Archive for May, 2010

Who? Karen Elson

Title: The Ghost Who Walks
Third Man/ XL
Tell me more:
It is, upon hearing this album, surprising to learn that Elson is a top model, her red hair and pale face selling all sorts of expensive perfumes and clothes. In between photo shoots and picking up hefty cheques, the British-born, now Nashville-based Elson was writing songs and performing live.
The Lowdown:
Given her modelling background I would have expected some sort of mush that could fit easily into commercial radio jock’s playlist. But not many of these songs will filter through the car stereos during the breakfast hour. There’s an eerie, neo-gothic sound to The Ghost Who Walks, a sense that here’s a band that watched Cabaret before popping on Nick Cave or PJ Harvey, and having had a bellyful of bourbon too. Elson evokes the edgier side of country on Cruel Summer and gives an impression of someone looking for something unfortunate to happen, as The Birds They Circle. From the gothic cover to the lyrics, the notion of Elson is that of a mysterious girl you may not take home to your mother. And sometimes she overplays this role. A surprisingly enchanting album that covers a lot of ground, emotions and ideas.

Anything else? The ubiquitous Jack White produces. Well, he should, he is her husband.

Who? The National

Title: High Violet
Tell me more:
When the press release reveals little more than line-up, history and namechecks artists they’ve played with at festivals and on projects, you know this is a band that maybe isn’t quite rock and roll in the traditional sense. The National is a great name for a band though: there’s so many words that could be added: Rifle Association, Party, Lottery, Railways etc. The five-piece have been around for more than a decade with various albums garning heaps of praise, but the most important one is this.
The Lowdown:
Initially, High Violet seems like more mood music, the sound you would get if Muse were in the studio while battling with an almighty hangover. That’s the impression gleaned from the opening two tracks, Terrible Love and Sorrow, but from there on, it moves into another gear, Little Faith being particularly illuminating, catchy even. From Conneticut they may hail, but you would be excused for comparing them to Manchester’s Editors or many of the other similar Northern English bands. Later listens reveal more, of a band with a broad musical taste, with some thoughtful lyrics and, while it is generally lo-fi, there’s the ghost of early REM abounding.

Anything else? They contain two sets of brothers, the Devendorfs and the Dessners. Sounds like a bunch of New York solicitors. Barack Obama used a track from a previous album on a campaign video.

Who? The Wurzels

Title: A Load More Bullocks
Tell me more:
A cider-sodden west country (England that is) band who play the Glastonbury Festival, Europe’s biggest and boldest, next month. This is the band that took Combine Harvester all then way to the British top ten in the 1970s. Putting the fun into dysfunctional.
The Lowdown:
The Wurzels are a truly English tradition, something that couldn’t translate anywhere else. Hence a tracklisting that includes Take That’s Up All Night, the Kaiser Chiefs’ Ruby, The Stranglers’ Golden Brown, Spinal Tap’s Sex Farm and best of all, their own particular take on Pulp’s Common People. All hail the deranged, piss-taking, funny bones of rock and roll.

Anything else? As you might have guessed this is a follow-up album, to Nevermind the Bullocks, which slaughtered Robbie Williams, Blur, Oasis and Chumbawamba.

Who? Sonia Bullot

Title: Tonight On Trumpet
Jayrem Records
Tell me more:
Bullot is a product of a Wellington jazz school and a former member of the Queen City Big Band.
The Lowdown:
The press release came with a note: I hope it is ‘your cuppa tea’. Well, that almost sounds like a challenge, or some gentle mockery, given what’s been reviewed in Porky’s Prime Cuts before. But we have Catholic tastes here and don’t just listen to Half Man Half Biscuit and death muzak all day. So let’s have a listen .. track one, mmm, nice jazz; track two, more trumpets; track three, hey that’s a pop-jazz standard once covered by Elvis Costello; track five, admirable doing a Miles Davis tune; track eight, yet more trumpet. Now, the title does provide a wee clue as to the contents. Lovely jubbly.

Anything else? She formed a band called Flibberty Jibbit once.


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Who? Various folk (but it’s not ‘folk’)

Title: Ministry of Sound presents … Electronic Anthems of the 80s

Tell me more: The 1980s seem to be associated with, more than anything, outrageous hairstyles. Phil Oakey’s hair was on one side of his head, the frontman of A Flock of Seagulls had a two pointy bits on the temples, and Boy George appeared to have put some bread and nuts on his barnet and let the birds get at it before any Top of the Pops appearance. Oakey appears three times on this triple album, with the obligatory Love Action (I Believe in Love), the pre-dancing girls Human League’s Being Boiled and a solo outing with Giorgio Moroder (which means it wasn’t really a solo outing but you know what I mean). And yes, the Seagulls are also here, possibly having dropped one on Boy George beforehand.

The Lowdown: If this was typical of a record label suit’s selection it would be littered with Spandau Ballet and Ultravox, and while those buggers get a tokenistic inclusion, this is surprisingly top-heavy with electronic music that was, in it’s own way, the antithesis of the style over substance New Romantic movement – New Order’s Blue Monday, OMD, Japan, Simple Minds, Devo, M/A/R/R/S, Bronski Beat, Talk Talk, Joy Division, Propaganda, and It’s Immaterial, who bear absolute nothing in common with any of the above. Simple Minds produced one of the most startling albums of the decade, New Gold Dream, from which the rousing title track is on disk two. This was peak Minds, the experimentation having been channelled into pop, a fusion of funk, electro and glam-rock. It’s easy to dismiss the decade but without it we wouldn’t have Tubeway Army’s colossus Cars (actually released in 1979), Blondie’s rap-rock Rapture and the Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls. Nowadays we have electronica being recorded from the almost good (Robbie Williams) to the great (Kasabian, Ladytron, Disasterradio) and all of them will have been influenced in some way by the originators, such as Kraftwerk but it was these people who made electronica accessible.

Anything else? Alas, you can’t have any 80s compilation without the brats at the back attempting to spoil it for everyone, but there is the skip feature for the Thompson Twins, Soft Cell, Kim Wilde, Go West (more MOR than electronica), Paul Hardcastle and Johnny Hates Jazz (?!). Whatever possessed them?

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