The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

01

A review of the album 'Against Karate' by Let Our Enemies Beware

Let Our Enemies Beware - Against Karate

Review Snapshot:
Chatham (UK) based group Let Our Enemies Beware have been labelled a “Post Punk/ Rock Band” and have admirers with credentials, Zane Lowe among them. They describe themselves as “Noise Terrorists”. As an album “Against Karate” is as intriguing as it is tedious to listen to at times.

Cluas Verdict? 6 out of 10

Full Review:
“I am Lono” kicks the record off. It's a brash thumping affair with chunky bass lines and screeching vocals. They make no bones about they are about early on. It’s not bad. It becomes clear after the short scream that is “Pow Right in the Kisser” (a reference to the old WWF commentator Gorilla Monsoon), that LOEB are not a punk band. If anything there is more of a heavy metal feel. The visceral rhythm section coupled with the meticulously delivered lead guitar drive this home on “Personal Space Invaders”, perhaps the best song on the album. The screeching vocals throughout the album can eventually grate the listener a little. However there are some fine tracks on offer regardless.

“Between Us and the Sun” is an example of the band's merits and how all forces can pull together. A thunderous penetrative rhythm section powers as the undertone to clean guitar picking, with a haunting vocal overtone. Musically it goes from meek to outright aggression in an instance and personifies the band's visceral approach to their music. This is where the album becomes a little long in that the familiar sound of the songs catches up.

With only nine tracks on the record it’s snappy but the songs begin to repeat each other. This is the biggest drawback of the album. Perhaps LOEB should have considered an EP with choice tracks from this collection as many of the songs sound like variations of the other. “Momento Mori”, the final track on the album runs at 8 minutes 14 second. It’s a long, long way to end the record.

All in all, LOEB show signs of promise and are very competent musically. More time should be spent crafting the songs and perhaps a taste of different sounds and influences may help them on their way. “Against Karate” is as intriguing as it is tedious to listen to at times. Try for yourself.

Kevin Coleman


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28

Frank and Walters live in CorkReview Snapshot: Cork's finest take to the stage in their home city and quite literally blow the pants off the punters and the roof off the venue...not sure if that's legal, but it's mighty craic!

Full Review: Well, what a night! Murphy’s! Magic! The Mrank and Malters! Everything began with an M! Remember M for Michael later on!

In a hothouse sauna renamed The Brog for the night, the Murphy’s Nice ‘n Nasty season continued with “Cork’s favourite sons” (© The Frank and Walters) allowing us to enter their world. Indeed, even in their 20th year, the Franks have never seemed as relevant to the masses who are force-fed Lady Gaga, Peter Andre and the Continuity Wolfe Tones (or whoever they are this week)!

Take a string quartet, 2 original Franks, a new Frank and part-time Frank, lashings of free Murphy’s and music, sweat Fred West would have worked up. Mix it all together with a touch of madness. Ta-da! A night to remember, that’s for sure!

Divided into two parts, "Nice" and then "Nasty showcased the Franks at their best – Engaging! Edgy! Entertaining! Extravagant! Excellent! The 4 lassies that made up the Murphy’s Quarter (string quartet) provided superb support to the reworking of seven of the Franks' most appropriate songs for the night. For those who attended last year’s Speigel tent celebration of the Grand Parade album, this was second helpings with Landslide, Little Dolls, Russian Ship and How Can I Exist all being reproduced to a staggering high quality. The evening kicked off with Miles and Miles and it was great to see the lead single from A Renewed Interest In Happiness being well received. Throw in the obligatory After All, the reaction of the crowd (and look on the Quartet’s faces) was classic as the anthemic choruses raised the roof! The Nice element ended with This Is Not A Song and as I queued at the bar, it was clear the crowd was in good fettle for the next half of the performance. Again, the punters went in full voice here and took the interval to have a healthy cigarette and kebab at the 4* Istanbul restaurant.

The "Nasty" session kicked off to the sound of THE best version of Fast Anthony the reviewer has heard – bar one. The one fault with the prior "Nice" set was the sound on the left of the stage was poor; methinks down to trying to keep 15 microphones in check. The second half sound never waved as Cian Corbett gave a rasta/indie keyboard effect to the speeded up Tony Cochrane. Fashion Crisis and Country Boy followed, both book ending the 20 great Franks year so far. With Darren Mullin standing in for Kevin P who was attending a wedding (calm down girls, not his own) in Italy, we knew Fight would be on the set list – and so it was! A rip-snorting animal which couldn’t be tamed was unleaded and the explosiveness of Mullin’s geetar playing mean we tripped over nicely into Colours and Indian Ocean, further proof of the greatness of the Grand Parade album. A special song then made its way onto the list and the sound of Underground completed Flood’s engineering from all those years ago – who remembers the video for this one???!!!

The last song could only be Time To Say Goodnight. There is only one song to end with Len Cremin remarked – and I agree. Again with pounding sticks-works from Drum Keating and Paul giving it all, we knew the evening was nearly at a close. The shout went up "we are... we are... we are the Frank and Walters..." as the band returned for a well deserved encore. What could it be? Remember at the start? Yep, it was Michael and with the man whom this song was written about being in the audience, I can assure you that Paul, Ash, Cian and Darren brought down the house with a fantastic version of the classic!! We Care!!

So, the DJ came on and we all carried on. A great night. Lots of regular Franks with folk coming from as far away as Manchester, London and Limerick for the concert. One fan dressed head to toe in Franks gear summed it up, "it’s before payday, I borrowed a tenner from my ma, I am going to have 10 free pints of Murphy’s this evening, I am here with 400 friends and tonight I got to see my favourite band free! Where else would you get that?" I don’t know either but it would have to be special … so f**king special!

After note: Geelong beat St Kilda to win the Australian Football League Final, and Michael and I made our ways into the sunlight sometime on Saturday morning! We care Michael, we care!

Dan Foley


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26
Owl City 'Ocean Eyes'

A review of the album 'Ocean Eyes' by Owl City

Owl City - Ocean EyesReview Snapshot: The third album by the Minnesotan whiz kid Adam Young is a shining example of unashamed synth-pop. From euphoric rhythms to surprisingly clever lyrics, the record is nothing if not uplifting. Unfortunately, the last few tracks descend into tortuous repetition (some of the songs seem to be based on exactly the same chord progressions), and Young's accent can be grating. Nonetheless, this is certainly Owl City's strongest album yet, and it's worth a listen, if only for a pick-me-up. 

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review: For those who are already familiar with the first two Owl City albums, released while he was still unsigned, this 2009 release won’t offer you anything new. Four tracks on the album (two mixes of ‘Hello Seattle’, ‘On The Wing’, ‘The Saltwater Room’) are simply rehashed versions of tracks from ‘Of June’ and ‘Maybe I’m Dreaming’. Even where his tracks are new, they are by no means original. We’ll forgive him for that, though, just because of the feel-good nature of his music. Crisp, dreamy and atmospheric, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to smile at the sheer happiness of ‘The Saltwater Room’ or ‘Hello Seattle’. 

The album begins with an energetic yet subtly desperate number, ‘Cave In’. Already, Young’s brilliant mind shows through: lyrics such as “If the bombs go off the sun will still be shining” are brilliantly succinct and thought provoking. ‘The Bird And The Worm’, a childlike love song, follows, mixing warm acoustic guitar with more conventional synth phrases. Once again, the lyrical genius of the artist shines through, with the brilliant wordplay "With fronds like these, who needs anemones?" Just think about it. 

The third track is possibly the best-known Owl City song, ‘Hello Seattle’. It’s catchy, but its lyrics are a little facile, and it’s nowhere near as good as the next track, the rapturous ‘Umbrella Beach’. The sheer energy is comparable to Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ or T-Rex’s ‘Children of the Revolution’, and the lyrics are just ambiguous enough to catch your attention: 

“Home is a boxcar and it's so far out of reach, Hidden under umbrella beach...” 

‘The Saltwater Room’ is another love story mixing mellow acoustic guitar with synthesizer (noticing a trend?), featuring the vocals of Breanne Duren. There are distinct echoes of ‘The Bird and the Worm’, and the issue of repetition only gets worse from here. 

‘Dental Care’, the last really interesting song, is a fun and unexpected account of a visit to the dentist. From hereon, the album deteriorates into an indistinct, sunny blur. 'Meteor Shower' is a heartfelt dedication to God (Young is a devoted Christian). 'On the Wing', a love song, is followed by 'Fireflies', which is more or less an amalgam of 'Hello Seattle' and 'On the Wing'. 'The Tip of the Iceberg' is another song of lost love, as is 'Vanilla Twilight'. 'Tidal Wave' shows Young deviating a little from his standard formula, exploring themes of sin and redemption: 

"All my life, I wish I broke mirrors, instead of promises, 'cos all I see, is a shattered conscience staring back at me..." 

Overall, though, the end of the record is pretty standard. The last two tracks, a remix of ‘Hello Seattle’ and ‘If My Heart Was a House’ (can you believe it's another love song?) are disappointing when held up to the ingenuity of the first six, even if they bring the album to a comfortable close. 

Adam Young entered the music scene as a MySpace phenomenon, and I doubt he has much long-term potential. That said, this album is certainly one of the happiest I’ve ever listened to, and to be unabashedly optimistic in today’s music scene takes courage. Considering the current climate, it’s a panacea.

Philip McDonald


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18
James Yorkston and the Big Eyes Family Players 'Folk Songs'

A review of the album Folk Songs by James Yorkston and the Big Eye Family Players

James Yorkston Folk Songs

Review Snapshot: An almost ideal combination of ye olde tunes with contemporary musical sensibilities, Yorkston and friends have created an album that is interesting and near irresistible.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
The title of this album is not only apt for its content, but also for its mood. Folk Songs, in title and nature, is simple, unassuming and charmingly frank. With eleven traditional tracks, it is an album of genuine grass-roots folk, marking it as occupying a different sphere to the Bob Dylans and modern folk artists. The question in listening to such as album is whether or not to hear it as part of, and on the same page as, the indie rock – or even folk rock – institution, or hear and value it as part of something separate, that of folk and traditional.

The answer lies somewhere in the middle: Yorkston and Green's arrangements of these songs give them both historical and contemporary relevance, and serve to create a overall exploration of the potential for the modernisation of traditional folk from beginning to end. In almost every instance Yorkston and co. retain the melody, rhythm, style, modality and even fal-do-ral refrains of the original, but place them in a new context through creative instrumentation, enveloping gentle tunes in an unexpectedly edgy environment.

Opener ‘Hills of Greenmoor' is an embodiment of uncomplicated and (semi-) authentic folk simplicity, with a simple guitar picking pattern creating the traditional drone and later doubling the melody, a low-key instrumental refrain, and minimal percussion. ‘Just as the Tide is Flowing' is even less dense, with only the guitar remaining, still providing a simple pattern and drone, while a female voice ornaments a gracefully nursery rhyme-like melody with a simple descant. The third track, a bard's tale of a girl disguising herself as a soldier, sees things pick up a little with the first instance of prominent percussion, and a certain extra life to the guitar drone and instrumental refrains. However, from here on is where the lines truly become blurred: ‘Mary Connaught and James O'Donnell' with its quick-moving harmony, quick marching drumbeat, lively guitar, subtle backing vocals and the addition of more low-mix, non-lead instruments betrays its origins as a tune newly-composed for a traditional lyric.

For the remainder we see modern values try to commandeer the album, usurping those of folk. A poacher's ballad is enveloped in a environment of soft rolling cymbals and toms, the strings echoing the voice in an arresting overall swell, culminating the totally unexpected entrance of string sounds creating an alien effect like distortion and feedback, adding a layer of unease. ‘I Went to Visit the Roses' – also a new air to an old lyric – shows a more subtle blend of instruments, even verging on riffing, while the minimalism of ‘Sovay', despite its unmistakable modal harmony, positions it closer to Mark Lanegan than trad.

James Yorkston, along with the Big Eyes Family Players, has not only tried to redefine folk for a modern audience, but the musician's and "songwriter's" role as the medium between history and listener, finding the perfect balance between retelling and interpreting, faithfulness and creativity.

Anna Murray


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18
Tommy Reilly 'Words On the Floor'

A review of the album Words On The Floor by Tommy Reilly

Review Snapshot: The debut album from Orange Unsigned Act Winner Tommy Reilly adequately shows his tremendous songwriting maturity, cleverly expressing his thoughts about 'never getting the girl' in a frank and honest way.

The Cluas Verdict? 8.5 out of 10

Tommy Reilly Words On The Floor

Full Review:
So, Tommy Reilly. Yes, he won Orange Unsigned Act after originally being told by Jo Whiley that he "wasn't experienced enough." And yes, he is a talented singer-songwriter. But what's that Robin? He's not joining the "worlds-skinniest-jeans-in-indie" competition or adopting overly emotional, almost fake tones in his music? Joyously, he isn't.

Having been put through his paces on Orange Unsigned Act, most notably writing the excellent “I Don’t Like Coffee” at very short notice, Reilly has proved he can definitely deliver. In fact, this album clearly shows it.

Opening track “Grab Me by the Collar” effectively conveys Reilly’s emotion, capturing the heart of adolescence with cries of “Am I supposed to be in love/Cause that’s what everyone else does.” There's almost childlike vocal ornamentation which, if anything, adds to the sense of adolescent confusion and fear apparent throughout. The song ends in a blitz of anarchic drum beats and guitars as though breaking away from the sense of fear that seems to engulf the rest of the song. Essentially, "Grab Me by the Collar" is the perfect introduction to this album.

The title track "Words On The Floor" begins acoustically, with only a guitar and Reilly's lilting Glaswegian singing voice. After the first verse is the inclusion of a piano, which makes this track especially atmospheric. This coupled with the vocal tracking is both striking and powerful. Beautifully, towards the end of the track Reilly's lyrics are almost lost in a haze of emotion.

A definite key track on this album is "Having No One." There is an additional backing vocal which makes the song quite emotive. Once again expressing his dissatisfaction at never getting the girl he sings about "The team designed/To strip me of my joy." It's a sombre yet memorable lyric - and let's be honest, everyone likes a dark lyric or two on an album. Towards the end Reilly appears to be crying out in desperation due to the feelings of loneliness, it's a frank and clear display of how he feels.

Ultimately, "Words On the Floor" is a brilliant debut album. The emotion on this album is in abundance but definitely isn't overwhelming - everything's in perfect measure. Though on some tracks Reilly seems to sell himself a bit short, it's all par for the course. I have a feeling there's a lot more in store for Tommy Reilly..

Aideen O'Flaherty

  • Tommy Reilly plays the Twisted Pepper in Dublin on the 6th of October.

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17
David Gray 'Draw the line'

A review of David Gray's album 'Draw the line'

David Gray - Draw the LineReview Snapshot: David Gray's "Draw the line" - new songs, new band, new outlook. Same old same old.

The CLUAS verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review: Nothing screams late nineties quite like David Gray’s “White ladder”, a “classic” album that worked basically because its lo fi songs captured a moment and because Gray himself consciously, or unconsciously, lightened his own musical mood. Gray has trod so much water since “White ladder” that he has developed webbed feet. Noughties follow ups, “A New Day at Midnight “ and “Life in Slow Motion” are as workmanlike and well intentioned as they are forgettable but his “Lost Songs” collection of outtakes was a peak. His own wife said ”Lost Songs” should be accompanied by a government health warning but it worked because he submerged himself so totally in his own misery.

So it’s against that background that he’s now released “Draw the line “ and with a completely new band too - Clune, that annoying drummer of his has been binned off - and Gray has been telling the world that he’s been writing new material at a rate of knots. “Draw the line” may be new material and Gray may profess that he’s been inspired but in the strictest sense it’s more of same and for the most part it’s less than inspiring. The arrangements on this album are exquisite, the band are on the money and the melodies are serviceable but there’s no sense of pushing things forward or of improving on what’s gone before.

“Draw the Line” suffers particularly because of Gray’s voice, which is now parched and tinder dry. The album’s outstanding track is “Breathe”, an outstandingly bad duet with the truly scary Annie Lennox. It’s self important, it’s po faced and it’s a little bit creepy but I wouldn't judge “Draw the line” on the basis of one spectacularly bad number. In fact the opener and the lead single, “Fugitive” is about the brightest thing here but really that’s not saying much. “Nemesis” on the other hand is a dark little thing with a lyric that starts out as self deprecation but veers towards self mutilation:

I’m the manta ray
I’m the louse
I am the photograph
They found in your burned out house
I am the sound of money washing down the drain
I am the pack of lies
Baby that keeps you sane

And on it goes.

“Kathleen”, “First Chance”, “Breathe”, and the rest are well arranged and lushly produced pieces of folk rock that merge into each other far too seamlessly .

The fact is that despite the stage banter and the big noddy dog head on him, Gray’s a self obsessed little man with a blacker than black world vision. When the greats like John Martyn, Nick Drake, Brett Anderson and Elliot Smith look within for inspiration they look into hearts full of soul but when Gray looks within all he finds staring back at him are his own slights, wounds and injuries.

Gray may not produce another “White ladder” and he may not even want to but “Draw the line” does not represent anything new, uplifting or even challenging.

Anthony Morrissey


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15
VV Brown 'Travelling Like The Light'

VV Brown Travelling Like The LightA review of the album "Travelling Like The Light" by VV Brown

Review Snapshot: A continually interesting album using older influences in a modern manner, placing VV Brown head-and-shoulders above the "soul revival" stratum.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review: In the past few years there has been no shortage of pop artists willing to dig into the past for inspiration, drawing from classic sources for songwriting ideas. Like most things in music, this has provoked some fierce debate; are the modern artists legitimately drawing influence from previous musical styles, or pilfering the ideas of the past to cynically create a brand identity? While the truth is likely to be somewhere in between (few artists truly disregard the power of presentation) one question arises either way: does the retro fascination produce creative, enjoyable music? Like the question of authenticity, it can go either way; for every faithful summoning of soul (music and emotion!) there is a sterile creation wrapped in nostalgic clothing.

Travelling Like The Light is possibly the most joyous sounding album from this musical tendency, built around the mesh of a retro music base and modern production gloss immediately familiar from antecedents such as Duffy and Winehouse. Brown’s reach is wider than other semi-revivalists however, with the artist listing relative oddities like VGM (Video Game Music, apparent in the prominent synths) as influences, while the older inspirations stretch beyond soul into doo wop and early Rock n’ Roll. “L.O.V.E” encapsulates this approach best, veering from polyrhythmic percussion to a chorus built around the archetypal rockabilly bassline. Such moments of sheer homage are scattered throughout the album, brash clichés that have fallen out of use in mainstream pop and are a joy to re-discover in new surroundings. Another triumphant track indulging in similar impudence is “I Love You,” with its somewhat precise title. However, the music itself is anything but played out - a crisp evocation of early 70s Motown balladry that stands as an exquisitely cool-handed effort on an album mainly characterised by its effervescence.

Like most records defined by their more immediate, sprightly songs, Travelling... has an undercurrent of wistfulness, in this case the disappointment of a failed relationship. “Leave!” screams angry despondency, Brown opining that “the one you loved is a fool,” her tale of disillusion accompanied by the gently-sighing backing vocals ubiquitous in American pop music of the pre-Rock n’ Roll era (and even creeping in to Rock as the music grew more commercialised). In a similar vein, “Shark In The Water” brings to mind the Motown girl groups with its formula of lovelorn lead singer backed by cooing vocals and gently-careering strings.

Despite the emphasis placed on Brown’s older influences, Travelling... is constantly underpinned by bubbling synths and drum machines. While these instruments are prominent throughout, at times they blend with the organic elements so well that they are almost subliminal, only recognised because of a stray note at the end of a song or a breakdown featuring only the unmistakeable sounds of programmed percussion. The effect is positive, an exclamation point making it clear that Brown isn’t pining for the past – a far cry from the other soul revivalists, whose music is constructed in a similar manner but cloaked in enough stagey artifice to suggest otherwise.

Travelling Like The Light comes off as much more than a series of exercises in subverting the kitschy, over-familiar sounds of early Rock n’ Roll and Soul (even if some of the enjoyment of this album is in how these sounds have been resurrected and presented so blatantly). VV Brown has made an album largely free from listless nostalgia, aided by the fantastic melding of various retro styles with a modern, glossy production (with each element complimenting the other in subtle reciprocation) and the buoyant songwriting that forms the core of the album. The last decade has demonstrated that the use of retro elements is a perilous one that can often result in an empty mining of the past; Travelling Like The Night does not fall into that trap, but uses each over-obvious component as just that, an interesting component rather than a source to leech off. Brown’s has succeeded in creating an instantly impacting pop album that manages to stand head and shoulders above most of the crowded “revival” stratum.

Pádraic Grant


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15

Live in Kilkee, Co. Clare, 13th September 2009

Review Snapshot: Due to a tyre puncture on the way back from a surf session in neighbouring Doonbeg, yours truly was unavoidably delayed en route to the evening festivities in Kilkee, arriving in the Big Top just in time to see Stereo MCs walk on stage. Whew!

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review:
Stereo MCs: Looking around at the young wans who were waving their hands in the air to dance anthems such as ‘Black Gold’ and ‘Step it Up’ it was sobering to realise that a good proportion of them probably weren’t
born when Stereo MCs released their first album. Once again the crisp, clean and loud sound mix that was a hallmark of this year’s festival proved a boon to the groovy tunes of a group who mix infectious beats with upfront, if stripped down, political statements. The only question was, why schedule them on the Sunday, when so many attendees were heading home for work on the Monday morning, instead of the Saturday night when they would have elevated an already party hearty crowd? Nonetheless, if you stayed around for them, you got yours.

The Zutons: In a nutshell, I loved this band, delivering a razor sharp performance, The Zutons ‘s unique sound nonetheless managed to channel elements of bands as diverse as the The Beatles and The E Street Band. Their note perfect, steam train rock and roll was the perfect end to what was a weekend of great music in a setting that has so much to offer, provided you don’t keep your arse parked on the grass with a pint in your hand. Yes, the Zutons duly played hits such as, ‘Valerie’, ‘Why Won’t You Give Me Your Love?’ and, as a finale, a storming version of, ‘You Will You Won’t’, but to be honest the whole set was a highlight and, yes, Abi Harding was looking particularly fine in a red dress, but it was great to hear four great musicians just go out there and play their socks off, get the crowd involved and turn the Big Top into the sort of party that Bruce Springsteen rhapsodises about. Transcedent.

Rev Jules


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13
General Fiasco
General Fiasco, consisting of brothers Owen and Enda Strathern and school friend Stephen "Leaky" Leacock, have been setting the Northern Irish music scene alight for the past twelve months. ...

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13
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Owen Ashworth began recording as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone in 1999. His unique songwriting has spawned 5 albums over those years and he has steadily grown in popularity. I caught up with him o...

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Nuggets from our archive

2005Michael Jackson: demon or demonised? Or both?, written by Aidan Curran. Four years on this is still a great read, especially in the light of his recent death. Indeed the day after Michael Jackson died the CLUAS website saw an immediate surge of traffic as thousands visited CLUAS.com to read this very article.