Category Archives: A

498. Fiona Apple – “When the Pawn…

Another gift from reader extraordinaire Andy.

The full name of this album is “When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing Fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You’ll Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You Know That You’re Right.”

So, now I only have less than 100 words to review it.  Oops, and that used up a few more!

As you can guess from the title, Ms.Apple is a rather wordy lass with a few angst issues.  This album sits squarely in a genre occupied by fellow reviewees Higgins and Di Franco.

The musicianship is top notch, with a nice balance of orchestration and rawness, and Fifi can hold a tune better than most.  She structures her laments to a world of difficult loving in an approachable conversational tone.

I find a few too many tracks here to be pedestrian and same, same, but she can nail it:

File under: iLike





474. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”

I thought I’d break up the Liquor Giants quartet with this recent acquisition (via the very generous Andy).

Diving into this album was a surefire recipe for a delayed review.

This is not a cheap and dirty nine-track exercise pumped out one afternoon in the studio. Rather it is a finely structured 16-track artwork, exploring the nuances of suburban life in all its grandeur and minutiae.

Their ‘Funeral’ release impressed back on review #7, and this is a rosier, slightly less melodramatic counterpoint. It’s still as arty as hell, with a lusciousness and splendour that makes this feel like an event.

Concessions to popdom can be found however, such as on the title track (which sounds like a less angsty Ed Harcourt):

I keeping hearing wafts of Go Betweens on here amongst all the Bowie and Morrissey elements, and that’s a great achievement, immersed as the Queenslanders were in a similar homage to the beauty and heartache of the day-to-day.

It isn’t all fresh-cut lawn, sprinklers and Stepford Wives.  The band also glam rock it better than most.  Month of May had me picturing stacked platform boots and eye-makeup (sadly, that isn’t the look in this live version):

File under: (Art-) Rocking the suburbs

449. The Audreys – “Sometimes the Stars”

Before I enter L, I’ll slide back up to A for this recent-ish release.

Ialbum cover sometimes the stars CD Review the audreys delivered gushing reviews of the first two Audrey’s releases (here and there), so was pretty keen to hear this newbie.

This is not an album that is likely to surprise (unless you’ve never heard the band before… and even then the album cover gives some hint to the well-dressed, mature, slick contents therein).

The band has shrunk to just two protagonists – the silky voiced Taasha and fellow stringplucker Tristan, but the sound is still layered and lush.

The vocals are even smokier and honey-like, while the country-stylings aren’t as obvious as they were back on the debut.

As I’ve exclaimed before Taasha really does have a luscious voice, and here it serves as a perfect counterpoint to delicate string arrangements. If anything, this effort brings to mind the work of Martha Wainwright, but with a stronger, less plaintive voice.

The album is much more of a grower than the band’s first two releases, and there isn’t an obvious single or crowdpleaser among the 10 tracks.  I can imagine seeing this performed live in some salubrious lounge-bar, ensconced in a velvet-lined booth supping upon a Godfather.

Unfortunately, this video doesn’t match up with my imagery:

File under: Sorta stellar

239. The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – “Fruit”

Here’s another recent acquisition that falls in the “reviewed” portion of the alphabet. It was a very generous birthday present that arrived in the mail in November from a long-time Danish buddy of ours (thanks Jesper).

He took a bit of a gamble sending us a random Danish outfit’s debut, but the bet was a winner.

This mob are a truckload of fun and energy.  It is big, swinging pop that sounds like it stepped right out the opening scenes of a late 60s Bond flick. 

We hear horns and keys wrapped around vocals that would do Shirley Bassey proud.  

Thus duo (plus session/live accomplices) have reportedly made a splash globally off the back of an Amy Winehouse connection and iPod ad (which I missed) and even appeared in an ad campaign down under (I need to stop muting the ad-breaks!).

Sometimes those coke-snorting marketers (and skanky chanteuses) get it very right.  This album is a party you should attend.  The songs have hooks a plenty. The vibe is fun. I want to see these guys in a live space (c’mon Aussie promoters).

I’m struggling for any comparisons here – an upbeat Portishead? A less shambolic Grates?

Give this a listen and tell me what you think:

File under: Harvest this bounty

105. Dan Auerbach- “Keep it Hid”

Here’s one more recent purchase in the As…

Dan is the hirsute guitarist and singer with one of my darling bands The Black Keys. This is his solo debut from earlier this year.

dan-auerbach-keep-it-hid-album-coverHe ain’t ventured particularly far from his core business here. The vocals sound slightly softer and get a little more airtime. The vibe is just a little more chilled.

The only real difference is that the drumming is a little further back in the mix and with not quite as much cymbal action (I miss you Patrick). This lack of ‘oomph’ makes it more a lazy afternoon album than some of the more racuous BK output.

Auerbach is definitely a consistent songwriter, and his style doesn’t get too tired. I suspect he could produce an album like this every few months and still keep me pretty happy. It would be great if he took a few more risks or brought in a few collaborators (as with the most recent Keys effort). But if he wants to play around in his studio I’ll probably keep buying.

File under: Solo but still with mojo

94. The Asylum Street Spankers – “…present Spanker Madness”

Here’s another recent A purchase.

I purchased this CD from Bloodshot Records along with Ryan Adams’ and a few others. This is a band I’d been alerted to by a mate who I think saw them live in the States a few years back. I had an inkling they were of acoustic roots bent, which is certainly the case on this thematic release.

asylum-street-spankers-present-spanker-madness-album-coverThese guys sound like they stepped out of the mid-1920s. They play a mixture of blues, music hall and cajun, all on acoustic instruments (including washboard, ukulele, stand-up bass etc).

The 1920s bar they stepped out of on this album was clearly pretty smoke-filled. In essence, they’ve taken on a Cheech and Chong persona here, to deliver 15 tracks, all about marijuana consumption or other mind-altering substances.

Musically this is a hugely enjoyable listen. These guys deliver exuberant and engaging tunes. Lyrically it’s a bit of a snore, however. Songs about getting stoned just ain’t that interesting, and much of the imagery and ideas are pretty cliched. The one song about beer (called Beer(!)) is amusing, but wears thin on multuiple listens.

I’d recommend this album to teenage stoners, especially if it got them into these styles of music. And I will seek out other work from these guys.

File under: Stoner stuff

91. Lily Allen – “It’s Not Me, It’s You”

Here’s another recently acquired A…

Ahhh, this blog’s favourite little poppet drops in with her sophomore effort. And she nails it yet again.

lily-allen-its-not-me-its-you-album-youI am starting to wonder whether little Lily has me under some sort of spell. I don’t usually gush about pop releases to this extent, nor do too many albums make me smile as much as the front half of this one. But the proof is there for all to hear.

Allen hasn’t ventured too far from her core strengths. Yet again, she delivers a series of little vignettes about life as a confident, cashed up, socially active 20-something. Her lyrical skills are first-class, as are her timing as a vocalist.

The first three tracks are about as strong as you’ll find anywhere. She displays an awkwardness and candor comparable to Billy Bragg’s very early love-gone-wrong tunes.

The album does slow a little and gets slightly more haphazard beyond the openers. There are a couple of weaker efforts. Also the abandonment of ragga-ish feel of her debut for a cleaner Pet Shop Boys-style standoffishness does make this a slightly less approachable listen. But that’s a really marginal call. Lily still pops like few others.

I wonder whether her album title was inspired by George Costanza (although she may be a bit too young and cool for that):

File under: She’s still got it.

88. Ryan Adams – “Heartbreaker”

I thought I’d break up the Bragg monotony, with a recently acquired album in the As.

adams-ryan-heartbreaker-album-coverSo you may recall me enthusing about Adams’ Gold album.  Not long after I bought a pile of CDs on sale from Bloodshot Records, including Ryan’s debut.

This is quite a contrast with his later work.  It is much rawer and less pretentious.  There is a real young Steve Earle vibe going on here. His voice has a wonderful vulnerability, and his songwriting is mesmerising.  The production is sympathetic to this tenderness, and the tunes are not as grandiose as on Gold.

It’s worth judging country artists by the company they keep.  Here he plays with some of the best – Gillan Welch and her hubby, plus Emmylou Harris.  They are clearly impressed with his stuff, and deservedly so.

This is one of those good heartbreak albums – i.e. not overly self-indulgent and with some universality to the sentiment.  At times, Adams does get pretty obscure with his metaphors, but I’ll let him go there.  What is harder to forgive is the lame opening track of him and his buddy chatting about some Morrissey album.  Why, or why do musicians think we’re going to want to listen to such banter repeatedly.  All hail the ability to delete tracks from iTunes.

File under: alt-country awesomenessosity

42. Various Artists – “At Home With the Groovebox”

Reviewing Beck albums reminded me to find this CD and give it a considered spin…

at-home-with-the-groovebox-album-cover-various-artists-becklThis was a little project from the Grand Royal stable back in 1998-9, where they asked various indie luminaries to have a twiddle on a Roland groovebox thingie.

The groovebox is an all-in-one synth and sequencer and drum machine and 8-track recorder.  Think the sort of ingenious music machine Doc Brown from Back to the Future might have conjured up (or those crazy kids from Weird Science), or the source of the soundtrack to Electric Dreams.

So, anyway, the album turns out to be a load of fun, with a mix of instrumental gems and some vocal numbers.  The standout tracks come from Bis, Cibo Matto and PavementSonic Youth offer an extremely esoteric and frankly painful soundscape, while Bonnie Prince Billy delivers a standard haunting (but not overly electronic) warble.  

A lot of the best stuff comes from the instrumentalists, however, who deliver more than simple plinky plonk pieces. I’ve never heard of most of them, but they’re clearly Wizs.

All in all, this is a surprisingly consistent and singular album.  Perhaps issuing all artists with same equipment reduced the risk of jarring contrasts.

File under:Elegant electronica

21. Various artists- “Aux88 presents Electro Boogie”

This is another vinyl review, so I return to the “A”s.

I think I bought this album at a sale back in 200o or thereabouts on the presumption that I was lacking some electro-dance music in my collection. Eight or so years later it had remained unopened in my record rack!


So I gave it a good listen this morning and I can’t say I’m enamoured. 

I’m sure this is a very adequate representation of the electro sound – thumping bass, heavy drum machine action, some occasional vocodering.

Dance music works for me in clubs and at parties, and when it has a hook.  This collection doesn’t.  If I was a DJ with some decks, I guess I could use this for some pumping beats and then mix some vocal tracks, horns etc over the top.

As I lack such hardware or acumen, this album is of little appeal to me.  Perhaps it will be appearing on eBay soon.

File under:Doof Doof Dud