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J Capeling

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City of Refuge
City of Refuge
Price: £9.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Go out and get yourself good and lost in the City of Refuge., 3 April 2009
This review is from: City of Refuge (Audio CD)
Castanets is lonesome, melancholic, bric-a-brac folk with an experimental edge, like a Cat Power at her most sombre moments being broadcast across the galaxy. Classic gospel and bluegrass phrases effortlessly blend chameleon-like into this theme from a month at an isolated mid-western truck stop. A tombola music box turning inside a Spanish colonial ghost town's tumble weed. It evokes places only known to most of us through cinema: Kill Bill's isolated chapel, Oh, Brother Where Art Thou's backdrop, El Mariachi's going-away places. Barren, derelict settings of solitary refuge. Haunting ringing rusty steel acoustics and single string battered double bass populate the empty dirt track streets and battered wooden edifices. The percussionists have all long since upped sticks and made for boxcars and empty freighters. As long a trek as it may seem at first glance, City Of Refuge's fifteen tracks sneak up and engulf you in their dustbowl world briefly before the sandstorm breezes straight on out before you've had time to say, `I don't think we're in Kansas anymore'.

J Capeling

The Best Of Burlesque: 50 Original Club Classics
The Best Of Burlesque: 50 Original Club Classics
Price: £5.50

10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Get 'em off. S-l-o-w-l-y., 3 April 2009
The subtitle on this compilation reads, "50 Original Club Classics", and I have to confess the term `Club Classics' strikes fear into the heart of even a seasoned music writer, like myself. It evokes images of bell-ends in techno-clobber, the shrill sounds of atonal referee's whistles, luminous fishing tackle being swilled around the mouth of a slack-jawed moron. It makes me picture Brian Harvey, Tim Westwood, and an endless procession of identikit, headphone-wearing twats.

It's this that blights my day and leaves me frozen - not from the wintry, snow capped, vistas visible from my upper-storey window - but from the cold chill of the suggestion of dance music that so ices my veins. This concern even overrides the first part of this title that causes me concern, and that is the fact that this is a Various Artists release: a compilation. A mix-tape.

It can be difficult to critically assess work that is essentially just the art of making a recording comprising of the works of many other artists and a mere list of the tracks contained herein might serve you, the reader, better than this review. But I'll struggle on for you.

If you've ever been to a burlesque night, a Fifties night or anything that similarly involves women in period garb taking their clothes off for your entertainment, then you have nothing to fear as you'll be quite familiar with the tracks on this release. I too was pleasantly relieved to find that it was indeed the sort of music that accompanies such hedonistic, yet classy, nights.

If, like me, you have even a passing penchant for rock-a-billy chicks, Betty Page, the art of seduction or even good old-fashioned rock `n' roll, then you'll not be disappointed by this excellent collection of sexy lounge tunes. If you need a sleazy soundtrack to your speakeasy, or vaudevillian vulgarity for your vampish vixen to strip to, look no further.

J Capeling
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 8, 2010 12:10 AM GMT

Price: £11.22

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars High rollers or buried in the desert?, 3 April 2009
This review is from: Ceilings (Audio CD)
Arizona's ridiculously named, Alive In Wild Paint, release a record that aims to be accessible indie rock and is mixed and produced by the people responsible for Rilo Kiley, Maroon 5, Jimmy Eat World and Counting Crows. `Nuff said.

Oh, OK. They cite their influences as Radiohead, Nada Surf and Blonde Redhead, although they take an awful lot more from REM and aren't at all a dissimilar auditory experience from Snow Patrol. They are another in the long line of bands trying to produce an indie sound that is so middle-of-the-road that its appeal should be broad enough to sell 20 times the copies of more interesting, and therefore more niche bands. They aspire to be the next wet-bag coldplay-esque, predictable, falsetto vocal-ed, contemporary whine-pop, spouting lyrics that are supposedly insightful and tortured: `You want a car with a clean interior/I've been far but it's never been serious', that fail to connect with anyone who's ever had a problem bigger than trying to find an Aga that's colour perfectly compliments their kitchen's slate floor tiles.

It smacks this nail squarely on the head, however, and is very accomplished, glossy, indie-pop. It's driving music for U2 fans; it's background music to Hollywood teen-romance movies.

J Capeling

To Be Still
To Be Still
Price: £9.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alela Diane's still waters run valley deep., 3 April 2009
This review is from: To Be Still (Audio CD)
Californian songstress, Alela Diane, makes anachronistic, chilly, melancholic acoustic folk, singing for today with the voice of a bygone generation. Tapping into the same sultry, sexy, oppressively humid, tone that Eva Cassidy evoked, Alela plays tumbledown porch music like a broken, abused, fallen angel, whistling an ironic mirthless ditty to her finger-plucked dirge.

To Be Still further explores Alela's ability to bring butterflies to bellies, and with this new release you can almost track her transformation from homegrown local singer/songwriter to touring recording artist. Right from the get-go, first track, Dry Grass & Shadows, laden with it's country steels and indelible sense of wide open plains, finds us pulling out of some backwater truck-stop at 2am, leaving Barstow on Interstate 15, head resting against the glass, Alela's songs of desolation and still waters ringing in our ears.

In the wake of anti-folk and all those who have assimilated the guise of folk musician, Alela Diane's record seems genuine, bare, honest. It's not tinted with the cynical, affected pseudo-psychedelia of recent folk outpourings, feeling more like a long ramble through cornfields and across babbling brooks with a mysterious, beautiful, simple stranger, rather than an evening snorting nutmeg off a rusty cooker with some charlatan in a tie-dyed kaftan. Do you see what I mean?

She's a musically literate Scout Niblett, a fledgling Nina Nastasia, a lone rival to Anni Rossi for release of the month. She's really rather good.

J Capeling

The Golden Foretaste of Heaven
The Golden Foretaste of Heaven
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rate it. Get it. 4.5, 3 April 2009
Where do you start with Alec Empire? Ridiculously prolific, versed in genres from punk to techno, noise to funk, and muso-politically astute - Alec is the renaissance man of modern experimental music. He's the man who took his advance from one label to start his own one, Digital Hardcore, with which he defined a genre, putting out his politically charged band, Atari Teenage Riot.

This is his first release on the label, Eat Your Heart Out, and signals either the beginning of yet another new era, or merely a one-off side-project for Alec as - for the pioneer of digital-hardcore, a kind of `tech-screamo' - this is a remarkably catchy, pop-conscious collection of purely electronic dancefloor tunes, and some of his most accessible material to date. That's not to say that it's not still creative and challenging, but it's not as genre splicing/defying as the majority of his best-known output, and drops the noise/breakbeat dynamics present in his previous work. No, this is a bit of a hark-back to the days of New York, no-wave disco, featuring simple, sparse beats and prominent, `80s, under-squelched synths. It's a little reminiscent of Gary Numan and there's a lot of languid, spoken word, freeform vocals that occasionally sound redolent of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore singing over the Terminator soundtrack - which is an apt description of a lot of those electro groups of that era.

Those that think producing this kind of material means he's lost his punk edge may not know that he's still jacked into a distinctly post-punk, avant-garde dynamic: this certainly isn't a collection of your average nightclub floor-fillers. He's isn't creating anything new this time `round, though, and - while other artists are judged on their merit within their chosen genre - Alec will probably lose brownie-points with many, merely for not having again invented an original sub-genre with this outing.

I've enormous admiration for Alec's principles, music and ethos, though, and while all he has done with TGFH is create indie-pop inspired, left-field disco, it's an excellent example of the genre and a satisfying record throughout.

J Capeling

It's Blitz!
It's Blitz!
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.67

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Karen O and Co. kick bottom., 3 April 2009
This review is from: It's Blitz! (Audio CD)
Part of me wants to hate them.
Karen O & Co. are some god-damned ice-cool, so irritatingly hip and self-assured that a little segment of my psyche couldn't stand them, if only I didn't love them so much.

If ever was my chance to eject them from their hallowed reverence in my heart, to repeal the acerbic journalese immunity that their magnificent back-catalogue has afforded them in spite of their posturing: the time is now.

With the imminent release of It's Blitz, there is an amnesty on my pent-up niggles with the band that have been - like Mary Poppins - practically perfect in every way. The simple reason for this is It's Blitz has hardly any guitars on it, at all.

Music Week has simultaneously - and rather inelegantly, by their own admission - compared the whole record to both Blondie and the genre of disco! *Oh dear, surely this must be the end for our tenacious trio? Have Ms O and Co. gone the way of the dodo? Will It's Blitz be more of a mayfly than a doodle-bug? For the answers to this and more, dear visitor, read on...*

With the trend towards all that is Eighties at the moment, we'd be forgiven for thinking that these hip-kids were jumping onto another bandwagon, particularly since this album initially seems to have more in common with the Ting Tings then their past work. OK, that comparison is overly harsh, though they are certainly taking a leaf from the collective compendium of avant-garde electronica emanating from Brooklyn and basements apartments of the swelling ranks of sound artists from the further reaches of NYC's five boroughs. Parts & Labor recently released a not dissimilar record and - though only one will get air-play - both are ambitious and beautiful, full of ambient electronica and yet still passionate and rockin'.

Yes, that's right: as reward for persevering with both this article and the album proper, the rocking moments do come; they just take five tracks to happen. Then, suddenly, the YYYs are Wayne's World band, Crucial Taunt covering Ballroom Blitz. There are also sound-bytes reminiscent of Seventies' kids TV mysteries, slips of Eighties' hip-hop, a veritable smorgasbord of disparate delights crafted into a neo-cut'n'paste rollercoaster, all rattling long at a fair old lick with the inertia of past glories. By the time you get to Runaway, a track as achingly delicate and beautiful as a Jean-Pierre Jeunet flick, you'll have fallen in love with YYYs all over again.

J Capeling

Yes Yes Vindictive
Yes Yes Vindictive
Price: £11.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Pop-punk fun!, 3 April 2009
This review is from: Yes Yes Vindictive (Audio CD)
Girl fronted indie-punk bands are like buses: you wait ages for them and then two come along at once. Be Your Own Pet turned some heads when they released their debut album back in 2006, and those eagerly awaiting their follow-up album may find themselves pleasantly surprised by the release of not just the one BYOP LP, but also the near coinciding release of Operator Please's debut record, Yes Yes Vindictive.

This album delivers all of the punchy avant-punk-pop of BYOP, but in a package so sleek and smooth that it could bear the words `Made In California' emblazoned upon it. California gloss it may have, but you may be pleased to hear that this is by no means a Californian interpretation of the punk genre: this is very much what Londoners and New Yorkers associate with the word punk: savvy, punchy, angular, avant garde, and too smart for its own good.

This record is set to be a stone-cold killer across the globe. They have a near-perfect mix or avant-punk and pop sensibility (complete with tweecore gang vocals). The precocious teenagers rattle through tracks like "It's Just A Song About Ping Pong" at a startling pace of both music and vocals, and with consummate ease, and throw in Irish-tinged strings to surprisingly good effect. This may incline towards pop a little too much for many - they certainly haven't got the raw, reckless abandon of Be Your Own Pet - and if they get very big, they could quickly become irritating, plus the record does run out of steam in a few places, but that's true of most things, eh? Give it a shot, ye flaming galahs!

J Capeling

Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars check it out, 13 Mar 2009
This review is from: "S/T" (MP3 Download)
A prophetic speed-rockabilly intro track soon gives way to some traditional benzadrine-infused California punk.
Los Difuntos aren't quite the pop-punk of most of their contemporaries though: their music has the gritty, dark edge of an evident Rancid influence.
Exploring territories favoured by many Los Angeles based musicians: drugs, depravity and death, Los Difuntos dissect LA street-life with the straightforward, basic, metaphor-dodging style typical of their genre.

Besides some very satisfying nods to psychobilly and horror-punk tremelo guitars and rhythm arrangements, they exhibit a distinct European feel that is creeping into US punk at the moment, as Gogol Bordello-esque eastern European influences give way to Irish Celtic overtones as heard in the music of The Briggs. Such genre-splicing angst-punk has seen this band become protégés of the Rancid crew, who have taken them on tour, put out their debut record and providing additional vocals on this their new album.
Such recognition has obviously developed an inner confidence in the band who have released a self-assured record showing that they are unafraid to cut out their own niche within the genre, with the poised aplomb of veterans.

Shooting Cabin Songs
Shooting Cabin Songs
Price: £12.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Cabin fever!, 13 Mar 2009
This review is from: Shooting Cabin Songs (Audio CD)
Everything about the first minute of this experience is utterly delightful.
The cover art is redolent of a kind of Amish-punk aesthetic with it's wilderness, cross-hatched clouds and mixed media montage: negative photography, ink-blown tree forms, watercolour, and a cartoonish illustration of a windswept boy in a scarf and raincoat, brandishing a closed umbrella - this, I decide, is George Thomas.

I know what George will sound like in an instant: a folksy, acoustic, lo-fi, wandering, hobo troubadour. A cold, shivering, Devendra Banhart, roaming across rain-drenched moors. The title, Shooting Cabin Songs, first conjures up danger on those dark moors again, before giving way to a vague, worrying notion of, "what kind of music would hunting parties in northern Minnesota listen to at the end of a hard day's killing?"

Hitting Play, a deliciously analogue sounding crackle of low production values, evocative of the hiss, clicks and pops of a stylus skating around aged vinyl, fills my ears. Atop it are the finger-plucked warm tones of an old acoustic guitar and I can almost detect the metallic smell of worn-out strings; taste the gluey, cracked lacquer of the sound-box. I'm there, in that smoky cabin in front of the log-fire with George, already. His gravelly Nick Drake-esque vocals thinly drape themselves across the high strings, nearly transparent, like the cobwebs in the rafters.

A moment later he hits his first bum note - a drawn out, reedy flat affair that sounds like poor composition of melody, rather than the inability to hit correct pitch. This motif continues, though, and you get the impression that these off-key, flat melodies are entirely intentional. The honeymoon may be over already, but I'm sticking with George for the sake of the Owls.

Mountaintop Blues is a wholly more interesting composition: still melancholy and chilly, but interspersed with a squawking, clucking, chicken-chorus, featuring percussion that sounds like a struggle with a mal-aligned cutlery drawer.
George recorded most of this record last January on his trademark decrepit eight-track, stating that he wanted it to sound like, "it was made in a barn and everything was broken". He's certainly succeeded in capturing this mood, and I was right about the moor-wandering and the frosty, misty, drizzle soaked feel to the record, too.

His undeviating pace and apparently wantonly delicate vocals never do subside to reveal a spectacular, soaring range that they initially seem to be masking, though, instead becoming integral to his just-woken-up-in-a-stable atmospherics.

Folk has certainly been picked up, en masse, by the musical underground since the success of Banhart - and it is at risk of becoming rather tiresome - but George does just enough; his work sufficiently idiosyncratic to single him from the crowd.

Sleight Of Heart
Sleight Of Heart

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gritty or puerile? Hmm..., 13 Mar 2009
This review is from: Sleight Of Heart (Audio CD)
In more modern times musicians as well as poets entrench their meanings in elaborate metaphor for myriad reasons: self-preservation, pretension, privacy, a drug-induced askew outlook on the world, or simple inability to construct meaningful sentences. The results are usually, with a few exceptions, thought provoking, open to interpretation, and phonoaesthetically pleasing. Blurt out the first thing that comes into your head and you run the risk of being seen as obvious, passé, and being impaled upon the sharp tongues of critics, as trite, platitudinous, jejune.

Maybe, therefore we should all praise Malcolm Middleton for his candour and straightforward song-writing. It's refreshing to hear a man sing so clearly in his native accent - sounding like Roddy Woomble's speaking voice - utterly free from pretense.
He deals with themes that are readily accessible to the everyman and attempts, in places, to dissect - or at least illuminate - the human condition in the modern world.
These songs are a collection of six he wrote during the sessions for his previous solo outing, A Brighter Beat, plus three covers - ranging from King Creosote to Madonna - that he intended to produce as an acoustic album but got carried away and invited the whole band along. It remains, however, quite a minimal folksy affair.

Possibly then, songs about the frustrations of trying to cook pasta may not sound like the sort poignant sentiments usually expressed in acoustic folk music, but themes such as this, and the dissection of indoor drinking culture mingle unabashed with tales of love lost, self-depreciation, and depression, all presented in a manner fitting of a musical interlude on Balamory or Rosie and Jim, with Malcolm steering the barge and singing his clothy companions a little ditty, on top deck, about drug-induced sleepless nights and the perils of fickle womenfolk.

In all honesty, this kind of frank, no-nonsense, temporal bellyaching is normally restricted to open mic nights down the Nag's Head, where twenty-something, bandana-wearing abominations whining to us about not having a girlfriend vie with 65 year old Buddy Hollys for stage space.
Don't get me wrong, it's not the nonsensical, downer-than-thou miserabilia oft peddled by Coldplay, but nor am I the kinda guy who's averse to a good long sit in a darkened room listening to Radiohead.
It's just that this LP is the musical equivalent of a Ken Loach film compared to a Hollywood blockbuster and an art-house flick: it may be gritty and heartfelt and real, but it doesn't have jaw-dropping production - which is no great loss, admittedly, but - nor does it transport you anywhere.
This may well be largely due to the very nature of the LP, which is described as `using up the leftovers and tying up the loose ends'. This material is the last of Malcolm's backlog - he is already recording his new stuff - and therefore, presumably, his weakest?

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