Rock/Pop

Fri, Sep 16, 2005, 01:00

Latest CD releases reviewed

DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
Plans Atlantic ****

Death Cab for Cutie's days as US indie rock's best-kept secret came to an end when Atlantic Records came a-calling and The OC's Seth Cohen started to namedrop them at every opportunity on the show. After four albums of statuesque indie pop (pick of the bunch is probably 2000's majestic We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes) and singer Ben Gibbard's Postal Service side project, Plans is a statement which says that while much has changed, the core grace, melody and beauty remains intact. It's an album of muted musical whispers and subtle, sure-footed flourishes, with Gibbard's lyrics and angelic, weary vocals at the core as he tackles various big themes. He hits paydirt again and again, especially with I Will Follow You Into the Dark and What Sarah Said, both containing a volley of observations on death which suggest that Gibbard's eye still remains ultra-keen. www.deathcabforcutie.com  Jim Carroll

RON SEXSMITH & DON KERR
Destination Unknown V2 ***

There's an understatement in Ron Sexsmith's work that marks him out as someone special, and his latest album - a collaborative work with longtime drummer/cellist Don Kerr - doesn't really change that view. What's slightly puzzling is figuring out exactly what Kerr brings to the party. With Sexsmith writing all the songs (most of which were penned during the same period as last year's Retriever album) there's nothing of intrinsic creative worth provided by Kerr. Certainly, the harmony parts are pleasant - think the Everlys crossed with the Louvins - and present the songs in an attractive light. The songs are of a certain standard, too; not up to Sexsmith's usual high quality, but good nonetheless. Perhaps it's best not to dwell too much on the whys and wherefores and just drift along to wherever Sexsmith and Kerr are travelling. Destination unknown? Sometimes, the journey is more pleasureable than arriving. www.ronsexsmith.com  Tony Clayton-Lea

PUGWASH
Jollity 1969 Records ****

The third album by Beach Boys-worshipping Beatlemaniac Thomas Walsh is, like Almond Tea and Almanac, packed with clearly signposted pop hooks that call to mind everything from High Llamas to XTC to The Lightning Seeds' similarly-titled Jollification. Walsh, however, has learned to get beyond his more obvious influences and stride into reflective territory of his own. I Want You Back in My Life opens with an Imagine-type piano, but builds nicely into something more than a mere Oasis tribute. Black Dog blows up into a ferocious trumpet-led groove, and Even I grabs a snatch of Suede's Animal Nitrate and mellows it down with some sitar-guitar. Walsh's wordplay is impeccable on Poles Together, A Rose in a Garden of Woods and the final track, Anchor, co-written with none other than Andy Partridge of XTC. www.pugwashtheband.com Kevin Courtney

JULIE FEENEY
13 Songs (No label) ****

Women in Irish music often fall into two cliched camps: the sibling Celtic mystics and/or maudlin singer-songwriters. Julie Feeney represents a new eclecticism, and not just because she may be the first musician to use a clock and the Galway train as musical tools - but she's definitely no ordinary songstress. Apart from her enviable multi-instrumentalism (she plays 11 instruments here), her vocals are the linchpin holding this languid, lush debut together. Pitched somewhere between Goldfrapp minus the electronica and a burlesque Beth Orton, Feeney's voice captivates, especially her multiple harmonies on Alien and Autopilot. String-soaked Aching oozes desire, but Feeney mainly opts for sparse arrangements using piano, xylophone and melodica. And that's why the songs work so well - they manage to sound experimental without being aloof. Lyrically sage, musically taut, 13 Songs is a wonderful, wistful collection. www.juliefeeney.com Sinéad Gleeson

ALABAMA 3
Outlaw One Little Indian ***

Like Hank Wangford on E, those Bammy boys from Brixton are back and still on their mission to bring good ol' country and bluegrass to the acid-house massive. Opening track Last Train to Mashville is a rabble-rousing call to hop on board the disorient express once again. Riding shotgun are the ghosts of outlaws and outsiders past, picking up the trail left by the band's theme tune for The Sopranos. Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds celebrates the eponymous British train robber, while Hello . . . I'm Johnny Cash exorcises the evil spirits of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. Keep Your Shades On, Up Above My Head and Honey in the Rock are chugging country beat tunes, but the whole thing is derailed just before reaching its destination by a renegade sample of Aslan's Crazy World. www.alabama3.co.uk Kevin Courtney