Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Review Roundup: Local Underground; Unicorn Power and The Buffalo Skinners

It’s a year today since I completed my first review for the ‘Bomb, so I thought I’d clear the decks with a bumper review of the last few things on my pile. I’ll start at the bottom…

I have here 4 CDs from the Local Underground catalogue, which seems mainly to be an imprint of bands who have ceased to exist; in no particular order, I present Cake, The Drain on the Balcony, The Whatevers and Spectrasonic.

My exploration started off well, I really enjoyed The Whatevers who only split up earlier this year; there are some cracking songs in this 16 track compilation, with just the right mix of humour and punk spirit pushing them along. Mike Relton and Kate Bisson’s vocals mix well together and there are some joyously naïve moments on show. For £5 you can’t argue, have a listen. I especially enjoyed Violence for Northern Independence and the central image of having a ‘right laugh with a local lad in a sleeping bag’. Bit of a shame that they called it a day.

The next lot looked a bit serious on the cover art, although Cake isn’t a very serious name so you know, books and covers and all that… What you get here are 13 songs from the Bristol band’s heyday in the ‘90s which now sound very much as if they were recorded in the ‘90s! Some interesting textures and fairly well observed lyrics, but a bit samey. While you will certainly hear worse bands than these, you will also find better ones- in this very review!  

Now I hate to be negative and it is my first anniversary, so I can maybe manage to find 2 stars out of 5 for The Drain on the Balcony because it is in the DIY spirit, but sometimes doing it yourself  just doesn’t cut it and this is a lacklustre album which made me feel a bit sad. It’s not that they haven’t tried, because they have clearly tried hard but on more than one occasion, namely Solihull Council, Down by the Riverside and the tributes to Amy Winehouse (Black) and Poly Styrene (Elastic Gurl, which is just basically a cover of Germ Free Adolescent with worse words) they really tried my patience I’m afraid to say.

The last of this mixed bunch represents a step up in quality and Spectrasonic come out of it quite well; they’re another ‘90s band so we have the Stone Roses/Primal Scream influence mixed with some more traditionally hooky riffs and some quite nice recording which captures what I imagine was a fairly big live sound.

Anyway, moving on from that slightly confusing start, we arrive at Unicorn Power and their Catface EP. This Brighton based trio have emerged from the spare bedroom with what amounts to a fairly solid statement of intent. Opening track Guarded swirls around and then settles into an insistent stomp of a chorus which draws you in and sets you down gently afterwards. New Home is dragged along by a supple guitar which pierces the backing nicely while the male / female vocals of Scott Pitkethly and Analise Vineer create a nicely melancholy mood. Gold and Green marks the halfway mark of this 5 track EP and it put me in mind of Pop Will Eat Itself with squealing guitars and yelled vocals competing with the high pitched synth assault.

Please Write It Down and a remix of Guarded complete the set, the former is a slower track with a more contemplative mood and some nicely recorded guitars while the remix goes for a cleaner, more Euro disco approach- in a good way, if you know what I mean!

Now to the best of the bunch; The Buffalo Skinners and their lively, engaging 14 track, self-titled album; this collection of Folk n’ Roll makes a refreshing change and injects a little bit of sunshine into your day as the mercury begins to fall.

I can’t fault this debut because it seems that each track deliberately showcases a slightly different aspect of the band’s talent; the vocals are uplifting even when the subject matter isn’t (Wooden Box), instruments are well deployed for the benefit of the song, not the ego of the player, and there is a feeling of restraint that runs through all 14 songs.

This suggests that they have thought carefully about what the record needs, not just what they can do, or what will sound cool in the studio. This strikes me as a mature, well considered approach to a collection of songs which sit together really well. I don’t usually hand out stars, but seeing as I did earlier, and it is my 1st birthday as a reviewer, I’ll indulge myself: 5 stars to the Buffalo Skinners, well done lads.

Now for a celebratory slice of birthday cake…

Matt Rhodie

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