Trying to sing with a throat full of sick...
Alan Smith grabs the vomit bag

The Lost Levels – Never The First
They wear their geeky credentials on their sleeve (well actually on the front of their t-shirts), which I’m not sure is a recipe for success, but certainly gains them favour with me. Their music doesn’t actually feature the “NES-a-riffic” sounds touted too heavily, which is probably a good thing if they want to be taken seriously. Or at least partially seriously, I’m all for fun music. Final track “Shuffle” is the quirkiest, sounding genuinely like Blur playing on a retro console. But the first two tracks are more straight up, giving a modern take on Madness both in terms of their sound and ability to tell everyday stories through their upbeat and cheery music.

The Barlights – Honest Misbehaviours
This strong new band build their songs around the considerable strength of their singer Graham Horne, who gives each song a bite and edge. At times they sound like a more atmospheric Idlewild, or a British (and less pompous) Killers, but the band they most closely resemble is Suede. Which does make them sound a little out of their time, but I say it’s high time for a Suede revival anyway. All three songs have their individual strengths and showcase a knack for songwriting that should stand them in good stead. They sound fantastic and like they’ve been doing this for far longer than they have, this single alone is far better than many of their more established contemporaries.

Infadels – A Million Pieces
Infadels have been around for some time now and are still looking for that big breakthrough. This latest single is probably their best, and possibly last, chance to do so. It’s appropriate that this is being released on the Wall Of Sound label, as it’s a technique they employ to great effect. It’s a fast paced and lively song, designed to grab your attention. Their problem is probably that their songs are a bit too experimental and warped to appeal to everyone. Although of course this is only a “problem” if commercial success is something they seek. As it is, they can probably look forward to a lengthy career for a niche market. They certainly don’t sound quite like any other band out there. I find them very refreshing, a band that clearly put their hearts into everything they produce.

Queen + Paul Rodgers – C-lebrity
I hate Queen. Really I do. They are number one on my (non-existent) list of most overrated bands of all time. Their music was cheesy, irritating and seemingly solely designed to provide a singalong session for the drunken masses at the end of a work party or sub-standard birthday “bash”. Therefore I’m not “appalled” that Paul Rodgers has been drafted into Queen, I couldn’t give a monkeys. I AM annoyed that they still persist in any form, like a bad smell. The title of this track says it all, trying to be “of the moment” by singing about “wanting to be a face on TV” and being even more out there and wacky but not being able to spell. It’s scarily lacking in content and really rather foul. I find it impossible to believe that they are still going for a love of the music they are producing and that money has nothing to do with it. In their own words, Paul has been part of “enough sold-out dates”. But thanks to a lack of Mr Mercury, I don’t find it as deeply annoying and nauseating as the likes of “Bo Rap”. An achievement, of sorts.

The Exits – Neon City
Released on Criminal Records? Ho, ho, ho. They really are asking for it aren’t they? Resisting the obvious puns as I must, this isn’t actually bad; it just isn’t very good either. It’s got a repetitive chorus, implicitly justified by the “dancey” sound. You’ve got the same riff repeated with heavy use of drums and a sub-Oasis vocalist. The b-side “Three Minute Warning” is even more annoying, a whiney sound trying in vain to evoke Primal Scream, and sadly not living up to its name and lasting over 5 minutes. If you want something unimaginative to dance to like its 1994 then this might hit the spot. But it probably won’t.

Cate Le Bon – Edrych Yn Llygaid Ceffyl Benthyg
Ok, hands up, I admit it. My Welsh isn’t really up to speed. This leave me to guess what Cate might be singing about. So I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s insightful and highly original. The title translates as “Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth” and that’s as much as I know. It’s a charming little collection of songs though, like a modern day and chilled out Patti Smith. The language barrier doesn’t actually matter; the emotion, warmth and soothing nature of the songs come still come through anyway. It never tries to be anything more than what it is, and sound all the more honest because of this. For fans of Devendra Banhart and Gruff Rhys, this is well worth checking out.

Aeroplane – Wishstar
Snow Patrol’s new album is the follow up to the multi-platinum selling Eyes Open and… what? Oh. Apparently this is actually a new band called Aeroplane. They are “unafraid of the commercial tag” which is just as well given that if this CD was any more polished I’d probably not be able to pick it up. To give them credit, they’ve achieved what they set out to do and created a mature collection of songs that belie their age as a band and give them a fighting chance of attracting some major label support. Personally, I don’t need this in my life, but many would think otherwise.

The Matthew Project – Soul Reversal
This delightfully named artist is Matt Luew, member of Cortez and 2Hot2Sweat (not bands I’m familiar with). This download only solo album is at times aggressive and at others modest yet still earnest. It’s pretty lo-fi, but somehow seemingly expansive at the same time. Matt has deep, haunting and level singing voice that reminds me a little of Mark Lanegan. The songs are diverse but universally enjoyable. Highly recommended, and likely to appeal to just about any real music fan.

Mister Mañana – Caprisun & Wrongbow
Singer Andy Bartlett’s voice is quite something, previously described quite fabulously as “like drinking syrup from a razorsharp-edged tin can”. Personally, my first thought was that he sounded like he was trying to sing with a throat full of sick. Certainly it gives the band a distinctive sound, but not one that is altogether pleasant. I guess this is the idea. The guitar sound is straight out of Pixies and the bass like they want to be in Metallica, which gives a strangely ethereal overall band sound. When the CD first started, I have to say I hated it, but by midway through the second song I started to find it strangely attractive. I wasn’t sure what way I was leaning, but then at the end of aforementioned second song, “Human Fly”, I was totally won over by the always-welcome introduction of trumpets. Against all the odds, I find myself giving this band the thumbs up.

Unexploded – Unavoidable
This Copenhagen band link their name with the fact that their music is “a state of tension”, which is true, although this subsequently means they never actually release. Each song seems to build up to something that never quite happens. Like Massive Attack without the hooks. I appreciate they probably work better live, as most dance acts do, but I can’t avoid the fact that I find this CD a bit dull. However, if it was 3am at a festival and I’d taken a load of drugs I guess I might disagree.

Violet Violet – Bring! Bring! The Morn And Bike Till Dawn
Their vocals bring to mind Elastica in their heyday, and the music is fast, feisty, fierce and fabulous. Heartfelt, honest, exciting, angry, refreshing; there are so many many ways to describe this music. I never fail to delight in gripping girl-fronted pop bands. It might not be a new sound, but the all the songs are catchy and unique little slices of fun, and that’s enough in my opinion. I’m sure you already know if you like this kind of music, it won’t convert any naysayers, but if it sounds like your highly charged cup of coffee then you won’t be disappointed.

Noblesse Oblige – In Exile
I’m not really sure what to make of this. It’s certainly not like anything else I’ve heard recently. It has a distinctively continental feel, with its strange mix of gentle electronica and relaxed tri-lingual vocals. They give an air of mystery, and a confidence in their own sound rarely so noticeable. You get the feeling they don’t care much for reviews, safe in the knowledge they are creating what they want. Single “Tanz, Mephisto!” is quite different to the majority of the album, being more abrasive and upbeat, and isn’t really a good advert for the bands sound, which is generally more chilled out. They use a variety of instruments to create a very varied album that still manages to maintain their distinctive style throughout. It sounds like a soundtrack for an art-house film, and theirs a theme of death throughout that comes through not just in their lyrics but also somehow in their music. Altogether an album quite unlike any other.

By Alan Smith