Revenge of the Psychotronic Man / Bootscraper

The Bear and The Tiger
TNS Records

Built from a drink-fuelled discussion at a festival, this split covers album is the nuttiest noise to come out of my speakers in ages. Two bands – one speed punk, one politico-folk – each band covering the other’s songs. What could go wrong?

Very little, as it turns out, and loads goes really right. First, Bootscraper expose some Revenge of the Psychotronic Man songs to their arresting stew of European folk, blues and country, and those tunes cope with that exposure brilliantly. We open with ‘Clint Eastwood’, a fairground barker delivery hooked up to a lovely lurching swing. Bootscraper never fail to invest the lyrics they're performing with weight, showing that there's more to RofPM’s music that aggressively charging towards the finish. Here, ‘Another Way’ is a queasy western barn dance, which probably surprised its writers, suffused as it is with a sticky-floored Weimar oomph. My least favourite of this half is ‘Captain Gin vs The Victory Gin’, simply because it’s very Waitsian and I very much don’t like Tom Waits.

Revenge of the Psychotronic Man could be thought of as having it easier, in that they just have to speed their choices of Bootscraper’s music up and shout over it. To their credit, they work hard to blend content and approach into something new and surprisingly nuanced. ‘Then You’re Hers’ has real tenderness and feel, like a rose in a fisted glove. This half also contains my favourite song of the whole project. They take ‘The Suffering’ and soup it up into a juggernaut, all Iron Maiden duel riffing and wound aggression, its sheer energetic thump making you feel drained and able to take on the world at the same time, and that's some trick.

As Bootscraper have split, we'll never hear the like of this again, but we have this and it’s going to take a long time before it gets boring.

John Wigley

Skittles

Bumba EP
Estate Recordings

It’s taken three years for Skittles to follow up his Estate Recordings debut with a second solo release. In the intervening years, he’s been busy touring with a slick live unit around Europe, guesting on other artists’ tracks and causing commotion with the Hit & Run affiliated super group Levelz. Despite all his extra-curricular activity, his solo work still has its own sound set apart from his peers.

Three of the four tunes on this EP are self-produced and opener ‘The Pre’ highlights his production talents. The backing track sounds like an outtake from Illadelph Halflife by The Roots, with lyrics recalling an era “prior to the MC pre-event fee”.

‘If I Knew Then’ and ‘Marijuana’ share similarly mellow treatment, which may throw people who are used to his more visceral style in recent collaborations. Upon first listen, both of these tunes seem like wistful addresses to his younger self, but Skittles is an MC who eschews the clichéd wisdom of regrets. Having the luxury of foresight would only have meant he’d “be even more before my time, then I’d really be running my mouth”.













This boastful persona shines through again on ‘Bumba’, a cheeky self-advertisement over a sparse backdrop from Chimpo, which he “got down in one, cos I’m a bit of a don”. Whereas some MCs’ descent into self-aggrandisement can be off-putting, Skittles has a charm that gives light relief to his brand of social commentary – “and if you don’t know, now you know ginger”.

Nathan McIlroy

The Sundowners

Sundowners
Skeleton Key Records

Bright and bashful with a slight twinge of rock, I guess The Sundowners live up to all you'd expect them to be.

Upon first hearing track one, I thought things were looking hopeful. It was all a bit adolescent, but musically tight at the same time, somewhat like recently acclaimed band Peace. But when the vocals came in, I found myself thinking, ‘Am I listening to an Abba tribute?’ Although I hate to say it, it sounded like a generic 80s singer had been plonked on top of some new-age, 21st century psych rock band.













I gave it a chance and continued listening but, much to my distress, it all sounded very similar. I'm unsure as to what effect exactly was used on the vocals, but it was applied to the whole record, which makes for a tedious listen. They are aiming to achieve a certain sound, so credit is due to them for trying to do so, but I feel like some variety is needed somewhere to ensure the album doesn't sound like one drawn-out track. It put me off to the extent that, if I hadn't been reviewing it, I'd have turned it off by track three.

Despite this, the vocal tone was perfect. My contention lies with their choice of harmonies and effects. It’s a very well put together and well produced record, albeit a bit boring and a tad cringe-worthy.

Sara Louise Tonge

James Holt

In The Face of It All
Self released

Manchester singer-songwriter James Holt releases his debut EP, In The Face of It All, in March. To say the 21-year-old singer sounds older than his years may be clichéd, but his voice is undeniably more akin to Lennon or Dylan than any of his peers, and his songs are delightfully retro. ‘What Happened to John?’ is instantly recognisable as a Dylan-inspired number, as harmonica teams with rockabilly piano. As catchy as any Jake Bugg track, but far more musically complex, its varied pace and detail makes it the clear standout track from this collection. All the more interesting is that Holt plays and records all instruments himself, setting himself apart from the typical guitar balladeer.













The title track takes a more folksy turn, as poetic lyrics intertwine with delicate acoustic guitar, and could pass for a 60s protest song. ‘Alone Again and Always’ has a definite Merseybeat vibe, drifting off into dreamy sequences of regret and heartbreak, while ‘I Thought You Were Crying (But It Was Just The Rain)’ explores the same sentiments, but takes the tempo down a level. ‘Promises At Dawn’ follows in a similar vein and is sweet enough, if a bit forgettable.

Although Holt takes himself a tad seriously, it’s an interesting and diverse first offering from a promising young artist with some genuinely charming moments, and his blend of down-to-earth folk with rock’n’roll spirit is fiercely enticing.

Liz Hird

The EP launch show is at Kings Arms on 28 February.