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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Armin Van Buuren - Imagine LP

What is it?
Dutch uber DJ Armin Van Buuren unveils an album of trademark uplifting trancey dance floor monsters.

Why should you listen?

Sometimes I need this kind of stuff just to revive my brain from over exposure to too much shouty screamo, obscure world music or hardcore techno. Armin fits the bill perfectly with his semi-commercial branch of trance with just a twist of something a bit different. This is up-tempo easy listening music with a hint of indie guitar, classical music and a range of interesting vocalists.

What's it like?

It's like alka seltzer in musical form.

What's the best song?

"In and out of love" is a minor classic and one of my favourite dance tracks of the last few years.

Who does it sound like?

Early Perfecto, Ferry Corsten, BT.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Gabrielle Aplin - Home

Pick of the Week 3 - Home by Gabrielle Aplin

This is an absolute cracker. On first listen it sounds like the standard Laura Marling style ballad, but listen again and you're hooked. The song readily embeds itself in your subconscious and you'll find yourself singing it at inappropriate times and not quite knowing where it came from or who sings it. Check out her website ( for some limited information on her and unusual covers of Teenage Dirtbag, Teen Spirit, Chop Suey and Killing the Name! She looks like the type to release a corker of a first album and become the first artist we've championed on Into the Valley who will actually have some success and probably win the Mercury Prize. Fingers crossed for her anyway, but don't hold your breath. You heard it here first though! 

Friday, 25 May 2012

Eurovision 2012 Betting Guide

The decision to move away from the public vote and now involve 'expert juries' in the voting process has made a mockery of the competition. There is now a 50-50 split between experts and public in each country and this is purely because the more powerful western nations didn't like the results that democracy was producing. If an 'Eastern' government introduced this system in their elections we would probably impose economic sanctions, however when we do it to stop the Moldova's of this world winning Eurovision it's fine. Stuff democracy when it suits us! Rant over, and here's hoping for a Georgia, Moldova or Albania victory.

The days of a fairly predictable competition are gone and it's now a bit of a lottery to make money betting on Eurovision. It's not impossible however. We're now looking for performances that will appeal to both the public and mysterious 'music industry insiders' on the panels. Maybe it is impossible after all.

This year's collection of songs are marginally better than last year's, but this is in no way a vintage competition. Sweden lead the market with what looks like a false favourite. It's a warbling, euphoric dance track that should go top ten, but hopefully won't win. But what do you oppose it with? The list of possibilities looks weak in the extreme. Russia have entered a gang of ancient dinner ladies who may get the sympathy vote from the public, but possibly not the juries. Italy's entry is an Amy Whitehouse wannabe and is agreeable enough but not outstanding, while the UK's own Engelburt Humperdinck sounds like he's stuck in a sixties time warp. More likely contenders look like Serbia's power ballad, Iceland's duet and Turkey's comedy sea shanty. You can also throw in lively outsiders such as Denmark, Norway and even Azerbajain.

This year I'll be waiting for the actual performances and betting once all the songs have been sung. If you want to bet ante-post I'd recommend Iceland, Sweden and Serbia as the possible serious challengers with Norway and Turkey thrown in as wild cards. Anything can happen on Saturday, so don't be afraid to move for a big outsider if they produce a fantastic performance on the night and you fancy the song. Having said this, Sweden is the likeliest winner, but presents no value at all at around the 6-4 mark. 

From a music point of view my personal favourite was Finland's entry that got knocked out in the semi-final. I quite like Romania as well. But as we all know Eurovision has little to do with quality music.

Recommendations if you're desperate:

  • Iceland to win at 66-1
  • Serbia to win at 17-1 or bigger
  • Turkey Each Way at 65-1 or bigger
  • Keep your eye on big performances by Denmark and Norway  

Fingers crossed for a decent showing from these selections, but I wouldn't put my mortagage on anything let alone Eurovision. So go gamble responsibly and enjoy Saturday evening's festivities.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Top 20 Eurovision Entries (5-1)

5. Gerli Padar (Estonia) 2007
Another great song sung by a talented singer. To win Eurovison however, it takes a twist or a gimic. Smart dancers in cravats and braces were just never going to be enough for Estonia's 2007 entry. If they'd theatrically removed her suit to reveal a Xena Warrior Princess outfit underneath, this would have walked it.

4. Ani Lorak (Ukraine) 2008
The Ukraine do the business once again with 2008's up-tempo, hi-octane piece of power pop. Slick performance, classy costume and sparkly earrings combine to form the perfect counter balance to Ani's thunderous vocal talents.

3. Hora Din Moldova (Moldova) 2009
The ultimate Eurovision formula for success can be expressed as: Attractive singer + booming voice + short skirt + boots + traditionally clad kossak style dancers = sure-fire winner. It didn't quite work out for Moldova, but this is an all time classic piece of Eurovison fun from one of my favourite nations. The Kossaks are a particularly camp bunch in this case and are especially fleet of foot and skippy. Fashion fans should also note the purple hue of the boots, the beautiful ginger hair and the added bonus of a traditional costume on the singer herself.

2. Laura (Finland) 2002
Androgynous Scandinavian action from Finland is rarely a bad thing and Laura belted out one of the greatest songs to grace Eurovision. Possibly the best composition to not win the competition and the blame lies firmly at the feet of whoever 'designed' the costumes for the backing singers. The sleeveless T-shirt and jeans look is the worst case scenario. And again 2002 looks like it was filmed in 1980's-o-vision.

1. Tina Karol (Ukraine) 2006
Unsurprisingly it's Tina Karol at number one. Not just a great Eurovision performance but a great performance in any context (see All Time 50 Greatest Tracks). This is the textbook execution of the Eurovision success formula (see Moldova at number 3), but with the added bonus of an accent as thick and sexy as condensed liquid PVC, a cheeky wink and a lung busting finale. Ukraine must be crowned unofficial Eurovision champions with four entries in my chart of the decade and they are definitely the model the UK should aspire to. As close to perfection as Eurovision gets.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Top 20 Eurovision Entries (10-6)

10. Beth (Spain) 2003
Never have I been so sure a song would win than Beth's Spanish entry in 2003. As it happens it came nowhere and I lost loads of money. It's a barnstorming, latin euro-pop stormer, but perhaps Beth could have eaten a couple of steak and kidney puddings before her performance to put some meat on her bones. Putting the backing dancers in Spanish national costume or perhaps thigh-slapping leather gear may also have helped.

9. Mihai Trăistariu (Romania) 2006It's always good to have little guy belting out a lung busting euro-trance disco number. Mihai's ordinariness was eclipsed by the astonishingly bad costumes (and dancing) of his backing crew. As with Spain at number 10 the golden rule is put them in national costume or leather gear.

8. Sieneke (Netherlands) 2010
And they say the Netherlands doesn't have a drugs problem. The old toy costumes don't quite cut it as the weird drummer and his lady friend are just too static. They are disturbing, but get them skipping about in demented fashion and this would be enough to give you nightmares. The singer and her song look and sound like they've escaped from the seventies, but it's still oddly addictive.

7. Marija Šerifović (Serbia) 2007
A competition winner and a massive financial victory for the Doccortex coffers. Ballads rarely win Eurovision, so if you enter one, make sure it's a lung-bursting, anthemic classic like 'Molitva'. It's difficult to say what's going on in the performance. Is that the Serbian national costume the backing singers are wearing? Nice glasses on Marija though.

6. Lena (Germany) 2010
Who said Germany couldn't win the competition? It just goes to show that if you enter a quality song you can win Eurovison whatever your country's popularity in Europe. It's something quite clearly overlooked in the UK. Lena has an unusual but lovely Irish/German crossover accent, a distinctive voice and a cracking song. She also performed for Germany with great credit last year.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Top 20 Eurovision Entries (15-11)

15. Marie N (Latvia) 2002
Another competition winner and a performance that looks like it comes from a bygone age rather than 2002. With all that lacklustre dancing and substandard choreography it's a good job they pulled it round with a Bucks Fizz style strip/costume change. Slick, but not a patch on Cheryl Baker.

14. Kabat (Czech Republic) 2007
Proof again that it's never a good idea to stray too far away from cheese-centred pop ballads or candy floss flavoured frivolity in Europe's biggest song contest. The Czech's went for a growly, grungy rock number and didn't even make the final! A travesty of justice, but I blame the denim. Jeans are never a good look, but in Eurovision it's a fashion disaster too far.

13. Ruslana (Ukraine) 2004
Much thigh slapping, leather outfits, ten feet high flames and shouting 'Hey!' at full volume. It had winner written all over it the minute you saw the cheeky, jiggy little dance a it duly won the whole competition at a canter. One of the few examples of Xena Warrior Princess inspired pop music that actually succeeded. Perhaps a couple of guys in ferret costumes could have completed the Beastmaster look, but that's just me being picky.

12. Maria Haukaas Storeng (Norway) 2008
Navy blue has always been one of my favourite colours and Maria looks great in that fitted, sensible frock, especially with those co-ordinated backing singers. She can actually sing and this would have been a world wide hit if Christina Aguilera had released it. As it happened it only came 5th.

11. Verka Serduchka (Ukraine) 2007
Not just the campest song in the chart, but possibly the campest thing in the whole world ever! It's all a bit disturbing really, however easily some of the best dancing and costumes ever seen in Eurovison. And hats off to Ukraine, that's two songs in my top 20 already.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Top 20 Eurovision Entries (20-16)

Top Twenty Eurovision Entries of the Century (Part 1)

It's Eurovision this Saturday, so time to get all camp, cheesy and in my case, giddy. To celebrate I've put together the top twenty Eurovision entries since we moved into a new millennium. They may not have actually achieved greatness in the competition but they are my personal favourites from the last twelve years. This may well prove to much for inexperienced readers, so I've kindly chunked them into groups of five for posting over the next week. So brace yourself for excruciating ballads, grown men skipping about in national costumes (frocks to you and me) and a whole host of other Eurovision based mayhem. Here's hoping you enjoy the countdown from 20 to 16.

20. Claudia Beni (Croatia) 2003
A great song but ultimately let down by a dodgy performance. A classic example of the awkward dance routine in an attempt to deflect attention from a wooden singer. Nice pink trousers on the backing singers though.

19. Evridiki (Cyprus) 2007
Perennial also-rans Cyprus came up trumps in 2007 with this glam-rock meets space-witch combination. The band look suitably uncomfortable in their alternative Placebo style getup and the singer clearly needed ear surgery to complete the evil 'gelfling' look; it's essential the ears stick through the hair.

18. Serebro (Russia) 2007
Russia always understands that sex sells in Eurovision, and hit the nail on the head in 2007 with their three vocalists looking like a combination of Allo Allo style waitresses and naughty nuns. The song is a catchy Britney style romp and the lead singer has an engaging gap-toothed grin. The only drawback is the Jacko style dance routine in the official video, thankfully they didn't attempt it in the actual performance.

17. Sertab Erener (Turkey) 2003
A Eurovision classic and eventual competition winner, but an absolute disaster in betting terms for the Doccortex bank account. I really didn't rate the song, but the performance and the tricky 'cat's cradle' dance routine on the night won over the public a relegated my Spanish selection into obscurity. With hindsight I can appreciate a worthy winner.

16. Mija Martina (Bosnia & Herzegovina) 2003
A proper Kareoke style sing-a-long number from 2003. Bosnia & Herzegovina always turn out competitive entries and this is the pick of the bunch from the last decade. A strange but stylish string frock as well; a treat for fashion fans.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar LP

The debut album from Welsh trio The Joy Formidable is a complex mix of energetic indie and textured layers of guitar, not unlike My Bloody Valentine or the Charlottes. I struggled to engage with it initially, but the combination of Welshness, shouty female vocals and a lovely album cover has eventually won me over.

I was expecting a tighter sound from the three piece, possibly like the Subways, but the Joy Formidable provide a greater depth and soundscaping to all of their tracks. It could all descend into worrying shoe-gazing territory, but singer Ritzy Bryan's voice cuts through the overloaded guitar effects like a squeeze of lemon on a stodgy risotto, or perhaps a smattering of Welsh goat's cheese on a citrus tart. She's clearly a star in the making, with a massive future in the shouty-indie genre.

The best tracks are the straightforward charms of 'Cradle' , the anthemic burst of 'The Magnifying Glass' and best of all the quiet/shouty juxtaposition of 'Chapter 2'. It's proof if nothing else that it's almost impossible not to like any lower league Welsh band and the Joy Formidable have produced an album with so much promise and passion that you can only see them becoming more successful. It won't be to everyone's taste, but I'll recommend it anyway.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A Wilhelm Scream - Ruiner LP

What is it?
Massachusetts combo A Wilhelm Scream almost make 'melodic hardcore' an attractive listening proposition.

Why should you listen?
It's a shame really because there's a lot to like about A Wilhelm Scream when they're in full on, shouty 'King is Dead' mode. However to a greater or lesser extent, they manage to break two of the cardinal sins of rock music in virtually all of their songs. Firstly, there's too much annoying guitar based self indulgent 'noodle-doodling' and secondly, and worse still, they come perilously close to 'sounding like Blink 182.' Drop the 'melodic' from the hardcore and AWS could have been massive. Worth a listen though, just for 'Killing it' and 'The King is Dead.'

What's it like?
It's like a really gorgeous pizza, but they've tried to be too clever with the toppings and added brussel sprouts, beetroot and honey.

What's the best song?
"Killing It" manages to stay out of Blink 182 territory for virtually the whole song.

Who does it sound like?
The good bits sound like Leatherface or Hot Water Music. The rubbish bits sound like Blink 182.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Cairo Knife Fight - The Violence of Action

Pick of the Week 2 - Cairo Knife Fight

New Zealand duo Cairo Knife Fight combine a Queens of the Stone Age vibe with a brutal, gritty video which can only be a good thing. I've got to say I know very little about this combo other than they've supported the Foo Fighters and they comprise just a drummer and a guitarist who share out all the other roles in the band. Other than Level 42, who needs a bassist anyway? If you like cops beating men to a pulp in their y-fronts while it rains you'll love the video. It looks particularly good in HD. Nice bandana and a great shirt too fashion fans!  Another seemingly great band from Australasia apparently ignored in the UK.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Top Ten Songs about Football

Obviously 'Love on the Terraces' by Serious Drinking is my favourite track of all-time, but what about other football related pop cross-overs? Here we present the top ten songs about football from an 'Into the Valley...' perspective, which means some or all the songs will have nothing to do with football, but quite possibly something to do with Doncaster Rovers.

The Undertones - When Saturday Comes

It's somehow reminiscent of 'Paint it Black' and other than the title, appears to have little or nothing to do with football, but I can't listen to it without thinking about match days at Belle Vue and singing it whenever I see the magazine.

Thousand Yard Stare - No Score after Extra Time

Love is just one massive football analogy for baggy also-rans Thousand Yard Stare. Strangely it sounds better now than it did in the 90's and reminds me more of the Bluebells than the Happy Mondays, which is probably a good thing.

The Lightning Seeds - Life of Riley

In the 80's this was the ubiquitous backing music for all the highlights and feature clips shown on Match of the Day. I literally used to dream about the day when Rovers would have a compilation of clips backed by the 'Life of Riley', but sadly it never happened.

Colourbox - The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme

It possibly sounds more like a Dr. Who theme than a World Cup soundtrack but it just brings back so many memories of the 1986 World Cup. I watched it on a black and white TV, in a damp student house listening to Colourbox and it had more atmosphere than the current widescreen 3-D Sky TV experience.

The Fall - Theme from Sparta FC

Who knows what any of the Fall's songs are about let alone this one, but there's an agreeable football-chant-along quality to Sparta FC. It's the first time I've seen the video but it fails to impart any information to make matters any clearer. You've got to love Mark E Smith haven't you?

Barmy Army - Sharp as a Needle

You don't have to be a Liverpool fan to enjoy 'Sharp as a Needle' but I'm guessing not may Manchester United fans have it on their playlists. I personally just love the combination of 'Abide with Me' with the dubby beats and scratchy football samples.

Inspiral Carpets - Song for a Family

In the early 90's this song spoke volumes to me about life, work, family and football. The Inspirals provided unexpected social commentary that few other bands could even dream of. 'His side were two goals down and playing lousy, but he still believes his team were going to win,' more or less sums it up for Rovers fans.

Half Man Half Biscuit - Dukla Prague Away Kit

This basically summarises all my experiences of playing competitive Subbuteo as a child. If you're playing Subbuteo against yourself everything goes swimmingly in my experience, but throw in another person and it generally ends in a fight and broken plastic. I love the line '..and your travelling army of synthetic supporters would be taken away from you and thrown in the bin.'

Serious Drinking - Spirit of '66

You could almost compile a top ten of football related tracks by Serious Drinking, but I'm currently loving the one minute fifty-three seconds of their homage to the '66 world cup squad aimed at encouraging their 1982 equivalents. As with all their songs it's a jaunty little number and was possibly better than the official World Cup anthem. Needless to say it didn't work and we went home as losers without actually losing a game.

Eels - Mr. E's Beautiful Blues

Absolutely nothing to do with football, but it was the music I was listening to on the day of Doncaster Rover's triumphant return to league football in 2003. It just seemed to sum up the whole day, the atmosphere inside the Britannia Stadium and life in general. For that specific moment in time it was the perfect football soundtrack.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Hot Water Music - The New What Next LP

What is it?
Generic hardcore straight out of Gainesville, Florida from streetwise veterans Hot Water Music who are apparently suitably proud of their rhythm section.

Why should you listen?
I have a plan to retire to Florida. It's warm, caters for an aging population and in a novel take on the survival of the fittest, has lots of alligators. Once I'm past my sell by date there will be no hanging around for me, as soon as I can't outpace an alligator I'm out of here, or rather inside the gator. Hot Water Music are sadly nowhere near their sell by date, but with no new material since this LP it's all looking a bit bleak, unless anyone knows differently? This is solid, quality hardcore, but never quite lives up to the billing that 'they once made half an album with Leatherface.' But then again who could?

What's it like?

It's like sandpapering your tonsils in a not altogether unpleasant way.

What's the best song?

"My Little Monkey Wrench" is barnstorming and sounds the least like the Clash of this selection.

Who does it sound like?
The odd rubbish song sounds like the Clash, but if you like the Clash that could be a good thing. The rest sound a little Leatherfacish, which can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Owl Eyes - Faces

Pick of the Week (1) - Owl Eyes

I now have a comprehensive playlist set up on You Tube of promising new artists that I listen to when I'm working rather than the radio. In the first of a new series I'm selecting my current favourite from this playlist each week. I know relatively little about these artists, but they may prove to be the obscure stars of the future. To kick the series off, this is a subtle little offering from Owl Eyes, Australian singer songwriter Brooke Addamo. It looks nothing special and she has no great back catalogue, but I found it stuck in my head for several days and had no idea what it was. Give it a chance; it's actually a cracker in a similar vein to A Fine Frenzy.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Sparta - Wiretap Scars

At The Drive In.

But just the boring ones that you normally skip.

Job done.

Okay, I'll tell you more. I keep having a little look in the CD case to see if there is any Omar and Cedric involvement because it sounds so much like ATDI (I am like so down with the kids and that). But no mention of the hairy fellows. Turns out, from further research that Sparta = ATDI - (Omar + Cedric). That explains it. Why did they decide to copy all of the dull ones then?

This is being a tad harsh because there are a few good tracks on there. They are on the gentler side of things, with 'Echodyne Harmonic' even containing a bit of piano. Oo fancy. The other standout track is 'Catarac' which has a top sing-a-long chorus. More shout-a-long really. These songs perfectly fitted the mood as I drove out of Sheffield on a gorgeous sunny day. Played loud obviously. I mean at a suitable volume, Officer.

Even though Sparta are a pale imitation of ATDI, I can't help quite enjoying this album on the whole. Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age. Now where's that 'Converge' album...


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Serious Drinking - The Revolution Starts at Closing Time

It was about time they put together a comprehensive anthology style CD of Serious Drinking's blistering brand of punk-ska-pop. Regular readers will know I'm a massive fan, with 'Love on the Terraces' recently topping my fifty favourite tracks of all time, so there's no surprise in revealing that I loved this combination of two classic LP's and bonus tracks.

Having said that, there's not much here that you won't have already on vinyl if you're a fan and the sprawling nature of this type of reissue tends to dilute the impact of the standout tracks. But if you are new to the band this is an excellent place to start, while avoiding scouring local charity shops to find the original vinyl versions.

Ignore the frills and bonuses and the compilation provides you with at least ten pieces of timeless quality that perfectly represent the atmosphere in the early eighties. All the big guns are represented with 'Hangover', 'Don't Shoot Me Down' and 'Winter's Over' some of my personal highlights.

And remember parents, next time your daughter takes an away day, she could be going away forever to a land a land of sex and drugs, punk rock and squatting!