Archive for November, 2007

Review: Isabel At Sunset – Meet The Gang!

Usually it’s quite easy to spot the country from which a band come from, simply by listening to their music. With their jagged guitars, youthful vocals and general air of positivity, Isabel At Sunset sound like they come from a modish indie American scene yet they’re actually based in Parma, Italy. The Pavement influence is most apparent thanks to the often awkward but melodic time signatures – drummer Kevin Coley (the only non-Italian in the band) actually plays in a Pavement covers band as well.

Isabel At Sunset Cover

Some songs seem to value youthful viguor over songwriting but ‘The Coming Back Guy’ is undeniably infectious as is the buzzsawing pop of the title track.  Meanwhile ‘Trucks ‘N’ Cars’ and ‘Just Me In The Mirror’ blend subtle instruments with vocalist Alain Marenghi cast as the yearning frontman for the first time. A little disarmingly, however, ‘Barbarians Within The Gate’ reveal Oasis-style ambitions of laddish pop. That apart, this is a promising debut from a band who will undoubtedly improve as they mature. For now though, they sound like a young band witha bagful of influences but not quite making their own individual mark.

Isabel At Sunset MySpace

Also Recommended:

Review Of Pilots Of Japan’s ‘The Plan To Reverse Time’

Review: Grand National – A Drink & A Quick Decision

Leaving barely enough time to settle since their B-side and remix compilation, Grand National unleash their second album of danceable indie pop on an expectant world. The first thing that struck me about ‘A Drink And A Quick Decision’ is that it’s very similarly stylistically to their debut. On ‘Kicking The National Habit’, at least half of the songs bore the hallmark of a cracking single and there’s much the same here. Then again there’s also a healthy quota of slow-burners; featuring more considered moments. There’s a similar feeling of the excitement of the night out, followed by the regret of the morning afterwards.

Grand National cover 

If you’re after great songs then ‘A Drink & A Quick Decision’ boasts plenty of them. ‘Weird Ideas At Work’ possesses hooks-a-plenty both in the verse and the chorus, ‘By The Time I Get Home…’ wastes no time in going straight for the dancefloor whilst ‘Going To Switch The Lights On’ is wonderfully rhythmic and bouncy. These are all topped by the irresistably infectious ‘Close Approximation’. On a more cerebral level, ‘Animal Sounds’ and ‘Cut By The Brakes’ have their fair share of early-80s synth sounds but these are songs that reap rewards the more you listen to them. Towards the end of the record comes the downbeat material;  ‘Joker & Clown’ and ‘Pack All The Things You Need’ are signs of real maturity. All these factors make ‘A Drink And A Quick Decision’ possibly the thinking man’s dance album of the year.

Also Recommended:
Review: Grand National – Kicking The National Habit,
Review: Grand National – B-Sides, Remixes & Rarities
Review: Whitey – The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is A Train

Review: Christian McKee – Songs From Wharf Avenue

Christian McKee first contacted me about 6 months ago to review his four-track EP. It contained one track which combined low budget hip-hop with witty pop whilst the others covered his more romantic side. The debut album follows a similar ratio of styles but moreover proves that McKee’s impressive start was no fluke.

Christian McKee - Songs From Wharf Avenue
Kicking off with ‘Alive By The Weekend’ is certainly a lively (almost hyperactive) way to start. Yet, good as that song is, ‘Flowers In The Rain’ is likely to offer longer term enjoyment. McKee is at his lovelorn peak; his voice is rich and distinctive whilst soulful synths and a lovely melody belie the meagre self-produced recording. ‘When Was There’ and ‘Lot Of Pain To Bury’ are other highpoints thanks to their simple, melancholic refrains. Elsewhere the mid-paced ‘Noses Of The Philistines’ represents the acceptable face of MOR even if ‘Seventeen Again’ and ‘It’s Over’ sound like the product of a man approaching the blandness of middle age. It’s hard to think of any artist who sounds quite like McKee but at his best he certainly has the warmth and soulfulness of artists like the simlarly underrated Merz. Better still, the album is available completely free for download from his own website on


Review Of McKee’s ‘The Ipods & Cyclops E.P’
Review Of Merz’s ‘Loveheart’

New Releases From Make Mine Music

I’m sure some of you may be aware of this already but I just thought I’d let everyone know about some new releases coming your way from Make Mine Music.

Make Mine Music was set up in 2002 as a record label managed by the musicians themselves. I’ve collected pretty much everything released on this label as they’ve been a consistently great source of music. I would recommend people to check them out especially if ambient/electronic music is your thing.

The latest releases are as follows:

Out Now: 

All Sides – Dedalus : I was impressed with Nina Kernicke’s earlier EP on MMM which veered between the chilling to the serene.

All Sides Cover

All Sides MySpace

Library Tapes – Sketches EP : Classical and experimental electronica was the order of the day on David Wenngren’s first offering.

Library Tapes Cover

Library Tapes MySpace

Out Soon:

Planivaar – The Green Boat : Mark Lippet’s first album on Split Femur Recordings was a rather unassuming listen which showed a lot of promise.

Planivaar Cover

Planivaar’s MySpace

Avrocar – Against The Dying Of The Light : I remember first listening to Avrocar’s ‘Screen’ single almost ten years ago now, when it was played by John Peel. The track still sounds very haunting even now. It’s been eight years since their first album so let’s hope the follow-up has been worth waiting for.

Avrocar’s MySpace

Yellow6 – Merry6mas2007 – Jon Attwood’s dark instrumentals bear comparison with post-rock luminaries such as Labradford and Bark Psychosis and his annual “festive” comps don’t usually disappoint.

Yellow6 Official Site
Yellow6 MySpace

July Skies – The Weather Clock : Much like labelmates Epic45, July Skies’ Anthony Harding is intent on capturing beautifully nostalgic moments with his dreamlike music.

July Skies Official Site

July Skies MySpace

MMM’s website is the place to get this fine music: Make Mine Music Site

Needless to say, I have written reviews in the past for all these artists on the old Leonard’s Lair site –

Review: Painting By Numbers – Circuits E.P.

After a highly promising first EP, Cork’s Painting By Numbers set their stall out as a more robust take on the Irish indie pop/rock scene. ‘Circuits’ should consolidate that position with four more songs showcasing Ronan McCann’s yearning vocals and some glistening guitar work.

 Painting By Numbers EP Cover

‘Breaking Mirrors’ has to be the pick of a decent bunch of songs. The guitars are at full throttle whilst McCann’s throaty vocal helps to keep up the intensity. The relatively bland ‘Raise The Alarms’ fails to live up to its title but the considerably more urgent-sounding ‘Old News’ and the warmth of the title track make up for it. Painting By Numbers aren’t quite up to the high standard of Whipping Boy yet but they’re gradually getting there.

Web Site: 
Painting By Numbers Myspace

Further reading:

Review of the first EP by Painting By Numbers
Review of Whipping Boy’s self-titled second album

Review: Arrison Kirby – Part 3

I first noticed the name Arrison Kirby in 2005 when he was named as producer for a delightful album by the equally delightfully-named Skippy And The Bellbottoms. Containing a number of brilliant piano-led alt-pop gems, it was the perfect marriage between the talents of a maverick singer/songwriter and a skilled arranger. Kirby is an artist in his own right though and has been around the Knoxville, Tennessee music scene for a decade now. ‘Part 3’ is inspired by an “ill fated” journey across Japan and the results embrace kitsch pop, indie, punk, art-rock and a number of instrumental interludes.

Arrison Kirby Album Cover
Needless to say, this isn’t the most cohesive album of the year. ‘Jim On The Plane’ is part music hall, part maverick art pop but ‘Zenkouji Exit’ sounds more like the background music for a frenetic cartoon. It’s only when Kirby avoids novelty items that he comes in to his own. ‘New Feeling’ is an instrumental but it’s a very moving and melodic composition involving ukulele, chimes and orchestral effects. Also the sweetly sung ‘Nagano Return’ and ‘Sad Divide’, in particular, resemble a scruffier version of The Silent League. So despite the varying quality and genre-hopping, Arrison Kirby is worth checking out by lovers of experimental pop.

Also Recommended:

Review Of Skippy And The Bellbottoms’ ‘What Happened To Turn Signals?’
Review Of The Silent League’s ‘The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused’

Web Sites:

Eldeth Record Label Website

Arrison Kirby’s Home Page

Review: Canon Blue – Colonies

As well as receiving plaudits for their dreamlike take on post-rock, Danish act Efterklang also run their own label Rumraket. It’s a label which has already produced records by the talented Swedish twins Taxi Taxi! as well as quirky Japanese acts like Kama Aina and Cacoy. Add to that list Canon Blue, or American Daniel James as he’s known amongst family and friends. James is a member of the very en vogue folktronica scene but his beats tend to be heavier than most.

Canon Blue Album Cover

A case in point is ‘Pilguin Pop’; a colourful and highly melodic track that is part big (well, at least medium) beat  but with a distinctive tune. ‘Odds And Ends’ is simpler and sweet like the Icelandic musician Eberg. Most of the songs here have a sleepy demeanour but for ‘Pale Horse’ James’ voice shifts between tender balladeer and mouthpiece for gut-wrenching emotion. ‘Battle Hymn’ is the first track which doesn’t really work; the beats are heavier than normal, James offers shouted raps and there’s no hook. Then just when you think the album is front-loaded a sweeping string-laden ballad named ‘Mouth To Mouth’ appears, some melancholic piano adding to this very fine track. The end result is a record typical of the output from Rumraket – not quite the complete package but imaginative and charming all the same.

Also recommended:

Review Of Cacoy’s ‘Human Is Music’
Review Of Kama Aina’s ‘Club Kama Aina’

Web Sites: