THE APPLES IN STEREO - New Magnetic Wonder (Yep Roc)

Go Sailor. Dressy Bessy. Heavenly. Piebald. ELO. This band is better than all these bands!

Ok, that's a controversial way to start a review, so let me qualify that seemingly inflammatory statement. The Apples in Stereo are the best indie-pop band to come along this side of forever, and this record has catapulted them into stratospheric regions of musical excellence.

The opening track, "Can You Feel It?", is one of the best opening tracks I've heard for a long time. Starting with a robot telling you to turn up your stereo and a highly infectious riff, all of a sudden we're transported to cowbell and "Oh-oh-oh-woah" country, with singer Robert Schneider demanding you turn up your stereo! It's an adrenaline rush and fantastic fun. This carries through to the next track "Skyway", a track with more hooks than Captain Hook himself. This is power-pop of the highest order.

The album is pretty much all this good, too. There are occasional forays into Oasis-esque psychedelia ("Energy"), lovely, almost pure pop (7 Stars) and two farewell vocal efforts from the now departed drummer, Hilarie Sidney. But for the most part it's the pop music that you (I) want to hear on the radio (radio).

The album also features a number of short interludes between many of the songs. My favourite of these is "Joanie Don't You Worry", which is just a vocoder-voice harmonising for less than a minute. Most of these are over before the listener (that's me again, folks) realises they have begun. Curse my short attention span...

In summary, if you like summer-y pop tunes with a bit of a kick to them, this is for you. I cannot reiterate enough what a high quality series of songs this band have produced here. Marko from Grampus 8 must be pissed off though... they stole his line! "Turn Up Your Stereo", Marko!


BIFFOVISION (BBC3, Monday 26th March, 3:15am)

Did you know that one particular episode of BBC3 moronedy 'Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps' has been repeated no less than 57 times? Fifty seven times! And, despite this, the only free slot that BBC3 could find to premiere this pilot was at 3:15am, inevitably following a repeat of 2POLAAPOC (it doesn't even abbreviate well). Apparently it had to be screened before April for financial reasons or something, and there wasn't a free slot in the schedule, so they just bunged it out once their regular programming had ended, but crikey: couldn't they have dropped just one of their hundreds of repeats of Two Pints? Or Little Britain? Or any of the other “comedy” that the channel dribbles onto the screen?

It would be a shame if Biffovision doesn't get re-aired in an early time slot, as it certainly deserves a wider audience than the dozens who have seen it so far – however, whether a wider audience will appreciate, understand or enjoy it is up for debate. Writers Paul Rose and Tim Moore may spend most of their time these days writing children's television and travelogues respectively, but it was on much-missed videogames-cum-surreal gibberish teletext page Digitiser that both cut their writing teeth, livening up their games reviews with bizarre characters and nonsensical catchphrases. Biffovision is an attempt to translate Digitiser-style humour from the pages of teletext to television proper.

Much like Vic Reeves Big Night Out, Biffovision appears to be a collection of silly, near-impenetrable in-jokes turned into a low-budget TV programme, and will probably garner a similar reaction: those who like it will love it, but others will feel more confused than amused. Combining the skewed, off-kilter mock-80s feel of Look Around You with the subverted kids' show format of Wonder Showzen, Biffovision is ostensibly a parody of old Saturday morning TV, presented by Mr Hugo (James Lance and his always-punchable face), posh girl co-presenter Peggy (Ingrid Oliver) and obligatory puppet sidekick BW (Simon Greenall). Oliver and Greenall are perfectly cast, delivering the silliest of lines completely deadpan, and while Lance occasionally mis-delivers he certainly shows some promise in the role. Whod've thought?!

The programme is visually impressive. The set is a cross between Swap Shop and Rainbow, the animation on Scranton-K (a re-imagining of Scooby Doo as a naked man with a shoe for a head) is a perfect Hanna-Barbera pastiche right down to the seemingly-random bursts of canned laughter, and the puppets of BW and Mr Safety are both disturbing yet strangely charming.

The attention to detail in Biffovision suggets that it's a labour of love for its writers. The children in the audience have bizarre name badges (“Oil”, “Fear” and “Pleasing M”, for example), and the subliminal messages to 'Vote Conservative' dotted throughout the show are bafflingly amusing. There are also some splendid visual gags, such as the camera pulling away from the cheering audience to reveal that they aren't facing the presenter. It's funnier when you see it, I promise.

However, there is definite room for improvement. Inevitably for a pilot, especially for a sketch show, it's very hit-and-miss. The good includes the teacher who is paranoid that his pupils will be amused by his name (Mr Botton), a sketch that revels in its childishness and that has a completely unpredictable and ridiculous punchline. Among the bad are the designer who creates a new corporate logo by drawing breasts on the old one – a mediocre idea poorly implemented, and hampered by some ropey acting. Some of the sketches sit awkwardly within the context of a spoof children's show, regardless of their quality. Perhaps this is intentional, but it does bring the viewer out of the “reality” of the show (using the word very, very loosely).

There are also times when the influences are perhaps a little too obvious – the sketch about the baby factory is great, but the “let's hope he doesn't grow up to be a racist” punchline reeks strongly of Wonder Showzen, and the ending of a sketch with a Points of View-style letter of complaint may well be a deliberate homage to Python, but it's not a particularly funny one. Perhaps if the show gets a series it will find its own voice – it's already on its way, it just breaks into impressions of the voices of other shows a little too frequently.

Criticisms aside, considering the timescale in which this was thrown together, and the obvious budget constraints, Biffovision is a triumph. My worries that it would descend either into Monkey Dusty over-the-top darkness, or superficially whimsical Booshish rubbish were unfounded, with the balance of silliness (lots) and darkness (the tiniest hints) perfectly judged. It won't be the next Little Britain, and there won't be dolls of BW and Mr Safety in shops (sadly), but it would be perfect for a late-night slot on BBC3. Hopefully, if it does go to series, Rose and Moore will ramp up the absurdity even further, and produce something truly disorientating, incomprehensible and unpredictable. At the very worst, at least it would mean one less slot for Susan Nickson's tripe.


THE HOLD STEADY - Boys and Girls in America (Emotaph. Oh sorry, Vagrant)

I hate it when people bang on about classic rock bands. Not because I don't like classic rock though; it's because my parents didn't listen to the 'right' bands for me to have any solid background knowledge. So while I was listening to Meatloaf and The Human League, you hipsters out there in the blogosphere had these imaginary parents listening to Free and Zeppelin, maaaaan. Having said that, my Mum loves Neil Young and she dislikes the Beatles so I think I prefer that to being raised by pseudo-rockers.

My lack of knowledge of classic rock and my general ignorance of the world before 1975 does slightly work against me when trying to write this review though. Because you can tell this band have gone through their collection of favourite seventies rock records and pinched bits from them for this, their third album and first on Vagrant Entertainment Ltd.

Singer Craig Finn's vocals are very nasal, and are bound to either please or irritate people. He also has a mutter-y, almost spoken-word delivery which can be a little bothersome. I personally think that whether his vocals work depends on the song. A song like 'Hot Soft Light" is a very anthemic number musically anyway so it's easy to get carried along by the tune and slowly get used to the drunk-sounding mumblings. But a song like "Citrus", which is just an acoustic guitar and Finn's voice, is asking a lot of a listener that finds his singing difficult to appreciate.

One thing that makes the vocals more palatable are the words coming out of his mouth. There's an excellent story-telling quality to his words, with lots of witty lines and imagery. There seems to be an overall "spirit of the underdog" feel to his lyrics too.

The gamut of rock'n'roll is well and truly run over the eleven songs. The standard for the album is very much American classic rock, but you also get garage rock ("Same Kooks"), indie rock ("You Can Make Him Like You") a ballad-esque duet ("Chillout Tent") featuring Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum and Elizabeth Elmore of the Reputation.

All in all this a great listen which flags a little towards the end. If you like your rock to be anthemic, your vocals unique and your liquor hard (haha), this is worthy of your time.


MONIKERS - Eat Your Young CDEP (Kiss of Death Records)

American labels like Kiss of Death, Art of the Underground and Whoa-Oh are putting out some brilliant pop-punk at the moment – not pop-punk in the watered down, autotuned, superficial, vacuous Blink 182-clone sense of the word, but proper actual punk music with proper actual poppy melodies. It's like Drive-Thru Records never happened!

My latest find in this world of new old pop-punk is (are?) Monikers, who number among their ranks ex-Discount guitarist Ryan, who sounds like he has been attending Blake Schwarzenbach's Academy of Vocal Training. Musically there is also a touch of a Jawbreakery vibe, but a little more rough around the edges and punked up. Stand-out track 'Mirror Images' could almost be a leftover Discount track, which is also no bad thing.

Five songs, one acoustic, which whizz by in twelve minutes. A short review for a short record, but one that should have a place in any self-respecting pop-punker's record collection. But a warning for the squeamish: the cover of this EP is a graphically literal illustration of its title. Yum yum!


KETTERING #6 (A5 zine, 52pp, £3.00 plus p&p)

As denizens of the information superhighway's ever-expanding blogosphere in space-age AD2007, it's fair to say that we at Hot Cuss are pretty “high tech”. You'll often find us “down loading” “pod casts”, making virtual friends, lovers and enemies (often in that order) on MySpace, and streaming music and video directly from the cyberspace into our bionic laser-eyes. But just because we're living in the future, don't think we've forgotten about the past. We still like old things, and good old-fashioned print media.

Kettering is a fanzine (remember them? They were like websites but made out of paper and staples) which, as their tagline explains, is “the magazine of elderly British comedy”. £3.00 may seem a touch steep for a 52-page A5 zine, but between the lovely card covers you'll find one of writing's rarest commodities: intelligent, knowledgeable, well-researched info about comedy.

Featured in this issue are profiles of local (to me, anyway, living in Wigan and all) comedians Roy Kinnear and Frank Randle, lost Kenneth Williams radio comedy 'A Tribute to Greatness', an article lamenting the lack of conservative satire (a timely piece considering Fox News's recent abysmal attempt at a right-wing version of The Daily Show), and a feature on the Doctor films. The highlight of the issue, however, is the ten page feature on Radio 4's long-running antidote to panel games 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue', a thorough and passionate celebration of one of the finest radio comedies of all time, including interviews with many involved with the making of the programme, a full list of hosts and panelists, and even a brief synopsis of the show's forerunner, 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again'.

Where else can you read such in-depth analysis of old comedy, or any comedy, for that matter? The mainstream press rarely – if ever – have enough knowledge of or interest in the subject for their input to be worthwhile, and there hasn't been a dedicated comedy magazine on the newsstand for over a decade. If you've read this much of the review then you must have at least a passing interest in the subject matter so, if you think that this may interest you at all, i implore you to give it a go. And if you're still not sure, the first issue is available to download for free as a PDF. Even though it's “just” a fanzine, Kettering is far superior to most books on comedy I've read, and almost all comedy coverage in national newspapers and magazines. Support it.


WITCHES WITH DICKS – Manual CD (Kiss of Death Records)

First things first, that name: “Witches With Dicks” is a terrible, terrible band name, yet there's no denying that it conjures up quite a vivid image in the mind's eye. An image of witches... but with dicks. You can see them, can't you? Ugly, wart-ridden hags with penises exposed, flopping around outside their cowls? Ick. With a name like that you might expect a horrible goth-stained doom rock nightmare or a sub-Blink 182 jock pop-punk band with “hilarious” lyrics. Would you be right? Let's find out!

Musically there's nothing new on Manual, just straight-up melodic punk rock. This album could have been released 10-15 years ago and even then it wouldn't have been particularly original. And lyrically there's also nothing you haven't heard before – fucked up kids, fucking the cops, fucked up lives, fucking your job, fucking disillusionment... with copious usage of the word “fuck”, natch.

So, a boring, lazy, uninspiring album that's not worth bothering with then, right? Wrong! Ha ha ha, see how I trick you! It's time for the old switcheroo! The pull-back-and-reveal! See, this album is one of the best I've heard since, ooh, the Great St Louis album at least.

Just because Witches With Dicks haven't broken new ground musically it doesn't mean they aren't any good. Quite the opposite: they are fucking, fucking great. Much like Long Island favourites Latterman, what Witches With Dicks lack in originality in their music and lyrics they more than make up for with enthusiasm, passion and damn good songs, bringing to mind 'Midwestern Songs'-era Dillinger Four, early Jawbreaker, and every band that Aaron Cometbus has ever been in - sloppy, poppy punk rock that sounds as if it could collapse into a giant mess with a gentle prod, yet which still manages to remain catchy, melodic and instantly memorable.

With ten tracks in less than 20 minutes, and not one song reaching the 2 minute 30 mark, Manual is like a shot of pure punk rock straight from their hearts to your ears. There seems to be a resurgence in decent American pop-punk at the moment, and this album is up there with the very best of it. Ignore the slightly dodgy band name and enjoy the very excellent music.


ARCADE FIRE - Neon Bible (Sonovox)

First things first... this band is absolutely huge! This album was a new entry at number 2 on the US Billboard chart and the UK album chart! I don't think I was fully aware of this band's popularity before I checked it. So let's skip the intro, we all know this band...

The Arcade Fire are probably the most melodramatic indie band since The Smiths. The music, the stage shows, the quasi-Victorian image; melodramatic beyond belief and, to be honest, it's an irritating element of the band as far as I'm concerned. But, I'm not sure it would have irritated me quite so much when I was a youngster when things like image have a more profound effect. I mean I liked the Smashing Pumpkins, so it does make sense.

Talking of the Pumpkins, The Arcade Fire remind me of them. I'm not sure what it is... I think it is the overblown pomp of some of their material and how it can be a good thing if the band are good enough to carry it off. They are just really epic in the same way Corgan's lot were. I don't know where I'm going with this comparison but it's a whole lot better than the Springsteen comparisons they've been getting. Note to music press: if a band sounds vaguely folky and is full of pomp, it doesn't automatically sound like The Boss. You lazy bastards.

What's that? The music? Right. The album starts with a quiet song/loud song tag team tactic which might work ok for some people, but I just skip the quiet ones as they are pretty dull and head straight for the energetic numbers. "Keep The Car Running" was a good choice of first single and shows off Win Butler's howling vocals, and "Intervention" is a stompy number with the lyric "Working for the church while your family dies". Nice. It also has a funereal-sounding organ at the start which is fine in the context of the song, but makes me laugh anyway.

The band's diversity does work in their favour sometimes, shown by "Black Waves/Bad Vibrations". Sounding like nothing else on the album, and sung by Régine Chassagne, it sounds like Lene Lovich or a better Siouxsie and the Banshees. "Windowsill" is the best slower song, with some great strings and good dynamics building up towards the end. And "The Well and the Lighthouse" is a terrific upbeat song that almost sounds like a more interesting The Killers.

The best song on the album by far, though, is the amazing "No Cars Go". It's one of the best epic indie-rock songs I've heard for ages. A brilliant melody with the strings and horn section is the first noticeable element, followed by the excellent way the guitar distortion kicks in. The vocals are shared between both Win and Régine equally and complement each other very well, and the song, after kicking down a couple of gears towards the end, introduces an almost Flaming Lips-esque choir with a lovely "woah-oh-oh-oh" melody that's as mournful as it is uplifting. Fantastic stuff.

If only the whole album was of the quality of "No Cars Go"! It would be some album then. But despite the slight inconsistancy anyone who liked "Funeral" will like this, and anyone that doesn't like this band from what they've heard needs to hear "No Cars Go".


THE SHINS – Wincing the Night Away CD (Sub Pop/Trangressive)

The word “shins” is probably my favourite word for a body part, certainly a better word than “leg” or “thigh”, and probably “ankle” too. Say it out loud and you'll understand just how aurally satisfying the word is. Shins. Shins. Shins. But (have you guessed where this slightly contrived intro is going, yet?) are the band “The Shins” sound as pleasing to the ear as the word “shins”? Let's find out!

Sometimes surreal and dreamlike, other times sparse and melancholic, occasionally both at the same time, The Shins' third full-length release is the sound of a band evolving, a band developing without rejecting what it was that their fans loved about their earlier records. And while the first few tracks may suggest that they've recorded 'Chutes Still Too Narrow' (or 'Chutes 2 Narrow', whichever you prefer), as the album progresses so too does the distance travelled from the standard Shins template... but not as far, perhaps, the ankle, or toes. (I am sorry.)

Opener 'Sleeping Lessons' starts quietly and, indeed, sleepily, but gradually and satisfyingly builds up into a fairly aggressive (by The Shins' standards) rock song, while 'Australia' sees the band on familiar indie-pop territory, as do later tracks 'Red Rabbits' 'Split Needles' and 'Girl Sailor'. Surf-tinged interlude 'Pam Berry' segues well into the excellent single 'Phantom Limb' – so far, so Shins.

The divergence of their sound begins with 'Sea Legs', a flirtation with the electronic, which is probably both the most eclectic track on the album and, for me, the weakest. 'Turn on Me' is an upbeat pop song and surely must've been a contender for release as a single, possibly their most accessible song to date, which is cleverly juxtaposed with the the sharply contrasting stripped-down and haunting 'Black Wave', possibly their least accessible song to date. The album closes with the excellent folk-tinged 'A Comet Appears'.

Despite the combination of the experimental and the familiar, the album certainly feels like a cohesive work, with not a track (other than perhaps 'Sea Legs') out of place. Whatever direction they pull themselves in, they never sound forced, maintaining a consistent, Shins-like sound, thanks in no small part to James Mercer's distinctive vocals, and his occasional delightful habit of cramming more words into his songs than the melodies should allow.

Life changing? Hardly. Better than 'Chutes Too Narrow'? I don't think so. A perfectly good, solid indie-pop album? Bingo. Perhaps too literate and subtle to propel them into the echelons of mainsteam stadium rock, which is probably for the best, 'Wincing The Night Away' is a perfectly nice, pleasant and even comforting listen, with the quality of its songs demanding that you pay it attention rather than relegating it to mere background music. I look forward to their next evolution with interest and optimism.

That's my Shins review, then. And look! I managed to do it without using the phrases “Natalie Portman”, “Garden State” and “will change your life”! Erm, until just then, anyway. Curses.


VARSITY DRAG – For Crying Out Loud 10” (Boss Tuneage)

If you've heard of Ben Reilly, it's probably as Peter Parker's clone from the controversial 'Clone Saga' story arc in 'Amazing Spider-Man' in the 1990s, so imagine my surprise to learn that he's now fronting a punky power-pop band...

What? Oh, right! Ha ha ha! I'll start again.

If you've heard of Ben Deily, it's probably as Evan Dando's co-songwriter from the Lemonheads in the late 80s, so imagine my surprise to learn that he's now fronting a punky power-pop band! Actually, that's not very surprising at all, is it? Oh well.

'For Crying Out Loud' is Varsity Drag's debut release, though if you're familiar with Ben's Lemonheads songs, or indeed his post-Lemonheads band, Pods, then you'll already know exactly what this sounds like: punky power-pop (that's the third time I've used that phrase now, repetition fans), with high-pitched vocals, delightful harmonies and some doo-doo-doo bits, like all good punky power-pop (four) should have. Imagine the Buzzcocks playing Big Star songs, if you're one of those people who likes to have a band's sound described to you using two other bands.

But just because Ben Deily's sound hasn't moved on very far it doesn't mean he's merely trying to rehash his past glories or extend his youth: songs like 'Billy Ruane' and the piano-led '1999' are proof positive that Deily has refined his craft over the years, producing songs with a fuller, ever-so slightly more mature sound than the raggedy fuzz-pop of his Lemonheads songs. Varsity Drag's songs are still obviously Ben Deily songs, though – recent live sets included songs from this album and old Lemonheads and Pods tracks, all in perfect harmony.

All nine songs on this record are nigh-on perfect, so picking out the best tracks would just involve listing them all. The vinyl-only bonus track, a remix of 'Miles of Ocean' by Ben's brother and ex-Pod Jonno, is nice enough but not essential, as it isn't a million miles (of ocean) away from the album version. However, one advantage that the vinyl version has over the CD is that it's on 10” bowling-ballish swirly coloured vinyl, as if a bowling ball has been flattened and the songs have been pressed onto it. Perhaps that is how they were made! Probably not. That's probably impossible, now that I think about it.

This is pop-punk for grown-ups, an album written and performed by one of the finest craftsmen of the genre. While Evan Dando's excellent Lemonheads album of last year has been receiving much media attention, Varsity Drag's even-more-excellent album of last year has certainly not. Ben Deily has been one of pop music's best-kept secrets for far too long. Start crying his name out loud. Do you see what I did there?


RICHMOND FONTAINE - Thirteen Cities (Decor)

Richmond Fontaine are a band that defies easy classification. Think they're a country band? Listen to explosive earlier albums Safety and Lost Son. They aren't country records. Their previous album to this, The Fitzgerald, was their most laidback so far. Have they carried on down the road of delicate picking and subtle delivery? Well, yes and no. See! It's never straight-forward with this band.

Some of the album's weakest points are its most restrained though. 'Ghost I Became' unwittingly rips-off Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton and renders it useless. 'Westward Ho' and 'St. Ides, Parked Cars, and Other People's Homes' are fairly uninspired Americana by numbers, and as these three tracks fall next to each other on the midsection of the album which is a shame as it does disrupt it.

My favourite track on the album follows these three though. 'The Kid From Belmont Street' reminds me of the way John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats can produce a really taught atmospheric song and make it sound very powerful. There's some really inspired, almost jazz-like horns on this track too. It's almost like Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, but with a lot more depth.

Horns are also prominent on the standout 'Moving Back Home #2', an upbeat mariachi stomp through a tale of, er, moving home. If They Might Be Giants tried to sound like Calexico it'd probably sound like this. There are two instrumentals on this album which bring to mind Calexico, so it's not the greatest surprise to discover that they helped them out with some of the recording of the album in Tucson, Arizona.

Other songs which catch the ear are the two that are most like typical Richmond Fontaine songs; '$87 And A Guilty Conscience That Gets Worse The Longer I Go' (that's like a Half Man Half Biscuit song title, but without the humour) and 'Capsized' (not a Samiam cover). They could have both been on any previous album, and it's good to hear that while they have expanded their range on this album, they haven't lost sight of what they were capable of on previous outings.

Basically, if you claim to hate country music but really like Johnny Cash and Neil Young, then a) you are an idiot and b) give this a band a listen because they are truly one of the better bands of this style. If you're a fan already, then this isn't as raucous as earlier material and isn't as consistantly good as Post To Wire, but it's certainly a worthwhile addition to their canon.


LIFETIME - Lifetime (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen)

It's the highly anticipated return of the melodic hardcore "crew". And it's okay.

For those in the dark about Lifetime's legacy, they released two hugely influential albums in the mid-nineties (the loud and rocking Hello Bastards and the more measured Jersey's Best Dancers). When I say hugely influential, ex-members went on to form Kid Dynamite, possibly my favourite hardcore band ever, and bands like Saves The Day, Set Your Goals and even New Found Glory borrowed from their mix of hardcore punk pace and riffs, and pop-punk melody.

Anyone familiar with the band's previous work will be right at home here. It picks up on the bands progression to more melodic work, with a song such as Can't Think About It Now being the poppiest I've heard by this band.

The album starts really well too. Airport Monday Morning is classic Lifetime with a great melody and a classic breakdown by guitarist Dr Dan Yemin (The Steal's #1 fan!) for the chorus. And Just a Quiet Evening is a cracking tune, really showing what a great singer Ari Katz is for this style.

However, the album, even at a short 24 minutes, loses its way halfway through, with many songs later in the album failing to stick in the head after repeated listening. Also, anyone looking for a riff as catchy as Rodeo Clown from Hello Bastards is going to be disappointed, there's nothing remotely like that here!

So all in all, it's a decent album but nothing amazing. Pete Wentz probably loves it though. I can just picture him wanking all over the original recordings, wishing his band was even 5% as good as Lifetime. The attention-seeking using-the-word-emo-as-a-noun-inspiring tosspot.



Kombat Opera's TV debut was back in 2001 as part of little-remembered late-night BBC2 Simon Munnery vehicle Attention Scum, in which the composer Richard Thomas and opera singer Lore Lixemberg would perform insults in the form of brief operatic vignettes. Thomas' next project was the controversial Jerry Springer the Opera, the first act of which is The Jerry Springer Show (or an exaggerated approximation of it) reimagined as an opera. Kombat Opera Presents is Thomas' attempt to do the same for five other TV programmes. Last week's episode was an amusing recreation of The Apprentice (renamed The Applicants, allowing for a delightfully childish play on words – think about it), and I'm sure you can work out for yourselves which show 'Spouse Change' was parodying.

It was 'Wife Swap'.

The families involved in the 'spouse change' were Roy and Darryl Gay, a bohemian gay couple from Pennsylvania; and Chester and Gloria Winchester, racist, homophobic born-again Christians from Alabama, who “believe every word of the Bible, including words that are not in the Bible”. Cue culture clash!

Kombat Opera Presents it at its best when playing with its own form, such as when the choir of opera singers sing the on-screen captions, or interrupt the narrator, the only character who doesn't sing all of their dialogue, a role performed this week by Simon 'Michael off I'm Alan Partridge' Greenall doing an American accent (and doing it quite well). It is these moments that are, obviously, unique to this show.

Putting the opera to one side and concentrating on the comedy, there is a lot to like about Kombat Opera Presents in this respect, too, such as Darryl's reaction to the Winchester's trailer (“this is like eye rape!”), and a nice visual gag when Gloria, in an attempt to “cure” Roy of his sinful homosexuality, discards some photos that they have in their lounge – Elton John, then Wham, then Tom Cruise...

Jerry Springer the Opera was primarily a satire on trash TV culture, but Kombat Opera is perhaps more light-hearted in tone, and while this clash of redneck and homosexual does initially seem to be satirical, it's really just a way of creating a situation that lends itself to humour. Similarly, Spouse Change doesn't really have any point to make about Wife Swap or reality TV – other than a comment about it being the same every week, the show isn't critiqued at all, and the parody does seem affectionate rather than attacking. Of note is that both episodes so far have included material about the church and Christians, perhaps inspired by the hate campaign waged on Richard Thomas and co-writer Stewart Lee by Christian Voice over 'Jerry Springer The Opera'. Stewart Lee dealt with this by including material in his stand-up that he knew would be even more offensive to Christian Voice; this could be Thomas's attempt to do the same.

However, I don't think that Thomas's overall aim is to satirize, but rather to amuse, at which he is mostly successful. There are a few songs that drag for just a little bit too long, and the end of the episode was something of an anti-climax, but on the whole Kombat Opera Presents is an innovative and funny comedy show, which is a rarity in these times of prank-wankery like 'Balls of Steel', non-comedy like Catherine Tate and Ricky Fucking Gervias. I think it's unlikely that there will be a second series, not due to the BBC being shit this time, but I think the show's format dictates that it won't be possible to produce too many episodes without becoming repetitive and without the novelty wearing off. But don't worry about that – enjoy it while it lasts.



Every now and then I'll feel like I am drifting away from punk music, that none of it interests me anymore, and that I might as well resign myself to the fact that every punk band I really love put out their best records in the last century. Then, inevitably, I'll hear a new band that puts all those fears to rest and makes me feel like an excited teenager just discovering music all over again. Bolton-based The Great St Louis are, for the moment, that band.

Opening track 'No Change' is a good indicator of what to expect, which is this: melodic punk rock in the vein of Leatherface, but perhaps with the rougher edges sanded down a tad. Not that this is slick, overproduced mush, or indeed like a slick, overproduced Mush (that was a good pun, wasn't it?), it's just that The Great St Louis' take on punk is a bit catchier, has a few more 'whoa-oh's and 'na-na-nahs' and an ever-so-slightly less gruff vocal style than the Boat, with singer John sounding as if he only smokes 400 fags a day to Frankie Stubbs' 1000.

Not that this is Leatherface lite, (Plasticface?), mind you - tracks like 'Tonight' (do check out the video on YouTube), the almost-perfect pop-punk 'Summer', the sounds-a-bit-like-Snuff singalong of 'Sink' and set-closer 'Nah Nah Nah' (guess how that one goes!) prove that this isn't a band just ripping off established punk bands, but a band capable of writing some of the finest, most hook-stuffed punk songs you're likely to hear. It's almost hard to believe that this is their debut album, as there are many bands playing this sort of thing who don't achieve these heights in their entire lifetime.

The only minor disappointment is in their cover of the Levellers' 'Robbie Jones' - it's not that it's bad, but it certainly screams 'B-side', and makes more sense when they play it live than it does in the middle of an album. But that literally is the only 'flaw' with the album - that one of the tracks is merely 'quite good', while the rest are nigh-on unbeatable.

I'm trying not to be too hyperbolic about this record, but if there is a better album by a UK punk band this year - nay, this decade - I'll be very, very surprised indeed. The Great St Louis? The Fucking Amazing St Louis, more like.


DARTZ! - This Is My Ship (Xtra Mile)

Well, this is straight out of the top drawer. Dartz! are three young men from the North-East of England that have been building a reputation for putting on a great show live, and this debut album builds upon those strong performances. Stylistically, the band could be placed in the intersection between poppy new wave-ish indie such as Futureheads or The Rapture and the intricate post-hardcore of Q and Not U's first album. But then, at times, they also remind me of the much-missed Dugong, plainly due to the massive hooks in every song! Seriously, every song is a huge tune... anyone that likes songs that are fun and not straight down the line is in for a treat here.

Personal favourites moments here are the lyrical use of 'iridescent' and 'perpendicular' in Cold Holidays, the brilliant guitar work on the outro to Laser Eyes, the tempo change in St. Petersburg, the whoops that are omnipresent throughout (Documents is best for this) and the wonky-funk assault of Teaching Me To Dance. Yeah, as I wrote previously, it's pretty much all good.

The sheer element of fun that runs throughout this album is pretty much what underpins the excellence. I guess if you don't like handclaps, whoops and hi-hats, this might not be for you. I reckon there's something here to appeal to most though. As far as I'm concerned this'll be up there for my album of the year. Woo!