Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.8
Black Box Recorder - "The Facts of Life" T-Baby threw this at me with the obligatory "It suts". (technically, it's "it suts Andy" but that's another story) Well, one perusal of the cover is sufficient to feel all you need do to bring that sentiment home to roost is insert it in a player. That is not helped by removing said CD and seeing band members John Moore and Luke Haines dressed up in combat fatigues and SS looking garb with lead singer Sarah Nixey between them clad in leather as a wall of slaughtered meat hangs behind them. (Bringing Foetus instantly to mind) But in jumping to that conclusion one would be quite mistaken. This is a very interesting, synthetic affair, with Nixey at times sounding like a cross between Dominique Durand of Ivy and Kate Bush (especially in falsetto) but not annoying like I find Kate Bush's voice. They even sound a bit like Ivy sans-guitars on the song Weekend, but the next track The English Motorway System sounds very similar to something Vince Clarke might have written. At other times they remind me of I Start Counting, only to switch gears on the soul filled The Facts of Life. Damn if this isn't a half bad record. In fact, it's quite damn good. Shame about the choice of covers, it certainly can't help sales and really has nothing to do with the sound of this band like it does when Foetus uses images like it. This is a poptastic little record which comes heartily endorsed. The problem is once he reads this I'll have to give it back and buy it.
Label ~ Jetset, 13 Tracks, year unknown
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.4
Blazer - "The Last Wave" This is the debut self cdr release of what I think is one of the most promising new american indie bands around. Now, we've seen it before, 2 brothers from Ohio and all that, but instead of airplanes they have mastered the genre of indie in apparently all it's subtleties. The first track Eileen for instance has all the gloss of Spandau Ballet with impassioned vocals somewhat reminiscent of Simply Red. In fact it's exactly the kind of thing you'd be labelled a fairy for liking back in the 80's. Later on Cocaine Affair we are treated to vocal strains very reminiscent of Paul Young, on an equally touching ballad. If this sounds like this bathes in the waters of 80's chic dream pop then you would be very correct. Musically it has a very full sound but there is no question it resides mostly in the realm of synths and keyboards. It is also the first album of it's kind in this age to try to recapture some of the spark and magic of the balladeers of the 80's indie scene. I would stop short of saying it's a "chick" record, as women were most fond of that sort of thing back then, but clearly I think females would find the music here very appealing. It is luxurious, with a shimmering quality with good strong vocals that remind one of a number of artists as i noted before. The only caveat if there is one is that no label had the foresight to sign them and this is a cdr only release by the band themselves. So everyone, sit up and take notice, as here is a band befitting your attentions. You can read more at their Myspace page and you can buy the album here. Not only will you want a copy, they've added 4 live tracks to it since I got mine, you lucky bastards....
Label ~ Self, 7 + 4 live Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Blochin 81- "A Smell of Vinyl"
Ahhhh...Blochin 81. Where to begin? I will say I know precious little about this group. They are apparently a bunch of Germans from Berlin (who's number I cannot determine) which are led by an ex-patriot and apparently mad Englishman named Desmond Squire. One of the things that became obvious about this group is their love of vinyl and especially the 7" single. That endeared them to me forthwith.
This bunch came to our attention when T-Baby bought their "Groovy Time" 7" on a whim. (damn him for that, it should have been me!) The bonus however was he no longer has a turntable so he brought it to me for cleaning and auditioning. (and it's now mine you hear, mine!) Anyway, we put it on, and although we listened to alot of stuff that night, in the end all we could do was play this over and over and over..... The stylus drops, a moments silence, then a voice with a german accent says "Hello POP kids! This is grroovvy time!" And a wacky keyboard chimes in and heaven help you, you're done.
(That is unless you're English. More on that later.) Well, that was enough. I immiediately ordered this LP which is in essence a compilation of most of the material from all of their 7" releases. In a word, Fab. I can't put this LP down.
It starts with We are the Suburb which begins deliberately with the audible "pop" of a stylus hitting the record, and then some heavy handed guitar for a second or two and the magic starts. First and most noticable is that our Mr. Squire sings in a very over the top Cockney like accent, which to me as an american holds a real nostalgia for the good old days of punk and all that I loved about it.
This song is very typical of them, a groovy driving beat, and a catchy chorus.
The next song however, Life's Sad Heroes is so absolutely brilliantly POPTASTIC I can barely stand it. It has shining, driving horns, lyrics as catchy as all hell, a great beat and a mind sticking chorus. You absolutely cannot stand still when this song is playing.
God'damnit people, this is the stuff!!! They have that german quirkyness, use horns and keyboards to great effect, with an almost Beatle like way but the overall feel is completely reckless gaiety. And the lavish use of the horns adds such an air of happiness.
It's here I'd like to point out I sent an MP3 of one of the songs from this LP, "Mr. Special", another brilliant gem, to my friend Mr. Wilson, so he could share the love.
The reply was abhorrence and disgust. It seems, and both he and his wife agree, that it is (now lets see if I remember this quote right) "Knee slap Cockney dance hall cut up" or some damn thing. Apparently it was the over the top accent of Desmond he found insulting, making Dick Van Dyke "Mary Poppins" references to it and saying if Mr. Squire tried this act in the UK he'd be handed his hat.
We all said, "You poor daft bastards! This is brilliant!" "No they said, it isn't." ?????? Well, no wonder we broke from the crown then. All I can say is EVERY american I know who I've played it for has flipped. It is the feel good, dance crazy, happy GROOVY TIME record of the year. I could use Mr. Roget and still run short of adjectives describing how much I love this record. Almost every song is so brillaint it's like looking at the sun. It would be hard to single even one out. I believe they have disbanded with members now being in an outfit called Lato so this might not be available for long. By all means get it.
Label ~ Goldmarie(Marsh Marigold), 10 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Bloody Marys - "Sixteen Hail Marys" OK, this is another one I've had for a while and sadly this one got shelved as well, and for nothing of it's own doing. I was (and suppose am) simply tired of 80's retro releases to such a degree I didn't even want to hear this. They all are beginning to sound the same, the recording quality tends to be awful, and to quote Phil Wilson "I carn't be arsed". On top of all this my misery with trying to bring the Chairs album to the light of day for 3 years now has me wholly pissed off. However, Uwe is a friend so I had to pony up and get to this already. After a deep breath and some furtive listening, I had to say this isn't recorded too badly. They must have recovered the original DAT's because while the dynamic range identifies it as an 80's recording, there is no noise, dropouts or crackles, and it doesn't sound like it's coming out of a shoebox. Further, a number of tracks on here are actually quite attention grabbing as well, such as Stain which has a really nice bass riff and melody line to it. On top of all that the songs here do not sound like every lost or forgotten C86 band you never heard of in the first place. (and usually for good reason) There is a uniqueness to their sound and songwriting which makes me wonder how the hell I missed this originally. The disc covers their career years from 87-89 and includes new unreleased tracks from 2003 which are VERY adult, modern and in one instance as sexy as all hell. There s a lot of variety on here that will remind you of a lot of bands from back then without sounding like any of them exactly, and it's all the good stuff. Well, dip me in mud. This was a diamond sitting in my pond that I was just ignoring. It just goes to show what happens when you pre-judge. This is a buy by all means release, and no mistake.
Label ~ Firestation, 16 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 5.2
Blue Kite - "Aleatoric" You can thank T-Baby for this entry, that is if you were thankful. Now, I could be wrong, but when a band puts strong imagery on a cover one has to assume it's to make a point. The point I seem to be getting here is a strong lesbian statement, with a woman (I assume lead singer "Liz") displaying a muscle with her breast falling out of her shirt. Then inside there's a pic of her with her arms over her head so she can display her hairy, unshaven armpits. That's lovely. I have a gay friend, and he's as bad. If you go to his house there are calenders with naked men with raging members displayed out in the open etc.. I don't care what anyones sexuality is, I really don't, and I don't think other people do either by and large anymore. That doesn't mean I want it intruding in my life. (or worse shoved in my face) I swear, nothing is private anymore. I don't have Hustler calenders in my house because I'm straight. This is more like a rant than an Lp review but I kind of get set off every time I see this cover. Anyhow, enough of that, lets get to the music. This band is from England, and "Liz's" voice (no last name is given) is somewhat typical from that quarter but perhaps a little huskier than usual. (well, it is) The album is characterized by somewhat moody, introspective songs. The first, Only in Your Dreams is just such a song, and has a nice cello bit in it. It isn't too bad. The next track, Learning By Coincidence is the closest thing to a typical "pop" song on the LP. My first auditionings of this LP had me not liking it much, but I've been forcing myself listen to stuff more before my poison pen comes out, and I have to say this LP isn't too bad. I particularly like track 7 Squandered as it has a nice driving melody and some good hooks and guitar bits. (almost early Cure-ish) I'm looking feverishly, and truly, I can't find anything really bad here. In fact, some of it is quite above average, the rest is fair. I'm still not sure about her voice though. T-baby will fall back off his stool when he reads this (yes, he has a stool) as he quite disliked this album. I'm going to have to give this more serious consideration. Who'd have guessed? By the way, it's pronounced A-lee-ah-toric, and means something that is characterized by chance events. Serendipitous. Kind of like my suddenly not entirely hating this.
Postscript: It must have been something in the water that day as later (and repeated) listenings put this disc in the dustbin where it belongs. WHAT was I thinking?
Label ~ Blue Kite?, 13 Tracks, 1998
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.5
Bon Voyage - "The Right Amount" I am assuming this band is a husband /wife affair, composed of lead singer Julie Martin and guitarist Jason Martin helped by Travis Zimmerman on bass. The opening and title track however almost makes me laugh. Her voice, the melody, and especially the chorus is almost a homogenious mix of the entire current indie twee electronica scene distilled into one happy song. Don't mistake me, it's quite a good song, but it's one of those things that the first time and almost the instant I heard it I was ready to swear I already had heard this song somewhere before. She has one of those high, yet etherial, "mousy" sort of voices which might be hard on some but I find it pleasant and like it well enough. Musically, this is mostly lightish, although I would stop short of calling it twee because there is an adult tinge to it and a times it actually becomes quite a bit lovely as on tracks like Dressed in White. In fact the sound really matures on a few cuts as on All The Traps which reminds me a bit of the swedish band Cinnamon and has a very sexy, very adult vibe to it. I think the reference to Cinnamon could be made a few times on this disc actually. More in melody and her vocals, as they don't have that full blown sort of muster Cinnamon displays. This is definetly likeable enough, although the closest thing to a really memorable song is the title track but like I said, that just might be because it makes me think I remember it from somewhere else. Still, this is very well done and if you are looking for a nice, light and perhaps less electronic version of the band Stars lets say, this will do nicely for you. It is certainly far better than average, but not yet passing brilliant.
Label ~ Tooth & Nail, 10 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 7.8
Boyracer - "Boyfuckingracer" This is another mega-compilation of lifes work etc.. by another band who few people had heard of before. Now, I'm hardly a prude, in fact I curse like a stableboy, but seeing titles like this bothers me. Maybe it's the 4 year old daughter I have now, I don't know. Phil agrees but he takes an English slant saying it's just a cop out for notoriety because one should have taken the trouble to say something more original but couldn't. This isn't helped when the first track is He Gets Me So Hard, which on top of the title is a pretty bad song. At this point my axe was out and being sharpened greedily. I also dislike when people use "yr" for your and this band does it on two different song titles no less. (talk about a lack of imagination) I was all set to let loose when track 5 Razor came up. It was the first noticeably different cut on the disc, it was composed well, made good use of fuzz in a mellow kind of way and is a quite good little song. This whole affair then meanders about never quite finding itself, and with 33 songs that's lots of room to wander. The sound most common is a low-fi wall of guitar wash, but on too many cuts it doesn't work. However on slower cuts like Passionflower and Buffalo they reach a level of melody and musicianship not seen on the other cuts. Sometimes their arrow falls just short, as on Cog which is really one of those could have been songs if only it was recorded a little differently. They do hit the mark sometimes as on Her Flame Fades Quickly which is a great hard, raw edged pop song. Then there are cuts like Short Changed which are just awful. I would say there are at least 10-12 good to above average cuts on this thing, the rest is for the dustbin. So in essence you can find at least a full LP's worth of material so it makes it hard to rate this thing. The good stuff ranges from a 7.5 to about a 9, but the other two thirds is between a 4 to a 6. Hell, lets give it an 7.8 for effort.
Label ~ 555, 33 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.5
Boyracer/Kanda - "Girlracer/I Do" This is a split cd of cover tracks designed to be sold during their US tour. It begins with Boyracer which is a band which has written songs I abhor or love, there seems to be no middle ground. That continues on this disc. The first song isn't so great, the second is awful. The third is Give Him A Great Big Kiss done by the Shangri La's which is good, so is the cover of Allison Moyets Nobodys Diary which follows. They then cover the Primitives Stop Killing Me and while it is interesting drenched in feedback, I'm not sure it's the best possible cover they could have done of it. The last is a surprise to me, as they cover Strawberry Switchblades (one of my faves) Since Yesterday and the song is so good, and the cover passable enough that it's the best track of their "side", and one of the main reason I even bought this. Kanda, who's debut LP I really like, start with the Ramones I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend and sadly taking it to techno and taking the guitars out doesn't help it. Still, it's nice enough. Odder still is the next track, Bad Companys Feel Like Makin Love which is done so indie twee compared to the raunchiness of the original that alone makes it precious. That's followed by Whams Freedom which comes across odd but is good. Next is a cover of Get Ready by the Temptations which they actually do very grungy. It's a great song. I really wish there were black artists making stuff like that now instead of hip hop and rap. That was some great stuff. This is followed by a cover of I Think We're Alone Now which comes across like Julie Cruise down on the range. This ends with the famous Chapel of Love done in screeching tecnho. Not brilliant but serviceable. There are a few interesting covers here and the rarity the disc will have is almost enough to warrant getting it. A nice enough effort.
Label ~ 555 Recordings, 12 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9
Boys - "Boys EP" One of the biggest squawks in the indie scene right now is this band from Sweden who's debut EP this is. The squawk is for the fact that their lead singer sounds exactly like Morrissey. Not just a little mind you, but exactly, and apparently he isn't trying to hide the fact or avoid it. Rather it's clear they are embracing it. The opener Wapping is a good song, albeit much harder driven than the Smiths ever were and if it has a failing it is it simply goes on too long. However on the next song I'm Saving You For Later were I told this was some obscure Smith outtake never released I would not doubt it for one second. From the lyrics, to the drum stop in the melody to they way he turns the vocals over and inflects them it simply reeks of the Smiths. They are without question the first band that has been able to do the Smiths act perfectly in every way. So what to make of it? I'm not sure. Personally I know I am sick of Morrissey. I was promised an obituary 20 years ago on the day he became less than vital. Oh promises, promises.... Still, there is no point holding my rancor for him against these lads. I think we'll have to wait for the long player to see what they truly do with it before we pass judgement. There is one great, one average and one forgettable song on here, and obviously it's the novelty that makes it what it is, but parody is not enough. To survive they will need to team that to consistently good songs, and then they may have something, comparisons be damned or not. As it is we're at the very raised eyebrow stage..... but my guess is the debut will be either fucking brilliant or a complete ass busting flop. Because of it's very nature it won't fall any other way. Anticipation.......
Label ~ SMT, 3 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.6
Boys Star Library - "Sugar & Water" If I had a promo sheet about this band I have since lost it. They have a website but I'm too lazy (and busy) to look it up. This thing starts with an intro that isn't so much a song as a build up to the first real song on track two, so consider it a 9 song LP. And for some reason the way that song started put me off this LP for a while and I didn't want to listen to the rest of it. (Hey, you have 40 discs staring you in the face with people writing daily wondering when you'll get to theirs. This is no picnic. For that matter, picnics are a shit load of work too.) I think part of the problem was I was listening to this with tim as we painted his house, and he was in his usual surly mood and "sutted" it quickly and off it went. I dug it out the other week and gave it a fair hear and found myself quite surprised. It's very jangly, somewhere between Astropop 3 and the Pearlfishers with a hint of shoegaze thrown in. At times I don't like his vocals, and it's almost always at the beginning of the tracks, but once they get going I find myself saying, "Damn, this is really good", even the vocals. The songs are constructed very well, with either chirping, chiming or acoustic guitar and nice accents. It's a well thought out and very poppy affair. One of the best US efforts in a long time. Excellent work guys, you showed we can do a proper job of it. With time I will only like this more and more. ADDENDUM: I did check out the site and I got a notice stating they didn't pay their bills and their website has been removed. Probably because I took too long to review this. Well, I'd still look for this disc anyway.
Label ~ Bumblebear, 10 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 6
Billy Bragg - "England, Half English" Hey, who woke up grandpa? In many respects this is almost sad. Not only did he make some of my fave records but I really respected our Sir Bloke even though he was a torrent of leftist politico, because he has the welfare of so many in his thoughts. But you know, some times enough is too much, and 20 years of it does get tiring. I suppose were the message laced to music which was cutting and brilliant like he used to write then it would still be OK, but herein lies our troubles. Bill is becoming an aging uncle who lives with you and apparently the old codger slipped on his brilliantine and cracked his 'ead on the porcelain, and proceeded to come up with this. He had been leaning to a folkabilly type of sound for years and that's what most of the tracks here sound like, to my ears great misfortune. The message here revolves alot around the troubles the UK (and most of Europe) is going through due to 3rd world immigration, and oddly I can't even figure out where he stands as he seems to vacillate on both sides of the issue. (Englands not what it used to be etc.. but we were always a mixed race etc..) and the lyrical quality for him is poor. Give it a rest already Lad. It seems like you're having enough trouble writing a decent song these days so I'd worry more about that than how many Yugoslavians live in Tottenham. Boy, is this not a good record. If you don't have anything by him, then go get his 2nd, 3rd and 4th LP's. Pure genius. Songs likeA New England or Between the Wars are cuttingly poignant. This isn't even self parody, it's just awful. Lad, if you're tapped out then give it a rest. Don't make crap just to make records. I'd sooner see you hit the cocktail circuit and elbow with Bianca Jagger and Jimmy Carter than subject us all to this. Crikey!
Label ~ Elektra, 12 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Breezy Porticos - "Keep It Crisp" I am truly sorry about my recent lapse of reviewing, especially as it slowed getting out word of this disc. Without question this has struck me as one of the best releases of the year so far, and certainly it will be in the top 10 come years end. Why? Well, musically, it's just a sublime gem. On the surface it's just your run of the mill brilliant indie guitar pop, but it manages to meld the old and the new in such a fresh way, such a happy way, that one can't help but take notice. Musically it does remind me a bit of some of the best Brilliant Corners material, and odder still, lead vocalist Andy Falconetti sounds remarkably like a young Ian McCullough. (this is really apparent on some tracks, such as Trick Of The Light) As if all this wasn't enough, lyrically it is quite creative which is a very welcome thing in these days when that is often one of the weakest spots of many LP's. The songs are so damn catchy, instantly friendly and engaging, that this seems more like a 'best of' lifes work than a debut album. I've hardly been able to stop listening to it since I got it. A solid home run in every respect and a disc you must get. I only wish there was justice so half the songs on this could rule the charts this summer, but such is life. But as I always say, you know now, so there's no excuse for you not partaking in the banquet of indie delights that this record is.
Label ~ Best Friends, 11 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Brian - "Bring Trouble" As soon as the first track and single We Close 1-2 starts on this disc, a giant gong rings in your head and the little man in there yells "Lightning Seeds!" What is more shocking is this comparison gets even truer on the second track, Turn Your Lights On, and I don't mean kind of. You could tell someone who didn't know better it was them and they'd believe it. This does change somewhat as this LP goes on, as it gets a little more morose and sombre, but still the comparison is there. That being the case, it's hard to say much about this LP. If you like the Lightning Seeds, especially the good early stuff, then this is an absolute must get. It's quite good and the comparison in sound is about the only reference you need. For those who are saying Lightning Who?..... then think soaring synth lines, luscious pop hooks and good plaintive vocals. Yeah that's right, buy the damn thing.
Label ~ Setanta, 9 Tracks, 1999
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Brideshead - "Some People Have All the Fun" This band kind of represents the current genre of "Kraut" rock being made today. Embracing their techno past, yet employing guitars, horns and all the pop hooks one would want, this record is a banner affair for the Fatherland. Singer Martin Nelte sings in English with little hint of accent, and if anything it comes across closer to many Swedish vocalists singing in English. This record isn't stuck on any style however, as there are songs like Arrogance and Elogance which has a very american, almost bluesy guitar riff in it. Other songs like It's Been Time are awash with flowing acoustic guitar and horns, reminding me much of another German outfit The Shining Hour. Then on Shampoo Bubble I'll be damned if his voice doesn't remind me of David Scheltzel of the Ocean Blue. (well, the're both germans) Actually, sitting here listening to him, he really does remind me of Scheltzel, and on many tracks they do sound like the Ocean Blue, especially on the beautiful It's Not A Poem which not only sounds exactly like them, the title does as well. Well then, why are we still wasting time discussing it? Go buy this thing already, it's a sweet little gem. By the way, look under E for a review of Martins other band Elegant.
Label ~ Marsh-Marigold, 15 Tracks, 1998
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Brideshead - "In and Out of Love" Bridehead is of course a German band who had releases on the German Marsh-Marigold and Apricot labels so I was surprised to open my mailbox and see a package from Shelflife with this in it. Apparently those fine folks had the high acumen and foresight to sign this band, and this release is a compilation of some of the best of their previously released 7" material with some new songs as well. And what a thing of beauty it is. Gods, this is the stuff! I have been so in need of a record like this, and it came like an unexpected ray of sunshine out of the dark mists. It is brilliant, jangly, and extremely musical. They marry 80's guitar styles to the melodic angst of Cinarama with a hint of current swedish guitar pop and the result is gold. Pure, damn gold. The opener, Same Story, Different Day is a great begining with jangles everywhere and a cool swedish sounding lead vocal from Martin Nelte. It's really beautiful. The next track called The Lie That Tells The Truth really slays me though. It has a brilliant opening melody and has a semi ska beat and is catchy as all hell. Many of the titles here are familiar and that is one of them, as I'm sure I've read them when looking at the old singles which I sadly didn't own any of. There is no filler here, it is sung in english, and it's a nice length at 14 tracks. A definite candidate for album of the year and an absolute must own. Don't walk kiddies.....run, and run now.
Label ~ Shelflife, 14 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 7.8
Bright Eyes - "Cassadaga" This is the 7th album from this US band who's driving force is lead singer Conor Oberst. The title is taken from the Floridian city known for attracting spiritual people and mediums and as that might suggest there is a religious and perhaps anti religous overtone to the proceedings. The disc doesn't start well as the song Clairaudients is OK but you have to sit thru 2 minutes of an annoying phone call of someone telling someone how to clean their spirit by driving around the country the correct way. Now 20 seconds of this as an intro would have been tolerable, but 2 minutes? No thanks. Sadly my mood didn't improve much over all after this and that's a shame. I did quite like the single Four Winds and on If The Brakeman Turns My Way Obersts delivery is a lot like Arlo Guthrie which I like. However, being american I suppose, he can't help letting his melodies keep falling back to southern bluegrass classic rock. Now, that's great for those of you who like that, but I don't and never have. So it's quite possible if you are partial to 70's music then I could easily see how this album would appeal to you far more than it does to me. I found one gem, one or two rays of sunshine, and the rest was pretty ordinairy or less so. Even the cover, (that's the ENTIRE cover) which requires a special (and included) "spectral decoder" to read was very cool at first, but soon became a pain in the ass. It does include a real lyric booklet, and no decoder is required to read that.
Label ~ Saddle Creek, 13 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.6
Bristols - "Sound in Color" I had heard vague things about this band so I decided to take the plunge. This is a sextet from the UK with a female lead singer named Fabienne. T pointed out, (rightly so) that it seemed very odd that this name had never been taken before (Uh, that's Bristols not Fabienne). This band has a very retro sound that kind of goes back to early mid 60's (what was then) Brit pop. Kind of the stuff before and just after the Beatles hit. The opener, Can't You See That He's Mine is quite the rocking romp and almost has a hint of Mod about it, along with the chirping farfisa and rolling drums. Dress like your cast for an Austin Powers movie, green go go boots and a bright yellow slip dress and you're groovy baby, Yeah! They also do 2 cover tracks here, the classic Hey baby and oddly enough rocking version of My Bonnie (lies over the ocean etc..). Clearly this is almost a gender specific album, and if you aren't partial to the style you probably won't like it. It has all the elements, grungy guitars, at times wailing harmonica, simple chord progressions and a sort, well not lo-fi record quality but there's a lack of dimesion. Still, if you're planning a beach party this should be the first thing you reach for. I could easily picture a young George Harrison two stepping to this. A bit of fun, wot?
Label ~ Damaged Goods, 12 Tracks, 1999
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.5
Brittle Stars - "Brittle Stars" This band (from Florida I believe) is the crowning jewel of the Shelflife label. This LP starts with the brilliant Tripping Me Up which leads with typical, almost Fairways like guitar until Estelle's keyboard comes awash of the affair and takes it to a higher level. The song has a simple but involving melody, and she has a great voice. The next track, Four Words is quite haunting and beautiful, and reminds me alot of the best kind of stuff done by Area. In fact, making Area references to alot of what goes on on this LP would not be far off, and she does sound a bit like Lyn Canfield as well. Sometimes the guitars lead in songs, but they are at their best when the keyboards do such as in You Went In Phases which is one of those cuts that has a majesty of sadness about it yet makes you feel great listening to it. More low key than lo fi, this is recorded quite well and is enjoyable to listen to. I wish I could make every teen in this country listen to this instead of their hip hop crap. This is a delicate, moving and at times cerebrally uplifting recording. It's not twee, it's not overtly slow, it's just simple, well paced beauty.
Label ~ Shelflife, 10 Tracks, 1998
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Brookville - "Wonderfully Nothing" This disc arrived as an unexpected treat. This is the first solo effort of Ivy main man Andy Chase and yes he does all the singing on it, not Dominique. (Although he is helped by a number of regarded artists such as James Iha) This full length album is to be released this august along with Ivy's OOP back catalog and it will mark the beginning of their own label called Unfiltered Records, so it will be a great month for all the Ivy fans out there. I was not quite sure what to expect from this, but a quick glance at the promo sheet revealed words like "layered, romantic and slender". Indeed, this is certainly a more romantic record than Ivy ever made and one could wonder if this isn't Andy's 7 year ich, as he becomes the latest victim of the Bacharach martini lounge craze. That sounds accusatory but it isn't. I only mind the genre when it's done poorly, and this certainly is not. The LP is punctuated by a few instrumentals which set the mood, and when he sings his vocals are miked to a pleasant whispery hush. Songs like Walking On Moonlight reveal his Ivy roots as the song runs very close to something they could have done, while others like the brilliant Summer Parade harken to the best of 70's AOR pre-disco chart pop. In fact, I particularly like that song as it really has it all and it manages to take me back to a place only vaguely remembered in my mind. This album is the perfect companion to a lazy, rainy sunday afternoon (which it is now as I type this) or a moonlit evening of romance. In many respects it isn't far removed from what Beaumont tries to do but I think Chase pulls it off even better due to his maturity. (I said maturity, not anger :) This is certainly deserving of your attentions, and don't dismiss it out of hand because it's a "side" project as it were. This is very well done indeed, so mark your calendars now.
Label ~ Unfiltered, 13 Tracks ,2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
"I won't eat a thing for a week
Matt Bruno - "Punch And Beauty" Why this guy isn't a household name embraced in every corner of North America I cannot fathom. He represents that rarest of commodities these days, a solo artist plumbing the depths of truly great guitar pop. And I mean pop in it's truest and purest forms. Everthing that was likeable about 60's and 70's pop made current and wrapped in shimmering gossamer, that is this record. Tracks like Dancing are so the stuff of legend, they have an instant and almost timeless quality, while a ballad like So Unlikely is riveting with it's poptastic ebbs and flows. Bruno's voice is also quite interesting, sung normally it is quite good, but he can play with it a bit and has the ability to sharpen it which makes it deeper yet retaining an almost cutting edge in it's timbre. Many of the songs are also playful, like the brilliant I Wanna Be Beautiful which is a glorious slag against all the chosen people;
I'll buy lots of stuff from Clinique
and I'll use a big fan
where ever I stand
or pack my hair while I suck in my cheeks"
I Can't Quit You Girl has such an Archies pop feel it's uncanny, and it's also a brilliant track. The next, Pin Up Girl is possibly the perfect pop pop song, with Bruno's voice coming close to sounding almost Lennon like. (which he does often on this LP) This whole album is a bombshell, and he seems to have even gone largely un-noticed by the indie community. We ought to be on our hands and knees in thankfulness that he was sent our way. I've said it before, but when I think of the calibre of talent this man has, and how unknown he is when talentless poncers like the blackstreet boys are making millions, well, I never wrote a rant on it because I'd never stop. For what it's worth Matt, you made this corner very happy. This record should have sold 5 million copies, because it is completely poptastic and groovy in every imaginable way. For those of you who don't own it, and you buy or take a chance on any record in your life, make it this. It's only 10 lousy bucks, and you'll never do better.
Label ~ Parasol, 13 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.4
Bunky - "Born To Be A Motorcycle" This west coast band is notorious for their live shows I understand, and often comparisons wane for bands like that when they make an album because what makes them great live can't be captured on tape. Barcelona is a good example. I heard their discs first, and while great and one of my favorite bands, when I finally saw them live they were not only a wholly different band, they were even better, if that is possible. In this case I have not seen this band and what's more I'm not likely to ever see them, so no expectations exist. Adding to that challenge however is the fact that their music is about as avant garde as it gets. Usually that is a medium reserved for bands that are trying to hide the fact that they can't either sing, play and/or write a real song. And true to form while my eyebrows were raised as the cacophony that is this record began, it became clear that there actually is a degree of music in their mayhem.Funny Like The Moon is probably the most glowing example on here. The song switches gears more times than a trucker trying to make horseshoe curve, with bleeps, blips, horn surges out of nowhere and a chorus from even further afield, but somehow, somehow it all makes sense when it's done. Granted, that is a very hard trick to pull off repeatedly, and like most mortals they do not succeed every time. When good, it's almost titillating and when it fails it becomes boring, except at those times it out does itself to become actually annoying. That is not really a great surprise given the nature of the beast. If you like avant garde music then by all means you'll want this as there are a few genuine classic contained herein. On a whole however it contains as many ups as it does downs for me. If they can in future remember that it is music they're supposed to be making they could ascend to the divine. Right now we're just getting flashpoints of brilliance, however a flashpoint certainly makes you stop and take notice.
Label ~ Asthmatic Kitty, 10 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.9
Burning Effigies - "Pipe Dream" Someone brought this Irish band to my attention late last year and when I heard clips at their site I had to have it for review. A few emails later it arrived and it's all I hoped it would be. What they immediately struck me as was a modern version of the 80's UK band Win and their brilliant debut album "...Uh! Tears Baby". While Win melded the best of motown and classic pop noir into super charged pop songs, this band takes a slight detour to the sexier funky side, and perhaps one could call it a cheesier version of Hipsway, or even at times disco meets Steely Dan. In fact this entire album could be the soundtrack to an Austin Powers gig at a 70's roller skating party. It has disco funk, motown chic, pop sensibilities and more hooks than a tuna boat. Listening to it transports you to a smoky lounge, and there's Hef in his smoking jacket with a bunny on each arm, and isn't that Telly Savalas over there at the roulette table? Hey, here comes Huggy Bear and some of is fine ladies.... Now maybe this has more of an impact on me because I lived it, but it's done so well I can't imagine anyone not at least getting a smile from it. Even stolid "Swede pop only please" Luke admitted he liked it a lot when he heard some clips from them. So while it might seem the kind of thing that you might not be partial to I would ask that in this case maybe you'd take a chance. This is a self release but the band went all out, had really nice discs made (with a GLOSSY full colour insert booklet with ALL the lyrics etc...) so really, if this does not deserve a chance nothing does. It is quite a delicious album, go do a good deed for them and yourself and buy a copy of it at www.burningeffigies.com - We'll all be glad you did.
Label ~ Self, 12 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 6.3
Steve Burns - "Songs For Dustmites" You either don't know who Steve is or you're now saying "No way!". Yes, Steve Burns, the star of the hit kids TV show Blues Clues has grown up and made a rock album. Steve and his show came along just when my kid was born, so we've been with him since the beginning, and the poor guy has gotten such a rabid following among kids and moms that in many ways I do feel sorry for him. In many cases on this album he pointedly pleads lines such as "I'm just a boring example of everybody else..". In a past attempt to break that mold he appeared as a killer on an episode of a TV cop show. So is this another smokescreen to re-invent himself, or a genuine talent he possesses? Well, I always liked when he sang on the show, so I gave this a chance. However, I don't know if it's his background or a desire to appear that he is not appealing to kids, but the album is more rooted in classic rock than it is what one would think of as indie. (which is a WIDE classification anyway, but it would not include this) Steve grew up in Boyertown if I remember correctly, which is very close to me actually, and he certainly would have come out of there a C&W fan or a classic rock head and it appears the latter won out. There's no focus and his songs tend to be a bit too overblown or so minimal they nearly vanish or have no soul, but there are a few choice moments on here and I think had he been trying to make a record and not a statement this might have been much better. Then again, apparently his idea of melody and time seem to reside with 70's bands as I said, and mine do not, so we may never see a meeting of the ways. Something tells me this is going to be the first and last, but we shall see. Should you get it? Only if classic rock really appeals to you I would say.
Label ~ PIAS America, 12 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Byrons Girlfriend - "Between the Blue and Green" This is the debut LP of Greek pop extraordinaire Byron Katritsis. This was first sent to me last year in a cd swap with a good friend and I liked what I heard so much he helped me get in contact with Byron to get a real copy and set up an interview. (Look for it in march 03) I understand there is a burgeoning pop scene in that land and our Byron is considered by many to be it's shining light, and hopefully the one to open the floodgate for them to the rest of the world. Well, good for them! The opening track here is the fairly adult and sexy Fiesta Privada which is odd in that it's sung in Spanish. The world indeed is getting smaller when a yank is listening to a greek sing in spanish. The song itself is quite nice, keyboard driven, but with nice guitar and synth accents and great haunting organ backing. We turn an almost 180 on the next song If which opens sounding a LOT like a Simpatico song with shuffling synths and drum beats and even his voice is miked in that hushed manor used by Sweeney. The song is sung in English (as is almost all this lp) and even though it's almost a rip off of style it has it's own vibe, and in fact has a 70's pop ballad styling. I quite like it. There are a number of really touching ballads on this disc, like Nice Day To Fly A Kite yet they all are rooted in a different style, and are all very good. it's almost as if he wants to say "We Greeks can do more than eat lamb kabobs and drink uzo!" Indeed, it appears they certainly can. This is recorded very well and at times is quite arresting in it's beauty. It treads being sparse but it never becomes minimal, and there are a few really bright poppy songs (horn bits and all) like Al Planeta Del Amore (Planet of love?) which features one of the guest female vocalists appearing on this disc, and the song is very Shelflife-Siesta label sounding. It's followed by Monique Wasn't There which is very synth oriented and is not far from sounding like very good Vitesse, and my favorite, the brooding but pop sexy Seek To Sick. Well, this guy certainly can do all the tricks, and he does them very well. I'm not sure if it's available yet, but write your congressman, write twee kitten, just make a clamor for it. This ones worth it.
Label ~ Olonmusic, 11 Tracks, 2002