Nixon

Calvin
Cath 'n' Dad Records

Sheffield band Nixon have just released their second album, Calvin, on an unsuspecting and totally unaware public. This is probably because Nixon aren't the most commercially savvy band around. Their music is only available digitally and they only play live sporadically, which is a crying shame because their music is erudite and abstract.

The album opens with 'Alison', which is almost radio friendly, all clattering drums, memorable guitar motif and harmonising vocal chorus. Other songs also contain certain 'commercial' elements - hooks, quieter melodic interludes - but there is an underlying sense of menace and disquiet.

The band's irreverence and playfulness means that they can switch from beautiful, lilting passages to wilfully obscure (1/1 time signature, anyone?) without it sounding contrived. 'Wordless Wonder' and 'Drinking (For Me)' are fine examples of the latter, abound with disjointed vocals, varying meters and drunken a cappella.

'Political Song....' is a meditative paean to lost love (possibly), then 'Star Kindred' closes the album in signature, contrary Nixon style. It starts in a poppy froth before switching mid-song into a frenzied, headlong charge toward its climax, courtesy of an impassioned shriek.

Considering they consist of a basic guitar, bass and drums line up, this music is thrilling and innovative. I can't wait to hear how it sounds live.   

Pete Martin

Steve Buscemi & Elliott Sharp

Rub Out The Word
Infrequent Seams

Take two notables of the New York arts scene - composer/musician Elliott Sharp and actor/director Steve Buscemi. Add the writings of one of the most infamous junkie misanthropes of American letters, William Burroughs. Give them a stage and some time, record the results, then treat the recordings in accordance with the infamous misanthrope's own creative praxis, which is to say, by cutting it up into chunks and sticking them together again. 

And it's OK, I guess. I mean, I enjoyed it well enough. Droney sounds and noises with Burroughs prose over the top - what's not to like?

But there's a great deal of audio of the actual Burroughs reading his work already out there, plus his numerous collaborations with musicians (Tom Waits! Sonic Youth! Ministry!), and as much as Buscemi nails the man's distinct cadence and mannerisms in his performance, it's just not the real thing. Much as with his writing, when you've heard Burroughs speak once, you'll never mistake anyone else for him.

Of course, Burroughs is two decades dead, so live performances like Sharp and Buscemi's are as close as you're going to get to hearing the man speak in person, and Rub Out The Word likely makes a great souvenir of a thrilling and visceral live event. But for anyone other than completists and super fans, this is far from an essential purchase.

If you want to hear Burroughs but haven't yet done so, he's out there wandering the cut'n'paste interzones of the internet, a hungry ghost haunting the fibres. Go find him.

Paul Graham Raven

Tom Baxendale

In The City A Short Time Ago
Backwater Collective

The first time I listened to The Payroll Union I was instantly drawn to their sound and lyrical intelligence. On hearing that guitarist Tom Baxendale was releasing his debut solo album, I couldn’t resist checking out how it would tally in comparison. It’s often a tricky thing, coming from an established band that you’re inevitably going to be judged against, but Baxendale does not disappoint.

In The City A Short Time Ago is a nostalgic delight, with catchy melodies that sound almost familiar paired with stories about obsession, love and loss. The album as a whole sounds like it could be used as the soundtrack to a feel-good indie film set in the early 70s, with tracks like 'Honey' and 'All I Ask' asking to be picked up by a director.

Opening track and first single release, 'All My Nightmares', carries the Americana feel that I’m used to hearing from Baxendale’s previous work, combined with organ pop sounds reminiscent of The Doors. It’s catchy but technical, and a great way to introduce you to this fantastic musician as a solo artist.  

The record slows in pace towards the end, but not in quality. Final track 'Every Dream' is like a synth daydream and another great chance to really zone in on some beautiful lyrics. To top it all off, the music is not the only part of the album which has been created solo. Recording and mixing it in his own studio basement, Baxendale truly has produced something amazing and has nobody to thank but himself.

Tasha Franek

Zomby

Ultra
Hyperdub

I, like many others I’m sure, have been eagerly awaiting Zomby’s follow-up full-length to 2013’s With Love. Unfortunately, I’d actually rather talk to you about that album - I won’t, because that’s not why we’re here - because Ultra never really finds its feet.

Starting quite literally with a bang, opener 'Reflection' is a grandiose gun cock and shot affair synonymous with Zomby, a slow-repeating, building phrase that ultimately doesn't lead anywhere and only brings you to the next track, which feels like another, weaker scene setter. A 'Burst' it most certainly is not.

The album continues along this meandering path, never seeming to settle on which direction to take. Indecisive and incoherent, it feels as though the DJ has stopped the track and started it again when absolutely no one in the room was asking for a rewind. Or, conversely, that they noticed people weren’t feeling that direction, and so abruptly stopped their set and tried a different tack.

In the past, Zomby’s use of tension has been one of his greatest strengths as a producer. He can create entire worlds in tracks that only last 1:44, leaving you to imagine the non-existent destination. Using this tension without a release can be a powerful tool, but the issue here is that even when he does seemingly 'let go', tracks like 'I' and 'Glass' feel misplaced, almost as if they have just been dumped in there because he needed to include some tracks with some more up-front drums on them.

With Love lived up to its name. Ultra? No. Needed more attention, more love.

Gordon Barker

David Brent & Foregone Conclusion

Life On The Road
Caroline International

David Brent: Life on the Road, the new mockumentary film written by and starring Ricky Gervais, picks up the story of the most iconic paper trader in cultural history 13 years after The Office drew to a close with two Christmas specials in 2003. It follows Brent attempting to finally put his 'bunce' – sorry, money – where his mouth is as he tours the country with his band Foregone Conclusion.

There are 15 original tracks on the film’s soundtrack release, produced by Gervais and ex-Razorlight man Andy Burrows, and they’re all pretty terrible. Which is, of course, the point. So the question is: Are they funny? It’s hard to fully judge without experiencing them within the context of the film, but the lyrical content is certainly classic Brent: glaringly black and white metaphors, clanging attempts at political correctness, and an overly earnest sense of virtue.

The Brent-penned compositions that we’d heard previously in The Office, such as ‘Freelove Freeway’, were mostly just quite generic, middle-of-the-road affairs that added to his distinctly naff cultural palette, but the likes of ‘Native American’ and – wait for it – ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’ just seem a bit too crass for what was originally quite a nuanced character.

Brent’s motto may be “life fast, die old”, but it remains to be seen just how much life is left in Gervais’ creation.

Jack Scourfield

The Wedding Present

Going, Going...
Scopitones

I pretend I like clever lyrics about geopolitics, but actually my favourite pop songs are just boys pining after girls. David Gedge, sole constant of The Wedding Present, is a master of the art and he hasn't veered far from his specialist subject on the band's 20-track latest, Going, Going…, even if it opens with a suite of impressionistic soundscapes.

The experiment is a mixed bag. 'Kittery' and 'Greenland' see bassist Katharine Wallinger build a foreboding atmosphere by announcing shipping coordinates over swells of percussion, but the aimless looping of 'Marblehead' fails to develop. 'Sprague' is more effective, a plaintive piano and violin instrumental taking influence from the soundtrack work of fellow Brightonians British Sea Power.

What follows is a run of 13 pop songs that broadly fall under the category of 'not getting any', though the abrupt transition suggests the opening vignettes might be left over from another project. "I'm not trying to be a jerk / I'm just trying to make it work," sings Gedge on 'Two Bridges', returning to a perennially rewarding topic. His great skill is finding universality in the everyday, usually via a satisfying couplet: "I won't deny it's quite odd / When your songs come on my iPod," he sings on breakup forensic 'Bear'.

These lines, each one as if picked from a chocolate box. "I called you darling because I'd already forgotten your name / What a total unqualified disaster this all became," he frets on 'Bells'. His troupe may not have another 'Bizarro' in them, but it's difficult to downplay their commitment to their craft.

Sam Gregory