Album Reviews

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Pocketknife

Mr Little Jeans

Sony Music Norway

Dreaming of a life in the limelight has finally become a reality for the wry smirk of a title that is Mr Little Jeans aka Monica Birkenes. The former drama student managed to combine her time between stints in London and Los Angeles in order to pursue her dream of a full-length album by way of producer Peter Moren (Peter Bjorn and John). The end results for this Norwegian artist is an album full of assured indie pop songs and sounding as if constructed of the barest ingredients consisting primarily of synthesisers and Birkenes ethereal vocal. Take for example the alluring yet glacial sheen of ‘Mercy’ that manages to really get under your skin as well as managing to  maintain a considerable distance, as does the 80s moody electronica of ‘Runaway’. There is a measure of eccentricity from top to bottom of ‘Oh Sailor’ complete with chiming clocks and youth choir that is reminiscent of another 80s trick but unfortunately completely evades the memory bank at the crucial hour. There are moments where ‘Pocketknife’ will require some patience when listening with the late blossoming of blissful noise during ‘Don’t Run’ for example, as well as others that remain somewhat directionless with the plodding ‘Suburbs’ being a prime candidate. Such discrepancies, however, are minimal as ‘Pocketknife’ contains enough intrigue to warrant repeat visits that will be duly rewarded guaranteed.


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MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs (EP)

Pretend Happy

Untitled

Barnstaple is home for indie grunge and punk trio Pretend Happy and the likely source responsible for the majority of songs making up current EP ‘MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs’, due to reflecting a plethora of emotions that are all too common when it comes to residing in such a sheltered environment. In spite of this, there is a feeling of transition regarding the entire EP, in both title and sound, as the six songs represented here are a collection of the band’s first two EPs, offering something of a mixed bag ranging from the energetic ‘Innocence’ with its insightful observations, “Another fault of mine, I’ve fallen further behind, my innocence still lives inside of me…” to a more ponderous ‘I Remember’ that despite its honesty, especially by way of a couple of expletives, pales in comparison. ‘Stability’ brings order once more with its taut rhythm, and nicely complimented by the crushed emotions of ‘Torture’ only to fall back on old habits with the generic ‘Purity’.  While ‘MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs’ possesses one or two shortcomings, there is more than enough material here to suggest a positive outcome regarding future endeavours for Pretend Happy.


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Poison (single)

Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen

Untitled

Hailing from Bristol in Tennessee, USA, Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen is an eight piece ensemble with a multitude of instruments at their disposal that includes a knockout blow by way of leading Lady Kat Rush’s magnificent vocals. It is rather fitting that such a wealth of talent should desire a “don’t fence us in” attitude when attempting to apply a label to the music emanating from the Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen’s stable as there is a real melange of genres including aspects of rhythm and blues, swing, jazz and a fleeting drop of rockabilly that is reflected to a greater degree by the stylish appearance of Kat Rush. With a debut album currently a work in progress, first single ‘Poison’ is a strong concoction of seductive vocals and forceful brass that will have you smitten from the off and giddy with delight once under the intoxicating spell of the central narrative. Whether this is a safe haven only time will tell, but for now Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen have just created a winning formula as far as first singles go as there is no bitter edge to the ‘Poison’ they are peddling.


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Artificial Natural

The Kokomo Kings

Grime Tone

A culmination of Scandinavian neighbours – Swedish and Danish to be precise – joining forces to carve out the largely blues influenced, with moments of rockabilly, that is ‘Artificial Natural’. Starting in fine fashion is the authentic rockabilly-blues of ‘Wrong Doing Woman’, which picks up a steady pace before letting the apron strings fly with some red-hot guitar that is equally complimented by the interesting spin of the narrative with the central protagonist being female (for a change) and possessing an unhealthy love affair for deviant behaviour. Elsewhere, ‘Hook, Line and Sinker’ plays a game of cat and mouse to a lively tempo and drawing more on a straight blues influence. There is humour present with ‘She’s So Skinny (She Can Hide Behind A Fishing Line)’ that is also a reflection of the changing nature of the generational eras that suggests a big difference in terms of the one these Kokomo Kings reside in mentally, and the one they actually find themselves in. Such a theme is taken up once more with the title track ‘Artificial Natural’ that finds the aptly-named Harmonica Sam severely scratching his cranium in a bewildered state due to an increasing trend for cosmetic enhancement. The charm offensive of ‘Charmageddon’ opens the door to rock ‘n’ roll, as it’s a riotous affair of guitars and harmonica with a flair for dark humour, “She’s so evil, she’s banned from hell”. A chance discovery, The Kokomo Kings ‘Artificial Natural’ is a thrilling ride of rockin’ blues with aspects of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, and one that is extremely perceptive of the changing nature of modern society as the band’s wicked sense of humour reveals. There is nothing artificial to report when it comes to The Kokomo Kings.


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Heart’s On Fire (single)

Passengers

Sony Music Norway

Beautiful as it is tender, there are no surprise revelations from Passenger (Mike Rosenberg) and new single ‘Heart’s On Fire’ as it offers a straight confessionary tale of one’s burning desires for another played to an acoustic guitar and various strings. With a new album on the horizon entitled ‘Whispers’, ‘Heart’s On Fire’ is not only a reminder of this man’s talents, but a strong indicator of the indie-folk sounds to come.


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Bookburner (single)

This Sect

Sect Appeal Records / Diger

Accusations of philistine rightly abound and no doubt fuelling new single ‘Bookburner’ from Norway’s This Sect. Being described as ‘post-punk with disco tendencies’, This Sect is the kind of band that deserve to be clutched tightly to one’s chest as they resuscitate memories of a dying breed of bands, often the staple during the 80s despite remaining on the fringes of any music scene and holding a strong social conscience. ‘Bookburner’ fits such a description with its jagged rhythm, 80s sounding guitars and anxious vocals which all suggest nothing but a tantalising prospect when the full-length player is set for release next month. Clearly rubbing against the grain as far as fashion (yawn) is concerned, This Sect is one that is worth taking note of because their relevancy in the present state of things is more vital than ever.


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Floating Blood Of Mine (single)

Sleep Party People

Riot Factory

Denmark’s Sleep Party People return with a new single ahead of a full album release planned for the end of May 2014. ‘Floating Blood Of Mine’ reprises the long overdue return musically of 90s shoegaze, and one of the pioneers of this particular sound The Cocteau Twins, as Brian Batz – the man behind the moniker – dreams up an instantly memorable soundscape full of drifting and soaring guitars complete with a thin veil of vocals that greatly compliments the vapour trails of sound left suspended in the atmosphere long after this song has ceased spinning. With two critically acclaimed albums behind Sleep Party People, the third chapter looks set to continue this trend considering the emotive sounds emanating from ‘Floating Blood Of Mine’.


Released 11 April

 

Gå som det her

Bøgdabråk

Bøgdabråk Records

Returning with a fresh set of country rock ditties from the Norwegian county of south Trøndelag, Bøgdabråk has steadily built up a name for themselves on the live circuit, as well as maintaining their roots with the traditional ‘trønderfest-culture’ that is particularly special to the inhabitants of Trondheim and surrounding areas. With two albums already behind them, Bøgdabråk release album number three ‘Gå som det her’ which consists of eleven tracks delivered in specific dialect from the band’s main region. Central to the creative compositions of this latest album is vocalist Leif Inge Hopstad, who has not only penned all of the songs but contributed production duties as well with producer Tony Waade. The end result is an album with energy in abundance as clearly displayed by the driving opener ‘Han der’ (‘Him There’) and ‘I kveill’ (‘This Evening’); the latter of which packs an addictive chorus and the perfect accompaniment of female backing vocals and fine guitar work that sees Bøgdabråk clearly enjoying themselves. The Bøgdabråk tempo is taken down a notch during the ballad ‘Håp’ (‘Hope’) and exquisite delivery of ‘To på natt’ (‘Two At Night’) that finds Leif Inge Hopstad in superb form vocally. The energetic and catchy guitar thrust of ‘Vinterland’ (‘Winterland’) and equally matching ‘Sånne Kara’ (‘Kind Kara’) are good enough to grace a Tom Petty album, if ever the need arises, because Bøgdabråk have a knack of churning out memorable, hook-laden country rock songs that reside long in the memory bank once ‘Gå som det her’ has ceased playing. Catch the band live on their forthcoming tour in support of this inspiring new release as Bøgdabråk cannot fail to disappoint considering the overall quality of ‘Gå som det her’.


Released Out now

 

Next Plane (single)

Alida

Sony Music Norway

Alida is currently the name causing a stir as far as Norwegian radio is concerned and the reason for increasing levels of interest on certain media playlists, which has seen this songstress from Jæren in Rogaland rocket her way to the top of the pile with this follow up single after the much-admired ‘Feathers’. Clearly, ‘Next Plane’ was built around Alida’s charismatic vocal as it ushers in from the start the rest of the components of the song – comprising of subdued yet atmospheric electronic beats – while remaining deep in reflection as the realisation dawns that a saviour is not emerging anytime soon. The next stop for this rising new talent is a mini-album, which is a tantalising prospect considering the lofty heights ‘Next Plane’ has already set. Watch this space.


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My Silver Lining (single)

First Aid Kit

Columbia

For those who missed the much-touted album ‘The Lion’s Roar’ from sister duo and Stockholm-based First Aid Kit, then a second helping is in the offing with the imminent release of ‘Stay Gold’. Ahead of this new album release, however, is new single ‘My Silver Lining’ that is blessed with sumptuous strings, heavenly vocals and interesting turns with lyrics purporting to anxieties being “as big as the moon” as the troubles experienced seem to outweigh any hope for a silver lining. An inspired choice as far as first singles go, First Aid Kit look set to continue their previous successes judging by the quality of ‘My Silver Lining’.


Released Out now

 

Out Among The Stars

Johnny Cash

Sony Music CMG

Discovering ‘Out Among The Stars’ was definitely the equivalent of striking oil for the first time during the Gusher Age in Texas in the early 1900s. The reason for such enthusiasm marking this latest discovery of forgotten Johnny Cash studio recordings is for the simple reason that the twelve songs listed (track thirteen being a remix) here have never been released before, making this album a brand new product rather than a rehash of previously released material with the usual bonus additions of demos, outtakes and alternate versions. The songs making up ‘Out Among The Stars’ were originally recorded in Nashville in 1981 and 1984 with Billy Sherrill controlling production and contributions by way of June Carter Cash with ‘Baby Ride Easy’ and ‘Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time’, as well as Waylon Jennings lending vocals to Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Movin’ On’. The discovery itself is credited to John Carter Cash – the son of Johnny Cash – who happened to chance upon the songs in the vaults of Columbia Records after many years of neglect until now. Indebted for this wonderful find, ‘Out Among The Stars’ is a solid body of work and a welcome addition to the musical legacy left by Johnny Cash.


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Jump into The Midnight Ball!

Dale Rocka and the Volcanoes

Rhythm Bomb

The mood of this first ever album release by Dale Rocka and the Volcanoes is definitely one of celebratory, as suggested by its title and visually explicit by the ultra-cool artwork gracing its exterior. At the heart of the album’s rockin’ contents, however, is some real cool cats who remain hell-bent on letting their hair down after a fifteen year stretch that has seen countless live performances and various recordings, but never as a four piece until now. So without further ado, ‘Jump into The Midnight Ball!’ is all you can do because its rockabilly rhythms are simply irresistible and will have you moving those limbs until the early hours, such is the relentless pace. The preparation for the festivities at hand starts appropriately with ‘The Midnight Ball’, which has a touch of Bill Haley & His Comets about it, and serves as the ideal ‘warm up’ for what’s to follow. Dale Rocka – real name Massimo Rocka who is responsible for the majority of the songwriting – and his explosive cohorts reveal their wares without any hesitation during standout track ‘Bad Blood’ with its gritty guitars sounding borderline garage rock and Dale’s vocal reminiscent of Darrel Higham on occasions. There is a real glint in the eye with the superbly titled ‘Mama Bring Back (My Blue Suede Shoes)’ that contains a subtle humour, despite being down in the deep end, and reveals the band’s creativity to a large extent, especially when it comes to failing to namedrop the song’s title at every opportunity, which is a refreshing addition. ‘Rag Mop’ is nimble on its feet with a frantic yet light(ish) sounding rhythm and skilful guitar that is brought to the fore. Taking the festivities down a notch, yet remaining consistently compelling with its grungy guitar sound and distortion in the vocal, is the whipping into shape demands of ‘That’s Why I Tell You’. Such advice is soon forgotten, however, once the inventiveness of ‘Remember Last Night’, with its amusing touch of giving the impression of an ‘extra voice’ trying desperately to recollect the morning after the night before, is played out to a brisk tempo and shuffling rhythm. Dale Rocka and the Volcanoes have just had one hell of a party with ‘Jump into The Midnight Ball!’, the good news however, is that this particular midnight ball is open and available to all, and it is one that will not let you down.



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