Anyone who has ever been sent music to review or is in a position to receive new music, knows the following things:
1. There is far too much music in the world.
2. What music there is, is largely awful.
3. There is something undignified in listening to music like a prostitute.
4. Your time is probably worth more than the cost of sending it.
5. It would be better if people were like Rough Trade in the punk era, or whoever it was that refused to send journalists records. It would really purify criticism.
6. Music reviews go out of date so quickly. They are antithetical to the kind of writing that I enjoy reading.
7. And yet one feels guilty about not saying anything and feels a duty to listen to these things in order to be fair.
8. Occasionally, something will turn up that it is worth listening to.
The following reviews are of the artists and bands that I have received over the last few months, chiefly via the Indie Music Contact Newsletter. I reviewed the first batch here. The new pile of CDs has been glaring at me for too long.
Jane is back with a new album, Seedling, proving that her previous one wasn’t a fluke. Again, it is the kind of MOR that I would ordinarily baulk at, but which she does so well that you can’t help but lend it an ear. As before, it is the sound of the Corrs if they could actually write decent songs. The only difference is that now it has the West Coast attention to detail seen in artists like Jackson Browne. Good stuff.
Talking of Jackson Browne, PC Munoz has actually got the great man to provide backing vocals. “I’m love with California” declares Munoz, backed by the amen corner (although not the Amen Corner). It is a little funky, a little rocky, a little souly: he crosses genres with ease, but as a Jack of all trades he is a master of none. Could do better.
I have been meaning to write about Tyrone Houston for a while now, simply because he makes music that is so distant from the fops and freaks that I tend to write about. Either he hasn’t read me – imagine that – or he wants to challenge my narrow vista with his rap/rock/R’n’B album, No Boundaries. Opening with an Eminem-on-8 mile style rap against giving up, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy about being able to “do anything.” And it’s good, suitably cinematic and intense. Unfortunately, the rest of the album descends into R Kelly-lite balladry until final song Believe. This reprises the same themes as Do Anything but with contemporary details about “Saddam Hussein . . . suicide bombers.” A sharp piece of Christian propaganda. Effervescently joyful.
The Raiders of Rock ‘n’ Roll are apparently “four vicious parasites” whose songs contain “witty insights” into subjects as diverse as the “John Kennedy-Marilyn Munroe (sic) affair” and “oral sex whilst driving.” Actually, their pastiche of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin isn’t bad. Just hopelessly redundant.
The cover of Feeling van Gogh by Chandler Marks is like a bad Joni Mitchell parody, which is a shame because some of the songs can bear comparison with the Mitchell’s. Amazingly diverse, from Blue-style ballads to disco beats, Marks is obviously a talented singer-songwriter. My only qualm is that it is perhaps too diverse. The songs don’t always seem to hang together as an album.
Now, imagine a world where everyone could become musical geniuses merely through pressing a few buttons on their computers. All that would happen is that the bar of quality would be raised a few notches. Take Savage Bliss by Arthur Loves Plastic, the latest album by “remix master” Bev Stanton. This is her eleventh record of progressive electronica, which samples from all and sundry, and which has been categorized by her as “music to do your housework to”. It is very good and eminently listenable, but it all feels slightly too easy. The difference between good and great is inspiration, an unexpected flourish or melody, and there is nothing here that is unexpected. Which in a way is a good thing: you wouldn’t want to miss a spot while you’re dusting the mantel-piece.
Ribbons into Hysterics by Ethelscull, which is a trippy excursion into minimalist guitar music. The vocals are ethereal and the songs open-ended making it more of a mood piece than a coherent album. So-so.
Good old Pretty Suicide. You don’t know them? You’ve never heard Vache, Armand, Courtney and Larry rockin’ out? Honestly, they’re not so bad, but this kind of college rock has been done to death. Cut ‘n’ pasted straight from the 80s, there is no place for this kind of thing now.
Dave Swain’s Insurmontables falls at the first hurdle of self-produced music, which is to not make it sound like you’re just messing around on the computer. Keith Lynch’s Unknown Component falls at the second hurdle of self-produced music, which is to make it sound like you playing your guitar and singing into the mirror.
Sutrobath’s Aquatica is melodic rock and Beatlesy pop, sometimes sounding like Gomez. Made up of Michael Soiseth and Robert Willam, they are, essentially, Siegfried and Roy with guitars instead of tigers.
The Smiths were on a CD of the “Best Goth songs . . . ever” recently. Apparently, their dour Northern camp has similarities with the black stormbooted corpses of the Goth scene, but I can’t see it. Goth is based around theatricality, a fantastical world of goblins, lace accoutrements and tight basques. Take Seven 13’s Devour, whose lite-rock comes accompanied with pictures of the band in evening wear. Rather than adding to their music it just looks like an attempt to distract from its shortcomings.
Brandon Patton’s CD, Should Confusion, passed me by without incident until track three where there is a line about eating chicken and having his dick in his hand. I started paying attention to songs that were one part Simon and Garfunkel and two parts anything else we can fit into the mix — from Carnival Soca to Doo-wop. Hmmm.
Mid Air Collision by Melaleuca contains four songs including the decent ‘Pocket Capulet’ with its lament “this town’s a burial ground” Too true. Or at least it is true for Farnborough, which is where they come from. This kind of rock action rarely excites me, but their last song, End Communication, shows that it can still be done with vim and vitality. As with any style of music, you need melody and talent, and this has both.
Alice Lee’s bland, I beg your pardon, brand of post-triphop comes on like early Sneaker Pimps. And, like most triphop it ambles along very pleasantly. There are several million Dido-owning homes who would love this kind of thing. It’s better than Dido, but that isn’t really saying much.
Despite being called The Beers, The Beers are actually very good. Their lo-fi, slacker style still sounds relevant and their melodies are timeless, reminiscent of mid-period Velvet Underground. Their album, A Taste of the Beers, has been updated from its first release all the way back in 1993. To have persisted with it this long they are either lazy or really believe in it. Possibly both.
Fire Bug’s Footsteps to the Sun is . . . is . . . is . . . I don’t know. I’ve run out of words to say, I am a barren land where the word “thesaurus” appears on the horizon like a mirage. Bands like these need soundbites, not long analysis. On that basis, let me just say that Fire Bug are an occasionally exciting excursion into the realm of alt-rock. Okay?
Australian Anthony Pell, who records under the name of Apell, sent his CD accompanied by a Terry’s chocolate orange bar in order to make it sound sweeter. Sadly, the chocolate gave me a toothache, which gave me a headache, which made his instrumental guitar rock sound less than sweet. It is okay, but lacks any kind of edge.
The most terrifying development in the world of self-produced music is that anyone can do it all on their own. The laptop enthusiast is a musical masturbator without the ability to contextualise. Collaboration is the essence of music, whether it be Bowie or Dylan, they all needed foils to play off against.
It is hard to imagine a world where more people wrote novels than read them, merely because it is difficult to write a decent novel and the quality levels vary immensely. But everyone loves the sound of their own voice/melody. Now, in the advent of pro-tools and the internet, it is becoming absurdly easy for people to produce music. And yet independence is not a choice for these people but a necessity. Worst of all, however good they are, there lingers a whiff of desperation, it all feels somewhat sordid. The thing that unifies every one of these acts is that they are all in thrall to a chart professionalism, but you get the feeling that such music needs major marketing to validate it.