Album reviews

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POP WE ARE SCIENTISTS: BRAIN THRUST MASTERY ***

VIRGIN, 10.99

WE ARE Scientists have developed a life-coaching programme entitled Brain Thrust Mastery, which they have been touring round the further education establishments of these shores, irrevocably transforming the lives of every callow indie fan who is casually drawn into its orbit. At least, I think that's how it's supposed to work. The same can't be said of the album of the same name, though. We Are Scientists are a band who are always more witty and inventive in person and in concept than they are on CD. There are some pretty catchy tunes here and a nice switch between outright rocking and mellower pop moments but, overall, We Are Scientists might benefit from a dose of their own aspirational doctrine in order to achieve their full potential.

BE YOUR OWN PET: GET AWKWARD ****

XL, 11.99

THESE kick-ass Nashville punks, fronted by the marvellously deranged Jemina Pearl, are no more original than We Are Scientists, yet somehow they manage to attack their chosen genre – hi-octane, no-brainer garage punk – with a hotwire charge. Firing off with Super Soaked, 150 wonderful seconds of gonzo punk screeching about getting your teenage kicks, they race through 15 songs about bitch best friends, teen heartbreak and getting wasted in a dizzying 35 minutes, leaving a trail of puke and other fluids (and even a couple of semi-sensitive bubblegum pop songs) in their wake. Boasting titles such as Bummer Time and Blow Yr Mind and lyrics such as "eating pizza's really great, so is destroying everything you hate", it's not rocket science. If you come within 50 yards of this album, you will emotionally regress by at least 20 years. And like it.

BRYAN ADAMS: 11 **

POLYDOR, 12.99

BY NOW, you should know what you are getting with a Bryan Adams album. And here it is. Again. For the 11th time. Gravelly vocals, average tunes, some mid-paced rockers, a liberal sprinkling of bleeding-heart ballads, the odd gurning guitar solo, nothing terribly offensive but, equally, nothing to rival Summer of 69. Doesn't he ever get bored? Apparently not.

CLASSICAL

JAMES DILLON: THE SOADIE WASTE ****

NMC, 12.99

GLASWEGIAN composer James Dillon can be tough going for audiences not attuned to the dissonances and densities of his musical vocabulary, but the five chamber works on this excellent disc capture an impressive range of his work. They span almost three decades from the piano piece Dillug-Kefitsah (1976) to the soadie waste (2003) for piano quintet. The latter piece has particular resonances with Glasgow, having been inspired by memories of a Territorial Army social club built on the wasteland site of an old chemical factory near his childhood home in Rutherglen.

It is a kaleidoscopic, highly energised piece, magnificently played by pianist Noriko Kawai and those indefatigable navigators of the thorniest of modernist thickets, the Arditti Quartet. Kawai is joined by Hiroaki Takenouchi in black/nebulae (1994), a surging, swirling, constantly shifting creation for two pianos that makes for gripping listening. The pianist is featured on the solo Dillug-Kefitsah (Hebraic for "skipping and jumping"), while violinist Irvine Arditti performs another solo work, Del Cuarto Elemento (1988). The two combine on Traumwerk Book III (2002) for violin and piano, the longest piece on the disc, but made up of 12 intensely wrought miniatures with only their respective tempo markings as titles. Dillon undoubtedly makes demands on the listener, but repays the effort handsomely.

BENJAMIN GODARD: VIOLIN CONCERTOS ***

NAXOS, 5.99

RISING violin star Chlo Hanslip cannot be accused of playing it safe in her recorded repertoire. Her debut for Naxos featured contemporary American music, and she follows it with the obscure French Romantic-era composer Benjamin Godard (1849-95). She sets about the showy violin writing in both the Concerto and Concerto Romantique with gusto, and makes a good case for his music. In conclusion his compositions are skilful rather than great, but that isn't due to any short-coming on the violinist's part.

JAZZ

DAVE O'HIGGINS: IN THE ZONE ****

JAZZIZIT, 10.99

SAXOPHONIST Dave O'Higgins first came to my attention 20 years ago in the fusion band Roadside Picnic, and some of his musical activities have revolved around groove rather than swing-based music. Nonetheless, he's always been a straight-ahead jazz stylist at heart, and this sparkling CD celebrates that. The opening In The Zone – with its quotation from Coltrane's Giant Steps – and an equally palpable nod to Dexter Gordon in the opening phrase of Chaplin's Smile are conscious evocations of major influences, as is the joint Sonny Stitt-Charlie Parker reference in Operation Yardbird. Steve Grossman's Take The D-Train is an excellent inclusion, while his rendition of Young at Heart is dedicated to his late sister. His fine quartet includes Acoustic Ladyland's Tom Cawley on piano and Sebastiaan De Krom on drums, plus trumpeter Martin Shaw on four tunes.

FOLK

KARINE POLWART: THIS EARTHLY SPELL ***

HEGRI MUSIC, 13.99

SINGER Karine Polwart came late to professional music, but she has established a major name on the acoustic music circuit since leaving Malinky in 2005 to concentrate on her solo career. It is tempting to draw comparisons between Polwart's latest offering and Fiona Mackenzie's recent Elevate but, while both clearly move toward a more pop-directed approach, each takes a very different direction. Polwart retains a more directly grounded connection with her folk roots, including conscious echoes of the Border Ballad tradition, and not only in the lengthy Tongue That Cannot Lie, a tale inspired by Thomas the Rhymer that will seem gripping or ponderous depending on taste.

WORLD

ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF THE HUNGARIAN GYPSIES ****

RGNET, 8.99

AS THE liner note observes, Hungarian Gypsy music is closest to the Roma's roots in India, with a Gypsy presence there documented as far back as the 14th century. One of the first styles it gave rise to was the verbunkos (recruit), which began with a slow dance followed by a faster one to lure men into the army.

This selection opens with a track by Romano Drom, which sounds like a Greek-Spanish holiday mishmash – pleasant, but essentially commercial. But the second has a more genuine feel, giving the impression of a few boys having fun in the back-room with the aid of the most rudimentary instrumentation: this is Parno Graszt, who augment their basic armoury with spoons and water-cans. Only in the third track does the authentic Hungarian Gypsy sound properly surface, as Amaro Suno – who have spent decades trawling the villages for songs – give voice with some wonderfully angular and unexpected harmonies.

GONG LINNA: CHINESE FOLKSONGS ***

EUCD, 10.99

THIS CD is devoted to the talents of one singer, Gong Linna, backed by a full range of Chinese instruments plus some easy-listening Western accompaniments. Gong Linna has a lovely voice full of subtlety and suggestiveness.

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