wears the trousers magazine

sounding off: january 2010 (iv)

In this month’s roundup, we’ll be looking at a bunch of stragglers from last year that we ran out of time to publish before Christmas, plus a few early 2010 releases in brief.

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The American Dream •••
Leon Russell Records

Few may have heard of singer Sugaree but they are very likely to have heard of her father, legendary singer-songwriter Leon Russell, on whose label Sugaree’s debut has been released. Though that fact smacks of nepotistic opportunism, saying so outright would only be permissible if the album was a dud. The fact is The American Dream is something of a pop gem, a contemporary album that is a million miles from the country-blues music of her father. A short album, at just over thirty minutes, it mixes different genres – rock, pop and R&B – with an electro-dance vibe that pulls all its disparate references into a coherent, if sometimes samey, sound.

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sounding off: january 2010 (i)

In this month’s roundup, we’ll be looking at a bunch of stragglers from last year that we ran out of time to publish before Christmas, plus a few early 2010 releases in brief.

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Lauren Hoffman
Interplanetary Traveler •••

On her fourth album, Interplanetary Traveler, Virginia-born singer-songwriter Lauren Hoffman doesn’t so much warp between musical worlds as gently hop between familiar acoustic styles. But the good news is that, for the most part, she does it very well. Boasting cleaner production than her earlier releases, the title track makes for a brilliant opener with a strong melody and some warm horns couched in a tight arrangement. As ever, Hoffman’s voice is gorgeous; effortless and smooth, and the perfect match for her material. Other high points include ‘Surrender’, which transforms from pleasant sunny pop in its verses to a much more sensual chorus, its simplicity allowing the melody to breathe, and the haunting ‘Pictures From America’, which even has a slight touch of Ennio Morricone about it.

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eva & the heartmaker: let’s keep this up forever (2009)
September 14, 2009, 4:52 pm
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Eva & The Heartmaker
Let’s Keep This Up Forever •••••

Sometimes it’s alright for a musician to drop from an independent to a major record label. Old school Regina Spektor fans might argue, but Norwegian duo Eva & The Heartmaker have only flourished with the advisory hand of Columbia Records, who released Let’s Keep This Up Forever throughout Scandinavia back in May. Consisting of 2005 ‘Norwegian Idol’ contestant Eva Weel Skram and her husband Thomas Stenersen, this charming second album finds the couple successfully recreating 1990s girl-pop and adding a dreamy, Scandinavian twist – music that deserves the kind of attention and promotion only a major label can provide (currently). An unfortunate fact, but a fact nonetheless.

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sounding off: august 2009 (iv)

Part four of the August roundup looks at the third album from Canadian duo Madison Violet, the debut album from Brooklyn-based experimental artist Noveller and New Zealand star Boh Runga’s solo debut.

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Madison Violet
No Fool For Trying •••
True North

After two albums as abbreviated outfit Madviolet, Canadian duo Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac have opted to go by this new name for their latest effort, No Fool For Trying. A soothing, country soundtrack designed to alternately wallow in and alleviate heartbreak, it’s a small swerve away from the more alt-country stylings of 2006’s Caravan, just enough to edge them off the gravel road and onto an altogether smoother surface.

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sounding off: august 2009 (iii)

Part 3 of the August roundup looks at the latest product of Stuart Murdoch’s God Help The Girl project, Gwyneth Herbert’s stunning fourth album, and a disappointing debut from US sibling trio Lynhurst.

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God Help The Girl
Stills EP •••
Rough Trade

God Help The Girl is a musical project masterminded by Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, who has sought the help of some notable female musicians to embody a story set to music. The songs featured on the Stills EP and June’s self-titled album were originally recorded for a cinematic short, due for release in 2010, but have since adopted a character of their own. This five-track collection starts as you might expect a New York cabaret show to begin, with the feathered flourishes, bombastic brass and crooning vocals of ‘I’m In Love With The City’ deftly introducing the project’s star attraction, lead vocalist Catherine Ireton. (No stranger to Murdoch’s work, she popped up on the artwork for Belle & Sebastian single ‘The White Collar Boy’.)

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dot allison: room 7½ (2009)
September 9, 2009, 12:30 pm
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Dot Allison
Room 7½ ••••

Over the last 20 years, Edinburgh-born musician Dot Allison has gradually evolved into a musical enigma of considerable variety. From the high-powered dub and comedown pop of 1993’s Morning Dove White (back when she fronted the short-lived trio One Dove) to the psychedelic folk incarnation she’s developed over recent years, via torchy, nocturnal pop (1999’s under-regarded solo debut Afterglow) and strung-out modern electro (2002’s We Are Science), she’s been all over the musical (and literal) map. What may have surprised some is how well her songwriting stands up when shorn of electronic elements, as first indicated by the self-released CD-R Acoustic that just 200 people can claim they own, and later consolidated on 2007’s Exaltation Of Larks. Following in that understated album’s footsteps, Room 7½ steers Allison’s music even further away from its origins with a raw and complex take on current trends.

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sarah williams white: fool (2009)
August 2, 2009, 11:55 am
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Sarah Williams White
Fool ••½
The Sarah Tree

According to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, soul music “arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm and blues into a form of funky, secular testifying” – a definition that suggests that no white, British woman singing about love and everyday life can ever match the gutsy, whisky-drenched preaching vocals of the genre’s iconic and predominantly Afro-American figures. With this in mind, Sarah Williams White’s debut album is not especially liberating, and marketing it as ‘alternative soul’ could prove to be her downfall, particularly when comparing the material to more successful attempts made by Dover’s Joss Stone and New York’s Fiona Apple.

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elizabeth & the catapult: taller children (2009)
August 2, 2009, 11:55 am
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Elizabeth & The Catapult
Taller Children ••
Verve Forecast

The only shocking aspect behind Elizabeth & the Catapult’s Taller Children is that it is produced by Mike Mogis. That a single man can fall from such a great height with one whimsical bound is quite frankly a little terrifying. We can only hope that it’s a small blip. Otherwise if musical talent and prowess is truly this fickle, perhaps we should reconsider our outlook on music in general. To be fair, the ultimate failure to spark any kind of enjoyment or sense of value is not entirely Elizabeth & The Catapult’s fault. Neither is it entirely down to the techniques Mogis has employed. It’s a little bit of both. On the one hand, the band has created a kitsch-jazz sound worthy only of a deflated, “Oh, I see”. On the other, the songs that appear to have sincere intentions have been battered into submission by Mogis.

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the wendy darlings: we come with friendly purposes EP (2009)
June 17, 2009, 9:04 am
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The Wendy Darlings
We Come With Friendly Purposes EP •••••

Back in the early 1990s Washington DC underground band Bratmobile were creating something of a stir with their debut (and only full-length) album Pottymouth, a political twee-pop declaration that bounced from feminist propaganda to playground chants. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, the newly-formed Bis followed suit with the added charm of garage guitars and a dual girl–boy vocal. It was with the premise of this trendsetting DIY punk explosion that French trio The Wendy Darlings was conceived. With their debut release We Come With Friendly Purposes, frontwoman Saddam Suzy, bassist Dr Poppy and drummer DJ Sephia have made one hell of a racket. But it’s an encapsulating racket that takes all that was good from the Britpop and riot grrl uprising and smashes it into seven two-minute balls of radio-friendly lo-fi gone berserk. Ammo in hand, the band charge at the modern day competition with all the glamour of The Pipettes dressed up for a night of carnage.

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doctors & dealers: lost friends & newfound habits (2009)
February 16, 2009, 10:29 am
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Doctors & Dealers
Lost Friends & Newfound Habits •••½

On first hearing Doctors & Dealers I initially contemplated whether Stockholm’s Sparrow had named her project in tribute to the Dirty Pretty Things song of the same name. Whether or not this is the case, who knows, but on Lost Friends & Newfound Habits there are certainly flecks of the formulated ramshackle pop produced by Carl Barat and co. There are also dollops of lo-fi goodness, marching chords and kitsch, knowing vocals, but it’s Sparrow’s satirical lyrics that prove to be this album’s salvation.

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