The Big Local Reviews Catch Up!

moondog smallHere are all of my local reviews for The Ocelot from August 2013 to April 2014. Funnily enough the forst and last records listed here are my only two 5/5 scores – The brilliant Nudybronque last month and the incredible Case Harding back in the summer. Check them both out if it is the last thing you do with your ears.

Nudybronque – Moondog (EP)

5/5 Record Of The Month!

Perennial Ocelot favourites, and with good reason, this is the first new material from Wiltshire’s Nudybronque in ages and my god it was worth the wait. Moving on from their indie-pop past into a more grown-up arena of musical experimentation complete with strange instrumentation, darker lyrics (girls, who would do that to their face? Is there any harm in ageing gracefully? Pump your lips, they’ll pump your stomach, eventually) and messed up song structures this is one of the most exciting, interesting and illogical recordings I have heard in some time.  Despite this though, the hooks still get stuck in your head (especially Peachy Keen) and you will be humming along in no time and for BLOODY AGES! No mean feat for music as playful and creative as this. Astonishing stuff. Seek it out and love it too.

Dead Royalties – Hormones (EP)

4.5/5

Now Bristol based but with firm roots in mid-wilts, this trio knock out stupidly good grunge and punk inflected alt-rock songs in their sleep it seems. Taking a very direct and edgy path lyrically these 5 tracks are dirty, raw and dark anthems. Musically the band has a strong math-rock background and has taken these more complex musical characteristics, welded them to some huge riffs and big melodies and created a musical scud missile (smart enough to be guided down your chimney, powerful enough to blow the roof off)-  a highly potent rock cocktail (rocktail?) that is both big AND clever.

Jack Little – Epitaph (EP)

3.5/5

This 5 track EP from Bicester artist Jack Little was released last year, but we just found it down the back of the sofa and thought it was well worth a write-up. Up beat acoustica can go horribly wrong, ending up as a lame Fran Turner rip-off. Happily there is more to Jack than that as he exhibits a good ear for a tune, bashes out some sturdy lyrics and has a voice that stays the right side of “original” although highly reminiscent of Just Jack and Jamie T. There are a few looser moments bit this was mostly well worth dusting off it.

Reubens Rocket – Stay Here, Stay Love (EP)

3/5

A very chilled out second effort from Wantage artist Reubens Rocket. Based around the talents of youngster Ollie Base this a 5 track DIY effort  built on melodies that have “summer” written all over them in much the same way as everything Jack Johnson has ever done. With dollops of Ed Sheeran and Newton Faulkner added into the mix the result is exactly what you would expect – inoffensive, back ground music that your mum would let you play in the car on a long journey. However, there is solid potential, and with a bit more of an edge Ollie really could be one to watch.

Black Hats – Does That Make You Nervous? (EP)

4.5/5 Record Of The Month!

Witney band Black Hats are long term favourites round here for 3 main reasons – they are 3 great blokes, play great live shows and write great tunes. A simple recipe really (pay attention other bands).  And once again they have produced a sublime collection of pop songs, full of outrageously addictive melodies, of the sort that require surgery to remove them from your ears. Musically interesting as always with ska, punk and mod influences mixed with cool electronica and some intelligent and fun lyrics this is chock full of sing-along choruses that are going to be absolutely immense live. Local Music doesn’t get much better than this.

Samuel Zasada – Winters End (EP)

3.5/5

This originally came out last year, and I belatedly discovered it at the bottom of my inbox recently. But it is so darn good I had to make amends for my incompetence and review it. Samuel Zasada are a well-established four-piece folk band from Oxford, whose music has a light touch and uplifting feel, but interestingly also runs strongly with some pretty dark undercurrents, delivered deftly through the song lyrics. Built around some beautiful vocals and harmonies that sit over some fantastic traditionally styled acoustic folk this is a sure thing for any fan of the genre, as well as those looking for a way in. Give it a go.

Betari’s Box – Betaris Box (EP)

4/5

This arrived without warning recently, and proceeded to reorganize my brain in rather bewildering fashion. The band are an Oxford / Sheffield trio who play some pretty unique sounding electro synth pop, rich with influences from 80’s pop to 90’s indie and have a keen ear for a hook. This 5 track ep is playful and fun, always inventive and creative and constantly on the move, almost taking evasive manoeuvres to stop you second guessing where it may be heading. Genius stuff that will appeal to fans of all sorts of music, so give it a spin.

Faye Rogers – Thunder (EP)

4/5

Originally released as digital streams last year happily this EP now gets a physical release, for which we are all much obliged.  Because these four songs perfectly encapsulate the speedy progress Faye is making as a songwriter and musician. Most gloriously, Faye’s haunting voice and delicate guitar work is backed up by some beautiful cello and piano playing, further highlighting the contrast between the delicate, beautiful sounding music and the intelligent lyrics that are surprisingly dark heart-on-her-sleeve soul searches as she comes to understand the world around her and her place within it. Captivating, contrasting and a must have.

Smilex – La Petite Mort (LP)

4/5 Record of the month!

Oxford alt-rockers Smilex are a well-established institution, and you can see why from this excellent offering. Produced by Skunk Anansie guitarist Ace it is a cracking piece of work. Full of 90’s alt-rock and metal influences neatly repackaged for modern times, it properly hits you between the ears. One minute thrashy punk, the next chunky Sabbath riffage, the next Rage Against The Machine angst-ridden propaganda it keeps you guessing over the whole of the 10 tracks. Vocals skew widely from screams to shouts to growls to some fittingly jarring singing. Lyrically deep, this is a band with a message, who want to shout as loudly as they can about it. And so they do – this is fist-pumping, visceral and hypnotic stuff. In short bloody excellent.

All Ears Avow – Home (LP)

3.5/5

A hefty slab of Wiltshire alt-rock, mixing up metal sounds with pop-punk melodies, but whilst sitting firmly within these generic confines there is plenty enough invention and originality on display to hold interest. This is a band who love their clever electronic wizardry and make full use of technology to fill out the songs and give them a majestic spread of sound, but strip away all of the fripperies and you are still left with some great songs, and this holds the album together, preventing it becoming a gadgety mess. With plenty of soaring moments that act as the perfect foil to the heavy riffs that surround them, and take you on a neat journey this is a great calling card. Watch out for this band as they have some serious potential.

Peerless Pirates – Nelsons Folly (EP)

2.5/5

It is very weird for a band from land-locked Oxfordshire to be so obsessed with a buccaneering life at sea. But it takes all sorts and this really does sound like The Levellers would if they drank dark rum and liked singing sea shanties whilst searching desert islands for buried treasure. So no wheels being re-invented with this collection of tunes, it is pirate-folk, and good fun and not much else can be said about it. There is a real naive charm to this record and it made me want to say arrrrr a lot, so probably that is mission accomplished.

Humbug – Nights Out EP

3/5

A Reading band with a solid pedigree, Humbug play what could only be described as straight-ahead indie music. But it is Indie with enough bi-polar issues to make this 3 track EP actually pretty interesting. Opener Nights Out is a poppy 80’s melange of swirly guitars, synths and vocal hooks. The Drop slings in a funky bass line and jangly guitar licks (and is the EP highlight) whilst Lines drops down into slow Oasis territory but with a vocalist who can sing. And despite the conventional generic sounds I couldn’t help but really like it. The melodies are infectious and they wear their stadium pretentions proudly on their sleeves. Solid stuff.

 

Young Knives – Sick Octave (LP)

4.5/5 Record of The Month

Bit late reviewing this, but after picking it up at an in-store I had to shout about it. If you thought you knew Young Knives, think again as this is easily the Oxford trio’s best and most interesting record. Going DIY with every aspect of their careers has allowed them the freedom to express, and they do that in spades. This is a stonking record, full of barnstorming post-punk weirdness, beautifully uncool and totally uncaring of hipster opinion.  Making use of a gamut of sounds, instruments and general eccentricity there is still an underlying pop-ness to this that holds it all together but in a very sinister fashion. Cracking stuff.

George Wilding – Being Ragdollian (EP)

3.5/5

Despite the pretentions of the publicity imagery and EP title, this is a very solid collection of songs, built around soaring vocals and crisp melodies. It is a very slick EP, with not a note out of place, and whilst this is admirable, I found myself wanting for a little more rawness. I am keen to catch him live, as I think this may be where you get a truer picture.  This Wiltshire singer / songwriter is a new face on the scene, but if the hype and support, allied with this EP is to be believed, he will be around for some time. A very good start sir!

Flights Of Helios – Stars / Crows (AA)

4/5

Yet more imaginative pop-electronica from Oxford, this double A single release is a real treat, especially for those hankering back to the days of spacious, blissful trip-hop and music that chills. Stars is an otherworldly slice of dreaminess, music that cuddles you to sleep in a spoon position, whispering softly in your ear. Crows is more driven, but no less spacy, channelling the majesty of Arcade Fire and Sigur Ros and climaxing with a percussive burst of energy that sucks you deeper into the vibe. Delicious stuff, cannot wait for more.

Dirty Thrills – Growing Young (EP)

3.5/5

London based but with a strong Wiltshire pedigree this is rock ‘n’ roll as it always used to be, but with a healthy dose of modernism for good measure. Bursting with bluesy swagger ripped straight from a Janis Joplin backing band the band name says it all. This is the soundtrack to Sons Of Anarchy, dirty, biker rock ‘n’ roll that is riff heavy and possessed of soaring vocals. If you dig that scuzzed-up blues sound that Led Zeppelin initiated and countless bands stole you will love this. Hopefully these guys will develop and grow and find a truly original voice.

Deer Chicago – These Hollow Walls / Casting The Circles (AA)

Record Of The Month! 4/5

One of the best noises from Oxford recently, these tracks are true to the current “sound” of their home city but mixed with plenty of their own identity that ensure they sound unlike anything else you will find. Boundlessly creative and full of ideas, flourishes and some serious emoting these songs have big stadium mentality to them but retain some nicely rough edges with some of the guitar work, which fuses well with the all conqueringly huge melodies.

Strength In Blunders – Sweet Dreams My Little Nightmare (LP)

3.5/5

Swindon’s Strength In Blunders neatly straddle the gap between the scruffier punk of ’77 and its early 80’s imitators, and the slicker pop-punk of recent years. They effortlessy manage to make a right racket at the same time as creating some slick hooks and melodies, a great combination that simultaneously has you slamming around your living room whilst singing at the top of your voice. But, if you stop and listen, you notice a truck load of little original ideas and twists. Clever bastards.

Stornoway – You Don’t Know Anything (EP)

3/5

OK, they could sit in the national section, but that wouldn’t allow us to celebrate local successes. This is a stop gap record as the world awaits their new album. And a cheery folk-pop effort it is too, smoothly delivered, fun and airy. However, it does not really challenge and clings a little too much to the bands past output without adding much new or suggesting any great development. It is still very good but should have been better.

Aurora J Young – Local Hero / Passing Me By (AA)

3.5/5

Sultry songstress from Banbury whose first 2 singles from her album are poles apart in style but linked by their sheer quality. Local hero is a piano driven pop power-house of a song, and the sort of thing that the charts should be populated with if there was any justice to these things. Passing Me By has a country feel to it and some impressive gutsy vocals but lacks some of the drive of the former. But it all bodes well for her.

Vienna Ditto – Ugly (EP)

4.5/5 – Record Of The Month!

With all the predictability of the Formula 1 season this Reading / Oxford duo do it again, producing 3 electrifying songs as commendable for their originality as for their musicality. If you are looking for simple shortcuts picture Portishead double teaming with Goldfrapp, but with more fuzzed up guitars, antiquated samples and some deliciously dark undertones. In my mind it becomes the sound of a steampunk film noir, all breathy femme fatale vocals, mysterious, edgy music and haunting lyrics that arouse, depress and intrigue in equal measure. Effortlessly contempory but compellingly vintage it is another brilliant entry to their rather special discography. One day, these two WILL make it.

Super Squarecloud – Soupeater (LP)

4/5

The debut album from Wiltshire’s most unique band proves my vocabulary needs improvement as I find myself running out of appropriate words to review them. I may have to make some up. There are so many influences at work; all bundled up into a neatly distinctive package that proves original, ground-breaking music is possible without being all po-faced. This is exuberant fun; gloriously poppy songs stuffed with unusual melodies that get stuck in your head for hours. And it will appeal equally to pop fans, serious musos of all genres, quantum physicists and cosmic tourists. The musical equivalent of a big bag of Skittles, a groovazzed-up popadox triumph of a record no less.

The Sea The Sea – Sub Rosa (EP)

3/5

Oxford five-some The Sea The Sea (should I point out Oxford is nowhere near any sea, at all?) are maturing nicely. Sub Rosa sees them hitting some classic indie territory, slightly edgier than their earlier material, with some strong Smiths and post-punk influences going on. It still retains that anchoring in a dreamier, ambient world, a reverb drenched place but built on some solid bass and drum groove foundations. The chief characteristic is the rather unusual vocals, one minute a baritone drone, the next a near falsetto squeak. Weird yes, but also effective and certainly individual. A hazy effort but it works. The next moves this band make will be interesting.

Hip Route – Hands Together (LP)

3.5/5

Ahh, the delicate sound of Swindons favourite flare wearing flip-flop fan and his merry band of cohorts doing what they do best, as dependable as the British rain. But, sometimes, we all need those roots that anchor us safely, and that is what Jim Blair and Hip Route do so well, nothing too revolutionary, just brilliantly executed roots music, peppered with reassuring amounts of rock, blues and funk riffs. As always the star of the show is the phenomenal guitar playing of lap-steel master Jim, but more so than on older recordings this fits perfectly into the song, allowing the melody, vocals and personality of the tracks to stand out, along with the accomplished playing of the rest of the musicians. Easily the best work from these folks so far.

Jessica Law – The Littlest Libertine (EP)

3/5

New from Oxfords very own folk Piaf and one of the people behind the batty Mechanisms (see last month) this is a collection of intriguing folk songs, packed with expressive lyrics, strange rhythms and creative instrumentation. The slightly off-kilter vocals add to the charm, but musically this is a beautiful and interesting record, although you can’t quite ever put your finger on why you love it. It leaves you with the sensation that the ideal place to listen to this would be round a camp fire on a still mid-summer night, drinking rough cider and smoking rollies.

Headcount – Lullabies For Dogs (LP)

3/5

The black sheep of Witney music may look like the Mitchell brothers and play a muscular, punked up brand of rock music, but there are subtleties galore in this album, and the influence of producer and former Ant (of Adam & The Ants fame) Marco Pirroni is writ large across it. Big riffs and snapped out vocals rub shoulders with effect drenched sounds and catchy melodies to create a unique sounding piece of work that cleverly mixes old and new influences along with both rough and polished sounds to blend together a punchy musical cocktail. The sort of cocktail that sneaks up on you quietly, before laying you out from behind in a deeply devious sneak attack.

Off The Radar – 12 Shots From The Coffee Shop (LP)

4/5 – Record Of The Month!

Highly accomplished album from this Reading outfit. A veritable melting pot of sounds that all come together in a glorious whole, you will find oodles of 90’s British indie, 60’s Kinks-esque pop and a heavy dose of new wave and mod influences. The songs are perfect little pop nuggets, well-crafted and melodic. These guys certainly have an ear for a tune. There is also some great lyric writing, very much in the vein of Paul Weller and very classically British, which is unusual for a band who have spent plenty of time in America and claim to be heavily influenced by these travels.

Babies Vs Rabies – Flies Off The Bride (LP)

4/5

Debut album from Wiltshire’s noisiest rock terrorists is an acquired taste. The musical equivalent of hitting yourself in the head with a lump hammer, the more you do it the less it bothers you. On the surface this is a challenging record; loud, relentless and undeniably dank and nasty, but persevere with it and you discover hidden depths of melody and even some hooks; think Bleach era Nirvana turned up to 11. It is primal, brutal and uncompromising, but I admire the single mindedness of it. Music should be challenging and provoking, like all good art forms, and this does make you question the meaning of life.

The Lewis Creaven Band – Playing To Lose (EP)

2/5

Accomplished, funked up bluesy rock music galore in this EP. It wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. If you love Hendrix, Cream, Free and their contemporaries then this is right up your street. The playing is wonderful and it evokes those heady times of hemp, hippies and west coast drug culture. In fact, it does all this so effectively it could actually be a record from 1969, which is no bad thing. I can’t help thinking though that this would be a better record if it had an injection of modernity to it as well. It is a little old fashioned.

Boss Cloth – Followers Of The Cloth (EP)

4/5

Swindon 2 piece noise-mongers debut recording is a pretty intense affair. The whole thing rocks along with the relentless pace of a terminator on PCP, never giving up, never stopping, not pausing for breath. Channelling influences from punk through grunge to Queens of the Stone Age these 4 songs are heavy as hell but laced with the grooves and hooks of any good pop band. Some of the riffs would give Josh Homme sleepless nights and whilst the drums are pounded within an inch of their lives there is a great feel to the playing. An incredible statement of intent and gloriously scuzzy.

The Mechanisms – Ulysses Dies At Dawn (LP)

3/5

Something very different is appearing out of Oxford. Ostensibly this is folk, but folk as if it had been run over by a steam-powered bus driven by Homer and carrying a load of Jeff Waynes’ Martians. Sounds weird? Then give it a listen, as it is compellingly brilliant. Taking as a base classic Greek myths and dropping them into a setting of a dystopian steampunk Film Noir cityscapes is frankly a pretty far out and original idea. But then structuring it like Jeff Waynes War Of The Worlds with narrative links of dialogue driving the storyline is a borderline master stroke. Musically underpinned by folk and blues influences, the songs are equally unique and clever. Amazing.

Colour The Atlas – Building Skyscrapers (EP)

3.5/5

Breakout Wilts / Oxon borders pop-folkers return with another accomplished EP. Will someone please sort out their attention span and get an album out of them? This is 4 beautiful tracks built around the pitch perfect vocals of the talented Jess Hall and perfectly illustrates what Colour The Atlas manage to do so well to set them apart. Which is taking folk music firmly into the 21at century with dashes of electronica, dub step and pop, modern styles and flourishes that give it a sweeping and glorious atmosphere. Captivating stuff.

Buswell – Stitched Shoes (EP)

4/5 – RECORD OF THE MONTH

There are small scale local artists, and then there is Shaun Buswell. Buswell never does things by half, when he wants to grow a beard, it is epic, when he takes on a challenge it is as hard as possible but beaten and when he plays music he does it with as many people as he can. But don’t let the legends overshadow what is at Buswells core, and that is the songs. This new EP is an exquisitely written collection of emotional tracks, built around one of the most expressive voices you will hear and some simple but dynamic acoustic guitar work. And when I say built, I mean it as instrument after instrument is then layered on. Strings, horns, percussion, woodwind, electric guitar, more vocals, all flesh out the songs, adding delicacy or depth where needed. The result is on the whole a beautiful and evocative collection. Possibly once or twice it is a little too much, but that is not really how Shaun and his cohorts operate, and really we should be grateful for this. Every self-penned song is outstanding, but unusually for me, my highlight is a cover (and a live one at that), slipped in at the end of The Bands “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” which really gives the original pause for thought!

Manny O – Reality (EP)

4/5

It is a nice change to hear some local Hip Hop. And not only is this good hip hop, but Oxfords Manny O is a rapper who speaks English properly. It is pretty unusual to hear a rapper these days that can pronounce words correctly and not resort to slang, offensive statements and generally poor elocution, and I love that.  Musically, producer Jacques keeps things subtle, with low key beats, funk, jazz, swing and soul riffs and some delicate electronica, in parts coming over like trip-hop lite. It keeps you guessing all the way through, with some smart, political, contemporary current-affair-aware lyrics that move deftly over the backing music and should strike a chord with most people and have some pretty broad appeal. Top work.

Burnt Tomorrow – My First Mistake (LP)

3/5

Reading folk-rock band who proudly sport a traditional British folk sound but take it nicely up-beat towards ground occupied by the likes of The Levellers, whilst maintaining an interesting contemporary edge. The song-writing is good with some sweet melodies but it is let down by some weak production, with a naivety in the instrumentation and a frustratingly hollow sound. But these are easily overcome with experience and better collaborators, and the basics are all solidly in place.

Paul Brennan – No One Remembers Your Name (EP)

3/5

A Witney based artist who has produced a solid and competent second EP. Lyrically poetic, a real effort has been made with the song-writing, in particular the lyrics, which are a great collection of moralistic tales and loving laments told with a good ear for a melody. But the folk tinged music does not break new ground and won’t be giving Frank Turner sleepless nights. In short it lacks a little originality and the more you listen to it the more you become desperate for some sort of big impact moment.

The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band – Party Seven (LP)

3/5

Not my usual thing, but this is great fun. Essentially proper R&B – that’s Rhythm & Blues and nothing to do with rubbish like Usher – blended with some fine moments of big band style Swing, but in a great twist it is bang up to date with modern lyrics that stand out brilliantly from the classic sounds of the music. One your gran will love, as long as she doesn’t listen too closely!

Case Hardin – PM

5/5

PM is Berkshire band Case Hardin’s 3rd album, and incredibly continues their remarkable artistic upward trajectory. Beautifully structured as if it was on two sides of vinyl, complete not just with authentic popping at the beginning and end of each “side” but with a perfectly done analogue hiss underneath everything. Less unruly than previous album “Every Dirty Mirror” it is an impressive collection of considered songs featuring some wonderful lyrical content which, when coupled with the extraordinarily emotional melodies results in a quite moving piece of work. Stylistically still rooted in Country influenced Americana but with an even greater tendency to play with the boundaries of the genre, and a sounding lot more sombre and subtle the record never loses sight of the what is important, making sure it is the song that leads the way, every sound perfectly placed to add to the whole.

Picking up on songwriter Pete Gow’s fascination for interesting characters PM tells sad stories of broken lives and broken promises, wringing every ounce of emotion from you as you stumble alongside them, bearing witness to a heart rending bearing of souls. The delicacy of the story telling is matched by the lyrical expression and content, proving Gow really is a unique talent as a writer with an incredible way with words to match his mastery of a melancholic melody.

It is a rewarding but challenging record to listen to, unusually climaxing with a swansong that makes the emotional ride you have already experienced look like a comfortable Sunday afternoon drive. A fascinating full stop to the record, and the bands greatest moment so far this finale, “The Ring”, is a sparely produced, stark tale of a soldier’s sad return home from Afghanistan to a life he does not know anymore. The space with which they afford the song to live and breathe is stunning; everything pared back to allow the words and the central melody to do the heavy lifting. A hell of a way to sign off on this chapter of their recorded career, and one that makes me excited and nervous about what comes next. PM is truly a classic in waiting and by rights should move the band on to a far bigger stage.

 

 

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