Rock and pop reviews


The Irish Timeswriters review the best and worst of this week's rock and pop releases

SAVILLE Nostalgia Reekus Records****

God, but they've been away for a long time - five years since their second album, Somnambular Ballads. With a bunch of excellent songs that reference Dublin, The Blades, James Joyce, Squeeze, first love/sex, orange juice and a sense of sentiment without wallowing in teary reflection, Dubliners Saville have created a finely wrought, thematic album that utilises classic pop/rock, mild psychedelia, mod/soul hints and a singularity all of their own. Main songwriter and vocalist Ken O'Duffy (assisted occasionally by co-songwriter and guitarist Tony Flood) pitches rose-tinted memories against present-day concerns with deft lyrical strokes, all the while underpinning such focused musings with a steely reserve and a stylish manner. One of the best albums of the year, no question. - TONY CLAYTON-LEA

Download tracks: I Can't Do Anything to Ease Your Pain, Everything Flowers in Her Garden

JAGUAR LOVE Take Me to the Sea Matador**

Jaguar Love certainly merit the indie supergroup tag, thanks to ex-members of art-punk acts The Blood Brothers and Pretty Girls Make Graves in their ranks. As with all supergroups, there was obviously a bit of give and take in the musical make-up to ensure that egos were sated and all involved were happy with what was going on. It's a pity that the same level of giving and taking didn't apply to Johnny Whitney's vocals. Rarely in the history of indie rock supergroups has such grandstanding caterwauling, full-bodied screeching and horrendous shrieking ruined an album. There are occasional patches of potentially interesting music (such as the glammy promise of Bats Over the Pacific Ocean), but Whitney is soon along to make you hit the fast-forward button. It all goes to show you that some voices are distinctive for all the wrong reasons. - JIM CARROLL

Download track: Bats Over the Pacific Ocean

LACKTHEREOF Your Anchor City Slang***

Long before he came to attention as part of Portland, Oregon's Menomena, Danny Seim was making music as Lackthereof. Thanks to the success of Menomena's Friend & Foealbum, there's likely to be more people checking out Seim's ninth solo outing (and second this year). Your
is a shambling, slouching experimental stoner-rock set of songs with a bundle of idiosyncratic charms. While Seim seems content to operate at a point where everything sounds as if it's about to fall apart, he still has a smart knack for making simple, nonchalant grooves and minor masterworks, even if the songwriting lacks the same well- rounded rub of his bandmates. The best track here by a mile is the closer, Fake Empire, Seim taking a chisel to The National's theme tune and making it sound even more lovelorn and desolate.    - JIM CARROLL

Download track: Fake Empire

AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS The Peppermint Tree and Seeds of Superconsciousness Pinnacle***

In a 2005 interview, Future Sound of London (FSOL) founders Gary Cobain and Brian Dougans described the retro-psychedelic sound of their new band as "not a reference to '60s music but to the basic outlook of a child, which we all have". Indeed. If their earlier albums ( The Isnessand Alice in Ultraland) engaged in virtuosic if unironic pastiche of late 1960s psychedelia (from Syd Barrett to Jefferson Airplane), then The Peppermint Tree and Seeds of Superconsciousnesssuggests a welcome return to their much missed, postmodern wire-head incarnation FSOL. Although they offer enough pantheistic koans to make a Dead Head mellow with nostalgia, their new from-the-vaults collection is surprisingly heavy with beats and harsh with electronica, as if Cobain and Dougans are putting their spiritual child to bed and turning to the future. - JOCELYN CLARKE

Download tracks: The Peppermint Tree, It's a Sunshine Day (Yeah! Yeah!)

ABE VIGODA Skeleton Bella Union ****

The Smell is still producing the goods. This is the all-ages downtown LA dive where Health, No Age and Mika Miko learned their chops, and it's also the joint where Abe Vigoda honed their sound. It's
obviously a productive environment because Skeletonis an energetic, chaotic, nervy wash of sound where genres are treated as stepping stones between verses. Dead City/Waste Wildernessjitters and
jives between straight-edge punk lines and the kind of hyperactive Afropop rhythms usually heard when Konono No 1 go mad with the thumb-pianos. The title track, Hyacinth Grrlsand Cranesexhibit similar clued-in twists and turns. Abe Vigoda really do blow the listener away in the space of about 30 minutes, all of which you will spend trying to keep up with what they're doing. And chances are that they're only going to get tougher, louder, faster and bolder with time.  - JIM CARROLL

Download tracks: Dead City/Waste Wilderness, Hyacinth Grrls

  DAMON ALBAN Monkey: Journey to the West  EMI*****

The Albarn-penned opera Journey to the West, based on an ancient Chinese adventure book, opened last year to stunning reviews. The opera, sung in Cantonese, had English subtitles, unlike this companion album. Throw in the bewildering fact that Albarn insisted on writing all the songs using only the five-note pentatonic scale found in Chinese folk music, and potentially you had a calamitous affair. The result, though, is stunning. Despite the limitations of the pentatonic scale, the music is accessible and memorable. Albarn's great skill is in fusing Chinese folk with contemporary classical without diluting either of the genres. Keyboards swirl around, percussion gets clattered, harps and strings are used judiciously, and the whole effect is a dizzying, exotic delight. It sounds like an avant-garde, Chinese version of Planxty duking it out with Steve Reich. A fantastic piece of work. BRIAN BOYD

Download tracks: Heavenly Peach Banquet, The Living Sea

STEREOLAB Chemical Chords 4AD****

It's hard to dislike Stereolab. When it comes to Gallic-inflected lounge pop nobody does it better. Nine albums and 18 years into a career that has seen them corner the Bacharach-drizzled end of the spectrum, Stereolab continue to build on very fluid foundations. While they rarely deviate far from what they do best (namely, fusing vintage synths with a freefall approach to chords and composition), Chemical Chordsis the sound of band regrouped and energized. Sean O'Hagan's return, along with Tim Gain's mercurial production, reintroduces an enthusiasm that was less evident on much of their recent output. Neon Beanbagannounces this intention, and the jumble of multiple organs, percussion, brass tinges and Lætitia Sadier's nuanced harmonies ease you right through to the languid closer, Vortical Phonotheque. Familiar? Sure, but with plenty of fresh arcs. SINÉAD GLEESON

Download tracks: Neon Beanbag, Cellulose Sunshine

TEDDY THOMPSON A Piece of What You Need Verve****

Don't know whether the blood is blue but, given his parents, Richard and Linda Thompson, it's no great surprise that Teddy Thompson

has followed a career in music. As with his friends Martha and Rufus Wainwright, the songs of the father haven't intimidated their offspring into silence. Teddy has been a slow burner, but this collection, his fourth solo album, is a pumped up, radio-friendly set packed with juicy, intense melodies, good playing (including his father on two tracks) and lyrics that frequently, as on the opening The Things I Do, betray a man with more questions than answers. But Thompson's voice has a soft, earnest quality, as does his guitar playing and songwriting. Maybe it really is all in the genes. JOE BREEN

Download tracks: The Things I Do, Can't Sing Straight

DANNY ELFMAN Hellboy II: The Golden Army Varese Sarabande****

After the exuberant wallop of his Wantedscore, Danny Elfman goes full throttle on this action fantasy. Taking his lead from Marco Beltrami's superb score for Hellboy - but with less scares - Elfman combines strong themes with stirring strings, driving percussion, giddy electronica, funky chorales and staccato horns to create a dynamic and taut score with moments of surprising wit and tenderness. From the rollicking Introduction to the sardonic Hallway Cruiseto the elegiac and the tumultuous In the Army Chamber, Hellboy IIis a big score brimming with bold ideas and buckets of humour. JOCELYN CLARKE

Download tracks: The Last Elemental, Hallway Cruise