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Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

Modest Mouse on one side, The Arcade Fire on the other and this lot in between. More Canadians, but not all that brilliant an album.

I like this, I honestly do. It's okay, starts well, and although it tails off a little, is largely consistent. But somehow I never quite got into it. It's a good album, but never quite swept me off my feet.


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

I really like this. It's another product of the sort of viral marketing techniques that made the Arctic Monkeys huge long before they released anything of note, although this time the source is Philadelphia, via Brooklyn, rather than Sheffield.

The voice is something of a bone of contention here, given the lead singer patently can't sing a note. Bollocks, as far as I'm concerned - he can't sing but it still sounds brilliant. He is very reminiscent of David Byrne in early Talking Heads stuff (I pinched that one from Word or Mojo, not my own spot!) and the lilt of the music owes a lot to Tom Waits and has a certain circus chaos that gives it all sorts of energy and mayhem.

I really like this album, although I couldn't really say why. It's bedlam, and there are all sorts of technical complaints that many reviewers have picked up on, all of which are valid. he can't sing, the music is haphazard at best, but I like it. So bugger off.


Broken Social Scene

Having just raved about Canadian music I know I should be lauding an album by possibly the first ever Canadian Supergroup in the history of the universe. But no. Sorry.

Ultimately it all comes down to whether or not you like a group's tunes, and for some reason there was nothing in this album to really draw me in and get me humming along. I doubt if I'd actually recognise one of their songs if it was used as the introduction to Match of the Day.

The sound is good - it sounds like the kind of music I should like - but nothing has really drawn me into this album and I'm afraid I find it completely uncompelling.


The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

It's really hard to describe this album, but it's part of a sudden wave of brilliant Canadian groups that have emerged recently. This is a relief to we Canadians I can tell you, having been responsible for the execrable likes of Celine Dion, Brian Adams and Alanis Morissette, we now have a scene to be proud of, at long last! They accompany the likes of Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade and The Arcade Fire this year, adding to earlier breakthroughs by the likes of The Dears and Hot Hot Heat.

The New Pornographers don't sound like any of these, however. Their are shades of The Arcade Fire at times, but it's not really similar music. They're punky and spiky, but not in a retro or a bluesy way, as has been the recent fashion. There are certain parallels to Modest Mouse at times too, but again it's not quite an accurate comparison.

I'm baffled. It's an excellent album though.


Death Cab For Cutie - Plans

Lovely, but a little bland. They are well-loved in America, and hail from the cold and wet state of Washington on the North-West coast. I don't know how much of their writing they do there, but it seems like it influences the atmosphere they create - warm, cosy, intimate songs with a gentle, enfolding rise and fall that comfort and surround. Some of the introspection seems to have its origins in the Washington weather as well, not that I've even been there, of course..

The problem with all of this is that the tracks can blend into one another a little, but I am pretty sure they will start to take on lives of their own as I listen to them more. Given it is winter, I am glad to have the likes of Plans to play while I read books on cold evenings with a cuppa.


The Fiery Furnaces - Rehearsing My Choir

It's mental, it's quirky, it's adventurous, it's eccentric, it's mad, it's... rubbish, I'm afraid.


Ralfe Band - Swords

Jolly English folksy niceness. They play proper instruments, playfully. They are good. Their songs are excellent.

There appears to be a bit of a folk revival underway at the moment, not quite like the nu-acoustic movement of 2000/1, but more influenced by genuine folk music than simple acoustic storytelling. This lot are very much a partof this, alongside the likes of The Decemberists and Andrew Bird. I'd say they sound more English though, although don't ask me to define that.

They are related to the likes of 60s folk-rock, but not in a Vashti Bunyan sort of way. Maybe more in a Gorky's Zygotic Mynci sort of way.


The Rolling Stones - A Bigger Bang

Every review I read of this album described it as a 'blistering return to form', which is only partially accurate. It's far, far better than a lot of the rather poor output that has seen them drift into album oblivion for the last twenty years, their legend kept alive by their apparently 'blistering' live shows. But that doesn't mean it has to be all that good.

Some of it is, and there are some classic-sounding Stones tunes, but nothing to compare with the material that made them legendary. I'm tempted to say that this will appeal to older Stones fans who want to enjoy the old Stones one last time before they vanish, and this seems to almost be what they themselves are thinking.

If I heard any one of these tracks on the radio or a playlist or whatever, I would enjoy it. But the whole album is pretty forgettable blues rock in my opinion.


The Postal Service - Give Up

The Postal Service were foisted on me by an enthusiastic shop assistant in Banquet Records, and it took me a while, but I am very grateful to him for doing so. Apparently there is a songwriter who pens tunes and sends them up North for the singer from Death Cab For Cutie to sing, and then sets the resulting vocal track to his own music.

It's an odd collaborative method, but it works brilliantly. This is all quirky beeps and electronica, but as the chap from Banquet said, it's basically a classic indie album, just performed with an electronic background.

When you add to the lovely vocal and lush backing the lilting, intimate songs they perform then you have an excellent album indeed. It took me a while, but I really like this.


Clem Snide - The End Of Love

I'm a bit late with this one, I bought it in February actually, but was so underwhelmed that I rather forgot about it. In retrospect, that was completely unfair as it is an excellent album.

The fragile bliss of Soft Spot is gone, as is the playfulness of Ghost Of Fashion, as too the melancholy introspection of debut Your Favourite Music. It sounds on the face of it like pleasant, harmless, standard indie-pop which is probably why it's taken me this long to review the album.

Hidden in the tracks are lilting melodies and little surprises, and even though the first ones to grab you are the familiar ones - The Sound Of German Hip-Hop and Tiny European Cars could easily fit on Your Favourite Music - it is the surprises that get you eventually.

In each song there is a gem of a hook, and almost invariably a gem of a lyrical twist that will pull you in eventually, provided you don't get stuck on the surface, which does sound like a flat average of their previous work. It's a trick, don't fall for it! If you're not already a fan though, perhaps best to start with Your Favourite Music or Ghost Of Fashion.


Calexico w. Iron & Wine - In The Reins

It's a short experiment, and certainly not what fans of either group would expect. The jauntiness of Calexico is reined in, and the whispered gentleness of Iron & Wine's earlier stuff has been a little relieved.

It's certainly a traditional alt-country effort, but well executed, with a couple of obvious standouts in He Lays In The Reins and A History Of Lovers where there is a brief swirl of Calexico trumpet.

The rest of the album is good, and enjoyable to listen to, but fails to really capture me completely. Perhaps repeat listenings will yield more.


Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Jacksonville City Nights

Ryan has played a blinder in 2005. This is a superb album, especially when you consider how hot on the heels of Cold Roses it follows. So he's streaky as hell, but he's clearly on a tear right now.

If, however, Cold Roses was getting a bit too country for you, do not buy this under any circumstances. He has gone even further down that road here, even to the point where it's a bit too country for me at times, and I own a Willie Nelson album!

Willie Nelson is an apt comparison at times, right down to the Nelsonesque cover of Always On My Mind. But ultimately Ryan Adams has digested and interpreted about half a dozen different genres over the last few years, since Gold, with varying degrees of success. Rock 'n' Roll was rubbish. This is ace.


Franz Ferdinand - You Could have It So Much Better

I feel about this the same way I felt about the first Franz album - some great tracks, some filler, and strangely disappointing. I grew to love most of their first though, so perhaps the same will happen here.

They're certainly moving on though, although not beyond the familiar. The Fallen is a brilliant opener, and Eleanor Put Your Boots Back On is absolutely superb, and both an excllent progression from previous stuff. The former is more complete and urgent, the second melodic and bewitching. Eleanor sounds almost like Blur singing The White Album, although you could say that this is largely what most of Blur sounds like too. There's some ELO in there too, if I'm not much mistaken.

Their guitarist seems to have an uncanny knack with an uber-catchy riff, but songs like Do You Wanna sound more than a little lazy. So I like bits of this an awful lot, like the last one, and like the last one I like it better and better with each listen. Ultimately, however, I will always like the Franzes rather than love them.


Grandaddy - Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla

Todd Zilla is an inbetween effort, and it shows. The sound is a lot closer to Grandaddy's first LP, Under The Western Freeway, so not a lot of progression in terms of sound. Fortunately, the songs are mostly very good, and in some cases excellent.

Opener, Pull The Curtains On The Day is Grandaddy in rather classic territory. This is straightforward rocker that could have come straight from Sumday. Other tracks, such as the gently rising and falling melancholia of Fuck The Valley Fudge, which is excellent, would also be right at home on this album. It is the other tracks, such as the brilliant (after a few listens) Florida that set the tone as being slightly more reminiscent of their early work.

So all in all, there are some good songs, but it's if anything a marginal step back rather than one forward. Jason Lyttle can still clearly write a top song though, so I await the next full album with optimism.


The Decemberists - The Tain

Still processing this one. I'll write more once I know what to make of it (I ordered it from DVDLegacyUK on Amazon Marketplace and it took over a month to arrive, as did my only other order from these clowns - NEVER use them if you can avoid it, they're dire).

It's a fifteen minute, single track EP in five movements, so fairly ambitious. Still, given the slightly preposterous excellence of Picaresque I am backing them to pull it off with aplomb.


The Dead 60s

Hmm, not entirely convinced I'm afraid. There's plenty of decent punk-pop here, with a generous dollop of ska, as is becoming increasingly fashionable at the moment. The Dead 60s are a cross between The Ordinary Boys, Hard Fi and late (ie disappointing) Libertines.

There are some excellent moments to be found, mainly in the singles, but I am not convinced there's enough here to make up a whole album. At best this lot may sneak a track on a punk retrospective of the year, but we'll have forgotten this album by this time next year I should imagine.


Half Man Half Biscuit - Achtung Bono

I think Half Man Half Biscuit are the most quintessentially English group I have ever come across, in that you never know whether they are joking or serious. In typically English fashion, of course, the answer tends to be both - they are rarely ever entirely serious, nor entirely joking.

The music, on the other hand, is not a novelty act. They do merge slightly odd tunes, like the Twelve Days of Christmas in one rather memorable instance, into their tunes, but it fits so well with the music and the lyrics and the mood that you want to cheer every time they do it. It's not all great, however. Depressed Beyond Tablets and Mate of the Bloke don't really do it for me, but they are rare lapses indeed.

Ultimately, this lot are brilliant. The tunes are old school indie-punk-pop, and the lyrics could hardly be more joyously brilliant: 'Is your child hyperactive, or is he perhaps a twat.' or 'last Ash Wednesday I had tantric sex and it was shit' or 'I've only got three bullets and there's four of Motley Crue' or 'In my Joy Division oven gloves' or.. oh, just listen!


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl

Where on earth did this come from? The last I heard of BRMC they were all howling guitars (geddit?), shrieking vocals and more racket than you could shake a disapproving hippy fist at. Suddenly, here is a sparkling album of rootsy Americana, full of slide guitar, bluesy chord changes and sprinklings of gospel choirs.

I found Howl to be instantly accessible, instantly familiar and lovely. So many of the songs manage to sound like you've heard them before, without being in any way a tired old retread of old stuff. I am not a huge fan of the blues but this album, whilst unashamedly wearing its influences on its sleeve, takes them, twists them and serves them straight back in a way that is both fresh and familiar at the same time.

I might just go and try their really noisy one now too!


Supergrass - Road To Rouen

They're something of a critics favourite, this lot. I am definitely a fan, but my favourite album was by far 1997's scorching 'In It For The Money', and this has done nothing much to change my mind. 2002's Life On Other Planets was poppy and punky and had a few really good tunes, and a few less memorable ones. Road To Rouen is a bit more wistful and melancholy, has a few really great tunes and a few less memorable ones. It almost reminds me of British Sea Power, in terms of the change of gear from one album to the next.

A lot has been made about Supergrass giving up on fame on this album - a lot of the lyrics back this up - and simply going their own way. There are, as usual, some brilliant moments here, and some of the tracks are great.

Ultimately though, I'd describe Road To Rouen as non-essential.


Goldfrapp - Supernature

A bit of a case of 'as before, so below' from the Frappsters. If you own Felt Mountain and Black Cherry then there's probably no need for this one. The songs range from disco glam to lush, electronic-infused ballads, and they're all pretty good.

The problem with this effort is that there is no real moving on being done. If you don't know Goldfrapp, buy it. If you love and adore them, buy it. But if, like me, you really enjoyed their first couple but are not really a disco diva at heart, then the first two will probably suffice.


The Decemberists - Picaresque

This lot are barmy. Honestly, it's like listening to the Muppets play ancient sea shantys. They have a distinctly vintage arrangement style, using lots of accordions, clarinet, banjos and the rest of it, and they sing old songs of the sea and sell it as a popular music album.

The song titles tell you a lot about this record - Eli, The Barrow Boy and The Mariner's Revenge Song to name but two. There is a lot of dramatic theatricality about the sound, but there's still the urgency of the upbeat numbers and the heart-broken lovelorn melodrama about the ballads, so far from being a museum piece, it's actually a very immediate album.

So, if you enjoyed the likes of Andrew Bird, Smog and Aberfeldy this year, and are looking forward to My Latest Novel's debut offering, then I really recommend this. It's nuts, but excellent!


Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cold Roses

Mr Adams has been distinctly off form for a while now. Since Gold he's done some crap, but this is fantastic. It's a lot closer to Gold than Rock 'n' Roll was, although less classic American rock 'n' roll, and a bit more alt-country Americana.

It's the latest in a rash of really good recent double-albums, so almost inevitably there are a few tracks I'm not that fond of, but all in all it's great. There's still a lot of classic American influences here - a lot of Bruce Springsteen for example - but the atmosphere is very laid back.

There is a lush, comfortable loveliness about this album that makes me look forward to winter, dark nights, open fires, hot coffee and a good book.


Editors - The Back Room

After the let-downs of the likes of Hard-Fi you can always rely on some good, old-fashioned complaint rock to cheer you up!

The British Interpol is how this lot were touted, and in terms of the sound that pretty much sums them up. There are some blinding tracks, such as all the singles Blood and Munich. Lights is also superb. I love dark, moody, stuff like this. There are even shades of The Edge's early sound in some of the guitar riffs - a reminder that U2 were actually good, once.

This form isn't quite sustained throughout the album though. There are a couple of weaker tracks, most notably towards the end, where things tail off somewhat, but by and large this is a very good record.


Hard Fi - Stars Of CCTV

Total shite. Middle Eastern Holiday is okay, as is Cash Machine, but the rest is poor.

This lot got nominated for the Mercury Prize, which baffles me. But then again, so did Athlete, and I would put this lot in the same pasty, crappy, uninspiring, insipid, spineless Britpop-wank category.


The Ordinary Boys - Brassbound

Not having been much of a fan of their last effort I am not even all that sure why I actually bought this album. But it's definitely better. To begin with, it's less Indie, this one, and rather more Ska in outlook.

Their themes haven't changed much, and this is good. They rail against indoor, telly/computer/playstation-dominated modern life, and this time with some really killer hooks. On An Island is terrific - and very Specials - and songs like Brassbound, Boys Will Be Boys and Call To Arms are uplifiting, feel-good songs with swirling brass, harmonic backing, and catchy choruses.

They're moaning about all sorts, if you listen to the words - the Masons one is hilarious - but the music is happy and enjoyable. It's not a great album - there's still a lot of filler here - but it's not bad and there's plenty to like.


Sons & Daughters - The Repulsion Box

Sons & Daughters are a bloody frustrating lot. I'm always on the verge of thinking they're brilliant, but I never quite get there.

Their last EP was the same - some great bits, a lot of the right elements, a couple of excellent tracks, but never quite there. The Last Girl is good, I like the vocal interplay of most of the album, and I like the driving, punky guitars, but on the whole I don't think I'm that fond of this album.

But I almost love it. Arrrgh!


Smog - A River Ain't Too Much To Love

The immediate bracketing of this album is with the likes of Iron & Wine, but it's not quite there that it belongs, I feel. It can remind me of Lambchop at times, not so much with the music as with the still, sparseness of the arrangements, and the rich, deep rumble of Bill Callaghan's voice.

One reviewer on Amazon described this as "Leonard Cohen on smarties or Fairport Convention in a thunderstorm", and I like that, although I think the Leonard Cohen comparison is probably the more apt.

It's sonorous and minimal and lovely, but don't put it on a a dinner party. Not for Dido and Norah Jones fans!


Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock & Roll

I didn't expect to like this lot to be honest. They're an in-joke, formed in Camden, singing songs like 'popular culture no longer applies to me' - honestly!

Still, despite the rather silly posturing, it's a very enjoyable album. The singing voice ('it's not irony, it's not rock 'n' roll', apparently) does take a bit of getting used to, but there's a few real gems to be found here - the title track for example, and Emily Kane too.

It's when they sing songs declaring 'modern art makes me want to rock out' that the real comedy hits home. It's the silliest song I've heard for ages, and yet I really like it. In fact, that statement probably sums the whole thing up. It is modern art, and it actually does make you want to rock out.


The Raveonettes - Pretty In Black

The Raveonettes have done some patchy but brilliant stuff. "My girl is a little animal, she always wants to f*ck...' is the rather blunt line that leads you into a typically visceral guitar punk rocker on the previous album, but this has all changed.

Their earlier stuff always had a hint of classic, Grease-style rock 'n' roll about it, despite the snarling guitars and angry feedback. As with the White Stripes they have left the gritty garage rock behind and followed their influences all the way back, but with markedly less success.

Pretty In Black is a bland, homogenous album with barely a single standout track - Somewhere In Texas isn't bad - and makes me wish they'd kept their electric guitars closer to hand.


Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger

I rather expected to be disappointed by Maximo Park - one decent radio-friendly single is often the hook, line and sinker for mediocre albums - but I love this.

The sound is very mainstream, and I may be embarrassed by this in eight years, but there are no musical surprises to be had here. What there is, however, is track after track of briliant, spiky, energetic melody that epitomise the good things in Indie-pop. This may be angst-rock, but it is joyous to listen to.


Hot Hot Heat - Elevator

This album is a bit of a disappointment. Make Up The Breakdown was so infectious I couldn't stop listening to it, and this does sometimes touch those heights, just not often enough.

Island Of The Honest Man, Shame On You, and a couple of others really do have you humming along, but the rest are samey and lack the quirky twists and shameless charm of the previous album.


Gorillaz - Demon Days

Given the success of the first Gorillaz album - which I found slightly patchy - and the excellent Think Tank, I was rather looking forward to this one, and rightly so.

Albarn seems forever tagged with this dislikable, Jamie Oliver-esque mockney tag, and I really can't understand why. Blur started out poorly, produced the sublime Parklife, lapsed quite badly with The Great Escape, and have since been getting better and better. Albarn himself shows a work rate and diversity of musical interest and output to put virtually anyone in the industry to shame, and as such is one of my musical heroes. He deserves far more praise than he seems to ever receive.

And as for the Gorillaz album, it's excellent. It's halfway between Think Tank and the first Gorillaz album in terms of sound, and combines their poppy energy with trademark Albarn plaintive melodies. It's all catchy, mostly uplifiting, and the sort of record that makes me look forward to his next Blur album more than ever.


Richmond Fontaine - The Fitzgerald

This album is all about loveliness, wispy, low key storytelling and atmospheric nostalgia. It recalls the quieter moments of Sparklehorse, albums like Springsteen's Nebraska and, at times, the likes of Bonnie Prince Billy.

A couple of tracks are standout wonderful - it starts with The Warehouse Life which is defined by the most gorgeous piano and guitar inflection - but by and large this is an entire album to be listened to all at once so the slow, introspective atmosphere can just wash over you.

Occasionally tracks like Black Road and Don't Look Back And It Won't Hurt lift the tempo briefly, but in all this is a very downbeat, deliciously emotional album dominated by the sort of plucked, melancholy storytelling of The Incident At Conklin Creek - lovely!


NIck Cave & The Bad Seeds - B-Sides & rarities

Quite simply, this is a must-buy. Nick Cave himself has described it as his favourite Bad Seeds album, and he is spot on.

There are some inevitable misses - the one about Jazz is absolutely awful - but with moments of genius so frequent you just don't notice the rubbish ones. Warren Ellis' mournful violin on The Willow Garden is one of the Bad Seeds' best ever, and tracks like Little Empty Boat, Time Jesum Transeuntum..., Black Betty, God's Hotel, Swing Low, Grief Came Riding and She's Leaving You give a glimpse of a band who have been consistently brilliant now for years and years.

Ultimately, I would have been happy with the Bad Seeds' blinding album output, but listening to these I wonder if they actually do any shit songs at all.


The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan

Well I bought this album at about the same time as I finally got my hands on a copy of White Blood Cells, and the contrast was quite notable. Where White Blood Cells is raw and vital and aggressive, Get Behind Me Satan is quirky, unusual and downright weird.

Apparently the sounds are partly marimba, tango, Carmen Miranda and goodness knows what else. There are a few moment where Jack whips out his trademark guitar growl, and wisely enough they start with one such track - Wild Orchid. But then we see what this album is really about - some sort of glockenspiely/steel drum business dominates The Nurse, for example.

It just gets further out from there, with the exception of tracks like Instinct Blues, and all in all this is a great effort. It lacks a lot of the compulsive grip of Elephant, but they've taken a bold new direction and delivered a cracking album unlike pretty much anything I've ever heard.


Eels - Blinking Lights & Other Revelations

This is a fantastic record, and it's not often you can say that about a double album. It's certainly not as tight as, say, Nick Cave's recent effort, but it suits E to be a little more rambling, and the content is most definitely there.

Musically this pitches somewhere between Electro-Shock Blues and Daisies Of The Galaxy, and there are no grand surprises for people familiar with the Eels sound. Where the surprises manifest themselves is instead in a quiet way in each song. A chord change here, a lyric, an inflection. This is an album of quiet surprises and satisfying discovery.

The other thing to mention is the fact that this is actually an incredibly uplifting album. Despite the subject matter - death, isolation, etc.. - there's something gently feel-good about listening to Blinking Lights.


Ben Folds - Songs For Silverman

Ben Folds has grown up, there aren't five of them anymore. There aren't even three. Yet another artist who has gradually run out of inspiration as he's grown older. It's nice enough, this one, but at his best Mr Folds used to knock spots off Rufus Wainright. Right now, he has a lot of catching up to do.

Imagine the blander songs off Rockin' The Suburbs, and you've pretty much got it.


Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm

I keep coming across bits of Aimee Mann songs I quite like, although never quite enough to compel me to buy a whole album, so I thought I'd give her new album a go, and see what she was really about.

Standard American alt-country/indie is pretty much the sound but it's done well, the songs are good and it's an enjoyable listen. I won't be dashing out to buy her next album but I'm glad I have this one.

Miles better than the likes of Sarah McLachlan (shudder) and that lot, so don't be afraid of American Lady-rawk.


Alabama 3 - Outlaw

This is another poor album from the once-inspired Alabama 3. After the blinding Exile On Coldharbour Lane and La Peste, they went all too techno with Power In The Blood, released a filler with their acoustic one and have tried to explore the more Americana-based side of their roots with Outlaw

The biggest problem is that for some time now they seem to have lost the knack of writing memorable tunes. Whither Bourgeoisie Blues, Woke Up This Morning and The Thrills Are Gone? Because gone they have.


Hal

This album really is shite - please avoid. The Thrills, Athlete, The Magic Numbers, they all do this stuff that is generally described as dreamy and blissed out and stuff like that. More accurate terms would be dull, bland and devoid of memorable tunes. Pleasant, pointless tripe that keeps on reminding you why the Beach Boys were actually considered good.


British Sea Power - Open Season

I really like this album, although there are fewer standout tracks than there might be, Definitely one to stick on the player and allow to run its course.

The hard-edged indie of The Decline Of British Sea Power has gone, and a mellower, slightly dreamier sound evolved in its place. The single - Ended On An Oily Stage - is a winner, and showcases the softer sound at play here. But it's more the really chilled tracks like Oh Larsen B and The Land Beyond that define this album.

It's almost as if Echo & The Bunnymen has never drifted off the radar...


Beck - Guero

A supremely enjoyable effort this one. I am more of a Beck fan when he's in a mellow mood than a raucous one, generally. I loved Mutations and didn't really like Midnite Vultures much, except for Sexx Laws, but this one is a bit of a marriage of the two and has funk, punch and style.

There's a darkness to some of the stuff here, and some very ominous baselines to go with it, but the overwhelming mood is one of energy and life. Girl, Black Tambourine, etc.. all the sort of stuff to listen to in a good mood. It's a very Hispanic album - whatever that really means - as if he's listened to a lot of Calexico and enjoyed it, but not copied it. There's less party funk than Midnite Vultures, but it's nothing like as downbeat as Mutations, although as I said, the musical style is similar. Not a sniff of Sea Change anywhere!


The Bravery

Right, let's not beat about the bush here - this lot are Duran Duran. This is not a criticism, but the parallels are uncanny - they're extremely pretty and immaculately coiffed, for starters. Secondly, their music is incredibly similar - dancefloor-friendly electro-pop laced with brilliant, hugely enjoyable songs.

Thirdly, there is absolutely no sign of substance here at all. This, I repeat, is not a criticism. This album is the ultimate guiltless pleasure, consistently good from start to finish, and one I find myself singing along to all the way through. And who says music has to be deep and meaningful to be good, I love this!


Brendan Benson - The Alternative to Love

Another album I'm not all that sure about. There's no doubt about it though, Mr Benson has a tremendous knack for writing infectious melodies that stick in your head and have you humming along whenever you hear them.

Initially, this album struck me as incredibly bland, all Beach Boys/Pernice Brothers nice-pop. It is sunny and lovely and washes over you without leaving much impression, but as you listen to it more and more, those infectious tunes start to stick. I could barely name a song on this album, but I would recognise them all immediately if anyone else put them on.

So while this is not exactly my favourite album in the world, it is steadily gowing on me, and absolutely impossible to dislike.


Ambulance Ltd - LP

This lot are supposed to be the coolest new band in New York, which is probably quite a compliment. They sound like Lou Reed/Velvets mixed with the Beatles - high cred guitar wielding married to catchy pop tunes. Funnily enough, the singer also sounds quite a bit like Lloyd Cole at times, too.

The songs themselves are good, particularly the first half of the album - Primitive, Anecdote, Heavy Lifting and Ophelia are excellent. The album does drift a little towards the end though. Ultimately, despite liking a lot of what's going on here, I don't feel compelled to listen to this album, and am not certain I'll still be playing it in a year's time.


The Arcade Fire - Funeral

Still not sure what to say to this lot. They're sort of ultra-hip, retro, eighties art rock, with a touch of the lunatic arrangements of Kate Bush at times, which is an odd combo which nevertheless works.

The only disappointment with this album for me is that it never really quite matches the giddy heights of their brilliant single Neighbourhood 2 (Laika). I'll stick with it though - there really is a lot there to like.

(01-01-2005 - Complete revision of opinion, sorry, This is an excellent album - look for it to score highly in my Top Ten of 2005. Ah the benefit of hindsight!)


Kaiser Chiefs - Employment

Given the brilliance of their two singles, I Predict a Riot and Oh My God, I was really looking forward to Employment, but have so far not been that impressed.

The inevitable comparisons are with Blur and Madness, and there's a bit of the Inspiral Carpets and the Housemartins as well, but making these comparisons is a little flattering. Basically, after the two singles there's not much here. There are some half-decent tunes - Everyday I Love You Less & Less and Modern Way aren't bad - but for any one of these there's a couple of Na Na Nas, which is crap.

So not bad, but not very good either.


The Wedding Present - Take Fountain

Hmm.. a little bit difficult to know what to say about this one. It is definitely much better than Torino - the last Cinerama outing which, bar a couple of tracks, was poor. And it is probably at least as good as Disco Volante, although more Wedding Presenty in style.

In fact, there are a couple of really excellent songs here. Mars Sparkles Down is one of the most openly painful songs Gedge has ever written, and Perfect Blue is terrific. Add to that the singles - the very Weddoes Interstate 5 and the jangle-pop classic I'm From Further North Than You and you have the core of a very good album here, and certainly a return to more Wedding Present territory after the initial inspiration of Va Va Voom dripped away from Cinerama.

But ultimately, since the brilliance of the mid-nineties and such inspirational albums as Saturnalia, Watusi, Mini and Va Va Voom, Gedge has drifted a little into writing slightly formulaic songs about predictable topics which lack either the bite or the infectiousness of his earlier stuff. I'll enjoy this album, but not as much as I wish I could.


Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs

I loved Andrew Bird's last album - Weather Systems - all plucked meandering and wandering violins. This one is a little more straightforward, and misses some of the free-spirited creativity of its predecessor.

Some of the departures are splendid - Fake Palindromes is like nothing I've ever heard from Bird, and excellent. A couple of the others are really good too, in a more conventional way, such as Nervous Tic Motion... and Measuring Cups.

All in all , despite one or two weaker songs at the end, like The Naming Of Things, this is a wonderful, wonderful album. There is a gentleness about the music that belies some of the lyrical content, but serves to make anything Andrew Bird touches these days an absolute pleasure to listen to.


Bloc Party - Silent Alarm

I bought this because I loved Helicopter, which is always a risky strategy with albums, and initially I was really rather disappointed. But then, as is often the way with these things, I played it again. And then again. And then again.

I still liked Helicopter, and already knew I loved Banquet, but slowly the others crept up on me as well - rather like an Interpol album. They're definitely standard Indie-pop, this lot, but none the worse for it. Like Eating Glass and Positive Tension are excellent, and This Modern Love is aching. The rest, although they stand out less, round out the album fantastically. Silent Alarm is one of my favourite albums of the year, and boasts the best opening four songs I've heard in a long time.


Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning

This one is not immediately accessible, but thoroughly worth it in the long run. Conor Oberst has been touted as the new Bob Dylan, which seems totally over the top, but he has released two very good albums here, with this the better of them.

I am hard pressed to make comparisons, despite the fact that this is basically acoustic Americana. A less gentle version of Micah P Hinson springs to mind, as perhaps do Wilco in patches, but these don't really describe the sound all that accurately.

The album starts annoyingly, with some spoken word bollocks, before At The Bottom Of Everything really kicks off and turns into a terrific tune. There are some quiet, acoustic numbers, and a couple of real crackers - like We Are Nowhere And It's Now, sung in duet with Emmylou Harris (I think). She joins in again later on Landlocked Blues, bringing the trumpets back with her again in another cracker. But for some reason the defining moment seems to come when, in the final track, Oberst cuts loose and cries 'Lets fuck it up boys, make some noise'. This may seem like an album of loveliness, but it is in no way gentle. Superb!


Bright Eyes - Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

The second of Conor Oberst's twin releases doesn't yet seem to me to be quite as good as the first. Both took a while to grow on me though, so I'll hold back on that for a little while yet.

The obvious comparison here is with the Magnetic Fields, and it holds pretty well, although without the toy-town atmosphere Stephin Merritt has a habit of generating. Merritt's hooks and melodies are briefer, more direct, and his lyrics much more overtly literate. Oberst, on the other hand creates more sweeping songs that take a while to emerge and his lyrics are lovely, but less forward.

At times this can be downright bleak - Easy-Lucky-Free is desperate - but the atmosphere is never leaden. Digital Ash has a couple more songs on it that don't really stand out, hence my rating it lower than its twin, but it is still a fabulous record.


Doves - Some Cities

Another whinge here I'm afraid. I've been a right picky beggar since the New Year. Doves' first album was sheer, unmitigated genius. The Last Broadcast was okay - there was about half a brilliant album there, and there's just slightly less here.

It starts well - Some Cities and Snowden are vintage Doves - in fact the first four songs are just the sort of uplifting stuff you know they're capable of. After that though, it just seems to descend into filler. There are some good bits and pieces, but really the second half is weak.

Mind you, I said that about The Dears last year, and that one grew on me so much it was in my top five albums of the year eventually, so I'm going to give this one more time and reserve the right to change my mind later!


Lemonjelly - 64-95

I have to be honest, I didn't give this album all that much attention. The write-ups were pretty discouraging and I confess to having been rather influenced by them by the time I heard the album.

Consequently I don't have a lot nice to say here. This album seems to be a much more mainstream dance effort, moving pretty decisively away from the playful, beguiling tunesmithery of Lost Horizons and lemonjelly.ky. I have to say I pretty much lost interest in 64-95 after a couple of listens and haven't bothered since.


Rilo Kiley

Considering the anticipation, this one was another disappointing effort. That's a bit harsh, considering it's perfectly acceptable US sunshine indie-pop, but really it's just not all that good.

For comparisons think Joy Zipper or the Pernice Brothers. There is one terrific track - It's A Hit is indeed one, and if they'd kept that up for the whole album I'd be singing an altogether different tune. Ultimately I get the impression the Beach Boys could have written this whole album in an afternoon.


The Kills - No Wow

Shit, next.

Unless you're as plain talented as the White Stripes, then the whole White Stripes-a-like thing is OVER. One good song, the rest are rubbish.


Interpol - Antics

It took me ages to get into Interpol the first time round, and this one is no exception. It's worth it though. The first record never struck me as having been all that big, although popular amongst my music anorak friends. The level of fevered anticipation for Antics showed how wrong I was though - by the time this came out Interpol couldn't have been hipper.

Despite that, this is a good album. I am not as completely convinced as I was last time round, but songs like Evil, Public Pervert and Next Exit are storming - they just can't be played loud enough.

It's all a bit poppier this time too - more Killers that Walkmen - but no great loss for that. Not so brooding, and you won't have to spend as long explaining to your non-indie friends just why you like it so much either.


Hem - Eveningland

Given the eerie, drifting beauty of their previous album, Rabbit Songs, Hem were always going to struggle to match it the second time. This is good, but not that good.

The shades of Fairport Convention are gone here, and the album's biggest drawback is that instead of further exploring the gorgeous folk of the first album, here they move into more conventional Alt-Country fare. There are some outstanding tracks as well - Lucky is a real throwback to the etherial loveliness of Rabbit Songs, and there are others too, like Redwing and Fire Thief.

On Rabbit Songs the exceptional voice was matched by the unusual sound and wonderful songs. On this occasion though, the singing and musicianship are still unparallelled, but the songwriting doesn't seem to have quite given them the platform they deserve.


Jim White - Drill a Hole etc..

This reminds me an awful lot of my reaction to Jim White's previous album, and I can't say I mean that in a good way, White is another one of those musicians that I really wish I liked, but just don't.

There is one absolutely outstanding track on this album - the first one. Static On The Radio is a haunting story, with haunting imagery and a spell-binding duet to carry it. The problem is that despite being able to write songs of this quality, the rest of the album is pretty unmemorable, run-of-the-mill Americana. That level of delicate, evocative beauty is rarely in evidence.

So, having bought both this and his previous one on the strength of one blinding song, I can honestly say I won't be doing it again.