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Album – Wash Away – Alansmithee

Posted by admin on 11th January 2007

There’s cracks and there’s great honking chasms, which is what this album fell through. Even after I rediscovered the album, for some reason it kept getting overlooked, which is a huge shame on me, especially when it’s so damn good.

Alansmithee probably isn’t your typical name for a band, but since when did names ever have a baring on the music, if they did, no one would probably ever have bought a Pink Floyd record.

This is a shorter than usual album with just 8 tracks, but is a classic case of quality over quantity. The album opens with “My Life” which is almost like an album closer, with it’s almost anthem/ballad rock sound. “Wash Away” opens with a very distinct guitar riff. I’ve heard a very similar riff, but can’t for the life of me place it, but it’s almost a throw away as doesn’t feel like it really belongs in the song. “Into You” shows a different more mellow sound, but those ever present vocals hold everything together rather nicely. “California Calling” is probably my least favorite track, but for no real valid reason other than it just doesn’t grab me in the way the other tracks do. “Who the Hell” whilst being a great song, has the feel of an almost formulaic pop song. When I heard it for the first time and again upon rediscovering the album, it always struck me as very predictable. I loved “How Does it Feel”, but hated the telephone simulated voice intro, which could be cut with no worries about altering the track itself. Although this album was released in 2005, a life time ago in music years, “His Loving Way” has a very now feel to it. Rounding off with “Did You Know”, this has certainly felt like an album I’ve picked on more than others. I want to sort of put the record straight, I do really love this album, it’s just a few small niggles, which are more down to me being a finicky git, than the songs themselves being sub-par.

The vibe from this album is of a band that is really musically tight and full of confidence. Many of the songs have that anthem sound, which just begs for a live audience, to join in.

Conclusion : I have to admit I’m still amazed I haven’t heard much about the band since first discovering them, which is a real shame as they have a great sound and some excellent songs.

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Album – Arrivals and Departures – Jay Pea

Posted by admin on 11th January 2007

I love music that harkens back to a simpler time. Simple melodies, with words that actually mean something. Jay Pea was a classic case of hearing something and my ears just pricking up. I often have great difficulty when people ask me what kind of music I like. My tastes are as varied as weather, but when I hear something good, it doesn’t matter what genre it is, it just has to engage and captivate and I’m sold.

Whenever I listen to this album, I always have visions of summer days by the sea, playing with my children. The kind of day you just don’t want to end. That vision certainly hangs in my minds-eye for a while, as this album has 13 tracks and each of them flow effortlessly from one to the next.

This is just another amazing example of the amazing talent in Canada. It’s very much in the mould of Tim Buckley and Leonard Cohen the late 60’s and early 70’s era. The album opens with “A Day in March”, giving a good indication of what’s to come. A man his guitar and light accompaniment. Every time I hear “Silver River” that classic song Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head comes to mind. “All Your Denials” is the song that brought Jay Pea to my attention and is firmly amongst my favorite tracks on the album. “Tower of Slow”, with it’s wonderful understated use of the flute has echos of the great Simon and Garfunkel song, El Condo Paso. Although I love the heavy overtones of Leonard Cohen on “Delilah’s Dream”, the album here takes a kind of emotional dip. Indeed the next song “Marbled Skies” also has this darker feel, which for me is out of character with the rest of the album. The songs that follow however return to the more relaxed and upbeat. “Orange Tree” in particular has that really infectious drum beat and guitar. “Southernmost” is another track up there with my favorite tracks from this album. The last two tracks “Happier on the Road” and “Mr Sam” round the album off with a nice upbeat sound.

Conclusion : A great album with some great songs. I much prefer the more mellow tracks, but all of them are great examples of songwriting. An accomplished and very special album.

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Album – Blip Blop – Blip Blop

Posted by admin on 7th January 2007

  • Band / Artist : Blip BlopmySpace
  • Genre : Down-tempo / Jazz / Nu-Jazz
  • Sample Track Download : Crane
  • Buy CD : CD Baby
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 8 out of 10

When I hear something interesting, I just have to investigate further. So it was with Blip Blop, a sort of electronica, jazz fusion, which you kind of expect to fall flat on it’s face, but doesn’t. I’m not saying this is an album for all occasions, it’s not. It’s very much an album used for a certain time or moment. For me that moment is when I just want to relax, but give my brain something to chew on.

The album is no slouch, with 13 tracks totalling nearly 50 minutes. There’s many influences throughout the album, but there’s also a sort of sound fingerprint, the allows this album to have it’s own individuality/personality. It also has a very improvised feel it it, with at times the bare minimum of production. which at times almost feels like a live performance, especially the piano which is spread out over the album.

This isn’t the kind of release where you break everything down track by track, but there are a few tracks that stand out. The first one is “Sweety Cakes”, which has that great down temp sound. Then there’s “Angelene” which has a wonderfully live sound and also a very dated quality, but it holds together very well. The album rounds off with the wonderfully eclectic “Crane”. The only track that I didn’t particularly like was “Blip, Blop, Drop”, with the train like vocals that just drive me insane, or rather more insane than I was.

I love the diversity of independent music and without it, many talented musicians would have no voice to make their works heard.

Conclusion : Something different indeed, but a treat to get something in that’s a bit off the beaten track. Great stuff.

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EP – Stereomovers – Stereomovers

Posted by admin on 7th January 2007

  • Band / Artist : StereomoversmySpace
  • Genre : Rock / Electronica
  • Sample Track Download : N/A
  • Buy CD : N/A
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 8.5 out of 10

I love discovering new bands, especially when you listen to their music for the first time and it causes the hairs to rise on the back of your neck. There’s a very good reason for that, but it’s nothing sinister. When I first popped this into the CD player, I had memories slapping me in the face. Memories of the 90’s and some of the things I used to get up to. But enough of that, what is it about this that reminds me of the 90’s? I think it has a lot do do with both the music and vocals, which have a very New Order feel to them. Although the influence is bang in your face British, the Stereomovers are from Montr

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Album – Caravan – Madviolet

Posted by admin on 7th January 2007

What a great way to open 2007, albeit with an album, I’ve been sitting on for a couple of months. A folksy, sometimes country inspired album, this also has some great pop qualities that really make the album a pleasure to listen to. Madviolet is Canadian duo, Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac. With Caravan, their fourth LP, it’s obvious that there is a great chemistry between them and a great ability to tell a story through their music. Comparisons are pretty subjective, but they can at least help, when trying to evaluate new artists. The artist/band that most comes to mind, is the 90’s band Wilson Phillips, especially their more pop side. Madviolet however embrace this sound, but add their own unique flavor, resulting in an album, that’s a bit pop, a bit folk and a tad country. Being a Canadian band, there are those influences that shine through, but they are ever so subtle.

This 10 track album opens with “Way Past the Hour”, which introduces their sound nicely, but it’s “Skylight” for me, where the real beginning of the album occurs. I know this happens a lot with some of the albums I review, but I really like to see a really strong song open an album. It doesn’t have to be fast or loud, just have that little something special that immediately draws your attention. “Prayed” is one of the lighter tracks, which has a wonderfully soothing feel to it. “I’m Your Lady” is a track obviously influenced by country and while this is not me favorite genres of music, this track works well. One of the weakest tracks for me is “Thieven Love”, which is just one of those tracks that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It also has a real annoying chorus.

Favorite tracks on the album would have to be “Skylight”, “Sore Heart” which again has a country feel, but doesn’t wallow in it and “Never Saw the Ending” which has a real toe tapping and a few other things, vibe to it.

Conclusion : A wonderful album, which is nicely balance, managing to fuse lots of different influences and styles. A special word goes to the vocals, which have a wonderfully pure quality to them.

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Album – Years – Ellen Cherry

Posted by admin on 23rd December 2006

It’s EP’s like this one from Ellen Cherry (pseudonym and musical brainchild of Baltimore based singer/songwriter/musician/recording engineer/producer/designer Kristin Putchinski), that make writing reviews a sheer pleasure. I received this EP from one of the many great PR companies I deal with and I knew within seconds of hearing the first track, that it was going to be reviewed. This is taken directly from the official website, “Ellen Cherry participated in a month-long songwriting challenge known as February Album Writing Month and wrote 5 new songs that she released on this EP, all centered around women in history during various years. A bonus track of ‘Buffalo Gals Don’t Worry About Fashion’ from the never released 1999 Ellen Cherry recording ‘Lips and bones and knees and elbows’ is included.” So that pretty much explains how this EP came to be.

The 6 tracks on the EP, are loosely connected in that they depict women at a particular time in history, from 1864 through to 1976. This actually sounds more grandiose than it actually is, but makes for a nice theme. The opening track is “1864: A Civil War Bride”, a mellow whimsy of a track, which reminds me a lot of Suzanne Vega, but a tad lighter. It’s very acoustic as is the whole EP and makes for great listening. “1893: A Girl at the World’s Fair”, reminds me a lot of a previously Indie Launchpad reviewed artist, Josh Woodward, who like Ellen has a real talent in being able to tell a story in music. “1912: Violet Swims, But the Ship Sinks” is a song which seemingly details the last moments of the Titanic. It’s a very tragic song, but it doesn’t wallow in sadness. The vocals on the chorus are particularly striking. “1933: To California” is probably my least favorite, but it is in such amazing company and is still a good song in it’s own right. I absolutely love “1950: Inside The Music Box”, a really bright, breezy and incredibly short track, at just under two minutes. The final track is “1976: Buffalo Gals Don’t Worry About Fashion”, with it’s slightly country twang, rounds the EP off very nicely.

This is a great EP, which is musically very simple, but all the better for it. It’s got shades of folk, country and pop, but manages to hold it all together effortlessly. I love music that goes for that recorded live approach, leaving the music to speak for itself.

Conclusion : This is an artists I am particularly excited about and am looking forward to reviewing more material in the near future.

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Album – The Happiest Days of My Life – John Biz

Posted by admin on 23rd December 2006

Punk has had a pretty tough rap for the last 30 or so years. Johnny Rotten, was, well rotten, but no matter your views on the actual music, you couldn’t help but pick up on their energy and sheer enthusiasm. Maybe the Sex Pistols isn’t the best of punk examples, but they are at least a band that everyone looks to as the pinnacle of punk, or should that be punk as it once was. As the years passed, a more melodic form of punk emerged, the Ramones probably being one of the best examples. Whilst John Biz is not a typical example of punk, you can’t but help hear those harder edged influences in his music.

There’s eleven tracks on this album and they all have that raw energy, that’s channeled very effectively into some great songs. Opening with “Drugs Tonight”, this has all the earmarks of a good boozeup song. I can just imagine a crowd at a gig, or in a pub or bar, singing along to this one. Oasis are another band who’s songs seem to be taken up as beer anthems. Ah, I’ve sung Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger, along with a pub full of drunks on many occasions. “Unconditional” continues with that great sound and is among my favorites on the album. “Maybe There’s Away” reminds me a bit of Weezer, who were a great band of the 90’s, who’ve just started to become popular again. “Broken Glass” continues that thumping driving beat formula to good effect. It’s the middle of the album, that seems to fade or change direction. “Engine” has a very electric jazz feel to it, especially the opening drums. “Like an Ashtray of Empty Promises” is an instrumental track, that just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It almost feels like it was thrown on the album as an afterthought. “Low Tide” and “Big Car” feel very awkward on the album, compared with the rest of the energetic, electric tracks. From “Heavybag” to the end of the album, things pick up again and these are much more in keeping with the beginning of the album.

If I were to pick out my favorite tracks on the album, they would have to be “Drugs Tonight”, which is just a stellar track, “Unconditional” and the track the finishes off the album “We Saved Each Others Lives”, which reminds me a lot of the Smiths, always a good thing.

Conclusion : A great rock album, which has those punk over tones, with a little bit of Nirvana thrown in for good measure. A great album to test out that new stereo or MP3 player that you get for Christmas.

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EP – The Fire Apes – The Fire Apes

Posted by admin on 23rd December 2006

Many releases have one or two stand out tracks. With the Fire Apes latest EP release, I’d say out of 5 tracks, 4 of them are pure perfection. The only reason I don’t say all 5, is that the odd one out is a slower track, but it’s still a great track, it just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest as tightly.

This is the Fire Apes third release, but is my introduction to the band, after hearing them on various podcasts. Can you hear me all you musicians out there, podcasts=huge exposure, at little or more usually no cost. The Podsafe Music Network is a good first stop, to get your music out there to podcasters, but the best way is to investigate some of the best music podcasts and email them, suggesting your music. Building a good relationship with a few key podcasts can work wonders for your exposure. Anyway, enough of my rant.

The EP opens with “Hey Kate”, just a quintessential example of the perfect power pop song. At just under 3 minutes, it harkens back to the 60’s when the catchiest and most popular songs only ever ran from 2 minutes 30 seconds, to 3 minutes. Yes there were exceptions to the rule, but just look at the huge output of some of the most prolific and creative geniuses like the Beatles, Small Faces, Kinks and the Who. The second track “If Things Don’t Look So Good Today”, whilst being slightly more mellow, has you hooked within seconds. “Only You Could Make Me Happy” returns to the more frenetic pace and just exudes great songmanship and sheer energy. The penultimate track “Killing Me From Inside”, opens like a homage to the Beatles, Strawberry Fields and is an amazing track, but it just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the EP. Actually I don’t think it doesn’t belong, I think maybe it would have been better as the final track. “It’s Over” is the track that finishes off the EP and again the song writing just shines.

If I were to have any kind of criticism, it’s that the music is so difficult to buy. It’s only available via one website and not available in any way as a digital download, which is a huge missed opportunity. Previous releases are available, so I’m hoping that this EP is just stuck in the works, waiting to be approved.

Conclusion : This is a band with a huge future. Power pop at it’s finest and well worth picking up in what ever form you can find it.

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Album – Hello Love – The Be Good Tanyas

Posted by admin on 16th December 2006

Laid back, mellow and as distinctive as hell. With a hint of country and folk, this could have been a really run of the mill album. However this is an album that sounds fresh and oozes with raw emotion and passion. Admittedly, I’d only heard one song before approaching the band for a review. When I got the album, I was thrown for a bit of a six. The Be Good Tanyas sound quite unlike any girl band I’ve ever heard before. I was expecting a kind of Dixie Chick clone, but boy was I wrong and pleasantly so.

This 13 track album feels like an open invitation for a hug. There’s something very sad and yet at the same time defiant. It took me a couple of listens to really click with this album, but when that tipping point is reached, boy are you in for the aural ride of your life.

The albums opens with “Human Thing”, a slow drawl of a song, but how that voice soars like a bird of song in a cage. But this is no chirp, chirp, there is angst behind them there bars. Things lighten a little with “For the Turnstiles”, but that voice is thickly woven throughout the album. “Ootischenia”, the forth track is where everything falls into place and indeed is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Other notable tracks on the album are “Song for R.” and “Crow Waltz”, with it’s real nod to the past.

The final track however is a really interesting one. It’s not just interesting because it’s a cover song. It’s very interesting indeed for being a cover of the Prince songs, “When Doves Cry”. This is a wonderful cover and a really nice surprise for the end of the album.

Conclusion : A wonderful slice of alternative American folk, country, rock or whatever else you want to define it as. This is an incredible album, with a sound all it’s own, from a band that deserves high praise indeed.

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Album – Sole Inhabitant – Thomas Dolby

Posted by admin on 15th December 2006

  • Band / Artist : Thomas DolbymySpace
  • Genre : Wave / Electronica / Pop
  • Sample Track Download : N/A
  • Buy CD : CD Baby
  • Buy Digital Download : iTunes
  • Rating : 9 out of 10

My earliest memories of Thomas Dolby are the early 80’s, when his “She Blinded Me With Science” single was released. This was a very memorable track, not just for the music, but also for the video, which both featured Magnus Pyke, a wacky science guy, who was on a TV show at the time called Don’t Just Sit There. His most memorable trait, was the wild use of his arms while explaining science subjects. When I said early 80’s, the actual year was 1982. That’s an unbelievable 23 years ago. Over the years that followed a few more singles were forthcoming, but it wasn’t until the 1992 release, Astronauts and Heretic that I finally added a Dolby album to my collection. This album was more pop and rock than the usual electronica I was used to, but it had some absolute gems on it, including the hit single “Close But No Cigar”.

Fast forward 14 years and I have to admit, the Dolby name pretty much faded from my musical horizon. I did however see his name pop up in various tech publications and websites, talking about his other venture at the time, the company Beatnik. That was until recently, when I came across a video podcast, showcasing songs from a DVD called Sole Inhabitant. This DVD of live performance, was also available on CD. As Dolby himself was releasing video podcasts, I immediately approached his label to see whether I could review the album and feature a track in the Indie Launchpad Podcast. They tapped the details into their computer, and the answer came out, “Yes”. Excitement ensued, especially when the CD came in the post.

The album opens with “Lepizig Calling”, which like 8 of the 11 tracks, I’ve never actually, or rather never consciously heard before, even though some of them do actually sound familiar. Though Dolby is often referred to as an electronica artist, for me there is something much more interesting than that pigeon hole genre. Again “One of Our Submarines” also showcases that Dolby sound, which entertains and engages, rather than washing over like many other electronica albums. For me the gem on the album is “Flying North”, which has that beautiful repetitive soundscape of pure luscious sound.

Call me a pretensious music critic, but this album is just a sheer delight to listen to. I think the thing that is totally obvious with this album, is that the production quality is absolutely superb. It’s very difficult sometimes to remember that this is a live album. I think the only thing I would have reservations with, is going to see an act like this. From watching the video podcast segments, it’s plainly obvious that Dolby is a keyboard virtuoso, but how exciting is it to watch a guy bang a few keys and sing a bit.

On a final note, I hope that Thomas didn’t just choose to produce video podcasts, solely for the release of this album. From watching them, it comes across quite plainly that he is a down to earth and very engaging story teller. I would love to see him recount some more stories intertwined with his music.

Conclusion : It’s great to see the name Thomas Dolby back on the music scene. It’s also been great rediscovering some old favorites and also discovering some great tracks for the first time.

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