Album Reviews

Madonna (Domino)

Tim finally catches up. I knew I should have bought this album last year when Trail of Dead were receiving rave reviews all over the place, but it's taken until this Domino re-release for me to finally do so. Basically, Trail of Dead are the rock 'n' roll sound of the moment. They have a desire to destroy musical conventions with an instrument swapping orgy of radical noise, devastating tunes and drum solos. This all sounds as if I'm getting a bit over-excited, but 'Madonna' is a thrilling album that would make you froth at the mouth if you had a copy. It took just one hearing of the feedback and screaming frenzy that is 'Totally Natural' on John Peel's show to convince me that this record needed to be purchased, but whilst 'Madonna' does have instant appeal, it sounds increasingly violent and broken with every play. And there has been lots of those. There are some amazing contrasts of sound on 'Madonna', part of the reason it is such a fresh and inspiring album. The creepy harmonies of 'Clair de Lune' give it an almost lullaby-esque quality, whereas 'A Perfect Teenhood' is a blitz of white noise, throttled guitars and a relentless barrage of swearing. As well as these, there are the 'epics' such as 'Aged Dolls', which swoops from the slightly lethargic to the downright sinister with the aid of some haunting strings. Apparently, Trail of Dead put on a devastating live show, but 'Madonna' certainly captures all of the intensity and enthusiasm that they undoubtabley demonstrate onstage. It is an album that never ceases to be completely enjoyable, and with so many aural twists and turns still to navigate, there's plenty more to yet discover. Go get yourself a copy, you won't be disappointed.

Hot Rail (City Slang)

You know how you sometimes buy albums that you really enjoy whilst listening to, but struggle to remember the songs afterwards? Guess what...'Hot Rail' is one of those albums! Calexico do have an excuse though; over half the songs on the record are instrumental, lacking the focal point that words add to a song. However, I do find it slightly concerning that music as fine as this slips through my mind so easily! Defining Calexico's sound as a whole can be difficult, but the individual elements are basically country, latino and lo-fi. Blended together, this makes a very unique combination! Across the album, it's the songs with words that I prefer. Maybe that's the traditionalist side of me coming out, but Joey Burns has a lovely warm voice that is very affecting too. 'Service and Repair' is a piece of classy American song-writing, and with its sleepy pedal guitar and off kilter strumming, the track is reminiscent of a more clean-cut, latter-day Pavement. In a very different mould is 'Fade', the album's eight minute epic that begins like a sleazy film soundtrack, before evolving into something much more powerful. Also worthy of evaluation is the 'Ballad of Cable Hogue', which contains a French female vocal, odd considering the latin flavour of the track. It's another smooth slither of Americana though, possibly the best on the album. Overall therefore, 'Hot Rail' is a gratifying listening experience, made up of distinctively American songwriting and atmospheric instrumental interludes. It might not have embedded itself in my brain yet, but Calexico are working on it.

Internal Wrangler (Domino)

Clinic got me all excited a couple of years ago with their rattling, claustrophobic tunes and sinister image, and when they signed to Domino, great things were expected. To be honest therefore, 'Internal Wrangler' disappoints. Don't get me wrong, it has its flashes of brilliance, but I really expected more. Clinic's debut single 'IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth' was an exhilarating, confrontational song that demanded attention. By contrast, much of 'Internal Wrangler' leaves me disinterested. 'T.K.' sounds like a mish-mash of the band's early b-sides, and '2nd Foot Stomp' resembles a second-rate Velvet Underground. Harsh criticism I know, but considering the amount of time Clinic had to complete this album and the expectation surrounding it, every track needed to be at least quite good to leave an impression. They fail to deliver this, but there are still several indications that Clinic remain a band to contend with. All the singles are marvellous, and the album peaks twice, firstly with the jittery staccato of 'The Second Line' and latterly with 'Distortions', a sublime hymn of immense beauty and tranquillity. The washed-up harmonies and minimal musicianship of 'Earth Angel' provide the finest of the new tracks. If you've followed Clinic from the start you will no doubt share my dissatisfaction with their debut album, which is not bad, but only just pokes its head above being average. However, if you are new to the band and have a spare tenner lying around, 'Internal Wrangler' is still worth purchasing for the three exceptional singles. It's up to you.

Fixation With Long Journeys (Big Noise)

A few snatches of Derrero on John Peel's show were enough to impress me into buying 'Fixation With Long Journeys' when I saw a lonely copy of it in the record shop. It was a risk worth taking, because the band's second album is a lovely collection of guitar pop, sonic assaults, cooed harmonies and mad screaming. Derrero come from Wales, and without resorting to cliched comparisons, they are definitely thinking along the same space-rock lines as their fellow countrymen Super Furry Animals, in that there's so much going on. Actually, it's sometimes completely mental; opening track 'Floaters' (possibly about having a dump, but maybe I'm reading too much into the imagery. If so, that's pretty disgusting!) switches between melodious, swirling pop and incoherent noise with ease. Elsewhere, 'Out to Lunch' is a quick fix of punkoid guitars and frazzled vocals, whereas 'Mono Man' starts as a mellow, downbeat acid trip before the band tag on a completely unnecessary, but still very cool blitz of effects pedal madness halfway through. This is the side to the slightly schizophrenic Derrero that I love, but tracks like 'Mono Man' exemplify the aspect I dislike. I do not like cheery, jangly guitar pop, although the organ and horns sound is a bit nifty. Fortunately, these songs are few and far between, and more often Derrero play like the art-core noiseniks they should be all the time. 'Fixation With Long Journeys' is an album that goes everywhere, but one place it won't be leaving is your head. Derrero know how to write cute singles, but they also have an appetite for destruction.

How The Swiss Wrestle (Words and Works Rejected)

Having formed only a couple of years ago, Fourth Quartet are evidence of what a band can achieve with determination and patience. Criminally ignored by the press, the band have still managed to release a stream of beautifully packaged material, culminating in this album, whilst building up their Words & Works label empire with assistance from other locals. 'How The Swiss Wrestle' is another remarkable step in their short career, and one that proves they are constantly trying to better themselves by incorporating new ideas into their bleak, sparse, post-rock sound. As the members mentioned in my interview with them, this album sees the band turning into a slightly more noisy direction than last year's 'They Build Ships That Sank'. Instead of drifting into emptiness at the end of tracks, Fourth Quartet now occasionally choose to twist their songs with unhinged guitars and sporadic bursts of noise, such as the flurry of distorted sound that climaxes 'Spread', a dark tale of lust and deceit. However, there is no doubting the emotive quality of the band's quieter work; 'I Say Rifle' comprises only of the barest musicianship, a factor that highlights the mournful tone of Noah's curiously beautiful voice. The sleeve of 'How The Swiss Wrestle' sees a little girl asking her mother the definition of love, with her parent merely responding 'What is love?'. This quote is typical of the sadness prevalent throughout the album, and the lyrics to songs like 'Chalk Circle' are miserable, without hope, even tormented. Fourth Quartet seem too young to be so frustrated, but their feelings, expressed through the precisely chilling music and relentlessly melancholy lyrics, create a fantastic album. Listen to this alone at night and you won't be able to sleep; these slow, deliberate slices of sombre lo-fi will leave you pained.

Got My 9 (Yoshiko)

Survival of the fittest is a theory that certainly applies to Inter's transcending of the thrashy, trashy pop-punk genre that spawned them, culminating in this remarkably accomplished album. Inter are no longer out for cheap thrills; 'Got My 9' is made of far sturdier material. I've seen Inter on so many occasions that I could just praise this album for the sentimental value it holds. However, there is no doubting that 'Got My 9' stands up in its own right as a fine album, an almost perfect blend of radio rock and quirky melodies. The opening squall of 'Happy Ending' is a reminder of the Inter of old, but it's impossible not to love the relentless rush of guitars and the soaring chorus that John Peel adored so much he put the track in his Peelennium last year. In the same mould, but considerably less effective is 'Jimmy', a lazy punk romp that lacks quality. Inter's more recent songwriting attempts show a more mature and restrained side to the band. Some of these tracks are quite lovely; 'The Great Unknown' bursts with unusual musicianship and chilling lyrics. However, 'Real Horrorshow' veers too close to epic arena-rock for my tastes. Credit must be given to Mark Wallis, whose production has assisted in creating a dense and interesting sound. This is best exemplified in 'Boss Grasshopper', an early Inter tune that has been transformed into something far beefier on this record. This guitars appear to literally explode as the song revives after an atmospheric interlude. It's evident that 'Got My 9' does have a couple of faults, but as a unified whole, Inter have produced an album that is as perfect as the punk-pop genre is capable of, and that the only factor preventing their success is the delay it took in getting the record into the shops. And if you can't sing along to 'Cherry Red Electric Blue' there must be something wrong with you.

Save Yourself (K)

Can a band justify their unashamedly retro sound if they have a worthwhile political agenda? In Make Up's case, they certainly can. The band live in a world of swirling Sixties guitars, groovy Seventies funk and bleeping Eighties electronica, whereas Ian Svenonius delivers his lyrics, consisting of a mixture of Marxist rants, sexual imagery and other general weirdness, in a quasi-religious fervour. In all, despite the obvious references to the past, 'Save Yourself' is a superb album. 'White Belts' gets the party started with two minutes of delicious disco; absolutely impossible not to dance to, especially during the suspiciously familiar keyboard refrain. The vibe continues through 'Call Me Mommy', a halugenic trip through Svenonius's mind involving churned organs, easy listening guitars and a psychedelic horn section. Other songs are more inventive; the shrieked vocals and brittle guitars of 'Call Me Mommy' add a colourful splash of Nineties pop to proceedings. However, Make Up are certainly at their best with at least one foot rooted in the past, as the cover of traditional American folksong 'Hey Joe' proves. The band have taken a timeless classic, smashed it with a wall of guitar noise and then, most perversely of all, given it a happy ending. One of the few covers I've heard that genuinely improves upon other versions. I think I'll leave it up to you as to whether a retro sound is tolerable, but what is certain is that Make Up have produced a classy, intelligent and, above all, splendidly fun and enjoyable album that can be listened to by bedroom indie-kids and party animals alike. Let Make Up suck you in and whitewash your mind.

Xtrmntr (Creation)

And so a once innovative and exciting label dies amongst a roster of bloated rock stars, obvious flops and Alan McGee's family members. Trust the ever brilliant Primal Scream to reinvent themselves once more and pull out a final trump card for Creation. If 'Screamadelica' was the perfect soundtrack to the Madchester fusion of dance and guitars, and 'Vanishing Point' a hazy reflection of the post-Britpop comedown, 'Xtrmntr' is very much an album that the youth of the new millennium can embrace. Prior to the album's release, it was evident that Bobby Gillespie was angry with just about everything journalists had to throw at him: the government, the press, apathy, poverty. This rage is caught on a small, round piece of metal known as 'Xtrmntr', and a bleeding, cathartic record it is too. The title track's throbbing groove and compelling lyrics witness the band at their most dissatisfied, but it's the sheer ferocity of the guitars in 'Accelerator' that truly engage the listener into action. Kevin Shields' influence is strong; some of the guitar parts are mind-blowing. See what your parents think of that. However, the finest moment of the album is the halucegenic, shimmering glory of 'Shoot Speed/Kill Light', in which Gillespie's vocals gently absorb your mind before New Order's Bernard Sumner picks it apart with another startling guitar solo. There is are no weak tracks on 'Xtrmntr'; even the rapping on 'Pills' creates a surprisingly intense atmosphere, and the album oozes musical quality throughout. Add to this a radical political agenda and you've got an absolute classic, a truly essential album. Forget your indie pretensions and fear of the extraordinary; 'Xtrmntr' is an album that matters. The only question that has to be asked is why did it take a group of almost forty-year olds to create this? Don't tell me the current crop of new talents have gone all apolitical on us...

Rated R (Interscope)

Stoner rock is the kind of genre that you read a lot about, but no-one appears to know exactly what it involves. Let me try and define it for you in two simple stages. The prefix 'stoner' suggets a doped up, psychedelic mood, whereas the reference to 'rock' doesn't just mean a few hard-edged chords here and there, but total rawk, like they used to do in the Seventies. It's that simple, and bands such as Fu Manchu make a lot of people very happy by following that formula to perfection. The Queens of the Stoneage, however, want to take the genre at least one stage further, and in 'Rated R' they have an album that portrays this desire in all its dusty glory. First single, 'The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret' has certainly been released by Interscope (a major label subsidiary, remember) in order to attract radio attention, but with its ghostly vocal and rugged melody it's still a corker of a track. I love the way the guitars screech into action as well. However, any casual buyer is going to be seriously freaked out by the remainder of 'Rated R', which'll leave blisters on your brain. There's an amazing contrast in sound; 'Monsters in the Parasol' is a bizarre marriage between deranged chanting and penetrating guitar lines, whereas 'Auto Pilot's is a subdued, mellow piece of frazzled space-rock with a gorgeous vocal-only middle-eight. One of the many distinctive aspects to the Queens of the Stoneage is that they're more of a collective than a band, frequently switching instruments and bringing in other musicians. It's particularly cool to see one of my favourite vocalists, Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees fame, making an appearance on 'In The Fade', with a performance as warm and endearing as I've come to expect from him. Finally, as if to emphasise the fact that 'Rated R' is to stoner rock what 'Revolver' was to jangly Sixties pop, the band end the album with 'I Think I Lost My Headache', a song that fuses together woozy rock riffs and three minutes of droning horns. It's a deliberately challenging finale to an album that allows its ideas to slowly unravel with each listening. And beware, there's going to be a lot of those because this is genuinely enthralling stuff.

The Death Of Quickspace (Kitty Kitty)

Awkward bunch, Quickspace. The minimal packaging, which doesn't even list the title tracks on the back sleeve, is an indication that Quickspace are not going to be an easy experience. One critic with a way with words described the band as playing 'anglicised Krautpop'. Meaningless as that may sound, it's actually a fairly accurate definition of Quickspace's mathematical approach to creating music. Unfortunately, I feel this also leaves 'The Death Of Quickspace' without a soul. The music is intellectually stimulating, but leave little in the way of emotional impact. That's the not to say the album is bad, it just has a rather cold veneer to it. In fact, there are at least two exceptional tracks; the lurching melody and frazzled vocals of 'Gloriana', and the buzzing tension and celebratory chorus of 'They Shoot Horse Don't They'. Too often, however, I find Quickspace interesting but unlovable. The quirky, child-like chanting and fiddly guitar work on 'The Munchers' goes nowhere, and opening track 'The Lobbalong Song' just feels...empty. The band eventually appear to have found a much needed sense of urgency on '4', but leave the song cruelly underdeveloped. Thirty seconds of wonderful guitar thrash is offered, but it could have been so much more. A bit like 'The Death Of Quickspace' really, which disappoints after having been mightily impressed by the band when I saw them live. Quickspace have recorded an album which is above average, and even has a couple of moments of magic, but ultimately leaves me unsatisfied.

Surviving The Quiet (Fierce Panda)

I always knew this was going to be a stormer. Any band that could decide to leave a song as amazing as 'Porchlight' off their debut album must have confidence in themselves. I wasn't disappointed, and perhaps the only factor I had to struggle with was over-familiarity with many of the tunes, because Seafood spent the last year honing them to perfection in grotty venues across the country. I haven't read one bad review of 'Surviving The Quiet', but Sonic Youth comparisons seemed to frequently crop up. This is unfair; Seafood may be rooted in the same noise-rock scene, but the ferocious, expletive-ridden 'Guntrip' is more explosive than anything their increasingly indulgent influences have produced in well over a decade. In my opinion, Seafood are crafting their own distinctively English slant on angular rock. An example of this is the single 'This Is Not An Exit', with its fey, jangly melody and occaisional guitar squalls. American influences are most obvious on 'Dear Leap The Ride' a delicious combination of Sebadoh at their most fragile and timid Country touches. But hey, we're all entitled to steal a few ideas here and there, especially if it results in such a beautiful song! In complete contrast to this gentle songwriting is the sprawling monster that is 'Folksong Crisis'. Stretching over ten minutes, the song displays Seafood's perfectionist side; every poignant pause and guitar thrash is meticulously placed to create something quite devastating, particularly live. If you haven't bought this album already, what are you doing reading this fanzine? It may have come out in January, but it'll be on my stereo throughout the year.

1000 Hurts (Touch & Go)

'This is not the sort of music you want your Dad to hear' warned the shop assistant at Rough Trade as I purchased this album. He's right of course; Shellac are not for the faint-hearted, and in '1000 Hurts' they have produced their most violent, angry and disturbing album to date. Opening track 'Prayer to God' very much sets the tone for the remainder of the album with its discordant guitars and harrowing '..fucking kill him!...' refrain. An uncomfortable insight into the rage of Steve Albini, but also perversely compelling listening. Other songs are remarkable not for their vicious lyrics but the sheer claustrophobia of Shellac's music. 'Ghosts' is a fit of hammered drums, menacing basslines and some wonderfully detuned guitars. The band then manage to twist this concoction into a rumbling giant of a tune. Elsewhere, as if to prove there is a sensitive side to the band, 'Shoe Song' begins as a gentle reflection before an inevitable explosion. There's a great chord change in there too. Almost every song on '1000 Hurts' is completely vital, with the exception of the rather pointless joke 'New Number Order'. Steve Albini is more than the guy who produced 'In Utero'; Shellac's third album has proved them to be the noise band you've always been looking for. More a call from beyond the grave than a cry for help, '1000 Hurts' is essential.

The Closer You Get (Mantra)

Straight outta Nottingham's hardest ghettos come Six By Seven with their most cohesive and powerful work to date. Before catching the singles from 'The Closer You Get' on the radio, Six By Seven were a band that I had ignorantly dismissed as being interesting, but nothing remarkable. The intense album opening duo of 'Eat Junk Become Junk' and 'Sawn Off Metallica T-Shirt' prove how completely wrong I was. Both songs are driven by frontman Chris Olley's resentment of the current state of apathetic, bloated Britain, and the music reflects this attitude; scrambled guitars, distorted vocals and frustrated vocals pack a powerful punch. Unfortunately, the remainder of the album never surpasses these opening slabs of rage, but there's still plenty more ferocious tunes and, yeah, a whole heap of angst. Six By Seven have obviously spent a considerable amount of time generating striking titles for their songs; if 'My Life Is An Accident' isn't a blunt statement of despair, I don't know what is. The song begins innocently enough with a delicate vocal over timid guitars and tense keyboard effects, before exploding into a fit of raw screaming and piledriving guitars. And then repeating the process to completely do your head in. In a recent interview, Olley argued that 'listening to Travis will turn your brain to mush', and very correct he is too. Ironically, it is one of the album's most easy listening, laid-back tracks, '100 & Something Fowhall Road', that provides another striking tune. Maybe there is a place for sweet acoustic pop, as long as it has an agenda wider than self-pity. In conclusion, if you cut 'The Closer You Get' in half, it would read 'anger' through it like a stick of rock. This fury has driven Six By Seven to record an album of acute paranoia, vicious lyrics and downright mental melodies. Another excellent album from the year 2000 to add to your collection, boys and girls.

All Hands On The Bad One (Matador)

A band with a good work-rate, that's what I like to see. All the members of Sleater-Kinney are involved in other projects and almost constant touring, so it's incredible that their third album in as many years sees them improving their sound further. I'm a massive Sleater-Kinney fan and think everything they touch turns to gold, but I can see 'All Hands On The Bad One' impressing new fans as well as old faithfuls like me. The first single from the album, 'You're No Rock n' Roll Fun', was initially a bit of a disappointment. Sure, it's a classic slice of Sleater-Kinney scrawl with typically wry lyrics, but it didn't appear much of a progression from 'The Hot Rock'. However, the remainder of 'All Hands On The Bad One' displays an unparalleled variety of styles that can only heighten the reputation of Olympia's finest. Opening track 'The Ballad of a Ladyman', written in response to remarks at last year's Bowlie festival, is a strident start to the album, allowing strings to gradually increase tension as the tune is whipped up. Elsewhere, on 'The Professional', Sleater-Kinney emulate the perfect pop sound favoured by many British female bands and, of course, have the necessary class to outstrip their peers over the ninety seconds with a track that flows superbly sweetly. Lyrics form an integral part of the band, but the words to songs like 'Male Model' are more subtle and abstract than other riot grrl bands, and really force the listener to examine them. Ooh, and there's a nice booklet this time, with photos and lyrics and everything. What more could you ask for? Sleater-Kinney have produced another fantastic album, packed with abrasive tunes, silky harmonies and biting lyrics. And decent artwork for once.

Magenta (Fierce Panda)

Fierce Panda have got into a bit of a habit of releasing these mini-albums, comprising of a mixture of old singles, B-sides and the odd new track slung in for good measure. Whilst this provides a pleasant taster of the band, it would be nicer to hear a set of new recordings that are more representative of their current sound. As revealed in my interview with Twist, 'Magenta' definitely has its finger on the pulse of last year's sound, but fortunately for the band that is still a contorted beast of a noise. Twist have been criticised for sounding too similar to Hole, and there's no denying that songs like 'Glistening' have the same ragged melodies and raw vocals as early Hole. These accusations have dogged Twist from their outset, but there is evidence on 'Magenta' that they are attempting to develop their own niche. 'Her Reflection' is two minutes of souped-up, shimmering pop with an added, er..., twist of grunge. One of the gems of the mini-album is 'Good Is Girl', an acoustic effort in which the apparent spontaneity of the recording really draws out the emotive tone in Emma Fox's singing. Twist greatly impressed me when I saw them live earlier this year with a set that dripped with sonic frustration, but I sometimes feel they struggle to capture this on record. In the live arena, 'Slow Down' was chillingly brutal, but the mini-album version is a bit damp in comparison. However, 'Magenta' generally gives the impression that Twist are a fearsome bunch of girls that know how to write disturbingly noisy rock, and they'll go down a treat wherever they play. I think that with another year of songwriting they'll be a genuinely exciting prospect. Whether that accolade is enough to impress the cynical minds of the major labels is another matter though...
Issue 6 Contents


Issue 6 Summer 2000 © Tim Bragger