ROCK/POP

 

Latest CD releases reviewed

THE CHALETS
Check In Setanta
**

How to rise above the slurry pit of earnest Irish indie bands and inject a little colour and style into a dour, student-orientated scene? Dubliners Chris, Enda and Dylan recruited two cheeky girls, Paula and Caoimhe, and came up with a cheesy pop mix of B-52's, Ladytron and Shonen Knife. They design their own artwork, clothes and videos, and receive more coverage for their meticulously presented image (ranging from vintage Rothmans ad to kinky doctors and nurses) than for the music, a glam-grunge cocktail of flippant, fun-lovin' pop anthems about bad double dates (Theme from Chalets), gossiping girls (Red High Heels), doomed bands (Two Chord Song), domestic fisticuffs (Love Punch) and drunken holiday antics (Beach Blanket). They won't earn much cred from the serious rockers, but they'll at least get noticed. www.thechalets.com

Kevin Courtney


LAURA VEIRS
Year of Meteors Nonesuch
***

Last year's quirky Ms Indie moves on to WEA's egghead label and finds ample room for her elaborate wordscapes and insistent if slightly off-centre melodies. She is like a slightly cheerier, or perhaps more distant, Suzanne Vega. It is classic American blue-stocking rock - thoughtful, artful but a little too shaved of emotion. Veirs paces the album well. All 12 tracks could be reduced to just acoustic guitar and voice, but she embellishes them with layers of angular guitar and inventive keyboards. There is an aloofness to her voice that contrasts with her colourful word pictures, making her music softly intriguing but not easy to warm to. Check out Galaxies, Rialto, the awkward Parisian Dream or Lake Swimming for evidence of a serious and individualistic talent. www.lauraveirs.com

Joe Breen


MICK HARVEY
One Man's Treasure Mute
****

As a Bad Seeds co-founder, people assume Mick Harvey has been lurking in Nick Cave's shadow for years. In fact he's been in other bands (Crime and the City Solution), produced PJ Harvey, and scored several film soundtracks, including the excellent Chopper. With such a diverse musical CV, it's surprising that One Man's Treasure is his first solo album. Harvey steers towards folk-country and its holy trinity - love, loss and booze. Bethelridge is a rueful requiem that contrasts with the proverbial humour of Hank Williams's Said It Best, and Will You Surrender? is countrified heartbreak at its finest. The sonorous Demon Alcohol is as near to Cave karaoke as it gets, but Harvey manages to sidestep his Bad Seeds persona with what's hopefully the first of many solo outings. www.mute.com

Sinéad Gleeson


BAXTER DURY
Floor Show Rough Trade
****

He manages not to sport his lineage on his sleeve, but Baxter Dury is undoubtedly his father's (that's Ian to you) son. Floor Show is a pretty, reluctantly psychedelic collection, suffused with the detritus of tortuous relationships and shot through with a dark optimism that's 100 per cent-proof Dury. Although the opener, Francesca's Party, vies for all the attention, it's the muted stories that make the deepest impression: Waiting For Surprises reeks of the nonchalance of The Go Betweens' Robert Forster and stumbles across just the right quantum of static to linger long in the brainwaves. With former Spiritualized drummer Damon Reece and guitarist Mike Mooney colouring and shading in between Dury's idiosyncratic verbal quiffs, Floor Show is a whispered gem that'll urge you to tilt your eardrums ever closer. www.roughtrade.com

Siobhán Long


AMERICAN ANALOG SET
Set Free Morr Music
****

Every year or so, American Analog Set release an album and we, the fan-boys with typewriters in the bowels of the press pit, rave at great length about them and their music. Meanwhile, the world at large shrugs its shoulders and carries on buying James Blunt records. As with such previous works of quiet, satisfying beauty as Promise of Love, The Golden Band and The Fun of Watching Fireworks, their new album is quite glorious and, unfortunately, also destined to be another great lost pop album. What makes AAS so alluring is how they manage to work a handful of simple ingredients (haunting harmonies, skipping melodies, plump guitar loops) into one minor masterpiece after another. Here, what will captivate you is how the sweetness and light of Andrew Kenny's vocals turn heartbreakers such as She's Half or shining gems such as Immaculate Heart 1 into songs you will be happy to hear again and again. www.amanset.com

Jim Carroll


THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
Twin Cinema Matador
****

This Vancouver pop/rock outfit seem to surface only once in a while, but when they do it's always worth your while taking a few hours out to listen to what they have to say and play. A tad too sugary for their own good in the past, the band continue to plough intelligent indie pop/rock, but this time with the added bonus of personalised, occasionally darker lyrical themes. Main songwriter and singer AC Newman references classic 1970s pop (10cc, Wings) but manages to filter enough of his influences through a particularly distinctive sieve to ensure that what we hear isn't tainted by over-familiarity. In short, a treasure trove of quality. www.thenewpornographers.com

Tony Clayton-Lea


HOLOPAW
Quit +/ or Fight Sub Pop
**

The tragic demise of Santa's reindeers will one day make for a good song, but it will require punk's acrid sense of humour. The terribly un-punk, hopelessly sensitive one-time alt.country group Holopaw have had a go anyway. "They're dragging the lake with peppermint hooks," moans John Orth, in his standard US indie warble (think subdued child with a frostbitten tremble). These chilly sentiments, together with acoustic guitar strums and soft traces of electronica, may narrow their appeal down to college dorms and certain kindergarten depressives - one song is assembled from a magazine of "found notes", another offers a sensitive lament for the dish that ran away with the spoon - but occasionally their second album shrugs off its woe-begone whimsy for more spirited moments (the bossa nova beat of 3-Shy-Cubs). Mainly, though, this is music for the faint-hearted. www.subpop.com

Peter Crawley


BELL ORCHESTRE
Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light Rough Trade
****

The soundtrack to forbidding moonlit forests and sinister travelling puppet shows, Bell Orchestre's enchanting instrumental opus certainly puts the chill in chill-out. The Canadian five-piece, who include The Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry, free themselves of musical conventions, creating an unsettling yet satisfying musical whole out of a seemingly random and juddering selection of sounds. At various times, clapping, whistling, wind chimes, trickling water - and even a spooky ice-cream van - accompany the ensemble of strings, brass and percussion. (Typewriter Duet) is a beautiful if unnerving experience, while even lighter, poppier numbers, such as The Upwards March, have a jagged edge, never allowing the listener to feel fully at ease. Imbued with wit and originality, Bell Orchestre's musicianship is masterful, and the tunes are kaleidoscopic. A weird and wonderful album. www.bellorchestre.com

Johnnie Craig


ERIC CLAPTON
Back Home Reprise
**

Woke up this mornin', got the baby a bottle . . . Every rocker reaches the age where he feels the urge to extol the virtues of domestic bliss on record, and the Artist Formerly Known as God is no exception. On the opening track, So Tired, Eric sings the baby blues; the rest of the album follows a loose theme of coming home and, just to get the point across, there's a psychedelic family snap of Eric in what looks like Teletubby land with his guitar, wife and three cute kids. The album will certainly please long-time Clapton fans with its tasteful guitar licks, solid songwriting, interesting choice of covers and stellar cast of musicians. In the sleeve notes, Clapton says he wanted to make "music that was safe for others to listen to". He's succeeded there. www.ericclapton.com

Kevin Courtney