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Spike
100% Pure Frankie Miller (Livewire/Cargo)

SpikeOn 25 August 1994, Frankie Miller suffered a brain haemorrhage in New York City while writing material for a new band he and Joe Walsh of The Eagles had formed, twenty years later he is still with us and apparently in fine spirits, but sadly the illness robbed us of his fine voice and, not inconsiderable, songwriting skills, so all credit to Quireboys' lead singer Spike for disinterring some cracking long lost, unrecorded, Miller songs (with Millers blessings) and roping in Ronnie Wood, Ian Hunter, the Free rhythm section and many more for this genuinely terrific tribute to a genuinely much missed talent.
Ray Harper

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Omar Souleyman
Wenu Wenu (Ribbon).

Omar Souleyman Hailing from Ra's al-'Ayn, Syria, Omar Soulyman has been making music for twenty odd years now – he has actually released some five hundred studio and live albums eighty percent of which, rather brilliantly, are recordings made at weddings and then presented to the married couple. Released on Domino offshoot Ribbon Records, produced by Kieran (Four Tet) Hebden and recorded primarily live in the studio, Wenu Wenu captures the vocalist in full flow along with sideman, Rizan Sa'id's wonderful pitch wheel crazy keyboards, often utilising Arabic flute emulations, who knew something so simple could be so enthralling?
Ruby Palmer

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Vivian Stanshall
Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead (Poppydisc)

Vivian Stanshall The debut solo album by ex Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band main-man Vivian Stanshall was so unlike the goon-ish lunacy of his previous outfit it wasn’t even released in 1974. Mixing music hall, gospel, blues, calypso and what would later be called world music Men Opening Umbrellas was actually lyrically rather dark and raw – although he still can’t resist the odd belch, hacking cough or risqué lyrical bon mot, ‘How The Zebra Got His Spots’ rather nifty ‘He loves to feel the freeness, the let-it-be-ness, fresh air circlin’ round he, Talkin’ ‘bout a certain penis’ being a case in point. Almost forty years late, but well worth the wait.
The Oracle

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Syd Arthur
On And On (Dawn Chorus)

Syd ArthurNot sure who made it ok to dig progressive rock again (we’ll plump for the Mars Volta) but the fact is prog is no longer a dirty word and Syd Arthur - ‘Syd’ because of Barrett and ‘Arthur’ because of the Kinks' album - a four piece band from Canterbury, are unapologetically taking their lead from bands like Hatfield And The North Soft Machine, Gong and Caravan. They call what they do ‘psychedelic funk rock’, which is as good a genre title as any, but the main thing is that their debut long player is a hugely assured effort that manages to both leap backwards and move forwards, and will delight both young hipsters and old prog-heads.
Ray Harper

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Klaus Schulze
Shadowlands (Synthetic)

Klaus Schulze For those of you unaware of the man, Shulze was once a member of both Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel and is regarded by many as one of the major precursors of ambient music – but as we imagine hardcore fans will already have this we’re going to review it for the uninitiated with no reference to previous works, and the first thing you need to know is that it’s long, five tracks, none under seventeen minutes, and two in excess of forty, the second thing you need to know is that everything happens at the speed of treacle climbing up a mirror and the third is that it is all really rather beautiful.
Drew Bass

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Sigur Rós
Kveikur (XL Recordings).

Sigur RósTheir first album since the departure of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson and things are sounding somewhat heavier (not in a doom-metal sense, more in a boulder rolling down a mountain sense), whether this is as a result of now being a three piece or not remains to be seen but the post rock dynamics we expect from Sigur Rós are considerably more spooked here, Jónsi’s falsetto still a thing of beauty but here occasionally leaving you feeling a little unsettled, the music alternately tense and uplifting. Once again Sigur Rós take the quite loud dynamics of post rock down another road entirely.
Ruby Palmer

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Julian Sas
Bound To Roll (Cavalier Recordings)

Julian Sas Dutch master Julian Sas’ latest album confirms his growth into a top blues guitarist. Trademark bludgeoning blues arrive in the shape of the opener, 'Life On The Line', the eponymous title track and Steve Marriott’s '30 Days In The Hole'. 'Swamplands' and 'Tear It Up' are boogies at either end of the speed scale, whilst the remaining two covers, Dylan’s 'Highway 61 Revisited' and Rory Gallagher’s 'Shadow Play' are high octane versions with slinky slide guitar and lightning fingers respectively. Throw in the offbeat blues of 'The Blues Don’t Worry' and you have an album to be proud of.
David Blue

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Spirit
Two Sides Of A Rainbow (Floating World)

Spirit Part of a positive deluge of Spirit live shows coming out on Floating World, but where the hell do you start first? Well we reckon right here, a re-release of a live set from 1978 that was originally shipped with poor overdubs and added applause, but this release fixes those problems. The work of Spirit archive guru Mick Skidmore this now sounds great, the complete concert, including encores, and the band – in trio mode with Randy California, Ed Cassidy and Larry Knight - are positively rocking, plus, as a bonus, the original US release has been included, so you can hear how much better this really is.
Ray Harper

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Silver Jews
Early Times (Drag City)

Silver JewsThe Silver Jews were formed in 1989 by David Berman and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich (at roughly the same time Pavement were formed), and as things currently stand – many, many different line-ups later - are no longer with us, so fans will doubtless be keen to hear this collection of Berman, Nastanovich and Malkmus’ formative noodling’s. Needless to say there is nothing particularly essential here and if you have never heard of the band pick then pick up American Water asap, if however you already love them then this holds some fascinating pointers to what was to come, just don’t expect buried treasure.
Ruby Palmer

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Squackett
A Life Within A Day (Esoteric Antenna)

SquackettMoving swiftly past the dreadfully amalgamated surname (what were they thinking?), what we have here is the first collaborative effort by Yes bass guitarist Chris Squire and Genesis old boy Steve Hackett which sounds pretty much like prog-rock heaven and yet, on the whole, sounds totally unlike either of the above named bands, in fact ALWAD boasts a pleasingly varied palette of influences from crunching Zeppelin riffs to out and out Beatles-y style pop and whilst it’s not all successful (what the hell is ‘Aliens’ all about then?), there is enough here to satisfy both men’s fans and the casual listener alike.
Ray Harper

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Sigur Rós
Valtari (Parlophone)

Sigur Rós Fans of the bands Sturm und Drang, and nobody does explosive post rock quite like Sigur Rós, are very likely to find this latest effort something of a disappointment. Originally planned as an entirely choral album (after their work with the 16 Choir) Valtari can best be described as post without the rock – well not entirely, ‘Varúð’ simply can’t contain itself and heads off into the stratosphere – and whilst that initially is a little frustrating repeat listens reveal a really rather beautiful collection of ambient experiments that, in good old hippie terms, explores the slow, diffuse, yin side of their music shorn of it’s more focused aggressive Yang. The Oracle

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Squarepusher
Ufabulum (Warp)

Squarepusher Nope, we have no idea what it means either, but if you're looking for a rational, common sense approach to music making you certainly shouldn't be looking to Tom Jenkinson. Several thousand albums into his career and you'd have thought he may be lacking a little mojo, but such is not the case. Fans will already be aware that you are just as likely to get a collection of abstract noise as pummelling breakbeats and high speed bass, however you will be delighted to learn this is more of the latter, possibly the most exciting and focussed thing he has released since Hard Normal Daddy. Nope we don't know what that meant either.
Drew Bass

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The Samuel Jackson 5
The Samuel Jackson 5 (Denovali)

The Samuel Jackson 5The sad thing about The Samuel Jackson 5 is that their jokey moniker will put off far more people than it actually engages. I for one wasn’t aware just what an excellent Jaga Jazzist meets Sigur Ros style outfit they were as the name ensured I actively avoided their output, which is certainly my loss, but isn’t doing them many favours either. Long term fans will doubtless be surprised to find vocals on this album, but fear not, this isn’t a stab at commercialism, just another developmental step. On this evidence I’m going to have to try and track down their last album now, curse that dreadful name.
Ruby Palmer

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Spiritualized
Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Double Six Records)

Spiritualized The general consensus about this, Spiritualized’s seventh to date, is that there isn’t one, there are just as many folks out there ready to pour cold water over Jason Pierce’s endeavours as those keen to buoy him up on his psyched space-rock journey. But that’s sort of the point as Pierce, much like all the maverick outfits that seem to exist despite trends (Velvet’s, Big Star ect.), he just does what he does and enough people love it to ensure he continues to pay the bills. Whether or not this is a great Spiritiualized album depends very much on how you feel about the band. Personally I love ‘em, and this is right up there with his best.
Ruby Palmer

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Mark Stewart
Politics Of Envy (Future Noise Music)

Mark StewartFounder member of The Pop Group, industrial racket pioneer and influential reggae/punk stalwart Mark Stewart’s anarchic agitpop career to date has hit many high points – not many commercial ones mind – and The Politics Of Envy is right up there with his finest, a sprawling post-punk, industrial dub mash-up topped with his trademark discordant bellowing and some inspired guest slots, including Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry on the sphincter worrying ‘Gang War’, Keith Levene scattering PiL-esque guitar shards all over ‘Stereotype’ and the Richard Hell link up on ‘Vanity Kills’. He’s still unlikely to sell much but this really should be in your collection.
Drew Bass

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David Sylvian
A Victim of Stars, 1982-2012 (Virgin)

David SylvianOpinions remain firmly divided on Sylvian’s most recent solo album, the largely improvised Manafon (critics loved it many fans did not), but as been noted elsewhere Sylvian is now in that rarefied zone occupied by the likes of Scott Walker wherein he can pretty much do whatever the hell he pleases and still sell enough to pay the mortgage. This is not the first DS compilation (only one new song ‘Where’s Your Gravity’ for long term fans), but it is a pretty comprehensive summation of his post-Japan career encompassing the early, more accessible, if still wildly un-commercial, hits right up to the more challenging later material.
The Oracle

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Simple Minds
X5 Boxset (Virgin)

Simple Minds Never the coolest of bands back in the day, yet most people, when pressed, will admit to having at least one SM album in their collection and the truth is they were actually hugely influential and this box (five albums, six discs Sons And Fascination and Sister Feelings Call originally being released together) collects the albums up to and including their breakthrough set New Gold Dream.... The uninitiated should head straight for the experi-mental Real To Real Cacophony and dance tinged Empires And Dance, both genuinely terrific albums, and of course New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) remains a genuine classic slice of dance rock.
Ray Harper

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Joseph Sullinger
Earth Voyage (Soundship Music)

Joseph SullingerWhen someone tells to you that an album is ‘easy listening’ what are your first thoughts? I know for me it immediately conjures up the sort of dreadful tosh you might hear wandering around a supermarket but, as with all musical styles, there is good and bad in everything and this genuinely lovely collection of Latin flavoured acoustic guitar and orchestra chilled easy listening definitely falls into the former camp. This is exactly tthe sort of music you can imagine sound-tracking your sailing holiday in the Greek Islands, but would work equally well with a glass of wine in front of a roaring fire on a winters evening.
Raft Thong

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System 7
Up (A-Wave)

System 7Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy's tenth studio album (not including their Mirror System project, mix and compilation albums), and the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke…’ immediately springs to mind as those gorgeous keyboard washes and glissando guitar textures are once again front and centre all underpinned by a glow stick shaking techno thunk. But this is no exercise in retro as the acidic clonk of ‘Funky Gong’ and the euphoric trance workout ‘Plasmatic Park’ both come complete with metal riffage breakdowns and the collaborations with A Guy Called Gerald draws on the spirit of Gerald’s recent exploratory Berlin Sessions.
Drew Bass

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Slash
Made In Stoke 24/07/11 (Eagle Records)

SlashAs indeed young Saul Hudson was - raised by his dad his Grandma and his Grandpa in Stoke before decamping to the US when he was five - this live set draws from his entire repertoire including G'n'R, Velvet Revolver and solo material and is available in 2xCD DVD and Blu-ray versions, proving young Mr Hudson, aside from having an unruly thatch of curls and a nifty line in titfers is actually a rather fine guitarist – check out the ‘Godfather Solo’ section for nimble finger-work that is easily the equal of all your Via’s, Satriani’s and Halens’ and the closing half dozen numbers leave you wishing you were actually there on the night.
Ray Harper

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Stratovarious
Intermission (earMUSIC)

StratovariousWhether or not you will be hoping santa pops a copy of this in your sock for xmas will depend very much on whether your musical taste is for symphonic metal or not - check your record collection, is there any Gamma Ray, Nightwish or Helloween to be found? Then you’re gonna want to check this out. For the uninitiated symphonic metal is a sort of everything but the kitchen sink power metal and this selection of unreleased tracks and outtakes will certainly be lapped up by the faithful and includes cover versions of Rainbow’s ‘Kill The King’ and Judas Priests ‘Bloodstone’ alongside demo’s, live tracks and rare cuts.
Ray Harper

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She & Him
A Very She & Him Christmas (Domino)

She & Him You’re likely to be seeing rather a lot of Zooey Deschanel (one half of She & Him with prolific indie folker M Ward) in the new year, what with her new hit comedy series New Girl due on the goggle box in the UK in January and her starring role as notorious groupie Pamela Des Barres in HBO series I’m With The Band: Confessions Of A Groupie, but that is still to come, now we have this little xmas pressie form the band featuring a selection of Christmas songs aimed squarely at sound-tracking a cosy night in front of a roaring log fire, no huge surprises but an engaging enough way to chill out.
Raft Thong

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The Smashing Pumpkins
Siamese Dream [Box set](Virgin)

The Smashing Pumpkins Unlike most of the other alt-rockers that arrived in the early ‘90s The Smashing Pumpkins made no pretence of any punk rock roots, their epic riffage and huge choruses aimed squarely at big sheds rather than sweaty clubs. The band’s debut effort Gish (also re-released in expanded form), was a decent enough statement of intent but it was follow up Siamese Dream that really hit the sweet spot boasting great big churning, grungy, overloaded guitars as Billy Corgan (who plays pretty much everything on here bar the drums), aided and abetted by grunge producer du jour Butch Vig, fully realised his vision with no little style.
Ruby Palmer

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Slow Electric
Slow Electric (Panegyric)

Slow ElectricSeldom does a band name so perfectly encompass the music they create, as Slow Electric’s muse seldom breaks into more than a gentle lope. Not that this is a problem, especially given that most people stumping up for this will already be aware of Tim Bowness engrossing No-Man side-project with Steve Wilson and Peter Chilvers work with Brian Eno (and possibly even their work in post-rock proggers Henry Fool), these are not men afraid to press the ‘ambient’ button. Estonian experimental types Aleksai Saks and Robert Jürjendal add understated jazzy flourishes to the proceedings and Tony Levin guests at the bottom end of things.
Paul Riley

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Slade
Sladest (Salvo)

SladeAll you need to know about Sladest… Five number one’s; ‘Coz I Luv You’, ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’, ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’, ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ and ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me’ plus ‘Gudbuy T’Jane’ (kept off the top slot by Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-A-Ling’), ‘Look Wot You Dun’, ‘Get Down And Get With It’ plus six more crackers - now expanded to ten more crackers, including a previously unreleased version of live favourite ‘Hear Me Calling’. OK, it was a best of compilation, but rounding up the best of Slade at that point (1973), pretty much captured the band at the pinnacle of their game.
Ray Harper

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Grace Slick
Manhole (Retroworld)

Grace SlickThe first solo outing by the Jefferson Airplane’s vocalist Grace Slick, originally recorded in 1974 whilst Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were on Hot Tuna duty and the collective were in major flux, and whilst the album features more or less all of, the far more commercial prospect, Jefferson Starship, this is very much the tail end of the Airplane’s more, erm, indulgent period featuring fifteen minute orchestrated psychedelic wig-outs alongside straight forward bluesy belters and finds Slick in very fine voice indeed, not perhaps for the uninitiated but certainly something any Airplane/ Starship aficionado will want to add to their collection.
Ray Harper

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Samiyam
Sam Baker's Album (Brainfeeder)

Samiyam An album full of hip hop beats without any actual vocalising may sound unlikely to engage the attention for long but that would presuppose that the hip hop you listen to currently revolves around the same old recycled breaks you hear pretty much everywhere, breaks Sam Baker has no interest in whatsoever. Like another fine recent release by Zomby, Baker is also akin to one of those big bomber bumble bees searching for pollen in that he regularly alights on a theme only to discard it before the two minute mark and then head off in another direction entirely. File under ‘distinctly woozy and endearingly offbeat’.
Drew Bass

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Sebadoh
Bakesale (Domino)

Sebadoh Reissue of the month, hands down, Bakesale being the first Sebadoh album not to feature founding member Eric Gaffney which, possibly in consequence, became their most accessible album to that date (1994) as Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein knuckled down and came up with a super strong set of songs, which still remain the bands high water mark – although this writer cannot actually think of a bad Sebadoh album. Simply put Bakesale is one of those ‘all killer, no filler’ chappies and whilst it retains much of the lo-fi scrappiness Sebadoh fans love it’s positively heaving with gleaming pop nuggets.
The Oracle

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Six Organs of Admittance
Asleep on the Floodplain (Drag City)

Six Organs of Admittance Ben Chasny, for Six Organs is he, cuts loose with his fifth album for Drag City since 2005, and, after recent more collaborative efforts returns to his bedroom studio (well, we like to think of him in his bedroom but it might be a garage) for more of his trademark drone laden lo-fi psychedelic alt-folk strummery. Often mentioned alongside Devendra Banhart and Iron & Wine Chasny is in fact a far more adventurous kettle of fish, and therein lies his (or his record companies) problem, as it’s nie on impossible to neatly slot him into a suitable genre, do yourself a favour and check him out, you won’t be disappointed.
Raft Thong

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Swans
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (Young God Records)

SwansMichael Gira’s newly reformed Swans – sadly without ice maiden Jarboe – hints at stratospheric contents and does not disappoint. Gira insists this is the new shit and not some shabby old cash cow, but fans of old need fear not, as the Swans continue to veer wildly between gentle ‘beckon-you-in’ passages, wild eyed preacher testifying and sonic bedlam and you just know you are in Swans territory when ‘You Fucking People Make Me Sick’ kicks off with what sounds like an undulating Jews harp which then morphs into the vocals of Devendra Banhart and Gira's three-year-old daughter and thence on into ear shattering bloody racket.
Ray Harper

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Sandy Denny
Sandy Denny [Boxset] (Island/UMC)

Sandy DennySo exactly how much Sandy Denny is too much? Well apparently not 19 CD’s worth as that’s exactly what we have here and whilst not everything is essential it is essential to the story of her career, told here from her earliest recordings, through her work with The Strawbs, The Fairport’s and Fotheringay, and onto her hit and miss solo career and featuring all the classics and lashings of unreleased tracks (including some totally new material) all collected in a truly magnificent box set loaded with collectable extras, which simply reinforces the fact that Denny had the most beautiful voice and is a huge, huge loss.
Ray Harper

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Soft Boys
Underwater moonlight (Yep Roc)

Soft BoysIf ever a band were decidedly out of time it was the Soft Boys, trading in intelligent and humorous melodic rock music with (very) early Pink Floydian leanings when everybody else was gobbing at each other and filching their mums dustbin liners and safety pins. Main Soft Boy Robyn Hitchcock insists that 'Big Star and us were the rickety bridge between the Byrds and REM' and he’s not far wrong. Comes with an astonishing thirty bonus tracks - like Domino’s hugely expanded Pavement re-releases - featuring numerous little gems that really did need digging up (also released in expanded format is debut album Can Of Bees).
Ruby Palmer

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The Squire of Gothos
We Do Scorpion Things (Rag & Bone)

The Squire of GothosFans of Star Trek may recognise the name but that’s where any delusions of familiarity grind to a halt as Sheffield based Big Al and Titch stitch together pretty much whatever the hell they want to create a ludicrously multicoloured and misshapen rave-dubstep wooly jumper. Not unlike the bastard sons of Bentley Rhythm Ace had they been steeped in nosebleed drum and bass rather than car boot sales, basically The Squires… debut album is just too much to take in first time around, but repeats listens can make your eyes bleed and it also caused one of my goldfish to explode (RIP Clifford), so caution is advised.
Drew Bass

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Saint Etienne
Tales From Turnpike House: Deluxe Edition (Heavenly/UMC)

Saint EtiennePart of the ongoing re-issue series Tales From A Turnpike House finds the Et’s in concept album mode - a fictional Islington high rise whose residents provide the characters for the songs – marrying bleak urban inner-city tales to Beach Boy-esque harmonies and their trademark upbeat pop (the Et’s had no truck with the rubbishing of pop music and actively embraced the genre), hell they even resurrect the much maligned David Essex for a duet with Sarah Cracknell on ‘Relocate’, which is no bad thing and the extra disc is well worth a listen with no less than eight previously unreleased tracks.
Ruby Palmer

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Supertramp
Breakfast In America: Deluxe Edition (A&M/Polydor)

Supertramp Let’s be honest here, Supertramp are about as cool a name to drop as Pam Ayers, and their brand of melodic AOR is as fondly remembered as Andrew Gold or Loggins and Messina. Hopefully this reissue will address this as it proves the guys were actually rather nifty with a tune and this (their sixth) album was loaded with ‘em, including the hit singles ‘The Logical Song’, ‘Take The Long Way Home’, ‘Breakfast In America’ and ‘Goodbye Stranger’ and now includes a second disc, Breakfast Around The World, containing 12 previously unreleased live recordings from Miami, London and Paris recorded between October and December 1979.
Ray Harper

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Squeeze
Spot the Difference (Love Records)

Squeeze By the band’s own admission, the starting point for Spot the Difference was more practical than creative. Apparently unable to license recordings from their old, major label, Squeeze were concerned about losing out on potentially vital advertising revenue, hence the move to produce credible recreations of 14 of their very finest moments. But from a sterling ‘Another Nail In My Heart’ to an astonishingly accurate retread of ‘Tempted’, Spot the Difference is also a timely reaffirmation of the Difford/Tilbrook songbook, whetting the appetite nicely for next year’s album of new material – the first since 1998’s Domino.
David Davies

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Judge Smith
Curly's Airships: A Songstory By Judge Smith (Masters Of Art)

Judge Smith How do you begin to review Curly's Airships? The work of Van der Graaf Generator’s Judge Smith - originally released in 2000 - a double CD featuring 18 performers documenting the events leading up to and including the fatal crash of the world's biggest airship, the R101 on its maiden voyage to India in 1930. With over two hours of music and words (lot’s and lot's of words) Curly’s Airships was six years in the making and can loosely be described as a rock opera (although Smith prefers ‘Songstory’), but in truth that description really doesn’t prepare you for the truly phenomenal size and scope of this remarkable project.
Ray Harper

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Scorpions
Sting In The Tail (Sony Music)

ScorpionsIn a genre dripping in the most asinine lyrical nonsense this side of a Tourette sufferer's poetry convention the Scorpions still regularly managed to smack-gobs (opening track ‘Raised On Rock’ finds vocalist Klaus Meine both ‘born in a hurricane AND ‘out of control just like a runaway train’, cripes!), but let's not be too cynical here - English is their second language after all – as this is apparently the last ever Scorpions album, and if you enjoy their melodic arena rocking ‘sturm und drang’ you will love tracks like ‘Let’s Rock’ and ‘Spirit Of Rock’ and they even end on a big old ballad entitled ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ cheeky blighters.
Ray Harper

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Slapp Happy
Live In Japan – May 2000 (Voiceprint)

Slapp HappyFor the uninitiated Slapp Happy are a German/British conglomeration formed in 1972, featuring Anthony Moore (keyboards), Peter Blegvad (guitar) and Dagmar Krause (vocals) who worked with Faust and then found themselves part of the Virgin Records promoted Henry Cow set-up when they moved to the UK in 1974. This live album, performed without any backing musicians, is a very stripped back acoustic affair with material drawn from all four of their studio albums - Sort Of, Slapp Happy/Acnalbasac Noom, Desperate Straights and Ça Va – and is a very accessible way to aquaint yourself with their, often very beautiful, music.
The Oracle

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Slade
Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade Party Hits (U.M.T.V.)

Slade Alright so Slade compilations are about as rare as air molecules and this is, without doubt, a proper blatant Christmas cash in. However accusing one of the most commercial bands ever – and lest we forget Slade notched up 23 Top 20 singles (including six No 1’s) – of being, erm, commercial is frankly daft. So Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade Party Hits loads of hits, including ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’, ‘C’mon Feel The Noize’, ‘Coz I Love You’, 'Skweeze Me Pleeze Me' and (this was the clincher for us) the ‘Okey Cokey’. If you don’t have any Slade, this is as good a starting place as any.
The Oracle

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Show Of Hands
Arrogance Ignorance and Greed (Hands On Music)

Show Of HandsThe latest album from folk duo Steve Knightley and Phil Beer (the folk in question here being the aggressive documenters of topical issues type, rather than the worthy but bland pap that often passes for folk) with a raft of guests and plenty of trademark Knightly spleen in evidence on tracks like ‘IED’, ‘Napoli’ and the title track. A couple of fine old traditional songs are dusted down and reinvigorated (in particular The ‘Keys Of Canterbury’), alongside Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel covers, but it’s Knightley’s fine song-writing skills – and of course Beer’s astonishing musicianship - which really hit the spot.
Ray Harper

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The Slits
Cut (Island)

The SlitsYou might think that re-mastering and expanding something as primal and DIY as Cut makes about as much sense as buffing up a ball of dung but this exercise works particularly well as the remastering not only beautifully polishes Dennis Bovell's production but we also get glimpses of the band before Budgie replaced the enthusiastic but limited Palmolive and also some really great Peel Sessions. As the band became more musically proficient they would progressively make less interesting music but on Cut they had no notion of their limitations and in consequence created a truly remarkable album.
Ruby Palmer

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David Sylvian
Manafon (Samadhi Sound)

David SylvianAs various unspecified, unsettling noises usher Manafon into life, your first thought may be that this time David Sylvian has gone too far. His last, 2003’s Blemish, was often extraordinary but made for profoundly uneasy listening. This latest album moves Sylvian’s new sculpted improvisation modus operandi on one stage further, and it takes at least two listens before it makes any real sense. Over time, however, Manafon’s spidery soundworld begins to reveal moments of beauty – from the soaring vocal melody of ‘Small Metal Gods’ to the spine-tingling, Evan Parker-assisted instrumental section of ‘Emily Dickinson’. Definitely worth the effort.
David Davies

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Spinal Tap
Back From The Dead (Essential)

Spinal TapHoused (if you get the ‘special edition’ and you should) in the most ludicrous pop up cover since The Monty Python Instant Record Collection which actually impedes access to the discs contained therein, Back From The Dead revisits older material like ‘Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight’ and ‘Hell Hole’, reworks classics like ‘Sex Farm’ and ‘(Listen To The) Flower People’ - in suitably wince inducing funk and reggae stylee - alongside newer material and lost classics like 'Jazz Oddyssey' [sic] the perfect addition to the newly re-released DVD in fact. Altogether now 'big bottom, big bottom, talk about mud flaps my girls got ‘em'.
Ray Harper

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The Scaramanga Six
Songs Of Prey (Wrath)

The Scaramanga SixThe last time The Scaramanga Six found their way onto the old wind up gramophone here at TM-Towers names like Scott Walker, Rocket From The Crypt, The Dawn Of The Replicants and Half Man Half Biscuit were bandied about, we also apparently reckoned they could best be described as punk-prog. So has much changed? Well not really, although their way with a chorus, not at all shabby before now, has get even better and if there’s been a neater slice of riff-driven pop than I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today’ released this year we must have missed it. They remain a wilful outfit, but one you really should embrace.
Ruby Palmer

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Bruce Springsteen
Working On A Dream (Columbia)

Bruce SpringsteenHas the approach of a landmark birthday – Bruce will be 60 in September – reawakened The Boss’s creative dynamism? In the ‘80s and ‘90s, an album every three or four years was the general norm, but since 2000 it’s been more like one every 12 months. Still, there is no cause for complaint when the new releases are as strong and consistently fine as Working On A Dream. In many ways an uplifting ‘sister’ album to 2007’s Magic – also produced by Pearl Jam and AC/DC studio guru Brendan O’Brien – this latest set mixes straightforward arena pop with close-mic’d acoustic interludes to impressive effect.
David Davies.

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Secret Machine
Secret Machines (TSM Recordings)

Secret MachineIan Hunter once told this writer that Mott The Hoople’s success was down to their record companies support through the early, less chart bothering, years, something that simply doesn't happen nowadays as after one cracking debut and one slightly less focussed follow up Secret Machines found themselves cast adrift from Reprise. They then lost guitarist Benjamin Curtis. Things looked decidedly dodgy. Fortunately for those of us that love to watch major labels getting it horribly wrong the guys just dug in, recruited Phil Kamats, found a new label and then recorded their finest slab of proggy space-rock to date. Hurrah!!
Ruby Palmer

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Rod Stewart
Some Guys Have All The Luck (Warner)

Jackson BrowneAlright so he turned into a bit of a berk (no I don’t think you’re sexy you cradle snatching old perv), and insisted on ruining perfectly good Tom Waits songs – here he slaughters both 'Tom Traubert’s Blues' and 'Downtown Train' – but back in the day, both solo and with his idiotically ramshackle outfit the Faces, he sounded the very epitome of sandpapered soul, and in consequence ‘Maggie May’, ‘Mandolin Wind’, ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ (complete with the baggiest start to a track you will ever hear bar none) and ‘You Wear It Well’ still sound as fresh as they did the day they were recorded. Get the three disc edition and you also get rare videos.
Ray Harper

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Silver Jews
Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)

Silver Jews One of the lo-fi, alt-coutry scenes major unsung talents, David Berman’s Silver Jews have always been a vehicle for his reflective brand of sardonic humour and abstract, reflective lyrics, all delivered in that warm, deep, slightly off-key vocal - a fact reflected in that he's the only constant in a band onto it’s sixth album, whilst boasting twenty five previous members. Compared to career highligh American Water (’98), this stands up well (if lacking the sonic template supplied on that album by Steve Malkmus). Berman attempted suicide in 2003, let’s hope this, generally upbeat, album means he will now not be leaving us anytime soon.
Ruby Palmer

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Spiritualized
Songs In A&E (Universal/Spaceman)

SpiritualizedThose of you looking for the feedback drenched white noise of career highlight Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (’97) may possibly be disappointed by the sheer harmonic accessibility of Songs In A&E but bear with it as there is much to love here, and if Jason Pierce doesn’t really have the necessary vocal presence to warrant its prominence in the mix, he definitely has the song writing skills necessary to create stand out tracks like ‘Death Take Your Fiddle’. Oh, and if you’re looking for insights into his near death bout of pneumonia in 2005 don’t, pretty much everything here was written prior to the illness.
Ruby Palmer

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Skyphone
Avellaneda (Rune Grammofon)

SkyphoneThe second album by Thomas Holst, Keld Dam Schmidt and Mads Bødker (their first, Fabula, was released in 2004), Avellaneda’s ambient mix of traditional instruments, glitchy electronica, cyclical classical passages and folk will be immediately appealing to anyone who likes their music both angular and chilled, and will definitely appeal to admirers of bands like amiina and Efterklang. Ambient music’s reputation has taken a battering over the last decade, so it’s great to see bands like Skyphone reclaiming this much maligned genre and giving it a much needed shot in the arm. Lush, slightly skewed and altogether beautiful.
Drew Bass

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Subtle
ExitingARM (Lex)

SubtleOne problem with reviewing huge great wobbly piles of CD’s in short order is that less immediate albums regularly get overlooked and don’t actually register until it’s often too late. Enter Subtle. This has been out for a little while now but if you haven’t heard it yet do yourself a favour and do so. Imagine, if you can, a melding of the Beta Bands loose genre mashing psychedelia, Parliament Funkadelic’s groove driven ‘fonk’, a more than passing acquaintance with the clanking glitchy end of electronica and definite collective ear for what’s catchy and what’s eyebrow hiking. Doesn’t sound ‘subtle’ at all does it? And yet...
Drew Bass

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Sebadoh
Bubble And Scrape (Domino)

SebadohOriginally founded by Lou Barlow - after being ignominiously chucked out of Dinosaur Jr - and Eric Gaffney as an excuse to fanny about with found sounds, tape hiss and then glue the ensuing mess together with some rather spectacular songs this, their fourth studio album would be the last to feature Gaffney (which in turn allowed for the full flowering of the song-writing talents of Jason Loewenstein on follow up Bakesale), Bubble And Scrape mashes up gentle balladry with in your face racket and downright mental stuff and was the first real sign that Sebadoh were a proper band rather than a glorified side project.
Ruby Palmer

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South San Gabriel/Centro-matic
Dual Hawks (Cooking Vinyl)

South San Gabriel/Centro-maticOn the face of it a double album by two different bands but in fact both outfits are based around the ludicrously prolific Will Johnson (he also writes and records solo) and core members Matt Pence, Scott Danbom and Mark Hedman, Centro-matic being the noisier, rockier incarnation, South San Central the more introspective and subdued. Sounding not unlike Uncle Tupelo crossed with, the now sadly demised, Granddaddy, the Centro-matic CD is the most immediately accessible, clattering along in fine old style, but it’s actually the South San Gabriel CD that intrigues the most, revealing more layers each time it’s played.
Ruby Palmer

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The Specials
The Best Of The Specials (Chrysalis)

The SpecialsThe short, and volatile, career of the Specials is an object lesson in getting it wrong, but whilst they headed for meltdown almost as soon as they finished their debut album, they also pumped out some gloriously incendiary punky ska which made you dance like a monkey man whether you ‘got’ the message or not. Very few bands fall to pieces just as their finest moment (the eerily prophetic ‘Ghost Town’) hits the number one slot, but that’s exactly what The Specials did, and whilst Mk II, The Special AKA, had their moments (the massive ‘Nelson Mandela’) it was all over before it had really begun.
Ray Harper

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Show Of Hands
Roots – The Best Of Show Of Hands (Hands On)

Show Of HandsWe are possibly running the risk of repeating ourselves here but Show Of Hands really are one of the UK’s finest bands, and whilst you will doubtless find their albums in the folk music section in one of our few remaining UK record shops if they had been born in Ireland, the US or Canada they would have been found in the same section as Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and Neil Young. Intelligent, thought provoking music which you can dance to? Sounds bloody good to us, and this ‘best of...’, with a second CD of tracks cherry picked by their fans, is an excellent starting place for SOH newbies.
Ray Harper

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Stereo MCs
Live At The BBC (Universal)

Stereo MCsEssentially a one-trick-pony The Stereo MCs insisted they ‘didn’t want to repeat themselves’ after massive hit album Connected in 1992 and then took almost a decade to release follow up Deep Down And Dirty which was basically Connected-lite. That said their one trick, spliffed up hip hop for rock fans, is a pretty damn good one as this collection of BBC sessions proves, the live material from the early ‘90s loping straight into that patented low slung groove which still taps straight into whatever part of your brain makes your arse move. Don’t go expecting a second coming, but the first is still worth celebrating.
Drew Bass

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Ed Solo & Skool Of Thought
Random Acts Of Kindness (Against the Grain)

Ed Solo & Skool Of ThoughtIf acts like Pinch and Burial take dub down dark alleys and duff it up a bit and artists like Ticklah inject authentic roots reality into Latin rhythms then Ed Solo & Skool Of Thought take the woobier end of the reggae bass spectrum into brightly-lit, funky, nightclubs and do one of those rude, hip grinding, dances with it over pulsating break-beats. It’s hard to remember when reggae has been so alive and well and helping drive so many different musical styles. This swings from toasting sound-system vibes to high speed drum and bass clatter and from old skool hip hop to bowel loosening acid squelches.
Drew Bass

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Bruce Springsteen
Magic (Columbia)

Bruce Springsteen While there’s no denying the sheer rollicking energy of the Sessions Band – the 18-strong ensemble that featured on Springsteen’s last studio effort, We Shall Overcome – Bruce is nearly always at his most powerful in the company of the E Street Band. Reunited for the first time on record since 2002’s The Rising, they adorn, infuse and fuel the Boss’s most consistent collection this side of Tunnel of Love. Careering into life with ‘Radio Nowhere’, Magic – brilliantly produced by Brendan O’Brien – contrasts anthemic melodies (‘Your Own Worst Enemy’) with moments of genuine pathos (‘Devil’s Arcade’). In short: a blast from start to finish.


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Stephen Stills
Just Roll Tape (Rhino)

Stephen Stills It’s 1968, and having just divested himself of the Buffalo Springfield Stills, with current girlfriend Judy Collins, finds himself at a loose end in a New York recording studio, fishes a few hundred dollars out of his pocket, slaps it on the desk, and tells the engineer to “just roll tape”. The results would eventually find their way onto CSN recordings and solo albums (although ‘All I Know Is What You Tell Me’, ‘The Doctor Will See You Now’, ‘Judy’ and ‘Dreaming of Snakes’ can only be found here). A touch rough around the edges this is nonetheless a fascinating glimpse of Stills just prior to his success with CSN.


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Spoon
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Anti-)

SpoonThe sixth album from Austin-based indie rockers Spoon (named after the Can song of the same name fact fans) this has been doing very nicely indeed thank you in the US - debuting at number 10 on the Billboard 200 and number 1 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums, selling 46,000 copies in its first week – possibly due to it’s confident step beyond their earlier, rather darker, Wire inspired roots into an altogether lighter, more radio friendly, sun dappled clearing. Old Spoon fans need not fear tho’ as the more commercial Spoon deal in well constructed angular spiky pop rather than the more anodyne kind.


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Elliot Smith
New Moon (Domino)

Elliot SmithDouble Disc collection dug from the nether regions of Smith's producer and buddy Larry Crane’s tape cupboard, but be warned we are in seriously gloomy territory here - not that Smith was ever a contender for Kid Rock’s party boy crown when he was alive - and if nothing else some of these early demos prove Crane lightened Smith up considerably. If you have yet to experience Smith you’d be best to start with Either/Or but if you’re already a fan then you will find some hidden gems, some fascinating demo versions of better known Smiths-onia and some revealing cover versions amongst all the odds and sods.


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Shining
Grindstone (Rune Grammafon)

ShiningThe brainchild of Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Jergen Munkeby Shining can best be pigeonholed as hardcore jazz musique concrète, which clearly means nothing at all but at least gives us a kicking off point for an album which lurches between high speed riffage, convoluted time signatures, ambient ullulations and outright noise. The nearest relatives would be King Crimson, The Mars Volta, Ministry, early Soft Machine and Last Exit era Peter Brötzmann, but these are distant cousins and you really do need to check this out if any of the above get your juices flowing, and anyone who calls a song ‘-... .- -.-. ....’ is alright in our book.


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Sly & Robbie
Strictly Drum And Bass (Trojan)

Sly & Robbie Reggae’s premier rhythm section traced from their first ever cuts (‘Night Doctor’ and ‘I’ll Be Back’) through a positive who’s who of Jamaican vocal talents. How many other rhythm sections can boast a CV that starts out on reggae classic’s like Dave & Ansel Collins ‘Double Barrel’ and work with the likes of Peter Tosh and The Upsetters before clocking up studio time with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Ian Dury, Serge Gainsbourg, Sinead O’Connor and Herbie Hancock? None that’s how many, and this 21 track overview of the tight but fluid rhythms which have made them such an in demand duo captures the reason wonderfully.


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The Stooges
The Weirdness (Virgin)

The Stooges Having formed and imploded over four chaotic years at the arse end of the 60s leaving the world three classic slices of dumb-ass garage rock and the blueprint for punk, it was always a concern that Iggy and Co. may be pissing on their blessed place in pop history when the Stooges announced their fourth album was due for release almost forty years after their first. Fear not, with the master of ‘point the mic and hit the record button’ production, Steve Albini, at the desk and twelve suitably gonzo slices of Stooges ramalama in the can this sounds exactly like you would hope, with Iggy in particularly perverse lyrical form.


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Al Stewart
Love Chronicles (Collectors Choice)

Al StewartGlasgow born Al Stewart may well be best known for his Alan Parsons-produced, ‘Year Of The Cat’ (’76) hit, but he had been beavering away at the old singer songwriter lark for over a decade before his big breakthrough and this expanded version of his second release - featuring the talents of Fairport Convention and Jimmy Page on backing duties - prove that his early psychedelic folkie years are well worth re-exploration, especially given the lack of attention it was afforded the first time around (not helped on the promotion front by the inclusion of possibly the first ever use of the naughty F word on record).


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The Scaramanga Six
The Dance Of Death (Wrath)

The Scaramanga SixAh the joys of stumbling across something that, on initial listens, sounds not unlike Frank Zappa, Scott Walker, Todd Rundgren, Rocket From The Crypt and The Dawn Of The Replicants all playing at once. Subsequent listens reveal ‘60s torch song balladry underpinned by surf-metal riffage and Half Man Half Biscuit quality lyrics, but if you’re gonna insist on a irritating little box to squeeze ‘em into the best we can manage is (oh lordy this is gonna come back to haunt us), punk-prog! They’re way too wilful to be massive, but music this wildly inventive deserves to pay the rent. Buy it and help ‘em out.


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Saso
The Middle Ages (Melted Snow)

SasoYou can’t really imagine a more appropriate record company name than ‘Melted Snow’ for the release of this third album from Saso (indeed, it’s the band’s own label). Atmospheric, alternately discreet or soaring, and occasionally feeling rather chillier than an Alaskan winter – in a thoroughly good way, mind – The Middle Ages variously recalls Elbow, Doves, Harold Budd and much-missed Talk Talk spin-off project Orang. There are becalmed instrumentals and oddly affecting songs which, cumulatively, give the impression of a band now finding its own place in crowded ambient/soundscape territory. Mood(-altering) music of a very high order.

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Soft Machine
Third (Sony/BMG)

Soft MachineThe first in a raft of releases (including Fourth, Fifth, Six and Seven), but the last to feature the dulcet tones of Robert Wyatt – although he can still be found pounding things on Fourth which began their run of vocal free albums. This is also the one with the best bonus selection, a whole extra CD of live gubbins from a 1970 BBC session at the Royal Albert Hall. Originally a double album with one, roughly twenty minute, track per side, cut mainly from the same cloth as Miles Davis extraordinary Bitches Brew (also released in 1970), if you are looking for a starting point to explore Soft Machine this is it.


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Seagull Strange
Better Angels Of Our Nature (Shifty Disco)

Seagull Strange Flicking through their MySpace page brings up a long list of comparisons from REM, Eels, Placebo and Mercury Rev to Muse which if nothing else prove most reviewers are still struggling to put their finger on what Seagull Strange actually sound like. This however is a good thing as sounding like someone else is, well a bit shit frankly. So what do they sound like? Well suffice it to say there are tiny elements of all the above but this is really muscular pop, with thoughtful lyrics, proper choruses, some crunching guitars and, in Dan Telling (formerly one half of King Louis), a front-man of no little charisma and talent.


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Skygreen Leopards
Disciples Of California (Jagjagwar)

Skygreen LeopardsPreviously known, by people that know such things, as a duo who released numerous CD-Rs and preferred to record their albums al-fresco, Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn have now been joined by a rhythm section – the wonderfully named Jasmyn Wong and Shayde Sartin – and retreated indoors for their fourth album proper. Imagine a woozy folkified Primal Scream or languid countrified Big Star with a religious imagery obsession (titles include ‘William And The Sacred Hammer’, ‘Golden Pilgrim’ and ‘Jesus Was Californian’, which we’re not at all sure is true) and you’re in the general area.


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Squarepusher
Hello Everything (Warp)

SquarepusherPossibly the most naturally gifted musician to have emerged from the acid fried end of the drum and bass scene Tom Jenkinson has been confounding and delighting listeners in equal parts for well over a decade now - mixing pulse racing break-beats, mind bending jazz chops and occasionally patience testing electronic musique concrète into an unholy melange of outsider electronica. His tenth album is the most consistently listenable album he has recorded since Hard Normal Daddy, reigning in his wilfully contradictory nature long enough to create a wholly listenable, if still ‘out-there’ set of tunes. He finally sounds like a man having fun.


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Bruce Springsteen
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia)

Bruce SpringsteenSubtitled American Land Edition this newly expanded release goes even further than the two disc Special Edition release expanding both the CD and DVD sections with a further five audio tracks and four live video tracks. Whether it’s worth it to those who have already stumped up for the Special Edition remains to be seen but certainly for those of you yet to take the plunge now is definitely the time with the addition of Springsteen’s impassioned (and revised New Orleans themed) take on ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’, a goosebump inducing ‘Bring ‘Em Home’ and hi-octane Pogues-esque ‘American Land’.


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Sparklehorse
Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain (Capitol)

SparklehorseThose of us that have spent the last nine years waiting for Grandaddy to follow up Under The Western Freeway (yes, I know there have been a further three albums, but none of ‘em were a patch on their debut), rejoice! Grandaddy may no longer be with us but Mark Linkous has crafted the follow up nonetheless (yes, I know this is his fourth studio album, and unlike the ‘Daddy’s all his previous efforts were uniformly excellent, but quite unlike this one). ‘Ghost In The Sky’ aside Linkous gets in touch with his folkier, sometimes dolefully downbeat, sometimes, erm, dolefully upbeat but on the whole it's all quite beautiful, and a complete joy.


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Frank Sinatra
Romance – Songs From The Heart (EMI)

Frank SinatraAnother release which begs the question ‘who the hell is going to buy it’? Surely any genuine fan will have everything here – aside from the usual unreleased carrot, this time a version of Nice ‘n’ Easy. Still let’s assume there is still an untapped Sinatra fan or two left on the planet then what do they get for their dollar? Well, twenty one tracks of prime crooner material really - ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘All The Way’, ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘In The Wee Small Hours...’ ‘Embraceable You’ there’s pretty much nothing here you can argue with, and it’s a better long term bet than that box of chocs you forgot to buy on Valentine's day.


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Sound Team
Movie Monster (Parlophone)

Sound TeamFresh from supporting Arcade Fire and The Walkmen, Sound Team unveil a debut album that, curiously, manages to be both accessible and oblique. Movie Monster boasts the kind of attention to textural detail that suggests Talking Heads and Can might well take up space on the members’ iPods, but the band’s melodic identity is very much its own. The only real drawback is a tracklisting that places the album’s strongest trio of songs – ‘Shattered Glass’, ‘You’ve Never Lived A Day’, ‘Handful of Billions’ – at the close, although this does have the pleasing effect of raising expectations for Album No. 2.


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Regina Spektor
Begin To Hope (Warner Records)

Regina SpektorYet another classy emigre from the New York anti-folk scene, Spektor further muddies the classification pool by including Russian influences from her country of birth, classical influences from her music professor mother, hip hop influences from her adopted home town of the Bronx and a vocal style part Ricky Lee Jones, part Ani DiFranco and part border busting russo-yank. The songwriting is wildly idiosyncratic - Kate Bush and PJ Harvey spring to mind - but given that Spektor grew up in a pre Perestroika Soviet Union and then decamped to the US via Europe perhaps idiosyncratic is the only possible outcome. Definitely one to watch.


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Sex Pistols
Spunk (Castle Music)

Sex PistolsThe first thing to say about Spunk – the legendary bootleg album, featuring Glen Matlock, released in 1977 just prior to the official release Never Mind The Bollocks - is it’s not a patch on the ‘real thing’. That said anyone even remotely interested in the history of the band will find this shambolic collection of early takes on what would become punk classics, like EMI (‘Who Was It’), New York (‘Looking For A Kiss’) and Anarchy In The UK (‘Nookie’), fascinating works in progress. Expanded to include three extra demos , including the bands US tour kiss-off ‘No Fun’ Spunk may not be essential listening but it's entertaining enough and for fans a must.


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Dusty Springfield
Complete A And B Sides (Eclipse/Universal)

Dusty SpringfieldThis is, remarkably enough, the fourth compilation of Dusty Springfield songs released this year, which for an artist who died over six years ago and – aside from a few high profile link ups - didn’t actually see a great deal of chart action outside of the ‘60s is little short of astounding. Whap this in the CD tray though and you are immediately reminded why she is held in such high esteem (especially in northern soul circles), and rightly regarded as one of the finest white soul voices to come out of the UK. Naturally enough the A sides are the draw here but we urge you to head straight for the B sides, you won’t be disappointed.


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Paul Simon
Surprise (Warner Bros)

Paul SimonPaul Simon’s last album, 2000’s underrated You’re the One, was rich in textured soundscapes, so it seems only logical that he has hooked up with Brian Eno for Surprise, his first studio set in six years. While there are a few makeweight tracks here, Simon’s mature songcraft and Eno’s trademark treatments generally combine to strong effect. The approach peaks on ‘Beautiful’ and ‘I Don’t Believe’, which pair considered lyrics with deep-soak sonics. ‘Outrageous’, meanwhile, is Simon’s best straightahead pop song in years, its exasperated narrator musing on an ageing process that finds him “painting my hair the colour of mud” .


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Scritti Politti
White Bread Black Beer (Rough Trade)

Scritti PolittiSeven years after the last Scritti album – 1999’s underrated pop-soul-rap confection Anomie & Bonhomie – Green Gartside has returned to the label where he made his name for a collection that’s often dazzling in its melodic and lyrical ingenuity. Combining the simplicity of early SP with the pop shine of the band’s mid ‘80s peak, White Bread Black Beer is rich in highlights – from opener ‘The Boom Boom Bap’ (chronicling Green’s hip hop obsession), through the Beach Boys-esque ‘Snow In Sun’ to pastoral folk cum glam rock collision ‘Dr Abernathy’. A surprising, delightful album that’s surely one of the year’s best.


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Show Of Hands
Witness (Hands On)

Show Of HandsWith folk music in the UK daily becoming less and less of a dirty fumble in the dark (and what the hell was the thinking behind marginalising our own roots music whilst we celebrated America's anyway? A question posited brilliantly on album highlight 'Roots'), the time is ripe for re-discovering one of our finest folk outfits featuring thought provoking song-writing al la Richard Thompson or Bruce Springsteen, great musical chops and some cool production atmospherics courtesy of Afro Celt’s Simon Emmerson and Mass. In truth there’s nothing to beat seeing these guys live, but this a pretty damn good approximation.


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The Streets
The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living (679)

StreetsAs with many acts Mike Skinner had twenty odd years to write his sparklingly refreshing debut album Original Pirate Material, then barely ten percent of that to craft the less immediate but equally fine ‘concept album’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free. Now two years on and it’s time for the even less immediate ‘be careful what you wish for’ album The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living, dealing with the pitfalls of fame. Of course being The Streets, this isn’t an Eminem whine-athon (poor me, I’m rich and miserable), just more beautifully observed expositions delivered with tongue buried firmly in cheek, the boy's a national treasure.


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Joe Satriani
Super Colossal (Epic)

Joe SatrianiFirst up, are you keen on long guitar solo’s? If not then you’d best skip down the page right now ‘cos this is an hour long guitar solo (well aside for some crowd chanting on, erm, 'Crowd Chant'), albiet split into slow ones, fast ones, funky ones and heavy ones but an album for guitar fanciers nonetheless. Of course chances are if you are a guitar fancier you will already fall into either the ‘man’s a genius’ camp or ‘he plays far too many notes’ camp and will buy/ignore (delete as applicable) Super Colossal no matter what we say, for the uninitiated however few think Jeff Beck rather than Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton.


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Secret Machines
Ten Silver Drops (Warner Bros)

Secret MachinesNoticeably less, erm, tumescent than their critically lauded debut Now Here is Nowhere (oh alright there is one eight minute plus track, but on the whole things clock in around the five minute mark), Ten Silver Drops still clings manfully onto the bands trademark drum driven wall of sound, but there are far more instances of light and shade here, especially on stand out tracks ‘Lightning Blue Eyes’ and ‘Faded Lines’ which both boast beautiful melodic choruses. Next time out hopefully Secret Machines will push the boat out even further, but for now this is far enough away from the shore to keep ‘em afloat.


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Slave To The System
Slave To The System (Spitfire)

Slave To The SystemAny band that can boast a drummer called Scott Rockenfield (ex Queensryche no less) and a bass player called Roman Glick have to have a head start on most wannabe metal outfits, but if it was just muscular nomenclature Slave To The System had going for ‘em the review would end here. Happily the band marry the sort of densely textured rumble beloved of Queens Of The Stone Age to neat Chili Pepper-esque phunk-rock and display a pretty decent ear for a bluesy ballad as well. They’re also not opposed to the odd bout of Maiden style ramalama and recognise a passing chorus when they see it.


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System Of A Down
Hypnotize (American)

System Of A DownMarrying the bug-eyed spittle flecked polemics of the Dead Kennedy’s to the polyrhymic madness of prime time Mothers Of Invention (listen to ‘Vicinity Of Obscenity’ or ‘She’s Like Heroin’ and tell me you can’t hear the ghost of Frank Zappa cackling gleefully), System Of A Down’s second release of the year – Mezmerize being the first instalment in this ‘separated at birth’ double album package – is an imaginative and genuinely exhilarating album showing SOAD to be light years ahead of most of their hardcore kith and kin both lyrically (none of the grunting misogynist bollocks so prevalent in the metal scene here) and musically.


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Santana
All That I Am (Arista)

SantanaOne of the finest guitarists of his, or indeed any other, generation follows the career resurrecting success of the star strewn Supernatural, so it’s perhaps no surprise that this has a bloody huge ‘featuring’ list. The most frustrating aspect of this is that the three strongest tracks here - ‘Hermes’, ‘El Fuego’ and ‘Con Santana’ – are all Carlos and Co. with no high profile vocalists in sight (all the guests tend to sound like, well themselves really, only with a guitar solo), and there are still flashes of classic Santana on show, recalling the days of Abraxas and Caravanserai, lets hope next time out the guest list is a little shorter.

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Silver Jews
Tanglewood Numbers (Drag City)

Silver JewsThe return of the mighty David Berman with easily the best thing he has done since American Water - his link up with Steve Malkmus (who returns to the Jews fold here). Featuring a collection of upbeat, heart-warming ludicrous, funny, confusing and insightful, songs all delivered in that warm’n’lugubrious oft-off-key voice and wrapped in possibly the most accessible musical overcoat Mr Berman has yet constructed. Ballads rub up alongside boisterous rackets, strings are stroked, pianos poked, backing vocals are introduced (yes old time Jew fans, there’s harmony here), and the results are little short of magnificent


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Sigur Rós
Takk (EMI)

Sigur RósThere are those that consider Sigur Rós’ last album ( ) glum and overwrought in comparison with their previous outing Ágætis Byrjun, others, like this writer, believe it to be their finest hour, but whichever side of the fence you occupy this latest Rós album has been a long while coming and very eagerly awaited in consequence. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely, no great change of direction mind – My Bloody Valentine meets Steve Reich beneath choirs of angels paraphrasing the songs of the Cocteau Twins – but then only a fool would mess with such a magnificent, goose-bump inducing racket. Very big and very, very clever


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Show Of Hands
As You Were (Hands On Music)

Show Of Hands So what do you do if the mainstream and rock press consider you too folky and the folk press consider you more Springsteen than Seeger? Well if you’re Show Of Hands you ignore the buggers and carry on regardless writing and recording real English folk music, i.e. music about every day folk – which does not preclude peering into the future whilst bowing to the past, lest we forget the sad Luddites who jeered when Dylan dared pick up an electric guitar. Songwriter Steve Knightley is one of the most seriously underrated lyricists of his generation and Show Of Hand's an astonishingly accomplished band, as this double live set admirably demonstrates

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Simple Minds
Black & White 050505 (Sanctuary)

Simple MindsUnfavourably received in some quarters – although to be fair this has generally been by people who would willingly profess no great love for Kerr, Burchill and Co. – Black & White 050505 is actually a bit of a return to form for the Scot's rockers. Soaring guitars? Check. Widescreen production? Check. Scotland’s answer to Bono in full vocal flow? Check. Songs to match Promise You A Miracle or Don’t You (Forget About Me)? Check. All present and correct in fact, so go on, they may not be cool but bin your prejudices they have just made an album easily as good as the last U2, Coldplay or REM efforts


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Supergrass
Road To Rouen (Parlophone)

SupergrassThey just can’t help themselves can they? Road To Rouen (geddit?), the chopper riding, fag smoking, arch punsters have been at this rock lark for over ten years now and they have still yet to really break through on a scale their music warrants - unlike, say, the Stereophonics who have with far less musical substance. In fact they have yet to release a duff album and this actually raises the bar another notch as they refine their melodic sensibilities, sharpen their lyrical bon mot’s, tighten up their angular rock tendencies and then promptly get all experimental on our collective asses


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Soft Machine
Out-Bloody-Rageous (Sony/BMG)

Soft MachineEncompassing all points from debut single Feelin’ Reelin’ Squeelin’ up to their seventh album (Seven) it’s on the first three, rather playful, albums (featuring Robert Wyatt) that the band were at their incomparable best. Sadly by album four - Wyatt’s departure point – indulgence had become the watchword, so a game of two halves Brian (as persons of a certain age will recall Jimmy Hill saying on Match Of The Day), CD one chock full of fantastic performances, indeed you might say ‘the boys done good’. CD two, on the whole, leaving the listener ‘ sick as a parrot’ [enough with the football analogies already – Ed]


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Bruce Springsteen
Devils & Dust (Columbia)

Bruce SpringsteenAfter the sturm und drang of 2002’s The Rising, Bruce switches back to intimate acoustic mode for an album that's been in gestation for nearly a decade. The title track’s end-of-tether everyman hints at a return to Nebraska-esque character studies, and this early promise is followed through on tales of an awestruck lover (‘Maria’s Bed’) and an ill-fated Mexican immigrant (‘Matamoros Banks’). Best of all is ‘Reno’, whose uncomfortably numb narrator visits a prostitute in a vain attempt to catch emotional echoes of his departed lover. Beautifully performed and arranged throughout, this is Springsteen’s best album since Tunnel of Love.


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Smog
A River Ain’t Too Much To Love (Domino)

SmogFor those of you yet to sample the delights of Bill ‘Smog’ Callahan’s lugubrious, doleful basso profundo vocal skills or indeed his wonderfully poetic way with a lyric then pick this up – and then head for earlier efforts like Dongs of Sevotion and Knock Knock - and you are in for a real treat. Those of you familiar with the Smog back catalogue will doubtless be interested to learn that A River… boasts an expanded armoury of instruments (nothing over the top you understand, things still remain beautifully sparce with just the odd understated piano or violin) and is easily on a par with the albums mentioned above


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Wayne Shorter Quartet
Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve)

Wayne ShorterMake no mistake – Wayne Shorter’s return to the scene in 2001 with a brilliant new quartet heralded one of the true jazz renaissances. With pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Pattitucci and drummer Brian Blade, Shorter is fashioning a kind of ‘chamber jazz’ that simultaneously acknowledges the vibrancy of the music’s past while striving into exciting new territory. Beyond the Sound Barrier is an apt title, then, for a live set that takes in everything from a Mendelssohn composition (On Wings of Song) to a deconstruction of old standard Joy Ryder. It’s music so roomy and open-sounding that you feel you could climb right inside it


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Michelle Shocked
Threesome (Mighty Sound)

Michelle ShockedA game of three, erm, thirds this, frankly mad, treble set from Ms Shocked. Set one, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, is the more recognisably Shocked-esque primarily dealing with her recent (obviously painful) divorce and as a standalone album this certainly ranks alongside her best. Less successful, but still worth a listen is the Latin/ country/blues conflation Mexican Standoff, but less successful still is Got No Strings, a set of re-jigged Disney film tunes which are, in all honesty just plain indulgent. However all three are available as single albums so you can check out the former two thirds without ever encountering the latter


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The Summer Of Mars
Glaciers (Loose)

The Summer Of MarsFormer Vera Cruise compadres Paul Smith and Dave McGowan wear their Lemonhead and Dinosaur Jr influences on their sleeves, and indeed on their CD, the sum of these parts actually sounding not unlike Pavement, marrying thunderous grunge with gentle alt-country ballads, and on the whole it works rather well, Smiths lugubrious vocals sitting happily atop McGowans genre-hopping music. Indeed, repeat listens reveal extra layers missed on first hearing, numerous ideas vying for position and some fine, if rather woebegone lyrics poking around in the atrabilious, less salubrious underbelly of society.


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Stereophonics
Language, Sex, Violence, Other? (V2)

Nick CaveExhibiting something of a return to the ‘old skool’ rock antics of yore (see also Embrace) it appears the post Stuart Cable ‘phonics are keen to get back to basics with a capital B, and that’s doubtless a relief to their legions of admirers ‘cos this is something these Welsh chaps do very well indeed. Kelly Jones is still prone to whingeing - jeez, it must be hard work all that sex, drugs and rock and roll - and the odd classic line like ‘well suck my banana, suck it with cream’ (mmm, nice), but daffy lyrics aside this rocks up a fair old storm and is certainly the best thing they have released in a long, long while.


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SceneS
Call Us At The Number You Provide (Escapi)

SceneSGerman prog-metal might be about as fashionable right now as handbag house or loon pants but there are still legions of fans out there counting the days until the successors to latter day prog-miesters like Spocks Beard get all conceptual on our asses, and if SceneS aren’t really up there at the mad convoluted time change end of the scale they certainly know how to do ‘big’. Imagine a slightly more muscular Demons and Wizards era Uriah Heep or a more melodic version of the early Scorpions and you’re on the right track. Not everyone’s idea of fun but if big, proggy, anthemic metal is your bag then check this out.


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