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Friday, 28 February 2014

Rough Trade – Counter Culture 09 Compilation

2009 must have been a great year. I can’t say I remember it being a standout year for great popular music, but if Counter Culture 09 is anything to go by, it will take some beating by the other 99 Counter Cultures this century. It’s a definite return to form for the series and the highlights are as follows:

Nacho Patrol – Africa Space Program
How could I not like this? It’s bleepy techno meets ethnic tooting, with a quirky keyboard thrown in for good measure.

Terry Lyn – Kingstonlogic
Against my better judgement, I love this slug of base heavy, urban booty shaking mayhem. Works in tandem perfectly with…

Tiga – ‘Shoes’ which is disturbing on so many levels!

Bob Parks – Spiritual
Vocoders, Christianity and white rapping are not common bed fellows, but in the case of ‘Spirtual’ they seem to work seamlessly to produce this engaging piece of sonic lunacy.

The XX – Basic Space
Never heard the XX before, but this is a surprisingly mellow and engaging piece of indie pop.

Pissed Jeans – Human Upskirt
Gloriously shouty hardcore tear-up that Evlkeith would appreciate.

Crocodiles – I wanna kill tonight
Sounding like Automatic-era Jesus and Mary Chain meets the Teardrop Explodes , this is a singalong throwback to simpler times.

The Soft Pack – Answer to Yourself
Reminds me of Hot Snakes – does it need any more recommendation?

Cate le Bon – Sad Sad Feet
Where has Cate le Bon been all my life? Sounding exactly like Nico from the Velvet Underground on a good day, this is a soulful and mournful classic.

And best of all…Emmy the Great’s ‘Almost Had a Baby’ – just for the way she pronounces ‘called’ in this semi-alt-country tale of kitchen sink shenanigans.

There’s plenty more positives and this is possibly my favourite compilation in the whole series. Highly recommended.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Wolfgangs – Cannibal Family

Pick of the Week 48 – The Wolfgangs

And one step up the pychobilly evolutionary ladder from last week’s offering, is the excellent Wolfgangs. Slick, professional and a truly great song. All the video conventions are adhered to rigidly; the homage to horror, males strutting  and over acting, the fifties style microphone, and what on earth is that howl? Joking aside, a barnstorming song and a fantastic performance. And they’ve played in Doncaster recently so they can’t be half bad.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Amelie Soundtrack – Yann Tiersen

Everyone knows that movie soundtracks are usually over-rated and ultimately disappointing outside the context of their movie. I like very few, but bizarrely Yann Tiersen’s Amelie soundtrack is perhaps one of the best. It’s years since I watched the film, but this collection of largely instrumental music has a life, vibrancy and atmosphere all of its own. It’s like a slow walk through a melancholy, rural France, but not in a Switchblade Romance scenario. It would possibly be better suited as the soundtrack to Rick Stein’s cookery show when he sailed across France on that barge. Or maybe not.

This is classically tinged French quirkiness. There’s pianos aplenty, ubiquitous accordions and the odd mandolin, all arranged in plinky-plonky, wind up jewelly box tunes or romaine fairground jigs. It’s a heady combination of frenchness, jollity and something more emotive. There’s a tangible sense that when you play these songs that you are transported to another world; a world of deserted French beaches and sad seaside towns but tantalisingly of our own introspection.

The sum of the tracks is definitely greater than their individual contributions, but worthy of a mention are the morose ‘La Valse d’Amelie’, the atmospheric ‘Le Moulin’ and the timeless charms of Al Bowlly’s ‘Guilty’. Best of all however, is the beautiful piano driven ballad ‘Comptine d’un Autre Ete’, better known as the soundtrack to the short film ‘The Piano’, the track again benefits from being given an identity in its own right.

If you sometimes find yourself dreaming of drifting across France in romanie caravan, meandering from village to village, eating croissants, drinking local red wine and chatting up Madam Marsaud, then this is the ideal soundtrack for your slumbers. If, on the other hand, you are actually a Roma traveller in France at the moment, then I doubt this is an adequate soundtrack for your predicament; I suggest Rage Against the Machine instead.   

Monday, 17 February 2014

Infected Mushroom – Army of Mushrooms

Is there a better feeling in the world than furtively opening a brand new Infected Mushroom album and inserting it into the car stereo? Army of Mushrooms has a great cover, twelve mouth watering tracks to look forward to, and the first minute of the opening track is as good as anything they’ve ever produced. As I drive towards the south coast listening for the first time, what could possibly go wrong?

Well everything really! Believe it or not, after the first one minute the whole album disappears up its own backside. It basically descends into self indulgent, electronic noodle-doodling and faffing about of the highest order. Every track contains the obligatory show-offy extended breakdown, a complete lack of song structure and more big/breakbeat, choppy/changey meandering. In short it’s rubbish and it honestly pains me to say that about a Mushroom’s album. I’m reliably informed that the musical style of the album is akin to ‘dubstep’, which the kids are particularly fond of these days. Dubstep seems to combine my three least favourite things; showing off, noodle doodling and boredom, and as such it should be banned.

And do you know who I blame for this constant need for bands to change and try new ventures? David Bowie! Bowie is entirely responsible for the commonly held belief that to survive in the music business an artist must constantly reinvent themselves musically and revamp their image. For him this just meant wearing a new fancy dress costume like a clown or an alien suit, but for the Mushrooms it led to a complete change of musical direction and ultimately down the dead end street that is dubstep. Bowie is also responsible for Madonna, Lady Gaga and to a certain extent Elton John. Need I go on?

There are very few positives other than the first minute of ‘Never Mind’ which is pure perfection. A few other tracks have promising intros, but it’s always a false dawn as they descend into a formulaic muso-noodle-fest. Unbelievable I know, but best avoided!

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Silver Shine – Angels to Some

Pick of the Week 47 – The Silver Shine

Scandinvian psychobilly is a frightening thought, but actuality it’s a fun-packed romp with a distinctly homemade but nevertheless charming quality. If the Sugarcubes had been into Rockabilly, this is what it would have sounded like. Well possibly. No-one can fault the Silver Shine’s effort and in keeping with most psychobilly videos the woman smiles pleasantly while the guys seriously over act.

I'm not sure why I like it so much but maybe the lack of pretentiousness and the fact they don't take themselves too seriously has something to do with it. Not sure about the naked guy with the chainsaw in the video though?

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Caroline Herring – Camilla

Possibly the most obscure album I’ve listened to this year, but undeniably one of the best. Soaked in the imagery of the southern states of the USA, this is an intoxicating mix of Country and Folk music served in punch bowl of life’s injustice. It’s summer in the Black Mountains and the fireflies flit in the warm breeze as life around the delta is dissected in these richly textured songs. It covers the themes of race, equal opportunities and the plight of working people in Herring’s homeland. It’s a thing of beauty; combining the history, music and poetry of the region. 

The atmosphere is similar to that evoked by Nina Simone; these are summer anthems laced with the menace of reality. It’s tinted with darkness, but still resonates hope and a love of life. Lyrically complex and challenging, the album maintains its immediacy and is instantly accessible to folk, country and pop fans alike. It’s a collection to relish as Herring combines this tangible sense of history with modern references and beautiful melodies.

If I had to pick my favourite tracks I’d go for the bluegrass tinged narrative of ‘Fireflies’, the laid back chill factor of ‘Black Mountain Lullaby’ and the medieval throwback of ‘Flee as a Bird.’ Possibly the standout however is ‘Maiden Voyage’; good old fashioned folk with a story, cultural references and a singalong chorus. You just can’t beat it.

This is a joyous little gem of an album. It’s unusual and quirky, but accessible and loveable. Highly recommended and I can’t wait to sample some of her other albums.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Shrag – Canines

 Shrag are the Brighton based heirs to the twee indie pop crown vacated by Amelia Fletcher once she abdicated from Heavenly. It’s the sound of Sarah Records in the 21st Century if that were possible. Having said that, it’s a more brittle sound. It’s moderately shouty, lyrically complex and occasionally political. It’s deceptively complex music with an undercurrent of angst which is never a bad thing.

The influences are proudly worn of Shrag’s collective sleeves. It’s the shouty indie pop of Huggy Bear, it’s the lo-fi old school sound of the Shop Assistants and at times it’s the offbeat harmonies of the B52’s. Throw in some Julian Cope, some Belle & Sebastian, some Joyce Mckinney, some Yeah Yeah Noh, some Lush and maybe just a dash of Altered Images, and you’re in the ballpark.

 And then we come to the voice of singer Helen King. It’s distinctive in a way that combines the sonic equivalent of heather honey with someone scraping their nails down a blackboard. It’s the ultimate sweet and sour experience, akin only to chewing Kendal mint cake and unsoaked salt cod at the same time. She also has the alluring look of a demented pixie which is never a bad thing, or perhaps an attractive version of Raggety from Rupert Bear. She certainly dances like Raggety anyway.

The songs are all crackers. ‘Tears of a Landlord’ is a brooding blast at property tycoons, ‘Show us your Canines’ is agit pop at its best and ‘Tendons in the Night’ almost harks back to Rip, Rig and Panic. The pick of the bunch is ‘On the Spines of Old Cathedrals’ where vocals melt into an unctuous chutney of sweet plums and caustic gooseberries. Gorgeous!

It’s my first Shrag album, but definitely not the last. A surprising little treat of an album which certainly shows us it’s canines.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Noisuf-X – Everyone Here is Mad

Pick of the Week 46 – Noisuf X

If you’ve ever fancied a bit of Cyber-Goth dance action, and let’s face it, who hasn’t? Then the best entry level experience is possibly any track by Noisuf-X. It’s got the trademark industrial meets techno backing track, quirky sampled vocals and insane cackling in the style of Joker from Batman. However be careful, some of their other songs are a little racy, and if you find yourself wearing day-glo ribbons about your person, goggles and an industrial gas mask, then you’ve probably gone too far. 

How you'll look if you've gone too far.