Medz 4 Life
I've been trying to reconstruct the band meeting that produced this package, and I can only conclude that for reasons of their own, this two-piece Exeter act really didn't want anyone to enjoy their CD.
Drummer: "What can we write on the outside of the envelope to make the recipient think 'This has got to be complete cack'?"
Singer: "How about if we design a terrible band logo, and write 'The Best New Rock Band Around' in big letters?"
Drummer: "Do you think that'll be enough?"
Singer: "Maybe not. Tell you what. We could make our CD cover look like it was designed by a six-year-old on crack."
Drummer: "That'll help. But what about blind people? How will we put them off?"
There is a pause.
Singer: "I've got it! We could compress all our mixes to death, and put digital crackles all over the CD to make it physically painful to listen to!"
Whatever the reason, they've done a good job of alienating me. Which is a shame, because beneath the bullshit and the clocking problems, this is a well played and nicely recorded CD, with a full sound that belies the absence of a bass player. The Savants' brand of pop-rock is hardly original, and the album is about 30 minutes too long, but the best tracks have some commercial potential. If they want to exploit that potential, hiring a press person and sacking a mastering engineer would be a good way to start. Sam Inglis
Put On Blast
I opened Raw Deal's envelope to find all the hallmarks of a great rapper-to-be: a young guy from South London who loves Eminem and hates waiting. Of course, every rapper has to have a sob story behind him. Kanye West had the 'I almost died in a car crash' and 'I quit college' things (although both were entirely his fault!), P/Puff Diddy/Daddy's dad was a drug dealer, LL Cool J's dad shot his mum, and I think we all know about a certain Mr Mathers' background. Raw Deal's bio is no exception, telling a tear-jerking story about Darius (that's his real name) being kicked out of two colleges: "A young rebel without a cause, the only thing that kept him focused was rap music."
Front aside, I liked it. He actually sounds like Jay-Z, from whom he takes his inspiration, with that kind of jarring, if perhaps nasal at times, vocal style. Fortunately, he 'keeps it real' by not rapping in American: his vocal style is very South London. Musically, Raw Deal is clever, though perhaps he wouldn't admit it in public. His lyrics flow naturally, and his style rarely sounds laboured. There's plenty of coarse language, but in this case, I think it helps to tell the story, rather than trying to be 'cool' or shocking, and there is an element of quirkiness that I love to hear in this genre. 'Baby Talk' features Raw Deal belittling his rival emcees by referring to them as babies. He's brave enough to speak at their level, with the inclusion of words such as 'peekaboo' and 'coo-chi-coo', which, coincidentally, rhyme!
His tracks fit well into the genre, and the all-important samples on Put On Blast are very well chosen: even a cut of Whitney Houston's 'One Moment In Time' seems to work, although some Yamaha home keyboard-derived tom fills sound rather weak. From a technical perspective, his vocals are a bit 'roomy', but that's nothing that good mic placement and acoustic treatment won't fix. Overall, I think it's got potential, but it's hard to tell when a rapper will run out of material. Chris Mayes-Wright
Collectiv Under New Technical Support
Selectiv are a breakbeat guitar band from Exeter, specialising in 'hyperspaceballads' with programmed beats and soulful female vocals. Their four-track demo features a diverse (and confused) range of genres, from drum & bass to pop-rock, laced with unnecessarily cheesy synth and drum sounds. Imagine a bad jungle remix of anything from the Top Gun soundtrack, throw in a bedroom shred guitarist forced to play slowly against his will, and replace the lyrics with something from a Happy Hardcore '96 compilation tape, and you'll have a rough idea of the opening track. The drums recall the 'Rock & Roll' preset on my first Casio keyboard with the tempo as high as it'll go, and the reverb would be OTT for Phil Collins.
The rest of the demo sounds just as muddled. Track three is the best, mainly because they sound more like a real band than the 'We don't need a drummer, we've got a drum machine!' cowboys of the first two songs. Just when you thought Selectiv might be passable, however, they present us with the, ahem, experimental 'Higher Way'. This poor excuse for musicality can only have been written by one person alone — no friend of the track's writer/producer would have let them commit something this bad to tape, not even for a joke. I am tempted to say that this is bad to the point of being depressing, but on reflection I can think of no better cure for a musician with a bruised ego than to sit back, listen to this song and think: "Actually, I'm pretty good!" Chris Korff
An Introduction To...
What do you think of when you hear the word 'requiem'? Well, if you believe the back of this band's CD, the answer should be 'Hot to trot right now, commercially astute post punk via twisted funk and a suggestion of Razorlight like assured pop'. And true to form, this band are less influenced by Mozart and Fauré, and more by Franz Ferdinand. In fact, I can imagine A&R men writing (the) Requiems off as too derivative. That would be a shame, because they're by no means a tribute band, but it's the Franzisms that stand out from their otherwise generic power-pop.
They've certainly got the Scots' combination of chugging guitar riffs and disco hi-hats. What (the) Requiems don't yet have is Franz Ferdinand's discipline in boiling these ingredients down to create a groove that's moronically simple yet infectious. There are plenty of hooks here, but more needs to be done to sharpen them. The arrangements could benefit from a de-clutter and a cleaner, less muddy sound. The lyrics need to be smarter and spikier. And they need to decide whether they're The Requiems, or just plain Requiems. Enough with the brackets, guys. Sam Inglis
Their minimalist press release tells us that velo.deck are either too precious, or too lazy, to provide any useful information. Well, what the press release actually says is that they 'don't feel the need to dedicate ourselves to a specific style or direction', but it comes to the same thing. There's a reason why labels, musical genres and song titles exist, and it isn't to clip the creative wings of bands like velo.deck.
The problem with pretending that you fell from outer space, bearing a completely original brand of music that no-one's ever heard before, is that you didn't fall from space, and people have heard your music before. I can't help feeling that velo.deck will meet with a more sympathetic ear in the music business if they ditch the pretentious guff about 'focusing on experimentation' and play up their obvious similarities to bands like Kasabian. I mean, people like Kasabian, and they sell lots of records. What's to be ashamed of?
Their approach to recording could also do with a rethink. There's something about this demo that just makes it not very engaging, even though the band can all play, and are clearly giving it their all. It might be the gutless and disjointed drum sound, which doesn't really suit the style of music (it sounds like a real drummer playing nasty drum samples). It might be the fact that you can't understand a word that vocalist Jeff Raine says. It might be over-use of compression at the mastering stage, which somehow contrives to push all of the instruments into the background. But it just might be that a band without 'a specific style or direction' sounds... well, directionless. Sam Inglis
The envelope containing Steve James' demo CD had 'See www.myspace.com/stevejames1 BEFORE you open!' written on it in biro. I did, and experienced momentary confusion when comparing the streamed music (UK hip-hop for the discerning FHM reader) and the pictures (I've seen the Lighthouse Family looking more 'street'). Given that hip-hop trades heavily on being 'real', I'd say this needs a rethink. Ironically, the photocopied picture that came with the CD worked with the music better, so maybe he should have let the demo package speak for itself.
There's no doubt that Steve has a nifty way with a lyric — my personal favourite: 'You got a wicked waddle, like a catwalk model, made me feel like a young boy scout fixing his toggle' — but standards slip a bit between high points, and at times he sounds like he's ticking off entries in a rhyming dictionary. (Exhibit A, M'lud: 'Sure enough the bad times came, along with that came the rain, and the pain, and god knows I tried to sustain and maintain, the level that we had locked in my brain, so we could have a good memory looking down memory lane, and I'm still feeling the pain.') Likewise, recycling lines in different tracks sometimes gives the impression that he's short of ideas. In general, there's much more conviction in the performance when Steve's playing the lad than when he's trying to show a softer side, and I don't think it's any coincidence that his worst lyrical clunkers are in the gentler R&B-like 'Catch Me Baby'. I also felt a bit that Steve should have more confidence being himself, at least by ditching the US hip-hop slang terms (frontin', cheddar) which sound 'stuck on' to what is otherwise a really engaging personal style. That said, though, talent is definitely on Steve's side, and at 21 he's got time to work at the consistency.
As far as the backing tracks go, I thought DJ Spyro and DJ G-One had done a pretty classy job, with the obvious exception of the rough demo, 'Freestyle'. However, I think a slightly grubbier sound would have paid dividends here, and might also have inspired Steve to play more to his strengths — despite the rough sound the vocal performance on 'Freestyle' is probably my favourite on the CD. The drum levels in 'First Impressions' and 'Catch Me Baby' were also a bit too low. Occasionally I felt that some of the backing and hook vocals weren't really at the right level either, and this deserves a bit more attention, especially given that they have been nicely arranged and recorded in general. Mike Senior
Just when you thought there was nothing new under the sun, Saints Of Eden bring an entirely novel blend of musical styles to the party. And I'd love to see the party they're bringing it to. Imagine, if you will, a kitchen full of gangly teenagers with leather trenchcoats and white face make-up, staring nervously into a lounge full of teenagers with hoodees and expensive trainers. For the music of Saints Of Eden is, not to put too fine a point on it, goth rap.
It is, as you'd expect, difficult to take entirely seriously, but they've made such a good job of welding the two styles together that you can't help admiring it. The songs themselves are at the poppier end of the goth spectrum, with enough of a techno/industrial influence to make them ballsy, but not enough to put off the casual listener. They're really nicely put together, with neat use of vocoders and excellent mixes throughout. Sung choruses, where present, sound authentically doom-laden. On top of that, they've grafted some accomplished British rapping by the likes of Tony Amore. With sympathetic and effective vocal treatments, it works surprisingly well. No, really. Sam Inglis