Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Sambassadeur - "Sambassadeur" This was hailed as one of the highlights of the Labrador catalog for 05 and my apologies gang for not getting to review it until 06. This appears to be a modestly sized band which shares songwriting and vocal duties between it's members, and yes that means it is a girl guy singing affair. The two driving forces seem to be Anna Persson and Daniel Permbo, but they tend to not write songs so much with each other and like the Beatles they sing the songs they write. This lends quite a varied sound to this outing which is notable from the beginning. The former starts the affair with lovely female vocals on their best known clip (and opening track) New Moon which is as breathy as it is jangly. The next track Ice & Snow is also hers and it's a slow number where her voice and the mood reminds me of the Shop Assistants. Daniel takes over on the next two tracks and the mood turns slightly darker on the first cut before it turns into a gypsie-esque flourish at the finish. The next song Sense Of Sound however sounds very much all the world (music and voice) like the US band Vitesse. She comes back on the next track and the guitar intro sounds like the the first track again. I don't think it's accidental, as it appears most of her songs have that same guitar ruffle but that could be attributed to her writing partner Joachim Läckberg. While there are a few excellent tracks on here as a whole I would say it's a strong album, very good but not great, and it's appeal for you will turn on whether you like the disparity of sound of the tracks that are different and the similarity of sound on those that are not. In any case a solid effort that shows a lot of promise.
Label ~ Labrador, 12 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 6.6
Saturday Looks Good To Me - "All Your Summer Songs" Yes, I got taken in again. Well, I did get the chance to listen to a few cuts from this on the Parasol site, and I still bought it. I was taken in by lines like "The music is brand new and eerily familiar at the same time." I should know better. Maybe I didn't think about it enough. It's new because it just came out and it sounds familiar because it's the same record the kids in the "indie" scene have been making for the past 5 years. (re: Ladybug Transistor 60's halcyon days etc... et al) I was intrigued by some of the cuts I heard, and there are a few songs that succeed on here, such as Underwater Heartbeat which has a very 50's/60's horn line and a great ska beat. That I thought was something old made new again. Other songs like Caught and Alcohol are done well and show some thought and freshness. However, a lot of this album comes across as rehash, and it was not good hash to begin with. There's one odd moment when they do a "sound" cover of my friend Reed Lochamys band Friends of Sound to a T. It's on the song No Good With Secrets and as I like FOS I like that quite a bit. (Click to hear it and if Reed has a comment I'll post it) My 2 biggest gripes with this is about 65% of it is throwaway and what is good (is good) but is recorded pretty badly. I do not know if that was due to budget reasons or the fact that's the sound they wanted. (if so, poor call) I have heard many people record in their closet at home on a 4 track these days and it's incredible. Others do it and it blows. I do not know the break on how much is skill or intent when it comes to that. If you are not entirely sick of this type of stuff already this is better than most. However, I can think of a lot of things your music dollar would be better spent on.
Label ~ Polyvinyl, 13 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 5
Saturday People - "Saturday People" This is one I can't pawn off on T, as I bought this. But again it was my mistake of listening to an indiepages review. What is that, twice burned thrice shy? (or is it thrice burned too shy? Actually, I think it's "fool me twice, I am an ass") Anyway, it really boils down to the fact he loves american bands and I as a rule really can't stand them. If you like US indie bands, and sixties beach boy melodies with the odd blues riff and out of tune singing then get down and dig, cause you'll love this. I can't say this is bad, but it leaves me as cold as a fish and frankly it fails to even draw my notice. Songs of this type don't even stick in my head. I mean, I've listened to this a few times and I can't even hum one song. (not that I'd want to though) I truly can't tell you what it sounds like, it's like it's Mac and I'm Windows and the two systems aren't compatible. It follows that US musical style I simply cannot become attuned to, southern hints, sixties melodies, blues chops and awful vocals as whitwashed as Aunt Polly's fence. So it's your call. If you like this sort of thing then get it, but then again you probably already have 50 records that sound just like this. If you've found yourself liking things I tend to, then stay far away. And for me, it's the last Indiepages review I read. It would be simpler to just burn the ten dollars....
Label ~ Slumberland, 15 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9
Daniel Saturn - "Softly" This again is one of those things that drives me mad. Somehow, and with seeming ease, T-Baby manages to come up with records from bands from labels that don't even exist anymore. Dorian was the label of Roger Gunnarsson of Nixon which was ordered to "cease and desist" by Dorian records in the US due to "name infringement" and I don't know if Roger has come up with a new label name yet or not. Anyway, this band (which previously called itself Dr. Saturn) was the shining star of his label. This thing is recorded in that 60's/70's lo-fi imprint so "it" these days, but what is most remarkable about this record is how damn much it sounds like the Beatles circa Sgt Peppers, with a 70's vibe to it. (and I mean sounds like the Beatles, vocals and all) The first track for example, Hello Hello is about as Lennon-esque sounding a song as you're ever going to find. This album covers all the bases, and uses horns, harpsichord and at times what even sounds like sitars to produce a wash of a lo-fi technicolor dreamscape. Some songs such as the pop friendly Sunday Morning are decidedly more 70's sounding. Even though the period is not one of my favorites, the songs sound SO right, and therefore so familiar one can't help but be touched by a kind of nostalgia when listening to them. And even if you aren't old enough to remember what I'm talking about, you'll find the material here quite enjoyable, that is if you can find it. Will the wonders of Sweden never cease?
Label ~ Dorian, 12 Tracks, 1998
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Daniel Saturn - "Still That Same Refrain" This is one of those cases when having this site pays off, as I was contacted recently by this artist who said "Wow, you reviewed my last record. Would you like the new one?". The answer was of course yes. That other album, though drenched in 60's (and 70's) pop stylings and even a bit lo-fi was quite good. This time out there is no trying for a recording "sound" or even pandering to any particular time line or style. His undeniable swedish pop sensibilities come thru, and it somewhat reminds me of Leslie guitar licks with the slight edginess of Lassie Lindh put to the the best kinds of 70's ballads as is done by Arvidson. The first and title track is just such a number, very catchy, a great refrain, but in many ways closer to a rock pop song than dancy indie but in every way great. There are many other such instantly accessible songs, such as Say You Will which has such a familiar and catchy chorus it instantly sounds like an old friend. All this is interlaced with very sweet and emotive ballads, his singing is very good, the instrumentation perfect, the recording first rate and there is a lot of genuine emotion. It's funny, I have heard swedes are supposed to be a very closed people who say little and don't reveal their true emotions to others, yet they continually have been producing some of the best and most emotionally engaging records of the past several years. This is another to add to that list. Well done indeed. By the way, I had previously thought this was a band, not a person. (Daniel Sandvik AKA Saturn) I stand corrected and it is now listed in the appropriate letter heading. It is also the first release from his brand new label Vladivostok, and we wish them the best of luck with their endeavour.
Label ~ Vladivostok Records, 11 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Daniel Saturn - "Lakehill Soccer Association"Daniel has been a good friend of ours here since early on and rightly so. He makes some of the most enjoyable pop records of this era, and this, his third album is without question the pinnacle of his efforts to date. His debut was a meander thru lo-fi Beatle-esque 60's nostalgia, and on his second he opted for a more clean, modern kind of pop sound. On this (and much like Moi Caprice) he finds a median between those two and the results are a pure delight. This isn't strikingly recorded, and it's not completely compressed, it doesn't grab you instantly nor does it cause you immediate indifference. However after a few good listens the brilliance of his songsmanship shine thru like a beacon, the sheer catchiness of the whole thing becomes infectious and you simply want to listen to it over and over and over... Few people can pen pop songs this right sounding and so apparently effortlessly. (although Daniel might say it wasn't all that easy) But it sure sounds it. This is one of those cases I can honestly say that if you don't buy this record, what the hell are you doing here? You won't find better, and even if you like classic rock, trust me, you'll like this. A LOT. Amazingly it (and all of his others) can only be purchased in our Popsicle shop. Now get to it....
Label ~ Vladivostock, 11 Tracks, 2006
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Scarboro Aquarium Club - "Poisoned" I liked the clip I heard of this while browsing at darla so I ordered it right off. This band is fronted by a guy named Corey Schmidt but there are a number of female vocalists doing duty on the album as well. The first song is a sort of minimalist intro, but track 2 Future Pop is quite nice, with Melissa Boraski on vocals and reminding me somewhat of fellow Canadian band Stars. He takes over on the next cut, Coming Back Empty which reminds me a lot of the UK band Frasier Chorus and even though some bands have sounded like them a bit to me lately this track really does, in both music and vocals. This album rides the road between out right poppiness and gloom well, always staying on the uptempo side, and the songs retain a nice sense of pace and melody. Even when it gets a little quirky like it does on the j-pop like Sleeping Sound it never goes too far and always remains quite listenable, and damn near infectious. This album really does vary in styles presented, mimicking a number of current and older synth bands, but managing to pull them all off in spades. Perhaps they should have called themselves the chameleon club instead. And for something recorded on a tascam 4 track recorder it sounds really great thru the gear. This is one that I will listen to long and deep when I get my stereo nest built. He even sort of rips off my friend Reed Lochamy of Friends of Sound on the track I first heard, Hemlock Girls and it's so good with it's deep crooning and female backing vocals that he can be forgiven. What's more, one might expect some filler with a 16 track album but that is not the case here. Well, there are some odd quasi instrumentals sprinkled in but they are mostly pretty interesting as well. This is indeed a veritable Koi pond, with delights both obvious and sublime and with enough variety to tame the most insatiable desires. How many discs are the right choice whether you want to dance or sit and brood? Quite recommended.
Label ~ 1Le Grand Magistery, 16 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Scarboro Aquarium Club - "Black Swan Days" Not long ago I had one of my pseudo psychic experiences where out of the blue I suddenly thought, "Gee, you know the SAC should be due for a new album by now you'd think." Literally days later I received an email asking if I'd like to review SAC's new album. I obviously and enthusiastically said yes and I'm glad I did. In many ways this is similar to their debut, (or should I say his debut as in Corey Schmidt) which in plainer english means that while there are differences there is no mistaking the artist. I loved this right from the get got, but when it hit track 3, The Queen Of The Beach I was truly smitten. I didn't like that it started with record noise, but the song really touched my heart as a father at least. I am not sure if he wrote it from the perspective of a mans girlfriend or his daughter, but the latter is how I interpret it, and boy have I been there. It is about being tired, cold and wet and ready to leave the beach for the day, only "the queen of the beach is still braving the seas, and playing with children, not noticing me. Long shadows are growing from the castles of sand, but the queen of the beach is in so much demand..." It's really so touching it brings a tear, and it's a top flight pop song to boot. Elsewhere as on his previous effort some songs are sung by gifted female vocalists which adds a nice diversity to the entire album. While I would not say this sounds like the Postal Service, many comparisons could be made: Great music, insightful lyrics, electronic bounce and subtlety, mood, atmospherics and at times even a medieval feel. Overall it is just one juicy nugget, and superlatives are really moot at this point. This is simply brilliant and a must own. Go forth and order your copy immediately.
Label ~ Becalmed Records, 12 Tracks, 2006
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 5
Scrabbel - "Scrabbel" This thing showed up on my door last week, and I'm sorry to say I'm not even sure who sent it. I had high hopes as the cover art was interesting, with a retro 50's thing going on. My initial impression was not a good one though, and I knew the female singer sounded familiar, and yes, it was Becky Baron from Poundsign whos recent LP I also liked the cover of. However, I disliked the record. On this outing she and her partner Dan Lee seem to be taking a page out of Majestics book, as this has that light twee-sixties vibe going on, and on a few tracks they almost sound like Majestic. (or perhaps some Siesta label bands) While it didn't grab me at all at first, some of the things here are sinking in, like track two Pillowmint, which is one of the Majestic sounding songs and even though the "ba da da da dah" backing chorus has been done to death the song is actually not too bad. The real problem with this disc is it is SO S L O W. It isn't dirge like, it's more like slow, avante garde 60's folk blues and the tempo never changes on this disc. Maybe it is dirge like. Taken seperately there are a few OK tracks here, but as a whole it's enough to make me want to tie a cinder block around my neck and leap from a bridge. I couldn't even listen to it straight thru and I tried 3 times. I had to do it in parts. What I want to know is, why is everyone so depressed? Must be these records...... I don't know what catalyst is needed to wake the tweesters up, but it's long overdue.
Label ~ Kittridge, 12 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.1
Sealevel - "Beach From Last Summer" This debut is from Hans Forster who was a noted member of another Firestation band The Seaside Stars. I don't know if it means he left that band or this is just a side trip, but aside from a prolonged fixation with the ocean I found there is not much else in common with that previous effort here. For me that's good as I was not overly fond of that record as it was nothing but a bad (or perhaps too good) rip off of everything I hate about american music from the late 60's early 70's. While this does start off with the quasi Beach Boy like title track I found it more tolerable and in fact the album then takes a wide departure after that. The next track, High and Magic actually has a country tinge and sounds a good deal like the Swedish band Darcy meets Fantastic Something. Beyond all of this it is hard to peg this album down, or describe it. It has guitars that are nice but mature and the riffs are musical and not repetetive. At times it's breezy with a tinge of happiness and at times mellow with an obvious melancholy, but it never takes either extreme too far. The upshot is in general it is more adult and even though it hints at the 60's and 70's it is as rooted in the present as anything. In many respects it is close in sound to Fantastic Something far more than it resembles the Seaside Stars and that too is a good thing from my vantage point, and while at first as a whole this didn't effect me the more I listen, or perhaps the more it sinks in, the more I find there is to appreciate. Certainly worthy of your attentions.
Label ~ Firestation, 12 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 7
Seashells - "Remains Of Something Sweet" This Swedish band is on Quince, and while I admire that label try as I might I just simply cannot care about this record. It is your A-typical jangly swedish pop affair, but it has no soul. I don't know why, but it doesn't move me in the least. In fact it very much sounds like some unreleased album from some C-86 brit band that never saw the light of day. Now don't mistake me as I don't dislike this, I just simply can't seem to care. In fact I have never been able to sit thru the entire thing in one listen. It starts out OK and the first few songs are good, the harmonies in Rivals In Love sounding very much like early Hurrah for example, but by the middle I find myself so bored I find myself taking it off. The arrangements and playing are just average, his vocals don't always stay in key and his voice isn't especially memorable in any way. Maybe this will change over time and one day I'll come back and amend this and say "What was I thinking!?" Right now however what I'm thinking is you should find something better to spend your twelve bucks on.
Label ~ Quince, 11 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 6.7
Seaside Stars - "the Magic of Stereo" T had gotten this on the strength of reviews he'd seen of it, but it turned out he hated it. Well, lets try to be objective about it. This is a German band but oddly it sounds very american. The members are listed as Hans Forster & Andi Schuwirth and while I don't know which one is singing he sounds like he got pulled out of the US west coast "scene". That's not a plus for me and while his voice isn't bad it really isn't to my liking and this whole thing has that very 70's wash of sound about it. This doesn't start too bad but I find the more I listen to it the less I want to keep hearing it. I'm not sure what it is about that american driven indie sound I so despise but this has it in spades. So if you dig that then you'll probably like this as it sounds like EVERY release of that typre that was ever made. Good thing I am american or I'd probably get villified for making that statement but I think it's true. Far too many US bands sound alike, and they don't sound good. How these poor deustches volk wound up sounding like this I don't know, especially the bluesy guitar riff crap. Perhaps they need to buy some Brideshead records. Excuse me, I have to stop writing and really turn this off.....
Label ~ Firestation, 12 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.2
Second Band - "Your Dark Side Is On The Phone" Wow, this thing sort of hit me like a shovel on the head and I still don't quite know what to make of it. It's swedish, but it has an american alt country kind of vibe and sounds like the Mendoza Line crashing into Architechture in Helsinki in 1975 at 100mph. The opener, Wild Is The Wind is a glorious train wreck of a song. In fact it's one of those instant classics that is clearly larger than life. What throws me a bit then is the adrenaline rush that is that song is followed by others that are strangely slow and morose. Perhaps Ok in their own right but the shifting of gears leaves my head stripped taking them on in that way. This does pick up then, and has a rather nice country ballad called A Song I Can't Recall which makes you think if C&W music actually sounded like that these days some of us might actually listen to it. This enterprise ends with another bombastic AIH type song called The Dancer which threw me on the first listen. Just hearing it, I thought lead singer Hampus Noren was lamentably wailing about his own penile obsessions as he intones rather strongly "Get it up while, I'm still young and I can...". It really sounds like that's what he sings, but the lyric book says otherwise. It reads "Get it out while I'm still young and I can't". I'm not sure if he means the same thing or not, but despite what I often say about this type of content, in this case I wish he sang what I thought he said. In the context of this song, it would be not only acceptable but one of rocks more sublimely brilliant moments. As is the real line is more vague and therefore weaker. In any case this is an incredibly wild debut, which while not perfect has moments of sheer musical rapture. I expect big things from this quarter.
Label ~ Orange Grammofon, 7 Tracks, 2006
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9
Second Hand Furniture - "Game, Set, Match" If I asked you to name the Swedish band who in the 90's made an album called "Game, Set, Match" you would say..??? Of course, the Happydeadmen. Every statement above also applies to this album, except while these tracks were recorded in the 90's, no album was ever made, nothing ever happened and the tracks got shelved and forgotten. That is until Plastilina Records came along, lovingly gathered them all together, cleaned them up, and released them as a really nice (but poorly titled, I don't like when the title of a well know album gets copied) debut album. What is instantly clear is this band was heavily influenced by the C86 period of UK music and bands like the Shop Assistants, Mighty Mighty and the Brilliant Corners. There is both male and female vocal duty on here, and in either case you'd swear you're listening to some forgotten C86 gem dug up and released by Firestation on one of their "Sound Of Leamington Spa" releases. It's all here, jangly guitars, good but a bit flat recording values and voices that even sound like their British counterparts. Honestly, every time a new track starts I'm instantly reminded of some other UK band from that period. So if you like that period and genre you really can't loose with this. It probably is better than the 9 I gave it but in truth it's kind of all been done before and there isn't anything especially new here, even if this is done pretty well. Our thanks to Plastilina for saving it for posterity.
Label ~ Plastilina, 14 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.2
Sensation - "Yesterday Things Got Worse" I first heard this band on the great comp album "I Tried a Thousand Times..." on Firestation. The song was called Never Say Forever and I really loved it. (still do) So when looking for things to get, I sometimes peruse the comp discs for bands I liked and look if they have albums and this one did, so I got it. (I bought it last year already but am only just getting round to reviewing it) When it arrived and I saw the sleeve my first thought was, "Hmmm, pimp city". I did some web looking and found info on the Tangents website and apparently this is the "lost" second album, their first "Burger Habit" (which apparently was the "second" lp by Johnny Males first group called Soul Family Sensation") coming out in 93 and while they say it's great nobody seemed to notice at the time. I will have to look for it. Again we have the fine folks at Firestation to thank for saving another disc from obscurity, a task they are quite good at. (and my aplogies for taking so long to find and review it) I don't know when that comp track falls into their history, but it isn't quite like the material here. (it is and isn't) This is very slick and chic UK techno disco with decidedly 70's accents and yes, perhaps a little pimp vibe at times. I can see austin powers strutting into a club in his pimp daddy outfit to the strains of This Kite Flies, and the fact that T-Baby didn't like this I also take as a good sign. If you like dance techno with a motown feel you'll like this album quite a bit. The Tangents article said Johnny is now in some band called Republica which the source seemed to be distasteful of. Well, this is worth it if the genre appeals and in the meantime I'll dig up Burger Habit.
Label ~ Firestation Tower, 12 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Sensation - "Burger Habit" I promised, and delivered. Since it took me a while to get to their other record when I found out about this I looked for it right away. I found it oddly enough at a place called Second Spin which sells used and promo stuff very cheaply and is a great source for 90's stuff. What's more, I got it there for .47. That's right, 47 cents at secondspin.com. For that price I don't even need to review it, it's worth it to take a chance. However, it is quite good, and the material reminds me more of the song I heard on the Firestation "tried a thousand times" comp. Songs like High on the Grass aside from the tongue in cheek title are great slices of 70 philly pop. (in case you are too young, philly in the 70's was a mecca for a very airy and groovy type of dance music) It was some of the only music I liked as a young kid at the time, and this really takes me back to it. They use punchy synths like horns, lyrics with lots of hooks and that unmistakable beat. I understand this sank like a stone when it came out in 94 as it couldn't compete with the likes of Gene and the Happy Mondays who were brainwashing the masses at the time. A real shame and certainly undeserved. I like this a lot, and like it more each time I hear it. Second Spin only has so many, so if you wait and blow it it will be your loss, especially at this price. Go find a few other things there you forgot you didn't own and put an order in. They sent it quickly and everything was in good shape. I also got the Depeche songs of faith lp because somebody lost our original one (I'm not pointing a finger) and New Order's Power Corruption and Lies because my LP is an Italian pressing (I don't know where I got that from) and it is a less than perfect pressing. If you need help, type in Hollow Men and get their lp called Cresta with this. You'll be glad you did. (I mention it as I may never get to H in the oldies section)
Label ~ 550 Music/One Little Indian, 13 Tracks, 1994
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.8
Serenaide - "The Other End Of The Receiver" This was also sent to me by Fruit Records with the Mocca album and I'm glad they did. T baby had it and I heard it early last year already and it was one of those things I meant to review but never got round to, so I was glad fate intervened. If you like guitar pop, especially stuff that has a very 80's feel then you'll find quite a lot to like here. This young band has managed to create a sound very retro, in fact reminding me at times like the Desert Wolves, yet there is an unquestionable "newness" to it. The best thing I can say for it is it displays very inventive guitar lines and creative song structures, especially on the first several tracks, and aye, there's the only rub. I think the creativity only went so far and got stretched a bit thin, as the first half of this album is simply brilliant and the last half is just average. Still, what's good is so good I can and do recommend this album without reservations because you will love the first half, and being such a curmudgeon you may indeed like the latter bits more than I do as well. I think this band displays worlds of promise and I would be very interested in hearing any follow up album of theirs. A must for guitar pop and C86 enthusiasts.
Label ~ Fruit, 10 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 7
Ron Sexsmith - "Blue Boy" There's a funny story behind this, and while I'll catch flak for saying it , well, that's what I'm here for. T-Baby was crusing his record spot in Philly and came across this on the wall rack. It had stickers plastered all over it saying "Great" "Album of the Year" "Paul McCartneys favorite vocalist" and so on. The entire cover was obscured with the stickers except for the words "Blueboy", and T assumed it was the band Blueboy and as he was rushed (so he said) and he said to himself "Oh, didn't know they had a new release out" and just grabbed it. On his way home in his car he rips the shrinkwrap off and ....."Ron Sexsmith?" "What the hells this!?" Well, all right I said, so how is it anyway? I recieved the patented reply, "It suts". Well, it starts out OK enough, with the first track This Song almost reminding me of Chicago. (the band not the city) It is followed by Cheap Hotel which is a good heartfelt song, and perhaps McCartney "loves" him so much because it becomes noticeable on this track that he has a timbre to his voice that sounds a bit like McCartney. For me this album goes down the dumper in spots with a lot of morose songs that sound an awful lot alike, as well as calling forth alot of the worst of 70's blues moods, as on Not too Big. Maybe that's your cup of tea, but it isn't mine. In fairness there are some good tracks interspaced thru out it though, but I find it tough to listen to this album straight thru as alot of it in the end does sound alot like itself. Not the album of the year for sure, but it doesn't "sut" either. If you dig american music from the 70's you'll probably like this alot. I can't take too much of that personally.
Label ~ Interscope, 14 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9
Shark Quest - "Gods And Devils" If I understand it right, Shark Quest is a group of musicians who compose the supposed "who's who" of the North Carolina music scene and that this, their third such adventure, was recorded to be the soundtrack to some animated art movie project. I was drawn to the fact that it was referred to as "surf jazz" and while I had no idea what that was I loved the term. I listened to a few clips which arguably could be called nothing else and that was enough to prompt a purchase. It's got a lot of the lovely sort of hollow body reverb and musical style of the Ventures yet in many regards the structure is more jazz like than rock like. Does that make it music for Lisa Simpson to surf to? Probably, and in all likelihood you'd want to join her. The only flaw is that given it is a soundtrack the songs tend to be quite long. (a number push 8 minutes and most are over 5) However given that operatic nature, there tends to be a lot of shifts and turns in the song structure before they even end, which makes for an interesting program while it also leads to confusion as to which track it is you're even listening to. In reality it isn't much of a problem and while there are a few lulls, it's mostly pretty upbeat. If they ever build an Ipod into a surfboard, I am quite sure this album will come standard.
Label ~ Merge, 7 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.7
Shelby - "Sofa Safari" Shelby are a German band featuring a girl named Jantje Steigemann on vocals and it's notable that she sounds a bit like a more well known vocalist from the Cranberries. This is a nice little album, moving from gentle pop sensibilities to a harder more rocking edge at times. It doesn't really have any songs that jump out at you like great singles, rather the album as a whole has a decided mood and everything seems to fit into that frame. I think this band excells with the slower songs though actually, and my favorite on the LP is Fake Fur which is very sublime, with such slight accompanyment to her voice it's a testament to the slogan "less is more". It's funny too as this song is followed by an "ersatz" goofy punk song called Fred. That kind of sums up the flavors on this record. If you like the Cranberries you'll probably find this album a nice addition.
Label ~ Marsh-Marigold, 12 Tracks, 1997
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Shermans - "In Technicolor" This is the first album from this rather prolific Swedish group. I had first heard the opening track Practiced Performance on the You make Me Smile compilation cd and just loved it. Lead singer Ingela Matsson has a great voice, kind of sixties pop bubblegum sounding, but quite listenable. If you've read any of the reviews on this site it should be apparent that Sweden is the IT spot right now, and this band is certainly one of the reasons why. Beautiful, shining and summery pop guitar and wonderful pop tunes. I've liked everything so far, but I still think this one is their best albums. That said there isn't a whole lot more to say; if you like music then this is simply an LP you need to own.
Label ~ Shelflife, 11 Tracks, 1999
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.4
Shermans - "Casual" This album represents the early singles and material of this band when they cruised other labels like Benno and Apricot to name a few. (around 1998 or thereabouts) It also features some singing by their since gone lead singer Torbjorn Thorsen. He starts off on the opener The Myth of Being Alone which is a great song, but damn it, just as it gets going and is at the point where it reaches the end of the first chorus, it ENDS! (at 57 seconds) Why is more than a bit baffling, as the song is good and is just getting going when it ends. The same thing happens on the next track he sings on My Favorite Cuppa which ends at a lengthy 1.25. Well, what can I say? It's not like it's bad, it's actually great and the only flaw is it ends so fast. I suppose that's amended by the fact this thing has 18 songs on it. Most of his songs are all under 2 minutes and while I prefer brevity in a pop song that's a little too short. The songs Ingela sings tend to be a bit longer. There's not much we can do, and again it certainly isn't like it makes the songs bad. They are like commando attacks that hit you suddenly and are gone as quickly. It'll lose a few points for that but still, this is just a great little pop encapsulation and will certainly please.
Label ~ Shelflife, 18 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Shermans - "Falling Out Of Love EP" This is the teaser single to the forthcoming album Happiness is Toy Shaped. It has 5 songs, only the title track appearing on the album so there are 4 otherwise unavailable songs here. I will say these four tracks do all sound a slight bit alike, which is probably why they were left off the LP. Not that any of it is bad, but nevertheless they tread the same water. The title track gives a glimpse of the pop "gloom" they would exhibit on the next LP and it's a nice little song. If you're the kind who needs it all then this won't disappoint, but if you're starting from scratch with this band get an album instead. You can always come back for this if you like them that much.
Label ~ Shelflife, 5 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.6
Shermans - "Hapiness is Toy Shaped" This is their second "proper" album, third actual in three years. While the pop sensibilities we came to expect from this band are here, it is a bit more subdued, perhaps mature. They still manage to capture some sixties nuances in their sound, but this time some of the overt pop is replaced by a seedier side, as evidenced on the track Lousy Judge of Character which has an almost sixties spy "gangster" guitar line in it and a while the song has a pop current there is a nice sense of gloom about it. (how gloomy can it get with the odd glockenspiel "ting" in it?) Sadly there isn't as much of that as I'd have liked as it's an interesting twist for them, but there isn't anything wrong with the old "them" either and there's lots of that here as well. (if the lyrics are perhaps a bit more morose) Some tracks also sound a bit like Birdie, and they never came that close to it being said before, at least not that it needed saying, but if you're plumbing the waters of 60's pop with a farfisa then it's inevitable I suppose. I particularly like the quirky Deja' Vu on Repeat which has that kind of stupid, one might say insipid, little "doot, do do" keyboard repeat that sticks in your head all day. Simple drum line, a little doot, do, do and you sit hypnotised. Isn't pop great? Anyway, this is certainly a nice little record and I'd be happy to take a dozen like it.
Label ~ Shelflife, 14 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~8.1
Shifties - "Demo EP" This is another demo from an american band that's hard to pin style wise. Sometimes it's late 70's power pop, sometimes it's more Mod, and the other times it's retro 70's classic rock or a touch of the sixties. When it's the more mod, power pop moments as on Can't Go On I find I like this band. In fact that track owes as much to Power Pop as it does the Kinks I think. But on the retro classic rock stuff, the whiskey bar blues type of music, I don't think I do. Not that they don't do it well, rather perhaps because they do it so well is why I don't care for it because, well, I don't care for it. I'm also not sure if they even have a proper release out. I was sent a comp CDR with some live tracks added to it. I checked out their website but nowhere does it list any discography. So my advice is to check the tracks out yourself and if you like it contact the band for a copy. There's promise here, but how they fall in future will determine whether I care or not. I don't think you can be across the board and have a career. They need to settle on a sound and perfect it, whether it's a sound I am partial to or not time will tell.
sound clip -
Can't Go On
Label ~ Self, info unknown
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.8
Shining Hour - "Wait All Summer" This act has been putting out music for some time now, and is basically the front of one man, a Brit named Mark Cohen. If one is to believe the liner notes he wrote 167 songs from 1986 on, the 15 appearing here being the pick of that litter as it were which were released by Apricot for this LP. This group has been compared to lots of bands, but I think this guy sounds an awful lot like another Brit named Mark, namely Mark Hollis of Talk Talk fame. (although at times there is certainly a hint of a young Paul Weller) There is a bit of variety on the disc too, but basically the formula is the same; deep, reverberating yet honest vocals, pop guitar that is only sometimes jangly, more often strummy and a decent share of clean pop hooks. I can't say there are really any tracks that stand out and grab me, although I do like To See Her a bit, still, in quality this is pretty even over all and if you liked Talk Talk or the Jam I think it's safe to say you'll recieve this album pretty well. Generally speaking it does have a sort of sombre edge to it, it isn't like the Shermans, that's for sure, but who's that happy all the time?
Label ~ Apricot, 15 Tracks, 1999
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Shining Hour - "Postcards From Home" Our friends from the Shining Hour are back with a new LP for us, but I was a little sad to see the art for this is exactly like their other lp (and I mean the whole thing). Only the colors and pictures are different. Is that running a label on a budget or what? Anyway, Lead man Mark Cohen still reminds me of Mark Hollis from Talk Talk, and musically it takes over where the last left off with light, jangly and earnest pop songs, slighly romantic and excellently performed. This band at times ran close to self parody as it can sound a bit alike over an entire album, but the quality of the songs are such here that that doesn't really happen, and in fact this LP gets better as it goes along as it does change stylings, even treading slighly psychadelic waters on the track Destiny Calls. There isn't much to say about this, it's quite good and heads above the last outing. A definite keeper, and by the end I even forgot about the sleeve art.
Label ~ Apricot, 12 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Shins - "Chutes Too Narrow" This is the second Lp from this US band and I had not gotten their first but heard good things. I was also perplexed when I saw a review of this in Stereophile while I was waiting for my copy of this to arrive. Lord knows they don't have a clue musically and I was sure it was a sign this would suck. (How many times can you listen to Mahlers 5th symphony or worry about what audiophile version of some damn Dylan LP you own?) When it came, I really liked the packaging which reminded me of TMBG and in fact the booklet is cut out and overlaps like a complex greeting card. It's nice. I'd swear this band reminds me of again some other long ago band I forgot, but I cannot place. This is a diverse effort, and right off the bat track two Mine's Not A High Horse has a guitar bridge lifted straight from Echo & The Bunnymen in it's familiarity. But on the next song So Says I they take a wholly different tack, coming across more like the Knack or some other late 70's power pop band. Lead singer James Mercer has a high tremmolo-riffic falsetto and he uses it just enough for it to become endearing without being annoying. The songs wander over a lot of territory as I said, touching a lot of bases (mostly US ones) but yet retaining a sound true to itself and certainly it's own. It even has truly gorgeous moments as when it hits the bridge in Saint Simon and the melody turns over and strings rush in and all is right and poptastic with the world. I'm going to give this just a ten, as I think there's even more room for this to grow on me. Just quite well done.
Label ~ Sub-Pop, 10 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Siddeleys - "Slum Clearance" One wonders how many times this is going to keep happening. By that I mean groups who never saw the light of day 12 years ago getting LP's put out that are so good it makes you wonder what the hell everyone was thinking
of back then. I clearly remember having this band on my "to get" list back in those days of yore, but also remember not being able to find anything by them. (I believe their output was a mere 3 singles) This compiles all of them plus some Peel Session
songs and other rarities into a stunning LP. Singer Johnny Johnson (he's a she) has a great voice, and it reminds me quite a bit of Alex Taylor (I believe it's Taylor) of Shop Assistants/Motorcycle Boy fame, who's voice I love. Musically, it has all the
driving British indie angst you could want, comparisons to the Smiths being all too liquid and ready on the tongue. That comparison gets closer to being made upon consideration of the songs lyrics, which are a beautiful torrent of hate, despair and
lonliness coupled to the shining beauty of eternal hope. They didn't include the lyrics on the sleeve, although there is a long booklet detailing their struggles as they wanted the listener to form their own imagery. For example, it does sound
like she says "do you look down on Lou Reed?" in the opening cut, My Favorite Wet Wendsday Afternoon, but she doesn't. Maybe it is best unread, just heard. (the lyrics can be downloaded on their site, www.siddeleys.com) The second track,
You Get What You Deserve is so completly brilliant, so full of the stuff that really defined mid 80's indie britpop, I can hardly contain myself when I hear it. The lyrics easily being confused with something Moz must have
"Someone put a rope around my neck on the day I was born
so if I fall I do not stumble, just go straight to Hell.
There's a small red scar upon my wrist
to remind me of the joy, that could exist
If I wasn't built of
mud and grime and sorrow.
I was never meant for such sweetness..."
and..."There's nothing more you need to know
I won't give you my woes
Just hurry up and go...
and think good thoughts of me."
The whole LP is very good, although some of the latter tracks
pale against the beginning ones, still there are no throwaway cuts on this outing, or lifes work as it were. If ever there was a no brainer, it's this. For the love of all things indie, just buy it already. Now, if only I can get Phils back stuff out......
Label ~ Matinee, 16 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Simpatico - "Postal Museum EP" I actually have a tape Lp from this group and I haven't even listened to it yet as I wanted to put it to CD. Oh well, too many pans in the fire. In any event, in case you didn't know this band is the outlet of Aussie Jason Sweeney of the late and brilliant Sweet William. I always thought the Ambiguous EP was the magnum opus of his former group and I kind of feel that that must be the case about this. The opening track Union Station is about as heart renderingly lovely as a song can be, and is really this mans stock in trade. What's magical is it's done with lyrics which are so simple yet powerfully sung;
"The world is cruel
To boys like me,
and boys like you......
The biggest difference between this band and Sweet William is perhaps he uses synth lines more, but guitar plays an important part in the songs still. It usually takes something special for me to advise buying 4 song outings but this one comes about as heartily endorsed as anything can be.
Label ~ Matinee, 4 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.4
Simpatico - "The Boy Is Mine EP" This came in my last promo pack and all it says on the sleeve is that it is a limited edition US tour promo EP. Simpatico of course being the latest band of Jason Sweeney, late of the famed Australian outfit Sweet William. It seems with each new release he is getting more into a synth vein but at times this is also very flat and one dimensional sounding in it's recording. Unusual for a record so synth laden. He has been recording his vocals that way for a while now as well. I'd almost like to hear him not miked or mixed that way, as I do think he has a fine voice just as it is. I had thought on some of his other stuff he was beginning to sound New Order like and certainly some of the tracks here sound like that. There are some interesting cuts here, and I like track three, How Could Anyone Not Love You? and although I find this engaging thru headphones it was a little tough thru the mains (well, the EP as a whole as well) as it is such a wall of sound and one dimensionality. Track five This Has Nothing To Do With You is more acoustic and lighter of feel and is perhaps more familiar and quite nice. I like the heavier sound, but if he's going to do it he needs to get it produced better. This ends oddly enough with a cover of Joe Jacksons Steppin' Out. Yeah, you heard me. It's both amusing and touching and actually done really well. Even the gender bending album cover is amusing as well for that matter I suppose. While I don't normally buy EP's I'd almost say this is essential, and if not it's damn close to it, particularly if you've liked their stuff in the past. Certainly the cover song is destined to become a classic.
Label ~ Gifted Records, 6 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Simpatico - "Club Life EP" It often feels like the many incarnations of both this man Jason Sweeney and the Lucksmiths comprise 99% of all australian musical output. (I suppose Kylie Minogue is the other 1%) Obviously this is a stretch but it certainly seems every time I turn around both or either of them has a new ep/cd/ band name etc... and I wouldn't have a problem with that were it not for the fact that in both cases their musical styles have not varied much over the years. Certainly both have made songs I just adore and both have had their moments of brilliance to be sure but for some reason I can't seem to find myself falling for them like perhaps I should. I'm also still not sure why I got this, perhaps I fell for the sales pitch again "most vital work to date, etc..." and well, I did like the cover art so I got it. Still, there isn't anything new here, even though the self titled opener is all bright, ambient and full of the wistful, heart torn vocals Sweeny is known for. It really is a great song, and so is this entire EP. However, it all kind of sounds like I heard it all before, and he still keeps his songs a tad too long. This is recorded very well (as usual), the melodies are lovely (as usual), Sweeneys voice is sweet and emotive (as usual) and if you had never heard Simpatico I would recommend this very much as you'll most likely be quite taken by it. I do like this a lot, but still something inside me wants this man to take me somewhere else. I really think he has it in him to rise above what he does, not that it isn't good but on some level I long for a change for some reason, even if I don't know what it is I want. So don't mind me in any case. This is very good, and it is certainly among if not his best work.
Label ~ Matinee, 5 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.5
63 Crayons - "Good People" I reviewed a previously release by this band and BOY, did I hate it. (So much so that shortly thereafter I deleted it from the site, which is something I rarely do) So clearly when this fell out of a promo envelope, I was not exactly thrilled. But I am not partisan, and never have been, and I judge every thing on it's own merits. Well, this outing comes across to me as far more coherent, and while there is a definite 60's vibe on this record it is not annoying and it is also better played. I was amazed to find it didn't have to be taken out of the player immediately and destroyed. I can best compare them to a wash of sixties top 40 music (the Kinks most notably I think), with the odd organ swirl and occasional effect sound thrown in. (lots of ba, ba's too) I was even initially taken by the song Rocketship and it became my song of the week a while back when I first got this. While this still isn't the kind of thing I'd reach for first on the shelf, it's probably the best album of this genre I have, and at times actually enjoy. Like the Mates Of State album however, I find that my initial joy wanes somewhat toward the back end of both albums. Something about the melody lines of both works that I just can't tune into over long periods. However, that is a personal peccadillo of mine and if you do like this genre I can say that you will most certainly find much about this album appealing to you. (in your case it would probably rate a 9.5)
Label ~ HHBTM, 13 Tracks, 2004
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