The Dirty Dozen - February 2009

Two '80s icons crash the party this month, but are they going to embarrass themselves among the fresh-faced indie kids? Nick Mitchell finds out

Feature by Nick Mitchell | 02 Feb 2009

Boy-girl-boy trio Sky Larkin make raw, in-yer-face garage rock, but it feels like there’s something missing from Beelines (***, Out Now). That is, until it dares to go all discordant and nuts in the 30-second outro. As I’ve said before in this here column, the word ‘epic’ gets bandied about far too often these days. The works of Milton or Wagner are perhaps epic; not so the latest Ministry of Sound compilation. Some bands still aim to be ‘epic’ though, such as Future Loop Foundation, whose The Sea And The Sky (***, 2 Feb) is at least approaching the true definition of the word.

On Let Me Be/Take Heart In Your Hope (***, 16 Feb), two ‘reworkings’ of songs from his last album, acoustic singer/songwriter Dan Arborise cleverly taps into an age-old problem for the music critic: it’s impossible to rip into soft, pleasant folk songs without appearing hatefully cynical. And I’m not falling into that trap. Cage the Elephant are young, in-demand and popular, but don’t hold that against them. Back Against The Wall (***, 2 Feb) may be as original as 12-bar blues, but it’s still a cut above the worst indie-by-numbers bands that stalk the darker corners of the Dirty Dozen. Not quite as fresh, but The Datsuns worship at the same rock’n’roll shrine. So Long (***, 16 Feb) is a two-minute, double-speed barrage that's pleasingly DIY, but the same old rockstar grunts and yowls do spoil it a bit.

If listening to Franz Ferdinand is like sipping a champagne-based cocktail in a style bar, then another of Scotland’s biggest bands is the musical equivalent of downing Buckfast in a bus shelter. Yes, The View are back, with their shambolic sound intact, but there’s not much of a song behind Shock Horror (**, 2 Feb). Unlike those Dundonian tykes, the All-American Rejects are, well, too American to be loved on this side of the Atlantic. Gives You Hell (*, 2 Feb) sounds more like a marketing strategy than a song – file in the 'fake rock' drawer next to Panic At The Disco.

On a different script altogether are The 39 Steps. Leeds producer Kato piles scratchy sampling on top of a jazzy hip-hop beat on Coming Clean (***, 2 Feb), which sounds like Four Tet before guest singer Laura Fowles’ silky tones give it more of a Portishead feel. Admit it: you’ve always wanted to know what The Specials fronted by Ian Beale would sound like. Man Like Me will happily realise your dream with Single Dad (***, 2 Feb). It’s brash, dumb, but somehow, almost... likeable?

For Guns 'N' Roses, all the years and dollars spent on Chinese Democracy were not wasted. Better (****, 2 Feb) is – of course - ludicrously overproduced and irony-free, but it still has a heart, and a stomping guitar riff. Now prepare for controversy, or just quality pop romanticism, because Morrissey is back. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris (****, 16 Feb) is as grand as odes to celibacy come: “Only stone and steel accept my love". Nah, we do too Mozza.

February’s Single of the Month is not by Crystal Castles, nor indeed Crystal Antlers, but the latest crystalline-monikered band: Crystal Stilts. Departure (****, 9 Feb) has all the ingredients of a shoegaze classic: gritty, faltering bass, pitched, resonant guitar, and a singer that sounds like Morrissey on Valium.

Crystal Stilts play Captain's Rest, Glasgow on 21 Feb and Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh on 22 Feb.