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Nuggets from our archive

2001 - Early career profile of Damien Rice, written by Sinead Ward. This insightful profile was written before Damien broke internationally with the release of his debut album 'O'. This profile continues to attract hundreds of visits every month, it being linked to from Damien Rice's Wikipedia page.

The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Album Reviews

27

A review of the album Battle For The Sun by Placebo

Review Snapshot: If this is how good Placebo sound when they choose to write about 'stepping out of the darkness and into the light' can somebody please arrange to shower Brian Molko with sunlight for the foreseeable future?  An album full of urgency and optimism, Battle for the Sun has the potential to be regarded as Placebo's finest work.

The Cluas Verdict? 9.5 out of 10

Full Review:
Placebo-Battle For The SunAfter 13 years, 5 studio albums and 10 million album sales, you would have to wonder what possible reasons Placebo have to keep going, especially after the loss of major label backing and Steve Hewitt, the band's drummer for the past 11 years.  Wonder no more, the reason is clear; after spending over a decade dealing with life in the shadows, Placebo, and Brian Molko in particular, have decided to focus on optimism and positivity, the result of which is Battle for the Sun (released June 8).

Those of you familiar with the Placebo back catalogue, 2006's Meds in particular, will be aware that darkness seemed to be an essential element in terms of shaping Placebo's songs, almost to the point of self-parody.  Indeed, at that stage that Placebo were arguably, to quote our own Aidan Curran, 'a band who's future was long behind them.'  That's most definitely not the case however, and while there are still some dark themes on Battle for the Sun it is hard not to feel the sense of optimism that seeps from every nook and cranny of this record. Track 6, Bright Lights, for example contains the following refrain: A heart that hurts/is a heart that works. It's simple, yet equally effective and evocative and a million miles adrift of songs like Pierrot the Clown (Meds, 2006) or Summer's Gone (Without You I'm Nothing, 1998).

The album, recorded in Toronto over three months with Dave Bottrill (dEUS, Silverchair, Muse) and mixed by Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails), actually gets off to a very inauspicious start with Kitty Litter.  For the first 3 minutes, it sounds like typical Placebo fair, musically competent, lyrically excellent and then there is a subtle change of direction and bang, we have the new Placebo.  This continues straight into the excellent Ashtray Heart, which has more in common with the likes of Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire (it must be the Toronto air) than the Placebo of old.

Battle for the Sun contains far too many standout tracks to list them all.  The sense of urgency that drives almost every track, combined with very polished production, creates a unique listening experience where you find yourself waiting for the next track while not wanting the current track to end.   New drummer Steve Forrest does an exceptional job considering his mere 22 years and his pounding of the skins plays an important part on the majority of tracks, lead single For What it's Worth in particular.

When I review records, I start off with a score of 10 and try to find reasons to deduct marks.  With Battle for the Sun I found it very difficult to find fault.  It's as accomplished as it is refreshing and while producing an album that defies genres (and indeed people's pre-conceptions of them, this writer included) will be sure to garner Placebo new fans (maybe even Aidan), it is also a record that will startle and delight their many existing fans. I can give Battle for the Sun no higher praise than to say it could well prove to be the essential Placebo album.

Steve O'Rourke


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26
Laura Izibor 'Let The Truth Be Told'
A review of the album Let The Truth Be Told by Laura Izibor Review Snapshot:  Pretty face on the cover? Check.  Impressive voice? Check.  Middle of the road, vaguely ...

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24
Subplots 'Nightcycles'
A review of the album Nightcycles by Subplots Review Snapshot: At times melodic, at times fractured, Nightcycles is at all times a beautiful and ambitious debut long player and, for that, Subplots...

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10

A review of the album 'Posthumous Success' by Tom Brosseau

Review Snapshot: The sound of a singer-songer in creative transition and perhaps finding his true voice. This album’s folk foundations are weak when exposed to attentive listening, but Brosseau’s other aspect is an alt-rock swagger that infuses this record with wit and personality.

The Cluas Verdict? 6.5 out of 10

Full Review:
Tom Brosseau 'Posthumous Success'The self-deprecating title of Tom Brosseau’s third album suggests that this North Dakota native may be of that rare species: a male acoustic singer-songer with a sense of humour.

And for the most part this is true. ‘Posthumous Success’ is a likeable sort of record that brings a refreshingly alternative range of influences to bear on the familiar old folk-pop format. ‘Big Time’, with its wry declaration of wannabe ambition, shudders with a treated electric riff that would sound at home on stage at the Enormodome. There’s a triumphant lo-fi sneer to ‘You Don’t Know My Friends’ which is picked up again in a veritable Lou Reed tribute called ‘Drumroll’. That VU sound suits Brosseau and he wears it like he owns it.

Strangely enough, though, he’s less convincing whenever he chooses to emphasise the folk style that probably inspired these songs at the writing stage. Brosseau’s thin, vibrato-drenched voice just isn’t robust enough to carry the weight of sincere balladry. On something self-consciously rootsy like ‘Wishbone Medallion’ he sounds like a college boy pretending to be a gnarled old-time bluesman by putting on a fake moustache and his granddad’s hat. ‘Favourite Colour Blue’ (in two versions that top and tail this album) and ‘Been True’ sound whiny. And ‘Axe & Stump’ is the sort of Ritter-esque laboured lovelorn sincerity best left in the bedsit.

So, to recap: sometimes Brosseau plays and sings with the indie swagger and dry cynicism of a young man, which is where this record fairly buzzes with attitude and personality. Other times he tugs the forelock to traditional folk and blues, and then it all sounds flat and faintly contrived.

Given these two aspects of this album, it’s no surprise to learn that half the songs were recorded in upstate New York and the other half in Portland, Oregon. Whichever of those two locations got Brosseau into his Velvets frame of mind, there he should stay for 100% of his next record.

Aidan Curran


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08

A review of the album 'Royal Family - Divorce' by Storsveit Nix Noltes

Storsveit Nix Noltes 'Royal Family Divorce'Review Snapshot: Balkan folk instrumentals tarted up with punk riffing and a brief spell of shoegazing squall. The genre sound is done well but the lack of variety in the tracks means your interest will wear off very soon, though it's probably good fun live.

The Cluas Verdict? 6 out of 10

Full Review:
The band’s name is sufficiently Scandinavian and melodic to suggest that they deal in catchy tunes – and with that allusion to Hollywood hellraiser Nick Nolte, arse-kickingly catchy tunes at that. Plus, that album title can only be said in a Lydon-esque sneer. This seemed promising.

Imagine our disappointment, then, to hear a full album of instrumental Balkan folk. For that, dear friends, is what ‘Royal Family Divorce’ by Icelandic post-rock supergroup Storsveit Nix Noltes gives you.

If you’ve ever seen a film by Emir Kusturica, then you’ve heard this kind of music in a typical scene of his: the scrawny, scruffy middle-aged peasant somehow manages to pull the sultry young gypsy babe and at the wedding the entire campsite is dancing around to it. (Your reviewer hasn’t seen Kusturica’s film on Diego Maradona yet, so we’re curious as to how he’ll work a Balkan gypsy wedding scene into that one. Perhaps Napoli take a pre-season tour of rural pre-war Yugoslavia.)

Oh, but there’s a bit of modernising and indie-ing up done to the genre: some fairly basic electric guitar chugging through all the numbers. Second-last track ‘Winding Horo’ (most of the track titles have ‘Horo’ in them: we believe it’s Serbo-Croat for “condescending, middle-class Lonely-Planet ethno-tourism”) has a bit of MBV-style screeching, the only point where this record briefly considers taking a creative risk.

Look, it’s not a bad album and were you to hear this music live you’d probably have a good night. But on record the whole thing is samey to the point of boredom: same rhythms, same arrangements, no vocals or variety to break things up. It’s background music for when you’re dancing with a sultry young gypsy, and it doesn’t bear attentive listening.

And maybe it’s just us but there’s something vaguely dispiriting about a bunch of Reykjavik indie kids turning out a Balkan folk record. Perhaps it’s the same culturally-right-on self-satisfaction that makes many fans of Beirut so insufferable. (Your reviewer has a hip local bookstore whose staff we’re thinking of here; we’re sure they’ll love this album.)

But if you’re engaged to marry a Serbian gypsy or a bourgeois-bohemian ethno-tourist, this’ll be a hit at the wedding reception.

Aidan Curran


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03
Official Secrets Act 'Understanding Electricity'
A review of the album 'Understanding Electricity' by Official Secrets Act Review Snapshot: Reasonable debut from the London art-rockers - with synth-stylings of the New Romantic era allied...

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27
Silversun Pickups 'Swoon'
A review of the album 'Swoon' by Silversun Pickups Review Snapshot: Competent but slightly dull sophomore release from the California-based four-piece. Following on from the success of &ls...

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22

A review of the album Upside to the Downside by Jabbas

Review Snapshot:  Upside to the Downside doesn't break any new musicial boundaries but its infusion of edgy urban beats and toe-tapping electro-pop ensures that there's pleanty to keep all but the most fickle of listeners coming back again and again.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
Jabbas is a very aspirational young man.  Upside to the DownsideBefore I began to listen to his debut album, Upside to the Downside, I was challenged to cut up everything I thought I knew about rock, pop and dance and throw the pieces into a pot of glue.  Indeed, even then, what came out would only go some of the way to explaining what Jabbas sounds like.  An interesting challenge when you're dealing with something as subjective and emotive as music, I'm sure you'll agree but it is also an exercise well worth undertaking, especially when the album in question, for the most part, delivers.

The record sleeve claims that this album was recorded in bedrooms in Castlegregory and Dublin, and its lo-fi production values will not be to everyone's taste.  That being said, this is the ultimate self-produced record, with Jabbas playing virtually every instrument and proving to be very competent on them all. 

Upside to the Downside opens with the following line 'Baby, I'm your one stop shop for all your needs.'  Generally, it's a promise that Jabbas lives up to.  This record contains a pick-n-mix of musical styles from euro-pop to Beck-esque sleazy rock, without ever sounding disjointed.  The stand out tracks are Electrotable Town, Make Amends, Ephemera and the title track, even if the verses of the later do sound a little like David Byrne's Lazy at times (it even contains the lyric, ironically enough, 'I'm never lazy, I'm always late').  Indeed, it is this feeling of familiarity (despite the number of genres that the album spans) that, paradoxically, will drive some listeners away and keep yet more coming back.  

Overall, Upside to the Downside is, despite the high standards it sets itself, a very accomplished debut album and showcases Jabbas as both a talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  More importantly, it leaves you eagerly anticipating album number two.

Steve O'Rourke


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15
Herm 'Monsters'
A review of the album Monsters by Herm Review Snapshot: Monsters is an excellent album whose only fault is that it contains so many disparate song styles that it sometimes sounds more like a ...

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07
Grammatics 'Grammatics'
A review of the album Grammatics by Grammatics Review Snapshot: Grammatics’ mishmash debut album can sometimes be embarrassing in its attempt to cover a lot of ground, leaving you thinking t...

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