-weary man. The lyrics therefore form the basis of the album, but that is not to say it is musically mundane. No, rather it is suitably understated, whipping up a delicate atmosphere that reflects Callahan's words. Try listening to 'River Guard' without being absorbed in the cabalistic life of the prisoner officer's tragic work, soundtracked by gentle guitar strumming and a haunting piano. Occasionally, the music does grip the listener more, such as on the chugging melody of the single 'Cold Blooded Old Times', but even then the lyrics are the most intriguing aspect of the song. Sorry if I've gone on too much about the words, but 'Knock Knock' is a fascinating album, consisting of dark, well-crafted tunes with, yes, a large poetic influence.
Snug (Howling Duck)
You thought they'd died in the aftermath of Bratpop, but no, Snug are alive and kicking and determined to prove their critics wrong. After being dropped by Warners, you could have forgiven the band for deciding to split, so I'm really pleased that they've decided to carry on, now on their own label. During initial hearings of the album, it's the singles that stand out, especially the finely tuned garage pop of 'I Wonder' and the quirky teenbeat of 'Beatnik Girl'. However, it's also evident on the album that Snug are talented musicians, and more than just purveyors of generic punk-pop. 'Apples and Cherries' displays an unexpected tenderness and 'God Sure Don't Like Ugly' begins with a cute barbershop quartet. Of course, there are times when the band just want to blow the listener away with power chords and throbbing keyboards; a listen to 'Miniature Golf carts' provides that. I think the main weakness of 'Snug' is that the band too often fail to distance themselves from their inspirations, particularly Weezer (remember them?). It would be nice to see them moving away from such heavy influence next time. Ultimately however, most of the songs on 'Snug' sound fantastic in their own right, and Snug have produced an album which has really surprised me in that it's so good.
A Week Away (Hitback)
If you've read the interview with Spearmint elsewhere in the fanzine, you'll know how much work they put into creating their album 'A Week Away', and how much they've been looking forward to its release. I'm glad therefore, that it's such a pleasant listening. Over the last three years they've been gradually refining their sound, and this can be seen in the way their singles have improved, culminating in the NME Single of the Week, 'Sweeping Nation' (fully deserved, I might add). There's a couple of other singles on here too, the best of which being is 'A Trip Into Space', which has a piano loop running throughout that makes it impossible not to want to dance to. I like the contrasts in sound and tempo on the album too; 'It Won't Be Long Now' is a frantic, guitar led burst of emotion, whilst in 'A Third Of My Life' lyricist Shirley is in a reflective mood, singing over a slow, almost latin beat. Oh yeah, I should mention, 'Best Ballroom' too; a highlight of their live set, it may only be an instrumental, but its such a happy song and makes me have a big grin on my face every time I listen to it. I think the album dips slightly in quality towards the end, but there's enough intrigue in Shirley's tales of kitchen sink drama to keep me listening. With an unashamedly pop outlook, a thoroughly entertaining live set and a fantastic album, only one question begs an answer: why aren't Spearmint huge?
TRIBUTE TO NOTHING
This Is Freedom? (Lockjaw)
Having been previously overshadowed by the fact that they were mere young teenagers during the recording of their first album, Tribute To Nothing have really come into their own with this second album release. 'This Is Freedom?', as the name would suggest, is an angry, relentless and passionate affair, fuelled by the band's love of hardcore and new-found experimentation with samples. Opening track 'Understand' sets the Tribute To Nothing agenda: lyrics of frustration and doubt shouted and screamed over a gut-wrenching barrage of abrasive guitar riffs and chunky basslines. A truly devastating start to the album. Unfortunately, no other track on the album can match the intensity of the opening track, although the frantic anti-censorship rant 'If This Is Freedom' and the more hip-hop influenced 'Strain' come pretty close. Occasionally, the full-throttle sound of listening the whole album through can be a bit wearying, but in small nuggets Tribute To Nothing are exhilarating. I can imagine complete mayhem at their gigs too. Well worth checking out, especially as the album is fixed at a very reasonable punk rock price.
Before The Calm (Island)
I must admit that I had reservations about this album when I first placed it in my rather knackered CD player. Brooding, epic rock is not usually to my taste, but I've found 'Before The Calm' surprisingly engaging. The opening song, 'Second Life' is a reserved start; it begins gently, almost nervously, before evolving into something slightly more robust. It isn't until halfway through the album with 'Cause and Effect' that the band first rock, in the traditional sense of the word. In my opinion, that matters little however, because Witness produce subtle melodies that are consistently good throughout the album, even though the guitars aren't cranked up very loud. The lead singer is also fortunate enough to possess a voice that lifts even their most average songs into a more emotional and beautiful standing. Even better, the band refuse to get stuck in the rut of self-indulgent guitar work-outs that so many of their peers seem to do, particularly on debut albums. My personal favourite from the album is 'Scars', which is drenched with tense guitars, but I think the album maintains a high standard throughout. Have a listen to 'Before The Calm', you may surprise yourself.
This quite beautiful album has come out of nowhere. Apparently, Woodbine, having been given their advance from Domino, disappeared from sight for three years. After that substantial period of time however, they've emerged with an eponymously titled debut album, and I think the record company can consider their money well spent. Woodbine have created an album that is held together by the merest of minimalist hooks; the acoustic guitar, solemn pianos, dreamy vocals and the occasional understated effect. The album's opener 'Mound of Venus' is one of the most sublimely heavenly songs I have ever heard. I think it's the female voice that really makes the song; a kind of tired, almost reluctant, gracefulness. There's also a male voice on the album, that manages to conjure up similar quantities of sad emotion. On 'Tricity Tiara' he sings 'got an address book, with one name in it', before accounting why he can't see his love. The haunting musical backdrop adds to the melancholy. I think you should be able to tell from my brief description whether you'd like Woodbine. They are certainly an acquired taste, and will definitely be too stripped down for some ears. Personally, I think the way they have created music from almost nothing is wonderful.
Issue 5 Contents
Issue 5 Winter 2000 © Tim Bragger