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Saturday, 30 November 2013

Leatherface – Minx

The next instalment in my treck through the legendary Leatherface’s back catalogue sees me checking out Minx, the album that follows the point where I stopped listening for real, Mush. Having said that the majority of the tracks feel really familiar due to repeated listens of Live albums at the time and as such, there’s very little that’s completely new to me on Minx.

Even so, it’s a quality album and I’m not sure why I lost enthusiasm after the aforementioned Mush, maybe the perceived critical acclaim and the move to a more commercial sound played a part. This is a standard collection of mid 1990’s era Leatherface. It’s slower, folkier and less immediate. However lyrically, it’s up there with their earlier work as Frankie croons his North Eastern world-view philosophy and most of the time you can hear what he’s saying.

‘Evil that Men Do’ is a chugging anthem, ‘Books’ is a breathless live stalwart and ‘Dustbin Modo’ is a throwback to Cherry Knowle and by far the best of the songs I’m unfamiliar with. Best of all is the more considered ballad (by Leatherface’s standards anyway) ‘Pale Moonlight’ where Frankie laments on the tortures of life and dances with the Devil in the pale moonlight. I’d heard it before, but the up tempo live version never had the impact of the album version in all its folk-core glory.

Not a great album by Leatherface standards, but in 2013 it would be in the top five albums released this year. Give it a listen, you seriously can’t go wrong, then dig out ‘Cheery Knowle’ and ‘Fill Your Boots’.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen

Finding a great album rarely goes to plan. Often you hear a great song only to discover that the album is little more than the great song with nine accompanying b-sides. This is what is known as the ‘Country Pancake Effect’. Occasionally however, things take a smoother course and Plan A works perfectly, and this was definitely the case with Veronica Falls. After hearing ‘The Fountain’ on the Rough Trade Counter Culture Compilation, I rushed to order their latest album with a certain amount of trepidation, fearing the usual disappointment. But lo and behold it’s an absolute cracker. Hurray!

You actually get the feeling that Veronica Falls love what they do. It’s a joyous, uncomplicated indie album combining infectious melodies, intoxicating harmonies and a touch of shoe gazing swagger.  This is C86 style indie-pop but injected with Mamas and Papas feel good factor and is the kind of music you should listen to on an expansive, sun-drenched beach rather than some dingy urban bedsit.

Isn’t Veronica a great name too? There are no horrible Veronicas out there. You just can’t be a nasty person and be called Veronica. And following on from this, Veronica Falls is a great name for a band. They were never going to be rubbish with a name that evokes images of a particularly beautiful waterfalls or perhaps catching a lovely Veronica who has fallen from a ladder. Admittedly, this happens rarely. But I live in hope.

The songs all do the business, with ‘If you still want me’, ‘Shooting Star’ and ‘So Tired’ all extra-specially agreeable. The pick of the bunch is the mesmerising ‘My Heart Beats’; a flagship piece of blissfully harmonic pop music. All I can hope is that the first album is of a similar quality when I get round to listening to it next year. Heartily recommended.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Armin Van Buuren featuring Kerli – Walking on Air

Pick of the Week 44 – Armin Van Buuren

If you fancy a bit of commercial trance then Armin Van Buuren is the go-to guy. I loved his ‘Imagine’ album and this track featuring the vocal talents of Kerli carries on the quality work. It’s a standard issue trance stalwart with spooky vocals and an intriguing video where Alice in Wonderland meets the Ring. If you need a change from all that obscure stuff then look no further.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks

Straight out of Iceland come the pop-folk ensemble Of Monsters and Men. They’re nothing like as harsh as traditional Scandinavian folk combos and infinitely more accessible than their puffin worrying cousin, Bjork, (and I even heard one of their ditties playing over the tannoy at Sainsburys last week). It’s almost an open secret that commercial success is right around the corner for our heroes, but are they worthy of your consideration?

Well it’s fun, fluffy folk with some catchy monster hit singles snuggled away in the album, but it may not hold your attention for too long. The lyrics are a quirky, yet mildly irritating, with the feel of a medieval fairy-tale populated by tree hugging animal cuddlers, and not in a good way. It brings to mind the soundtrack to an Icelandic Manga version of the Moomins with lots of cuddly puffins, but sadly Snufkin isn’t munching them. In short it’s way too wholesome and honey sweet for everyday consumption.

On the other hand, the voice of the brilliantly named Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir is often a thing of awe and wonder. Sitting somewhere between the woman from the Cranberries and the afore mentioned Bjork, she refuses to become bogged down in warbling and sticks thankfully to straightforwardly belting out the songs. Sadly, her male partner provides little of the contrast that Einar once did so perfectly in the Sugarcubes and ends up sounding like a less dynamic version of Mumford and Sons. Which is difficult to achieve and rarely recommended.

The marquee singles are all enjoyable enough with ‘Little Talks’, ‘King and Lionheart’ and ‘Mountain Sound’ all having agreeable singalong potential, but scratch the surface and there’s little strength in depth evident in their song-writing. If you own one of those shops that sells trinkets and dream-catchers then this is a near perfect album, for the rest of us it will probably prove too cutesy, sweet and catchy.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Bright Eyes – Cassadaga 2007

The legendary Conor Oberst presents 2007’s Cassadaga album, and as sure as night follows day, it’s that textbook combination of poetic genius and camp acoustic accompaniment. Deeper and darker than ‘I’m Wide Awake…’ and infinitely more accessible than ‘Digital Ash,’ it strikes the perfect balance between the melodic and obtuse sides of Conor’s musical persona.

All the trademarks are there. The curious yet beautiful introspective lyrics, the alt-country twang of the occasional slide guitar and the off kilter harmonies provided by the studio cleaner, (although she’s improved massively from her input on ‘I’m Wide Awake’). Throw in some new quirks like the Susan’s House style vocal samples, some ethnic wailing and some lovely folky fiddling and you’ve got a monster of an album on your hands.

It takes a few listens, but every song is ultimately a winner. ‘No-one Would Riot for Less’ is straightforward and minimal, ‘Middleman’ is atmospheric old school folk, and ‘Brakeman’ is strangely anthemic and downcast at the same time. Best of all is the fiddle-fest of ‘Four Winds’ which combines a jolly bluegrass tune with lyrics so dark that even Beck would be grudgingly impressed.

It’s virtually impossible not to like this album if you like music this side of the Mars Volta. So if you like your folk music with a smattering of Country and Western and some polished, left of centre lyricism, then Bright Eyes is a perfect fit. All bow down to the King of camp acoustic!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Shrag – More than Mornings


Pick of the Week 43 - Shrag

A second Pick of the Week selection for the excellent Shrag, with this frantic live ditty. The video is remarkable for Helen King’s deranged, angular but peculiarly attractive dancing, and some left of centre keyboard playing straight out of the B52’s out-take album.
Having listened to the latest album ‘Canines’, I’ve got to apologise for likening them to primary school teachers in the Rabbit Kids video. Although I’m sure they’d be excellent in the classroom they are much too talented for Ofsted dodging and should stick to being pop stars. Easily the favourite track of the moment on my Youtube playlist.
'Canines' album review coming soon!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Those Dancing Days – Daydreams and Nightmares


After buying their first and second albums together last year, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to listening to the latter ‘Daydreams and Nightmares’ due to the fact that ‘In their Space Hero Suits’ was distinctly average. But fear not! The second album from Those Dancing Days sees them progress from luke warm promise into a scorching blossoming of talent.

This is a jolly sing-a-long bunch of songs with much better use made of singer Linnea Jönsson’s distinctive voice. It’s a meaty collection with catchy tunes, agreeable melodies and soaring choruses. Ignore the hype, this is nothing like Northern Soul or sixties girl groups and has more in common with the alternative pop of the Flatmates, Sons and Daughters or the Primitives, although it has to be said, with a more soulful vocalist.

The pick of the tracks are the high octane charge of ‘Fuckarias’, the anthem to stalking ‘I know where you live’ and best of all, the carefully crafted pop perfection of ‘Reaching Forward’. Admittedly there’s a few average numbers thrown into the mixer, but the overall its positives by far outweigh the odd smattering of samey-ness.

Sadly the band has been ‘put to bed for a while’. Let’s hope they wake up soon as they were just starting to fulfil their potential.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Members of Mayday – Anthems (2002)

Turn of the century fallout from the acid house generation and Members of Mayday take you back to a time when dance music was still interesting and vibrant. ‘Anthems’ basically does what it says on the tin and presents fourteen anthemic tracks from the underground techno merchants. It’s old school layered techno, flecked with splashes of acid, house and hardcore.

Sadly, I can’t stomach it as a whole listening session in the car. I can enjoy about four songs and then it all starts becoming a little samey. Don’t get me wrong each track works brilliantly mixed up in a shuffled playlist, but as fourteen songs, one after another it just swamps my brain (and that doesn’t take into account the remix disk!). This criticism can be levelled at all but the very best techno albums (take a bow Infected Mushroom), so don’t let that put you off. This is still a quality offering.

Most of the selections would work well as singles with the retro-acid stomp of ‘The Judgement Day,’ the tricky disco-ish ‘Mayday Anthem’ and the surging powerhouse of '10 in 1' all bone fide stonkers. My personal favourite is the truly anthemic ‘Sonic Empire’ which combines submarine sonar type sounds with pulsing repetitive rhythms, and even if you don’t fancy the album give it a listen on Youtube.

An album that brings back happy memories but is just as relevant and enjoyable today. We salute the Members of Mayday. And yes they are German!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Karine Polwart – Traces (2012)

I’d been avoiding listening to the extreme folk charms of Karine Polwart for some time. I had visions of another Fay Hield experience, but I needn’t have worried. This is an altogether gentler and more textured album, more akin to Kate Bush than Steeleye Span. It has a lovely cover and packaging too, which is always a bonus.

Karine has an undeniably great voice which sits somewhere between Cara Dillon and legendary crooner Amie Mcdonald. It’s delicate but powerful and at times even a little quirky. The songs are equally left of centre and nowhere near the stereotypical folk gruellers that I’d envisaged, with a range of atmospheres, instrumentation and lyrical themes. It’s the kind of music you take with you if you’re going to live on your own in a lighthouse for two years in the middle of the ocean.

Every track is a winner in a multifaceted fashion, with layers of subtlety, melody and meaning. My personal favourites are the silky ode to the seventies ‘Cover your eyes’ with its spooky wave sound effects, the twinkling grace of ‘King of Birds’ and the kitchen sink narrative of ‘Salters Road’. Best of all is the dark whispering menace of ‘Tears for Lot’s Wife’ which almost sounds like a lost track from Bush’s spectacular ‘Never Ending Story’, if only it had a couple of croaking frog samples.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience all round. A crafted and polished album from a wholey under-rated artist. Maybe a duet with Amie Mcdonald is in order?