What's hot and what's not in this week's new releases.
By Polly Weeks.
They found fame during the 'Madchester' years and are still popular now, but will the latest album from The Charlatans keep their fans satisfied?
Elsewhere, British hip-hop star Kano releases his fourth album. Also, having been tipped for the top at the beginning of the year, Manchester electro-pop duo Hurts finally release their debut. How do the albums compare? Read on to find out...
The Charlatans - Who We Touch
Two decades after they first stormed onto the British indie scene, The Charlatans cannot be accused of having run out of steam. Their latest album gets off to a promisingly energetic start with Love Is Ending, an up-tempo number that is no worse off for its Britpop-era throwback quality. Nor is the band afraid to deploy old fashioned anthemic choruses. And for every melancholy Tim Burgess vocal there is, as on previous offerings, a hint of 1960s-style psychedelia, notably on melodic Oh! and the Pink Floyd-like You Can Swim. There is enough of interest here to make it worthwhile, even if the album wins no prizes for startling originality.
Rating: 7/10 (Review by Rosa Silverman)
Kano - Method To The Maadness
This fourth album from rapper Kano is likely to go undeservedly unnoticed. You see, the 25-year-old has decided to go it alone on his own label Bigger Picture Music, following in the footsteps of fellow Grime artists Dizzee Rascal and Wiley. But unlike these peers, Kano hasn't quite made a big enough name for himself to get the airplay his brilliant take on the genre warrants. On the upside, the first single from Method To The Maadness, is a gorgeous, string-soaked UK hip-hop highlight, upon which Kano raps furiously with swagger and bombast. However, when it was recently released it didn't even chart. Tracks featuring Hot Chip (All + All Together) and Wiley (Get Wild) are equally compelling - it would be shame if they were missed too. Save this hip-hop treat from obscurity.
Rating: 8/10 (Review by Jamie Grierson)
Magic Kids - Memphis
This surf-splashed debut from Tennessee's Magic Kids captures the spirit and soul of the early-1960s Beach Boys. The sugar-coated harmonies and instrumentation make it impossible not to be transported to a world of hot-rods, drive-in movies and American diners. The record opens with the twee Sesame Street-inspired Phone and retains a youthful innocence throughout. Hey Boy captures the naivety of young love with the help of a schoolgirl choir straight from a teen musical. It is not all saccharine sweet - for example there are hints of sadness in Candy. Magic Kids have built on their irresistible hooks to create a collection of 11 perfectly-polished baroque pop songs.
Rating: 8/10 (Review by Alex Lowe)
Richard Thompson - Dream Attic
Richard Thompson rocks two discs worth of guitar-based music during his latest album, Dream Attic. The former member of Fairport Convention, who has more recently been found writing soundtracks for films such as The Grizzly Man and engineering London's Meltdown Festival, is clearly enjoying the opportunity to play live. Performing three shows at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall in February of this year, Thompson used the opportunity to record his new material on stage rather than in the studio and this makes for a euphoric album. Flooded with emotion and fantastic orchestration, these tracks will doubtless resonate with Thompson fans. While the quality of the songs might be mixed, its production values are very high.
Rating: 6/10 (Review by Sarah O'Meara)
The Crayonettes - Playing Out
Subtitled 'songs for children and robots', Playing Out is a collection of whimsical tracks written and performed by folk-musician Kathryn Williams and Newcastle punk singer Anna Spencer. The album spans an eclectic range of styles including acoustic folk, psychedelic rock and even a touch of synth-pop. Everything is linked by the theme of childhood - particularly the everyday preoccupations of the average four-year-old. With lyrics about fire engines, toothpaste and sweets dropped on the floor, it often comes close to being unbearably twee. Occasionally, such as on the long and repetitive Hopscotch, it is overwhelmed by its own quirkiness. The best songs, however, have a nursery-rhyme-like charm: Rainy Day, Emergency and How Hot Is A Toad all combine keening melodies with soft, sweet vocals to create something strangely affecting. Children and robots will very possibly be left baffled, but parents with a taste for the offbeat should love it.
Rating: 7/10 (Review by James Robinson)
Heart - Red Velvet Car
The first release of original material by the Wilson Sisters since the 2004 LP Jupiters Darling shows a fine return to form. The combination of the rocking WTF and the slinky vocals of the title track, for instance, will remind their fans just what the band do best. There is a touch of country rock about Queen City and Safronia's Mark and even some blues makes an appearance. However, in essence this is an album of modern AOR. Given enough airplay in the UK, this could make a minor dent on the charts, but it will most likely appeal just to the committed fans - which is a pity given the quality on show.
Rating: 7/10 (Review by Steve Grantham)
Maria Mena - Cause And Effect
Norwegian Maria Mena may only be 24 but the singer-songwriter has endured her fair share of heartbreak - judging by the lyrics on offer here. And while she is already a big name in her homeland, Mena deserves far wider recognition on the evidence of this album. Although most tracks deal with matters of the heart, she never strays into bland territory and each song is complimented by excellent musicianship. Yes, the tone is downbeat but her vocals, reminiscent of Bjork, hold the attention. Opening track Power Trip Ballad sets the tone of the album with its quirky outbreaks of laughter during the chorus. It's followed by Belly Up which is the outstanding track on an excellent collection. All of the songs are sung in English and with the right promotion Mena could become a major international star.
Rating: 8/10 (Review by Kim Mayo)
Kirsty Almeida - Pure Blue Green
It is difficult to pin this Manchester-based singer's debut album into any particular category or genre. Her radio-friendly, sugary ballads Cool Down Rewind and Butterflies sit alongside jazz-infused, sultry numbers such as It Scares Me. Perhaps her extensive travelling - born in the UK, brought up in Gibraltar, schooled in Asia and the Americas - contributed to the mixed influences of the Youth-produced Pure Blue Green. Spider, the quirky first single, is described as "voodoo pop", alongside the folk-tinged Willow. With 14 tracks there is plenty to choose from, but her versatility - jumping from Katie Melua, to Duffy, to Amy Winehouse - means the album fails to find a defining moment.
Rating: 6/10 (Review by Natalie Bowen)
Pull In Emergency - Pull In Emergency
The debut album from the female-fronted five-piece features Kate Nash-like lyrics, the upbeat sensibilities of Darwin Deez and the rollercoaster vocals of Bad Religion. It's catchy pop all right, and they've received high praise from the likes of The Observer and Steve Lamacq, but it's difficult to find the real reason why. The group grabbed the attention of the Guardian back in 2007 when their average age was 13 and a half. Three years on, their sound is accomplished for a group so young, however they do little to push the boundaries of the genre. Certainly a record that will appeal to fans of the 14-18 age group.There's nothing new here, but it's fun nonetheless.
Rating: 4/10 (Review by Lewis Young)
Hurts - Happiness
While debut albums can be a bit of a gamble, it can't do a new band any harm having a pop legend promoting their first long player on Twitter. Manchester-based synth-pop duo Hurts have just that, as none other than Kylie Minogue has been singing their praises at every possible opportunity. In fact, standout album track Devotion is a duet between the Aussie pop icon and the new synthpop scenesters. This certainly makes for a whirlwind launch for the outfit. The album itself is a blast from the past and sounds like it's come straight from the 1980s, with Wonderful Life and Better Than Love emphasising this with sweeping synths and a catchy beat. This is an excellent debut and showcases a group that are a modern-day boyband for the digital generation.
Rating: 8/10 (Review by Daniel Williams)
Singles by Polly Weeks
:: Alexandra Burke feat. Laza Morgan - Start Without You This attitude-driven number from the X Factor winner is a mix of 1980s-inspired pop and dance-hall. It's not as catchy as her previous release Broken Heels but is still a good, solid single.
:: Goldfrapp - Believer
Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory return with this disco-inspired synth-pop number. An energetic tune which will be perfect for a hedonistic, end of summer night out.
:: McFly - Party Girl
The video for this single may see the band playing their instruments enthusiastically, but given this is a powerful, computer-generated club tune it's hard to see exactly where the guitars fit in. A step away from their previous material, this tune will surprise their fans.
On the road
:: Klaxons have announced they'll be heading out on tour in November. The London-based group will perform in Manchester, Norwich, Bournemouth, Nottingham, London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Dublin. For further details, visit www.myspace.com/klaxons.
:: Travis singer Fran Healy returns from his US support slot with Keane to play two UK dates. On Wednesday September 15 he'll be performing at Glasgow's Oran Mor and the following evening he will take on London's Bush Hall. For tickets visit www.gigsandtours.com (London) and www.ticketmaster.co.uk (Glasgow).