Latest CD releases reviewed

Hal Rough Trade

I am going to kill Dave and Paul Allen. They have clogged up my brain with their syrupy, summery melodies, and have me humming What a Lovely Dance and Worry About the Wind at bus stops, shop counters and in front of the Ticket editor. It won't be long before I'm digging out my old Pilot elpees and waxing lyrical about Andrew Gold's contribution to modern pop. If you thought The Thrills were the shiniest, happiest Irish boys on the beach, then brace yourselves for Killiney's answer to The Archies, as they serve up such sugary, sugary pop tunes as Play the Hits and Keep Love as Your Golden Rule. The brothers cite The Beach Boys as a major influence, but Don't Come Running and Fools by Your Side are closer in spirit to Mike Love than Brian Wilson. Tere's no resisting the charm of Hal's 1970s pop-inflected sound, although sometimes, particularly on the mawkish My Eyes Are Sore and the painfully pithy I Sat Down, it borders on charm offensive. We're hooked on this album's hooks, melodies and middle eights, not to mention the swooping synths, chiming guitars and Sesame Street harmonies. You're dead meat, guys.

Kevin Courtney

Beautiful Intentions Red Girl Intentions

Mel C is the most successful of the solo Spice Girls thanks to debut album Northern Star. Sadly for Sporty, it's been a slow commercial slide ever since then. She failed with the pop-punk crossover of second record Reason - it flopped, she got dropped - and is making a last stab at chart dominance by going completely Garbage. Most of this album, like Next Best Superstar and Don't Need This, has a well-produced, chart-friendly rock sheen that wouldn't be out of place on the new record from Shirley Manson and friends. And though it's confessional and charts a fracturing relationship as well as disillusionment with the downside of fame, the album lacks the messed-up, vengeful heart that would add wit and interest. Mel's ship has sailed and there is nothing here to suggest she is anything other than a mid-table player harking back to glory days.

Paul McNamee

The Sunset Tree 4AD

In his wildly prolific and startlingly poetic career, John Darnielle - aka The Mountain Goats - has created innumerable characters and narratives, sharpening lyrics at the expense of production polish. But with this starkly autobiographical album detailing an abusive upbringing and the solace of good music, Darnielle delivers something disarmingly direct and bracingly personal. Crystallised in Dance Music, a winning but deceptively bright pairing of acoustic guitar and piano, is the image of a five-year-old Darnielle drowning out the sound of his violent stepfather: "So this is what the volume knob's for." Harrowing, maybe - the hysterical escape attempt of Dilaudid arrives with coiled rhythms and frenzied strings - but redemption pours through unaffected lyrics and the stately cello of touching closer, Pale Green Things. Far from tortured self-therapy, The Sunset Tree moves breezily but deeply.

Peter Crawley

Miss Vaughan Go Sick Records

Like proverbial coals to Newcastle, one wonders why a Tasmanian singer-songwriter would decamp to Ireland. Perhaps he's "not quite right" as he sings on here, but listening to Miss Vaughan, it's clear that Matt Lunson's debut is an exercise in lucid loveliness. Like fellow performers Richie Egan and Jeff Martin, Lunson inverts the genre, side-stepping the generic slew of lone guitarist clones. Both use a full band, a methodology Lunson adopts, instilling more than a hint of acoustic Radiohead as a result. The references are perfectly filed and buffed: Thirty One boasts the kind of parched angst Elliot Smith would be proud of, and single Softly Spoken Boy echoes the under-rated David Mead. Factor in lyrical epiphanies (Too Many Friends) and you get an album that sparkles and shines.

Sinead Gleeson

And the Cassette Played Poptones Poptones

With Creation Records, Alan McGee amply displayed a canny instinct for spotting the alternative acts with the right stuff. But his judgement was not always sound as a pound: for every Teenage Fanclub or Primal Scream, there was an Arnold or a Hurricane #1, and for every Oasis there was, well, an Oasis. With his new venture, Poptones, McGee is still trying to keep his finger on the pulse of UK indie music, which probably explains why this compilation features such post-Libertines rabblerousers as The Others, Special Needs and Thee Unstrung. You suspect some of these acts may go the way of 3 Colours Red, ie nowhere, but you'll also be curious to hear more from the likes of The Boxer Rebellion, The Paddingtons and the Glitterati. Novelty tunes such as Soho Dolls' Prince Harry and Killcity's White Boys Brown Girl are entertaining but empty, while the AOR psychedelia of Pure Reason Revolution's Apprentice of the Universe sticks out like a pair of sandals among the Doc Martens.

Kevin Courtney