Sonic Youth- The Eternal (2009)

Sonic Youth are always a tough band to review. They are one of the most consistent and inventive forces in rock music- this much we know. While their last album, Rather Ripped, was a goldmine of understated jangle-pop, bluesy rock and claustrophobic lethargy, there is always that creeping, nagging feeling (as there is with any Sonic Youth album) that it pales next to 1989’s masterpiece, Daydream Nation.

The group has evolved immeasurably since Daydream Nation, learning and unlearning their craft, rebuilding from the ground up their own art-damaged songforms and put together some truly brilliant records, but Daydream still manages to tower over all of them. The Eternal is not Daydream Nation.

The Eternal is out for blood. The Sister-esque ferocity that drives Sacred Trickster and Anti-Orgasm draws battlelines at the record’s opening. Kim Gordon’s vocals have matured infinitely since Dirty, maintaining that record’s aggression but with a tunefulness learned and perfected on Sonic Nurse and Rather Ripped. The playful husband-wife duet on Anti-Orgasm is powerfully theatrical, equal parts gender war and united political front (it makes you wonder whether Kim and Thurston actually finish eachother’s sentences in ordinary conversation).

The Eternal rocks hard and steady. It is a consistent, surprising, twisting and moving force of nature. More so than any of their works since 1994’s due-for-a-critical-reassessment-any-day-now Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, it is considered and deliberate. This approach is a double-edged sword- the widescreen instant-classic Antenna is a songwriting peak for the band, whereas a more flexible approach would have benefited the plodding and uncharismatic Leaky Lifeboat.

As on every album, Lee Ranaldo’s tracks will make you crumble. Lyrically and musically, Walking Blue and What We Now are minor masterpieces- unlike previous efforts, however, it seems as if the noise rebel is more willing to play ball and his songs fit in quite smoothly with the rest of the band’s groove. A groove enhanced by the addition of ex-pavement Bassist Mark Ibold to the line up- every bassline on on this album is a 1AM, alcohol-soaked punch in the gut.

The Eternal is not Daydream Nation. The Eternal is deep-fried space-gold in its own right.


District 9 (2009)

As a genre, science fiction seems to cop a lot of flack. Time and time again, the key point that many critics seem to miss is that Star Wars isn’t science fiction. Star Trek hasn’t been science fiction for over a quarter of a century. Not in the real sense, anyway. There is a real difference between an action film featuring space ships and aliens, and a speculative, allegorical or conceptual exploration of a hypothetical. District 9 begins as the latter, only sadly falling into the former in it’s final third.

Like many works in the genre, District 9 takes humanity’s capacity to deal with the unknown and takes it to its breaking point. The choice of South Africa as the setting for this morality tale is certainly problematic- on the face of it, it’s a fairly obvious allegory for apartheid; deeper than that it can be seen as clumsily engaging with the nation’s modern-day political realities.

The film’s form is baffling. A recurring mockumentary motif is only intermittently convincing (the choice to shoot this on 35mm film rather than a television documentary standard video format is a little distracting), and seems to be partially abandoned when the plot dictates (especially in scenes that feature only alien characters). Yet these scenes that break from the documentary format are shot in the same hand-held style- while this is probably intended to give the film a single, cohesive visual style it feels uneven. The CGI is more than adequate, and inspired art direction in the alien ghetto helps in building a convincing world for these creatures to inhabit.

The script is at times very funny, at others poignant and disturbing, at others sketchy and clichéd. Performances are mostly excellent. Sharlto Copley makes Wikus van der Merwe a far more sympathetic character than he probably deserves to be on paper and Venessa Haywood does a good job in playing the wife, turning what could have been a clichéd portrayal of divided loyalties into something much more human and convincing.

The fawning that this film has received from certain quarters is only partially deserved- it is certainly a daring piece of fiction when stood up against such mind-numbing slush as Terminator 4 and Transformers 2, but it only makes things more disappointing with film’s reversion to action movie clichés towards the end.

While far from perfect, or even great, District 9 is definitely worth seeing- if only to let the studios know that there is a place for this sort of thing in mainstream cinema.


Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications (2009)

2006’s Jarvis was a mixed bag. It is not uncommon for an album, especially a solo debut, to have a strong half and a weak one, but of these cases there are very few where the second is so clearly the one to keep. But, sure enough, after cringing one’s way through such vacuous derivative slush as “Black Magic” and “Fat Children”, respite could be found in the glorious “Big Julie” and “From Auschwitz to Ipswitch”. It seemed as if the true solo singer-songwriter voice of Jarvis Cocker had, only in the second half, really warmed up for the big event: the triumphant, idiosyncratic follow-up. It was only a matter of time.

Opener “Further Complications” bares an archetypal neo-Jarvis song title. It suggests an intricately studied exposé of our modern neuroses, the very summation of the postmodern human condition in pristine Britpop song-form. So what do we actually get? The lyrics are knowingly quotable- so much so that I won’t actually dignify them with quotation. Though undeniably clever, you can almost hear Cocker arranging them into couplets of “Nod” and “Wink”. Musically? On paper, it’s a great idea- a bile-spewing barrage of noise. It is, sadly, killed in execution, becoming a stilted rocker in the “Fat Children” vein- i.e one that doesn’t actually rock… at all. Where Cocker’s seedy, controlled delivery once added fire to some of Pulp’s weaker numbers, it is now thin, tired and arch. “Black Magic” may have been boring, but this is actually irritating. On most of the album’s rockers, it seems as if cheap lipgloss sheen that once made Jarvis shine in Pulp has dulled and somehow sounds even cheaper. This man was not born to be a garage rocker- as proven in edge-less noise instrumental “Pilchard”.

Even the most cynical of us, however, would be hard-pressed to suppress the smile brought on by the extended pun of “I met her/In the museum of Paleontology/And I make no bones about it/I said, ‘If you wish to study dinosaurs…’” that opens “Leftovers”. The aimless 6+ minute ‘song’ is kept afloat by charming analogies such as “I’m like a vampire/That faints at the sight of blood”. The luck continues on the theatrical “I Never Said I Was Deep”- and that’s when it hits you: he’s done it again.

Though less clear-cut than on Jarvis, there is another sheer divide between the good and the utterly banal. There’s a definite trade-off with the last album- the good is never as unimpeachable as “Big Julie”, but the loose experimentation takes matters in undeniably exciting directions. Final track “You’re in my Eyes” begins like a weird piece of Rauschenberg-esque pre-pop art, opening with a pristine disco arrangement obscured by strange, swooping art-noise, before bursting through in 70s style for a good 6 minutes, until finally becoming engulfed within a god-awful electronic drone. An essential moment.

While Cocker claims in the title track that he was “Three weeks late/coming out of the womb”, this effort sounds achingly premature- some songs are just sketches in need of fleshing out (I’m looking at you, “Angela”). Another hit-and-miss affair that I can’t help but recommend.


FILM: The Boat that Rocked (2009)

[mee-dee-ok-ri-tee] –noun, plural -ties.

1.the state or quality of being mediocre.
2.mediocre ability or accomplishment.
3.a mediocre person.
Mild disappointment is a funny thing. Its like mild curry, mild weather or a mild case of dyssentry. Often, as a budding film-reviewer, I'd rather abhor a film than feel indifferent towards it. The Boat that Rocked demands a moderate dislike of which I am not accustomed. The film causes oozings of such hollow, unaffected apathy that to watch it is painful not because of how hackneyed the humour is, or how cliched the context, but merely because above all else The Boat that Rocked could have been better.

The premise is sensational - a pirate radio station broadcasting from a rusted hulk in the North Sea becomes the most popular frequency in Britain and the Man tries to shut it down. Add Bill Nighy and you're guaranteed success. In Screenwriting 101 you learn that the best way to pitch a film idea is to keep it short. When William Davies pitched the script for Twins he used three words, and three words only - "Schwarzenegger. Devito. Twins." I can only imagine what three words Richard Curtis used to sell The Boat that Rocked to Working Title - "Boat. Rock. Nighy," perhaps? And you can't blame W.T. for running with the idea. The problem is that the end result is more of a "Bland. Formulaic. Farce."

So what went wrong?

First and foremost, there was not nearly enough Nighy. Bill has rescued every movie he's ever been apart of. In Love actually he stole the show playing a down-and-out rock star. In Pirates of the Caribbean his portrayal of a down-and-out rock star was uncanny and in Notes on a Scandal he won acclaim for his down-and-out rock star-esque role.

Secondly, for a comedy, The Boat that Rocked was not actually all that jam-packed with laughs. It is not entirely devoid of humour, but if Curtis had spent a little more time on the funnies and a little less time on the excessive impromptu 60s dance numbers, this film would be a damn sight better.

And how could I forget the ending. Without giving too much away, if you like this film for the first 126 minutes, then the last 3 are sure to disgust even the most staunch nautical broadcasting fan. The final moments play out like a rained-out kindergarten Christmas pantomime - where every character is played by your grotty step-brother.

So what went right?

Very little.

...It's a pretty cool boat.


Bat For Lashes - Two Suns (2009)

“I feel like I’ve been shot up into the stratosphere”, claims Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes. She sure is cosmic!

Actually, Bat For Lashes is Bjork-lite. There’s nothing particularly amiss with Two Suns. Her second outing is just as topped with moody melodies as Fur And Gold. It’s just that a listener would only choose this record if they lacked the bravery to embark upon Bjork’s far bolder and involving LPs.

Lashes delights in tales about “crystal”, “orbit”, “spirits” “watchmen” and “suns”. And that’s just in the first song. She pushes her fantasy preoccupation obviously and with little nuance.

On “Moon And Moon” her voice is reaching for the emotional jugular. On “Siren Song” her voice is reaching for the emotional jugular. On “Good Love” her voice is reaching for the emotional jugular.

Two Suns strongest tune is “The Big Sleep”, which features Scott Walker’s croon vocals as guest. It’s stark and bleak. “How can it be the last show? No more spotlights coming down from heaven”. The piano is lifted from a funeral.

Two Suns is filled with by-the-numbers ominous harmonies, sealed with angelic vocals.

Bat For Lashes is plagued by a Better-Version-of-Me, her name is Bjork.


Mi Ami - Watersports (2009)

Watersports is like an acid trip that goes terrifyingly awry. Instead of seeing a spectrum of colours, your senses are hounded by swamps of reptiles with oversized jaws, heavy and feculent.

Mi Ami lie somewhere between Gang Gang Dance and Can. They create free formed music, while their vocalist barks incessantly in a high pitch. There’s scarcely any discernable time structures or melodies (until "White Wife"), just harsh and chaotic arrangements. There’s elements of psychedelica, free-jazz and prog. It’s as though the drums, guitar, bass and vocals are singular units, which have been pasted on top of one another to form an incoherent collage. There’s scant regard for how the instruments actually combine (if at all).

Watersports is a long, disorientating voyage through a cluttered landscape. Undertake at your own peril.


Morrissey - Years of Refusal (2009)

Morrissey blah blah legend blah blah The Smiths blah blah solo career blah blah downhill in the 90s blah blah but Vauxhall and I was quite good blah blah ambiguous sexuality blah blah comeback blah.

With the obvious preface out of the way, we can take a look at Years of Refusal. Opener "Something is Squeezing my Skull" is a perfect summary of the "Angry Moz" mode, with thumping beats, Fripp-esque quitar and cracked vocal scales. There is an immediacy in his delivery that seems quite fresh, perhaps brought on by lyrics that are now far less self-deprecating and much more bile-spewingly angry than they have been of late. Even the more personal pleas are directed at others- this is a good move, as it removes the much loved 'cloying' from the Standard Book of Morrissey Criticisms.

The biggest problem with the first half of the album is that too many songs sound like attempts at bombastic comeback singles. Part of this is due to the fact that three of them actually are ("I'm Throwing my Arms Around Paris", "That's how People Grow Up" and "All You Need is Me") and it is possible to get a little lost in the sameness of it all. A more careful listen does, however, reveal some early favourites. There must be a story surrounding the gorgeously bittersweet "When Last I Spoke To Carol", which details Morrissey's final conversations with the (recently deceased) titular Carol, whose birth date is given to be 1975- probably too young to even be an original Smiths fan. One can easily imagine the refrain "Life is nothing much to lose/It's just so lonely here without you" from "Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed" being permanently etched in the minds of high school journal-keepers for decades to come. It is a strong first act, carried largely by renewed vigour on the part of our Moz, and an increasingly intuitive band who can now seamlessly turn Morrissey's fractured melodies into powerful songs. There is also a sense of structure here, which is something almost totally new for a solo Moz effort, a sense of ever-increasing tension and build up...

... and "It's Not Your Birthday Anymore" is the release. It is the fist-pumping, chest-beating, stadium-filling, climb-on-stage-and-hug-this-man-inspiring classic that "I have forgiven Jesus" and "Life is a Pigsty" almost were. A beautiful cocktail of tenderness ("the heart has a will of its own"), callous disregard ("Did you really think we meant all of those syrupy, sentimental things that we said yesterday?") and disturbing connotations ("It cannot be given/And so it must be taken")- crooned over melodramatic synths and crashing drums. Top Track.

After this we get the interesting character sketch "You were Good in your Time"- a quiet, string-soaked slow-burner, the also-ran rocker "Sorry Doesn't Help Us" before the "At Last I am Born"-esque bombastic closer "I'm OK by Myself".

It is good to hear the Pope of Mope inspired once more by something other than himself, his renewed enthusiasm for songwriting is infectious and will carry you through some of the weaker songs. A marked absence of the auto-pilot delivery that has marred much of his solo career is what makes this a strong album. Recommended.

(73 - AI)
Combined Rating = 78.5

Wolf & Cub - Science And Sorcery (2009)

Science And Sorcery is saturated in funk. After the verve of Vessels, the wolves and cubs have decided to lay back and produce a considerably looser record.

“What Are They Running” has a devilish Mayhew bass and a toe tapping kick drum, it’s irresistibly racy. The production is dirtier, forests away from the power production on Vessels by Tony Doogan. The song ends with improvised percussion, while vocalist Byrne howls and yelps. The wolves are following their instincts, making music more intuitively.

“One To the Other” assaults with, believe it or not, a saxophone. It’s positively lethal. Some Sorcery is then launched, as Wolf & Cub flex their visceral skills on the atmospheric “Master”. Riffs reverberate and the drum pulsates relentlessly while buried under heavy drones.

“Spider’s Web” rollicks along at a playful pace, while verses are interspersed with vocal modulations that sound like hooting owls. “Restless Sons” is bruised and soulful, “Change comes our way, but I don’t wanna be one of the helpless ones, I don’t wanna be one of your restless sons”. All the elements then converge into a jazzy fusion.

New producer and electro-eccentric, Bumblebeez, makes his presence known on “Hearts”. The song marks Wolf & Cub’s first foray into electronic sounds, but the artificial buttons are used sparingly and not as a desperate attempt at reinvention (sidenote: this accusing turn of phrase is directed at Yeah Yeah Yeahs).

“The Loosest of Gooses (Go On Your Own)” is a balls out, punch in the face. “Blood” is like pub vomit, replete with gritty guitars and a dazed chorus. “Burden” closes the record noisily and messily, the hazy production working an absolute treat.

A few years ago, international record label, 4AD, dropped Wolf & Cub. 4AD jumped ship prematurely, because this vessel is well and truly soaring. On their second record, Wolf & Cub have fleshed out their ideas to create a striking and kaleidoscopic long player.

Science And Sorcery: simply savage, so seductive.


Belle & Sebastian - Tigermilk (1991)

Belle & Sebastian have been one of my favourite bands for years. The first album I heard, The Boy with the Arab Strap became an instant favourite for me and I sought about finding all their stuff. Surprisingly, one of the last albums I heard, was actually their first. Tigermilk, like so many of their albums, sounds absolutely lovely. Cheery tunes, soft voices, twee pop in all its glory. But this is where Belle & Sebastian like to fool you. The songs sound wonderfully cheery, but most of them have a depressing little story in them. I found it very difficult not to write a paragraph about each song. There's just that much to be said about them.

“The State I Am In” opens the album with gentle guitar and softly spoken lyrics, only to change once the second verse begins into a very upbeat song that sets the pace for the rest of the album. “Expectations” is a brilliant song. I cannot put into words how fantastic this song is. Several of the songs deal with homosexuality, high school, and basically just being the outcast. “Expectations” starts fast and doesn't stop. The entire song keeps building and building right up until the final verse, the song actually makes me a bit tense listening to it.

“She's Losing It” is a very boppy song that does not reflect its subject matter at all. But it does contain some of my favourite lyrics; "when the first cup of coffee tastes like washing up". The album is filled with lyrics like that that I can't help but smile to.
The upbeat sound continues for the next couple of songs; “You're Just A Baby” and “Electronic Renaissance”. The latter being very reminiscent of Air, all it lacks is a mysterious French accent. “I Could Be Dreaming” takes creepy to a new level with its dreamy tune and sadistic lyrics. “We Rule the School” has some beautiful lyrics to go with the violin that appears and vanishes throughout the song.

“My Wandering Days Are Over” is the only real romantic song on the whole album. Several of the other songs mention love, but this seems to be the only one written specifically for someone. And then, just to confuse you, they follow the song with “I Don't Love Anyone”. A great song with fast acoustic guitar and our good friend the tambourine, who shows up in nearly all the songs, but only for the chorus, before dancing away for another few verses.

“Mary Jo” brings the album full circle. “The State I am In” is mentioned in one of the last verses and it's a great way to finish off the album.
Part of my love for this band is because they can take depressing times in your life and give you a completely new outlook, simply due to the kind of music they write. The album always gets me singing and always somehow manages to turn my mood around.


(80 - SM)

Combined Rating = 85

Liars - Drum's Not Dead (2006)

Drum’s Not Dead is an album in the truest sense of the word. There are scarcely any songs on here that a cognisant individual would skip to, apart from the final track. Drum’s 12 songs are to be listened to consecutively, in their rightful and deliberate context. Separately they do not amount to more than experimental oddities, but as a whole they create an eye-opening listening odyssey.

“Drum” represents creativity and “Mt. Heart Attack” embodies death or pessimism. Drum’s Not Dead captures the conflict and battle between these two concepts.

“Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack” opens the album with washes of distorted guitar and foreboding drumming, generating an irrepressible nervousness. Second track, “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack” marks the first musical and conceptual brawl. Vocalist, Angus Andrew, opens the song with a bellow like a siren, before the percussion starts to pound harrowingly. Guitars resound as part of some hellish nightmare, while Angus sings in his frightening falsetto. Cymbals crash madly, while the vocals continue to howl frantically.

“A Visit From Drum” introduces the tribal drumming which is scattered throughout the remainder of the record. Angus’ choir vocals chant “When the power’s out and it’s dark in the house, I will run. On the other side”. Discordant flickers of guitar smash and then withdraw.

“Drum Gets A Glimpse” offers one of the records few melodic reprieves. Riffs echo beautifully, while the drums whisper. There’s a sung call-and-response conversation “Why can’t we just try start again?”, “It just won’t work”. “I’m bothered by these trembling stars”, “Then close your eyes”. It’s warm and fleeting.

Mt. Heart Attack then begins to prevail, as “It Fit When I Was A Kid” bullies Drum shortly after. Angus hums in a low register maliciously, “We will drive you in the boot, through the crooked paths, to your resting place. We will leave you in the woods”.

“Hold You, Drum” agonisingly prolongs the aural torture with marching band percussion, jarring chords and looping vocal buzzing. “It’s All Blooming Now Mt. Heart Attack” haunts with nuanced atmospherics, disquieting, terrible and taut.

Drum is strung up by the wrists in “Drum And The Uncomfortable Can”. The torment is recounted by Angus, “Take him out the back, throw him in the bin, dump his grimy clothes, wash your dirty hands”. Unyielding tribal drumming continues to harass anyone still listening.

By this point, dread and alarm have settled in and Mt. Heart Attack appears the victor.

Until, as if by some impossibility, the album closes with an indescribably magical lullaby, which in 4 minutes completely cleanses the listener of the lurid journey they had just endured. The destination, it would seem, is a musical paradise. “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack” is my favourite song of all time. When listened to in the context of Drum’s Not Dead, this song presents itself immaculately, nakedly. It has such a generosity of spirit, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was from a different record. The song engulfs you with tender chants and a humane melody. It acts as a rich emotional reward for anyone who explored the darker crevasses of their consciousness in the songs prior.

Drum’s Not Dead will drown anyone willing to hear it, but it will also afford you a priceless and overwhelming breath of fresh air at the curtain-close, worthy of the bruises to your ear drums.

Drum’s Not Dead is a perfect statement, wholly and completely.

(95 - SM)
Combined Rating = 97.5

Various - So Frenchy So Chic (2009)

It’s mother’s day soon. Vous comprenez? What are you going to bestow on your mother to illustrate your undying gratitude? She already has too many Rod Stewart Best Ofs. And what of your other anxiety? Anything which you purchase her might be inflicted on you also.

A: This compilation.

So Frenchy So Chic is delightful. It’s topped to the rim with sweetness and sophistication, 2 very notoriously French attributes. You could suffer worse than to have this collection wake you every morning, after liquored low points the night before.

With 33 tracks, So Frenchy So Chic doesn’t just have an expansive duration; it also covers an impressive expanse of styles. There’s jangly pop (“Let’s Party”), tribal (“Pom”), acoustic pop (“Je N’aime Que Toi”), piano pop (“L’idéal”), garage rock (“7 Heures Du Matin”), chamber pop (“Bruises”), sunshine pop (“Pourquoi Pas Moi”), reggae (“Toi Et Moi”) and baroque pop (“Demain”).

“Concrete” has a navel-gazing charm. “Come To Me” has a playful and fidgety drum line. The vocals are just as twitchy, while flashes of trumpet bubble and bounce cheerily.

Above all, the singing in French proves endlessly enriching. All the sung syllables are velvety, soupy and pleasant. The vocalists amorously conjure a sunny space to spend 2 hours in.

So Frenchy So Chic is pastel pink and blue. It’s sugary and filling. It’s melodiously lovely.

Forget all about "Frère Jacques", So Frenchy So Chic is the new French regime.

Très doux.
Toujours irrésistible.


Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top (2009)

Graham Coxon can play guitar. Graham Coxon can play guitar better than just about anyone. Graham Coxon is the Johnny Marr of the 90s. These are facts that you could almost forget on his last release, the perfectly fine Love Travels at Illegal Speeds, where Coxon hid his technical virtuosity behind power chords and straight-ahead mod-punk structures. Or further back in his solo career, when he hid behind extreme lo-fi textures. Even as a member of Blur, he often seemed somewhat uncomfortable with his obvious gift for blowing a song wide open with surprising harmonies and carefully-controlled, overdriven dissonance.

Now, listen to “Sorrow’s Army”, lead single from upcoming LP The Spinning Top. You can’t play that finger-picking pattern. No one you know can play the rest of this album either- even your mate Larry from that high school band we all loved, the one who could play a flaming guitar with his teeth. Next to Graham Coxon, Larry is shit*. At 2:15 on “If You Want Me”, when the classic Gra telecaster kicks in, you will throw your head back on the train seat and punch the sky. This is the man’s best playing since 13. Those of you who thought he needed Albarn for contrast (myself included) were dead wrong (however much we did a similar air-punching manoeuvre when the Blur reunion was announced). It seems any minor collaboration suits him fine- the on-key backing vocals occasionally scattered throughout the album giving him all the melodic assistance his unconventional voice needs (this will be the last Blur reference, promise, but some of the backing on “Humble Man” sounds uncannily like Damon).

Aside from the occasional flashes of distortion, however, this is a mostly acoustic set- preferring organs, piano and off-kilter percussion for accent to fender squawks and choppy muted strums. As the relatively subdued cover art suggests, Coxon clearly isn’t aiming for the schizophrenic immediacy of his last two rather-successful albums, and The Spinning Top sets into a pleasingly contemplative groove quite early on. There are heart-stopping moments, certainly, particularly on the chilling “Dead Bees” and the crushing “Tripping Over”, but they are less obvious than on Illegal Speeds. This works in the album’s favour, a central life-arc helps ground things while giving our man the space he needs to go all over the place and philosophise about those stalwart companions he finds in life, love and loss (without the need to make us uncomfortable with his recent tales of bathroom handjobs). The most obvious reference points here are Nick Drake and Syd Barrett- although the concept is more like a sick fusion of Lou Reed’s Berlin and Arthur or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Coxon’s beloved Kinks.

An album is not overlong if it has 15 tracks. Blur’s classic Parklife had 16, after all (okay, so it wasn’t the last Blur reference- shoot me). Sometimes, 12 tracks can be too many (I’m looking your way, Alex Kapranos). An album is overlong if there are two or three unremarkable songs, if you want to turn it off halfway through or skip to the last track. The Spinning Top is not overlong- if I had done a song-by-song breakdown, I’d have something to say about every track here.

If you haven’t been waiting for this album, if this is the first you’ve heard of it, then there is a chance that it will neither change your life nor convert you. Pick it up anyway, because you might learn something. The Spinning Top is a staggering artistic achievement, and Coxon’s best solo release to date.

*No offence meant, Larry- you are a great guitarist and a really cool guy.

(86 - AI, 85 - SM)
Combined Rating = 87.6

Peaches - I Feel Cream (2009)

If I was the teacher of a pole dancing class, this record would soundtrack my every lesson. These beats are SAH-vere! But whereas the cover is outlandish and effervescent, the music within is actually very lifeless. The entire affair is disappointingly listless.

At the beginning, it seems dangerous and sexy. It loses momentum quickly though and becomes nauseatingly repetitive. “So sexual, so conceptual”. She uses phrases like “come on”, beckoning hollow headed bimbos to shake their double Ds. What could have been ONE novel idea, is stretched beyond thrill like an elasticised love hole.

“Talk To Me” stands out, but perhaps because it actually sounds melodic. It doesn’t just fall back on a relentless drum machine. Peaches wants to make Lady GaGa look like Taylor Swift, but GaGa can change skins. I Feel Cream has as much range as a cupboard. The first half is passably polished and sleek, but in the second half it takes a nose dive off a skyscraper.

"Gonna cut this party down to size, gonna crush it with my thighs." Fucking shit.


Slint - Spiderland (1991)

Spiderland is a difficult record to define. At times it’s post rock, other times math rock and even grunge. It’s a bit like Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation meets something undefinable. Some of the guitar riffs screech, fuzzy and unrefined. At other times, they’re pristine and clear.

“Breadcrumb Trail” sounds like rock Rilke. “As I walked toward it I passed a crowd of people...she smiled at me, asked me if I wanted my fortune read...”, a narrative is mumbled as a guitar riff recurs. The chorus erupts as the “fortune teller screams at me”.

“Nosferatu Man” is dissonant and distorted. “Don Man” is melancholic and is void of percussion (and empty in general). A guitar strums indolently over and over, as a protagonist inaudibly recounts his thoughts before, during and after a party in a bar.

“Washer” presses on with miserable chords and the unhurried tempos. It’s graceful and simplistic in its gloom. Vocals are whispered. There’s always something disquieting about Spiderland. Even the album photograph is unsettling in the unstable smiles of the band members. “Washer” surges deafeningly toward the conclusion then recoils to its original hush.

Tension is pent up and then released in “For Dinner...”. The instruments are barely capable of being heard, generating an unremitting trepidation. Finally, “Good Morning Captain” bullies the listener with a heartless bassline, “Let me in, the voice cried softly from outside the wooden door. Scattered remnants of the ship could be seen in the distance, blood stained the icy wall of the shore”. In typical Slint style the chorus features a blare of instruments after muted verses, affording listeners an involuntary catharsis.

Spiderland is loud and quiet. It’s removed but affecting. It causes you to unravel.

“Please, it’s cold”.

(96 - SM)
Combined Rating = 96

Crystal Antlers – Tentacles (2009)

Wolf Parade, Wolf&Cub, Wolf Eyes, Wolfmother, Holy Fuck, Fucked Up, Fuck Buttons, Girl Talk, Women, The Morning after Girls, not to mention the countless amount of ‘The’ bands. Now crystal is the new animal as we have: Crystal Castles, Crystal Stilts, Crystal Skulls and of course Crystal Antlers (which very strategically adds an animal part to the new band name trend).

Crystal Antlers are hard to describe. They’re essentially a psych-band with garage roots, but they don’t comfortably sit in a specific genre. They’re the type of band you’ll expect to shift and musically explore.

In 2008 Crystal Antlers released a self titled EP that emerged almost out of nowhere that proceeded to shake the lo-fi genre with exhilarating but never exhausting songs that begged multiple listens. In the song ‘Parting Song for the Torn Sky’ for instance, the bass guitar slowly builds, with the guitar feedback collectively building into an orgy of wah-wails and cacophonous spastic chaos. Lead man and bassist Jonny Bell ear piercingly screams that echoes through the speakers and washes all over the body. It is 7 minutes of pure bliss! Crystal Antler raped our ears (in a good way) with its thunderous organs and wailing guitars in 2008, one would expect they were preparing for something huge for their follow up LP Tentacles.

The good news is Tentacles is a fine record that boasts energetic tracks that prove to be ferocious and chaotic in nature. However truth be told, it never reaches to the level of its predecessor as it feels a little premature and comfortable.

In the opener ‘Painless Sleep’, the organ flutters relentlessly to a pulsating drum beat and guitar line that builds to an unfortunately abrupt ending. ‘Dust’ fares better with its playful organ and dramatic bass line. Jonny sounds extremely comfortable as he barks in tune with the melody. In ‘Andrew’ the organ rings anxiously against Jonny’s vulnerable vocals that quickly diverge rhythmically with its busy drumming. ‘Memorized’ proves to be the highlight as it creates the near intensity of the previous EP. Then we have ‘Glacier’ which is a nice number, but it never feels entirely memorable.

By the middle of the record, it is apparent that they’re approaching their sound differently to their previous EP. While there are no misfires, most of the songs never build to the height of ‘Parting Song for the Torn Sky’.

If the EP was working up to an orgasm, then Tentacles is the pre-cum. Let’s see if the sophomore is the explosion I was expecting.

(74 - OR)
Combined Rating = 75

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

The French are perhaps the least confrontational people on Earth. Everyone who's ever tried to invade France has succeeded admirably - Bismarck, Hitler and Tina Arena all swept through Paris whilst the locals sketched each other half-naked and benefitted from universal health-care.

Phoenix are no different.

They're as non-threatening as Marcel Marceau at the Eurovision Song Contest. They're sugar-coated sponge-rock that leaves you superficially satisfied but softly discontent.

North Korea carried out a test-firing of a long-range ballistic missile on Sunday, putting a communications satellite into orbit. The satellite beamed 'The Song of General Kim Jong-Il' back to Earth and infuriated The United States, Japan and South Korea, provoking diplomatic outrage and risking all-out war. If only the "Kwangmyongsong-2" satellite had broadcast Phoenix's 'Lisztomania' instead, we may have already achieved world peace. The first song on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is pacifying in the extreme. It's sublimely catchy and undeniably loveable. Phillippe Zdar mixes the song like he's making love to an eclair. The arrangement is smooth and velvety and Thomas Mars' vocals buoyant with saccharine air. The hook is syrupy and the chorus insistent. 'Lisztomania' is a flat out 100.

But what of '1901' - the single accompanied by its own neon-attack website and subsequent hype. When I was sent the link to '1901' a few weeks ago, I sat in complete disinterest as electro-soaked rifts washed over me. Mars' vocals are what saves this number. As soon as he begins his triumphant slaughtering of previously accepted conventions of English pronunciation, a sense of Abba-style foreign-ness sends you skywards. I understand every third, maybe fourth word of this song and yet the lyrics speak to me. Mars' almost yodels his way through some of the phrasing, but it works. And when '1901' hits the chorus (fallin', fallin', fallin') its joyous.

The rest is maudlin. 'Fences' is the love-child of MGMT and The Beegees. 'Love Like a Sunset' is painfully drawn out and 'Lasso' saves the second act with toe-tapping francophilia. Mars' asks "where would you go/ where would you go with a lasso?" Its charming nothings like these that erase any sensical meaning from the album.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is fairy-floss. It's a vacuum in which the only sound that can be heard is sickly-sweet and sometimes sour.

(85 - AI, 79 - SM)

Combined Rating = 79.3

Justice - Planisphere (2008)

Justice, there’s scarcely anything journalistic or profound to say about them. They’re just a pair of cool mother fuckers. The point of difference though, is that Justice are a pair of cool mother fuckers who have the chops to back their chic. Their brand of elect-rock is untouchable.

Planisphere is a single song, severed into four movements. It was conceived to accompany Christian Dior’s Homme runway in 2008. It’s not difficult to envisage this authoritative hip-shaker, blaring as a broad shouldered Adonis struts down a runway in French furs. It launches with a swagger that is sustained for the duration. There’s Justice’s signature percussive slices and dices. There’s harpsichord too, adding a danceable sophistication. No one does artificial symphonies with a rock sensibility quite like Justice do. The harmonies are sleek, while the drum machines that underpin them are unruly.

Altogether, the four Planisphere movements last under 18 minutes. If you make it to “Planishphere (Final)” you’re in for a treat as a riotous guitar solo incites you to dust off your air guitar.

Pimp my ears.

(74 - SM)
Combined Rating = 76

Fever Ray - Fever Ray (2009)

Fever Ray is not from our solar system. Karin Dreijer Andersson is an alien with a predilection for ominous electronic music. One half of Swedish duo The Knife, she engages in vocal gymnastics that can only be gawked at. Her voice is shrill and part of that constellation whose stars include Bjork and Kate Bush.

She’s a tuneful extra terrestrial looking for companionship. These inhuman impressions are only enhanced by opening lyrics “If I had a heart, I could love you”. Keyboards are spooky, drum machines are hauntingly nuanced.

In “Dry and Dusty” she observes that “your hand, my hand, fits so easily”, as though she’s a celestial organism grasping another’s hand for the first time. “Concrete Walls” instils an unsettling claustrophobia, “I live between concrete walls”. Percussion loops in a downtempo fashion, while keyboards resonate hypnotically in the chorus.

In “I’m Not Done” drum machines clack and otherworldly synthesisers ring. “Keep the Streets Empty For Me” invokes a fear of crowds: enochlophobia. Karin sings the title over and over backed by a tense drumbeat. There’s a spacious atmosphere, instruments are employed sparingly.

Her debut record is unhurriedly paced and insular. It’s the soundtrack to an eye-opening journey through a ghostly galaxy.

A welcome abduction.


Pavement - Live Europaturnén MCMXCVII (2008)

From all available evidence, it appears that live Pavement shows come in two varieties: very on and very, very off. Theirs is a style that, on record, glorifies the remedial, the happy accident and the sheer joy to be found in a burst of obscene noise. This can be hard to replicate live- play it too loose and they become an unfocussed mess, play too straight and it just isn’t Pavement.

Luckily for the fans that received this record (those who pre-ordered the deluxe edition of Brighten the Corners at the end of 2008), Pavement got the balance just right on the night that this was recorded. Opening with the beautiful country stylings of “Father to a Sister of Thought”, it’s clear from the off that Pavement are playing with what they’re playing. Either Bob Nastanovic or Spiral Stairs has added an extra bit of chiming texture to an already great song, and SM is twisting the melody with some actual emotional involvement. This seems to happen more the further back in time they reach (this was recorded in the “Brighten” era), so songs like “Silent Kid” from CRCR and “Loretta’s Scars” from S&E get a few new twists.

The set list is tight; hearing “Father to a Sister of Thought” from Wowee Zowee lead into something that isn’t the forgettable “Extradition” is always a plus, and here we get Brighten’s sharp single “Shady Lane” instead. A few more Slanted and Enchanted tracks wouldn’t have gone astray (we only get the one), but what they do play is played so well that it’s hard to complain. Even Spiral Stairs deliver the vocal goods when he duets with SM on rare single “Painted Soldiers”.

The recording quality straddles the line between fidelity and stuffy bootleg atmosphere quite successfully- this isn’t Bowie’s Stage, but it isn’t an early European Beatles bootleg either (however much the faux-disguised track listing on the record wants it to be). Like Pavement’s early work, this was made for vinyl (the only format that the set is available on for now), and its playful warmth radiates through every groove.

Definitely more than worth snapping up if you can track down a copy. Even if it's just to hear the great lyric replacing the Smashing Pumpkins diss on "Range Life"- "Kula Shaker in the Melody Maker/Pin-up stars, big big cars/But no tunes/Or should I say 'choooons?"


Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light (2009)

Antony Hegarty’s voice is awe. It’s the kind of voice that masses of music lovers gush over and justly so. It’s immaculate, achingly delicate. If other musicians were to express the lyrics strikingly sung here, it may come across as cloying or contrived. Antony however, sings with the utmost conviction and sorrowful sincerity. You only have to listen for confirmation.

The Crying Light is laced with imagery, vivid and deathly. The entire album is imbued with mournful string arrangements, piano and flutes. On “Epilepsy is Dancing” Antony requests that you “cut me in quadrants, leave me in the corner” before announcing that “it’s passing, now I’m dancing”.

The first half is more amiable with “One Dove”, “Kiss My Name” and “The Crying Light” adding light to the record. In contrast, the 2nd half is more unravelled, stark and potent.

Piano strokes lull tenderly in “Another World” while a protagonist comes to terms with leaving, “I’m going to miss the birds, singing all their songs. I’m going to miss the wind, been kissing me so long”.

“Daylight and the Sun” strikes you in the pit of your stomach with its opening vocal, “Now I cry for daylight. Daylight and the sun”. It imposes its yearning so luminously with fervent arrangements. Attempts to suppress heartbreaking sentiments are in vain.

“Dust And Water” is sung in a cappella. The forgoing of musical accompaniment invokes the sensation of being exposed. It’s precious and unfalteringly honest. Antony’s voice trembles softly, “Love the coal. Love the way you're waiting. I love your kind patience. Dust and water, water and dust”.

In closer “Everglade”, Antony is overcome with acceptance, “When I’m lying sweetly in my bed, the sun plays crystal with my eyes. Then I stop, my body stops crying for home. My limbs stop weeping for home”. The song peaks, before violins comfort for one last minute and then retreat from earshot.

Heartrendingly magic.

(85 - SM)
Combined Rating = 86