Saturday, 11 July 2020

Boyracer Punker Than You Since '92



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From their origins in the late 1980s in Leeds, England, pop-punk outfit Boyracer have evolved into an ongoing, collaborative project, helmed by band founder Stewart Anderson. Punker Than You Since '92 aims to collect a mere 75 of the band's 500-plus releases, including rarities like its debut seven-inch vinyl single and a variety of other tracks previously available only in limited editions. The band's sound has elements of early-'80s Scottish Orange Juice-Josef K axis, adding its own jangly-guitar-mixed-with-feedback flavor to miniature pop gems like "That Boy Yr With Is a Dick" and the Superchunk-like "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Harder."

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The Family Cat Magic Happens


The Family Cat Magic Happens

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From the debut single, "Tom Verlaine," onward -- barring the minor glitch that was the mini-album Tell 'Em We're Surfin' -- the Family Cat's work was generally well received by the British music press. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm never really translated to sales figures, either at home or abroad. This second album on the Dedicated label underscores how unlucky the quintet from Yeovil was, never to achieve any significant commercial success. There's a certain amount of continuity from the 1992 predecessor, Furthest From the Sun, but Magic Happens is a more fully realized, polished achievement. This time around, the band's textured, melodic rock also has a consistently harder edge. This can be heard not only on driving tracks like the singalong opener, "Wonderful Excuse," and the charging, explosive "Airplane Gardens," but also on down-tempo, brooding numbers shot through with searing guitars: the melancholy power ballad "Your Secrets Will Stay Mine" and "Amazing Hangover," a song that captures the moody feel of its title. Although Magic Happens showcases the Family Cat's knack for variations in intensity and pace from one track to the next, those shifts are most compelling when they're seamlessly integrated within the same song. The standout "Move Over I'll Drive," for instance, swaggers along darkly in 6/8 time, occasionally bursting out of its quieter, slower spaces, and ultimately gathers momentum to build to a guitar-fueled climax. The title of the closer, "Nowhere to Go but Down," was ironically prescient, since this album proved to be the Family Cat's swan song. While Magic Happens is a fitting epitaph for one of the better British guitar bands of the period, it inevitably begs the question: why was this group left watching from the sidelines as their less-talented guitar-based contemporaries profited from the Brit-pop explosion of the mid-'90s?

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Ian Brown Golden Greats


Ian Brown Golden Greats

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Whatever its flaws, Ian Brown's debut album, Unfinished Monkey Business, suggested that he was the true visionary behind the Stone Roses, providing the wild mercurial ideas that were grounded by John Squire's classicist song structures. Its sequel, Golden Greats, confirms that notion. Less song-oriented than its predecessor and overflowing with neo-psychedelic sonic textures and dance beats, Golden Greats floats between dazzling peaks and unformed, unrealized ideas that are nonetheless quite intriguing. Some may miss the clear hooks that characterized the Stone Roses (and even parts of Unfinished Monkey Business), but Brown sounds revitalized here and the result is a fresh, frequently exciting record. True, it can get a little indulgent and it's not quite cutting edge (no matter how much he wishes it were), but that doesn't distract from its very real virtues. At its best, the album boasts wonderfully, subtly crafted productions brimming with neat textures (the organ riff, Mellotron, and sampled strings on "Set My Baby Free" are a perfect example) that are intriguing on first listen and grow richer with repeated listens. Like its predecessor, Golden Greats meanders a bit too much and it places a little too much emphasis on surface, but when the surface sparkles like this, it's hard to complain too loudly.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Echo & The Bunnymen Crystal Days 1979 - 1999


Echo & The Bunnymen Crystal Days 1979 - 1999

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The answer is a resounding yes -- Echo & the Bunnymen's Crystal Days: 1979-1999, a four-disc set boasting a great built-in book with a biography and track-by-track commentary, is worth every penny. Through 71 tracks, it does an excellent job by catering to the longtime fan and merely curious, running through all the hits and selecting standout album tracks, rarities, and unreleased curiosities, all worthwhile. The very fact that compilation producer Andy Zax was driven to put this project into motion after realizing he just had to find a way to get stellar B-sides like the Velvets-meets-Byrds heaven of "Angels and Devils" and the Peel Session version of the experimental "No Hands" into circulation tells you right off that you're in good hands. If this great-sounding box proves anything, it's that the Bunnymen don't deserve to be merely regarded as an excellent '80s band; sure, they've had some bumps along the road, but despite having thrived in a decade known for plasticity and fad crazes, this collection establishes that their legacy exists apart from the negative connotations the "'80s band" tag carries. And by carefully selecting songs from their '90s incarnation, they throw a pie in the face of those who believe all reunions are artistic no-nos. The first three discs run chronologically through the band's first 20 years, occasionally throwing surprises into the mix with alternative versions and outtakes. The only gripe one might have is the favoring of the "All Night Version" of "The Killing Moon" over the original, which would be nitpicky. The final disc is chiefly occupied by live covers, including a great set-closing combo of the Velvets' "Heroin" and their own "Do It Clean." This is no mere nostalgia kick -- it's just solid, ageless rock & roll with attitude and brains

Saturday, 27 June 2020

The Icicle Works The Best Of The Icicle Works



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With individual song comments from McNabb, an appreciative essay, complete discography, and fine artwork, the Icicle Works collection provides an excellent overview of the group's heyday. If not quite as strong as the band's debut album as an experience due to the inclusion of less successful later numbers, all the hit singles and some fine album cuts appear, not to mention an interesting rarity or two. Beginning with the "long version" of the chiming drive of "Hollow Horse" from The Small Price of a Bicycle, this collection fully showcases McNabb's passionate, elegant quaver and driving songwriting, as well as the abilities of the fine Layhe/Sharrock rhythm section. The three biggest hits get pride of place near the start: "Love Is a Wonderful Colour," "Birds Fly" (with wry comments from McNabb on its stateside re-titling as "Whisper to a Scream"), and "Understanding Jane." This last one appears in a 1992 version via remixing and extra overdubs by McNabb, but it's still a perfect blast of just-sly-enough pop/punk. He does a similar remix job with Small Price's gentler "When It All Comes Down," with equally fine results. "High Time," meanwhile, surfaces in its wonderful acoustic version from the "Kiss Off" single, while an otherwise unreleased track, the brooding, dramatic "Firepower," was recorded shortly before the original lineup collapsed.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Half Man Half Biscuit ACD



Half Man Half Biscuit ACD

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Half Man Half Biscuit is the sort of band that develops a mythology around it. Some myths are demonstrably false, like leader Nigel Blackwell's insistence that there is a thriving HMHB tribute band called "It Ain't Half Man, Mum!" Some have a kernel of truth, such as the story that the band rejected a prestigious slot on the weekly TV countdown show Top of the Pops because they already had tickets to a Tranmere Rovers game. And some you just hope are true because they're so perfect, such as the story that Blackwell broke up the band in late 1986 because their increasing success was interfering with his daytime television habits. For whatever reason, Half Man Half Biscuit did split up (temporarily) at the end of 1986, releasing a singles-and-strays compilation called Back Again in the D.H.S.S. as a farewell offering. (The double-punning title referenced not only the Beatles pun of their debut album Back in the D.H.S.S., but the fact that the end of the band meant its members were once again unemployed and therefore at the mercy of the government's Department of Health and Social Security, the folks who handed out unemployment checks.) When the band ramped up again three years later, their label Probe Plus released their first CD (hence the title), a slightly rejiggered and greatly expanded version of the vinyl Back Again in the D.H.S.S.. Several changes were made: the 1985 John Peel version of "All I Want for Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit" and the 7" remix of debut single "The Trumpton Riots" were dropped, and the previously unreleased "Carry on Cremating" was added, along with eight live tracks from 1986 including fan favorites like "Architecture and Morality and Ted and Alice," "Time Flies By (When You're the Driver of a Train)" and "Fuckin' 'Ell, It's Fred Titmus." Of the songs common to both vinyl and CD, several are essential HMHB tracks, including both sides of the band's second single, "Dickie Davies Eyes" (a withering attack on those nostalgic for the '70s, with the canonical chorus "All of those people who you romantically like to believe are still alive are dead/So I wipe my snot on the arm of your chair as you put another Roger Dean poster on the wall") and possibly the band's most utterly hilarious song, "The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman," about the horrors of discovering that your real dad is the guy who sang the weedy '70s pop hit "Ariel." Other highlights include "Arthur's Farm," which makes good use of the chorus hook from the Jam's "Eton Rifles" transformed into Simon Blackwell's synth riff, and the jaunty "D'Ye Ken Ted Moult," which mutates the old English ballad "D'Ye Ken John Peel" (from which a certain radio host named John Ravenscroft took his microphone name) into a celebration of a then-current series of TV ads for a brand of double-glazed windows. That level of multi-layered pop culture references and wordplay is exactly what the band's fans love about Half Man Half Biscuit, and the combination of ACD and the expanded CD reissue Back in the DHSS/The Trumpton Riots gives listeners almost everything the original 1984-1986 incarnation ever recorded.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

New Fast Automatic Daffodils Pigeonhole


New Fast Automatic Daffodils Pigeonhole

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Though they've been accused of being Happy Mondays soundalikes, New Fast Automatic Daffodils create quite an original racket on Pigeonhole. Mute is simply too smart of a label to sign a band of mimics. With a lazy, light dance vibe that can only be called groovy, Pigeonhole unfolds like a party on a platter. Repetitive vocals lines, evoking alternating gruff and laid-back moods, work quite nicely against a Peter Hook-sounding bass guitar. If the lyrics sometimes get a bit odd, as in "Fishes Eyes" with its talk of devils and fish eyes, the album's optimism-in-the-face-of-adversity theme is quite charming amid the catchy, accomplished music. Standout tracks include "Partial," "Big," "Amplfier," and "Partial." In these songs, New Fast Automatic Daffodils posture as if they're filtering the Happy Mondays ethic through Joy Division, the Birthday Party, and the Wedding Present. "Amplifier"'s tribal beats and hoarse vocals mark it as a song that should have been an underground hit. Pigeonhole's distant sound, thanks to smart production by the band and Danny Kelly, sets exactly the right stage for New Fast Automatic Daffodils' baggy vibes. Rolling beats, drugged guitars, and stylized vocals, all in the name of depressed funk, rarely work as well as they do here. Pigeonhole is a true gem in the genre of spacey, laid-back dance-rock.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Cud Leggy Mambo



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Recruiting XTC member Dave Gregory to handle production on much of the album, Cud made a much more consistently successful effort on Leggy Mambo, honing their blend of styles into a thoroughly charming romp. Throwing everything from Situationist slogans to intentionally sleazy late-night chat into their mix, the four seem dedicated to the prospect that humor, thrills, and a plain ol' good time can easily coexist without being mindless about the matter. Which they're not -- and when you consider the vast empty nothing most '90s bands dedicated to "good times" like the Spin Doctors and Hootie & the Blowfish created, it makes Cud's efforts all the more appreciable. Motown rave-ups, funk-inspired grooves that avoid sounding anything like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and pop hooks all happily blend together, with William Potter and Steve Goodwin showing a great control over what they do. Mike Dunphy, meanwhile, gets even more creative on this album, his guitar playing and keyboards both setting the moods well, while Carl Puttnam somehow finds himself as the best descendant of Tom Jones around, able to project with skill, dripping with charisma and never missing a step. At once conversational, smart and, when the need arises, smoothly silly, he'd be a find no matter what band he was fronting. Cuts like the pummeling "Not Exactly D.L.E.R.C." show the band taking the quicker, rushed side of its past and turning it into even more memorable fun, while the calmer arrangements of songs like "Love in a Hollow Tree" demonstrate a growing ability to try out more unexpected approaches. "Magic" became the album's best-known track, a seriously groovy number that was seen as a parody of then-rampant Madchester sounds but if anything is an amiable cousin to the freaked work of the New Fast Automatic Daffodils. [Cherry Red's 2008 reissue included six bonus tracks.]
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