Sunday, August 31, 2008

It Might Like You - Julia Marcell

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I have to admit to a slight bias here. Female singer-songwriters backed by the piano are certainly good in my book. But in a way it means that Julia Marcell has quite a mountain to climb with me before she's begun. In the shadow of the likes of Fiona Apple and Nerina Pallot, to name just two, something has to be pretty good indeed to stand out to me.

When it works, It Might Like You is indeed pretty damn good.

Tracks like the spiraling Words Won't Save You, the quirky and stuttering Carousel and the charming Fear Of Flying are catchy and just a little different from the generic songs record companies tell you are brilliant but actually fail to excite. Not all of it matches the high standard of those three, but there are no real out and out stinkers that force you to press skip track (at least on the first listen through).

Not to everyone's tastes (but, then again, what is) but fans of the aforementioned females, and those of the likes of Regina Spektor to boot, will find plenty to enjoy here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Made Up Stories - Go:Audio

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The common theme in the reviews I've read seems to be that Go:Audio tread the American punk-pop sounds that are so familiar to anyone who listens to commercial radio these days. For what it is, it's not half bad.

Granted, it never comes close to threatening to be more memorable than the songs it gains its "inspiration" from but it's catchy, melodic and rocks along at a decent pace. The only thing is that it already seems out of date; it's target audience may well prove to have already moved on.

However, it's not a terrible album and anyone who likes "this kind of thing" won't be too upset by their purchase. Why anyone would NEED this album in their collection though when the likes of The Killers and Fall Out Boy do similar things a hell of a lot better is a different question entirely. But lets put it this way, it's a lot better than the likes of Scouting For Girls.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

She Ain't Me - Carrie Rodriguez

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Her time on tour supporting Lucinda Williams is probably going to give you an indication of what Carrie Rodriguez sounds like. A little bit Country mixed in with other disparate influences would be a fair reading of her based on this, her second album.

Kicking off with the bluesy driven Infinite Night, it is clear that Rodriguez isn't your cookie-cutter Nashville star. It's a catchy tune, but the sheer venom in some of the lyrics certainly make you sit up and take notice. And whilst there's nothing else to quite match it, it's safe to say the album contains a few more gems.

El Savador is the song Sheryl Crow has been looking for since The Globe Sessions whilst the title track She Ain't Me is almost good enough to be on a Jenny Lewis album (high praise from me, I might add).

The only real misfire is Let Me In, where Rodriguez goes for raunch but fails to convince.

Other than that one though, the classically trained violinist Carrie Rodriguez has fashioned a very listenable album. Her pleasing slight Texan drawl draws you in and the catchy tunes keep you hooked, for the most part at least.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Am I Waiting For - Heidi Newfield

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Once in a while an album appears that puts your reviewer in a quandary. I couldn't tell you that Heidi Newfield's What Am I Waiting For is a bad album, not by any means, but I also couldn't honestly tell you that I find it a great one.

Those who like the slower side of modern country will probably lap this up. It's thoughtful, contemplative and a nice enough listen. However, some will find it a little too one paced. It's bookended by two feisty numbers, Can't Let Go and Knocked Up, but large parts of what comes inbetween is deliberately slow paced. If there'd been more like Can't Let Go, I might have loved this album a little bit more but as it is, I can't attach myself to the album.

There is one exception to this. Newfield's tribute to Mr & Mrs Cash, Johnny & June is heartfelt and could almost, almost, bring a tear your eye. Somewhere, if they're listening up there, I'm sure they'd approve.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Carter's Chord - Carter's Chord

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It was perhaps written in the stars that sisters Becky, Emily, and Joanna Robertson would end up in the music business; after all their parents Barny and Carter Robertson, both played in Waylon Jennings road band The Waylors in the 1970s. As you might guess then, this isn't a hip-hop record; the girls have followed their musical upbringing all the way to a good, if not great, debut album.

The three tier harmonies will certainly bring the Dixie Chicks to mind, but as of yet Carter's Chord don't show any signs of offending the Nashville market by going for a more polished, and dare I say it marketable, pop sound. Indeed it's a classic country sounding album all the way and whilst it may not show too much in the way of genuine originality (in common with a lot of modern Country records if we're being nasty) it is a well produced and catchy album that has more than enough highlights to keep most Country fans entertained.

Whether it be the, yes, Dixie Chicks sounding Young Love, the bluesy Song Of Love or the catchy Country-Pop of Boys Like You (Give Love a Bad Name) it's difficult to not tap your feet along to the catchy tunes and impressive harmonies. The best of the bunch may be Different Breed, even if it does remind this listener of Alannah Myles’ Black Velvet.

Whilst I may have bemoaned the lack of originality it's also true to say that this is a cut above the cookie-cutter sound of Nashville that some producers seem intent on serving us with. With their dad helping Toby Keith on the production, they've fashioned something that's both traditional and has unique character. A solid debut that hints at greater things to come.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Virgins - The Virgins

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The hype suggests The Virgins are something akin to The Strokes. Listening to the album, I'm more inclined to think that they're something akin to Maroon 5. Now I'm sure that will be taken the wrong way by anyone who likes The Virgins, but it's not meant to be disparaging in any great sense. Just to say that the Virgins specialise in funky, upbeat pop, not the sometimes pretentious and serious sound of The Strokes.

For what it's worth, the album is catchy and has some tunes that you can't help but sing along too. The problem is that far too little of it reaches out and ultimately grabs you.

If you want half an hour or so of fun that will entertain you whilst you listen to it, then this is a fine record. If you're looking for something a bit more meaningful, you won't hear it here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not In A Million Lovers - Beangrowers

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Well this must be a first for me. I don't think I've ever bought an album by a band from Malta before (although I'm aware that someone will quite possibly point out some obvious band that I've completely forgotten about). Although, to be honest, there's nothing on the album that particularly screams Malta at the top of its lungs.

In fact the immediate thing that comes to mind upon listening to the album is just how much of it you've heard before. There is glimpses of Blondie, snatches of PJ Harvey, moments of Elastica, bombast to rival the Killers...but despite this, there is no denying that the album seems to, well, work. Good Band Bad Name matches sonic beats to pulsating guitars, whilst Quaint Affair gives us a slice of ambient pop.

Of course, the lack of originality can't help but drag the album down a notch, but it would be churlish to complain too much when so much of what is on the album hits the mark to some extent.

Fans of the Postal Service, The Cardigans or even The Pixies will probably find lots to enjoy on Not A Million Lovers. It may not be the most original album you'll hear in 2008, but that doesn't make it any the less enjoyable.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Comme si de rien n'etait - Carla Bruni

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2007's No Promises, made before Carla Bruni became Mrs Sarkozy, was a surprisingly good album considering it's concept. A French-Italian super model setting music to 11 classic poems, including works by the likes of WB Yeats, Emily Dickinson, WH Auden and Dorothy Parker...who wouldn't want to avoid that like the plague?

But here we are, 12 months down the line and Bruni has done it again. Only the one song is in English this time, You Belong To Me, and this proves to be a wise move. The bubbly Je Suis Une Enfant is one highlight, the breathy and sophisticated sound of Le Temps Perdu is another. But in reality there's not really much on the album that you wouldn't want to listen to again and again.

But there is no way that Comme si de rien n'etait can be seen in any other context that being by the wife of the French president, if only to consider the sheer horror of Cherie Blair trying the same after her attempt at a Beatles song in the far east that time. Few will probably care about any political context if we're being honest, unless they are a broadsheet music critic with an agenda, and tackling the album from this perspective does it a disservice. On it's own merits, away from the context of Bruni's very public private life, you can accept it for what it is - another surprisingly good album that will delight and charm you in equal measures.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Volume 1 - She And Him

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Well if Scarlett Johannson can do it, why can't Zooey Deschanel, teaming up with singer-songwriter M. Ward, have a go as well? But whereas Scarlett went for an album largely based on cover versions, only three of the tracks on Volume 1 are covers (and one of those is the hidden track Swing Low, Sweet Chariot).

And, ahem, covering them first would give you a distorted view of the album as a whole. You Really Got a Hold on Me is superfluous at best and whilst the cover of the Beatles I Should've Known Better has some merit, it does come perilously close to pastiche and/or novelty. Luckily the majority of the self-penned tracks are a hell of a lot better.

The vibe is something akin to 60's pop (provided by Deschanel's melodies and lyrics) meets 50's Nashville (provided by Ward's arrangements) with a little bit of folk added in for good measure. Any notions that this is some form of vanity project from the actress is quickly dispelled by the realisation that she can sing (having already proved it to some degree in films, even if most people would remember her singing alongside Will "I'll say the name of my character over and over again because it's so hilarious" Ferrell in Elf) AND has a voice that can fit a number of styles. She can croon on Take It Back just as well as she can be playful on I Was Made For You. Mind you, would you expect anything less from an actress?

For all the positives, I can't say that I find the album a complete knock out; it's a little too slow paced, with faster, more upbeat tracks like This Is Not A Test tending to prove more memorable (a fact not helped by the fact that most of these tracks are at the beginning of the album) and where it's most obvious modern point of reference for comparison, Jenny Lewis' Rabbit Fur Coat had a heart and a soul, Deschanel's lyrics do tend to verge on cliche at times.

Still, it's a strong debut album which certainly leaves you hoping that you will get to hear a Volume 2, with the hope that more pieces of the puzzle may just fall into place next time around.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

New York City - Brazilian Girls

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There's three of them, only one of whom is a Girl, and none of them are from Brazil.

Now that's out of the way, let's get onto the record, their third album. With a multilingual lead singer, Sabina Sciubba, (English, French, Spanish, German are just some of the languages you will hear on this record), it's hard to pin down exactly how to describe the sound of the album such is the wealth of diverse styles that the band attempts to pack into one record. And if this mish-mash leads to an uneven experience it also means that it's a record that is constantly surprising you.

Thus whilst you may not appreciate the pared back sound of, say, Berlin, as much as the more dance and pop end of their spectrum, one such example being the wonderfully silly Good Time, you can't help but be intrigued by how many different sounds you will hear over the 50 minutes of the record.

As CSS unleash a desperately disappointing second album, anyone who was hoping for more from that is sure to be pleasantly surprised by New York City. Fresh, funky, funny and, for the most part, fantastic. This is a party record that is almost guaranteed to get you going.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

One Of The Boys - Katy Perry

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Does it really only take a song about dissing an ex-boyfriend for being metrosexual (Ur So Gay) and one about secret sapphic lust (I Kissed A Girl) to become a star these days? Well it's certainly enough to get Perez Hilton excited and to take Katy Perry towards the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Of course one can understand Perry's desperate sounding attempts to garner attention when one considers her childhood; the daughter of two pastors, Perry's first musical venture was a Christian gospel record, released in 2001, and indeed Gospel was the only music she was apparently allowed to listen to. Perhaps the music world would have been better if she'd taken the traditional British route of rebellion, hanging out on the street corner drinking White Lightening.

Make no bones about it, much like with Ida Maria's "naked" lyrics, Perry's global airplay has nothing to do with musical talent, more to do with the idea that her girl-on-girl imagery is funny or in someway shocking, surely passe notions in 2008. Most observers would see the song for what it is; a novelty record.

Things don't really get any better either. There's no doubting that there are a handful of catchy tunes on the album but even those are ruined beyond comprehension by inane and/or ridiculous lyrics that most of the time stirred up nothing other than complete and utter boredom for this listener.

On Fingerprints, Perry says she wants to "break the mold". She hasn't even come close. For all her record company's talk of her "zeitgeist-capturing sassiness" there's nothing on display here to suggest that she's anything other than the novelty one-hit wonder I Kissed A Girl would have you believe.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Me and Armini - Emilíana Torrini

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Emilíana Torrini is now best know for her work on the Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, or perhaps through co-writing Kylie Minogue's Slow, although most would probably still not recognise her name. After a handful of releases in her native Iceland, she first came to wider prominence with 1999's Love In The Time Of Science, a brilliant slice of electronically driven "chill out" music. It was 2005 before she resurfaced on album, with the patchy Fisherman's Woman, a more sparse and acoustically pared back version of Emiliana which failed to totally convince me. It was good in parts but was perhaps a little too gentle for it's own good.

2008's Me And Armini merges the two previous styles with the more gentle side of 2005's album intact but with a little more urgency and pace injected. The end result is really rather good indeed.

Lead single Me And Armini mixes a lilting reggae sound with a blissfully chilled out arrangement and if there was any justice, international airplay would be a certainty. Chances are that it is too unique for that, but that shouldn't spoil your enjoyment of what is a fantastic track.

Other great tracks include Big Jumps, which is quite frankly simply adorable, and the apparent next single Jungle Drum, which adds a vibrancy and excitement to Torrini's sounds that was missing from Fisherman's Woman.

However, as if to attempt to label me a hypocrite, even on a track such as Hold Heart, which is little more than her backed by an acoustic guitar, she proves to be stunning.

Whilst perhaps not quite managing to surpass Love In The Time And Science, this is still a fantastic album which deserves a wide audience.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Pretty Runs Out - Amanda Shaw

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It would be easy to be cynical about 18 year old (just) Amanda Shaw. At the age of seven she became the youngest performer ever to solo with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and in more recent years has cemented a place as a firm crown favourite at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival. She also apparently was once in the running for the role of Hannah Montana, having appeared in two Disney movies. On the basis of her debut on Rounder, Pretty Runs Out, we should all be grateful that she eschewed the Disney route because she sounds quite the talent.

Her expert "fiddle" playing, combined with a strong Cajun sound that mixes Louisiana jazz with modern country, saddled with burgeoning songwriting skills make this an impressive first shot at worldwide stardom.

The blues-driven Chirmolito, inspired by two Mexican's who helped to rebuild Shaw's home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is a winner, as is Brick Wall with its, always welcome, trombone backing. It's also hard, after listening to Shaw make it her own, to imagine that Cyndi Lauper could ever have sung I Don't Want To Be Your Friend.

She even excels at instrumentals; French Jig and McGee's Medley are foot-stompers that can't fail to put a smile on your face and Reels: The Gaspe Reel/ Sam's Slammer/ Imogen's Ridge repeats the trick towards the end of the album.

Shaw has a good voice and, more importantly, one that has character. It never sounds too polished and merely ends up sounding like all good voices should; unique and personable.

All in all this is a great major-label debut for Shaw and one which hints at great things to come. Anyone with an open mind will surely fall in love with this album.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sound Soldier - Skye Sweetnam

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Noise From The Basement, Skye Sweetnam's debut album, was one of those albums that was excellent, in a disposable way, without ever getting it's fair due. Albums that were a lot, lot worse ended up selling millions more.

Sound Soldier probably won't reverse her commercial fortunes, but it is a bloody good pop album which shows more invention in the space of one album than the majority of her peers do in entire careers. Yes, the hands of The Matrix and Tim Armstrong are all over the project but Sweetnam has an infectious character than inhabits all her songs and makes you believe she actually had some input into them, rather than them just rolling off the latest conveyor belt.

Whether it's the ska sounds of (Lets Get Movin') Into Action (which, incidentally reminds me of Ant & Dec's finest moment You Betta Watch Out - a good thing I tell ya) or the pop/rock/rap melange of Music Is My Boyfriend, Sweetnam is never anything less than interesting.

They are not the only highlights either; Cartoon is infectiously catchy and has a chorus that will simply lodge itself in your brain (resistance is futile) whilst even her attempt at a ballad in Scary Love isn't that bad.

Yes towards the end the quality certainly drops, but overall this is throwaway pop at it's finest. No matter whether anybody buys it or not.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Fortress Round My Heart - Ida Maria

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Someone I know, mentioning no names, picked up this album in a local music shop, took one look at the "missing link between The Strokes and Amy Winehouse" sticker on the front and put it straight back on the rack. As far as I'm concerned he had a very lucky escape.

First time around all I could stomach was 30 seconds each of the opening four tracks. But I'm nothing if not fair so in the interests of, well, this review I tried again and made it all the way through. Again I was far from impressed.

Make no bones about it, it's the "funny" lyrics to I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked that have got Ida Maria any mainstream attention at all.

Derivative, unoriginal and, frankly, not very good at all. One reviewer suggested she's almost the "female Jack Penate". And to be honest, I would tend to agree. Yes, she is THAT bad.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Structure & Cosmetics - The Brunettes

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Sweeter than a vat of Sugar, The Brunettes hit Sub Pop for their first major release, Structure & Cosmetics. They're also unashamedly purveyors of bubbly, light and breezy pop which, I would imagine you'll generally love or hate. There's not too much room for the middle ground.

Of course I'm now going to disregard that and say that I'm somewhat in the middle. I can certainly appreciate the quirky pop melodies in songs such as Obligatory Road Song but then you come to something like Stereo (Mono Mono) and you can't decide if the twin vocals that lament the singers separation that, naturally, come at you from separate speakers are a touch of genius or a trick too far.

Fans of The Postal Service or Rilo Kiley or The Shins will probably find enough here to delight them, but I have to say that a whole helping of The Brunettes in one sitting is a little too much for my taste.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Donkey - CSS

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It's two years since Cansei De Ser Sexy's album and by the sounds of Donkey, the party is well and truly over.

It's not that it's a dreadful album per se, although it does come close to being labelled that, just that if someone had specifically taken the trouble to eradicate everything that made CSS a thrilling proposition and at the same time wash away all traces of individuality they couldn't have done a much better than this donkey of an album. A cheap shot for sure, but one they set themselves up for.

It was perhaps expected that a professional polish would be added to the proceedings (lets not forget this was a band who when, in 2003, formed didn't know how to play any instruments) given the success of the previous album but it still comes as a huge disappointment that it's so generic and, well, normal.

Granted if you take the handful of decent tracks on here, the likes of Let's Reggae All Night and Move, and replaced the duff songs on the other album with them as a whole you'd have an absolutely brilliant album. But the new tracks would still be the ones that stand out as being a couple of notches below the likes of Let's Make Love (And Listen To Death From Above).

All in all, this is a hugely disappointing listen which has aimed for chart success but merely ended up removing everything that made you love CSS in the first place.