Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Hotpants Romance – It’s A Heatwave

Hotpants No Chance has a decent if rudimentary tune, but three girls shouting over the top like troublesome toddlers is a bit much for me. Sugar Dip works a bit better, it’s still the same scratchy guitars, but the screaming seems more deranged and fits the tune better. The title track works even better still, it’s a virtual sugar rush through a mere 55 seconds. Shake has a cool chugalong tune, the vocals mumbled somewhat which helps. Effin’ + Jeffin’ is another decent one screaming its way by in a blur of fuzzy guitars.
The majority of songs aren’t very long at all, and the whole of this 12-track debut album passes by in just over 17 minutes. While the amateur ramshackle tunes and carefree/careless vocals of tracks like Blow My Fuse (and many of the others for that matter) are fine enough, they prove a tad too grating to my ears. But that’s just me; I can see enough charm in Hotpants Romance to suggest that many people will absolutely love them.

It’s A Heatwave is out now on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records
Hotpants Romance myspace is here

The Loves – The Ex Gurlfriend EP

To start with, let’s get the conceptual element out the way. This is the first of three three-track EPs that The Loves are giving away free, to promote their forthcoming album Three. Why? Well it’s going to be their third album of course.
The title track is slouchy sixties pop with some laid back Duane Eddy guitar bits. It seems too cool to make much of an effort, but pulls off a cracking tune with some cool shimmies and great back up vocals. Johnny Angelo Blues is a sweet swamp blues where The Loves take a trip to the wrong side of the tracks and while not coming back smelling of roses, the trip has been a gas and produced something cool. Around & Around is a weird one after the other two, a half written scuzzy tune and some poor vocals. It does sound like one of the other band members sang this, and because it’s all free we’ll let this one slip by.

The Ex Gurlfriend EP is released by Fortuna Pop on January 12th, when it will be available as a free download from here
The Loves myspace is here

A Camp – Stronger Than Jesus

Stronger Than Jesus is a classy modern show tune in which Nina sashays down the stairs in some grand theatre before bursting into the chorus and breaking hearts and illusions in the process. There’s an odd moment where she tells us that love can “do you like a shotgun” and I’m not entirely sure whether she means this in a good or bad way. Whatever, it’s a beautiful tune full of pomp and circumstance and lots of much needed glamour. Niclas Frisk seems to have managed to harness the sparkle that Nina seemed to have lost in the latter years of the Cardigans and on Stronger Than Jesus he gives her a great platform to shine. This is the lead single of what promises to be a fine second album, called Colonia.

Stronger Than Jesus is released by Reveal Records on January 19th
A Camp myspace is here

And as an added bonus here is the weird yet wonderful video:

Swanton Bombs – Mammoth Skull

The debut EP by East London two piece starts with Shock, which is a weird thing, somewhere between the basic songs of The Research and the shuffly trendy pop of someone like Foals. It’s all juddery choruses and staccato rhythms. Turnstile I like better, mainly because it reminds me of The Spinto Band, chiming piano riffs, and a great sense of melody with some playful vocals. Moth And Moon Song is a big oompah tune, some weird and wonderful backing noises and voices. It’s a woozy waltz through a fairy tale land. After that Vanishing Point is a bit more straight forward, a spiralling tune that descends you into nothingness.

Mammoth Skull is released by Quiff Records on January 19th
Swanton Bombs myspace is here

Monday, 29 December 2008

Casador – The Puritans EP

Ok, it’s an EP in name but the version I have only has two songs on it, the CD version having an extra track. It is a modern view of the story of the sword of Damocles. When I tell you that Alessandro, he who is Casador, is an Argentine living in Italy whose parents moved to Europe to escape political persecution, then you have quite a back story.
Story Of Damocles starts with a buzzing radio, then moves into delicate backing and Alessandro’s gorgeous choral voice, sounding like Sigur Ros in a more relaxed moment. The piano sounds slightly funereal, yet somehow uplifting as it moves the tune along, like fog across a misty moor. Some lovely harmonica comes in towards the end to finish the song on a suitably maudlin note. The Puritans is more straight forward, a brooding pop song almost. Vocally there’s a touch of Colin Meloy this time, but with murk to the edges to keep it special. It’s an odd song, bubbling along not doing too much, but its great in its difference to most tunes out there. The EP is a good introduction to Casador and I’m looking forward to hearing what he does next.

The Puritans EP is self released and out now. You can listen to the tunes at the Casador myspace here and download them for free here

Jive White Boy – Knives That Stab Your Face

Jive White Boy is another solo artist masquerading under a potential band name, this being the chosen name of Brian Senesac from Portland. Jive White Boy’s music could be seen in a similar area to Bon Iver. On the title track that kicks off this album there is jangly backwoods strumming, tinkling percussion, despair ridden vocals, but a general welcoming bonhomie. Lost Sensation seems like an updated Simon & Garfunkel tune, at turns upbeat and down at heel. But mostly it’s the sad tale of loss the draws the biggest comparison with that duo. Slowly has a more gentle country feel to it, shimmering in the fading summer light. The Great Depression has a melancholic feel to it, but if this is the bad times, he provides a great soundtrack to it. Last Summer feels like it was a tumultuous time, the beats kicking the track along like its down and out, some accentuated vocalising sees storm clouds gather. Things We Don’t Talk About reminds you a bit of the intricate meddling of Sufjan Stevens, with a tune that sounds delightful but hides much more. 2031 is probably even more like the man, and maintains a somewhat medieval feel, sounding something like an old traditional folk tune. From the press release it appears that Brian believes the last track’s title to be the year of his death, and thus the album ends on a downbeat yet complex note.

Knives That Stab Your Face is self released and out now. Buy it from CD Baby
Jive White Boy myspace is here

The Endless Bummer – Donald Fagen Mixtape

The singer sings in a voice somewhere between Jeff Lewis and Kermit and the EP is kind of endearing despite this. In a similar way to Lewis the lyrics are more important than the tune, which on Baseball In China seems to be merely a keyboard demo and a drum machine. The chorus, which is just the title repeated over and over, works pretty well with this kind of minimalist music. Boring But Beautiful follows a similar format, but is sweet enough to get away with it. Herman Dune would be another worthy comparison to The Endless Bummer’s tunes. Rio Grande Sandbar, 2001 is somewhat barbershop while Mend My Bleeding Heart skips along like a lovelorn teen, and has the charm of someone like Jens Lekman.

Donald Fagen Mixtape is out now on Wee Pop!
The Endless Bummer myspace is here

Little My – Little My’s Seventh

Little My do that kind of rickety indie pop, exceedingly twee, with whimsical vocals, high glock content, recorders, etc. In the wrong hands this can sound cloying and irritating, but not in the experienced hands of Little My. Even when they’re singing about having someone Sellotape My Hands, as they do on the lead track its exceedingly cute and adorable. And yes, all the above elements are present and correct on this track. Forever (Not) Yours has a wobbly keyboard line that makes you feel seasick, while the male and female vocalists converse with each other. Leaves Nothing is a shy shuffling in the corner creature, while Guess Who is an extremely twee Los Campesinos! This is available on a blue vinyl 7” that comes in the cover above or a 3” CDR, which comes in a blue cover replete with a different card from the Guess Who game.

Little My’s Seventh is out now on Wee Pop!
Little My myspace is here

Ray Brower – Aye Aye Clich

Ray is not one person, but four, and this is their debut EP. She Make Me She Do is squalling garage rock; you can practically hear the band throwing themselves around the studio while they were recording this. Drums build in the bridge before they throw themselves back into it. Musically its nothing grand, but it has all the passion it needs and then some. CVF drops some depth charge keyboard noises, a sludgy guitar line and some desperation vocals, it explodes now and again, but isn’t a patch on the lead track. Come To My Disco is similarly crazed and shonky, as is Stuck Between Rock N Roll. Both are mercifully brief, just how garage rock should be for maximum effect.

Aye Aye Clich is out now on Wet Nurse
Ray Brower website is here

Various – The Matinee Hit Parade

Released to celebrate ten years of Matinee, this collection merely serves to underline what a strong roster that Matinee Recordings have, virtually no squad players in a team of this quality. It’s difficult to pick anything out of such greatness, but at a push I’d go for Would-Be-Goods sumptuous Temporary Best Friend and the near perfect pop of The Lucksmiths Good Light. But then there’s the delicate and deliberated My Only Inspiration by The Electric Pop Group, which is pretty great too, as is Clay Hips china like Failure. Anyway, you can see my problem. Even the bands I haven’t got round to mentioning are still good, its just they face stiff competition. Then you get The Hermit Crabs doing their delightful girl led thing with Sophia, The Guild League showing off the wonderfully woozy Call To Prayer, Strawberry Whiplash who fuzz it up with Summershine and The Pines, whose Train To Wycombe is like hearing choral singing on a sunny afternoon. Magnificent stuff.

The Matinee Hit Parade is out now on Matinee Recordings

The Hermit Crabs – Saw You Dancing

Here comes more Scottish indie pop courtesy of Matinee Recordings, the time in the form of the debut album from The Hermit Crabs. I can’t quite work out what to make of Melanie Whittle’s voice. It’s twee, but more than a little cloying. However there are moments, such as on Goodbye My Friend, when it sounds absolutely beautiful. A real marmite voice, but in this case I’m the one who loves it and hates it at the same time. There’s a moment in opening track Tonight when some discordant strings matches it for fingers down the blackboard nausea. But then on the aforementioned Goodbye My Friend, the gorgeous backing vocals set it off delightfully. Closet Fan is gentle and affecting, but doesn’t have the cutting edge it probably needs. It’s damn close though. On Lean, Free Summer you start to get the impression that it’s the whimsical lightweight tunes that the band does better. Bad Timing is an interesting oddity, a slight Mexican feel to the tune. After that’s its back to the tuneful whimsy, with a couple of the album’s better tunes, Friend’s Folk Festival and Feel Good Factor. A decent start and ones to watch.

Saw You Dancing is out now on Matinee Recordings
The Hermit Crabs myspace page is here

Strawberry Whiplash – Who’s In Your Dreams EP

The title track has the requisite fuzz, slouching and dragging its heels while female vocals try gamely to inject some life into the tune. It’s indie pop by numbers, without the feeling. The vocals are a tad grating too. On the whole it’s an inauspicious start to the debut EP from Glasgow’s Strawberry Whiplash. It Rains On Other Planets is better, but still a rather flimsy effort. If you like your pop very twee with seemingly affected vocals, you’ll like this. And there’s nowt wrong with that at all. Promise is shown too as the songs keep on getting better as we progress through the EP, with My Day Today and Factory Girl reminding me of Heavenly, which is some sweet pop indeed.

Who's In Your Dreams EP is out now on Matinee Recordings
Strawberry Whiplash myspace is here

Would-Be-Goods – Eventyr

Eventyr means fairytales or adventures and is also the fifth album from Would-Be-Goods. Jessica Griffin has an arty, cool as anything voice, and shows it off delightfully on lead track Sad Stories, a headrush of indie pop. It has elements of Nico to it, in this case if she was reborn as a C86 pop idol. The Ghost Of Mr Minton exists as if it was in a supper club in Victorian Britain, mysterious and beguiling. In Bohemia reminds you of Stereolab at their most upbeat while The Girl At Number 7 is a brief classic girl lead indie, a bit like Heavenly. Venusberg is well matured pop, effortless and with a Gallic tinge and Melusine carries on in a similar vein. Again we find that Heart of Tin, with its minimal guitar backing and aloof icy vocals, is very much a softer Velvet Underground and Nico. Pleasure Island has a Johnny Cash rattling rhythm, but also a delightfully driven pop bent that cannot be denied. Baby Romaine is another example of carefully laid back continental cool pop, Jessica’s icy vocals topping it off nicely. Enemies Of Promise has medieval sounding keys, but is still the same great studied pop before the album ties things up by going through the motions with A Professor Momtchiloff Mystery. Despite the disappointing ending, it’s still a rather fine album.

Eventyr is out now on Matinee Recordings
Would-Be-Goods myspace page is here

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Bubblegum Lemonade – Doubleplusgood

Next up we have the debut album from Scotland’s Bubblegum Lemonade, the home to delightful indie pop for some time.
On lead track A Billion Heartbeats, imagine the impossible cool of the Mary Chain, with surfing keys and a delightfully lolloping fuzz pop tune and you’re somewhere close. Then you have Beautiful Friends, which shimmies and throws its fringe around. The majority of the songs are two minutes something long, which seems a perfect length for a band dispensing carefully crafted bubblegum pop with ease. There’s a great instrumental break on Tired Of Sleeping, which is otherwise a fine jangle pop tune. Last Time I Saw Andrew is like a fuzzy hangover feeling, disorientating but somehow sweet. The realisation dawns on Penny Fountain that there is a certain similarity to the bands songs. Some are straight pop songs, other a little rough around the edges, but ultimately they’re all pretty great tunes. Because of this you find they’re a band that can get away with writing a whole album of similar songs, but due to the high quality control it’s immensely listenable.

Doubleplusgood is out now on Matinee Recordings
Bubblegum Lemonade myspace is here

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Lucksmiths – Spring A Leak

The Lucksmiths are one of those bands that, aside from numerous albums, scatter their catalogue far and wide across b-sides, sessions, demos and compilation albums. Add to that covers and remixes and there’s a mighty amount of stuff for your completist to get hold of. Handily this is the third of such compilations, 45 songs spread across two CDs.
It’s amazing some of the stuff on here. Take Point Being for instance, a sumptuous pop song cast away on a b-side. The live radio version of Synchronised Sinking reveals a much feistier side to the band as they rattle through the song, like The Go-Betweens with fire in their belly. Another live radio session song stands out, The Year Of Driving Languorously, this time showing the acoustic beauty of their songs. The songs on the whole sound fairly simply structured, but they all have such wonderful melodies and hooks it’s impossible to resist. Sometimes simplicity is best, and provides all you need. You have got to love the gorgeous cover of The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, sung as a duet with Karen Morcombe, something that gives it a nice edge. Macintyre shakes and rolls, a definite fifties rock n roll influence present. The solemn The Winter Proper makes you shiver with sadness, while Get Well Now is similarly downbeat and sympathetically solemn. The twinkly Deep Sea Diving Suit is another great cover, this time of a Magnetic Fields tune. Punchlines has a little bitter bile in the vocals and a rockier tune than usual, barrelling through. The Hydroplane remix of I Prefer The Twentieth Century is ace, the hollow drums providing the backline, further industrial noises come from a buzzing synth, making the song unlike anything else the band has done. The live version of Smokers In Love is a rattling good number.
From Macauley Station starts the second disc, a plaintive yearning to get away from the place. It’s followed up by a downbeat version of The Bee Gees song I Started A Joke. How To Tie A Tie shakes and has weird echoes that make it sound like Joe Meek got hold of a sixties girl group. That this was remixed by Pipas should explain its idiosyncrasy. Rue Something is a little waltz like, while Off With His Cardigan shows the bare bones of what they’re about, a great pop tune stripped back to its skeleton. Up is a jaggedy, jangle fest, sprightly and lively and Boat is an end of history comedown blues. The cover of Dolly by The Sugargliders chugs along with Wedding Present third album harshness. The remix of Transpontine by Andrew Kaffer starts with backwards slips in time, before releasing a segment of the song, which the weirdness then tries to drag back under, succeeding eventually in the ghostly static.
This compilation is a long old ride, but one full of many treasures, so worth taking.

Spring A Leak is out now on Matinee Recordings
The Lucksmiths myspace is here

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Northern Portrait – Napoleon Sweetheart EP

Copenhagen’s Northern Portrait release their second EP, and it’s an absolute classic. Lead track I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me reminds me of delightful forgotten gems, like The Man From Delmonte and Trashcan Sinatras. It’s in the shimmery, sparkling guitars and the way the singer half croons, his voice equal parts optimism and sadness. The perfect pop of this, the lead track is another cause for a delve into the deepest recesses of my indie pop memory. A gorgeous start. Sporting A Scar shows a more reflective side, it’s coy and self-effacing, but is still rather beautiful. In An Empty Hotel brings to mind the Morrissey croon and Marr gentle jangling, or even a restrained Jake Shillingford from My Life Story. Our Lambrusco Days is pared down to just voice and delightfully jangling guitar, which proves just as effective as the full band. It’s a really superb EP, especially for only their second release.

Napoleon Sweetheart EP is out now on Matinee Recordings
The Northern Portrait myspace is here

Math And Physics Club – Baby I’m Yours EP

This is the latest EP from Seattle’s Math And Physics Club, a band who have many more Anglo influences than ones from their home town. The singer has a lovely laid back way of singing, and the title track is a delightfully crafted little indie pop song. By the time you get to Nothing Really Happened you realise how crisp and tightly defined their songs are, they have a well rounded tunefulness like the Lucksmiths. In This Together is probably the best tune; some sighing strings feature, there is a gentle tune and some fantastic ba-ba-bas. Do You Keep A Diary is a lovely moment which you’ll want to take home with you, as you should this gorgeous EP.

The Baby I'm Yours EP is out now on Matinee Recordings
Math And Physics Club myspace is here

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Various Artists – A Very Cherry Christmas vol. 4

I must start this review by offering up the fact that I’ve deliberately shied away from Christmas songs in recent years. After the first of these Cherryade compilations came out there seems to have been an increasing deluge of Christmas songs every year, all writing about a season I don’t much care for. So rather than a critical analysis of every track, I’ll point out the things I most like about this, because my viewpoint on the others may be somewhat jaded.
Hallelujah Carol by Fever Fever is suitably ramshackle and falling apart at the seams while Very Most’s Christmas Came November 4th is very twee, but nicely festive with bells and sweet female backing vocals The same goes for Little My’s Xmas Song, replete with recorders, bells and glockenspiels. For a change of tack Tyrannosaurus Rex For Christmas by The Lovely Eggs is a repetitious, droning nursery rhyme concerning having dinosaurs round at Christmas. Perfect Christmas Snow by The Gresham Flyers is a lovely crooned number, understated yet dramatic in a manner similar to Richard Hawley and Santa de la Crux by The Bobby McGee’s is their usual idiosyncratic self, telling odd Christmas related tales over a whimsical tune. Ste McCabe pulls Christmas apart on Christmas Time For Sanctimonious Swine while The Seven Inches’s 12 Days Of Christmas sounds like it was recorded on a drunken Christmas Day post the Queen’s speech, which is a good thing indeed. Alarm Bells by Detox Cute & The Beauty Junkies has all the beauty of a crystal clear St Etienne while Shout For Trout by the Fountain is a doomy computer game driven tune.
Which is quite a list when you look at it and it seems I have been proved wrong. Again.

A Very Cherry Christmas vol. 4 is out now on Cherryade Records

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Mistys Big Adventure / Flipron - Oxford Academy - 14.11.08

Make no bones about it; this isn’t the coolest ticket in town tonight by a long shot. That would probably go to the show downstairs featuring Mercury Rev and Howling Bells. One upside of this is that because nobody is bothered by cool, there is a ridiculous amount of unashamed fun to be had tonight.
Take Flipron for instance. They have a bass player that looks like a cross between Herman Munster and Mick Fleetwood, a short ass singer with Marty Feldman eyes and silver shoes, and music that could easily be described as Borderville for The Levellers set but they are great.
Mistys Big Adventure work on similar principals, so make good touring mates. Firstly there are eight of them crammed on stage, including a dancer, more of whom later, and some great brass. Grandmaster Gareth, a curious looking man in fisherman’s cap and full beard conducts proceedings.
They kick off with an instrumental that’s an odd cross between calypso and an old kids TV show theme tune. Following that they launch straight into I Can’t Bring The Time Back, which marks the appearance of Erotic Volvo, which is a man in blue face paint and a red cloak with inflated blue hands attached to it, who will lead us in the dancing. This is a key element tonight; the audience ready to let go and eager to copy his dance movements or to chase him round the floor when he jumps into the crowd. The brass is another key thing, used sparingly and intermittently, sometimes in a call and response fashion. Gareth’s laconic vocals remind you of an understated Eddie Argos from Art Brut, his storytelling style offsets the music perfectly.
This fantastic show by both bands is a result of laughing in the face of adversity, as the promoter had run off with all the money, causing half the tour to be cancelled. They say out of these moments come great art, but now it appears the birth great dumb fun also.

This review was originally published in the December issue of Nightshift. Download the magazine here

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The Electric Pop Group – Sunrise EP

Sweden’s The Electric Pop Group make their debut on Matinee, two years down the line from their debut album.
I Could See The Lights is very jangly, sun kissed pop, which barely lifts from its slumbers during its duration. This Is The Town is similar sounding, the singer sounding pretty tired and non-emotional. Moving on to Summer’s Day it flags up the problem with this EP. For all its crystalline beauty, it is all too similar to the other tracks. It’s bearable over the course of a four track EP, but would be a whole different kettle of fish over an album’s length.

Sunrise EP is out now on Matinee Recordings
The Electric Pop Group myspace is here

Bubblegum Lemonade – Susan’s In The Sky EP

The delightful warmth of fuzz pedal and slight feedback welcome you into the title track of this, the second EP from Scottish youngsters Bubblegum Lemonade. You can practically hear the swaying of foppish haircuts on this surf pop gem. Surfin USB is even more gentle and laid back, strolling along in an effortlessly cool way. Just Like You is the best yet, buzzing along delightfully as does the final track, and Big Star cover, Holocaust. They may not have many strings to their bow, but they use them rather well.

Susan’s In The Sky EP is out now on Matinee Recordings
Bubblegum Lemonade myspace is here.

Katie Malco – Four Goodbyes

Katie has a very good, country styled voice and some good songs, but it’s not really enough to carve a niche for her in today’s market. I’m sure that supported by the push of a big label she would succeed, but on a small label such a Skyeyesea Records she’s probably doomed to fail. It’s not their fault or hers, just indicative of the sad state of the music industry nowadays.
Still, the music doesn’t grab you as something that demands to be heard, so maybe she is as much to blame, and is kind of unlucky with the breaks. As long as she’s happy with writing good songs for a passionate but small audience, she’ll be fine. As she should be.

Four Goodbyes is released on 15th December on Skyeyesea Records
Katie Malco's myspace is here

Dax - Overnight Sensation

The third album from Southern Indiana’s Dax arrives five years after his last, in which time he has been off fronting metal band De-Hydrated.
Dax has a strange voice, somewhere between American hillbilly and Scandinavian eccentric. Therefore opening track Thirty Something sounds something like a cultured version of Kings of Leon doing soft metal. Man Overboard seemingly wants to rock the fuck out, but holds back and settles for some relaxed southern rocking. Where I Belong seems to find its level, Dax’s gentle growl giving the song a warmth befitting of its nature while The Deep End continues from the point Where I Belong left off, and is very similar in nature to the preceding song. The Painter is more melancholy and works much better but Memorize My Love is a horrid MOR ballad and Breakfast at Teffany’s is a cliché ridden southern rocker. It then carries on downhill with I Remember being a big old knackered belter although Much To My Chagrin is a bit better with some nice organ features, but the vocals seem to be trying a tad too hard. The final track Closer is another cliché ridden boogie.

Overnight Sensation is released on December 16th on Haight Rite Records
The Dax myspace is here

Witches - EP

Oxford’s Witches put out an EP to tide people over as they wait for their second album, which is currently being recorded. Some of these tracks may appear on that album, some may not. And those that do may be in a re-worked form, so its worth trying to get hold of this EP.
There’s A Darkness has some beautifully beguiling vocals set over some maudlin wassailing music, there are some spectral moments and steady drums and sawing strings. After a solemn start Stammer kicks things into life, Dave finds he’s struggling to keep up with the rattling tune, which feels incredibly disorientating thanks to some electronics and keyboard trickery. Leave has plenty of gloomy portent, the dark moments being offset by a shivering quiet spell, before it kicks back in with a burst of the ever vital trumpet. Church Beds finds some medieval sounding music providing the bed for some suitably despairing sounding vocals building to a grandiose church organ solo and finally we have B O K, which is quite different, double tracked vocals and lots of minimal electronics featuring heavily in the tune, which at points becomes almost industrial.

The EP is out now, but appears to have been just a giveaway at a gig. However you can listen to it here
Witches website is here