Alternative music reviews

October 6, 2008

Swings Like Teen Spirit

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I remember chuckling at Mike Flowers’ cheesy-Pop cover of Venus In Furs – as much at the idea as the execution. That was a comedy moment, but what should I make of Paul Anka’s Swing version of Smells Like Teen Spirit? This is the man who wrote the words for My Way and I see no evidence that he has a particularly well-developed sense of humour or the absurd. He takes a song full of loathing and delivers it with a suntan and a cheesy grin. ‘Hello, hello, hello, how low” indeed.

October 2, 2008

Message from A Mockingbird by Only Makebelieve

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Message from A Mockingbird by Only MakebelieveAlthough I gathered that Only Makebelieve take a lot of influence from the 60’s, it was the 1980’s that first came to mind as I listened to the start of this album. I wasn’t particulary keen on the 80s when I lived through them and anything that sounds like Tears For Fears will annoy me – so can I volunteer to drive a stake through the heart of Letters For The Dead and Rayna’s Smile and make sure they never rise again.

But then on the third track Spending My Life someone has turned the ‘Overblown’ dial down from 11 to about 8. There’s a sense of fresh air about the arrangements and there are some very 60’s influenced backing harmonies that make the song work despite some hackneyed basslines.

Spending My Life by Only Makebelieve

Spending My Life by Only Makebelieve (clip)

Although the 60’s element is only occasionally discernable, it is that which for me adds the little sprinkle of magic to this album. The rest of the time, the music is well constructed, well played, but suffering from too much density of sound (layered synths/treated guitars etc) – just like 80s keyboard bands. Obviously it is not quite to my taste, but I have to admit that I have enjoyed it a lot when Motorway driving. The sound isn’t overpowering when it has to fight against an engine and there are enough moments of melodic sparkle to make a journey better.

Backstab by Only Makebelieve

Backstab Only Makebelieve (clip)

Only Makebelieve

September 23, 2008

I Fell In Love With A Moment In Time by Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences

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I was first alerted to a particular crime against the art of songwriting by Jon Noble. It was in You’re Beautiful by James Blunt (that perverts and stalkers’ hymn). He talks about this girl he sees on the Tube and then he says “I’ve got a plan”. But then the song continues with no more mention of this plan – what was going on? I did later on hear an interview with the woman who was brought in to help finish/tidy up the song and she admitted that it all ended up a bit disjointed. I just wonder at a songwriter who allows other people to finish off their songs

If I’m talking about real songwriters, on the Paul Hawkins debut album We Are Not Other People there’s a track that covers similar territory. “For just one moment I was in love and I never ever knew her name,” he sings. How lovely and romantic – his main worry is that if he did meet her again then his expectations would be too high.

But wait a minute, this is Paul Hawkins! Surely it can’t be so simple and then in the final verse he reveals that it is the “the image of her kneeling over me” that he holds onto. So there he was lying in the gutter pissed or stoned or fitting and she came to help him. Now that is a tableau more fitting to a man of such unique talents as our Paul.

I Fell In Love With A Moment In Time by Paul Hawkins

I Fell In Love With A Moment In Time by Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences (clip)

Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences

September 17, 2008

Concrete by The October Game

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The October Game released a magnificent album in 2006 called “Box Of A Billion Lights”. Their follow up is the single Concrete (When We Were Invincible). It is a song played simply, far fewer musical fireworks than the album, but that is where its attraction lies. It is their remembrance of a lost, youthful optimism and slight confusion as to where it went is set over a backing of twangy guitar arpeggios that gradually increases in intensity but never quite break out of their restraints.

This simplicity of music and lyrics and just bloody good songwriting is rare and rather beautiful. I see some similarity with Oxford’s The Winchell Riots (and I notice from the MySpace comments that the two bands have recently played together) in musical approach and even in vocal phrasing. It’s a bit of a secret from the rest of the country that we have such talent down here in the South but I feel very privileged to be aware of.

The October Game’s Concrete is a track that can warm you as the chill of Autumn approaches and its a free download! Click on the button below for a preview of the track.

Concrete by The October Game

Concrete by The October Game (full track)

Download Concrete (When We Were Invincible)

September 12, 2008

More Tom Leach

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I’ve been catching up on my interests in Country music over the past few months and listening to a lot of new releases like The Felice Brothers, O’Death and the best of last year’s albums with Octoberman. I’ve also investigated David Eugene Edward’s career since Sixteen Horsepower with his Woven Hand project and managed to hear his band before 16HP, the Denver Gentlemen. So, a lot of good stuff has passed through my ears recently. However, none of these commercially available albums can compare to the impact that has been made on me by 15 tracks I downloaded from Tom Leach’s webpage (since I already have the Seven Songs EP I missed out 4 of the possible downloads). They just get better every time I listen to them.

So my self-created album “More Tom Leach” is 51 minutes long and covers unreleased oldies, some tracks from Homemade/Handmade which isn’t available, and some new rough mixes of songs destined for “Macon” (Macon, Georgia is mentioned by Tom as his next project). Obviously these are recordings with a few rough edges but that adds to their charm.

It covers the period from the Tom Leach album (was that around 1997?) to the present day. The earlier songs are just as fine as those on that first album and each tells a story. Call Waiting sounds just like the sort of song Johnny Cash would have have sung when he first went on the Sun Records tours. I’m Not A Cowboy, No I Ain’t is a gem where Tom points out that cowboys don’t cry and don’t need anyone.

The next album is obviously going to be great. judging by the preview songs on here. There was something about one of these songs that made me go to the Internet for a good search. I was looking for references to Ida Mae but apart from a reference to a Lightnin’ Hopkins I found nothing. I had assumed it was one of the classic Country songs being covered and re-interpreted. I promised myself that I won’t underestimate Mr Leach again.

Ida Mae by Tom Leach

Ida Mae by Tom Leach

The final track of the album (in alphabetical filename order) is an unreleased song from around 2001. Called I Know Time, it is one of the most perfect miserable songs about the inevitable loss of love. It is almost malevolently sad with its slow, relentless pace. While listening, I found that the vibrato in Tom Leach’s voice led to me thinking of Michael Stipe (also from Georgia). I’m not going to hold my breath, but I do think that if Michael and REM work really hard for the next ten years then they may come up with a song as good as this. At least it gives them something to aim at.

I Know Time by Tom Leach

I Know Time by Tom Leach

Tom Leach’s MP3 page

Ambience

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It was only last year that I finally disposed of my 1970’s ARP Odessy monophonic synthesiser. Not that I had played it for years. But I have fond memories of improvising on a Sunday morning back in the 80s and making strange noises for hours and hours. As part of my recent purchase of some recording equipment I have begun to investigate software to help me record music. I now have a few free programs that make synthesiser noises even though I will be concentrating on guitars. One of these bits of software is rather wonderful at generating noises. So here is the result of 10 minutes of play as I wave goodbye to Rock and Roll and enter the Ambient Zone. Can you spot the fact that I am answering the phone for at least two minutes during this performance?

Work 1 by Ambient Sex Plunge

Work 1 by Ambient Sex Plunge

September 5, 2008

The Beat Maras

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Bat and the Astral PhoenixI mentioned the Beat Maras before and praised Getaway Car on their Huarez EP. I wasn’t sure about the other tracks so I just pointed out the fast, loud one. They have brought out their debut album Bat And The Astral Phoenix and it has allowed me to once again hear the track Beauty And The Horror that was on that EP. Strangely enough, this time I felt really pleased to hear it and revel in the imperious vocal.

Beauty And The Horror by The Beat Maras

Beauty And The Horror by The Beat Maras (clip)

But, even though I know that they are from Hertfordshire, I just can’t help thinking they are Scottish. On the track above, it does sound like a Scots Jim Morrison doesn’t it? Then I again listen to the excellent opening track which is the instrumental Blue Rock and what do I hear – what sounds to me like a definitively Caledonian guitar piece. Maybe it’s just me but I do hear a bit of Alex Harvey/Skids/Big Country in the rhythm and overall sound.

Blue Rock by The Beat Maras

Blue Rock by The Beat Maras (clip)

The Beat Maras

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