Archive | January, 2012

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The Twilight Sad – Another Bed

Posted on 31 January 2012 by Joe

Enjoying this latest single from The Twilight Sad’s third album No One Can Ever Know, released in February 2012.

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Diagrams – Black Light

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Diagrams – Black Light

Posted on 31 January 2012 by Joe

For the past three years, relinquished Tuung leader and folktronica artisan, Sam Genders, has been committed to the restraints of a primary school classroom, where he has been working as a teaching assistant.  In the confines of his Streatham-Hill teachers’ lounge, Genders was composing more than just future lesson plans. It was during this academic stint, through all the mathematics and phonics, that his latest project Diagrams was created.

Like chalk to a blackboard, Genders has wiped clear the minimal acoustic electronics akin to his past project. In its place, Diagrams experiments on concentrated polyrhythms perpendicular to jagged, leftfield pop precision.

Succeeding the release of last year’s self-titled EP, Genders ferrets further through angular folk foundations and eclectic, synth-tinged electronica. As Diagram’s first full-length, Black Light is an exploration of musical postmodernism; an accolade to DIY production and bedroom-based craftsmanship. With the aid of fellow post-pop luminaries, Micachu and Fever Ray’s co-producer, Subliminal Kid, Black Light’s ten songs swell like a yawning Gruff Rhys over impolite electro-beats and jazzed out melodies.

As Gender’s categorically undeniable vocals illustrate fantastical dreamscapes of baking bread and flying towards icy mountains. The surrealism of tracks such as bluesified opener, Ghost Lit and the drone-like cooing of Animals intensify through sporadic guitar twinkles and visceral harmonies.

With recent incursions of chillwave-esque, indie-pop schtick, Black Light pans out like a compilation of sonic speculation, similar to that of Metronomy or a bullish Broadcast. Genders’ ideas have never been so bountiful. While the punchy snare stutters of Tall Buildings gallop around well patterned acoustic picking, the fetching sounds of John Martyn omit from Peninsula’s descending xylophones and polished drum loops.

Yet, as unpredictable and elusive Diagrams have exhibited, the overall effect is that of fascination over fun. Genders’ lyrical delicacy seasons a batch of songs splurging over like a progressive pop think tank at boiling point. The absurd 8-bit blips resonating throughout the self-titled track, Black Light, are saved only by the charm and allure of soft, humbling vocal rhythms. The ethereal imagery conjured in Night All Night induces only enough of an acid flashback to assimilate any emotional fulfilment.

Conceptually, Genders has delivered a record equally as approachable as it is esoterically bewildering. Black Light’s irrationality is paralleled by its impeccable production standards and will for adventure. And while, at times, the effect may be somewhat confusing, even unnecessary, Diagrams’ debut proves Genders to be a pioneering player in the exploration of contemporary pop music.

7/10

by Tom Watson

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Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes

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Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes

Posted on 30 January 2012 by Dorian

I really wanted to love the debut album by The Hold Steady’s front-man Craig Finn. I loved The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday and Boys And Girls In America are two of my favourite albums and seeing the band live was one of the best gigs I have had the privilege to attend. For me the band’s last two albums offered increasingly diminishing returns, seldom returning to my stereo, and although I still liked the band the love was starting to fade. I had high hopes for Clear Heart Full Eyes, I thought that it was the kind of change Finn needed to rediscover his mojo and get back to his best work. Unfortunately I don’t love the record, it is a competent enough album, but it just isn’t quite good enough.

Clear Heart Full Eyes

People will listen to this record and applaud Finn for making a big stylistic change from the sounds that you associate with his band. There are no big rock riffs on the record,  but the problem is that it is essentially the same kind of record he has made before with a more rootsy instrumental arrangement. The songs are very well played and the arrangements are good, it is just that they aren’t that exciting or memorable. The third song, ‘No Future’, is most like The Hold Steady but sounds like it would have been filler on even their latter albums.

‘New Friend Jesus’ is fine enough, a bouncy backing and some good lyrical couplets, but it really doesn’t add much to the country music catalogue. Other acts have done this kind of thing much better.  It also emphasises another weakness, Finn’s vocals. I don’t expect my singers to be pitch perfect or have X-Factor style booming voices, I’m a fan of The Fall’s Mark E Smith, but in front of this kind of trad rock backing Finn’s vocals seem thin. Something they never did over the more aggressive and hard edged sounds on the best Hold Steady tracks.

Craig Finn is too good to make a wholly bad album, and there are some good aspects to this album. The lyrics are of his typically high standard and each song is an interesting story, populated by the usual array of characters. It is also, within the trad format, a pretty varied album stylistically and the band he has assembled for the album are clearly an accomplished bunch.

If you really love the work of Craig Finn, and like the idea of his songs played  in a trad-rock style then you’ll probably love this album. If, like me, you want to hear The Hold Steady back at their best then the hope is that this album has got something out of Finn ‘s system and he can bring his best back to the Hold Steady next time around.

6/10

By Dorian Rogers

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First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

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First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Posted on 27 January 2012 by Joe

The road to Nebraska is littered with the ghosts of Americana and getting there demands a humble homage to the stoic wraiths of bearded plaid shirts to navigate its precise route.

It’s rare for outsiders to succeed and unknown for the path to start from suburban Sweden, yet First Aid Kit have majestically transposed their whimsical folk deep into the mid-west, repairing the genres often passive conservatism, to redefine the contours of alt-country.

The Lion’s Roar sees sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg honouring the emotive song writing traditions of Americana while brandishing a distinctly European edge, their subtle harmonies, which a childhood swinging on a southern porch would harden, sweeping away the genres dusty rut.

Whereas their 2010 debut, The Big Black and The Blue, was a pleasure, it still felt like yet another acoustic duet album to add to the pile. Since then, buoyed no doubt by their deserved acclaim, the sisters have grown in to genuine songwriters.

First Aid Kit’s second album represents a shift not only in themselves buts also Americana, it introduces beautiful sense of serene openness which the heavy weight Fleet Foxes’ and Wilco’s shun for a classical conformity. Their intent is laid bare as an English prog’ flute weaves through the records opening title track painting The Lion’s Roar’s synesthetically green hue over the mustard of most Americana.

Although the driving Emmylou leans most heavily towards truck stops with its pedal steel and Emmylou Harris connotations, the sisters haunting voices have a gentle sadness which country singers often relay as bitterness. It’s this emotional maturity which makes The Lion’s Roar such a game changer.

Their talent is in an ability to nose dive into the depths yet emerge with a soft smile. Dance To Another Tune is suffocating in a bleak gloom, condensing “A child will die who nobody embraces” into a death march even the Bad Seeds would avoid, yet manages to blossom into strings with psychedelic “Ba Ba Bas”, exuding First Aid Kit’s engrained hopefulness.

Blue is an altogether different affair. Although it’s filled similarly with despair (“You just decided love wasn’t for you, every year since then has proved it to be true”) it’s perfectly juxtaposed with tinkling xylophones and plucked strings from the start which makes a hazy summer antidote to anything. It’s a theme tune to a sit-com you would actually want to watch,

It’s not all down to the Söderbergs, Mike Mogis’ superb production has taken the root of Americana to give it a stylistic depth their debut lacked, yet has used his Bright Eyes experience to give it alt-indie edge, widening the girls’ appeal.

This comes to the fore on The Lion’s Roar’s rousing closer King Of The World which features Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers, perfect for appealing to the upstate hipsters,  with Calexico-esque horns  slamming down the shots.

The Lion’s Roar feels at home in the mid-west but it still wants its own Gravlax and Fläskkorv and has managed to meld it’s influences the create one of 2012’s truly great albums.

9/10

by David Newbury

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Various – Sid Chip Sounds: The Music of the Commodore 64

Various – Sid Chip Sounds: The Music of the Commodore 64

Posted on 27 January 2012 by Joe

Robot Elephant Records’ 18 track compilation serves as a fairly definitive sampler of, and a tribute to, the incredible work of the 8-bit pioneers of the mid-to-late 1980’s.

While the C64’s SID chip was a more powerful and capable piece of technology than that of its rivals (Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC et al), it was only designed to issue rudimentary bleeps and bloops.

Ingenious coding by many of the artists featured here allowed the C64 to sing; mimicking drums, bass, guitars, strings and even horns in multi-channel symphonies while still preserving a sound that is unmistakable and iconic.

What makes the pieces featured even more remarkable is that typically the musician was only afforded a small portion of the 64K RAM to squeeze their overtures into, once the game programmers and artists had completed their work the composer would be given just a handful of Kilobytes to work within, and with no room for negotiation with either colleague or machine.A surprising variety of styles, sounds and genres are represented. From Ben Daglish’s John Carpenter-esque Wastelands (from The Last Ninja) to Chris Huelsbeck’s Tangerine Dream influenced Great Giana Sisters intro.

David Whittaker was convincingly aping the action TV themes of the day (think Airwolf, Street Hawk etc.) in the likes of Panther while the astonishing Tim & Geoff Follin created complex, folksy atmospheres like a sort of all-electronica Ozric Tentacles (only far better than that sounds).Pretty much all of the key artists of the era are present, so naturally you will also find works from Jeroen Tel, a.k.a. Maniacs of Noise (Cybernoid 2), Matt Gray (Last Ninja 2) and of course Galway, nephew of orchestral flautist James, (Parallax) and the brilliant Rob Hubbard (Sanxion). The Vinyl version also comes with the bonus inclusion of Martin Galway’s phenomenal Wizball  theme.

Many of us who were playing computer games in the 80’s would have enjoyed these tunes through the tinny, mono speaker of a portable CRT TV set. As much as anything it’s a thrill to have these blast out of a contemporary digital stereo sound system and hear the top and bottom ends really pop.

It’s highly doubtful that such a collection could convert someone who wasn’t already disposed towards 8-bit/Chiptunes but the amenable audiophile will get an education as to where a lot of these sounds originated from. For the middle-aged gamer this succeeds as both a nostalgia piece and a sermon for preaching to the non-convert.

8/10

by Leon Cox of Cane and Rinse

 

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Django Django – Django Django

Django Django – Django Django

Posted on 27 January 2012 by Joe

Django Django’s skillful blend of genres and eccentricity led us to name them our top act to watch out for in 2011. They had only released two singles back then at the tail end of 2010, Storm and Wor, but we were convinced their forthcoming debut album would find them a wider audience.

Turns out we were a couple of months out, with their debut self-titled album being released a little later than we thought in early 2012.

Good old fashioned pop with some modern art rock sensibility is key to Django Django’s appeal. Storm and the insane Duane Eddy-meets-astronaut-meets-Cairo market trader single Wor are included and are immediate standouts.

But there’s plenty more pop up the sleeves of this London based band that met while studying art in Edinburgh. The slower, more experimental Waveforms is another great single, as is Default with its unshowy but effective chord riff.

Firewater, with its blend of new wave and folk is sure to be another single as could Life’s a Beach, where the band’s love of 50s riffs is taken to a new level.

What makes them so interesting is the inventiveness and sense of fun. As the NME pointed out this week they are “an alternative oasis in a land of indentikit indie.”

Of course that is partly down to the NME insistence in promoting indentikit crappy indie music for the last decade rather than Django Django being the savior of modern UK indie music.

Others such as Field Music, Special Benny and one of our current favoutires Free Swim have been blending witty observations and inventive genre crossing pop in the niche land of ‘indie’ for a while now already. Django Django can safely be added to that list following this solid debut, which apart from a couple of fillers in Hand of Man and  Zumm Zumm is as odd and good a pop album you will hear all year.  Shame its taken so long for the likes of NME to discover them.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

 

 

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Introducing…Unicorn Power

Introducing…Unicorn Power

Posted on 27 January 2012 by Joe

Where are they from? Brighton, UK

Who are they? This three piece started with Scott Pitkethly (vocals, guitar, synths)  and Annalise Vineer (vocals, bass, synths) and have since been joined by Dion Lay (guitar)

What do they sound like?  The band are heavily influenced by synth pop pioneers such as David Bowie and Roxy Music  as well as Kate Bush. For our money they sound a little like Disco Inferno as well and fans of their experimental pop from the early 1990s will find a lot to like in Unicorn Power. The blog Louder than War, which named them one of their top 50 bands of 2012 describes them as “quirky, high IQ cut and paste freak disco”. The band thankfully tell us they have no idea what that means.

What have they got to say for themselves? Pitkethly says: “Essentially we like anyone who can combine guitars with some squelchy synth – from early British synthpop like The Normal and John Foxx to contemporary stuff like LCD Soundsystem and Crystal Castles.

“We formed as an outlet for my growing interest in music production. Most of our songs are driven by an urge to dance around on stage and encourage the audience to join in. We’re into the whole DIY thing, we record and produce everything ourselves, make our own videos and CD packaging, and even our own electronic instruments.”

What releases should I look out for? The bands End of Fairytales EP is now available for free downloand from their bandcamp page. A new EP will be out in the Spring  2012 and they are set to appear on a compilation by Swedish label Substream later this year.

Where can I find out more? Visit their bandcamp page here or their homepage here.

  by Joe Lepper

 

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Free Swim – Dennis!

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Free Swim – Dennis!

Posted on 19 January 2012 by Dorian

Preparing to review this EP was a bit nerve wracking, at Neon Filler we have been big supporters of Free Swim and are promoting their next gig, so what to do if the latest work was duff? I’d end up feeling like all those journalists who had to write good reviews of Oasis albums because they had spent the previous years proclaiming them the saviours of music and didn’t want to lose face. The good news for me is that the EP isn’t duff, far from it, and may well be my favourite Free Swim EP to date.

Free Swim - Dennis

The story on this one isn’t as outlandish as on previous outings, no grafted hands or mountaineering Pandas here, it is your typical boy meets boy, boy meets girl, boy loses boy, boy meets girl story. The opening track ‘Oh Dennis’ is power pop perfection with the kind of guitar riffing you get on Hold Steady records and a charming off-kilter love story at the heart of the song.

‘Croydon Fernandes’ is a more boisterous punky affair, perfectly complimenting the hyper-male activities or our protagonists as they spot planes, eat scotch eggs and play air cello. The song thunders long along until the arrival of the “undeniably lovely” Sophie Buttercup leaves our protagonist all alone.

‘The Smell of Pregnancy’ finds him sad, alone and abandoned pleading;

“Just promise you’ll always watch your Hornblower DVD once a year and think of me.”

This song is the standout song on a fine EP, the Batman theme instrumental section and slap bass outro being two of the fine musical highlights on a deceptively sophisticated track. Paul Coltofeanu (who plays everything here) shows a lot of skill throughout, and a real flair for production that lift this EP above the average DIY effort. The aforementioned slap bass, the keyboards on ‘Oh Dennis’ and the drums on the final track, the sweeping ‘Cycling Holidays In The Ardeche’, are just some of the musical elements that add real depth to what is (in all other respects) a fun and witty pop record.

Fee Swim seem to be getting better with each release, and another EP is planned for this year, time I think for a record label to sign them up and fund the double concept album they were born to make.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

Listen to and download all the Free Swim music on their Bandcamp page.

See Free Swim live with Twin Brother and Stick In A Pot at the Green Door Store. Details here.

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Giant Sand – The Fire Records Reissues

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Giant Sand – The Fire Records Reissues

Posted on 19 January 2012 by Joe

Back in 2010 Fire Records began marking the 25th anniversary of Howe Gelb’s legendary alternative country band Giant Sand by re-issuing the bulk of their back catalogue. Since then each of their 16 albums between 1985 and 2004 have been released, with the task finally completed at the end of 2011 with the release of Backyard BBQ Broadcast (1994), Cover Magazine (2002) and Is All Over the Map (2004).

Looking back over this collection it is striking how eclectic Tucson, Arizona, based Giant Sand have been, from classic rock, to country, to punk to jazz and bar room blues. There’s even been a bit of  trip hop at times.

But whatever genre is covered one reassuring constant has been the presence of  the band’s founder, songwriter and singer Howe Gelb with his distinct American drawl, world view of music and humour.

Even though Giant Sand is undoubtedly Gelb’s band only a fool would belittle the influence of those members that have come and gone. Among the act’s best work was with its classic, long running line up of bassist indie rhythm section for hire Joey Burns and Drummer John Convertino. They left after Chore of Enchantment to focus on their increasingly successful other project Calexico. The pair’s huge influence over the band is not in doubt. Gelb is also clearly influenced by his many collaborators, from Pj Harvey to his friend and slide guitar maestro Rainer Ptacek, who was a member of Helb’s post punk band that predated Giant Sand, called Giant Sandworms. Ptacek tragically died of brain cancer in 1997.

With 16 albums to plough through I’m not going to spend reams of text analysing each one.  Instead I’ll pick out some of my highlights and those that could perhaps be required buying for a wide audience taking in Giant Sand completists to those with only a passing knowledge of the band. Fire Records are also planning to start a new reissue project focusing on Gelb’s six solo albums in 2012, something we will keep you updated about.

Chore of Enchantment (2000)

This is a fine entry point to Giant Sand, containing its most commercially pleasing tracks, although it was vilified for being too alternative by the band’s record label at the time. Shiver in particular is a standout not just on this album, but across all 16 albums. It is also the best value of the reissues, giving you much more bang for your buck with the addition of an extra CD, called The Rock Opera Years that is made up of demo versions and other tracks from the time.

There’s a sadness surrounding the album. It was to be the last featuring the classic Giant Sand line up of Burns and Convertino. It also followed the death of Ptacek, something that deeply effected Gelb, who handed much of the mixing and producing duties over to John Parish, the Bristol based producer behind much of PJ Harvey’s best work. Ptacek’s presence is across the album and his beautiful slide appears on track 16, Shrine. Parish’s influence also makes this such a treat, mixing styles and even some of his local Bristol trip hop experimentation.

The Love Songs (1988)

This fourth Giant Sand album is arguably where they found their sound. At times the previous three releases sounded a little too similar to other bands of the time. Debut Valley of  Rain for example has Gelb’s unmistakable voice, but also generic chorus effect on guitar, which pretty much every alternative rock band had at the time. The Love Songs, featuring the classic line up of Burns and Convertino, as well as Gelb’s then wife and former bassist with The Go-Gos Paula Jean Brown, certainly has one of the strongest collection of songs.

The explosive  rock of Mountain of Love and the wah-wah peddle drenched Love Like A Train are among many highlights. There’s some great covers on here as well, such as Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is? and a bonus track of the band’s bizarre Run DMC-ish version of Smokey Robinson’s Get Ready. As with Chore of Enchantment part of The Love Songs’ charm is the breadth of styles, with Almost The Politician’s Wife’s acoustic guitar blues and keyboards from Green on Red’s Chris Cacavas perfectly augmenting the album’s more traditional rock and crazier  moments. For very good reason The Love Songs was named in our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Music Albums list.

 Centre of the Universe (1992)

Centre of the universe is one of Howe Gelb’s favourite Giant Sand albums. It’s probably my favourite of the 16. The album, which was written in a one-room, desert cabin near Joshua Tree  and recorded in Venice, California, holds a special place in his heart as it marked the “last time I could work like this, before the advent of family life was to take over and populate the day…this record marks the final time of isolation with a happy careless abandon and an immediate urgency delivered by a wired up acoustic guitar with stomp box distortion ready and willing”.

For me its so good because its unmistakable Giant Sand  laced with the grunge influences of the day, from Nirvana to Superchunk to The Lemonheads, and features sumptuous backing vocals from The Psycho Sisters – backing vocalists for hire at the time made up of former Bangle Vicki Peterson and Susan Cowsill. It’s a great combination with their backing vocals on tracks such as Loretta and the Insect World elevating what is already a fantastic alternative country album to a new level. The classic line up features here as well, as Gelb’s distorted guitar blends perfectly with Convertino’s drumming, Burns’ double bass and Giant Sand regular Chris Cacavas’s organ. The reissue features a remastering that Gelb is particularly impressed with for  the added oomph it gives to The Psycho Sisters’s contribution, which he describes as “more vibrant and alluring.”

Is All Over The Map (2004)

When Burns and Convertino left Giant sand in 2000 to focus full time on Calexico the future of the band looked in doubt. Gelb meandered for a few years, released an interesting covers album under the Giant Sand name called Cover Magazine in 2002 and a year or so later found himself in Denmark scouting for musicians for  a solo record. Turns out that those he found were more than just a backing band with Gelb signing up  slide mandolin player and guitarist Anders Pederson, bassist Thoger T Lund and drummer Peter Deombernowsky to become the core Giant Sand line up that remains to this day.

John Parish was brought back in to produce and the result is classic Giant Sand, a range of styles, a warmth, great backing vocals and some fine tunes. Among those contributing were the late Vic Chesnutt, Henriette Sennenval and Marie Frank on backing vocals. Gelb’s daughter, who was 16 at the time, also gets a turn on a very wild west version of Anarchy in the UK. Gelb says that opener Classico is the only “real song”. He’s wrong of course, as the frantic Remote, the beautiful Cracklin Water and the Lou Reed-esque NYC of Time are all great songs as well. With Gelb even singing in French on Les Forcats Innocents and locations across Europe getting a mention Gelb’s world view of music was formalised with this release. Those that liked Centre of the Universe are likely to adore this album.

by Joe Lepper

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Top 10 Disappointing Follow-Ups

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Top 10 Disappointing Follow-Ups

Posted on 16 January 2012 by Dorian

The Godfather Part Two is one of the finest films ever made, even better than the excellent first film in the series. The Godfather Part Three is not a terrible film, but after seeing the first two films in the series it is a pretty miserable way to spend more than two and a half hours of your life. In music hearing a bad album is no big deal, you put it aside and forget about it, but hearing a favourite act follow up a classic album with a bad one is a dispiriting experience.

Here we present our Top 10 Disappointing follow-ups.

10. Pavement – Terror Twilight

Pavement Terror Twilight

Up until this point Pavement had a pretty much blemish free copybook, a set of challenging singles and four brilliant albums to their name. Brighten The Corners in 1997 was as good a set of off-kilter indie guitar pop as any released in the decade and looked close to breaking the band to a bigger audience.  The quirky charms of ‘Carrot Rope’ two years later raised my hopes for the follow-up, sadly these were dashed on hearing the full product, Terror Twilight. There are good songs on the album, notably the singles ‘Spit On A Stranger’ and ‘Major leagues’ but it is a strangely flat record. The production by Nigel Godrich is cold and lifeless, something that can be said about the majority of the songs here. Spiral Stairs never wrote songs as great as Malkmus, but the lack of any of his songs here is another missing piece of the Pavement puzzle. The band would break up after touring this album, but they had started to give up even before it was recorded.

9. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder

Some Loud Thunder

In 2005 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah looked like they could be a real band to watch. Their self-titled debut was over hyped but it contained some brilliant songs and was one of the most promising debuts of the year. Two years later they released Some Loud Thunder and proceeded to rain on the musical parade. The album was produced by Dave Fridmann and it is hard to tell if it is his fault or the bands for the first song on offer, which is pretty much impossible to listen to. I tolerate a lot of difficult production from a band, but the remaining songs on the album, whilst perfectly well produced, are just not very good at all. The band play around musically all over the place, but they seem to have forgotten that a good song needs to be the basis of their instrumental indulgences. The band wisely retreated after this and it would be another four years before they released another album.

8. The Strokes – Room On Fire

The Strokes - Room On Fire

How do you follow up an album that throws you on the cover of every music magazine and spawns half a dozen instant indie-disco classics? The answer The Strokes had for this question seems to be producing the same album again, but with worse songs and the vocals mixed absurdly low in the mix. There are a couple of half decent singles on Room On Fire, but beyond that I can’t think of one interesting thing to say about it.

7. The Pixies – Bossanova

The Pixies - Bossanova

Including the Pixies in this chart is going to seem like sacrilege to some readers, this is after all one of the most beloved of all the 1990s acts. The thing is, I love the Pixies and even love a number of the songs that are featured on this album. The surf-rock instrumental stuff is cool, ‘Dig For Fire’ is a great single and several of the other tracks are as interesting and exciting as anything else that was released that year. The thing is though that this album followed Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, two of the best records ever released. In that context it couldn’t fail to disappoint, it is just nowhere near as good a record as either of its predecessors. It also differs from these two classic albums in that it is quite dull in parts, it just feels a bit flat and lacking in the excitement I’d come to expect from this most singular of bands. Trompe Le Monde would step things up a bit a year later and (without any sign of a new album) Bossanova remains the worst record in their back catalogue.

6. Elastica – The Menace

Elastica The Menace

The five years Elastica took to release The Menace was longer than the post-punk period they thrived to emulate and marked them as millennium’s first has beens. Their album Elastica was the fastest selling debut ever, spearheading a savvy guitar pop which oozed suave lo-fi and visceral sophistication. It was urban and reinvigorating, an essential classic. The Menace, however, is drowned in the fug of brown sugar, banker talc, scrapped recordings and litigation.  When it’s not pandering to Casio bedsit clichés Justine Frischmann rejects angsty vocals for shouting “Your Arse My Place”, relying on Mark E Smith to add oral quality. It’s a disjointed album, much of which had already appeared on an EP, from a one trick band sacrificed to drugs, arguments and time.

5. Blur – The Great Escape

Blur The Great Escape

Parklife was a brilliant era defining guitar pop record, a huge leap forward for a band that had started life as an identikit baggy outfit. It was witty, melodic, and despite being heavily influenced by classic British pop (XTC, The Kinks, Madness and Julian Cope all spring to mind) it was a record that was very of its time. If you were to have described the album to a set of suited music executives and asked them to reproduce the record what they would have come up with would be The Great Escape. The same ground is covered, the same style of songs are featured and the same tricks are trotted out, but in all cases they are not as successful. On Parklife Phil Daniels provides guest vocals, on The Great Escape it is Ken Livingstone. On Parklife the videos are colourful and fun, on The Great Escape the colourful video for ‘Country House’ is embarrassing (Graham Coxon looks filled with self-loathing in that one). Albarn is too good a songwriter to produce a total stinker, and there are some good songs on here, but on the whole it is a pretty charmless record.

4. REM – Monster

REM - Monster

REM are one of the most important bands ever, it is as simple as that. They enabled many alternative acts to make the popular crossover and  produced music that influenced more bands than almost any other act. In 1994 they were at their commercial and critical peak, thir last album, Automatic For The People, was their most popular yet and the reviews were uniformly positive. Two years later their response to this was to produce their worst album to date, an album of murky rock that failed to play to any of their musical strengths. ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth?’ was a brilliant lead-off single, but a misleading example of the overall quality to expect. The album as a whole is murky, underwhelming and seldom rises above being ordinary. People may listen to the album and wonder why I’m making a fuss, it is a decent set of melodic alt-rock right? But to me it was the sound of a band moving from essential to irrelevant in the space of twelve songs.

3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

BON-IVER-BON-IVER

For Emma, Forever Ago was a good album with an interesting back-story. Frustrated love-lorn musician Justin Vernon retreats to a cabin and records a sparse, haunting and subtle album with beautiful yet simple arrangements. The critics went wild for it and a new hero of American music was born. It seems that the critics were so enamoured that when it came to reviewing Vernon’s self titled second album they chose to ignore what a bad album it was, perhaps they had written the reviews in advance of receiving the album. These same critics were clearly too embarrassed to admit their mistake and forced to include Bon Iver high up in their end of year charts. Our review of the album damns it with faint praise and comparisons to Toto and Enya are accurate, this is an album that is overproduced and uninteresting.

2. Primal Scream – Give Out, But Don’t Give Up

Primal Scream

When Bobby Gillespie’s Primal Scream released Screamadelica it shocked the critics by not just being a great album but by perfectly marrying rock and dance music in a way that no other artists had managed to achieve up to that point. So, how best to follow up this feat? A by-the-numbers rock and roll album that is the aural equivalent of a pasty faced man in leather trousers dancing out of rhythm. The playing is fine, the music passable with some pretty terrible lyrics and vocals all adding up to a truly mediocre album. You are left wondering whether the success of Screamadelica was really down to Primal Scream at all or more to do with the various DJs and producers who peppered the album. A subsequent career veering between the average and the un-listenable has done little to quell this notion.

1. Stone Roses – The Second Coming

Listen up and listen good Stone Roses fans. Your adored band are crap. There I’ve said it. Yes of course their debut, self titled album (one of our top ten indie/alt albums of all time ) was remarkable. But that is less to do with The Stone Roses and more down to the direction of producer John Leckie (our top alternative music producer of all time) , who expertly mixed the band’s ballsy Mancunian live style with a 1960s experimental feel, some great tunes and wonderful guitar arrangements.  Under Leckie the band’s  major deficiencies were also masked, most notably singer Ian Brown being complete pants and  chief song writer and guitarist John Squire being some kind of megalomaniac, guitar riffing version of Mr G from Summer Heights High. On Second Coming, their atrocious second and final album, they parted company with Leckie and with it any sense of direction. All they were left with were their glaring deficiencies.  Ten Storey Love Song is probably the only track that emerges with any credit. Love Spreads, with its depressingly long guitar intro sounds like the kind of tired rock U2 were churning out on  Rattle and Hum. Begging You sounds a little like U2 Achtung Baby era but a whole lot more like Bobby Davro doing a bad impression of Primal Scream.

by Dorian Rogers, David Newbury and Joe Lepper

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