The Creme de la Cambridge
I've been lucky enough to have some of Cambridge's finest deposit CDs into my grubby mitts of late.
Balls is the third (or fifth, if you count the annoying seven-track mini album/EP/whatevers) album from the region's favourite alt.country pioneers, The Broken Family Band. It's their noisiest and least country offering to date, and sees much less twiddling from members of the extended family, but is no worse for it. The comedy moments are some of the best yet, with "Alone in the Make Out Room" as good as anything they've made people giggle along with. The agnsty stuff is more evident, with "The Booze and the Drugs" and "I'm Thirsty" flowing gloriously into one another. Both drip with desperation, with the later seemingly spiralling from the former in ever-increasing frustration. There's a lot of clever, off the cuff observation, as ever, but generally its nearer the edge - even the humour has a twitch in the eye. Musically they've been better - more technical, clever and precise - and the slower ones suffer because of it, although the pained yet beautiful "Trouble" is one of their finest moments to date. This, and tracks like "Michelle" - a fabulously off kilter stomp-dirge - ensure Balls is a worthy addition to their already formidable armoury. I probably sound a bit harsh, to be honest, but it's their fault for setting the bar so high with a string of fantastic releases. The best band of the noughties to date.
The Pony Collaboration were formed around 1886, have played about three gigs, and looked likely to decompose before ever producing anything you could sling your coat on. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration - but they've been trundling along since at least 2003 and they've only just put the finishing touches to their debut album. Good news is, it's been worth the wait. Those old enough to remember their early shows (those were the days, man) won't be disappointed, as their slackness has also extended to their songwriting. Don't worry, this is a good thing, as it means much of the early promise that got us all excited in the first place is on show - "Giving up the Ghost", the awesome "Dust", "If Your Love Dies" and "Slumming Expedition" are all reworked but lose none of their clout. The Pony Collaboration rose from the ashes of Cambridge indie noise monkeys Return of Id after they'd moved to London to be lazy students. It's lo-fi indie with a difference - interesting to listen to, instead of just painfully twee. There are all sorts of interesting instruments making cameos, a lovely female backing vocal and the kind of tiny-ranged male lead that made The Pastels, Sonic Youth and The Wedding Present so utterly compelling (in fact "(You're In) The Fast Lane" would sit comfortably on any Cinerama album). Closer "Let Go" is the perfect note to end on, summing up all that's great about them - honest lyrics, a lazy tempo and imaginative arrangements. But then it had to be good - I expect it to be a good decade before the follow up rears its wizened head.
If you like your singer songwriters on the miserable side, look no further than Paul Goodwin. The title track of his EP Watertight is a truly beautiful song, delivering the goose bumps every time. It's been around a long time now, but as the majority of you don't have it I think it merits a mention here. If you like the Chris TT slow ones about love and stuff, you'll like this too. The voice is vulnerable, faltering, but the words pierce straight through your defences. Most songwriters, even some of the famous ones, would sacrifice relatives to have one song as good as "Watertight" or "In Sure and Certain Hope", two of the four songs on offer here. And the others are no slouches either.
Mr Rob Jackson, of The Low Country fame, has been working on another project while vocalist Emily has been sunning herself for the winter in Oz. Citizen Band Radio see him cranking his guitar up a few notches - all the way up to number four! Anyone familiar with his super mellow solo noodling will be on safe ground here, but its got added boom with the former Hofman rhythm section adding their weight to the mix, plus some well chosen samples keeping up the epic soundtrack theme. Heady stuff, and well worth checking out. "Ten-Four" has a really dirty, sinister sound to it and hasn't left my MP3 playlist since I got it.
After a lengthy hiatus, Conscious Pilot have released a few more tracks and have a string of shows planned for 2006. The Lonely Hotel Demos kicks of with "Sirens", a filthy Numan-seque stomper (surely no coincidence with the title) that kicks up more dirt thanks to the "real" drumming (interestingly Mr Numan has now opted for a proper drummer, and quite right too). It's a cracking track you can't help but nod your head too, and is a sure-fire live classic in the making. Sadly it's followed by "Mesh", the disappointing live track from their debut EP which fairs no better in the studio. Its rock opera without the rock. Awful. Last track "Holiday Full of Everything" picks the tempo back up and has a definite rave feel - the teasing under current runs for a few minutes before the inevitable tempo rush. If anything, it doesn't kick on enough to make it a classic. The whispered vocals throughout won't be to everyone's tastes, but if you like slightly retro electronic music with a bigger beat and some dancefloor savvy these boys are well worth looking out for.
Sam Inglis has long been carrying his acoustic around Cambridge's singer-songwriter nights, including his own, for as long as I can remember, playing pretty much the same set. In a stroke of genius he decided to make a change - and play the same songs, but with a band! The good news is though, it works. The Morning People add a country twang to proceedings that really lifts daft favourite "They Did Something", while "My Christian Friend" is elevated to a Squeeze-like pop level. It's not going to win any awards, but The Morning People are not for the Likes of You is a thoughtful, intelligent and comical debut. Also check their website out for the marvellous track "Rocking Horse Shit".
I'll also mention The Furious Sleep, as they were goodly enough to send me their Funeral Marches CD. These guys make a sound that borrows from the more avant garde Dischord stuff, with angular guitars and a screamed/sung vocal assault. But overall its far too clever clever and self indulgent for me. If you think the idea of a prog rock emo jazz band is a good idea, then you should check these guys out - and you should also promise to never, ever, make me a compilation tape. Ever.
NOTE: These people, and various free tracks, can be found at www.myspace.com, as can I. Except Conscious Pilot, who are probably too old for such nonsense, and can be found at www.consciouspilot.co.uk
Cheers, Chris of the Marlings
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