Archive for March, 2008

Review: Saint Bernadette – I Wanna Tell You Something…

A couple of months ago I reviewed the debut album from Saint Bernadette. It was a dramatic and stirring album chiefly because of the powerful vocals of Meredith DiMenna and the classic Western guitar stylings of partner Keith Saunders. It’s only flaw was that the jazz rock flavour of the songs was not easily marketable. A quick follow-up EP signals a new direction and one which should crossover to the masses.

Saint Bernadette EP Cover

DiMenna is at the forefront of the songs more than ever now. Each track seems to showcase another aspect to her voice and personality. She belts out the choruses to ‘In Between’ and ‘Love Is A Stranger’ in a manner which suggests none other than American idol winner Kelly Clarkson. Not such a shameful comparison when you think of it since Clarkson has a decent set of pipes herself and both these songs cry out “hit”. The centrepiece ‘One In A Million’ is the least arresting track; hamstrung as it is by the lack of an obvious hook. It’s a brief lull as DiMenna is back in diva mode for ‘Hard To Believe’, biting the words with gusto, like a reborn Nancy Sinatra as Saunders’ supercharged grinding guitar provides the perfect foil. Finally, the couple settle into country ballad mode for the title track. It’s a song which further expands the range of this talented couple. Could they be the next Eurythmics?

Web Sites:
Saint Bernadette Official Site
Saint Bernadette MySpace

Further Listening:
Kelly Clarkson, Eurythmics, Sam Brown


Review: Paul Haig – Go Out Tonight

The unexpectedly great reception which greeted 2007’s ‘Electronik Audience’  has clearly given Paul Haig a lot of confidence. Proving that he wasn’t just a product of the influential early-80’s post-punk scene, content to trade on former glories, on his ninth album Haig reinvented himself as the voice of slick and surprisingly danceable electronic music. Less than a year later, ‘Go Out Tonight’ seeks to take advantage of the acclaim with a rapid follow-up.

Paul Haig CD Cover

The gritty ‘Stay Mine’ uses the kind of confrontational riffs that were the stock-in trade of Paul Haig’s erstwhile colleagues in Josef K. Yet this is otherwise an electronically-themed record, based around the dark after-effects of a night out. The only problem with ‘Go Out Tonight’ is that (not unlike Section 25) it can be quite a cold, unmoving experience and as a consequence the likes of ‘Shut Down’ and ‘Acidic Snowdrop’ sound dry and robotic. It’s probably no coincidence that one of my favourite tracks is also one of the lightest in mood. With its catchy click-clack rhythms and Haig’s ghostly vocal, ‘Believe’ would have been hailed as an alternative disco-pop classic in the mid-1980’s. Furthermore, the excellent ‘Scene’ tones down the pace and digital effects to reveal a reflective and emotive song whilst ‘Gone In A Moment’ is an insistent and addictive closer. All things considered then, ‘Go Out Tonight’ is a respectable follow-up and continues Haig’s recent good run of form.

Web Sites:
Rhythm Of Life Label Site
Paul Haig MySpace

Further Listening:
Josef K, A Certain Ratio, Section 25

Review: The Hepburns – Something Worth Stealing

Of course, it’s not unusual for groups to be immensely popular in the UK but unheard of abroad. Then there are those acts who seem surprisingly popular in foriegn climes yet can’t get arrested on British shores. Perhaps the problems The Hepburns suffer from is that they are too British; an amalgamation of cultural references and light indie-pop. Even so, Japan, Spain and Sweden have appreciated them in the past and all credit to them for that.

The Hepburns CD Cover

Don’t be deceived by the funny but throwaway ‘During British Winters’. Usually there is serious songwriting talent on show. Jazzy opener ‘The Last Thing I Saw Before I Saw Goodbye’ and ‘Geoff’s Cape’ are reminiscent of easy-listening Swinging Sixties pop.  ‘Devil Up A Drainpipe’ is the pick of a set of songs perfect for bored weekend teatimes; it’s uptemp melody instantly appeals and – just to prove they have a potential in their native UK – the whimsical folk-pop of ‘Fire Red Car’ reminded me a lot of Belle And Sebastian. There’s even a touching tribute to Velma from the Scooby Doo stories; a typically witty tribute to the character who did all the detective work in the series.

One could say The Hepburns are irrelevant in modern day music. In a media-dictated world of music where the “next big thing” is force-fed to us, they probably are irrelevant but their unfashionable yet tuneful music is far more palatable to me than the latest batch of post-Libertines wannabes.

Web Sites:
The Hepburns MySpace
Radio Khartoum Label Site

Further Listening:
Anthony Rochester, The Monochrome Set, Belle And Sebastian

Review: Kidnapper Bell – Less Me, More Sky

Kidnapper Bell are a new act from the West Midlands who handily name their genre as “poppunkpostrockshuuuuuuuuuuugaze”. In fairness I can’t think of any other band who describe themselves in those terms so that makes them quite original. On ‘Less Me, More Sky’ there’s certainly a lot of styles covered and although I hesitate to use the “emo” word, they represent the acceptable face of that phemomenon and fit along quite nicely with HIJK; another outift who like to include as many tunes in to one song as they possibly can.

Kidnapper Bell CD Art

The EP (which comes housed in a hand-made, wax-sealed package) begins in arresting fashion for ‘What Arthur Said’. After an intro of squiggly electronica and jagged riffing, the group waste no time getting to the shouted chorus. In direct contrast, ‘The Frequency’ twinkles like a lullaby before building into an aggressive but melodic punk anthem. The staccato third track, ‘Have Another’ is also a cleverly-constructed song with a good grasp on dynamics. Finally, ‘Pixel’ begins slowly and languidly before building into a glorious climax and is a fitting way to end a highly impressive EP.

Web Sites:
Kidnapper Bell MySpace

Further Listening: 
The Mitchells, HIJK

Review: Chancellorpink – Valentine Parade

It’s no surprise to learn that Chancellorpink’s ‘Valentine Parade’ was released to coincide with Valentine’s Day. However, this is a dark, lovelorn affair rather than a record of swooning romanticism. The man behind the idea is Pittsburgh’s Raymond G. McLaughlin; owner of a deep croon that ensures this love album stays on the melancholic side. He also writes, plays keyboards, bass, electric and acoustic guitars and produces the whole shebang. It’s very impressive too although I can’t help hoping that McLaughlin cheers up a bit for Easter. 

Chancellorpink CD Cover

“Out of all your male friends, you like me the least” is just one of the self-pitying lines uttered on the typically bitter ‘Red Wedding Dress’. The perfect moment is reached for ‘Mrs. Kowalski’ where McLaughin’s yearning vocals are balanced against rattlingly intense guitars. It’s a terrific song by anyone’s standards. Opener ‘Unfinished Valentine’ and ‘Baby’s Gone To Bible’ are also fine alternative pop songs, fired this time by electronica. ‘The Red Sea’, though, is an adventure into experimentalism that lacks the fluency of his other material but it’s a rare false step as ‘She Came In Dreams’ veers towards glam rock and ‘I Tear Window Down’ sees McLaughlin cleverly harmonise with himself.

There’s a good range of musical styles (not to mention voices) which McLaughlin employs, as befits a man who – to paraphrase his own mission statement – plans to record an album every year until he dies or becomes boring. So provided he stays healthy, we could be hearing a lot more from him yet.

Web Sites:
Chancellor Pink Official Site

Further Listening: 
Pony Club, Pulp

Video Nostalgia: Eyeless In Gaza – New Risen

Since regular site reader Scott commented on Eyeless In Gaza and the group have a batch of new releases/reissues along the way, it seems like the perfect time to show a video from this unusual band. ‘New Risen’ is one of two Eyeless In Gaza tracks that feature on the ‘Pillows And Prayers’ video that was first released by Cherry Red in the early 1980’s and has since been reissued in DVD format along with the attendant double CD of music.

‘New Risen’ represents Eyeless In Gaza in their most accessible form. This is a conventional pop song by their standards and comes from the album ‘Rust Red September’, which happens to be my favourite album of theirs. I have compared Eyeless In Gaza to OMD in the past but the former weren’t ones for compromising.  Their early tracks have aged rather well; experimental and often semi-improvised but never over-complicated and I can hear their influence in modern-day artists such as Daniel Patrick Quinn.

For those seeking out more on this interesting duo (Martyn Bates and Peter Becker), I would certainly recommend a very informative official site on where you can read about and listen to samples of music old and new from both Eyeless In Gaza and the band members’ other projects.

I can also heartily recommend the ‘Pillows And Prayers’ DVD. It features promos of Cherry Red artists sandwiched between vintage television commercials and public information films. The music is quintessentially English with appropriately quirky videos and serves as great nostalgia for lovers of cult indie pop bands of the time such as Everything But The Girl, The Monochrome Set and the haunting ‘It’s A Fine Day’ by Jane.

Other Resources:
Cherry Red Label Site & Shop

Further Listening:
Daniel Patrick Quinn, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Black September

Review: Cheju & Stoosh – Awkward 24

Awkward Silence originally started releasing their split records in the traditional format of 7″ singles. However, since June 2005 the chosen format has been a 3″ CD, the latest being two tracks each from Cheju and Stoosh. The former is the prolific Wil Bolton who – as well as being co-owner of Boltfish Recordings – has recorded under numerous labels over the last few years. Shoosh, meanwhile, are a three-piece who include Neil Carlill, erstwhile member of mid-90s acts Delicatessen and Lodger.

 Awkward 24 CD Cover

In truth, Cheju and Stoosh are barely comparable although both operate in the broad church we know as “electronica”. Of the two, Cheju aim for the more direct route to melodies. ‘Moody Copy’ is as smooth and approachable as the warmest of European techno whereas the slightly darker ‘Drago’ is a nice mixture of glacial atmospheres, precise beats and a harpsichord-like tune.

Shoosh is definitely more leftfield. Their two tracks explore a psychedelic world. ‘Elastic Soil’ begins with Spanish guitar before some warped vocals convey an evening of stoned abandon in Madrid. The haze doesn’t clear for ‘Come In From The Cold’ either. Nevertheless there’s a certain nightmarish charm to their songs.

With two very contrasting styles on the CD, it’s difficult to recommend this to newcomers but for those who like a mixture of straightforward and experimental electronica, look no further because salvation is here.

Web Sites:
Awkward Silence Label Site
Cheju Official Site
Shoosh MySpace