Archive for the 'Single Reviews' Category

Digital Vinyl #2: Ultra Vivid Scene – Mercy Seat

Almost exactly a year ago I posted Digital Vinyl #1 in the sincere hope that it would become a regular feature and that by now, many of my old vinyl rarities would have been made available to you in shiny modern mp3 format. This has obviously not been the case; but then, a new year, a new beginning? Maybe.

Mercy SeatUltra Vivid Scene was the musical nom de plume of one Kurt Ralske, a New Yorker who married programmed drums and synths with anaemic, fuzzed-out guitars and his own fey vocals to create a brand of indie pop that was dark and catchy; often dreamy, occasionally twee. It’s no surprise, then, that he signed to the burgeoning 4AD label in 1987, releasing an eponymous debut album in 1988. It was a good album, but one track stuck out like a sore thumb: “Mercy Seat”, with its propulsive, overdriven bass line and glistening guitar parts, was an instant classic, my favourite track of 1988, if memory serves. Coincidentally, 1988 was also the year that Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds released their Death Row epic “The Mercy Seat”; almost identical titles but the similarities end there.

In 1989, “Mercy Seat” was re-recorded and released as a 12″ single, along with an excellent cover of Buffy St. Marie’s “Codine”, a new song called “H Like In Heaven”, and the original version of the lead track. The new version of “Mercy Seat” was augmented by a long, languid intro that almost doubles the track’s length. It is a beautiful piece of music with Ralske’s guitar snaking around celestial voices and organ, and THAT bassline, the genius of its simplicity, stripped of the distortion that defined the original yet losing none of its authority. It takes three minutes for the intro to resolve itself, when we reach the point at which the original version began, when we realise that this wonderful three minutes of music has served its purpose to maximise the impact of the beginning of the song proper. It is a glorious moment and the rest of the song plays out as a more laid back version of the original, with a more expansive sound, more space between instruments, but lacking wall of fuzzy guitar that helps to make the original so compelling. Both versions have their considerable merits and its difficult to say which is the better.

Ultra Vivid Scene made two more albums: Joy 1967-1990 (1990) trod the familiar ground of the debut but was a big improvement in terms of songwriting and sound, while Rev (1993) featured a full band and was a marked departure from the earlier material with longer songs, plenty of acoustic guitars and a darker, more intense sound. It was a promising new direction, but that was the last we heard of them.

Ultra Vivid Scene – Mercy Seat (extended version)

Ultra Vivid Scene – Codine

Ultra Vivid Scene – H Like In Heaven

Ultra Vivid Scene – Mercy Seat (LP Version)

Posted by The Ledge on 26th January 2008 at 1:15 am | comments (6)
File under Digital Vinyl,kurt ralske,mp3,Reviews,Single Reviews,ultra vivid scene.

CD Single Review: “Speed”, McAlmont & Butler (Rough Trade)

“Faster than the bullet trains in the east….” belts out David McAlmont on the chorus of the brand spanking new McAlmont & Butler song, which may just be the best thing they’ve done, if not it’s a close second to the masterful “Yes.” Full of soaring highs, and moments of “how does he do that with his voice?!” it’s a classic pop song with Bernard Butler’s Phil Spector-esque lavish production, orchestral moments and overwhelming grandeur, something which works so well against David McAlmont’s impassioned vocals and the broad range of highs and lows he produces, somehow, defying all the laws of physics in the process.

The single is out in 7″ format only on Rough Trade on August 7, backed with the instrumental version. The best explanation about this release has been given by Bernard himself on his MySpace blog which is worth a read if only as a stark contrast to his sometime songwriting partner who will hopefully redeem his own recent transgressions on his own solo album next year.

Posted by JustHipper on 13th July 2006 at 6:46 pm | comments (1)
File under Reviews,Single Reviews.

Some random single reviews to keep things ticking over during the gig drought

Nephew – Our Cold War EP (Baked Goods)
Indie Credential faves Nephew‘s debut EP is finally upon us and it was well worth the wait. Lead track “High Rise Buildings” is a live favourite of mine and sounds almost as dynamic on record as it is in concert. It deals with swapping mundane small town life with life in the big city. Similar themes were explored by Doves on their Some Cities album but where that album was duller than a Ukraine performance at the World Cup, “High Rise Buildings” ebbs and flows with its yawning violin loops and epic chorus. “Sorry” recalls Elbow and is short and sweet while “Who The Fuck” and “Secret Army” are vitriolic episodes that sit somewhere between Radiohead and The Unbelievable Truth, Thom York’s brother’s band, who released the seriously underrated Almost Here way back in 1998. Needless to say, all four songs on this EP are excellent and I really can’t recommend it enough.

Nephew launch the Our Cold War EP with a gig at the Night & Day on Wednesday 12th July, tickets are £5 on the door. The EP will be in the shops on Monday 17th, I’m not sure which shops exactly but I’m pretty sure Piccadilly Records will have it.

Snowfight In The City Centre – No Light Left (High Voltage Sounds)
We went to see Snowfight In The City Centre at their single launch at the Music Box last week and they were pretty good, though not as impressive as either of the support bands, The Answering Machine and The Maple State. “No Light Left” made much less of an impression on us than much of the rest of their set but it’s definitely a grower, an urgent slice of anthemic Manc pop that should hopefully gain them wider exposure. The b-side, “My Saving Grace”, sounded rather excellent live but further investigation reveals it to owe far too much of a debt to Elbow, right down to the title. A promising debut, nonetheless.

Mogwai – Travel Is Dangerous EP (PIAS)
The new Mogwai EP is a worthwhile purchase if only for the fact that it contains a fearsome live version of “Like Herod” recorded in Tokyo earlier this year which makes the “Mogwai Young Team” version sound positively serene by comparison. A similarly bowel-loosening live version of Mr Beast’s “We’re No Here” is also a winner and elsewhere there are remixes of “Auto Rock” and “Friend Of The Night” that strip away the driving piano motifs of the album versions and play around with the rhythms beneath. I’m not a great fan of remixes but, though both tracks lose some of the melodrama of their album counterparts, they make for an intriguing listen. The title track features Barry Burns on rather undistinguished vocal duties but it boasts great arpeggios and a whopping chorus in which the vocals catch a ride on the back of a wave of shoegazey distortion.

Smog – Rock Bottom Riser (Domino)
The new Smog EP arrives just in time to remind me of the melancholic brilliance of last year’s A River Ain’t Too Much To Love featuring as it does, two tracks, “Rock Bottom Riser” and “I Feel Like The Mother Of The World”, from that album, alongside two newies in “Bowery” and “Fool’s Lament”, both of which wouldn’t be out of place on River. Which is high praise indeed and makes this EP a must for all Smog fans out there. Also included are videos for the first two tracks which feature Chloë Sevigny as a chambermaid with an eye patch in “Mother Of The World” and some beautiful animation in “Rock Bottom Riser”. Bill Callaghan is a genius and has the most beautiful voice known to man. Buy this now.

The Sleepy Jackson – God Lead Your Soul (EMI)
The Sleepy Jackson never really piqued my interest when they were around a couple of years ago but their new single ain’t bad at all, starting off as a dusty, atmospheric shuffle before bursting to life about halfway through when the traditional sophomore album orchestra comes in and briefly threatens to undo all the previous good work. Fortunately the orchestra is reined in for the final verse. There are hints of gospel and the song is clearly inspired by Luke Steele’s apparently new-found Christianity. I won’t hold that against them, though, as this is a strong lead track for their forthcoming Personality long player.

The Sleepy Jackson play the Manchester Academy 3 on 13th July. Unfortunately Silver Jews are playing Club Academy on the same date so I’m going to that instead.

The Hedrons – Be My Friend (Measured Records)
The Hedrons are an all-girl rock band from Glasgow with a terrible name and a completely uninspiring debut single. People should know by now that surnames don’t work as band names (The Smiths being the exception that proves the rule). Just because your lead singer’s called Tippi doesn’t mean you have to call your band that. It’s like Hepburn never happened. Anyway, the song is tuneless faux-punk rock pap inspired by MySpace from a band who sound like they spend their Sundays ironing their Ramones t-shirts they got from Top Shop.

Posted by The Ledge on 9th July 2006 at 10:17 pm | comments (2)
File under Reviews,Single Reviews.

Single Review: The Library Trust – Build Your Own Slow Globe EP [Static Caravan]

library trust
We went to the “launch” party for this EP at The Britons Protection back in July and now, after an unexplained three month delay, the record is finally in the shops on trusty old 7″ vinyl. The Library Trust is Lancastrian singer/songwriter Robert Edwards, a man who has realised that calling himself “Robert Edwards” would see himself lumped in with the current morass of male singer/songwriters by lazy journalists everywhere. The Library Trust is a very apt moniker if the quiet, introspective musing of his debut EP are anything to go by.

Opener “Eveline” clocks in at barely a minute but is a great introduction for the rest of the EP with Edwards’ fragile voice floating forlornly over a spare acoustic backing. “A Shove In The Mouth” builds from a simple acoustic strum, adding slide guitar, cello and a smattering of snare to produce an eerily intense backing to the EP’s stand out track.

Though “Harbour” and “Beyond Blue” on Side B offer no further surprises musically, it’s Edwards’ songwriting prowess that grabs the attention. The lyrical themes are familiar ones of unrequited love, loss and depression but there’s a refreshing simplicity in the melodies which draws you in and leaves you wanting more. The lo-fi production values – it sounds like a home recording with chairs creaking and all sorts in the background – lend the songs an intimacy akin to that of the Britons Protection gig: it’s like The Library Trust are playing in your front room. An excellent debut which gets better and better the more you listen to it.

Posted by The Ledge on 20th October 2005 at 11:51 pm | comments (0)
File under Reviews,Single Reviews.