Alternative music reviews

June 9, 2005

Missing The Action by Beach

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Following sharply on the heels of the catchy and highly addictive ‘Burning Up’ single, the accompanying album from Beach is surprisingly lacklustre. The retro blend of Roxy Music maturity and dated compressed guitars don’t travel well over twelve tracks, even during the choruses, choosing the middle ground. What’s most frustrating is the undeniable potential these songs have; there are some decent sing-along moments – ‘Slipping Away’ is a Depeche Mode call-to-arms but the hackneyed lyrics of “We’ve got something that’s special, but it’s slowly slipping away” is a cliché written by countless artists before. Beach only has one tone in his voice, rarely changing vocal key or showing any depth of emotion, even when the song demands a big delivery during the rockier moments, take ‘Revolution’ which lacks the killer punch it threatens.

Tossing out the same AOR rehashes dressed up in modern production, Beach lacks charisma to give the songs any individuality. When the single ‘Burning Up’ appears half-way through, it sticks out like a sore thumb, a diamond amongst the rough. The vocal delivery is still flat, but the chorus is so strong it would not matter who sang it. The tracks surrounding the single are inoffensive, passing by without leaving a strong impression, only album closer ‘Valium’ injects fresh ideas. One of the few times when the electronic beats are incorporated well in the soft-rock, ‘Valium’ is full of atmosphere, Beach actually putting effort into getting out the rut. Also, ‘Cops And Robbers’ succeeds in the chorus department, although the verses are forgettable. You’d imagine Beach playing the song on a television show to an appreciative audience who would enjoy the song whilst it played, then immediately forgetting it afterwards.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Missing The Action’ is toe-tapping catchy and has plenty of sophistication, nothing here is remotely bad. It’s just that Beach plays retro eighties rock without much in the way of passion, the songs being two-dimensional and emotionally empty.

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Review by Nick Collings

June 6, 2005

Where The Killers Run by Viarosa

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Viarosa are a solemn alt-country act with well-meaning Americana songs about dreams turning sour. Emulating downbeat and world-weary folk-rock giants Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and their ilk, Viarosa make a serious and po-faced collection of similar sounding folk songs which would make an ideal soundtrack to a dark and quiet night. Layered with violins, musical saws and slowly plucked strings, ‘Where The Killers Run’ oozes sinister atmosphere and whisky soaked front porch heartbreak. With two vocalists, the deep-throated drawl of Richard Neuberg combining with Emma Seal’s restful backing vocals, the likes of ‘Blood From A Stone’ and ‘Only Child’ are competent and well-composed without offering anything unexpected to the listener.

The haunting ‘Call To Arms’ is effortless in delivery, Neuberg sounding emotionally involved on the track, with simple arrangements. It’s during the really bleak and straight-forwardly simple songs that Viarosa excel on, as it feels more earnest. In contrast the next track ‘All This Worry (Will Be Over Soon)’ has Emma Seal taking charge of lead vocals for an up-tempo Country jaunt with violins and Bumpkin hew-haws. Not the kind of song I normally enjoy, it nether less is a fine foray into Country music without upsetting my musical taste buds.

Although grand in places, ‘Where The Killers Run’ lacks a sense of humour, strong hooks and ultimately proves exhausting. There are a few gems amongst the endless folk tardiness, the opener ‘Blindfold’ is an archetypal overview, using violin as an integral tool rather than a distraction. The lyrics to ‘Blindfold’ are personal and full of advice, peaking with “if you’re gonna feel disgrace, you better walk out the door”.

It really depends if you like downbeat, similar-sounding folk to really appreciate this album. With the lead instrument often being the violin, it can get tiring to hear the same mood setting over the course of a long-player. But perseverance does pay off in some regards, as the songs start seeping into the subconscious, the music slow and jaded, bitter and eventually depressing. The songs are universally well-performed with enriching production but the lack of a decent melody being the main stumbling block.

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Review by Nick Collings

February 15, 2005

All Your Dreams…and more 1981-1984 by Action Now

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Rebellious, youthful rock from over 20 years ago, Action Now has received a new lease of life after gathering dust in the vaults. The songs have been re-mastered and released on CD for the first time, containing the full ‘All Your Dreams’ album, studio and live performances totalling a generous 27 track release. The reason for why these old songs are been re-released is due to the band playing reunion shows with Kristi Callan, filling the guitar/vocal position vacated by the passing of Paula Pierce.

The songs sound remarkably fresh and if the album didn’t contain 1981-1984 in the title, then you would be none the wiser when the band laid down the music – the guitars throttle along, attitude is spat out in the vocals and a steady drum beat holds together the proceedings. The title track is a jaunty affair, clearly influenced by the early 80s New Wave movement, containing the same type of aura of Reckoning-period REM in the jangley guitar and pop sensibilities. Song after song fly past, the likes of ‘Then And Now, ‘When Wednesday Comes’ and ‘This One Chance’ are pop-punk in it’s earliest incarnation, carried along by consistent melodies and simple yet effective hooks. The ROQ Vol III compilation track ‘Try’ is of similar style, yet another brisk exercise in melodic bubblegum pop-rock before the likes of Blink182 and Good Charlotte diluted the innocence.

The live tracks understandably contain hisses, bum-notes and raw production that can’t compare to the studio tracks. But in a quirky way, it highlights what an enjoyable band Action Now were back in December 1981 when these songs were captured on tape. The tape hiss does distract but everything else doesn’t distract too significantly from several fine performances especially on the gritty ‘For Just One Night’ and catchy ‘Never To Be Forgotten’. The compilation’s main purpose is to prick the ears of a new generation onto a band that could so easily have slipped into the obscurity many bands in the past have endured. These songs have demonstrated that back in the early 80s there was once a band called Action Now with a clutch of insanely catchy and enduring songs to their name.

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Review by Nick Collings

February 1, 2005

Mindfilming by Captain Wilberforce

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Better produced and more thought-out in the song writing department than eclectic demo ‘Dreams Of Educated Fleas’ this mini-album is a step in the right direction. Duo Simon Bristoll (location: Leeds) and Daz Battersby (location: Birmingham) are concerned with the feel of the song, imagine Brian Wilson in his hallowed studio coming up with warm, fuzzy nostalgic melodies and you get where Captain Wilberforce are coming from. Not that ‘Mindfilming’ sound that much like the Beach Boys, it’s far more steeped in British influences, The Beatles being an obvious one, although you could argue any band with a hint of pop sensibilities owe plenty of debt to The Beatles. Track 8, the imaginary titled ‘The Incredible Communting Mole (Must Die)’ encompasses must of the Captain’s vibe; a relaxed bass line is layers with acoustic guitars and slight distortion that’s not too heavy. The emphasis on the word “California” in the lyric “California, here I come” reminds me of the O.C. theme song, but this is a different beast, more sedated and soothing.

I want to talk more about song titles, because Simon and Daz have come up with increasingly amusing wordplay, check these out:- ‘Singer Wanted, Preferably Dead’, ‘I Haven’t Got Any Famous Friends’ and ‘A Very British Earthquake’. Look, I’m not the type of reviewer who digresses from the music and only talks about song titles, the music behind the titles are creditable too! Okay, let’s continue, ‘Vaselined Eyes’ is a perky upbeat number that jangle-pops it’s way around my speakers in a streamlined fashion, discordant rhythm section and sweetly sang. At the other end of the music spectrum, ‘After Her’ is short, 1:39 minutes short and a typical closing low-key acoustic track that gets the message across swiftly, one of hope and weepy sentiment.

‘Mindfilming’ is the kind of album (any album containing 10 tracks is more full-album than mini-album to me, I mean, it’s longer than Weezer’s Green Album!) that’s deftly executed in the complex pop dressed up in traditional folk influences. You could strip these songs down purely to singer with acoustic guitar status and it wouldn’t take anything away from the music, it’s minimally constructed and harks back to the sixties and seventies for inspiration. The odd rocking moment occurs, half way though ‘Singer Wanted, Preferably Dead’, the guitars beef up and show some musician chops, a bit of swagger amongst the understated proceedings. This is a solid release, showing that Captain Wilberforce have the “gentle folk with a hint of rock” genre mastered, some of the songs are unmemorable such as the title track which needs repeated plays to finally absorb, and with some fine-tuning, the duo should be able to create more stand-out tracks like the Lemonheads sounding ‘I Haven’t Got Any Famous Friends’ with it’s “when the morning comes around” ending. The progression between their demo and this mini-album is noteworthy though, clearly a band developing their song craft and a band to keep a watchful eye on.

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Review by Nick Collings

August 1, 2004

Repairing Fence by Melborne Moon

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Smooth, adult contemporary electronic-tinged rock – this may sound like a description for Maroon5, but it can also be applied to Melborne Moon, You see, Melborne Moon is a solo artist from Mariposa, California who recorded this album almost completely by himself. It sounds very professional, slick and definitely NOT lo-fi. Now Mr Moon has been making albums since 1991, so unlike most other artists reviewed on this hallowed page is no spring chicken – this is in fact his fourth album.

‘Repairing Fence’ is an album I can easily play without distraction; it flows nicely without any rough edges to scare off any mainstream listeners. One of the more straightforward songs ‘Abrasive’ has a devilishly simple set-up; soft electronic beats play steadily over an array of percussion and hooky melodies with the “you don’t have to be so abrasive” pay-off line making the song one of the album’s more memorable moments. Let’s continue with the songs that work most effectively. The opening title track plays to Melborne Moon’s strengths of applying the fancy special effects from the studio into actual melodies and songwriting prowess; drawn-out adult-contemporary music dressed up in electronic blips and modern sounds and it succeeds in keeping my attention in the lushness. If I had to pick a favourite track, ‘I Don’t Want To Go Outside’ would take the prize. A very eighties keyboard solo towards the end, which suits the song floats my boat as does the falsetto on word “siiiiddde” in key lyric “I don’t want to go out…side’ that elevates the song or the way the lyrics evoke the feeling of not being the outdoors type that appeals (after all, I’m stuck indoors on the computer right now typing this review into the early hours of the morning). When listening to the more ballad type tracks, an unexpected artist that springs to mind is the ultra-camp Scissor Sisters, ‘Stop The Bleeding’ and ‘Einstein’ are not far removed from the Sisters’ ‘It Can’t Come Quickly Enough’ in terms of sleek production and warm electronic sounds. ‘Hey What Are You Doing?’ No, I’m not that interested in your web-browsing activities, it’s the title of a Melborne Moon song, which comes across as filler material when compared to the superior ‘Stop The Bleeding’, not to say it’s a bad song, because nothing here is offensive or a crime to musical taste.

It’s hard to spot noticeable flaws, depending on your attention span the songs are either measured, sophisticated mood creators or just boring slabs of dreariness. Right now, I’m enjoying and appreciating many of the songs, the dreamy pop synth string of ‘Stagger Me’ is on the right side of gorgeous and ‘Don’t Tell Them You Like This’ uses sultry organs in-between the most upfront vocals and most lively beats on the album. Overall then to sum up this album: smooth, very smooth.

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review By Nick Collings

April 3, 2004

Shamu Suicide by Sputnik Monroe

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Despite hailing from California, a place renowned for Hollywood glitz, Sputnik Monroe are more in tune with earthy punk and hardcore bands like the influential At The Drive-In and even hardcore legends Fugazi. Still a fresh band, forming beginning of 2003, there is vitality to the music, with impassioned vocals from Kevin Netzle, conveying a number of emotions from joyous to brutal in the same song. The band have released the shuddering ‘Shamu Suicide’ on the Internet as a taster for the self titled EP, a concise and energetic number with some tight production. The guitars are searing and move from clean sounding to ominous quite comfortably by lead guitarist Noel Bass, whilst Netzle does sound eerily like At The Drive-In’s Cedric Bixler when he lets his vocal chords turn high pitch. Bass player Patrick Doyle’s brings a solid foundation to the song; simplified bass lines that do not clutter the dynamics and Dave Murray’s forceful drumming adding purpose to the proceedings. Based on this one song reviewed, it will be interesting to hear the rest of the band’s repertoire, if Sputnik Monroe can expand on the At The Drive-In angular styled hardcore and live up to the potential.

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Review by Nick Collings

April 2, 2004

Independent by The Kokoon

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After finding no support within their Berlin music scene, the duo of Danyx (vocals, bass, keyboards) and Dirk (guitar, drums, bass, keyboards) moved to London for new solace. The resulting album ‘Independent’ is a relaxing blend of late 1970’s to early 1980’s British era sophistication (Talking Heads, Roxy Music, Bowie) with modern electronic production techniques. It’s a very laid back sound, the bass high in the mix, guitars used as supporting roles rather than the overriding factor like so many rock bands. Scanning the track-listing, the short album titles (see: Calling, Face, River, Order) are quite noticeable with the exception of final track ‘Take Me To The World’, maybe chosen as a purposeful anomaly. To my ears parts of ‘Independent’ reminds me of a less rocky Garbage, except with distinctively European vocals and hints of Roxy Music cool. Throughout, an organic vibe is formed despite the heavy use of synth and electronics, the human side never over-shadowed. ‘Erase’ really gets going, the vocals begin to soar at the most catchy intervals, the contagious hook plays in unison with Danyx’s voice. The same guitar tone is used at the start of ‘Delicate’, creating a free-flowing record with no bumpy rides or sudden turns into harsh noise. This implies that ‘Independent’ is a bit samey and monotonous, which to a certain extent it does fall victim; the silky tracks merge into one another to form one long mood piece. What gives the listener moments of bliss are when The Kokoon release the shackles during the more explosive parts, like when ‘Calling’ uses a sparing piano, just like when Garbage used the same technique on their hit single ‘Stupid Girl’ or when ‘Order’ goes all, funnily enough, New Order with a thumping drum beat and 80’s styled synth lines. ‘Order’ is also the most upbeat track that would sound great down the more underground clubs. With the band managing everything themselves from no-budget videos to recording the album out of their own pocket, it’s good to see a band with real hunger to succeed, even moving to the London scene in their ambition. With that kind of drive, The Kokoon is a representation of how grass-root bands keep it genuine, away from the soulless mainstream industry with its flash-in-the-pan roster of acts hungry for the corporate dollar. Which can’t be a bad thing.

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Review by Nick Collings

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