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The Gymslips – Rocking With the Renees: The Punk Collection

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Captain Oi! Records, 1999

Well, you know how I am by now I would think.  I see something from Captain Oi! records with an album cover that has an illustrated story of what looks like someone’s day.  Then there’s the front-and-center pair of jubblies that sort of overshadows the fact all of the ladies involved on the cover have short hair and look a bit tough.  So yes, when I picked this up I figured it as a punk record which made it a bonafide gimme when it comes to attracting my hard earned quarters.  I was a bit confused by what the band name represented (turns out it’s a full length tunic with a pleated skirt that kids wear to school) as well as the fact that the title of the album references a group called the Renees.  Two group names?  Jubblies?  What’s going on?  Let this be a lesson to any dollar bin shopper that when one begins to over think their purchase, they should just pop themselves in the eye and hand over the money.  Why bother with the details?

The Gymslips sound as they look, and that is blue collar rock ‘n roll.  However, whereas one might think there’s a lot of yelling and abrasive guitar screeching the Gymslips actually have a pop edge with a bit of humor.  The introduction of “Renees” (pronounced ree-knees) includes a chorus of “We’re the Renees/here we come/1-2-3/and up your bum”.  Hmm, oh really?  One of my favorite tracks, “Drink Problem” follows with an exceptionally catchy chorus of “Whiskey makes you frisky/gin makes you sin/brandy makes you randy/and rum makes you …”.  The band trails off, but if you’re good with rhyming and can think of a word that relates to being randy, well, there you have it.  The speedy pop punk of these songs begin the record off excellently, and if you like that no frills sound then the rest of the record is your kind of thing.

Along with their British accents, which sound a bit cockney, the allure of the Gymslips are their song subject choices.  They have a song about “Face Lifts”, which details a woman’s unfortunate vericose vein issue as well as a lady who is “a big fat lump at 21 going thin on top”.  Oof.  The liner notes mention that the song “Yo Yo” is titled so because it’s about someone whose underwear tends to go up and down.   I merely like the title of “Silly Egg”, which is a term used as an endearing thing to call someone else for being goofy.  Oh, those British.  The Gymslips do manage to get serious once in awhile, for “Thinking of You” is a light pop love song about yearning for another.  This gives the Gymslips a little bit of depth, though most of their songs are lighter fare so don’t think you’ll be wrapped up in too much emotion during the 27 tracks.

Unfortunately as the album continues on the lyrics and liner notes go away in the booklet, which is a pity since they were enlightening.  Along with the loss of information comes with a dip in interesting songs, for they get more polished and a lot more eighties.  Synthesizers, proper singing, and a general departure from the pop punk origins turn the Gymslips into just another band from that era.  There are remnants of the old Gymslips on songs like “Wonderland”, which if one gets by the prominant synthesizers one will appreciate the nearly spoken vocals and the catchy refrains.  The group leans a little more towards Blondie’s path on songs like “Loves Not the Answer”, where nearly all of the grit is gone and is replaced by a band that is enjoying the comforts of lightweight, toss off pop.   It’s not the greatest send off given the earlier songs, but since these later tracks are from 1984 I suppose it is understandable (or even inevitable).

It is amazing to see that a rather obscure UK pop punk band band from the eighties has a French fansite up!  And it’s being updated … since 2001!  Definitely check that place out for pictures or go to the MySpace page to hear a few tunes.

Ultimately, half the album had the eighties garage pop/punk sound that I love, which made it worth the purchase by far.   Even with the latter half of the record saturated by eighties musical trends, nearly every song has a catchy element that makes the whole record fun to listen to.   It helps that this collection of tunes is most of what the Gymslips released via vinyl singles, so it gives a pretty good overview of what the Gymslips were about during their half decade tenure.  And really, aside from a few tracks on some seven inch records, this CD is pretty much everything one is needs to get a great taste of the Gymslips.  Given that I got it for an affordable price perhaps readers will have the same kind of luck if they look around.

The Magic Numbers – Those the Brokes

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment

EMI Records, 2006

Ah finally, I can play a game with my readers.  Quick!  Pick out who in the album art is not a woman.  Hurry, you’re running out of … oh, yeah, the ones with beards.  Well, they all have nice sets of hair, eh?  They also look very relaxed and rather content staring out of the window at us.  The really hairy guy is even waving at us.  Unless this is some kind of black metal ruse pitched at luring us in for the epic assault, these guys are probably cute and cuddly with their music.  Well, wouldn’t you know!

This British quartet know how to spin a very fine pop song.  I don’t know how anyone who is into pop music couldn’t excessively salivate during the opener of “This Is a Song”.  Granted, it’s five minutes which doesn’t typify a pop length, but it has all those elements that can sweep one up (if one allows one to get swept up).  From the light vocals of Romeo Stodart to the pretty backup vocals of Angela Gannon and sister Michele Stodart to the appealing changes across the choruses and verses, “This Is a Song” sets this album up to be a great one.

“Take a Chance” is another excellent song that has an intro that reminds me of M83 (circa “Before the Dawn Heals Us”) as well as the Strokes (circa always).  The quick, cheerful tempo combined with Romeo Stodart’s honeyed vocals easily make it an instant hit.  The group slow grooves it with “Boy”, which I guess was inevitable because if they had kept going as they were going I was going to explode with self-hugging gushiness.  Whew, dodged that.  The song might come across as too delicate, especially near the end when the ladies are singing forlornly, but one could give them a pass after the earlier greatness.  It takes a few songs to get to “Keep It In the Pocket”, which is another sureshot pop beauty.  I confess, it has a lot to do with the “ooh ooh ooh ooh”s that the group excellently employ between verses.  Honestly, how easy and yet how wonderful do a few oohs sometimes sound?  The Magic Numbers know how to do it without sounding too forced.

I have to say, after hearing the first half of the album I was searching around the Internet wondering where these guys ranked in the top 50 albums of 2007.  I mean, wow, this is some seriously awesome pop music!  I’m really liking it and what the heck?  Not even in the top 50 of 2007?  Are you KIDDING me?!  I mean, how could this fantastic record get utterly ignored in 2007 unless something murdered the successful build up of the first seven tracks?  There’s no way that the last four could’ve done something so terrible as to … oh, but they do.

As it was hinted on “Boy”, the Magic Numbers do have a penchant to get a bit slow.  Well, the last four tracks are all slow and make the final stretch a little dull.  Why’d they kill the momentum?  “Take Me Or Leave Me” is forgivable in that it could just pose as the serious, heartfelt quiet song that employs strings and wilting vocals by one of the ladies.  Too bad it takes nearly five minutes, which probably makes it feel a lot longer than it really is.  Unfortunately, it sets up the derailment in interest until the end of the record.

“Let Somebody In” is another slow plodder that is quaint but man, not after “Take Me Or Leave Me”.  Too much is too much.  “Runnin’ Out” tries to save things with its overabundance of momentum, but it just doesn’t have the same hook as “Take a Chance” or “Keep It In the Pocket”.  No matter, for whatever rekindling of pop fervor it could have alighted “Goodnight” ends up much too sappy as a finish.  And hey, to add a little salt to the final run of songs the hidden track that lurks is even slower and quieter than anything heard before.  (snore)  Ultimately, the last group of tracks are a real let down to listen to the end of the record knowing how excellent the lead up was.  So yeah, that’s probably why this didn’t get on many (or any) 2007 lists.

The Magic Numbers have a very neat, professional-looking website to check out.  Then there’s MySpace.  We all know about MySpace.  By the way, one of the genres the site lists the band as is ‘psychedelic’.  Oh, that’s a good one.  I will say that MySpace sometimes looks psychedelic, though.

Well, where to go from here?  The Magic Numbers had a record before and after this one, so one could take a chance on their earlier stuff as possibly being more poppy and fun.  One could also hope the Magic Numbers created a few more good tunes on their follow up record, yet at the same time dread that they went completely soft.  I’ll have to find out and let you know.  In the meantime, the Magic Numbers are still out there making music that you might be able to catch live at some point when they’re Stateside.  They’re certainly a band to go check out if you like your indie pop at a level that rides the line between catchy and catch z’s.

New Model Army – Great Expectations (The Singles Collection)

August 22, 2011 4 comments

Superperfecta Recordings, 2003

I hate feeling behind the times or ignorant of something important that has occurred.  I occasionally worry that someday someone will ask me for a particular detail of a war fought or a famous person that lived and I will draw a befuddled blank.  When I picked up this record and saw that it was a singles collection of some group named New Model Army, I looked around nervously.  I, uh, have never heard of New Model Army.  I know a little more about NWA than I do about NMA.  Opening the CD case I saw a few pictures where the lead singer was shown with four different haircuts, meaning the group had been around awhile.  Unlike a previous group I reviewed, these guys looked legitimately like long term veterans.  (gulp)  Before I risked further musical cred indecency, I brought the album up to the counter and picked it up.  I refrained from saying “I love these guys” to the lady at the counter…

When I looked up the band when I got home the truth hit straight and center:  New Model Army has been around for thirty years and they’re rather big in England.  (sigh)  Well, better really, really, really late than never, right?!  Since this collection of songs range a full thirty years, one is going to hear a whole lot of fluctuation of sound.  Songs like “Great Expectations” and “The Price” sound like they’re from that big hair, bright clothes era, while “Orange Tree Roads” gives a more modern impression.  Before I get into song specifics, I will say that despite some instrumental differences the band has been quite consistent in its sound for thirty years.

Most songs on the collection are uptempo rock ‘n roll with a few slower tracks here and there.  The band really doesn’ t get all that creative when it comes to instrumentation, nor do they bother with gimmicky silences, sax solos, or any other sort of sound that diverges from their usual drive.  “Here Comes the War” is a typical song of theirs with a consistent drum tempo and rousing choruses.  Along with the band’s ability to simmer with drawn out energy, Justin Sullivan’s vocals probably serve as the strongest instrument.  When he delivers the verses he sounds resigned with hints of frustration, yet on the chorus he is shouting a call to arms.  Sullivan tends to do this throughout the entire album, preventing the listener from assuming too much of how a song will flow.

What is quickly evident about the early New Model Army songs is that they don’t have your usual light-hearted, whimsical lyrics like most eighties songs.  The “Great Expectations” song could easily be considered as a straightforward rocker from the post-punk days, but it has a real yearning about having hopes dashed due to the expectation of joining the capitalist legions.  “Green and Grey” reads as this love letter to a disgruntled man who is fed up with living in a small town and heads off to the city, only to leave his confused buddy behind in the small town.  The song “51st State” definitely rings a bit close to home, considering it appears to be about the fact that England is a little too friendly with what the United States are interested in.  Yeah, given that this song was written back in the eighties during the Reagan years with Tony Blair and 9/11 still in the future, the song’s stinging words still seem to resonate.  Just these three songs alone show that while the U.S. was feeling good about lucky stars, walking like an Egyptian, and oh Mickey you’re so fine in the eighties, these guys were bringing the serious over in England.

I found that of all the eighteen tracks on this collection, one of the songs that would make me want to hear more of New Model Army is “Orange Tree Roads”.  This song surprised me, for the song came out in 2000 and track record has it that a band tends to lose a lot of its allure the older it gets.  For instance, rarely would I even bother to listen to a Stones, Bowie or Who track now over something they did thirty years ago, for usually the recent tune sounds tepid and watered down.  However, with New Model Army’s consistency “Orange Tree Roads” sounds rather fresh and engaging as if the group was many years younger.  Though Sullivan is the last original guy left, the band still sounds like it could entertain long time fans as well as curious new listeners.

Of course, a band around this long has a website and MySpace page.  However, if you’re up for some British history as well, check out the original New Model Army.

The fact that I actually scored this album for a quarter adds to its Bargain status, but ultimately it’s a solid collection of rock tunes from a band that isn’t all that well known here in the States.  I imagine that if one were to hang around London for awhile they’d not only get a better idea of the band’s popularity but also a chance to see them live once in awhile (which would very likely be worth the time).  For those looking to explore a group that has some real history and fans behind it, put a few spins aside for New Model Army sometime.

Starsailor – Love is Here

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Capitol Records, 2002

Picking up an album that has songs like “Lullaby” and “Love is Here” usually induces my gag reflex, but sometimes the price dictates the irresponsibility.  Starsailor’s debut album didn’t cost me a full buck, which really helps to stoke the free-wheelin’ fires that tend to keep my wallet warm.  I could say that I went off the deep end that day, but that’s another story for another time.  I will say that regardless of the price the album cover has a bright, yet desolate, vibe.  Include the color scheme as well as the cliched line of ‘where is my life’s train track going?’ and the cover made me feel that Starsailor was going to try and beautify and enrich my listening experience.   Well, either that or this is the view of the listener tied and bound to a train track while Starsailor cackles from afar.  Someone save me?

The album begins solemnly enough with “Tie Up My Hands” and … hey, wait, tie up my hands?!  I AM on the train track!  Someone get me out of here I’m with Starsailor and they are rubbing their hands evilly and (slap, slap) okay … okay … to continue.  The lead singer, James Walsh, pops in and curiously sounds like the guy from Swell Season.  It’s got a high pitch that quivers at its peak and contains the yearning necessary for the given song content.  Considering that the voice never wavers from this approach, it could get a little stale and ineffective as one is swept along from song to song.

Though “Hands” is a quieter track, Starsailor tends to aim for mid-level.  The band builds and maintains a comfortable tempo on tracks like “Poor Misguided Fool” and “Lullaby”, accentuated with a consistent inclusion of piano.  Most tracks are introduced with said piano as a quiet beginning, only to inevitably build up to a swirling pop concoction as evidenced in the popular British single “Fever”.  Really, if you listen to that track on itself you’ll know whether or not you’ll be into Starsailor at all, for it has got all of Starsailor’s musical tricks and choices wrapped into four minutes.

Other songs, like “Way to Fall”, pick up really nicely more than halfway through, but it’s a long three and a half minutes before getting there.  “Talk Her Down” is a great song until the nasally quivering exit. Oof, bad aftertaste.  Finally, given that this is an album that was released in the early 2000’s and certain gimmicks were still around, there’s a hidden track.  But Starsailor blows it.  The hidden track shows up after more than ten minutes of waiting and, surprise, you wait all that time to hear the guys get together and hum for less than a minute. I roll my eyes at you and your decision making, Starsailor.

Given their longevity, Starsailor is all over the place on the internet.  Check out their website, MySpace or Last.fm site if you want to experience some modern British pop.

I guess these guys were noted as a big upcoming band in England during the time that this record was released, and despite what one may think of the vocals and quality of their music they are still releasing albums with modest success.  One could say that Starsailor is wonderful for some people but a little overdone for others, so that means that Starsailor will always find an audience as long as they keep doing what they’re doing.  However, it seems that the group is on haitus so Walsh can pursue a solo career.  Doesn’t that always seem to happen?

Whether it’s the band or the solo artist, Starsailor is still around in some form after a decade.  Therefore, if you end up following Starsailor’s train track into the distance rest assured it’ll probably be a long ride.  Unless, of course, they’ve tied you to that train track.  Then you don’t have long, my pretty.

The Rumble Strips – Girls and Weather

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Gigantic Music, 2007

I am pretty sure this is the best album cover I’ve ever come across in a dollar bin.  There’s been some real eye poppers and a few pretty, artsy ones, but this one is the current winner.  It’s a combination of the positioning of the band members, as well as the band logo on the immense drum, that seems to work for me.  The scenery is also spectacular, and though I have no idea why these guys are trying to get that giant thing up a hill, at least they’re taking the scenic route.  I didn’t care what these guys sounded like when I brought this album home.   I know, I could have fallen into an aesthetically quirky trap.  I’m used to it.

The Rumble Strips are British indie rock, which adds a slight level of excitement because hey, dig that British accent!  The album begins with sorrowful Charlie Waller singing that he has got “No Soul” with only a trumpet as an accompaniment.  After thirty seconds of it, if you couldn’t tell that the song is going to lift off with jubilation, then you haven’t been listening to enough modern indie music.  Hey, you’re better off than me if that’s the case, because it certainly wasn’t a surprise when the Rumble Strips promptly picked it up for an exciting conclusion.  Thankfully they don’t try to pull the same trick anywhere else on the album, for that move is a bit tired.

Aside from the accents, the Rumble Strips could get written off as just another peppy pop band with rock affectations.  However, the addition of a trumpet and saxophone does add some extra strength to the commonplace quartet of the usual instruments.  This is especially evident on the strong “Time” track, which interweaves a horn and guitar early on and, after some Waller wailing, really picks up and jumbles with a heavy dose of drums at the end.  “Alarm Clock” also includes a lot of horns, yet their sound is reminiscent of a few ska tracks I’ve heard in the past.  The horns are just enough to make rather typical British pop rock songs into a little bit more, which only makes them more appealing.

After giving this album a few listens, the only part that I still can’t seem to shake is Waller’s vocals.  Waller sounds like the guy from Art Brut if he decided to sing instead of speak most of his songs.  Better yet, if you’ve heard the Futureheads you’ll get a better idea of how Waller sings, which is slightly over the top and British.  Thing is, the Futureheads have the speed and brevity that makes each song more focused on the notes than the vocals.  By design, the Rumble Strips tend to take more time with their songs and thus Waller has more exposure.  I guess that’s what kills it for me a bit, which I’m sure may not be the case for others.

The Rumble Strips can be heard on their MySpace page but also have a working website as well.  Get your British kicks!

Despite my reservations of the vocals, the Rumble Strips are actually pretty good.  There’s plenty of indie pop rock bands out there but the musical additions, as well as the craftsmanship of the pop songs, make this for a peppy listen.  After a decent enough showing on the UK charts for their second album in 2009, the band hasn’t gotten anything out since.  Lucky for all you blokes and blokettes out there that these guys are merely taking a hiatus to write more for their next album.  Perhaps you can see them roll a drum up to a nearby club or festival stage soon enough!

The Libertines – Self-Titled

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Rough Trade, 2004

Okay, so pretend you don’t know who the Libertines are.  You don’t know about the drugs, the British hype machine, or their unfortunate quick exit.  Take a look at that record cover.  The band name starts out fine, but then looks as if someone tried to finish the project on a country bus.  You’ve got one guy who looks like he is vaguely concerned about his bleached elbow and another guy who has a look of ‘uh, call the ambulance’.  Along with a skull tattoo and that frightening logo in the bottom right corner and you have what amounts to a rock ‘n roll record.  It’d be a shame for anyone to leave this one lying around amidst the dust.

After listening to a few recent British rock bands, I’ve gotten an idea as to what qualities one can expect from rockers out of England.  One quality is that there’s the almost lazy, careless effect to the vocalist’s voice.  Pete Doherty and Carl Barat consistently sound as if they were asked to record/mumble the lyrics in one take while sitting in armchairs with their feet propped up.  Perhaps instead he got them down in many takes with extreme attention to nonchalant detail!  Who knows … the Libertines do have a reputation to uphold, so if they have got to sound as if they’re off the cuff all of the time then they have succeeded.

This singing style is readily apparent in “Last Post On the Bugle”, though the peppy build up and rumblin’ execution of the band makes it one of the stronger tracks on the record.  The lackadaisical swagger in this tune may trump the more radio-friendly opener of “Can’t Stand Me Now”, which was an obvious choice for a single at the time.  Nothing like a song about the difficulties of being friends with Doherty to get the kids going.

Many of the songs after the first two drift in and out of memory but don’t latch on as particularly unique.  Most of them are full of slurry lyrics and a zestful acceleration to a crashing chorus.  The tracks that stand out to me include the barnstorming “Arbeit Macht Frei” (about a racist hero of World War II), “The Saga”, and “What Became of the Likely Lads”.  “Lads” ends the ceaselessly energetic record before the band, of course, slips in a quiet acoustic number performed by Doherty.  I personally feel that when bands do this sort of thing it’s a little too late for stripped down reflections, and it mostly comes off as a trite reach for affection.  The Libertines can be forgiven, I suppose, given that the rest of the record was more enjoyable as a whole.

The Libertines and their music can be found on MySpace if you’re so interested.

Now that the Libertines are defunct, one has to feel a little bit of sadness that their stumbling, carefree attitudes are missing from the touring circuit.  Even if the mumbling sometimes made it tough to know what they were singing about and the drug habits of Doherty made it even more difficult to get them to play anything as a group, the rock fans could use a full-time return of the Libertines.  Although this was their last and record recorded, there is still hope that the Libertines aren’t through with their clamoring style yet.

Prinzhorn Dance School – S/T

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

DFA Records, 2007

Based on my previous post about shopping by record label, I decided to heed my own advice by picking up a copy of Prinzhorn Dance School’s debut record.  It wasn’t the DFA imprint that attracted me so much as the Astralwerks one, since I have heard some pretty good stuff from that label in the past.  Therefore, when the rather bleak, black-and-white art cover and the simple, typewritten song list spoke listlessly to me, I thought it might be a halfway decent subtle, experimental electronic record.  Little did I know that I would be subjecting myself in a record label’s attempt to branch out … (sigh)

Prinzhorn Dance School are a husband and wife duo that have put together a very stripped down effort.  On most songs, a bass is often used as the introduction to songs while drums eventually rap about without much flair.  Ultimately, the main sound coming out of this band are the vocals of Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn.  Unlike most bands, Prinz mostly speak-sings his lyrics that lack a bit in diversity.  The first song of “Black Bunker” consistently reminds the listener that they are in the black bunker, they are in the black bunker.  Sure, there’s a couple of stanzas that illustrate someone who is seriously down on their luck, but c’mon man, how often can you drably repeat the title of the song?  Thirteen times in three minutes, apparently.

Some songs do have a little bit of a groove that one can get caught up in if they’re not too dragged out by the singing.  “You Are the Space Invader” actually puts together a rather rousing scene near the end of the song with a spiraling guitar solo that overpowers the sinister bass and drum combination.  “Eat, Sleep”, while consisting of primarily the phrase “eat and sleep”, uses that strong bass to guide some lighter guitar dabbling.  However, aside from some interestingly crafted songs with minimal instrumentation, one can get rather bored with having to hear Prinz flatly speaking his lines while Horn yells periodically behind him.  Unlike an earlier Liars, who also employ an unique approach to their music, Prinzhorn Dance School don’t bother to energize or drown out their off-kilter lyrics.  They are, in a sense, similar to Beat Happening with their simplicity.  However, they do seem to know how to play their instruments, so Calvin Johnson and crew won’t be sensing a BH rip off anywhere here.

I haven’t found too much of their music online, but of course, there’s always the slew of videos on their website:  Prinzhorn Dance School

The band includes the inscription “This record has been made to be played loud.” at the end of their liner notes.  I have gone back and forth wondering if this was meant as a joke or if the band truly believes that their sparse approach really has a quiet power behind it that, of course, should be escalated with volume.  On one hand I like the basslines that the band employs, however, I dislike the focus on two vocalists that are rather lacking in appeal.  Therefore, since I figured this really was going to be some kind of electro-groove effort, I’ve gotta call this one a bust.  It’s possible that, if the band puts out another record with a little more behind it, Prinzhorn Dance School could turn into an intriguing band that doesn’ t rely on overwhelming sound.  Until then, these guys will remain merely as a British concoction that mostly seems to fit in with the art crowd.