new season

The acoustic based, uncomplicated melodies woven throughout Nathan Edwards’s debut album have an organic sound and occasional reflective quality. By his own admission, Edwards says the different seasons have an influence over his song writing; not only did this affect his choice of album title, but also meant three of the ten featured cuts are weather themed. Although those songs are about summer and winter, the over-riding quality of the music has a sort of autumnal feel. Rather like Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ album from 1994, Edwards’s ‘New Season’ has a sound which seems perfectly matched to his choice of album cover.

The lead track ‘Be OK’ sounds optimistic from the start with its combination of acoustic and electric guitar work, accompanied by organ and drums. Edwards has a soft, but strong vocal leading an arrangement which could perhaps be described as a cross between Jack Johnson and The Connells. The chorus isn’t perhaps as strong as it could have been, but each of the individual musical elements pull together to create something which sounds very complete. ‘The Broken Hearted’ pushes Edwards’ pastel shades into almost alt-country territory. Once again, although the song writing is okay, it’s the use of harmony vocal and a thoughtful arrangement which provide its most memorable aspects.

‘Little Soldier’ is one of the album’s weak numbers. While the uncomplicated chord pattern has a jaunty nature and Cassie Edwards provides a sterling harmony vocal, it soon becomes musically disposable and lyrically repetitive. On the other hand, ‘Shadows’ is an epic number, which not only captures Edwards in top vocal form, it builds slowly to a great climax featuring great guitar work, courtesy of Chris Champion and Tyler Steele. It’s a number which hints at Willy Porter (though without the flashy acoustic twiddles) and The Connells, and as such, is a fantastic example of its brand of pop/rock. While it’s certainly more forthright than most of Edwards’s work, it doesn’t stick out as being uncharacteristically aggressive.

‘Cold Winter’ is an acoustic shuffle, backed by simple drumming and washes of organ. Once again, the chorus could be a little stronger, but a key change and tuneful bridge section make up for any shortcomings. ‘Song For a Summer Day’ is a number based around hard sounding acoustic guitar strings. Edwards’s lead vocal has an easy tone which lends itself well to the style of acoustic pop/rock.

The live sounding ‘Strangest Ways’ captures the sound of twin acoustic guitars over organ sounds, backed by brushed drums. As before, an electric lead creeps in from time to time, but essentially its Edwards up front and centre on a number which sounds like it could have been around for years. I’m not keen on what sounds like quasi-religious imagery, but despite that, it has charm; the song sounds like it could have been inspired by personal experience, with Edwards’s voice providing the track’s biggest strength. The upbeat ‘Lonely Heart’ uses an electric lead as its main musical hook and here, Edwards can be heard in full on rock/pop mode. His lead vocal is very natural and the use of a backing vocal counter melody is very effective. With a much stronger focus on electric instruments, ringing guitars and organ fills, this is a number which could possibly be best compared to Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers.

Some of this album was recorded at Edwards’s home in South Dakota, some at an apartment in Illinois. Despite such homespun beginnings, it’s a warm sounding disc, worthy of a major label release (which again, begs the question: if lots of artists are capable of recording and releasing albums of this calibre on smallish budgets, when will small rock labels realise that marketing demos as finished works just isn’t acceptable?). Although there are a couple of musical missteps, most of the songs featured are of a good standard and in the case of ‘Shadows’ you even get a piece of roots-rock that’s near perfect.

Get ‘New Season’ here.

February 2011



By the end of 1972, in addition to their heavy workload with The Who, both Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle had recorded solo albums. Townshend had been featured on two albums inspired by the spiritualist teachings of Meher Baba and also released the moderately successful ‘Who Came First’. Enwistle had two non-charting solo albums under his belt (1971’s ‘Smash Your Head Against The Wall’ and 1972’s ‘Wistle Rhymes’). Surprisingly late to the party, Roger Daltrey’s first solo album was released in April 1973.

As part of The Who, Roger Daltrey had occasionally written songs (most notably receiving a co-write on their 1965 hit ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’), but he wasn’t really known as a songwriter. With regard to his first solo album, Daltrey reprises his role as a gifted vocalist. Simply titled ‘Daltrey’, nine the album’s songs were written by David Courtney and the then unknown Leo Sayer, with another two written by Courtney with Adam Faith.

While Daltrey himself did not contribute to any song writing, some of the songs themselves are very much suited to his vocal style. From the off, it’s obvious that ‘Daltrey’ is not a selection of tunes that Roger could have performed with The Who, each of the songs markedly different to Townshend’s style. The album tests his instantly recognisable voice, with a softer selection of musical arrangements. While the music retains almost none of Pete Townshend’s usual bombast – settling more in the radio-friendly adult rock/pop field – Daltrey’s voice, for the most part, carries its distinctive bluster, but a greater focus on piano led tunes gives Daltrey the opportunity to stretch out a little.

The album opens with ‘One Man Band’ (a song which later would become a signature tune for Sayer). Daltrey is accompanied by an acoustic guitar, followed by a bouncy approach which combines elements of theatre (of the light-weight variety) with middle of the road pop. Daltrey’s vocal has an element of fun and in all, it’s an opening track which sets out Daltrey’s solo musical journey with something a little naive. This is followed by ‘The Way of The World’ (one of the Adam Faith contributions) which has a bias toward country music. Courtney’s piano leads things off in an almost waltzing time signature, and guitar fills from Argent’s Russ Ballard add depth. A guitar solo is well executed and a violin accompaniment courtesy of East of Eden’s Dave Arbus highlights the country feel. Sadly, its lack of bridge sections or middle eight makes its three minute duration feel more like five. Thankfully, the chorus features a welcome key change and while Daltrey does his absolute best with this song, he deserved far less cumbersome.

‘You Are Yourself’ exudes confidence, as Daltrey lends a very powerful vocal to an orchestrated arrangement based around Dave Courtney’s piano. As the vocal soars into the chorus, Daltrey hits the spot as he delivers notes which are unmistakable. While half a world away from Townsend’s songwriting, this is just fantastic, as the piano compliments the vocal and the strings rise swell to give emphasis. A closing section featuring a heavily reverbed vocal weaken the track ever so slightly, as Daltrey struggles to fight the temptation to shout a few vocal lines in a way only he can. On the whole though, it’s incredible.

Some of Leo Sayer’s songs are very sympathetic to Daltrey’s voice, the best of the bunch being the absolutely gorgeous ‘Giving It All Away’. Beautifully arranged, this ballad allows Daltrey ample opportunity to wring the best out of every note, without resorting to bombast. His voice cries out against Courtney’s piano (backed by Bob Henrit’s drums on the louder sections), but something which would have been good is elevated to superb by the addition of unfussy orchestration. The strings are great – if a little obvious, but listen out for those couple of stings featuring oboe and flute. Quite simply, Daltrey’s reading of this song is a high point of orchestrated seventies pop/rock. (Daltrey scored a top ten UK hit in 1973 with ‘Giving It All Away’. It was later re-recorded by Sayer after his breakthrough, although it’s best not to think about Leo Sayer – especially since his 1976 appearance on ‘The Muppet Show’ is scary to the point of almost freak-show proportions).

‘It’s a Hard Life’ has a smooth arrangement, with Dave Courtney’s piano work laying the foundations, which is then overlaid with a lush string arrangement. Whereby most vocalists would treat this as a heart-tugging ballad, Daltrey tackles it a full bore, his loud voice even cracking as he hits the loudest notes. The closing section of the song introduces pounding drums and brass. Naturally, this is the part where Rog ought to have belted out at the top of his lungs…but it’s instrumental. The vocal ought to kill any passion carried within the song, but Daltrey is such a consummate professional, it works.

‘The Story So Far’ sounds like a quirky number at first, but it soon stumbles. Tackling a tune which wobbles somewhere between reggae and calypso, Henrit does a fine job behind the drum kit and Dave Wintour puts in a fine performance on the bass, but the other elements let the side down somewhat. Courtney’s piano playing could best be described as heavy handed, going from bad to worse as he hammers out a solo which barely stays in tune (or in time); there are strings thrown in where they don’t belong, alongside a particularly unpleasant brass section. And all the while, Rog is in there, trying his best to be a star. While ‘Daltrey’ features some great songs, this is bar far it’s worst – and possibly even one of the worst of Roger Daltrey’s solo career. ‘Reasons’ is a decent rock-based number, where Wintour’s bass work is one of the high points. Very high in the mix, the bass is really solid and played against an equally suitable drum part, this really helps the track to be one of the album’s greatest musical outings. Daltrey in turn sounds comfortable here, given ample opportunity to belt out a vocal more in keeping with his day job. Measuring this against ‘The Story So Far’ (and maybe even ‘One Man Band’), it proves there’s so much truth in the old saying that sometimes less is more.

‘When The Music Stops’ is steeped in sadness as Daltrey recounts the end of a relationship, his voice backed solely backed by a string quartet. Where normally Daltrey appears to only be capable of singing at two volumes (loud and louder), here, he offers a rare, thoughtful, almost even gentle performance, his voice really feeling the sad tones of the song. A reprise of ‘One Man Band’ (recorded live on the famous rooftop of Apple Studios) plays up the busking elements of the original opening number. Traffic noises accompany Daltrey’s vocal and acoustic guitar before he performs a scat vocal and imitates trumpets with his voice (very loudly). The sound of his voice drifts into the distance, bringing the album to a close.

‘Daltrey’ sold very well in the UK upon release, eventually peaking at #6 on the UK album chart, making it his most successful solo album. Anyone expecting something with a similar timeless quality to The Who at their best will possibly be disappointed, but anyone able to appreciate the album on its own merits will find some genuinely great songs here.

November 2010

YUCK – Yuck


Yuck doesn’t seem to be the best choice of band name, but it is one which suits their ugly sleeve art, depicting a cartoon of an ugly man, possibly about to throw up. As far as album covers go, it’s hard to know what they were thinking when they chose it, but it certainly makes an impression. Of this multi-national band (comprising of British, American and Japanese musicians), two members, Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom have previously been members of little known alt-rock outfit Cajun Dance Party. Yuck’s core sound presents somewhat of a departure for them, largely trading in the feel-good, bouncy indie-rock of that band for something less subtle; this work often presenting itself in the style of Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth.

The UK newspaper The Guardian claimed that “to say [Yuck’s] debut sounded like it was recorded in a shed is probably a diss on the acoustic qualities of garden-based storage units”. They think they’re being clever, but to say that this sounds like a “shed recording” is more than unfair. Granted, if you’ve lived a sheltered life and all the rock records in your collection sound like they were produced by Roy Thomas Baker, Mutt Lange or Martin Birch, then sure, Yuck are lo-fi. But fact is, this album may be a teensy bit rough around the edges in places – in the same way its more direct influences could be – but it’s certainly not an album recorded on a tin-pot budget. You’d have to wonder what those Guardian chaps would make of ‘The Freed Weed’ by Sebadoh or the glorious Guided By Voices album ‘Bee Thousand’, if ‘Yuck’ is their ultimate idea of a lo-fi record.

For some of the album’s noisier numbers, the band’s principal influences couldn’t be more obvious. Parts of the opening number ‘Get Away’ obviously have early Dinosaur Jr as their blueprint and while Blumberg wisely avoids copying J Mascis’s Neil Young-esque whine, his vocals are still of the mid-90s alternative variety, coated in fuzziness. I should point out that while the tone is similar, neither Blumberg’s or Bloom’s guitar work has the edginess of Mascis at his best either, but even so, the end result is enjoyable, if predictable. ‘Operation’ utilises discordant riffs and a distorted vocal stolen directly from Sonic Youth, with almost nothing on hand which could be called original. Listening to the spiky rhythms, the influence is unmistakable to the point where you could almost be convinced you’ve heard Kim Gordon sing this herself.

When played loudly, ‘Holing Out’ will make you think your speakers have blown; its fuzzy guitars come at such a volume, you can barely hear the lead vocal. This doesn’t matter, of course, since the vocals are almost unimportant. There’s a sense of melody lurking beneath the wall of sound, but even so, Yuck appear to be more concerned with a general musical presence as opposed to any kind of intricacies. The general bluster here would either make J Mascis and Lou Barlow very proud or get them straight onto the phone to their lawyers. Even more extreme, ‘Rubber’ offers of seven minutes of ugly shoegaze drones, which barely deviate from their initial impact. There are reverbed vocals mushed under the barrage of noise, but in truth, the voice does not seem especially important. This is about maximum volume, minimal music, maximum impact. After about three minutes of this track, you’ll either be in your element, or hating it and thinking maybe My Bloody Valentine weren’t so bad. Try as they might, though, Yuck are unlikely to beat the New York outfit A Place To Bury Strangers when it comes to volume and reverb at this level.

Yuck’s debut isn’t all noise, however. There are a few of tracks on hand to demonstrate the band’s softer side. Listening to ‘Sunday’, it’s clear at least one of Yuck’s members has an ear for melody, for this is a track that delights with its chiming guitars and sunny vocal, recalling moments of The Posies and Teenage Fanclub. The influence from the latter is even stronger on ‘Shook Down’, with its gentle alternative pop leanings and use harmony vocals; there’s certainly nothing lo-fi here! Even lighter still, ‘Suicide Policeman’ has a slacker-pop quality, with Blumberg and his sister Ilana harmonising in a way which recalls Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield. ‘Stutter’, meanwhile, brings a wave of melodies akin to Sonic Youth meets Billy Corgan. Twangy guitars and soft rumble of the bass combined with a vocal so hushed it almost floats. The general tone of ‘Suck’ brings more Corgan-isms with its almost mechanical rhythm guitar parts. The way those guitars interact with the rumbling bass are almost a dead ringer for the softer material from The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Gish’ (‘Rhinoceros’, in particular), although with slightly more tuneful vocals.

Occasionally, they seem content with meeting the listener halfway. The pop-fuelled ‘Georgia’ has another shared male/female vocal, but while the song has a sugar-coated vibe, it’s drenched in distortion and reverb, making Yuck sound like a band whose calling is to perform Velocity Girl covers produced by Steve Albini. With an equal measure of pop hook, alternative rock and feel-good qualities, it’s one of the debut’s more immediate numbers.

Each of Yuck’s different (largely borrowed) styles work well for them, and the band seem to be smart enough to realise that at the beginning of 2011, the sounds of this debut could be considered cool and retro. While it’s fairly short on originality, it should bring a glow of nostalgia to those listeners of a certain age.

February 2011

THE MAN – Lake, Ocean Or Sea

the man lake ocean or sea

Fronted by Andreas Johansson, Swedish outfit The Man began life as a three-piece band, bought together by their love of 70s pop. Their debut album ‘A Space Waltz’ was picked up for release in Japan by Philter Records. By the time of the recording of this sophomore disc, The Man had slimmed down to a duo, with various other musicians dropping by to lend a hand. ‘Lake, Ocean or Sea’ has plenty in the way of 70s vibes, but those expecting the usual ELO, 10cc and Wings type influences (as per Oranjuly or the rather wondrous Silver Seas) are likely to find themselves feeling a sense of indifference, if not disappointment.

After an intro, ‘Hold On To Nothing’ begins an ambling journey across four minutes, threatening to build to a climax without ever getting anywhere. The vocal is clear but uninspired, and while the use of drums and glockenspiels add occasional depth, it’s never quite dramatic enough to create a long-lasting impression. ‘It’s a Fever’ is a little more instant, but while it’s well-arranged chimes of bells and ringing guitars do their best to recreate a retro-pop sound, The Man have clearly forgotten to write anything memorable by way of a hook – a weak attempt at a chorus would have made a great pre-chorus, but there’s nothing to follow that and take things to the next (necessary) level. ‘What I’d Do’ has a dreamy pleasant vibe, combining Teenage Fanclub styled retro grooves with a gentle trippiness. The swooning sound evokes summer days, but far too much of a drowsy slant means that a track which started out as pleasant and almost other-worldly drifts into dullness by its end.

‘A New Song’ presents a far more upbeat slant to The Man’s sound. Moving away from previous melancholy atmospheres, this number has a more throwaway pop feel. The verses are jaunty with a huge focus on stabbing keyboards; though their sound is a little harsh. Rather than being those of a Jellyfish and 10cc variety, these have the air of a hastily hammered tack piano, and as such, can become grating. Even so, there’s a sense during the verse that we’re building up to a big chorus – and it’s one which doesn’t disappoint, with harmony vocals and bells a-plenty. On its own, it would certainly be a winner, but somehow, The Man have decided that an ugly new-wavish synth would be the icing on the power-pop cake…and it damn near kills the good elements.

‘These Streets’ presents mid-paced singer/songwriter pop with a heavy seventies slant. It’s one of the times The Man’s melancholic pop truly works. The harmony vocals are smooth and the piano playing understated. The main riff is used to bring together the elements, which in the middle section, build up a gentle, yet brilliantly arranged atmosphere. By the time of the vocal reprise, you’ll be left wanting more. Even Johannson’s lead vocal here is among the album’s best. ‘At Home In Water’ comes almost as close to being as good, with atmospheres and keyboard loops which feature a strong influence from Mercury Rev at their peak – an influence reinforced by slight reverb across the vocals.

By the tail end of the album, though, things tail off again. ‘Thinking About Leaving’ lollops along in a disinterested manner; its ringing guitars as dull as its uninspired vocal. The sound of harp strings and harpsichords of ‘Never Grown Up’ should have provided a good closing statement; had it been left as an instrumental, it still might’ve been. Once Johansson starts to sing (again, singing in his oft-used twee style that carries little to no weight), his voice masks the musical layers.

Some of The Man’s atmospheres can be enjoyable (especially, when they settle into their occasional Mercury Rev inspired stuff), but the songs themselves are often left in need of those vital, recurring and instant melodies. While a couple of songs are more than worth seeking out, when approached as a whole album, ‘Lake, Ocean or Sea’ is a little too downbeat. Too much reliance on chill-out summery atmospheres and a distinct lack memorable choruses leads to a mostly wishy-washy, rather forgettable experience.

Visit THE MAN at myspace here.

January/February 2010


FrankieThis debut by Sunderland five-piece Frankie & The Heartstrings was produced by the legendary Edwyn Collins. Throughout the disc his production brings a gorgeous clarity, a great bass sound and plenty of separation between the instruments. Those elements, however, seem to be the band’s biggest strength.  Here they are with a brilliantly produced disc featuring a bunch of songs which aren’t always instant enough to deserve such technical brilliance. The bulk of their work resembles – but isn’t quite up there with – the best tracks by Kaiser Chiefs or Franz Ferdinand, but often, The Heartstrings manage to be much warmer than fellow Mackems, The Futureheads.

‘Photograph’ opens the album with atmospheric oohs and sparing guitar work, though this quickly gets replaced by spiky indie-pop. It might want to make you jump and down (albeit briefly) and showcases a decent amount of energy, but closer inspection uncovers a weakness in the song writing department. A one line chorus provides a refrain, while a stupidly repetitive second half wears thin very quickly. ‘Ungrateful’s slower approach highlights Frankie Francis’s vocals as being an acquired taste. While there’s still nothing hugely memorable here, the pace suits the band a little better. While, as before, the end of the track descends into repetitiveness, it’s ultimately saved by some great drum work from Dave Harper; while no Stewart Copeland, he’s certainly pretty handy with a hi-hat.

‘Hunger’ employs a ringing rhythm guitar part (one which is somewhat pleasing), but set against some rather ordinary drums. Well placed oohs provide something of a hook, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s no real chorus – and one would have proved useful here, if not essential. The rhythmic qualities – matched with Frankie’s slightly irritating vocals – call to mind early Kaiser Chiefs, only without broadness in the lyric department. All the same, its sunny feel (and the fact that those oohs lodge inside your head after a while) make it an obvious choice for single release. ‘Want You Back’ opens with a drum riff which tips the hat to sixties girl bands and Phil Spector, but what follows is a really horrid song – easily the album’s worst – being full of parpy trumpets, over which Frankie wails gratingly. There could have been a half-decent arrangement here, but it falls flat once the vocal kicks in…it’s all too much.

There are a few tunes here that represent a marked improvement, however. With a busy bass riff, ‘It’s Obvious’ has an edge that’s not often present elsewhere. The rumbling bass sound combined with some occasionally angular guitar work shows the band to be a tight musical unit, even if lyrically things are still a bit thin in terms of complexity.  As one of the album’s darker numbers, if nothing else, it ensures this album isn’t all jangle and bounce. ‘That Postcard’ works very well indeed, thanks to Steven Dennis’s solid approach to the bass and Frankie Francis’s slightly quirky vocal, which sits very well. In the left speaker, most of Michael McKnight’s guitar leads resemble disjointed noises as opposed to a proper riff, hinting at a love for early eighties post punk/new wave . A lack of chorus here is slightly disappointing given the strong musical foundation, but overall, it’s very good. The closing number ‘Don’t Look Surprised’ also fares better than most, featuring busy drum work (particularly in the cymbal department), an upfront bass with a tone which recalls early New Order, plus an urgent vocal. The claustrophobic brass noise creeps in towards the end, but not in a way which damages the song.

Throughout the album, the tight rhythm section of Steven Dennis (bass) and Dave Harper (drums) bring consistently good performances (helped no end by that Edwyn Collins knob-twiddling), but often, looking beyond that, ‘Hunger’ feels lacking in places. Repeated plays allow some more of the bands material to slowly leave an impression, but despite showing a great energy and confidence, their hooks aren’t always as sharp as you’d hope for a band who’ve had time to hone their talents before unleashing their first album.  Patchy it may be, but its handful of strong numbers certainly make it worth picking up if spotted at a bargain price, especially in the case of Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs fans.

Watch the video for ‘Hunger’, featuring the superb Robert Popper:

February 2011