Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fire Songs - The Watson Twins

Image Hosted by

Two years on, I still don't know which one of the Watson Twins it was that I met properly. But in a way, that just makes it all the more "hilario" doesn't it?

Anyway, now that Jenny Lewis has gone back to Rilo Kiley, it's finally time for the Twins to properly step into the spotlight, with Fire Songs, their debut album. Their collaboration with Lewis on Rabbit Fur Coat (an album which no less an authority than my father said was "morbid beyond belief") led to a certain amount of expectation for their full-length debut but it was also difficult to gauge just what an impact they could have on their own.

At first, the overriding impression is one that they are better suited to backing singers than front women. For the first couple of songs, at least, they are in danger of fading into the background of their own songs; not a good sign.

But things do start to pick up with their cover of The Cure's Just Like Heaven and from that point on there are more hits than misses. Map To Where You Are is a slinky number, which to me sounds like it's from the soundtrack of some spaghetti western (I mean that in a good way), Sky Open Up is an atmospheric belter and Bar Woman Blues may sound like a typical MOR 1970's throwback...but bloody hell it's a good MOR 1970's throwback.

I think the criticism that The Watson Twins at times get lost on their own record is, sadly, a fair one in parts and there's nothing on here that matches up to the best cuts on their record with Jenny Lewis, but it remains a very promising debut and certainly leaves you hoping that you haven't heard the last of the Watson Twins.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bittersweet Symphony - Jade Valerie

Image Hosted by

I can allay your fears straight away; this has absolutely nothing to do with Dickie Ashcroft.

Sometimes I kinda miss the early-mid 1990's. You could be fairly certain that some Scandinavian pop gem would blast the charts for a few weeks before the act in question disappeared quicker than they'd come to your attention.

Jade Valerie isn't Scandinavian (she was born in America) and has had precious little western success (as lead singer for Sweetbox, it was mainly Asia that succumbed) but there are certainly some songs on her debut full-length album that have the sort of appeal that I mention above.

The likes of No, You Don't and Undone are hardly going to be remembered as pop classics, but they are the kind of song that lodge in your brain sufficiently to the point where you're humming along hours after you last heard them.

As ever, when we get to the balladry things get very dull, very quickly, but as I've said before anyone who buys a pop album specifically for the ballads is asking for trouble.

Still if you like a bit of pop, don't mind the umpteen classical tunes thrown in, and want a bit of a good time, however fleeting, you'll not be too disappointed with this.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Waves & Both Of Us - Charlotte Sometimes

Image Hosted by

If you were sat at home this morning thinking "what I really need to hear is an American Amy Studt" then I may have found the artist just for you.

20-year-old Jesse Poland is a young and talented singer-songwriter who will no doubt in a good few years time regale us of how she didn't really want to go the "all out pop" route that personified her debut album. Which is a pity in some ways because, like Studt's False Smiles, whilst The Waves & Both Of Us isn't packed with wall to wall stunners, it's an accomplished, and occasionally really rather good, album.

Pick of the bunch are AEIOU, a slinky little number with a ridiculously catchy chorus and funny lyrics (it's her version of Misfit, but even better), In Your Apartment (which draws me in, anyway, with its brass backing - this must be brass band week here at The Music Room) and Sweet Valium High, which is the kind of thing that Lily Allen would kill for on her upcoming second album.

Occasionally the production is just a little too glossy for it's own good, as if somebody somewhere wants to knock out every bit of individualism out of her and there are some ordinary songs to endure, but when it's right, it's bang on.

In years gone by, this would have been regarded as a great starting point for a pop career; in the 21st Century it's probably not going to sell enough and she'll be dumped by her record label as result. But such is the price we pay for "progress" right?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Somewhere In The Real World - Vanessa Amorosi

Image Hosted by

Ok, so I picked this up thinking it was some new young ingenue that I'd never heard of. Imagine my surprise then when I looked her up on Wikipedia and found that this was her fourth studio album and she'd already had a greatest hits CD out as well.

If you're looking for something to compare it to, we're probably talking Kelly Clarkson before she started to believe her own hype a little too much. Which means that it's not perfect, but it has more than enough pop delights to keep you entertained.

I really liked A Little Love, even before the totally ace Sax riff starts coming in towards the end; simply it's the kind of song Kylie should be doing (and would no doubt top the charts for weeks if she did). My House, which also has brass on it (always a winner), is another funky stomper which has something a lot of pop music doesn't have these days...a sense of humour. It's also just a little bit naughty, which is also always a good thing. I Want Your Fire is also another funky dance track which hits all the right spots.

Of course, this being a "modern pop album" TM there has to be ballads, and they're not very good. But I don't buy a pop album for the ballads, so I'm never going to listen them to again anyway.

I couldn't really recommend this as a "must buy" as there isn't really enough to justify the purchase cost, but if you're a little flush this month or can find someway to lay your hands on the standout tracks, this is well worth a little bit of investigation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Count To Ten - Tina Dico

Image Hosted by

Perhaps better known for her collaborations with Zero 7, Count To Ten is Tina Dico's fourth album, and the follow up to 2006's Into The Red. If there is any justice in the world (thanks Lemarr) Tina Dico might finally get recognised more for her own work.

If acoustically-tinged pop is your thing then there will be much to delight you within the tracks here. On The Run is a gently rocking track that moves from it's 60's-esque guitar backed verse into a stomping sing-a-long chorus, My Business is the hit-single Sheryl Crow has been looking for for the past decade, Everybody Knows is a an emotional tear-jerker and Open Wide had my next-door neighbour looking over the fence (quite literally) and asking me who the artist in question was.

Things do get a little pedestrian at times, and you do find yourself wishing that Dico would rock out just a little bit more at times, but this is still a very good record. Intelligent lyrics, catchy melodies and a compelling voice, Tina Dico has everything you could want in spades.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Youth Novels - Lykke Li

Image Hosted by

As the old joke never went, you don't have to be Scandinavian to musically conquer the UK, but it helps. Hence Swedish 22-year-old Lykke Li and her debut album Youth Novels.

Much of the anticipation for this album is down to recent single Little Bit. Listening to it it was almost a "Young Folks with a bit more of a dancey vibe" (not surprising considering it bears the influence of co-producer Bjorn Yttling, one third of Peter Bjorn and John) but I couldn't quite make my mind up whether it was charming and ever so slightly adorable or whether or not it was highly irritating. On balance, it just about worked it's way into the former category. The question, to my mind at least, was whether or not an entire album could follow suit.

Alarmingly, I only got two tracks in, with Dance, Dance, Dance to get worried that the album was going to fall firmly into the "irritating" camp. With it's similar sensibilities to Little Bit, but zero of that song's charm, it's not something I can enjoy listening to. Quite frankly, I couldn't find the skip button fast enough.

But thankfully, there is more to Lykke Li than this would suggest. I'm Good I'm Gone does sound, ahem, a little bit like something Feist would do, but there's no denying it's a catchy tune; Tonight is a melancholic and sparse track that underscores her strengths. Breaking It Up's vocal chorus makes it stand out and she saves the best for last with Window Blues. The spooky backing and simple two-note piano riff combine to make an excellent end track (and as you know, I can never resist a girl speaking/singing in French).

There's enough of a variety of good tracks to make this very much a worthwhile listen; sadly there's also just enough that's irritating and cloying. Still, first time around, you can't expect everything to hit the mark.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tales Of Silversleeve - Cathy Davey

Image Hosted by

It's easy to be flippant isn't it? Yet another female singer-songwriter, following up a critically praised but, outside her native Ireland, slow selling debut album. But please, stay with me. For a start this isn't your typical dross, forced on us by record companies chasing the next easy pound for their accounts.

Wit, invention and rhythm are lacking in a lot of modern music (of course, really they're not, but I'm making a point here), three things that Tales Of Silversleeve has in spades.

In fact if I hear a better opening to an album than the first five tracks on here, (Sing For Your Supper, Reuben, The Collector, Moving, Mr Kill) then I will, quite literally, eat my hat. Sing For Your Supper is, simply, a beautiful love song but has so many levels that I couldn't possibly begin to list them all here. Reuben is a piano driven stomper and is the kind of thing that Scouting For Girls might come up with if they weren't a tool of the devil designed to lure 12 year old girls into buying a "proper" record. Indie comes next, with the delightfully jaunty The Collector and just when you think you've got as close to working her out as you are likely to, Moving steps in, with a dancey vibe (technical term that) to totally shatter your conception of what Davey is capable of. Then she changes tack, with the fantastic baseline of Mr. Kill, a funky groovetapper if ever I've heard one.

What follows the amazing opening quintet isn't half bad either. In fact it's probably only that the first five tracks are SO excellent, that you even notice there is an ever so slight drop in quality. And if we're being honest, anything from track six onwards would still be the best song on Adele's album by a country mile.

It even has a 60's style track, Rubbish Ocean, to please those looking for the next thing to take Amy Winehouse's place if she ever gets around to dying from that drug overdose.

And whilst some might argue, and not entirely without merit, that her musical promiscuity stops the album from having an overriding identity of it's own I would take the opposite view. Tales Of Silversleeve is too good to be allowed to limit its scope. Better records may come along in 2008, but I'd be surprised if any are better than this.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Weezer - Weezer

Image Hosted by

Or the "Red Album" if you're losing track as this is the third self-titled Weezer album out of six. It's also the first since the debut (the Blue Album for those keeping track) to see Rivers Cuomo slightly loosen his autocratic leading of the band to let his bandmates show us their own songwriting chops.

Things didn't seem all that promising at first; not only were there rumours that this album was to see a highly experimental Weezer but record label Geffen were apparently of the opinion that the album didn't have any hits on it. The result was Pork and Beans, the album's lead single and one written entirely as a sly knock to the label's opinions. "Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts" sneers Cuomo, "maybe if I work with him I can perfect the art". Ironically, of course, it turned out to be Weezer's biggest American hit in years.

Long-term Weezer fans are certainly catered for here; alongside Pork and Beans the likes of Troublemaker

That said, there are definite departures from what you might expect. Heartsongs, which sees Cuomo list the songs and artists that have shaped his musical identity may eventually "rock out" but it's lilting and saccharine sounds take some getting used to. Nothing I write could amply explain The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations On A Shaker Hymn) to you but if you imagine six minutes of sonic eccentricity that takes in such different musical styles as metal, hip-hop, male voice choir, folk and glam rock then you get some idea of the huge scale we're talking about. More amazingly, it's a catchy track too.

Of the band members contributions, I Thought I Knew is passable, but nowhere near becoming a Weezer classic, Cold Dark World is plodding and only drummer Patrick Wilson's Automatic comes close to matching the best of what Cuomo can deliver.

Naturally, the "Red Album" is no Pinkerton (still Weezer's finest collective moment for me) but, to put it into perspective, it's nowhere near the disappointment that was Maladroit. It might not convert to many new listeners to Weezer, but those of us that have been with them for over a decade will find much to enjoy on this fine collection.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

21 - The Mystery Jets

Image Hosted by

The Cure, Tears For Fears, The Cars, Duran Duran...if there's one thing this album is guaranteed to do it's to remind you of the 1980's.

Recent single Two Doors Down was one of those classic divisive pop hits. Some would appreciate it for what it is (a catchy pop hit) whilst others would probably be unable to look past the obvious 80's sound (complete with gratuitous sax solo) that it undoubtedly represents. Those of you who land in the "hate" category for this one might as well steer clear of MJ, which almost transcends into parody.

Lead single, Young Love, was, on the other hand, criminally overlooked by most, but is one of the better songs on the album. Laura Marling pops in to lend a hand and whilst it may be very much one of those "boy meets girl" style songs, it's one of the better examples of that mini-genre. It's got feeling, which is rare in a modern day pop song and, like the other standout tracks on the album such as Half In Love With Elizabeth and Veiled In Grey, it is completely devoid of cliche.

It's not a trick that they can completely keep up for the entire album and towards the end there is a definite lull. It's not to say that the lesser tracks are awful, but they are overshadowed by the brilliance on display elsewhere.

Still, a good album with a handful of excellent tracks is certainly worth the investment in my opinion.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

LIttle Dreamers - Beth Rowley

Image Hosted by

Beth Rowley has been knocking about for a good few years; is it any surprise that her big breakthrough (this album debuted at number 6 in the UK charts) has come hot on the heels of the 2nd tranche of "Amy Winehouse followers" (Duffy, Adele Perhaps not, but it's no reason to hate her, or be dismissive of what is a decent album.

It's at its best on the more, dare I say it, old fashioned entries. Almost Persuaded with its simple piano backing is a winner, as is her version of Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" (featuring Peter Wilson of Duke Special fame).

When she, or her producers, try to take things in a more contemporary "pop" route, the gloss adds nothing to the proceedings. A case in point is So Sublime. It's pleasant, but doesn't make enough of the undoubted talent Rowley has.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Flavours Of Entanglement - Alanis Morissette

Image Hosted by

On the plus side, we can at least rejoice in the fact that Alanis Morissette has remembered how to pack in a tune on Flavours of Entanglement. Indeed musically it is perhaps her most immediate collection since Jagged Little Pill, not that her rabid fans would want to see another review making comparisons to that monster of an album from whose shadow she will never truly escape.

The problem is that her lyrics are as dreadful as ever. Her fans would call them simple and profound, but simplicity in itself in nothing if the insights into her personal life (the album largely concerns her breakup with actor Ryan Reynolds) are surrounded in enough psycho-babble to confuse even the most attentive counsellor.

Still, its a fairly pleasant listen as long as you don't pay TOO much attention to it. And at least she's largely stopped trying to fit a hundred words into a line with only enough room for five.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Angles - Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip

Image Hosted by

As good as Thou Shalt Always Kill was, there was always the danger that it would prove to be a one off novelty for Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip. That the follow up single, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, made it as my top single of 2007 proved that there was life beyond novelty for the duo, but still the doubts remained. Could they sustain the "phat beats" (I believe that's what they are called these days) and the lyrical witticisms over the course of a full album.

The answer is "not quite" but they come perilously close.

Lyrically, Scroobius Pip certainly has a lot to say and a lot of it is worth listening to. You may not always agree with what he says (although, really, who can argue with "thou shalt not read NME"?) but there is little in the way of banality. And Dan Le Sac matches the brilliance of the lyrics step for step with some amazingly catchy tunes.

Of course not everything hits that spot, and there are a handful of tracks where the skip track function becomes necessary, but overall this is a very good debut album indeed.

And lets face it, where else are you going to find a song dedicated to Tommy Cooper in 2008? And though I know of a good friend of mine who would totally disagree (Hello Jazz Hands) "beauty is more than a nice pair of tits".

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cat Power LIVE

Image Hosted by

Notoriously a reluctant live performer, it was somewhat of a surprise when I saw that Cat Power was playing in Manchester; indeed her last few visits to this country have seen her play one date in London and then bugger off back home. All I can say now is, it was definitely worth the wait to see her.

In an era where "attitude" is almost a prerequisite for an aspiring musician, Chan Marshall's continuing fragility and near-shyness is a breath of fresh air. For once the music was allowed to speak for itself.

The set list drew heavily on recent covers album Jukebox, and also tossed in varying other cover versions (Tracks Of My Tears, All I Have To Do Is Dream). Not that you would immediately recognise them as cover version, such is the transformation. Few artists could make an iconic a song as New York New York sound as if it had been written just for them. Backing band Dirty Delta Blues Band were in top form although occasionally they threatened to drown Marshall out.

The only complaints were an over reliance on said cover versions and the fact that, for once, an artist gave TOO much value for money. After an hour and a half, people started to drift away and I have to admit that even your esteemed reviewer was looking at his watch and wondering if Marshall had ever heard about leaving your audience wanting more.

Still, it was a night that was hard to beat. Beguiling and refreshingly "showbiz" free; this was certainly a concert to remember.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Perfectly Clear - Jewel

Image Hosted by

It was perhaps only to be expected that Jewel would deliver a "Country" album; perhaps it's a case of her "making the record she's always wanted to do" (as she suggested with the, I think, unfairly maligned 0304) or perhaps its an attempt to carve out a new audience. Long term it's impossible to tell if this is a single flight of fancy or a concerted move into new territory. Perhaps that will depend on record sales.

Things don't look good with opener Stronger Woman. If you were looking to set down a Female sung Country cliche in four easy minutes, you couldn't go far wrong with this. The sense is one of Jewel playing a Country star, rather than actually being one. It's a feeling that album struggles to shrug off.

Occasionally the pastiche is tossed aside to deliver something genuinely lifting, the main case in point being the title track, even if it seems to be little more than a Country retelling of one of her early hits, Foolish Games. I Do is another one that hits the right spot.

All in all this is far from a terrible album and there is no denying that Jewel has the ear for a catchy melody; the problem is as I've mentioned earlier, you're left with the feeling that she's merely "playing" at being a Country star, right down to the, at times, comedic attempts to effect a southern drawl.

Maybe if Country proves to be a long-term proposition for Jewel, she can get it right next time.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Julianne Hough - Julianne Hough

Image Hosted by

I'm reliably informed that Country music's Julianne Hough is a two-time winner of Dancing With The Stars in America (and I'm assuming by that, she's a professional dancer); which doesn't really bode well for this album, until one realises that she's not some "past-it" fading star looking for one last pay-day before riding into obscurity forever. Indeed, Julianne is 19, and this is her debut album.

So momentum is on her side, but does she deliver enough to capitalise it? The answer is "not quite" it seems.

There's nothing to particularly dislike on this album, but precious few moments that jump up and grab you by the throat. Occasionally, on tracks such as That Thing In My Head and About Life, you think that she may well have a future, but there's too much in the way of banal lyrics, delivered with complete and utter sincerity, to leave the kind of impression that she would wish for.

Still, she seems a likable soul and could one day deliver something really worth listening to.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Pink And The Lily - Sandi Thom

Image Hosted by

It's easy to mock Sandi Thom. I should know, I've done it enough.

But really, was it her fault she was hyped to buggery over the "webcast" thing? Probably not, and it's worth noting that the majority of people who objected to her success on that score will all be fans of other artists who have come to prominence on similar levels of promotion.

Of course none of this makes up for Punk Rocker, one of the worst songs in living memory to have got anywhere near the top of the charts and it is fair to say that Thom has little that stands her out from the pack.

But what she does, she does to reasonable effect. Pleasant enough, without ever really threatening to become a vital listen, Thom does at least have an ear for a melody and certainly has a voice that is better than her detractors would give her credit for.

In the form of Devil's Beat she has at least one good song, but sadly there's nothing on her second album that matches up to that one. Too often, the album is lyrically laughable (and that's most certainly not the intention) and really there's little here that you would seek out for a second listen.

But really, in terms of the dross that is out there, Thom is by no means the anti-Christ some would have you believe. After all, banal lyrics set to pleasant tunes haven't done Coldplay any harm have they?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bat For Lashes LIVE

Image Hosted by

A new band and a high-profile Radiohead support slot meant that Natasha Khan needed to take Bat For Lashes on the road for a small handful of "warm-up" shows. I can be eternally thankful that Liverpool was chosen as one of the venues.

Because, quite frankly (and despite not being able to see very much of the stage at all "thanks" to the dreadful sight lines in the Carling Academy 2) this was one of the best concerts I've seen in a long, long time.

The old songs had been given a "beefier" edge, which one can only presume was to ensure that the songs don't get lost in the cavernous stadiums that they'll be playing in with Radiohead, and the new songs, of which there were four, sounded very good indeed. In fact they made it seem as if the follow up to Fur & Gold has chances of surpassing the delights of the debut.

After the show, Natasha was as delightful as ever (and thanks to Alan for taking about two minutes to snap the necessary pictures) and even more than ever you were left feeling that Khan is a national treasure and, once again, just how ludicrous it was to pass her over for the Mercury Prize in favour of the Klaxons.