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Mike Mantin (Swansea, UK)

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Why are Animals Funny?: Everyday Analysis: Volume 1
Why are Animals Funny?: Everyday Analysis: Volume 1
Price: 6.21

5.0 out of 5 stars The theory of the everyday, 5 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This will give you life. Its central concept is the wonderful, novel idea of applying critical theory to everyday situations and objects. Nothing is out of bounds, meaning that funny animals and toasties are given the same thorough analysis as the coalition government's daily slip-ups and Richard Dawkins' laughable tweets.

It's lively, intelligent and often hilarious, uncompromisingly using major philosophical ideas (many are introduced off the cuff, which might be frustrating but also a catalyst to find out more) once the reader's hooked in with titles like 'Why Justin Bieber should Listen to Neutral Milk Hotel' and 'Fear and Anxiety in The Gruffalo'.

You won't agree with everything but you're almost certainly not supposed to. In the book's introduction - the lengthiest piece here - the anonymous authors defend the idea of using theory and position it in the face of a unanimous and still undefined 'common sense'. This is a thrilling uncommon rejection. I'm excited for volume 2.

Write About Love
Write About Love
Price: 9.76

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome back, it's been too long, 12 Oct 2010
This review is from: Write About Love (Audio CD)
When Belle & Sebastian announced 'Write About Love', they implored their fans to go scrawl the slogan in chalk on walls, pavements, anywhere in public. It was a neatly defiant gesture for their return after a four: they're still going to be as obnoxiously sentimental as they like. As such, their eighth album is full of wistful fantasy and breezy melodies, low on surprises but big on tunes.

`...Write About Love' is going to be familiar for anyone who's been following the B&S story: it feels like a natural successor to 2006's divisive `The Life Pursuit', their first produced by Tony Hoffer who returns here. It's slightly more sedate than that album's booming, brassy sound, but builds on its retro, soulful vibe through tracks like the divine `Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John', a Motown-esque duet between band leader Stuart Murdoch and Norah Jones. But they're at their best when they tone things down - the synth-led `I Want The World To Stop', with its slinky bassline and call-and-response lyrics, is one of the best things they've done since those mythical and untouchable first couple of albums.

And yep, they're writing about love all right, albeit tinged with plenty of melancholy and fantasy. Lines like `What a waste, I could have been your lover/What a waste, I could have been your friend' tread the fine line between familiarity and cliché, but the endearingly earnest songwriting makes sure it stays on the right side. The album's middle section reveals a great sense of escapism: the bored officer worker in the title track - sung by Carey Mulligan, no less - and the ditzy daydreamer of `I'm Not Living In The Real World' are both rewarded with sweet, upbeat pop melodies to get lost in.

The album fails to keep this spark going til the end, though - as seen in trudging acoustic number `Read The Blessed Pages', complete with misplaced flute solo. But these missteps are outnumbered by instantly likeable and insanely catchy pop songs. For the most part, `...Write About Love' scribbles out a familiar but most definitely welcome message.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 15, 2010 9:55 AM BST

And Then We Saw Land
And Then We Saw Land
Price: 9.55

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Their biggest and best album yet, 2 Mar 2010
This review is from: And Then We Saw Land (Audio CD)
Tunng's fourth album sees them operating as a full five-piece band rather than simply the personal project of Mike Lindsay and the now-departed Sam Genders Thinking cynically, this could be an attempt to finally shake off the `folktronica' tag, a tiresome label which presumably gets as much welcome as a one-star review to the bands lumped with it. But of course, that's not the case (though it might be a nice side-effect): this is a natural evolution, and it's yielded some joyous results.

`...And Then We Saw Land' is by far Tunng's most accessible work yet, its bigger scope allowing Lindsay's ear for melody to take centre stage. In `Hustle' they have their first radio-friendly hit, a cute shuffle flavoured with banjos and African-flavoured percussion (they've clearly been taking some notes since touring with members Tinariwen last year). Elsewhere they take their trademarks of delicate fingerpicked guitar and nature imagery and apply them to their most memorable tunes yet.

But this is by no means a reluctant bid for commercial appeal. It is a shame to see a curtail of the liberal use of samples and electronics which made their earlier albums so distinctive - the bleepy refrains which make up the second half of the album will be greeted warmly by their fans - but the songwriting is stronger than ever and the fact the band has been fleshed out never compromises the songs' intimacy. There's none of the grating filler that 2007's `Good Arrows' suffered. "Don't look down or back" sings the 15-person `Mega Chorus' of mates on the epic track of the same name. It's a philosophy that the confident and fully-formed Tunng of this fine fourth album clearly shares.

Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Price: 13.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Depressing Disco: A modern classic, 23 Nov 2009
An endlessly imaginative indie band that knows how to make people dance makes a disco-pop album which is thoroughly depressing: of Montreal's astonishing 'Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?' delivers on all fronts. Wildly creative and original, especially for a band's eighth (!) album, this saw frontman Kevin Barnes write and record most of the record himself, turning it into an outlet for the personal demons tearing him apart. But while the lyrics are bleak, there's not a dirge to be seen. 'A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger' begins with an infectious ice-cream-van synth riff, only to deliver the sucker punch of, "I spent the winter on the verge of a nervous breakdown whilst living in Norway." And the second half of the album, which sees him transform into his latest alter-ego, 40-year-old black transsexual Georgie Fruit, adds an even weirder dimension to the catharsis. Immediately loveable yet rewarding on multiple levels, this album takes pains to stand out in every possible way.

You Are the One I Pick
You Are the One I Pick
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 12.22

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and original new music, 23 Nov 2009
This review is from: You Are the One I Pick (Audio CD)
Notts duo Felix have done a fine job of avoiding being pigeonholed. This breathtaking debut album has plenty of traceable influences - most noticeably neo-classical bands like Rachel's and Stars of the Lid, with whom Felix's Lucinda Chua first toured - but it operates in a space entirely its own.

Every single one of the eleven songs 'You Are The One I Pick' is delicate and minimalist - there's beautifiul textured guitars and lush strings throughout, but they're so hushed the songs can just drift off into the air if your mind wanders off. No, this is an album which demands your full attention, and will reward you plentifully. 'What I Learned From TV', for example, is such a gorgeous and warm piece of music, it takes a couple of listens to realise the lyrics are referencing the obscure early-morning Channel 4 program. Trans World Sport.

It's Chua's vocals that fully tie the knot between ethereal loveliness and reality, which is what makes Felix so special. Her voice is soft but with a tinge of a Londoner accent, and there's lyrics about the joy of sneaking into abandoned houses as well as about dragons and ponies. For such a reserved and minimalist album, there's a huge amount of things to love here. One stands out from the rest though: the fact that no one else right now is making music quite like Felix.

Monsters Of Folk
Monsters Of Folk
Price: 13.90

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An all-star indie love-in, 2 Sep 2009
This review is from: Monsters Of Folk (Audio CD)
'Monsters' may be perhaps an inappropriate term for a bunch of bearded folkies, but it is no understatement. This album, hinted at for years, brings together four of the gentle giants of American rootsy indie music for one genuinely all-star album. Yet the Monsters are actually far more varied than their 'folk' tag might suggest. They may include old-fashioned singer-songwriter M.Ward and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, who has recently restricted himself mostly to making warm country records, however there's also Jim James of My Morning Jacket, whose recent output has been characterised by funk hooks and soulful squealing.

At the start of their debut, the Monsters of Folk seem keen to make their range of styles clear. One might expect a rendition of 'Scarborough Fair' to kick things off, but opener 'Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)' is an understated jam featuring harps and - yep - beats. The tag-team vocals introduce everything perfectly, and it all comes together for a perfect falsetto chorus.

'Dear God' is a magnificent introduction, however its trippy style was clearly a short-lived idea conjoured up somewhere in the two years this album took to come together. The rest of 'Monsters of Folk' plays on the strength which all the players have in common, namely a flair for old-timey folk and country homage. Almost every track sounds like a dewey-eyed throwback, most noticeably on the sentimental ramblings about steamtrains on crackly fingerpicked ballad 'The Sandman, The Brakeman, and Me'.

Much like the debut album by the similarly lofty indie-rock supergroup Swan Lake, a key weakness (or strength, if you're a mega-fan of one artist) is that some of the tracks sound like offcuts from each member's individual bands, with the odd bit of guest backing vocals. 'Temazcal' is classic Conor Oberst, right down to the romantic melodrama ("Our love we made at gunpoint wasn't love at all"). 'Baby Boomer', meanwhile, is instantly recognisable as an M. Ward creation by that warm, familiar glow which has surrounded all his albums.

Aside from that tantalising first track, the Monsters Of Folk primarily deliver what was expected from them. The quality of songwriting is unsurprisingly superb, and the shared vocals conjour the warm feel of a campfire singalong. That alone makes it a perfectly enjoyable album, but its full impact will depend on whether we're content with them comfortably drifting on autopilot.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 30, 2009 10:58 AM BST

You Forgot It in People
You Forgot It in People
Offered by MMT-UK
Price: 9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars My favouritest album ever ever ever, 6 Aug 2009
This review is from: You Forgot It in People (Audio CD)
'You Forgot It In People' - the second album by ever-expanding Toronto collective Broken Social Scene - is probably few people's idea of the greatest record of all time. But the lasting effect it first had on my bored 16-year-old ears makes it unlikely I'll ever take it off its pedestal.

On release, it emerged from relative obscurity. Broken Social Scene had existed as a side-project between Toronto scenesters Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew, putting out the ambient Feel Good Lost in 2001. Lush and sweeping but relatively unremarkable, it laid few clues to what was to come, with nothing on the scale of the indie variety show on offer here. The pair added countless more friends to the Scene and returned with this just a year later.

Far more than a solid indie-rock record, 'You Forgot It In People' still sounds like some sort of divine compilation album, such is the range of perfectly-executed styles on offer. It's a true magnum opus, going through noisy blowouts ('Almost Crimes') to kitten-soft delicate pop tunes ('Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl') via laid-back improv-sounding jams ('Looks Just Like The Sun').

The concept is, then, an ambitious mission statement which for many bands would end up as a pretentious, masturbatory disaster. The number of official 'band members' playing on the album - all key players in their own right on the Toronto indie-rock scene - reaches double figures. Yet it's immediately clear that the idea is to bring together people who are full of talent and ideas: check out the way the distorted guitars overlap with Brendan Canning's hypnotic bassline and joyous handclaps in 'Stars And Sons', or how Kevin Drew and Leslie Feist's voices entangle each other on 'Almost Crimes'.

What makes 'You Forgot It In People' so special is that it goes through every effort to avoid such perfect pieces falling apart. The band's attitude to production seems to be to throw everything into the melting pot, but the tightness and sense of rhythm overpowers any sense of scruffiness. They keep everything focused on even the most meandering pieces like 'Shampoo Suicide', a song so busy and experimental it sounds like frontman Kevin Drew is speaking in tongues. There's also a prevalent sexiness - seen everywhere from Emily Haines' breathy vocals on 'Anthems...' to the overt fantasising on 'I'm Still Your Fag'. The whole thing just works sublimely.

'You Fogot It In People' is by anyone's ears a masterclass in bringing together a huge variety of people and styles into a solid and somehow beautifully cohesive album. And if you were lucky enough to have such a feast cure your musical rut, it will never leave your heart.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2009 12:35 PM BST

I'm Going Away
I'm Going Away
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 11.09

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From deranged prog to smooth '70s piano pop, 21 July 2009
This review is from: I'm Going Away (Audio CD)
The Fiery Furnaces have so far built a career out of suprising people. Their 2004 magnum opus Blueberry Boat was a sprawling, beautiful and occasionally terrifying masterwork, with half the songs over 10 minutes long and divided into short sections which would shift entirely with no notice. They followed it with an album recorded with Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger's grandmother, 80-year-old Olga Sarantos, and the eccentricity and unpredictability (which often translsates into genuinely original music) has since become their defining characteristic.

So much so, then, that one of the biggest shocks they have delivered so far is putting out an album of relatively straightforward "'70s piano pop" (their words), with no grandmothers or ludicrously complicated storylines in sight. Clearly this will cause anxious ripples amongst their fanbase, but 'I'm Going Away' both flirts with mainstream success and works hard to cement their reputation as master songwriters of catchy and - yes - unpredictable pop songs.

It's an album of piano ballads, seemingly using one of their most memorable songs - 'Evergreen', from their stunning 2005 collection EP - as a template. They are short and accessible, yet manage to mostly be as thrilling as their any of their prog explorations. 'Keep Me In Dark', a triumphant jam built around menacing riffs from the piano and Matthew's beloved wah-wah guitar, disintegrating into a disjointed but beautiful instrumental breakdown. 'The End Is Near' - tantalisingly released as an entry-point mp3 a month ago - is another highlight, a slow-burner which sounds best enjoyed in a smokey underground jazz club, cigarette in hand.

Matt and Eleanor continue to populate their songs with a colourful cast - 'Charmaine Champagne' ("She'll sing you the squarest thing on the jukebox") and 'Ray Bouvier' continue Eleanor's talent for wonderfully enigmatic character studies. There's still an abundance of playful lyrics and musical u-turns for fans to fall in love with again, but there's no need for any further comparisons to their previous work: 'I'm Going Away' stands alone as a finely crafted and original pop album, which will surely be one of the best surprises of the year.

Dark Days/Light Years
Dark Days/Light Years
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: 3.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Psychedelic and funny: a return to form, 8 April 2009
This review is from: Dark Days/Light Years (Audio CD)
After 2007's solid but unremarkable Hey Venus!, the individual Super Furry Animals clearly agreed with the critics: it was time for a break and an adventure. Since then, drummer Dafydd Ieuan pissed about with Rhys Ifans in The Peth, and singer Gruff Rhys teamed up with producer Boom Bip made an '80s synth-pop concept album about a millionnaire car designer as Neon Neon.

As you'd expect after all that, 'Dark Days/Light Nights' (the band's ninth album) sounds like a band who've rediscovered the playful, ambitious spirit which first set them apart from their Britpop peers. First single 'Inaugural Trams' is the album's highpoint of eccentricity, setting a bizarre narrative about opening a tram system to a bubblegum electro-pop melody, then throwing in a spoken-word German cameo from Nick McCarthy of Franz Ferdinand. The end result sounds like The Smurfs covering Kraftwerk.

There are other moments of brilliance scattered throughout the album: 'The Very Best Of Neil Diamond' matches the year's best song title to one of their catchiest, most enjoyable songs in ages, while the slow-burning 'Cardiff In The Sun' and the Krautrock-esque 'Pric' are hypnotic extended jams. The album does, however, occasionally trip itself up with its laid-back feel, especially on 'Mt' and 'Inconvenience' - two forgettable pop songs with lazy, repetitive lryics. Likewise, opener 'Crazy Naked Girls' is an indulgent freak-out which outstays its welcome by several minutes.

'Dark Days/Light Years' has a tendency to become unfocused, but it also brings their psychedelic experimentalism and sense of humour back to the foreground for the first time since 2001 masterwork Rings Around the World. And that's far preferable to playing it safe for a whole album.

Hold Time
Hold Time
Price: 10.03

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lush, nostalgic indie-folk, 5 Feb 2009
This review is from: Hold Time (Audio CD)
Matt Ward has been quietly releasing albums of hushed folk music since 1999, but the time seems right for the world to start paying attention. 'Hold Time' sees him return to solo work after last year's collaboration with actress Zooey Deschanel as She & Him, and while he's still treading his same familiar territory, he's confirmed his status as one of the very finest old-timey troubadours.

Ward's music has a timeless quality - the fingerpicked acoustic guitar and analogue recording gives the album the same warmth that made Fleet Foxes' debut so universally loved. On `Hold Time' he sounds more than ever like a true master of his craft by pairing the formula with some of his best songs yet. The lushly-orchestrated title track is breathtaking - "I wrote this song about it/'Cos I didn't care about any worthless photographs", he sighs into the strings, his heartbroken drawl suggesting that moment is long gone.

Elsewhere, the songwriting is mostly good enough to hold up to the brave choice of covers (versions of `50s standards `Rave On' and `Oh Lonesome Me' are both solid if hardly revolutionary). `One Hundred Million Years' stands out for its beautiful guitarwork, and the strangely optimistic reflections about death on `Blake's View' reveal a new depth and variety to his lyrics. Occasionally though, he crosses the fine line into unremarkable pastiche. 'Never Had Nobody Like You' and `Fisher Of Men' are fun, simplistic rockabilly tunes but they feel somewhat unnecessary when they're in such good company. There's really no need for one-dimensional imitations of classic songwriters when he's so close to becoming one himself.

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