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Green Light in the City

Albums for the Autumn?

29 October 05 words: various
Autumns here and with the long dark nights drawing in its time to sit back and enjoy some tunes, we take a look at some new releases

 

Stressed Records (Various artists)
Stressed Records Volume 2

Getting a compilation of Derby’s best bands would excite different emotions in Notinghamians. Some might discard it, some deride it and some might even throw it back from whence it came, hoping it might decapitate some hapless inhabitant of our rival city upon its descent. But no, not I! Through this review I shall seal the rift that hath eternally divid’d our two cities, and we shall embrace as brothers in the streets. Yes! I profess Stressed Records Volume 2 to be…

A mixed bag. The opener from My Psychoanalyst is a spluttering progfest treat that sets the standard for the rest of the record, a standard that is sadly seldom surpassed. It’s hard to generalise with compilations, but seeing as it’s from Derby I’ll give it a go; it’s not that the bands are bad, just that as a whole they offer little original song-writing. Of course there are exceptions; Plans and Apologies’ effort ‘Eggbound Mutebone’ is a refreshingly unpretentious story about preachy Christians, with the classic line ‘If I don’t have faith in the bus timetable, how can I have faith in the holy Bible?’. Tracks from Biba and Fixit Kid establish Derby as a hub of post-rock promise, although efforts from The Atoms, In Flight Program and YouNoGoDie mean the same can’t be said for the punk and post-punk scene there. Easy Green and Lardpony are other bands worthy of a mention, just as Stressed Records is deserving of merely three of your grubbiest pounds to see how the other half live.


The Distortion Field
Midnight Configuration (Nightbreed)


With a name like Midnight Configuration and a black Satanic pentacle on the cover, you wouldn’t expect banjos, fiddles, happy families harmonising and an unbeatable good-time swing. But ‘the Distortion Field’ does just that! I’m joking of course, but there is a terrific sense of fun on this record, albeit in a very perverse way. For instead of the usual super-distorted chord chugging, we get Beelzebub’s best beats and Satan’s superlative synths, complimented well by a deep, croaky I’m-a-big-monster-in-need-of-Strepsils voice. This voice is particularly effective on tracks like ‘Dark Warning’, where it proclaims itself ‘Lord of the Dance’ amidst ghoulishly good electronica, whilst spooky sampling is put to good use on ‘Earth Song?’, a track almost as creepy as Michael Jackson’s effort of the same name. As an indie fan, I won’t be playing the album much post-Halloween, but I’d recommend it for those who fancy some dark dancing, particularly the hoards of fallen angels who stand in Slab Square on a Saturday morning, with Slipknot patches sewn onto their bags by their mums. As Cyndi Lauper said, deep down ‘Goths just wanna have fun’.


Claire Sproules
Claire Sproules


A sceptical comparison to Norah Jones’ melodic and heartfelt poetry, Claire Sproules debut album offers simplistic twist on an intended folk blues fusion yet lacks the certain bite needed for impact. Beginning her career as a pub singer in Donegal, Sproules’, an undoubted music lover, began writing songs as early as 14. Her obvious folk background inspired by the likes of Joni Mitchell and Eva Cassidy produced minimalist arrangements in an album which although allows room for her clear and polished voice tends to lack maturity and depth. The lyrics though sincere and open come from the heart of a young girl who perhaps hasn’t quite experienced the intensity she claims yet thrives to live in the shadows of her idols.

Opening track ‘Wonderland’ introduces you quite aptly to an easy listening and pleasant style of sound but it is not until ‘Flame’ or ‘On my mind’ that Sproules’ somewhat angelic and innocent voice is given true reign. True to her roots she refers on several occasion to home ground and native land as a place of comfort and safety…her stories in some places do however start to drone and turn a relatively easy listening album into slightly depressing nostalgia.

Instrumentally the album cannot be faulted…a well produced and almost immaculate combination of sounds which regardless of their very samey nature, leave an air of elegance and expertise. The album has by no means just been thrown together! Her intentions may have been met yet Claire Sproules’ self named album seems to appeal to a somewhat ‘easily pleased’ audience…those people who enjoy background noise at dinner parties or music to read to. It just hasn’t got that oomph that a good album lives up to. However, with all things considered Claire Sproules a clearly talented woman has plenty of time to mature …the album summarizes as not a bad attempt at such a ‘grown up’ genre just not a particularly exciting one.


Switchfoot - The Beautiful LetdownSwitchfoot
The Beautiful Letdown
 


Very few albums are firmly put into the ‘great-to-drive-to’ category. Switchfoots’ album The Beautiful Letdown is certainly one of them. On a rather monotonous drive down the motorway recently I put on this new album not quite knowing what to expect. After 30 seconds of the first song my speed had increased significantly and I was checking my mirrors regularly for police cars that might want to spoil the massive amount of fun I was having.

This is an album that links so many genres together, even within the songs themselves. It takes the best parts of rock, soul and pop and the result is awesome. With melodies that can be annoyingly catchy, punchy guitars and a great mix of very different sounds it’s no wonder that this album has sold well over 2 million copies in the US.

Unlike a lot of other stuff on the shelves now, each and every song is very different, has its own identity and is superbly written. There’s the hard-hitting opener Meant to Live; the keyboard driven ballad This is your Life; the punk like feel to Ammunition and the guitar driven Dare you to Move (which is the bands first UK single).

This is a must have album from one of the US’s most promising bands. Not only is it a great album to drive to, it is a great album to do anything to.

Josh Shinner


Giant Panda
Fly School Reunion (tres records)


This funky trio should not be confused with a London Zoo escapee. What Fly School Reunion brings to the table as an album is fresh rhymes and a genuine breath of fresh air to the realms of hip-hop. Laced with funky hooks and catchy drum loops, reminiscent of Jurassic 5’s Concrete Schoolyard but with a twist.

Apart from the fact that you are presented with an up-tempo easy going vibe you are also treated to vocal stylings in the form of west coast rhymes intertwined with Japanese word play. Ok so you can’t speak Japanese but the flows are what this record is all about and the two languages complement the beat patterns perfectly. Not to mention the fact that the whole package is diverse enough to keep any hip-hop soldier intrigued from beginning to end. An Lp that crosses time zones and delivers straight to the soul these 3 amigos are definitely ones to watch out for. A fly skool lesson indeed.

Jesse Keene


Stephen Fretwell
Magpie


Singer-songwriters have recently come into favour with the mass market, with James Blunt’s whimper-athon finding itself sitting amongst Mr. Muscle and cucumbers in Tesco's baskets the country over. With David Gray’s latest collection of nasal tones also looking set to become the soundtrack to dinner parties worldwide, it is unsurprising people are seeking respite from mainstream maudlin goo. Step forth Stephen Fretwell, a refreshingly unpretentious northerner who hails from the no-nonsense school of song smithery.

Sounding like he may well have smoked a tobacco plantation before breakfast, Fretwell’s hoary voice can be charged with caustic bitterness, yet the 'Magpie' begins in a wistfully escapist mood with ‘Run’ and ‘Do you want to Come with?’ presumably reflecting his desire to leave Scunthorpe (the only town with a female orifice in its name).
As the record progresses it loses some of its initial grace, but is never less than rewarding as guitar driven lamentations often lapse into an easy emotional warmth. The perfectly judged ‘Emily’ is a ballad worthy of Dylan or Cohen; it’s lack of mainstream success is quite baffling, whilst ‘Play’ has Fretwell giving it some uncharacteristic jazz swagger. Peppered by oooh-aaah female harmonies and delicate piano fills, Fretwell’s performance style is less pompous than Damien Rice’s string powered crescendos, endowing it with a refreshingly human touch.

His insistence on inserting four letter words whenever songs verge on the sentimental ('What's that you say Little Girl?') and his stony northern drawl do much to separate him from his peers, but otherwise his conservatism is his weakness. There's nothing life-changing here, unless you spend much of your time wandering what the world would be like if Bob Dylan were from Goole. An album of affectionate but unchallenging quirkiness.

Ollie Smith


Death Cab for Cutie
Plans


Ben Gibbard is a man of questionable motives. Looking like he’s closer to a saga holiday than to summer camp, it seems odd that he and his band should trade in teenage heartbreak. But after years on the underground circuit it’s worked, with Death Cab soundtracking the antics of bronzed uberteens on the O.C.

Hoping to ride this sunny surf of popularity comes their new record ‘Plans’. However, Plans sees the band turn up anguish levels on their amplifiers, far past the quiet grief and humble hopes of 2003’s ‘Transatlanticism’, to the extent that it seems contrived. Taken out of context, ‘Summer Skin’ and the bucket-reachingly syrupy ‘I’ll Follow You into the Dark’ are songs that would raise eyebrows at Mills & Boon HQ.
But taken as a whole, the album it is not without its charms. ‘Soul meets Body’ is classic Death Cab; a deliciously jaunty refrain complimented by silky smooth vocals, vocals that prove massively emotive over the meandering soundscapes of ‘Brothers on a Hotel Bed’. As the record reaches its climax, it’s Gibbard’s lyrical and vocal humility - love it or loathe it - rather than any particular song that makes ‘Plans’ a worthy but all too saccharine addition to the Death Cab canon. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but a lorry load means dental surgery

Ollie Smith

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