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albums - current and forthcoming releases...                                page 11

Earlier Reviews | see previous reviews page (#10)


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Frank Black
The Boggs
Bright Eyes
John Cooper Clarke
Elf Power
Hot Zex
Interpol
Kicker
Kid 606
Klint
Ben Kweller
The Levellers
Liars
The Music
The Pattern
Pony Club
The Simpletons
John Squire
Various Artists :  Pushing Scandanavian Rock To The Man Vol III
 JOHN SQUIRE Time Changes Everything (Northcountry)
 

Soon after denying a reformation of the Stone Roses we discover why – John’s been busy producing his debut solo album.  It was recorded in his converted garage studio and features three other musicians, none of whom are ‘names’.  He’s eschewed the Led Zeppery of Second Coming Roses and the pop rockery of the Seahorses to produce a melodic bluesy folk effort with Bob Dylan a clear influence.  This includes the vocals, which take some getting used to as they are extremely affected but if you can forget that he’s actually from Manchester rather than Minnesota you can just about appreciate them eventually, along with the lyrics which are reasonably good.

The album kicks off with possibly it’s worst track, Joe Louis, a bluesy dad rock effort with Squire adopting the intonation of Bowie on his vocals, which sounds too false – imagine Brett Anderson singing Weller’s The Changing Man.  The second, I Miss You, sounds like 70s bluesy Dylan, bordering on Clapton, though it is actually better than that might sound.  Luckily from there on he sticks mainly to 60s Dylan style acoustic balladry and though there’s no I Want You or Positively 4th Street there’s a few that get close enough to ensure a few Mojo readers will be delighted (and some no doubt enraged that he should attempt to mimmick Mr Zimmerman…). 

The title track is the highlight and according to Squire is about the Roses.  It starts with “It was such a low down trick you played me” but goes onto offer a conciliatory hand; “Why did we have to say goodbye? Time changes everything. I now know why the caged bird sings”.  Similarly 15 Days is presumably about his former band (or possibly the Seahorses?) and is pretty scathing in places (“he’s no partner in crime”) though the incidents and victims are not specific enough to identify. 

Other high points are the brooding Shine A Little Light and the pleading Welcome to the Valley (“Falling for you was easy but standing back up again is gonna hurt”).  The Dylan obsession permeates every corner of the album, even down to its titles: I Miss You, Shine a Little Light, Transatlantic Near Death Experience…  Indeed surprisingly for a man famous for his ahem fretboard wanks, he restricts himself to no more than the occasional brief lead to fade or background pick shuffling. Most of the foreground stringwork is acoustic, with additional plaintive but pleasant piano accompaniment.  How this album will go down with the millions worldwide who purchased the first Roses album will be interesting to see but I suspect it will be respected and enjoyed by the odd middle aged muzo chinstroker.  And as Paul Weller has shown, there’s money to be made there.

Review by Mawders
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BEN KWELLER Sha Sha (679)
 

Ben Kweller stares at us vacantly, as distant as a summer sunset, as vague as a confused language. Ben Kweller has a toothbrush in his mouth. It's a bright red one, a wholesomely American symbol. Ben Kweller hasn't made a very good album.

Still only 20, Kweller was lead man in grunge up starts Radish, who about 5 people in the UK remember, and has now produced "Sha Sha" his full length debut. His grunge roots are noticeable, but he now inhabits a Weezery, Pavementy, Lemonheadsy ball park. Slacker, stoner, American. All wasted days stoned, impressing fit young girls with his "poetry", laughing at those unfamiliar with the entire discography of the MC5.    Opener "Wasted And Ready" is, however, quite fantastic, a Weezer lite chorus howled under a barrage of emo guitars and sexually charged lyrics. To say it's all downhill from here would be a lie, an easily conceived piece of lazy journalism. An easy escape route from proper analysis of the album. But, well, it's all downhill from here.  "Family Tree" and "Lizzy" both show Kweller can do Indie ponderous well enough, but embarrassing emo disasters like "Commerce, TX" and "Make It Up" are the sound of arrogance, the sound of a man who thinks enough clever lyrics and cute, bogged-eyed stares at the camera will win him fans. Other tracks on this record pass you by like girls in pubs. They float along pleasantly, sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly, always chugging datedly along.

I expected somewhat more from this album. I thought It's be a little US indie treasure, full of tracks to play to friends and put on compilation tapes. Full of secrets, lies, emotions, truths, and feelings. But, a bit like Ben Kweller after a drag from his favourite brand of herb, it's wasted, it's tired, and it's of no use to anyone.
 

Review by Joe
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INTERPOL Turn on the Bright Lights (Matador)
 

For a few years from about 1978 any British band with any cred sported long overcoats and produced dark, brooding, bass led music.  It was named post-punk or new wave by those who insist on giving a movement a name and ‘miserable’ by the non-believers.  To the young predominantly male angst ridden fans it was a good clean excuse for locking your bedroom door and turning the lights down low.   Now in 2002, a young New York band, half Brit/half American have revisited the sounds of that era.  Fortunately, they’ve not confused gloom for lacking a toon so what you get are eleven dark pieces of post-punk aural perfection.

So who deserves credit for inspiring these skinny tied merchants of doom?  Well there’s certainly plenty of Psychedelic Furs in there (particularly with PDA and Stella Was A Diver), the moody atmospherics of Joy Division (Leif Erikson) and the pleading callings of Ian MacCulloch of the Bunnymen (Obstacle 1).  Even the Smiths get a look in with the delicate The New (which towards the end transforms briefly into a Lydonesq PiL yelp) and This Charming Man re-written as Say Hello to the Angels.  So who’ll love ya baby? Well fans of all those previously mentioned obviously but also those who appreciate the more intelligent mood music of this moment - the Doves and Radiohead leap out.  Make a little room for some gloom.

Review by Mawders
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LIARS They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (Blast First)
 

Liars play a sort of art-rock, with a generous leavening of 80s post-punk-funk and dance music influences that stop their songs, weighed down as they are with long and obtuse titles, from slipping over into pretension.  “We got our finger on the pulse of America” sings Angus Andrew on the opening (and best) track Grown Men Don’t Fall In the River, Just Like That but that song shows they’ve also been soaking up influences from the 80’s UK scene.  The spiky, angular guitar is pure Gang of Four with traces of Pigbag punk-funk.  The guitars add a thorny topping but the rhythmic base of all this is the doomy bass and percussion which drives each song along.  The vocals are howled over the top, a bit like the noise of Velcro separating.  Other dance influences come on Tumbling Walls Buried Me in the Debris with ESG on which the hip-hop pioneers get a rightful credit for the samples and Liars get all Prodigy (circa ‘Firestarter’) on us.  The powerful, driving beat and incessant tone of the songs makes the general effect unsettling and paranoia-inducing. 

The last track This Dust Makes That Mud is the strangest.   For the first 8 minutes, it’s conventional: powerful, droney and rhythmic, with a doomy bass sound and synth squeaks sounding like something from the Cure’s ‘Pornography’ period.  Then a musical phrase begins to be repeated and it goes on for the next 22 minutes.  At first it’s intriguing, then it becomes boring and about 18 minutes into the song you feel exposed to a form of sensory deprivation: are they fucking with my mind?  Whether you get to the end of it depends on whether you think it’s artful and hypnotic or just indulgent but, for me, there’s a fascination: is that a chant repeating the words “you’re going to hate me” or just a pattern the mind seeks out to make sense of relentless noise?  Either way, there’s no bag you can conveniently drop Liars into and, in these pre-packaged consumer-friendly times, that ought to be a cause for celebration.


Reviewed by Ged
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THE PATTERN Real Feelness (Wichita)
 
“Pattern”, says my Concise Oxford Dictionary, is “an excellent or ideal example”.  In this case, it’s a perfect example of snarly, powerful, melodic garage rock.  And that’s all you basically need to know.  If you want more, try crossing the punk attitude of the Saints with the blustering swagger of the Hives, stick in a few woo-oo-oos (Fragile Awareness), and you have the finest way to pass a few seconds over 30 minutes since…OK, the Pattern are part of that garage crowd, all loud and driving songs who worship at the Nuggets altar, but it’s the tone and attitude that marks this out plus a perfect updated take on the 60s and 70s garage sounds.  Bits are reminiscent of fellow San Franciscans, the Flamin’ Groovies (try The Best Hate the Rest for thunderous drumming, flat out guitar and a hearty respect for melody).  Mary’s Sister Margaret Jones is Stonesy blues-rock and You or You is pure Saints punk rock with a melodic descent into the chorus that will leave you gasping.  Chris Applegren has the Chris Bailey sneer as he snarls and drawls the lyrics.  There are some ‘Start’-like Jam riffs on Last Night Calls and She’s a Libra is melodic and ultra catchy.  Though they take second place to the riffs, the lyrics give rise to some amusement either because they’re nonsensical “she’s standing on the zebra because it’s fucking fur” or they run out of ideas and don’t care: “athletes train. Oh all but this one/he’s too vain or he’s too something”.   Oh hell…sometimes words are incapable of capturing something so punk-dumb and self-evidently good-time as this.  Just put on the album, crank up the volume and let your heart tell you what your brain can’t explain.

Reviewed by Ged
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BRIGHT EYES  Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (Wichita)
 

With four Bright Eyes and one Desaparecidos albums under his belt, Conor Oberst is spewing our words and tunes at a rate which suggests he’s worried he won’t reach his 23rd birthday.  And despite the long list of musician credits on the album, it’s very much an album of his vision.  The album comes with a booklet designed to look like a book of Aesop’s fables and each song is laid out like a story…no, each song is a story and he’s set it to music.  Each song reads like a coherent personal tale, long on words, and the ageworn look of the pages suggests that each one is as moral as a children’s fable.  At time he has to cram in the words, almost overbalancing the meter in The Big Picture but somehow the coherence of the story and the beauty of the melody knits it together.  He uses exterior sounds at times (sounds from a car, studio commentary) and he drops in waltz time to go with his folky, country, low-fi sounds.  So far, so pretentious, but Oberst is allowed his youthful arrogance, especially when he makes something as ambitious and affecting and intriguing as this.   

His untutored voice occasionally sounds scratchy and braying donkey-ish but at other times it’s bright and emotional.  And he knows his way around a melody.  Listen to the lush, string-laden False Advertising where he sounds like Mark Eitzel.  Or to the end of You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will. where the song explodes from a low-fi Dylanish ballad into a fast, folky, REM-like moshathon.  The single From a Balance Beam is big, jangly and percussive, a torrent of words with no strict verse/chorus structure but it still holds together.  Laura Laurent is a maudlin and sorrowful love song, all piano and strings while the final track Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and To Be Loved) chucks everything into the pot: it’s a fast country-pop-folk-blues tune, a shade reminiscent of the Waterboys.  That’s just the music; you could analyse the lyrics for a week: the recurrent map/compass motifs, the religious language and the notion of pain and suffering but really it all boils down to the line in his last song: “how grateful I was to be part of the mystery, to love and to be loved.  Let’s just hope that is enough”.  Conor Oberst has more ideas on this album that most bands have in a career.  If you fancy 73 minutes of poetic, inspiring, alive music, of Americana without any preconceptions, this might be for you.

Reviewed by Ged
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PONY CLUB  Home Truths (Setanta)
 
Pony Club- strange name for a band, eh? Ah, but this is no ordinary band. This is Mark Cullen and friends, the artists formerly known as Bawl, who I believe had moderate success on the underground indie scene during the 90’s. Pony Club is Cullen’s latest incarnation and with Home Truths (Setanta Records, 2002) he appears to have found his feet. From the (Kid A/Amnesiac era) Radiohead-esque opening track "Fuck With My Heart" to the weepy "Home Is So Sad", this album is as close to genius as you will find nowadays. Yet, it is lyrically that Cullen shines most- with witty lines such as "I want to run ‘til the houses get ugly/ Where everyone calls their first-born Britney" or "You know you don’t say anything to me/ My life revolves around my local GP" . I could quote from almost any song on the album and pick out a fantastic line.

The underlying theme of domesticity running throughout makes the title of the album apt- with tracks such as "Happy Families" "Flakey Wife" and "Home is So Sad"- not surprisingly really, seeing as the album was recorded in Cullen’s childhood bedroom. Standout tracks include the catchy "Single" and "The Thing About Men" features some girl reading lyrics that were apparently written for Snoop Doggy Dogg (?!) over jingly-jangly electronic background music. The last verse of "Millions Like Us" especially, is an absolute killer- "If someone touched you once, I’d promptly shoot them in the face/ Oh honey, when you’ve had enough/ Let’s take a drive/ And listen to Shania Twain’s Best Of". Brilliant.  Cullen’s voice is part snarly Bono and part Tim Burgess, yet vocally, he manages to maintain an originality that could only come from his working class Dublin background.

Home Truths is definitely one to chill out to, rather than a party album. As it progresses, it can become a bit repetitive- perhaps too much to listen to all in one go, but definitely worth investigation. Cullen’s penchant for sardonic lyrics means that the music can be overlooked at times, but it’d be interesting to see how they hold up live.  All in all, a refreshing, different album full of catchy songs, clever samples from films and brilliant songwriting. Saddle up, ‘cos the ponies in this club are well worth a bet. Har har. [Note to Ed: Apologies for crap joke.]  It’s like their website says: "So then, Pony Club- showing the Americans where their white trash came from". Ah, to be sure.

Review by Neon
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HOT ZEX album (own label)
 

We’ll excuse Hot Zex their somewhat naff name as they are Russian.  However they do sing in English and they have produced a very British influenced album.  There’s liberal pourings of the Stone Roses, House of Love, the Lilac Time and Primal Scream, with an occasional twist of Stereolab.  It’s actually pretty good stuff too.  More info at http://www.hotzex.hotmail.ru.

Review by Mawders
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THE MUSIC The Music (Sony)
 
the music album (6275 bytes)Ha, the joyous explosion of perspective. The slow realisation of the cold light of day. Just over a year ago, everything was centred on The Music. The toast of the indie crowd, the darlings of the NME, the band to follow in the well trodden footsteps of Oasis, The Roses, and any other Northern band that excited rather than innovated. But they were but young pups. Now they've become a rather surly and wholly unattractive group of men. And finally released their debut album.

And what a tepid affair it is.  It's not an awful record. There will be worst albums released this year by people who have similar haircuts. But this is a record with none of the sparkling excitement of 'Definitely Maybe," none of the wondrous depth of "The Stone Roses" and none of the intelligence of "The Queen Is Dead".  But one thing you can't deny The Music have in bucketloads is passion. But often this passion is demonstrated by overextended outros and dull, self-indulgent solos and effects. All this gumph is illustrated in opener "The Dance". A live (where The Music are a wholly more attractive proposition) favourite it drags on like a blanket over a polished floor, and Robert Harvey's remarkable voice is wasted.  Ahh, yes that voice. The Music are at their best when Harvey;s howling away like a castrated wolf. "Take The Long Road And Walk It" is utterly mindblowing, Harvey screeching away, almost scatting near the end, and guitarist Adam Nutter swirling his axe like a stoned John Squire.  Indeed "Take The Long Road.." heralds a fine run of tracks. The emotional, but stil cacophonous howl of "Human", the atmospheric, Joy Division like "Truth is No Words" and their finest moment, "The People". A wonderfully rousing, clarion call of a song, it pounds along like a latter day Primal Scream impregnated by Led Zeppelin. But if the albums peaks, it soon troughs. It tails off worse than an England batting line up. Songs like "Disco" and "Getaway" are dull, monotonous messes, and dare I say it, almost prog-rock like in their conception. 

There are countless bands who produce music only an eighth as good as these Leeds boys. But after hopes were raised so high, this is a clear disappointment. A cautionary tale indeed.


Reviewed by Joe
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KICKER Five Forty Fives (Track and Field)
 


Like the Specials were to Coventry or Dexy’s to Birmingham, so are Kicker to Croydon.  It’s soulful urban guitar pop, using the pace of urban life to offset suburban ennui, to create an outlet which isn’t one selling hooky goods or a centre which isn’t one called ‘Arndale’.  Kicker pitch their sound somewhere between Stereolab and the Style Council, combining the DIY pop aesthetic of the C86 guitar bands with the itchy feet of a Northern Soul club.  This is a collection of their first five singles and there’s a startling consistency of quality over the twelve tracks making distinctions between notional A and B sides hard to draw.  The old soul influence is there is the surprising brass flourishes in The Long Way Down and the epic bass lines married to doomy indie stylings of Chancifer or the organ-compelled Boy Have You Got It? which screams “dance, sucker!” at you.  Then there are the jangly guitars of No More Tears and the classic Creation-band perfect pop sound of Baby Don’t Worry.  There’s a detour into the Nuggets-style beatnik pop of the Rivieras or the Seeds on the madcap The Falling Leaves.  The standouts on this album, today at least, are Said and Done, which has a Saint Etienne-like attention to pop detail: fast-paced but cool, mournful and angsty, with swirly organ and thumping bass making you sob and stomp all at once.  And there’s the pure melodic rush of On Your Floor, poppy, dancey, catchy as hell and the archetypal Kicker song.   Play these songs and you’ll discover that these boots weren’t just made for walking. 

Reviewed by Ged
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ELF POWER Creatures (Shifty Disco)
 


This is fantasy pop-psychedelia, like JRR Tolkien had eaten a couple too many magic mushrooms and accepted an offer to sing with the Velvet Underground, but only if he could sing in ancient elvish.  It’s weirdly subversive left-brain stuff: on the one hand it’s lovely, bouncy pop, insistently catchy and gently tickling you with sweetly sung vocals.  At the same time it dumps you in some sort of surreal parallel universe populated by serpents and other dread creatures, where you’re encouraged to “lie with the demon and sleep with the ghost” and “water turns to wine/dripping from the trees” (The Modern Mind).  That fantastic element is emphasised by pulp fictional titles like Let The Serpent Sleep and Palace of the Flames.  Musically, it’s in similar territory to the Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev, with well-written story songs, only less “produced”, but there’s also an unexpected chiming and jangly touch, reminiscent of C86 bands like the Close Lobsters, on songs like The Creature and Visions of the Sea.  Then, just when you’ve got them pigeonholed, they drop in a sea shanty on The Modern Mind and then sound like Kraftwerk meets The Ramones on Everlasting Scream.  Like those other Elephant 6 bands, Elf Power combine sixties psych with naughties pop in a clever, charming and captivating way.  Let them mess with your mind.
 

Reviewed by Ged
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FRANK BLACK  Black Letter Days (Cooking Vinyl)
 

Must forget the Pixies, must forget the Pixies, oh bugger… Having rather abandoned Frank Black after the first solo album I tried to avoid judging this against the glories of Charles Thompson’s earlier band, but then he goes and opens up (not to mention closes too) with a screechy Pixieised version of Tom Waits’ “Black Rider” and good fun it is too, though two appearances seems a little excessive.  In between, however, the fare is more familiar solo-Frank superior college radio fare.  The odd thing is that he seems to have made a determined effort to run the full gamut of pop styles, but filtering them all to sound like Frank Black like.  “How you went so far” is a take on the blues, “1826” is stripped down, off-key Led Zep, “the Farewell Bend” a folky singalong and “Southbound Bevy” nothing short of a soul-boy run through!  For anyone worrying that Charlie don’t surf no more, there are plenty of Frank’s bastardised surf-pop tunes and quirky lyrics too – at 17 different songs (and there’s apparently another new album knocking around too) this man in black is obviously enjoying his writing and this is good enough to revive my interest, if not blow me away.

Reviewed by SPT
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Various Artists  Pushing Scandanavian Rock To The Man Vol III (Bad Afro)
 

Those of you who have religiously read previous albums reviews will know that we’ve (ok, I have) a soft spot for Danish label Bad Afro and it’s bands The Burnouts, The Chronics and The Maggots and their infectious take on garage punk/rock/r’n’b/soul.  Now Bad Afro have come to muss your hair, belch beer breath and blow smoke in your face with this tasty taster of 15 acts, including the aforementioned bands, stalwarts The Flaming Sideburns, and a host of groups that give further proof that there is vibrant scene going on/down over there. 

If you can get past the cover with its knowing/dodgy blaxploitation pic, you will find 15 full-on tracks without a duffer in sight.  Suffice to say that, as mentioned above, the garage punk etc spirit and feel are present and tracks are as catchy as the crabs.  Pointless picking out all the tracks, but Baby Woodhouse’s Never Coming Back is a dirty 60s mix of rocknrollsoulfunkblues and demands we shout ‘Hey!’ along with it. Right on!  The Royal Beat Conspiracy’s Try Me is a diseased speedfreaksoul, which will have you spilling your drinks over the swelling organ. Ooer! Vegas VIP Nightrider comes on like a surfing Ghostriders in the sky and should be in a Tarantino flick.  Twang, Bang!  Species Ram It Up is as ballsy as The Bellrays, with the charming chorus of ‘Give me a reason and I’ll shove it up your ass’. Ewe said it!  Whilst The Launderettes Nobody But Me is a glorious girlgroup Tamla/northern soul stomper with rock guitar (of course)!  Reminds me, it’s wash night.  So, in short it’s terrific. It’s probably essential. Possibly.  Scandanavia must have a lot of garages, though. Just a thought.

More info at www.badafro.dk or www.vme-group.com .

Reviewed by Kev
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KLINT Klint (-)
 


It’s a brave band that wanders into the world with such an easily corrupted moniker, but Klint are good enough to avoid the insertion of asterisks into their name.  The album is amiable lo-ish-fi country rock, which calls to mind the pace and mood of Gomez, though with occasional nods to Nick Drake and, on the second track almost a direct lift from Slint’s Spiderland.  I’m afraid I can’t match the enthusiasm of their fans on Amazon, but this is a decent enough record worth sampling of youo like this sort of thing.

Reviewed by SPT
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JOHN COOPER CLARKE     Word of Mouth – The Very Best of JCC  (Epic)
 

Tracklist: (I Married A) Monster from Outer Space | I Don’t Want To Be Nice | Valley Of The Lost Women | Postwar Glamour Girl | Kung Fu International | Psycle Sluts | Twat | Marjorca | Gimmix! Play Loud | Beasley Street | Evidently Chickentown | Conditional Discharge | Limbo (Baby Limbo) | The It Man | Thirty Six Hours | Midnight Shift | I Wanna Be Yours | The Day My Pad Went Mad | A Heart Disease Called Love | Night People.

Punk, it has been observed, was a time of creative freedom.  That may be debatable given the inevitable safety pin by numbers bandwagon jumpers, but one true original was electric haired beanpole John Cooper Clarke the “punk poet” who’d stand up - armed with a nasal Mancunian accent and a notebook – and speed through his hilariously funny and wildly inventive poems. 

Although picked by CBS who released four albums (all represented here), JCC was never a runaway commercial success – not surprising really as he was never likely to appeal to the public except possibly as a novelty like Jilted John.  JCC released one live album (Walking Back to Happiness) and there are four live tracks where we get to hear JCC in his ‘milieu’ and his chewinggumchomping motormouthing renditions: Kung Fu International is much anthologised and will be familiar to anyone with a punk compilation, and Psycle Sluts is well known (Motorcycle Michael wants to buy a tank/Only 29 years old and he’s learning how to wank), and the compilers have got it absolutely right by including Twat, a virtual stream of conscience abuse (You have a slippery quality/It reminds me of phlegm), and the caramba, here I come of Marjorca (I got drunk with another fella/Who just brought up a previous paella’). 

For the three studio albums (Disguise in Love; Snap, Crackle and Bop; and Zip Style Method) JCC was joined by maverick producer Martin Hannett and other musicians and listening back to these tracks you have to appreciate the invention that went into providing not just a soundtrack to the poems but actually making music that complements the rhythm of the words and subject matter.  There’s a bewildering variety in styles, sounds and approaches overall – from the sci-fi blips and bloops of (I Married A Monster)…’ where JCC tells his tale of alien love (When we went out tentacle in hand/You could tell that the earthlings would not understand), to the spare chugging train rhythm of Chickentown (The bloody weed is bloody turf/The bloody speed is bloody Surf) and all points inbetween. It is very musically proficient – which may have alienated a punk audience wary of such ability.   But central to it of course JCC’s words and delivery.  That’s not to say that these are slight pieces – like The It Man, underneath it all there is a heart of solid dirt.  Humour flows through the poetry like, I think the man himself would say, sick as on Thirty Six Hours, a tale 36 hours in a prison where ‘everyone looks likes Ernest Borgnine’.  The latter tracks whilst not bad, can sound pedestrian to earlier tracks although Midnight Shift effectively conveys the misery of working to live (jobs are dirty, but we need the money).

Of course, as with any compilation there is stuff one may want to have included (I’d liked to have heard Suspended Sentence) but overall, this is an excellent introduction to JCC and at 20 tracks at over 70 mins is good value for money (even if it means working the midnight shift). 

Reviewed by Kev
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THE  SIMPLETONS Redemption on Demand (-)
 

The Simpletons avoid fads, quietly producing their own brand of clever infectious songs.  And I have to say that I love The Simpletons. I should also confess that I played bass on one of their tracks years ago and have had a song written by them for my birthday, but this in no way affects my judgement.  And outside of a group of friends you are unlikely to have heard of The Simpletons.  A home recording outfit, they have produced several albums distributed on cassette to friends – and to my mind, are as reliable as The Fall on producing quality material: at worst albums can be said to be interesting/experimental but more often than not they are chock full of catchy, humourous/bitter observational/confessional songs.  Redemption on Demand – again recorded at home but this time with the added creative freedom afforded by a digital multitrack - is probably their most commercial album to date.  Although a track about forgotten porn star Tina Cream – “She used to pose in Men Only/For men who were lonely”) is unlikely, in spite of being a terrific song, to get played on the radio (as if).

Adhering to a no-nonsense pop ethic of songs that should start, say what they have to say, and end, Redemption… has 14 songs clocking in at a respectable 40+ mins.  Packing in drum machines, layered guitars and vocals, and keyboards you might think it will sound cluttered.  Not at all, The Simpletons never let things out of control.   So what are they about?  Not enough space to do to do it justice but let’s just say that The Simpletons laugh at pretension and at the world around us (Retail Sector “VAT – Yeah!”) or Planet Daily Mail, with its sunny guitar and organ note riffs (“Somehow the sixties are to blame/Here on daily planet daily mail/Where every murderer walks free from jail”), or the media’s salacious obsession with Charlotte Church on the gently affecting Charlotte (I’m cutting out a photo of you/From a magazine/I have to get a new one each week/’Cos I cant keep ‘em clean).  As for Dead Babies – which starts of the album is instantly infective with its growly bass and organ plinking – it is, I understand, a metaphor for something to hang the blame on (“Lets face it/Your future doesn’t look so great/But we know who to blame now don’t we?...Dead babies”) whilst there's something positive in the starting life over again sentiments of Nothing Left with its Smithsy guitar (“The greatest day in my whole damned life was spent at the council tip… I threw away everything, oh yeah!”).

In short, I’m still in love with The Simpletons and there is not one duff track here.  OK, I’m a convert but if you’re converted copies of Redemption… are available from The Simpletons for 5.  Drop me a line and I’ll pass it on. 

Reviewed by Kev
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KID 606 The Action Packed Mentallist Brings You The Fucking Jams (Violent Turd)
 

Bit cheeky this one. Released on the mysterious New Zealand based Violent Turd label that Kid 606 claims isn’t his a few months ago, its surprising “The Fucking Jams” hasn’t got more publicity than it actually has. Inspired by the ultra-post-modern craze of bootlegging chart hits of now and yesteryear, the U.S. laptop whizzkid has run roughshod over a number of tracks ranging from the predictable (Missy Elliot, Eminem, Jay-Z) to the unusual and surprising (Bikini Kill, Soul II Soul, The Bangles) to create a mix that will please the perverse and frighten the neighbours.

The first track, “Sometimes I Thank God I Can’t Sing Because Than No One Can Blame Me For Anything” (typical short snappy Kid 606 title there) sets a rather ominous tone, with random electronic noises for three minutes, before leading into “MP3 Killed The CD Star” and a speeded up gabba-sounding “Purple Pills”, this track then proceeds to “go off on one” and merges into Jay Z and The Buggles.

Kiddy Needs A New Pair Of Laptops” slows things down a little with Soul II Soul samples alongside The BanglesWalk Like An Egyptian”, then the ante is upped by “Never Underestimate The Value Of A Holler” (VIPee-pee Mix), a brilliant cut-up of bootleggers favourite “Get Ur Freak On”, Bubba Sparxx’sUgly” and A-Ha’sTake On Me”. Ear-splitting drum sounds stop and start without warning, and Miss’s infamous line “Copywritten, so don’t copy me” becomes “Copy Me, Copy Me, Cooppppppyyyyy mmmmeeeeeeee”. Cheeky bugger isn’t he?

The next two tracks are more straightforward remixes, “Rebel Girl” being, well “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill and “Smack My Glitch Up” a song you may have heard by Kylie Minogue called “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, You get the feeling that the Kid loves these two rather different songs, due to the fact he doesn’t butcher them too much, “Rebel Girl” a riotous blast of punk and “Smack My Glitch Up” an ambient pop piece to remind you that there’s more to Kid 606 than noise.

Even more chilled-out, and the most affecting track on the album is the closer “This Is Not My Statement”, which takes a rather odd barbershop quartet version of “Creep” by Radiohead (artist unknown) and simply adds static spaced-out digital noises over the top. When it comes to the line “I don’t belong here”, Kid repeats this ad infinitum, building in volume over several minutes, creating a rather unsettling effect on the poor listeners ears that you can’t help thinking Thom Yorke would be proud of. Eventually the voice fades out, and for about seven more minutes the listeners ears are kissed better by the soothing static and nothing more, until the track cuts dead.

More accessible than “Down With The Scene”, “The Action-Packed Mentallist Brings You The Fucking Jams" still isn’t an easy listen, unless you are a regular user of ketamine. Nonetheless it is an amusing and at times ingenious and cheeky two fingers to copyright licensers terrified of this “Interweb” which threatens them and their precious wallets. Silly name though.

Reviewed by Rob Barker
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THE BOGGS We Are the Boggs We Are (Rykodisc)
 


the boggs (5572 bytes) New York must be an exciting place to live at the moment, every student must fancy their chances as the next Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond or Karen O.  Equally every scout for every major record label must be checking out every dingy bar and piss sodden subway platform for The Next Big Thing.  Maybe more bands of the quality of the Strokes and the YYYs still lurk there but surely the Boggs must think their train’s come in when their album finds itself pushed in my small local South London record emporium.  You see the Boggs really were on that piss sodden subway platform before Rykodisc got them to record this their debut album as they were buskers.

So who are they and what do they do?  Well they are a young fourpiece from Brooklyn with oddly English looks (one even sports a footy scarf on the cover) and they play stripped down bluegrass campfire music accompanied by off-key slurred vocals that sound like they are delivered with the aid of a quart of whiskey.  Oh and there’s the small matter of the enormous success of the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? (4 million and rising) which though they weren’t involved in will have created interest in bluegrass amongst a younger audience.  Indeed they’ve apparently been supporting a fair few bands at punk gigs where I suspect their originality will have served them well. 

The album kicks off with Whiskey And Rye which older British footy fans will recognise as the tune to Nice One Cyril.  It’s raucous, fun and a Southern States version of the Pogues.  By the second track, How Long?, you have cottoned on that the first track wasn’t a novelty effort and that mandolins, banjos, tin whistles and washboards are the prominent instruments and that you really will never understand the vocals.  The third track, On North Wood Ground, is slow and somewhat eery - you expect to hear the crackle of the fire, the chirrup of the crickets and the cry of a wolf.  From then on it’s like a long, occasionally ear pricking, occasionally painful, journey back in time to the 1930s with beans stirred, chickory coffee boiled and cows erm poked. 

It’s a deliberately odd album and occasionally frustrating.  Beside the Windowsill in particular would bring a tear to a glass eye though you need to check the lyric sheet to realise just how lovely as Jason Friedman’s gruff growling really are unsuited to the lovely melodies and words.  However the major complaint is that at a total length of 60 minutes it’s an album that tests the patience of all but the hardcore fan.  That aside, dip in for the highlights and it does make quite a refreshing change.

 Reviewed by Mawders
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THE LEVELLERS Green Blade Rising (Eagle Records)
 


It’s incredibly fourteen years since this raggle taggle crusty four piece first picked up a fiddle and and a banjo and stomped out of Brighton.  They picked up the punked up folk of the fading Pogues, Anglicised it, greened its politics and quickly became a musical focus for every squatter, dropout and new age hippy.  At the start of the 90s, if you saw a white man or woman with dreadlocks and a dog on a string (and there were lots of em) you can bet your bottom dollar they’d also have a Levellers T-shirt on.  But it wasn’t all image and posturing because behind the political outlook lay some damn fine tunes.  Indeed they could have, nay should have been contenders, had they not blotted their copybook somewhat by sending a turd in a box to NME in response to a poor review, an action that saw them banned any publicity in the rag for practically the whole of the 90s.

Alas, nearly a decade and a half and eight albums would test even the most inspired outfit and this their latest effort arrives on a small label without so much as a twenty one tofu salute.  Unfortunately there’s not much chance that the band will see their reputation as recording artists pass their good reputation as festival players with it either.  Too many tracks would not have merited B-side status in their early days and the lyrics are often cumbersome as they try to find new ways to explain the same old world problems.  However, there’s a few reasonably good efforts, namely the melodic and optimistic Four Winds, the singalonga Pretty Target, the Waterboys-ish Aspects of Spirit and best of all the radio friendly pop of Chorus Line.   So four hits, six misses - not too bad and certainly better than the last solo effort from Miles Hunt of similarly fiddley pop rockers, the Wonder Stuff, but is that really much of a compliment? 

Reviewed by mawders
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