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Entries for 'Aidan Curran'


A review of the album 'Break Up The Concrete' by The Pretenders

Review Snapshot: Though it leans more towards blues and country than its predecessors, the ninth album by Chrissie Hynde et al. is still recognizably safe classic rock. But slipping it into a Greatest Hits package feels needlessly defeatist.

The Cluas Verdict? 4.5 out of 10

Full Review:
The Pretenders 'Break Up The Concrete'This is odd: our review copy of the new album by The Pretenders comes in a double CD with a Best Of. What’s more, the hits compilation is Disc 1 of this set and the new album is Disc 2. You’d think it’d be a brave record company exec who’d propose this to Chrissie Hynde.

Do you really need us to review The Pretenders’ hits? Surely you already know from constant airplay those smart late-‘70s rockers, radio-friendly ‘80s poppers and blustery ‘90s stadium ballads. (We’ll only point out that this compilation doesn’t include a catchy 1999 cover of The Divinyls’ ‘Human’, which is a pity.)

So, the new album, then. For the most part, ‘Break Up The Concrete’ is unremarkable blues-tinted MOR rock. Hynde, forever in skinny jeans and black t-shirt, still pulls the same rawk chick shapes but with a hint of nostalgic wistfulness on gentle country rock numbers like ‘You Didn’t Have To’, ‘One Thing Never Changed’ and ‘Love’s A Mystery’ (“Lovers of today/Aren’t like lovers of the past”). It’s strange and slightly sad to now associate Hynde, one of rock’s great icon(oclast)s, with concepts like ‘nostalgia’ and ‘gentle country rock’. But then, you can hardly expect iconoclasm from someone who subordinates her new album to a Greatest Hits disc in the same package.

There are a couple of interesting moments on this record all the same. Opener ‘Boots Of Chinese Plastic’ is a rousing bit of rockabilly, a sound that suits Hynde’s attitude and voice. (Unfortunately, it’s let down by naff verses about Buddha, Hari Krishna, Allah and Jesus.) And ‘Almost Perfect’ is an acoustic bossa nova groove where Hynde sounds jazzy and (almost) fresh – could that be for her a new route worth investigating?

Anyway, Hynde would do well to heed her album title: please destroy that dull, grey rock. And next time let your new album stand or fall on its merits rather than hide it under the oldies.

Aidan Curran

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A review of the album 'Here Come The Vikings' by Astrid Williamson

Review Snapshot: One glorious lyric aside, a record of chugging ones, epic ones, book-smart lyrics and all the regulars of indie-by-numbers. You’re a busy person with other records to hear and other things to do, so this needn’t detain you.

The Cluas Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review:
Astrid Williamson 'Here Come The Vikings'The fourth solo album by former Goya Dress singer Astrid Williamson is more plugged-in and amped-up than her previous records. Unfortunately, while for her this might be a grand creative leap, for the listener ‘Here Come The Vikings’ is mid-table indie-rock of the sort you’ve heard many times before.

To be fair, there are brief flashes of personality on show here. When she rocks out, like on opening ‘Store’, Williamson has a strong and soaring voice similar to ‘The Lion And The Cobra’-era Sinead O’Connor. But a lot of the uptempo tracks here are unoriginal and unimaginative chuggernauts, while slower numbers like ‘Crashing Minis’ and ‘Pinned’ strain themselves to sound like epic heartstring-tuggers.

The blandness of the music is reflected in the lyrics, which mostly have a sense of being all craft and no feeling. The poppy ‘Sing The Body Electric’ shoehorns in fairly arbitrary references to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Walt Whitman, as if Williamson desperately wants us to know that she knows who they are. And then at the other extreme, ‘Falling Down’ features the anodyne ‘insight’ and uninspired clichés of your average Celine Dion or Bon Jovi hit: “They say a little information/Can be a dangerous thing… Love is all we need/Why do we keep on falling down?”

At least ‘Shut Your Mouth’ features an innuendo-drenched couplet that even Cole Porter would have envied: “Please forgive my pursuit of you/But I have to get to the root of you.” (Keeping in that spirit, our spellcheck wants us to change Astrid’s first name to ‘Astride’.)

But apart from that tantalising flash of invention, there’s nothing new or memorable about this record. You couldn’t imagine real Vikings coming and going so unremarkably.

Aidan Curran

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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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DM Stith and The Acorn (live in La Maroquinerie, Paris)

Review Snapshot: A cracking double bill of cinematic, romantic North American folk-rock to warm this cold Paris cellar. DM Stith is the quiet small-town Everyman with an otherworldly voice; The Acorn are your ideal college roommates. In their own ways, the two acts win over the crowd with their invention, sincerity and vision – though most punters will go home talking about Stith.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review:
DM StithThe average rock fan, on heading out on a Friday night, probably worries about catching things other than pneumonia or the common cold. But here we are in La Maroquinerie, a popular Paris venue, on a May evening and it actually feels chilly down here when normally these cellar walls are running with punter perspiration.

You see, the place isn’t even half full – and whenever the door opens, a draught sweeps round the room. It’s odd that more people haven’t come out to see such an attractive double bill of two buzz names on the transatlantic indie music wires.

But those here tonight are the curious and genuinely interested: fortunately for both acts, most people stand right up at the stage instead of leaving a crescent of indifferent floorspace to greet the performers. There are no ‘SHH!’-ers here nor need of them. And tonight’s committed crowd is rewarded by two engaging and enjoyable shows. These two acts go well together.

Both DM Stith and The Acorn (support and headline acts respectively) play a blend of indie- and folk-rock flavoured by more exotic influences, though the American evokes the bookish teenager and the Canadian band are more like your joint-smoking college roommates. (Keyboardist Mike Dubue actually enquires mid-set whether it’s easy to procure marijuana in Paris. For the record, the wisdom of tonight’s crowd holds that it isn’t.)

Where Stith’s recordings are swathed in swirling wisps of ether, on stage with his band those songs are concrete and robust – the man himself (above right) goes about his business in a workmanlike way, chiselling out chords like an apprentice carpenter and grinning boyishly between songs. (He looks like a teenage Donald Sutherland.) To strum the rhythm of ‘Pigs’ he mutes his guitar by folding a piece of cloth through the strings – but then still takes the trouble of making the chord shapes. And as he launches into the next song he forgets to take the cloth out of the strings. His air of affability makes him quite likeable. (After the show he chats amiably with fans at the merchandise table.)

But that voice, piercing and melancholic like a train whistle across a prairie, still conjures up romance and escape and a sort of bruised yearning. This is captured in his music by exotic scales and chord progressions such as in songs like ‘Fire Of Birds’ and ‘Pity Dance’. Adding to the pleasing sense of oddness, the violinist and cellist produce a Theremin-type sound by swinging red plastic outflow pipes over their heads.

Dare we say that Stith steals the show? Well, we can’t remember ever seeing a support act coming back out for an encore, as Stith does tonight after heartfelt calls from the crowd.

This isn’t to suggest that The Acorn are any less enjoyable; they rock. Their songs fall into two camps: lumberjack-shirt folk-rock (‘Crooked Legs’, ‘Fallen Leaves’) and Vampire Weekend-style college world-pop (‘Low Gravity’, ‘Flood Pt 1’). They do both well. The apparent extravagance of having two drummers is justified by the band’s dependence on strong, inventive rhythms: while DM Stith requires attentive listening, The Acorn are for dancing and most of the crowd bop along to their set. That said, in their own way The Acorn are just as poetic and escapist as Stith – those world rhythms, of course, but also singer Rolf Klausener’s rich, warm voice and songs about his mother's youth in Honduras.

The only downer of the night is that this band’s best song, the joyous tribal hymn ‘Flood Pt 1’, is drowned in a murky sound mix that has too much bass: the track’s glorious guitar line is almost completely lost. Many people here tonight have come to see The Acorn on the basis of loving that song, so it’s a pity to hear it slightly botched.

There’s something in the North American experience that constantly inspires books and music and art which are cinematic and sincere and aspirational compared to the self-conscious cynicism and irony of many European artists. Whether it comes from the vast widescreen landscape or immigrant heritage or maybe some last trace of the frontier spirit, both The Acorn and DM Stith exemplify this. They deserve to be playing packed furnaces of venues from now on, and we suspect that Stith’s support-slot days will soon be behind him.

Aidan Curran

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Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert - WARP 20 (live in Cité de la Musique, Paris)

Review Snapshot: To honour one of electronic music's best-loved labels, a birthday bash featuring two cult figures from different points on the spectrum of that genre. Vibert's DJ set is cool and seductive; Aphex Twin sets your head and entrails to spin-cycle. Two different live experiences but each great in their own way.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
Aphex Twin liveGouging the mind’s ear for two decades now, Warp Records are currently celebrating their twentieth birthday by putting on shows in major cities around the world. The Paris leg at the Cité de la Musique comprises two nights: last night Pivot, !!! and Jarvis Cocker were among those getting the party started (Nightmares On Wax apparently pulled out at the last minute) and tonight Aphex Twin (right), Luke Vibert, Hudson Mohawke, Leila and Plaid are blowing out the candles.

Luke Vibert is here doing a DJ set in what’s normally an installation space at this venue, a combination of museum, exhibition centre and concert hall for all genres of music. Apparently there’s some international turntable code decreeing that artists can’t play their own music during DJ sets, so we don’t hear Vibert’s gorgeous ‘Sharp AZ’.

But no matter: his DJ set is fantastic. He starts out soulfully with the eclecticism, sensitivity and funkiness of Mo’Wax and the boy Shadow in particular. At just the right moments he knows when to up the beats and build excitement before pulling it down into cooler, more cerebral sounds again. Thus he plays with the crowd all during his set, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in it.

Only once does Vibert drop the ball, by working in the vocals from ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The effect is to make the crowd self-consciously aware that they’re dancing to some ‘80s naffness, like when a film actor gives a corny line straight to camera with a wink. But that’s just a minor blip. Luke Vibert is probably the best DJ we’ve ever danced to, though in fairness we only have as a comparison DJ Wreck-The-Buzz at our local hop.

Dashing into the main concert hall so as to grab a space for Aphex Twin, we caught the end of Plaid’s set. Earlier we had seen some of Leila’s turn. Both seemed impressive enough from the brief glimpse we got of each, so we must check them out in detail sometime. (We didn’t get to see Hudson Mohawke. Sorry.)

As for tonight’s marquee name, Aphex Twin live is an impressive experience. Richard D. James (born in Limerick!) looks less diabolic in person than the distorted face from his videos: in fact, he exudes a kind of Jamie Oliver mate-iness. His alter-ego, though, is gleefully malevolent – those squelchy, distorted sounds trouble your mind and shudder your entrails.

On which point, his visuals feature a gruesomely clinical mortuary sequence that’s not for the squeamish; some punters briefly stepped outside to recall their lunch. In a shout out to the home crowd, we also got a slide show of the sicker images from controversial ‘60s French satirical magazine Hara Kiri.

As for the music, there are times when James coasts along by letting the bare beats drag on for a minute or two, as if he’s filling time while rooting in his bag for another trick. Anyone who came just to hear ‘Windowlicker’ or ‘Come To Daddy’ will have been disappointed; the pretty piano melody of 'Flim' is the only one of Aphex Twin’s more familiar, accessible or ambient tracks to get a (brief) run-out tonight.

But overall it’s a great show. For pop kids like your reviewer, not a regular at live electronica or techno, the sensory blitzkrieg of Aphex Twin was an overwhelming thrill. This is one new customer who’ll be shopping here again, then.

Aidan Curran

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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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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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Alias Empire

Alias EmpireBy now you’ve probably heard the news that Choice-nominated indie-electro merchants Dry County have changed their name to something more distinctive and less country-rock. Ahead of the band’s upcoming shows around Ireland, Alias Empire’s Kevin Littlewood tells CLUAS about recording the new album, getting the new name known and making music in the recession-plus-Internet era.
You're currently working on your second album. What can you tell us about writing and recording it so far? When (and how) do you expect to release it?
Very soon after the 1st album was finished we were writing again. It's a constant process. The whole idea of making albums for us is that each one sums up a particular time and mood with obvious progression from the last. You need to always push yourself to make better records. Some bands find a formula and just stick to it, but I think we'd get very bored putting out the same stuff.
The new material we’re working on at the moment will be for an E.P. in the summer and the 2nd album towards the end of the year - that's the plan anyway, but you'd never know with us... 3 years making the 1st album, but when it’s right its right.
The new album will be a bigger, more aggressive album. This comes from playing live and seeing the 'Unexpected Falls' tracks become something different. People would come up to us and say, “I love the album but seeing you live is a totally different experience.” It's about trying to capture that feeling and putting it to record while still having the foundations of songwriting and melody.
We all have some form of recording set-up in our houses. We work on tracks then rent houses in the middle of the country and gut them out. It's great to just pack up and go away with the sole intention of recording – no distractions, no part-time jobs, just us in the middle of nowhere making music.
'Unexpected Falls' is being released in the UK this year so we plan to do a simultaneous release with the 2nd album. It will be distributed in the shops and available to buy from the website and i-Tunes.

'Unexpected Falls' gained a lot of praise and was nominated for the Choice prize. Does this put pressure on you when you're making the follow-up?
We worked really hard on 'Unexpected Falls' and when you’re that close to something you just can’t see it anymore. It's like you can’t even hear the songs after spending so much time obsessing over them. So when the album came out and the reviews started coming in we really got a sense that people got it, that 3 years had been well spent getting it right. We don't think reviews are everything but it definitely helps you after putting so much in that people took the time to sit with your record.
I think from each new record we want progression: in sound, in songwriting and production. We would always put pressure on ourselves to do better. If you don't feel you can progress you should probably just stop and do something else.

With a touch of revisionism, you've rechristened your past releases: 'Unexpected Falls' by Dry County has now become 'Unexpected Falls' by Alias Empire. This suggests continuity rather than a new departure. Is there any difference between Dry County and Alias Empire, other than no longer being perceived as a country-rock band?
When we had decided to change the name we wanted to take a break, come up with a new name and new songs, but we were never thinking of ourselves as a new band. This is definitely just a continuity under a new name. The name change was more practical move than some kind of reinvention. Re-invention comes naturally to us and would have happened in the same way if we kept the old name. We are the kind of band that is always changing and developing our style and what we do, as we always stress we don't want to be one of those bands that just does the same thing again and again.

Has the change of band name caused any problems with promotion, booking gigs, disgruntled fans?
It's funny, because it was only when we announced we were changing the name that some of the fans were like “Aww, I actually really like that name” - even the ones who gave out about it! People hate change.
As for bookings, it did cause a few problems. Some venues treat you like a new band and put you right back to the start. It's frustrating because we’re the same band and making the same music but they don't see it that way, for some reason. Very strange altogether. We've tried our best to let people know of the change and we have a tour coming up which is mainly to promote it. We figured it was best to do it now before the UK release of the album, so it was mainly just Ireland we had to convert.

Your new name is similar to that of German industrial rocker Alec Empire, leader of Atari Teenage Riot. Coincidence or influence?
We struggled very hard to find a name. So many things had to be considered. From a practical  point of view it had to be original, the dot com/MySpace etc. had to be available. There were also other aspects, like avoiding possible mistakes with the name (see Dry County) and a name that didn't draw any immediate associations with genre (see Dry County). The list was massive and we nearly went mad trying to find it.
The Alec Empire thing did occur to us but I think because he is a solo artist and we do different styles of music it shouldn't cause many problems. Myself and Derek [Cosgrave, Alien Empire bandmate] do like some of his stuff, though.

What are your views on the business and operational side of making music? How are you getting on yourselves?
I think it’s a difficult time for music at the moment. Obviously, with the recession, people are spending less on going to gigs and buying records. Also, the fact that the Internet and downloading has become so easy for even the basic Internet user means less and less physical copies are being sold, which in turn is putting labels and distributors out of business. The traditional idea of a record deal is dead. The Internet is a very powerful tool in music promotion. The likes of MySpace and Last FM are great ways of getting your music heard on a global level.
The problem is, like everything, it's pushed to the extreme. I really think that when people get albums for nothing they don't have the same appreciation for them. I personally like to have something to hold in my hands as opposed to a folder on my hard drive. There’s something quite cold about it. Even 10 years ago the excitement of going into a record shop and rooting through the shelves and finding something you'd been looking for. Now it's “I'll just download it”. I don’t know - I think there has to be a happy medium.
Bands like Radiohead and NIN can afford to go “Here, pay what you want for the album!” or “Have it for free!” because they know the limited edition of the release will still sell loads. Their profile is that big; most bands aren't in a position to do that. I do agree you have to give some stuff away. I don't think you should ignore what is going on. For the launch of the website we gave a free remix E.P. with artwork – it was a good way to announce to people the name change and new site.

What are you listening to these days?
Bat For Lashes, Songs Of Green Pheasant, Black Dog, Adebsi Shank, Wolf Parade, Deerhunter, Pantha Du Prince, Patrick Wolf, RSAG, Colder, The Fall, Harmonic 313, M.I.A., Si Schroeder, Saul Williams, Chromeo, Ladytron, Tiga, God Is An Astronaut… to name a few.

Alias Empire are playing Crawdaddy in Dublin on 15 April; The Pavilion and de Barras in Cork on 23-24 April respectively; the Sibin festival in Dublin on 2 May; the Clarence in Sligo on 15 May; the Roisin Dubh in Galway on 16 May and Whelans in Dublin on 26 June 2009. For further live dates, new material and definitely no country-rock, head for and


Aidan Curran

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Posted in: Interviews

Carly Sings (live in La Bellevilloise, Paris)

Review Snapshot: Despite incessant audience noise and diabolical sound problems, which she really should just put aside, Carly Sings pulls out a strong performance of fine material - including some promising new songs.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
Carly SingsTonight’s venue, a trendy music bar in the slightly bohemian 20th district of Paris, is full of lively punters out for a good time. For Carly Sings, this is bad news indeed.

You see, La Bellevilloise is fashionable because its clientele like to hang out here and chat with friends while having live music in the background as sonic wallpaper. By the bar it’s standing room only, as packed and noisy as a Friday evening train station. The disinterested audience din is overwhelming, quite possibly the loudest we’ve ever heard at a concert.

More used to dedicated Dublin listeners, Carly Blackman is up against it tonight. You’d hardly call her loud, confrontational or in-your-face. Even before the show starts she already looks nervous – we reckon she has family and friends in the audience. Added to that, her live set-up (with Ben and Guillaume on guitar and bass/cello) is plagued by technical problems; at some moments the sound seems to have been mixed with a blender. While singing, Blackman glares up at where the back wall meets the ceiling, and you wonder how someone can sing so clearly through gritted teeth. This wouldn’t be a good time to go bothering her about anything.

Between songs, though, she relaxes and tries to make light of the night’s adversity. When she asks the crowd to stop talking, she’s half-joking – but only half-joking.

And yet, despite all this, Carly Sings puts on an enjoyable performance. Those tracks from ‘The Glove Thief’, her debut album, still sound beguiling. The musical mixture of pop, jazz, chanson française and bossa nova is rich and evocative, like a specially-blended tea from far-off lands. And her lyrics feature strong visual imagery that complement the sparse arrangements – in a room where it’s hard to be heard, such directness is all the more necessary and welcome. In particular, ‘George Emerson’ rises above the racket like a hot-air balloon.

One thing: for someone who’s spent a lot of time in Lyon and Paris, Blackman’s French isn’t great tonight. Apart from singing ‘L’Amour’, around halfway she gives up the between-song banter en français and continues in English. But she said she was tired. (Not that this is a language exam or anything. Just saying, like.)

Of more interest than her French level are her new songs. She closes the set with two: the folksy ‘No Good Girl’ and ‘Jason Rising’. Both are up to the high standard of her previous work and that bodes well for the second Carly Sings album, which should hopefully be released in September.

Difficult second album? It can’t be as hard on Blackman as this bloody concert!

Aidan Curran

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Posted in: Gig Reviews, France

A review of the album 'Blue Lights On The Runway' by Bell X1

Blue Lights On The Runway by Bell X1Review Snapshot: Uninventive indie rock dressed up in the too-large suit of Talking Heads, the new Bell X1 album has little in the way of invention or excitement. It would take a tectonic shift in their creative thinking for this band to become relevant or interesting again.

The Cluas Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review:
It’s a coincidence that the two major Irish album releases of spring 2009, ‘No Line On The Horizon’ by U2 and ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’ by Bell X1, have such similar titles. Apart from sounding alike, both titles evoke images of sky and travel. And both are aspirational and ambitious: they tell us that U2 know no boundaries and Bell X1 are revving for take-off.

In fact, the Kildare band’s fourth studio album is flat and unadventurous, like an interminable taxi round the runway without ever leaving the ground.

The funkiness of ‘Flock’ has been left off this new album. With its stylistic nods to arty post-punk and emotive indie-folk, the strongest influences this time around seem to be Talking Heads and a bit of Arcade Fire. The Heads comparison is most obvious on lead single ‘The Great Defector’, where Paul Noonan lapses into a David Byrne-style singing voice that pops up again at various points on the record. Lyrically, Noonan’s taste for yoking together random quips and images also recalls Byrne and Black Francis.

But all of that feels like fancy dress. This album falls flat because there aren’t any outstanding tracks on it; no catchy hooks or earworm choruses to help these songs stay in the memory. Chord progressions are safe and familiar. Verses feature long lines of bedsit-romantic lyrics delivered with little melodic variety; we can tell that there are choruses because some lyrics are repeated. And there are two instances of maudlin piano ballads: ‘Light Catches Your Face’ and ‘The Curtains Are Twitchin’. Noonan’s distinctive Kildare vowels, like on ‘One Stringed Harp’, offer rare moments of colour and individuality, and that’s about all.

Quite simply, it’s stale and boring stuff – far from the tuneful charm of their 2000 debut, ‘Neither Am I’. Today’s newly-prominent Irish acts, such as Jape and Fight Like Apes, are making music that’s inventive and exciting. Next to them, Bell X1 sound like a band whose time has passed.

All in all, ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’ is just one step up from the horrors of Snow Patrol. The last Snow Patrol album, ‘A Hundred Million Suns’, shares the luminous, aspirational title imagery of this Bell X1 release, and both bands deal in the same over-earnest indie that plays on emotion over excitement.

Worthy but unoriginal – by analogy with landfill indie, can we consider Bell X1 and their peers as recycling-centre indie?

Aidan Curran

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2003 - Witnness 2003, a comprehensive review by Brian Kelly of the 2 days of what transpired to be the last ever Witnness festival (in 2004 it was rebranded as Oxegen when Heineken stepped into the sponsor shoes).