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>FROM MARS - 23
Is their Life On Mars?
From Mars aren’t actually from Mars, they’re from Newport, South Wales – the home of faintly amusing Argos-hop goons, Goldie Lookin’ Chain. However, their muscular post-punk could as easily be from New York as from Newport. If Bloc Party actually held a block party, it’s highly plausible that From Mars would be their musical guests. Opening track ‘Who Is David David?’ is awesome, jittery alt.pop, and the rest of the album rattles between spooked-out Pixies stomps, dark Franz Ferdinand disco/not-disco romps and more unhurried fare like final track, the brooding epic ‘Both Killer and Victim’.
On ‘Piffle’ they sing “critics of the world unite/trying to find sense in what we write”, and the possible influences come to mind thick and fast. ‘Shot 2 Pieces’ echoes Magazine in title and tone, and if other bands spent less time reading magazines, and more time listening to Magazine they could be as good as From Mars. The album contains more hooks than a meat-locker, and my favourite track is the fantastically twitchy ‘Disingenuous Lullaby’, which is surreal yet utterly radio-worthy.
Just for the record, the album was recorded, produced, mastered, released and available to listeners within 23 hours! – hence the album title. [See www.23hours.info]. Gimmick, maybe, but it grabbed my attention, and the music is better than it has any right to be. Overall, in terms of reference-points, I think it’s fair to say that the album has a more ragged sound akin to Bleach; but don’t bet against them making their own Nevermind one of these days. Big potential. Definitely one-to-watch.
PS. If you’re unconvinced, the first 1000 copies of the album have been sponsored by the Meze Lounge in Newport, with all proceeds going towards the Tsunami Appeal.
Review by Tom Leins
>QUIT YOUR DAY JOB - S/T
press release for this described it as ‘a nuclear bomb exploding with
wild electro punk surf and raw energy!’ The premise sounds good, but
somewhat like the Mars Chocolate drink it sounds so great on paper, but
when you actually try it you’re left with the taste of days-old Caramel
in your mouth and experience repeated nagging nauseous attacks..okay so
maybe not like the Mars drink then.
Coming out of the squats of southern Sweden Marcass, Andreass and Jonass make a racket that is only really let down by the singer insisting upon crap lyrics. Jonass’s yelps are almost MarkE.Smithian in their delivery, but are devoid of any of the wit and panache that makes Mr. E. Smith such a star. If this was an instrumental album (or they got a singer who didn’t sing about Coconuts) this would be a quality release. Combining buzzsaw Crampsy surf guitars with squelchy synths it’s both original and catchy. They just need to get singerboy realllly pissed then throw him out onto a motorway somewhere, SAS style.
>EGRU - MARCH OF THE DUNG BEETLE
This has been a very difficult review to write. The enjoyment of this album is entirely mood based. I have gone on and off this album like Syd Barrett's mind drifted in and out of reality. I will point out that I have spent more time sat on a unicorn than I did not sat on a unicorn. As sitting on a unicorn would be an ideal place to enjoy Syd Barrett then that would mean I enjoyed "March of the Dung Beetle" the majority of the time. But unicorns are make believe.... but Egru sounds make believe....see this is difficult.
Also, this review won't deal with the technical aspects of the recording as the production is as you would expect from an Egru production, an excellent marriage of the electronic and the analogue.
I first saw Egru live at the now legendary Rodeo cellar gig last February (2004). Before hand I spoke to him and he was visibly anxious about the performance ahead. People have often said he should make film music for a living as most of his compositions come from an mould that create sounds not dissimilar to a brooding art film soundtrack. The set this night however was fun and featured vocals.
A lot of his work reminds me of nature, so I thought it fitting when the leaf green CD package arrived complete with Christmas card (a bribe maybe?). Interestingly the card depicted the 3 wise men looking at the star and proclaiming "Egru!". I dismissed this as a delusion of grandeur and put on the CD. I am keeping the card safe though, just in case the holy men of Salem come looking for him.
The first thing that hit me was the fact that their are no vocals, apart from the occasional backing "ooohhhhhs" and "aaaahhhhhs". This is an instrumental album. I will admit this was a big disappointment because I had enjoyed the songs with vocals at the cellar gig. Also, I love lyrics because they sound funny if you read them out loud without their music.
This means that those expecting the commercial accessibility of Egru's last Rodeo outing "Sail" (see Rodeo 2: Egg & Chips) may well find his latest release a tad difficult at first, although those accustomed to his decrepit film scores (see "Oak" and "Alfreton Nights") should be ok. Like a fine bottle of red plonk to be fully appreciated it requires time to breath and your full-undistracted attention. At first glance it looks like a concept album, a definite theme of bugs and insects rings true in the track listing. But is this all there is to it? No.
Rumours suggest that the concept is far more exotic than a simple ode to creepy crawlies. I have been informed that Egru spent many months in Mozambique collecting different musical instruments to help him create this beautifully textured album. Whether this was the sole reason for his visit is unclear but it would be nice to think so. I could just imagine him wandering round with his calm manner politely purchasing increasingly more bizarre instruments in every town. Whatever it was it was an important time in the musical chapter of Egru's traditional lore.
Fairly somber all round this album doesn't really inspire you to jump up and become an ant solider who spends his days collecting morsels of food and discarded raisins as I hoped it would. Instead it plays merrily in the background as a soundtrack to your reclusive life as lazy arsed ant leader. But after listening to "March of the Dung Beetle" I realise that's the way it should be. Besides you really don't want to be doing anything while listening to this album or you might miss the best bits.
In places this album did fail to maintain my interest but that is always the case with instrumental music especially when you crave hearing people moaning about their love life or lack of like I do.
A bit of a slow start "Wood-louse" has a clippy cloppy woodshop feel to it. Almost like a "SMiLE" outtake with a very fine country feel about it but not in a silicon enhanced Dolly Parton way. I begin to wonder where this story is beginning. I picture Egru sat on a ranch, sand and balls of hay whistling past. I am disappointed at the end when Woody Guthrie hasn't popped up and sang a few lines.
2. Gossamer Wing Stomp
Distinctive Egru sound on this song, reminiscent of his mini sound epic "Oak". This song has a rustic ancient haunted feel. How does he make keyboards sound so grainy? It takes the album on a burrowing journey into the soil to an underground gig in a rotten wooden crate where an insect band are playing Hank Marvin riffs to accompaniment of stomping human feet above.
3. Clash of the Stag-Beetles
A crawling terror who’s itchy fury no one can escape. I like this song a lot and then I don't like it so much.
What happens when a recovering MDMA muncher takes a sabbatical to become a Cub Scout leader?
"Gather round the fire boys, you are going to learn about a place called the Hacienda. Now we don't have any 808's or Rolands so we are going to have to improvise. Derek grab that log, Jeremy bang that bean can, Egru you honk that recorder."
The result? Cub Scout Acoustic Acid House Nintendo Pause Screen Music. Astounding but then not so.
Cub Scout Acoustic Acid House Nintendo Pause Screen Comedown Music. The elixir to the previous song. After honking his recorder incessantly Egru wanders off into the wood on his own as paranoia sets in. He gets hungry and eats a toadstool. He meets some mini-beasts who he's not sure whether to trust. A lovely song prevails, almost like pan pipe moods played by some of the weirder creatures who reside on the outer wall of Bowie's Labyrinth. I enjoyed this song a lot. All these exotic wind instruments remind theme tune to Channel 4's "Shameless".
5. Hail the Scarab
What's a scarab? To be continued.....
Scarab Research Interlude
Ah yes scarab:
"An environmentally friendly road sweeper"
....wait a sec.....no here we are:
"Scarab Beetles - Guess what's being served for dinner tonight? If you are a member of the Scarabaeidae Family (Scarab Beetle), you may feed on plant materials, grasses, foliage, fruits, and flowers. If you are a dung beetle of the Scarabaeidae family, you may feast on a rich and leisurely meal of freshly laid fecal matter, otherwise known as dung!"
So there is a scarab variation called a dung beetle? This is turning into a biology essay. Sorry. Yet these songs titles are actually quite educational. Is this song a socio-political comment on how we are all from the same mould and everyone should be treated as equals? Yes possibly if Egru where a pretentious idiot, which he isn't, so maybe it is just about eating sh’t or he is just hailing one of his favourite bugs? It has got me thinking. Does Egru actually have a thing about creepy crawlies or is it just a random concept?
5. Hail the Scarab cont....
Anyway, the song. Is the wailing sound of the organ the sound of some sort of beastly Armageddon? Continuing in my Nintendo game parallels (apologies for this but after finishing my own album I have become obsessed with Mario, Link and friends) this song reminds of one of the underground levels on the original Super Mario Brothers on the NES, you know the one I mean (Level 1-2). However, Mario isn't jumping on Goombas and bashing Buzzy Beetles, instead he has found some sheet music from the Beatles "Only a Northern Song", necked a couple of microdots and is playing his own interpretation backwards and forwards while his skin crawls with bugs. Unpleasant and distressing melody that is exactly the opposite to listen to. Around 4:26mins the pain gets worse. The song stretches you and drags you with it. It's like a bug funeral but who has died?
6. March of the Dung Beetle
This really is a marching anthem. The percussion is excellent, chugging along in the distance. Has a distinct purpose to it after the previous song took us on a jaunt all over the place. While this is a march the plinky plonky guitars help it to be a fun march. If bugs had carnivals they would have them to this. Dung Beetle Mardi Gras music.
7. Dung Beetle's Lament
I think this is my favourite song. It begins to threaten sounding like music you would find on that Canadian teen drama series from the late 80's, I can't remember what it was called. The one where all the problems people had were just that bit worse than problems people had in all the other soaps at the time. It kind of made me not want to go to Canada. It just seemed so serious and bleak. When the vocals "oooohhhhs" and "aaaahhhhhhs" come in it really makes this song. Beautifully crafted, well done. The breakdown at the end is fucking ace too. Possibly the best section on the album. Initially like a showdown of jangly trinkets at a car boot sale it becomes so brittle and delicate that you are afraid it may break. The sound of a jingly music box (possibly) is a fitting final touch and sounds so pristine amongst all the wood based clomping.
8. Bed Bugz
Not a favourite.....anyway I am spent goddamitt!
While this is a very enjoyable album, a lot of the time I feel like I am missing something. I did fully intend to ingest a sack full of magic mushrooms and see if this helped but said sack never materialised. Is this music for the altered states or am I just being narrow-minded? This review is probably full of hesitations and contradictions. If you are in the right mood this album can really get you thinking however, if you are on the way out, have just necked a bottle of Perno and want to sing some anthems this may not be ideal. What is the drug of choice in Mozambique anyway?
Review by Jamie Boyer
>SETH SWIRSKY - INSTANT PLEASURE
Apart from the artists' brilliant name, the first thing that strikes you about this album is it's opening line- "all I want is someone to love me, and give me sex whenever I want it". 'Great', I thought, 'some awkward teenage bed-sit musings for me to mull over!' How wrong I was. I later found out that Seth Swirsky is in fact in his forties and is an old hand at, well, almost everything. He's written three books about baseball, made a handful of short films, and more disturbingly has apparently (and I'm trusting the internet here) written hits for the hideously AOR likes of Air Supply, Olivia Newton-John and the dreaded Celine Dion. That's the last time I trust my musical instincts. But I'd already listened to the album before finding this out, and it has to be said that it isn't that bad considering the dodgy artists he seems to have written for in the past (and don't worry because no, he didn't write the Titanic song for Dion).
Instant Pleasure is a mid-paced album of Beatles influenced songs that seem to deal with an aging hipster's air of detachment with the modern world, written from the comfortable perspective of middle aged content. The title track sees the author going to Starbucks in the hope that a girl will notice him- he's "tries to sit cool" before realising that in fact it "isn't really cool". In 'Ordinary Man' he admits he "used to want to be so famous" but now settles for simpler pleasures. You get the feeling that Seth was once a confused teenager who balanced the usual insecurities of youth with rock star aspirations, but is now happy to accept his lot and settle into family life. 'Bike Trip' is literally about a bike trip (Seth probably goes on these on a Sunday morning) where the only stop is to teach his companion how to hit a baseball, while the aforementioned 'Ordinary Man' sees him seemingly enraptured at the process of standing in his garden with his "blue watering can". Granted, it's all a bit on the dull side, but the laconic vocals, buoyant melodies, and the occasional admissions of awkward self-doubt make it charming rather than overbearingly mushy.
The only time that the album becomes tedious is on two tracks, 'Herman Cherry' and 'It's Still Love'. '...Cherry' is a nonsensical tune that veers close to the kind of crap mushroom psychedelia that his heroes the Beatles occasionally produced in their Yellow Submarine days. Herman has a "walrus moustache, an ever present cigar" and can "jitterbug with the best of them". Well good for him. 'It's Still Love' on the other hand sees clap-happy loved-up mysticism rear its ugly head- "you don't need a pager to greet your neighbour" sings Seth before launching into a chorus of "it's still love, that we need, that the world's waiting for". It's cheery to the point of annoying, the kind of well meaning positive anthem designed to make you feel great and love everyone, but more often than not makes normal sane people to want to kill indiscriminately.
Still, 'Instant Pleasure' holds up as an inoffensive, mildly entertaining album. If you can forgive him for his apparent past crime of sustaining the musical career of the evil Dion, then this album might just charm you given chance - less of an instant pleasure, more of a guilty one.
Review by Ian Viggars
>MAGOO - POP SONGS
DIY pop fanatics who revel in the joy of music-making …
'Pop Songs' is a stop-gap mini album released as a prelude to their imminent fourth album 'The All Electric Amusement Arcade' which is due out in the Spring. Magoo have always been the indiest of indie bands: from an early often-cited gig at a semi-legendary indoor Go-Kart track in Norwich (more band members than fans type-affair…); to recording for uber-cool labels Chemikal Underground and Fierce Panda; through to John Peel playing one of their singles 7 times in the space of 8 consecutive programmes… That’s why we loved John Peel, and that’s why we should cherish Magoo.
For the uninitiated,
Magoo play shimmering underground pop comparable with fellow Britpop
never-weres like Super Furry Animals, Beta Band, and the Boo Radleys.
The press release insists that the first half of the album (technically
two EPs glued together) consists of “foot-on-amp, riff-ridden,
guitar-searing psychedelic noise-rock anthems” which stretches
things a little. No amount of guitar-squall or skew-whiff fuzz can disguise
the fact that inside Magoo beats a big, shiny pop heart. And, just for
the record, Magoo are much more Syd than Sid.
Aside from the artists I’ve already mentioned, 'Pop Songs' heavy dose of lite psyche also reminds me of Jack Drag’s superb, but largely-ignored 'Soft Songs' LP which came out about five years ago on Shifty Disco. Fans would be well-advised to check it out if they can find a copy. But I digress… Possibly the best track of all is ‘Chicken Blows’ a lovingly-crafted cover of an old Guided By Voices song which is a truly fantastic tribute to Bob Pollard’s now-defunct pop oddballs. Maybe one day Magoo will end up drunk and confused cavorting around in Strokes videos, before calling it a day. It’s possibly the only chance of them appearing on MTV2 in the near future at any rate. Hopefully, one day someone will return the favour and cover one of Magoo’s 'Pop Songs' this well. In the mean time, gorge yourself – this is pop sugary enough to rot your teeth, and it tastes great!
>EMILIANI TORRINI - FISHERMAN'S WOMAN
Five years ago half-Icelandic/half-Italian singer-songwriter Emiliana Torrini recorded a cracking song called ‘Unemployed In Summertime’ – a song that edged its way into my sketchy ‘Top Ten Songs I Wish Had Been Written About Me’ list along with half of the first Elastica album, ‘Diamonds and Rust’ by Joan Baez and, erm, ‘You’re So Vain’ by Carly Simon …
Anyway, after a five year break she’s back with a new album on Rough Trade of all labels. A good sign, surely? Or not? Possibly not, when you discover that she’s spent the last five years touring with tantric-sex bass guru Sting, writing songs for Kylie Minogue and “joining the cast of Lord Of The Rings :The Two Towers to perform the enchanting ‘Gollum Song’”. The list probably goes on.
But, more importantly, is the album any good? On the first track ‘Nothing Brings Me Down’ she sounds uncannily like Bjork - albeit Bjork surrounded by none of the digital trickery she’s usually surrounded by. In fact, the album is regrettably one-paced, possibly down to the influence of the producer - some guy she bumped into mooching around Brixton called Mr Dan. Apart from the occasional ill-advised jazz flourish, it’s difficult to see exactly what Mr Dan has done here, because the album is totally stripped-down, almost to the point of being bare. However, her voice is great – possessing a haunting quality that most of her contemporaries-by-default would swap the Radio 2 controller’s mobile phone number for.
In case I’m in danger of giving the wrong impression though, there are many fine songs on this album – songs like ‘SunnyRoad’ and ‘Serenade’ and several others are easily better than anything that any of her contemporaries have ever produced or will ever produce. There’s one song called ‘Today Has Been OK’. Similarly, this album has been OK. A good album, just not the great album she’s almost certainly capable of.
Review by Tom Leins