Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.9
E*vax - "Parking Lot Music" How does one begin to describe or quantify a release like this? Not music per se, but rather a collection of ambient and sampled sounds thrown together with synths and drum beats until they become......music? Apparently so. What is instantly noticeable is that this thing is recorded better and with more in your face presence than anything else I own. And you don't need great gear to appreciate that, as I listened to it on my bad stuff in the attic (old NAD integrated, Denon player and REALLY horrid bookshelf speakers from a salvaged Aiwa all-in-one crap setup I hate admitting I own) and even there it displayed incredible dynamics and one might almost say "life". On my high end stuff this thing almost freezes you at times while you become transfixed by it, and it almost becomes.....organic. It is certainly in the room with you. What I'm saying seems to lend itself to claiming that this just a great test record, and it is, with every part of the spectrum getting presented, but beyond all that, it is very musical. It neither gets too fast nor too slow, but sort of settles into a hypnotic trance pace. And the organic comment is true also, with some of the resonances being so pure, and vibrating at such a frequency, that while listening to this in the car with my family at one point after hearing an effect I turned to my wife and said "I actually "tasted" that note in the back of my mouth" not being sure what she'd say or think. "I did too" she said. The only observed drawback is it can get a little similar near the end. So if you like electronica, need a great test record or wish to hear something cutting edge and at times both beautiful and breathtaking, this would be a good disc to get. Noises certainly don't get more interesting and this is as good as that sort of thing gets.
Label ~ Audio Dregs, 11 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.2
Eaves - "The Eaves" When I heard the sound clip from this album I really liked it and couldn't wait to get it. When I got it the album fell flat on my ears. I don't know why, too high an expectation probably, and my first listen was in the car which is a HUGE no no as car audio is the fifth ring of hell. The opener Summer Gold is very good, but not great, and it could have been great and perhaps that's the rub. Something about the mixing of it bothers me. Still, it is very reminiscent of mid 80's 4AD bands with that lovely ambient guitar and ethereal sound. This really reminds me of someone else and I wish I could think of who. Alas, there are too many bands in my brain anymore. Lead singer Jen Adam does need to work on her delivery a bit as it's muddled on some tracks, or again, perhaps it's the mixing. My favorite cut is probably Bird Lawyer which has a catchy beat and is decidedly like the 4AD period stuff I mentioned. I think if they can get their sound sorted out they could be quite good. As it is there are a few notable moments here (as well as some rank duds) on what is essentially a long EP short LP first outing.
Label ~ Ace Fu, 7 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Echo Image - "Compuphonic" This is one that sat on the fence when I put my order in. I had a few I was getting for sure, and this sort of sounded like the Neuropa, and as that was a double disc set I decided on that. But in this case art closed the deal, as I liked the cover pic, so I said "hell, it's only money" and added this as well. Are they alike? Aside from the vocals, yes they are. Musically, this band is 5 parts Erasure, 2 parts Depeche, a dash of the Beloved and the rest is little bits of everyone else. Vocally the lead singer reminds me of Jon Marsh from the Beloved as well, if he just sang like himself. Instead he tries at times to sound more like Andy Bell as on the track Messing With Love which is fairly steeped in Erasure. (an obvious rip off, but a very good song non the less) There are moments of industrial dance on this disc, but it's certainly closer to being a pop affair than something you'd hear in a european dance club at 3 am. It is recorded very well, and really, if you like the genre as I said you can hardly go wrong. The only contention, as is always the case, is how many albums do you need that sound alike? Whatever your answer is, you might wish to consider this one, as it does have a bit of variety and enough of it's own thing going on to make it worth considering.
sound clip -
Messing With Love
Label ~ A Different Drum, 12 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.4
Edson - "Sunday Lovely Sunday EP" This four song EP was the first release of this Swedish band. While they retain many of the similarities of their compatriots, Edson tend to tow a more mellow line. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. This certainly has it's moments, and aside from the title track, the next best is probably September which is a lovely little song. Sometimes this thing seeps a little too deep in the melancholic, but there are clearly some "lovely" moments contained herein, if it's all a bit sleepy.
Label ~ Matinee, 4 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.3
Edson - "Unwind With Edson" This, the debut LP from this Swedish outfit plays more with genres that are topical than do most Swedish acts. That is seen on the opening track Birth! School! Dole! Angst! which has a Siesta label feel and sounds like Paresian cafe' music, accordian (melodica) accompanyment and all. This LP also contains the 2 best tracks from their previous EP, Sunday, Lovely Sunday and September which goes a long way to showing why I don't often buy the singles anymore. This LP is good, but sometimes I find the voice of lead singer Pelle Carlberg not my cup of tea. That's most noticeable on the tracks which would compose the "A" side were this a regular vinyl LP. The "B" side I find better, with tracks like I Didn't Mean To Be Mean which has a distinctive C&W feel and an interesting arrangement. Also of note is Friends which is a soft pop rock song and is done quite nicely. There are certainly some excellent songs on this LP, some just fair, but overall it's a pretty good offering. They seem a band who have not defined any sound for themselves yet, so it should be interesting what time holds should they continue to make music. While I like a bit of this I find I'm not overly motivated by this record as a whole.
Label ~ Summersound, 11 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.8
Eggstone - "Somersault" This record is a bit older, having come out in 94, and it is also of note being on a subsidiary of the major BMG. Back then the majors still occasionally pushed stuff like this, even if it was Swedish. This LP at times tries to sound "harder" than what is going on in the indy scene in Sweden now, being akin more to the bands which were bigger on the "indie" scene then. (that's that ersatz corporate indie scene) However, I always thought this band was at it's best doing light and fluffy bubblegum pop. That may seem disparaging, but not when it's done well, and this band can do it very well. That sound is struck well on this LP on cuts like Good Morning which is a brilliant little pop number. Not to say that the other stuff isn't good, but they don't cover that style as well. Perhaps they want to "rock", but they are frankly at their best on songs like Water which has a sweet air of innocence about it. Not everyone can be a badass, and that isn't really such a bad thing. Despite that, this is a nice little record indeed.
Label ~ Critique(BMG), 11 Tracks, 1994
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8
Eggstone - "Spanish Slalom" I believe this album represents a collection of songs culled from various spots thruout the career of Eggstone. (I could be wrong though) Anyway, it starts with what I think is this bands best song April & May which is a lovely romp thru the unfettered strains of carefree pop bliss. The sort of thing as I said previously this band excells at. This LP is a mixed bag of styles after that, with some cuts like My Trumpet sounding quite Leslie like, and in this case it is a good song. In fact they strive for that sound alot on this LP but I don't always find them achieving it well. It doesn't work for them, and the Leslies do it better anyway. There are a few more pop gems on here like She's Perfect, which is classic Eggstone, but on a whole this LP leaves me somewhat un-fullfilled. Some brilliant cuts for sure though.
Label ~ Siesta, 19 Tracks, 1999
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Ego - "la Main Devant la Bouche" This one was a real surprise. T-baby had been getting a number of French bands like Autour de Lucie which while good, well, it's hard to take too much music in a language you don't understand. So this thing starts with Oriane which while it is sung in French it's the best song sung in French I ever heard. It has a super guitar line and is simply poptastic. I really like it a lot. Even with that however I was left wholly unprepared for the next cut What Am I Supposed To Do? which is one of the best guitar pop songs I've heard in a while, and it's sung in English, as is the rest of the LP except for the last 2 cuts. I'm not sure which of them is singing as both guys are listed as "chant", (the sleeve is in French) but he has a deep, reverberating voice which is great (and almost sounds mid 80's english). The song has great guitar chords and lovely violin (which appears on many of the cuts) and is an unequalled success. In fact, the whole LP has a rather Brit feel to it to me at least (the good old stuff that is) which makes it feel familiar right away. Just a great little record, it really is, and for once here it's not Swedish.
Label ~ Matinee, 13 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Elegant - "Variationen in Lassigem Chic" Now we've moved on to Deutschland. Elegant is a band formed by Martin Nelte and Hanns-Christian Mahler of the group Brideshead. Only this time all the songs are sung "auf deutsch". The title of this LP means "Variations in casual elegance (chic)" Not often a record sung in another language can hold my attentions but this one is just great. These two write really great pop songs, with bright guitar work and super melodies. Maybe it helps that I had 3 years of German but not having used it in so long many of the words are familiar but I can't put them together with it going so fast, yet I still suppose that adds to it's familiarity for me. It's only 8 tracks, which barely comes into LP range but they are all good and this thing is over all too fast. If you like guitar pop I think you'll find this worth getting.
Label ~ Marsh-Marigold, 8 Tracks, 1998
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.3
Elekibass - "California" This is a japanese outing that oddly enough sounds like it OD'd on too many Beatles and Jesus Couldn't Drum records. Track one being a short quirky into, this thing really starts on track two, You Share the Same Heart in Theory which is VERY JCD like in sound, and lead singer Youiti Sakamoto sings with such an accent I didn't understand how the title fit the song until I realized that WAS the title he was singing. It's quirky, but it is pretty good. The next track is very short, and is an instrumental really as all they sing are ba ba ba's and the music lines come straight from Sgt. Peppers. Track four, Let's Brian (yes, none of the titles make sense) still has their quirky sound, but it's a nice little pop song with a great hook line and is probably one of my favorite tracks on the album. The next song I'm Leaving sounds very familiar, as if they lifted the riff in it from somewhere, still, it's very quirky and poppy as well. The Lp runs into a little self parody, which is often the case when you tie yourself to certain sounds or effects, and really, ba ba ba is starting to get used to death. Lets move on, can't we? On a whole, this album has some klunkers, and some really, almost adorable pop songs. If you don't mind a little pop kitsch and the funny accent, then you'll probably find enough songs on here to make it worth getting. It also has 3 bonus tracks I assume were not on the japanese edition, the best of which is A Little Touched which is the most guitar driven track on the album. Kind of like the summer: It's nice, airy, sometimes a little oppressive but the reward is a few cool treats.
Label ~ HHBTM Records, 16 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.2
Elodie - "It's Too Bad You're Leaving" For some time I was on the fence about this swedish bands debut album, mainly because I was not sure which side of the fence it would fall on. Was it quite introspective, tender and engaging or did it eventually kill itself in it's rather slow, monotone pace which generally speaking doesn't change? I may just have to lay across that fence because I'm beginning to think it's both of those things. I can say it is recorded very well, and not just that but things you hear are where and how they are quite deliberately which shows a good deal of thought went into it, which I do appreciate. A number of tracks are very interesting, and almost David Lynch like without the evil undertones. However, there are also a few which just don't go anywhere and become a bit of a drag to get thru. What's more they take some musical chances on some tracks and not all of it works. This is the perfect album for late night, moody listening and if you are partial to that type of music this will be an album you'll certainly want to look into. For the rest of us it has as many hits as it does misses so you'll need to decide for yourself if it's worth your attentions.
Label ~ West Side, 11 Tracks, 2006
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Embassy - "Tacking" Upon getting this rather bland looking case and opening it one is treated to a rather, ok, there's no other way to say it, a rather gay looking shot of this band in a rowboat. When the opening track Some Indulgence then started with moans of the sort one might expect to hear when something is getting shoved up a place it normally doesn't go I thought I was going to get treated to another gay sex romp album like the recent Le Sport album. For better (or worse if you're gay I suppose) that doesn't turn out to be the case. In fact what this does turn out to be is one of the better things I've heard lately. The accents of these guys sound more British than Swedish when they sing, and their music has a very mid late 80's Brit sound as well, as if Ian Broudie had a hand in it. Musically it is very fresh, and upbeat in a very sunny and cheery sort of way. In fact the track Stage Persona sounds like it could have been done by one of my favorite brit bands Sensation. Actually a number of tracks on here sound like them and that, as far as I'm concerned, is a good thing. In fact there's no point labouring over it. This is quite a brilliant gem of a record, and one that comes with my highest nod. The only thing I can't figure out is the title. Tacking is a term used for sailboats, but they're pictured in a rowboat. Tack however is Swedish for thanks, so are they thanking everyone? Who cares.... less thinking, more listening......
Label ~ Service, 9 Tracks, 2006
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.2
Embellish - "Wake Me Up!" Now we find ourselves in Denmark. E certainly is the international musical letter. While this band shares some similarities with other nordic (re-swedish) bands it certainly has a style all it's own. The opening cut, Water Lung is quite a great little pop song. Embellish have a slightly heavier guitar sound than many other indie bands now, but lead singer Claus Hansen has a semi-sweet pop friendly voice and the two meld rather well. There are a number of great songs on this LP, of which You is probably my favorite. It has some great guitar lines, archie pop bliss lyrics and soaring harmonizing choruses. On some of the songs the lyrics get a little bizarre, but then again they're Danes. Oh wait, that's the Dutch I'm thinking of, red lights and all. In any event, this LP has some great songs on it, although it loses a little something later on, and the last track Sea Monster would have been better if it wasn't 8 minutes long. Still, what's good here is quite good.
Label ~ March, 10 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Stace England - "Lovey Dovey All The Time" Stace England? Yeah, this guy contacted me late last year, greased my hub with tons of (true) compliments and then sent me his disc. Well, the brown nosing wasn't necessary, because this is actually quite a good little record, even though it is rooted in an american sound. Yeah, can you beat that? I like it because the songs are constructed well, played well, and he actually has a pretty good voice on top of it. (he even looks a little like the actor Everett McGill - "Big Ed from Twin Peaks and Stilgar from Dune") He teamed up with a midwest combo called the Implications to make this record, and it kind of reminds me in sound to the 80's Australian band Hoodu Gurus who I also loved. It has that driving "rock" sounding lead guitar from the seventies, sort of like Cheap Trick maybe as well but it never attempts to get heavy or be classic rock. In fact, it also reminds me a bit of the album made by Matt Bruno a few years back, and that one was great as well. He even takes a fun poke at the charts in the very humorous She Loves Kurt Cobain. There's no question what this album harkens to is the best of classic american pop rock. And you really get a sense of the heartland out of it, but it isn't contrived, and it certainly has talent behind it. (Those of you recently slagged take note please) It even ends with a really excellent cover of the famous Never My Love which has an almost churchlike/medieval feel to it. From ballads to driving number and insightful lyrics this album has it all and does it all well. In fact the only thing Stace can't seem to do is keep his shellfish down, but that's another story. If you really like classic american pop rock this is a must own album. It's due out valentines day, and I can't think of a better gift.
Label ~ Gnashville Sounds, 11 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.4
Escape Velocity - "Chaos Theory" Another disc wasting it’s life away on my “to do” shelf finally sees it’s light of day, and well deserved it is again. However, in this case looks are very deceiving. To me, the cover and band name led me to expect a rather techno affair, I mean, Escape Velocity? The Horsehead Nebula? Even the choice of font had me expecting moog time. If all those assumptions are reasonable then never has a band done a worse job in naming or selling itself, because this band is NONE of those things. What it is is brilliantly homespun Americana of the best kind which in this case has landed somewhere right between the Shins and the Violent Femmes. (who get endlessly compared to each other as it is) On a whole they find their own space between both those comparisons however, but they do wander closer on tracks like Don't Push Me Away which finds them in Shins waters only for the pendulum to swing on the brilliant Tired Of Life where it's the femmes in all their old glory. In fact that song may be the biggest gem on here from it's quirky western tinted acoustic guitar a’ la the Ditty Bops to it's Gordon Gano-esque lyrics such as “When you're sick and scared, no one will be there, If you piss and moan, you'll be all alone, so why don't you give up on me, cause I gave up on you" which are delivered in a voice eerily like Mr. Gano as well. Like the Femmes, the entire proceedings reek of cynicism, depression, anger, death, bad luck, comic irony and the endless search for unrequited love yet it's all told comicly and with a magical upbeat twist. As is it's quite good, but with a bit of honing and some growing up (not acting and talking like black thugs from LA) they could be major players. A better name might help as well, and somehow the name the Rodents comes to mind. Amazing nobody took that on yet as far as I can tell.... If you are fond of the bands mentioned you will enjoy what's here quite a bit I think.
Label ~ Self (cdr), 12 Tracks + videos, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.7
Eskimohunter - "Musical Snowglobe Machine" Eskimohunter is the latest vehicle from the Lassie Foundations Jason 71. I had heard of that band but am not familiar with it so I was not sure what to expect from this. Then I found out it was being billed as "drone pop" or something of the sort which actually didn't help because that can go either way. (yeah, it can be crap, or really crap. Just kidding...) Of course it can be done well, but it's my feeling it isn't done well often and the Radio Dept. and Guitar come to mind as the most recent successes in this area. I was afraid my worst fears were being realized on the opener, Walking Tour Of Space 90013 which seemed to start promising but soon turned into a cacophony that didn't have noise, it was noise. (my system can be unforgiving of stuff like this) However things settled down after that and the remainder of this long EP manages to insert as much pop as it does drone. It also comes with a computer enhanced video selection and oddly enough my favorite clip was for Walking Tour..., the song I liked least when listening to this, and the vid I liked least was Three Musket Tears which was the song I liked best when listening to the disc! (it's quite a nice sparkily instrumental) Oh well, go figure. It's not the first time that's happened and some stuff is just not meant to be heard well. If you like this sort of thing I think it's safe to say you'll be quite happy with this as it is done better than most (but not all) attempts at this genre is.
Label ~ So Sweet, 6 Tracks + 3 vids, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Ethnobabes - "Stargazer" This is a band from Norway and while you might assume bands from there would mimick the Swedish indie sound, they pretty much don't. In fact, they tend to have a decidedly more English (as in UK) type sound. This band sort of walks a razor between both poles. It sounds more English in style, but it's not lacking in melody like so much stuff from the UK these days. In that respect it is more Swedish as it's very uptempo and light. The "babes" (a lousy name though) are led by a girl named Eivor Vindenes. (I thought (E)ivor was masculine in any nordic connotation? Well, maybe it's a boy named sue thing) The opener here, The Odd Shopper reminds me of late 80's Subway or Sarah label female led bands. Chirpy guitar, nice lines, insert catchy chorus etc... The next, Jennifer Reads sounds a little closer to Club 8 and has a very airy and flowing chorus and the song is pretty good at hooking you quickly. The sound here is pretty much guitar driven with occasional swirling organ, and I'd say the accent in her voice reminds me much more of an English one than a Nordic one. It's not a comparison I want to make, but they do remind me of Heavenly in some respects, but with better melodies and more pleasing vocals, but the similarity is definetly there, especially on tracks like Tales You Told which sounds very English. Maybe that's how Norwegians sound too, but in fairness the Brits did it first. I was quite taken by this thing at first, then had a short period of reservation as I didn't think the last half was as good as the first, but I think that was difficulty assimilating the clash of styles. However, I'm REALLY starting to dig this thing a lot now and the only complaint I have is the last track. It's good, sort of rough edge guitar driven and short at just under 2 minutes, but then there is 5 minutes of dead air. 5 minutes. For what? Well, 5 minutes later they sing a vocal reprise of the chorus from Jennifer Reads for a whole 25 seconds or so. Would have been cute after a 20 second break, but 5 minutes is an eternity of dead air. They lose a point for that, and one for the CD too. The artwork on the sleeve is nice, but the CD is ugly. It's time I got nit-picky! Still, this thing is very "brill" and one of the better things done recently. Run, run, my children, and devour this quickly. .....
Label ~ Perfect Pop Records, 13 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9
Evening Lights - "Landscape EP" This EP is very Shelflife. That comes as no surprise when you see this band features members of such acts as the Autocollants and Laura Watling. At first it reared itself upon me like a great white twee shark to engulf me in shoegaze somnambulism. However, the chance to hear it more often found it becoming more accessible. Is that due to the fact that I type this a day after surgery and my left hand is bandaged (again) and while not melancholy I am somewhat calm and subdued. (for once) This record is very gentle, and one could say actually pretty. It certainly does remind me of the old shelflife comp CD "You Make Me Smile" as it is quintessentially that label. My favorite on here is probably the skimming and shimmery pop gem In A Day which reminds me a bit of the Brittle Stars meets the Autocollants. Nothing really ground breaking here, but it's all quite nice and a solid effort which I find quite appealing today. I'll give it a solid 9 with a bullet and one to watch for the future.
Label ~ Shelflife, 5 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 7.5
Extra Glenns - "Martial Arts Weekend" I don't know why I got this, as it isn't normally the kind of thing I usually like but I took a chance. Lead singer John Darnielle has a vice that reminds me of the 21st centuries answer to Gordon Gano. Since the music is basically laid back and slow his overpowering voice is really the crux of the issue here. Well, my wife just walked in the room and said "What is this?". She said his voice reminded her of They Might Be Giants which I suppose there may be a hint of truth in, but she likes them and just flatly stated (with tongue out) that she doesn't like this. Frankly, I'm not sure if I do. It isn't grabbing me, but it isn't awful either. At least his voice is unique, and I consider that a plus. Musically as I said it's pretty mellow with acoustic strumming and electric plucks and his lyrics are at times amusing. I suppose the biggest flaw is given the fact that the beat doesn't vary a lot it leaves itself open to accusations of parody and "sameness". It's true the songs do begin to get difficult to distinguish after some time, but despite all that I'm not willing to say I dislike this. There may be an evening I'll put this on and really groove out, only it's hard to imagine what circumstances will prompt that. My wife just said "it's too folksy". Hmmm... it's good to hear the input of the masses. OK, so there it is. A slowish, folksy Violent Femmes with a hint of They Might be Giants. Make of that what you will, but I think I am leaning a little more toward not so much not liking it as not caring. And maybe that's just as bad.
Label ~ Absolutely Kosher, 12 Tracks, 2001