Category Archives: Albums

Straylings – Entertainment on Foreign Ground. 7.5/10

Straylings Entertainment on Foreign Ground
Straight off the bat, Straylings bring only good things to a listener’s life. Personally, their new album has inspired an absolute binge on Mazzy Star and all things Hope Sandoval, and if there’s one thing I love about finding new music, it’s that moment that you re-discover old music because of it. If that was the only thing worthy of merit in Straylings debut LP, Entertainment on Foreign Ground, then it’d be a great release. Luckily enough for Dana Zeera and Oliver Drake, this record has more than enough substance to stand alone and see it pegged as one of the best underground releases of 2012 so far.

Opener ‘Carver’s Kicks’ stomps through your preconceptions in dusty leather, raw yet elegant, while the opening hooks of ‘Sleep Shapes’ are reminiscent of a scuzzier Elliott Smith. Zeera’s vocals are wonderfully and unsettlingly detached from Drake’s moody guitar meanderings, inviting an obvious comparison to Karen O in their reverb-drenched growls. Straylings play to their strengths throughout the album, with the rolling piano of ‘The Spoils’ evoking a cinematic bar-brawl and the playfulness of ‘The Unravelling of Mr Ed’, while ‘To Lay Down Roots’ is a chilling americana closer.

There’s an argument that a slightly firmer hand might have chopped the running time of the record down to its benefit, but this is a great collection of tracks that are richly distinctive, repeatedly wide-eyed and unique, and refreshingly confident.

From Joe Abbitt.

Sucking Lemons.

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Givers – In Light. 7/10.

Givers - In Light

It’d be less of an understatement and more downright bloody obvious to say that Givers’ first single, ‘Up Up Up’, was absolutely played to death on the radio waves since its release. And adverts. And telly montages. You get the idea. As ace a debut single it might be, ten hours of singing “Yeah, we up up up!” to yourself is enough to drive anyone a little crazy. Basically, that kind of irresistible happiness does get boring, folks. So it’s perhaps a blessing in disguise that it appears on In Light as the opening track – no needless skipping to the only track you know.

Saying that, it’s highly likely that you’ve also heard ‘Meantime’, the just-as-infectious, just as bounce-inducingly bonkers second single. The Louisiana outfit could, quite fairly, be accused of front loading their debut record just a bit here, but for the mental opening rush being taken down a relieved notch on ‘Saw You First‘, which showcases their ever present harmonies to subtler effect.

These subtleties deserve a mention; amid the cacophony of Jamaican-Brazilian drumming and insane tempos hide some really quite impressive electric-guitar flourishes and MGMT-esque synths. They’re the same small touches that made Vampire Weekend’s debut so absorbing too, and In Light feels a lot like Vampire Weekend caked in layers of riotous noise and general nuttiness.

Like the band’s hometown, this record is a melting pot of influences and tried and tested styles. Most work to the utmost of success, like ‘Ceiling of Plankton’, where Animal Collective-isms and a star-gazing naivety tone down the hyperactivity to a more palatable notch. Some, like the stripped back, seven and a half minutes ‘Go Out All Night’ really don’t act as anything more than throwaways. It’s a cracking sentiment, but Givers, unfortunately, haven’t set it to music all that well.

But for the odd missed mark, this is a mostly great debut. Probably the most refreshing and, strangely enough, least obvious thing about it is the fact that it sounds so much like a collection of tracks inspired by a certain lifestyle. At the risk of mawkishness, the band’s appreciation of their home and of the musical diversity it offers lends this album a feeling of authenticity. You might not fancy the over-active drumming, or the twirling, sea-sick tempo changes, but it takes a cold hearted music fan not to appreciate the feel of a record, and so while Givers’ In Light might not exactly be the gift that keeps on giving, it’ll give you enough for a good while at the very least. Particularly in the sun.

From Joe Abbitt.

Sucking Lemons.

We Were Promised Jetpacks – In The Pit Of The Stomach. 8.5/10.

Difficult second album syndrome refers to an instance in which a second, or sophmore, album fails to live up to the standards of the first effort.  Cheers Wikipedia, invaluable as always.  This curse has affected great bands for decades, from The Stone Roses to The Strokes, so isn’t it refreshing when a band follow up a great LP (2009’s These Four Walls) with something even more impressive?  We Were Promised Jetpacks have done just this with their second record In The Pit Of The Stomach.  Recorded in Iceland in Sigur Ros’ studio no less, the album marks a noticeable progression and development in the band’s sound.  Ambitious and intelligently arranged throughout, it’s evident the band have rushed nothing and created a record where even the tiniest element has been lovingly perfected and refined.

Things kick off in a frantic, breathless fashion with the superb Circles And Squares.  Crashing, manic drums and choppy, distorted guitars providing the perfect backdrop for Adam Thompson’s distant vocal and as the first track reaches it’s stunning climax it’s clear we’ve got something quite special on our hands.  First single Medicine follows, complete with massive and infectious chorus; it’s a band at the top of their game, exuding confidence and ambition.  Act On Impulse initially highlights a softer side to the band, before the tranquility is quickly replaced by an inevitable build up of noise.  Lyrically dark and sombre “you were dead when we arrived/you died on impact”, it’s another engaging and intelligent piece of music and illustrates how far this band have come.

The record continues in a similarly impressive fashion.  Sore Thumb although more instrumental and subtle is still forward thinking and dynamic throughout.  Human Error the shortest and perhaps most orthodox track on the album is still superb.  Album closer Pear Tree strips things back, and gives us a tender and gentle couple of minutes before slowly piece by piece building up again to a soaring and spectacular conclusion.

So about that difficult second album… We Were Promised Jetpacks have succeeded where countless others have failed and delivered a second album that has exceeded expectations.  In The Pit Of The Stomach is a bold, clever and adventurous record throughout and is exactly how a band should approach album number two.

From Alex Walker

Sucking Lemons.

The Drums – Portamento. 3/10.

The release of the self-titled debut by The Drums seems like an awful long time ago already. However, it’s actually only been a year since that release and in that time, they’ve managed to pick up as many critics as they have fans, lose a band member and record their new album Portamento. Considering that bands often take years to release their second album, it comes as a refreshing change that The Drums have enough confidence and ideas to release a new album in such a short period of time.

Or at least, that is, until you play this record. Opening track ‘Book Of Revelation’, is in fact no revelation whatsoever, picking up where they left off and sounding not too dissimilar to fan favourite ‘Book Of Stories’. But herein lies the problem – the sense of familiarity becomes overbearing far too quickly. In fact, the first six songs on this album sound virtually identical, so much so that it becomes painfully clear that this is a rushed release. If you’re already a fan, you may well be enticed once again by their trademark sound and retro basslines, but the lack of growth here is startling.

There are some positives though. Even their harshest critics would find it difficult to criticise the band’s lush harmonies (although it probably says a lot about a record when the backing vocals are one of the only saving graces). When they do decide to try something a bit different, they do actually succeed. ‘Searching For Heaven’ acts as the centrepiece of the album, with a sparse, cold synth that proves that when they bother to, The Drums can live up to the hype.

Sadly, the energy, naivety and sense of fun that defined their debut EP and record are all totally absent here. Nearly every song is indistinguishable from the next, to the point that it sounds like they’re playing the same song over and over again. The fact that that one song is merely okay makes this an even sadder affair.

Closing with ‘How it Ended’, singer Jonathan Pierce repeats the line “I don’t know how it ended, I don’t know where you ran to, I’ll always be right here.” Well it ends as it began, with bitter disappointment. Unless they have a major rethink next time around, The Drums will definitely not be here for much longer.

3/10.

From Craig Jones.

Sucking Lemons.

Pure X – Pleasure. 7/10

Pure X -Pleasure

My God, hasn’t this shoegazey-summer thing been absolutely done to death? Yes! I hear you cry. Whether or not it’s been done to death well, however, is another matter entirely. And this is where Austin trio Pure X roll up, because they do do it well. Better than most, in fact.

Name change or no name change (the band were originally called Pure Ecstasy), the sentiment remains the same; they still channel the very effect that their moniker strives for. If you’re in the market for immediate and catchy choruses to belt your indie lungs out to, you’re probably not going to find much to fall in love with. Each track is about patience, unravelling themselves like some drug-fuelled, reverb-laden mess (an awfully good mess, mind) into your ears. Indeed, if this album were any more laid back, it’d be in danger of keeling over. That’s not to say there’s not a wealth of joy to be had from Pleasure, just that upon the tenth or twelfth listen it suggests slowly diminishing returns.

Recording live might not be a feat to behold in some people’s ears, but it’s this quality that lends the album a playability rarely heard in other similarly produced efforts. Sure, play this through your tinny laptop speakers for a while, but after that we implore you, no, we beg you to sit alone in your room and stick this on your headphones. It sounds truly magnificent.

It must be said that Jesse Jenkins knows his way around a bass line; they seem to literally melt out of the speakers, especially on ‘Dry Ice’ and ‘Easy’. Coupled with the pedal-perfect guitar work of Nate Grace, Pleasure is some of the most textured music around. Elsewhere, opener ‘Heavy Air’ is about as magnificent an instrumental opener as you’re sure to find, sounding like a muggy day soundtracked by a strung-out Psychocandy, while ‘Twisted Mirror’ beats out the darkest of summery gloom and ‘Surface’ careers off track into the nearest this album ever gets to a dance tune. It’s like club music in super slomo. Brilliant.

From Joe Abbitt.

Sucking Lemons.

Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne. 9/10.


On this album’s second track, ‘Lift Off’, Beyonce asks “How many people you know could take it this far?”. Well Beyonce, you pose an interesting question that leads me to the realisation that frankly, the answer is nobody. With an all star cast of producers and some of the most expensive sampling of recent years, there is no way any other pair of artists in the rap game could produce an album this rich.

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Beirut – The Rip Tide. 8/10.

In spite of his youth, Zach Condon’s musical output with Beirut has always owed a debt to the past. As a result, the success of 2006’s debut Gulag Orkestar was as unprecedented as it was welcome. Even more welcome is Beirut’s third album, The Rip Tide, as they shed the international theme of previous records for a more introspective feel.

Opening track ‘A Candle’s Flame’ greets us like a familiar friend, with that characteristic blare of horns that Beirut fans will already know and love. Most noticeable though, is the new found strength in Condon’s voice. Remaining as distinctive as ever before, this is without doubt his most confident and accomplished vocal delivery to date.

Having dabbled with an electronic sound on 2009’s EP March of the Zapotec/Holland, it becomes immediately apparent that Condon was true to his word when describing that work as an experiment, as The Rip Tide is a return to the baroque stylings of Gulag Orkestar and The Flying Club Cup. Despite that, ‘Santa Fe’, is the closest Beirut have ever come to a genuine and thrilling pop song, as a combination of horns and pounding drums collide with a catchy keyboard melody.

Whilst there is a joyful and sunny disposition scattered throughout this record, the introspection and theme of loneliness does not go unnoticed. ‘Goshen’ is a particular highlight – a restrained, delicate ballad, which sees Condon expressing a vulnerability and tenderness not previously seen on a Beirut record. Similarly, on ‘The Peacock’ Condon sings of isolation and unanswered questions. As he croons “he’s the only one who knows the words”, you get the impression that he rightly feels a disparity between himself and other songwriters.

What makes The Rip Tide such a rewarding listen is the contrast between personal melancholy and gorgeous melodies. Closing track ‘Port Of Call’ is a case in point and probably their finest song yet. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Beirut song, with Condon’s enchanting ukulele and a symphony of horns leading to a thrilling climax.

With only nine songs and lasting just 33 minutes, it’s easy to let The Rip Tide wash over you on the first listen. However, repeated listens reveal it to be a vital and endlessly enjoyable record. Condon’s youthful vigour has been replaced with an evident maturity – not one second here is wasted. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Beirut have kept it spinning to make their most captivating and rewarding record to date.

Key Tracks: Goshen, Port Of Call.

From Craig Jones

Sucking Lemons.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm. 6.5/10.

Ben Francis Leftwich - Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm

Since Elliott Smith passed away in 2003 it seems like all of sudden we’ve been flooded with singer-songwriter types. As difficult as it is to be bitter with him, there’s a sense that Smith’s passing is to blame for the cloying replacements that fill the emotional voids of teen telly and John Lewis adverts. A clutch of relatively impressive singles ago Benjamin Francis Leftwich seemed the type who could sit atop the plaid-clad sob-mob that began with Mumford and Sons, and while Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm is certainly a step away from that faux-folk routine, it falls disappointingly short of anything outstanding or groundbreaking.

Leftwich sets his stall out with ‘Pictures’, and there are fewer more interesting opening lines to a debut album than “if you crash a car/into your best friend’s house”. Built around a prettily picked guitar line and a hushed, double-tracked vocal, it’s a previous single that at the time showcased an ear for a great melody and still does on this record. When ‘Box Of Stones’ follows, we’re treated to the same finger-picking trick but with a little bit more meat around it, building instead to a violin-accompanied chorus. The smoky haze of Leftwich’s voice takes much from the wistfulness of Elliott Smith and Nick Drake, and it provides a prettiness that is more than appealing. But as the old adage runs, it becomes too much of a good thing. When you get past ‘Atlas Hands’, which on first listen was a goldenly pop-sensible, lovely track (and remains so on the album), each half-whispered vocal fades off into the background of each plucked guitar line. It’s a shame, but suggests that maybe Last Smoke… would’ve found better fortune as an EP release.

In fairness, there’s absolutely nothing to sneer at on this record. It’s polite and unchallenging, but therein lies the reason it loses grip so easily. At times, it’s about as edgy as a wet cardigan. Without the imagination of Leftwich’s song writing, you feel the album would tread tepid water with the likes of James Blunt/Morrison. As it is, Leftwich has produced a debut that offers sincerity and a well crafted song or three but lacks the longevity and depth of other, admittedly older and more experienced, singer-songwriter efforts.

Key Tracks: ‘Pictures’, ‘Atlas Hands’

6.5/10.

From Joe Abbitt.

Sucking Lemons.

Wu Lyf – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain. 9.5/10.

WU LYF is nothing, four dumb kids calling out heavy longings for a place to call home, two brothers greet two brothers and play heavy pop. I don’t feel at home in this place, like your heart’s drunk on kerosene and all you need is a spark. A lil’ flare of Lucifer. And in blind faith they believe what they are told to believe and exploit your true mamma until her blood runs blue. The wind on the mountain laps tame, its wild years replaced by an air-conditioning unit, sleek and metallic, molded perfection. And in efficient regulation the people were conditioned and were told there’s no alternative son. To tell fire is to question, to bring fuel to the fires started by kids no longer blinded by spectacle glare.

So go tell fire”

World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation sounds more like some sort of anti-Christ non governmental organisation. But what they are is a reincarnation of an old type of band. Laden in punk sensibilities they are creating what they call ‘heavy pop’. The modern journalists dream is to persuade readers of personal opinions through the use of superlative language and sensationalise fads. But what do you do when the band themselves are inherently fulfilling the journalists job through their music and their image? For Wu Lyf, all you need to do is take a look at their website, listen to their album to realise they transcend the ordinary. Sans hyperbole, they are simply exciting and talented showmen and musicians.

The opening track begins with soulful gospel like organ playing. Simmering slowly in the background are the drums and guitars until a minute or so in the band pick up speed and singer howls the almost unintelligible. But in the same way that Joe Strummer slurred his words, you assume he’s something important even if you aren’t clued up to what it actually is.

The album continues in this lyrically ambiguous yet arresting vein. The beginning of ‘Cave Song’ sounds like it’s spoken in French instead, with the a little lyrical direction from the website, he’s crying “Nah the blood runs out/Mark red lines across the pavement/whilst the snow falls down/stained crimson on the pavement.” So, they were saying something important…

‘Cave Song’ is definitely a high point on the album, exhibiting not just lyrical prowess but musical also. They are a group of jilted young adults from (would you believe it if you heard it?) Manchester with far more musical understanding than many of their already established compatriots.

It is no more apparent than in ‘We Bros’ that these guys have issues with the world, in that youthful libertarianist way. “It is a sad song/that makes a man put/ money before life”. What they hate is capitalist slavery, professional pretence and men in suits. They want to go back to a time when people just were: “When the mountain comes falling/true riches you will find”. Criticise them of naïve idealism but their passion is enigmatic, at least.

‘Dirt’ is their signature track and also the track you’re greeted with on their website. With stomping drums and Vito Corleone meets punk vocals, it’s hard to find a better track right now that could has all the potential to start a riot…especially in the current political climate.

They are the first to admit that they don’t fit in. ‘Heavy Pop’ is a cry for a home, a place to house the ideals and principles they showcase in this album. They question all things introjected in others and this is what makes them different musically. They recorded this album in three weeks…in a church…using funds from the wider Lucifer Youth Foundation (which all can join at a fee of £15, all used in good creative spirit). With this innovation and unrivalled talent at this time, they have created a great album. Simple. Maybe the best of the year so far

9.5/10.

From Michelle Kambasha.

Sucking Lemons.

Patrick Wolk – Lupercalica. 7.5/10.

For those in the know, it’s always been somewhat of a mystery why Patrick Wolf hasn’t yet reached a wider audience. In 2003, he revealed himself to be an intellectual and challenging young artist unlike any other, blending folk and electronic music to extraordinary effect. Across his following three following albums, he has displayed an endless array of ideas, ranging from brooding introspection to huge pop anthems. So his new album Lupercalia is a pivotal moment in his career, having never hidden his desire to be a huge pop star, now is possibly his final throw of the dice.

There has always been a peculiar divide amongst Patrick’s fanbase – those who are willing to accept his desire to change and evolve with each record, and those who crave the darkness of his early records. Considering the album title refers to an ancient festival of love and that Wolf has recently announced he is to marry his partner William Pollock, it’s safe to say that the camp of darkness could well be left disappointed.

They shouldn’t be though, for Lupercalia is a triumphant, unifying record – a celebration of love and hope. Many will already be familiar with the two tracks that open the album, ‘The City’ and ‘House’, both of which act as a summary for the album as a whole.  Both will be obvious playlist choices for radio stations throughout the Summer, but it’s the latter which should see Wolf reach a new audience with its soaring chorus and beautiful, uplifting melody.

‘Bermondsey Street’ is a more restrained number, which sees Wolf once again singing of love’s unknowing limits as he plucks at a harp. It’s the kind of song Lady Gaga was aiming for with ‘Born This Way’, but whereas she comes across as disgustingly patronising and opportunistic, this is a real moment of beauty.

As is the case on all his records, it is once again the more melancholy moments where Wolf’s undeniable talent reveals itself. ‘Armistice’ is arguably his strongest vocal delivery ever, proving that you don’t need huge choruses to attract the listener’s attention, as sometimes a whisper can be louder than a scream.

If there’s one thing you should expect from Wolf, it’s the unexpected. The electronic sound that he has discarded in recent years appears once more, as ‘Together’ blends an anthemic chorus of unity with a riveting dance beat. It’s not a song you’ll be a hearing on the radio anytime soon, but it’s the one song here which will definitely appeal to his old fans hoping for a slight return to the sound of debut album Lycanthropy.

There was a danger of Lupercalica sounding too self involved, but Wolf has succeeded in creating a joyful record, which should see him win over new fans and appease his current audience. Whether Patrick Wolf finally cracks the mainstream with his fifth album remains to be seen, but it’s certainly the closest he will ever come to doing so.

7.5/10.

From Craig Jones.

Sucking Lemons.