Despite the major label deal Goodbooks are still operating just outside the commercial waterline, we suspect because in this morass of bands that are A Bit Like Orange Juice they've done something other than run off rapidfire hi-hat and clean guitar stabs. The Illness's subtly detailed layers mark them out and grow with every listen, and where the review comparisons with Athlete are coming from we're not entirely sure. Still want Passchendaele next, of course. The Maccabees are fairly straight-up post-punkers but man, the kids are going for the Maccabees. We were part of a sold out crowd a couple of weeks ago (refer to our Myspace blog and/or The Art Of Noise) and there were bodies, pits and pints flying everywhere right from the off. At least there's something about their singles like Precious Time which means they can't be fully discounted. Someone we reviewed this very week for the same outlets was Frank Turner, whose EP Campfire Punkrock gave himself the perfect label. The Real Damage is another five-tracker, wryly funny and irked in equal measure as ever. And Sea Legs is that rarity, a song about being on the road that inspires pity rather than chainsaw massacres. Re-release frenzy was taken to new heights not long ago when the planned reissue of Jamie T's Salvador was scrapped in favour of...a reissue of Jamie T's Sheila, which is to be fair the superior song and at least Radio 1 haven't edited out the Betjemen sample. Shame on Bob Hoskins for chickening out of miming "giggidibigidiup" in the video. Vinyl pleasures come from Feist, who won us over in an instant with the gorgeous My Moon My Man, Grinderman's typically rampaging (I Don't Need You To) Set Me Free and, oh go on then you've gone and won us over with your odd facial hair and male pattern receding hairlines and Americana intensity, The Hold Steady's small stage Springsteenisms of Stuck Between Stations.
The big release of the week is the Manic Street Preachers album, but nobody really needs more variable arena rock that's not as good as when they merely hoped to play arenas. Someone must really tell Nicky Wire that at the third time of asking nobody believes him any more when he tells us they're making the punkiest album of their career. In fact, it's far from the best album James Dean Bradfield's been involved with that's out this week as finally - finally - Johnny Boy's self-titled debut, which he produced bits of, gets a fully distributed UK release on their own label (that'll be Johnny Boy by Johnny Boy on Johnny Boy, then), just the fifteen months after Scandinavia and Japan got their copies. No, of course nothing's as good as You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve three years after its cult success, but then some days we believe oxygen isn't as good as that song. The rest starts with lo-fi punk intentions and then, like Big Audio Dynamite caught on overhead power cables, piles genres, samples, breakbeats, walls of sounds, effects pedals, consumerist/populist lyrical seething and everything else they found in the studio cardboard box on top. It's a dizzying ride, and it's worth the journey. Bjork's Volta coming out this week has caught us by surprise given none of the papers thought it worthy of a review this weekend. There's instrumentation on it, which puts it one up on Medulla, and what instrumentation, Timbaland, Antony Hegarty, Konono No. 1, LFO's Mark Bell, Lightning Bolt drummer Brian Chipperfield, Malian kora player Toumani Diabate and avant-garde improv drummer Chris Corsano all popping by. It is, of course, like nothing else, giving human voice to programmed beats and electronic stamps to human emotion. Glasgow's Twilight Sad, if not exactly poised for a commercial breakthrough, then certainly are best positioned to deliver a sleeper hit in the way compatriots My Latest Novel did last year, cathartic debut Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters bringing huge choruses to MBV dynamics and the Aidan Moffatt accent. Fountains Of Wayne are very definitely not as good as they used to be, but the further power-pop adventures of Traffic And Weather does remind us of how when Stacy's Mom got big one arm of Teletext labelled them 'the American Busted'. A group of late-30s Carsalikes who called their album Welcome Interstate Managers, the American Busted! The Elliott Smith cult hasn't quite taken off in the way many expected when he died but that won't deter the industry scraping for offcuts, New Moon a two-CD collection partly benefitting The Elliott Smith Foundation's associate charities of demos, out-takes and alternate versions. Rootless Eastern European folk via Americana wasn't just limited to Beirut last year - in fact we're among those who reckoned A Hawk And A Hacksaw (whose The Way The Wind Blows actually featured Zach Condon and proudly declared tracks recorded in Prague, Albuquerque and Enderby) were better, and Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost have got together with actual Hungarian musicians to produce A Hawk And A Hacksaw And The Hun Hangar Ensemble. The Fall reissue rotunda continues with the three Fontana/Phonogram Records efforts from a particularly strong period at the beginning of the 90s, Fall - Extricate (Bill Is Dead, Telephone Thing), Shift Work (Edinburgh Man, Idiot Joy Showland, 'notebooks out, plagirists') and Code:Selfish (Free Range, Birmingham School Of Business School). Like that? Get this: Dawn Of The Replicants - The Singles: Bust The Trunk, already reprinted from release last year but definitely worth your investment in the hugely undervalued Galashiels outfit's ten years of wonky artpop, including a DVD of rarely seen videos and the superb Skullcrusher remix by David Holmes and future non-LCD half of the DFA Tim Goldsworthy.
The 33 1/3 series of books about celebrated albums are worth the time of anyone who really cares about this stuff. The latest, and for us one for the definites list, is Michael Fournier's look at The Minutemen's Double Nickels On The Dime, an album titled to take the piss out of Sammy Hagar and something that anyone who loves US underground rock should have. On a different tack we're intrigued by Julian Ridgway's Bandalism: Do Not Destroy Your Group, which we'll just quote the blurb of: "Bandalism is a self-help manual for bands. It guides you from finding the right members through to breaking up at the right time, taking in such crucial steps as avoiding 'nervous exhaustion' and how not to make a rubbish second album. Bandalism is an occasionally ranting, diagram-filled guide on how to avoid screwing up your group for the same old predictable reasons."