Saturday, 31 July 2010

Rakaa - Crown of Thorns

Emcee with the Los Angeles-based underground hip-hop group Dilated Peoples, Rakaa Iriscience released his first solo effort, Crown of Thorns, in the UK this week. There's been minimum fanfare or press coverage surrounding the release, which has gone unnoticed by all except dedicated hip-hop fans, but listening to the 13 tracks on Crown of Thorns there's a good chance that this could find an audience through word of mouth alone. Rakaa is joined by some of the underground's big hitters too, including Mad Lion, KRS-One and the unmistakeable baritone of Chali 2na.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Tom Jones - Praise & Blame

Tom Jones turned 70 last month, even his famously dark and fulsome head of hair has finally ceded to the inexorable passing of time, but the voice is as luxuriant and colourful as ever. That's not a gratuitous hair reference either, it appears significant, because on Praise & Blame the Welsh pop legend seems at long last to be acting his age. After playing the pop world's equivalent of your wedding-dancing grandad for too long, Jones has adopted a new, sophisticated gospel and blues style on this record, picking up comparisons all over the place to Johnny Cash's final albums.

It's a dramatic change of direction for Jones, after years of shaking his hips and belting out pop tunes, he's stripped all that away to reveal the raw singing talent that we all knew he had. It is undoubtedly a good move, it's just a shame it didn't happen a decade ago, depriving us of years of material as good as this in favour of albums like Reload was frankly criminal.

Monday, 26 July 2010

DVD & Blu-ray Round Up - Clash of the Titans

Dear reader, it is with a slight twinge of embarrassment that I submit to you today Clash of the Titans as our DVD and Blu-ray release of the week. Yes the swords and sandals, gods and gorgons epic hits the stores this week, to delight lovers of muscle bound men and CGI beasties everywhere. The story, if you really care, follows Perseus (Sam Worthington of Avatar fame), who is the son of Zeus (but doesn't know it yet), on his quest to slay Medusa and foil the evil plans of Zeus' brother Hades played by Ralph Fiennes. Yes, that's right, another pesky evil's like Nanny McPhee all over again.

Readers of a certain age will recall the 1981 Clash of the Titans, featuring the late Ray Harryhausen's magical stop-motion booglies, with some nostalgia, and while it has to be said those monsters had far more charm, the original had nothing to match the sheer scale of the spectacle on offer here. The 3D fight scenes were impressive in the cinema, but they lose nothing for being returned to two dimensions here, so if it's big dumb fun you're after, look no further.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Eddy Current Suppression Ring - Rush to Relax

Melbourne garage rockers Eddy Current Suppression Ring released their third album Rush to Relax in the UK this week. Despite achieving a level of recognition, and garnering plenty of critical acclaim, in their native Australia, Eddy Current Suppression Ring aren't well known in these parts. Rush to Relax is unlikely to be troubling the upper reaches of the charts on these shores, but I for one was delighted when I heard that Manchester record label Melodic were giving the album a proper release.

Much has been made of the fact that Eddy Current Suppression Ring (ECSR from here on in) are a such an Australian band, and it is with good reason. Lead singer Brendan Suppression's vocals are always delivered in a broad, distinctive Australian drawl, but it goes deeper than just accents. ECSR's major influences might be American garage rockers (think Stooges, MC5, etc) but the band gives them a typically relaxed Antipodean twist. Rush to Relax is a case in point, the band recorded it all in around six hours, usually using the first or second take of each song in an attempt to capture the energy of the performance. It's an incredibly casual approach, and a risky one too, which lays the band open to accusations of laziness if the album isn't up to scratch.

Howard Shore - The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - The Score

I don't claim to be the biggest Twilight fan, but I am a fan of Howard Shore, so the chance to review The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - The Score came as a welcome opportunity. Although this is a fantasy film, it's good to hear Shore exercise his considerable talents in some more real-world compositions than were possible in his epic orchestral arrangements for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The result is a soundtrack that sounds as good out of context as it does in the movie itself.

Fans of the Lord of the Rings soundtracks who are looking for more of the same can expect to recognise maybe half of the tracks - not because they're too similar to the LOTR music, but because they have much of the same dynamism and ominous, booming bass motifs. Once again, Shore's compositions prove perfect for the fantasy film genre.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Tokyo Police Club - Champ

Champ is the third long player from Toronto indie-popsters Tokyo Police Club. As David Monks sings on 'Breakneck Speed' (and again on closing track 'Frankenstein') "It's good to be back", and it's good to have them back too. Since bursting on to the scene in 2007 with their much-hyped debut A Lesson in Crime, Tokyo Police Club have cut a swathe through the indie scene, filled with catchy guitar hooks, and quirky singalong choruses. It's not complicated, not particularly sophisticated, the band stick pretty strictly to the three minute per song rule on Champ, but none of that is necessarily a bad thing.

Alan Pownall - True Love Stories

Alan Pownall's True Love Stories is an enjoyable and detailed sequence of songs that starts out sounding a bit like The Mike Flowers Pops but soon reveals hidden depths with strains of Bowie and more than a little resemblance to a cheerier version of Pownall's one-time neighbours Mumford and Sons.

If you like to wallow in angst or unrequited emotion, True Love Stories probably isn't the best idea for you. Those themes are among the topics covered, but the pace and Pownall's optimistic-sounding delivery mean that this is something of a feel-good album nonetheless.

Professor Green - Alive Till I'm Dead

Alive Till I'm Dead is the new album from Professor Green, out on July 19th 2010. At a dozen songs of three to four minutes each and a slightly longer closing piece, Goodnight, there's just over 40 minutes in total to either revel in or endure, depending on how you feel. There's a few collaborations and four Professor Green solo efforts, according to the credits, with names including Lily Allen and Labrinth appearing alongside Green's.

That being said, there's no attempt to hide behind the collaborators; Green's voice is centre stage throughout, making this a good opportunity to review his vocal ability, delivery and all-round performance. To cut a long story short, Green does a pretty decent job of delivering emotion and anger as the genre demands, without becoming anything approaching a musical cliche. His songs and performance alike are well balanced and well judged.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Seth Lakeman - Hearts & Minds

Seth Lakeman shot to fame in 2005 when his second album Kitty Jay, which he recorded independently for a meagre £300, was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize. It was a surprise inclusion in the field for the Devon born folk artist, but his presence alongside such artists as Coldplay, the Kaiser Chiefs, and that year's winner Antony and the Johnsons immediately propelled him to a new level of stardom. Kitty Jay was re-mastered and re-released on Relentless (an imprint of EMI Records), and tours followed including a stint supporting folk-rock giants the Levellers.

Overnight Lakeman had gone from a relative unknown even in folk circles, to a breakout artist with mainstream success and a major label record deal, and it's fair to say he hasn't looked back since. Hearts & Minds is his third album since Kitty Jay, and in some ways he has been repeating the same trick over and again during that time. This is another collection of original poppy-folk material, characterised by Lakeman's distinctive voice and raucous fiddle playing, but it also continues the rockier trend that was introduced on 2008's Poor Man's Heaven.

Sting - Symphonicities

Symphonicities is a chance to hear some Sting classics reinvented - not particularly in a modern way, but certainly in a new way. Think of this as an album of orchestral rearrangements, a fresh review of the originals rather than an album of entirely new tracks or mere remixes of the old ones.

Favourites including Roxanne and Englishman In New York are given the treatment - some to a greater extent than others - while Sting's vocals are still there; these are not instrumentals. The instruments are the stars here though, with Sting's delivery similar to a live performance, fairly stripped back, and the arrangements allowed to shine through.

Monday, 19 July 2010

DVD & Blu-ray Round Up - Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang

Emma Thompson's second outing as the magical Nanny McPhee is our pick of the DVDs and Blu-rays this week. The Mary Poppins of our age returns for another instalment of comedy and mad-cap action, bringing in to line another unruly bunch of children in Nanny McPhee & The Big Bang. This time around McPhee appears to help out young mother Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is looking after her two children, plus their two spoiled cousins, and struggling to run the family farm while her husband is away at war.

The usual high-jinks ensue, Nanny McPhee teaches the children valuable life lessons, while spoiling the dastardly plot of their evil uncle Phil (Rhys Ifans). The farm-based humour is innocent and family-friendly, centering largely around mud, "poo" and flying pigs. It's also helped along by some wonderful cameos by British stars like Bill Bailey and Katy Brand, and a brilliant performance from Maggie Smith as the doddering Mrs Docherty.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul

Sparklehorse are a band that have only ever been on the periphery of my musical awareness, a familiar name but nothing more than that, so I don't have the same baggage when it comes to listening to this album as another reviewer might. For others as ignorant me, I should fill in the back story, so allow me. Sparklehorse was formed in the early 1990s by Mark Linkous; employing a rotating door policy on other members, Linkous was always the creative force, and main focal point of the band. A destructive relationship with drugs and alcohol, and a history of depression made for a volatile and unpredictable musical career, which ended prematurely in March 2010 when Linkous committed suicide in Knoxville, Tennessee during a bout of depression.

As well as his work with Sparklehorse, Linkous had a record of collaborating with a variety of artists, from Tom Waits, and PJ Harvey to Fennesz and, on Dark Night Of The Soul, the hip-hop impresario Danger Mouse. Danger Mouse is someone I know (slightly) more about, through his work with Gnarls Barkley and Dangerdoom. But Danger Mouse's hip-hop and electronic leanings on those projects are not so much in evidence here. This is a moody, atmospheric album, eerily portentous at times of Linkous' later suicide.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Eliza Doolittle - Eliza Doolittle

Eliza Doolittle is the self-titled debut album from Eliza Doolittle. It follows her 2009 EP of the same name, which could get confusing. This time around, you're looking for 13 tracks, starting with Moneybox.

Obviously the rather busy cover art pictured left could help, too - it's got Eliza on it, just in case you didn't know what she looks like. As for the music, it's not that bad, it's just a bit... perky.

Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III)

Janelle Monáe is one fascinating character. This genre-busting singer is just waiting to unleash herself on a largely unsuspecting world this year, with the next instalment of her sci-fi hip-hopera. You may already have guessed at this point, but singer is a rather limiting description for Janelle Monáe, who also writes and produces all of her music. Best of all though, she has fabricated a complex and at times bewildering science fiction back story concept for her releases to date. On Monáe's 2007 debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) she introduced us to her android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, and a tale of forbidden love, and high adventure.

Now with the release of The Archandroid (Suites II & III) we are finally being treated to the next chapters of this story. It is near impossible to pigeon hole The ArchAndroid, as Monáe flits constantly from RnB to pop to soul to hip-hop to indie pop, unwilling to be tied to just one style. What it all has in common though is that it is very, very good. This is after all an experimental high-concept album which manages to remain light and listenable at all times, and that is a rare feat indeed.

Tired Pony - The Place We Ran From

Let's not be coy here. I've been eagerly anticipating this release - more than any other for a long time - and I'm not gonna waste any time in saying that, now it's here, The Place We Ran From certainly does not disappoint.

Despite the plethora of stars in the line-up, I was waiting for the full version of Get On The Road. Zooey Deschanel features also on Point Me At Lost Islands, but for me Get On The Road is one of the absolute pinnacles of this album.

Monday, 12 July 2010

DVD & Blu-ray Round Up - Green Zone

Top of the pile this week is Green Zone which reunites Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, who worked together on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Set in 2003 against the backdrop of the early days of the Iraqi war, Green Zone follows Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller in his quest to uncover evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime has been stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. As history would suggest, Miller is on something of a wild goose chase and Damon’s character finds himself at the centre of a web of deception, shoddy intelligence and political spin.

Comparisons with the Bourne movies are inevitable, but not particularly useful here. Green Zone is more of a political thriller than all out action movie. Roy Miller is not the indestructible super-spy/killing machine that Jason Bourne became; rather he is just an ordinary soldier trying to make sense of some extraordinary events.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

MIA - Maya

Maya - or /\/\ /\ Y /\, to use its 'proper' spelling - is MIA's third studio album, released in the UK on July 12th 2010 and offering another 40-odd minutes of distinctive, FX-laden beats from the British-Sri Lankan artist. This is definitely not one for the faint-hearted, and not an album that's likely to blend into the background - but that by no means should prevent anyone with a passion for musical innovation from giving it a chance.

Maya is all about beats and sound effects, with MIA's own vocals often hidden amongst the industrial and over-stressed computer squeals and machine-like whirrs that take the place of conventional instruments in many of the album's compositions. The overall effect is like the aural equivalent of industrial street dance, with a clear identity all of its own and a deft touch in many places that prevents even multiple layers of samples from becoming anything approaching 'just noise'.

Jammer - Jahmanji

Jammer has taken up production duties for UK grime heavy hitters including Kano and Wiley in the past, but on his debut album Jahmanji he takes centre stage for the first time. Jahmanji feels like an album long in the making; there is a clear guiding vision behind every aspect of this record. The beats are intricate, multi-layered, the rhythms are off-kilter.

As you'd expect from such a well connected figure on the scene, Jammer has rounded up a select bunch of London grime artists for guest appearances including Newham Generals and Lickle J on 'Bad Mind People', and Boy Better Know on the club-smasher '10 Man Roll'.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Dharohar Project EP

This one's for the iTunes users only, apparently, as a four-track EP created by Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling goes up for download this week. There were a few teething problems on the planned launch date, but Mumford & Sons say everything's in place now and working just fine.

Actually, iTunes might be the only place to buy the EP, but it's not the only place you can hear it - all four tracks are currently available on Spotify, so you can get a preview before deciding whether or not to splash out on a digital copy of your own.

Thursday, 8 July 2010


The first pure Predator movie in two decades opens in cinemas this week, and this time they're not coming to us - we're going to them. Predators takes the action to an unknown planet used by the eponymous hunters as a kind of massive game reserve. Their prey remains the same, however, as a group of Earth's finest and least trustworthy adversaries is selected to pit their skills against the maw-faced aliens.

Predators is the third film in the franchise proper, with the original released in 1987 and Predator 2 out three years later. Two Alien vs. Predator movies brought the dreadlocked hunters back to our screens in 2004 and 2007 and, like Aliens did for Alien, this latest movie brings them back once more with the weight of numbers behind them.

Django Reinhardt - "The Rome Sessions" Vol. 1 (1949-1950)

Django Reinhardt - "The Rome Sessions" Vol. 1 (1949-1950) kinda blows a-ha's 25-year anniversary edition of Hunting High and Low out of the water in terms of recent classic releases (if 'recent classic' is even possible...) - as the name suggests, this is 60 years old or more.

However, if you're a fan of jazz and blues, and you like that crackly old sound, it's still a good option. This is the kind of thing you'd expect to hear in the background at your local jazz club while nobody's performing on stage (what do you mean, you don't have a local jazz club? Manchester's Matt and Phred's is mine). If you're rich - or just have aspirations of being high-class - bung it on at your next barbecue and serve the wine really well chilled. People will think you're upwardly mobile.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Kvelertak - Kvelertak

I'll level with you, the main reason I was attracted to this release was for the psychedelic album art featuring a betentacled owl embracing two raven-haired nymphs, while trying to beat you in a stare-off. You don't see this kind of stuff every day, but honestly it's kind of beautiful.

Kvelertak are a hardcore metal band from Norway. Formed by a group of friends in 2007 , they made a name for themselves playing a series of frenetic, high energy live shows, the highlight of which was the 2009 Roskilde festival. Their brand of heavy yet melodic punk-metal won them a dedicated fanbase in their native Norway, and an album deal with Indie Recordings was their reward.

Tired Pony - The Place We Ran From - out July 12th

Saddle up, boys - it's almost time for Tired Pony's album, The Place We Ran From, to hit the stands. This has got to be the supergroup of our generation, surely. Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody takes the kudos for putting together an enviable team of main protagonists, with even more special guests adding to the talent.

Richard Colburn, drummer from Belle & Sebastian, adds to the musical showcase, with Snow Patrol collaborator Iain Archer also on the credits. Producer and remixer Jacknife Lee, REM guitarist and co-founder Peter Buck and REM collaborator Scott McCaughey are also amongst the confirmed contributors.

If you're a Spotify Free user, you've probably heard Tired Pony in your adverts recently - and if you're a Spotify Premium user, you can already hear the album. The rest of us will just have to pre-order and wait for July 12th.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

DVD & Blu-ray Round Up - Ashes to Ashes Series 3

The fantastic Ashes to Ashes Series 3 is my pick of the DVD and Blu-ray releases this week. The BBC drama builds to an epic conclusion as Alex Drake (the fragrant Keeley Hawes), prompted by the arrival of sinister Jim Keats from Scotland Yard, finally unravels the mystery of DCI Gene Hunt. It's a shame how Gene Hunt became so much the centre of the show in the last two series, as Alex's quest to return to her real life (and daughter, remember her?), was sidelined to afford Philip Glenister's snarling alpha male character more screen time, but it's worthy end to the journey none the less. For box-set fetishists there's also a Complete Collection with all three Ashes to Ashes series, but no sign yet of an Ashes-Life on Mars tie-in.

Doctor Who Series 5 Volume 2 might have been vying with Ashes to Ashes for my top pick of the week, but the way the BBC insist on releasing 3 episodes at a time (for the price of a full series) has put me off. Suffice to say, Series 5 was another thoroughly enjoyable ride through the weird and wonderful Doctor Who universe. Matt Smith's innocent, boyish Doctor was a breath of fresh air (less stagey than Tennant, just as eccentric), while Karen Gillan as Amy Pond was probably the single best thing to happen to the franchise since...well, ever. If you can't wait until Christmas for the special, then you might just have to give in and shell out for the DVDs.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Mystery Jets - Serotonin

Serotonin is the third full length release from Chiswick-based indie rockers Mystery Jets. Following on from the critical success of Twenty One, Serotonin marks another sublte evolution of the Mystery Jets' sound.

Always a band to wear their influences on their sleeve, Serotonin seems to evoke by turns The Police (see the dreamy vocal harmonies of 'It's Too Late'), Kinks (the storytelling of 'Dreaming of Another World') and The Who (the Baba O'Reilly-esque intro to 'Flash a Hungry Smile').

But this isn't an album suffocating under the weight of it's creators' record collection. Instead Mystery Jets use these as touchstones around which they have built something that seems simultaneously contemporary and classic.

a-ha - Hunting High and Low: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

You could be forgiven for thinking you've just stepped back to the 80s but, yes, Hunting High and Low by a-ha is out today. It's a newly packaged double-disc homage to the band's great album, which produced four top-ten hits in the UK. Indulge yourself in a childhood-reminiscing journey through Morten Harket's vocal landscape, get lost in the epic synth track of The Sun Always Shines on TV, wish you had the video to watch while listening to Take On Me.

Once you're done, hit play and listen all over again. Or just put it on a loop. It's been looping for 25 years and it didn't get old yet, so there's probably not too much to worry about. These are classic tunes that defined a generation - and created some landmark moments in sound and video alike.

Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite

Take a deep breath, readers, because today's a big day - it's a Kylie Minogue album release date. If you've been counting down the days to July 5th, you shouldn't be disappointed. Aphrodite continues the anthemic dance-pop resurgence that the antipodean pixie has enjoyed in recent years, and it's a pleasure to hear more from one of music's most inventive and persistent performers.

Unsurprisingly, Aphrodite opens with a powerhouse performance in the form of All The Lovers, which was released as a single on June 11th. If you didn't pick it up then, this is a good second chance to do so, as it fairly well sets the tone for the entire album. If you like All The Lovers, you'll like Aphrodite. That's my opinion, anyway.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Sound of Guns - What Came From Fire

It's been a big year for Liverpool's Sound of Guns. A breakthrough set at last year's Radio One Big Weekend, an appearance in the Guardian's 'New Band of the Day' series, and tips for big things from Q Magazine, and Rocksound have all contributed to the buzz ahead of their debut album What Came From Fire.

Comparisons to global superstar stadium rockers U2 have become obligatory when describing SoG's sound, and the parallels are certainly there to be hear. Big reverbed guitars, soaring rock vocals, and a penchant for the epic.

First single Architects was released on the 21st June, preceeding the album by a week, and it's a perfect example of what SoG are all about. The sheer scale of Archtitects is impressive, it's a song designed to blast out to a stadium full of fans.