EVAN & JARON | Evan & Jaron (Columbia)
EVAN & JARON | Evan & Jaron (Columbia)
Twin brothers Evan and Jaron Lowenstein have spent seven years working on this debut album, whose craft and polish bears out their industry and attention to detail. Like Dido, they've ridden to public attention on the back of a popular American teen TV series - the 21st century equivalent of the Levi's advert. Their single "Crazy For This Girl" featured on Dawson's Creek and hoisted them into the charts. It helps that they're pin-up hunks, but the style and quality of their music provides a foundation denied to earlier, more disposable pop siblings like Bros. The tracks here come with well-considered counterpoint harmonies, subtle string arrangements or cast-iron hooks, while the presence of Mick Fleetwood on a couple of songs indicates that their intended territory, despite their teen appeal, is the well-manicured thirtysomething AOR of such as Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles. No sharp edges disturb the smooth sheen of songs like "From My Head To My Heart", and there is no trace of generic exclusivity to frighten off prospective fans. They cover the familiar adolescent themes of love, self-realisation and escape, but bring an imagination that conjures lines as potent as "stealing colour from words and leaving them grey".
BLUE MOUNTAIN | Roots (Glitterhouse)
Blue Mountain's previous three albums featured mostly original roots-rock material infused with the spirit of the Appalachian mountain songs and North Mississippi blues that are the band's prime influences. Reversing the process, Roots features mostly traditional material - logging-camp ballads like "Spring of '65", Western swing numbers like "That Nasty Swing", country-blues boogies like "Riley And Spencer" - given a new lease of life with arrangements that add a gritty blues-rock kick. Thus, for instance, does the lovely ballad "Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair" acquire a new, more sombre tone through Cary Hudson's bluesy vocal and spiky electric guitar that recalls Neil Young; likewise, the skirling guitar figure employed in "Rain And Snow" imbues that tragic tale with something of Richard Thompson's high, lonesome spirit. The most obvious comparison, though, would be with alt.country kings Wilco, in their Woody Guthrie mode (Blue Mountain's Laurie Stirratt is the twin sister of Wilco bassist John Stirrat). The mandolin, fiddle and raggedy-ass harmonies of "Rye Whiskey" and "Little Stream Of Whiskey" bring to mind the "Basement Tapes" hootenanny vibe of The Band or The Gourds. A guaranteed good time, if that's your poison.
MANIC STREET PREACHERS | Know Your Enemy (Epic)
Perhaps intended as a concession to those "old" Manics fans disappointed by what some consider the group's sell-out to establishment musical values since Richey Edwards's disappearance, Know Your Enemy is not as primped and preened as their last couple of albums, reverting to something nearer the bilious turmoil of their younger years.
That's not to say they've lost ambition - after all, the 16 tracks include both James Bradfield's first lyric ("Ocean Spray", prompted by his mother's death) and Nicky Wire's first vocal (the sluggish "Wattsville Blues"), along with possibly the world's worst synthesiser solo since ELP's "Lucky Man" - though they remain at heart a conservative musical force, for all their trumpeting of revolutionary sympathies. "Show me wonder," runs the repeated coda to "I Found That Soul", but there's no wonder to be found here, no attempt at transcendence, just the usual huffing, puffing assault on the anthemic.
When they do try to stretch beyond their core style, they invariably lapse into pastiche, as if Brian Wilson's genius could be distilled into the formulaic sleighbells, organ and banked harmonies of "So Why So Sad", or disco culture effectively satirised by the sizzling high hats of "Miss Europa Disco Dancer".
Particularly odd, given Wire's famous unkind derogation of Michael Stipe, is his band's employment of REM's trademark jangly-arpeggio style on "The Year of Purification". If only he had a fraction of Stipe's artistry when it came to addressing political issues, rather than just the student demagogue's affection for sloganeering evident in titles such as "Dead Martyrs", "My Guernica" and "Let Robeson Sing", the latter of which finds him enquiring, with no discernible irony, "Can anyone make a difference any more? Can anyone write a protest song?".
That he needs to ask surely condemns the narrowness of his cultural radar, which more capably registers barndoor targets such as "Royal Correspondent" and "Baby Elian" - the condemnation of America as "the devil's playground" in the latter must have been a comfort to the dilapidated Cuban regime when they played there recently. It also makes a pointed contrast to "Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children", which concludes the album with a long-overdue castigation of celebrities' support for the restoration of theocratic dictatorship in Tibet, a textbook case of the "safe" political issue as fashion accessory.
RADIO TARIFA | Cruzando El Rio (World Circuit)
Most pan-cultural exercises feature Anglo-Americans seeking to rejuvenate their muse with a transfusion of ethnicity, too often smoothing out the idiosyncrasies of the constituent strains to leave the kind of insipid new-age mulch favoured by the Afro-Celt Sound System. Spanish trio Radio Tarifa avoid such pitfalls by eschewing the rigid drum tracks with which others court disco popularity, and by focusing solely on the historic musical associations that link Spain with North Africa. At the heart of the group is Fain S DueÃ±as, whose spare, meticulous arrangements locate the perfect balance between Vincent Molino's wind instruments, Benjamin Escoriz's weather-beaten vocals, and his own guitar and percussion parts. The result is a Euro-Moorish blend comparable to France's Lo'Jo, with the mosquito tones of Molino's double-reed instruments adding pungency to the Castilian folk, tango and flamenco forms, while DueÃ±as' gimbri and electric guitar lines intertwine with intricacy. Nothing here sounds out of place; instead, an understated passion drives Radio Tarifa's music to intriguing new places - not least in "Patas Negras", where the African pan percussion shares space with the footwork of flamenco dancer Joaquin Ruiz.
TERRIS | Learning to Let Go (Blanco y Negro)
Say what you like about the CIA, but they had one or two decent ideas, most notably the high-volume bombardment of Manuel Noriega's hideout with cheesy American AOR music. Something similar might profitably be employed outside the residences of the A&R folk at Blanco y Negro: if they were forced to suffer the ghastly racket that is Terris's debut album - and particularly the unbearable bellyaching of "singer" Gavin Goodwin - for a few hours, maybe they might think twice about the kinds of bands they sign in the future. Terris, poor lads, were probably doomed as soon as the albatross of Next Big Thing was hung around their necks early in 2000; since then, they've all but disappeared, their lumpy indie caterwauling rapidly outpaced by the more melancholy manner of such as Coldplay. A year and a quarter on, Learning To Let Go sounds lifetimes out of phase, its lumbering riffs bereft of melodic grace, and its unhummable songs hog-tied with hilarious doggerel like "Dripping with silver his saliva will slither slovenly over your skin" and - my favourite - "its alchemical kiss of mystic synchronicity". I may be wrong, of course, but it wouldn't come as too much of a surprise if, a year from now, Terris's label had taken their album title to heart.Reuse content