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Perhaps it is illusory transition into new era, inspiring change, but this month seems diffracted, distracted, multitude of musical styles refracted through prisms of the past, projected into present, casting new light, rainbows and shadows, landscapes awaiting illumination, whispers accumulating whirlwinds. Even stalwarts have accoutred themselves with new magic and I look forward to what emerges from cocoon of 2011, hopefully beautiful creatures garbed in luminosity more substantial than the emperor's clothes. Going by what I have heard so far, there is much to look forward to.

THOSE THAT GLOWED - Illuminating Life

Ragz- ‘You Started It All’, single

I must confess a predilection for Ragz, Norwegian songstress who has adopted and been reverentially adopted by, Liverpool. Her music, my peccadillo since I first heard it, is inescapably, at times heartbreakingly, emotional, drawn from personal experience, sprinkled with fairytale, folksong magic dust of her native land, delivered in crystal vocal. This lady writes some of the most beautiful melodies and lyrics I have heard, expressed with soul diving passion, so every release of hers is anticipated with bated breath, this one in particular, edging as it does into another favourite territory of mine, electronica.

Ragz always has had a talent for conjuring totally captivating atmosphere from smoke of almost nothing and this song perfectly illustrates that gift, pin prick of one repeated pure piano note, beacon, magnetic pole harnessing hum of electrons, centrifuge gathering glimmers of gorgeous melody, on piano, strings, soothed by golden bass honey, tickled by trademark, delicate, Spartan percussion, spun, gathered with silk of Ragz’s bewitching vocal, wrung, drenched with passionate belief

Minimalist but infused in intensity, confirming for me that ‘cold’ electronica has a soul and in the right hands, less is most definitely more, a sliver of perfection, despite charges of nepotism, my favourite track this month.

Blind Atlas- 'Kodiak bear', Single

Heralded by child's cry and heavy, hollow drone of death drum, cinematic opening exudes atmosphere wrung from echoed cymbal and steel guitar , evoking mists of Kodiak Archipelago where these intelligent bears roam, poignantly wrenched, melancholic vocal, bullet to the heart,  blossoming in gloriously sumptuous instrumentation, strings weeping and weaving, stealthily stalking vaporous air.  Cross pollinating American folk roots, classic melodies with tortured touches of Nirvana, cinematic coloration and almost classical musicality, bantering in the round, Blind Atlas has bloomed an exotic new flower of extraordinary, glowing beauty. The animated video is also a captivating work of art, so all in all, an indisputable favourite.

Damn Vandals- ‘The Beautiful Mind’, EP

Having been comprehensively smitten by Damn Vandals on my November 2011 reviews, I have been looking forward to more. This EP doesn’t disappoint, taking up Velvets/Bela Lugosi reins which ensnared me then, ‘Beautiful Mind’ shrieks, wails and rears like bucking bronco kicking its way out of captivity, careering off into the distance on thunder rumble of drums.

‘He Pulls a Knife’ creeps Cave like, sinister into midnight hour, dark back alleys of an ‘ordinary town’ where “... he pulls a knife... cool and dark”

‘Union Jack Boxes’, Lugosi, sick to the stomach, struts with Iggy, brandishing Nirvana guitar, “... looking down the barrel of a coward’s gun,  “... sick of seeing kids flying home in Union Jack boxes...”

‘Trouble With Jesus’; Grungy, grinding dark guitars and battering drums rattle, shake Christ’s crucifix, spunky, tremulous vocal daring to declare, “...trouble with you is me...”, “...trouble with me is you...”, “... you dance with the underdog...”, “ love everyone...” 

Each track beautifully constructed, darkly melodic, salaciously sinister, oozing grunge punk attitude from every pore, Damn Vandals saturate senses, bewitch, true tale tellers weaving atmosphere, wreaking havoc as they go, with incredible musicianship and illuminating lyricism. This twisted love continues to hypnotise.

My Tiny Robots- ‘Zut Alors’, Single

Having adored ‘Rock Bossa Nova Four Beat Black’, “Infectious little pop ditty” and 'Guild Of Defiants', “Spangly, jangly guitar daggers glint” on my December and January reviews, ‘Zut Alors’ takes a break from mischievous rollicking bravado to reveal a tender side, more minimal and introverted but still full of luscious textural sounds, voice used as hypnotic instrument, reflectively humming, then pondering love, “...Zut Alors... Je t’adore...” rhythmic reflection pervading, swaying through this song, mind obsessed, mesmerised building with ebb and flow of rolling drums to frenzied passion, fading to wistful fervour. So, even Robots can fall in love and I am just as enamoured of this appealingly quirky, catchy little song. Robots you rock.

The Loud- A-Side,  ‘Mother Warned Me About Girls Like You’/ ‘For My Record Machine’, B-Side, ‘When The Love Light Starts Shining Through Her Eyes’/ ‘Burn The Books’, Double A/B side limited edition pink tape cassette single

Having always coveted world's first cassette single, Bow Wow Wow's yellow, cardboard flip top, 'Your Cassette Pet', I am wooed by this reversion to 1980's technology though, in absence of player, may have to resort to surreptitiously slipping it in the hole of another ardour, original retro hi-fi console, resuscitating dearly departed formats in my local Oxfam.

To do so would barely cajole a wheeze from sunken depths of irretrievably collapsed couch where life's flotsam and jetsam seek solace. So successfully do The Loud capture sound of old vinyl, vibrating muffled air of another era, late sixties amp distortion, jangly guitars, loose limbed louche bass, corridor drums, ' bebop' backing and Bolan via Bowie vocals, I fear recumbent might slip away in wistful reverie or be roused to equally fatal recreations of misspent youth.

‘Mother Warned Me About Girls Like You’ walks like T-Rex, talks like Bolan, mutating into '70's , 'Man Who Sold the World'  Bowie, with "...c'mon.."T-Rex backing band, prophetically "...wank(ing)... in the mirror..." on ‘For My Record Machine', taking to the floor in languid "...sha la la shoop..." dalliance with Jagger's elastic swagger on Burn The Books’, before ruffling his plummy vowels with Northern tickle, in "... bebop bop.." cover of Dusty Springfield's mid '60's, Motown inspired ‘When The Love Light Starts Shining Through Her Eyes'.

Perfectly evocative, encapsulation of an enigmatic era, modern idioms, reverential to heritage. Unlike Bow Wow Wow's Eiffel high sex club cassette wonder, not likely to provoke riot in charity shop, though might foment rummage for Walkmans and Patchouli. Together with Bowiesque screen print cover and pleasure of pink plastic, a highly seductive package.

Whales In Cubicles- 'We Never Win'/'Across America', Single

Beautifully emotive, emotional Indie, Turin Breaks with angst, which rises and falls to the call of despondent male Patti Smith crossed with Waterboy's Mike Scott,  and in the form of 'We Never Win' makes all the right familiar noises, military marching drum heralding in crystal clear,  jangly guitar, softly spoken bass and plaintive vocal, twisting, weaving, melodically entwined, mustered by vocal clarion call, breaking into anthemic, incestuously intermingled wall of sound, to fall dejectedly back to whence it came. Perfectly formed, highly melodic, catchy number but it is the B-Side, 'Across America' which really captured my imagination, revealed an individuality to this band which distinguishes it from accustomed. This track conjures maudlin magic with layers of atmosphere, engulfing, swirling maelstrom of sound and distortion which flings out desperation, tinged with tortured chagrin, reminiscent of  Radiohead's beautiful ugly, it batters senses in a way the title track only scratches at.

SOFTLY SPOKEN - Small voices whispering volumes

The Cubical- 'The Golden Rule'/ 'Hey Hey', Single

Released in December as a Charity Single, ( sales proceeds go to the very worthwhile charity, CALM) , tremulously expressive  vocal wrings Dickensian folksong, 'Christmas Carol' transported to Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegon, outback Hicksville dust balls turned to snow, where "...year-long grievances.." are "...washed with gin.."' in backstreet bars where people, "... set out on a journey... we will never begin...". Melancholic, atmospheric, tight knit traditional bluesy folk, Wilburying raggle taggle band tolling cautionary tale in melodic harmony, weaving through winter landscapes to lilt and scrape of fiddle, steel guitar song, doleful beat of drum, laconic bass, harmonica and Reindeer tambourine tinkle.

Liverpool at the moment seems awash with bands of extraordinary musical talent expended in exemplary, yet original, emulation of plethora of eras, The Cubical being a prime example, injecting essence of American traditional folk, song structures, instrumentation and vocal inflection into new material which dissolves fabric of time and melds with the past while reflecting the present. Though always a musical city, the reason for this recent, increasingly marked intensification, distillation of styles is difficult to determine, perhaps the McCartney principle, LIPA fly paper enticing musical moths to stick and accumulate or years of musical revolution, reinforced by evolution, bred for survival in a city which reveres musical talent and true grit. Mine not to question why, just enjoy.

The flip side, 'Hey Hey', full on rocking and rolling, growling bear with sore head, carousing down blues boulevard full tilt for the swamp.

Kindest of Thieves - 'Ever the Optimist', EP

Four brightly sparkling, folk/ blues tinged, indie tracks delivered with effervescent energy, cleanly played, jazz inflected, picked double bass, light, tight drums, scintillating guitar, endearing flexible vocals, sunny side up, demonstrate the musicality of this band and their skill for writing melodically and lyrically enchantingly catchy numbers which trip along on light yet confident feet. Thematically similar, 'Amelia', 'Bones' and 'Personal Best' reflect , some very, personal relationships with an optimistic  countenance while 'Go To Town On Me' hits the road jack on creeping bass feet, venturing into burgeoning sensuality, my favourite track for its hint of loucheness.

Rob Thom- ‘Just The Kind Of Thing’, Single

Shimmering folk, male Beth Orton forging perfect, observational, sunny little love song, melody which captivates , instrumentation, sweetly picked mandolin, strummed guitars skipping along, breaks open the sky in wide eyed smile. Perfectly enticing.

Shades of Jade-'Her Soul', EP

Glass like siren vocal melds Lennox with Hopkins, clear, anguished, soulful, touched with Jazz improvisation and folksy wisdom while stealing a wail from rock and roll, an intriguing mix, fully exploited but held well under control, supported by sensitive touch of practised musicians, perceptively picked guitars and bass, subtle light drums washed by ethereal keyboards. All five songs are emotion laden, intensely melodic, 'Her Soul' with jangly Nirvanaesque intro, jazzy soul vocal and instrumentation mixing amiably with rock and roll angst, 'What If' more minimal, luscious melody, prickled by guitar, 'Female Intuition' with quietly dramatic piano theme, nods to American country and folk but starts to ramble lyrically and melodically as does 'No Choice' with lovely picked guitar but slightly prosaic vocal, while  'Keep On Moving', most jazzily improvisational, brings refreshing change with big band trumpets and rhythmic voice. Certainly a singer to listen out for.

Vermillion Sands- ‘Summer Melody’/ ‘Sweet Bitter Winter’, Single

Sunny, sweetly kooky vocal, breezy, cheeky, squidgy instrumentation, squashed guitar and steadily tramping bass, skips along come rain or shine, Lucy In the Sky with Gorillaz, unpretentious, slightly naïve but breath of untainted air.

BANGING A DRUM - Got to let it out

Perhaps Contraption- ‘Cousin/Grandma’, Single

Harbouring an inexplicable affinity for brass, perchance ignited by baby love of Tubby the Tuba or school orchestra infatuation with lead trumpet, entranced by dangerously seductive wail, extracted, elegantly effortlessly from puckered lips, then there was darkly tousled trombone teacher, flashing eyed teenage fantasy, enamour for his sliding instrument thwarted by Mother’s fear of buck teeth, so I found this quirky single by eight piece marching band, singularly enticing. Though I am not sure how I would feel about a whole album, range of traditional instrumentation would suggest that Perhaps Contraption could muster many a fine tune, ‘Cousin/Grandma taking exuberant energy of marching band, cheeky, rasping, farting, wailing, oomph pa pa brass, lively skipping  drums, adding chant of rhythmic vocals a la Bow Wow’s Annabella Lwin,  an irresistibly sparkling, refreshingly fresh combination which raises a smile, bemusement won over by unexpected thrill of  traditional instruments so skilfully, joyfully and enthusiastically employed.

Screama Ballerina- ‘Rich Kids’, Single

Feisty and raw with welcome punk attitude, Screama Ballerina emphatically stamps its foot, flings ‘Rich Kids’ round the room by straps of their Abercrombie bras, with vigour and verve, cockney inflected , clearly enunciated urchin street cry, rattling loose change chink of cymbal, definitively poking  posh in the eye, stalked by creeping guitar, battered by driving drums, Porsche screech driving this country to the wall, intelligently observational, caustic and hugely amenable modern day McLaren punk, poke with deceptively pretty face and a message to shriek. 

7 Day Weekend- ‘7 Day Weekend’, EP

Driven, melodic, emotive rock, skipping roused to racing heart beat drums, weeping stoked to careering guitars, sobbing moved to throbbing deep bass, ridden by distressed male vocal, wistful wrung to Valkyrie call. Wall of meshed sound twinkling with flash of polished metal, beautifully wrought and embellished entanglement of fantasy and hard rock, shards of gorgeous sounds piercing darkness, subdued anguish wound to wail, exemplar of its kind, though the five songs ‘Ghosts Of Me’, ‘Mistakes’, ‘Kingdoms’, ‘Hide’ and ‘Seasons Like These’, despite variation in tempo/ rhythms do tend to meld into one delicious soundscape.


Gasoline Thrill- ‘Not Afraid’, Single

Goth rock, pounding along on assured solid bass feet and drums, churned by chugging guitar, shaken, stirred by slight but clearly articulated Suzi meets Siouxsie, cutting effectively through controlled mayhem.  Rather reliant on few well worn chord progressions, which having stood the test of time, insistently stamp their brand and despite high energy output, sounding slightly subdued and restrained, perhaps needing to break out and really not be afraid.

THE VOICE OF REASON - Taking it easy

Assembly- 'Woken By Sirens', EP

While influences of Strokes, Killers and Arctic Monkeys, quoted as inspirations, whisper, rather than scream, through this suite of bitter sweet, observational classics, Assembly have a lighter touch, not as cutting as Monkeys, kooky as Strokes or poppy as Killers but masters of melody, spinning assuredly succinct, sparse instrumentation round bones of well trodden Indie/Brit Pop musical phrases while retaining an indefinable twang of their home town, Liverpool, especially in 'Denim Skirts' and 'Out Of Time', a touch of the La’s and in telling tales of life, hints of Cocker.

All five songs on this EP demonstrate the bands talent for writing catchy hooks and engaging lyrics, and confidence, daring to leave space for instrumental skills to shine, all hang together beautifully, not one weak song, a master class of classics, in particular, reflective 'Mistakes Of My Youth' but, though 'Into The Dark' dips a toe into deeper, grungier waters, and 'Sin City' briefly rocks and rolls in American pastiche, somehow flitting over surface of nothing much new, fluently interpreting well worn phrases in appealing , effortlessly competent, though, dare I say it, slightly bored voice, which may be enough. So, hasn't left me bound and cuffed, not siren call but definitely comfortable ride.

MORE THAN A WHINE - But melodramatic nonetheless

Dead Social Club- 'Stockholm', Single

Captures essence of '80's electro pop of the Depeche Mode, Duran Duran variety, driving, diving, throbbing melodrama, modern electronica hesitantly, non committedly flirting with synthetic synth adds another ephemeral layer and consistently whining, achromatic vocal, successfully grinds its main theme indelibly into the mind, by insistent repetition. Sounds derogatory but as closet aficionado of the genre, just can’t get enough and just can't get the theme out of my head, so job well done. 

ALL SHOOK UP - Pick and Mixing new flavours

These Reigning Days- ‘Changes’, Single

Irresistibly sucked in by mysterious, eerie sounds, voice floating in ether of echo, washed by watery guitars riding on waves of softly rolling drums, pin pricked by tear drop electronica, this song surreptitiously shredded my irrational resistance to semi hard rock of the Guns and Roses variety, note by note, while being almost entirely built around that genres musical phrases. Disarmed by spacey vocals, enticed by beguiling melody, bewitched by eighties electronica, These Reigning Days have managed to change, transmogrify musical cheese into something totally addictive.  

Midnight Mosaic- 'Fetish', EP

Though suffused with strains of what I refer to as melodic, softly heavy, Guns N' Roses sob rock, in harmonic construction and guitar riffs, an underlying theme which to a greater or lesser extent imbues all five songs with its hues, individuality, versatile musicality and subtlety of band members, injects glimmers of personality, rainbow shimmers infusing different genres to create unexpectedly captivating intrigue. Though each seem to walk their own path; enticing ductile vocals, Finley Quaye mixed with Costello, hugely accomplished, slinky ,sexy, funky walking bass, jazzily precise percussion and hard but considerate rock guitar, somehow they manage to stay on the same street.

'Victorious (L. M. N. H.)' adds touch of Dire Straits, '11th Hour'' though grinding hard rock, subtly subdues its power chords, hypnotises with sprinkling of sinister cynicism.  Impassioned 'Sex Soldier' jumps out as the most individual song, with grungy bass and new wave punk inflected vocal, while  'Masochist Me (Heartbreak Mix)'and 'Fear No Audience' capture the midnight hour, classics in  'Sweet Child of Mine' vein, used but not abused; the former, bitter sweet love song with touch of Eltons; latter, melodic maudlin. It really shouldn't work but it does.

Lilygun, ‘Scum’, Single

Though leaning heavily on familiar hard rock precepts, Lilygun infuses it with their own gentle subtlety, atmospheric intros, breaks and minimalistic but inveigling instrumental touches which inject highly appealing individuality, lifting this from pastiche, inviting further exploration. 

Mystery Juice - 'Eye For An Aye', EP

An unusual mix of styles, from full on bluesy rock and roll on 'Hurt me, hurt you', gruffly appealing vocal riding slicing guitar, weighed down by pedantic stamp of bass and drums, to 'God told Adam' which adds a whiff of American folk to mix of shredded rock and roll riffs while 'An eye for an aye' introduces punk in driving bass, cut up, snatched instrumentation and barked vocal, all of which is a bit confusing though not entirely unpleasant. 'Song for the rural dispossessed of Scotland' stands most clearly for itself, jazzy drums, lightly plucked guitar, funky bass and touch of Talking Heads in partly rapped vocal, but in being so completely different, whilst demonstrating versatility, muddies identity further. However, that is the song which will keep me listening to this vacillating, yet fascinating band.

FADE AWAY AND RADIATE - Voices lost in space

Colours- 'Drip Haze', Single

Wooed by wonderfully fuzzy psychedelia, spacey vocals floated into miasma of pastel electronic colour, echoed guitars, buzzing bass and fleet foot drums, I had anticipated unbridled pleasure but found myself caught up in ground hog day of unsettling highs and lows, wonderment wandering tediously into unfocused entanglement of strident guitar and distracting bass chatter, before returning repetitively to what had gone before, losing flow, continuity and progression. I wanted to be seduced but found myself in interruptus, frustrated. However, the vocal theme to his song is haunting my head, so I will return.

Pulseye- ‘Magnet’, EP

Darkly destructive electronica fused with jazz drums and pugilist, growling bass. Intriguing titles sadly do not deliver on promise, unsubtle, literal interpretations of their subjects, and while each has an element of all too brief individuality, ultimately all four pieces manage to achieve similarly clumsy predatory tone, unifying drums and bass bludgeoning nuance into oblivion. Possibly an exercise in improvisation, musicianship is highly evident, but to my ordinary ears, incoherent, meandering and rather unkempt. ‘Kissing Like Piranhas (Self Destruction Disguised As Love)’, ‘Night Skydiving (Desire To Men is Gravity To Earth)’, ‘The Last Bullfight (Ultimatum Por El Matador)', ‘Valchaos (Chill Magma Before Use)’ prepared me for captivation but turned out to be mere words.

Reviews by Chumki Banerjee

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