Immaculately produced and performed Beatles‑influenced blues‑pop, complete with whistling, brass and dusky vocals. The tunes aren't big enough to make it a classic and you're left wanting that big hook, but the arrangements and production make the wait worthwhile, like a mischevious puppy at a bus stop. Julian G Harding
What's the first thing people notice on hearing the Donde Stars' single? I dare say some will alight first on the lush, Coldplayesque keyboard ambiences. Others may note the chiming, Coldplayesque electric guitars, or the rich, Coldplayesque acoustic strumming. But for me, the most striking feature is the heavy cold through which Luke Williams appears to be singing.
Oddly, though, I actually couldn't decide whether this makes the single better or worse. On the one hand, there's definitely something strange about a record that begins 'Shed your tears oh drudked soul', and sounds for all the world like a hymn to the mysterious nation of Ohmerica. On the other hand, a little bit of strangeness is very welcome when all else is Coldplayesque. Sam Inglis
As far as I can tell, Derrick Jones' demo consists of songs originally composed in the late '80s, but only recently committed to hard disk. Either that, or Stoke‑on‑Trent is further behind the times than we thought, because it's as though the last two decades never happened.
The mood is unrelentingly gloomy, the pace unrelentingly slow. Ancient drum machines drag themselves like weary mammoths across a tundra of glacial synth patches, plodding as though the sheer effort of producing yet another heavily reverbed snare hit is about to kill them. Meanwhile, Derrick repeats cheery thoughts like 'they would kill a man because the pen was in his hand' or 'more and more reasons to die' over and over again, in a blank spoken voice. As the Beach Boys once sang: fun, fun, fun. Sam Inglis
I'd love to know what institution awarded Ricardo de Sousa a degree in Recording Arts, if only so that I can warn the students of the future. Ricardo has, by his own admission, invested a lot of time and energy in the one track on his CD, but the results are bizarre, in the way that can only happen when someone shoots for something obviously commercial and misses by a hundred million billion miles.
It begins with a drum loop which, over the course of two bars, is subjected in turn to flanging, random hard‑panned reverbs and what sounds like a toilet flushing. Clean electric guitars then kick in, at which point the overall level drops by about 12dB. After that, we're treated to two minutes of aimless meandering before Ricardo finally unveils his unique singing style and Shakira‑esque take on the English language. Finally, with the five‑minute mark looming, everything simply cuts off without warning.
As far as I can tell, the individual parts are well recorded, and the weird production arguably lends a naive charm to the proceedings that is absent from your typical indie‑pop‑by‑numbers demo. Yet Ricardo clearly wants to pursue music as a career, and since he asks for advice, I guess he wishes to be steered into the mainstream. In which case, he should first learn to get to the meat of the song more quickly. Second, he has to realise that simply looping the same MIDI part hundreds of times is not going to convince anyone that a real drummer was involved. Third, and most important, he must never, ever allow himself to use a compressor on the mix bus again. Sam Inglis
Crash Repeat are a three‑piece live dance outfit. Distorted pseudo‑politics don't mix too well with catchy Sonic The Hedgehog lead synths and bouncy, heavy beats. The result sounds — rather ironically — like a really fun crusty‑rave being interrupted by a po‑faced young protestor with a megaphone. Mute the vocals! Julian G Harding
"All music played by hand, on instruments made out of wood,” says the back cover of Sangita. Fernwood conjure up an image of a Sitar‑toting Chinese cowboy wandering through the Appalachian mountains, sailing the seven seas, and fighting dragons. The music isn't as confused as my imagination, but it is evocative, and much more cinematic than most world music out there. Julian G Harding
It's in my nature to be suspicious of any band who list 'E-bow' as an instrument, let alone claim to "explode onto the scene with anthemic, exhilarating and passionate soundscapes”. It might be closer to the mark to say that Lost Calm explode into a well‑worn furrow, given that their sound is mainly based around pounding kick drums, eighth‑note guitar chords and that unique blend of vulnerability and epic self‑importance you only encounter in indie music.
Their mixes are a lot rougher and more distorted than yer average Snow Patrol soundalikes, which is perhaps no bad thing. Their playing is very tight, and they have a fine singer in the gloriously named Wayne Welch. What they don't have, at least at the moment, is the ability to do anything unexpected or surprising. Sam Inglis
Rob Lee's demo is accompanied by a lengthy essay touching on its gestation, his baroque approach to collaboration, the new style of guitar playing he's invented, Korean cinema and the history of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. I guess that's what happens when you idolise Luke Haines. At least Luke Haines is someone worth idolising, though personally I wouldn't take it to the extent of borrowing the infuriating 'ping' synth sound with which he decorates many of his songs.
Rob's music also incorporates various electronica influences, which on the one hand add plenty of variety and interest to the sound, but on the other make many of his lyrics completely incomprehensible. Which, if you want to know more about Korean cinema and the history of the Khmer Rouge regime, is a pity. Sam Inglis
Like many of us, Joe Noel is happy to mix at home, but has used a local studio to track his upbeat acoustic pop/rock. The results are brash, in‑your‑face and mostly effective, if perhaps a little heavy on the acoustic strumming (why does everyone feel they have to double‑track everything these days?). The tracks that feature a full band, especially the ska‑influenced 'Running Out Of Time', are definite highlights, and if Joe can persuade these musicians to work with him more regularly, his music will be all the better for it. Sam Inglis
Richard Turgeon is a San Francisco‑based musician who's also written a book about how to make it big in an indie‑rock band. This album, 10 Megs Of Luv, is his "sixth independent release” as a solo artist.
It's a six‑track EP that should, in theory, fall squarely into the 'power pop' category. Superficially, the basics seem present and correct, but something about it seems to drain away the power, and it lacks energy and bounce. I think this is partly down to Richard's rather tired lyrics about 'working for the man', and partly down to the fact that he's multitracked every part himself: the mysterious chemistry and conviction that only a live band can provide is really important in this genre. I also wonder whether there's something a bit awry with Richard's choice of reverbs; if you want to find out, he's generously made the individual parts available from his web site so you can mix it yourself. Sam Inglis
Andrew Morris has pitched his musical tent on the crowded stretch of beach between Neil Young's buried Cadillac and David Gray's windbreak. Happily, his brand of acoustic songsmithery is strong enough to kick sand in the faces of all but the strongest competition. The five‑track Longbeach EP could be an advertisement for the all‑round benefits of hiring people who know what they're doing: Morris has assembled an excellent band, who exercise admirable restraint in the service of his simple yet effective material. Pedal-steel player Steve Honest also served time behind the desk, to good effect, and the overall feel is slick, warm and thoroughly professional. Sam Inglis