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Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Frankie Said (Salvo/ZTT)

Frankie Goes To HollywoodIf ever a band has had pretty much every scrap of tape left on the studio floor picked up, stapled together and then released it is Frankie Goes To Hollywood, hell even their original singles were released in a head spinning variety of different formats and mixes. So what is there to entice fans to shell out again? Well there are actually some genuinely rare (and for fans collectible), mixes to be found here – there is an in depth break down of the tracks in the customer review section at Amazon. More importantly however if you missed the lads the first time around this well thought out compilation serves as a great introduction.
The Oracle

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Bill Faye
Life Is People (Dead Oceans)

Bill Faye Like the very welcome return of Roky Erickson on 2010’s True Love Cast Out All Evil, Bill Fay once again popping his head over the parapet was not only unexpected but also a delight. You see the gap between Fay’s hideously underrated early ‘70s albums Bill Fay and Time of the Last Persecution and his latest is over forty years! Not that he ever stopped playing and writing you understand it was just that, due to his very retiring nature, he just plain got overlooked, and if the beautiful songs on this album are anything to go by that has been a criminally wasted forty years for all of us. Still better late than never, welcome back Bill.
Raft Thong

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Fleetwood Mac
Rumours (Warners)

Fleetwood Mac I've been trying hard to think of an album that was so enormously successful and that came in for quite so much derision, whether from old Fleetwood Mac fans who missed the old blues line-up or rock and roll fans who found it too polished (probably didn’t help that it came out at the height of punk in 1977), regardless this isn’t an album that found many fans outside the millions and millions of people who purchased it, which just goes to show how snobby and idiotic music fans can be, ‘cos this is brilliant, loaded with fantastic, yes grown up, pop music, and now with plenty of added live cuts and outtakes for the faithful.
Ray Harper

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Henry Fool
Men Singing (Kscope)

Henry FoolCan’t imagine that a less ‘cool’ album will be released this year as progressive jazz rock is about as hip as, erm, actually is there a genre less hip than progressive jazz rock? It’s also only got four tracks, two of which are over thirteen minutes in length and, natch, there are no men (or women) to be found vocalising herein. So why should you buy it? Well how about the fact it features loads of great dusty old stuff like Mellotron’s, glockenspiel’s, flutes, Moog's and Phil Manzanera’s most angular guitar noises in years? It also sounds like Caravan meets Hatfield and the North via Echoes era Pink Floyd. Cool be damned this is hot.
Ray Harper

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Robert Fripp/Andrew Keeling/David Singleton
The Wine of Silence (DGM/Panegyric)

Robert Fripp/Andrew Keeling/David SingletonThe ever inquisitive and questing Robert Fripp takes yet another step out beyond the margins, only this time someone else (Bert Lams) has taken his experimental solo guitar ‘Frippertronic’ improvisations and actually transcribed the buggers allowing Andrew Keeling to then take the slowly evolving repetitions of Fripp’s improv’s and imposes Gavin Bryars-esque twists and turns to the proceedings for the Metropole Orkest to perform. Then producer David Singleton and Fripp re-introduce the fluctuating ambience stripped out from the source material warping the results into altogether different, occasionally beautiful, new shapes.
The Oracle

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José Feliciano
No Jive The Very Best Of… (Salvo)

José Feliciano A select few performers take the reinterpretation of other peoples songs to an altogether more elevated level – the late lamented Richie Havens springs to mind - and although there are plenty of Feliciano originals on this excellent ‘best of’ it’s his Latin/Flamenco tinged cover versions that really stand out ('Light My Fire' and 'California Dreamin’' being the two most obvious classic reinventions). Of course there are any number of Feliciano ‘best of’s around but we’re saying that this double disc set (with well researched booklet) has now become the benchmark and if you don’t have any José in your collection you should fix that right now with this.
Ray Harper

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Flipper
Love (Wienerworld)

FlipperThe fourth studio album by punk rockers Flipper which initially arrived in 2009, a staggering 16 years after their previous (and frankly disappointing effort American Grafishy) and featured Nirvana bass beanpole Krist Novoselic - Flipper having lost original bassist and songwriter Will Shatter to a drug overdose in 1987 and replacement bass player John Dougherty to the same in 1993. Seen as partner to the live album Fight (also re-released), both albums were a genuine return to form but didn’t really reach the audience they deserved, an oversight these re-releases will hopefully help address.
Ruby Palmer

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Freedom Hawk
Holding On (Small Stone)

Freedom HawkWell here’s a pleasant surprise, when you get the amount of stuff to sift through that we do yet another riff heavy rock outfit isn’t guaranteed to make a reviewer stick a CD in his/her review pouch (we’re all like kangaroos you know). But this Virginia based quartet immediately bring to mind Black Sabbath when they were still good (that would be the first five albums), in fact if you are a fan of the latter releases (Vol 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, when the monster riffs became sprightly rather than sludgy), then you’ll very likely love this to death, unashamedly retro and all the better for it.
Ray Harper

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Philipp Fankhauser
Try My Love (Funk House Blues Production)

Philipp Fankhauser Often put in the same bracket as Chris Rea and John Mayer but not as well known, this is Swiss native Fankhauser’s twelfth album and is a selection of sympathetically produced songs that brings out the best in him. Songs such as the big band blues of 'Make My Home Where I Lay My Hat' sit comfortably beside soulful ballads like the title track and 'Please Come On Home'. He flirts with Country on the hidden gem, 'Roadhouse & Automobiles' as well as with funk on 'It’s Gonna Rain' and special mention has to be made of the Johnny Copeland written 'Flyin’ High (Yesterday)', a superb quick paced stroller and is essential.
David Blue

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4Arm
Submission For Liberty (Rising Records)

4ArmAussie thrash metal merchants 4Arm’s third full length effort and, whilst we don’t tend to have a huge amount of truck with thrash around here (given that it tends to be a touch on the one dimensional side i.e. it’s all just bloody fast), this one found its way back onto the office music system a few times due to the sheer intensity of the racket on offer. These guys don’t just play like demons (the drummer must have several more limbs than the rest of us) but they also sound a little like Metallica in their prime – possibly due to vocalist Danny Tomb’s James Hetfield-esque bellow - which is no bad thing at all.
The Oracle

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Foo Fighters
Wasting Light (Columbia)

Foo FightersPerusing the reviews on Amazon UK, someone called CLG pretty much nails the appeal of Foo Fighters thus ‘If you love Rock, buy it. If you love Metal, buy it. If you love Power-Pop buy it’, spot on CLG, the Foos are indeed that most remarkable of beasts a band that can appeal to the occasional listener and the devoted metal head, and therein lies their appeal. Opening duo ‘Bridge Burning’ and ‘Rope’ are as good as anything they have ever recorded and fans of Bob Mould will be delighted to hear his backing vocals on ‘Dear Rosemary’ make it the best song Husker Du never recorded. In fact there's just an embarrassment of riches here, cracking stuff.
Ruby Palmer

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Marianne Faithfull
Horses and High Heels (Dramatico)

Marianne Faithfull Like so many performers from her era Marianne Faithfull has spent the vast majority of her artistic life (or at least the last thirty odd years of it) trying to match a career defining album – Broken English was an astonishing album in 1979 and is still an astonishing record even today – and sadly, once again, she has come up short as there are a couple of proper duffers here that really shouldn’t have made the final cut. That said Horses And High Heels does have it's fair share of cracking moments, and after her last album of cover versions it’s genuinely great to see that these high points are in the main her own compositions.
Ruby Palmer

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For a Minor Reflection
Höldum í átt að óreiðu (IC)

For a Minor ReflectionSearch music website album review databases and you will find the word epic has been used innumerable times to describe music, for example Robbie Williams ‘Angels’ is apparently ‘epic’, who knew? If you truly want to experience ‘epic’ you need to catch Explosions In The Sky, Mogwai or Sigur Rós in full flow, to which we now need to add the latest Icelandic musical export For A Minor Reflection who not only understand a thing or two about tectonic plate shifting, glacially massive post rock but also drop dead beautiful melodies, Höldum í átt að óreiðu is exactly the sort of music goose-bumps were made for and we love it to bits.
The Oracle

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Black Francis
Nonstoperotik (Cooking Vinyl)

Black FrancisContrary to what some reviewers out there would have you believe this is not a ‘return to form’ for Black ‘Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV’ Francis, mainly because, to these reviewers ears at least, he has yet to make a bad album, some better, some worse for certain but a bad record in the eighteen odd he has released since the demise of the Pixies (the first time around) is conspicuous by its absence. This time out - after an album with his wife Violet Clark in Grand Duchy - the man has sex on his mind packaged in some thrilling garage punk riffage and trademark BF throat shredding vocals.
Ruby Palmer

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Faust
Faust Is Last (Klangbad)

FaustThis being a Faust release, the details about the album are confused and confusing and the web is awash with 'final album' theories and different titles (Last Is First and Faust At Last being just two we have found). What is beyond doubt is that this double disc offering is the brainchild of Hans Joachim Irmler (there is another Faust line-up featuring Jean-Hervé Péron), and is the best to come out under the Faust banner in eons, the cover a definite nod towards their 1971 debut. Disc one (Faust A) is crammed with Faust Tapes style garage clatter whilst disc two (Faust Z) boasts more ambient cuts. If this is to be their last it’s a doozy to bow out on.
Ray Harper

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The Fall
Your Future Our Clutter (Domino)

The Fall There is little more reassuring in this world than hearing several minutes of music on a new Fall album which sounds like it was recorded through an oven glove on the hard shoulder of a motorway (rather like the first part of ‘Bury Pts 1 + 3’ in fact), almost as reassuring in fact as once again tuning into M E Smiths incoherent mumbling and barking, ah bliss. Does this sound exponentially different to previous albums? Only in that this particular version of the Fall sounds blisteringly aggressive, otherwise it’s business as usual marrying rockabilly punk, atonal racket, skewed country and western and Smith-speak. Great stuff.
Ruby Palmer

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Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Welcome To The Pleasuredome: Deluxe Edition (ZTT Records/Salvo)

Frankie Goes To HollywoodThere have been numerous examples of bands with only one worthwhile album in them - and just as many hit albums which boasted far more session musicians than actual band members – but for our money WTTPd ranks as one of the best. Frankie did nothing as good again, possibly because they insisted on actually playing on the other albums, but more likely because this was such a towering monster of an album with Trevor Horn’s Phil Spector for the ‘80s production all over the bugger and boasting ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’, ‘The Power Of Love’, ‘War’ and the almost 14 minute title track. Now re-mastered and expanded.
Ray Harper

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Four Tet
There Is Love in You (Domino)

Four TetJolly busy man Kieran Hebden since his last solo album Everything Ecstatic in 2005 he's released four albums with drum legend Steve Reid, a DJ Kicks set, worked with composer David Arnold on the film Quantum of Solace, released a secret (limited edition, black label, black cover) collaboration with Burial and still found time to record nine fine new tracks which continue to balance electronic experimentation with sonic accessibility (possibly his most accessible release to date). Now if he can just sort out another reunion with Adem Ilhan and Sam Jeffers in hideously underrated post-rock titans Fridge all will be well with the world.
Drew Bass

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Field Music
Field Music [Measure] (Memphis Industries)

Field MusicAn indie aesthetic melded to a melodic richness evocative of Peter Gabriel and Steely Dan made the Brewis’ brothers previous outing as Field Music, 2007’s Tones of Town, a critics’ favourite. Now, after solo projects as The Week That Was and School of Language, they have regrouped to produce a 20-track epic that suggests they are about to ascend to Major League status. Crunching guitar-rock, ruminative piano, striking strings and harmonies that linger in the memory longer after they have faded are the hallmarks of an album that is packed full of surprising, delightful twists and turns.
David Davies

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Faith No More
The Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection (Rhino)

Faith No MoreOstensibly released to capitalise on the bands decision to reconvene for 2009 summer festivals, disc one of TVBDUGHC (the title doubtless a knowing nod towards the fact there are already five ‘best of’s… out there), has pretty much everything you would expect but the real reason to pick this up is for the second disc of b-sides and rarities highlighting the bands penchant for gleefully genre hopping between heavy metal, funk, prog, hip hop, punk, thrash and easy listening, Mike Patton’s lunatic vocal crooning on their cover of Burt Bacharach’s ‘This Guys’ in Love With You’ is almost worth the price of the album alone.
Ruby Palmer

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Fightstar
Be Human (Search and Destroy)

FightstarHaving initially struggled to overcome the music press’s distrust of his ‘new’ direction – Charlie Simpson was initially part of pop poppets Busted – Fightstar have now persevered long enough to make it to their third, and quite possibly their best, album to date, and they have done it by draping their riff-driven, muscular rock with an orchestra and a bloody choir (which will have doubters twisting their knickers again) recalling the heady days of the mighty Magma – at least in these grey haired environs – and will anyone else be having a stab at eastern-influenced, orchestral, melodic, death metal this year (‘Chemical Blood’)?
Ruby Palmer

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Fennesz
Black Sea (Touch)

FenneszFans of the last album by Christian Fennesz entitled Venice - including a fair smattering right here in the TotalMusic-Online office it has to be said - have been awaiting this release with no little excitement, and the wait has been worth it as Fennesz’s marriage of dissonance and melody are pushed ever further out towards the margins. Of course it must be said that this is a very acquired taste, and will probably not be bothering many of the mainstream radio stations, but these warm washes of unsettling discord are a taste that is well worth acquiring, so come on in, the water’s lovely (just don’t wade out too far).
Drew Bass

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Michael Franti & Spearhead
All Rebel Rockers (Anti)

Michael Franti & SpearheadThose that have followed Franti’s work will already be aware that he’s not one to fight shy of sound-tracking his, often highly politically charged, lyrics with an eclectic musical backdrop, from the early punky clatter of the Beatnigs to the industrial hip hop of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his work with Spearhead has regularly touched on reggae, so it’s no great shock to now find him working with reggae legends Sly And Robbie. The results run from rootsy dubs and lovers rock to digital rockers and out and out sunshine pop all wrapped warmly around Franti’s always thought provoking words.
Ruby Palmer

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Future Loop Foundation
The Fading Room: Memories & Remixes (Just Music)

Future Loop Foundation Constructed by Mark Barrott from recordings of family interviews found in an attic covered in almost twenty five years worth of dust - and then, on the second CD, reconstructed by the likes of Tunng, Beauty Room and The Go! Team - The Fading Room continues Barrott’s quest to dabble in pretty much every area of electronica from his early breakbeat driven work via jazz, ambient and beyond. So whilst the vocal samples evoke (in older listeners at least) memories of the ‘70s the accompanying sounds are a wonderfully chilled and lush mixture of strings and synths, and for once the remixes aren’t surplus to requirements.
Drew Bass

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The Fall
Imperial Wax Solvent (Sanctuary)

The FallThe Fall’s 716th album (oh, alright it’s only 27 odd studio albums, and around the same in live efforts, oh, and thirty plus compilations), Imperial Wax Solvent is M.E Smith’s first outing since the excellent Von Südenfed collaboration with Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner of Mouse on Mars and easily the best thing that has been released under the Fall banner in many a moon. Stand out track is the, almost twelve minute long, towering rockabilly-metal ‘50 Year Old Man’ complete with bonkers banjo interlude, and fans of Smiths left-field cover versions will be delighted by the clanking atonal take on the Groundhogs ‘Strange Town’.
Ray Harper

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Four Tet
Ringer (Domino)

Four TetThe prolific Kieran Hebden takes a break from his recent improvisational collaborations with Steve Reid and, clearly not one for kicking back a bit and having a mong in front of Diagnosis Murder, delivers a 32 minute four track mini album under his Four Tet moniker which fans of his more DJ-driven output will be delighted to hear, all four tracks rippling along in various guises over a reliably reassuring thudding techno beat. Hebden’s questing spirit (and his labels patient patronage) mean he can pretty much do what he wants nowadys so it’s nice to see him occasionally delivering something the faithful will lap up.
Drew Bass

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Free
Fire & Water: Deluxe Edition (Universal/Island)

FreeOriginally released in 1970 Fire & Water - without doubt Free’s finest hour, featuring their breakthrough hit ‘Alright Now’, live bass driven favourite ‘Mr Big’ and some of Paul Rodgers finest vocals before or since - now expanded to include a further 23 tracks. Whether anybody actually needs eight extra versions of ‘Alright Now’ (none as good as the original), aside from hardcore Free freaks is of course a moot point, and most of you will almost certainly only bother listening to them once, but the digitally re-mastered original seven tracks remain a master-class in blues/rock and belong in any right thinking rock fans collection.
Ray Harper

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Fuck Buttons
Street Horrrsing (ATP Recordings)

Fuck ButtonsNot a band courting mainstream success, from the expletive laced moniker to the grammatically challenged title this is clearly a band which does whatever the ‘buttons’ it likes thanks very much, and what it likes is a cross between Godspeed... style post-rock, Aphex style electronic adventurism, Krautrock style drones and death-metal style distorted gabbling. What lifts it head and shoulders above most of the avant-garde noise touting crowd are the beautiful melodies they sculpt from this unlikely source material, that and the sheer colossal, overwhelming enormity of it all, it’s like being serenaded by a tectonic plate.
Drew Bass

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Mark Fry
Shooting the Moon (Boredlidlebaby)

Mark FryAn impressively reluctant 35 years on from the release of his debut album (take that for a sabbatical, Kate Bush), Mark Fry – these days a highly regarded painter – has finally completed a second effort, issued on his own imprint. While existing quite solidly in traditional acoustic singer/songwriter territory, Shooting the Moon is distinguished by a pared-back sound, a pleasingly elegiac mood that is sustained throughout, and a handful of top-drawer tunes, of which ‘Big Silver Jet’, ‘Leave It to Me’ and the title track are the standouts. Special mention, too, for William Gibbs’ subtle, genuinely soulful sax embellishments.
David Davies

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Black Francis
Bluefinger (Cooking Vinyl)

Black Francis Yes, he has reverted to his Black Francis moniker for this album, and yes a deal more Pixie style spunk and clatter pepper the proceedings – some have said it’s a return to form but in fact it’s simply a continuation of the form displayed on his excellent previous outing Show Me Your Tears. A tribute to Dutch musician, painter and drug hoover Herman Brood, Bluefinger does find him back in expressively ragged and volatile vocal country, a place he hasn’t chosen to visit since the ‘80s, all of which will doubtless make this the album disgruntled Pixies fans have been waiting for since Trompe Le Monde.


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Faust
So Far (Revisited)

Faust Most schoolboys of a certain age (and prog disposition), will recall buying the Faust Tapes album – squiggly eye-strain cover, no track details, price of a single – and becoming aware, perhaps for the first time, that ‘proper’ rock music was also made outside of the UK and US. Many, like this schoolboy, would then have gone on a collecting trip in search of earlier material like this and the eponymously named debut, neither of which disappointed in the lunatic experimental stakes, but So Far actually managed to sound vaguely accessible in places, whilst still veering wildly between metronomic rock outs, off kilter jazz and lovely ballads.


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The Fall
Box Set 1976-2007 (Castle)

The FallAnother year rolls by and another Fall compilation hits the racks, so why should this one concern you? Well for one thing This fully remastered 5-CD box set is the most comprehensive Fall collection ever released, and is in fact a fantastic kicking off point for any young tykes keen to introduce themselves to Mark E Smith’s notoriously erratic back catalogue. It also contains no less than 20 unreleased live tracks as an enticement for older Fall fans. Doubtless there will be complaints of missing classics but as an overall summation of the bands thirty odd year career it does it’s job admirably well-ah.


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Fennesz Sakamoto
Cendre (Touch)

Fennesz Sakamoto A collaboration between Christian Fennesz and Ryuichi Sakamoto, the former using a laptop computer to morph his guitar into ever more dissonant shapes the latter using his to capture his piano with pristine clarity Cendre is an occasionally startling, but more often organically minimalist meeting of electronic and analogue which, like much of the ambient end of the electronic market, demands repeat listens before it gives up its true depth and beauty. If you’re the sort of person who wishes Brian Eno had put a guitar solo on Music For Airports then avoid, if however you like your music to work on more than one level, check this out.


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Forget Cassettes
Salt (Tangled Up!)

Forget Cassettes Brainchild of Beth Cameron (a sort of unholy amalgam of PJ Harvey, Alanis Morissette and Kat Bjelland), Forget Cassettes are currently a two piece al la the White Stripes and if there’s any justice in the world this, their second album, should see them making major inroads into both radio playlists and charts. Bold, fractious, inventive, noisy but still melodic, Cameron’s pummelling riffs (Tony Iommi would be proud of the latter half of ‘Nicholas’) and throat wrenching/angelic purring vocals are direct descendents from those other master of the quite bit/loud bit the Pixies, and are every bit as good.


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Bryan Ferry
Dylanesque (Virgin)

Bryan FerryDepending on your point of view this either sounds like a great idea (especially to those who enjoyed Ferry’s reading of ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ from 1973’s These Foolish Things), or a real stinker. If you’re in the latter camp you’d best move on now. Having said that if Ferry’s croon through ‘A Hard Rain...’ is your reference point you may initially find Dylanesque a touch underwhelming as Ferry plays it more or less straight throughout, but persevere as the sombre readings of ‘Positively 4th Street’ and ‘Gates Of Eden’ are rather lovely, and the joyous clatter through 'Simple Twist Of Fate' is just plain great.


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The Fall
Reformation Post TLC (Slogan Records)

The FallAt the last count this would be around the 90th Fall album but if you don’t include over twenty five live albums and over thirty compilations it’s only Mark E Smith’s twenty sixth full studio set. Being an irascible bugger he’s also close to passing the half century mark in band members but this latest incarnation of the Fall comfortably slip into his preferred clattering garage racket, a racket once referred to by John Peel as ‘always different, always the same’, the scathing, rockabilly based punk sound-tracking yet more of Smith’s belligerent pronouncements. In a world full of Pop Idols we should all be thankful for the Fall.


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The Frames
The Cost (ANTI-)

The FramesOne of those bands you come home raving about after seeing them live and then wondering why nobody 'gets it' when you play their albums (mainly because they're unable to mentally transplant lead Frame Glen Hansard’s intense live presence into the more muted recorded output). In short, the Frames have struggled to make waves. This, their sixth, release attempts to address that missing spark by recording the songs live in the studio and to these ears succeeds admirably. Sounding not unlike the Waterboys playing with Mogwai The Cost is nonetheless, to long term listeners at least, unmistakably The Frames.


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Faithless
To All New Arrivals (Sony/BMG)

Faithless Apparently this has not gone down at all well with some of the Faithless faithful, proving too laid back and less immediate than previous outings but whilst vocalist Maxi Jazz is certainly underused and, with guest slots from Cat Power, Robert Smith (on the Cure sampling ‘Spiders, Crocodiles & Kryptonite’) and Rollo’s sister Dido, this does occasionally sound more like a various artists album than the work of a single entity, and the album does lack one big, life affirming, arse shaking, big-bastard, dance anthem. Faithless are now in this for the long haul, and simply whopping out another round of arms-in-the-air floor fillers is no longer enough.


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Four Tet
Remixes (Domino)

Four TetProving that the gene pool marked electronic music is only as dead as those found paddling in it, this collection of Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden’s remix work - following hot on the heels of his improvised Exchange Session outings with veteran jazz/funk/soul drummer Steve Reid – sees the man taking on artists as various as Radiohead, Beth Orton, Sia and Bloc Party all of whom get imaginatively, and very differently, worked over (no bashed out ‘this’ll do, where’s me money?’ efforts from our Mr Hebden) alongside more leftfield glitching around with likes of Aphex Twin, Pole and Lars Horntveth. Here’s hoping for a new Fridge album soon.


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The Future Sound Of London
Teachings From The Electronic Brain (Virgin)

The Future Sound Of LondonBest known for the ambient dub mix of their classic rave hit ‘Papua New Guinea’ Brian Dougans and Gary Cobain’s FSOL more or less hijacked the dance scene with the mighty Lifeforms album before heading off into far deeper, more thoughtful and altogether darker territories culminating with the equally mighty Dead Cities. Their wild experimental streak would ultimately lead them down different retro, psychedelic paths as Amorphous Androgynous but this collection is a timely reminder of just how incredibly exciting and varied their output was and should send FSOL newbies scurrying back for the full releases.


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Free
Live At The BBC (Island/Universal)

FreeOccasionally sounding like it has been recorded through a sponge covered sponge many of the tracks on this collection are nonetheless quite a find (especially given the Beebs idiotic insistence on continually recording over sessions) and prove that Free have slipped somewhat over the years, finding themselves rather lower down the late ‘60s early ‘70s league of UK rock outfits. So for the record Free no more belong in the same league as Blodwyn Pig, Spooky Tooth, Man or Stray than Thierry Henry belongs on the subs bench at Burnley, and murky or not this two CD collection goes some way to hoisting ‘em back up where they belong.


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Fatboy Slim
Why Try Harder (Skint)

Fatboy SlimWhether or not this proves to be a stop gap before Norman Cook - former Housemartin, Pizzaman, Beats International-er, Freakpower-man, and Mighty Dub Kat – kicks off another successful bout of recording or, as the less impressive two new efforts here suggest, just a neat career spanning round-up (let’s face it his DJ career is successful enough to pay the bills) the fact remains nobody understood the power of euphoric, hands in the air, big beat floor filling better than the Fatboy – the first ten tracks are stone cold classics of the genre. Whether there’s more to come remains to be seen, but this collection is no small achievement.


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The Flaming Lips
At War With The Mystics (Warner Brothers)

Flaming LipsTwelfth studio album from The Flaming Lips, described by leader Coyne as ‘space-age jazz and progressive Dixieland’ which is, needless to say, misleading in the extreme. It’s really good to see Warner Bros persevering with such an un-commercial and wayward bunch of chancers (lest we forget they bankrolled Zaireeka which was released as a four CD set designed to be played on four CD players simultaneously), and they are admirably repaid here with an album pitched roughly mid way between Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and The Soft Bulletin with some Prince style funk lobbed in for good measure.


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Roddy Frame
Western Skies (Redemption)

Roddy FrameRoddy Frame’s last album – 2002’s entirely solo, all-acoustic Surf – was a timely reminder of his talents as both songwriter and performer. Western Skies dips into a wider instrumental palette, but never to the disservice of Frame’s increasingly poignant songs. ‘Rock God’ is a warm evocation of glam’s heyday, and gives the opportunity for a rare burst of (Bolan-esque) lead, but it’s ‘The Coast’ that most impresses. Propelled by shuffling percussion and fluid guitar, the song’s lingering air of mystery demonstrates just how much the former Aztec Camera lynchpin’s writing has developed since the days of High Land, Hard Rain.


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Donald Fagen
Morph the Cat (Reprise)

Donald FagenA ghostly feline slinking through NYC and life lessons from the late Ray Charles are just two of the more playful lyrical conceits on Donald Fagen’s first solo set since 1993’s Kamakiriad. Eschewing the digital precision of the recent Steely Dan albums, Morph the Cat has an invitingly warm sound and features sublime playing from accomplices including guitarist Hugh McCracken. The apocalyptic air to several tunes comes as some contrast, then, with complex standout ‘The Great Pagoda of Funn’ matching a haunting chorus with musings on the need for love’s refuge in a time of “poisoned skies” and “dirty bombs”.


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Fightstar
Grand Unification (Island)

FightstarOK, let’s get it out of the way, Charlie Simpson's former band was Busted! No, no, hold on, it’s alright, because this is about as far removed from kiddy punk as it’s possible to get without joining a brass band or signing on with Dolly Parton. Oh alright, there’s also the ‘emo’ tag as well, but that’s just a handle (and not a very good one frankly), ‘cos this really is a damn good rock album (think Idlewild, or Hundred Reasons), which roars and thunders in all the right places, pinning you to the wall with throat shredding interludes whilst still managing to sound enormously melodic. Honestly, I kid you not, this rocks.


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Franz Ferdinand
You Could Have It So Much Better (Domino)

Franz FerdinandOf course the shock of the new - well, new if you missed the first wave of new wave - is no longer going to be part of the equation, but given that we now know what to expect from this Scot's four piece this is still a remarkably confident follow up to their critically and commercially lauded debut, in fact it's confident enough to stretch their initial blueprint in several new directions. From debut stomper 'Do You Want To' (Bay City Rollers meet Joseph K) via nods to the fab four on 'Eleanor Put Your Boots On' and the Byrds on 'Fade Together', this as an assured second step for a band with their sights clearly set on the long haul.


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The Fall
Death On The Road (EMI)

The FallInitially wrong-footing with the deadpan reggae jollity of ‘Ride Away’ it’s not until second track ‘Pacifying Joint’ that the lo-fi garage clatter we know and love kicks in – well that and some oddly unsettling ‘80s style synth sounds. In what must be Mark E Smith's 30th incarnation of the Fall, at least (and certainly at least his 50th album release if you include the numerous lunatic live efforts), it’s a relief to find everything in camp Fall is as it should be, cryptic verbosity, thudding drums, mad titles (‘Early Days Of The Channel Fuehrer’ anyone?) and another great cover version on ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’


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Fairport Convention
Rising For The Moon (Island)

Fairport ConventionBy 1973 Fairport Convention (comprising the Dave’s Swarbrick, Pegg and Mattacks, Trevor Lucas, Jerry Donahue and later in the year Sandy Denny), featured not one original member of the band - in fact the current and former members now number around the quarter of a ton mark – which may explain why the latest batch of re-releases (Nine, Live Convention and this album Rising For The Moon) are seldom cited as prime FC albums. They are still well worth investigation however, especially in the case of Sandy Denny compositions like Stranger To Himself, After Halloween and the title track which still number amongst her best


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Four Tet
Everything Ecstatic (Domino)

Four TetFans of Kieran Hebden (the man behind Four Tet and also a member of post-dance outfit Fridge), many of whom picked up on Four Tet’s joyful genre mashing approach to music creation via the last album Rounds, will have been waiting for this with baited breath, and it doesn’t disappoint. Once again Hebden gleefully ignores the notional ‘dance’ tag he’s been saddled with and has pieced together a psychedelic head mash of bowel threatening bass, clattering drums (indeed all manner of percussive whacking) and squonking horns, interspersed with ambient squiggles and parps, and guess what? It’s a total blast.


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Free
Chronicles (Universal)

FreeFormed in the late ‘60s around the nucleus of, the sadly demised, guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke, Free were always a good deal more than the sum of their parts (none have since scaled such artistic peaks as they did in the five years that Free were active). Transforming their ‘60s ‘Brit Blues Boom’ roots - like peers Cream and Led Zepplin – via guitar pyrotechnics, the soulful rasp of Paul Rodgers (now part of a revamped Queen), and the melodic sensibilities of the most underrated bass player of his generation Andy Fraser, Free remain an undiscovered gem for many. Start digging here.


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Paal Flaata
Rain (Glitterhouse)

Paal FlaataImagine a man gifted with a voice that begins way down in the lugubrious melancholy basso profundo world of Johnny Cash and ends right up there in the sweet soulful heavenly croon of Roy Orbison, well imagine no more because that is exactly the range Paal Flaata has, hard to believe perhaps, but an absolute fact nonetheless. Sadly this astonishing set of tonsils only really gets put to genuinely serious use on roughly half of this album (and is criminally squandered on the remaining half), but you really do need to hear this man sing, and he really needs some more consistent songwriters


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Fat Freddy’s Drop
Based On A True Story (Kartel)

Fat Freddy's DropProving that there’s far more to New Zealand than beautiful scenery, marginalised Maoris, Crowded House, Bic Runga, The Datsuns and The Mutton Birds - where you’re born nowadays has more or less nothing to do with what sort of music you might end up making - Based On A True Story reveals itself to be positively loaded with beautifully lush, organic, dub-centric cuts (there’s a very vibrant reggae scene in NZ), which resolutely refuse to ape their Jamaican forebears by adding a deep dose of Bill Withers style soul grooves and doubtless an extra healthy pinch of Wellington home-grown


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Martin France
Spin Marvel (Babel)

Martin FrancePercussionist Martin France made his name playing with jazz greats like Kenny Wheeler and Evan Parker, and as a member of celebrated ‘80s collective Loose Tubes, which might lead you to expect a fairly orthodox effort for his first solo release. In fact, Spin Marvel is anything but, with France shaping nine atmospheric pieces from processed percussion, shimmering electronics and occasional guitar (the latter courtesy of the fantastic John Parricelli). Black Wing and the sonic slice-and-dice drama of Gwig9 are particularly effective, their sinister soundscapes suggesting that France might well have a future in composing movie soundtracks


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Fischerspooner
Odyssey (EMI)

FischerspoonerYou have to feel for Fischerspooner, kicking up a media shit-storm with their art-house electro-clash debut #1 and could well have been forgiven for thinking the world was going to be positively gagging for this follow up, and they would have if it hadn’t been for those damn kids The Scissor Sisters whipping in and stealing all the limelight. Doh! Not that Odyssey is a let-down, if you liked #1, you’re almost certainly gonna love this, in fact the lads have pushed things forward melodically - albeit still driven by those motorik beats - proving beyond doubt there’s more to FS than dancers, hype and glitter.


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The Fall
Hex Enduction Hour (Castle)

The FallIt’s often said of acts at the extreme ends of the musical spectrum that you either love or hate them when in fact if asked many people would simply confess to indifference. The Fall seldom provoke indifference, you either ‘get it’ or you don’t as the increasingly grumpy and unpredictable Mark E Smith (the only talking head to be less than gushing when interviewed about John Peels recent demise, which would doubtless have made Peel chuckle), continues to oversee the re-releasing and repackaging of his massive back catalogue, unleashing everything from abysmal live efforts to this expanded genuine ‘82 Fall classic

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Fried
Fried (London)

FriedUnashamedly hewn from the same rock-face hacked away at by labels like Stax and singers like the mighty Aretha Franklin, Fried are the brainchild of Ex Beat and Fine Young Cannibal David Steele (you remember him, dances like a paralytic stilt-walker), after discovering singer Jonte Short at a New Orleans Jazz Festival. This sounds about as authentic as you would want a 'soul' record to sound (cleaner modern recording techniques accepted), and, simply put, it knock spots of all that cod emoting bollocks beloved of today's R'n'B stars. Real singers (see also Joss Stone) are making a welcome return it seems.

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