The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Album Reviews

05

A review of the latest Sigur Ros album

Sigur Ros Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust Review Snapshot: Sigur Ros do branch out somewhat but in my eyes it's not in a bad way. I've seen some indifferent reviews but I challenge anyone to listen to Ára bátur and not be moved. Get the album, on CD not mp3, stick it on in a darkened room and enjoy.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
Sigur Ros, a favourite band of mine for quite some time, captivated me with Ágætis byrjun, lost me somewhat on () and hooked me right back in with Takk... (despite Match Of The Day trying to hijack it!)

Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust is their 5th studio album and, before it even get's played, it has a lot to live up to. Takk... was such a massive album for the band, any subsequent work will find it hard to live up to those expectations. So to hear that the band had enlisted the help of Flood, English producer so named for his tea making prowess, suggests that they might indeed be steering away from the the 8 minute opuses and more towards 4 minute rock songs. Gobbledigook, track number 1, seems to reinforce that theory. With chants and stomping percussion that wouldn't go amiss on most contemporary British indie albums these days you'd be forgiven for thinking you bought the wrong album, except for the Icelandic lyrics of course. In saying that, it is a cracking tune and a perfect foil for those 8 minute wonders. Inní mér syngur vitleysingur, Track 2, takes the same road. This jaunt into accessibility may indeed upset some of their more hardcore fans but, frankly, I'm loving it and by the time you get to Góðan daginn you're in classic Sigur Ros territory. A beautiful song with lush sounds.

The album on the whole is filled with typically beautiful Sigur Ros songs and punctuated by those songs bordering on indie rock. Festival and Ára bátur are two of those 8 minute + wonders that take you on a journey through wonderful soundscapes. Indeed Ára bátur finishes with an immense orchestral and choral crescendo that had yours truly reaching for the Kleenex (to wipe the tears of joy that is).

Part of the charm of Sigur Ros, for me at least, is the incomprehensibility of the lyrics. I'm not a lyrics man, more of a mood man. That is to say when I listen to a song the voice is just another instrument that should sit with the song as a whole to create that mood. So I was a bit taken aback by the final song, All Alright, which is sung in English. As of writing I'm undecided if I like it or not. That indecision is brought about, I think, by the fact that I can understand what Jónsi Birgisson is saying, barely mind you, but I feel that some things in life should remain a mystery. If I understood Icelandic this album could mean something completely different.

Last track aside, I like this album. Sigur Ros do branch out somewhat but not in a bad way. There have been some indifferent reviews but I challenge anyone to listen to Ára bátur and not be moved. Get the album, on CD not mp3, stick it on in a darkened room and enjoy. That's what music is supposed to be about.

Andy Knightley


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05

A review of Fleet Foxes debut album

Fleet Foxes debut albumReview Snapshot: Fleet Foxes have emerged from the crowded ranks of Seattle’s indie music scene with an uncompromisingly indulgent debut of the same. Glorious vocal harmonies accompanied by rousing, anthemic instrumental pieces combine to result in one of the great records of 2008.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
Thus far, 2008 has been a year dominated by a horde of worryingly similar guitar groups, striving to become the next Strokes or Arctic Monkeys. And so, as this flood of mediocrity threatens to engulf us all (I actually listened to a Pigeon Detectives album a while back), the appearance of Fleet Foxes album came as nothing short of a lifesaver.

The album opens with the delightfully simple track, Sun it Rises, a song that speaks of the impending rising sun. Not really Bob Dylan lyrics here, or at all in the album. In fact, the subjects of the songs are so simplistic and inconsequential that they appear to act as hangers for the vocal harmonies, which are the most remarkable aspect of what Fleet Foxes do. There is even a point in the album where they disregard lyrics altogether. On the track Heard them Stirring, there are just vocal harmonies of nonsense sung over endearing guitar riffs.

After Sun it Rises, the album launches straight into the majestic White Winter Hymnal. It is at this point that the listener realises that Fleet Foxes possess something unique and special that sets them apart. The song is comprised of a litany of “I was following the, I was following the” and so on, by front man Robin Pecknold, over energetic acoustic strumming.

There is no real stand out track on this album. That may sound like a bad thing, but it is actually the strength of the record. They are all of a similarly high quality. Each song rolls into the next with flawless fluidity. It is essentially an eleven-track journey that enthralls the listener in this surreal world of nature and aesthetics, as a good Mercury Rev album does. After a couple of listens I felt at one with nature. Had I lived near I field I might have ran through it and danced with badgers and the like. But I didn’t live near a field, so instead I just listened to the album again.

Fleet foxes' debut is at times slow burning, but never dull. It is filled with sentiment, but never consumed by it. One slight criticism is the similarity in the voice of Robin Pecknold to that of My Morning Jackets Jim James. However the music could not be more different and consequently Fleet Foxes maintain their originality.

If you were attempting to try and assign Fleet Foxes to one particular genre, you might be torn between country and alternative rock. It is likely that Fleet Foxes have amassed inspiration from a variety of musical sources and have subsequently set up their own stall with this album.

One of the truly special moments of what is generally a special album occurs about two and a half minutes into Blue Ridge Mountains. Pecknold thrusts into a mesmerising chorus which goes “in the quivering forest, where the shivering dog rests, I will do it grandfather, wilt to wood and end”. I have no idea what it means, but I like it.

Oliver James is the final song on the album and it has the effect of winding down what has been an enjoyable little trip. It is basic acoustic guitar picking in the background to the vocals of Pecknold. In the end, the guitar is rendered unnecessary and the album is completed by a lone voice singing, “Oliver James washed in the rain, no longer”, a couple of times and then its all over. But more then likely you will just put it back to track one and start again.

Fleet Foxes have announced themselves in fine fashion with this debut album. It just goes to show that on occasion, wouldn’t it be better to concentrate on making really nice song, instead of searching for lyrical perfection and letting the melody suffer in the process? Why not just sing melodically over some fine music and make an album about meadowlarks and mountains? Just a thought.

Kevin Boyle


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29

Jape - 'Ritual'A review of the album Ritual by Jape

Review Snapshot: Things could have gotten very quiet for Jape in the last few years, but Ritual will be banishing any barren times for Richie Egan. Not a perfect album, but a magnificent one nonetheless. If music was food, Ritual would satisfy more tastes than most.

The Cluas Verdict? 8.5 out of 10

Full Review:
It’s been four years since Richie ‘Jape’ Egan cemented his place amongst Ireland’s new breed of gifted songwriters with second album, The Monkeys In The Zoo Have More Fun Than Me. In the meantime, with his third album nearing completion, he signed to V2, and promptly saw his new home go belly-up. The Monkeys…, meanwhile, bore fruit to ‘Floating’ covered by The Raconteurs, itself leading to more questioning of just where Egan would go next. Irish music might not have undergone any seismic changes in the last four years, but it’s certainly taken enough detours where old dogs need to learn new tricks.

Put simply: if an album could have been custom-made to bridge this gap between notability and glory, Ritual wouldn’t be very far off it, opening with a voice loop on Christopher And Anthony that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mylo album, before settling into a light, insightful and relaxed yet upbeat path.

I Was A Man, the album’s lead single, opens with a memorable hook that could well have kicked off a chart-botherer but for the slightly obtuse instrumental later in the track. If it won’t be bothering the charts you’ll probably hear it soundtracking another short-lived sports series on RTE in the not-too-distant future. Replays, its sequel, a slightly grimy faux-future opus with a few too many repetitive High E synth taps pushing it too close to the boundaries of bearable.

The album then takes a turn into a slow-burning but gorgeous interlude duo. On Graveyard, Egan shows that while the previous songs are built on melody, his lyricism is worth an exposure too. “It’s just a short, short distance from the nipple to the soil”, he sings, over a lush, deep, layered euphony of minor synthesis. This lyrical strength then hits astonishing new high gears on Phil Lynott. In a truly seanachaí mode, Egan tells an initially acoustic story of a night at a gig under a lunar eclipse, as the rockers around him say “look / at / the / fuckin’ / moon” in a staccato so perfect you can’t help but be smug even listening to it. The mortality of the occasion hits him to the point where he realises, “One day I’ll be a dead man / who plays the bass from Crumlin / like Phil Lynott” in an interlude of honest-to-God beauty. It says much about Jape’s output that it’s only on the word “Crumlin” that you’re aware you’re listening to domestic produce; you’d easily think you were listening to something that had been well-respected enough on the other side of the Atlantic to make the leap to these shores.

Streetwise is the spiritual start of Side B, with triadic vocals underpinning a electronic masterpiece of booming chords. The Hibernian references are kept up with tributes to Jackie’s Army among others, before At The Heart Of All This Strangeness appears as a musical aberration; a sole acoustic guitar atoneing a beautiful, fragile melody augmented by silences placed to pinpoint perfection, as Egan is overwhelmed by how “there is nothing but hate in every dictionary” with gripping pathos.

The closing triplet almost echo the openers: Apple In An Orchard gets back into the form of the earlier tracks, with Egan borrowing from the Morrissey school of sing-as-you-think storytelling; Strike Me Down opens with another repetitive – but upspeed – synth hook leading into syncopated semiquavers in both vocals and score that sounds like a GameBoy on LSD; while Nothing Lasts Forever ends the album with a virtual scan of the radio channels before settling on a sibling track to Radiohead’s All I Need. That the album produces similar opuses as In Rainbows is a tribute of which not much higher order could be paid.

In short – after a four year break where things could have gotten very quiet for Jape, Ritual will be making sure that the next couple of years will be busier for Richie Egan. A masterpiece, not quite; a potential Album Of The Year, very much so.

Gav Reilly


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25

A review of the album 'Year Of The Husband' by The Dudley Corporation

Year Of The Husband by The Dudley CorporationReview Snapshot: The Dublin trio return at last, bringing us a mixed bag of well-written alt-pop songs (yay!) filled out with Radiohead-style post-rock noodling (nay!). Likeable and interesting, it’ll charm you at times – but you’ll hardly get swept off your feet.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
The more sentimental indie fans among you may find it charming that The Dudley Corporation story has gone from “The Lonely World Of…” to “In Love With…” and has now reached marriage. “Year Of The Husband” is named for the fact that the three Corpo members (Dudley, Joss and Mark) all got married during the making of this album.

Not that it’s a slushfest of marital bliss, but “Year Of The Husband” certainly has a romantic tint to it, with plenty of lovelorn lyrics and sweet arrangements. However, the album’s frequent tempo changes, post-rock blurriness and shifts from quiet to loud will remind most listeners of serious, unromantic Radiohead. This is most clear in the prog-experimental “Leave A Last Kiss” and “We Angled Our Shadows And Cast Them in Stone”.

Guests on this album include Nigel Farrelly of The Waiting Room and Carol Keogh of Automata and The Tycho Brahe/Tychonaut, and Keogh contributes significantly to the record’s standout track, “Step-Out”. The contrast between her clear, distinctive voice and Dudley Colley’s indie slurring gives this rock-out a solid structure that’s lacking in the more impressionistic tracks elsewhere on the album.

Indeed, the quality of this record increases significantly when The Dudley Corporation drop the abstract noodling and deliver more focused material. A simple song like “Vapour Trails” suddenly takes off with a shimmering slide guitar lick that captures the restless escapism of the title and lyrics.

Having opened with the uptempo alt-rock chugging of “The Lens Begins”, the album closes in a much quieter setting. Another reference point for this record is the U.S. slowcore of Low, and the two closing tracks, “Aliens” and “Don’t Give Up, Stupid”, are slices of melancholic Americana that are much more satisfying than the band’s Radiohead-isms.

So, while this album features a good handful of quality alt-rock tunes, there’s a nagging sense that its more experimental stretches are just filler. You’ll like “Year Of The Husband”, but it’s best just to stay friends with it.

Aidan Curran


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26

Rubies A review of the album Explode From The Center by Rubies

Review Snapshot: Swedish (we think) five-piece debut with a sound collection of works that - regretfully - seem too comfortable in their own skin to reach out and engage the listener in an anotherwise worthwhile listen.

The Cluas Verdict? 5.5 out of 10

Full Review:
Rubies are a five-piece built around the longstanding pair of Simone Rubi and Terri Loewenthal, and while all of their promotional material manages to avoid details of their geographical heritage, Rubies are as Swedish as Ikea – you know they’re Swedish, but don’t know exactly how you can distinguish it that way, it’s just something you know.

‘Explode from the Center’ is a very solid and distinguished album, and doesn’t at all sound like a debut. Whether this is a good thing or not is another matter – the album seems to lack the distinct, urgent freshness that classifies a great debut. Perhaps Rubies just aren’t that kind of band.

Despite the synthesis, the album has a consistent sense of timelessness, ably sitting comfortably in mental images from late 80’s warehouse raves to third millennium wine bars. The opening half of the nine-track opus is a promise of more energy to come; the latter, however, mostly disappoints, save for ‘Diamonds on Fire’, which hits stride with repetitive smacked guitar and muttered vocal riffs. Lyrically the strongest song of the album. “I could make it / so much easier on you / but it’s hard, it’s so hard”, sing the band, before growing into lush counterpoint with comforting warmth.

Opening with light funk guitar, ‘Room Without A Key’ settling into a light Sia Furler-esque groove before hitting an 80’s chord in the chorus, yet embellished with distinctly modernist vocal tweets, and smacks of a 4am red wine crash in a city centre shoebox, being followed by the lush acoustic and intimate synthesis of ‘Too Bright’.

'Signs of Love'’s Wurlitzer opening is reminiscent of Semisonic, and offers the first chance for Simone Rubi to really push her melodic chorales. “Lovin’ each other ‘til the end of Summer / into the Fall under we find another way / to stay inside our hearts” sings Rubi, with the kind of elegance that Morcheeba made an easy career from.

With a synth opening that Duran Duran could have relaunched with, lead single ‘I Feel Electric’ is made for a nightclub scene from an edgy independent drama (think Juno or the Sugar Rush TV series). A multiminded song, it ebbs, flows and glides its way through four and a half disco-tinged minutes with alarming invention and creativity, although sounding like a Casio keyboard’s workout demo song once it settles in the middle eight.

Second single ‘Stand In A Line’ opens sounding like it was tailor-made for an Orange ad with summery streetscapes and gently syncopated beats, and then flirting with funky hip-hop before detouring into the slap bass identikit R&B you’d hear in a mental image of a Topshop. “Did you notice your mind’s on fire?” asks Rubi during the hip-hop phase of this awkwardly adolescent opus – awkward in the sense that the song seems to take on phases just as arbitrarily as your average teen.

Elsewhere, 'Turquoise' opens with groggy plucking and settles into a sunburnt bop suspiciously like Bell x1’s ‘The Money’ before discovering gospel at the end with blaring saxophone and searing vocal backup, while the closing couple of Silver Mornings (conjuring images of tamely driving down a straight country road with nothing to amuse on either side and only one tape for the stereo. “This is what it’s like when it’s lonesome at night”, eh? Too right) and The Truth and the Lies bring the album to a muted close.  On the latter in particular, coming after eight songs desperate for a strum, when it comes it’s misspent on lazy, Feist-y (sic) oozing without direction. If you were to play the album coming in at 4am, this one would lead to a steady slumber.

‘Explode from the Center’ is a work of real promise but is ultimately crippled by its comfort in its own skin and the absence of a desire to reach out and engage. A good album in that it’s open for engagement, but not a great one without offering it in return.

Gav Reilly

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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23

A review of the album I'm Not Entirely Clear How I Ended Up Like This by Michael Knight

Review Snapshot:  Don't judge a book by a cover, or so older wiser people tend to tell you.  However, what are you to do when the cover is far more interesting than the content? 

The Cluas Verdict? 3 out of 10

Full Review:
Buying/receiving albums in bulk; it can often be weeks/months/years before I get around to actually removing them from their packaging, never mind listening to them.  I'm Not Entirely Clear How I Ended Up Like ThisSometimes though, an albums artwork is such that it moves swiftly to the top of the playlist.  Such was the case with I'm Not Entirely Clear How I Ended Up Like This, the second album from Michael Knight, not a person, but a collective of musicians under the stewardship of Dublin Born/Berlin Based Richie Murphy.  Designed to look like a well read book, it has the subtitle: 'A Somewhat Disjointed Narrative in 11 Tableaux'  and the lyrics are printed in the style of a play.  If that's not enough for you, the listener has a choice of two disks, one with the songs as they were recorded and a second disk of instrumental versions.

Unfortunately, that's as good as it gets with I'm Not Entirely Clear... as what follows is 35 minutes of acoustic doodling that too often confuses self-deprecation with self-consciousness and song structure with overwrought orchestral arrangements.   Combined with Murphy's weak vocals it all adds up to something akin vanilla cheesecake; somebody may have put a great deal of effort into making it and it may contain lots of fine ingredients but the final product is just too bland for my tastes.  Besides, Neil Hannon and Stephen Merritt already carry this faux-vaudeville act with much more panache. 

That being said, there are moments of pleasure on I'm Not Entirely Clear...  The deliciously dark Coronation Street sees Murphy and Nina Hynes (her vocals being by far and a way the brightest star in an otherwise dull sky) duet over the albums most interestingly arranged track.  Lyrically there is a great deal of humour in the words but as with most of the tracks on the album it often feels like you're being excluded from one big in joke.  The instrumental disk is also worth a listen once, just to hear some of the more interesting structures and chord changes but begins to sound like the soundtrack to an art installation towards the end.

Michael Knight state that this album is 'a comically failed attempt to repackage humiliating personal episodes with the joke on someone else.'  Perhaps the joke's on me and that's why I'm not laughing.

Steven O'Rourke


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23

A review of the album 'Moment of Forever' by Willie Nelson

 

Willie Nelson Moment of Forever

Review Snapshot:
The last wise man of country music delivers the goods yet again.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
Johnny is gone; Waylon is gone, only Willie is left. It’s hard to conceive now, given his superstardom, but Willie Nelson spent 15 years in Nashville trying in vain to get a hit record before throwing in his hat and returning to Texas where he finally started to create music that was not only true to his own creative vision but also connected with the album buying public.

According to Robert Oermann and Douglas Green, part of Willie’s early difficulty was that his offbeat, eccentric, jazz influenced phrasing was at cross purposes with then dominant Nashville sound pioneered by Chet Atkins. The flipside of this however is that, as a result, Willie Nelson has never been solely a country music artist but rather an American music artist and his renegade tendencies have kept him vital long after many of his living peers are either retired or are touring the nostalgia circuit.

 

Here he is again with a new album and for me the key interest in listening is to focus on the new songs that Willie, who penned classics like ‘Crazy’ and ‘Night Life’, has written for this album. There are three; ‘Over You Again’ (co-written with Micah & Lucas Nelson), ‘Always Now’, and the sardonic ‘You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore’. All of them are models of the songwriter’s craft with Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney’s sensitive production switching between the epic, panoramic sound used on ‘Over You Again’ to the intimate, spontaneous live room feel of ‘You Don’t Think…’

 

Willie has also included covers of Randy Newman’s ‘Louisiana’, a song that is fast becoming a modern American standard following the tragedy of New Orleans, and ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’. There is little to say about them other than they are great songs sung by one of the great voices in American popular music.

 

If you love the art of Willie Nelson, as I do, then this is one for the collection. At a time when young musicians want to make music that sounds like it came from the past; see Amy Winehouse, its nice to hear a veteran musician who is, shall we say, back to the future. Willie Nelson is still on the road, and the world is a better place for it.

Rev Jules

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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15

A review of the album Pleasant Squares by Robotnik

Review Snapshot:  Pleasant Square is a sonic walkabout that takes in influences as diverse as Radiohead and The Flaming Lips without ever losing its own sense of identity or purpose. 

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:Robotnik 'Pleasant Square'
It must be very difficult being a musician and having a wide range of influences and yet being forced to stick to one particular genre for a record just so people like myself can put you away in a nice little box marked 'sounds like...'.  Not so for Robotnik, known to the passport office as 27 year old Dubliner Chris Morrin.  On his debut album, Pleasant Square, Robotnik has managed to take all those influences, merge them together and produce a work that is as unique as it is enjoyable.

From the ambient beginnings of the Flaming Lips like Test 16:9 , through to the Weezer-esque harmonies of Puddlestarter, this album is an atmospheric acoustic adventure for the listener with - especially on first listen - each track serving up something new and exciting to discover.   Repeated listens, however, provide you with an opportunity to enjoy the range of instrumentation and skill that has gone into recording this album which allows it to sound - and I mean this in a good way - like Morrin woke up one morning and decided to record it on a whim.

Album highlights vary on each listen but People Walk Away with its infectiously catchy beat and Dog with no Tail, where Robotnik allows a glimpse at the life of Chris Morrin for one of the few times on the album, are consistently on repeat at the moment, along with Vinedresser which sees Robotnik return, briefly, to his troubadour roots. 

Not once did I find this mix of genres and musical styles irritating and, indeed, the only criticism I can have of Pleasant Square is that it's possibly 12-15 minutes too long; however, in an age where musicians are releasing albums that don't even hit 30 minutes, it's a minor complaint.

Overall, Robotnik has a bright future ahead of him, especially if he can continue to reference his vast array of influences without ever sounding like he is trying to imitate them. 

Steven O'Rourke

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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14

A review of the album 'The Age Of The Understatement' by The Last Shadow Puppets

Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of UnderstatementReview Snapshot: So here's Alex Turner's side project: a fairly unoriginal Scott Walker pastiche, with Duran Duran-esque lyrics. Of course, this must be down to that bloody Miles Kane, right?

The Cluas Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review:
Comparing The Last Shadow Puppets with The Raconteurs is obvious, but it's still worth our while:

Both Jack White and Alex Turner have won extravagant acclaim in their day-job groups (The White Stripes and The Arctic Monkeys respectively) for little other than flogging retro-rock to nostalgic middle-aged music hacks and twentysomethings who are prematurely nostalgic and middle-aged.

However, White's side-project made the daring leap from '70s rock to... '60s rock, that of The Small Faces and George's songs on 'Rubber Soul' and 'Revolver'. And what do you know? Turner's time machine has followed a similar flight path. He's gone from cleaned-up punk and post-punk back to, of all things, eccentric late-'60s English symphonic pop. This doesn't make him any less unambitious or unimaginative than White, indie rock's greatest chancer.

Comparing 'The Age Of The Understatement' with Scott Walker is obvious too. But if Turner can be unoriginal then so can we. Those swooping strings and tenement-drama tales of tragic starlets, patent Walker, have already been used threadbare by Tindersticks, Marc Almond and The Divine Comedy amongst others. By now these sounds are familiar references, English indie-pop code for "Look! I'm hip, intellectual and sensitive! I've watched 'Billy Liar', read 'Brideshead Revisited' and listened to, well, Scott Walker!"

But it would be unfair and inaccurate of us to dismiss this album as 100% recycled Scott. The middle section of the title track sounds exactly like the middle section of a Northern Soul classic called 'The Night' by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Your reviewer knows the song from a cover by Saint Etienne-esque Manchester group Intastella - and it's also been done by Soft Cell and, apparently, Klaxons. See what we mean by unoriginal?

Turner's one innovation here, if we presume it's by him and not Kane, is in the lyrics. He's replaced the unconvincing Costello-esque sneering of The Arctic Monkeys with pretentious my-first-poetry-kit nonsense as in 'Calm Like You': "Burglary and fireworks / The skies they were alighting / Accidents and toffee drops / And thinking on the train." So were the skies alighting from the same train, then?

And 'Only The Truth' is worthy of Duran Duran: "The girl with many different strategies / Wakes the wolves to curse them to their knees / She's the one by the riverbank so it's easier for her to drown you." This, remember, is co-credited to a songwriter venerated by today's music press (you know, those nostalgic, middle-aged types.) as a lyricist extraordinaire.

We assume that this will be the last of The Last Shadow Puppets. But then again, there was a second Raconteurs album. And a second Arctic Monkeys album too, and a few by the White Stripes...

Aidan Curran

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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14

A review of the album Dog House Music by Seasick Steve

Seasick Steve Dog House MusicReview Snapshot: The roughly recorded Dog House Music is a refreshing change from contemporary studio production. Its raw sounds are soaked in mud, sweat and clothed in hobo lyrics that grip you tightly with their simplicity. 

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
There's something cuddly about Seasick Steve.

Complete with fluffy white beard, baseball cap and worn dungarees, Seasick could easily be Santa disguised as a hobo. The lyrics on his first solo album, Dog House Music, betray Seasick's rough wandering lifestyle though - one spent living in over fifty houses worldwide as well as on the streets, beating out blues on his personalised guitar, the 'Three Stringed Tranz Wonder.'

The stomping, rootsy simplicity of Seasick Steve has attracted attention across a variety of media. There has not been a more passionate blues act to recently be covered in magazines, most of them generally associated with rock or indie. Seasick won the MOJO Award for Best Breakthrough Artist, has been covered in Hot Press and NME, and also appeared on RTE's Other Voices.

Dog House Music is a sliding, bustling blues affair with tracks that are raw, rough and caked in mud. Each song is ragged around the edges, from the howling and growling in 'Dog House Boogie' to the lazy drawling guitar on 'Shirley Lou.' The crude production on the album as well as its simple artwork reflect Seasick's hobo lifestyle.

The best thing about the album is that it captures the kind of live, street setting you only get in summertime with a busker and his miniature amp. Seasick combines his singing with chatting, mumbling, jamming, tapping and strumming. The first track 'Yellow Dog' hits you with deep, penetrating riffs and lasts just sixty seconds long.  Just before the second track there's a short sniff and then we hear Seasick's amp being plugged in. The harsh rawness of the album, including coughs, laughs, cigarettes being lit, phone-calls and tributes, really brings you in tune with Seasick's life as a bluesman and a hobo.

His lyrics are often autobiographical and run on from the spoken stories that are dotted throughout the album:  'All my life I been in the dog house... that's just the way the dice rolls' (Dog House Boogie).

Though some of Seasick's tracks contain the self-pitying, sentimental element that is usually associated with blues, he manages to bring us closer to him with a touch of light humour and irony. The real stand-out track for me is 'Cut My Wings', played on a customised three string guitar that Seasick calls 'The Three Stringed Tranz Wonder.' Seasick got a positive response to his performance of this on the Jools Holland Show. Customised instruments are a quirk of his - on 'Save Me' he plays what he calls a 'One String Diddly Bo,' which sounds like a bell being bounced on a trampoline.

This album made me wish I was sitting on a rocking chair, wrinkling my brow in the scorching heat, listening to some crickets singing and chewing on a long bit of straw. Seasick is an honest guitarist, storyteller and songwriter whose simple truths resonate from beginning to end in Dog House Music.

Niamh Madden

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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Nuggets from our archive

2006 - Review of Neosupervital's debut album, written by Doctor Binokular. The famously compelling review, complete with pie charts that compare the angst of Neosupervital with the angst of the reviewer. As you do.