5 Music Reviews
by john stacey
Applecraft, The Happiest Man Alive (Ochre)
Gentle, uplifting, visionary, chaotic, brain-numbing, mad as a spanner - welcome to the world of Applecraft. This is what so-called psychedelic music is all about - Syd Barrett where are you? Listening to this, Applecraft's second album, is like being locked up in a padded cell with someone who can mimic the voices of a thousand rock stars. One minute he's Peter Gabriel, the next he's a Happy Monday; the next he's a mad musical professor. The core of Applecraft are Don Mandarin and Mike Mooney, who have seen service with Lupine Howl, Spritualized and Julian Cope. That's reflected in the crazy, spacey, daft-as-a-brush approach to music making. There are just no borders. "Jack Me" is all whistling and clattering and descends into chaos; "Anny" could be Genesis, circa Nursery Crime; "Asthma" begins with a cacophony of percussion and disembodied voices to become...well, mad. One thing about Applecraft - lovely name for a band, by the way - is that they are not afraid to throw anything into the mix. So the songs veer from 2000-era modernism to sixties-era drone rock with the odd moment of pure, pristine beauty shining through, beacon-like. The Happiest Men Alive? They obviously are.
Aveo, Battery (Barsuk)
This has been on and off my CD player for weeks. Initial plays left me underwhelmed. But those naggingly insistent melodies stayed in my head, forcing me to press the repeat button again and again. Is it the simplicity of the songs, with their layered construction that reveals something new every time? Is it singer William Wilson's sweetly gruff vocals that are gentle yet strong all at the same time? Others have compared Aveo (pronounced ah-VEY-oh, apparently) with The Smiths and The Cure, but that's hardly apt. Sure, there is a certain indie-ness in Mike Hudson's bass playing, but - and I know I'm going to raise a few eyebrows here, but I mean this sincerely, folks - opening track "Newton And Galilleo" reminds me of ...wait for it ...Wishbone Ash! Yup, I know William doesn't bash the axe like the Ash's guitarists, but his voice has that plangent, melancholic edge to it that defined the Ash sound as much as the six-string histrionics. Aveo have produced a nice little album that should stand them in good stead for the future. The playing is tight; the songs highly tuneful and the production, although a tad workmanlike, sufficient. And the songs titles! Wilson deserves an award for coming up with songs like "Dust The Dreams Of Brooms" (up-tempo rocker), "Awkward At The Knees," "The Idiot On The Bike," "Hypochondria Is Spreading" and the absolutely lovely "3.33am: The Insomnia Waltz" which glides its way into your head and just won't leave. Brilliant stuff.
Deadstring Brothers, Deadstring Brothers (Times Beach)
For all the posing, posturing stuff that gets released every week of the year - you know, the clever-clever, trendy, arch material that critics are supposed to like but nobody buys - there are always acts like Deadstring Brothers - the sort of group that looks back at the ever-lengthening history of rock music, pinches the best bits and still comes up with something that sounds original, if not classic. This debut album comes fully-formed; songs hit you between the eyes from the word go - and the four guys who make up the group - Peter Ballard, William King, Ario Karpinski, Kurt Marschke and Philip Sharich - sound like they've been together for an eternity. Everything sounds fresh and new; guitars sparkle, the rhythm section rocks, and nice touches of pedal steel and hammond add just enough colouring. Initially, this sounds like a full-on, Exile On Main Street-era rocker, but wait a sec... these songs have a heart. Who could fail to be moved by the ballad Unbroken, or grin at the opening chords of "Lay Me Down"? Unlike The Stands or The Thrills, who wear their influences all too plainly on their sleeve, Deadstring Brothers have the feel of veterans. Every play reveals some sonic addition, some tweak that shows you that this bunch know what they're doing. And they're doing it very successfully.
The Happiness Factor, Avoid Danger (Paisley Pop)
Salim Nourallah, the man behind the phenomenon that is The Happiness Factor looks like a manic cross between E (the Eels bossman) and a scarily accurate John Lennon impersonator. So what does that make the music sound like? Add a dash of Elvis Costello - especially in the extraordinarily accurate hidden extra track - crashing percussion, punk-ish guitars, insistent, driving beats and garagey vocals, and you've got the essence of Nourallah's vision. It's a world where perfect pop meets The Beatles, cops off with The Kinks, has an affair with the Ramones and tries it on with The Stooges and The Replacements. It's not all chaos and noise; far from it. "Proper Channels" has a rough-hewn, Lennon-esque charm; "Weight Of The World" is a lysergic dream of a song that hints at Nourallah's psychedelic tendencies while "Trouble Magnet" bangs and crashes around like a Who cast-off. Nourallah has assembled the cream of the Dallas rock scene to make this album, calling in members of The Chemistry Set, Deathray Davies, The Days and Rhett Miller's Instigators to create the Happiness Factor wall of sound. Happy? You'll be ecstatic.
Jeff Kelly, For The Swan In The Hallway (Hidden Agenda)
Sometime Green Pajama luminary Kelly is another man dedicated to keeping alive the flame of The Beatles. This, his fourth album of a solo career that runs in parallel with the aforementioned Green Pajamas, sees Kelly delve deeper into his own psyche with a stellar collection of self-penned, self-played and self-performed material. For The Swan In The Hallway dips and dives between a series of slow and mid-tempo songs where Kelly's fragile voice struggles to master the sometimes furious backing. But, peer through the angst and religious metaphors littered throughout the collection, and there is some fine music: "Oxford Street," a paean to London's busy thoroughfare, is almost classic singer-songwriter territory, with Kelly's plaintive vocals counter-pointing with strummed acoustic guitar. When the beat kicks in, shades of Simon and Garfunkel appear. "Afterimage" begins with nursery rhyme piano and swells into a glorious, melancholy anthem. For The Swan In The Hallway is personal and haunted; where the shadows of night fight a never-ending battle with the sunlight.