Monday, 20 September 2010

Interim Reviews

Roland X reviews the odds and sods that arrived too late for the last issue, but soon for the next.

Freebass ‘The Singles’
Hacienda Records

Freebass; the long discussed collaboration between legendary bassists Peter Hook, Mani and Andy Rourke. This is a promo of, presumably, what were or will be the singles from their debut album ‘It’s a Beautiful Life’.

When I first heard of this project many years ago, I was pretty excited about it. Not especially because I expected an amazing record to appear, but because of the madness of it – three bassists? How would that work? But considering their styles – Hooks high end melodies, Mani’s low end driving hooks and Rourke's bouncy multi octave approach, maybe it could work…

What has finally appeared is something a lot more conventional. After seeing Peter Hook’s spoken word, it comes across much more as his baby, a chance to play in a band once more after the dissolution of New Order. And so we have a ‘full’ band setup, mildly jangly guitars, run of the mill drums and a slight eighties production. Vocals are supplied by Gary Briggs, veteran of some bands I’ve not heard of. It’s all a bit earnest for me, a bit plodding, more an exercise in hitting the notes on some pretty dull melodies with no memorable lyrics of which to speak.

Opener ‘The God Machine’ is probably the best here, ‘Smiths’ guitars and a propulsive beat, plus the flash of excitement when Hooky’s bass appears. But I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near his best... I don’t know what I expected really, but a lot more than this. ‘Kill Switch’ is pretty ploddy, but moves to something more interesting in its synthy chorus, a stadium Depeche Mode, on the cheap.

Overall, its fine; inoffensive middle of the road late eighties Hacienda backing music. Its surprising that there isn’t really a memorable hook amongst these three songs, be it bass, guitar or vocal. Press for the album suggests some of the tracks have a darker edge, which may certainly help. Perhaps its testament to the weight of expectation. Hearing Hooky talk with passion about Freebass makes the results all the more disappointing, but fans of the less famous Factory bands will probably enjoy the sounds and styles here. As for me, I’d rather listen to New Order…Actually I’d rather listen to Monaco, but there you go.

The Holidays – 'Golden Sky '
The Passport Label

The Holidays hail from Sydney, Australia and, on the evidence provided on this single, produce lovely little percussive summer soundtracks… which is presumably a lot easier when you actually get to see some sunshine. Golden Sky is a percussion heavy piece of Indie funkadelia, kind of like The Rapture trying to record an album in the Caribbean with bongos and rum based cocktails. Its’ all about the rhythm here, the falsetto vocals and stabbing guitars countering each other nicely to build up the complexity. Ultimately it’s a pop record though, the refrain of ‘It’s alright, alright’, whilst perhaps the most clichéd in all of music, works in bringing a sense of structure to it all. It kinda reminds me of the outro to 'Bleed From Within' by The Music, the careful layering up making it almost irresistible to dance around to.

B-side ‘Heavy Feathers’ ratches up the tropical feel with a steel drum melody running through the whole thing. Vocal harmonies pile over one another and it all feels very sunny. The structure is again pretty loose and it’s a little more downbeat but a worthy B-Side all the same. Well worth keeping an eye on for the future.

Scott Wainwright – 'Every Man Has His Critics '
Soshanna Music

Well, with an album title like that, surely Scott Wainwright is setting himself up for a fall, right? Well turns out its all to do with ‘God’. Yes, that big man who lives in the sky. I would’ve liked to have reviewed this album purely on its musical merits, but the press release goes into some details about Scott’s ‘deep Christian faith’, as does the artwork, containing an essay on his musings on God in relation to creativity. It’s not heavy or too preachy, but it’s serious, and really left me wondering what on earth I was going to be hearing.

‘Bonkers’ is the word that springs to mind initially. This album covers a lot of bases. First track ‘Down the Line’ opens with a nice 4/4 jazz influenced beat, then some ‘funky’ bass. Then we get some country style Harmonica… and then the vocals which are…odd. Very odd! It’s a kind of Americanised, hoedown, speak/talk drawl that I’ve got to say I found very strange (Scott is from Yorkshire). The next track contains an out of place Tuba playing the bass line and an unsophisticated guitar line, and then those vocals again. Baring in mind the press release states this is the result of a NINE year song cycle, I think these elements could have been brought back together in a much less messy fashion. But then suddenly it all drops out, leaving a solitary female voice over some delicate picking and its absolutely lovely, and moving too. But then it cuts to the Tuba and crappy sounding guitar again!

The album has some moments that stand out – instrumental ‘whispers from the undergrowth’ is delicate and wistful and ‘blueberry jam and lemonade’ is sweet with some gentle banjo and those lovely backing vocals once more.

Generally though we are in country / folk / blues territory, and some tracks like ‘kiss like they do in France’ work as standards of those genres. But overall, the jarring between the other styles attempted makes for an uncomfortable listen (see the ‘hard rocking’ of ‘here for you’). And I find the vocals just too much to enjoy. It’s bizarre, because I’m not saying Scott is a bad singer; I’m not given a chance to find out, because it’s as if he is singing in character throughout, a Dylan-esqe delivery that is simply not convincing on any level. One of the better tracks here, ‘Out in the Open’ features that same type of rasping verse, but then, bizarrely, has him using his ‘own’ voice for the chorus. It’s not even consistent.

I guess the best thing about ‘Every Man Has His Critics’ is it avoidance of preaching its Christianity too heavily within the songs. Because that would have killed it dead. I was looking forward to a bit of good old Christian bashing, for I do, quite strongly, dislike and despise organised religion. But with this there’s no need really. The idea that God is a creative being, and the key to man’s happiness is to be creative too is fair enough. Of course, if it were up to the church we would still be living in the dark ages believing the world is flat and basically every advance in every field of science / art / literature would never have happened. But that’s beside the point – Christians only ever pick and choose the bits from the Bible that suit the ideas they’ve already got, so new ideas have never been part of the deal. Which is apt, as here, on this album, we see a lot of run throughs of particular genres types with no real originality. There will be people out there who find Scott’s voice engaging, and those people may find a lot here to delve through. As for me, the vocals are impenetrable and the music is too derivative, despite the obvious skill on show. It all comes in a beautiful digi pack, which shows this is a real labour of love, but, whilst I praise the DIY nature of the undertaking, the songs aren’t strong enough, whilst the vein of Christianity running through it is the final nail in the cross.

Runaround Kids – 'No Dreams / Falling into Better Hands '
Philophobia Music

Rhubarb Bomb was part of collaboration between various Wakefield establishments that took some bands down the The Windmill in Brixton last February and Runaround Kids were part of that crew. Bassist Jack was manning the merch stall and in order to pass the time, he defaced our front cover, changing it from ‘Rhubarb Bomb’ to ‘Runaround Bomb’ in honour of the seemingly endless name dropping they had been receiving.

Well, it’s a nice little feeling to see that we were right early on, as this double A-side is released on the back of their glorious Leeds and Reading Festival appearances. Don’t believe any nonsense you’ve read comparing these guys to The Cribs – its lazy journalism that has only one Wakefield reference point – though it might not be long before RKs become the second. ‘No Dreams’ rattles along furiously and is the best indication of their live show; riotous, delicate, youthful and carefree – whilst ‘Falling Into Better Hands’ betters it with the subtly applied Sonic Youth chords and the evener bouncier noisy punk spirit. It’s a great step forward from last years ‘Kiss Chase EP’, ‘No Dreams’ in particular showing a greater pop awareness without sacrificing any of the energy, the youthful spirit, or the FUN. In fact, if I had the time, I reckon I could SCIENTIFICALLY prove that listening to this record makes you feel about 5 years younger… unless you’re already 18, in which case it doesn’t. It just makes you glad to be 18. Fantastic debut single, with so much promise for the future. Don’t let us down Runaround Kids…
The Whatevers – 'Rhapsody in Blue Jeans / You and your Twisted Romance '
Holiday Records

Listening to this record takes me straight back to the Indietracks Festival this summer. Not because The Whatevers were there, but because of the opening chords of ‘Rhapsody…’ just SING to me of the wonderful weekend I had there. The chiming guitars, sweet boy / girl vocals and the gentle chorus melodies. There’s more to it than that though, an ace guitar ‘solo’ popping up half way through, noisy and dirty adding further character to the whole event.

The band are a two piece and the interaction of them both singing is what makes this special. They are both great, characterful voices, Mike with a sad but hopeful Edwyn Collins croon and Kate with a polite Emma Pollock melodic approach. I believe this is their first single, and as such it’s a great effort, the C86 thing is a pretty easy style to do a cheap approximation of, but The Whatevers have put their own stamp on things. The single is available for a free download from Holiday records website, which releases loads of great free single downloads. So go look at this, then see what else you can find.

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