More of your submissions get the once-over by the SOS editorial staff.
Liverpudlian Phil and Tucsonian (is that a word?) Glenn created their album without ever having met, thanks to the wonders of airmail. “It might not be to everyone’s taste,” admits Phil, and inside the beautiful hand-crafted packaging there does indeed lurk some very challenging listening. The only point of comparison I can come up with is Scott Walker, but this is a million miles from the lush orchestral balladry of Scott 4. Rather, in its dense arrangements of found sound, treated instruments and stylised singing, it recalls Walker’s most recent album, The Drift. Hargreaves and Weyant specialise in the creative abuse of guitars and cellos, and one assumes that only budget constraints or vegetarianism prevented them from following Mr. Engel’s lead and bashing out a funky beat on a pig’s carcass.
An hour of this stuff is hard to take in one sitting, but there’s something refreshing about this duo’s approach to the avant garde. In an age where it’s so easy to hit a button on a plug-in and spew out electronic noise to order, it’s great to hear something created the hard way, using imaginative playing techniques to extract new sounds from acoustic instruments. Phil and Glenn have found enough different flavours of cacophony to give each track its own distinct character, yet the album as a whole has a pleasing coherence. It’s just a shame they chose to open it with their worst piece, ‘Do Not Sing’; unlike later tracks, which have an organic, evolving quality, this one is based around clumsy repetitions of a single loop, and quickly gets dull. Sam Inglis
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I was always brought up to believe that being a pimp was, you know, a Bad Thing. Being a kinky one thus doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing you would want to make public. Mind you, if I shared Jay Kay’s taste in hats I’d keep quiet about that, too; maybe these Euro–rockers just have fewer hang-ups than the rest of us.
Given that they work so hard to project a sleazy image, though, the Kinky Pimps’ music is almost laughably safe. ‘Come on let me hear you say / We’re going to dance the night away’? I’ve heard raunchier choruses on Cliff Richard tracks. And if the Pimps want us to believe they’re even a bit streetwise, they could start by not censoring their own lyrics to say ‘freaking’ instead of ‘fucking’.
The tameness extends to the production, too. Fab Rab’s programmed beats are so polite they probably open the studio door for him, and while the guitar and bass playing is perfectly competent, it all sounds a bit anonymous, as though it was cut and pasted together from a library of generic licks. Think ‘deservedly obscure Fun Lovin’ Criminals B-side’ and you’ll be somewhere in the right ballpark. Sam Inglis
In a rather refreshing departure from the usual one-man writer/producer efforts that arrive at SOS, Bowfinger’s submission is a live gig recording. Coming unapologetically from the ska–punk school, this Bedford–based five-piece clearly put the emphasis on entertainment rather than originality.
There’s always a risk involved in going down such a well–trodden path, as the execution becomes much more important than it might be if you were trying to do something a bit more quirky. Thankfully, they score well on that front: the performance is tight and energetic, and you can tell from the enthusiastic applause following each song that the crowd are enjoying themselves.
The songs are catchy, featuring the off-beat guitar chords and vocal harmonies typical of bands like Rancid and Less Than Jake, with organ parts fitting the ska vibe. The recording and production quality is also commendable (I’ve heard worse live recordings from big-name bands), with good separation between parts and a nice balance between band and crowd.
In the letter accompanying the CD, they say they intend to release the album on their own label. They accept that it might not be a massive commercial success, but it is a route that has worked for other bands in the past. Nineties indie band Symposium, another ska/punk outfit, made a big name for themselves in the UK almost entirely off the back of great performances and live recordings, so there’s nothing stopping Bowfinger doing the same. Chris Korff
There’s nothing like a self–imposed restriction to concentrate the mind, and Tim Harper has deliberately set out to create an album without using any instruments, either real or virtual. Instead, he says, he’s relied on vinyl samples and processing in Cubase.
Tim freely admits that the results are ‘weird’, and this certainly isn’t Top 40 material; but at the same time, it doesn’t stray into the unlistenable outer reaches inhabited by some instrumental hip-hop producers. Tim clearly has an ear for an arresting sample, and he’s cast his net wide enough to ensnare an impressive variety of vocal snippets and instrumental loops. I think the secret to producing this kind of material is to have a very short attention span, and Blue Rhymes... rings the changes often enough that the listener is unlikely to get bored.
To my ears, though, there’s something unsatisfying about the way many of the tracks sound, and I think the problem lies squarely in the beats department. Instead of being fat, warm and meaty, most of them are thin and lacking in character, and Tim has a tendency to compensate for the lack of substance in the sound by overcomplicating his drum programming. His music doesn’t need more snares; it needs bigger ones! Sam Inglis
The Solution belong to a genre that is much more popular in the US than it is over here: classic rock. Their sound is thus unashamedly retro, but not in the least ironic or knowing. In fact, although they might not thank me for saying this, The Solution’s music reminded me more than anything of Jack Black’s spoof rockers Tenacious D, only without the comedy.
The Connecticut rockers say that they’re a three-piece, but although there’s plenty of detail on singer/guitarist Steve Conroy and bassist Rob Santoro, neither their press release nor the shoddily printed CD sleeve gives any clue as to who played the drums on this three-track demo. I’d be curious to know, if only to find out how he managed to reach his tom-toms, which sound as though they were in a different county from the rest of the kit.
Panning quirks aside, this is a well-recorded demo, and there’s no doubting the musical chops on display. Sometimes, though, that display is too ostentatious, and I half-wonder whether the missing drummer was written out of the band’s history to punish him for his continual over-playing. The Solution’s songs are competently put together, but they’re too often overshadowed by fussy grooves and unnecessary fills. Sam Inglis
If the cover of this CD is anything to go by, Gary Everest is a dab hand with watercolours. According to his biography, he’s also a “very much in demand drummer”, who has played with the likes of Peter Green. I had to read that bit twice, because my first impression of this CD was that everything sounds out of time with everything else. Perhaps I’ve just become too attuned to hearing music that’s had all the life quantised out of it, or perhaps there’s some sort of complex polyrhythmic groove to it that’s going right over my head, but I’m afraid the playing just sounds sloppy to my ears.
Production-wise, the album is a good illustration of why more is often less. More reverb, more distortion, more gratuitous string pads and more compression have added up to a sound that is muddy, distant and lacking in impact. Gary’s aim in making this CD seems to be to showcase his songwriting skills, and if that’s the case, his time would be better spent getting good basic takes down than piling messy overdubs and effects on top of shaky foundations. Still, the cover’s nice. Sam Inglis
Uniting The Elements “defy simplistic categorisation”, claims their press release. In fact, and not to put too fine a point on it, they’re a rock band. Not that that’s a bad thing, since they rock pretty hard, but you’d think that they’d be proud of it. That said, I can see why they might eschew the term: with so many guitar bands around playing pussy music, it could just as easily mean a bunch of scrawny twats playing pop songs as, in this case, a female-fronted trio who bring the riffs and shout a lot.
It’s pretty conventional stuff, but singer Dawn definitely has the voice for it, and their no-frills approach is much more satisfying than many rock bands whose demos I’ve reviewed. Opening track ‘God Won’t Be Coming Around’ is a perfect example — simple and catchy, with lyrics so crap you’d be daft to try and criticise them: “God won’t be coming around / He’s got a gig on his way out of town / Jesus is in the van too / He’s in the back with the lighting crew”. Brilliant! That might sound sarcastic, but it’s not — I actually really liked that track. Anyway, since when are rock lyrics supposed to be good?
‘Body Groove’ is so cheesy it hurts, but again the fact that there’s no attempt to be anything other than straightforward rock pre-empts any complaints. Recalling some of Faith No More’s earlier material, Dawn pulls the sort-of-rapping thing off well, though there is one line where she sounds more like Goldie Lookin’ Chain than Mike Patton.
The third track, ‘Thank you’, is probably my least favourite. Though it’s not terrible, I get the impression they tried to write a Good Song rather than writing music that’s fun to play. As a consequence they sound a bit too much like Evanescence for my liking — not awful, just, er, out of their element. Chris Korff
The best CD reviewed each month will win a Line 6 Toneport UX1 recording interface, plus the complete set of expansion model packs and the Gearbox Plug-in feature, giving the winners a comprehensive range of amp and effects combinations to use with their computer recording system. Toneport includes meticulously crafted models of premium tube studio preamps, vintage guitar and bass rigs, and sought-after, personality-rich effects, while the Gearbox software provides complete control over your sound, with a unique low-latency monitoring option.
This month's lucky winners are Phil Hargreaves and Glenn Weyant.