record reviews may 2014

POLLY AND THE BILLETS DOUX

Money Tree (Self Released)

polly

An interesting cocktail of jazz, folk, soul, gospel and country, this follows up their 2010 debt in confident style, even if its often retro sound and genre diversity may fragment its audience. Opener, Black Crow, for instance harks back to the jazz folk sound of Pentangle while the next track, Stories of Our Own, is a finger picked rootsy train wheels shuffle and My Father’s House more in the 70s prog vein.

Polly Perry has a flexible voice that can do both gutsy (What I’ve Got) and tender (The One You’ll Never Know), dig into the blues (Money Tree, Sweet Simon) or mine country soul (Did A Good Man?), but at the end of the day they’re very much the sort of band you’d once find playing hot and sweaty gigs in mid 70s pubs (think the likes of Cado Belle, Ace, Stone The Crows, Bronco, etc) earning plenty of critical praise but never really selling records.

Mike Davies

BECKY BECKY

Good Morning, Midnight (Feint)

becky

An electro-pop duo comprised of Gemma L. Williams from Woodpecked Wooliams and former Fence Collective member Peter Mason, it’s fairly clear that it draws its influences from a box of 80s stynth pop and contemporary electrolash, rather less that it’s inspired by the writings of 20ths author Jean Rhys.

If you’re looking for comparisons then you should cast your thoughts more in the direction of outfits like Cabaret Voltaire, Dalek I Love You and The Normal than Yazoo, Depeche Mode or Human League, which, of course, means that it hasn’t got a pop sheen to it, even if the likes of When The Dead Come Alive, the Moroder meets Visage of Mask and House Of The Black Madonna (shades of Duran) are cast in a melodically accessible vein.

They’re not about to give Hot Chip any cause for concern, but those who like their synths on the more alt side of the electro fence will appreciate. Mike Davies

PIXIES

Indie Cindy (Self Released)

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Their first release in over two decades and, with the departure of Kim Deal (and her subsequent replacement), the first with an all male line up (Black Francis, Joey Santiago, David Lovering), this is actually a gathering of their last three digital and limited edition vinyl EPs, all available on CD for the first time. Naturally, there’s plenty of spiky riffs and aggressive intensity, kicking off with What Goes Boom and reinforced by the title track, Magdalena 318 and Jaime Bravo, but rarely at the expense of a strong melody and memorable hooks, while the cascading notes of the chiming Greens And Blues and the metallic shimmering space rock Silver Snail are about much more than their signature loudquietloud.

The absence of Deal’s bass means the old tension isn’t there, but a 23 year recording sabbatical hasn’t taken away their edge, especially given they actually reunited in 2004 and spent seven years touring before venturing into a studio, and, while some die-hard fans may not enthusiastically embrace the flirtation with synths on Bagboy there’s little here for the long time audience to object to while the veritably airplay friendly pop of both Another Toe In The Ocean and Ring The Bell means that they may well pull in new admirers who might have run a mile from Surfer Rosa. Mike Davies

THE BASEBALL PROJECT

3rd (Yep Roc)

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The third album by Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Peter Byck, Mike Mills and drummer Linda Pitmon shows no sign of draining the well of songs about baseball that provides the band’s raison d’etre. A rockier affair than the two previous releases, honed by having played together for some time now, it’s again very much a guitar driven affair, influences variously nodding to Neil Young, the Beach Boys, the Velvets and, obviously their own individual histories with Young Fresh Fellow, Johnny Cash, Dream Syndicate and REM. While The Babe is obviously about Babe Ruth, those oblivious to the minutiae of America’s national pastime will be unaware of references to such names as Cy Young (A Boy Named Cy) and Negro League Joe Henry (They Don’t Know Henry), even if they are equally legends of the sport, so there’s little chance of them having ever heard of Pascual Perez (Pascual On The Perimeter) from the Atlanta Braves who got lost on the way to his own ballpark or Larry Yount who hurt his arm during the warm up pitch of his only ever MLB appearance.

Along with more disreputable names like disgraced players Lenny Dykstra (From Nails To Thumbtacks) and Alex Rodriguez (13), there’s also references to specific events (The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads is about an apparently infamous 1974 game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinatti Reds), stadiums (Monument Park), teams (They Are The Oakland As), baseball geeks (The Baseball Card Song, To The Veterans Committee) and baseball as a metaphor for love (Extra Inning Of Love). Taking to extremes, Stats comprises of just a list of scores recounted over driving guitar and drums. It’s not one you’ll play too often. Surprisingly, it’s taken until now to record the classic Take Me Out To The Ball Game, here given a Ramonesy treatment. You don’t have to know anything about the sport to appreciate the music, but if you a fan then this will be like trivial pursuit with guitars.

Mike Davies

THE WIND-UP BIRDS

Poor Music (Sturdy)

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Angular and angsty, crammed with political cynicism, fuzzy punk distortions, throbbing basslines, it sprawls all over the place in an ungainly mess which, given the sneery, talk-sing vocal style of Paul Ackroyd, Northern accent proudly out front, can’t fail to attract comparisons to The Fall and, at times, PiL. Determinedly post punk English alternative rock, while Mat Crime has a catchy enough melody numbers like There Will Be No Departures From This Stand, Bus Drove Off, The Gristle, Guy Ritchie and the six minute minimalism of A Song Or Two aren’t for the faint-hearted. But if you’re an unemployed 18 year old socialist facing life on the scrapheap, it could well be your album of the year.

Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2014