erasing clouds

10 Music Reviews

Bunnygrunt, Karen Hater's Club (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)

Bunnygrunt is back. Seems like a long time since they were on the scene, playing their ragged pop songs around St. Louis (my hometown). But hey, Dinosaur Jr. is back together, the Pixies are back, Gang of Four – I guess Bunnygrunt hasn't been gone all that long. In any case, Karen Hater's Club marks their return. It's sort of business as usual, though with even more spark than I remember them having. Bunnygrunt's specialty is bubblegum pop tunes, played fast, loud, and sweet, with a sense of playfulness and a rock n' roll edge. The latter two qualities are both no doubt behind Karen Hater's Club's opening track, a blast of feedback and screams called "Bunnygrunt @ Budokan". There was always something a bit off about Bunnygrunt, and I mean that in the best way. Their songs were never as crisp or balanced as your ears expected them to be, yet that unconventionality was as endearing as were their super-catchy melodies were fetching. Karen Hater's Club has a lot of both – infectious tunes like "Again With the Skirt" and "Hometown Rockstar", but also an overhanging cloud of fuzz and moments designed to leave you scratching your head. It's a tour de force comeback, then, a really enjoyable return from a unique band. – dave heaton

Halfway, Farewell To the Fainthearted (Laughing Outlaw)

Anyone in the market for honest-to-goodness, no nonsense country-style rock - equal parts grit and honey? Halfway may be just the best steak on your barbie. The six-man Brisbane, Australia, group features brothers Noel and Liam (Fitzpatrick, not Gallager), who play pedal steel and banjo respectively. The group spent their youth, listening to country music on the AM radio stations that transmit round their homes and have appropriated classic torch and twang with pop sensibilities. The resultant album has an authentic country rock feel to it; crunchy guitars and big drums alongside touches of harmonica and dobro and stories of lovin’ and losin’ and gettin’ drunk. But Farewell To The Fainthearted doesn’t get mired in the lachrymose sentiments that clog up traditional country music; but it’s not ‘alt country; either. There are no Wilco-esque experiments here - just straightahead blue collar songs that should find favour with rock and country lovers. Or maybe those who like a bit of both but can't stand men in big black hats. – john stacey

Keepintime: A Live Recording (Ninja Tune)

Everything started in the late ‘90s when photographer, film-maker and writer Brian Cross, better known as B+, moved to LA. Fascinated by LA hip hop and by the local culture, B+ started a project that would bring together and photograph four LA residents who had contributed, through their work, to the history of music: drummers Roy Porter, Earl Palmer, Paul Humphrey and James Gadson. Cross managed to find the money for his project only a few years later, when Porter was dead, yet the shoot went ahead and the results of the project, also featuring DJ Shadow, the Beat Junkies and Cut Chemist, became a short film, “Keepintime: Talking Drums Whispering Vinyl”, that toured the film festivals of the world. B+ later called again the participants to that project, this time to take part in a huge live show in LA featuring DJs and producers. The show was filmed and released as a DVD, while Cross sent the recorded multi-track parts of the live to producers around the world who added their own touches to the music. These works have now been released in an album, "Keepintime: A Live Recording", which is a sort of clash of cultures and styles, including DJ Shadow, King Britt, Cut Chemist, Charlie Dark, Ammoncontact, Quantic Soul Orchestra, O.H.N.O., Daedalus and J-Rocc. Though the album features such disparate sounds and influences (the hypnotic ‘Keep In Time Theme’; the funky ‘Infinity of Rhythm Mix’; the exotic ‘Paulista Remix’ or the absolutely glorious ‘Song For Sophia/You Can Know Her’, featuring Mia Doi Todd), it also preserves a special unity in its main theme and in the idea behind the project. The CD comes with a 120 minute DVD containing the “Keepintime” film, the show recording, trailers for the film and more material. Simply unmissable. – anna battista

David McCormack And The Polaroids, The Truth About Love (Laughing Outlaw)

So, I put this on the CD player and that guy from Pulp roared out of the speakers. Whatsisname? Oh, yes - Jarvis Cocker. Have I got the wrong CD in? Check. No. This is David McCormack all right. I naturally thought this lot must be Pulp imitators. You know, it happens. Look at the Australian Pink Floyd. But, hey, but David McCormack etc are not a tribute band. Second track "Who Can It Be?", with its off-kilter harmonies, semi-tuneful melodica (now there’s an instrument I had forgotten about) and shuffle rhythm sure isn’t Pulp. Indeed, The Truth About Love is like one of those compendium of games you used to get for Christmas - a bit of everything. You might not play all the games inside, but you will have some good fun all the same. The Truth About Love is like that. A lot works, a few tracks don’t, but on balance it’s a success. Sometimes, throwing all kinds of styles at the recording studio wall and seeing what sticks can end in disaster, but - against all odds - DmC & TP have pulled it off. Actually, the more you get into this intriguing album - which features an excellent insert, congrats to the record label for going the extra mile - the more you realise that McCormack has filtered his favourite stuff through a glass darkly, or at least mistily. There’s a quirky Englishness (not a Brit-rock-ish-ness, if you get my drift) about this. Yes, there’s a bit of Pulp, mid-period Kinks, Northern Soul, The Animals and even a string-drenched big ballad called "Liquor Store." David McCormack & The Polaroids have produced a snappy little CD. – john stacey

One Self, Children of Possibility (Ninja Tune)

One Self is London-raised, St Petersburg-born DJ Vadim, and MCs Blu Rum13, a New York native who's spent time in Canada, and Yarah Bravo, whose mother came from Chile, father from Brazil, and was born and raised in Sweden (both Blu Rum13 and Yarah Bravo have collaborated with artists such as TTC, Canibus, Luke Vibert, and Kid Koala). The three came together while Vadim was touring under the experimental banner of The Russian Percussion. If you’re not sure about what kind of music a trio with such different backgrounds and influences produces, just listen to Children of Possibility. Sunshine permeates the whole record, an innovative combination of hip-hop, Indian and African melodies, and a blend of sounds that, at times, will have you crying for joy. The album opens with Blu Rum’s proletarian anthem, ‘Fear The Labour’, which has got an oriental flavour about it; ‘SD2’ is a long instrumental packed with sounds, samples and good inspirations; ‘Paranoid’ is an attempt at trip hop; ‘Hollow Human Beings’ is a meditative track; the beautiful ‘Cupid Smiling the Smile’ has got an exotic feel about it thanks to its sitar interspersed melody, while ‘Unfamiliar Places’ mixes soul and hip-hop. Children of Possibilityis an intelligent album that opens new possibilities to old genres of music and establishes One Self as among the most daring sonic explorers around. – anna battista

Beccy Owen, The Singer Kicks (Fairy Snuff)

A lot of hype has surrounded Welsh-born Beccy, not least from Music Week, who described her glowingly as ‘the new queen of bleary-eyed ivory-tinkling heartbreak’ (whatever that means!). But, you know what? The hype’s spot-on. Many have described Beccy as a British Carole King, which is praise indeed, and there are similarities. But I confess the first name that popped into my head when I heard this was Judie Tzuke, who released a series of fine albums in the late seventies. While Beccy’s voice does not have the same range as Judie’s (which was pretty extraordinary), it has a husky authority, matched by the arrangements of the 11 songs, which swing from gently piano-based, almost jazzy ballads, to full-on rock. Opener, "Summersong", is a delicate trifle - all cascading piano notes; "Sighs" evinces the Carole King comparisons by dint of the chord structure, while "Flower", with its brass backing, has a summery optimism. Becky is kicking off her career in fine style. – john stacey

Pest, Pat Pong (Ninja Tune)

Brand new single from Deptford five-piece Pest, the first taste of their new album All Out Fall Out, the follow-up to their first Necessary Measures. Pest mixes up jazz, hip hop, funk, rock, techno, and UK garage into a unique blend. The band’s music is based on the strange mixture of characters that make up the Pest collective: Adrian Josey, Matt Chandler, Wayne Urquhart, Ben Mallott, Tom Marriott, all of them talented, all of them coming from very different backgrounds and previous collaborators of the most disparate artists around. This must be the reason why, though Pest’s music is a mish-mash of influences, it still retains a homogeneous sound. The single ‘Pat Pong’ is essentially house at its best, even though its remixes by Solid Groove and Tru Thought’s Diesler, give the track a new dimension: the former is enriched with a sort of Balearic beat groove, the latter opens with a samba-esque rhythm that gradually metamorphoses into jazz and funk. There’s more jazz in closing track ‘Chimps’, which features haunting trumpets and piano. Pest’s single marks a change in style. The band has indeed grown up a lot: while their first album was more sample based, now there seems to be a special attention for melodies and beats, a feature that might be the winning formula of their new album. – anna battista

The Spongetones, Number 9 (Loaded Goat Records)

Amazing, isn’t it? That a group can have been around for 25 years - that’s a bl**dy quarter of a century - and you haven’t ever heard of them? I mean, in this line of work you get to listen to lots of different types of music; some good some bad, some memorable, some forgettable. And you have your favourites - for me it’s anything with a bit of Beatles, a bit of Cheap Trick, a bit of The Byrds and The Band thrown in. Oh, and singer-songwriters. Classic pop, power pop, jangle-rock, country rock and confessional acousticy stuff. So why have I never heard of The Spongetones? How come Number 9 is their sixth (go figure) album release and the first one I have heard? Good God, I must be losing it. Anyway, enough of my problems. This is a wonderful album; it’s like listening to a jukebox of all your favourite sixties singles for the first time. It’s all here; crisp punchy, two-minute sparklers, heartfelt ballads, Kinksy stories of love and life. A jingle here, a jingle there. Cheeky little guitar solos, jaunty solos, thwacking drums, blissful harmonies. Information? They’re from North Carolina, based themselves on sixties Beat groups, and feature one Jamie Hoover, whom I have heard of. Forget Spongebob, get Spongetones! – john stacey

Dwight Trible & The Life Force Trio, Love Is The Answer (Ninja Tune)

Dwight Trible’s name has been associated throughout the years with musicians from Bobby Hutcherson and Charles Lloyd to Harry Belafonte. He is also known for being the vocalist with The Dwight Trible Ensemble and the Pharaoh Sanders Quartet, and the director of the LA institution Horace Tapscott Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. Trible met Carlos Niño (of the duo Ammoncontact) when the latter invited him onto his radio show. Their friendship resulted in the single “Equipoise” and in the recently released album Love Is The Answer. The album combines sixties-inspired avant-garde and spiritual jazz with modern beats. Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Madlib, Daedelus, members of Platinum Pied Pipers and Jay-Dee also appear on the album. It opens with ‘Blast Off’, which echoes somehow avant-garde compositions by Sun Ra; the track is followed by ‘Equipoise’ on which Trible’s voice is warm and soothing. ‘Freedom Dance’ features Trible’s some-time drummer, multi-instrumentalist Dexter Story; Madlib’s ‘Waves of Infinite Harmony’ is a psyched out hip hop track; ‘The 10th Jewel’, features Brother J of X-Clan fame and the legendary slogan “peace, unity, love and having fun”; the title track is enriched with mellow guitars, while ‘Musician’s Union’ by Ammoncontact and ‘Constellations’ stand out as the best tracks of the whole album (which is also accompanied by a second CD containing instrumental tracks and a DVD with interviews with Carlos Niño and Dwight Trible). Love Is The Answer is simply an inspiring and invigorating record for real sonic adventurers. – anna battista

Treva Whateva, Music’s Made of Memories (Ninja Tune)

Music is made of many things: inspirations, emotions, melodies, rhythms and so on. Treva Whateva’s music is also made of memories, but above all of samples. Born in Stockport, Treva Whateva is a Manc legend, having started his career working at Boom!Tunes, managed Fat City, helped to compile their Mystic Brew compilations and has been the longtime host of Hot Pot Radio alongside Mr Scruff; he has also recorded for Skint as well as Ninja Tune and remixed everyone from Electralane to Fingathing. Music’s Made of Memories is the first album by Treva Whateva, and it’s definitely one of the best Ninja Tune releases for this summer. Just put the album on and, soon after a brief introduction, you will be drawn into the barrage of samples and mesmerising bass of ‘Bouncing Bomb’, you will then find yourself dancing on the proto-disco of ‘Driving Reign’ or simply laughing at ‘Singalong’, featuring on the vocals what could only be the Muppets on speed singing at the top of their voices. Among the best tracks of the album are the summerish ‘Havana Ball’, Treva Whateva’s personal rendition of classic mambo, ‘Music’s Made of Memories’, a sophisticated hit with an obsessive sample and a haunting sax, and the horrorcore of ‘Dangerous Disco (The Director’s Cut)’. If this summer you’re only going to buy one record, make sure it is this one. – anna battista

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