David J Roch.

Skin & Bones.
Sony/ATV.
Reviewer - Adam Kay.

I first saw Little Lost David about, ooh, five years ago. That night, at Bar Matrix, his voice absolutely blew me away; an instrument of crystalline beauty and fragile perfection. I speculated that the only reason he could reach those high notes was because of his trousers, which were bollock-suffocatingly tight. Even so, I thought, what a voice.

Five years later, Bar Matrix is a strip club called Scores and Little Lost David is called David J Roch. Funny how some things change. Funny too how some things don't, because on Roch's debut album Skin & Bones, that voice - crystal-clear, beautiful, perfect - is still there.

It's there on 'Evil's Pillow', delicate and mesmerising. It's there on the terrific title track. It's there on 'Lonely Unfinished', a haunting acoustic lament and cousin of 'Corpus Christi Carol' from Jeff Buckley's Grace. Comparing Roch, a tender singer-songwriter with a keening vocal, to Buckley is as easy as shooting carp in a keg, but the similarity is undeniable.

For most of Skin & Bones, Roch's tormented choirboy shtick serves him well. His attempts to adopt other personae, however, are less successful. He plays the part of hoary old bluesman on 'Devil Don't Mind'; "I guess that's why [the devil is] my friend". On 'Yours' he channels the spirit of an embittered alcoholic; "[I've] done some damage with a bottle of liquor." On 'Dew', he's a creepy stalker; "All I have, but I can't have her." None of these are particularly convincing when delivered by a sweet-sounding twenty-something from Sheffield. Roch's voice is just too pretty to convey menace effectively. It's like Damien Rice fronting Motorhead, or Rastamouse becoming a mass murderer.

But Roch's singing is not the album's sole focus. It was produced by Grinderman's Jim Sclavunos, and he's done an excellent job. 'The Lonely Child' begins as an intimate acoustic piece, before exploding into an avant-jazz brass wig-out à la Radiohead. The orchestral grandiloquence of 'Only Love' sounds like Elbow at their most majestic, and while Roch's vocal on 'Dew' may be out of place, the music is a magnificent mix of sinister synths and gunshot percussion.

On the whole, Skin & Bones suggests that David J Roch is a little lost. If he ditches the whole 'devil' routine and concentrates on being an angel, he'll likely be unstoppable. Until then, we have this brilliant-but-patchy album to enjoy. The trousers, too. Let's not forget those trousers.

Captives on the Carousel.

self released.
Reviewer - sam walby.

Captives on the Carousel are a folk duo from Sheffield made up of two of the members of 7 Black Tentacles. This new self-titled EP - with original artwork from Caz Haigh (Now Then #30 featured artist) - sports some impressive compositions for guitar, cello and voice, showing how the group has come on leaps and bounds since its inception.

Opener 'The Oak Tree' is the strongest offering here and features some of the best lyrics on the EP. Clocking in at just over two minutes, it is a snappy statement of intent and a decent introduction to the fingerpicked poetry of Sarah Morrey, backed by mournful cello lines and delicate use of vocal delay. I remember hearing a performance of this song in the middle of last year, and the organic way it has developed into a finished product is pleasing to the ear.

'Lead Me Down' has a real English ballad feel to it, with intriguing chord shapes and major lifts that lend it a light, breezy tone. Similarly, 'The Bell Jar' uses the same musical devices to more brooding effect, as the cello produces subtle harmonies that complement the words. 'James' Song' is less captivating, but still shows verve and ambition. This EP is by no means a perfect release, but it does show originality and could be a stepping stone to bigger things.

Listen here.

king capisce.

if not now, THEN when?
self released.
Reviewer - gordon barker.

After their mind-blowing debut, the king has been away gathering his thoughts. "Where the hell do I go from here?" he and others must have been thinking. 'If Not Now, Then When?' is a free release, but there is certainly no compromise on production value from their self-titled album - still heart warming when low key and brimming with energy when the phased guitar and drums go all out.

Where I found their debut's catchy hooks easily hummed, this single is more, dare I say it, 'muso'. The sound has certainly shifted towards the Polar Bear area of experimental music, with each member showing intricate abilities while it is all held together as a single entity.

King Capisce have a strong and unique sound. This single is a slight curve ball away from their previous tracks, but I hope said ball continues along its leftfield trajectory and their releases become more and more disparate. This has certainly whet the appetite for LP number 2.

You can download 'If Not Now, Then When?' for free/generous donation here.

dead sons.

i am the lord / city nights.
self released.
Reviewer - gordon barker.

Dead Sons are smashing through it at a hell of a rate. After only one year together they have been invited to support the Arctic Monkeys at Don Valley and are set to release their first double A-side on self-produced limited white label vinyl.

'I Am The Lord' is a heavy, menacing brawl through Grinderman and Tom Waits territory - powerfully bluesy, dramatic and full of character, the rapid percussion rhythms pushed out of the way for a sweaty and furious chorus. I have caught myself several times with eyes closed, fists clenched, mouthing the words "fear me".

'City Nights' has a very different effect - a less physical, more reverent track with slowed chord progressions and a warmer, personal tone. On this track the 'Sheffield sound' is a lot more evident but whilst that can sometimes be a bad thing, Dead Sons define themselves outside that with a more mature and developed approach to a proven formula.

This release compliments itself, one side picking you up with its dirty garage blues and the other laying you out with a city street ballad. Both are strong and show two sides to the Dead Sons arsenal, a fully-formed force with no room for tongue in cheek. Fear me.

The Crookes.

Chasing After Ghosts.
Fierce Panda.
Reviewer - Grace Higins Brown.

With quaint tales of fervor and wistful press shots, The Crookes could be perceived as awful romantics. I suppose they are, but beneath the twee facade lies something perhaps a tad darker and certainly a lot cleverer. On first listen I couldn't help but feel the need to roll my eyes, thinking this was yet another nondescript run of the mill indie guitar band, but stick with it and you'll come to realise that there's much more here.

Current single 'Godless Girl' is a seamless opener, charging with a compelling force, comparable to that created by Sunderland's celebrated Frankie & The Heartstrings and catchy enough to allow the album to get its hooks into you. But a few tracks on you encounter 'The Crookes Laundry Murder, 1922', which is the one that lets it down for me, being at times a bit too Smiths inspired to listen to comfortably. Sounding a bit similar to the Smiths isn't necessarily a bad thing, but this track doesn't go beyond that and just ends up sounding dreary as a result.

'I Remember Moonlight', however, is a passionate stomp of heartache and reminiscence as singer George Waite's dreamy vocals swoon with longing. This leads nicely into the next three tracks, which I would say are among the best on the album. 'Bloodshot Days' is bright and fluent, including some oh-so-fitting 'wah, wah, wah, ooohs'. 'Carnabetian Charm' nicely deems the London hipster fake and pretentious. 'By The Seine' sounds adequately hazy with a triumphant chorus. All three incorporate clever, perceptive lyrics and sharp riffs with impressive results, and there's a fair bit of reverb in there, which often wins me over.

Although at first appearing unambitious, this much-anticipated debut grows on you with further listens, exhibiting its careful arrangement and yearning imagery. There may be strong parallels with other bands, but Chasing After Ghosts is distinctive enough to hold its own and withstand the inevitable Arctic Monkeys comparison that pretty much any band to come out of Sheffield faces these days. In spite of coming across as slightly bland, this album encapsulates nostalgia and romantic lyricism and is punctuated by some evocative tracks, making it a pleasant listen and a great soundtrack to a romp in the Peak District.

The Big Eyes Family Players.

family favourites.
karate body.
Reviewer - ben dorey.

The Big Eyes Family Players have been creating emotive folk music with one line-up or another for over a decade now, and have never gained the public acclaim that critics felt they deserved. I find this strange, given the popularity of a number of other Balkan inspired 'new-folk' outfits - Beirut being an obvious example - but then Big Eyes haven't given their influences such a stylised and marketable reworking. Their music pays homage to their fore bearers through subtle and delicate continuations of the songwriting traditions they draw from, a less obvious way of forging your own sound but one that has ultimately led to more satisfying results. The latest album from the Sheffield outfit, predominantly a collection of re-recorded instrumentals from across their history, will hopefully be a platform to help this talented collective of musicians gain wider recognition.

Modestly titled 'Amateur Dramatics' is an stunning opener, a cinematic and moody gypsy folk waltz over an understated trip hop beat. It refuses to simplify song structure into a repeating chord progression in the way so many of Big Eyes' contemporaries do, instead whirling us through rapid key changes, the melodies teetering on the brink of discordance to create tension simmering just beneath the melancholic surface. The following 'Bunny' is a different affair, dominated by superb guitar playing that's so dynamic the music seems to breathe with every bar. The folk influence is still tangible, but this time taken from the English tradition. It wouldn't sound out of place as a quiet moment on a Jethro Tull or even, dare I say it, Genesis album forty years ago, and I don't mean that in a bad way.

The following tracks see the full band involved, but the playing on these two stringled tracks is so delicate that they manage to create tiny sounding songs that you initially struggle to believe feature nine players throughout. A violin leads the way in both, softly accompanied by harmonies on the other strings and more exemplary folk guitar, with the bass and drums slowly driving things along without ever becoming overbearing. The intelligence displayed in the songwriting here demonstrates clearly the outfit's classical influences, as does track four's title - 'For Gorecki'. The next three tracks, also all named after people, have a slightly different feel, combining the aforementioned cinematic songwriting with a more modern, less linear style based around repeating phrases. The result of this is never predictable, something which other bands have found hard to avoid when working this way with the time-old cadences of folk, and will please the ears of folkies and Godspeed fans equally. 'The Boo Girls' marks a return to Balkan influences, this time in a rare uptempo style that hints a little at manouche influences.

I'll let the final tracks speak for themselves. Words are too unsubtle to do justice to this music, for it's in the delicacy and complexity of songwriting and playing that Big Eyes shine through. All I can do is assure you that unless you have eardrums of leather or a heart of stone, this record won't fail to move you. Get your mitts on a copy and support one of Sheffield's best kept secrets.