Monday, 9 July 2012

reviews: paul heaton's the 8th, milk maid, shonen knife

Paul Heaton Presents The 8th (****)
From the live debut of Bjork’s Biophilia to an Amadou and Mariam gig performed in a pitch-black venue, the 2011 Manchester International Festival hosted its fair share of unique musical events. Amongst its eclectic programme were a brace of narrative pieces by figures better known for their pop work: Damon Albarn’s Doctor Dee and Paul Heaton’s The 8th. Albarn’s opera got all the column inches, but it’s Heaton’s opus that makes for the more enjoyable album.

A DVD of the event is included, but appreciation doesn’t require visuals: the songs have replay value in themselves; the guest vocalists (including King Creosote and ex-Beautiful South singer Jacqui Abbot) are characterful; and the embedded theatrical monologue – written by playwright Che Walker – proves genuinely moving even on repeat listens, thanks to The Wire’s Reg E Cathey’s impassioned reading. While stabs at profundity fall flat, any slight stumbles are righted by the project’s cohesion and humour.

Out Now

Milk Maid - Mostly No 

Milk Maid - Mostly No (***)

If it needed confirmation, Milk Maid’s second album firmly validates Martin Cohen’s decision to tap out from a waning Nine Black Alps to front a three-piece of his own. Mostly No follows debut Yucca closely, both in proximity (separated by a year), and in sound: distorted guitar pop with a sunshine glint, sailing on feedback and fuzz.

As with Yucca, the release date offers a persuasive serving suggestion, with the album’s grazed contents offering an apt summer soundtrack (and at little over half an hour, it lasts about as long as the average UK dry spell to boot…). Generally, the louder and faster Cohen and band play, the better they sound, with recent single Do Right brandishing an irresistible Wavves-ish hook and Drag to Find delivering a concise high. Slower, more spacey efforts have less personality, though No Goodbye is an exception, closing the album on a satisfyingly bittersweet note. 

Out today

Shonen Knife - Pop Tune 

Shonen Knife - Pop Tune (****)

Pop Tune is Shonen Knife’s 18th album. Ponder that a moment: the Osaka Ramones have now comfortably overtaken the actual Ramones’ recorded output, with only minimal variations to their kawaii-punk style along the way. And here they are again, for the third time in the space of a year, peddling characteristically irreverent songs about all-you-can-eat restaurants (sample lyric: “Don’t forget to take some vegetables/ vegetables/ vegetables”) and paperclips (“man fastens a document/ puts it in an envelope/ takes it to the post office to send it”).

Surely they’ve outstayed their welcome by now; pushed fans to the point of exhaustion with their incessantly cheery melodies and cutesy lyrical conceits? No chance: Pop Tune is their most irresistible offering in years, softening the heavier edge of predecessor Free Time and purifying their songwriting in the process. Fingers crossed closer Move On isn’t taken literally; they’re already covering precisely the right ground.
 Out Now

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