Wednesday, 28 November 2012

reviews: martin rossiter, some songs side-by-side, whatever gets you through the night

Martin Rossiter - The Defenestration of St Martin (***)

Eight years since the curtain came down on Gene, Martin Rossiter has lost none of his earnestness or theatricality. Grandly opening the grandly titled The Defenestration of St Martin with a ten-minute ballad, his melancholic croon is as bruised and brooding as ever, even if the song’s subject matter (a bitter indictment of poor parenting, anchored by the line “the only thing I got from you was my name”) leaves him sounding overwrought by the end.

But though unashamedly emotional, he’s self-aware with it, as proven by the tongue-in-cheek melodrama of I Must Be Jesus, in which the tortured narrator wallows in self-pity and compares his suffering to Christ prostrate on the cross. The simplicity of the arrangements (almost exclusively piano and voice throughout) will undoubtedly limit the album’s appeal, with only negligible variety in sound and a terminally stark tone, but the eloquence and elegance of the songwriting is undeniable.

Out now

                                                  Various Artists – Some Songs Side-By-Side 

Various Artists - Some Songs Side-by-Side (****)

Jointly assembled by a trio of labels, with 22 tracks across four sides of vinyl and artwork from eight different artists, this endeavour is evidently more than just ‘some songs side-by-side.’ But the box set’s matter-of-fact title acknowledges an important truth: the effort’s worth nowt if the music lining its grooves doesn’t excite. But for its full 77-minute duration, Some Songs… most certainly does.

All involved shine: Tut Vu Vu open with an unhinged fusion that prods the amygdala and gets into your bones; Palms deliver a trio of raw garage cuts including threatening come-on Blood; while The Rosy Crucifixion’s rock-n-roll sashay is a sucker punch of reverb and rockabilly rhythms. But with Organs of Love, Gummy Stumps, Sacred Paws, Muscles of Joy and Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers completing the set, there are no weak links, only a bold print reminder of just how good Glasgow’s got it.

Out 3rd December

Various Artists – Whatever Gets You Through the Night

Various Artists - Whatever Gets You Through the Night (****)

Having cycled through theatre and film iterations, Cora Bissett, David Greig and Swimmer One’s multimedia Whatever Gets You through the Night project arrives in album form. And despite being partial by nature, it never sounds incomplete thanks to savvy sequencing and a consistently high standard of contributions.

With the wee small hours as inspiration, we get agony (Meursault’s wracked A Kind of Cure) and ecstasy (Wounded Knee and Bigg Taj’s Live at the Bongo Club, built from muffled beatboxed beats and background chatter); melancholia (Rachel Sermanni’s Lonely Taxi, 2am) and drunken munchies (Eugene Kelly’s droll Chips and Cheese) – a breadth of moods as varied as human experience, combining neatly into a vivid nocturnal tapestry.

Other peaks include Errors’ Embassy Approach, with eccentricities cut from the same cloth as Have Some Faith in Magic; Ricky Ross’s plaintive The North Star; and Withered Hand’s horn-backed bittersweet bookends, which bracket the anthology’s nighttime sketches splendidly.

Out now

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

reviews: benjamin gibbard, breathless, waves of fury

                                                     Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives

Benjamin Gibbard - Former Lives (**)

If the key to unlocking former lives is regression, Ben Gibbard’s solo debut is perfectly titled: there’s scant sign of progress or advancement in these 12 tracks. Jettisoning the light experimentalism that’s characterised recent Death Cab for Cutie releases, Gibbard offers in its place a comparatively bland collection cobbled together over an eight-year period.

A handful of relatively-strong cuts struggle for air: for instance, Teardrop Windows evokes Teenage Fanclub to decent effect, while Bigger Than Love overcomes its sickly slickness thanks to Aimee Mann’s soulful vocal contributions. But these are very much the exceptions – on the opposite side of the scales are the flavourless mariachi undertones of Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke); the insufferably wispy and wet lyrics to Lily; and the featureless plod of A Hard One to Know, which resembles Rilo Kiley on autopilot. Even these low-points aren’t catastrophic; they’re just a long, long way from their creator’s finest work.

Out now

                                                         Breathless – Green to Blue

 Breathless - Green to Blue (***)

4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell is a big fan of Breathless, mentoring their latest opus and describing bandleader Dominic Appleton as his favourite living male vocalist. It’s a shame he didn’t sign them, really – perhaps if they’d been part of his illustrious mid-eighties stable (and certainly, their lightly-gothic, melancholic dream-pop would have fit in nicely amidst the likes of Cocteau Twins and Ivo’s own This Mortal Coil), they’d have a more befittingly prominent public profile.

Yet this oversight has advantages too: chiefly, it perhaps means that the fact they haven’t changed much in thirty years won’t be noticed by newcomers, wooed by their reverb-soaked style for the first time. Green to Blue (emphasis on blue) is an unwaveringly forlorn listen, and at seventy minutes, is possibly more funereal glumness than anyone needs in a single sitting. But it’s nevertheless an enveloping experience, one that deserves to kick-start a wider (re)appreciation of the band’s oft-overlooked talents.

Out now

                                                         Waves of Fury – Thirst

Waves  of Fury - Thirst (****)

It doesn’t take long to get a handle on Waves of Fury. A few seconds of distorted piano ease you in to opener Death of a Vampire, then BAM! – a wall of sound floods the speakers and starts firing off melodies unapologetically modelled on vintage rhythm and blues and its branching family tree: northern soul, garage rock  and proto-punk, smothered in fuzz and dripping with attitude.

Vocalist Carter Sharp shouts, sneers and wails over a dense bed of chugging guitars, stomping rhythms and warm brass, and despite overflowing with touchstone reference points – The Stooges, Louie Louie, Geno Washington – their four to the floor energy and snappy melodies never come off as recycled or ersatz. Rather, the impression is of a band with an acute understanding of their chosen musical lineage, with every horn parp, handclap and howled yelp expertly positioned and hitting its target.

Out now

Monday, 26 November 2012

dvd review: polisse


A vérité-style drama based on the daily work of Paris’s ‘Brigade de protection des mineurs,’ Polisses treatment of difficult subject matter (child abuse in all its forms) is boldly uncompromising. In preparation, writer/director Maïwenn spent time embedded with the aforementioned child protection unit, and her research fosters a grim verisimilitude on proceedings, as does a coreless structure that flits from traumatic case to traumatic case, withholding both closure and context.

The film’s chaotic and messy non-plot instils a befitting breathlessness, staring unblinkingly at an everyday depravity in which childhoods are snuffed out with terrible regularity. Interspersed are scenes of the officers off-the-clock, each life complicated and invaded by the pressures of their bruising occupation. But, an unnecessarily overwrought climax aside, the film resists turning these professionals into saints or martyrs, with insensitive behaviour and misjudgements to digest along with the expected soul-searching. The end result is tonally erratic and susceptible to cliché, but hugely affecting nevertheless.

Out now

Saturday, 17 November 2012

november playlist

1. errors - tusk
2. vanessa paradis - joe le taxi
3. grimes - vowels = space and time
4. big black delta - ifuckingloveyou
5. neu - after eight
6. danananaykroyd - glee sells trade
7. archers of loaf - might
8. cloud nothings - fall in
9. the kills - cheap n cheerful
10. le tigre - let's run
11. moon duo - circles
12. wussy - funeral dress
13. the undertones - teenage kicks
14. del shannon - runaway
15. ballboy - you can't spend your whole life hanging around with arseholes
16. broadcast - goodbye girls
17. devo - peekaboo
18. sparks - i want to be like everybody else
19. brilliant corners - why do you have to go out with him
20. magazine - because you're frightened
21. esg - dance
22. phantogram - futuristic casket
23. talking heads - girlfriend is better
24. holy fuck - red lights
25. lorrie and larry collins - whistle bait
26. y niwl - dauddegtri
27. dave dee, dozy, beaky, mick and tich - hold on tight!
28. marvin gaye - aint that peculiar
29. smokey robinson - mickey's monkey
30. dexy's midnight runners - burn it down
31. the divine comedy - becoming more like alfie
32. pulp - razzamatazz
33. morrissey - suedehead
34. justin timberlake - rock your body
35. the cramps - human fly
36. the aislers set - long division
37. dr feelgood - milk and alcohol
38. wanda jackson - let's have a party
39. the pipettes - pull shapes
40. the b-52s - roam
41. orange juice - what presence
42. jonathan richman - astral plane
43. the smiths - handsome devil
44. jon spencer blues explosion - she said
45. ray orbison - i drove all night
46. elektryczny gitary - co ty tutaj robisz
47. foo fighters - up in arms
48. bloc party - banquet
49. the stooges - search & destroy
50. gary moore & phil lynott - out in the fields
51. david bowie - china girl
52. bruce springsteen - glory days
53. depeche mode - people are people
54. belle and sebastian - me and the major
55. the strokes - new york city cops
56. fleetwood mac - go your own way
57. electric light orchestra - evil woman
58. kirsty maccoll - they don't know
59. abba - lay all your love on me
60. idlewild - little discourage
61. the crickets - la bamba
62. ersel hickey - bluebirds over the mountain

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


Michael has an invitation to share...

November is a bit negative isn't it? What with that big fat "No" right at the beginning of it. Campaign time guys: join us in our bid to change the calendar and rename this month YESvember. YESvember we can! Alternatively, just come to Sleazy's on Friday 16th November to get pished and have a boogie with us. We can promise you the usual confused mix of indiepop, new wave, postpunk and stuff like that.

* 11:30PM - 3AM! *
* FREE BEFORE 11:30! *

ye dancin?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

bill wells & aidan moffat/ rick redbeard @ cottiers, 7th november

After several years of performing solo with next-to-nowt to line his merch stand, Rick Anthony’s Rick Redbeard guise is picking up pace. Debut album This Selfish Heart is coming soon, The Phantom Band frontman promises, and tasters are shared tonight, including its impressive title track. But it’s the willowy beauty of Now We’re Dancing (from the summer’s split EP with Adam Stafford) that reduces the room to its quietest hush, as pew after pew gets swept up in his baritone serenade.

Opening with an especially wistful Tasogare and closing with And So We Must Rest, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat deliver the still-remarkable Everything’s Getting Older in its entirety across tonight’s set. Where recent shows have involved a full band, tonight is a more intimate setup, with Wells behind his piano, Moffat brushing cymbals, and trumpeter Robert Henderson upping the jazziness of certain tracks with bravura grace notes. Particularly effective are The Copper Top and Dinner Time, the trio’s quiet performance accentuating the former’s pathos and the latter’s tense absurdity splendidly.

In addition, Box It Up and Man of the Cloth appear from Cruel Summer, though in lieu of the EP’s titular Bananarama hit we get a fresh girl group cover, with Stooshe's Black Heart re-worded to cast Moffat as the coal-souled monster in question – a deliciously louche appropriation that slots nicely into his pop covers repertoire. We're also introduced to a song reportedly dropped from Everything’s Getting Older for being too chirpy: with an upbeat swing and a whistling coda, it’s certainly conspicuous, though by this juncture, they’ve earned enough trust to take us anywhere.

Monday, 12 November 2012

november skinny


A lean month for contributions from yours truly...

- the dirty dozen: aidan moffat (read here!)
- paws/north american war live review (read here!)
- ben gibbard - 'former lives' album review
- guided by voices - 'the bears for lunch' album review (read here!)
- trapped mice - 'winter sun' album review (read here!)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

reviews: darren hayman and the long parliament, jon derosa, guided by voices

Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament - The Violence (***)

For the concluding instalment of his ‘Essex trilogy’, Darren Hayman rewinds the clock a few hundred years. The first two parts surveyed the songwriter’s home county as it is now, his typically incisive vignettes encompassing new towns and joyrides (amongst other things). The Violence inhabits a somewhat different landscape, taking as its concept the 17th century witch trials that sent hundreds to the gallows.

The presiding tone is understandably melancholic, both lyrically and musically. Consider Elizabeth Clarke: named after (and told from the perspective of) an 80-year-old woman amongst the first to hang, its chorus of “who’s going to feed my dog... who’s going to pull my ankle when I swing?” sung over what sounds like the creaking of the hangman’s scaffold, finds sad poetry in small details. It’s a skill demonstrated repeatedly across the album’s twenty tracks, and despite occasional filler-pieces, Hayman’s historical odyssey is never a trial.

Out now

Jon DeRosa - A Wolf in Preacher's Clothes (****)

When Jon DeRosa croons “don’t say goodnight” in the song of the same name – his rich voice tempting an unnamed companion for one last drink in an emptying bar-room – the soulful seduction puts into images A Wolf...'s overriding atmosphere. Continuing the romantic night-music style established on last year’s Anchored EP, DeRosa’s first album under his own name confirms the New Jerseyite as an estimable find.

Both lyrics and delivery of True Men convey vintage interests (name-checking Robert Mitchum and William Holden and smoothly singing “I’ve played the part, I’ve played the fool” like a lovesick Sinatra), as does a smoky, jazz-flecked version of The Blue Nile’s Easter Parade. Elsewhere, there are echoes of Stephin Merritt (with whom DeRosa worked on Showtunes) and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, so while it would be a push to describe this as a unique record, it’s no exaggeration to call it an excellent one.
Out now

Guided By Voices - The Bears for Lunch (***)

Usually when a treasured act reforms, they hit the road, give fans an opportunity to hear the hits, and then go back to whatever it was they were doing beforehand, bank balances replenished and legacy topped up. Guided By Voices do things differently, with The Bears for Lunch their third album of 2012 – that’s 61 songs in 11 months (plus two solo albums from bandleader Robert Pollard to boot). Yet somehow, quantity hasn’t totally eclipsed quality.

Opener King Arthur the Red gets everything right, its crunchy guitar solos setting a powerhouse pace. But Pollard never met an idea he didn’t consider worth committing to tape, and disposable tracks like Have a Jug could have done with spending a little longer at draft stage. In a parallel universe, Guided By Voices spent 2012 lapping up praise for one awesome album; instead, they settled for a trio of pretty good ones.

Out 12th November 

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Dirty Dozen: Aidan Moffat reviews November's singles

Ahead of this month's Scottish tour with Bill Wells, noted no-nonsense 2am Twitter pop critic Aidan Moffat pops by to give the November singles the long-form review treatment. Yes: we take requests...

Dead Sea Souls – Trendsetter (Big Rock Candy Records, 5 Nov)
Aidan: Well first off, this is far too chirpy for my frame of mind. I’m glad the boy’s singing in his own accent but it’s not the sort of music that excites me at all. I don’t want to disparage local bands because I wish them all the luck, but… it’s not something I would listen to at home, shall we say. Can I abstain from marking anything Scottish? Anything Scottish automatically starts at 5 out of 10, and this gets a 6 for the guy’s voice.

The Staves – Tongue Behind My Teeth (Atlantic Records, 5 Nov)
Aidan: I think we can write this off as pretty bland. I can’t really say anything nice about that. It’s very, very dull isn’t it? This sort of music makes me angry, quite frankly. I find nice music most offensive. Just hurt me, I’d rather be hurt. Everything about this was so pleasant. It can have a 2.

Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards (Modular, 19 Nov)
Aidan: My girlfriend hates this band solely because of the stupid name. I’m actually quite surprised I like this, because it is a silly name, it’s a ridiculous name. I think the song lacks a strong chorus, but coming from someone who doesn’t bother with choruses when they write music, that isn’t really much of a criticism. I’m not blown away, but it’s good aye – 7.

Swim Deep – Honey (Chess Club Records, 5 Nov)
Aidan: I must admit, I like the look of this disgraceful cover, with the girl with honey dripping out her mouth. It’s piqued my curiosity, because if you’re going to have a bold cover like that, you’ve got to have a bold sound. [Approximately 10 seconds in...] No, I’m bored already. My curiosity ends after the first bar, so we can safely say we willnae bother with that one. [Chorus starts...] Nah, ‘ooh ooh baby’ is not allowed in this day and age I’m afraid. That is a cardinal offence – 1 out of 10, let’s move on…

Two Door Cinema Club – Sun (Kitsuné, 19 Nov)
Aidan: I’ve definitely heard this band before, and there’s a reason I don’t listen to them. I think the best thing I can say about this is I like that girl in the video’s hair. This just bores me completely. What is the point? I can guarantee you he’s a brilliant guy though – everybody I’ve met who makes records I can’t stand have been amazing people, then you meet people who make records you really love and they’re fucking wankers. It just seems to be a rule in music, so I bet he’s a brilliant laugh down the pub – though I imagine he gets ID’d a lot.
The Skinny: Marks?
Aidan: I’ll give the girl’s hair 3. Actually, 4 – she was wearing nice shorts as well.

Damn Vandals – This Amazing (Sexy Beast, 5 Nov)
Aidan: I don’t like his voice, it sounds like he’s trying too hard. I quite like the sound of the band though. If Damn Vandals ever fall out with their singer, if they contact me then I might be into it. That’s not to say that they would be, but at least I’m willing to leave my ego at the door and turn my vocals down in the mix, if nothing else. An instrumental version of this would get 7.  [skips to B-side] Actually, having heard another song from their repertoire I’d like to retract that. They’re doing one thing on the A-side and something entirely different on the B-side, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately it seems to be at odds to me. That was a shame. I’ll bring that down to a 5.

Heaven’s Basement – Fire, Fire (Red Bull Records, 5 Nov)
Aidan: I don’t understand this at all. Originality isn’t important in all walks, but I’ve heard these noises so many times before that they’re wholly meaningless. It’s like they don’t care. I wonder why the uncensored version is longer – does he just scream ‘fuck you’ at the start or something? Can we hear it? Actually, no, I take that back – I’ve just realised we’d have to listen to it again. I’d rather we just end this torture now. I presume Heaven’s Basement is a reference to Hell, so rightly named: hellish indeed. Fucking zero – they don’t even merit a score, they’re not worth talking about.

The Ramona Flowers – Dismantle and Rebuild (Distiller Records, 18 Nov)
Aidan: This is horrible. Sorry, I must sound like a right curmudgeon. Will we listen to the D/R/U/G/S remix? You never know... [Still unimpressed] See, this remix has just highlighted what was annoying about the first version: that rhythm. That rhythm’s so prevalent in songs today, it fucking annoys me. Me and Hubby [RM Hubbert] were on a wee tour and we sat in a Travel Lodge one night watching the music channels with a carry out, and all the pop songs had the same shitty trance rhythm. If you watch any sort of pop thing, it’s such a limited palette of sound that people seem to be using.
The Skinny: Even Girls Aloud, judging by their comeback single…
Aidan: Oh, I haven’t heard the new Girls Aloud song, but after the Nicola Roberts album I don’t see how they can come back, 'cause that’s a fucking brilliant record. But [returning attention to Ramona Flowers] I’m afraid we have to ascertain from this remix that the old adage is true: you can’t polish a turd. They get 2, and only cause I quite like D/R/U/G/S. Can we hear the Girls Aloud song next? Is that allowed?
The Skinny: Aye, why not…

Girls Aloud – Something New (Polydor, 18 Nov)
Aidan: Oh for fuck's sake! What’s going on there? Is that Cheryl Cole’s influence? The title must be ironic because it sounds exactly like everything else that they’ll be competing against in the charts. Well, at least Kimberley will be in the video – that’s something to look forward to. But this is awful. And the bad news is I’m going to have to listen to that because I am undoubtedly going to go and see them when they play, and they’ll insist on playing their new record. I wish Girls Aloud had just stayed dead and let Nicola go on, but [shrugs] it didnae happen…

Jack White – I’m Shakin’ (Third Man Records, 30 Oct)
Aidan: It’s like a Sesame Street version of Tom Waits. Turn it off, I can’t be fucked with this. I liked a few of the early White Stripes records but lost interest pretty quick cause they basically made the same record about 5 times – which is rich coming from me but, you know… Zero.

Animal Collective – Applesauce (Domino, 12 Nov)
Aidan: I don’t quite know where I stand with Animal Collective. They’re the sort of band where I’ll hear a song like this one and like it, but find it difficult to get through their albums. I think I admire their inventiveness more than I enjoy their sounds – they make interesting sounds, but it lacks an emotional feel to me… I’ll give that 6.

SINGLE OF THE MONTH: Stubborn Heart – Starting Block (One Little Indian, 26 Nov)
Aidan: This is far and away the best thing I’ve heard so far. I’m a sucker for anything that has a frantic rhythm and a very calm vocal. Yes, I’m very fond of this actually, this is the sort of thing I’ll seek out and listen to at home. There’s a mystery about them that I quite like. I’ll give that 8.

Written for The Skinny

Friday, 2 November 2012

reviews: this many boyfriends, brasstronaut, trapped mice

This Many Boyfriends - This Many Boyfriends (***)

This Many Boyfriends’ scrappy-go-lucky debut wears its DNA like so many button badges. It’s in their name, a nod to Beat Happening. It’s in their titles, with Tina Weymouth opening the album and I Don’t Like You (‘Cos You Don’t Like the Pastels) returning from 2010’s Getting A Life With EP. And it’s in their lyrics (boy, is it in their lyrics), stocked with nods to The Go-Betweens, Orange Juice and dozens more indie-pop darlings.

But most of all, it’s in the music itself. Sometimes, the quotations are overt, with Young Lovers Go Pop! sharing more than exclamation marks with You! Me! Dancing!. But their genre-worship is also present in more diffuse form – in the jangling guitar tones, and singer Richard’s insouciant, punk-Morrissey delivery. The results are lightweight but knowingly so – irritatingly so if you’re looking for even the slightest bit of parameter-testing, but wonderfully so if you share their tastes.

Out now

                                                 Brasstronaut – Mean Sun 

Brasstronaut - Mean Sun (***)

As their clunky name indicates, trumpets aren’t just an occasional adornment in Brasstronaut’s songwriting; they’re its heart. Like debut Mt. Chimaera, the Vancouverites’ second album is principally structured around the warm tones of founding hornblower Bryan Davies, whose parping supplies melody to some tracks, texture to others.

Despite the sextet’s punning moniker, this relatively uncommon focus never sounds gimmicky, with Davies’ band mates chipping in mellow bass lines, reverb-heavy guitar, clarinet, synths and more. Their layered contributions ensure Davies’ elevated role isn’t at the expense of balance, though on occasion, smooth assuredness metastasises into a character-free blandness, a complacency that cries out for some kind of maverick intrusion; something bold and daring to ruffle the record’s sophisticated plumage and inject some soul. But allow such dissatisfactions to drift on, and there’s plenty to admire in Mean Sun’s understated urbanity, particularly its bookends: graceful opener Bounce and shivering finale Mixtape.

Out now

Trapped Mice – Winter Sun

Trapped Mice - Winter Sun (***)

Winter Sun starts with An Ending: a two-minute instrumental in which plaintive accordion wheezes over traffic noise and sirens, conjuring an enticing air of mystery. It’s an evocative introduction, demonstrating that even without Ian Tilling’s studiedly poetic lyrics, Trapped Mice spin stories with skill.

For the remainder of the band’s full length debut, Tilling’s passionate vocals are an upfront focal point, and his words prove extremely effective (Hermit Point and The Devil Wandered In in particular; awkward spoken-word piece Cameraman, less so). In terms of audible influences, Okkervil River continue to cast a pronounced shadow over the Edinburgh five-piece; a flattering comparison but one which exposes the occasional thinness of Winter Suns lo-fi production. But while the home-recording perhaps undersells some of their music’s finer qualities, it can’t detract from the overall confidence with which they present themselves, best represented by ambitious centrepiece Quiet Place; a multi-part expedition with considerable impact.

Out 5th November

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Sparks @ HMV Picture House, 21st October

For their 2 Hands 1 Mouth tour, Sparks have kept their overheads low: the voice of Russell, the key-playing hands of Ron, and nothing else. It’s bold, but Sparks have never been anything but; lest we forget, their last UK tour involved 21 dates in London, playing every note of their discography in chronological order. That’s a lot of falsetto.

Ron begins alone, playing potted instrumentals as if to demonstrate that, yes, they do sound pretty damn good stripped of all adornments. Russell soon joins him and the classics start to flow, from breakthrough This Town Aint Big Enough to the divinely daft Dick Around, and plenty else from across their remarkable oeuvre.

Not everything works (Beat the Clock is amongst those rendered repetitive), but when it does – the music hall knees-up of Suburban Homeboy; the puffed-chest of Hospitality on Parade – it more than fulfils their specially-written closing song’s promise: “Two hands, one mouth / are all I need to satisfy you.”