- Autumn/Winter 1998

 

Various Artists - Musique Sans Frontieres (Matador)
The title and the EU-style sleeve have a stab at showing off Matador's cosmopolitan roster, though to be pedantic, it's only Switzerland's SportsGuitar (a nice line in lo-fo whimsy) that is actually from this side of the pond. Not all America here though, there are Antiopdeans Chris Knox and David Kilgour who (separately) keep the Commonwealth flag flying. And there's the rather fine Corenelius whose Pizzicato-esque electronics ease their way into your mind. But fittingly for an American label it's Matador's 'home' acts who get pride of place here - Rob Pollard tales time off from Guided by Voices with a quality track (not unlike said band, but not a bad thing), Unwound make a racket as ever and things bode well for their next album, Fuck continue to pose the question "what's in a name"?" and there's even the likes of Sleater-Kinney showing that the label can (nearly) find a hit if they want to. Sans Frontieres indeed.

Various Artists - SoundCheck (Subpop)

Another value-for-money compilation here, Subpop's bands have changed a bit since the heady days of Nirvana and Soundgarden, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, there are still the likes of old stagers the Spinanes and Godsheadsilo keeping the grunge/post grunge flag flying. The surprises here are more in the form of the newer bands who've arrived such as the Jesus and Mary Chain who contribute a couple of tracks to this double-cd set. Damon and Naomi, current heroes of the ambient set, also show face and Six Finger Satellite can still hack a tune, while Mark Lanegan proves there's life after the Screaming Trees (some might unkindly suggest more than before). And Les Thugs show that it's not just Matador who have the exclusive on foreigners. Sound (though not necessarily the Seattle one)

Volume All-Stars - Close Encounters of the Bump and Grind (Up)
And while we're at it, Seattle is the new Seattle. Or so say the Volume All-Stars, whose Slabco Records (home of the likes of Land of the Loops and Sukpatch) is perhaps the new Subpop. Or perhaps not. What is clear is that the Volume All-Stars have something. Not quite sure what though... the press-release itself, perhaps unable to convey their sound otherwise, mentions the likes of the Beastie Boys, Cornershop and Money Mark. That's only half the story as you might expect; taking any of these acts and remixing them almost to oblivion might just - _just_ take you close to the All-Star sound. Hip-hop beats and sound samples a-plenty typify the tracks here, and again, as the press release says, it's the perfect sound for the summer. Not necessarily a Seattle summer, mind you...

Marfa Lights - Tensor (Independent)

Comparisons, they say, are invidious, especially when they involve musicians and their previous bands, but that doesn't necessarily prevent them from being made. Marfa Lights take their name from strange lights seen over the Texas skies. Sound familiar? Well, the Foo Fighters (the alien craft that is) have a similar background. And in fact while the Foos boast the slightly less famous member of a 80's band trying a new venture, this tenuous comparison holds water for the purposes of this review since Seattlite Steve Mack was the unknown-at-the-time American who joined the O'Neill brothers when they split the Undertones to form That Petrol Emotion. However, Mack's vocals trademarked the band as much as the guitar onslaught. So it's unsurprising that this new band will be rated as Steve Mack's new band.

His tenure with Derry's second-most-famous sons has given his songwriting, somewhat under-utilised with TPE, a very British feel. Not in a bad way I hasten to add, though the tracks on Tensor have a guitar-driven hard pop feel that you wouldn't find in Seattle, even in the grunge days. The songs are basically decent tunes, lively, more the tunesmithery of the Manics and the life of Gold Blade than say the predictability of what we once called Britpop. Standout tracks here are Slider which kicks off the album, Checking Out, and Infatuated which could surely be a hit single, but others like Lemon Rind, Liftoff and Goner will sink into your subconscious as their more involved rhythms work their magic after a couple more listens. Silver Spoon will doubtless have the jury out as the only slower song on the album, possibly acting as a mid-set break from moshing for the hordes. Steve's voice still soars here, and throughout the album, in that way which will be familiar to fans of the Petrols, and while they wouldn't want direct comparisons to the band which started out more than 10 years ago, certainly have the same spirit as their predecessors, while bringing things up to date with some new ideas.

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Cornelius - Star Fruit Surf Rider (Matador)
People who understand Japanese rock will assuredly 'get' Cornelius. I say that because it's frankly a mystery to me why this kind of stuff isn't riding high in the charts in the UK and USA. Perfect pop tunes, lovely to listen to or to dance to, whatever you want. What more could you want? But the failure of the Pizzcato 5 to make Number One across the globe has convinced me of the failing of the public - unadventurousness, conservatism, or what I don't know but I hold out no more hope of Cornelius making a dent on the charts despite this tremendous track - part ambient, part dancey, part alternative. Star Fruits and Surf Rider appear to be 2 separate tracks brought together for the title track, and there's the potential (should you buy 2 copies) to mix the 2 together again. Don't understand itmyself, sounds a bit too complicated. What chance do the great British public have?

Ballroom - Day After Day (Mother)

The only time Ballroom got their names in the papers was when they split - a week after this album appeared. Which is a pity on more than one count. It wasn;t exactly an obituary they got either, the band seemed to have made themselves a few enemies in the media, so instead of the press taking cheap shots at the music they concentarted on more personal attacks. Surprising, as Ballroom sound pretty much like Gene. But since Gene sound like the Smiths, that's not necessarily a bad thing, if being derivative isn't a problem for you. They do the Gene thing pretty well. Take it like a Man (a Morrissey-esque double entendre, perhaps?) starts the album and is the top track on this, but there are other gems also on display. They even venture out of Gene tribute heaven (briefly) on Beauty Sleep, but it is a brief respite. Now, don't get me wrong - sounding like Gene (there, I've said it again) isn't necessarily a bad thing. I like Gene. But I think you'd have to to get through this one.

Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West (Matador)

So appparetly they're the new Pixies, Modest Mouse. Can;'t see it myself mind you, but I was looking for a convenient pigeonhole for the band and I can't quite quite place their sound. In fact, their best moment on this album, 'Heart Cooks Brain' does indeed sound a bit like the stumbling Pixies of old, but it's hardly 'Debaser'. In fact much of this album rolls along, in the style that someone once described as 'shambling', again, like earlier Pavement, less refined. But I don't think tha this is ainasdequacy, the sound is moer considered, it's meant to sound like this. But since Modest Mouse are described in some quarters as the next big thing, does this mean we're going back in time to those heady years when lo-fi started off? And can we survive the change?

Third Eye Foundation - You Guys Kill Me (Domino)

I'm not even sure how to categorise this one, is it 'electronica'? No repetitive beats, 'atmospheric' for sure, but it doesn't seem to go anyhere. I have persevered with it, honest, but I really can't even remember anything about it. The album opens with the title track which sets the scene; it's perhaps the most striking one on the album - it has a sembance of a tune and bodes well for perhaps more departures in what follows. But what follows, sadly, is more of the same, only less noticeable. By the time the album ends you\ve forgotten you'd put it on.

Various Artists - Obvious (25 Records)

Another compilation, this one from 25 Records of Dorset and like any compoilation it's a mixed bag. 25 seem to simply get demo takes in from all around the place and put the ones they like onto record - an admirable policy for sure. The label certainly have eclectic tastes - from the straight down the middle rock of Cerulean Blue to the C86/Sarah-ishs of 'Flaming June', through to the Brel-meets-theManics (!) of The Original Mind, there's something for every one on this low-cost19 tracker, which woks out at about £0.25 per song. Give it a try, it makes sound financial sense. Obviously

Gold Blade - Drop the Bomb (Ultimate)

Second album form the gambinos, the Hard Boppers, the funk soul brothers (no, hang on a minute...) Following the debut 'Home Turf (the track 'Home Turf mysteriously surfacing here), it was uncertain if they could sustain the style and force of the first album. Well, I can confirm that they've been working hard at the bop, and apart from dropping the lamé shirts, they've also progressed musically. So we still have the brass, the 'woah-oh!' shouts in the background, and the BIG choruses. But to offset this, there's also some skanking, a bt of a rap, a earth-shattering cover of '16 Tons', and, let me assure you, still the most exciting live act to be seen at the moment. Again, one to catch while you can.

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