wears the trousers magazine

sounding off: april/may 2009 (I)

Time to round up some of the releases we haven’t had time to cover in full over the last couple of months. We’ve got 15 mini-reviews for you – a bumper edition as we skipped out on doing this in May. Our bad. In Part I, reviews of Allo Darlin’, Alondra Bentley, The Breeders and CocoRosie.

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Allo, Darlin’
Henry Rollins Don’t Dance EP ••••

The latest EP from the twee world of Elizabeth Darling, aka Allo, Darlin’, is a perky, playful uke-pop confection of namechecking goodness. The title track is a clever, bittersweet yearning for mutual musical understanding between the ‘Grease’ loving singer and a committed non-shape throwing angry punk boyfriend. The image of Henry Rollins raising his tattooed fist in the disco when the DJ plays ABBA will stay with me for a very long time. ‘Dear Stephen Hawking’ mixes science and affairs of the heart, as an obsession of with the love life of the eminent physicist is played out against a jaunty, vaguely antipodean musical backdrop. “Every body attracts every other body” sings Darling, as she wonders if Hawking can use his brilliant mind to calculate how a happy marriage might work.

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trouser shorts: tori amos, portishead, sarah slean
February 18, 2009, 2:24 am
Filed under: news, trouser shorts | Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Ahead of her debut performance at SXSW at historic Austin club La Zona Rosa on March 19th, Tori Amos has revealed in a press release that her tenth album – her first to be released in partnership with Universal Republic Records – will be called Abnormally Attracted To Sin (seemingly inspired by a line from the musical ‘Guys & Dolls’ – “I’m nothing but a repressed, neurotic girl who is abnormally attracted to sin, and so abnormally afraid of it”). The press release goes on to explain the previously reported ‘visualettes’, describing them as “documentary style” clips accompanying each song, shot in high-definition digital and Super 8 film over the past year. This may sound suspiciously like yet another concept album from Tori, but the press release does not specifically apply the term to the new album. We shall see.

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Portishead have left Island Records, their record label home for the past 15 years. The band’s Geoff Barrow wrote in a Myspace blog: “we are free…well free of a deal and free of commitment…for now!” He went on to add, “with the world being the way it is there are lots of options open…but if you lot have any bright ideas of how we should sell our music in the future lets us know, why not! i dont think that were into giving out music away for free to be honest…it fukin takes ages to write and we have to heat our swimming pools…!!!” Thinking caps on folks.

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Also announcing a decision to go indie is Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Slean, or so she hinted very heavily in her latest newsletter. After nearly a decade on WEA/Atlantic, she wrote: “After much deliberation, I made some major decisions over the past month. I am officially an independent artist again, in several ways. I feel…new. And slightly crazy…I now feel as though, for the first time in a truly authentic way, I am the master of my own destiny. No one to blame or require or lean on. Freedom and the awesome responsibility it demands…” Seems pretty concrete to us.

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El Perro Del Mar will release a new mini-album in Scandinavia on April 1st. Love Is Not Pop features seven new songs co-produced with Rasmus Hägg from Gothenburg production duo Studio. A preview track, ‘Change Of Heart’, is currently streaming from the El Perro Del Mar Myspace.

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The Breeders are planning to capitalise on their upcoming stint at curating an All Tomorrow’s Parties weekend in May by releasing a new EP. The Deal sisters reportedly spent Valentine’s Day filming a new video to accompany the release with the St. Louis Arch Rival Roller Girls, a roller derby team. No other details about the EP are known just yet, but expect an announcement soon.

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Alan Pedder

albums of the year: readers poll results (part II of V)

Albums of the year: #40–31


In Case Of Emergency

Released: February 2008

What we said then: “Drawing inspiration from Kate Bush (out on the wily, windy moors no less!), Tim Buckley, Thomas Tallis, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and even Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, In Case Of Emergency blossoms out from beneath its touchstones like a snowdrop blinking into the winter sun. Though its setting might be more Hackney Heights than Wuthering Heights, the music of Madam comes from a highly instinctive place.” Alan Pedder [feature interview]

What we say now: Widely hailed as a noir-pop masterpiece upon its release, In Case Of Emergency‘s filmic Americana with a futuristic twist has really gone the distance for us this year. When the lights are low and there’s contemplative thinking to be done, Madam’s prodigious debut is a comfortingly mysterious opus. Written in almost total isolation, Sukie Smith’s introspective tales have been finished off in the studio to improbably perfect detail, each conveying its intended mood like shimmering tendrils gripping your heart. It’s Françoiz Breut meets The Last Town Chorus on the set of ‘Twin Peaks’, and a dark delight from head to (the sting in its) tail.

Download: ‘Strange Love’, ‘Super Fast Highway’

iTunes £7.99



Those Dancing Days
In Our Space Hero Suits

Released: October 2008

What we said then: In Our Space Hero Suits is unabashedly fun, cheerfully carefree, unpretentious, and a delight for any record collection. Each of the 12 songs is a whirring, toe-tapping slice of radio-friendly pop, with a streak of playful, girly attitude. Their sound, primarily guitar- and keyboard-led, draws on retro pop and Northern soul, but it’s the fast paced drums that keep the rhythms dancing. Musically, Those Dancing Days evoke both the disco-friendly pop of Blondie and gentle, ’50s style garage rock, with lead vocalist Linnea Jönsson’s unique voice imbuing a soulful passion into every song.” •••½ Charlotte Richardson Andrews [full review]

What we say now: In a post-Pipettes world, there are plenty of ways in which to get a retro girlgroup pop fix. But while bands like The Revelations fall embarrassingly flat (too obvious, too vacant), Those Dancing Days are dizzyingly fun in that particularly Swedish way, still sashaying their way through our winter days with rainbow-tinted harmonies and an energising tonic of northern soul brightness.

Download: ‘Home Sweet Home’, ‘Hitten’

iTunes £7.99



Blood, Looms & Blooms

Released: June 2008

What we said then: “Leila Arab last graced the music world 8 years ago with Courtesy Of Choice, her ‘difficult’ second album that hid its few instant classics deep behind a lot of awkward obstructions. Following up her acclaimed debut, Like Weather, was never going to be easy, but on reflection even that album had its slightly awkward moments. Blood, Looms & Blooms is the kind of triumphant comeback that her ’90s contemporaries would give their iMacs for nowadays. It’s rare for years of patience to be rewarded with such a competent, coherent and simply chilling body of work like this, let alone one that can swoon, thump and groove all at the same time. Fingers crossed we will not have to wait as long for album #4, but Blood, Looms & Blooms lingers on with an atmosphere of absolute triumph and a notion that only now is Leila really getting started.” ••••• Léigh Bartlam [full review]

What we say now: Blood, Looms & Blooms has lost none of its power to unsettle and amaze in the 6 months since its release. If anything, it has grown in stature as our admiration has swollen to match its creator’s astonishing ambition. On a purely artistic level if not spectacle, this could well be 2008’s greatest comeback record.

Download: ‘Why Should I?’, ‘Deflect’

FREE MP3: Leila feat. Khemahl and Thaon Richardson, ‘Little Acorns
FREE MP3: Leila feat. Terry Hall, Time To Blow

iTunes £7.99



Nicole Atkins
Neptune City

Released: June 2008

What we said then: “Produced by Tore Johansson (Saint Etienne, Franz Ferdinand) and mixed by Rick Rubin, Neptune City is a sparkling evocation of pure ambition and impeccable musicianship. Nicole Atkins has come to admire and draw inspiration from tales of despair, desperation and want. Nothing new, you might say, but the measure of her talent is to take these stories and turn them into something new, something inspiring and, most importantly, something hopeful. Her enchanting and powerful voice bedazzles and moves to such an extent that it cries out to be listened to again and again and again. Neptune City is an unmissable first step in what will hopefully be a lengthy career.” ••••• Anja McCloskey [full review]

What we say now: Woefully misunderstood by many reviewers upon its eventual UK release, Neptune City is a far, far better record than you may have read elsewhere. We may have been a little overzealous in awarding it a whopping five stars but Atkins is a phenomenally talented songwriter and live performer who deserves reappraising. ‘Maybe Tonight’ wasn’t the best choice of first single, admittedly, but there’s a rich seam of gold to be found in the album as a whole. Investigate.

Download: ‘War Torn’, ‘Neptune City’

iTunes £5.99



Jolie Holland
The Living & The Dead

Released: October 2008

What we said then: “Continuing her search for herself, Holland battles the fairly typical demons of relationships and the daily struggle to keep on keeping on, but what sets her apart from everyone else is that she makes you want to love her; it’s an auditory cycle of courtship, candlelight, and a swift kick on the ass as she sends you packing once again. The sultry slur of syllables allows for a classic country feel, while the sometimes stunning lo-fi production provides the perfect setting for both a romantic dinner, so long as you aren’t paying close attention to the lyrics. Though at times her songs seem to blend together a little too easily, it feels as if it is purposeful in order to provide the listener with subtle transitions for the storyline she has provided.” •••• Chris Margolin [full review]

What we say now: As tough as it is to get past opener ‘Mexico City’ without hitting repeat, the rest of The Living & The Dead is stuffed with rueful songwriting brilliance that rarely fails to dazzle entirely. From brilliantly observed character studies with a country-rock flavour (‘Corrdio Por Buddy’, ‘Palmyra’) to ghostly mantras for lonely living (‘Fox In Its Hole’), it’s Holland’s finest record to date and displays a growing confidence that’s hard to forget once heard. 

Download: ‘Mexico City’, ‘Fox In Its Hole’;

iTunes £7.99



Mary Hampton
My Mother’s Children

Released: August 2008

It’s shameful that we never got around to reviewing this album properly because Mary Hampton is the kind of artist that’s well worth making time for. My Mother’s Children, her first release through Reveal Records offshoot Navigator, is a stunning collection of ten frighteningly accomplished (and sometimes frighteningly frightening) songs of ageless beauty. Germinated from seeds of traditional folk chimerically ambiguated with psych-folk references, Mary Hampton’s music is miles away from the likes of Kate Rusby and Eliza Carthy (with whom she once worked). Tellingly, she was once the voice of Stereolab offshoot Imitation Electric Piano, going some way to explain why much of this album seems so daringly experimental among its genre. Rife with unusual imagery, much of it concerning wildlife – an eel screaming before it is skinned, dying stags, taxidermied dogs – Hampton weaves her mesmerising surrealist tales with unnerving expertise, making even songs about the heavens and trees seem subterranean and exquisitely gothic. “There’s no way off the island,” sings Mary with an eerie menace, and she’s right, we’re snared.

Download: ‘Because You’re Young’, ‘Ballad Of The Talking Dog’

iTunes £7.90



Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron & Fred Squire
Lost Wisdom
PW Elverum & Sun

Released: October 2008

Julie Doiron is the undisputed queen of sadcore, and on Lost Wisdom, Mount Eerie frontman Phil Elverum proves himself to be a worthy king. “These rocks don’t care if I live or die,” they sing in unison on the opening title track, setting a bleak yet beguiling tone for the rest of the album. We’re so used to hype surrounding unlikely duets – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – that the sheer beauty of hearing two so perfectly matched collaborators is oddly surprising. Doiron’s more accessible brand of melancholic lo-fi channels a wonderfully effective warmth and feminine delicacy into songs that might otherwise collapse beneath their own oppressive questioning gloom. Not just a third wheel, Fred Squire provides a sensitive and minimal backdrop of electric guitar that’s especially effective on songs like ‘O My Heart’ and ‘Voice In Headphones’, a remarkable song that interpolates the refrain of Björk’s ‘Undo’ (“it’s not meant to be a strife / it’s not meant to be a struggle uphill”) with Elverum’s own lyrics. Still, it’s probably a blessing that all but two of the ten songs run at less than two and a half minutes. Despite its simplicity, or perhaps because of, Lost Wisdom is vital yet uncomfortable and prolonged, uninterrupted exposure is probably unhealthy. Go outside, breathe in some air, come back and listen anew.

Download: ‘Voice In Headphones’, ‘What?’

iTunes £7.90



Thea Gilmore

Released: May 2008

What we said then: “The pointed political commentary and strident music industry critiques that characterised (or, depending on your perspective, marred) some of her earlier records have been tempered somewhat here, with Gilmore centering her attention on matters of the heart and, for the most part, leaving wider social concerns aside. (In her terms, the record’s focus is “politics with a small ‘p’.”) Stylistically, the album also finds Gilmore experimenting with some new instrumentation – dobro, ukulele, harmonium, mandolin – and recruiting some well-chosen collaborators, including Joan Baez, Erin McKeown, John Kirkpatrick, Steve Wickham of The Waterboys and The Zutons’ Dave McCabe. The result is an album with an organic, rootsy, often bluesy feel, a little less spiky than some of Gilmore’s output but never less than vibrant and appealing, and boosted by her clear, direct, unaffected vocals and consistently compelling songwriting.” •••• Alex Ramon [full review]

What we say now: Like the Jolie Holland album, Liejacker starts off so strongly that it’s tempting to cue up endless auditions of opener (and first single) ‘Old Soul’, without question one of Gilmore’s finest songs to date. Dave McCabe is a sensitive and engaging vocal foil, moreso even than Joan Baez on ‘The Lower Road’, and we can only hope for a repeat of this pairing in the future. Liejacker doesn’t quite carry its initial momentum all the way through but it’s as strong, if not stronger, than 2006’s Harpo’s Ghost, and maintains Gilmore’s status as one of our nation’s finest singer-songwriters, male or female.

Download: ‘Old Soul’, ‘Dance In New York’

iTunes £7.99



The Breeders
Mountain Battles

Released: March 2008

What we said then:Mountain Battles may be incredibly restrained but its quality control is consistent. It simply offers a more low-key collection of songs (cue the unsurprising involvement of producer Steve Albini). Still, it’s difficult not to wonder when listening to songs like ‘Night Of Joy’ and first single ‘We’re Gonna Rise’ how this record could have sounded if The Breeders had held back a little less. Although far from being the product of a band experiencing any kind of creative slump, it’s easy to see why Mountain Battles doesn’t satisfy the hunger of some of their fans. There’s a definite feeling that this release merely consists of crumbs brushed from the table rather than the hearty meal The Breeders are more than capable of serving up.” ••½ Sophia Rawlinson [full review]

What we say now: Oof, we were a bit unkind about this album, and to be honest listening to it again now remains a somewhat frustrating experience. Evidently there are charms that were slow to reveal themselves, but too many songs just go nowhere interesting to these ears. But you voted it here so who are we to argue? With their live show by all accounts still a riot of thrills and their upcoming shot at curating an All Tomorrow’s Parties weekend, there’s plenty of mileage in The Breeders yet, and maybe Mountain Battles too.

Download: ‘German Studies’, ‘Walk It Off’

iTunes £7.99



Autumn Fallin’

Released: January 2008

What we said then: “There is something wondrously serene about the music Jaymay makes, as if she had discovered the musical formula for tranquility. This is an album to collapse at home to at the end of the day, when you can just lie face down and fully clothed on your bed and relax for a moment, sighing happily to yourself. Jaymay has created an album whose charms are difficult to define. Autumn Fallin’ might not take us to new and unexplored reaches of the musical continuum, but it is such a pleasure to listen to that I can quite happily say that, in this case, I don’t even care. This is blissful stuff.” •••• Hugh Armitage [full review]

What we say now: There’s a bit of controversy over whether or not this is a 2007 album, to which the answer is kinda, but not really. It was available from Rough Trade shops for a couple of months at the end of last year but the full physical release rolled over to January. Hope that explanation suffices, because Autumn Fallin’ ain’t budging from our list. We’ve really grown to love this album in our office. She may not be the mother of invention but Jaymay’s coolly conversational way with a wryly observed lyric is achingly smart and refreshing. An excellent, if underappreciated debut.

Download: ‘Sea Green, See Blue’, ‘Ill Willed Person’

iTunes £4.99

the breeders to curate second weekend of ATP 2009

Throwing Muses also confirmed for the event

Massively influential queens of alternative rock The Breeders will curate the second weekend in next year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties at Butlins, Minehead, and with only the first five of 40+ acts confirmed as yet it already looks exciting. Gracing the stage along with Kim and Kelley Deal will be Kristin Hersh’s equally legendary Throwing Muses, a prospect that has us foaming at the mouth with rabid anticipation. Recent Breeders album Mountain Battles (review) may have been a little disappointing but the force of their live show remains a wonder to behold. In short, this is not to be missed.

The event runs from May 15th–17th and tickets are now on sale in all the usual places (here is best). But if all those monies are a little stretch for you pre-Christmas, ATP are graciously offering a limited deposit scheme where you can pay £50–£60 per person up front and pay the rest in January; the deposit guarantees you an apartment and entry to the event. 

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the breeders: mountain battles (2008)
July 16, 2008, 8:40 pm
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,

The Breeders
Mountain Battles ••½

Considering the six-year gap since The Breeders’ last record, Title TK, and the obligatory ‘comeback’ label that accompanies any period of hiatus – technically this band’s second – the way in which Mountain Battles chooses to quietly announce itself is fairly surprising. Opening with the glorious, shimmering wall of noise that is ‘Overglazed’, essentially a two-minute long repetition of the phrase “I can feel it” punctuated only with the occasional “oh!” amid bursts of distortion, one may be forgiven for expecting something slightly meatier given this band’s pedigree.

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