Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Melting Ice Caps – Permissible Permutations

The debut album from The Melting Ice Caps is a delight; chock full of wonderfully crafted songs and beautiful singing. It’s the kind of thing that people often describe as being terribly English, when really its just what happens when someone savours singing every word and takes great care when writing every word and crafting melodies. This confusion is perhaps best shown by the Divine Comedy who are often thought of this way, despite the main and only man being Irish, but qualifying for the latter qualities.
It kicks off with a brief title track, a minute in which space is plenty, but a lot is packed in. He’s a hopeless romantic. He being David, the main man and centrepiece of the band. The romance is not just in beauty, but in the everyday, in the downbeat and downtrodden.
With Ghost Writer a disco beat arrives and I’m reminded of the Pet Shop Boys. Often I hear hints of The Associates in the music too. David doesn’t soar like Billy Mackenzie used to, but he has that delicious arch quality.
The pinnacle of the album is the nigh on perfect pop song that is Indian Summer. As well as the joy of summer it has the hope of Spring and warmth of Autumn. Closer Medical Advice is fun, and reminds me of Marc Almond doing his Jacques Brel thing.

Find the Melting Ice Caps website here, which also tells you where you can buy it.

Sunday, 3 June 2012


Well, here's the reason for the lack of updates. I've been spending my time on my debut novel and it has now been published. I wrote the first draft for NaNoWriMo 2008 and it was then shelved for a couple of years, before further work was done to bring it to its finished state. The back cover blurb reads thus:

“Did you know desire's a terrible thing
It makes the world go blind
But if desire, desire's a terrible thing
You know that I really don't mind”. 

Danny didn’t particularly have The Sundays ‘Can’t Be Sure’ in mind when he was thinking up the soundtrack to his Australian trip. It was about as quaint and English as you could get. Yet his sun-kissed playlist faded into the background after his chance encounter with a desired record. From then on in Harriet Wheeler’s vocals ran round his head with increasing regularity as he tried to fend off all manner of petty thieves, corrupt bank managers and disgruntled ex members of the group that made the record in his attempts to hold on to his holy grail. And with a DJ and journalist as his only allies, the odds were stacked against him. As they careered through Sydney and its suburbs and the casualties piled up his seemingly mundane life took on an excitement he could never have expected.

Which hopefully should give you a good idea of what it's about. We've managed to keep the price down to a fiver, so hopefully some of you will find it worth a try at that price. Click here if you'd like to buy it:

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Buy Nothing Year update 1

With the new project two days in and having survived the first day of shopping today, I thought it might be interesting to keep a log of what I have been listening to with the new free time.

Yesterday Blur's Leisure and Girls and Boys single got a spin. It's remarkable how well Leisure has held up, and it shows a youthful zest and spark. Even then, amongst the singles There's No Other Way and Bang, there experimental side was there in places.

This was followed up by Phosphorescent's Here's To Taking It Easy, a lush new addition purchased from Rise in Swindon at the tale end of 2011.

Next came Cud's Elvis Belt, a b-sides collection from back in the day. Cud are none more indie, but those who let this put them off are missing a treat. The covers of Urban Spaceman and Lola are throwaway at best, but Slack Time, Only (A Prawn In Whitby) and I've Had It With Blondes are northern disjointed indie pop classics.

Finally something newer in the form of Veronica Falls 5 Demos EP, some cracking little arch pop tunes.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Best of 2011

I normally can't be bothered with end of year lists, but I've finally done one, which is mainly for my brother's benefit, but here for the world to see. Here's my Top 13 albums of 2011. This may be the only list to not include PJ Harvey, but that's only because I haven't heard it and have no real interest in doing so.

1. Half Man Half Biscuit - 90 Bisodol (Crimond)
2. Luke Haines - 9 and a half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling in the 1970s and early 80s
3. Frankie & The Heartstrings - Hunger
4. Jonny - Jonny
5. Summer Camp - Welcome To Condale
6. Yuck - Yuck
7. The Lovely Eggs - Cob Dominoes
8. Billy Bragg - Fight Songs
9. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
10. Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo
11. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat - Everything's Getting Older
12. The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh
13. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Buy Nothing Year

I have decided to set myself a challenge for 2012, which is called Buy Nothing Year. Now obviously the thought of buying nothing at all is crazy, but the idea is to not buy any new (to me, as opposed to new releases) CDs, books or DVDs in the year.

Over Christmas I have been looking at a carrier bag full of CDs to be listened to, one whose contents have fluctuated over the year, but has stayed at pretty much the same level. And unless I address this, I’ll always be playing catch up. Some albums deserve to be listened to repeated times, and some take a few listens to fully appreciate them. Hopefully doing this will free up time to enjoy the albums I already have more. It’s also one of the reasons I have virtually stopped doing reviews and gigs for now, as I was wading through so much new music and so much of it was pretty awful. Listening to eight submissions takes up the time I could have listened to a good album. On top of this, there is similar pile of books and a smaller pile of DVDs that need attention too.

The other reason for doing this is the lack of space in the house to put more and more stuff.

I’ve no doubt I’ll find this difficult, but it’ll be an interesting experiment. The main difficulty will not be stopping buying new stuff, but avoiding record fairs and charity shops.

This has been partly inspired by the following:

The National Pop Strike

Buy Nothing Day

No Music Day

And this article here makes interesting reading in conjunction with this challenge.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Richmond Fontaine – Bullingdon Arms, Oxford 16/09/11

Empty Room Promotions have served up quite a treat tonight, bringing Portland, Oregon’s Richmond Fontaine to the back room of the Bully. They are here principally to promote their tenth studio album, The High Country, an album that on first listen seemed disappointing, but on repeated plays turns out to sneak up on you and be their best ever. This is quite an achievement for a band on their tenth album, more so when you realise it is more than a concept piece, rather a short story cut up and set to music. The album is set amongst the logging community in small town Oregon, and tells the tale of a secret love between the counter girl of an auto parts store and a mechanic. The weirdos of the community terrorise the young couple and their innocent ways. That this type of album should work so well will be no surprise to anyone familiar with their back catalogue, or indeed singer Willy Vlautin’s three novels.

Willy announces at the beginning that they are going to play the album in full, followed by a brief selection of their back catalogue. It helps that there is an audience of Uncut readers present to allow them to do such things. Deborah Kelley of The Damnations is here to reprise her vocals from the album, and to provide extra instrumentation. She seizes the initiative immediately, with her affecting spoken word opening piece, Inventory. The band run with this, on the haunting instrumental The Girl On The Logging Road and then launch into the gently ferocious The Chainsaw Sea. Angus King Tries To Leave The House swirls and kicks like a toy boat in high winds, disorientating wildly. They even pull off Driving Back To The Chainsaw Sea, the sound of a radio between retuned between awful country stations.

After a short break for beer, the band returns for a run through past favourites. In some aspects this merely accentuates the giant leap the band have made with The High Country, but it also shows they can be a great rollicking alt country bar band too, like a slightly defter Hold Steady. When they play Lonnie from the album We Used To Think The Highway Sounded Like A River, you remember what great things they have done previous to that great current album.

Secret Rivals – Make Do And Mend

As someone who has followed the Secret Rivals path with increasing interest, from the scratchy early recordings and collapsible gigs through to the point where they unleash their debut mini album, I was intrigued to see how they had further progressed. And it is a cracking record. I don’t think anyone saw this coming in the early days, not even myself who had picked up on how much better the band were getting with each release. The vocals are much more effective, Claudia’s lead vocals are much more assured, while Jay’s back up and incitingly harsh yelps are much better controlled than the awkward shrieks of old.

The music used to have the roughness of The Wedding Present, but now slots effortlessly among the new indie wave of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and their ilk, while still harking back to the likes of Bis.

If Secret Rivals can keep up the momentum they are currently creating, there is no reason they can’t be the next big thing out of Oxford. Not necessarily chartbound, but a rather nice position of indie credibility.

Make Do And Mend is out now on Kittiwake Records
Secret Rivals website is here

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Foxes! – The Panda Bear Song

Foxes! continue to shift shape, with Kayla taking on most of the lead vocals on this EP. The Panda Bear Song is quite ramshackle yet thoroughly catchy, a sweet piece of lo-fi pop. Alex Badamchi is an old favourite, quite oddly ethereal and insistent in turns. Sailors reminds me of Sophie Ellis Bextor’s pre fame band theaudience, it has those arch vocals and perfect pop melody. Boatswain follows and rounds off their EP in similar fashion.

The Panda Bear Song is out now on Elefant

Foxes! website is here

The Magic Lantern – A World In A Grain Of Sand

The Magic Lantern are a quite delightful little band. I can hear elements of King Creosote in their music, bits of Stornoway too and an overall genuinely lovely and bucolic feel, with gently parping brass abounding but in a non-intrusive fashion. They’re a band you could easily see fitting in at one of the events Fence Collective put on.

Cut From Stone burbles and flows like a babbling brook, while Laura’s Song is sad and maudlin. The music of Laura’s Song sighs with a heavy heart and elongated vocals stretching out every word. It’s a beautiful song, but not one to listen to when you’re feeling down, as it’ll pull on your emotions. The Ship That Washed Away floats along serenely before unexpectedly crashing on the rocks near the end, dissolving into a cacophonous cascade. Shine A Light On feels like a jaunty show tune, something like Neil Hannon might write, but complete with a reggae-tinged breakdown in the middle. Patriots has a raggle taggle Decemberists feel to it. There follows some more rather lovely tunes, nothing too odd about these, with The Magic Lantern seemingly settling down into a comfortable but not dull formula. Finally Romeo and Juliet (III) is a downbeat lament on a rather splendid album.

A World In A Grain Of Sand is out now on Hectic Eclectic Recordings

The Magic Lantern website is here

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Pocketbooks - Promises, Promises

Pocketbooks are back with a new single Promises, Promises ahead of their second album Carousel, due in September. If you like sumptuous, pristine pop, then this is just the thing for you. It follows in a similar vein to the material on debut album Flight Paths, which is no bad thing considering how good an album that was. Emma sings this time, and if anything her vocals are getting even better and the melodies sweeter.

Promises, Promises is a free download available here
The album, Carousel, is out in September but their label Oddbox Records are shipping advance copies now. Order here

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A novel idea

I guess some of you may be wondering why the dearth of posts in recent months. Well, time is short for many reasons, but mainly because I've finally gotten around to doing more work on the draft novel I wrote as part of NaNoWriMo 2008. Work is going well and subject to a couple more read throughs and tweaks I think it's getting close to the point where I try and get it published. If anyone has any sage advice or helpful contacts in this area they would be much appreciated! Normal service will hopefully be resumed soon. Either that or I'll be sidetracked on the fanzine I've been collating work for. One way or the other I hope you will stick with me and keep reading the blog...

Airship – Kids

Kids, the second single from Airship sounds like Richard Hawley fronting an unashamedly over the top pop band. It’s a song that goes over the barricades and into the charts many times over, with a surging chorus and irresistible verses that can’t wait to be reacquainted with that chorus again. Here’s a song that the word effervescent was invented to describe.

Kids is out now on Play It Again Sam
The Airship website is here

Deportivo – Neighbourhood

Neighbourhood is the second single from West London band Deportivo. Despite the clunky clich├ęd lyrics and slightly plodding tune, Neighbourhood isn’t all bad, but only in a kind of Athlete excitement way. The DPPLGNGRS remix starts brilliantly with chiptune bleeping, thumping synth beat and zooming electronic car noises, which transform the song into something else entirely. The Arclite Productions remix doesn’t add a lot to the tune particularly, it tries its best and perks it up a fair bit, but the first remix is the one for me.

Neighbourhood is out now. Find Deportivo on Facebook here and Twitter here

Friday, 15 July 2011

Findlay Napier & The Bar Room Mountaineers – File Under Fiction

One thing about Findlay Napier, is he is dependable and has therefore delivered a solid album here. The title track is a suitable rousing opening and One For The Ditch is a closing time blues. You also get the cracking singles Raise A Glass and Valentine’s Day that I’ve gone on about before on here. There is also Spread Thin, which is an altogether more interesting thing, a bit of a quick swerve and something that goes from sounding like Arab Strap to a big old Del Amitri chorus. Fine stuff. Cut Me Off is a feisty fiddle led tune, while One For Me is a beautiful melancholic duet to close the album.

File Under Fiction is out now and available from Findlay's website

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Miss Geo - The Story

Miss Geo is one Abby Gutierrez from Newport, Rhode Island and The Story is her self released debut. It's a cracking piece of work, very much in the style of Juliana Hatfield, but without the neurotic aggression of said lady. While there may be nothing challenging about the music, it has to be said that oftentimes you don't need that and the pure cutesy melodies are worthy of drowning in.

Go have a listen at Miss Geo's website, which is here