Consider this an apology of sorts, to those acts and record companies and public relations people who, as is their tendency, sent their records generously the way of these ears and fingers. Sadly, these ears and fingers were lazy in their offering of an assessment, an appraisal, until now. For this, dear readers, is a run through the releases that slipped through this individual's critical net; the ones that, for reasons fair or foul, simply didn't make the cut, nor survive the crunch. Et cetera.
Look, look at the cute mouse-type-thing! He's sorry! As are we... but the garage was all out of flowers.
So, this is my way of trying to make it up to those that thought their wares lost to the sands of DiS time; a round up, of sorts, of those records that warrant a mention on these virtual pages, but that are already so readily available (i.e. they were all released sometime between January and now) that reviewing for preview's sake simply isn't an option. So as to keep things interesting, there's a couple of hours on the clock and a stack of albums before me. It's a race against time to get through them all. I'm already sweating.
Ready? I know I'm not, but the stereo's already on, so what the fu...
Polyvinyl (click label for link)
Aloha's last album, Here Comes Everyone, filled my heart with a warmth similar to that which I experienced as a child, riding in the back seat of some awful saloon car or other, through the south coast's countryside, my dad's records the only memorable soundtrack. It brought to mind the likes of Yes and Pink Floyd, as well as The Beach Boys, and was, basically, wonderful. Some Echoes is similarly affecting, offering the listener a plethora of disorientating compositions to lose themselves utterly within. Nothing here is rocket science, per se, but each song nods to the past - to the aforementioned and the glossy AOR rockers of the 1980s - without losing a single toe's worth of footing in the here and now. Take the two-minute 'Big Morning' for example: the shortest of ten songs by some margin, it nevertheless squeezes half a dozen separate song ideas into its duration. There's a little jauntiness about the hi-hat-heavy drumming, but the vocals are pure despondency; the guitar, meanwhile, weaves its own delightful patterns entirely independently of what's occurring around it, only slightly mirroring the cadence of the vocals. The very next effort, 'Your Eyes', sees the vocal tone shift dramatically, for the positive, but again the compositional talents of the assembled musicians shines brighter than anything else. For some a slightly skewed trip down memory lane and for everyone else a vision of how intelligence can be employed in songwriting without seeming overly pretentious, Some Echoes is a delightful record absolutely crying out for investigation by the open-minded sort.
Rephlex (click label for link)
So this is preaching to the converted, right? You've already got this, so whatever follows this sentence is of absolute irrelevance? Good, good. Yes, Chosen Lords is no new release, really, but a collection of now tough-to-find twelve-inches recorded under the guise of both Aphex Twin and AFX. Perhaps you own a couple of the original vinyl-only versions of these tracks? Cool, but you can't play 'em in the car, can you? Thus, get this: although not as fantastically head-scratching as some of his album-proper work, the man otherwise known as Richard D James has a fine way with mechanical musical matters. These tracks throb and pulse in all the right places, never really diverting from the straight and narrow so far as James' masochistic compositional mindset goes, but never providing less than almost-absolute satisfaction. You'd have to be a real whatever-you-call-this-genre-today snob to not hear anything of value of these ten tracks. Sure it's a quick buck for all involved, but in this instance the buck's been deserved.
Howler Records (click label for link)
I first played this nine-tracker of no little retro-riffing while participating in a user-determined cup competition on Sensible Soccer (Megadrive version, folks). It's perhaps needless to say that the wave of nostalgia was overpowering and some. Bad Wizard's brand of rock is one well documented across the past thirty-or-so years, but that's not to say that their ways of imitation aren't as accomplished as other acts' ability to innovate - simple though these songs are, their execution is faultless. Formed back in 2000, Bad Wizard have enjoyed the likes of Mudhoney, Deep Purple, The Melvins and, um, Andrew WK as on-the-road company; if that doesn't tell you a thing about how they rock, then someone needs to reenrol in R'n'R 101. Their fourth long-player is full to bursting with worn-out riffs offered the gift of life anew through an infectious energy. That said, their impact is only fleeting, despite Jennifer Herrema's punchy production. Actually, one grows pretty tired of Sky High only two or three games into a computerised football competition. It'll appeal to bearded bikers with ease, to offer forth a stereotype, but us clean-shaved indie boys are a little too wet behind the ears for this sort of sleazy bar soundtrack.
The Land We All Believe In
Monotreme (click label for link)
Never was the term 'hard slog' more easily applied to a contemporary release. Boston's Cerberus Shoal are opinion-splitters of the highest calibre: to some their skewed folk will float, delightfully, upon air of pink and purple, to ears enlightened; others will wonder what, exactly, is the big deal. A haywire twist on so many Kranky/Constellation drift-and-drone-and-moan acts, Cerberus Shoal's idiosyncrasies are so developed that it's easy to disconnect from The Land We All Believe In entirely - song two of six, 'Wyrm', sounds like the ramblings of the maddest of men coupled with medieval music brought unwilling into the present by some Bill and Ted figures. Then again, the seven-strong outfit obviously have but one audience in mind: their existing one. This is their eleventh album to date, and one can only assume that they've come this far thanks to a particularly rabid fanbase. If you're part of this process, do enjoy their latest on my behalf.
This Band Isn't Funny Anymore
Stupid Cat (click label for link)
Along time coming, this, and it tells (a note on the packaging even reads "Thank you for bearing with us"). After existing in an unfortunate limbo for some two years or so, London indie-rockers Econoline's second album can't help but sound a little dated; the production, too, doesn't do every song justice. But such thoughts of negativity soon lift once the songs' charms worm their way into the deepest recesses of your listening gear - initial so-what thoughts are replaced by an incessant nodding of the head and tapping of the toes, by an optimism that lasts right through until the closing 'Go Team!'. There are many bands, most of them American, that ply a finer line in this sort of college rock, but Econoline's experience offers them a distinct advantage over their domestic peers; thus, these songs resonate with a greater emotional force than many a similar release, thanks in no small part by the very same imperfections that seemed so unsatisfying at the outset. Worth picking out are 'Sex Tips For Losers', a relative riot on an album of understatement, and the drums-dominated '29/10/02', although the truth is that This Band Isn't Funny Anymore is best swallowed whole. The Pavement and Seafood-fancying previously uninitiated will find much to cherish here.
'Sno Angel Like You
Thrill Jockey (click label for link)
Oh crap the clock's ticking and no mistake... right, onwards but quicker. For his latest album, the wonderfully-voiced Mr Gelb has employed the services of the Voices of Praise, a gospel choir from Canada. It's an on-paper mix that makes for an anticipation similar to Cat Power's last long-player - half hopeful and half resigned to almost-inevitable disappointment - but Gelb's utilisation of additional voices is sparing and considered. He remains the absolute centre of the listener's attentions, but each and every song is fleshed out by the very best backing singers in the business. Highlights include the sombre penultimate effort 'Neon Filler' - the sort of song that soundtracks the opening of some film about Joe Ordinary, down on his luck in a dead-end town, his girl off with his brother and his job taken by a machine - and 'Robes Of Bible Black', a foot-stomping, organ-assisted hymn to the rhythms of the heart. Yeah... what's the time now? Shiiiiit...
Must Destroy (click label for link)
Oh come on: it's Guitar Wolf, a 26-track best-of collection, kinda. It's an absolute, mouth-agape-obvious must-by release, right? You're damn right. Now almost 20 years into their career, Guitar Wolf have lived rock and roll 'til they've died, literally - bassist Billy Bass Wolf suffered a fatal heart attack in March 2005. This collection features ridiculous titles aplenty - 'All Through The Night Buttobase!!', 'Kawasaki ZII 750 Rock 'N' Roll', 'Murder By Rocki' - and is, basically, more fun than oiling up your cock and wedging it in the nearest mains outlet. Electrifying, inspiring, saturated in adrenaline and tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) attitude, Golden Black's songs are either already in your collection or you're some kind of gargantuan misery guts. Guitar Wolf have been living your dreams since before you were a glint in your mother's eye, foo' - they even starred in a movie, 2000's Wild Zero - so do this in return: get this, get down, and then do it all over again. Shit, you owe them...
Monotreme (click label for link)
Just the right side of overly (read: unnecessary) complex, Lower Forty-Eight conjure a mightily impressive and intelligent racket that never once becomes too bogged down in its makers' obvious talents. Apertures is the San Francisco outfit's second long-player for Monotreme, and fans of labelmates The Mass will find their bass-heavy riffing absolutely to their tastes. Those longing for a band rather reminiscent of the likes of Braid and Burning Airlines will also discover much to cherish across these ten varied tracks, although the trio seem to have lost some of the aggression that made their previous release, Skin Failure, so immediately gratifying. Apertures burns that bit slower - 'Blaue Augen' is a fine example of the band's current direction, favouring a gradual reveal rather than the guaranteed winning tactic of shock and awe. In summary, this is a record obviously indebted to the (better) efforts of much-missed predecessors, but the players' accomplished performances ensure that not once does it smack of second-rate imitation. Indeed, with just a little more exploration, Lower Forty-Eight could find something truly unique within the narrow confines of post-hardcore.
What I Came Here For
Timeless Music Project (click label for link)
So time's against me and now this? I knew I should have screened these releases properly before assembling my stack. Mary Jane are a pop-rock trio, female-fronted, whose sole selling point appears to be the fact that Killing Joke's Geordie Walker undertook production duties on this seven-track EP. That aside, there's little to write home about. Dreary pub-rock opener 'Lipstick' sounds like something Billy Idol would have rejected when well past his prime, and the band's claim that this is a "very angry EP" - so states the very detailed press release - comes unstuck as soon as the second song, 'Love'. Really, many pre-teen Battle Of The Bands outfits have a better grasp of what makes for interesting rock music than this Huddersfield trio. Oh fuck this, I can't actually leave it on any longer... Horrible, just horrible.
Kiss Of Death (click label for link)
It's melodic punk rock from Florida, roughly in the vein of a less-gruff Hot Water Music and quite obviously indebted to Jawbreaker. Need I say any more? Okay, how's this: calling songs things like 'Homogenized For Mass Consumption Or How My Youth Was Watered Down And Sold' and 'Bigger Isn't Always Better. Yes, Texas, This Means You' is neither big nor clever, and it only has the critic hoping, against the press release's best efforts to suggest otherwise (what's that? 'Fugazi' and, oh yeah, 'Jawbreaker' in capital letters), that the music contained on the lovely shiny disc is going to be as full of creativity as the song titles, for better or worse. New Bruises are decent enough, for sure, and they probably slay live, but despite its energy Transmit! Transmit! is simply a retread of a retread of a retread. Riff, chorus, verse, jump about a bit, repeat. Boring. Next.
Cock Rock Disco (click label for link)
Never did a title ring truer - Next Life's music is described via the medium of what we in the business call a 'press release' as "Gameboy Deathmetal". It twitches incredibly, thrashes wildly and convulses like nothing these ears have heard before, at least for any prolonged length of time. From Oslo, the duo of Hai Nguyen Dinh and Tormod Christensen create music that is every bit as compulsively violent as their country's famed black metal - not once does this 14-track effort really let up its assault. 'Under Water' offers something like a reprieve, as its name may imply, but 'Transparent Stone', the very next slice of this strange 16-bit hardcore (think DJ Scotch Egg collaborating with Dillinger Escape Plan's Ben Weinmann), propels the listener right back into the danger zone. Uneasy listening for sure, Electric Violence is nonetheless an interesting album, and one that's sure to find fans given more than a fleeting airing.
Iapetus (click label for link)
German instrumetalists that will, apparently, appeal to fans of Neurosis et al, The Ocean are one of those bands that simply do what they do, and do it well, without ever really grasping the listener on a deeper level. The sextet are supremely accomplished - guitars are butchered 'til fingers bleed onto pedals, shorting the entire system, the crackles and fizzes captured, every nuance coming, at some point, to the fore of these five songs - yet incapable of conveying any sense of warmth. Perhaps that's the point: the ocean, after all, is a deadly, hostile place, however beautiful it may be aesthetically. The wave that laps so gently upon these shores is absolutely connected to another, thousands of miles away, that's slamming essential fishing boats onto rocks, destroying both livelihoods and lives. Bit-part players in a picture already widened by the likes of Isis, Mono and the aforementioned, The Ocean will have to craft an album more affecting than this to truly hold attentions for more than a brace of listens. Stupidly pretentious sleeve notes hardly help their critical cause this time out, either, a shame as the packaging otherwise is really quite lovely.
English Self Storage
Sink & Stove (click label for link)
Now this, this is better, although how could it not be? The Playwrights are relative old hands at the inventive post-punk game, as the spread of complimentary quotes adorning English Self Storage's cover is a testament to. Treading a similarly jerky-but-jaunty path as Seachange, musically at least (one could never accuse Seachange's lyrics of being sun kissed), The Playwrights' music is sure to split opinion; indeed, I gave English Self Storage to a work colleague for an afternoon and she hated it. Me, I hear only good things: the vocals, delivered fairly deadpan, work perfectly with always rising-and-falling guitar licks and drum beats uncertain of their exact timing. The whole thing is, as its title alludes to, very English: the cracking 'Dislocated (London Version)' might tell of a night spent watching people drift in and out of A&E - it's never totally clear, so oblique are the lyrics - but while the actual narrative is a little muddled, the accent is resolutely Bristolian. 'Fear of Open Spaces', too, is a great song, lyrically concerned with exploring broader horizons beyond the protagonist's small town surroundings. Chances are that, if their next album proper (only eight tracks here) gets the attention it deserves, The Playwrights will find that the distant hill that was once so out of reach seems a lot closer than it did before.
Golden Acre Sleeps
Highpoint Lowlife (click label for link)
Otherwise known as former Hood drummer Matt Robson, randomNumber's debut album (following a series of EPs and singles) is a strong record within its ilk. This is often superb beat manufacturing, electronic music that pulses entirely organically - although its roots are digital, the likes of opener 'Troubled Moves' and 'In Distant' are as serene as anything by Four Tet as they are as occasionally inaccessible as Richard D James with his head entirely up his arse. Robson edges towards the violent end of this laptop-sourced spectrum with 'Day Overdone', all knives being sharpened and foreboding atmospherics, but much of this ten-tracker is worthy of reckless immersion: listen without fear of the unknown. Sure, tangents point towards darkened corners, but at the core of Golden Acre Sleeps beats a heart that's absolutely human*. Recommended.
*Just a note to say that I've just noticed the press release says very nearly the same thing as the above review, but don't go accusing me of lifting from it - a) I only just read the thing, and b) just maybe the music is so universal, so effective, that it touches all that hear it in a very similar fashion.
Wrong Faced Cat Fee Collapse
Dulcet Thud (click label for link)
Now this is one of those little gems that could so easily have slipped under the rug for the best part of ever, only revealing itself once the room it was lost within was given a thorough spring clean. Even then, it's not entirely likely that the not-exactly-curious sort would pop it in their CD player, but take this from me if you do nothing else today: Wrong Faced Cat Fee Collapse, stupidly titled though it is, is a delicate, charming solo effort (SJ Esau being one Bristolian, Sam Wisternoff). Tracks from this long-player have since been lifted by Twisted Nerve, and there's a split release coming through Static Caravan - such associations should give you both an impression of the sort of music at hand here, and of its quality. 'The Wrong Order' is comparable to a stripped-back Tunng, while (admittedly quite pointless, such are their lengths) electronic intermissions demonstrate Wisternoff's fondness for experimentation beyond the traditional folk realm of acoustic guitar and world-weary vocals. Fans of everyone from Why? to Robyn G Shiels should invest in this, turn out the lights and just go with it.
Tee Pee Records (click label for link)
It strikes me as strange how one record of entirely retro-sounding riffin', Bad Wizard's Sky High, can make such a small impact upon me while another, this self-titled debut from Witch (two-parts Feathers, one part Dinosaur Jr), leaves me absolutely stunned. It is sheer stoner-cum-drone brilliance, totally indulgent and containing the kind of acid-trip riffs everyone thought dead for the last twenty-odd years. The compositions are largely simple - a single riff often plays across a song's entirety - and the drums, courtesy of J Mascis (he once considered taking up the sticks for Nirvana, lest we forget), never wind themselves up to head-scratching levels. Yet for forty minutes it's easy to drift away to Witch, be you full of class whatever or simply relaxing on a bus ride home. 'Soul Of Fire' is a highlight, seeing as it's the most focused song of these seven, but none of these pieces will have the at-peace listener reaching for the skip button. Yeah, nice.
And that's two hours' writing, up, finished, shit... It's entirely worth stating, for the record (and 'cause there simply isn't time to cover them properly), that also-out-now albums by puzzling-yet-rewarding Newcastle outfit The Unit Ama (The Unit Ama, Gringo, 7/10), intelligent indie types Dragonflies Draw Flames (Harboured Safe, Stressed, 6/10), and the Thee More Shallows-related fuzz and crackle of Ral Partha Vogelbacher (Shrill Falcons, Monotreme, 7/10) are also worthy of investigation. Do try before you buy, obviously. Not quite worthy of seeking out are Kerbside by Wills And The Willing (Working Class, 2/10) and The Like's limp pop-rock of Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? (Geffen, 3/10). You open up a birthday gift from a loved one to find one of those two stinkers staring at you, smash the CD and stab 'em. Really, it's the done thing, and no apology will be necessary...