Swimming Upstream   

Amazon Records


A CD reviewer should be able to judge the music and songs objectively and dispassionately. Then without bias review the package for the readers to give them a chance in deciding whether to purchase said item. Well in this case forget it. I admit failure. As soon as I started to listen to this CD it grabbed me and I knew I liked it and that was it. I can't 'unlike' it, it is good if not spectacular.

So all I can do is try and explain why. The songs are a collection of well written soft rock and rather breathy ballads backed by good acoustic or distorted electric guitar riffs but cutting edge rock it is not. However music is often played to accompany moods and if you are feeling just a bit thoughtful or even just a bit emotionally vulnerable this collection of songs can really hit the spot.

Too often perhaps we expect music to stand alone regardless of how we feel as we start to listen. By itself this album may not rival the best but there is always a place in my collection for a CD which makes me feel better for listening to it. A lot of the songs are easy on the ear but do not really stand out but for me the opener, 'Being There' and 'Running On Empty' are classy pieces of pop and would sit quite happily in the lower reaches of the charts. But then again Chart music is not often of this quality. Consequently the song writing talent and the good musicianship are a fair indication that the best is yet to come for this outfit if they persevere.


D Jo






Night of the killer longface   


I've been intrigued by the antifolk movement since I first came across it a couple of years ago. Springing out of New York in the late 1980s, leading exponent Major Matt Mason USA says it "stresses heart over technique, honesty over polish, process over product, and more often than not unlocks the true power of words and music." As you might imagine, such a grass-roots approach doesn't immediately attract commercial success, although leading lights - including Jeffrey Lewis and The Moldy Peaches - have gained exposure over here, largely due to their albums being released by Rough Trade. British antifolk isn't as mature yet, but there are bands out there with similar influences and ideas; Leicester's Misterlee is one such. Namechecking Mason and his Olive Juice Music label on the sleeve, 'Night of the Killer Longface' is their second album.

Antifolk is based more on a certain mindset than a specific sound, and it's present in abundance here. A response to more traditional, honest acoustic songs, it can incorporate a wide range of alternative influences. Misterlee bring to the table a dark, skewed sense of humour, and a talent for creating a minimal, sinister atmosphere, especially on 'Magnesium Horses'. Even the light and tuneful 'Natural Born Blond' has lyrical undertones ("She's a natural born blond / Can't see the nakedness in her house / The sofa gets it all / Our lady sees it all"). Instead of having a melody and telling a story, this is music that draws you in with less obvious, but ultimately just as rewarding songs.

Musically, less is more for Misterlee. Simple but effective, the album features little production, but doesn't suffer for it; in fact, it adds to the unusual eeriness the permeates the album, most notably 'Fortune Telling Agnes'. Production isn't necessary, either, Lee Allatson's characteristic voice and judicious use of a variety of instruments - including a cheerful kazoo - adding all the nuance needed.

All this adds up to an unconventional grower of an album, slightly unsettling at first, but ultimately well worth getting to know. It's nice to discover that the Beta Band's sense of mischief hasn't disappeared with their splitting up.

'Night of the Killer Longface' is released on Rubber Czech Records on February 7th, with a UK tour follwing soon afterwards - for full details check their website.

Grant Lakeland





Sam Huxley

Very Good EP



It's enough to warm the cockles of your heart.

A couple of months ago, I went to see James Yorkston and The Athletes in Birmingham. Being very impressed, I found telling people how good it was didn't seem enough, so I decided to write about it. If it's on the net, millions could potentially read it, I reasoned - no matter if it wasn't actually all that many. I'm glad I did, as one of the support acts read the piece and got in touch. As a result, I found myself in possession of his CD. Who'd have thought it? This writing lark actually has positive results!

Sam Huxley is his name, and he has a 4-track debut available to purchase. Across the four songs he exhibits a range of talents all the more impressive considering he is still only 17 years old. Having already supported Cathy Davey, The Decemberists, Surferosa and Jimbob from Carter USM among others, he's gaining live experience too.

We'll forgive him the cheek of calling the first song 'Very Good' - acoustic, with a strong melody, it's certainly catchy. 'Hate You' is in similar vein, rough vocals not obcusring the potential should it get the proper recording it deserves. With an ear for a hook, and thoughtful lyrics, there's plenty of evidence of good songwriting here.

As well as those simple, memorable tunes, Huxley diversifies on the other two tracks. 'If You Relocate' is indie rock with ideas; not quite brilliant, but easily a cut or two above many more famous bands. More experimental, 'NYTCP' has discordant strums which almost recall antifolk, samples at each end, and evocative vocals and lyrics. Different and unsettling, it complements the other songs nicely and adds another dimension to an offering which singles Sam Huxley out as a name to look out for in the coming years. You heard it here first.

Grant Lakeland





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