May 14 2009 By Andy Welch
What's hot and what's not in this week's new releases.
Leona Naess - Thirteens
Leona Naess has been on the edge of the US indie scene for some time now, having released her debut album Comatised in 2000. Thirteens is her fourth offering, and should ensure the critical acclaim the New York-born songwriter received for last album, Leona Naess, is transferred into bona-fide mainstream success. Learning As We Go is beautiful, starting with a near-whispered tale of heartbreak before guitar, drums and backing vocals kick in for a full-sounding epic. There's a similar eclecticism on show here that Feist demonstrated on The Reminder, and while she might not have her own 1-2-3-4, there's more than enough quality here with the likes of Leave Your Boyfriends Behind and Heavy Like Sunday to keep listeners coming back time and again.
(Review by Andy Welch)
The Horrors - Primary Colours
The world's most punchable band are back with an album far superior to their over-hyped debut Strange House. Under the watchful eye of Portishead's Geoff Barrow, their scratchy approach of old has been replaced by lush gloomy soundscapes more akin to shoegazing forebears My Bloody Valentine, Jesus And Mary Chain and Echo And The Bunnymen. Synthesizers drift in and out of pounding drum beats, while Joshua Third's weeping guitar matches Faris Badwan's echoey ramblings perfectly. Lead single Sea Within A Sea and the ethereal Who Can Say are perhaps the pick of the bunch, but Primary Colours impresses in its entirety and proves art-rock is back with a bang.
(Review by Nick Howes)
Bloc Party - Intimacy Remixed
When Intimacy was released it highlighted a change in Bloc Party's musical direction. While the raw guitar rifts, intricate drumbeats and distinctive vocals remained, it crossed over from indie to electronica. Not instantly as likeable as the previous two albums, it took a while to become as addictive as the previous releases. As such it's no surprise that for a hardened Silent Alarm fan, this is a bit hard to get your head around. The Mogwai remix of Biko and John B remix of Trojan Horse are both good, but the rest will be more likely to be played in Ibiza than a grotty but lovely indie club.
(Review by Polly Weeks)
Dear Reader - Replace Why With Funny
The band formerly known as Harris Tweed return with a new name and a 10-song set three years in the making. Thankfully, that time has not been spent idly, with the Johannesburg trio's sound now a more fully-realised palette than before. Singer Cherilyn MacNeil's voice remains the group's pocket ace, equal parts cutesy and cut-glass, with Joanna Newsom and Fiona Apple among the reference points. Lyrically, MacNeil tends towards Tori Amos territory, while behind her a fascinating mix of strings, keys and cellos makes for an accomplished backing.
(Review by Rory Dollard)
Steve Earle - Townes
As its title suggests, Earle's new album is a tribute to the late great Townes Van Zandt, comprised of a career-spanning selection of 15 cover versions. Waster, musical visionary, and Texan to his core, Van Zandt was a friend and mentor to Earle and, while very his own, Earle's gruff, mumbling interpretations stay completely faithful to the spirit of the originals. In fact, from the bluegrass of White Freightliner Blues and Don't Take It Too Bad, to the Dust Brothers-produced Squall of Lungs, it feels as if Earle has inhabited these songs his whole life. Earle's wife Allison Moorer, son Justin Townes Earle, and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello all guest.
(Review by Steve Kerr)
Lenny Kravitz - Let Love Rule (20th Anniversary Edition)
It seems hard to believe that it's 20 years since Lenny Kravitz burst onto the music scene, all leather trousers and brooding looks. Let Love Rule was a breath of fresh air from a hippified half-black, half-Jewish sexpot who was also gaining fame for being involved with Lisa Bonet from The Cosby Show. Two decades on, Let Love Rule has not stood the test of time. In fact, it's hard to see why it's been re-released - even with a bonus disc of previously unreleased live tracks recorded in Boston in 1990. The title song still has a certain charm and Mr Cab Driver seems as punchy as ever, but time has not been kind to the cheesy I Built This Garden For Us or the frankly embarrassing Flower Child (sample lyric: "Tiny bells upon her toes/She's the finest thing I've ever seen/Love that ring inside her nose"). Listening to this again is a bit like discovering your hunky high school boyfriend is actually the world's biggest dork. One for the hardcore fans only.
(Review by Lucy Corry)
Mobius Band - Heaven
When their second full-length album bears a sticker proclaiming that it is being 'presented' by their regular touring buddies Editors, America's Mobius Band seems to be admitting their talents have yet to register on the radar of the average UK music fan. Unlike the aforementioned indie superstars, theirs is a defiantly uncommercial vibe manifest in a twinning of retro electronica and shoegazing guitars. Band member Noam reportedly built a keyboard from scratch for the making of this record, and the result is a series of shimmeringly ethereal, other-worldly soundscapes unlike most contemporary radio fodder. The Strokes' Julian Casablancas is often called to mind by the vocals, and obvious highlights here are 'Leave the Keys in the Door' and 'I am Always Waiting'. Maybe those Editors have spotted another good story in the making.
(Review by Patrick Gates)
Maximo Park - Quicken The Heart
Ever since Tyne and Wear's finest broke onto the indie scene in 2005 with their quirky A Certain Trigger, they've been peppering us with delightfully-crafted pop gems, which have set both airwaves and concert halls alight with their infectious stomping sounds. It's a shame then, that with this, their third full-length release, the magic appears to have finally worn off. Vocalist Paul Smith's witty and perceptive lyrics remain, but the music, which once complemented his charismatic approach, appears rather dreary in comparison. There's certainly nothing to match the catchy classics of old, with lead single The Kids Are Sick Again perhaps the best of a decidedly average bunch.
(Review by Nick Howes)
Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top
Recorded almost a year ago, The Spinning Top is Graham Coxon's seventh solo album. His Blur bandmate, Damon Albarn, is routinely praised for being a musical chameleon, but with this album, Coxon has demonstrated almost as much variety. Largely, the record tips its hat to British folk artists such as Davy Graham, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, but with clever arrangements throughout, such as the addition of Chinese violin on In The Morning. A concept album, charting a man's life from cradle to the grave, it's a bold undertaking, especially as Blur gear up for their reunion shows, but Coxon more than pulls it off.
(Review by Andy Welch)
Swimming - The Fireflow Trade
When Primal Scream unleashed the transcendent, era-defining Screamadelica in 1991, they set in motion a long-running, and not entirely trouble-free, marriage between rock and dance music. In the intervening 18 years many have tried, but few have succeeded, in matching that album's range and ambition. Nottingham's Swimming are the latest to chance their arm, syncing Boards of Canada-style noodling with spiky, Bloc Part-esque guitars. While the template holds water, the execution sounds as confused as the VH1 mash-up where The Strokes sing over Christina Aguilera'a Dirrty.
(Review by Rory Dollard)
Singles by Andy Welch
Alesha Dixon - Let's Get Excited
It's not easy making R n B without sounding like you're copying our American cousins. Alesha, with her distinctive voice, manages it on this, her third single from The Alesha Show. Well done.
Gary Go - Open Arms
He's been described as 'a bespectacled one-man Coldplay' and will soon be performing to a million people on Take That's UK tour. Pretty soon, the North London-born songwriter won't need tags or support tours, anthems like Open Arms will be all he needs.
Lily Allen - Not Fair
Girl singers always slate their exes, and mock their masculinity. When Lily Allen does it, to jaunty melodies and sweet vocals, however, she sounds like she's the first person to make fun of their partner's manhood. How does she do it?
On the road
Priscilla Ahn - London Bush Hall
Priscilla Ahn might be an unknown in the UK at the moment, but thanks to a string of live dates around the country, and a spellbinding appearance on Later... With Jools Holland last week, it won't stay like that for too long. Taking to the stage in London's intimate Bush Hall, aside from a few early nervous giggles, she possesses the stage confidence of a veteran. You see, she knows how good she is, even if we haven't realised it yet. Kicking off with Dreams, she demonstrates her way with a melody, and thanks to the gadget she has at her feet, is able to record snippets of her singing, which recalls Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and at times Norah Jones, and repeat it on a loop. She does this to dazzling effect throughout the night, building layer and layer of blissful harmony over another, occasionally topped off with harmonica. It's not a gimmick, and neither are the humorous stories she tells between songs explaining where they came from. Like an affable heroine of a cult US indie film, Priscilla totally captivates the small crowd with laughter, charm and ultimately, her flawless voice and beautiful songs. Her audience won't stay this small for long.
(Review by Andy Welch)
Alesha Dixon has announced a full UK tour. She begins in Nottingham Royal Centre on October 20, and ends up 15 shows later in London's Shepherd's Bush Empire on November 12. For details, go to www.gigsandtours.com
Green Day have announced a UK tour for October. They begin in Glasgow SECC on October 19, followed by two nights in London's O2, a night at Sheffield Arena, two nights in Birmingham's LG Arena and finally a pair of gigs at Manchester MEN. For details go to www.seetickets.com