>What was the space dog called?*

>I know I have been neglecting my blogging duties and can only apologise. I have promised a good friend with an imminent birthday I’d review an album for him so here goes…

Astro Coast by Surfer Blood

Astro is a very exciting word. Seriously. Stick it in front of a more mundane noun and you transform it into something exciting and mysterious. No company could successfully market ‘fake grass’ so instead we had hoardes of New Labour money flushed headmasters eagerly shelling out for ‘ASTRO TURF.’ The Farm are an uncomfortable repetitive dour scouse beat combo from the early nineties, yet when you add Astro they become an animated family trying to get by running an agricultural business on an asteroid; who could ever forget ASTRO FARM? It’s basically The Wire in space. Even the short lived, ill-fated ‘biscuit smarties’ were briefly a top seller at Lound Road garage purely because they were called Cadbury’s ASTROs. All of this means I cannot help but admire the moxy of Surfer Blood before I even listen to their debut album. They have cautioned against any possible laissez-faire attitude with a simple edition of the magic word. So onto Astro Coast we go…

The album opens with Swim – a song if you didn’t know who it was by you have probably heard used to make an exciting montage link on TV. It has a catchy pop hook ready made for festivals and chugs along at refreshingly merry pace. The first interesting point to note is the singer is a fan of The Shins. In fact his dream appears to be James Mercer singing covers of sadly short-lived britpop phenomenon Symposium. The vocal effect could be lifted straight off Oh Inverted World which when placed in a garage rock track should be a disaster but actually works extremely well. Despite this New Mexico vocal flavour the predominant music influence is avowedly British. I have heard this group compared to Weezer and I will no doubt address that later in this review but on first song alone they are more reminiscent of early Feeder than Rivers and co. This British influence bleeds into track two which would be at home in the background on This Life or even on the seminal indie-comp Shine Too. Floating Vibes is much more interesting than Swim and thankfully reveals a band with more depth. The melody is still rightly free of unnecessary noodling but the elements on this track are far more effectively balanced producing a richer sound which provides a platform for some really interesting realist song writing reflecting on the fragility of early success. This is a surprising topic for a band at such an early stage of their own career and shows stark self-awareness that brings to mind Alex Turner (though lacking comparable talent of lyrical composition). Take It Easy regretfully never escapes the spectre of a Vampire Weekend off-cut which blunts any impact. For me this is the first candidate to be a skipper. It is not alone – not every track on this album maintains the highest standards of quality (Neighbour Riffs – the point?) but that is to be expected on a debut album by a young band.

I have to say on balance though I’m really impressed; there are elements of a truly exciting band – the interplay of vocals particularly in the use of harmonies shows a real grasp of how to craft a song. Again unsurprisingly for a debut album the influences are worn on the sleeve including Room on Fire era Strokes (Harmonix), Wes Anderson movies (Twin Peaks) and Pavement (Catholic Pagans). The standout track of the latter half of the album – and possibly the whole album – is Slow Jabroni which though abysmally titled is a majestic slow-burner which subtley builds to a crescendo. This song must be festival gold. It is also the only track for me which warrants the Weezer golden period comparisons. The slow burning build is reminiscent of Only In Dreams and I can see how reviewers have jumped on this. However – and I mean no malice when I say it – to compare this album to Blue and Pinkerton is wholly wrong. At no point on any level does it approach the brilliance of either of those two albums. Lyrically and musically Blue and Pinkerton deserve to be considered two of the finest albums ever made. I actually think it is wholly unfair and detrimental to Surfer Blood for lazy critics to trot out the comparison. Cuomo’s descent into self-parody in recent years has ignited a yearning for early Weezer and this pressure is wrongly being thrust onto raw bands like Surfer Blood who as this album shows possess huge potential.

As an album this certainly contains far more positive moments than filler. Ultimately though it fails to be truly memorable and too often sounds like songs ‘in the style of’. I will definitely continue to take an interest in Surfer Blood and look forward to them developing their own sound. On this evidence they have a long road ahead but are certainly moving in the right direction.

Six and a half out of Ten.

*If you’ve made it this far I applaud you, the dog’s name was Dinko

Published in: on 23/08/2010 at 9:10 am  Comments (2)  

>Double whammy

>So today I tried a slightly new approach to the blog, rather than being sat on my portentous behind listening and blogging in perfect harmony I decided to get on my bike and ride. As a result this pair of reviews are briefer than recent but that hopefully won’t render them any less interesting.

Eels – Electro-shock Blues

Anyone who knows a bit about Eels frontman Mark Everett (E) won’t be surprised to learn that this album follows some of the darkest themes possible. E should have been on cloud nine following the critical and commercial success of previous album Beautiful Freak (including one of the standout tracks of the decade and as fine an intro as you’ll ever hear in Novocaine for the Soul). Tragically it proved to be a time of unquantifiable loss as he lost his mother to terminal cancer and his sister took her own life. It goes without saying therefore that these events directly influenced Electro-Shock blues. What is surprising perhaps is that it is not as difficult a listen as one might expect. Eels continue to innovate on this album showing a novel aptitude for using strings and jurassic five style beats together to compliment the laid back delivery of the vocal. This works most effectively on ‘My descent into madness’ – a sublime track which sees the subject coming to terms with his own incarceration:

the jacket makes me straight so I can just sit back and bake

you know I think I’m gonna stay

talking very loud but no one hears a word I say

I’m not the first to draw comparison with Odelay era Beck and though this understandably lacks the same pop hooks that pepper the work of Mr Hansen (Beck not Alan). One of my favourite tracks is Hospital Food – a jazz infusion which would not look out of place on a B-52s album. Despite these two wonderful tracks I did find that the experimental style did not always effectively compliment the lyrics. A technique Eels have used to good effect before is the haunting use of childlike instrumentation but on an already bleak affair I found this added little merit to the album. To end on a positive – so does the album. It finishes with the album’s finest moment – PS. I Love You, which is a redemptive song based around the central couplet; ‘Everyone is dying; and maybe it’s time to live’.

In many ways this album flys in the face of normal releases, there is no agenda for commercial success – this is song writing as therapy and I applaud E for doing so. However it is perhaps a reflection on me that I felt at times like I was intruding on private grief.
6 1/2 out of 10 
The Courteeners – Falcon

I have only had two previous experiences of The Courteeners. One was on a weekend in Manchester in an Indie club where I was feeling upsettingly old as all around appeared to be yet to enter their twenties. A song came on that provoked exuberant scenes and I had no idea what it was. I was duly informed it was ‘Not nineteen forever’ by The Courteeners and I was impressed that a song could instigate such a response. The second experience was catching a short snippet of their T in the Park set this year on TV. Again, the crowd were relishing singing along to every word and I can honestly say I paid no attention to the actual music. This turns out to be for the best. On listening to Falcon it appears that the Courteeners have been bottled up from five years ago and let loose on the world today.  Yes there are some clever lines but whereas I imagine the writer thinks he is rivalling the Arctic Monkeys the woeful Wombats would be a more apt comparison. I hope for their sake that they have developed a sterling live reputation as on record they are desperately lacking in any sort of imagination. Musically they are completely unadventurous – settling for plodding, lifeless generic indie background that recalls the barren days where garbage like The Datsuns were considered worthy of airplay. Lyrically the trick seems to be find a rhyming couplet, repeat ad nauseum and chuck in the odd reference to something uniquely English. It is as if they heard Alex Turner use the line ‘Can I buy you a tropical reef?’ and decide that was why the Arctic Monkeys debut was so wonderful. Whatever people say I am… was a dazzling, exhilirating album with Turner’s lyrics masterfully capturing the social context in which they had grown up. By comparison The Courteeners are tired and laboured. The message really hit home on one of the final tracks which declared ‘The good times are calling…’ – so why does the singer sound so unbelievably bored! Oh that’s right he’s read his own lyrics. The good times were calling; the album was coming to a close although not without one final sting in the tail – I got a puncture.

2 out of 10.

Published in: on 03/08/2010 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment