Fuck, I've got a pile of poxy CDs to review…
Says Chris of the Marlings

(Sing with me, in a Morrissey-esque whine) I have awoken miserable, tired and depressed. I wont bore you with the details. I've got a pile of CDs to review - I'm going to do them today, no matter what - and it's not looking good for the poor bands involved. But surely, if music be the food of love, then this lot will cheer me up on a grey, winter's morn.

Well, no, actually. It took seven bloody CDs to put a smile on my face. And the one that managed it was So This is Great Britain? by The Holloways. Quite simply, it's great - cheeky chappy music yes, and there's a lot of it about, but they're really good songs, with smart lyrics tackling love, politics and all sorts, flitting from all-out fun to anarchic depravity via heartfelt honesty and stupid drunken dancing about, all with gay abandon. The only downside is the missus wants it for Christmas. Bugger. It's a pity single Two Left Feet is the only one with a fiddle on it, but they're forgiven.

So what were the six that failed to lift the malaise, you ask? Well the less said about some of them the better. Especially the completely charmless Sean Lennon (your dad was famous? So fucking what - give it a rest you tedious, talentless dullard); the heard-it-all-before-imagination-free (but done better, and frankly even that wasn't very good) pop-indie of Caisson; and the thoroughly competent but painfully soulless and over-produced/polished tedium of singer-songwriter Zein (is that your real name?) Simone.

On reflection, now I've cheered up a bit, the other three weren't that bad really, just not special. Sparklehorse's Don't Take My Sunshine Away is an OK slice of surf pop, I guess, if you like that sort of thing. Frankly I find it a bit reverential and uninteresting, and I'm so fucking glad I wasn't dragged up in the 60s when this was the norm, like some people seem to hanker back to. Let it go people. Billy Childish's Punk Rock at the British Legion Hall is, well, two more songs by the greying snotty English nere-do-well. If nothing else, he has to be admired to sticking to his garage rock guns. For ever. And ever. And ever. But surely everyone who wants this sort of thing has enough 7-inches of it to last a lifetime? That said, B-side Joe Strummer's Grave is good by his standards - nearly as good as the mighty We Hate the Fuckin' NME, which everyone into "alternative" music should own (gets my vote for the national anthem, actually). The other one was GeEkgiRL and their debut album May Contain Traces of Boy (truly horrible title). The female vocal is really nice, like the sadly missed Mary's Danish, but the lyrics are irritatingly twee and basic, and one-track mind springs to mind - boys boys boys. Poppy and punky with a hint of country and Patty Smith rock, they're all right, and you can see them being taken to angsty teenage girls' hearts. Not mine though.

Next off the top of the pile is Panorama by British hip-hop pioneer Braintax. I have no idea how it took five years to cobble this together, even if he has been busy on some of the best releases to come out of that time (especially by Skinnyman and Rodney P), because it's a real disappointment. Maybe I'm guilty of looking forward to it too much, but the rhymes are lightweight, much of the music is tired and the beats are weak. I'm all for conscious lyrics, but Christ, make them entertaining. The few highlights come from the guests, with a great turn from Mystro on Good or Bad, but generally it's a joyless mess of bad ideas and moaning, not rapping.

The dreadfully monikered The Boyfriends have a spot-red picture of playwright Joe Orton's old house on their sleeve. And yes, you guessed it; they want to be The Smiths. Despite this, the single is pretty good - rockier than Morrissey and none the worse for it. Sadly, a shit cover of They Don't Know and a third track so dreary it'd make Mozza wince follows. On the whole, it didn't prick up my ears (ha de ha). So to Mississippi Witch, who throw their toys out of the pram with foot-stomping gusto. They make a great garage racket somewhere between White Stripes and The Blues Explosion and they're also the winner of the coveted Press Release Line of the Week for being "founders of the infamous drug wave gypsy guitar solo". Marvellous penmanship, marvellous single. Not so Wolfmen. OK, I admit I typed that before I'd listened to it, as it is such a bad band name. Wolfmen? Jesus, what were they thinking. But in reality it's not quite as bad as all that, if you can stomach bands who try a bit too hard to sound like classic era Bowie. Which frankly boils my blood, so we'll leave this at that.

Some Cambridge bands next, and its always nice when the so-called "local" acts are among the better and more interesting things you hear in the dreaded pile. Colonel Bastard are (currently) sadly defunct, but they managed to squeeze out album Halycon Days before going their separate ways. Pop fun this joyous hasn't been heard in these parts since Freeboy ruled the waves (and before their sad little singer disappeared up his own arse), with everyday-life lyrics about work, girls, porn and non-alcoholic beverages. Think of a more playful Blur without the fancy ones and pretension - they'd never have written a song about tea exclaiming "when I wake up in the morning, I want you by my side". Well worth getting hold of, and with any luck they'll be back soon in some form or another. The Karmadillo album, Crunchy on the Inside, isn't quite as good, although it shows more potential. Singer Rishi plays the charango - an instrument so obscure Word underlines it in red but you get over a million hits for it on google. Go figure. But anyway, however odd it may be, it sounds a lot like a ukulele - and it's no coincidence George Formby was the highest paid artist of 1939 but no one carried on the tradition. Frankly, strummed, it soon gets on your nerves, which sometimes takes away from a clutch of lovely and witty songs. There are some great lyrics on show, and many well-penned tunes, but if the charango was used more sparingly it would sit so much better with me. That said, Veloceraptor is one of the finest songs about UK race relations I've ever heard (even if it could be a minute shorter without the "musical" breaks) and I can't help but smile all the way through When the Sun Comes Up. As they get more used to being a band, and writing as a band, this lot could go on to great things.

Also from round these parts are the rather angry Bomb Factory. They've come quite a way from their experimental poetry origins, taking on a guitarist for a more traditional four-gun punk assault while keeping the shouted lyrics to ensure they still stand out from the crowd. The change has worked largely for the best, as can be seen on five-track offering White Noise! The slow build and introduction of samples on Burn Cambridge Burn also shows that as they evolve and mature musically they've got a lot more to offer. The only thing holding them back is it's hard to be convincingly at war with the world in a cosy middle class existence in one of the richest cities in the world. Fucking great EP nevertheless. Also wanted to mention REPEAT's own CD Fighting The Power Since 1994, given away at the birthday party at The Junction. A nine-track retrospective, it perfectly shows what this rag is all about - from the classic bands Alcopop, The Saffs and Miss Black America; through current favourites The Resistance, The Khe Sahn Approach and The Vichy Government; to the new brood of The Horse and his Boy and Pilots of the Sixth - all really great tunes, and all bands you should look up on the interweb if you don't know them already. Oh, and The Visions are on there as well.

To neatly segue from the cosy confines of East Anglia back into the big scary world, former Cambridge resident and The Low Country singer Emily Barker has released her debut solo album, and it's a blinder. There is no denying her beautiful voice and ear for a tune, as well as her lyrical ability, but is the solo environment the way to go? Personally I hope she does both. Photos, Fires, Fables is more musically expansive and experimental, while still staying safely within the folk/alt.country genre, but it lacks the fluidity and consistency of The Low Country that Rob Jackson's clever guitar work brings. Second song Blackbird is a soaring celebration of everything she does so well, starting slowly and mournfully, building into a hoe down that's perfect to belt-out in the bath. The only real pity is that the sparkling backing band don't get more of a chance to shine - several songs cry out for them to let their hair down and show what they've got, but they're never really unleashed. Alfie Kingston is also a singer-songwriter, and single She's Scary is an interesting tune that really grabs the attention, with some great spooky keyboards and stand-up bass. Unfortunately, the other tracks on show (including double a-side A Little Nonsense) are incredibly tedious, like cuttings from the Crowded House floor.

Indofin's self-titled album has a great intro but soon descends into a horrible hybrid of UB40, Lenny Kravitz and Tight Fit. Yeah, that good. Curious now, aren't ya? Moving swiftly on, Conner have given us Hello Graphic Missile, an album that - like a million others right now, it would seem - borrows heavily from Gang of Four. I don't know about you, but while Gang of Four were incredibly important, and wrote some brilliant songs, a whole album gets a bit tedious, so why copy them wholesale? Why not do your own thing, just like the bands who heard them first time round in 1979 did? It's like the last 25 years never happened, for God's sake. Or, at least do it with some passion, fun and energy like Mika Bomb, who's new album Hellcats differs not one jot from everything else they've ever done, but who cares? Crazy Japanese girl-fronted garage surf pop punk rock nonsense has never sounded so good. Well, since last time they did it anyway.

And so we move into the final stretch with Flipron and the aptly titled Biscuits for Cerberus. Apt because their hometown ties to Glastonbury have obviously worked their way through the soil to create something ever so slightly unhinged. The vocal reminds me a bit of Terry Hall or The Bigger the God, while the music sways from Tom Waits and Hammond pop to strange hippy film soundtrack weirdness. It all gets a bit much at times, but I guess if you're going to balance on the edge of annoying and musical you'll fall off as often than not. Personally, I don't think they're as clever as they think they are, but if you like things a little different they're worth seeking out.

Back on terra firma we have the wonderful MJ Hibbett album We Validate. Any album that starts: "Here come a herd of haircuts from the corporate indie scene, sheathed in black and leather jackets they sound like Primal Scream, think they're clever saying everything's trash and drab and wrong, their complaining does my brain in makes me want to shout 'come on! Tell me something that you do like'" is on to a winner. MJ's lyrics mix the politics, humour, honesty and observation of indie legends Billy Bragg and Half Man Half Biscuit to fine effect, making you think while making you smile and wanting to invite him home for a cup of tea. Musically it's nothing to write home about, more a vehicle for the words to shine through, except for some beautifully played soaring classical violin and a slightly annoying and overused female backing vocal - unsurprisingly he loses little by playing solo - but anyone who looks for a lyric sheet before playing the CD should get this. Now.

Last up is a band that gripped me live the first time I saw them, and I've been harassing them for stuff ever since. Boundless and Bare is the debut album from Dead Spies, which has both thrilled and frustrated me since it arrived. The key elements are wonderful eerie harmonies over a hypnotic, melodic and foreboding post punk background, but too rarely does it add up to a great song. While I still rank the album highly, it just smacks of a greatness narrowly missed. The lead guitar just doesn't work often enough for me, ranging from annoying solos to riffs more akin to Haircut One Hundred than angsty punk, making songs that should sore, plod. Timberline and Voluntary Mediocrity have annoying guitar parts in places but are saved by brilliant harmonies elsewhere; Le Fou, Contrition and Campaign are fantastic songs, but don't have the harmonies. Aaagh! However, buy it anyway, if only for Pimmsy Twitch, where it all comes together and shows what's in the tank when all the pieces come together. Great band in the making, me thinks.

And now there is an empty pile, if such a thing is still a pile?



Chris Marling

Is an empty pile still a pile? tell us on our message boards here