By Various Artists
This is the second instalment of the monthly sonic publication known as 'Across the Pennines'. Contributions appear to be sourced from the geographical area that the name suggests; i.e. those fine Yorkshire bands and their slightly inferior cousins over to the left. From the latter camp, album openers Superkings serve up delightfully bittersweet slice of brooding piano balladry. It avoids trite singer-songwriter clichés and takes us off on a brief journey of evocative imagery. This album certainly does its share of genre hopping and this track is far from typical, but it's as fine a place to start as any.
'Gumshoe' will be recognizable to any of Screaming Mimi's growing fan base; a rapid and slightly unnerving chorus-free romp that takes you on a breathless guitar-driven trip for a couple of minutes, then dumps you confused and slightly disorientated. The aural assault continues with the stop-start riffs of Go Faster. Their approach shares much with fellow Liverpudlians the Wombats and Hot Club de Paris, generally speaking a plus, although they seem also to offer versatility in the wry lyrics department.
'Kicking Crutches' probably isn't Leeds' own Grammatics' most immediately appealing offering to date, and requires a bit more effort than the sub-3 minute punches that surround it on this disc. That said, don't allow challenging instrumentation and contrary rhythms to put you off; it makes for rewarding listening after a few spins. Less interesting is the slightly lacklustre sub-Joy Division offering from Syntax, who seem to have learnt the benefit of a short repeated bass line, but don't yet seem to have mastered the art of injecting the repetition with much urgency or direction.
Modernaire's 'Bloodshed in the Woodshed' is far more intriguing; a jaunty romp through scenes of torture and torment led, apparently, with all the careless abandon of a schoolgirl playing hopscotch. It's dark, disturbing and hellishly catchy. Also catchy, but less obfuscated of lyric, is Rochelle's 'Party Girls' - previously raved about on these pages, and still every bit the irresistible shot of girly disco synth-pop that it was back then. To My Boy are another outfit nodding in the direction of the early 80s and sounding not unlike the Human League, perhaps strangely given that they're another Liverpool outfit. However, if that's not necessarily your cup of tea then do still give them a whirl; it's a whole lot jerkier than Oakey and co. and is all over in a couple of minutes. Oh, and you won't find any kitsch female harmonies here either.
The last couple of tracks are perhaps the best on the album; appropriately enough, one from each side of the Pennines. 'Dash Dots Dash' sees Sheffield's Darlings of the Splitscreen take us on an increasingly bumpy ride through their world of sharp guitar melody, danceable keyboard bleeps and frenetic vocals. And OK, there's the odd 'oo' and 'ah' of harmony thrown in along the way. You won't mind it, honestly!
And then from more well known quarters we have those veterans of the Mancunian scene, The Longcut. Presumably 'YANWYRC' is something they knocked up on the tour bus during a tea break and decided to gift to this compilation. The title is apparently short for 'You Are Nothing Without Your Robot Car', which a quick search on Google suggests is a reference to a heckle once suffered by David Hasselhoff, and may not be the snappy title their label required for the next single. However, the track has all the hallmarks of their better known instrumental efforts and confirms their status as unchallenged masters when it comes to turning a brooding slow-build into euphoric catharsis. It would be a worthy closer to any album, and this album is certainly worthy of being closed by it. If they keep up the intended monthly output then it should certainly be worth keeping an eye out for these compilations in future.