Stars And Sons leader Michael Lord has the kind of artistic vision that brings to mind clichés connecting genius and mental illness. Amongst other things, his brain appears to be entirely missing the bit that cares what anyone else might think. From his band's bizarre publicity material on in, it's as though it has simply never occurred to him to think "Hang on. Maybe people will find that a bit weird."
Yet, perversely and gloriously, his complete disregard for the middle of the road is wedded to the kind of pop sensibility that Busted would die for. Somewhere in here is a collection of perfectly crafted songs, decorated with lovely harmonies, performed and arranged with enviable tightness, and studded with lyrical gems. But it's hard to imagine Busted fans falling for the disjointed jump–cut rhythms on the first track, or the apparently random field recordings that fill the gaps, or the left–field sampled vocals that decorate track three. And from a production point of view, it sounds as though the basic instrumental tracks were lovingly recorded by someone who really knows about these things, then plastered with nasty sibilant vocals and far too much compression by someone who really didn't care. Finally, it apparently never occurred to Michael Lord to think "Hang on. Maybe The Goat Show is a bit of a weird name for an EP."
Whatever. I think it's genius. Sam Inglis
Most bands don't have enough good songs to fill a CD, so as a money–saving gesture, the idea of a joint release makes sense. Promotion gets twice the manpower, and there'll be twice as many fans out there to snap it up. The problem, of course, is finding the right band to share a disc with, and as couples go, White Clouds & Gunfire and Destructors 666 are the Lembit Opik and one–half–of–the–Cheeky Girls of rock.
Destructors 666, it transpires, are a new incarnation of an early '80s punk band called the Destructors (no, me neither). Their sound has not undergone a radical transformation in the intervening decades, but there's still plenty of fire burning within, and Rob Baylis's powerhouse drumming drives the songs along at a furious pace. White Clouds & Gunfire, on the other hand, play the kind of perky indie–pop that you probably wouldn't notice if it was sandwiched between the Kaiser Chiefs and Maximo Park on an XFM playlist.
The link between them, such as it is, seems to have less to do with musical similarities and more to do with both bands having been recorded by one Tom Savage. He's done a pretty good job on the whole: the balances are fine, and most of the instruments sound as they should, although there are hints of muddiness that could perhaps have been eradicated with more sympathetic mic placement or EQ. But I can't help feeling that the shotgun marriage has created a disc that is less than the sum of its parts. Sam Inglis
Some band names are just asking for a two–word review. Nosound? I wish.
That would, however, be unfair on Giancarlo Erra's album, which is evidently the product of no little time and ability. Admittedly, if I had that much time and ability at my own disposal, I wouldn't direct it towards sounding like late–period Pink Floyd; but as they say, one man's meat is another man's poison, and Lightdark has plenty to offer those listeners who can digest large slabs of brooding, downtempo progginess without ill effect.
It's very nicely recorded and mixed, especially the drums and acoustic guitars, but I must say I'd rather hear Giancarlo sing in Italian than heavily accented English. And why does this sort of music always have to be buried beneath endless layers of synth pads? Like air freshener sprayed onto roses, all they do is obliterate anything fragile or subtle about the rest of the performance and mask it in a kind of synthetic, syrupy fog. Nohidesousfakestringsounds? Now that I do wish. Sam Inglis
Remember songs? The things that you used to hear on the radio? They were about three minutes long, and you would find 10 or so on an album? Well, songs are so 20th century. What we have now are 'selections', and there are four of them on Lacuna's compact disc. (I would call it an EP, but I suspect that's equally passé.)
Spaces, too, having been consigned to the dustbin of history, the second of these selections is called 'Apatterntoexistforever': a title that sums up Lacuna's music nicely. No information is forthcoming, but it sounds very much as though Lacuna's raison d'être is to play electronica, but on real instruments. And the basic sound they make is lovely: crisply recorded and nicely played breakbeat–style drums, melodic bass, tinkly keyboards and ambient washes of guitar, or something like it.
The problem — and it's a fairly major problem — is that it doesn't go anywhere. There are a lot of slow dynamic variations, and new sounds get faded in and out, but in harmonic terms, it's as static as the North Circular at rush hour. By the third track, the longing to hear a chord change was so overwhelming I started hallucinating them. Sam Inglis
Black Market Serotonin (real name: Andrew Thomas) has sent in a four–song sampler from his latest album, Something From Nothing. His decision to 'go it alone' came from having played in various different bands, only to find that none of his former band members were as committed as him — a story familiar to many, I'm sure.
His style of music is probably best described as 'epic synth rock', combining, as it does, heavy guitars with '80s–style synth lines and 'emo' vocal melodies. Musically, these elements work quite well together, and though I probably wouldn't have guessed it, the 'epic synth rock' idea is conceptually quite a good one. It's in the technical execution, however, that this CD falls short.
Probably most distracting is the balance between the various instruments. The synths and guitars, for example, are way too loud compared with the drums, and this isn't helped by the overly bright synth patches and the 'cheap distortion pedal with the gain right up' guitar sounds he's chosen.
Also, I rather suspect that Andrew lacks confidence in his vocal abilities — while his pitching isn't spot–on all of the time, my guess is that this has more to do with his somewhat reserved delivery than any inherent tuning problems. That said, it's rather hard to tell because the vocals are mixed so damn quietly!
Andrew seems to have come up with a fairly original blend of musical styles without the need for collaboration, but if I were to offer him some advice, it would be to seek out an objective pair of ears when it comes to mixing his tracks. Chris Korff
Button Up are one of those bands that consist of professional musicians playing what they want to, not what they're paid to, and the music that excites these session stars of the Scottish lowlands is old–school soul, R&B and jazz funk. The musicianship is, as you'd expect from the names involved, first–rate, but it's two other factors that really lift Button Up above the herd. Unlike so many other bands of this ilk, they have some really strong original material to set alongside their soul covers; and they aren't afraid to branch out into different styles, from Booker T–style minimalism to Ray Charles–esque soul.
It must be a pleasure to record musicians of this quality, and Mark Freegard has generally done an excellent job, my only quibble being that Justin Currie's vocals perhaps don't benefit from such a lo–fi mic choice. If they really don't want people to dance on the tables, Button Up are going the wrong way about it! Sam Inglis
Equally proud of their Scottish heritage are Achren, who spend their time "malevolently fusing black, thrash and death metal". I know what you're thinking: it'll never work. How could such disparate musical styles possibly be united without compromising their individuality? Well, Achren have a radical solution, and it involves synthesized bagpipes.
I know heavy metal is supposed to be scary, but this, frankly, is going too far. Sam Inglis
Most of us would probably think of writing songs and singing them as, above all, a means of expressing ourselves. So it's one of life's little mysteries that there are legions of people out there desperate to become singer–songwriters despite, apparently, having no selves to express.
Take Dylan Singh, for example. He's led an interesting and much–travelled life. He "enjoys listening to everything from Punjabi folk music to Qawwalis to ghazals". He has a strong voice, and he knows lots of ways to assemble three chords into a song. But for all his basic competence, there is nothing whatsoever about Dylan's music you could call individual, or distinctive, or original. His lyrics consist entirely of clichés pasted together from other songs. His musical ideas are old, borrowed or blue, but never new. Even his song titles feel tired. And despite the fact that Dylan claims to be proud of his Indian heritage, he has ruthlessly obliterated all trace of it from his music. Perhaps he thinks that his chances of commercial success will be improved by sticking to the blandest of white–bread Americana? If so, that's just depressing. Sam Inglis
Sound On Sound are proud to to feature the Breed Media Group as the sponsor of Playback. Each month, Breed will be giving away a run of 1000 CDs to the lucky winner. This amazing prize will be professionally pressed, and includes glass mastering, print, cases and delivery — worth over £630!
Specialists in CD, DVD & vinyl pressing, digital distribution and music video production, Breed Media Group are also dedicated to the environment: they are 100 percent carbon neutral, making them truly a new breed of media company.
This month's winners are Stars And Sons.
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