Wednesday, 9 December 2009

the top ten of oh nine

"It pleases me, children, to now be able to annouce the winners of our annual prizegiving for album of the year. This year has seen many great efforts from the pupils at our school, and it goes without saying that even if you haven't won a prize, you should still be very proud of yourself. The teachers, and I, know how much effort you've all put in to your work. You're all winners in our book."

(This should probably be a moan about how list culture dominates everything, but that would make this exercise a bit self defeating. So instead, read this. Lists are necessary to filter through the deluge of music that spreads across the interweb. They are needed. Tastemakers are needed. I am not a tastemaker. I do not expect you to listen to what I have to say. I am not that important. Some of you will have heard these, some will not. It doesn't matter.

So then, here are ten very good albums from the dimming lights of the noughties. Listen to them, if you must).

"And the first prize of the evening goes to..."

10// Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains

It's as if Pavement started recording new music again, then decided that each individual demo weren't enough, that they needed to be soldered together, wedging style change after style change into the same song. Somehow it all fitted together, lego bricks connected in the most intricate, beguiling ways. It gave Cymbals Eat Guitars one of the strongest debuts of the year.

9// Atlas Sound - Logos

Naughty people may have heard a demo version of this last year, but the finished version was an improvement. 'Quick Canal' suddenly gained vocals, 'Walkabout' gained Panda Bear, the whole record became what we love Bradford Cox for – that slack, dreamworld feel, as if you're walking through a childhood photo, everything still frozen in time, all the layers visible like insects trapped in amber.

8// Nite Jewel - Good Evening

All this glo fi tastemaker malarkey has gotten a bit much, but Nite Jewel proved that the 'scene' wasn't all hype. Pulsing bass and synths stay sparse beneath a croon, beneath a warming layer of fuzz. The soundtrack of cruising round LA, in the dark, on isolated freeways.

7// Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

Somehow 'Limbo, Panto' didn't gain Wild Beasts the audience they deserved. They quickly rectified that with 'Two Dancers', adding a certain elegance, poise and a greater control of THAT voice. While it's another record that became soggy from all the critics performing group analingus on it, it still holds up.

6// Vivian Girls - Everything Goes Wrong

New Yorkers doing what New Yorkers do best. Inspired by all the best girl groups, and by garage rock, Vivian Girls made one of those albums that just doesn't rest. 'Can't Get Over You' is the sound of a hundred hearts breaking beneath their skinny ribs.

5// St Vincent - Actor

No one thought the Polyphonic Spree would be responsible for this. Some people might soundtrack their dinner parties with it, but there's too much darkness. “All of my old haunts are now all haunting me.” Annie Clark puts not a foot out of line, managing to sound both classical, and modern, concurrently. The strange dichotomy ends up being gently gorgeous.

4// Matt and Kim - Grand

“We cut the legs off of our pants / Threw our shoes into the ocean / Sit back and wave through the daylight”

Keyboard pop never felt so vital. To break a cardinal journalism rule and switch to the first person, this soundtracked a road trip across the States. Even after listening to it every other day for three months, it still didn't flag, rust, or show a dull or tired moment. One day people will realise how great Matt and Kim are, but by then they'll be gone. (plus, they're pretty good at videos)

3// Let's Wrestle - In The Court Of The Wrestling Lets

This is the third best record of the year, not just because it shows every other British indie band how to write pop music, not just because their ramshackle lo fi sound adds to the charm, but mainly because having done all this, they then go and showboat worse than the Harlem Globetrotters, with a brilliant five minute proggy thrash that doesn't even fit in with the record. Oh, the arrogance. They do it because they can. They do it because they're young. They do it for no reason. And that's where the brilliance is.

2// Lotus Plaza - The Floodlight Collective

Bradford Cox may get all the plaudits, and the attention, but The Floodlight Collective showed the dazzling talent of Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt. It's hewn from roughly the same cloth (the first ten seconds of 'Redoakway' sounds just like 'River Card'), wreathed in dreams and a certain hallucinatory timbre, but something here creates a stronger kind of magic. Rather than beset by too many ideas, too much productivity (as can be seen in the constant stream of excellent Atlas Sound EPs), The Floodlight Collective works because of a unity of vision, and a glowing golden thread that runs through the whole thing.

1// Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

What to say about Animal Collective that hasn't already been articulated better and more fluently elsewhere? Destined to be top of many end of year album polls, it's not even their best record (Strawberry Jam was, and I don't care what you, you, or YOU has to say about that). It contains several of their best tracks – 'Guys Eyes', 'Bluish', 'Brother Sport', and that famous one. Then they went and released an EP what would have been track of the year ('What Would I Want, Sky') had they not already released 'My Girls'. And while this is leaving everyone drowning in hyperbole and spittle, I'll quietly sneak off for another listen on my oversized headphones. Sometimes the crowd/flock are right.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

torn out newspaper pages...

Here, and I know this is what you, and you, and, in particular, YOU have been waiting for, is a collection of recent writings and other bobbins for Drownedinsound.

I hear children on buses, old men in pubs, vicars giving sermons, married couples bickering, toddler's first words, playground chants, pub quiz questions, protestors, all demanding for this blog post to be written. That's not even counting the pieces of grafitti, other blog posts, petitions, letters, faxes, texts, emails, pages, novels, manuscripts, poems, limericks, songs, speeches, tweets and videos I see. Now, you can all stop hassling me, for a few weeks, cos here they all are.

Why? video documentary

The Northwestern

Eat Skull



David Cronenberg's Wife

Cymbals Eat Guitars

and here, as a sly bonus for clicking on all of them, is this:

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

More shameless plugs

Look, mummy. Look. I done some things for people. And by people, I mean Drowned in Sound.

Icy Demons review

Johnny Foreigner tour news

Jeffrey Lewis live

Jeffrey Lewis interview

if Jeff Lewis knew who I was, he'd be sick of me right now.

Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard- ''Em Are I' (Rough Trade)

Thanks to Juno, last year antifolk suddenly gained a whole lot more attention. People were piping up, claiming to be huge Moldy Peaches fans, despite the rest of their output sounding nothing like 'Anyone Else But You.' One strange omission to the soundtrack was Jeffrey Lewis, arguably the king of that indefinable genre of antifolk.

'Em Are I' is his fifth album, marking the transition from underground troubadour into respected musician. It also sees Jeff reach new heights in optimism, on opener 'Slogans'. “Now, who's that handsome animal, I feel so good I feel 6 feet tall.” It may be irony, but it feels pretty genuine. Where's the Jeff of yesteryear, begging his girl to not be upset with him?

Oh, there he is. “I wasn't designed to move so fast, I wasn't born to have so much past” he sings on 'Roll Bus Roll', a touching paean to the traveller's life backed by a gentle strum. Sadness is still an important part of being Jeff Lewis. It's yet more clearly illustrated on 'Broken Broken Broken Heart', a song about his break up (incidentally, he started playing the song while his ex-girlfriend was still in the band. Chutzpah, that's what that is). The track works on the paradox, much like Of Montreal, of combining upbeat music, full of handclaps and glee, with tragic lyrics. Over his lengthy antifolk career, this is the closest he's got to a song that could be crowbarred into radio schedules.

The lyrics are arguably the most important part of any Jeff Lewis album, but this album marks further progress on the music side. He's said himself that having to work solely on the music for his Crass covers album last year has helped progress his craft, and it's hard to argue with him here from what's on show on ''Em Are I.' 'To Be Objectified' for one marks a new sophistication and clarity with the musicianship.

Maybe he's even grown up a bit. There are no zombie or ghouls on this album, although there is a pig. It's hard to tell whether this new found maturity is a good or bad thing. Sometimes singing about comic books can be just as therapeutic as singing about heartbreak. It's definitely more escapist.

One notable evolution in the music is the appearance halfway through of 'The Upside Down Cross', penned by his brother Jack. Normally relegated to bass playing duties, the song trawls along for 2 ½ minutes with flourishes of jazz club trumpet, until lyrics about saving the manatee pop up. Whilst bearing close relation to Jack's solo work, it marks a big departure for Jeff, into more avant garde territory than his usual antifolk shenanigans. It works well in breaking up the album, and avoids any threat of the album getting samey.

'Em Are I' is probably one of the best records so far of Jeff's lengthy career. It marks real progression, even after over 10 years of releases. That it is a successful balancing of the tragic and the triumphant is testament to Lewis's skill both as a wordsmith and a musician.

Thomas Truax- 'Songs From The Films Of David Lynch' (SL Records 4/5/2009)

If ever there was a perfect representation of the term 'auteur', David Lynch is it. This ain't no movie magazine, so there shall be no exploration of his disturbing trawls through the human psyche. Needless to say, music often plays an important role within the Lynchian mode. An album of covers of the most important tracks sounds like a good idea, no?

Early evidence suggests the answer is yes. 'Twin Peaks (Falling)' is a pretty version of the classic theme tune, sounding not unlike something Wilco might release. Dirty blues song 'Baby Please Don't Go' does well everything a blues song does. You know what a blues song does. I know what a blues song does. Truax does not reinvent the blues. This is all we need say.

The scattered source material often leads to the flow feeling disjointed. The transition between 'Blue Velvet' and 'I'm Deranged', for one, doesn't quite work. The ending to the latter is particularly abrupt, petering out and simply stopping with a guitar flourish. It sounds like Thomas was supposed to finish it, but was busy trying to pondering what happened in Mulholland Drive.

The Lynchian malaise is prevalent throughout, with 'Audrey's Dance' bearing his trademark unease with a scowl. The meandering bassline and discordant guitars are reminiscent of a backwater diner where the jukebox stops when a stranger walks in. Truax certainly gets laurel garlands and golden plaudits for translating the decaying malodourous feel into his music, without the accompanying visuals.

Many of the songs here don't seem massively reworked. Music didn't need yet another cover of 'Wicked Game', particularly one which does so little to the source material. HIM, REM, Giant Drag, The Royal We, JJ72. Did Truax really need to add his name to the list? Chris Isaak can already swim round his bank Scrooge McDuck-style. Truax's is nice, but so is the original. Only 'Black Tambourine' bucks this trend, being altered into a minimalist strum.

At the end we ask the question- would David Lynch approve? As someone who has been so innovative, so 'out there' (sicks in mouth) as he has, an album of covers isn't going to win his favour. The songs do capture the mood of the movies successfully, and are competently put together. But that sentence is void for two reasons. Number one, why listen to the songs when you can watch the films? They're much better. And number two, since when did competence make something worth listening to? Civil servants are competent. Musicians need something more. And that indefinable 'more' is unfortunately what Truax needs.

Conor Oberst- Outer South (Wichita)

It takes two seconds of this album before it becomes clear to all but the registered deaf that Conor has carried on his trend towards country music, that started with parts of 'I'm Wide Awake It's Morning.' This is not a good thing. The move has seen Oberst becoming drabber and drabber, more predictable, more boring. He's not even 30, yet he sounds middle aged, content to churn out dull Texas bar rock.

'Slowly (Oh So Slowly)' lives up to its title. You'd need a pick up, and bad judgement, to wring any enjoyment from the damp towel of a track. 'Roosevelt Room' tries it hand at Desparecidos rock, and largely succeeds, with Hemingway and Hunter S Thompson references mixing with Hammond organ into something epic. It also contains the apposite lines of “Hope you haven't got too lazy, I know you like your apple pie.”

Oberst is kind enough to let his Mystic Valley Band write some songs on 'Outer South'.This may have led to his downfall. There should be some 'never let the drummer write a song' mantra here. It fits. The best songs here are his work, not his band's. And the others stick out like a clown at a funeral.

The Taylor Hollingsworth-penned 'Air Mattress' is awful, cheesy stuff, with a cheap synth line and predictable bar rock structure sullying any of the good done with Oberst's songs. 'To All The Lights In The Windows', with its lyrics mixing religious references and the old Bright Eyes steadfast theme of heartbreak is one of the rare nuggets of gold in the dirty creek.

Oberst seems lax, as if 'Lifted...' is enough of a legacy, and coasting downhill from here is the way to go. While his songs outperform the lesser efforts of his backers, they hardly match his previous peaks. 'Ten Women' is a speck of a melody in search of some decent lyrics in search of some energy in search of the poised beauty of yore. “Ten women, Between you and me, Ten women, The glory and the tragedy” repeated ad nauseum ain't going to win the Pulitzer, and it ain't going to win any Pitchfork plaudits. The man who wrote lines like “I touch the clasp of your locket, with its picture held, some secret you wouldn't tell but let it choke your neck” is gone. There are no signs of him here on this snoozefest.

'Outer South' is bloated, and needs at least five tracks liposuctioned off. Even with radical surgery like that, it's still a mutilated body. There's no soul, just a rudimentary arrangements of instruments, and words in their most nugatory form. I love you Conor, and it's time for an intervention. Stop this. Now.

Papercuts- 'You Can Have What You Want' (Memphis Industries)

Papercuts. Nasty things. Blood, sore, painful. All things Jason Robert Quever couldn't be accused of. He was bought up in a Christian commune in California. This would usually lead to a derogatory assessment of religious pop, but it seems to bear no relevance to what he's doing now. Or, if it does, it's hidden well enough that all but the most forensic listener would pass on by, oblivious.

The album trades a fine line in melodic pop, and brings to mind 'Chutes Too Narrow'-era Shins, particularly on 'Dictator's Funeral', which is full of the summery, retro stylings and entwining melodic lines they trade in. Opener 'Once We Walked In the Sunlight' has a firmly beating tune at its middle, and brings to mind the lamented Grandaddy with its keys and guitar interacting to lovely effect.

This record has been released on Devendra Banhart, and Andy Cabic of Vetiver's label, Gnomonsong. 'You Can Have What You Want' often seems, though, to have little in common with either of those artists, choosing West Coast pop over their folk stylings. Only 'Future Primitive' seems to bear some relation to the label bosses work, sounding like one of the choicer cuts from Devendra's 'Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon', with it's powerful 60s guitar lines tangling.

There are a few religious hints dropped throughout the record. A cheesy electronic church style organ features throughout, suggestive of his religious upbringing. It features prominently on 'The Machine Will Tell Us So', which does that slowburn epic indie thing really well, sounding not unlike a fuzzy version of Grizzly Bear. The title of 'A Peculiar Hallelujah' has obvious religious hints, but seems to be an odd tale of “boarding a plastic ship in the rain.”

That's just a guess though, as the vocals are so drenched in reverb that all they sound like is “blllarrrrhhhherraaarrrbbbooelllleeerrr.” The use of analogue recording adds a pleasing warmth to proceedings, but in trying to ape Deerhunter's production style without that band's clarity of aim, Papercuts ends up feeling a bit cold at heart. Like a baked Alaska.

The lethargy of the album eventually starts to get draining, the tracks merging into one slow paced trawl through melancholic pop songs, vocals emerging from another room. 'Jet Plane' is more guilty than the rest, it's melodies struggling to bloom under the leaden weight of its tempo.

Sometimes it feels like the production has been used to cover a lack of ideas within the music. And that's never a good thing. Too often it all fades into the background like that fey friend you have, with the long fringe and the stoop. As pretty, echoey pop with a paisley patterned look it makes nice swirls on the stereo. But something to have you whirling round your room, or to raise your pulse even slightly? Look elsewhere, son. Look elsewhere.

Peaches- 'Talk To Me' (XL)

The woman responsible for tracks including 'Fuck The Pain Away', and whose last album was entitled 'Impeach My Bush' has returned to us with a relatively clean track. Sure, it is still ostensibly about bumping nasties. This time though, the lyrics are acceptable for daytime radio. The most racy they get is when Peaches “Let it be and hold you tight, Scream at me for just one night.” Hardly going to get BBC radio bosses sweating into their cappuccinos. Where's the girl who declared “Motherfuckers want to get with me, lay with me, love with me.”

She's been domesticated. 'Talk To Me' even sounds a bit like The Gossip. This is definitely not a good thing. Peaches used to have jagged electric beats. This new version seems tame. At least the electro returns for B side 'More.' She even brings back some of her old bravado, promising she's “going to whip this party into shape.” If there was a little bit more melody in it, the track would provide the perfect vehicle for her return. With 'Talk To Me' she seems a pale shadow of her old strap on wearing self.


Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Dananananaykroyd- 'Hey Everyone' (Best Before 8/4/09)

Dananananaykroyd occupy a unique place in ridiculous band names history with Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. That is the last time that easy review catchpoint will be used, as Danana (a contraction this review will use for ease) are much more than just a silly name. Aren't you glad we got that out of the way?

Much like Danana's previous EP 'Sissy Hits', it takes a few listens for your ears to discern the melody out of the noise. And noise there is, in copious amounts. Witness the racket that ends opener 'Hey Everyone' before melding into the tribal chanting that opens 'Watch This.' Every track could now be listed for examples of parent annoying loudness. But melody is there too. Just listen to the riff at the end of 'Infinity Milk.' Or the opening of 'Some Dresses.' Or a song that demonstrates the perfect balance between noise and melody, '1993.'

Anyone who has listened to the aforementioned EP will experience slight deja vu, as two tracks survive the transition (the aforementioned '1993', and 'The Greater Than Symbol And The Hash'). The latter changes pace between to epic strung out screaming to finish, featuring lyrics about “discovering a new alphabet in the rubble of a destroyed city.” Other reference points on the album include: nervousness, an underground war, and kidnappers. No sex? Duh, of course there is. Check out the barrage of 'Totally Bone.' (Sample lyric: “Stand bare, Except for a headdress or something,
And we can totally bone.”)

Those who have only heard the comparatively gentle single 'Black Wax' will have been misled by a false beacon. It juts out amidst the guitars and the shouting, like an emo donning an M & S suit to meet his girlfriend's parents. The chorus lacks the charm of the rest of the record too, being that wrong side of annoying. You can imagine the record label telling the band “could you do something they'll play on daytime radio?”

However, it's the only (slight) lull in quality. There is rarely a let up in the speaker bashing, bar the gentle minute and a half at the end of '1993', which provides a welcome breather from the onslaught. Regional accents prevail on an album that could have delved into easy Americanisms, given its source material of hardcore and math rock. A broad Scottish brogue is reassuringly audible through all the sonic shrapnel. Danana are always likely to be bracketed with bands like Johnny Foreigner and Los Campesinos! because they try to escape the myopia of British indie. They're not a band you can imagine releasing a song about working in a call centre.

And that's something we should all be thankful for. In an age of globalisation national identities are crumbling, leading, maybe, to a disintegration of the British music stereotype. Oasis, The Verve, and all the dinosaurs can fade away, and be replaced by outward looking, noisecentric, but melody focussed bands like Danana. 'Hey Everyone!' is a debut of rare brilliance, one which will bring a childish grin to your face, and a jig to your step. Get dancing.

Polly Scattergood- s/t (Mute)

Luke Pritchard, Dane Bowers, Katie Melua, Dan Gillespie Sells, Polly Scattergood. All graduated from the Brit School. Polly has little to do with her illustrious peers. For she treads an ethereal path. The music is reminiscent of 'White Chalk' by PJ Harvey, or Kate Bush at her most ethereal.

These reference points seem tired. They could easily apply to Florence and the Machine too. Or Tori Amos. Is it a latent sexism with music that female solo artists have to fall into one of three easily categorised types? They're either: divas, eg Mariah, Whitney etc, sexy popstars, eg Rhianna, Britney Spears etc, or kooky outsiders like Polly. Or do the performers themselves help perpetrate these clichés?

Whichever, Polly is firmly in the latter type. A segment of the first track, 'I Hate The Way' ends with the line“The doctor said I have to sing a happy tune” whereupon it is quickly followed by a series of desperate outbursts about a cheating partner, spilled in a stream of conciousness. It ends with the thought “Then I think he'll love me and he'll stop looking at the other girls.”

'Please Don't Touch' references “dark corners of my room”, “I lost my mind” and “fickle like a fruit machine.” Polly perpetrates these easy cliches of the kooky songstress. She doesn't reach Regina Spektor levels, but Regina can play a mean piano and is a better singer. Perhaps they're used to cover the lower quality of the melodies.

Nothing sticks in the head. Some tracks are down right cheesy. 'Unforgiving Arms' sounds like the worst of 1990s pop ballads. It firmly straddles the middle of the road, leaving the listener to ponder their shopping list, or whether to put a load in the washing machine. 'Poem Song' is ponderous, the only build up being to the singer's voice cracking with more emotion than the usual plain reading of her lines.

Polly isn't going to win plaudits for her lyrics either. “I am strong, I am not week...I built this house, it took quite long.” It seems she had the same lyrics teacher at Brit School as Kate “I've got a family and I drink cups of tea” Nash. Someone should be losing their job.

'Nitrogen Pink' provides one of the highlights, building from a simple start to a string led swirl of instrumentation which sounds glorious. It is one of too few, spread too sparsely over a disc that too often clings to the female outsider musician stereotype. You would have hoped that the Brit School could have taught her to play a different role from the one the music industry wants.

Wavves- 'So Bored' (Young Turks)

Generation X, man. Rad. Etc etc. I'm 'So Bored.' Stick it to the man. Wavves are hyped on the blogosphere, their pop joys hidden under a layer of vicious noise. All the cool kids like 'em, so why don't you? Times New Viking comparisons are inevitable, and unavoidable.

It's loud, it's dirty, it's brilliant. A guitar riff plays out in the background, swooping female vocals join Nathan on his disaffected vocals. The noise acts as another instrument, another tone added to the mix. Much like Times New Viking, the question remains as to whether the songs would sound nearly so good cleanly produced. This matters little when the finished product is so special.

'How Are You?' marks a change from the sounds of the album, a slowly strummed detuned lullaby, the static hiss quietened to a whisper. It shows an almost sweet side, a skinny jeaned balladeer. “There's a hole in my head, I won't make it to 25.” It's a strung out melancholy beauty. Both tracks here show that Wavves deserve every plaudit chucked their way.

Morton Valence- 'Falling Down The Stairs' (Bastard)

Clonking metaphor occurs at 0:10 in. Listener dies a little on the inside. 0:56- singer mmmms through a bit where she couldn't come up with a line, like a Flight of the Conchords parody. 1:42- a rhyme of 'story', 'ignore me' and 'glory'. Listener decides a 14-year-old boy with a rudimentary grasp of English could do better.

If Morton Valence do want to be taken seriously, then an opening lyric of “I'm falling down the staircase of love” will not do it. It makes you sound like a 16-year-old over-earnest girl who thinks she's being poetic. It won't do. The music behind is sparse, and with different lyrics would spark up. As is, it's a failure.

'Veronica's Blades' massively improves things by dispensing of the vocals. A pulverising disco beat and synth lines make it a stylish beauty, and shows that were Morton Valence learnt how to write lyrics they could become something grand.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Crystal Stilts- 'Alight of Night' (Angular 16/2/09)

So many possible introductions. A lazy music journalist would make some “is 'crystal' the new 'black'” connection. If I were Ross Noble I'd make some poor attempt at describing the ker-azy implausibilities of walking on a pair of glass stilts. Or in an attempt to be trendy I could describe how this is a beautiful addition to the pantheon of shoegaze revivalism along with A Place To Bury Strangers and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

But although Crystal Stilts have been tarred with that brush, it doesn't really suit their hue. 'The Dazzled', other than a vocal coming through a slight haze, contains little hints of “sonic cathedrals” or whatever other clichéd shoegaze reference you cared to crowbar in. It's a simple rock 'n' roll ditty, based on a jangly guitar and reverb laden vocals. Garage rock would be a much more apposite genre placement.

And self titled follow up 'Crystal Stilts' sounds like a thawed out Raveonettes. Desert nights are channelled on 'Graveyard Orbit', a rattle of tambourine and Velvet Underground organ. 'Alight of Night' maintains a slow pace throughout, giving it a lethargic summertime feel. The hazy 1960s style production adds to this warm feeling. 'Prismatic Room' follows all the tenets of the pop handbook, but the layer of fuzz just adds something undefinable to the music.

'The Sinking' ups the languid pace, bringing to mind the pop nuggets of Vivian Girls, whose ex-drummer Crystal Stilts acquired on some indie transfer market.

Whilst all this backwards looking music won't nick Animal Collective's avant garde baubles, it does make you want to drive across America in a convertible, a shotgun on the back seat, sun blaring down and a blonde in the front seat. Freedom and guitars. 'Departure' brings to mind the 60s girl groups so beloved of Glasvegas and Bradford Cox.

Crystal Stilts aren't going to receive many plaudits for their lyrics. 'Verdant Gaze' features these clunky lines. “She awaits me impatiently, Floats around me weightlessly, She whispers to me wordlessly, Urging me to discern her face.” Not that it matters. Half the words are undecipherable, and they work better as just another instrument, a lamenting monotone over the top of the guitars.

The only low point on a record filled with rattling gems is 'Spiral Transit', which is too slow paced, with too much vocal mumbling and too little melody. All this can be forgiven though, for large swathes of 'Alight of Night' are joyous revivalist garage rock, dancing a waltz around all its opposition.

Titus Andronicus- 'The Airing of Grievances' (XL)

Titus Andronicus start slowly on 'The Airing of Grievances.' There is little implication of the noise that will come at the start of 'Fear And Loathing In Mahwah, NJ.' The vocals from Patrick Stickles are the only clue, like an enraged Conor Oberst, far away and over an acoustic guitar. Then, three minutes in, things go a little bit Glasvegas, a little bit Pogues. The most rock 'n' roll of instruments, bagpipes, can be heard pining away under pounding drums and feedbacking guitars, an air of celebration flows out of the speakers. The passion of youth flows. Just to hammer in the Shakespeare connection the track fades out into a distorted speech from the play they take their name from. Just in case we didn't get it, you know.

Underneath the bile and the thick serving of scuzz this is fairly traditional rock. The influence of the Pogues can be felt again on the harmonica led 'Joset of Nazareth's Blues.' The music and the themes
on show are as old as them there hills. The line “I was just another book on the shelf” from 'My Time Outside The Womb' is typical. Angry young men, beer fuelled and raging.

It seems appropriate then that these New Jersey boys take their name from Shakespeare's bloodiest, most immature work, a revenge themed play that ends with the line: “If one good Deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very Soule."

The literary references show up as typical teenage posturing. Camus features heavily, with 'The Outsider' quoted at the end of the epic shoegaze of 'No Future Part II: The Day After No Future.' Titus then go one step further, naming the album closer named after the old existentialist. These existential themes come through, the impression given of a band unconcerned about any possibility of a brighter day tomorrow.

The production means that the music is always emerging through a feedback haze, and by halfway through a break is needed. 'No Future Part I' provides it, a slow burn desert track that builds up into a brilliant torch song. The Conor Oberst comparisons float up again on 'Arms Against Atrophy', sounding like Desaparecidos reduced to working in a dive bar as a Bruce Springsteen cover act.

'Upon Viewing Bruegel's "Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus"' carries on with the scholarly themes, which at times feel crowbarred in to give the band some highbrow appeal. Which at times it seems they need. The self titled track, if you removed the fuzz, could almost be the Fratellis with its laddy whooped chorus. Unfortunately. Lyrics like “There'll be no more cigarettes, No more having sex, No more drinking til you fall on the floor” really don't help the mental image.

The band are young, and it shows. But coming from older gentleman the music would lose the passion that raises it above what it could have been. Apart from the occasional clunky line, the music generally emerges as triumphant, loud, passionate guitar led indie played by kids who really mean it, man. It emerges as something more than its component parts, whatever the moments of teenage passion that filter through it, like so many biro hearts drawn in an exercise book.

Sky Larkin- 'Beeline' (26/1/09 Wichita)

The almost inevitable one-two nature of tips for the years then becoming a success means that Sky Larkin are due for some amount of success in '09.

Not that this is even their best track, what with 'Antibodies' around. 'Beeline' still does good work, with a grungy outro and a general air of 1990s college rock filtering around. It's like a pepped up Pavement, fronted by a Northern lass with a beautiful croon.

The word 'driving' rises to the fore like bubbles in a lemonade. You try to avoid writing it for its horrible late afternoon radio connotations. But it's driving in the best sense, a song with movement, poise and joy in its two and a half minutes.

All that and we didn't even mention the single has been released as a watch. More practical than Of Montreal's lantern, for sure.

LR Rockets- 'Dance It Away' (Silverdoor)

Here's a mental image challenge. One of the B sides here is called 'Death of the UK'. And the band you imagine is.... The Enemy, right? Some kind of awful landfill indie band anyways. Well, the A side is out to trick you, so watch yourself, boyo.

'Dance It Away', is full of false promises. Guitars descend in a very a la mode fashion, and a pacey bassy burble create energy and momentum. It's a track you can imagine sounding even bigger, and greater live. The bad images are dispelled.

Then it all goes wrong on the aforementioned 'Death of the UK'.“The UK's in a mess, what we going to do?” Unless this is irony of the archest kind, the song runs like some awful Daily Mail op ed piece written by a terrified crone with poisoned veins, reporting “Kids have got knives stabbing one another.” Fevered broad strokes painted over the whole British youth, the lyrics only get worse.

They're worth a further dissection. Here's a couple of couplets from near the end of this sub-Twang drivel. “UK's in dismay, we haven't got a clue, the stupid things they say, the stupid things they do.” They, one must presume, are the 'politicians'. All that emerges is empty ignorant sloganeering rhetoric. And the worrying idea that some other poor band didn't get signed in place of these morons.

Just like an errant son with an unforgivable flaw they then try to make it up to you with a energetic slice of paranoid filled rock in 'Animal'. The melodies are derivative, but LR Rockets are good enough at what they do to almost overcome the barrier. But the damage is done. I'm not upset. I'm just very disappointed.

Oh, Atoms- 'Sugar Mouse/Let's Go Away' (Lucky Motel)

These songs feature: confectionery references, a guiro, banjo, cheap keyboard noises. If this were a crossword clue, the answer would be 'twee'.

Belle and Sebastian are conjured over the melange of instruments that make up the Oh, Atoms acoustic orchestra. The lyrics on 'Sugar Mouse' reference sweets and a lover, being all clever and metaphorical. Regard: “Just a quarter of you would be better than this empty wrapper.” Cynics would dismiss this all as sickly fey indie kid nonsense, but they fail to see the pop loveliness conjured up.

On 'Let's Go Away' things get a little Slow Club, a simple duet backed by ukelele and guitar. It bemoans a lost love – “Nobody does it like you, but you're gone” - pure sentiments over sparse music. It is a heart tearing moment of gentle beauty, and shows the magic that Oh, Atoms have within.

The Leisure Society- 'The Last Of the Melting Snow' (Wilkommen Records 14/12/08)

Mercury Prize winning lyricist extraordinaire Guy Garvey gave this his much coveted 'Single of 2008' award. A list of expectations results: gently instrumented indie- CHECK, melancholy vocals- CHECK, beauty and wonder- CHECK.

That the Leisure Society tick all of those boxes is no bad thing, however. Who doesn't want to be as grand as Elbow are? Not that this is a spot the difference game. The band play things a little simpler than Elbow, a little less bombast in their soup of music. And few will reach Garvey's way with words.

On their own merits they emerge as winners. A simple ¾ piano line is supplemented with violins and woodwind. Poise and elegance flood through the melodies, with simple lines like “America seems an awful long way to go” riddled with sadness. On the flip side 'A Short Weekend Begins With Longing' rattles along on a banjo line, breezy and, in essence, pop. It doesn't reach as high as 'The Last Of The Melting Snow', but it shows a reassuring breadth of ideas. Guy Garvey right again- CHECK.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid- NYC (Domino)

The fourth collaboration between him out of Four Tet, and him out of the old time jazz drummers home arrives, aiming to ingest and spit out the ambiance of New York.

Album opener 'Lyman Place' creates instant menace, like a sped up John Carpenter soundtrack. Assault On Precinct 13 on fast forward. A keyboard rolls on a rapid low down sound, as Steve Reid adds his clattering and rolling jazz drums. Wooden percussive noises slowly filter in, before what sounds like a jet engine powering up is added to mix. The idea of trying to record a city to tape comes out- aeroplanes, the interplay of ethnic mixes, the darker side in the bassy synths.

The juxtaposition of jazz drums and burbles of electronica make an interesting change from the 808s, drum machines and disco handclaps that normally proliferate in this field. It gives an organic feel, one of humanity (something it has in common with Hebden's work with Four Tet).

Recorded in two days, the skill of the duo means that the record does not feel rushed. Song breathe in and out, and feel like cohesive wholes. But the speediness of its creation also means that the album retains as much energy as the city its based on. This is perfectly demonstrated by '1st and 1st', which gives the impression of a sweaty club, hipsters shaking skinny legs to the funked up guitar riff.

'25th Street' brings a more lethargic feel, and features a sample that sounds like someone slurping up cup of fizzy pop. Steve Reid pounds his drums heavy and deep. The night is winding down. An alarm beep closes proceedings, your mind imagining sunbeams penetrating paper thin curtains as the night is brought to an end.

'NYC' works like a narrative without any words, a picture book tour of the Big Apple. 'Arrival' follows '25th Street' but it's gentle guitar work and propelling drums give it the feeling of a train journey, or a walk in winter sunshine. The night time of the first few tracks is replaced by new dawns of crystal synths and overdubs, the momentum regained.

Then the story takes a pastoral departure with 'Between B & C', acoustic guitars echoing around and around, the electronics taking a back seat whilst the drums carry on their clatter. 'Departure', however, sounds glitchy and doesn't fit together. Drums fade it in and out, an echoing tap fails to hold it together. It feels like left over bits from the session glued together to form a closing track.

Or perhaps it's a comment on the disparate nature of the five boroughs of New York, the uneasiness of the song a reflection of a city that doesn't fit together how it should. The former seems more likely, and mires an album that throughout feels like a cohesive piece, one that conjures images of a metropolis through its wide palate of sounds.

That such an imaginative and distinct piece could be conjured in just two days shows the talent that Hebden and Reid possess. That it is almost all glorious, avant garde electronica of high quality is a great bonus.

The Capitol Years- 'Revolutions' (SOE Records 5/1/09)

Some well worn musical advice is that to use the word 'revolution' in music is setting up ideals that you will never meet. Music does not inspire upheaval, or protest. It merely provides the soundtrack for the clip show montage. Anyways, The Capital Years have a lot to prove.

It does not start so well for them. The opening bars of 'Revolutions' greatly resemble the theme tune of the bastion of cutting edge comedy, Teachers (or The Boy With The Arab Strap, by Belle and Sebastian, if you are such minded). Within a few seconds, however, a lilting pop song emerges. Melodic, with shifting time signatures and pretty little edges littered throughout, like those flecks of gold in Goldschläger. These do enough to render what could have been a simplistic pop song into something much more transcendent.

Even the B-side 'CIA' is crammed with pluck, a melancholic beauty. The lush melodies show a band that have the well worn lines of age carved in their faces (MySpace boasts of 5 previous albums). 'Revolutions' makes you wish this wasn't their first single to be released over here. Lazy Yanks.

No lesser beings than Radcliffe and Maconie have tipped the Capitol Years for success. Fingers crossed.

Tame Impala- 'Tame Impala EP' (Modular)

Impala have a pretty tasty set of horns, all twisty and shit. If I wasn't a veggie, I'd go and hunt one right about now. But this band ain't no antelopes, they're men. Real men. From Perth and everything.

They open the EP with 'Desire Be Desire Go', a song that rocks you, gently, with the vocals sounding like they've come via time travel from some sixties acid test. It is, ich, pretty darn groovy. But in a very good way.

The production seems to take influence from Ariel Pink's school of 60s production in a digital age, but it suits the psychedelic feel of the music. Everything feels like it's emerging through a smoky haze in a paisley drenched room. It also leads to the band feeling a bit like Times New Viking if they regressed a few decades.

The band seem to meander on 'Skeleton Tiger' lost in what feels like an endless jam at times, before the melodies re-emerge from under the throws for an all to brief . It seems a strange choice for a single, particularly when compared to 'Half Full Glass Of Wine', which revolves around a simple guitar riff and rollicks along like a less virtuoso Hendrix.

'41 Mosquitoes Flying In Formation' is even better, the riff sounding that little bit off kilter. Tame Impala sound a little raw, the songs all full of quirks and departures down the garden path into technicolour nooks and crannies.

It enlivens what could be seen as 60s pastiches into something much more interesting. There's even a fucking sitar on 'Slide Through My Fingers'. And it still sounds good. The interesting rough corners haven't been sanded down yet. Fingers crossed no one does.

Liam Finn- 'Better To Be' (24/11/08)

New Zealand, forever now thrown into ridicule by their fourth most popular comedy folk duo. Liam Fin is trying to change this, but is also tainted by the Kiwis last big export that isn't lamb, Crowded House. For Liam is the son of lead singer Neil Finn. You gotta feel for the kid.

Luckily for Liam he escapes all associations, and deserves a less cliched introduction than he just received. But my delete key broke, so tough. 'Better To Be' takes a blobby keyboard bass and adds pretty strummed bits all over the shop, along with a healthy serving of angelic backing vocals. It's all very summertime in the park.

The only down note is the flawed ending, where the track just stops during a quiet period, where you keep expecting the beefy keyboard part to come back. That part is what gives the melody its momentum, and makes the dream pop of the song work. But when the fractions all come together, it makes a deliciously sweet whole.

Stricken City- 'Lost Art' (17/11/08 Blue Flowers)

Stricken City feel indie in the most pejorative sense. The bass does a neat and busy rumble, and the guitars sound suitably laidback and relaxed. Female vocals swirl over the top. The boxes are ticked. This is officially 'on trend' for 2008.

In its own indie pop way 'Lost Art' is very pretty and fey. The indie girl twirling on the dance floor, and just as inconsequential. And you just end up feeling patronising, wanting to ruffle the track's hair and say “cute” as you brush past on your way to something way more interesting.

A crisp packet twirling in the breeze will be a more memorable part of your day. Which is a sad state of affairs considering there's nothing essentially wrong with it. It's just nice. 'Lost Art' simply does nothing to lodge itself into your head, a faceless blur in the crowd.