Archive for March, 2008

Album – A Mad and Faithful Telling – DeVotchKa

Posted by admin on 31st March 2008

  • Band / Artist : DeVotchKamySpace
  • Genre : Rock
  • Sample Track Download : N/A
  • Buy CD : Amazon
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 8 out of 10

Sometimes, some of the people I work with at various record companies, know my tastes better than I do. When I got in this album from DeVotchKa the first thing I thought, was it’s going to be some weird kind of World Music. I played it for the first time while driving to work and my suspicions were confirmed, the first track “Basso Profundo”, is suitably weird, with it’s unique blend of Rock, Ska, Spanish and Russian influences. To be honest, it didn’t set me soul on fire and I ejected the CD, to play the next CD in my pile.

Several months later, I was listening to one of the many music podcasts I subscribe to, when a really interesting track caught my attention. I’d missed who it was by, but listened intently as the track finished, only to find it was by DeVotchKa. Upon further investigation, it was also one of the tracks on this album. This reignited my interested, so I dusted off the CD, put it on again and started anew.

The first track, “Basso Profundo” still stood out as something quite unusual, but I started to detect other influences. It’s almost like a mix between The Specials and the Talking Heads, with some world influences thrown in for good measure. It’s certainly not my favorite track, but it is certainly enjoyable to listen to, and refreshingly different. The next track, “Along the Way”, again waives convention, featuring Mexican trumpets and acoustic guitars, but here things stated to fall into place. By the time the third track “The Clockwise Witness” started, I began to feel excited, wondering what this track would bring, I was not disappointed. Much more laid back, with a far simpler arrangement, I really began to listen to the vocals more and realised I was hooked.

Many of the tracks on this album, follow that Russian/Spanish flavour, which sounds quite bizarre, but you really begin to get into once you are a few tracks into the album. However for me the killer track, is the track that made me revisit this album. That track is, “Transliterator”. With it’s wonderfully delicate keyboard intro and strings, to the haunting, almost on the verge of madness vocals. The further you get into the track, the more you feel a sense of insanity looming. It’s quite breathtaking at times, but all through the track are brief respites, lulling you into a false sense of security.

“Blessing in Disguise” begins almost like the old standard “Tulips in Amsterdam”, with it’s oompah German brass sound. Sounds however can be deceiving, and that is pretty much a way to sum up this album. Just when you think you know what to expect, another curve ball is throw. “Undone” is another one of those tracks with despair laden vocals, but there’s something quite hypnotic about them.

The 10 track album ends with “A New World”, a more conventional rock track, well at least when compared to the rest of the album. The vocals again, have that hint of despair, which are further enhanced by the cello, underpinning the track. There’s also some great vocals half way through the track, with a wonderful softness and it’s hard to tell whether they are real or just a whimsy of some electronic instrument.

Conclusion : This is certainly not going to be to many peoples tastes, but don’t base your opinion on the first listen. Once it clicks, it really begins to grow on you like a wild, out of control vine. Certainly not your run of the mill rock album, but all the more interesting for it.

Posted in Rock | No Comments »

Album – Elevate – Morgan Page

Posted by admin on 27th March 2008

  • Band / Artist : Morgan PagemySpace
  • Genre : Electronica / House
  • Sample Track Download : N/A
  • Buy CD : Amazon
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 8.5 out of 10

When I was growing up, you either bought music on tape or vinyl, yes those black (well not always), circular things (mmm, again not always) with a hole in the middle. If you happened to stumble across one in the street and it was considered naff, like the latest Max Bygraves (don’ ask) album, or a Top of The Pops special, it usually ended up becoming a frisbee, as indeed did my brothers single of the Jam’s “Going Underground”, but that was certainly not naff, he just used to play it all day and I really do mean all day, until I’d had enough and watched it descend 17 floors from our bedroom window. If it was of suitable weight, it made a nice Deathstar explosion, as the shards of a former melody littered the surrounding landscape.

Vinyl was usually sold as 7 inch singles played at 45 RPM (revolutions per minute) or 12 inch LPs (Long players) played at 33 RPM. There was however another variant, the 12 inch single which was also played at 45 RPM. One one side would be the single and the other side would usually comprise of a few oddities, rare tracks, or a few remixed variations of the single. In the 80’s this began to get a little over the top, with the remixes taking presidence and it became quite common for the whole B side to be filled with really naff, totally unoriginal mixes. I think this is where my disdain for remixes came. That’s not to say there weren’t exceptions, I can remember some absolutely great remixes, but on the whole they left me cold.

When I was sent an email telling me about Morgan Page’s new album, the thing that really struck me, is that it appears all of the tracks seemed to originally be by other Nettwerk artists, some of which I’d already reviewed. Remixing is very much an art form. Yes you want something that doesn’t sound like a rehash, but you also need to be sensitive to the artists work, as that essence still needs to remain. This Morgan undoubtedly does exceptionally well. Although this isn’t to my usual listening tastes, my interest was piqued and I got the album in for review.

Of particular interest was Jenny Owen Youngs’, “Fuck Was I”, which I was quite intrigued to see how Morgan would rework it. Yes the dance, element is there in full, but what really shines through is Jenny’s distinctive vocals, which contrast the music nicely. Leigh Nash’s “Nervous In the Light of Dawn” is another particular favorite of mine. Leigh has an especially light and beautiful voice, so there is some concern that a remix will swamp her voice, and while that is true to some degree, I found myself really enjoying the music and thinking of Leigh’s vocals as accompaniment, excellent accompaniment at that.

Of the other 11 tracks, I found something interesting in them all, featuring the works of The Submarines, Nelly Furtado, Delerium and Bitter Sweet to name a few. True this is not the kind of album I’d kick back and relax too, but it’s certainly one to dance to and I’m sure many of the tracks will feature prominently in nightclubs. It’s also an album I could well imagine being used to train to, or to listen to while out jogging.

Conclusion : An unusual album, but nevertheless very interesting. For lovers of remixes or dance music, this will be a very welcome addition to your collection. For everyone else, there is much to like and the occasional track that just hits the ball out of the park.

Posted in Electronica, House | 1 Comment »

Album – Smoke and Clouds – William Hart Strecker

Posted by admin on 18th March 2008

If there’s one thing I can appreciate, even if I don’t like the songs, it’s the musical accompaniment, which here is fantastic. Fortunately the 13 tracks on William Hart Strecker’s new album are also pretty darn good too.

I’m always wary when playing an unsolicited CD for the first time, as I’ve mentioned numerous times before, but my trepidation soon vanished as the opening track “Round and Round” began to play. There’s something in William’s voice that at times reminds me of Tom Robinson and at other times reminds me of Steely Dan’s, Donald Fagen, with even a hint of Springsteen, interspersed here and there. It’s one of those pleasant voices that is very easy to listen to and follow. I did however have a slight pause for thought, when “Dreaming California” started to play, as I could detect a hint of latter day Dylan, and this is not a direction I wanted the album to take. Fortunately it was a false alarm.

Throughout the 13 tracks, there’s an interesting mix of influences, from country and blues, to rock and R&B, but it’s predominantly rock that is the glue that holds this album together. One of my particular favorite track is “Take Me Back” which is a poignant look back at memories of yesteryear. This is one of those tracks that really feels personal and auto biographical, whether it really is or not. It’s also a track I couldn’t help but play another half a dozen times or so, after first hearing it.

The final track “The Waiting’s Over” is a really simple track, with bare vocals, over a simple piano accompaniment and is a joy to listen to.

Conclusion : An album that really feels like someone’s soul has been immersed in it. At times upbeat and other times, reflective and thought provoking. This is not an album, I would have otherwise looked at getting in, but am glad it managed to find it’s way to me.

Posted in Classic Rock, Folk Rock, Rock | No Comments »

Album – These Friends of Mine – Rosie Thomas

Posted by admin on 18th March 2008

  • Band / Artist : Rosie ThomasmySpace
  • Genre : Folk / Alternative
  • Sample Track Download : N/A
  • Buy CD : CD Baby
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 9 out of 10

As more and more recommendations come winging their way to me, I’m at first astounded at the amazing talent that I’ve never heard of and I’m also pleasantly surprised at the quality of recommendations. With Rosie Thomas, I shouldn’t really be surprised as she’s on one of my favourite record labels, Nettwerk.

This is one of those classic scenarios, where I put an album on, after getting home from work, with kids bouncing off the walls and my wife, frazzled after a day of chasing ankle biters, and I realised that this laid back release, may be better suited to being alone and relaxed. That’s easier said than done, but I finally found some downtime, to really listen and found a wonderful, if short album to cosset my weary soul.

The CD opens with “If This City Never Sleeps”, a track that immediately greets you with some wonderful guitar, soon joined by just the most wonderful vocals. I’d liken Rosie’s voice, to another favourite Nettwerk artist of mine, The Weepies, Deb Talen. A wonderful track this surely is, but lasting just 2 minutes, 1 track in and I’m already hungry for more. “Why Waste More Time?” has a very live, acoustic sound to it, and then I remember that this whole album was pretty much recorded at a home and apartment in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, using a couple of open mics and it’s this live sound that makes the album feels very personal and intimate.

“The One I Love” may sound like a familiar title, not surprising then, as it’s a cover of an R.E.M track from their 1987 release, Document. This is a much more relaxed version than R.E.M’s and it’s not one I would have thought would benefit from this treatment, but it holds up very well.

A particular favourite track of mine is “Much Further to Go”, which really showcases Rosie’s voice, as well as featuring some wonderful accompaniment. It also has a slight production feel to it, but really gels together, to form an absolutely beautiful track. “All The Way to New York City”, is also one of my favourites and it’s this track that reminds me of some songs from the soundtrack of my life. The names are all but forgotten, but the song washes over me like wave of memories.

The final track on the album, is the title track “These Friends of Mine”, which is a curious song, when compared to the rest of the album, or rather it is for the first 40 or so seconds and then it settles down to provide a fitting end to a wonderful album. On an album of 10 tracks, 32 minutes is a little on the short side, but this is a classic example of quality over quantity.

Conclusion : A wonderful album from an artist who’s on her 4th album and yet, I’m only just discovering her. One of my favorite finds so far this year.

Posted in Alternative, Folk | No Comments »

EP – Not Enough People are Wearing Hats – The Haiku

Posted by admin on 17th March 2008

  • Band / Artist : The HaikumySpace
  • Genre : Alternative / Folk Rock
  • Sample Track Download : N/A
  • Buy CD : Band Store
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 8 out of 10

I love the raw, indie rock sound, which I hear more coming from the UK than anywhere else. It’s very reminiscent of the 1980’s, which washes over me like a wave of nostalgia. The Haiku are a band I’d heard on a few podcasts, prompting me to approach them for something for review. The band at the time were working on a new album, but fired over this 4 track EP.

“Things Will Get Better” is the first track and you are immediately greeted with a wash of acoustic guitar, which I just love. The track runs at a fair pace and is very enjoyable. “Blind Man Takes the Gun” has a very long intro, taking around 30 seconds to get to the vocals, and unfortunately never really got into it’s stride for me. “You Don’t Have a Choice” is perhaps the strongest track on this 4 track EP and in fact the longest at a tad under 4 minutes. “Taking Control” is the final track to an interesting and and fairly enjoyable EP.

The only reservation I have is that the production of this material leads me to believe it’s recorded pretty much as live, as it sounds very much a live performance, rather than a fully produced studio effort. The drumming also was a little off in places, but if taken as a live session recording, didn’t detract too much from the songs. The songs themselves don’t have the conventional verse / chorus make up, which is OK for a track or two, but they all seem to have that feel, which means they do feel sometimes to be going on a little long.

Conclusion : An interesting EP which serves as a stepping stone to the bands first album, featuring the track “The News is: The World Sucks”, probably my favorite Haiku track. It will be interesting to see how the bands sound has developed between this track and the new album.

Posted in Alternative, Folk Rock | No Comments »

EP – Red Light Room – Johnny Bennett

Posted by admin on 17th March 2008

When I first listened to this EP, there was something about the vocals that stood out, not that they were in any way exceptional, but there was just something about them that I didn’t like. As has often been the case, coming back for a second listen much later, I found a totally different EP. Yes the vocals are distinctive, but it’s the music that really gives a great air to this release.

“Chance Meeting” begins the precedings, and it’s probably this track that could put some off. There’s an almost Verve/Richard Ashcroft feel to the track, which also reminds me of another Indie Launchpad favourite, Chance. It’s a track that I enjoyed first time around, but really came to love, upon revisiting the EP. “Red Light Room”, the title track, goes off in a slightly different direction, with piano accompaniment that really began to drive me crackers. Musically and lyrically the track is great, but the piano is just way too overpowering, whether it’s the mix or not, I don’t know, I just know that it began to resemble small bursts of someone scratching their nails down a chalkboard.

“Exit Sign” is a great track musically, with vocals that are very reminiscent of Bob Dylan. That’s either a good thing, or bad, depending on your Dylan preferences. For me it’s all good. Not too sure I like the sort of jazz, funk guitar work that pops up here and there, as it seems to take the EP off in yet another direction. “Where We Belong” again is a nice track, but the piano seems to be far too prominent. Whether this is because I usually listen using headphones, I don’t know, but their prominence could do with a little crank downwards. “This Year’s Life” completes a bit of a mixed bag, but has a real feeling of letting go, which I really enjoyed.

Conclusion : This EP could have been a real blast, but there’s just a couple of things that at times were like some form of audio Chinese water torture. Strip away the jazz funk guitar moments and turn down the piano so it’s not too overbearing and I would have loved this to death. As it is, it’s still very enjoyable.

Posted in Pop, Rock | No Comments »

EP – Transparent – Chasing Arrows

Posted by admin on 11th March 2008

First off I have to say, I get a little antsy when a band releases a 7 tracks and calls it a CD. To me 7 tracks, weighing in at 24 minutes is more an EP than an Album. Calling it a CD just seems to be a way to blur the lines. Anyway rant over.

It’s sometimes difficult when a band requests a review to get a good feel of what they are about, just by listening to a few tracks on MySpace. Sometimes I take a chance and am blown away and sometimes I get a CD and just think, ouch a one track wonder. So when this CD came in from Chasing Arrows, and I heard the first half minute or so, I began to wonder what I’d let myself into. This 1 and a half minute track is more like a drummers warm up, but I could sense something really pleasant coming, unfortunately what I got was the next track “Stranger than Danger”, which while a pleasant enough track has an awful start.

Oh those lads from Oasis have a lot to answer for, in this case more for the guitar work that’s interspersed throughout the title track “Transparent”, rather than overall musical influences. This is a great track, that really has a great vibe about it. The vocals also have a very distinct sound and contrasts the music nicely. I was trying to think of who the lead singer reminded me of, but couldn’t quite place it, but when “My Addiction” started I keep thinking of John Evans from the John Evans Band, an artist already reviewed here on Indie Launchpad.

The more I got into this CD, the more it started to relax itself. The first few tracks feel somewhat uptight, but by the time “Unaware”, the firth track starts, everything seems to flow much freer. “Down and Out” failed to really grab me, but the final track “Look Ahead” I really enjoyed, with it’s flashes of Bruce Hornsby.

Conclusion : A great band which I can see developing nicely by the time a full album release comes to fruition.

Posted in Alternative, Rock | No Comments »

Album – This is Grand Atlantic – Grand Atlantic

Posted by admin on 11th March 2008

Album – This is Grand Atlantic – Grand Atlantic

Australia has a lot to answer for, like Neighbours, Home and Away, Young Doctors and Paul Hogan. It’s not all doom and gloom however, there are the odd rays of light that shine from our down under cousins. Not being immersed in Australian music, means it’s very hard for me to find new bands and know what’s hot and what’s not. It’s great then when listeners to the podcast, pipe up and make some stellar recommendations. I was tipped off about Grand Atlantic a while back and in fact had their album sitting in my in pile for the longest time. A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded that I hadn’t yet mentioned Grand Atlantic, so decided to come back to them with renewed interest. Imagine my delight, and utter guilt when realizing this was an amazing album, that had somehow flown under my radar.

The first few tracks, remind me a lot of Oasis, however the harsh lead vocals are replaced with vocals that are somewhat easier on the ear. The whole bands sound is very reminiscent of the Brit pop scene of the 90’s, but with a strong 80’s rock influence. The album opens with “Prelude”, which is a much softer song than would usually open this kind of rock and pop album. “Coolite” very much exudes Oasis goodness and it’s here that the real nature of the band comes to the fore. Again with “Smoke and Mirrors” the influence of other bands seep out, but there’s much here that is fresh and interesting.

“Wonderful Tragedy” sees the band take a slightly different, more theatrical turn, very reminiscent of Marc Almond, there’s that hint of kitsch, but only the merest hint, as the vocals cover the kitsch with just the right bend of testosterone, but make no mistake, this is very much a track aspiring to be a classic rock ballad, but just misses the mark ever so slightly.

It’s hard to make the Oasis comparisons, and not have that nagging wish in my gut for the laddish singalong track. Unfortunately this never transpires, but we do get a small homage to the Beatles, with “Burning Brighter”, which just has that great combination of lyrics and a melody at times, which reminds me of “Getting Better”. “Moth and Rust” is a bizarre little peel away from the rest of the album, but it does give a nice touch of levity, especially in the opening moments. “Peace Be with You” again pains homage to some 60’s icons, but here it’s more the Beach Boys, rather than the Beatles and is just a wonderful track to lay the 13 track album to rest.

Conclusion : A very strong album, which has a nice mix of freshness and timeless influences. A great find from Australia that shows there is some amazing talent just waiting to be discovered. I look forward to find some more great talent from Australia and will be keeping a keen eye on this exciting band.

Posted in Alternative, Rock | No Comments »

Album – On High – Kate Maki

Posted by admin on 11th March 2008

  • Band / Artist : Kate MakimySpace
  • Genre : Alternative / Folk
  • Sample Track Download : N/A
  • Buy CD : MapleMusic
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 7.5 out of 10

Sometimes there’s a fine line between folk and country. Opening with “Highway”, the slide guitar is there and the familiar country musical drawl, which I thought was going to whoosh straight over my head. Then I heard the vocals, demure and almost afraid, breaking through. Breaking through is something I found the vocals having to do a lot of, as the music mix, was in places not favorable to the vocals, there’s still enough however to be latch onto and enjoy.

The forth track “White Noise” is for me the track where I finally fell into the groove. Gone are the slide guitars replace with a simple piano and guitar arrangement to compliment the vocals. This is an album that’s at times like riding on a see-saw, with ups and down. While “White Noise” is definitely a high point, the track the follows “To Please”, is a bit of a low point. It’s a nice sing along kind of track, but it’s just a little over the top with what sounds like a ukelele and the spoons. Nice on it’s own merits, but just doesn’t sit well on the album. The vocals too, are not as defined and strong as the rest of the album.

This is very much an album that can be pretty much divided into two halves, the country influenced slide guitar half and the acoustic half, which for me is the style I much prefer. “Beyond the Sun” and “We Are Gone” and prime examples of what I love about this album.

“Don’t Look Down” is a surprise track, as Kate shares vocals, with someone who sounds very much like Lou Reed, I just wish there were more opportunity on this 2 and a half minute track to hear the two voices bounce off each other more, instead of singing in near isolation. “On a String”, a wonderfully whimsical 1 minute instrumental track concludes an album which pretty much is a mixed bag for me. There is however much to enjoy.

Something I also noticed, is that while this is an 11 track album, the total running time is a tad under 28 minutes, the longest track being just shy of 4 minutes, while the shortest is the ever so short “On A String”, weighing in at 1 minute 11. For musical content this could almost be considered an EP.

Conclusion : Not my usual cup of tea. The musical style, is something that took me a little while to get used to, but it’s the vocals which really bring this album to life. Certainly an artists I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Posted in Alternative, Folk | No Comments »

Album – Okay – Jeff Caylor

Posted by admin on 4th March 2008

As soon as I heard “Almost Flew” the track that opens the album, I couldn’t help but think “If Seal were white this is what he’d sound like”. Jeff has a voice, that’s rich in tone, with real character. It’s a track I’d heard on various podcasts and was pleasantly surprised when Jeff beat me to it and got in touch. I’m always wary about an album, when the track flying round podcasts is so great, as it’s easy to be disappointed. I needn’t have worried.

“The Ballad of Jon Turner” is a fantastic track that really shows what a great voice Jeff has. It’s one of those track that flows perfectly as it’s story unfolds. I have a really irrational dislike for the track that follows, “Pain is a Megaphone”. That irrational dislike is purely the word megaphone, it just stands out as a word that jars the track for me. Pain is love, or hurt, or the burning coals beneath my feet, it most difinately is not a megaphone, unless I am on said buring coaldefinatelys.

Through the 11 tracks on this album, the music may vary, from slow to upbeat, the vocals however remain consistent. They’re tuneful, emotive and wonderfully pronounced. It’s such a joy to listen to music, where it’s easy to follow the lyrics, which helps a lot to feel some kind of connection with the music.

“Maybe Tomorrow” is another particular favorite of mine, along with “Almost Flew”, which really show Jeff’s great vocals. I wasn’t over fussed with “Standing Still”, the vocals at times had an almost voxcoder feel to them. The track musically also feels a little disjointed.

The albums rounds off with the wonderfully lilting “I Didn’t Think I’d See You Here Today”, which brings memories of another song, whose name I can’ quite remember. Mmm seems to be happening a lot lately. Maybe the excesses of the 80’s are getting to me. This is a wonderful track that ends the album nicely.

Conclusion : A wonderful talent, who deserves to gain much greater recognition. Surely a name to watch for in the future.

Posted in Acoustic, Pop, Soul | No Comments »