POP/ROCK

 

Latest CD releases reviewed

BELLE & SEBASTIAN
Push Barman to Open Old Wounds Jeepster
****

Long since tarred with brushes marked "bookish", "fey" and "epicene", Glasgow's Belle & Sebastian (the name, as any fan of cult television will tell you, is taken from a woeful, dubbed children's adventure series of the 1960s) are nothing if not deceptive. This compilation of their EP and single releases on the Jeepster label (from 1997 to 2001) is proof that this most enigmatic of bands have as much lyrical muscle as the likes of a Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker or Mike Leigh. Conversational and casually caustic in approach, the songs might not have the oomph and dynamism of The Darkness or Queens of the Stone Age, but very few of the 25 collected here have less than "quirky pop gem" stamped all over them. An acquired taste, then (song titles such as Judy is a Dickslap admittedly have limited appeal), but for the discerning, slightly left-of-centre poptician this collection is ripe for the picking. www.belleandsebastian.com

Tony Clayton-Lea

JULIETTE LEWIS & THE LICKS
You're Speaking My Language Hassle Records
***

The road from Hollywood A-list to rock stardom is a long one, littered with the husks of many crumpled egos - just ask Keanu Reeves. The fantastically flighty, endearingly nutso Juliette Lewis is the latest film star to slum it for a while. Considering that in recent years she has become known more for her proud kookiness than anything she's committed to the screen, it's remarkable that Lewis has fashioned so straight down the middle a rock record. With relationship break-up the central theme, she veers from bubblegum punk (You're Speaking my Language) to power ballads (Long Road out of Here). Her own vocal is a hotchpotch of PJ Harvey and Courtney Love with echoes of Chrissie Hynde. It's oddly magnetic. There's little that is fresh and original here, and this album will not change the world, but it has charm and fire in spades. Maybe she could give Keanu a few pointers. www.julietteandthelicks.com

Paul McNamee

THE WALLS
New Dawn Breaking Dirtbird Records
***

As proved by their successful run of reunion gigs a couple of years ago, The Stunning are still fresh in the minds of Irish music fans, which leaves Steve and Joe Wall with the problem of how to break free from their old band's still-strong gravitational pull. The Walls' second album opens with a run of lively songs about moving on and getting out of this place (Open Road, Passing Through, To the Bright and Shining Sun) and then settles down to deliver some unsettling home truths (Romantic Ireland's Dead and Gone, Ghosts and Drowning Pool). The songs are less catchy and less funk-based than before, but the sound is beefier and the songwriting more full-bodied; Highwire is a wired-up descendant of Tightrope, but, while To the Bright and Shining Sun (famous as the AIB ad) has the best chance of banking it beyond these shores, and the title track is destined to be a homegrown classic, this may not be the album to rescue The Walls from the Irish music scene's drowning pool. www.thewalls.ie

Kevin Courtney

WINDINGS
Windings Out On A Limb
***

Over the last four years, Limerick-based Stephen Ryan, the one-man band turning the cogs behind the Windings machine, has been recording and re-recording whenever and wherever time and opportunity allowed. What's emerged from this lengthy gestation period is an album which knows that it's the melodies that will get you every time regardless of what's around them. Ryan tries his hand with a couple of different styles - ranging from the wonderful metallic clatter of Postal to the more folky introspection of Bubbles, with Aisling Geary's cooing counterbalancing Ryan's worldweary pitch - but it's his ability to come up with crafty, often deceptively skewed melodies that keep this album from wobbling completely off-track. Within each song, there's a veritable carnival of offstage noises and effects, all the better to colour in the lines on what's a compelling debut album.

www.outonalimbrecords.com

Jim Carroll

MONO BAND
Mono Band Gohan Recordings
****

Not a jingle-jangle to be heard. Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan has ditched his indie roots to come across all noodly and post-rock on this debut solo release. In lieu of a new singer, Hogan has assembled a revolving cast of vocalists that includes Alexandra Hamnede, Kate Havnevik and Richard Walters. The songs are somewhere between a subdued Beck and a sugar-rush Mogwai - with dashes of Brian Eno - and when they lift off (as they frequently do), there's a real sense of This Mortal Coil. With any arty/experimental indulgences being reined in by Hogan's deft knack with a melody line, there's much to absorb and intrigue here as the layers of sound combine to produce resonant new music that has Mercury Music Prize written all over it. Surprising and very rewarding - side projects aren't supposed to be as good as this.

www.monoband.ie Brian Boyd

THE DUKE SPIRIT
Cuts across the Land Loog
****

Some rock women just have it, that extra grain of grit that raises the voice above a rasp, that sensual curve in the larynx that lifts it beyond a screech. Cerys Catatonia had it, but lost it in a bar in Camden. Rachel Nagy from The Detroit Cobras has it, but Juliette Lewis plainly doesn't. And PJ Harvey has it in bundles, which is why Duke Spirit singer Leila Moss has been often compared to the 50ft Yeovil queenie. The London quartet's driving guitar sound is rooted in 1960s garage and psychobilly, but guitarists Luke Ford and Dan Higgins can match Moss's meaty burr with beautifully toned amp soundsand ringing whammy bar bends. Standouts include previously-released singles Lion Rip and Love is an Unfamiliar Name, and the trenchant Bottom of the Sea. www.dukespirit.com

Kevin Courtney