erasing clouds

10 Music Reviews

by John Stacey, Dave heaton

The Afternoons, My Lost City (Dockrad Records)

There's a definite West Coast feel about this Welsh quintet, who produce a sound that takes you back to those hippy drippy days of "Flowers In Your Hair" and Burt Bacharach and suchlike - it's all about the Richard Griffiths' earnest vocals and the at-times frenetic backing that reprises the kind of Mjo dancing hedonism of a vanished era, filtered through - naturally enough - modern technology and 21sy century pop sensibilities. By that I mean they take the best bits from the past, scuzz them up a bit and give birth to a slightly skewed 'perfect world' pop music, all plangent chord sequences, traces of French horn for that heartstrings tugging moment, ladled with more than a decent helping of Prefab Sprout, whether they realise that or not. When it works, it's sublime - "Rollerskates In The Park" is lovely; when it doesn't - the faux country ballad "Bee-stung" sounds like a parody (perhaps it is, who knows?) - it's time to hit the skip button. But, on repeated listening, My Lost City becomes quite an enchanting little album. Almost gossamer-like in places; in others it has a nursery-rhyme like innocence., like in "Gonna Stay Together." If you manage to find a copy going cheap in a second hand record store, dig deep. It's worth a fiver of anyone's money. And I'm sure Dockrad Records, created by two Bank of Wales clerks David Lloyd and Phil Mytton who wanted to do more with their lives and established Dockrad as a means of giving unsigned/unknown Welsh aritsts a platform, will be very happy.--john stacey

Ballboy, A Guide for the Daylight Hours (Manifesto/SL Records)

From the drum pattern that backs singer Gordon McIntyre as he sings about a girl who works in a record shop on the album's first track--a beat that fans of 60s pop will surely recognize--to the thick, Ride-like bassline that opens "Nobody Really Knows Anything" (a song that sounds nothing like Ride, by the way), it's clear that on Ballboy's A Guide for the Daylight Hours the Scottish band is displaying a musical awareness to match their lyrical self-awareness. While the "Wedding Present-meets-Belle and Sebastian" comparisons made for their early EPs and the Club Anthems CD that collected them seemed appropriate at the time, here they seem inadequate, to say the least. The group seems to be taking their favorite elements from all of the music they love--spanning the history of pop and rock--and forming them around McIntrye's smart, melodic, and emotionally affecting songs. The result is a sound that's big and brash but also soft and intimate: a rock album with a melancholy air. McIntrye's lyrics deal with heartbreak, loss and confusion with a dry wit that reveals both sadness and hope. Song titles like "You Can't Spend Your Whole Life Hanging Around With Arseholes" and "I Lost You, But I Found Country Music" are both funny and wise; the lyrics within the songs offer both in larger doses. As fetching as Club Anthems was, as a proper album A Guide for the Daylight Hours has a consistency of mood and style that makes it even better. And there's moments throughout the album that are so perfect you'll be convinced that ballboy is the best band you've ever heard.--dave heaton

Bluebottle Kiss, Revenge Is Slow (Laughing Outlaw)

There are bands who are derivitive - there always will be those kinds; I mean, how many Coldplay, Travis, Radiohead-alikes are there out there? Hundreds. I know, because I've heard a lot of 'em and it does get tedious. The same goes for the dreaded tag; does mean that the group are so described because they embellish their music with a few curleques of pedal steel? If that's the case, then Australia's Bluebottle Kiss - a big deal Down Under, apparently - are an group, simply by dint of the track "Ounce Of Your Cruelty," a delicate little flower in a forest of redwoods. Indeed, Revenge Is Slow's second track is a bit of a puzzle for it doesn't particularly sit with the rest of the tracks on offer; a lot of the stuff here has more shades of grey than light, probably deliberately so, too. "Prussian Blue" is a dark, atmospheric ballad; "Let The Termites Each Our Riches" (great title, mind) is almost schizophrenic while "Hello Stranger," with its plodding rhythmn, is a kind of oddball waltz. Bluebottle Kiss's music is almost like Crowded House's bigger, badder brother; the one who doesn't have the finesse and style of his kid brother. Or the tunes, either. Revenge Is Slow is, in truth, rather hard going in places. It often fails to get out of second gear. Mid-term report? Could do better. Or, in other words, keep it simple lads and don't try so hard to impress all the other kids on the playground.--john stacey

The Cash Brothers, A Brand New Light (Zoe Records)

Much was made of this Canadian group's reference points with the release of their debut album How Was Tomorrow, which garnered a clutch of complimentary reviews. This new release from Andrew and Peter takes the group's sound one step further. It's more confident, more in your face. But, the further then travel down the road, this Toronto pair seem to be getting more and more mired in the dense thickets of rock traditionalism. For A Brand New Light isn't that new; it's old-fashioned, solid, reliable, predictable and oh-so dull. There's musicianship, to be sure, and some quite attractive harmonies, but after 20 minutes of so I wanted to turn the thing off simply because it wasn't taking me anywhere. Perhaps I've been listening to too much Wilco or whatever, but stuff like this is very worthy, very ordinary, really. What I' m trying to say is that you're waiting there for every chord sequence, every twist and turn that will take you down the same familiar alley. The thump of the drums is just so; the guitars rustle in such a way, the harmonies - in their Everly Brothers revisited kinda fashion - merge in a way that makes you go ...'Ahh, I expected that'. And then comes the spiralling guitar solo - whose innovative idea was that? - and "Forget The Dust" (one of 11 not-so-memorable tracks) has come and gone. This is Classic Country Rock writ large. Is Bryan Adams involved in some way? Certainly it sounds like was. I rest my case.--john stacey

The Forresters, Skindeep (Tom Thumb Records)

What's the first thing you think of when you play this album, the first release from a newly-formed Australian label? Apart, of course, from the fact that it sounds mightily like Tom Petty distilled through a million jangle-rock influences? That it features Anthony Bautovich, one-time luminary of near-legendary Orange Humble Band? Well, ye-e-es. But there's another thing. Not got it yet? OK, then. Here it is. Skindeep is not produced by Michael Carpenter. There, I've said it. The man who seems to behind everything that comes out of Oz - except, probably their rugby union team, and there again I might be wrong - has nothing to do with The Forresters at all. God, that makes me feel better. Now I can listen to this fine debut without prejudice. For it is a decent record, this, full of light and shade, bursting with great tunes and happy, hooky, singalong choruses - "Are You Ready", "Rescue Me" and "Missing You" are stone-cold hummers. And, well produced as it is - by the selfsame Bautovich - is doesn't quite have Carpenter's signature studio sheen. Skindeep is alternately polished and rough; indeed a couple of the tracks are greasy in a slide guitar, Stonesy sort of way. Bautovich flings power pop, sub-Byrdsian folk ragas, a touch of George Harrison - "The Way You Do" could have been from the late Beatle's last album - and a bit of sixties easy-listening brass into the melting pot to come up with a sound that, in truth, could really be anyone. That's not to say The Forresters haven't made a good album - this is very listenable in a classic, non-threatening way - it's just that there are so many ideas flying around their identity fails to assert itself. I'm sure it will, eventually, when Bautovich decides to strip off the excess fat. Until then, Skindeep will settle nicely into anyone's record collection. Only don't expect it to change the world. Not yet, at least. --john stacey

The Long Weekend, Feel The Way (Laughing Outlaw)

OK, I know that certain sections of the music press don't rate Laughing Outlaw's burgeoning canon but I find that a lot of their stuff is fairly listenable. I mean, why shouldn't Australia take up the banner of happy-go-lucky 'country' rock? Their rosta is large enough, after all. Now we've got The Long Weekend to add to the list of wannabes. This group is really a duo - Andrew Tragardh on vocals and guitar and Jackie Moffatt on guitar, vocals and harmonium. Where they are different from groups like The Cash Brothers is that they inject more heart and passion into their arrangements. Witness second track in, So Clearly, which starts with delightful filigree guitar before building into a lovely, rocking track that really sparkles, or Holy Night, with its brooding harmonium and scraped guitar that takes Andrew and Jackie into folk territory. Indeed, much of their work reminds me of the kind of stuff that Island Records was producing in the late sixties/early seventies, a folk-rock melange for the 21st century. This definitely gets better the more you play it, revealing hidden depths. One depth is Jackie's voice; it is not used as a lead instrument, more it acts as a counterfoil to Andrew's more traditional vocalising.--john stacey

The Long Winters, When I Pretend To Fall (Barsuk Records)

The Seventies have been in vogue for a while now; suddenly, the dust sheets have been taken off he electric piano and it's OK to admit you wore a tanktop and platform shoes. Not that they went away, of course; chunky, rhythmic, clever-dick music - classic 10cc take a bow in all your curly-haired glory - with (gasp) proper guitar solos and proper time signatures, none of that fancy Radiohead, The Howl-type nonsense just songs that hit the groove and keep spinning. The Long Winters have grafted on a bit of Tamla Mowtown or even the John Fred and his Playboys band to this, their second album, which is light years away from the grey indie rock of the group's debut, The Worst You Can Do. The band centres round, mainly, John Roderick and his ability to create a series of mini power pop symphonies with blurting brass, electric pianos, neat harmonies and catchy songs. There's creativity, humour and gladness within these songs.--john stacey

The Lucksmiths, A Little Distraction (Matinee)

The title of The Lucksmiths' new 6-song CD, A Little Distraction, is the name of one of the songs on it but also serves as a friendly, self-deprecating disclaimer that this is just a short CD between albums. Don't take the title too seriously; these songs are just as beautiful, catchy, and charming as those on their recent album Naturaliste, if not as ambitious in terms of textures and arrangements. In mood this CD echoes the quiet introspection of Naturaliste, though in length, style and lyrical content it feels even closer to the group's 2000 release Staring At the Sky. Like that CD, this one shows off the trio's knack at taking stories and moments from everyday life and turning them into perfectly crafted pop songs. Gifted songwriters all, the three bring you into their world by putting their experiences into songs you'll find yourself singing along to after only a few listens. From the opener "Transpontine," about reconsidering a place you've always rejected as not worth visiting, to the closing "Honey Honey Honey," about the appeal of the city late at night when you know you really should be in bed, the Lucksmiths turn universal appearances into singular works of magic.--dave heaton

Okkervil River, Down The River Of Golden Dreams (Jagjaguwar)

Ahh, where would we be without Mercury Rev? Those shambolic drums, the unexpected key changes, the yearning voice. Oh, this ain't Mercury Rev is it? No, it's Okkervil River and this is a very, very good CD. Perhaps one of my favourites this year. That's because main man Will Sheff has fashioned a collection of songs that have moved me unlike anything since Deserters Songs. It's not that Sheff's lyrics are fine - they're not songs, as such, more stream-of-concsiousness poems set to music, poems that don't really make any sense, but who cares? - it's that he and the band play so well; the touches that lift a track from the ordinary to the heavenly, Opener It Ends With a Fall has goose pimple-making mellotron coming in just in the right places, for example. And while there are certainly reference points - apart from Mercury Rev - most obviously Jaqcues Brel in the melodrama; Bob Dylan in the phrasing; Nick Cave in the enunciation, what makes this album so listenable is that Okkervil River have managed to combine everything that is right about modern rock music into a form that makes you want to shout out loud; 'Yes, Scott Walker in a country band! It works!' Don't be put off by my ramblings; this is entertaining, invigorating, thought-provoking and sublimely produced and arranged.--john stacey

Soft Canyon, Broken Spirit, I Will Mend Your Wings (Alien8 Recordings)

Soft Canyon want to heal your soul; wish them luck. Their web site claims, "Not merely a rock and roll band, Soft Canyon are a spiritual force whose selfless approach towards musical nirvana is uncompromised." In other words, they're new age would-be gurus playing rock. What does salvation sound like? Very much like the 60s, apparently. More specifically, like a mix of Crazy Horse, Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and CSNY, with a tad bit of the Doors and more adventurous psychedelic rock thrown in here and there. This is hazy, rustic, overblown music that's best in small doses. For example, the minute-long instrumental "The Illumination of You" is beautiful, the 7-minute Pink Floyd-chaser "We Threw Our Love Into the Universe" is not. Lead singer Andrew Dickson, formerly of Tricky Woo, might fancy himself the leader of some sort of spiritual revolution, but consider me a skeptic.--dave heaton

Issue 16, October 2003

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