In a world where we are constantly invited to take interest in a singer’s back story (well on X-Factor anyway), the life and times of Alynda Lee Segarra is more interesting than most. Certainly leaving your Bronx home at 17, riding freight trains across the US and joining an outfit called The Dead Man Street Orchestra should be enough to mark you out. Thankfully, so does her music. Hurray For The Riff Raff is a collection taken from her similarly titled band’s first two US records and it’s every bit as authentically American as you might expect, topped off by a rich voice that conveys every experience and emotion. Also from Brooklyn but way, way at the other end of the scale are Matt & Kim. Their third long player Sidewalks picks up largely where Grand left off and is none the poorer for it; a delightful collection of alternative pop music that takes the best of both those worlds. The perfect record for the slow slide into summer.
The Human League were once at the vanguard of the cutting edge in pop although, like many of their contemporaries, they weren’t entirely built to last. While seeing them come back (again) on a label as hip as Wall Of Sound does the heart, the resulting Credo album doesn’t – coming across as a cold, spiritless affair where once they managed to combine man, woman and machine in perfect harmony. The View, on the other hand, couldn’t be more spirited if they tried. Bread & Circuses is a hugely enjoyable effort, their best record at a time when by rites they should have been written off. Led by two fine singles in the shape of ‘Sunday’ and ‘Grace’, it may not reverse their commercial decline but does at least give the dwindling faithful plenty of rallying calls.
Rival Schools can hardly be accused of rushing a follow up to their debut album United By Fate. Now, ten years later, they bring us Pedals and it seems like it may actually have been worth the wait. US punk rock veterans to a man (having done time in Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, CIV and Youth Of Today), the album is the sound of angry middle aged men making music for the hell of it, not to further some sort of career, and is pretty damn fine. One time Lift To Experience frontman Josh T. Pearson has taken his time too, finally delivering a solo record (Last Of The Country Gentlemen) that can’t be faulted for its ambition but, comprised largely of ten minute plus acoustic numbers, is a little patience sapping. Far more successful a downsizing of sound comes with J Mascis’ Several Shades Of Why, whereby the grunge godfather applies that voice to a set of solo numbers with huge success. All of the above, however, are light years better than Beardyman’s excruciating I Done A Album, painful proof that novelty artists shouldn’t try to become serious artists.