Stewart Lee's Album Reviews

By PhoenixWright PhoenixWright
updated over 2 years ago

  1. Reverend Deadeye - The Trials & Tribulations Of Reverend Deadeye

    January 1st, 2011

    Brent Burkhart joins the queue of post-Seasick Steve floorboard-stomping bluesmen, and trails the usual mis-spent childhood story, losing his eye tormenting snakes on stage with his Pentecostal revivalist family.
    Hymns to Jesus, Satan, booze, blues and drugs are barked one-man-band style over kick drum and rusted electric guitar, but despite the authentic Flannery O’Connor flourishes of the Reverend’s press biog the album reeks a little of artifice, even as it corrodes your eardrums and sets your toes a-tappin’.
    That said, the endearing huckster’s reading of the standard Jesus On The Mainline swings more than convincingly.

  2. Shirley Collins - Sweet England

    January 2nd, 2011

    Sweet England, the long unavailable 1958 debut by the grande dame of English folk Shirley Collins, conjures a simpler world, where children learned Cecil Sharp’s Folk Songs For Schools in assembly.

    Yes, there’s a whiff of Kenneth Williams’ folk singer character Sid Rumpo in the hey nonny vocaleese, and Shirley herself writes “as I matured, the lighter banal songs disappeared from my repertoire”, but she is unnecessarily critical of her “youthful and naïve singing”.

    The austere and emotionally direct simplicity of her version of The Cherry Tree Carol cuts to the mystic essence of faith and myth, immolating all rational thought.

  3. The Fall - The Wonderful And Frightening World Of... The Fall

    16 For Sale from $45.00

    January 2nd, 2011

    The Fall’s five releases from 1980-1983, – Grotesque (After The Gramme), Slates, Hex Enduction Hour, Room To Live and Perverted By Language – fused garage punk and droning Krautrock stasis with primitive improvisation, Mark E Smith in expansive lyrical flow. The Fall were the rock refusenik’s rock band. But in 1984 a pre-album single, the heretically shiny c.r.e.e.p, boded ill to purists, with clanging casio keyboards, clipped female backing vocals, Tupperware percussion and childlike melody. And then, suddenly, there was The Wonderful And Frightening World Of… , a pop album of sorts, resubmitted here for your reconsideration, a quarter of a century later, the first of Beggars’ Banquet’s Fall ‘omnibus editions’.

    The first CD offers the album proper, crackling with previously obscured details.
    Lay Of The Land’s Quatermass chant cuts into a stop start polka built on twin tautened telegraph basses; 2 by 4 revels in the rockabilly rhythms with which the Seventies Fall endured an oedipal relationship; Copped It is closest to the one chord drones of Hex and Perverted; Elves closes the album’s first side, one of many Fall rewrites of I Wanna Be Your Dog.
    So far there’s little to scare the horses, but on side two Mark E Smith struggles to expand the definition of what The Fall could be. Slang King’s propulsive funk riff and fairy light keyboards frame the oft-quoted lyric ‘Put the Curly Wurly back’; Stephen Song’s modal clatter sees Brix E Smith’s backing vocals finding a pop hook that no-one else could hear; Disney’s Dream Debased pressgangs hazy California sunshine pop into The Fall’s post-punk drizzle.
    The meandering Bug Day is the only hint of filler. Just as their punk peers began to ossify The Fall struck out for strange new territories.

    A fifty page booklet of key players’ reminiscences accompanies a further three discs. The cd of singles and rough mixes includes the indispensably insolent Pat – Trip Dispenser and a newly discovered recording of the oddly euphoric anthem to domestic lighting difficulties, No Bulbs; a live disc from September sees the band replicate the album with an accuracy which perhaps sells them short; a disc of BBC sessions includes the soon abandoned work-in-progress Words Of Expectation, a magnificent nine minute torrent of words over a luxuriously lugubrious groove, but nevertheless a now redundant last gasp of the former Fall sound.

    The following year The Fall were on The Tube in eyeliner and leather, where Bo Diddley praised the snake-hipped, Southern fried rock and roll of Cruisers’ Creek, and my teenage Goth cousin had their picture next to the inverted cross on her wall.
    The Fall had made it as big as Peel-patronised bands ever did in those days. This Nation’s Grace, perhaps The Fall’s most accessible album, is dirty urban psychedelia. Its sleeve, reproduced here in a miniature gatefold, depicts Blakean charioteers surging over decrepit tower blocks. The songs are big and beaty and alterno-disco primed, subversively in synch with prevailing trends.
    Bombast and Gut Of The Quntifier offer the usual fractious barked poetics; the stomping chants of What You Need, My New House and Paintwork reveal the caveman within every consumer; I Am Damo Suzuki and Mansion plagiarise Can and The Deviants respectively, placing The Fall in the cult band continuum; Spoilt Victorian Child is a career high-point of spiky psychobilly and LA is a throbbing fug of Batcave blues.

    A second disc compiles previously unheard album demos, including Ma Riley, a petty dig at Smith’s former Lieutenant Mark Riley. A third collects all the album’s attendant singles and Peel session tracks. Rewarded for their patience, The Fall’s constituency coalesced, and cling loyally to this day.

  4. The Fall - This Nation's Saving Grace

    11 For Sale from $67.42

    January 2nd, 2011

    The Fall’s five releases from 1980-1983, – Grotesque (After The Gramme), Slates, Hex Enduction Hour, Room To Live and Perverted By Language – fused garage punk and droning Krautrock stasis with primitive improvisation, Mark E Smith in expansive lyrical flow. The Fall were the rock refusenik’s rock band. But in 1984 a pre-album single, the heretically shiny c.r.e.e.p, boded ill to purists, with clanging casio keyboards, clipped female backing vocals, Tupperware percussion and childlike melody. And then, suddenly, there was The Wonderful And Frightening World Of… , a pop album of sorts, resubmitted here for your reconsideration, a quarter of a century later, the first of Beggars’ Banquet’s Fall ‘omnibus editions’.

    The first CD offers the album proper, crackling with previously obscured details.
    Lay Of The Land’s Quatermass chant cuts into a stop start polka built on twin tautened telegraph basses; 2 by 4 revels in the rockabilly rhythms with which the Seventies Fall endured an oedipal relationship; Copped It is closest to the one chord drones of Hex and Perverted; Elves closes the album’s first side, one of many Fall rewrites of I Wanna Be Your Dog.
    So far there’s little to scare the horses, but on side two Mark E Smith struggles to expand the definition of what The Fall could be. Slang King’s propulsive funk riff and fairy light keyboards frame the oft-quoted lyric ‘Put the Curly Wurly back’; Stephen Song’s modal clatter sees Brix E Smith’s backing vocals finding a pop hook that no-one else could hear; Disney’s Dream Debased pressgangs hazy California sunshine pop into The Fall’s post-punk drizzle.
    The meandering Bug Day is the only hint of filler. Just as their punk peers began to ossify The Fall struck out for strange new territories.

    A fifty page booklet of key players’ reminiscences accompanies a further three discs. The cd of singles and rough mixes includes the indispensably insolent Pat – Trip Dispenser and a newly discovered recording of the oddly euphoric anthem to domestic lighting difficulties, No Bulbs; a live disc from September sees the band replicate the album with an accuracy which perhaps sells them short; a disc of BBC sessions includes the soon abandoned work-in-progress Words Of Expectation, a magnificent nine minute torrent of words over a luxuriously lugubrious groove, but nevertheless a now redundant last gasp of the former Fall sound.

    The following year The Fall were on The Tube in eyeliner and leather, where Bo Diddley praised the snake-hipped, Southern fried rock and roll of Cruisers’ Creek, and my teenage Goth cousin had their picture next to the inverted cross on her wall.
    The Fall had made it as big as Peel-patronised bands ever did in those days. This Nation’s Grace, perhaps The Fall’s most accessible album, is dirty urban psychedelia. Its sleeve, reproduced here in a miniature gatefold, depicts Blakean charioteers surging over decrepit tower blocks. The songs are big and beaty and alterno-disco primed, subversively in synch with prevailing trends.
    Bombast and Gut Of The Quntifier offer the usual fractious barked poetics; the stomping chants of What You Need, My New House and Paintwork reveal the caveman within every consumer; I Am Damo Suzuki and Mansion plagiarise Can and The Deviants respectively, placing The Fall in the cult band continuum; Spoilt Victorian Child is a career high-point of spiky psychobilly and LA is a throbbing fug of Batcave blues.

    A second disc compiles previously unheard album demos, including Ma Riley, a petty dig at Smith’s former Lieutenant Mark Riley. A third collects all the album’s attendant singles and Peel session tracks. Rewarded for their patience, The Fall’s constituency coalesced, and cling loyally to this day.

  5. Michael Chapman (2) - Trainsong: Guitar Compositions 1967-2010

    January 5th, 2011

    Sourcing fresh meat, a cabal of powerful Pygmalions, including Tompkins Square records and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, declare Michael Chapman not an overlooked English Seventies singer-songwriter, but an innovator in the vein of John Fahey and the American primitive school of tranced-out folk blues instrumentals.

    Now he’s the subject of a tribute record, Happy Birthday, staffed by famous fans and friends, and has a vinyl noise album due on Moore’s label.
    Most significantly, the double CD Trainsong sees the seventy year old survivor re-record twenty-six principally acoustic, finger-picked numbers from his catalogue, stretching initially simple structures into unknown space, transforming them into intense, modal meditations.

  6. Damon & Naomi - False Beats And True Hearts

    January 5th, 2011

    A quarter of a century ago, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang sold the world that pervasive slowcore guitar sound with Galaxie 500, then split to work as a duo with subtler methods.

    Determinedly pedalling a diaphanous acid-folk-pop for two decades now, bowing their heads patiently as it billows in and out of fashion, the pair’s ninth album is amongst their best.

    The quicksilver guitar of Michio Kurihara, of the Japanese psychedelic collective Ghost, drips magic dust over lightly jazzy drums, arrestingly inexact harmonies, and cautious, languid melodies, that uncoil like cats in the sun.

  7. Wire - Red Barked Tree

    January 9th, 2011

    Even when first pedalling short sharp Seventies shocks Wire were essentially conceptual artists, sculpting minimal cubist punk.
    Thirty-five years later, all pushing sixty, their third album this century seems to be a typically tidy modern rock record, albeit one that also unfolds within invisible inverted commas. The Artful Dodger dropped aitches of old are replaced with neutralised, classless vowels.
    Everything sounds pitch-shifted to perfection.
    Moreover recalls Wire’s original noise-burst blueprint, Please Take purloins the tasteful glacial pop of their Eighties incarnation, and Adapt sports an unashamedly affecting descending chord sequence a more austere Wire might once have thought mawkish. Still they evolve.

  8. The Sails - A Headful Of Stars

    1 For Sale from $31.00

    January 9th, 2011

    On the tabla-propelled Travel, The Sails play sitar-flanged psychedelia in the style of The Beatles’ post-enlightenment incarnation. Yesterday And Today draws a line from Honeybus’ 1968 single I Can’t Let Maggie Go to The La’s’ wondrous eighties one hit There She Goes.
    Dogs plunders the twelve-string folk-rock of The Hollies, in the interlude between ditching their matching suits and swallowing their sugar cubes.
    If all late sixties British acid-pop were destroyed, and recreated from DNA particles lodged in Oasis’ Dig Out Your Soul album, it might sound like A Headful Of Stars, an extremely satisfying exercise in reconstructive surgery.

  9. The Jayhawks - Tomorrow The Green Grass

    2 For Sale from $17.72

    January 16th, 2011

    The Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall, one of Alternative Country’s two or three key recordings, is also reissued this week, but 1995’s follow up, Tomorrow The Green Grass, is augmented by a disc of ‘The Mystery Demos’, fascinating lost 1992 recordings.
    The album proper builds on Hollywood Town Hall’s template, windblown Stonesey country rock with an Eighties American indie accent, enlivened by Mark Olson’s eye for dramatic scenarios.
    The second CD evidences a new and unknown Jayhawks, Gary Louris and Olson’s perfectly matched voices harmonising starkly over back-porch acoustic vignettes, like mid-west poetry professors on an informal song-writing weekend.

  10. My Autumn Empire - The Village Compass

    January 16th, 2011

    Don’t consign ‘folktronica’ to the dustbin or dead genres yet. My Autumn Empire, the solo project of Benjamin Thomas of the Staffordshire outfit Epic45, is more song-writerly than its atmospherically Arcadian parent group, but on Block Colours And Straight Lines, for example, the tuneful vocals and deferential melodies are set back in a dense thicket of pastoral tones, stifled breakbeats, and childhood surface noise.
    BBC Telford is a set of unresolved acoustic guitar suggestions and eardrum-buzzing drones, made quietly magnificent by the obdurately banal title that crowns them. The six minute Hatchlings, copper strings clanging on cold electronics, unfurls like a tasteful springtime TV ident.

  11. Sic Alps - Napa Asylum

    January 16th, 2011

    Sic Alps, who once name-checked the Welsh mystic Arthur Machen in a song, suggest the infantile daubs of Syd Barrett spliced with 1980’s New York noise.
    Most of the twenty-two songs on their fourth album are less than two minutes long.
    The confident young trio lay down a loose riff or a fragile acoustic guitar arpeggio, imply from a few choice phrases and twangy licks how they could develop it were it not beneath their massive intellects to do so, and bin it before it coagulates.
    Rock music for rock fans who are sick of rock.

  12. The Puddle - Playboys In The Bush

    January 21st, 2011

    The New Zealand lo-fi legends The Puddle’s engagingly sloppy indie-pop was epically unadorned.
    But what the band’s own press release tellingly describes as ‘florid saxophone embellishments’ on some songs here, suggest that for a quarter century these apparently inspired folk-art amateurs might actually have been frustrated exponents of emotionally explicit mainstream rock.
    There’s a sub-Velvets classic lurking in In Dreams but someone’s honked over it. Nonetheless, fans of Pavement and the nineties American slack school can squint and see the southern hemisphere source of those insouciant grooves, and the decision to retell Norse Mythology chug guitar style on the nine minute Valhalla is inspired.

  13. The Dirtbombs - Party Store

    January 23rd, 2011

    Mick Collins, The Dirtbombs’ front-man, is one of American garage punk’s lone black voices.
    In 2001, the Detroit band’s Ultraglide In Black album hot-wired Seventies soul standards with scratchy guitars. Ten years later, Party Store offers chunky analogue facsimiles of famous Detroit techno tunes of the Eighties, attempting another cross-cultural hybridisation.
    It’s a fantastic conceit, digital music deprogrammed, Kraftwerk in reverse.
    Men are driven to drum like machines. Snatches of sampled song are imprecisely vocalised.
    Pulverised guitars ape inexactly electronic noise. And a twenty minute slash at Carl Craig’s Bug In The Bassbin sheds and shreds The Dirtbombs’ punk straightjacket.

  14. JEFF The Brotherhood* - Heavy Days

    January 23rd, 2011

    The title track of Tennessee’s Jeff The Brotherhood’s fourth album seesaws on a pulverising riff indebted to Hawkwind’s Master Of The Universe.
    The hoary acid pirates have become a legitimate source of plunder for a distorted three-string guitar and drums garage-psyche duo. Elsewhere Sonic Youth’s surging rock fixtures are appropriated, their experimental fittings ignored, and Eighties American hardcore’s punishing intensity and velocity are welded to unexpectedly sugary power-pop melodies.
    The Tropics buries Phil Spector moves in a dense descending guitar part.
    Now the kids can download all rock history instantly, illegally and free, anticipate more previously unimaginable crossbreeds such as Heavy Days.

  15. Refried Ice Cream - Witness To The Storm

    2 For Sale from $6.33

    January 30th, 2011

    Sixty-seven year old Denny Brewer and his son, Denny Junior, form the nucleus of Refried Ice Cream, operating out of a home studio East of El Paso. Their website mixes anti-establishment paranoia with natural remedy advice. “Criminals are running our government!” “Use cinnamon to help diabetes!”
    Their album features sententious gobbets of beatnik wisdom and slashing swathes of heroically distorted blues licks sprayed over vast, pummelling, free-form, backing. Witness To The Storm appears to have been recorded, and composed spontaneously, in an echoing cave, and doesn’t quite sound like anything else ever.
    In a world of desperate fake freaks, Refried Ice Cream are the real deal.

  16. Paul Collins - King Of Power Pop!

    February 6th, 2011

    Nobody told Paul Collins guitars were over. Thirty-five years into his career, the former songwriter of The Nerves re-embraces that skinny tie and white sneakers Seventies punk pop sound, and you are duty bound to fall in love with his latest album.

    King Of Power Pop is precision-engineered to embed itself into your subconscious, each song a terrible psychic hookworm, with harmonies, lead breaks and key changes falling perfectly into place at the most emotionally manipulative of moments.

    You’ll have the stand-out track, Losing Your Cool, on permanent repeat, like a rat wired to a sugar dispenser.
    Covers of The Box Tops and The Flamin’ Groovies seal the deal.

  17. The Dead C - Patience

    February 6th, 2011

    Calling their 25th album Patience is a quietly hilarious move by New Zealand’s immortal gods of transcendental junk shop noise, The Dead C.
    Its opening track, Empire, is a testing eighteen minutes long. Guitar feedback, usually a gestural shortcut to bite-sized rock thrills, becomes translucent ectoplasm, smeared over stumbling listless drums, wrapped in rehearsal room ambience.

    Sensory deprivation alone suggests a descending chord sequence in the closing two minutes. The final piece, South, tickles the cochlea for a quarter of an hour with scratched strings, devotional gong sounds and truncated surges of frustrated energy.
    The Dead C continue to reward our patience.

  18. Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots

    February 13th, 2011

    Go-Go Boots, assembled from the same sessions as last year’s plaudit-plastered The Big To-Do, ditches scuffed roots rock for smooth country soul, perhaps reflecting Patterson Hood’s father David’s membership of the legendary Muscle Shoals Swampers.

    The album as whole finds the band’s downbeat narratives gaining extra resonance, pitched over uncharacteristically clean grooves like the twitchy hick funk of Used To Be A Cop or the slow burning build of The Fireplace Poker.

    Meanwhile, I Do Believe shows that a streamlined and simplified Truckers might have enjoyed Kings Of Leon’s par can illumined success.
    The stadium’s loss is our gain.

  19. Vialka - La Poursuite De L'Excellence

    February 20th, 2011

    Vialka are a French duo, comprising Marylise Frecheville on drums and vocals, and Eric Boros on guitars, who essay an environmentally friendly progressive rock in miniature.
    Their seventh album finds the poly-rhythms, complex chord changes, and surges of mood usually associated with Seventies behemoths or hyrda-headed post-rock collectives leap forth in unusually lean and lithe form.
    It’s as if a pair of Pyrenean street performers had covered King Crimson’s Red, in its entirety, in the Place de Ville, for loose change. Petit Mot epitomises Vialka’s approach, audacious fluttering female vocals playing catch-up with rolling percussion and prize-fighting, punchy guitar stabs.

  20. Lewis Floyd Henry - One Man & His 30w Pram

    February 20th, 2011

    Lewis Floyd Henry is a busker, one man band and Youtube phenomenon from South East London, channelling Jimi Hendrix, delta blues, and hip hop through an electric guitar, a tiny foot-operated drum kit, and a sound rig strapped to a pram.
    Despite its low-budget beginnings, One Man And His 30w Pram can sound vast, when Guardian Angels and Magic Carpet update Hendrix’s soulful cosmic visionary acid-blues, as well as authentically folksy.
    It’s doubtful you’ll hear a more arresting opening to an album this year than Sacred Gardens. Jaded reviewers nationwide drop piles of promotional bribes and cry, ‘Who is this guy?’

  21. Matana Roberts - Live In London

    February 27th, 2011

    Conservatives view the sixties jazz avant-garde as a dead end.
    In his Imagine documentary, Alan Yentob stared at John Coltrane’s empty chair and explained his post-1965 output as a mistake caused by religion and drugs, the ungrateful Afro-American making a hat out of his invitation to the Conservatoire.
    Four decades later the saxophonist Matana Roberts, in Dalston with a British trio, probes and deconstructs, bows her head to a bespoke spirituality, dovetails into moments of micro-melody, bleats bugle style like Albert Ayler, and chases the ‘trane just that little bit further on Turn It Around, presenting an unassailable case for this music as a living form.

  22. Sonic Youth - Simon Werner A Disparu (Original Enregistrement Sonore)

    February 27th, 2011

    How Sonic Youth tease us, with experimental offshoots and improvised side-projects.
    In denying fans a fix of that addictive ugly-beautiful Eighties art rock they improve us, against our will. And how they tease again, hiding their most Sonic Youth like album for ages on the sound-track to a French film. Though vocal free, this is the Sonic Youth of your dreams, with gamelan guitars, tonal feedback drones, crunchy No Wave riffs and the vast, lounge flavoured, thirteen minute Theme D’Alice.
    The sleeve shows a beautiful girl with her back to us, Sonic Youth in a nutshell.

  23. Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die

    10 For Sale from $12.65

    February 27th, 2011

    Traffic were pea and faggot Mods who became psychedelic popsters and ‘got it together in the country’.
    Their career-defining third album, from 1970, is reissued this week with a disc of live tracks and outtakes. Its floaty flute-augmented jazz rock, typical of the period, suddenly seems oddly contemporary, with modern day musicians like Wolf People raking the era for licks.
    Every Mother’s Son impresses, with its strangely weightless gravity, but the entirely unrepresentative title track, in which Traffic essayed, briefly and tantalisingly, a fleet English folk rock more fluid and mysterious than Fairport or Pentangle, would do you as a stand-alone download.

  24. Buffalo Tom - Skins

    March 6th, 2011

    In the mid-Eighties, Boston’s plaid-shirt romantics Buffalo Tom tried to cross the hardcore rush of Hüsker Dü with the parking-lot pot haze of the Seventies bands their elder brothers grew up on, and sadly the awkward frisson this ungainly pairing produced has been resolved, perhaps a little too politely, since the trio returned from a decade’s hiatus.

    Front-man Bill Janovitz is now a middle aged estate agent, so Buffalo Tom’s latest album of surging semi-acoustic balladry is hardly a matter of life or death. Nevertheless, as those suspended folk rock chords tumble over tales of everyday trauma, you might still find you’re still smitten.

  25. Van Der Graaf Generator - A Grounding In Numbers

    March 13th, 2011

    A friend fled a Peter Hammill performance, horrified at “the least musical music” he’d ever heard, but Van Der Graaf Generator were progressive rock’s Tractarian renegades, lacing the movement’s musical orthodoxies with liturgical ceremonialism, rather than the usual elfin splatterings.

    On their new album, the pellucid and beautiful Your Time Starts Now rubs up against the dictatorial annunciations, fractal guitar and churning rhythms of Highly Strung; Splink scuffs straightforward blues licks with bent barroom piano and percussive clatter; Embarrassing Kid jabs rabbit punch riffs.
    Forty-four years after forming, VDGG remain obstinately obtuse, A Grounding In Numbers ranking amongst their best recordings.