I don't even know if it's been 2 or 3 years now since I saw the Acid House Kings play live, and at their show in NYC I also got to see Don Lennon for the first time as well. I had heard of him, but for whatever reason didn't own anything by him (except for his cover of "Tonight" on the then latest AHK single). I was very impressed with him live and went right up afterwards to chat and buy the album he was selling. (It was Routine, his newest one was not out just yet) I told him I'd be reviewing it and it's an old story now but he told me he was sure I'd trash it.
Well, I didn't trash it, and I liked his subsequent new one even more. I suppose he was so pleased he sent me copies of his first 2 albums. I liked them so much I then went and bought the third one myself. Now, after all this time I finally make amends and review the damn things. I apologise both to Don and you that I took so long to review these, as he truly is a national treasure and they are simply must own albums. So, for once I'll begin at the beginning....
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Don Lennon - "Maniac" One might say this review is really a day late and dollar short. Does anyone really care about a twelve year old album? If you don't yet own it, you damn well should. I don't know what it is about this guy that makes him so incredibly likeable. Yes, he's earnest, honest, sincere, thoughtful, kind and above all genuine but the really amazing part is somehow all that comes across in his music. I like Don, I mean I really like Don. All of his albums kind of landed on me all at once, and I worked my way backwards for whatever reason and it just kept getting better. Then I got to this album, which simply floors me and leaves me entirely speechless. Yes, all he sings about is parties, dancing and talking to girls and in fact the word party appears more times on this album than on probably every other album combined from 1997. It matters not. That's another amazing aspect he brings - A quirky nerdy-ness, and he can be forgiven just about any trespass. Songs like Dance Music which are amazing both for their simplicity as well as their catchy brilliance. When the songs gets to a lovely musical bridge near the end, it's like a knife in the heart. It's like this way thruout this album, as on the sublime Walk On By with it's ultra swank and sexy organ lines, cool lyrics and then the orchestra kicks in...... and while the songs may traffic in late teen themes it's not like we all didn't go thru it. When Don sings "Once I went to a party, with some kids I didn't know...... I didn't even want to..... they made me go, they made me go, they made me party all the time.... and make new friends." Yes, it's the acme of simplicity, but I have so been there, I'm sure you've been there and while it might be a while ago for some of us, when he sings it man it really strikes a chord. Perhaps the magic of his songs (aside from the incredibly good arrangements and melody) is that he is like the Edward R Murrow of teen angst, and general human observation. Don can illuminate what appears no more than the most trivial of threads, but it's one that stitches the fabric of all our lives together. He shows you his heart, and then you realize it's your own heart you see thru him. I love him for that. I say this not lightly - Don Lennon is a national treasure, and this is his finest, most shining moment of an album. Pure, sparkling, heartfelt genius and one of the very best of the past 20 years. Find it, buy it, listen to it, love it. You will feel the joy.
Label ~ Martin Philip, 14 Tracks, 1997
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Don Lennon - "Don Lennon" While Don's debut dealt with parties and girls, his sophomore effort has a general theme running thru it of commenting on "rock" bands. It's clear this is the album where his analytical "talking out loud" lyrical style really began. It would hardly be much different than if I began singing this review, only if I did it it would suck. As before, it works because 1 - He's endearing and 2- The songs have brilliant, catchy melodies and great arrangements. However the music is a bit simpler on this album, less instrumentation and a little more reliance on guitar which is not a bad thing given how he plays, but what I consider his "Bragg like" ability to stand up and do it entirely alone was starting to show here as well. While all the songs are great my faves are possibly the non music commentary ones, such as the exquisitely delicate Halloween and the genuine and quite touching Get To Know My Neighbors which I simply adore. The only thing I can even say about this album that bothers me is the songs tend to be perhaps too short, most clocking in at just about 2 minutes even. They are so good, the melodies so strong, you are waiting for and almost expecting (or is that hoping) every song will break off into a bridge and come back to repeat the lyrics, fall into the chorus and then end at the 3+ minute mark, only they don't. Oh well, you can't always have it your way. So for that alone it doesn't get the full Monty, but never the less this is a damn fine album and along with the first I consider this a must own.
Label ~ MP, 14 Tracks, 1999
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.6
Don Lennon - "Downtown" Our Don continues somewhat where he left off on his last album with his focus on rock bands, only this time he really zeros in on his targets. The first to take it on the chin is Dave Matthews. In fact the sublime sarcasm in which he tears Dave apart on Matthews Comes Alive is simply a joy to partake in. Then it's Lenny Kravitz turn, as he gives the people of Lisbon a warning, that he'll be "gone in the morning..." but of course you can buy your piece of him before then. Don even comments on his own musical past in the delicate and touching Boston Music Scene. On a whole as well I'd say this album is a bit more introspective and less pop oriented than the two that went before. Not necessarily slow, just a bit less energetic. It ends oddly enough with a song called John Cale where Don apparently has a dream where he is Cale, and finds himself re-living his life - from speaking with a Welsh accent to being stoned in the back of a limo bitching about Lou Reed. It's the kind of song only Don would do, or could do, and it's one of the highlights on here. I can't say enough about this guy and his work stands well above the majority of his contemporaries. It is a shame that in the sewer of the music world we live in today he should go as unknown as he is. Seek Don out, you'll be glad you did.
Label ~ Secretly Canadian, 10 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9
Luke Jackson - "...And Then Some" This is the third long player from Luke who runs our Popsicle shop. I first met him many years ago now (like most people I suppose) when I bought Swedish crap from him off Ebay. We began to talk, realized our mutual fondness for the genre and things progressed from there. At the time I did not realize he was also an artist who had an album out, however when he sent me a copy of it I was a bit taken aback because it had more to do with classic rock than Swedish indie. I chalked him up as a closet metal head and moved on.... which brings us to the present where I found out album number two had been completed. OK, I'll admit it, I was afraid to ask for a copy because I figured I wouldn't like it. But when he sent me a "melange" of clips for his sample for the popsicle shop ad, I was surprised to find I was not entirely revolted by it, and in fact it was a bit charming. So I asked for it. What I got was even more surprising. Not only is it on his own Popsicle recordings label (which I knew about) he sent a CD and vinyl album which was also a 180g pressing in a gorgeous sleeve. That had to cost this boy some change. I could only think of what a waste it would all be if it was gonna suck.... Well, it doesn't suck, it's not classic rock (although rock "licks" can be heard time and again) it has emotion, coherence, a theme and some excellent musicianship. In other words it's a nice collection of songs. Somewhat unexpected as well is the inclusion of a string section which appears on a number of the tracks. All of these things can most likely be attributed to the fact that he went to Sweden to record this with many of the friends he has acquired over the years. The only thing I'm still confused about is the theme. The songs are a collection written over a decades span or so, and most of them harbour themes of fear, pain, despair and of cutting old ties. Yet over this time I know he was living like an international playboy: Having drinks with Flemming Borby in Germany one night, Cocktails with Holm on the Thames the next, then off to Stockholm for a Smörgåsbord with someone named Magnus. (I couldn't keep them all straight) Perhaps the inspiration came from the depressing letters I wrote him about my life. If that's true, I got screwed out of an album sleeve credit. Joking aside, I'll end this review with two sets of advice. To the consumer - If you like the music normally reviewed on this site this is an album you should check out as it appears our Luke has arrived at last. It can be found in our Popsicle shop. And to you Sir Luke, either buy a bottle of Grecian formulae or get a trim, you're approaching sporting a Larry Fine there on top.
Label ~ Popsicle, 10 Tracks, 2008
What a right bastard I have been. I know in the past I had my "lapses" but in 08 I simply vanished and did nothing. So I sat down and thought it over and realized I either had to find the time for the Spinzone or call it quits for good. You're reading this tells you who won. I also redid the site again and tried to bring back some of the old while retaining some of the new. I was not happy about the layout the last time, the whole blog thing didn't work, so I am going back to things the way they were.
To celebrate I am going to be doing reviews again! Yes, for real, and I mean it. How long it will last who can say but I feel bad about what happened over the last year and I have a desire to make amends. So expect new ones OFTEN, and I really mean that. Also, we got a lot of great new stuff in the Popsicle shop so go check that out, and we discovered the problem with the paypal code and that should be solved shortly. Here's to a great 09 for us all. It's the last of the naughts... lets make the most of her.
Oh yes, and the radio has finally been updated too.
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Labrador - "Caleidoscope Aeroplane" Here is the third long player from everyones favorite Dane Flemming Borby. It appears he was in a bit of a quandary about how to go about recording this album and he had trouble finding musicians who had the requisite talent but who would behave like the trained minions he requires. Disgusted, he shuffled off to Cuba and while there stumbled into a group of musicians who were all he was looking for and more. He quickly laid down some tracks with them, took them back home and mastered them and was so happy he wrote the rest of the album and returned to record it with these people. So, the obvious question would be does this album have a Latin flavour? No. OK, does it have a.... lets say tropical flavour? No. Well, it must remind one of summer.... the sea.... cigars....? No, no, no. Flemming has always had a clear penchant for a 60's Bacharach & David sound: mellow, mellifluous, swank, suave. Even when the songs are clearly on the melancholic side there is an emotive breathlessness about them. I don't think anyone understands or does this better than he does these days. That said this album perhaps borrows more from 80's acts like Roxy Music and Spandau Ballet than his previous work did. I hesitate to say this is his most "complete" album (in that all the songs so naturally belong together) because the past work was so wonderful, but it would probably not be incorrect to imply that. This is simply a luxuriating album that will transport the listener to a better place of mind, something the best pop music alone can do. One of the years best.
Label ~ Divine, 9 Tracks, 2008
This is a video from a guy named Gus from Scotland who I think does some of the best "one man band" stuff I've ever seen. Here he is doing what I think is the best ever cover of Georgie Girl with Duglas from the BMX bandits. Enjoy.
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Twig - "Life After Ridge" As part of my recent resurgance I got a number of promos from Plastilina Records (the rest will be featured in a mass review next time) and this one perhaps stands out from the rest for a very unexpected reason. Being a Swedish band I figured it would be good, but that the lead singers voice would be a 95% dead on copy of Edwyn Collins came as a real shock. It's not "kind of" either, if someone played "Ciao Ciao Bomb" and told you it was a new Orange Juice song (or rather a lost OJ song as the music here is decidedly 80's) you would not doubt it at all. Some reviews have claimed this band reminds them of the Wake, but that I don't agree that. There are superficial guitar sounds that are not far removed from the Wake but the song structures tend to be nothing like them. I can't peg any one sound alike band, but the period is definitely 82-85, and that was a period that was often quirky (lets say the Thompson Twins for example) and at times the music is not far removed from that sort of quirk. Actually now that I think of it the band it reminds me of was called Fiction Factory but they were an obscure UK band from that time and I and 3 other people probably own their album. That part is probably immaterial anyway as some of this sounds like early Cure too. What matters is the voice is good, and if you know OJ it will mesmerize you alone. The music is also good, and quite varied. In fact I only didn't give it a 10 because I feel this band has it in them to refine and find their own identity even more and the 10 will come. Whether you liked the 80's or not this is a must own and sure to please and worth it just for the cover. Cats playing croquet? How can you loose? It is available in our Popsicle shop.
Label ~ Plastilina, 11 Tracks, 2008
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Artisokka - "Sea Bed" I was thrilled to say the least recently when I was contacted by this band and asked whether I would like to review their new album. How loud can one scream yes? Their debut remains one of my most listened to albums and I'd probably rate it one of the top 10 of the last 20 years. This continues right where that left off and while similar it explores enough new territiory to make the voyage interesting and rewarding in it's own right. One of the things I most love about their sound is how it strains and yearns, especially when the violin plays. What is peculiar is the music as before has an obscure jazz like tinge but the instruments playing it: Cello, moog synth, fiddles, are not what comes to mind when one starts mentioning jazz instruments. Another brilliant thing about them is their songs are never "upbeat" or what you would call a pop single, yet neither is the album slow or morose. That is due in large part I believe to their unique ability to weave such complicated but complimentay patterns with the music so that the ears never tire, but nor do they get overwhelmed. They truly are like the image on the cover: A cloudy day, a stormy sea, wild fits of wind. On the surface it seems dull and un-eventfull but when one opens ones senses fully to what is going on around them they are soon amazed and eventually over whelmed at the beautiful complexities encompassing them. I love this band, and this is simply put another gem.
Label ~ Azule Jo, 9 Tracks, 2008
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Billie The Vision & The Dancers - "I Used To Wander These Streets" This arrived somewhat out of the blue recently. I say that because they had just put out their third album last year and I was not really expecting a new one already. However, Lars Lindquist being the driving force behind this group and clearly being a driven... person, it's no surprise that this band is his cathartic outlet so a steady flood should come as no surprise. So, where does this outing find us? As the name perhaps implies this is a return to their past, both in sentiment and in musicality. The heartfelt warmth, genuine emotion and lovely arrangement found on their debut is here in spades, only while that album was a litany of pain tinged with love this one carries the light heartedness that comes from reminiscence while it holds a clear optimism for the future. Catchy, brilliant up tempo tunes such as Lily From The Middleway Street and Stuttering Duckling are the amazing sort of songs this band throws out with seeming effortlessness and they stick in your head all day. They are punctuated with touching bittersweet melodies like Someday Somehow and Hold My Hand which are perhaps the sort of thing this band does best. While their last album wasn't bad, it appeared to me that they had lost their way. (or simply ran out of things to sing about) That has clearly been rectifed and this is going to be in the running for best album of the year without a doubt. It is vibrant, musical, and accessible and you don't even have to study Freud or Kierkegaard to figure out what the hells going on this time. It is available now in our Popsicle shop, so don't wait.
Label ~ LWPTB, 11 Tracks, 2008
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 3
Trash Can Sinatras - "Weightlifting" This is a band that has broken my heart in many ways. Not only was their debut album Cake a masterpiece, when I saw them tour for it I can honestly say it was the best live show I ever saw. (that includes the Smiths, New Order, Madness, well, I could be listing things all day...) I was concerned their sophomore effort would be a failure as is so often the case after such a debut, but it wasn't too bad actually. Not as good as the debut, but still quite solid. Since then however whatever magic this band had they lost. Even people who pander to them let that truth slip because reviews for this album always contain disclaimers like "their best work since Cake" or "a return to form". Oh really? I thought you all said a Happy Pocket was good? If they are returning to form, then we're admitting that that was in fact shite too? (which it was) Because of all this I had been afraid to try this album, but last year I had the chance to get it used for like 3 bucks so I did. It was three wasted dollars. It is not a return to form, it is not as good as Cake, and in fact all it is is the work of a band who have forgotten who they are and what matters to them. It isn't bad as much as it is wholly un-engaging. Not a single song on it makes me give a damn, not even in the slightest. Bland, plodding, pointless drivel. Guys, stop killing me with this shite. Either hang it up and leave me my memories, or put an album out you CARE about. People, ignore the "other" reviews. This sucks, avoid it like the plague.
Label ~ Spin Art, 12 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 5
Twilight Sad - "Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters" The whole "rebound" aspect of human existance is very true. I had just come off the crushing blow of being lied to about the last Trash Can Sinatras album, and like the dumpee on the rebound I tried to find consolation in the first pretender that came along. This Scottish band, with lead singer James Graham who sings in a thick brogue like TCS's Frank Read (they sound quite a bit alike) made me think I might find redemtion here. However, rebound romances never work out, and this was no exception. This band almost has the early magic of the TCS when they are playing it soft and mellow. In fact they are quite good then. But in every case, and on every track, it soon musically goes out of control and becomes a wall of guitar noise to the point that no melody is even discernable. It's a shame too because on some tracks which are going along quite lovely (like That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy) the music cranks up to almost metal head proportions which simply destroys the songs. It could have been something special, and instead, it's not. To quote Robert Burns - "Oh wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursel's as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, and foolish notion."
Label ~ Fat Cat, 9 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Club 8 - "The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming" This is now the 6th long player from this band whos'output now spans a decade, and considering the superlatives that went before we might almost allow ourselves to become jaded and expect this to be great. On the other hand we might be inclined to expect it to be bad, because their decent to the ranks of mere mortals is inevitable, isn't it? (and we won't even consider the amount of other brilliant albums he's done as part of AHK or the Legends) After all, they can't just keep doing it forever can they? Apparently they can. Musically this is a return to their roots, with a more mature, almost at times jazz inspired musical line reminiscent of their debut album, while having the playfulness and brilliant melody of the second all wrapped up in a overall sombre tone which brings to mind their third album. In other words, I think they have finally distilled their past and come up with the true brew of what the core sound of this band is, and the result is simply breathtaking. From the get go this album put a cheshire like cat grin on my stupid face that doesn't leave, even when the album ends. At first all one can do is gape at how easily they manage to make music sound so beautiful, and then, you no longer care and simply allow it to engulf you. I sometimes say albums are no brainers and this one is surely one of them. If you are here looking to find something good to buy, and you don't buy this, then no power on Earth can help you. This is quite possibly the best Sweden, and in that regard the World, has to offer, and while all of their albums are sensational, this may indeed be the best of them all.
Label ~ Labrador, 12 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Jens Lekman - "Night Falls Over Kortedala" In the early stages of his career I felt Jens mirrored the Smiths quite a bit. (mirrored, didn't sound like) He came out of nowhere, had mystique (the Rocky Dennis thing) and torpedoed us with a series of absolutely brilliant singles. When the debut album came out however it was mostly a rehash of what went before with a few filler tracks, not many of which were overly noteworthy. To his credit I think he realized what happened and the singles dried up mostly since then. Still, I was not sure what this would be like and in fact I didn't even order it right away when it came out as I wasn't in much of a rush about it. Poor, poor, pitifull me. This is a work of epoch proportions. I'd like to say the man is an ecclectic genius, but ecclecticism ought to come off as wrong to the rest of us, yet this man manages to mix such a variety of styles, musical genres and musical instruments that common sense would tell us it can't work, it shouldn't work, and the fact that nobody else has done it before proves it. Well, that's just because we didn't have him before because when he does it, it makes as perfect sense as anything in this world does. 50's do wop, calypso, zydeco accordian, dub, trance, flamenco clapping, torrents of strings and in fact just about anything you can think of, it's on here. Yet as if he were the mass of a great moutain, he has compressed this mixture into a diamond that glitters and shines from start to finish as a masterpiece of modern pop. That album cover is no lie, and it's as accurate as it too is brilliant. On this album you can find peace in the hands of heavenly comfort. Leave your cares on the roadside wearly traveller and come inside, set you hat and coat down and be at ease. You are among friends, and while you rest let me regale you with tales of beauty, love and irony. Were that it was as easy as all that... we can only thank Providence that Jens agreed to share his dementia with us so we too could see the world as he does. A magnificent accomplishment and a massive talent.
Label ~ Secretly Canadian, 12 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Hepburns - "Something Worth Stealing" Well, we waited long enough for this, didn't we? This is the third and a half long player (second in the modern age) from everyones favourite Welsh band. It was a wait we performed not in vain. There is a stripped down beauty and innocence to this bands music which when teamed to it's insighful and well thought out lyrics leaves one simply spellbound. It's hard to categorize exactly what the driving force is, as there are elements of classic pop, the 60's, even folk music, and when they do a "single" like Fire Red Car one can only pity the unwashed masses who will never get to hear and revel in it's engaging pop beauty. There is no other way to say it other than this is another pop masterpiece. I can't say whether it's better than the last or not, not that it much matters, although I do think that one was more cohesive as an album than this one is, although the wandering of styles on here does work. Even better, they did a little mini tour for it here in the US and I got to see and meet them (and Alexander the RK head honcho). Live they were incredible, and I was astounded at the sounds Matt Jones got out of his guitar, and he was playing it without a pick! On the last rush of the finale, I could see the pain on his face from playing it. I asked him about it afterwards and in the spirit of the coal mining heritage we both share he said - "If you don't suffer for your art, what's the point?" I can only stand dumbstruck in awe: genuine awe. Without question one of the best musical acts on this planet bar none, and this album is one you simply have to own.
Label ~ Radio Khartoum, 12 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9
Mike Moller - "An Album About Sex And Desire" Moi Caprice is one of many great bands that we bring to you in our Popsicle shop that does not get enough press, and this is the first solo album by that groups front man. Musically, it's gorgeous. One would expect that given the work that preceeds it. It is a bit more on the sparse side here, albeit recorded very well and really, it's mood suits the topic chosen. However that's where it goes a little off the rails. This guy was notorious for his rather blunt lyricism in the past, and on this outing he frankly went too far which I feel is an awful shame. Simply put, the lyrics are occasionally blunt to the point of being graphic and frankly inapropriate for anyone. I have always said it's the easiest thing in the world to do, lowering onesself to the lowest common denominator. Anyone can be Chris Rock. It takes real talent to get the point across in a more sublime way. I truly believe he has the talent to do that, so I am a bit saddened that he chose not to. If I hear someone sing "I want you..." I can fill in the blanks. When I hear them sing those blanks.... that's info I didn't need or want. How much that matters is up to you. Musically this album is fantastic and quite possibly his best work, and while lyrically it's mostly solid when you hear the occasional line crosser it does stop you in your tracks while you ask yourself if you heard what you think you did. He had gone too far before, but the songs were on the EP singles so were not commonly heard. I never expected it to find it's way onto album releases, but there we are. If you are a Moi Caprice fan you'll want this, just don't let anyone under 18 hear it, and I'm not kidding.
Label ~ Glorious, 16 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.4
Dawn Dineen - "The Ghostly Apple Tree" This is an artist submitted disc, and poor Dawn probably told me to go #@%* myself some time ago when the review never showed. I don't remember when I got it, but it's been a while. (at least it's still 2007) What makes this worse is I have listened to this quite a bit as it is most excellent. Dawn is a solo chanteuse who played the guitars, bass, drums and keyboards (as well as sung of course) and had friends help out on the tracks. That often leads to variety which is the case here, as the songs while held to the same cloth by dawns most excellent voice have a degree of uniqueness to them. As to her voice and music, she at times reminds me of early Sarah McLaughlin as on Big Emotion with it's great melody line but hard raw edge. Otherwise I'd say she's pretty much her own woman and she has the chops of a star, that's for sure. Expressive, powerful and emotive without all the hand waving diva crap we're subjected to by "stars". They should take a lesson from this woman, because on tracks like Ladybug the magnitude of her talent is laid out plainly to see, and it's quite something. This is not her first album, and that one apparently came out 6 years ago. If she's been honing her self since then all I can say is the razor is sharp. My one exception is she calls it a "lo-fi" affair on the liner notes. It is not, and everyone uses this term wrong. "Fi" is short for fidelity which means "The degree to which an electronic device accurately reproduces sound". This is single miked, which means it's recorded very well, and certainly not lo-fi. My Bloody Valentine is lo-fi. The Radio Department are lo-fi. This is just done about as well as it could be.
Label ~ Yarner, 12 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.1
Allens - "The Allens" This is another band that I abandoned after their submission so they too probably think ill thoughts of me. Oh well, it's a long list... Anyway, this is another husband and wife team loaded with talent, but it was the voice of lead singer Cathy Allen that made me accept it even though the album rides along a country vein rather than typical indie. Variety never hurts when it's done well however, and this is certainly done well. It's a nice blend of folk, country, slow rock with a slight southern twist. Normally that last bit is not an ingredient that appeals to me but as I said this is done so well it managed to eclipse any problems I would normally have with such a genre. In fact it's laid back character made it one of my recent faves for late night listening while reading. Plus as I said she has a lovely voice that she uses well without straining or taking places it can't go. (which isn't many) If you're not fixated on genre this is an album I can and do recommend very much and it is recorded very well on top of it. I was going to conclude by calling it one of the years best surprises, but it's from 2006. Well, like I always say it's new if you never heard it before and this is one that may appeal to you.
Label ~ Allensmusic, 10 Tracks, 2006