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The Futureheads - News & Tributes

Coming soon...

The Futureheads - News & Tributes

Coming soon...

The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off

Somehow I managed to be entirely ignorant of this release which, considering how much I loved Bows + Arrows, is daft. It's not quite the squalling, searing blast that that one was, but it's still an excellent record.

The voice is very much in line with that tuneless wailing perfected by The Arcade Fire and the brilliant Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and which I am really rather enjoying at the moment. It may lack a little of the frenetic guitar rage of the last one, but is nonetheless an excellent album.

Paolo Nutini - These Streets

Sounds an awful lot like James Blunt to me.

Grant Lee Phillips - Nineteeneighties

This album is most certainly not essential. I didn't do my research at all, so I didn't realise this was just a covers record, with the songs selected from Phillips' formative years. This doesn't make for a thrilling LP, to my mind, I'm afraid, so although this is decent, and I do like his style, it is certainly no substitute for a new album proper.

Killing Moon is a decent one, as are the likes of So, Central Rain, City Of Refuge and Boys Don't Cry, but then that's probably just because I like the songs themselves anyway. It'll do as a stopgap, but I am now left waiting for a proper new album, thanks.

The Divine Comedy - Victory For The Comic Muse

Not very good, again I'm afraid. This album is almost an exact replica of his previous effort - mostly limp fop-pop with no real playfulness left, and only the odd decent track here and there to save it from a complete panning.

Whereas last time it was gems such as The Happy Goth and Absent Friends that saved the show, in this instance they are even fewer and further between. A Lady Of A Certain Age is decent, and so is Mother Dear, but the only two really good tracks are The Plough and a good cover of Party Fears Two.

I am not sure why I even bothered with this, given the last album. I'd like to hope I'll have learned my lesson by the time the next one comes along.

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country

Given that this album starts with a song called Hey Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken I think it's fair to say they nail their colours to the mast pretty early on. This poppy, jaunty little number, however, does not set the tone for the rest of the record however, which is much more of a dreamy cross between Cinerama and Belle & Sebastian.

Led by accordians, organs and a sort of cinematic dream pop ethos, this swoony album gently lilts its way through ten songs that seem to belong in a soundtrack from the late seventies. The first is about as poppy as it gets, and the other highlights are much more atmospheric and mellow - Dory Previn, Country Mile and Razzle Dazzle Rose are all beautifully evocative, blissful tracks of wistful melancholia.

Glaswegians, eh. Can't keep 'em down! Another triumph for Scottish indie-pop, which just seems to turn out one winner after another.

Barry Adamson - Stranger On The Sofa

Barry Adamson has been making his sinister lounge jazz film music for some years now, but his last album, King Of Nothing Hill, was a bit of a letdown. I decided to give this one a spin however, and it is definitely a huge improvement.

There's a bit of everything here, from the cinematic atmosphere pieces such as Dissemble, to the traditional jazz of Who Killed Big Bird, through Barry's trademark dark, weird, storytelling pieces such as My Friend The Fly and the grandiose Officer Bentley all the way to the stonking indie-pop track You Sold Your Dreams.

Underpinning all of this is the cinematic theme, and a sort of brooding, threatening darkness that reminds me, albeit only a little, of the exaggerated noir of Sin City. Its not that though, because as the title of his earlier Best Of,, CD implies, this man inhabits only one place: The Murky World Of Barry Adamson.

The Futureheads - News & Tributes

This has been described in some quarters as sounding 'more mature' than their debut, which seems simply to mean 'more mainstream'. Certainly they have lost a lot of their distinctive, hyperactive jerkiness, and settled to a more traditional indie sound, but that is not to the detriment of the tunes, which continue to be excellent.

If anything, this album is more consistently excellent than their at times inspired, but occasionally patchy debut, Burnt and Favours For Favours are brilliant, the former for it's inspired central riff and the latter for the purpose and energy with which it barrels confidently along. They have grown up, it seems, and although they sound less idiosyncratic they are getting better. Excellent!

Grandaddy - Just Like The Fambly Cat

I didn't like Sumday from the beginning, and this one has rather failed to grab me instantly as well. Given my previous Grandaddy experience I will most certainly persevere, and given this is rather tragically going to be their last album I am willing it to be brilliant.

The opener Jeez Louise is classic Grandaddy bluster, with drive and rhythm, and the other song they previewed on their website, Rear View Mirror is also excellent, but large chunks of the album aren't really grabbing me just yet. The sound is all very familiar, but a lot of the tunes seem pretty bland, and there's a lot less of that surging, guitar-driven stuff that made Sumday stand out - this really does seem to only appear here in Jeez Louise.

Maybe this is a consequence of where the band, and Jason Lytle in particular, are at the moment. They are retiring because despite their four relatively successful albums they just can't seem to make a living as a band. I find this quite amazing, given that they're pretty successful as indie bands go, but there you go. I am not sure what sort of an atmosphere this creates around the birth of an album, but there does seem to be something of an air of unreleased tension to some of the songs which could plausibly be the result of the situation they find themselves in.

Either way, Jason Lytle is not necessarily retiring from songwriting and music in general, so there is hope for more of his stuff in the future, and who knows, perhaps the solo life may produce some interesting results of its own.

Jolie Holland - Springtime Can Kill You

The honeyed loveliness of Escondida was one of the hits of the year for me when it was released, and this latest album doesn't disappoint. It lacks the scratchy folksiness of the previous one and replaces it with a smoother, more polished sound.

If she reminds me of anyone, it's a slightly jazzier Hem, and this lush blend between quiet folk and the jazz songstress style in which it is delivered is a winner with me. It's deliberately very old-fashioned, in keeping with a lot of the rootsy stuff coming out at the moment, although Holland was one of the first to start mining the particular seam a few years ago.

I can't think of a better way to spend a cold evening in the house with a cup of coffee and good book. I'm not sure she'd take that as a compliment, but there's a cosy, intimate atmosphere to this album, just as there was with the last one, which suffuses you with warmth - a lovely, lovely album.

The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers

Early geneticists struggled with the idea that offspring were never quite like a direct splicing together of the traits of both parents. They'd have liked this album, because the Jack White/Brendan Benson collaboration has worked out exactly so. Both men can be heard clearly in all tracks with some more White than Benson and vice versa.

Jack has in fact brought welcome bite to Benson's occasionally too-sunny songwriting, while Benson's textbook pop writing has brought White back where we want him after a slightly errant diversion on the Stripes last album.

There's shades of Led Zep at times here, and I'm sure Together pinches a hook or two from Rocket Man, but all in all it's its own album. Excellent stuff. I wonder a little if they'll make another or just pack it in and go back to their day jobs after this!

The Stills - Without Feathers

Apart from an excellent, most un-Stills-like opener, this album is a bit disappointing.

Their previous effort had some great stuff on it, but suffered a little from bland indie genericisms a little at times. This one is sort of like that, but with much more of the poor stuff. It's the same ilk as Interpol and the Dears, but without the hooks and the grandeur of scope.


Dirty Pretty Things - Waterloo To Anywhere

Well if nothing else, this album makes it very clear where the talent was kept in The Libertines. This is just the sort of jaunty, spiky punk that The Libs had ceased to make long before their split, and although a little too obsessed with Pete Doherty, it bitch-slaps his dismal Babyshambles lot firnly off-stage where they belong.

Doctors And The Dealers is the first time I jumped up in delight, and although Bang Bang You're Dead is too Pete-tastic again, it is a cracking track - punk pop with spirit and zip. Excellent. Bloodthirsty Bastards is even better. Gin & Milk is ace. It just goes on. I don't think I'll ever love this quite as much as the first Libertines album, but it kicks the living shite out of any of the new pretenders I've heard since.

The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea

Good grief this is awful. After being so impressed with their live show I was quite looking forward to this, but most of it is just plain unlistenable. In earlier work their was enough standard indie tunesmithery to make the idiosyncrasies enjoyably eccentric. Now it's just barmy nonsense.

I'm In No Mood is a brilliant exception, and I am sure there must be others buried in here somewhere, but the bollocks they are surrounded by makes it a supreme act of endurance to dig them out. Yikes.

Adem - Love & Other Planets

A bit like his other stuff, this is pleasant and nice and easy to tolerate, but ultimately entirely forgettable. I wouldn't really bother if I were you.

Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome

It's all about the folk and roots at the moment, isn't it! Good grief, you can't move for someone reinterpreting old classics these days, and Bruce is just one in a long line to give it a spin. You couldn't hope for two better collaborators though - a pair of absolute legends.

It's been a while since Bruce did anything with any snarl to it, but this is put right instantly on this album. The first half is superb - John Henry, Jesse James, Old Dan Tucker - all of them resound with a joyous honky-tonk energy that infuses the whole album. It's cracking stuff.

There is the odd crap song - I can't abide too-ra loo-ras in anything and Mrs McGrath has them coming out of its ears - and it could benefit a little from a few more changes of pace, but this is a brilliant album. Anyone who likes the gospelly stuff happening in America at the moment should love it. Fantastic.

My Latest Novel - Wolves

This album takes a bit of getting into, but is worth persevering with. In brief, it's a little like Belle & Sebastian plays The Arcade Fire - combining the gentle Scottish wit and whimsy of the Belles with the sort of lurching sonic inventiveness of Montreal's finest. It's not quite so urgent as The Arcade Fire, but the sound is very similar in a lot of ways.

One of the best tracks, and indeed the most Bellish, is the gently undulating Job Mr Kurtz Done, overlayed with the sort of skewed, playful Scottish intellectualism I recognise so much from the pubs around here. Other stuff is also quite like The Reindeer Section, with some gorgeous instrumentation accompanying the plaintive vocals.

The final Scottish name-check of this review is Sons & Daughters, who could easily have written When We Were Wolves themselves. Not so jerky and uncomfotable as the Sons though, this is a very good album in the best Scottish indie tradition.

The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics

Warning: Indie shoegazer blashpemy approaching... The Flaming Lips ARE REALLY SHIT.

Oh stop sulking, they really are rubbish. They played a blinder a couple of years ago with Yoshimi but did nothing before that of much note and here that have done nothing of much note afterwards either.

Sandwiched inbetween some very poor songs (Yeah Yeah Yeah song - rubbish. Free Radicals - awful. Lyrical content - high school level) are some reasonable ones such as Sound Of Failure, Overtakes Me, WAND and Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung. But all in all, it's really just not that good.

Calexico - Garden Ruin

For those of you who loved the inventiveness and adventure of Feast Of Wire, this may take a little getting used to. By comparison it is very, very conventional. All songs are 'proper' three to four minute pop songs in the traditional verse-bridge-chorus style. But that doesn't mean it isn't any good, In fact, this is an excellent album.

The start of the album pretty much sums up what I mean. Cruel is Calexico doing a perfectly formatted indie-pop number, flooded with their usual horns and Tex-Mex jauntiness. This track, and the following, rather slower, Yours And Mine are brilliant songs.

Bisbee Blue, which follows these two is an example of the sort of predictable stuff that they occasionally produce (like Not Even Stevie Nicks on the last album), but the highlight for me, by some distance, is the dazzling Roka. This is one of the best things Calexico have ever done, as Amparo Sanchez's Spanish accompaniment sends it into the stratosphere.

There's more musical scope here that you notice at first. The mariachi meanderings have been replaced by broader genre jumps. They span traditional Caleixco territory, template-tastic Americana and finish up with the blistering All Systems Red, a no-holds-barred, Iraq War raging rant. Once I stopped sulking about the sensibleness of the song structures I realised what a superb album this really is!

Neko Case - Fox Confessor Yadda Yadda...

Despite having possibly the worst cover art in recent history, this is a really excellent album. I know more of Miss Case from her excellent stuff with the New Pornographers, but proving it is indeed an excellent time to be Canadian, she is pretty handy on her own as well.

In-keeping with much recent material across the world of North American indie, there's a hint of gospel at times, mixed in with more traditional alt-country balladry, She writes excellently for her voice, which is rather special, and never more so than in standout Star Witness. A Widow's Curse evokes Jenny Lewis recent Watson Twins collaboration, with which this album has more than a little in common.

It's lovely, from start to finish, this. And for once, this is something I really take to rather than shrug off as bland. It's a bit grown up for me, but I would recommend it to anyone. My, er, parents are going to love it. Aaagh!

Howe Gelb - Sno Angel Like You

As so many appear to be doing at the moment, Howe has gone gospel, with a full choral accompaniment making an appearance on most of the tracks on this album. As one would expect, it is shot through with his sparse blues, but is perhaps a little less meandering that his usual fare.

Howe Gelb is never really all that consistent, and there are weak patches on this album, unfortunately for those looking to be pulled in quickly, Get To Leave and But I Did Not are two of the first three songs on the album and neither are much cop.

Leaving these aside and you have exactly what you might expect from this sort of an approach to an album. Howe plays his fumbling, shuffling blues, and the music is given polish and expansiveness by the participation of a full gospel choir. The result is an album which gets better and better as it goes on, with the pinnacle being the awesome Nail In The Sky, but you have to wait until the ninth track for this gem. Worried Spirits (No. 12) and Neon Filler (13) are also superb. The rest of the album is excellent, but these three are easily myfavourites, tucked away at the back. He is slowly becoming one of my favourite artists.

Eels With Strings - Live At Town Hall

I saw them live in Cambridge in 2000 and they were absolutely brilliant - all circus mayhem and instrumental anarchy. E, to his eternal credit always tries to do something with a tour - blues, rock, and now a string-backed extravaganza to suit the more melancholy, wistful tracks on Blinking Lights.

The results can be brilliant. The new tracks like Pretty Ballerina are superb and the version of Dylan's classic Girl From The North Country is also excellent. The problem is more that the rough edges of a live recording, that you don't notice at the time, are magnified when listened to on CD. I wish I'd caught the gig, and this is as close as I am going to get and will have to do, but it is not really the real thing.

Eef Barzelay - Bitter Honey

Eef doesn't make easy listening. Without the softening influence of Clem Snide's gorgeous musicianship his stark and angry acoustic songs can be rather bleak and jarring. They are good though, and worth persevering with. The highlight is still the title track - the scathing, vitriolic and yet oddly compassionate ballad of those craving even the most minor celebrity with nothing but their desperately sparse talents to get them there.

The album abounds with this kind of mixture of excoriation and sympathy. He sets his sights on the modern cult of celebrity and what it does to people, lies and deception generally, and The State of the World.

The impression you are left with is of someone desperately at odds with the increasing importance of the ten percent of life on the surface, trying his darnndest to get to the good bits underneath, but with increasing frustration. Let Us Be Naked is almost the antidote to this album's prevalent themes and seems to be the hidden manifesto behind the anger. This is a terrific album, and definitely worth giving a spin, if you're feeling up to it.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band - Live at Hammersmith Odeon 1975

Bruce and the band were just about at the pinnacle of their powers in '75, or just coming into them, as the liner notes explain. Anyone who's heard their previous 5 LP live box set will remember this period with the most affection. Funk, soul, blues and rock - long before that word became 'rawk' and turned to shit.

This is a marvellous record, a moment where a legend is born. The first CD is sheer genius from start to finish, although the second one begins to drift a little towards the end. It's worth it though. If your Bruce fandom is more Asbury Park and Born To Run than The Rising and Tom Joad, then you will love this. This is what live music is really supposed to be all about.

Willard Grant Conspiracy - Let It Roll

Another year, another blinding effort from the Willards, who are now firmly assigned Iconic Status in my personal hall of fame. There is nothing that will surprise you here - no radical changes of direction or anything - but what there is is a perceptible loosening of the reigns.

From A Distant Shore is a deceptive opener - mournful violins and political statement intertwined in an intensely personal story full of sadness. It is typical WGC fare, with all the grand tristesse of their previous album, and only an increase in artistic license for the fiddle to hint at what is to come. From the instant the next track begins it's clear that everything is different. Let It Roll kicks in with nearly three minutes of menacing guitar and manic violin wig-out before it even gets to the words, and then it just carries on into epic Nick Cave territory for a full nine minutes of malevolent brilliance.

That pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album, not in sonic terms, but in terms of approach. It's like the WGC, only more so. The fiddle more sad, the sweep more epic, the guitars more snarling than before, There is a brooding version of Bob's Ballad Of A Thin Man, and it closes with the beautiful Lady Of The Snowline. Starting and opening with more expected Willards style brackets not so much a new Willard Grant Conspiracy, but one where everything is more intense. A brilliant, brilliant album.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
The Proposition (OST)

There is some great stuff here, but I suppose I forgot that it is a soundtrack album and therefore specifically supposed to not upstage the film. If this had been a genuine partnership album between these two even a lesbian 69 between Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan wouldn't have scored much attention, and that was pretty much what I wanted.

As it is, there are some great moments and some of what I would call 'proper songs', but it's pretty much an atmospheric exercise most of the time and doesn't quite do it for me.

Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat

Rilo Kiley are a hugely over-rated band. There, I've said it, so clench your teeth, get over it and move on. Jenny Lewis, however, is verging on West Coast indie royalty. She appears on the Postal Service's brilliant Give Up and collaborates, as here, with the likes of Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and the brilliant Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. Apparently the Watson Twins are quite famous too, but I've never heard of them.

Despite all that, due to the underwhelming blandness of Rilo Kiley I wouldn't have bought this album but for the brilliant Handle Me With Care appearing on an Uncut (I think) sampler quite recently. This one of the poppier efforts on the album, along with the brilliant Charging Sky. The album is shot through with the best indie pop Rilo Kiley seem incapable of producing, flavoured with gospel, tinged with folk, and the odd lament thrown in for good measure.

This album is so good, in fact, I might just see if I didn't dismiss Rilo Kily a tad hastily!

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
Ballad of the Broken Seas

Ironic that Isobel Campbell should be releasing at the same time as her ex-B&S band-mates. Her previous work has gone from a sigh of relief (Gentle Waves) to the exploration of her own musical genome (Amorino) to this, where she is seeking out new influences and directions with former-Screaming Tree Mark Lanegan.

Unfortunately, I think I'd have preferred one to accompany the other, rather than the collaboration - Langegan bringing some menace to Campbell's light and lovely tunes or for her to add a flavour of innocence to his brooding songs of morose dysfunction. Neither really ends up happening here, and at one point on Honey Child What Can I Do? Lanegan tries to lighten up a bit, which is just wrong, but there are some brilliant moments.

There are lonesome violins, bluesy guitar, the odd Tom Waits moment, and all through the dirty blues floats Isobel Campbell's breathy, innocent, airy voice. I don't quite love this album, but I am definitely enjoying getting into it. I'm being pulled deeper with each listen, and predict I will love it by the time the fortnight's up.

Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

The latest effort from B&S - as immaculately designed as ever - strikes me as being to Dear Catastrophe Waitress what Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like A Peasant was to their early single releases. Their early fey whimsy had pretty much run out of puff by the time they got to Fold Your Hands, and despite containing some great songs, there are few new ideas.

You can't quite accuse them of lacking new ideas on this release, but when they went pop with the previous album, they did it with a renewed sense of verve and inventiveness. I thought Dear Catastrophe Waitress was brilliant. This one, on the other hand, is patchy. Another Sunny Day is sunny, poppy bliss, Funny Little Frog is another from the Waitress production line and Dress Up In You has some of the dreaminess of Belles past. There are other excellent songs to accompany them - I love White Collar Boy and Sukie In The Graveyard - but there are also some poor ones.

They are still exploring their new pop direction here, and there is a strong 70s influence that I've never identified in their work at all until Waitress, but I am not completely convinced about where they are going. Still, there's lots of love here, I reckon I may well get to like the other stuff, and I'd always pick a group that evolves over one who repeats ad nauseum.

The Eighteenth Day Of May

This is a surprise gem, discovered largely thanks to the inclusion of Sir Casey Jones on a now sadly deceased Comes With A Smile sampler CD. They are another in a growing group of new groups heavily influenced by old folk traditions. Others that spring to mind in this area would include the ethereal Hem, the gentle, warm James Yorkston, the rather more raucous Boggs and the downright demented Decemberists. Even groups like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Ryan Adams have absorbed much more vintage influences on recent efforts, and I really, really like it.

Unlike the aforementioned, however, the Eighteenth Day Of May are quintessentially English. They actually sound for all the world like Fairport Convention during their Liege and Lief prime, particularly when the guitar kicks in. As with Liege and Lief this album is predominantly a blend of early English folk traditions lightly tinged with 60s psychedelia, although they dip into American-sounding alt-country singer-songwriter territory at times as well.

I'd never heard of this lot, and didn't even know the album was on its way, but what a discovery! I'd put money on them figuring prominently in my Top Ten when 2006 draws to a close.

Artic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am

Decent, but no better. The famous tracks - Dancefloor, Fake Tales of San Francisco, Riot Van and When The Sun Goes Down - are strong, and that's the reason I bought the album, but the rest is pretty bland, unvarying Indie-Pop.

There's plenty of spiky guitars and shouting, but nothing that is really getting me all that excited just yet. Mind you, I didn't take to the Libs' first album either, and ended up doing a complete about-face and deciding I loved it, so I'll persevere. I'm not holding my breath though...

Update 21st June 2006: Okay, I was wrong, it's an excellent album. The excellent lyrics started to draw me in slowly but surely and now I reckon I'm looking at a fantastic 'snapshot of the times' album wonderfully detailing everyday modern life with the sort of chatty, effortless poetry that Mike Skinner used to write. Top stuff.

The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth

Well fair play to 'em, they haven't half come back well. I loved their first EP - Modern Age, Last Night and Barely Legal - but the album lacked a little bite, I thought. Even the new cuts of the three songs I already knew seemed slightly lifeless by comparison, but all in all I liked the record. The next one was disappointing, although there was the odd excellent track, like Reptilia, but all in all I wasn't that impressed.

For these reasons I nearly didn't buy this one, despite promising reviews, but I am very glad I did. It's so much more vital and edgy than its rather over-polished predecessors - there is real snap to this. Juicebox is dirty and spiky, and the album as a whole bristles with this kind of energy. They somehow sound more 'New York' to me than they ever did before, and let's be honest Ask Me Anything could be the Velvets. There are other standouts - Heart In A Cage and Vision Of Division both have the urgency this lot have been rather lacking in the past.

So all in all a top album, rather than a 'difficult third'. Mojo definitely relocated.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - 29

Ryan Adams - officially really good again. He released four CDs worth of music last year - on three albums - and they were all brilliant. This is the third of the three and he's ditched The Cardinals for this one.

The sound, as you'd perhaps expect is a lot more still and pared down than Cold Roses or Jacksonville, but the songs are still superb. He generally sings with a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment, embellished occasionally with a little piano here and there. Personal favourites would be Strawberry Wine and Carolina Rain, but it's definitely an album to listen to in its entirety. A fine way to round off an excellent year.