Friday, February 29, 2008

Euro week 3: The French Krautrock explosion!

This is the final instalment of my short ‘Euro Week’ on the DG. I should do it again sometime, next time for more than just a couple of days.

Anyway, this is all about French Krautrock. Not that Krautrock played by French bands should be more noteworthy or unique that British bands playing music influnced by Can, Neu!, Faust et al, but it’s more that I don’t listen to very much French music at all, and the two band which have come my way recently, and I have really liked both play a very similar sort of music, which could probably be described as
“rock choucroute” (as Krautrock is known in France). It’s not a scene. Well, not yet anyway until a trendier publication with a wider readership gets hold of the idea.

Anyway, first up we have Turzi, which is both a person and a band. The man is the Versailles-born Paris resident Romain Turzi, and the band is actually confusingly called Reich IV. But together they are Turzi, one of France's permier exponents of electronic pulsating grooves, with battling synths and guitars carving out a sort of late-night-in-the-city soundtrack for somewhere quite bleak, yet very exciting.

The album's called A and is a concept record of sorts, with all the tracks starting with the letter A. The concept doesn't just stay here either - according to the press release, it's the first installment in a trilogy which will see (naturally) B and C follow. A is the "beginning of an adventure" apparently. Well, I don't care too much for the concept, whatever it's meant to be, but if the next parts of the adventure are going to be anywhere near as good as the first installment, it'll be the finest trilogy, oh, since Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy at least...

Like MIT a few days ago, my only complaint about this album is that the vocals are often superfluous. Otherwise, it rattles along at a fair old pace and leaves you wanting more. A is out now - go get it. Turzi were in the UK recently supporting Simian Mobile Disco. They're in the US at the moment. Hope they'll be back here soon.

Download: Turzi - Animal Signal
Turzi - Acid Taste

Second we have Zombie Zombie. Their name was familiar from somewhere before I remembered that they were on the bill at last year’s End of the Road festival. I didn’t see them of course, but now sort of wish I had.

The two main men in Zombie Zombie - Etienne Jaumet and Cosmic Neman – met during a retrospective of Italian horror flick director Dario Argento, and decided to pursue their interests in music, informed by their passion for cult movies. It’s probably relevant that this is the backdrop, because like Turzi, their music is particularly cinematic. The debut full-length Land for Renegades is a concept album, conceived by the duo as a soundtrack to an imaginary film which follows a loose plotline they’ve made up, but which is quite irrelevant to your enjoyment of the music. In fact, you can make up your own film, and it would probably fit quite nicely. It was an apt soundtrack to my drive through East London tonight.

Aside from the two people at the core of Zombie Zombie, Romain Turzi shows up as a guest guitarist just to prove that there’s no rivalry in this Gallic Krautrock scene. Also helping out is David-Ivar Herman Dune, which may sound surprising but only if you don’t realise that ‘Cosmic’ is also known as Neman Herman Dune. It just goes to show that as the good book says, man shall not live by witty lyrics and whimsical indie-pop alone. He needs his motorik grooves as well. And with that in mind, here’s an important note – this is an album to be listened to loud! Let it wash over you. Listen as the analogue synths whirr and whoosh from one speaker (or headphone) to another. And once they lock into that groove, it’s hard to resist. It feels like they’ve recorded it live, and it’s all the better for it. Renegades is totally terrific stuff, and in a short space of time has become one of my favourite albums of the year so far.

They’re over here for some gigs in early May. I reckon they’ll be well worth checking out. I’ll be there if I can.

Download: Zombie Zombie – Driving This Road Until Death Sets You Free
Download: Zombie Zombie – Psychic Harmonia 2

The album isn’t out until May (despite what it says in the artwork thingy above), so no pre-order links at the moment. In the meantime, you can listen to tunes on their myspace, and I’ll be sure to be mentioning them again round about the time of release.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Euro week 2: The Raveonettes

Aargh! Where did the week go? Rather than it being Euro week on The Daily Growl, it’ll have to be Euro couple-of-days. Oh well. Let’s get on with it then – today we’ve got The Raveonettes from Denmark.

My experience of The Raveonettes has been short-lived but very sweet. It mostly consists of a cracking gig at Cargo a few years back. Me and my friend turned up late and crammed into the back of the venue against the bar, but still managed to have a fantastic time as the Danish duo cranked out their sweet harmonies and guitar noise. Shortly afterwards (or was it before, I can’t remember) I bought a copy of a 10 inch single Ode to LA, with an ace cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome on the flipside. And that was it. I never quite got round to buying a copy of Pretty in Black, whose songs sounded so good that night in Shoreditch and I led a Raveonettes-free life until a copy of their latest album Lust Lust Lust came my way the other week.

It’s probably both a good and a bad thing that they sound just the same as I remember them. Album opener Aly, Walk With Me is a blistering way to set out your intentions for a record. Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner certainly live up to the ‘ettes’ part of their name, by combining classic 60s girl/boy vocals and simple melodies, to Jesus and Mary Chain-style fuzzed up guitar distortion. By the time the thrilling 5 minutes are over, you’re certainly warmed up for what’s to come, but also left asking ‘how can they follow that?” and I’m still not convinced that they can.

You see, although I love the Raveonettes’ sound and aesthetic, over the course of a full album, and without much variation in style it all becomes a bit too samey. At times, you’ll come across songs (like Blush) that have that something extra special to raise them above the rest but most of the rest pass by in a very agreeable but unchallenging way. But maybe I need to lighten up. Music’s surely not about being challenged all the time is it? Surely it’s more often just about enjoying the sound, and how it makes you feel. Maybe I need to be back in a small packed room with the Raveonettes again. That could be the tonic I need.

Download: The Raveonettes – Aly, Walk With Me
Download: The Raveonettes – Blush

Buy Lust Lust Lust from Rough Trade or download from emusic.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Euro week 1: MIT

I’m having a bit of a Euro special this week on The Daily Growl. I spend most of my time writing about British or American artists, so it’s only good and proper that I cast my eye across the channel from time to time to check out some decent stuff from our continental cousins.

First up, from Germany we have MIT, who were the creators of Good Book, the LCD Soundsytem-alike tune which one of my favourite tracks of last year. I was initially surprised to see that Good Book wasn’t on MIT's debut album Coda, but after listening to the album, leaving it off seems an appropriate choice, because despite missing a top tune, it probably results in Coda being a more cohesive whole.

Although the press release flags up the influences of fellow-countrymen Neu! and Kraftwerk as reference points (and they are there), to my ears the album has been equally shaped by their nation’s love for techno and all sorts of 4/4 beats. It’s an album that is much more electronic than might be the case if it was three British teenagers making the music. Over here, this sort of thing would be heavily sprinkled with lashings of angular guitar and associated skinny jeans ‘n’ haircut posturing, but this album sounds and feels like it’s been lovingly created in bedrooms by proper techno-nerds, without the need to resort to rock antics. There’s a good dose of yelled vocals for sure (in German of course), but when the music’s this good, they often seem a bit superfluous.

If you want a soundbyte, you could say that this could be what LCD Soundsystem might sound if they had been informed by European techno more than New York disco. But then again, soundbytes are rubbish. Coda’s a good album and I’d encourage you to give it a good listen, turn the volume up and see how long you can keep your feet still.

Download: MIT - Park
Download: MIT - Coda

The album is released on Half Machine Records on 17 March. Pre-order from Rough Trade.

Friday, February 22, 2008

More quality TV action

So, the second edition of Jeremy Warmsley and Fay Buzzard’s Welcome to Our TV Show is up online now, and like the first, it’s very good. It’s a sort of lo-fi Jools Holland, where the hosts are less slick, but also far less cringeworthy. If you missed the first, the premise is basically a load of bands and mates piling into Jeremy and Fay’s living room and getting filmed playing unreleased songs.

This time round it’s the turn of Emmy the Great, Lightspeed Champion and Laura Groves, as well as Jeremy himself again to step up to the mic. There are four new songs, all good, but there is a hierarchy of goodness which I’ll attempt to describe.

Firstly Lightspeed Champion plays an unnamed song which goes by the working title of 'The Hooker Song' (“or 'Escort Song' if you want to be polite”). It’s his attempt to write a song from the perspective of a Brazillian prostitute, and is nowhere near as bad as that sounds. Not having seen Dev perform on his latest tour, I don’t know if this is the ‘one new song’ that’s he’s been threatening to play. Good enough it is, but it really should be Mr Fisk.

Next we have Emmy the Great doing a new song called 24 which as you might imagine, is named after, and is sort of about, the Kiefer Sutherland-centric TV series. And being such, it contains the killer line "The man on the screen has done more in a minute than you have achieved in your whole entire life". Though not as great as the best of her songs, it’s still further confirmation that she’s easily one of the best unsigned artists in the country today.

Third is The Boat Song, co-written and sung by Jeremy and Emmy in an acoustic duo stylee. Him playing guitar, both of them singing, sort of like the Moldy Peaches but without all the filthy lyrics. Maybe it could be on the soundtrack for Juno 2. A fine tune I think.

Best of the lot is a new song by Laura Groves, who with only a handful of songs so far has already proved just how hot a talent she is. With only her Salvia Records I Am Leaving single and a few more tracks to go by, we know she’s good, but she steps up her game even further in a highly impressive fashion with a stunning piano ballad, and with her unique vocal style, the Joanna Newsom comparisons are bound to start flowing soon. Mark my words.

Watch away with these YouTube embeds, but if you want higher quality picture, go to the myspace site.

Welcome to Our TV Show January 2008 Part 1 (Lightspeed and Jeremy and Emmy)

Welcome to Our TV Show January 2008 Part 2 (Emmy and Laura)

The even better news is that this time you can not only watch the live action, but you can download the tracks as well. The mp3s for this TV show and the previous December one are all below. Enjoy!

January 2008

Download: Lightspeed Champion - 'The Hooker Song'
Download: Jeremy Warmsley & Emmy the Great - The Boat Song
Download: Emmy the Great - 24
Download: Laura Groves - I Wish I

December 2007

Download: Mystery Jets - Flakes
Download: Laura Marling - Shine
Download: Noah and the Whale - To Cyril at Crunkmas
Download: Jeremy Warmsley - I Think I'm Going Out of My Head

WTOTS photo from Emmy the Great's photo blog.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Mae Shi - HLLLYH

I knew that after briefly writing about this band a couple of weeks ago, I would be returning to them before too long. And here I am.

The Mae Shi are the latest in a steady trickle of great bands to emerge from LA. Well, it’s not like they’ve just emerged, but they are relatively new to me. I’m a bit behind though because the band have actually been around since 2002, and have released four records in that time, including a 59-minute EP and debut ‘proper’ album Terrorbird. They first came to my notice at the start of the year when they played a few dates in London before releasing the single Run to Your Grave on Moshi Moshi.

That single promised good things for the album HLLLYH (no, me neither), and I’m pleased to say that the promise has held true. Since I got it last week, it’s rarely been far away from my music-playing devices. If it’s a dose of pent-up energetic shouting, crazy synth action, fractured riffs, skittering beats and mad choral bursts that you're looking for, this is just the ticket. The track times vary wildly (from nearly 12 minutes to less than one and a half), but usually sit around the snappy two minute mark and the lyrical content is quite big on Old Testament imagery. There’s a lot here that reminds me of Danielson, in the yelped vocals, punchy instrumentation and massed-vocal intensity, but The Mae Shi are clearly more indebted to electronic music, most notably on the lengthy dance-off Kingdom Come which owes a lot to classic rave. Honestly, there’s never a dull moment on HLLLYH, so if you want a kick up your February, sign up here.

Download: The Mae Shi – Lamb & Lion
Download: The Mae Shi – HLLLYH

Buy HLLLYH from Rough Trade, and you’re vinyl inclined, throw in the Run to Your Grave seven inch as well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Singles Going Steady 18: The Chemical Brothers

In the UK at least, all the UK press coverage of the Grammys was firmly focused on Amy Winehouse. Fair enough I suppose, here was ‘our girl’ cleaning up at an American awards show, and it was Troubled Amy of course, being let out of rehab to do what she does best. In all these tales of redemptive awards and covered-up tattoos, I almost failed to notice that the award for best electronic/dance album went to The Chemical Brothers. It just seemed a bit odd really, like it should have been ten years ago or something. My first thought was that the Grammy organisers must be lacking a decent pool of electronic/dance albums to choose from, but now I see that the shortlist included Sound of Silver, the decision seems just nuts.

Not that I don’t like The Chemical Brothers though. In fact, they’ve provided the soundtrack to various parts of my life. It’s just that these parts seem quite far in the past now. Maybe it’s just musical fashion and maybe it’s our national British fickleness that's meant that over the 13 years since they emerged with their first album Exit Planet Dust, the inital mountain of acclaim has gradually but definitely diminished. Maybe that’s why even if there was a best electronic/dance award at the Brit Awards, it the Chems probably still wouldn’t be on the shortlist. Or maybe it’s just that they really aren’t as good as they used to be.

For me at least, with the Brothers, it’s all about time and place. Exit Planet Dust was at the vanguard of the mid/late 90s big beat scene which saw my arrival in London and immersion into parts of the London club scene. I’ve never actually seen the Chemicals ‘properly’ live, but have danced a-plenty to their DJ sets at the likes of the Heavenly Jukebox at Turnmills. I still remember the last night of that club, still dancing to Tom and Ed's records after the lights had gone up. Good times.

With that in mind here's some prime Chemical Brothers from the only CD singles I have of theirs - and Underworld reworking of the single Leave Home from Exit Planet Dust, and two tracks from the follow-up to that album, the Loops of Fury EP.

Download: The Chemical Brothers - Leave Home (Underworld Mix One)
Download: The Chemical Brothers - Loops of Fury
Download: The Chemical Brothers - Get Up on it Like This

Monday, February 18, 2008

In Loving Memory of... Let's Wrestle

“No matter how many records I buy, I can’t fill this void”. So starts In Loving Memory Of… the new EP/mini-album by Let’s Wrestle, but in case you might be thinking that what follows are tales of musically-related existential crises, don’t worry. That song – I Won’t Lie to You, one of last year’s best tunes in my opinion – is one of six short, scrappy punky rock ‘n’ roll tunes that mark out Let’s Wrestle as one of the most interesting bands around at the moment. It’s a brief calling card for sure – the ‘album’ clocks in at a mere 17 minutes, but let’s not complain about length-for-money value when the songs fizz with as much lo-fi energy as these.

As much as I like In Loving Memory of… though, I have a couple of minor gripes. The first is an unusual one for me. As someone who often rails against over-produced records, I’m finding it hard to admit that most of these tracks would probably be better if they sounded a little more meaty. But I reckon that it’s live where Let’s Wrestle really kick it, so I should go and see them. The other slight disappointment is that their ‘theme song’ Let’s Wrestle with its chorus of “Let’s wrestle, Let’s fucking wrestle” and lyrics proclaiming that “Pro-wrestling is the way forward” has not yet been committed to CD or vinyl. Still, small beer when a band are as fun as this. You can hear it on their myspace anyway.

Download: Let’s Wrestle – I Won't Lie to You

In loving memory of is out now on Stolen Recordings, which between this and the new Pete and the Pirates album really are in rude health the moment. The cover art of the CD clearly extends Let’s Wrestle’s titular homage to David Shrigley. Buy it from Rough Trade (who also have some natty LW t-shirts for sale).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pete and the Pirates

With some bands it can be quite hard to put a finger on what’s so great about them. This is definitely the case for Pete and the Pirates. On paper, there’s nothing very remarkable. It’s fairly straightforward – guitar, bass, drums, singing. Nothing particularly original or groundbreaking. But there’s something special there. Somewhere, someone has clicked their fingers, or flicked a switch and worked some magic. So often, this is the best kind of indie rock, no nonsense, no fancy stuff, just good honest decent tunes with a dose of energy that makes it work just right.

Pete and the Pirates have been peddling this fuzzy, catchy guitar pop for a while now. They’ve already released a couple of mini-albums/EPs on Stolen Records, and are about to release their new debut full-length album Little Death next Monday. It’s been preceded by the single Mr Understanding, which shows them off as poppier Pixies, updated for 2008. Actually, forget that, there’s nothing very ‘now’ about it at all – it’s not very fashion-conscious, and no doubt that’s one of the things that makes Pete and the Pirates so good. I reckon they’ll age well. I'll be surprised if Mr Understanding isn't in my favourite songs of the year come round-up time in 11 months time.

The Reading-based band played live on Marc Riley’s BBC 6Music show last week (which has become firmly my favourite radio programme), so I got a chance to hear what they sounded like in action. I’d been keen to see them doing it in the flesh soon.

Download: Pete and the Pirates – Bright Lights (live on BBC 6Music)
Download: Pete and the Pirates – Mr Understanding (live on BBC 6Music)

Pre-order Little Death from Rough Trade. Buy Mr Understanding7 inch.

Who said romance was dead?

Download: The Fabulous Heftones - Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Death Set

Here's the second post of the day, carefully yet pathetically designed to boost my cool ratings. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you one of the hottest bands of the moment - The Death Set!

I first came across this Baltimore (by way of Australia) band on an obscure compilation over a year ago called 50 minutes. The premise was simple - 50 tracks, each about a minute long. Given the sheer number of songs, the quality was inevitably variable, but among the few good 'uns there was one stand out - a 55 second blast of sheer adrenaline married to propulsive electonic beats, charging guitars and screamed lyrics. It was great, but I thought no more about them until the buzz around them began to build again last month. MFDS, as they also like to be known (yes, it stands for what you think it does), have already arrived in the UK for a tour, which should only serve to enhance their wild live reputation even further. Their single is out this week on Ninja Tune imprint Counter Records, with an album to follow in March. If it's anything like this track, it'll be a blast, and over all too soon.

Download: The Death Set - Intermission (edit)

Londoners - The Death Set arrive in town this coming Friday and you can see them both at Barden's Boudoir and the Ninja Tune night You Don't Know at Electrowerkz. I presume the Barden's gig is an early set. You can buy the single from Rough Trade now.

Acting my age

Given that my clubbing days are quite far behind me, and even my regular gig-going habit has been slowed to a trickle by the responsibilities of fatherhood, I’m probably not the best person to be commenting on the new Kitsune Maison compilation. The uber-cool French label (and now shop) is up to its fifth genre-defining compilation, and the latest has made its way to my CD player. If you’ve heard any of the others, you’ll know what to expect – the usual blend of angular guitars mashed up with synths and beats and blended seamlessly together. As well as providing the dancefloor action, they seem to do a good job of giving exposure to some decent new artists – this time the likes of Friendly Fires and Late of the Pier could do well with the extra kudos.

Aside from over-hyped averageness like Does it Offend You Yeah? and the Teenagers (though the remix of their track on the comp is actually quite decent, proving it is possible to polish a turd), there’s plenty pleasures to be had – the mid section of the mix in particular is really rather good. And though I’ve enjoyed listening to it whilst washing the dishes and sitting at my computer, I can’t help but think that I’m missing out somewhere. Surely this sort of thing is meant to be heard coming full volume out of gigantic bass bins in some cooler-than-thou club. But then again, what do I know?

Download: Friendly Fires – On Board
Download: autoKratz – Pardon Garcon

Buy Kitsune Maison Compilation 5 from Rough Trade.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dawn Landes – Fireproof

I’m returning to Dawn Landes and this album, mainly because I don’t feel that I gave them enough space last time (it was a gig review really), and also because since then she was a guest on John Kennedy’s Xfm show where she played a couple of tracks from Fireproof (along with a backing band including Josh Ritter), and I recorded them for your listening pleasure.

For anyone who’s unaware of Dawn Landes (as I was until quite recently), she’s from Louisville, Kentucky via New York and her day job is as recording engineer, who’s worked with people like Joseph Arthur and Ryan Adams. More recently she’s been based in Paris, from where she’s toured across Europe. However, as she revealed in the radio interview, she’s now given up her Paris apartment to return to NYC, because she’s got herself a studio in Brooklyn which she’s really looking forward to getting stuck into.

Landes has previously released an album called Dawn’s Music (on Ocean Music) and an EP called 2,3,4 (on Boy Scout Recordings). All of these are decent and worth your time, but it’s on Fireproof that she’s hit a particularly mean streak of form. It’s an excellent album, not a bad track – not even a mediocre one. She’s got some fine musicians on board and they all contribute to making Fireproof a special record – from the downbeat country of Twilight, through the melancholic pop of Tired of This Life and the cheery beats and fuzzed-up guitar of Picture Show, to the aching beauty of Dig Me a Hole. It’s all good stuff. So much so that I hope she’s going to spare some time in that new recording studio to record more of herself.

Download: Dawn Landes – Twilight (live on Xfm)
Download: Dawn Landes – Bodyguard (live on Xfm)

Dawn is back in the UK to support Josh Ritter in March.

Buy Fireproof from Rough Trade. Buy previous Dawn Landes releases from emusic.

Monday, February 11, 2008

In the Mood for Love

Regular readers of this blog may also be readers of Song by Toad. If not, you really should check out Matthew's excellent blog. This is general advice, but especially just now as he's just finished a great series on soundtracks. My motives for mentioning this are partisan, because I contributed an piece to the series on one of my favourite films - Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, which you can read here. But you're well advised to check out the whole series (this link takes you to the final post, but there are links to all the others at the end).

This of course explains why I'm posting a Nat King Cole song, just in case you've come from The Hype Machine and you're wondering why such a track is on The Daily Growl. There's another reason too - I like Nat King Cole. This is a version of Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, from his Spanish language songs. Like I said in the other post, it's best appreciated in the context of the film, so do yourself a favour and rent it soon. It's amazing.

Download: Nat King Cole - Quizas Quizas Quizas

Buy the soundtrack to In the Mood for Love.

Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim

In all the hype and clamour around Adele and Duffy at the start of the year, it was easy to miss another young blond singer-songwriter, even although she did sneak in at number 14 on that BBC poll. It’s possible that Laura Marling doesn’t have the ‘natural’ star appeal of the big two, and she certainly doesn’t match their vocal chops, but from what I’ve heard of all three so far, she does have something of an edge – simply better songs.

Interestingly, she’s probably not even the best young singer-songwriter called Laura who has clearly benefited from her parents’ Joni Mitchell records – that honour may well go to Laura Groves, but more on her in the future. That’s not to diss Marling though. Her album Alas, I Cannot Swim is out today, and it’s highly recommended because it’s surely going to be one of the most accomplished debut albums of the year, which is particularly striking from someone so young.

The album is produced by Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale, and there is certainly a measure of his band’s snappy folkiness on Alas I Cannot Swim, but overall, Laura’s album is probably slightly smoother. Not that this is a bad thing and this is a record that can’t be accused of being over-produced. There’s a real spring in its step, and the songs are well-crafted, with tales of heartbreak and longing which easily transcend her mere 18 years. A debut of real promise.

My only quibble is that it doesn’t contain what's probably her best song. New Romantic, which first appeared on the My Manic and I EP, was one of my favourite songs of 2007, and to see two other tracks from the EP on the album, and not the lead track puzzled me a lot. Still, can’t have everything.

Download: Laura Marling – You're No God
Download: Laura Marling – New Romantic

Buy Alas, I Cannot Swim from Rough Trade. If you’re feeling more flushed you could fork out a load more for the Songbox. Some may say that this is expecting a little too much loyalty from fans of a debut artist, but there you go. I’d say she’s is worth the hype.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Whatever happened to the Mystery Jets?

Not 'whatever happened' as in 'where are they now?' but more, when did they suddenly become good?

I've never really been a big fan of Mystery Jets, ever since the summer of 2005 when I was trapped in the old Rough Trade Covent Garden shop by the sheer weight of their young fans crowding the staircase as they played an instore gig. There was only so many times I could browse the 7 inches and I got quite bored before they finished their set. When their debut album came out the next year, I wasn't too interested in that either.

However things seem to have improved. The song Flakes, which was doing the rounds at the end of last year is actually really good (it took Jeremy Warmsley's 'TV show' to help me realise this - watch it again here), and new single Young Love featuring Laura Marling is a bit of a corker too. So I'll have better expectations of their new album 21, for sure.

Download: Mystery Jets - Flakes

The Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride

I must admit to feeling a bit out of my depth here, mainly because I feel like a bit of a Johnny-come-lately. I am, in fact when it comes to The Mountain Goats, a band with a long history and an intimidating number of albums and other recordings. So here I am, hearing a full album of theirs for the first time. So this review won’t contain any comparisons to John Darnielle’s previous work. I can’t tell if this album is a progression, or more commercial, or more ‘back to the roots’, or whatever. In fact, this review won’t say anything more than it’s a very decent, very American folk-rock album. I really like it, more each time I hear it. Sorry if that doesn’t tell you much, but I’m all out of in-depth analysis today. Hear for yourself - you can actually listen to excerpts from every track on the album at the 4AD website.

However, it’s worth mentioning one of the things that I like the most about it though – the promo came with a copy of a brilliant set of drawings by Jeffrey Lewis – he’s done one illustrative description of each song (which can be seen here - click 1, 2 and 3 - thanks to Sweeping the Nation for the link) and these only serve to enhance Darnielle’s wryly interesting lyrics. Bonus. I hope it’s part of the finally released CD/vinyl set.

Download: The Mountain Goats – San Bernardino
Download: The Mountain Goats – Lovecraft in Brooklyn

Heretic Pride is out on 18 February. Pre-order from Amazon. It’ll no doubt be available at emusic too.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Purple Strain

This is a very odd compilation. It’s probably trying to capitalise on Prince’s massive profile last year, but there are a couple of obvious problems right from the start. First, have a look at the tracklisting. Rather than being a specially commissioned album of Prince covers, it’s clearly been an exercise in searching around by the label (Rapster) to find an odd collection of versions of the purple one’s songs by a bizarre range of artists. Some of these tracks have obviously been around for a long time. For instance, I remember the Soulwax cover of Starfish and Coffee from sometime at the start of the decade, and I don’t think that the other Hefner (not the Darren Hayman one) have recorded anything for some time. Others seem more recent. Such diversity could have been a good thing, but the general impression is just something hastily cobbled together.

Secondly, Prince’s stock is not quite as high now as it was last year. He had the million-night run at the O2 and the free Daily Mail album, but then he went and ruined all the good vibes by suing some of his most loyal fans for daring to use his image without his permission. Mind you, Rapster must be aware of this, as the cover image most definitely isn’t a photo of Prince. I could be argued that it's an 18th century fop, if you take away the guitar.

However, the good news is that there are some worthwhile tracks on here, mainly the ones that don’t attempt to sound anything like the originals, quite the reverse in fact. So full marks to both Stina Nordenstam (remember her?) who does to Purple Rain what Cat Power did to Satisfaction, and to dubstep heroes Kode 9 and Spaceape who slow Sign of the Times down so much that you can only tell what song it is by listening to Spaceape’s sub-bass vocals recite the lyrics. Elsewhere The Dynamics do a decent reggae version of Girls and Boys (but reggae covers are almost always good) and the aforementioned Soulwax version is enjoyable without being radical.

Download: Soulwax – Starfish and Coffee
Download: Stina Nordenstam – Purple Rain

I wouldn’t bother buying the album on CD though, just head over to emusic where you can download select tracks. Being emusic of course, not all of the artists on the CD are present on the ‘digital version’, but there is a Be Good Tanyas cover of When Doves Cry, which isn’t on the promo I have, and sounds worth a further look.

The Cave Singers - Invitation Songs

How important is a good album cover? It’s not essential obviously – some of my favourite records of last year had terrible covers (see SFA, MIA, Animal Collective) – but sometimes a decent cover can enhance an album, or your expectations of it at least. I’m not even sure what exactly it is about the cover of Invitation Songs by The Cave Singers that I like so much. Maybe it’s the green-ness (I like green), maybe it’s the pleasing symmetry of where the band are placed between the trees and the grass, or the obvious natural beauty of the surroundings. I don’t really know, but as I’ve been listening to this album at my computer, having the CD case in front of me has definitely enhanced my mood and listening experience (it’ll be even better on vinyl).

It’s an album that’s grown on me quite a lot since I started listening to it a few weeks back. The cover doesn’t just look good, it seems very appropriate for a band which plays an honest, earthy type of folk rock, reminiscent of the likes of The Mountain Goats and Two Gallants. There are no obvious hooks which will keep these songs bouncing around in your head for days, but listen to it for a bit and it feels richly textured and substantial. It’s an album that you can get your teeth into and ends up being a very satisfying listening experience. So approach it with the right expectations, and maybe with the album cover in view, and hopefully it should bring you the same pleasure as it has to me.

Download: The Cave Singers – Helen
Download: The Cave Signers – Cold Eye

Pre-order Invitation Songs from Rough Trade, and no doubt emusic, once it’s officially released in the UK next Monday. You can get the single Dancing on Our Graves from emusic now – the b-sides are good as well.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Greetings, Saluations, Goodbye

Here's a song that put a spring in my step on my way to work this morning. I was fiddling around with my iPod, wondering what to listen to when the blue line fell once again on Hold Yer Horses, the second album by Kansas-bred, London-dwelling songstress Piney Gir. It's an album that went un-lauded when it came out in 2006 (myself included), but it's one that I find myself often returning to when I need a dose of sweet country-pop.

That's what it is - nothing complex, nothing edgy, just soaringly good pop tunes, where the luscious twang of the pedal steel and roll of the honky-tonk piano is never far away. The whole album is great, but it's this one tune that I'll probably never tire of. Enjoy.

Buy Hold Yer Horses from emusic.

Singles going steady 17: Cornershop

Almost exactly ten years ago, there was a most unlikely number one single. It involved a band who hadn’t been anywhere near troubling the charts before, and at least in their early days would probably have though this totally abhorrent.

Cornershop first emerged in 1992, and at first were associated with the Riot Grrrl scene (they weren’t girls of course, but it was a broad church), releasing records such as The Days of Ford Cortina and Readers’ Wives which didn’t exactly scream ‘chart action’. They went a bit quiet in the mid-90s before re-emerging in ’97 with the When I Was Born for the Seventh Time album, which marked a bit of a step forward from their earlier scrappy sound, with its appropriation of funky rhythms and a Hindi version of Norwegian Wood. Possibly the poppiest tune, Brimful of Asha was released as a single but only got to number 60. But there was more to come.

It was all about big beat. At that time the nation’s dancefloors were pounding to the sort of chunky beats laid down by the likes of the Propellerheads, The Chemical Brothers and the whole roster of Skint Records. It was the Skint main man Norman Cook who lent both his name and his winning way with breakbeats and breakdowns to turn Brimful of Asha into a chart-topping, radio friendly tune. I suppose people were so busy dancing to stop and think what the song was really about. If you’ve gotten older and ever wondered, look no further than this detailed analysis.

Needless to say, Cornershop never went near such best selling action again. Almost six years on from heir last album, we’re still waiting. I don’t think even Norman Cook can help them this time around.

Download: Cornershop – Brimful of Asha (original version)
Download: Cornershop – Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook Remix – extended version)

Stardeath and White Dwarfs

I’ve you’re trying to get somewhere in the crazy world of the music business, having a famous (musical) relative must be a mixed blessing. On one hand you can probably get them to open a few doors, but on the other, you’re left open to accusations of nepotism and being given an unfair hand-up. I mean, look at what kind of flak Lily Allen took, and her dad isn’t even in the music business (Fat Les doesn’t really count).

Still, if I was in that position, I wouldn’t be complaining too much. I’d utilise my connections as much as I could. Dennis Coyne seems to be doing that so far, and why shouldn’t he? His band Stardeath and White Dwarfs might otherwise never have been heard of outside the Midwest circuit. But now they’ve got a single out on British label Half Machine Records (the folks who brought you Theoretical Girl and MIT), artwork designed by Uncle Wayne, and support slots at Flaming Lips shows. So far so good.

On the evidence of the two tracks on the forthcoming single, it's not just the mad artwork that bears that mark of Dennis’ famous relative - the pleasant Beatlesy psychedelic pop evident on their cover of Toast and Marmalade for Tea (check the original here) is none too far from the Lip's quieter, more recent moments, and the slightly more chaotic, synthy and experimental Chemical is reminiscent of the days when Oklahoma's finest were a bit more out-there. That's only two songs though, so I turn to their myspace for more clues. The tunes there again veer towards the psych and the pop. They claim their influences are Elton John and Yes, and wish their sound to be that which “might occur if King Crimson and Coldplay got stoned and had sex with each other”. That actually sounds really rubbish, and what I can hear is better than that. Again, slightly dreamy, woozy and not really very long guitar pop songs. Nothing remarkable, nothing groundbreaking. Just decent tunes. Sometimes that’s enough.

Download: Stardeath and White Dwarfs – Toast and Marmalade for Tea

The 7 inch is out on Half Machine Records on 18 February. You can pre-order from Rough Trade.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A look back at January

Before February progresses any further I’d like to take a quick look back over January. Unlike my usual monthly round-ups of old, I’m going to try to make this a bit more than just a listing of songs. Maybe I don’t even need to do this sort of thing at all, but I’m going to give it a couple of months and see.

Anyway, January was a good month for music. Maybe it’s record companies trying to capitalise on what’s normally a quieter record-buying month to gain easy hits, but there does seem to have been an abnormally high number of decent releases in the 31 days just gone. Some of them have been written about on here. Others haven’t. With such a strong field, it’s been hard to choose an album of the month. Just after New Year I was sure it was going to be Black Mountain. Just over a week ago that changed to Vampire Weekend. But over the last week it’s changed again, and the award is going to an album that I’ve owned for less than a week, but has already charmed me enough to play it more than anything else for ages.

It's Thao's We Brave Bee Stings and All, and it’s got more than a little to do with seeing the artist herself play live last Sunday night; but I was well warmed up with her excellent Daytrotter session from 2006, her debut album from 2005 which I bought at the gig, so Bee Stings is merely the icing on the cake. It’s really good. After the more stripped down Daytrotter session and live performance (just acoustic guitar and drums) I feared that the album would sound over-produced by comparison, but no such fear. Thao came good by sending her debut Like the Linen to Laura Veirs who hooked her up with long-time Veirs producer Tucker Martine. He certainly can’t be accused of over-production, rather the extra instruments and arrangements only serve to add further depth and substance to already great songs. So much so that I’m hoping she comes back to the UK with her band The Get Down Stay Down before too long. Crucially, this album contains Feet Asleep, a song I’ve been mildly obsessed with ever since hearing it on the aforementioned Daytrotter session a few weeks ago. It was my highlight of the gig and the album version, if anything, is even better.

Download: Thao – Feet Asleep
Download: Thao – Bag of Hammers

So what else has there been? Well, the full fruits of Dev Hynes' country rock reinvention as Lightspeed Champion were revealed. The album is much better than I anticipated, and even though it’s no classic, it does have Tell Me What It’s Worth which I think will still be one of the years’ finest indie pop nuggets come December. It's the other song I've been slightly obsessed with this month.

Download: Lightspeed Champion – Tell Me What It’s Worth

The White Stripes started the year by releasing another single from Icky Thump. So far, so what? Does anyone really care once a band has got past their second single off any album? But they’ve keep interest levels up, for me at least, with their ‘Acoustic Mariachi Version’ of Conquest, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Hardly groundbreaking, but still a lot of fun. The only thing that could have improved this is getting Calexico to do it instead. After all, they’ve got good form in this area.

Download: The White Stripes – Conquest (Acoustic Mariachi Version)

I’ve already covered Cat Power, Vampire Weekend and Black Mountain about as much as I want to right now, so what else? One discovery for me was LA band The Mae Shi who seem to have played a dozen or so gigs in London over the past couple of weeks. Some have companied that they still haven’t made it out of East London, but I live there and I’ve still not been able to get to see them. The band come from the same burgeoning LA music scene that brought you No Age, Health, Mika Miko and others, though they’re probably more pop than any of their peers. If the Single Run to Your Grave is anything to go by, we’re in for an experimental power-pop treat when their latest album HLLLYH is released on Moshi Moshi later in the month.

Download: The Mae Shi – Run to Your Grave

Well, that will be about all for now. I’d like to say more about Dawn Landes album Fireproof, but I’ve leave that for an upcoming post. Ditto for the lovely Ghosts single by Laura Marling – her album Alas, I Cannot Swim is out next week, and I’ll be reviewing it for sure. And Adele? Well, everyone else is talking about her right now, so I won’t add to the clamour just yet.