Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Slipslide - "Four Day Weekend EP" This is the debut release of this London three piece featuring Graeme Elston on vocals. The opening track Fireflies has a kind of 70's sort of pop feel to it which is done well enough to be OK. I especially like the next track Unlucky Charm however, as it has a kind of poignant sadness and a lot of atmosphere to it for being a fairly simple song. The Airport Song features a more acoustic line and I suppose it does actually remind me of High Land, Hard Rain period Aztec Camera, it really does. This offering ends with Waiting For the Call which again is a sensuous kind of pop outing, sort of reminding me of the best of the Hit Parade, and it's quite a great little song. This stuff isn't gate crashing, but it will slowly eat away at you until your gates come down, that's for certain. And sometimes, isn't that the best way to yield ourselves? I have no idea if an LP is ever coming, but this is certainly worth getting in any event.
Label ~ Matinee, 4 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.9
Slipslide - "The World Can Wait" This is a band that had hovered on the periphery for a long time, releasing the nice odd single or EP every so often, but there was never a sniff of an LP. It has finally happened, and whether you were waiting or not it has proved worth it. It's a very spread out affair, noting styles from today to the 60's and everything in between (but never being retro) but once you settle into it the Englishness of it does tend to rise to the top. In many hard to describe ways it also reminds me of the Siddeleys album, but they aren't things that are perhaps obvious, but I still hear and sense them. This is at times jangly and upbeat, to acoustic and melancholic, but it is without question a solid pop rock album with lots of catchy hooks and melodies and of course lead singer Graeme Elston sounds as good as ever. It's been a slow grower on me, as it didn't strike me right off but each play finds me liking it more and more. It's at 9.9 now but may easily be a solid 10 before years end. That may seem like quibbling but I'd still like to give it room to grow on me, which is something I am sure it will do on you as well. Very recommended.
Label ~ Matinee, 11 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.4
Small Sails - "Similar Anniversaries" From what I understand, in "real" life this band is more than music, and their shows are supposed to be a more audio visual experience. However, they have to stand on just one leg now and I'd have to say they do a fairly competent job. Instrumental electronica has been done to death and it's not easy being creative, unique, or even making anyone give a damn. The reasons behind their success may be twofold: One, they write good melodies, and the emphasis is on the melody, not the techno fireworks. Two, while they don't sing, the human voice gets used as an instrument, with lots of ba ba's, la la's, hmmm hmmm's, hi oh, hi oh's etc.. etc.. ad infinitum which keeps the proceedings from embracing the machine too much. Also, while synths are prevelant, the music sounds more organic and natural in a way that's hard to describe other than saying it is very ambient. Another positive about this album is that it is recorded extraordinairily well. Without question this is one of the better albums of it's kind, a "chill out" recording if you will and one which I very much recommend.
Label ~ Other Electricities, 10 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Smittens - "The Coolest Thing About Love" It's funny how life works. Every once in a while I get a package of promos from the Happy Happy Birthday To Me label, and unfortunately most of it is not only not good, it's really bad. In fact I often wonder how they can afford to keep putting it all out. This is one album however that they didn't send me, I had to buy it myself, and I love it, it's brilliant. It is unquestionably American, (why does nobody else in this world use the banjo?) and yes, there is a hint of that US college twee element. It at times reminds me musically of the better early moments of the Mendoza Line which is high praise, but to review this in a generality it's simply a "happy" record. There's no other way to say it. Some cuts like Baby, Don't You Know?" or Magpies And Eccles Cakes are simply beautiful in their tender execution but most of it is breezy and care free. Often when bands try to utilize a lot of different instruments they go overboard, and that does not happen here. This is just what it was meant to be, with nothing more and nothing less added than was needed, which makes every note, every word, very precious. In fact the only reason they didn't get a 10+ is because it includes a pretty gratuitous use of the "F" word on the track It's A Saturday, however I have to admit that while the word gets used A LOT in that track (I think they were trying to set a record) it's so campy and over the top that it actually works, and pretty much escapes being vulgar. Still, it's not a track you want your kid going to school singing.... In any event, I often don't get too worked up over all that many domestic releases, but this is one I very much recommend. If HHBTM could trim down their volume of releases and focus on deserving things like this, they could become one of the premier labels. Well done.
Label ~ HHBTM, 14 Tracks, 2009
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Snoozer - "Winter Stops All Sound EP" I actually bought this on my own and didn't get it as a promo copy. Probably offended the powers that be too often, but I'm glad I got it. The opener, Labor Day instantly calls to mind the recent Mates of State album, with it's chirping organ and eclectic and in your face vocal style. While there is a degree of that similarity on this disc, such as on songs like Providence I actually think they do it better than the Mates Do while bringing to it their own style. There is also a nice degree of angst on display, as on Sweater Weather which is a disjointed, moody and well done ballad. Yet they show they can sweeten the pot with some lovely female harmonizing and cello work on the next song Winter Clothes. This is an excellent debut, and while perhaps a bit twee it has a lot of engaging qualities and a nice degree of variety and well executed imagination. I like the packaging too. Certainly a must have.
Label ~ HHBTM, 6 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.5
Sodastream - "A Minor Revival" Sodastream is the band that proves Australians can sound like Belle & Sebastian too. I don't even mean that in a negative way, as you can't help what nature makes your voice sound like. However it is amazing to me that there have been so many vocalists that sound so much like Stuart Murdoch recently. In this case it is Karl Smith, and his pipes could easily pass for those of Mr. Murdoch. This is the second and most recent long player (I'm pretty sure) and I got it on a whim as I had heard about this band for a while now and decided to finally take the plunge. It was a good move. The songs are minimal yet somehow manage to pack a much bigger punch than the instrumentation would imply. They possess that sort of Australian "shimmy" sound the Lucksmiths have in spades, but it is more of an underlying accent to their sound as the real weight is a Belle like quality of song structure and emotion. However even saying that would be cornering them and that is something one can't easily do with this band. Undone for example has a playful, almost country tinged line to it, and in fact it almost reminds me of a quaint old time rail song. It would be hard for anyone not to like this album as the songs are instantly friendly and while generally slow the pace does not come across that way. It lacks a wholly unique quality due to some of the similarities I mentioned, but it's a job well done never the less that makes up in emotion what it may at times lack in variety.
Label ~ Microindie, 13 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.8
Soft Set - "Only Lovers Left Alive" For some reason I was under the impression this got released a while ago, so I was surprised when I was asked to review this. I was very intrigued about this band (despite the 60's references) so I took it, and I am glad I did. What stands out is that the song structures tend to be very unique, with inspired use of guitars, drums and just about anything you could name to add unexpected shades and accents of direction and nuance. It isn't the kind of thing I would normally listen to and the fact that I not only don't dislike it but actually find it somewhat engrossing speaks volumes. It's not really 60's in any way although it does borrow from it, it isn't alt country either although it wanders somewhat close to those waters. It is akin to the second Mendoza Line album in that there is a current of homespun americana about it, but it is less upbeat than that album yet more complex of structure, and the vocal delivery is more wry here. I am not a wine drinker, but the descriptions they use I believe apply here. It's a bit dry and somewhat fruity, with an aftertaste full of complex flavours leaving ones pallet with a lot to mull over. I think that really says it. From the lounge hip Maplewood Avenue to the emotive Christmas Lights it is a sad yet vibrant panorama of the american landscape, told from a singular perspective. Definitely worth considering. Even though this style is often not my first choice to pop in the player, one cannot ignore the moments of profound introspection presented here.
Label ~ Becalmed, 12 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 5.4
Softies - "Holiday in Rhode Island" I've never been in Rhode Island, but if this record is any indication it must be one boring place. Lets just cut to the chase on this one. Individually, some of the songs on this aren't too bad. If you put them in between the work of other artists (esp. songs with some tempo) some might actually be enjoyable. (I do like the cover though) But as it stands there is a lot of self parody on this disc, too many of the songs are almost exactly alike, and they are all achingly slow and dirge-like. To my ear this again reminds me of music for lesbians in crisis. If that description fits you then make sure to scrawl this item down on your "to get" list. If it doesn't, then quietly excuse yourself and run like all hell...........
Label ~ K, 14 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10
Soho Dolls - "Prince Harry EP" When I first heard (and saw) this band a few months ago I knew we had something on our hands the likes of which have not been seen in ages. The Dolls are 2 gals and 2 guys who have re-incarnated late 70's glam/pop/punk with an odd twist. They come off like orphans raised between a posh Hollywood nightclub and a strip joint and pull it off owing to the fact they come across as an attractive bunch. Taking the pop sensibilities of Blondie and adding the dark sexual noir of a David Lynch film, the music becomes a rushing, rapturous and at times slightly naughty affair. What's even more amazing is that when lead singer Maya Von Doll cuts loose, the clothes start coming off until her open blouse reveals breasts with nothing more than a strip of duct tape across them. The world of course not having seen the like of this since The Plasmatics and Wendy O Williams. (and it probably never thought it would again) The big difference of course is when Maya does it one actually wants to keep looking. In fact, she may just be the sexiest female lead of a band since Toni Halliday of Curve. This US debut is a 3 track outing plus the video for Stripper which is possibly worth the price of admission alone. However the tracks are great too, from dance club stab of the title track, the anthemicly brilliant Stripper or the cooly seductive 1724 this is a very auspicious debut. It's the classiest raunch I have perhaps ever heard, or seen. I sit transfixed awaiting the full length, and NO, that's not drool......(....well, OK, that's drool....
Label ~ So Sweet, 3 Tracks + Video, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.5
Souvenir - "Points De Suspension" This came with my Shelflife grab bag and it's odd because I have heard this album already. T got it as an import a long time back and I just never got round to reviewing it since it was an import and I figured it's cost and difficulty in obtaining would limit it's audience, so more pressing things got done instead. (and I'm sure I have a CDR copy of it here somewhere) More kudos to Shelflife as well for releasing this. They're trying to be a proper concern, aren't they? This is actually an odd band as they hail from Spain but the LP is sung in French. Musically it is very akin to what's making the round indie wise these days, being mid to light in tempo but with a more adult than twee feel. (I would say the cover expresses that as well) They make good use "alternate" instruments where needed like horns, strings and track five, Je Tiens Ma Parole is even a country western song. (so are a few others, and they even use pedal steel but not in the typical over the top way) Rien de Nouveau is especially haunting and lovely because of it's use. I was aware at times of the feeling that a lot of this was covers of songs I knew, only sung in French. However only three others are credited as being written by others, one of them being an unusual sounding cover of the Go-Betweens classic Spring Rain. This is actually quite a good LP, and if listening to french lyrics does not put you off it comes highly endorsed. Were it in english it would have been rated even higher, but that does not diminish the quality of the effort in any way, and I'm glad to see Shelflife have made it more accessible to US buyers. Certainly one worth your consideration as the music is quite lovely, and so are the lyrics.
Label ~ Shelflife, 13 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.9
Soviet - "We Are Eyes, We Are Builders" Even though this outfit is american (NYC again no less), both the imagery and even the title call to mind the best traditions of German industrial techno music, and that continues once the music starts playing as well. This originally came out in 2001 but I believe went OOP and has been re-released by a new label. (only tonevendor has had it so look there first) I find things like this amusing as it brings forth a lot of memories, calling to mind Roxy Music, the Associates and a smattering of Human League and even Kraftwerk. Dancy? Hell yes. Recorded well? As to be expected. Parody? No, not really. It manages to remind me of millions of things yet it does have it's won soul as it were. Catchy? Heaven help you, yes. Songs like Marbleyezed have a decided 80's feel, one hell of a catchy beat and a chorus that sticks like flypaper. I've always been a sucker for this kind of thing if it's done well and this is done about as well as anyone's ever done it and I really mean that. There really isn't much I can even say, as words falter. I have a nagging suspicion it may become tough to get so don't dawdle about buying it because as the sage Mr. Muzak used to remind me, "You snooze, you loose", and this would be a tough one to miss out on.
Label ~ Head Records, 12 Tracks, 2001/03
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.1
Spanish Amanda - "Brave New Girl" This is one of T-Babes and he really loves this record. I don't know, I don't hate it, and it does sort of remind me of vintage late 80's bands like the Chameleons perhaps but I couldn't seem to really love it. I'd probably have to admit it is probably good to very much so but for some reason something makes me not care. The second track Aberystwyth even reminds me of some of Phil Wilsons solo stuff. It may be that it has a lo-fi recorded quality to it I don't really care for, and my system makes poor recordings sound like what they are. But as I write this I'm listening to it using bad headphones thru my computer and it's actually pretty good I must say. I think alot of the nuance on this gets lost in the mix mush thru the mains. OK, for me it will have to lose a point on the recording but for most everyone else that won't even be a point to consider. Actually, that's too much to take off, this actually isn't that bad, so lets make it a half point. If you like later 80's stuff like the Chills etc.. you'll probably like this quite a lot.
Label ~ Firestation, 12 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.5
Sportique - "Modern Museums" This is the second offering from this band I believe but my first listen. One of the core members is Gregory Webster of Razorcuts fame, but I must say the Razorcuts "fame" is something I never understood as I always thought they were lauded far too much. Anyway, this was really a quite unexpected disc and hardly what I thought it was going to be. When I first heard the opener and title track I was left agog and perplexed. I was not ready for the Cockney/punk overtones and the over the top-ness of lead singer (Mark Flunders?) voice. In fact he sounds ALOT and not a little like Johnny Rotten and the song itself isn't far from sounding like PIL or even the Pistols. I find the song tough thru the mains for a number of reasons but I find myself liking it thru headphones, and maybe not a little either. The next track Cerebral Vortex is also a bit disjointed and his vocals again get a little out of control but that changes suddenly on the next cut Art & Shopping which is an adrenaline rush of indie (semi punk) pop bliss. It especially works as he gets his voice under control here, or rather isn't trying to be to over the top with it. The next How Many Times starts with an Elastica like riff, but he's back to a heavy Cockney accent but he isn't trying to sing with it, instead he's just yelling, and damn, it works. What really makes this track gold is the musical bridge which is an unexpected sci-fi synth line which is COMPLETELY out of context yet somehow it's the thing which pulls the whole song together and makes it work. Actually, it's pretty fucking brilliant. Probably the most glistening track here is the surging and poison sweet Suture which is about as good as this sort of thing gets. The biggest flaw if anything is that this record is too short, coming in at barely 24 minutes. (see, I bitch when they're long and bitch when they're short) I was like a dog smacked on the snout the first time I heard this and was ready to reject it. However I'll be damnened. This is not only quite possibly very good , but it just might be one for the ages. It made "my 'ead skweeuhl."
Label ~ Matinee, 9 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.9
Sprawl - "Sarah Veladora" This is the third lp by this Toronto band, and the title they say comes from a play on the words 'Cera Veladora' which I assume is latin for votive candle. (Goth styled bands really love latin, and I wonder what the connection is? I suppose there is no latin translation for bic lighter...) Anyway, I had an eyebrow up before I first put this on (I think it was the black eye makeup) but it wasn't quite what I thought it would be. The opener, Bad Girl is a very early 80's power pop/rock song and is a good listen. Next comes Get Off which has a very Stooges glam sound, or shall we say very Strokes like for the young kids and is perhaps not what this looked like it would be but what I expected. But the next song Obvious has a more tender melody, and it's a very over dubbed and heartfelt rock ballad. (A little too over dubbed though in my opinion) So there is no real style in particular to this record, as it prefers to let the songs meander where they will but it all does come together seamlessly for the most part. The vocals of lead singer Ralph Kircher do at times remind one of Peter Murphy of Bauhaus fame especially on the song In The Basement which is a 70's pop rock anthem with a Bauhaus like chorus. While the 70's was not my most favorite of periods, they have managed to take what was best about it and craft a fairly interesting record. There are a few songs that don't especially thrill me, but there are many that are lodging in my head. If you like the Strokes or Interpol, I think you might find this a much better album than either of those, and in any case their equal. So go buy it eh...
As this was a submitted disc I am unsure of availability, so check their site here for info and soundclips.
Label ~ IMOJ, 10 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.7
Spray - "Living In Neon" This was a bit more interesting than the rest of the grab bag it came with, probably because this duo hail from the UK, and given that one would expect the lyrical quality to be better, and it is. What's more, this isn't directly synth pop as it is synth driven rock with a very dancy edge. It's also quite long clocking in at 17 songs (4 of which are remixed dance versions of 4 other tracks from here). If I had to say who they remind me most of, the only thing that comes to mind is the US band Berlin. In fact, thats a pretty good call as much of this is very reminiscent of them, even the similarity of voice of Jenny McLaren here to Terri Nunn of Berlin. The only difference is while this is very good, Berlin had some moments of sublime genius. (there's nothing to equal the power of "The Metro" or "No More Words" here) Still, there's no doubt this does have it's own kitschy charm and it does come close with tracks like Child Of The 80's, plus there isn't anyone else really doing anything like this currently that I can think of. I especially like the track Fashion Stigmata which is hooky, has a great kids chorus and is unquestionably the best cut here. If you like mid /late 80's glamish pop art rock, then I think you'll really find this album to your liking. The only flaw is she doesn't have a cool half black/white hairstyle like Terri did, which I have in fact learned my wife wished to get done back then if only her parents wouldn't have killed her. In case you forgot or were too young...
Yummy. Perhaps there's still time.......
Label ~ Ninth Wave, 17 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.4
Sprites - "Starling, Spiders, Tiger and Sprites" Yes, I know it's been a god awful long time since this came out. I refused to get it initially since it was only available at futurepopshop and I am thru with them (him) for personal reasons. I felt bad for Jason however but didn't feel right asking him for a copy. Then it finally went "retail" and I got it, but the swarm of recent promos kept forcing it back because I figured, well, it's already been so long to get reviewed, what's another day, week, month, year? Well, here it finally is, but the soap opera surrounding it is unfortunately more interesting than the recording itself. If you didn't know, this is the first "solo" work by ex Barcelona front man Jason Korzen. I interviewed them just before the split, and when I naively asked them how long the band would go on, I got an "I don't think about it" from him and an "I think about it a lot" from Jen. I cannot claim she was the cause of Barcelona folding but it is my belief she was. So it's not surprising the other two members of that band appear on this outing as "guest" musicians, and she does not. There are also bits of info I am privy to that I cannot relate, and finally the opening track Do It Yourself is clearly a lament to the demise of Barcelona with quite pointed lyrics asking "why do people change, we wanted the same thing but you left, I hope you never make the same mistake...never start a band with your best friend". There is a thread in this work that comes back to this theme, a sudden changing of life, unexpected loss etc.. and while it's not taken to the degree Bob Wratten did, the scar it left is clear to see and hear. Musically, this is far more minimal than Barcelona, not techno at all, and is principally acoustically guitar driven. To be honest, it isn't bad but it's not his best suit. There are songs I like on here for sure, including Joel although I liked a very early demo of it he sent me before this album came out more. I think this album served as a tonic or catharsis for him, like Ian McCulloughs first solo album when the death of his father and Pete de Freitas weighed on him. If you were a fan of Barcelona you will want this. If you don't have those albums, I would suggest you start there first. For Jason, all I can say is we're with you buddy and I hope a phoenix rises from the ashes of Barcelona for you now that your feelings are purged. That band was truly one of the great ones, and no mistake.
Label ~ March, 12 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.5
Star Bag - "Star Bag" While I am not usually partial to most US bands, I think it was the vocals of lead singer Clint Myers which caught me on this disc as it reminds me of my friend Stace Englands' voice who's album "Lovey Dovey All The Time" I have previously reviewed here. There is a decidedly wistful americana on display here, especially poignant on songs like I'm So Tired and I like the pedal steel and harmonica on this track. I'm even reminded of Arlo Guthrie (who I was always fond of) on tracks like My Way Back Home. It's no "City Of New Orleans" but it many ways it does remind me of that song. I'm not liking everything here, but a bit of it is quite good and you could say I only dislike what I do as a matter of style, not so much that it's done badly. In fact this is one of the better albums of it's genre I have heard in a long time. If you like folky american rock, the sort of thing which is right at home in a smoky bar, then this is an album you will most likely become quite attached to. The cover is fairly ugly however.
Label ~ HHBTM, 8 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Starlet - "From the One You Left Behind" Oddly enough, when I think of Starlet I am reminded of a quote by Eric Sloane. Sloane, for those unaware, was a foremost american painter, illustrator and author well versed in meteorology and early americana. Sloane once mis-typed a manuscript in which he meant to say something like "...when horses capered over covered bridges.." but it turned out "cloobered". No one caught or corrected the typo, and it got printed that way "...when horses cloobered over covered bridges..."
Being one of those people others insatiably copied, he shortly thereafter (and to his amusement) saw countless references in other stories about "the good ole days" and horses "cloobering" over bridges.
What has this got to do with Starlet? No, they never cloobered, and Sweden has no covered bridges that I know of, but an ill considered person wrote a review of them early on and repeatedly hammered home that they were Belle & Sebastian clones. Seemingly every Dick & Jane who writes a review about this band says the same thing. Now, if a band was only fair those would be fine coat tails to trail on, but in Starlets case, it's a dis-service. It's also a bad comparison. And twee? That term gets bandied about so much I don't think anyone using it really knows what it means. Starlet isn't that either. The time has come for this mis-labeling to stop. This album, if anything, follows closely to fellow Swede groups like the Happydeadmen or more correctly the Leslies in it's sound. In fact, the first cut, Pin-up, is very Leslie-like, very poppy and a great tune. It would be unfair to be even that labeling here though, because while the cut does have a Leslies feel, there is an underlying difference that is quite obvious. It is not like the way the Essence sounds like the Cure, because the Essence SOUNDS like the Cure. I suppose references to the good old kind of Brit pop might be made but that too would be incorrect. Something magical happens when a bunch of Swedish kids write pop songs, and there is a very indelible and individual feel to their music. Once you hear enough of it you can quite easily recognise it. I think the difference is the brits feel guilt and embarassment about everything. They're sorry they ruled the world, and sorry they still don't rule it. They consider sexual "urges" sordid, yet show boobs in newspapers and they all lament their sex lives. Swedish kids don't have these hangups. They're just genuinely happy, and it's very honest and real and it sure as hell comes thru in the music. As for this record, there are some truly brilliant moments on this disc besides the track mentioned, I particularly like Wendy, a super pop tune with a great moody cello, It Could Happen is really poptastic and Girlfriend which pretty much rocks in a Leslie like way. An excellent debut album and they would only get better from here.
Label ~ Parasol, 10 Tracks, 1997
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Starlet - "Stay on My Side" After this bands first record there was a pause and some member changes. People moved away, moved back, and one day they realized they were all somewhat close again. (near that magical town called Malmo) One of it's members, Joakim Odlund doing duty in another great group called the Acid House Kings, of whom another member, Johan Angergard also has his own great group, the well known and loved Club 8. Starlet is fronted by Jonas Farm, (who sounds nothing like Stuart Murdoch by the way) Anders Baeck, Henrik Martensson and the previously mentioned Joakim Odlund, the band reformed almost the way an amoeba collects itself after being smooshed apart. Bitter affairs and the saga of life left it's impressions on them, and they had songs to sing about it. This business started with difficulty, and they eventually sacked their first producer and took on Jorgen Andersson to finish the job. They recorded the LP in the seaside resort of Osterlein, where they relaxed and "holidayed" between sessions. The result was a record of startling beauty and heartfelt emotion. Again, Belle comparisons abounded, but where Belle lyrics tend to the coy and philosophic, with Starlet it's genuine and comes right from the heart. When Jonas sings of lost loves, regrets and driving down California highways, he really means it, he really does. The LP opens with the beautiful I'm Home, a track which sets the tone for the whole record and what is instantly noticeable is this band no longer "sounds" like anyone else. They have forged their own way, a lean, beautiful and very acoustic affair. In fact, I cannot remember a band using acoustic guitars so perfectly on a record before. They are layered in a very complex form with many original riffs and combinations with electrical guitar picks making sudden and welcome additions. It's raveshing in it's simple but detailed beauty. What also is remarkable, is the lyrical quality, especially when one remembers that english is not their native tongue. Like this from the second track Homewater;
"Home is where the land disappears
into the cold water.
This is the place, where I lost myself
and grew old.
And I heard the words behind my back,
"Never think you are, more than ordinary."
I wish I could be there again,
but all things have an end.
And I don't know right now,
but I know that I once knew you."
This record is like a tour of the heart. It slowly builds and grows, getting larger than itself, and it is SO achingly beautiful I am at a loss to describe the impact it had one me. As it heads toward it's finish, the pop pace slowly builds and it ends with a bit of a flourish with great poptastic songs like Silver Sportscar, Moving On and Friends.
When I think of all the crap "mega" groups these days, 4 chicks (or guys for that matter) get together, pierce their navels, then show them to the world while a studio computer alters their voices as they sing a song someone else wrote and others played, I could just puke. If ever there was a group truly deserving of recognition, for making an album of the deepest human beauty and honesty, it is Starlet. This is hands down the most touching and poignant record I have heard since the Trash Can Sinatras Cake LP. It is awash in such emotion it will leave the listener forever altered and adoring.
Label ~ Parasol, 10 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 10+
Starlet - "When Sun Falls On My Feet" This is another one not out yet but can't be put off any longer. When the first track Malmö starts, it is quite a shocker and a real and obvious departure from the last album. Here is a band which has steered a hundred and eighty degree course from the waters they last sailed, and they pull it off with great success. Malmö sports a much heavier electric guitar, almost goth, sound. The where's and why's of all this is revealed in my interview with lead singer Jonas, so be sure to read it. The song itself is really great, and anyone who bandied this band off as "twee" or "Belle" clones will be forced to eat their words. Pretty great stuff. It's funny, when I first got their last LP it took a while for it to sink in for some reason, but it clearly went in my estimation to one of THE best records I own, period. This was much the same way. It really didn't slay me at first, perhaps it was the change in mood, I'm not sure, but damn me to hell if I'm not head over heels with this one too now. The title track kind of encapsulates the feel here, very uptempo and modern, yet restrained in a heartfelt way, with beautiful lyrics and singing with some horn thrown in to break your heart good. The album gets slow in the middle which put me off a little at first but now they are some of my favorite songs here. (as that so often happens) If you're a fan, and are ready for the difference, and really take the time to get into this record you will be happy beyond your hopes. If you were one of those that wrote them off for being too heartfelt before (and you have my pity) then you'll need to perk up an ear here too. This band really is pathetic. Now wait, the word doesn't carry the meaning anymore that it was meant to, and it took a Swede to show me that. I keep an 1877 Websters dictionary on my desk because I only trust older opinion on the true meaning of words. And the definition of pathetic? "Pathetic (pa-thet'-ik), adj. affecting or moving the passions" Yeah, who knew? If that is it's true meaning then Starlet is certainly the most fucking pathetic band in the world brother, and who'd have thought that was such a compliment? This is certainly an album to move the passions.
On a postscript, I got the "full" version from Parasol which included a track to be on the japaneese release only called Orbit which is quite great and more like the last LP. (again, see interview, it's informative and funny and you'll learn all about swedish culture like systembolaget and bingolotto) Anyway, perhaps in time I'll be able to release that track thru the site. Until then, buy this thing.
Label ~ Parasol/Labrador, 10 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Stars - "Nightsongs" This is a very heady little record, which has the synth sensibilities of the old 4AD bands, most noteably perhaps the Cocteau Twins, while having a sense of pop maturity more akin to Frazier Chorus. Vocal duties are a shared male/female affair between Torguil Campbell and Amy Millan. The album does tend toward the slow, but it is not of the dull or stillborn variety as the songs have loads of emotive power. Songs such as On Peak Hill have a genuine lovliness and beauty about them and are a real joy to listen to. On top of that the album is recorded quite excellently and is a real treat to listen to thru good gear. If all this wasn't enough this album includes probably the best Smith cover I ever heard, in this case being the song This Charming Man which even though they take the beat down a notch still really rocks. It's a fantastic version, worth the price of admission alone. A superb effort.
Label ~ Le Grand Magistery, 14 Tracks, 2000
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Stars - "The Comeback EP" This five song EP is the follow up to their excellent first LP Nightsongs. The opener here is the quirky and catchy as all hell Krush which contains a memorable line in "There's another side, to this sad story........ Fuck you Hollywood, I'M the glory..." We love pop stars with attitude, don't we? This is a band that wants to be adored I think. The music here follows the lines laid out on the first, with vocal duties shared between Ann and Torquil. Track three, The Aspidistra Files features Torquil, and the song sounds very much like a Ben Watt sung Everything But The Girl number. Track four, Cotes des Neiges is an instrumental and labours a little, especially coming in at four and a half minutes. The last and title track features Torquil again (Ann sings little here) and it's another good number by them. The problem here, as with all EP's, is does the four good songs justify the price of this, which is nearly what an LP costs? I personally think records should cost a buck a song. (with $12 being the most for an LP regardless of track totals) I'd readily pay $5 for this, but the 8 or 9 it goes for is a bit much, especially in the light of the fact some of this may be on the next LP anyway. Also, Torquil released another EP at the same time as this under the working name Memphis, which also features a song by Ann, and is also an overpriced 5 song EP. Why it was not a 10 song Stars LP for $11 instead of two EP's costing $16+ I don't know. If you buy it or not depends on how much you liked the first LP and whether you don't mind being squeezed. Fortunately for me, T got them both and I'll just copy them. (Yes, he is very useful, isn't he. He's my indiepop sugardaddy, so I guess that makes me his little record bitch)
Label ~ le Grand Magistery, 5 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.6
Stars - "Heart" I guess had I been paying more attention this year I would have realized this had been out some time and would have gotten an import and then wouldn't have a different US cover (why, WHY do they do that?) Anyway, I got it, so lets get to it. This Montreal band has gotten some laurels but nothing like they deserve and I thought their first LP was an eclectic masterpiece. The tack on the outing is supposedly a album devoted to love, and songs about love. That by default would make it more accessible and it is. It might also by default make it more tiring, but it isn't. Both Torq and Amy have genuinely engaging voices and they are always the bright spots, and their melodies are also top notch. This starts nicely but of course the killer is track two Elevator Love Letter which may indeed be their best song ever, and it cuts so that the pain is exquisite. It wrings you like a dishrag listening to it, and it is as pop-tastically wonderful and cuttingly heartfelt as man can make a song. Certainly a top contender for single of the year. The album as a whole is very good as I said but perhaps the single-mindedness of it loses them a slight bit, but there's no question it is one of the highlights of a year which has already been one of the best in recent memory.
Label ~ Arts & Crafts, 11 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.7
Stars In Coma - "You're Still Frozen In Time" This album is a compilation work of newer material and older re-worked tracks by Swede André Brorsson. Other reviewers have likened this album to Felt and perhaps the Pastels. I thought at first it reminded me somewhat of some of Andreas Mattsson's work, and perhaps some of it does but this album really is a bit all over the map. Not that it goes from folk to techno or anything that extreme, but rather we expect albums to have a sort of continuity of sound, and this sort of does not. I suppose that should be expected because this is after all a collection of songs over a long period. That said there are some really nice moments on here, such as the wistfully delicate Life Without The Community which is one of my favorite cuts, and Invisibility Trick which reminds me quite a bit of fellow Swedish act Nixon. In fact the only complaint I can levy against this album is the recording quality isn't as good as I might hope. It's not awful, but I wish it was a little better. This becomes apparent because it's one of those albums that sounds better and better when you play it on worse and worse gear. So all you people living the low life with I pods and ear buds should love it. In any event, this is well worth a listen.
Label ~ Plastilina, 13 Tracks, 2007
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.5
Steinbecks - "Recorded Music Salon" The Steinbecks are just one of the bands of Josh and Joel Meadows, who seem to crop up in almost any aussie band mentioned it seems. The opener here No Strings, No Money, No Worries is a great almost beatle like song with nice horns but it is a bit too short coming in at a minute and twenty four seconds, and it's a real shame it isn't longer. The next track Storm Boy is kind of typical of their sound and is a really great track, and I think if australian bands have a "sound" it is kind of encapsulated in this great little pop song. However, these guys like to experiment and one can expect tracks like The Long Walk which is very 60's with a farsifa keyboard line and it's a great song, but it's followed by Imperial which is a slower, moodier song which is fair. I'd say 7 of the 12 here are quite good, the rest are so-so. The last, Vanimo is one of the good ones, and is a great acoustic folk song which sings the praises of down under and sounds like it was recorded live. It starts with one person singing with an acoustic guitar and more and more come in as it goes along. It's very heartfelt and good. Some filler on here maybe, but some great cuts too, so it's no worries mate.
Label ~ Drive-In, 12 Tracks, 1999
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.5
Stellastarr - "Harmonies For The Haunted" This is the debut album of a rather interesting yet strangely familiar US band. Familiar in that while unique their sound strikes you as something you know you've heard before, perhaps a cross between Keane and the Cure, yet somehow not really like either. Lead singer Shawn Christensen does have a falsetto very close to that of Robert Smith, however it is otherwise a beast all it's own with a darker, deeper twinge of pain and remorse which is instantly addictive. The songs here tend to be very goth anthemic with all the sturm und drang of that genre fully displayed yet they are crafted with such pop sensible care and full of so many hooks that even a milquetoaste or the eternally twee could find no fault with it. In fact this is exactly the sort of thing that becomes an old friend very quickly and it won't be long until you're blasting out one of these ballads in the shower one morning. There are however two small problems. The first is this album is on the major RCA and it is write protected. I have never owned such a thing before and this my first one is not making me happy. When I went to copy a song for the radio it told me I have to download some program which will kindly allow me a pittance of copies. Boy, did that piss me off. Nobody harps on you people to support artists more than I do, but I fully believe that when I own it then I own it and I will make as many copies as I like, and let anyone I want hear it as much as I like. I did not have to submit to this subterfuge however as I have an stand alone component copier which was able to copy it, so I can make as many copies as I want which makes one wonder what the hell the point even is? Secondly I have heard among audiophiles that this encryption can effect the sound, and while I have nothing to compare it to and I cannot verify that statement I did find the sound of this disc to be slightly compressed sounding. That is sometimes done deliberately to compensate for the rotten places the thing will get played on (radio and now IPods for example) so it may be that instead, or it may just be a production quirk my stereo is pulling out. I can't say for sure so I only mention it in passing. If neither of those two things effect your buying interests then I can say you'll probably enjoy this album quite a lot. It is dark but has passion and singular pop despair. Note: Since posting this I have learned from them that they were not happy about things either and apparently all recent and future copies of this album will not have any of this encryption, so buy away kiddies, buy away!
Label ~ RCA, 10 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.1
Stockholm Monsters - "Alma Mater Plus" Yes, yet another Factory band getting a re-issue. The Monsters, while I vaguely remember them, I didn't own anything by them. There was just too much to buy back then, I was younger (and poorer) and it wasn't always easy to get everything you wanted anyway. This album is regarded to be this bands best, and it also includes extra single material not on the original and makes a long 19 track player. Vocalist Tony France has a very Factory voice, if there is such a thing (I think there is). It's both flat and piercing at the same time, and musically this is definetly a Factory band with a sound falling somewhere between the Cure and New Order but the voice of France takes it someplace a little more angry. That takes a little getting used to, and this isn't recorded so as to be enjoyed thru my good gear so much, but it's quite good and growing on me with each listen. Certainly they deserved more recognition than they got, and this is without question the best of the three things of theirs that got re-released. Certainly worth checking out.
Label ~ Factory/LTM, 19 Tracks, 1984/2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.1
Stockholm Monsters - "All At Once (Singles 81-87)" This is obviously a singles compilation album, and the opener here Fairy Tales I definetly remember hearing before, and it's quite a great song. Funny how you can entirely forget some song and have it come so fully home just hearing it again years later. As this covers a broad period of time, and the expected changes of style, it is a little disjointed musically in that respect. Some of this I didn't care a whole lot for and at times they remind me of the Fall who mostly I do not care for, however every few tracks there's a little gem. Being 17 songs in all, that means there are still quite enough good things here to make it worth it, but I'd start with the Alma Mater Lp first and if you like that enough then look to getting this. The two LP's share 3 tracks, but 2 of them on here are different versions. I'll probably pick the stuff off here I like for comp CD's of my own and doubt I'll listen to it straight thru on it's own too often. If you like the Fall and are into a more disjointed type of indie sound you'll probably like this quite a bit.
Label ~ Factory/LTM, 17 Tracks, 81-87/2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.7
Strawberry Smell - "Odorama" Yes, just this far there is already enough to have several eyebrows raised at this. Even worse, they're French. But all that can be forgiven once you start playing it. The opener, Zensong #9 is a very Beatle like song (with say, George singing). Perhaps that isn't too surprising as this band is on Rainbow Quartz which is know for stabling bands that sound like this. It would also not be a stretch to say this album pretty much encapsulates the Beatles sound around the Rubber Soul - Revolver era. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. The Beatles being one of those bands, like the Smiths, that if I want to hear them, I want to hear them, not a facsimile. T baby, who I was sure would hate this said he liked it quite a bit. I told him he has always maintained that he isn't overly fond of the Beatles which of course like so many things he vehemently dis-avowed ever saying. Anyway, he is quite right in his opinion on this instance because the LP in question is done very well if you like the genre. I'm either going to have to allow myself to become more receptive of it, or I will eventually just dismiss it, and the verdict is still out. That however is my personal peccadillo and should not be considered a slight on what is a good LP otherwise. If the genre appeals to you be sure to check this out and be your own judge.
sound clip -
Label ~ Rainbow Quartz, 13 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.3
Strokes - "Is This It" Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce the hype of the 21st century! Oh, you mean you don't know who the Strokes are yet? That isn't surprising, because while they are mega stars in the rest of the world they are still unknown pretty much in their own country. I had to listen to Phil Wilson go off and OFF about them in the spring of last year. (apparently their stuff also got released everywhere else in the world first, too) I have no idea why they got so huge overseas, I really don't. (I don't think they do either) You may notice right off this cover is different from what you may have seen or own. This is the "real" cover the rest of the world got but for some reason the powers that be assumed the US public couldn't handle this. (Brits tits and Madonnas crotch they force on us, but not this?) I picked up an import copy when I was in Canada last year. Anyway, lets get to the record. All I can say is...... it's OK. It didn't shatter my world, and in fact, the version of the first song I ever heard, Modern Age was an MP3 which must have been a live version and I think it was better than the recorded version on here. I will give Kudos there however, that song certainly does have something and does indeed demand our attentions, even though the whole "schtick" of the song is lead singer Julian Casablancas doing his best to rip off Mark E. Smith of Fall fame. (anyone can sing the song, just cover your mouth with your hands and sing "in the sun sun, havin fun...it's in my blood" The more you muffle yourself the closer it sounds to the real thing) Also, the terrible (intentional) lo-fi record quality of this album doesn't help my mood with it. It's tough thru the mains but better thru headphones, and were speakers my only way to hear it it's score would have been even lower. (headphones pulled it up to 8.3) Alot of people have been attacking them and saying the Stooges did this sort of thing better etc.. but that point I think is moot. Short of a new instrument being made popular music isn't ever going to change much, there are only so many notes and chords you can play on a guitar after all. They have to eventually get repeated. It's the human ingredient each time which is unique.Certainly songs like Hard to Explain have a beat that is catchy as all hell, even if the beat is kind of the same one evidenced on alot of the songs here. That's fine, as that's basically the crux of their sound and that track is probably my favorite on the LP. Some songs here are quite good, but some I can't take at all and others are ruined by the recording quality (or lack of it). I can see using black and white film to capture a mood, but you wouldn't use 60 year old film would you? So why copy 30 year old recording methods? That's not a style in my opinion. While it was interesting to hear and there are a few songs I like on this, I'm not swooning like I'm supposed to over this. This is the kind of thing that I'll put a few songs on a car CD and then it will sit on the shelf gathering dust to get pulled out for a reminiscence every once in a long while. Perhaps they will grow and actually match the legend one day, but this isn't the promised land everyone is making it out to be.
Label ~ RCA, 11 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.3
Styrofoam - "Nothing's Lost" This is the fourth effort by Belgian Arne Van Petegem and on it he collaborates with artists from such bands as Notwist, Lali Puna and the Postal Service. I had heard a bit of talk about it before the release but it turned out to not be quite what I had imagined. Being described as "electronica" with "mixes" from these various artists I perhaps expected it to be more dance oriented, and it is not. However, that was not the bad part. Upon first listen I was quite happy with the song Misguided as it was rather lovely until a wholly unexpected rap rhyme broke out in the middle of it. I am sorry, I am not inclusive: Rap sucks. In every possible scenario, incarnation or length, it sucks, and it will never not suck. Black people, you invented rock music. I implore you to abandon the rap medium and pick up a Rickenbacker again. OK, back to our review. So I gave that track up for lost, which was tough as it could have been wonderful. Then I find the second track, which also appeared to be good, was laced with white noise. Then the third, the Ben Gibbard track, sounds like it is on a tape with tons of tiny drop outs and the playback is suffering from RFI or even shorts. I don't know what it sounds like to you kids on your mp3 players, probably fine as those things sound like crap to begin with but now that I have my stereo back, it isn't nice or fun or enjoyable. It reminds me of the Andy Kaufman spoof of having everyones vertical hold go while watching his tv show. Maybe it's a riot if you're in on the joke, but aren't these people supposed to be entertaining us and not themselves? This last track really made me think I had a problem. Kids, grow up already. Sticking noise over your music is not art. It is annoying. Honestly, is there anyone out there who deliberately mis-tunes his radio so he can get more noise with the signal? Do you Arne? Then why the hell are you putting me thru it? The good news is that this shenanigans stopped after track three. (which makes you wonder even more what was the damn point of it) What follows is various shades of ambient. It is relaxed and a bit moody and on the whole fairly enjoyable. What's more it is recorded very well, which only makes the loss all the harder to bear. Had the crap not gone on, this would have been in the upper 9's, but as it is I am not amused. It is worth getting, but it is a flawed product. The "coulda been" of the year. If you like ambient electronica by all means get it, but if you're on the fence then just steer clear.
Label ~ Moor Music, 9 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.4
Suburban Kids With Biblical Names - "#1" SKWBN (get used to the abbreviation) are the latest kid wonders from the land of wonders, sweden. There are two of them, Peter Gunnarsson and Johan Hedberg and they make a kind of music that retains a slight degree of childlike innocence about it, but at the same time delivers a bit of weight. The opener and money track here, Rent A Wreck is a brilliant lament to life on the road, which rings an all too true bell for these kids. One of the lines from it is "Lets hope these wheels got what it takes to carry us home..." which resounds in light of the fact they both almost got killed earlier this year when their rental van went off the road during a tour. (they were OK but the tour got cancelled) Lacing ba ba's to a somewhat eclectic musical score, the manage to strike gold on every try here. Their next release is another EP titled #2. It can be expected then that most of this material won't make it on to their eventual LP so I can and do recommend this release very much.
Label ~ Labrador, 4 Tracks, 2004
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.8
Suburban Kids With Biblical Names - "#2" This is the second (and I am assuming last ep before their debut long player due this August) and I for one am very much looking forward to it if this is any indication. The opener, Funeral Face is a brilliant single, with flamenco stylings teamed to quirky lyrics and it is as catchy as all hell. In fact the entire thing belies a maturity far beyond their years. This is displayed in the variety of styles presented on this outing, from the lo-fi narrative Teenage Poetry, the brilliant swank, shag lounge noir of Guns N' Ammo or closing with a Christmas track from last year of theirs called JULLÅTEN 2004, it is plain to see they are not afraid to walk the gauntlet of styles, and that they can indeed walk that walk. This is also recorded quite well and is very enjoyable thru a good setup. As before, I have no idea how many of these songs will turn up on the album, probably only Funeral Face, so this is an ep you should seriously consider owning for the added music, if not for the cover mug shot alone.
Label ~ Labrador, 4 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.6
Suburban Kids With Biblical Names - "#3" This is the long awaited "long player" from another pair of Swedish kids who's previous two EP's graced our players with a quirky, avant garde and very happy brand of pop music unlike any we'd heard before. With that in mind I was not sure how they would go about filling up the 45 minutes of an album, and after several listens I can say it appears to be not as good as the ep's in terms of magic. On some songs the experimentations really go awry, such as on Loop Duplicate My Heart Where Peters voice is SO over miked in spots it becomes not an effect anymore but audibly annoying. That's the problem with constantly pushing the envelope: You are bound to get a few paper cuts. That's not to say there are not a few moments of magic on here, including the two main tracks from their previous 2 releases, (the only two songs from those eps on here) but where they seemed to fail is in tying them all together. Perhaps that's why their ep's fared better because they are over so quickly. Well, it is a fact that some of the best bands of the 80's were noted for their brilliant single releases but somewhat average albums, such as The Smiths, the Cure and the Housemartins to name but a few. The most recent one to come to mind fitting this pattern is Jens Lekman, who failed to reproduce on his debut lp the sublime genius that are his ep releases. If this band persists in their naming I fully expect the next ep (which ought to be called #4) to be a world rocker, and if that's the way it was meant to be, then so be it. (Remember, I told you to buy their ep's) As for this it is simply adequate and fans will certainly want it but if you are new to this band (and they do deserve your attentions) you will absolutely wish to begin at the beginning. Oh, and by the way, the cover however is completely freakin brilliant.
Label ~ Labrador, 12 Tracks, 2005
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Sunday Smoke Kit - "Passing Shooting Stars EP" While this band is basically the vehicle for singer/songwriter JS Meiggs it also includes Dan Villaneuva from Astropop 3 and the title track and first song does indeed remind me a bit of one of their kind of slow ballads. On the next track I Know Someone Will the direction takes a much more american (esp. southern) sounding tone and while normally that wouldn't appeal to me the songs melody is quite strong enough that I find I like it. The next cut The Way You Wonder is sort of more of the same and I think at this point I was looking for a cut to be a little more upbeat as this made three slow balladish songs in a row and this was the weakest of the three. My wish was granted on the next track Strange Girl which has some great guitar riffs in it and it is one of those mid-tempo pop songs with a lot of emotive drive that really impells itself well and is without question the best cut on this disc. The next track Los Alamos follows the earlier formula again with a decided 60's lilt to the affair but it is a pretty nice song with some magical guitar bits. The last track 06/13/2000 is a gentle and short talked affair with light backing and while this sort of thing often fails they manage to make it work. Overall, this is quite a nice little disc. I'd really like to see this band try to include a few more uptempo songs into their bag of tricks because a whole album of this sort of thing can get tiring (it isn't as "low key" as Harper Lee/Brighter by any means though). In this 6 song format however it never gets boring, and it has just enough variety and especially quality to catch your attention and it certainly has alot of good tracks to put on a comp CD for the car. Quite worth checking out.
Label ~ Planting Seeds, 6 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.3
Supra Argo - "Supra Argo" This band is comprised of former Ultra Vivid Scene guitarist Collin Rae (who I think looks like the Flyers John Le Claire) and Karen Sandvoss. The press sheet has a nice pic of them in the old aluminum space suit a'la Flock of Seagulls meets Lost in Space. I like it. This band also dis-banded before it's debut LP was released, but they have since reformed, a new EP is due this fall and in conjunction with that this long lost LP has been put out with some bonus tracks. While there are similarities to Nine Inch Nails and even Ultra Vivid Scene this actually reminds me an awful lot of a semi forgotten band from the early 80's called Torch Song, led by the infamous William Orbit with vocals by Laurie Mayer. (They had a semi hit on early MTV with the song "Don't Look Now") This is edgy electronic noir with a danceable vein, but it isn't all like that either. Songs such as Crash My Car have a more light pop ballad feel with soaring synth lines. You know, dreamy. This has some very excellent moments and if you like the genre it is one you should keep an eye out for. How does stuff like this always fall thru the cracks? It must be one damn big crack by now...
Label ~ Omega Point Records, 12 Tracks, 2003
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.8
Super Delta Three - "Eve Sub Rebel" I came across this UK band in my wanderings, wrote their label and the man in charge promptly sent me off this promo copy for review, so cheers to him for helping bring this to you. It is comprised of three members and while the voice of lead singer Victoria at times reminds me of Shirley Manson of Garbage I must say she is a bit better looking. While it is true the music also reminds me of Garbage in it's pace and perhaps grungy undertones it is more techno and less guitar paced than Garbage is. It is also rooted more in the world of hip hop and house club dance. At times some of the songs get a bit repetitive but that is part of the genre, driving the beat home etc... and often one doesn't find they mind as the beat is often a good one, and the hooks are the kind it is easy to find yourself enjoying. If I had to compare them musically I'd say they remind me a bit of Black Box Recorder, and both are part of that "upscale" UK dance scene. This is at times even ethereal (even tori amos like? am I nuts? No, I think I hear it) driving, passionate, dull, exciting, tedious but always fashionable. It isn't perfect, but it shows a lot of promise, and a lot of variety. A more trip-hop version of Garbage, or an angrier version of Black Box? Not sure really, but I think it grows with every listen and I expect to hear more good things from this direction in the future. If your passions tend toward the dance it's certainly something you'll wish to check out.
Label ~ Keystone, 12 Tracks, 2002
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 8.8
Swedish Whistler - "Great Lizard Cuckoo" I came across this album while surfing the web and I don't even remember where anymore. I wrote them and they were kind enough to have a promo sent to me. They are from Sweden and are led by a girl named Sussi Johansson. Their music reminds me a lot of 80's AOR bands, at times even a mix of Pat Benatar and early Bangles. It's a sound not really being done by anyone else currently, and I wonder if they are a wind marker of the next change to come? (so long as the clothes don't come back) The songs all have a very 80's radio friendly sound, and like the FM Knives it sounds so exact to the time it copies that it almost really dates itself. I can readily imagine myself in the car in 1982 with the radio on and I hear their Shut it Off sandwiched between the Cars and Kim Wilde. Is this bad? I'm not sure. I never imagined being 20 years on and looking back at this sort of thing happening. I can't belive this year marks 20 years since Hand in Glove either. Where the HELL did the time go? Since this album is closer to 80's chart rock which at the time was sort of my antithesis it came across in an odd way at first, but certainly it beats anything getting heard on the radio anymore, and like most kids I was radical in my views and really the stuff on the radio was much better then than now. There are a few songs on the album that didn't move me, but many are quite good. I think if you are younger you'll probably like this even more than I do not having all the memory baggage I carry. You can check it yourself by downloading an mp3 clip of their single Notorious Liar. Given enough time I think I could begin to revel in the nostalgic trip this represents for me.
Label ~ Peace Work, 16 Tracks, 2001
Hip-ometer Rating ~ 9.2
Swiss Dot - "Watched You Misbehave EP" Swiss Dot is a band comprised of three girls (from NYC I believe but don't quote me) who play a brand of synth pop reminiscent of early Depeche and OMD, with a slight twee tinge. Musically it's quite good, and the title track for instance is very well thought out and played techno. The vocals I'm not sure of. Not that they're bad, but this is the kind of thing usually done by men. I mean really, how many female led techno bands are there from the 80's? Not one that I can think of. I think that's something you don't think of until you are faced with the female lead here, and then it struck me at least as somewhat odd. I believe there is a moodiness to the male voice which suits it to this genre better. I'm all for equality however, and each time I listen to this it becomes more familiar and since the music and vocals are good, there is a lot to like. This is an excellent start for them and any forthcoming lp ought to be quite good. A band to keep an eye on.
Label ~ Clairaudience Collective, 4 Tracks, 2003