Saturday, 28 January 2023

Regular Fries Accept The Signal


Regular Fries Accept The Signal

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Combining the drive of guitar rock and the rhythm of dance music into a cohesive whole is a task that too many bands have tried and failed to accomplish. With their full-length debut, England's Regular Fries have created a psychedelic melting pot of an album that successfully bridges the gap between these two genres in a way that should please both rockers and ravers. Littered with breakbeats over live drums and space guitars over low-end grooves, Accept the Signal works best when the Fries exhibit their rock roots. "Dust It" is a quintessential Fries track with its catchy bassline, squealing guitars, and Dave Brothwell's signature hushed singing. "Are you a figment of my imagination, or am I one of yours," Brothwell poses before the song's climactic howl. The Fries have a sense of humor, too, as they follow "Dust It" with the catchy hook of "King Kong," an ode to the famous primate featuring the mantra, "Better be a monkey if you like King Kong." The rest of the album is split similarly between ethereal blissed-out numbers (like "Dream Lottery" and "Anno Domini #1") and beat-driven rockers (like "Can't Face the Animals" and the cleverly titled "Swimming in Someone Else's Pool"). The only real misstep is "The Pink Room," a noisy rock song that plods along without really going anywhere. Although not the most consistent album, Accept the Signal is still a promising and ambitious debut from an adventurous band with a truly unique sound.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Senseless Things The First Of Too Many


Senseless Things The First Of Too Many

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Senseless Things' debut album, The First of Too Many, is a technicolor blast of frolicsome fun, from the typically bonkers Jamie Hewlett cover art through to the sunny melodies, shimmering production, and youthful energy that the band exude like sweat beads on the pogoing bodies of happy clubgoers. The rough-and-tumble vocals of Mark Keds pair perfectly with Ben Harding's powerful guitar crunch and the rhythm section's turbo-powered kick. Most of the album zooms past, riding a wave of punky dynamics, sing-along choruses, and snarky lyrics. They temper the rush and clatter with a surprisingly tender and sometimes sentimental side that's quite appealing. A song like "Best Friend" has all the razor-sharp guitar and rock-hard sonics one might expect from a band steeped in alt-rock and punk, while the lyrical sweetness and pristine vocal harmonies give the song some depth and staying power. It's a trick they pull off time after time -- except when they are just being bratty kids like on "Radio Spiteful," which is fun, too. The best moments on the album are when they veer far away from the punk side of the pop punk equation and aim for the heart of the pop side. The jangling guitars and harmonies of "Ex-Teenager" are classic power pop, "Fishing at Tesco's" goes full Replacements with some nice acoustic guitar strumming and a loping, hangdog beat, and "Should I Feel It" sounds like it ought to be the lead-off track on every power pop collection ever put together. Tempering these high points, there are a few times when they get a little close to the alt-rock cliches of the day -- especially on the downbeat grunge ballads "American Dad" and "Different Tongues" -- and the album sags just a touch. "Got It at the Delmar" is a little corny as well, with its rave-y sound effects and Flea-lite bass plunking, but somehow, mostly thanks to the raw energy the band pour into it, the song works like a charm. That element of energy goes a long way to explaining why this album is so good. At this point, Senseless Things were a whirling ball of energy, in touch equally with their punk and pop sides, and as long as they didn't get too serious, they sounded a lot like the best little band around.

Saturday, 21 January 2023

Earl Brutus Your Majesty... We Are Here



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Being in the 90s meant growing up when Britpop was in full flight. Now, 27 years later, I like to think about how things might have turned out if more of the bands from the iconic Select magazine cover featuring Brett Anderson had broken through. That cover announced the Britpop scene (let’s ignore the awful, “Yanks go home” headline). I imagine that if Denim, The Auteurs and Saint Etienne had made it past cult success (like their fellow covermates, Pulp and Suede), they would have made an excellent alternative Britpop scene to some of the uninspired bands we ended up with (Cast, Ocean Colour Scene, Stereophonics). In this imagined version of Britpop, I like to think there would have been a place for Earl Brutus in the charts too. In reality, they were another great cult band and today are the great unsung heroes of that era. Earl Brutus started releasing singles in 1993 after lead singer Nick Sanderson left World Of Twist and met Jamie Fry. They built up a small following over the next few years with a series of excellent singles. When their first album, Your Majesty, We Are Here came out in late 1996, that following remained modest. They were a regular on ITV’s Chart Show indie chart top 10, but never got close to the actual top 10. Despite the lack of chart success, they appeared defiant in spirit throughout their brief career. Their early single, the triumphant ‘Navyhead’, does a good job of setting the stage for the album. Sanderson’s distorted opening vocals are reminiscent of Mark E Smith at his most fierce. This is followed by huge drums and guitars which were a common theme in their material. By the time they get to the first chorus the excitement they create is infectious. Things don’t slow down with ‘I’m New’, which evokes 90s rave culture mixed with glam rock. ‘Don’t Leave Me Behind Mate’ is a highlight representing Sanderson’s skill at making the oddest lyrics sound moving. Here he pleads, “please don’t be impossible, Steve it’s only alcohol” in an impassioned manor. ‘Shrunken Head’ is ridiculous and amazing at the same time. Sanderson again steals the show singing, “shrunken head, massive head” over and over.The placement of the previous single, ‘Life’s Too Long’, is perfect. It’s kept as the penultimate track, which makes it feel like the most important song in the world when the drums start and Sanderson sings, “Bus driver keep on bussing, you’ve gone on and lost your luggage”. They make us wait over two minutes until the massive football chant-like chorus arrives. The clapping drumbeat teases the listener before the chorus arrives. In my imagined alternative Britpop world, this was their number one single. Amazingly, ‘Life’s Too Long’ isn’t the best song on the album. Amongst the big glam anthems that fill this album there are brief electronic interludes that show a different side ‘(Thelmex)’ and ‘(Curtsy)’. Similar in style to those interludes is the striking, ‘On Me, Not In Me’. Sanderson tells us, “nice times are here again” as an eerie electronic lullaby plays in the background. It’s unnerving and a real contrast to their glam-inspired material. The chorus sounds like a lost electronic single from the 70s. It could be a Kraftwerk outtake or a second single by Daniel Miller’s The Normal. Anyone who knows this song will know that the line, “take me to your harvester” means something very special. For 30 seconds the song almost turns into a big rock anthem. A harpsichord playfully appears as the band turn into rock gods and drums and guitars come crashing in, announcing that something big is about to happen. Then it stops and the song reverts into electronic melancholy, with the title of the chorus repeating until it ends abruptly. These three minutes are a huge part of why this is one of the most exciting and flawless debut albums of all time.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

The Pearlfishers Across the Milky Way


The Pearlfishers Across The Milky Way

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During the always-nostalgic '90s, any number of musicians paid homage to some combination of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Burt Bacharach, trying to channel those influences into perfect pop that could actually stand alongside the work of their heroes. From the gruff Fab Four cops of Oasis to the acidic easy listening of the Divine Comedy to even the angelic, surf-kissed harmonies of R.E.M.'s Up, you could hardly open your ears without some reminder of the divine three B's. But no one, perhaps, has been able to invoke the entire trio as effectively as the Pearlfishers' David Scott does on Across the Milky Way, a gorgeous album good enough not to send you immediately scurrying to your record collection for a taste of the real thing. Songs like the pastoral title track, something Brian Wilson might have conjured up if he'd been born in Scotland instead of California, and "New Stars," three blissful minutes of everything that's great about jangle pop, are the real thing, in fact -- and that's just the first two cuts. With help from a string section, horns, a pair of drummers, and even a banjo player, Scott isn't limited in his influences. A true student of pop, he nods here to everything from the Brill Building to sentimental '70s AM radio fare. But he always returns to those often-elusive touchstones, with impeccable results. Wouldn't Bacharach himself want to claim the heart-tugging, flügelhorn-flecked instrumental "The Vampires of Camelon"? Wouldn't Mike Love and company have loved to tackle the soaring chorus of "Shine It Out"? And couldn't the gentle "Paint on a Smile" pass for a McCartney offering from a mid-period Moptops album? To some, that probably reads like sacrilege, especially given that Scott's lyrics, while often evocative and never dumb, aren't the equal of his music. Then again, that would be a tall order indeed -- and after all, the words of Scott's idols are usually remembered far less often than their hummable, loveable, damn near-inescapable tunes. If those are what you're looking for, then Across the Milky Way sounds like an outing for the ages.

Saturday, 10 December 2022

Various A Very Special Christmas 2



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Although not even half of this CD is outstanding, it was recorded for a worthwhile cause (the Special Olympics), and contains some great songs, most notably Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "Christmas All Over Again" -- this is jingle-jangle pop at its best. Boyz II Men wrap their a cappella voices around "The Birth of Christ," and the two Wall of Sound standouts, Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector bring their powerful voices together for the first time on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Bonnie Raitt duets with Charles Brown on his sexy "Merry Christmas Baby," while Aretha Franklin shows why she's called the "Queen of Soul" on "O Christmas Tree''

  

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Various A Very Special Christmas



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Recorded to benefit the Special Olympics, this has some of the biggest names in contemporary music, most covering seasonal favorites with mixed success. Outstanding tracks include the Pretenders "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," with Chrissie Hynde giving a touching performance. Run-D.M.C.'s topical "Christmas in Hollis" relies heavily on sampling "Back Door Santa," and may head you toward the dance floor. Alison Moyet's stately version of "The Coventry Carol" is beautifully Haunting

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Ian McNabb Merseybeast


Ian McNabb Merseybeast

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Merseybeast (an album title to savor from the Liverpool native) marks McNabb's third solo collection of refreshing, heart-on-sleeve, no-hidden-agendas pop/rock. He communicates such an open, wide-eyed innocence through his work that it's difficult at first to believe he can be for real. But McNabb's willingness to express, from a male perspective, emotions uncommon for conventional rock's posturing swagger soon makes you a convert. When, for instance, was the last time a guy convincingly sang about "Camaraderie" in a way that could (at least, until the very end) apply in an equally touching way to a male or female respondent? The tone of McNabb's cosy-fireplace vocals -- especially on ballads like "Too Close to the Sun" -- sometimes evoke legendary crooner Scott Walker, likely through such second-hand bridges as David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, or perhaps fellow-Liverpudlian Julian Cope's (the Teardrop Explodes) influential 1981 Walker compilation The Godlike Genius Of.... At the same time, parts of Merseybeast (notably "Heydays" and "They Settled for Less than They Wanted") make me think of some lost Mick Ronson album. On his own sporadic solo releases, the late Spiders from Mars guitarist shared McNabb's talent for making an ingratiating, "golly-gee" naivete work to his advantage. (Speaking of "They Settled," I can also hear former Call vocalist Michael Been tackling this dense, lugubrious anthem of disappointment and missed opportunity, one of the rare downers on the disc.) "Don't Put Your Spell on Me" harkens back to Liverpool's postpunk salad days, a track that would have been envied in the early '80s by both Echo & the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes.

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Roddy Frame The North Star


Roddy Frame The North Star

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Roddy Frame emerges from his Aztec Camera moniker with a charming blend of jangling guitars and soulful crooning. "River or Brightness" is a particularly beautiful standout track, where Frame's mandolin creates poetical dense waves of charm. There's not really much sonic difference from an Aztec Camera release, as every album was basically a Roddy Frame solo affair, in that he's written almost every Aztec Camera song on his own. The North Star is a pleasure throughout the ten tracks, as he never fails to register sweet emotion or frolicking joy. "Bigger Brighter Better" suggests that Frame is both overjoyed with and at full-mastery of his endearing acoustic pop style. "Sister Shadow" sounds as if it has been produced by Phil Spector at the peak of his skills. For every song of happiness, there's a complementary track of subtle soul searching. The singer/songwriter has never sounded this confident over the full length of an album in the past. If The North Star isn't this artist at his best, then he must have purely transcendental songs up his sleeve for future releases. With this confident solo debut, as strong or stronger than any Aztec Camera release, Roddy Frame confirms his status as a first-rate emotional balladeer.

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