erasing clouds

The British are Coming!: A Look at the Latest Releases From the UK

by john stacey

AMOR: Even After That (Manhaton Records)

You want straihtahead, no-messin' rock? You want riffs that worm themselves into your skull? You want bluesy stuff with a bit of new-fangled 'tronica thrown in to give the music a modern spin? You got Amor. A power trio who have been listening to the best of British blues rock - Cream, Gary Moore etc. They don't copy, for their stuff is fresh and original, but it harks back to an era when a bloke wasn't frightened of getting the music right. If you like records with plenty of solos to play air guitar to, then Even After That is for you. Jon Amor, Mat Beale and Wayne Proctor, at your service!

ATHLETE: Vehicles & Animals (Parlophone)

They've been called The Beta Band's little brothers, the British Steely Dan or new, UK Pavement. And, you know what? They're none of these. For this Deptford, South London quartet of former school friends who have known each other since they were pop star wannabes of 14 have crafted an unique style that could soon see them become major league players. For this debut album is as sure-footed as anything I have heard in recent years. Sure, Vehicles & Animals does have that easy, laidback Beta Band feel; and, OK, there are touches of Britpop and traces of Billy Bragg in the peculiarly London-ish vocals, but this is no speculative opening gambit; this is the real deal. Athlete have emerged onto the scene fully formed; unlike many debut albums, this is choc-full of great songs that demand to be heard again and again. It's probably something to do with the relative longevity of the group's collective friendship; after all, if you have been together for such a long time and have opened for acts like the Polyphonic Spree and the Electric Soft Parade, what you are going to gain is experience - bags of it; and it's that know-how gained from regular touring, and confidence, that counts. From the opening, the catchy "El Salvador," through to the almost ska-like "Out Of Nowhere" and the swelling title track, which grows into a real barnstormer, Vehicles & Animals breasts the winning tape with élan and panache; the arrangements manage somehow to combine lo-fi folksiness with slyly-humorous arrangements that utilise all manner of squelches, sqeaks, ticks and tocks to build up a fascinating and utterly addictive sound palette. Athlete have taken the Britpop template, scuzzed it up a little, thrown in a few ideas of their own and created a sound that is very British, very appealing and should start making them shedloads of dosh. This Athlete will run and run.

THE BURN: Sally O'Mattress (Hut)

It's about 250 miles (more or less) up the M1 from South London to Blackburn, Lancashire, where The Burn hold court. And the five lads who make up the group prove that there is more to this former mill town than Graeme Souness and John Lennon's 4,000 holes. There's music in them thar Lancashire hills; it's a heady distillation of old and new rock sounds that The Burn have created, and they're not afraid to pinch a few ideas from their contemporaries old and new. Now there's nothing wrong with that; let's face it, hip-hop has been built from sampling, so nicking the odd idea shouldn't cause anyone any sleepless nights. What The Burn have done is raided their dads' record collections, grabbed the best bits off the best tracks and welded them together to form the 12 tracks on Sally O'Mattress. Take "Fight The Fire"; after a crashing intro reminiscent of the best heavy metal bands, the track briefly morphs into a faux-Jimi Hendrix track, with a Blackburn accent. That's followed by the pastoral "Big Blue Sky," all acoustic guitars and brushed drumstrokes - kind of Liam Gallagher-lite. The Oasis influence, or maybe subconscious tribute, is there, admittedly. After all, the legacy of the Beatles on pop over the past 40 years has been immeasurable so no-one is going to moan if groups take their guidance from the Brothers Gallagher. But to harp on about Oasis would be grossly unfair to The Burn; this debut album is assured and wide-ranging, a classic album in the making that is unafraid to look back while going forward. There is an artlessness to Sally O'Mattress that says: 'Look, we know this might not be exactly cutting edge, but we like it, and so do our mates down the pub, and if it sounds a little old-fashioned, tough.' Sally O'Mattress is as honest and straightforward as a Lancashire cricketer.

BRONZE: The Statue In The Stone (Bus Stop Recordings)

He's a canny lad is our Paul Handyside: the guitarist, vocalist and chief songwriter of Bronze knows his way round a pop song - he prefers the classic structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, guitar solo, verse, chorus, fade... It's simple, direct and effortlessly enjoyable and it has served writers and musicians well enough over the years, so there's no reason why it shouldn't provide this power pop trio with a monster hit with For, if there is any natural justice in the world, Bronze should be massive. Their debut album - all written by Paul, with the assistance of bassist Rob Tickell and drummer Ade Evans - just oozes class. For song after song the group deliver on-the-button, hummable, strum-along hits all featuring great tunes and great instrumental breaks that will have you returning to this CD for yet another fix. Paul, who has worked with Martin Stephenson, wears his influences on his sleeve - Beatles, Hollies, Byrds, Big Star and Elvis Costello. Indeed, Happy Honeymoon could have come off any Costello album; it mixes a killer tune with bitter lyrics about a failed relationship. This release is so good I cannot wait for the follow-up. Bronze have proved that you can produce zippy stuff with just a couple of guitars, drums and a wurlitzer. No fancy programming, sampling or studio trickery - just a belief that this kind of music never dies. Bronze deserve a gold medal.

LLOYD COLE: Music In A Foreign Language (Sanctuary)

Eight long years ago, Lloyd Cole released Love Story, a beautiful album by anyone's standards; it was on that album that he managed to successfully balance solid writing with melodies that stayed in the mind for weeks. Since then Cole has flirted - rather less successfully - with The Negatives but has not managed to either ape the success he had with Love Story or, even better, compete with Rattlesnakes, still one of my favourite albums ever. Music In A Foreign Language redresses the balance somewhat. Straight from the off you know you are in the presence of a rather wonderful recording; title song has that magic la-la-la quotient that demands instant replay. Not only that but each successive song is a little gem, polished until it sparkles by barely-there instrumentation. That doesn't mean this is ambient stuff- far from it - but it is put together so lovingly that the guitarists appear to caress their strings, the keyboards are merely a whisper and the percussion a fragile ghost. And that delicacy is the album's strength; the more you play it the more it's intimate secrets are revealed. And the fact that is was recorded straight onto Mac means the listener has a doubly pleasurable experience - lo-fi, for credibility stakes coupled with consummate professionalism. Lloyd Cole has accentuated the positive on this lovely record. He's back and rightly professing that quiet really is the new loud.

MOS EISLEY: The Get-up Set (Opal Records)

Thank goodness for Jack and Meg White. For, if they hadn't clattered full-pelt into rock music with their primitive, minimalist noise-racket, people wouldn't give Mos Eisley the time of year, in this or any universe. However, The White Stripes do exist, thank goodness, and so do many a copy-cat outfit or pretender to the guitar/drums thrown so eloquently occupied by the sibling sound merchants. Don't get me wrong, Mos Eisley do not sound like Jack and Meg - well, they do a bit on the fourth track in, namely "Get Up, Get In" - but what they do sound like is the noise of a gang of lads having a great time - bashing and thumping and scuzzing and shrieking in a kind of semi-juvenile wail of music. There's tenderness there, too, surprisingly so, where the descending chords pull visions of The Who and other late sixties near-metallers. The sweetness is rationed, though the group go through their paces with a succession of spiky, punky, in-yer-face songs that echo with slapped percussion and rasping guitar. It's not rocket science, but it does sound great. If you are young and free and have got a Strat strapped to your back.

THE HAVENOTS: Bad Pennies (Circus 65)

Got to make mention of this incredible album that has flashed out of nowhere and knocked me off my feet. This Leicester duo of English purists - Sophia Marshall, on vocals and guitar and Liam Dullaghan, vocals and guitar - have the makings of a giant band, should they stay the course. Traces of Cowboy Junkies and John and Beverley Martin inform this, their debut album. The songs are simply wrought, carefully pieced together and beautifully performed. It's hard to believe that firstly they're from Leicester for Gawd's sake, and that they're English! You should rush out and buy this Cd and treasure it and pray that Sophia and Liam don't fall out.

PLAYERS: Clear The Decks (Upfront Records)

The notion of a 'supergroup' is very passé; the word itself conjures up visions of members of top bands pooling their creative resources and ''getting it together in the country''. Think Blind Faith back in the sixties; think Audioslave here in the noughties. Whether Audioslave actually closeted themselves away for six months in a Dorset cottage to write, rehearse and record their album is highly unlikely, of course, but you get my drift. Audoslave notwithstanding, you don't really hear of supergroups these days. So, Clear The Decks is something of an enigma. The quartet comprises guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, Mick Talbot on keys; bass player Damon Minchella and drummer Steve White. Individually, all four have a long pedigree in the British rock scene. Talbot was the other half of the Paul Weller-inspired Style Council; Ibrahim replaced John Squire in the Stone Roses, Minchelle played with Ocean Colour Scene and White also performed with Weller. Altogether, a tidy bit of experience there. With producer Max Hayes (Primal Scream and Doves) at the controls, what can you expect from Players, apart from a cheesy name and an uninspired sleeve? Well, those gripes apart, some pretty explosive stuff. Recorded live, Clear The Decks is a pulse-tightening mix of funk and jazz; soul and groove, reminiscent of the James Taylor Quartet with a rockier edge. Talbot has always been a quality player, and his touch is sure on these 11 cuts which glory in titles like Eastside Commotion and Exceeded Dosage. All very Jazz Club. But this isn't a jazz album; it takes its cue from The Meters and the MGs, for sure, but rather follows a rockier path. Indeed, by the time I had finished listening to it I immediately pressed repeat on my CD player and grooved along for a further 50 minutes. As John Thomson on The Fast Show would say…Nice. Still, shame about the name and the cover. Five stars for music; none for cover.

ALASDAIR ROBERTS: Farewell Sorrow (Rough Trade)

Glaswegian folk guru Roberts, leader of Appendix Out, has created a dark folk masterpiece with this his second album. While using classic folk traditions as its template, Farewell Sorrow has a thoroughly modern slant on a music that reaches back the centuries. While Roberts' enunciation betrays little of his Celtic upbringing - it is only in pronunciation of certain words that you can detect his Scots ancestry - the 11 songs freely incorporate portions of British songs - the Sussex hunting song "Sportsmen, Arouse!" and part of the traditional Northumbrian song "Bonny at Morn." But this isn't a ''folk'' album, per se: if anything the music - as distinct form the lyrics - use Will Oldham's Palace and a trace of as its template. In many ways, this is alt.folk, British style. Instrumentation is sparse, with the occasional mandolin and glockenspiel fleshing out the music made by Alasdair's acoustic guitar and minimalist rhythm section which rock out genteelly. Farewell Sorrow is melancholic, indeed sorrowful, made the more so by Roberts' somewhat arcane use of language. It is a million miles away from the type of folk music your grandfather might have listened to. I might go as far as say Farewell Sorrow is to British folk music what is to US country and western - a bringing up to date of an ancient tradition; a storytelling for the 21st century that still retains links to the past.

TRUMAN'S WATER: You Are In The Line Of Fire (Homesleep)

How do you like your music? Do you like it hard and metallic; punky and full of attitude? Do you want it to reach a hand from out of the hi-fi, grab you round the neck and shake you until you start nodding at the tunes that are emanating from the noise you are listening to? You do? Then Truman's Water are for you. It's pretty uncompromising stuff too, but you must keep your ears open. Why? Because you might miss something; and that is that there is more depth to this album than you first thought. Don't just dismiss this newie as faceless slag rock - it reaches back into the primordial rock soup and nicks bits from our glorious rock heritage; I'm sure I heard a bit of proto-MC5 in Say Hi To Machine, and were those - gasp - dolphin cries on it's follow-up track Dry Stag Mile? No? Maybe not.

Issue 14, August 2003 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds