Adventures In Stereo Adventures In Stereo Creeping Bent BENT 015CD
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Formerly in Primal Scream and the ill-fated Spirea X, Jim Beattie has spent the past few years beavering away on a home portastudio in the manner of Baby Bird's Steven Jones, with whom he clearly shares an affection for dumb pop structures given a certain twist.

The result, on this debut album, is a series of delightful pop miniatures featuring the silky-soft vocal harmonies of Judith Boyle over Beattie's deceptively simple neo-classicist grooves. There is a clear connection to what the Jesus & Mary Chain were trying to achieve with Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval on their last album, particularly on the chugalong "My Buddy Go", but the effect is much less druggy-drowsy and more redolent of the light-hearted innocence of the Beach Boys. Imagine Bananarama produced by Brian Wilson, and you'll get some idea of the Adventures In Stereo sound.

Sometimes, the Beach Boys connection is a tad obvious, though not excessively so - the vocal melody to "Summer High", for instance, is borrowed in part from "You're So Good to Me", but instead of being simply lifted Gallagher- style, Beattie incorporates it in such a way that attention stays with the new song rather than short-circuiting back to the influence. In several cases - the MOR texture samples of "Good Times" spring most readily to mind - that's probably just as well, although whatever their provenance, Beattie usually manages to combine his samples with judicious skill and taste.

Just as importantly, AIS never let their songs outstay their welcome. Bereft of choruses and middle eights, most last little more than a minute, hanging around just long enough to state their case before drifting away. But the care and attention taken with each means the effect is less one of demo sketches than subtly-tinted watercolours, languorously evocative of childhood memories.


Son Egal

Xenophile XENO 4042

Afro-Celt Sound System's Simon Emmerson helps produce this latest offering from Madagascar's finest, a giant step beyond previous efforts, which should secure their position as one of Africa's most vital outfits. As before, the twinkling harp-guitar sound of the valiha (the island's native bamboo zither) is well to the fore throughout, mirroring in sound the characteristically positive outlook of the band's leader, Hanitrarivo Rasoanaivo: even when considering, in "Zotra", the slothful state of Madagascar's transport system, her recommendation is to start one's journey earlier rather than simply complain.

The punning title is explained in the album's pivotal track, "Sonegaly", which advocates reconciliation between the Malagasy natives and the despised Senegalese invaders responsible for the 1947 massacre, the darkest chapter of the island's history. Rasoanaivo's inquiries have revealed that those whom locals habitually refer to as Senegalese were actually Africans from various states whom the French shipped to Senegal to train as soldiers; not for the first time, colonial machinations set black against black.

Not all her songs are quite as forgiving, though. The spooky "Avelo", for instance, is apparently intended to scare graverobbers - a current Malagasy problem - by giving voice to the dead. "I will haunt you," she sings. "You will have nightmares/ I will make you cry." Well, they can't say they haven't been warned.


Tremble Under Boom Lights

Deceptive BLUFF 038CD

Staccato "96 Tears"-style organ parts, a mighty clangor of guitars, stroppy and not altogether comprehensible ranting - this is the kind of thing Americans produce after repeated exposure to The Fall. And a damn good thing it is, too, swept along by powerful, confident drumming that ties the disparate elements together tightly.

As with The Fall, it's the vocal presence that furnishes identity on this five-track mini-album: Stewart Lupton sprays phrases around with measured abandon and no great concern for melody, while his excess of attitude excites assumptions that aren't always borne out by the songs.

Despite his libidinous snarl on "Give Me Daughters", for example, the song is actually about his desire to raise a family. Elsewhere, the sullen presence of Nick Cave seems to lurk behind the sombre distaste of "Winston Plum: Undertaker", wherein Lupton considers the grim business of funerals: "Must send the rotten flowers/ And the punch, the punch which sours/ No, this will never do".

If they've got the live show to match their swagger on disc, they could do well; and certainly, signing to Dreamworks (for the US), suggests the kind of ambition that belies their indie appearance.


The Week Never Starts Around Here

Chemikal Underground CHEM 010 CD

Not so much lo-fi as post-fi, Arab Strap put the rude firmly back into rudimentary, with primitive, poorly recorded drums and simple guitar arpeggios vying for space with catatonic vocals. Their debut single, "The First Big Weekend", flatters to deceive: an account of an oddly pleasureless weekend drug 'n' drink binge set to a plodding drum-machine, it's far and away the most coherently arranged song here.

More typical is the track whose whispered vocals were apparently recorded one night under the bedclothes, with the lyricist hoping his sister doesn't wake up and "gi' me a fuckin' slap". Elsewhere, similarly muttered diary entries evoke further the slow cancer of dole-queue life. The most effective, "I Work in a Saloon", bitingly conveys the boredom of bartending - such close proximity to jollity, yet such infinite distance from it.