Wednesday, 31 October 2007

SINGLE REVIEW: LCD Soundsytem - Someone Great

As 'Record of the Year' once again rears its ugly head, LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver will no doubt be breaching the upper echelons of many a sweaty hack’s hitlist – just not this one’s. Yeah, it made all the right moves, shuffling and jittering to a gallivanting sprawl of beats and bleeps, but it never quite pulled you tooth-first onto the dancefloor with the incessant sleaze-driven dementia of !!!’s Myth Takes, nor did it set brain cells ablaze to the burning electro-gibbering that emitted from Battles’ searing, chromosome corroding Mirrored. Instead it seemed, well, a bit bland; almost feeble in comparison.

Yet, new single ’Someone Great' is undoubtedly the record’s soaring highpoint. A fluid, neck-hair quivering exchange of downtrodden rhythm and glistening synths led by James Murphy’s warm monotonic croon, the track's emotive, minimalist flickering conjures up images of David Byrne cavorting with The Human League at an Orange Juice appreciation convention. Etched in brooding disillusionment, it’s a robotically crafted chasm of deep-rooted despondency that tingles heartstrings whilst clinging longingly to the unlikely prospect of a dead lover’s return. And perhaps most impressively, ‘Someone Great’ is four minutes of such resplendent aural mastery it persuades us doubters to dust down Sound Of Silver and give LCD Soundsytem one final fling at redemption.
Rating: 8/10
Out now on DFA

Thursday, 25 October 2007

ALBUM REVIEW: Underworld - Oblivion With Bells

With wine rapidly transcending into the nation’s favourite pub-time tipple, it’s fitting that Underworld have taken on a more ambient guise. Not that the duo of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith (once a trio with Darren Emerson’s grey matter splitting wheel-spinnery at the helm) ever consigned themselves to the "lager, lager, lager" lairyness that evolved after 1996’s stratosphere-smashing anthem ‘Born Slippy’ – the otherworldly techno-zipping of Second Toughest In The Infants quelled any such notions – but there comes a point in every act’s life where dignity and a quiet sense of self-confidence supersedes air fisting, speaker-box shuddering euphoria. And in the release of their fifth LP, it seems Underworld’s time has finally come.

Oblivion With Bells is a comedown record crafted by the pioneers of cranium-scrambling comedowns past. Those thunderous juggernautal floor-fillers like ‘King Of Snake’ or ‘Pearl’s Girl’ are long gone, replaced with ethereal slow-building plateaus of electronic swirls and ear-clothed percussion. And where Hyde’s coarse vocal strains once transported jaw-chewing hoards into the upper-echelons of ecstasy infused utopia, his new-found monotonic mumble now guides them through a claustrophobic underpass of foreboding walls and petrifying, sensor-squirming paranoia.

Yet as ‘Crocodile’’s bass heavy groove reverberates round the eardrums it’s difficult to diagnose this mellowed atmospheric adoption. Growling and gnarling to an incessant limb-scattering rhythm, it’s the traversing, smoke-fuelled sound of post-club, all-back-to-mine-at-the-end-of-the-night elation riddled with tempered crows and surging electro-slithers. But once ‘Beautiful Bernout’’s melodica-infused hypnotism bypasses ‘Holding The Mouth’'s driving beat minimalism, Oblivion With Bells gently blends itself into the head-holding, knee-cradling break of dawn.

Shivering synths scatter across ‘Ring Road’’s ritualistic melody as Hyde unfurls himself as a loquacious, all-seeing beat-poet; weaving together prophetic verses with the unabashed devotion of a babbling shamanic street preacher. But this nocturnal aural bliss quickly dozes off into slumberous realms as tempos drop and asphyxiated trance infiltrates banal, attention-less scores like ‘Boy, Boy, Boy’ and the droning, repetitive wail of ‘Faxed Invitation’. Sluggish and littered with an ambivalent sense of uniformity, it’s as if these one-time purveyors of seismic, pulse-pushing epics have aged from distinguished tune-merchants to comatosed, flat-cap festering pensioners over the course of eleven tracks.

Album closer ‘Best Mamgu Ever’ at least proves there’s still some life left before the obligatory pipe and slippers are acquired – lifting itself into an effervescent dub-tinged spectacle of starlit effects and deep-filling bass – but after an auspicious introduction Oblivion With Bells has disappointingly descended into an irreconcilable docile abyss. Perhaps it’s about time Underworld laid off the vino and sunk a few pints of the heavy stuff?
Rating: 6/10
Out Now

ALBUM REVIEW: Jacknife Lee - Jacknife Lee

Now a decorated Grammy award winner, it’s unsurprising to find Jacknife Lee’s fifth long-playing excursion littered with self-aggrandising references and bolshy gold-plated bravado. But back in the days of Big Beat, where madcap joviality and groove heavy ‘choons’ went hand in hand, you suspect lil’ ol' Garret Lee (as he’s otherwise known) would have turned up a snow-coated nostril at such narcissistic delusions of grandeur.
So what’s transformed this one-time beat-friendly people’s champ into puffed-up egoist? Well, a list of production credits that contains snivelling mirror-hugging behemoths Kasabian, U2 and Snow Patrol may have had a modicum of champagne-sipping, Cuban-chuffing influence. But it’s much more likely the scourge of all career-minded musos reared its hideous head and fluttered those green-tinted eyelids in Lee’s direction. No, not paper-thin indie-fucker Kate Moss – the lure of the filthy, filthy lucre.

And straight from the off it’s apparent Lee’s latest release is all about the money-shot but, then again, in this age of credit-riddled superficiality, what isn’t? Yet where roguish Oxford jingle-merchants Supergrass cheekily proclaimed they were in it for the mullah before robbing you blind with barefaced hook-smithery, Lee’s intention are much more insidious. Warming up the lugholes with ‘Fear Nothing’’s lewd scuzzed-up guitars and – the aptly titled – ‘Making Me Money’’s basal electrolysis, the ex-Compulsion guitarist proves he’s lost none of his heel-screeching urgency with a barraging brace of siren-spun funk.

But with minds and limbs ripping up the dancefloor to a bombastic smattering of bass and beats, Lee slowly begins to slip lazy, incongruent lilts in to those unattended alcopops. The floating translucency of ‘I Love The Useless’ is the first indication of this non-consensual change in direction; bizarrely coming across all Killers-esque as its slouching, unguided rhythm sloops into attention-defying oblivion. And from here on in the record grabs at comatosed ears, pushing the limp acidic grooves of ‘Run Me Over’ deep inside without hesitating for an inkling of permission.

Once awoken from this aural violation by ‘What’’s skewered temple-throbbing freak-outs and the grimey palpitations of ‘Monkey In The Meat’, the record skips back to its initial hip-shuffling buzzards. Not that this is entirely uninspiring - album closer The Academy is a handclapping drizzle of jittering delight - but by creating this asymmetrical, sonic palindrome Lee loses the listener in a crevasse of uninspired deadwood long before the climatic termination.

He might have money on his mind, but Jacknife Lee’s gonna have to start thinking in pennies before he gets to the pounds.
Rating: 6/10
Out Now on Fiction

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

LIVE REVIEW: You Say Party! We Say Die!/ Los Campesinos!/Sky Larkin/ Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire, Tue 16 Oct

Whoever said the kids are all right was wrong. Well, that’s if you’re a work-weary adult who’s ventured over to Cabaret Voltaire to catch freckle-faced upstarts Los Campesinos! over a refreshing tankard of ale. But if you’re one of the electro-shock-mop adorning, Standard Grade-sitting teens here tonight I don’t suppose you give a fuck if us grimacing old bastards are left to sweat it out at the side bar guzzling pints while you and your mates eagerly anticipate a band with more buzz than a hive of speed-freaking bees.

Aye, these over-14 affairs can be infuriating alright, and when the much vaunted Sky Larkin take to the stage while another puzzled punter yelps “Ye mean I cannae take ma pint in tae the fuckin’ gig pal?”, the Leeds-based trio must feel like they’ve infiltrated a Smash Hits party bereft of a guiding parental hand. Yet when their vivacious splurge of karate-chopping riffs and veering keys swivel through the air like a snake-bitten Elastica, the dour-pussed old yins soon drag themselves into the venue's dark chasm to find cherub-faced front-gal Katie Harkin exuding her mystical, sultry tones over the jaunty pop gleam of ‘Keepsakes’.

There’s no doubting the tightness of these tune-churning ragamuffins – the stop/start helter-skelter stutter of latest release ‘Molten’ is more infectious and infinitely more desirable than any salacious, end-of-the-eve indie-kid liaison – but, tonight, there’s a lurking feel of blunt lethargy to what should be a knife-edged visceral massacre. Luckily, Harkin’s got the gift of a lung-busting gab and as the ravenous finale’s twitching kaleidoscope of bass and drum penetrates the crowd’s virginal solar-plexus', her charm-drenched tingle pulls the set from sombre, arm-crossed ambivalence into a salivating urge for more – a desire You Say Party! We Say Die! (YSP!WSD!) is ready and able to service with electrifying ease.

Relentless on record, YSP!WSD! is a deafening, fizzing, ear-bending proposition live. Orchestrated by the spasmodic Kate Bush-isms of the ringlet cropped Becky Ninkovic, this unhinged Vancouver-based quintet of sonic-deviants ignite the booze-thirsty mob into a aural combustion of appreciation with their insatiable, acid charged post-punk throbs. Tracks like the chomping, face in the gutter stomp of ‘Monster’ and 'Poison’’s loin-burning throttle are acrobatically executed by a clutter of rapturous guitar growls and echoic synth swirls that seer through this cavernous lair with the scorching heat of a hell-dwelling pinball.

Ninkovic is the undoubted star of this surging set; writhing and thriving to every pore-seeping riff while her Patti Smith-aping volley of yelps, shrieks, barks and shrills project heaven-wards with intentions of angel-taunting deviancy. Visibly exhausted after this exhilarating eight-song offering, she musters up one last jolt of knee-knotting stage contortion for the mind-pummelling ‘Falling Out’. More raucous than a Russian victory on artificial turf, it’s a jubilant fist-clenched closer deserved of qualification to a - surely soon to be - headline slot.

But tonight it’s the twinkle-toed grandeur of Los Campesinos! that has the locals licking their lips in anticipation. Riddled with the knack of knocking out jinking sun-kissed melodies that infiltrate the heart with a love-struck sense of retrospective euphoria, it’s almost inconceivable these next 45 minutes could be anything other than stunning. Yet as the Cardiff-based septet saunter on stage with the blissful aura of unassuming, ladder-climbing youth, there’s an initial flatness to the occasion that nuzzles its way into the group’s climactic starry-eyed swoons.

The deft glockenspiel chimes and mournful viola that hypnotise so readily on record struggle to entwine themselves amidst a jerking mesh of push-pull vocals and cranking guitar riffs that resemble a cluttered Arcade Fire without the melodramatic grandiloquence. Perhaps it’s a case of fresh-faced rustiness but it takes until the hyperactive glitter frenzy of ‘We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives’ before the group conjure up a spine-tingling shower of melody befitting the gushing hyperbole. But from then on in, the ensemble transcends into a majestic sprawl of shimmering keys and tumbling percussive tomfoolery that wraps its romance-hankering paws around a luscious 'It Started With A Mixx’ before wholeheartedly embracing the virulent harmonic splendour of ‘You! Me! Dancing!’.

And as the last glistening melody slinks off into the air, us grumbling auld bastards retreat to the exit for a much deserved post-gig pint. Tonight, those Los Camp’ kids were alright but in the future there’s no doubt they can be much, much better

Sunday, 21 October 2007

SINGLE REVIEW: The Duke Spirit - Ex Voto EP

When a record arrives at the doorstep branded with exuberant proclamations of life-affirming brilliance it’s best to be sceptical. But when said recording has been crafted by perennial London peripherals The Duke Spirit that scepticism quickly subsides into lip-curling cynicism. Y’see, the Capital-dwelling quintet’s debut LP Love Is An Unfamiliar Name whetted lips but never quite managed to quench that desire for exhilarating, bollock crunching, scrotum shrivelling rock ‘n’ roll. Instead it left you parched; thirsty for a freshly squeezed sonic sensation with a little more juice and a lot more bite.

Yet in new release ’Ex Voto EP’, it seems the Leila Moss-led ensemble has finally found the right ingredients – it’s just a pity it’s come almost two years too late. Swashbuckling over ’Lassoo’’s disfigured back-drop of elated horns and feverous guitar churns, Moss’ impassioned vocal is ravenous in its incessancy; coming across like the rabid, bone-gnarling spawn of PJ Harvey and Kim Gordon before the track's rugged oscillations cascade into ’Dog Roses’’ atmospheric sweep. Gothic of heart, it’s an intelligent and harrowing juxtaposition of stumbling drums and garish piano twinkles that suggests a band maturing with TV On The Radio-esque intensity.

After such a promising beginning, 'A Wild Hope ''s guttural dirge ebbs disappointingly into the languid staidness of old but this limp descent is only fleeting as 'Masca' ’s terse lament draws the EP to an epic close. Bristling to the call of slinking percussion and Moss’ eerily morose scowl, this dramatic, escalating canter proves The Duke Spirit may just have the substance to back up their billing.
Rating: 7/10
Out 22 October through You Are Here Music

SINGLE REVIEW: Lightspeed Champion - Midnight Surprise

For one so adroit at composing virulent sonic mayhem, Dev Hynes has undergone a dramatic transformation as Lightspeed Champion. The corrosive riffs and slanted, lug-piercing beats that exuded from Test Icicles’ quivering bombast are long gone; replaced by waltzing acoustic strum-a-longs, melting doe-eyed melodies and a vanilla-scented notion of romance more in tune with the gentle mewing of a coiffeured balladeer than roguish hell-raising miscreant. And with the release of new single 'Midnight Surprise' Hynes further extends this rapid reinvention as love-struck troubadour.

A string-laden, country-tinged lament split into three saccharine-soaked subsections, this starry-eyed ten-minute orchestration flutters heart strings with trickling guitar slides and a genial agglomeration of brass and keys. Purring with a breathy laconic glint that recalls a less grandiose Martin Rossiter, Hynes pits himself amidst the mire of triumphant British song-writers and re-emerges as wistfully as Stuart Murdoch caught in a retrospective haze of graceful mid-'90s melancholy.
It’s not quite the stirring opus you suspect was intended – the four-minute radio edit sits more readily at ease as a blithesome hook-dazed bluster – but, while Hynes’ metamorphosis continues to take shape, 'Midnight Surprise' is an ear-pleasing attestation to the triumphs that surely lie ahead.
Rating: 7/10

Released 22 October on Domino Records

Thursday, 18 October 2007


Glitterbeat? Puzzle Pop? Math Rock? Choose whichever languidly contrived label irks least but there’s no escaping it – this was the year music got clever. Where 2006 herald the birth of New Rave's neon-tinged dim-wittedness, 2007 gleefully witnessed its demise. All of a sudden, the idiotic glowsticks and fluorescent melodies that zigzagged across the breadth of the UK were replaced by a spontaneous sonic intricacy bereft of structure and oozing intelligence.

Yet, at the turn of the year, this cranium bulging revival seemed unlikely. The Klaxons were emblazoned on the cover of every trend-ravenous rag and High Street stores pumped out psychedelic outfits that could only have been designed by the bedraggled love-child of Johnny Thunders and George Clinton. In short, things were bad. But then in April, as if out of nowhere, a bug-eyed, acid-freaking, mind-bending EP called Atlas landed. The tides were slowly turning; Battles had commenced.

One month later and the New York-based quartet further moistened the crusted pants of music hacks everywhere with towering long-playing beast Mirrored - a stunning, catalytic debut that propelled the band’s aural intellectualism into the spotlight. But when Spins and Needles catches up with founding member Tyondai Braxton before a show at London’s Koko it discovers Battles are still coming to terms with their new found status.

“[2007’s] been a whirlwind – completely amazing and totally unexpected,” exclaims the multi-instrumentalist and son of jazz musician Anthony Braxton. “On one hand, you have a crazy idea that if you like something then someone else will. But if you look at the track record of this type of music I guess it’s surprising when something like this crops over into the mainstream and grabs people when you wouldn’t expect it to. It’s not like the attention has been over the top but we’re all really excited by the reaction.”

This reaction has been globally unanimous, with Mirrored turning-on everyone from sour-faced British indie kids to the “absolutely manic” Japanese pop-loving public. So, how does the band feel about this newly acquired fan-base? “It’s incredible,” says Braxton. “At first we had people [at gigs] who were a little more tuned into this kind of music and then as the momentum of [Mirrored] has picked up, I’ve started to realise a whole cross section of people are interested and that’s a really encouraging thing. It doesn’t matter that there are so many people interested, the thing I’m really excited about is how different the audience is – that’s a really great feeling.”

Impossible to pin down, Battles is a band that works without constraints and it’s this ethos of malleability that Braxton attributes to Mirrored’s appeal: “Our strength is the players and the perspective of the band and the challenge is always to find room enough for everyone to be satisfied with what they are doing,” he explains. “The open-endedness of the exploration [during the recording of Mirrored] led us down fresh paths which makes the record kind of opaque. But the process of creating the record was really fresh and whether people think it’s original or not is irrelevant to us.”

Yet original is exactly what Mirrored is. Stinging nerve-ends with gnarling laser-gun electro, inter-planetary android warbling and jitterbug percussion, it’s a smorgasbord of Kraut-rock, Dance, Funk and - to a certain extent - Pop. But when The Skinny attempts to uncover the influences behind the record’s sound, Braxton’s answer is equally obtuse: “It’s something we try not to answer – it kind of marginalises us,” he smarts. “In a way, our influences are transparent – you can really hear them [on Mirrored] – and in another way they are quite obscured but, really, I would say the music itself has been pulled out of thin air.”

Right, that’s cleared that up, but with the tedious list frenzy of ‘Record of the Year’ rapidly encroaching, which spinning disc gets Battles seal of approval? “Oh…,”sighs Braxton. “The Dirty Projectors new album (Rise Above) is great but honestly I really don’t know.” Perhaps this uncertainty means he considers Mirrored the best of 2007? With a knowing intelligence that underpins the band’s musical ethos, Braxton laughs: “Only if you say so, only if you say so.”

Battles - too clever by half.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

SINGLE REVIEW: Los Campesinos! – The International Tweexcore Underground

The International Tweexcore Underground is utterly terrifying. An acrobatic, vanilla-scented waltz bustling with speaker-blotting harmonies and a gliding string-skewered melody that palpitates hearts through mouths, Los Campesinos! third single will have you weeping with fear. But it’s not entirely down to the Welsh septet's new release being quite possibly the most thrilling spectrum of xylophone chiming pop-perfection you’ll hear this year. No, it’s because The International Tweexcore’s kaleidoscopic splendour has been concocted by a cherubic bunch of sickly-sweet kids barely old enough to order a pint, nevermind write a track steeped in pure symphonic brilliance. See? Completely terrifying.
Rating: 9/10

Released on 22 October through Wichita Records

SINGLE REVIEW: Chris T-T – This Gun Is Not A Gun EP

Lauded by tatty music rags as the saviour of British song-writing, Chris T-T’s rise hasn’t exactly been meteoric. While rag-tag rapscallion Jamie T burst headlong into the mainstream, this Brighton-based trouveur was left immersed in glowing tributes without any of the coin-spinning success and judging by new EP This Gun Is Not A Gun it’s hardly surprising. Squeezing himself into a fissure between Billy Bragg and Tom Robinson, his infectious politically-fused acoustica scythes through the bones of contemporary culture without thought to chart-stardom. Refreshing as it may be, you’re left with the impression Chris T-T is never destined for commercial acclaim.
Rating: 6/10
Released on 19 November through Xtra Mile Recordings.

ALBUM REVIEW: Cruiser - Northern Electric

Six long years have passed since Cruiser first released Northern Electric. During that time a plethora of presupposed indie-saviours descended as dramatically as they rose; Canada emerged as the holy-land of exhilarating musical miscreants; and Britney Spears exchanged her pop-princess pig tails for an infinitely less cutesy combination of burgers and booze. But amidst the tectonic commotion one constant remained: Northern Electric is still a jaw-dropping slice of sonic mastery as fresh as the glistening morning dew. Swirling breathlessly through the cranium like an inter-galactic My Latest Novel, the Cowdenbeath ensemble’s re-released debut is gloriously infused with tender synth-led flourishes like Blown and the whimsical lilting of Hooligan Noise. Every swooning track tingles to a shy, elegiac pop melody that traverses into tear-duct orchestrations so honest they make Belle & Sebastian seem callous. Gorgeous and timeless, the sound of Cruiser’s Northern Electric will have the next six years flying in.
Rating: 4/5

Relased on 28 October through KFM Records

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

ALBUM REVIEW: Augie March – Moo, You Bloody Choir

Moo, You Bloody Choir’’s not a title you’d readily associate with Australia’s sun-blushed pastures. The phrase is so awash with cynicism it’s almost natural to assume this is yet another introspective release from a doom-harbingering troupe of Scots. But Melbourne quintet Augie March prove you don’t require perennially grey skies to create stirring melancholy. Threading a soulful needle through a cloak of hazy melodies and brittle country trickles, the group’s third LP appears unshapely but develops into a well-fitted shawl of sound. Burdened by the maudlin balladry of Victoria’s Secrets, the opening half is as drippy as it is forgettable but once Just Passing Through’s tigerish riff growls its way into the breezy banjo tweaks of Thin Captain Crackers what transpires is a captivating fusion of campfire laments and rich harmonic fluttering. While not quite a master-class in morbidity, ‘Moo..’ is haunting enough to engross the most sombre of hearts.

Rating 6/10

Released on 29 October through Columbia

ALBUM REVIEW: Republic Of Loose – Aaagh!

2007’s been funk-ing crazy, ain't it? From the freakoid majesty of Chromeo's Fancy Footwork to Prince's sold-out 21-night residency in the venue formerly known as the Millennium Dome, it seems every man and his velour adorning mongrel has a hankering for booty grinding, slap bass tickling grooves. But, inevitably, the new funk revival’s going to generate some unwanted dangle-berries and in Republic Of Loose’s porcelain blocking sound it’s undoubtedly dropped a stinking log. This nine-strong Celtic ensemble’s second LP ‘Aaagh!’ is an indigestible splatter of chart-slobbering sheen riddled with pantomimic misogyny and a neanderthalic sense of violence. Perpetually bulging to grinding R&B rhythms, Timbaland-aping tracks like the The Translation or the insipid flamenco shuffle of Break! could transcend Jamiroquai into the pantheon of disco legends. Thematically dubious and musically incorrigible, ‘Aaagh!’ proves that when it comes to creating hook laden floor fillers Republic Of Loose can funk right off.
Rating: 2/10

Relased 5 November on Loaded Dice Records

Saturday, 6 October 2007

ALBUM REVIEW:Beirut - The Flying Club Cup

The element of surprise was pivotal to Beirut’s exhilarating Gulag Orkestar. At a time when skinny-fit vagabonds were blurting out tedious ten-a-penny riffs, a shoulder shrugging 20-year-old was orchestrating an ambuscade of striding percussion, deft ukulele bristles and bulging horn flourishes that marched proudly to the traversing rhythms of Eastern Europe. It was a rare explosion of vibrancy in a cocoon of grey sonic insipidity; a stunning declaration of war on the aural myopia that had saturated our eardrums. And once Zach Condon staggered onto the battlefield trumpet in hand, warbling veraciously over those hypnotic Balkan soundscapes, the struggle was over – surrender was all you could do.

But the effects of such an abrupt invasion are fleeting; pretty soon attention abates and questions are posed. It’s during this time of doubt and mistrust where unequivocal, unadulterated talent ascends above the one-trick mares wheeled out as limbless talking heads on spirit-sapping Channel 4 list-umentaries. And with the release of Beirut’s second LP The Flying Club Cup, Condon’s moment of judgement has finally arrived. Make no mistake: a Gulag Orkestar Mk II would hardly render this precocious talent the gypsy-folk embodiment of Junior Senior, but to linger on the debut’s laurels would suppress the captivating aura of reformation that felt like such a juggernautal antithesis in the first place.

Luckily, Zachery’s an explorer - one completely ill at ease with stringing out a winning formula for another effortless victory - and in the sound of The Flying Club Cup we find our wily young troubadour packing up his instrument bulging nap-sack and soaring onwards in search pastures new. The ghoulish Balkansian stomps that infused every crevasse of Orkestar have vanished, replaced with charming trinkets of chanson pop melody and swaying Baroque cracknels. It’s a record that transcends beyond the swarming despondency engulfed in the likes of ‘Postcards From Italy’ or ‘After The Curtain’, lending itself more to the retrospective sky-larking that spilled out from last year’s Lon Gisland EP. But what The Flying Club Cup shares with its darkly-tinged predecessor is an overwhelming penchant to excavate uncultivated lands - and this time the setting’s decidedly more Gallic.

Yet from ‘Nantes’’ first brittle organ flicker its clear Condon’s composed equilibrium has been ruffled by this newly arrived destination. His unmistakable brazen croon is tempered with a fatigued tenderness that twists the mariachi saunter of brass and percussion into an evocative ballad, and this downtrodden sense of self-assessment entwines itself throughout the fabric of every intricately woven track. The dramatic symbol clashes and haunting choral backdrop still present themselves thrillingly in ‘Guyamas Sonora’’s climatic opus but Condon shies away from the indecipherable wail of old, becoming more statesman like in projection. And for that, The Flying Club Cup is all the more mesmerising.

Venturing out on to windswept Parisian streets, Zach’s tankard-swigging trill leads ‘A Sunday Smile’ through a weeping horn-blowing carousel to the gorgeous ukulele bluster of ‘The Penalty’ before axis-spinning onto album highlight ‘Forks And Knives (La Fete)’’s illuminated pathway. A shuffling big-band cacophony of trumpet, strings and tickling mandolin, this lamp-swinging saunter swoons to a twinkle-toed Broadway-esque rhythm that rises perkily above the heart-breaking introversion of ‘Un Dernier Verre (Pour La Route)’ or the title track’s gushing orchestration.

Speckles of Jacques Brel emanate through the spine of this touching, elegiac affair – particularly during the ornately structured ‘Cliquot’ where the twitching, convulsive tones of Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallet mingle amidst breathless accordion wheezes and rat-a-tat drum stumbles – but embedded within woozy, romance-trickled laments like ‘Cherbourg’ lies the mature lyrical persuasiveness of a vaudevillian Cave or Waits. Such glowing accolades may seem impetuous considering this is but the second notch on Condon’s barely creaking musical bed-post, yet every inch is so tenderly crafted there’s little doubt more knee-trembling triumphs lie ahead for our cherub-cheeked wanderer.

Despite being the unmistakable sound of Beirut, this is not the Orkestar extension so widely expected. Rather than congesting the listener with frantic Eastern European folk shanties, a poignant nobility and romantic notion of contemporary France permeates its way into your conscience with unbridled zeal. The surprise may have eroded through the passing of time but with the spellbinding release of The Flying Club Cup young Zachery Condon proves he’s lost none of his creative sparkle.

Rating: 8/10

Out 8 October On 4AD Records

INTERVIEW: Animal Collective

It was never meant to be this way. The sequence-spangled sound of pop music should now be extinct; consigned to a long forgotten graveyard bulging with fallen soap stars, loin burning hot pants and the three most bile-invoking surnames in the English language: Stock, Aitken and Waterman. If the grunge stained, pill-popping, Kappa clad dawn of the 90s taught us anything it was that pop would eventually eat itself whole and, oh, how we would jig on its reeking worm-ridden carcass.

But here we are, almost a decade later, deep in the belly of the noughties with our ears consumed by a never ending ream of childish rhythm patterns and limb-slinking melodies. Y'see pop music never died, instead it did the one thing nobody expected – it evolved. Suddenly every hollow cheeked indie urchin was churning out music for ladies to dance to; gun-totting gangstas lured pretty-pink songstresses into the Benjamin-spinning sound of 'The Ghetto'; and Girls Aloud became, well, the most dazzling ensemble of sugar-coated chanteuses this side of Bananarama. Rather than consuming itself, pop music's become a ravenous polymorphous beast, chomping its way through every impediment that has the audacity to confront it.

Well, almost.

Because at the turn of the millennium, across the Atlantic in the seaport city of Baltimore, a group of four childhood friends were preparing to release a debut LP that would prove the antithesis to pop's relentless surge. Built around a splatter of feedback, rhythmic beatboxing and demonic yelps, it was an astonishing lug-ringing masterpiece that would catapult Avey Tare, Deakin, Geologist and Panda Bear into the spotlight; and one which would lay the foundations for two of the most spellbinding records of the past ten years - Sung Tongs and Feels. This stunning debut was Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished and the band? The mighty Animal Collective.

Seven years later and eight albums down, the unassuming quartet have just launched their latest instalment of unhinged musical mastery to a myriad of delirious whoops and cheers. Strawberry Jam is unmistakably Animal Collective; swishing vividly to the sort of heel-spinning sonic shivers that escalated their previous efforts into euphoric cranium warping triumphs. But amidst the enraptured critical mêlée has risen whispers of disillusionment, gently blowing murmurings of over-production and commercialism in to this sphere of contentment. Could the unthinkable be true - has Animal Collective finally succumbed to the trappings of pop gentrification?

Relaxing in his New York apartment, one of the band's founding members Dave Portner [aka Avey Tare] ponders the question as he speaks to Spins and Needles: "We still can't really figure out why people have been saying [Strawberry Jam's] predominantly a pop record," he says slightly bemused. "I guess the way the songs are a lot simpler makes it stand out as a little poppier but, if anything, this record is a bit less commercial because we took out the harmonies and left in a lot of the overdubs and flourishes. So really, we didn't think it was poppy or melodic – but it seems we were wrong."

Much of the hubbub over this newly supposed pop direction revolves around the group's deflection from independent label Fat Cat Records to Domino – home of multi-million selling indie pinup boys Franz Ferdinand – after the release of 2005's globally lauded Feels.
But Portner is determined to assuage fears of any record company meddling during Strawberry Jam's production: "[Domino] wanted to record us for who we are and what we have going on. They just wanted to help us progress in what were doing and that was pretty sweet. I mean, every band wants to deliver something that everybody is psyched with but it's not like they put any extra pressure on us. The only pressure we had was to do something we thought was interesting but then that's always been the way with us. We're always trying to create something that's definitely different from everything else."

It's an unarguable point – Animal Collective are certainly different. From the babbling psychedelia of Here Comes The Indian, to Sung Tongs' majestic freakoid folk, and onward through the gauzy guitar trickles of Feels; each record seems to relinquish it's grip on reality, letting unchecked, untainted emotions infect every glorious spiral of sound. Given the group's nomadic predilection to composing records, it's perhaps unsurprising their latest release is an attempt at aurally capturing the texture of its sticky sweet title.

"To be honest I think it all has to do with the fact that strawberry jam is widely available," Portner jokes. "Noah [Lennox, aka Panda Bear] saw the jam packet on a flight and we decided that's exactly what we wanted the record to sound like. The image came through working on the songs and it just seemed to make sense as it had a futuristic quality to it and at the time we wanted to make forward-thinking songs. It's very much a post-Feels record - it's a little more inward, where we were almost reassessing what was going on in our lives. This record is about finding positivity and knowing that every thing we do together is special."

Strawberry Jam is every inch the sound of a band that's wriggled its ways through a mire of good times and bad and it's in this world-weary bond where Portner believes the group's perpetual push for innovation lies, even though each member now lives in a different city or, in Panda Bear's case, continent (he relocated to Lisbon in 2004). This constant urge to progress has predictably led to the exploration of ventures outside the safe-haven of Animal Collective - with the most notable being Panda Bear's mesmerising solo LP Person Pitch - but does this constant fleeting between projects affect the group's focus?

"No, not at all. Having the freedom to record music on our own and hanging out together is what Animal Collective's all about," Portner exclaims. "It's a lot different now from how it used to be because we're all living in different places, but it makes playing music together a lot more meaningful. Now when we get together it's a really special moment for us but the space we have helps us to collect our own sounds and write our own material. It's just an extension of how we grew up, passing our own songs on to one another. I guess, for one of us to take issue with someone else's music now would be weird - we've been friends since high-school so it's always been, and probably always will be, this way."

With the virtue of friendship at the root of Animal Collective's creative ethos, Portner can never foresee a time when the group decides to make an assault on the mainstream: "We have no inclination to be a huge band," he confesses. "The joy of playing music is what matters to us over anything else – it brings out our most innovative and basic qualities. We lose ourselves in it and become really un-human - kind of like aliens."

While the all-plundering pop behemoth shows no sign of relenting its trawl through our fertile musical pastures, it may just be the genius sounds of these unaffected aliens that finally saves us all from the clutches of the manufactured machine.

LIVE REVIEW: Foals - Cabaret Voltaire, 24 September

Epileptic strobes blind enlarged pupils; beads of sweat drip tap-like from the ceiling; and a gaggle of beanpole fanboys stand fists aloft, each in awe of the latest scene-shifting sensations. Yup, the UK's 'Next Big Thing' - otherwise known as Foals - are in town and the trendy kids lap up every second. But this Oxford-based quintet conjure more than the staple riff-angles and Topshop-circa styles that so often plague naive young pretenders; there's an unexpected intellect immersed in the cyborg guitar rickets and pulsing afro-beat woodpecking it's way through Cabaret Voltaire. In this hyperactive furnace of luminous sonics, frontman Yannis Philippakis and his roguish cohorts fizz the crowd into a sprawl of flailing limbs with Mathletics' whirling laser-driven disco and the jittery psycho-babble emitting from closer Hummer. At just thirty minutes this hypnotic set is sadly short-lived, but tonight we may just have witnessed these young Foals grow into prize-winning thoroughbreds.
Rating: 8/10

ALBUM REVIEW: Swimmer One - The Regional Variations

Autumn’s a cantankerous swine of a season. One minute it’s a romantic courtyard of crumpled earth-worn leaves, where lovers sneak kisses amidst a backdrop of slowly receding greenery; the next, force ten gales are veering you headlong into the path of a Number 42 while you stagger to work, leaving you cursing the ineffectiveness of those damn greenhouse gases.

Aye, this time of year can be a bitch alright – especially for the less optimistically minded – and with the release of The Regional Variations Edinburgh/Glasgow-based electro smugglers Swimmer One have perfectly encapsulated fall’s bittersweet disposition.

Laden with doom-cast canticles, this debut LP is an understated juxtaposition of absorbing melody and scything lyricism that transcends beyond its initial coy ushering into a whooshing gem of elegiac synth-carved splendour. Exploring every imbecilic facet of modern day pop-culture – from reality TV’s inexhaustible grip on society to the trauma of a faceless internet romance – the duo of Andrew Eaton and Hamish Brown inject a stream of playful, yet caustic, asides through their minimalist digitisation; creating a record steeped in the crabit tradition of Scottish songwriters but exuding a warmth of heart akin to the ethereal excursions of Flotation Toy Warning.

The machine crafted beat of opener 'Drowning Nightmare 1' tentatively leads the ears down a winding stairwell of dank zigzagging keys and bolshy bass, lit only by the placid demure of Eaton’s soft, intelligent mew. With such a bleak exterior it’d be easy to disregard Swimmer One as yet another proponent of the rejuvenated, but utterly dreary, shoegazing scene. But for all the downcast protestations of tracks like ‘The Fakester Genocide’ and the eerie ‘Whatever You Do Don’t Go In The Basement’, an uplifting hint of optimism begins to shuffle its way onto the fore with teasing regularity.

‘But My Heart Is Broken’’s transient subtlety recalls the heart-charged hopefulness of Aereogramme’s ‘Barriers’, dampening cheeks with a symphonic sheen reminiscent of ’80s synth-poppers the Pet Shop Boys. And it’s in these moments of brittle expectancy where Swimmer One ground themselves amongst the finest luminaries on Scotland’s expansive musical landscape. Skewed by a sprawling tableau of swirling, stirring electronica, the record’s laconic narrative is converted into a euphoric vantage point; allowing the morbid despair of ‘The Balanced Company’ and ‘Regional’ to thrive as throbbing, dashing, lip-pursing slabs of cosmic regency.

Captivating to the point of hypnosis, The Regional Variations is a record of such heart-melting honesty not even the bitter autumnal chill can penetrate its innately warm interior.

Rating: 8/10

Out 3 September on Biophonic Records

ALBUM REVIEW: Plain White T’s -Every Second Counts

Athough never exactly water tight, the Jo Whiley seal of approval offered a reliable sanctuary during the storm of tracksuit-adorning guitar-clutching miscreants that flooded the mid 90s. Alongside bug-eyed Evening Session cohort Steve Lamacq, Whiley seduced a nation of reclusive ill-fitting teens with her sultry tones, seemingly unrivalled insight into all things indie and, teasingly, her refusal to wear shoes in the studio (a move which appeared both rebellious and sexy but now seems plain unhygienic). Yup this girl was a looker with immaculate taste in tunes, making her the trouser-straining wet-dream of every lank-haired fifteen year old.

But those halcyon days of bedroom bound listening eventually faded. The Evening Session slowly dissolved, Jo moved on to the tedium of daytime radio, and listeners finally grew old enough to venture into scuzzy, beer soaked dives and discover their own heroic melody-makers.

Yet, when Plain White T's fourth LP 'Every Second Counts' passed into my hands with a glowing tribute from Ms Whiley emblazoned on it's sleeve, those doe-eyed early-evening memories came gushing back. This was someone who'd shaped my musical foundations, someone who was responsible for my bulging un-choreographed CD collection funded by an emaciated bank balance, and, no matter how many years had slipped through the egg-timer of life, I knew she could be trusted.

How wrong I was.

What she hears in this shit-shifting, lug-burning, stomach-wrenching excuse of a band is beyond me. The Illinois based quintet epitomise the soulless, pitiable bile that soundtracks neanderthalic frat parties across America; the type of shindig dominated by bench-pressing jocks and mini-skirt tugging beauty pageant clones looking to touch 'third base' having guzzled their way through kegs of piss-warm ale whilst crushing beer cans on their gray matter devoid craniums.

Littered with cringing adolescent takes on the complexity of relationships, every track alludes to one of two regimented formulas: either tuneless thrashing guitar dirge built around a hushed verse and loud chorus or – the infinitely worse - crawling, candle burning strummery that drizzles out archaic couplets like the woeful "what's it like in New York City, I'm a thousand miles away but, girl, tonight you look so pretty"['Hey There Delilah] with no hint of shame.

Nothing here has the nous or audacity to arrest the mind with even a smidgen of intrigue as the band prefer to languish corpse-like in You And Me''s multi-layered post-Sum 41 jizz and the utterly dispassionate ska-punk splurge of 'Friends Don't Let Friends Dial Drunk' (surely the worst song title of the millennium?). The entire record is so skull numbingly predictable it's easy to pre-empt the video for any forthcoming single; y'know, the one where a brooding frontman is initially ponderous and morose in that oh-so-emo way before climaxing with the entire band jumping into a pool, instruments in hand, while scantily clad girls cavort joyously around them.

Perhaps I'm just too old to understand the allure but, as one slice of college rock-schlock sloops limply into another, it's questionable whether we need the Plain White T's stateside tripe at a time when our own generic batch of jingle-merchants are hovering smugly around the chart's upper echelons. Yet, with Whiley and her contingent of play list-adoring accomplices continuing to champion such purposeless pinups across the airwaves, it seems depressingly like the record buying masses have little say in the matter.

Rating: 3/10

Out 1 September on Hollywood Records