Thursday, 29 July 2010

Fortuna - Fortuna (Poor Records)

Fortuna is a Swiss trio featuring the talents of Kid Chocolate, The Knack (not the same The Knack that did ‘My Sharona’ in case you were wondering) and Oil. Maybe none of this means anything to you - it certainly didn’t to me - however the mention of Asia Argento featuring on this self titled album certainly did make my ears prick up. In case you are unaware, Asia Argento is the daughter of one of the greatest (in my opinion) horror film directors ever, Dario Argento. She is also a director in her own right, as well as a writer, actress, singer and general know-it-all. In other words, it’s a great name to have as a fan of your music, let alone being able to place it on the front of the album as a contributor. 

So, onto the music; if you’re looking for an album full of ‘club bangers’ then this is definitely not the album to buy. It’s dark, heavy and very sparse. There is no doubt that Fortuna are a talented bunch; the intricate instrumental melodies through opening song ‘A Radical Bravery’ compliment Asia Argento’s eerily spoken vocals perfectly. The use of live instrumentation works flawlessly as well, the occasional bass line here, the odd guitar part there. I say this because it is obvious, but it never takes away from what this essentially is - a deep house album. This is where the problem lies for me though: I like house music, however it’s not very often that you will find an artist that is able to create an album of all their own material without it getting quite boring after a few tracks. And that is Fortuna’s downfall, it all gets a bit samey after track three or four. There are only so many times you can hear a straight four-four beat before it becomes tedious. Add to that the fact that Asia Argento’s vocals become very predictable (monotone speech is pretty boring after the initial gimmick wears off) and all of a sudden there is no variety between songs. I’m not saying this is a bad album, because it’s not. Every song on there is well written, well produced and is great to listen to on its own. But as an album Fotuna lacks variety and interest for me. 5/10

Sunday, 25 July 2010

StringerBessant - Yard (Xtra Mile Recordings)

You remember Reef, right? They did that song ‘Place Your Hands’ back in the 90’s that is now a must for any budding DJ at a student night.  I know they did more than that, but really if we’re being honest that’s the only thing of note they ever released. Well now they’re back, kind of. StringerBessant are Gary Stringer and Jack Bessant, formerly singer and bassist of Reef respectively. I say formerly, Reef have reformed for a reunion tour this year so I suppose it is currently. So why oh why have they decided that along with having to relearn those old Reef classics, they would also go and write some kind of folk-blues album as well? To be honest I’m not quite sure.

The album is actually being sold as a ‘former members of Reef’ record (StringerBessant isn’t the most subtle), which is never a good start. If it’s not going to sell on its own merit then why bother? And being completely honest again, it wouldn’t sell without the Reef tagline (and it will probably still struggle). The songs are poorly written; they feel like they are never-ending. Gary Stringer’s gruff voice doesn’t suit the music and Jack Bessant just sounds weak. Some of the guitar work is OK, but as a whole it’s extremely dull. The only thing that I really enjoyed was the touch of theramin-esque synth in the first song ‘Hey Girl.’ That on a twelve song album just isn’t enough, maybe if it appeared a little later in the album as well I wouldn’t be giving such a bad review.

While we’re being honest, I like Reef. I think that their album ‘Glow’ is great, so StringerBessant must know what makes a good or bad song. All I can think is that they must have run out of good ideas. I am actually disappointed; I was quite excited at the albums potential before I pressed play. So do I think the 2010 Reef reunion might be a bit of a publicity stunt to promote a below par album? Yes I do, it needs it. 1/10

Friday, 23 July 2010

Applicants – Escape from Kraken Castle (Tigertrap Records)

Applicants claim to be punk, as in proper punk with all the ideals that come with it. They say they are unique, they don’t just take other peoples ideas and make them their own. That’s a big claim to make, but I think they have every reason to make it. Their music is riff heavy and very strange: It sounds like their guitars are fighting one another in a battle to the death in a custom made computer game for the Sega Game Gear (if you don’t know what a Game Gear is then where were you in 1990?!) The whole album sounds very raw, it is intense noise, almost bordering on hardcore at times. It sounds kind of like Fantômas if they had actually structured their songs into concise two and a half minute pieces. Oh, and without the screaming… and better.

It’s only when you get to the second half of the album that it starts to calm down a touch. They keep the rough sounding guitars and computer game backing tracks, but it’s got a slightly more indie edge to it. With this different sound they even bring different instruments to the forefront at times; ‘They Wrote Gone Fishing on His Grave’ has a hint of harmonica in it, and ‘Since Porn Took Over eBay’ features a recorder solo. Applicants are going for an open minded, witty way of creating music. Their songs might be intense but they all have a comedy edge, whether it’s lyrically or musically. It’s great to hear, and extremely refreshing. 9/10

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Nigel of Bermondsey - London Dreamtime (Pure Mint)

‘London Dreamtime’ is Nigel of Bermondsey’s second album – recorded in his shed in London, this is an extremely polished and quirky pop record right from the first note. Album opener ‘Castle Of Evil’ gets everything going with a laid back groove driven by a synth bass line reminiscent of The Flaming Lips. As the chorus kicks in it is immediately huge; layers of drums, guitars and synths create a wall of sound. Then in comes Nigel’s high pitch, wailing voice. It’s strong that’s for sure, but it never overpowers the music.

As the album continues a theme begins to appear; it is full of bouncy pop songs with not much contrast between them. There are even a couple of moments where the songs seem to blend into one another, but it really isn’t a problem as the album as a whole is extremely lively. You could put pretty much any one of the tracks on at a party and I (almost) guarantee that people would start dancing. There are lots of different influences that come through in the music; The Flaming Lips, Ghosts, The Beatles (a couple of times you would be excused for thinking Paul McCartney had laid down the bass lines), and there is even a moment in the song ‘Human Nature’ where it sounds like Kylie had a part to play in the production.

The closing song, ‘What Have I Got to Lose,’ stands out the most for me though. It’s the one track that completely breaks away from the mould from the previous eleven songs. There are no synths, there’s no bouncing bass lines and no kick drum heavy drumming. It’s a beautiful ballad filled with flowing vocal harmonies, delicate drums and percussion and a slick guitar part. It’s the perfect way to end an album like ‘London Dreamtime’; it’s totally unexpected but in no way out of place and is a great way to round off what is a strong album. 7/10

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Black Helicopter – Don’t Fuck with the Apocalypse (Ecstatic Peace)

I’m excited at the prospect of listening to Black Helicopter’s album ‘Don’t Fuck with the Apocalypse.’ The name of the band, album and tracks such as ‘Pickle Jar,’ ‘Idiot Son,’ and ‘King Shit’ are brilliant. This is going to be heavy, it’s going to be gritty and it’s going to be angry I’m sure of it.

Maybe not... On first listen it’s not as heavy as the name suggests. Nor is it particularly angry. It sounds a bit like Pixies or Everclear, maybe even a little like Dinosaur Jr; it has got some grittiness but with a bit of a pop sheen to it. Front man Tim Shea has a couldn’t-care-less kind of voice; it’s not overly memorable and he doesn’t sound particularly passionate; it sounds like he’s tired and just wants to get things done. The guitars drone along the root of every chord with some very sketchy sounding lead parts adding instrumental harmonies tucked in there as well. By track three it’s all become very repetitive and quite boring to be completely honest.

So what of those intriguing songs I mentioned earlier? ‘Pickle Jar’ starts with some very weak sounding drums; there’s no power behind them, partly down to the playing but mainly due to the recording. The song is about going shopping, renting a film and buying a jar of pickle, then going home to eat the pickle while watching the film. Not exciting. ‘Idiot Son’ is a bit more upbeat, still somehow lacking energy though. There are a couple of attempts at guitar solos in there which should add that excitement I’m on the hunt for. They don’t. Finally ‘King Shit’ just does nothing for me, like the rest of the album it sounds uninspired, tired and almost like it’s a little embarrassed of itself. There is a two minute instrumental in the middle that shouldn’t be there. Really it just sounds like a bad attempt at being prog rock.

I really want to like this album, if only because of its name and song titles, but I struggle to do so. I found it hard to listen to and instantly forgettable… 1/10

Monday, 5 July 2010

Calamateur – Each Dirty Letter (Autoclave Records)

When I think about singer songwriters I immediately imagine someone sat behind an acoustic guitar, playing songs that are extremely hard to differentiate from one another. Lots of acoustic guitar, lots of singing, oh and maybe a cello on track four to make it sound ‘different.’ Out of all the types of musicians out there singer songwriters have definitely got it hardest. The voice behind Calamateur, Andrew Howie, sings in the song ‘Bannoffee’; “Let’s break every little rule and transcend every dumb cliché.” And for a large part of this album he does just that.

Of course, there are the classic singer songwriter tracks in there, but these are placed amongst some really very interesting ideas. ‘Testimony’ is a bass heavy rock ballad. ‘City Is Mine’ has an electronic drum track emphasised by real drums (what, TWO drum tracks?!) with some proper ‘riffage’ in the middle. Last song on the album ‘A Crumbling Empire’ builds up layers of organs and guitars, with effects all over the vocals. This is not a classic singer songwriter album; it’s much more than that. If I hadn’t read the bumph that came with the CD I would have thought Calamateur were in fact a band, which is a good thing. This album is weird and wonderful, it’s dark and consuming - it’s not just a guy sat behind an acoustic guitar. 8/10