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Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994 – 2014


Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994 – 2014

Posted on 13 December 2014 by Dorian

To celebrate 20 years in the business Wilco have released two bumper sets of music covering their two decades of recording. The first (What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 – 2014) is 38 tracks giving a pretty good account of their albums to date.  With a back catalogue as good as Wilco’s there will always be arguments about which tracks to include, but this is a pretty excellent selection that stands as the perfect introduction to the band.

More interesting for the seasoned Wilco collector is Alpha Mike Foxtrot, a 77 song collection of non-album tracks from the same period. They aren’t all non-album songs, far from it, but the live versions, demos, compilation tracks, b-sides and covers gives a different view of the same band and offers up a few surprises.

Wilco Alpha Mike Foxtrot

Some slightly grudging reviews have complained that there is nothing much on show here that hasn’t been available before in some form, but for most people these recordings will be a new side of Wilco. The development of the band from the country rock traditionalists of AM through the more sonically challenging Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to the seasoned professionals of their most recent albums is charted in the progression across almost five hours of music.

The cover versions included are all of a high standard, but show the more traditional side of the band, largely songs by American classic rock artists. Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, Steely Dan and Neil Young all get the Wilco treatment. These are lovely additions to the Wilco catalogue but don’t reveal that much about the band.

The demo recordings of album tracks are a much more interesting proposition and my personal favorite songs across the four disc set. In some cases we see the song in a very similar form to the final cut, on other occasions the differences are more marked. ‘Monday’, in a rawer form, seems even more like a Rolling Stones outtake than the final album version and the “king-sized demo” version of ELT is the same pop classic from Summerteeth but sounding like it was recorded for a Cars album.

Other demos show that the band made the right decision with the way they were re-worked for release. ‘Camera’ is a fascinating mess that clearly needed Jim O’Rourke’s hand to become the pop gem ‘Kamera’ on the final album. ‘Hummingbird’ is all clicks and fuzz and scratch,  far cry from the music-hall jazz it became for A Ghost Is Born’.

The live tracks on the album are another reason to listen, this is a great live band and every incarnation sounds brilliant live and you get a real taste of that  here. The only shame is that we don’t get to hear more of the bands recent output  in live versions or demos here. In fact the album seems to gloss over the last few years a little. I’ll never tire of hearing the guitar interplay non the live version ‘Impossible Germany’ but that is already possible on the Kicking Television album.

A few of the songs here that didn’t make the cut for albums are warmly welcomed here. ‘Kicking Television’ (clearly not a favourite recording from  Tweedy’s linear notes) shows just how good Wilco are when they allow themselves to rock out a bit. ‘A Magazine Called Sunset’ is just a great piece of pop music that deserved space on an album release.

Alpha Mike Foxtrot is a wonderful, warts and all, look at one of the truly great American bands. It is a slightly daunting song set, and one that will keep revealing gems for months to come. Anyone who likes Wilco will love it, and it might just be the best place for the uninitiated to start.


By Dorian Rogers


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Top Ten Best Debut Albums (That Don’t Usually Make Best Debut Album Lists)

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Top Ten Best Debut Albums (That Don’t Usually Make Best Debut Album Lists)

Posted on 28 February 2014 by Dorian

A good debut album is a tough ask. Most bands starting out are mere songwriting and production novices who use their debut to test the water before unleashing a killer second or third album. Others just nail it first time. There has already been a fair few best debut albums lists but when we were looking through these we noticed a fair few noticeable absentees. We thought it was about time to give credit where its due and pay tribute to those that do not always make such lists. We’ve got lost albums that were only really heard decades later. We’ve also got popular albums that were perhaps not cool enough for some lists. We’ve also got others that were overshadowed by later releases. So what is our benchmark? Its simple, if it’s a great debut but not on the NME or Rolling Stone’s existing debut albums lists then its in. Anyway enough of the rambling, on with the list…

10. Tigercats – Isle of Dogs (2012)



On this most recent debut on our list London based indie-popsters Tigercats show that they have more about them than a penchant for an afro-beat guitar lick and smart lyric. Here they present a frantic road trip around their East End home, visiting record stores, laughing at hipsters in trendy bars and drunkenly staggering home lamenting on the social divides of the capital. Of course that’s our interpretation. When we asked lead singer Duncan Barrett about how they managed to come up with the concept, he revealed that the tracks were merely the best ones they had at the time. In fact he  looked somewhat puzzled when I even suggested it was a great ‘concept album’  for Coalition government era London.  Happy accident or not, we urge you to check this out. (JL)

9. The Specials – The Specials (1979)



I didn’t live in Coventry in the late 70s but amazingly this album almost makes me wish I had. Combining covers of 60s ska classics with a host of original material, there isn’t a duff track to be heard. Who can listen to Nite Klub without thinking it must have been written about somewhere they’ve been? Concrete Jungle combines social commentary with some amazing guitar playing, the lyrics should be depressing but instead are amazingly uplifting. Dawning of a New Era perfectly captures both the hope and despair as the 70s slipped away into what would be the Thatcherite 80s. The whole album combines great musicianship with thought provoking lyrics. Some of the characters in songs such as Too Much Too Young and Little Bitch are at face value pitiful yet somehow one can’t help but think everyone was having so much more fun back then. (MB)

8. The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike (2004)



Thunder, Lightning, Strike is to all intent and purposes a solo album by bedroom recording artist Ian Parton. He cleverly records it under the Go! Team moniker (complete with esoteric punctuation) as he knows. as an obvious music geek, that the mystique of the “band” is part of the appeal. It is one of the most infectious albums of the last quarter century, immediate and energetic. It also performs a pretty neat trick of sounding unlike anything else, whilst being, partly through ingenious sample use. instantly familiar. Even the song titles make you smile and even if you don’t get the references, for example the  motorbiking TV show Junior Kick start is unlikely to be well known these days, they all sound pretty cool. As punky as it is funky, as much in thrall to film soundtracks as hip hop beats, it really is as much fun as you can cram on a CD. The current issue is great even if the extra track is unnecessary and the version of ‘Bottle Rocket’ isn’t as perfect as the original. (DR)

7. John Howard – Kid in a Big World (1975)


John Howard -Kid In A Big World

We’ve written about John Howard and his excellent debut album a lot since we were introduced to his music by favourite Ralegh Long. Snapped up by CBS in the 1970s he was sort of the next Elton John, but had more of an alternative, melancholy edge to his music. In the end his record company and mainstream radio didn’t really know how to market him to the masses. He made a few more records, but quit to became a music executive only to emerge in recent years with a second prolific recording career, with around a dozen releases since his 2005 comeback. It’s understandable why this album is not on other debut album lists, people quite simply never really got to hear it. But they were missing out. Here are some superb glam pop tracks and piano ballads, such as Family Man and Goodbye Suzie,  that in a more discerning alternative universe would have made him one of the biggest acts of the 1970s. (JL)

6. Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (1980)



Like so many others I first got into Kevin Rowland and Dexy’s Midnight Runners because of the song Come On Eileen and the album Too Rye Aye. I became obsessed with them in a way only teenagers do and started to seek out their earlier material which soon led me to Searching for the Young Soul Rebels. Recorded only two years previously with a largely different band it’s a harder, edgier sound, swirling organs and storming brass overlaying  bass, drums and guitar are a marked contrast to the violins and banjos of the Eileen era but for me it is Rowland at his finest. There’s anger and passion a plenty in songs such as Burn it Down, Tell Me When My Light Turns Green and Seven Days Too Long, a number one hit in Geno, and my personal favourite There, There, My Dear. (MB)

5. Hefner – Breaking God’s Heart (1998)


Breaking Gods Heart

Darren Hayman has stated that Breaking God’s Heart is his least favourite Hefner album. It isn’t my favourite either, that is an accolade that swings regularly between The Fidelity Wars and We Love The City,  but it is a pretty perfect statement of intent and is an essential album in Hefner’s near perfect back catalogue. In fact it is the elements that make this such a good album that most likely bother Hayman, the rough edged recording, the adolescent lyrics and the far from perfect vocals. It sounds like a band starting out, like a band that is raw and passionate and a band that is bursting with brilliant songs they want to get on record. ‘The Sweetness That’s Withi’ is wonderful; not many bands start their first album with a song as strong as this. In fact the first four songs on the album, through The Sad Witch and the Hymn For The Postal Service are as good a quartet of album openers as I can remember. The last of the four Love Will Destroy Us In The End probably has the best opening 40 seconds of any indie pop song in the 90s. I suspect the same song also offers up the most cock-sure guitar solo of Hayman’s career. (DR)

4. The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band- Gorilla (1967)



Formed at art college in the 60s the Bonzos struck upon the decidedly odd idea to reinvent traditional 1920s jazz in a then modern age of psychedelia and kaftans. The result is funny,  inventive and above all superb. The key to the Bonzo’s success and the greatness of this, their best album, was the songwriting of Neil Inness and the late Vivian Stanshall. Liverpudlian Innes, the genius behind The Rutles, was arguably as good a song writer as Lennon and McCartney. His track Equestrian Statue is a real high point. As for Stanshall, the east end lad with a knack for lampooning the English upper classes like no other, he delivers vocal treat after treat on tracks such as Cool Britannia, the Intro and the Outro and I’m Bored, which to this day are regularly used on TV, film and advertising. (JL)

3. Blondie- Blondie (1976)



Perhaps opening your debut album with a song about a sex offender isn’t the most commercial of moves but in the long term it doesn’t seem to have done Blondie much harm. It’s an excellent start to an excellent album that sadly over the years has been overshadowed by the more fully realised new wave pop sound of their later albums Eat to the Beat and Parallel Lines. Tracks on this debut, such as Little Girl Lies have much more 60s rock ‘n roll influence but the new wave attitude is bubbling away nicely on Look Good in Blue, In the Sun and Rifle Range. Debbie Harry’s vocals, churning out these sassy and funny lyrics, sound amazing and the whole band is clearly reveling in the chance to leap out of the New York punk scene of clubs such as CBGBs and Kansas City for a short time and into the recording studio, where they continued to improve for the rest of the 70s. (MB)

2. Supergrass – I Should Coco (2005)



Why on earth doesn’t Supergrass’s  debut I Should CoCo take pride of place on other best debut albums lists?  It’s a glorious rollercoaster of a debut, packed with great guitar pop and above all fun. Just listen to one of its singles Caught by the Fuzz or Alright, and marvel at the cheeky chappie thrill ride of a three minute pop track that they are. I challenge you not to get up and start running across the nearest beach arms flailing around and declaring your adoration for life itself after listening to it this album. And it’s not just us that love it, even if it has been cruelly overlooked by the likes of NME and Rolling Stone. It reached number one in the UK album charts and is now platinum selling. The best Brit pop album of the 1990s? Well, its hard to find one that’s more fun certainly. (JL)

1. Sparklehorse – Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (1995)



Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot seemed to come out of nowhere when I first purchased it in shortly after its release. I knew nothing of Mark Linkous and his time in the Dancing Hoods or even that he had co-written a song on one of my favourite Cracker albums, even though Cracker frontman David Lowery is a secret contributor on this album under the name David Charles. This was purely an on spec purchase that sucked me in from first listen and instantly gave them “my new favourite band” status. Linkous’s  issues with mental health, and his eventual suicide, cloud his music now but at the time (although there is obvious sadness on the album) it is a very uplifting recording.

Songs move from delicate, such as Homecoming Queen to the noisy, such as Rainmaker via surreal noise interludes, most notably 350 Double Pumper Holey, without sounding at all unnatural or lacking cohesion. This is an album that covers so much ground whilst retaining the unique Sparklehorse identity. You want a banjo driven country epic? Well, listen to Cow. You want an indie disco classic with crunching guitars? Well, there is Someday I Will Treat You Good to scratch that itch. This outstanding debut is oddly left off far too many debut albums lists and we are delighted to give it top billing here. (DR)

Written and compiled by Martin Burns, Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers


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Pernice Brothers – Yours, Mine and Ours

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Pernice Brothers – Yours, Mine and Ours

Posted on 24 February 2014 by Dorian

By the time Joe Pernice’s band of brothers got round to releasing this, their third album, the music community had started to lose interested. Originally mainly promoted by the alt-country press they had made it pretty plain that they weren’t going to sound like his previous band The Scud Mountain Boys. They weren’t even going to have the big string sections that had received such plaudits on their previous outings, I  still remember the dissapointed expression on the face of the person who sold me the CD.

yours mine ours

In fact this album is clearly in just as much thrall to UK 80s indie bands as it is with Teenage Fanclub, country music or any of their other previous influences. Brilliantly written by Joe Pernice, with some career best guitar work by Peyton Pinkerton (more on him later) this may well be the best album the band produced. More than that it might be one of the best guitar pop albums of the 2000s.

The album opens with the fuzzy guitar pop blast of ‘Weakest Shade of Blue’, a proper “should have been a top ten hit” contender, complete with joyous vocal harmonies and sparkling guitar melody. From there on in it is a blast of songs of such consistent quality that the relative obscurity of the band is mystifying on listening today.

The beauty of Pernice’s work is the mismatch of music and lyrics, tonally at least. A generally upbeat sound is a deliberate disguise for the predominantly downbeat lyrics here. That isn’t to say that this is a sad listen, Pernice is too sophisticated a songwriter for that, and he is possessed of enough wit and warmth to carry the sadness.

New Order are an obvious influence on a couple of places on this album, most notably on, arguably the best track here, ‘Sometimes I Remember’. Peyton Pinkerton is a brilliant guitarist, from his early work with New Radiant Storm King through the Pernice Brothers up to his debut solo album he released last year, his playing has been some of the best on record. His work on ‘Sometimes I Remember’ is just perfect, managing to bridge the gap between 21st century American pop music and the Factory Records circa 1983. Almost as good is ‘Number Two’ where the subdued vocals and piano is punctuated with some pretty fierce fret work.

All in all this is one of those records that you can come back to again  and again and it will sound as fresh and as timeless as the first time you played it. The best slice of 1980s UK indie influenced 21st century Americana you’ve never heard, Probably.

By Dorian Rogers

This review was inspired when I revisited Joe Pernice’s back catalogue after seeing The New Mendicants and listening to their debut album. I’d recommend pretty much anything he has recorded, with great songs across his career. Listen to a Spotify playlist of some of his best tracks here.


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The Mynabirds – What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood

The Mynabirds – What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Scott Hammond

Upon the 2010 release of this debut album, The Mynabirds songwriter and lead vocalist Laura Burhenn’s bold declaration of a desire to make music that “sounded like Neil Young doing Motown,” had the ring of a near laughable and repudiable claim that would ultimately leave the record on a hiding to nothing.

But with Burhenn’s subtle, adlibbed vocal gymnastics over the horn swirling outro of opening track ‘What We Gained In The Fire,’ there is encouragingly early evidence that the aforementioned quote would perhaps not look so rash. Then after just three or four tracks it is evident that Burhenn’s delightfully rich and sonorous vocals across these soul inflected pop nuggets go at least some way to making her statement seem entirely justified.


Originally a member of Georgie James, Burhenn has taken up the moniker of The Mynabirds, (incidentally, a spelling amendment aside, the same name as a short lived band from the mid-60s featuring Neil Young which, ironically, was actually on the Motown label) and one can only think that her time in the Washington DC duo was spent as an artist trying to find her voice. With this record that feat has truly been realised.

The pounding honky-tonk piano of “Let The Record Show” infuses the album with a frenetic energy at odds with the generally slow and contemplative mood while “Numbers Don’t Lie” contains 1960s girl group influenced “Oh La Las” at its bridge and a gospel soul chorus that sounds so familiar as to have the feel of an old standard. In similar vein, “Give It Time” contains another rousing, soulful chorus and Burhenn’s voice is perhaps at its most impressive as it powers above the sparse arrangement.

While any reviewer of this album would be hard pressed not to make too many mentions of Burhenn’s singing, (a voice that exists perfectly on a scale somewhere between Dusty Springfield and Linda Ronstadt) the production and playing efforts of Richard Swift have to be similarly commended. As well as providing synthesisers, guitars, bass and percussion, Swift tastefully embellishes the arrangements with strings and horns where necessary and always prevalent is a knowing subtlety that, instead of demanding attention, serves as the perfect palate on which Swift can get the very best out of his central player.

Laura Burhenn

Laura Burhenn

‘L.A Rain’ is the highlight of the album, its seductively meandering strings and reverbed guitar chops anticipating the arrival of the record’s most immediate and enduring chorus. Though imbued with a slight tinge of remorse, the album’s general theme seems to be that of acceptance and seeing hardship as necessary stepping stones in the move towards eventual contentment; ‘Wash It out’ shares the sentiment “Pinning the blame on someone never made much sense,” and following track ‘We Made a Mountain’ contains the lyric “Regret doesn’t undo a single thing, I hope you’re happy today,” which Burhenn joyously repeats at high register within a salvo of horns at the song’s close.

Though in thrall to the vintage aesthetic of retro pop and soul the production of this record clearly is, the assuredly honest and earthy potency of Burhenn’s delivery and songwriting class steer the Mynabird ship on a path that comfortably avoids anything approaching pastiche. In fact, there are nuances and touches of modernism that provide a contemporary spin on proceedings: ‘Right Place,’ for instance, features an accessible piano riff somewhat reminiscent of Coldplay’s ‘Trouble’ and a hooky chorus that wouldn’t appear out of place on any modern pop record of worth.

What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood is a short but very sweet affair, it clocking in at little over the 30 minute mark and it is one of those rare albums whereby the quality of each song doesn’t compel the listener to skip any of its 10 tracks. A standout of Nebraska based record label Saddle Creek’s considerable output, this debut deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning as amongst the cult indie label’s finest moments. Neil Young doing Motown is a notion of which we will never know the result; would it have sounded anything like what Burhenn has offered us here? Who cares when her music is this good?

by Scott Hammond


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The Amps – Pacer

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The Amps – Pacer

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Dorian

The Amps album, Pacer, is not viewed as an equal among the work of Kim Deal. Her albums with the Pixies are some of the best loved American alternative albums ever and after the critical success of Pod and the commercial success of Last Splash she had firmly made her name as the face of the Breeders. Taking some time off from her main act, originally to record the album solo, it is seen as somewhat of a stop-gap release, and is certainly no way near as commercial as her previous album, with nothing to bother MTV in the way that ‘Cannonball’ did.

If you look at the album on its own merits, it is equal to any of her work with the Breeders and deserves to be recognised as a significant mid-90s release and true exemplar of Deal’s unique songwriting.

The Amps

In essence it is Kim Deal’s Guided By Voices moment. The album was recorded using studio time originally booked for GBV, Jim McPherson and Nate Farley (drums and guitars respectively) would later be GBV members and it contains a cover of a GBV track. It also has the loose immediacy that makes Guided By Voices records so enjoyable. After the slick production of Last Splash that may be one of the reasons why it is not rated so highly (although interestingly the original US chart position for Pacer was higher that its predecessor).

The album is fuzzy, rough and ready with some pretty loose playing on show but it is actually a very consistent and enjoyable record. The 12 songs clock in only just over the half hour mark, it is a pretty classic pop album with a lot of personality.

There are no real duff tracks on the album and a handful are classics that should be included on any Kim Deal compilation cassette. ‘Tipp City’, ‘Bragging Party’ and ‘Full On Idle’ (later included on the Breeders Title TK album) would be my three picks for a desert island. Although perhaps my favourite track is ‘I Am Decided’ a version of a Guided By Voices song that bears little resemblance musically or lyrically to the original. (Listen to them  and play spot the similarities).

The Amps – I Am Decided

Guided By Voices – I Am Decided

By Dorian Rogers


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Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co.

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Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co.

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Dorian

It is a mystery to me why I came to the work of Jason Molina so late. His music is exactly the kind of thing I normally gravitate to and his prolific career meant that I was long aware of the names Songs Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company (without ever listening to them). In fact I first came to his music after hearing of his decline into ill health (both physical and mental) and picked up copies of two of his albums. Axxes and Ace, which proved to be the perfect introduction to Songs: Ohia, and Josephine a beautiful pure country collection that would become his last work as Magnolia Electric Company.

Jason Molina

His sad death earlier this year lead me to listen to more of his music and the back catalogue is a real goldmine of melancholy gems from a songwriter who never achieved the profile that he deserved. Perhaps the best realised and most accomplished of these albums (although I am far from familiar with them all) is Magnolia Electric Company, just reissued as a 10th anniversary special edition. The album is typically credited to the Songs Ohia moniker, but it is really a transitional album as Molina made a self conscious switch to operating more as a band, and less as a singer-songwriter backed by other musicians.

This is particularly notable on the epic opener ‘Farewell Transmission’ a full on band recording that mixes Molina’s trademark delivery with a Crazy Horse approach to playing. I was never lucky enough see Molina play live, in any of his guises, but people who have say that this song is the closest we have on record to the full band live sound.

The album is book-ended with another seven minute plus song, ‘Hold On Magnolia’, that is a much softer country song but no less epic and packs a real emotional punch. These represent just two songs from several on the album that deserve classic status and demand a place in every self-respecting record collection.

On two songs Molina relinquishes vocal duties. This is only moderately successful when Lawrence Peters  sings ‘The Old Black Hen’ but is inspired on ‘Peoria Lunch Box Blues’ with the voice of Scout Niblett.

Perhaps my favourite song is ‘Just Be Simple’, another tug of the heart-strings; the last minute and a half is a near-perfect combination of simplicity and emotional impact.

The record was engineered by Steve Albini and is among his most successful recordings. The balance of the instruments is great, the vocals wonderfully recorded and there is a real clarity to the sound of the album.

This anniversary edition adds two bonus tracks, and both of them add something to the collection. Better still is the second disc of demo recordings for almost all the songs on the album. This is the opportunity to hear the songs in their original raw form, much like the solo live performances of Jason Molina dotted around YouTube. This gives the songs a different dimension, stripped of anything but Molina’s guitar and voice, making this a must have collection.


By Dorian Rogers

To buy a brilliant tribute album featuring loads of Neon Filler’s favourite bands , raising money to pay for Jason Molina’s medical expense, go here.


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Lemonheads – Hate Your Friends/Creator/Lick Reissues


Lemonheads – Hate Your Friends/Creator/Lick Reissues

Posted on 28 November 2013 by Joe

Lemonheads were the band I saw the most live back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Tragically though I never got to see them with Ben Deily, who along with Evan Dando was one of the band’s main creative forces in their early days.  But by the end of their first three albums Hate Your Friends(1987), Creator (1988) and Lick (1988) Deily had quit to return to college and eventually a successful career in advertising, while Dando was tasked with taking the band into  major label success.

Lemonheads (Ben Deily far left, Evan Dando second from right)

Lemonheads (Ben Deily far left, Evan Dando second from right)

Listening back to these three albums, which have been reissued this year by Fire Records and were originally released on the Boston based Taang label, they show two great songwriting talents in Dando and Deily.

Back in 1987 with Hate Your Friends Deily was clearly the dominant song writing talent. His tracks were far more melodic and pop focused, and clearly influenced by the likes Dag Nasty and Descendents. In contrast Evan Dando sounds like a composer at the start of a career, with his tracks packed full of attitude to make up for their lack of melody. Take the Dando tracks Don’t Tell Yourself Its Ok or Fed Up for example. They’ve got a great feel to them but structurally still basic compared to the passion of Deily’s Second Chance, the best track on this album.

With Creator the improvement in both Dando’s and Deily’s songwriting is clear, as if their progression is spurring each other on to do better. This mutual development is a key reason why it is the best album of the three.


The intro to album opener, Deily’s Burying Ground, is more intricate than his tracks on Hate Your Friends, with some clear development on those DC punk influences, especially with the Minor Threat style middle eighth.

But when Clang Bang Clang comes in Dando shows himself to have also progressed as a songwriter. This is one of a number of glimpses on this album of the more pop focused sound that would come to typify Lemonheads from their Atlantic days onwards.

Dando’s tracks then get even better with Out, with his deep voice shining through. But he’s not quite there yet as an equal with Deily.  It is a Deily track Postcard, with  just vocals and acoustic guitar, that is the best on this album and sets the bar the highest for both songwriters.

Dando didn’t have his own answer to Postcard, although his version of the Charles Manso acoustic guitar number ‘Your Home is Where You’re Happy’ is still well executed even if it is a cover.


With Lick Dando has once again upped his game. Opener Mallo Cup is an instant classic and Dando’s best on the album. The lyrics “Here I am outside your house at 3 a.m. Try’n to think you out of bed. I whistle at your sill, it echoes ‘cross the street instead. I never will forget” perfectly captured the hearts of the thousands of indie kids that would continue adoring Dando for years to come.

But Ben Deily, who by now is dreaming of class rooms rather than sound checks, is not done yet with this band. Seven Powers is just sensational and for me the best song across all three of these albums and certainly the one I wore out the most back in the late 1980s.

Sadly the rest of Lick is not as great as Creator and there’s even a little regression in terms of songwriting from both Dando and Deily on the rest of the album, which descends into standard punk numbers like Sad Girl and I Am A Rabbit, puntcuated with a fine run through of Susanne Vega’s Luka. These are playful tracks, but Deily in particular was clearly growing up faster on this album  than his bandmates and it sounds either like his heart really wasn’t really in it or he was giving it one last blast for old time’s sake.

There’s a lot of love and friendship on these three albums, especially in the excellent live and demo extras on the reissues. But above all its about how two  songwriters of the late 1980s US indie rock scene developed and got better over the space of a few short years. We all know about Dando’s talent but Deily, who still performs with his band Varsity Drag, has been cruelly overlooked as one of the great songwriters of this era, something I hope changes as more people hear these classic albums.

Hate Your Friends 8/10

Creator 10/10

Lick 7/10

by Joe Lepper



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Fairport Convention – Rising for the Moon (Deluxe Edition)

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Fairport Convention – Rising for the Moon (Deluxe Edition)

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Joe

Fairport’s trailblazing days were far behind them by this release and so were all their founding members. Like the Sugababes the band name continued long beyond the departure of all the original members. The Rock Family Tree for Fairport Convention extends to almost infinite dimensions.


For this line-up Sandy Denny was back in the fold, raising high hopes for a return to form after a series of increasingly lacklustre albums.

In part the resulting album, released in 1975 and given the deluxe reissue treatment this year,  was a return to form, but as a Sandy Denny album in all but name. There are few traces of the folk-rock sound that Fairport Convention pioneered. Denny had already made a move away from that sound with her previous solo album Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. Many of the same lyrical themes are carried over between albums on the Denny penned songs, with a polished AOR production carrying touches of country rock in slide guitar lines.

At times the Denny led tracks sound very similar to the Christine McVie tracks from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. If you dig mid-70’s AOR you’ll like this album a lot.

Sandy Denny’s husband Trevor Lucas was in Fairport at this point and he sings a couple of country rockers which are pleasant enough but mostly founded on train metaphors with little to distinguish them from each other.

Dave Swarbrick, violinist with Fairport since their third album, takes lead vocals on a couple of tracks which cleave closest to the folk-rock template, but his voice is something of an acquired taste and unlikely to win over any new fans.

It’s with the final track of the original album, One More Chance, that the band take flight with something which hearkens back to their glory days, everyone taking turns to solo and spin out in epic style. A final hurrah for this line-up which promised much but ultimately failed to deliver.

The deluxe reissue adds a further five tracks, a live TV performance of White Dress, studio demos of Dawn and What is True, home demos of After Halloween and The King and Queen of England. Stripped of their studio polish all these tracks come across more powerfully and are superior to the album versions.

Completing this deluxe issue is a whole set of this line-up of the band live at the L.A. Troubador. With a set list drawn from Denny, Dylan, Holly and Fairport’s own back catalogue the band spend a blistering hour demonstrating what an excellent live act they were. Often live albums are a ropey cash in but this one more than justifies the reissue. It’s often said that some bands struggle to translate their live ability to the studio and this was certainly the case with this line up had Rising for the Moon managed to capture more of this passion and energy it would certainly have been a more successful album, rather than a footnote to their tangled history.

by Garry Todd


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The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas


The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Joe

These days bedroom recording artists have Logic X  and a raft of other gadgets to play around with. Back in 2001  The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle relied on his Panosonic RX-FT500 boombox and its tiny, tinny condenser mic. Turns out this ancient piece of technology, which was bought by Darnielle in 1989, died for a while in the 90s but revived itself  for this recording, was perfect for taking the listener into the heart of his story telling lyrics.


The technology was just one part of the perfect storm of amateur equipment and mundane events that make All Hail West Texas, which has been reissued this month with seven extra tracks, such a special album. Recorded truly alone, at his new home in a new town during a week while his wife was away playing hockey, gives him a sense of isolation and really understanding the characters he’s writing about here.

Be it Cyrus and Jeff, Darnielle’s two teenage heroes whose dreams are shattered by an adult world that doesn’t understand them in Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, or the life spiraling out of control in Fall of the Star High School Running Back, Darnielle’s alone time brings them to life. Color in Your Cheeks, about making friends and an idealised view of US immigration, is another that clearly benefits from Darnielle’s lonely situation and his sense of longing for  friendship.

Another factor in its recording was he’d just started a new healthcare job, working with children in a residential facility, and was undergoing a period of  ‘orientation’ training, leaving him plenty of time to scribble down lyrics and flesh out the likes of Jeff and Cyrus.

Mostly recorded as they were being written using this old machine also gives the album a unique feel as if Darnielle had to get the song committed to cassette before it broke down again or the tape ran out.

Thankfully the remastering involved here is more a lick of paint than a full scale renovation. To spruce it up too much which destroy its splendour. The seven extra tracks are also welcome, recorded around the same time and also showing the same keen sense of melody and interesting lyrics of those that made the final cut. Waco would ordinarily have become one of his most well known songs, but the tape cut out as he was recording and further attempts to sing it never quite matched this take for Darnielle. Indonesia, which he confesses would not have sounded out of place on his first album for 4AD Tallahassee, is another highpoint of these extra tracks.

So over a decade on what else is there, apart from some great lyrics and intimate, amateurish recording, that makes this album special? The music itself has to be good to make a great album, and here, Darnielle’s acoustic guitar and vocal delivery are full of wonderful melody and passion. Pink and Blue, for example, is so simple, so effective and so darn catchy. Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton even has a crowd pleasing singalong ‘Hail Satan’ that delights Mountain Goats audiences to this day.

For those new to Mountain Goats this is a pretty good starting point, but far from typical of their current sound. It was the end of an era, with The Mountain Goats moving to the large indie label 4AD shortly after and more intricate, clever use of studio production. Now on Merge they are firmly a full band centred around Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster. There are die hard fans that regret Darnielle’s progression and prefer him to continue to slave away at the boombox. I for one welcome his musical education and feel equally uplifted by the rising horn sections that light up The Mountain Goats’ 2012 album Transcendental Youth as I do when I hear Darnielle strumming away on his own in front of his old Panasonic boombox.


by Joe Lepper


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Scott Walker  – From Teen Heart Throb To Avant Garde Artist


Scott Walker – From Teen Heart Throb To Avant Garde Artist

Posted on 01 August 2013 by Joe

Scott Walker is the last man standing from the sixties to still be making anything approaching fresh music, with  his current work overshadowing his former persona as a bona fide pop idol teen heart throb. Imagine if Gary Barlow were suddenly to start making oblique art songs referencing the philosophy of Jacques Derrida all to a post-industrial sound collage; tricky isn’t it, but that’s what Scott Walker did, boy band to avant garde artist in five easy pieces.

Within the Walker Brothers Scott had been the only one seeking to move into writing, to get away from solely being an interpreter of other peoples words. On their second album he already has two writing credits and there are three on their last album. These songs stand out immediately from those surrounding them due to their idiosyncratic construction, they scan like short stories rather than conventional lyrics. Working with top arrangers Scott was learning his craft ready to break out into a solo career which has been stranger and more genuinely productive than most.


With Scott 1 he establishes himself as a mature adult singer, trying to move out of the lovelorn teen market. A threeway split in writing credits between standards, Walker penned material and songs of Jacques Brel. The Brel material is most immediately arresting due to the scabrous lyrics and cabaret arrangements, My Death and Amsterdam in particular signalling a bold move from popular lyrical themes. Whilst Scott is fully in control of all the material and the arrangements and his phrasing on all the standards make his the version you want to hear, it is on his own material that he takes flight.

An unusual lyricist even then, Walker uses the song form as a vehicle for storytelling or mood setting. In Montague Terrace (In Blue) he sings of bedsits, the inescapable crowd and the curious loneliness of the city, “The scent of secrets everywhere”. Only the protagonists relationship seems to steel him against it, but there is a realisation that this is temporary, almost certain to end – “But we know don’t we, And we’ll dream won’t we, Of Montague Terrace in blue”.

The arrangements for Walker’s own lyrics also strike out for fresh territory. Decentred strings, drone forms, brass arrangements punch through for crescendo and there’s an unusual sense of time as the soundstage follows Scott’s own phrasing.


Scott 2 comes galloping out of the traps with perhaps the most rollicking opening number of any album ever. Jackie had been a single released in 1967, banned by the BBC due to Brel’s lyrics concerning opium dens, brothels and “authentic queers and phony virgins.”  Later in the album Scott sings Next, another Brel song, this time about mobile army whorehouses and the psychic scars resulting, had anyone else ever sung about “gonorrhea” on a number one album before, or for that matter since?

After setting the bar so high at the outset Scott continues to vary the pace with a pair of excellent covers,   Best of Both Worlds and Black Sheep Boy, before the first of his own compositions on the album, The Amorous Humphrey Plugg. In the vein of Montague Terrace in Blue Scott sings a kitchen sink drama in first person, Humphrey Plugg, caught in suburban domesticity, seeking escape –  “Leave it all behind me, Screaming kids on my knee, And the telly swallowing me, And the neighbour shouting next door, And the subway trembling the roller-skate floor.”

His next original composition “The Girls From the Street” glows with poetic wordplay in waltz time, “ Snap! The waiters animate, Luxuriate like planets whirling ’round the sun, Collapsing next to me, Shouts don’t look sad, Things aren’t so bad, They’re just more wrong than right.”

Plastic Palace People takes a surreal bent with a floating protagonist Billy observing the streets from above, Don’t pull the string, Don’t bring me down, Don’t make me land”. Over floating chords with a rising and falling string motif we float along with Billy. Billy’s suspension above the ground a metaphor for adolescence caught between childhood and maturity, dreams and concrete reality. An hallucinatory soundworld is brought into play throughout with sharp discontinuities between sections, use of extreme reverb and leslie speaker on Scott’s voice when the main theme drops out.

There are further delights across the remainder of the album, a further Brel song, a couple of strong ballads, another Walker original The Bridge (a sorrowful song of lost love), and perhaps the best cover ever of a Bacharah/ David song,Windows of the World.

Scott 2 was the commercial highpoint of Scott’s solo career, reaching number 1 in the UK charts in April 1968, however, Scott was not satisfied describing it as the work of a “lazy, self indulgent man”.


Following this success Scott was granted further creative control and for Scott 3, released in March 1969, he had written ten of the thirteen tracks, the remaining three being Brel covers.

The previous two albums had opened with furious stampeding Brel covers, Scott 3 shimmers into being with It’s Raining Today, a string section play a hovering drone, a bass modulates, a guitar strums a few chords – Scott enters looking out at the rain and reflecting on a love, now gone, almost forgotten. Almost the epitome of melancholic, but there’s a steel within the observation, which stops it being mere self-pity, “You out of me me out of you, We go like lovers, To replace the empty space, Repeat our dreams to someone new”.

The album proceeds at this stately pace, a quiet sadness permeating the first four songs.  Big Louise opens imperious, gong sounding, french horn playing a beautiful refrain, strings swelling as Scott sings about the broken hearted Louise, evoked with great economy across just a few lines, with the killer chorus “Didn’t time sound sweet yesterday, in a world filled with friends, you lose your way.”

We Came Through ups the tempo in the style of Mathilde and Jackie but this time the lyrics are less knowing, there is less distance than in those of Brel. The lyrics come from the perspective of the strong, those willing to inflict violence on the weak to wield power over and over through time. There is cruel despair in the final lines made all the more bitter for the upbeat delivery, “and as Luther King’s predictions fade from view, we came through.”

More exceptional songs follow, Winter Night, in particular a luminous miniature only eight or so lines but couched in a beautiful string arrangement, opening on a severe descending chord.

The album ends with three Brel covers, Sons of , Funeral Tango, and If You Go Away, the last of which is perhaps his purest lovelorn outpouring on record (and with the Walker Brothers he had mastered that market already).

Scott 3 had reached a respectable No.3 in the charts, and Scott had his own BBC TV show, a vehicle for his performances and for other guest singers. To capitalise on this he cut another album Scott Sings Songs from his TV Series in July 1969, containing only standards this reached No.7.


By November 1969 Scott had released Scott 4, an album of only Walker penned music. Although now widely considered one of the best albums of the sixties, it was a notorious commercial failure at the time. Scott’s decision to issue it under his birthname Noel Scott Engel undoubtedly hindered it’s marketing, but the fact that it was his third album release in under eight months probably had a greater effect, albums in the sixties were luxury items costing approximately a tenth of the average weekly wage, few fans could have afforded to buy all three albums in such a short space of time.

Across Scott 4 Walker widens his lyrical ambit away from his previous themes, there are still love lost ballads, but he now takes in socio-political themes, oblique protest songs, and a song offering a plot summary of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

There is also a wider variety of songs styles across Scott 4, from Morricone spaghetti western score on The Seventh Seal, to pedal steel Country on Duchess and Rhymes of Goodbye and lounge funk on The Old Man’s Back Again.

As with Scott 3 the standout tracks are those with the most idiosyncratic arrangements, Angels of Ashes and Boychild. Angels of Ashes has a classical guitar line, punctuated by a harpsichord following Scott’s vocal, light snare brushing, bass line moving the song along, with sweeping strings wrapping it all together.  Boychild uses zither, acoustic guitar and hovering strings to shadow Scott’s vocal lines, a floating world of unsettled yearning – “Extensions through dimensions, Leave you feeling cold and lame, Boychild mustn’t tremble, cause he came without a name.”

Scott 4’s relative commercial failure undermined Scott’s ability to retain creative control.


His last album on Philips, 1970’s ‘Til the Band Comes In makes this conflict apparent in the straight split between Scott’s songs on the A side and the covers he returns to on the B side.

A return to covers can only be a crushing disappointment to anyone following Scott’s development as a songwriter through the preceding albums. A great interpreter of standards by any measure, but by this point you only want to hear him sing his own songs because no-one else writes like he does.

The A side, however, is as strong as anything on Scott 4.  A loose suite of songs themed upon the residents of a block of flats, there is a return to character studies, mixed with topical satire/ social protest. Prologue opens the album with sound effects, tap dripping, keys in locks, children playing while a string section swells sorrowfully before fading into Little Things, a headlong brass stomp similar to Mathilde or Jackie.

Arrangements and song forms are straighter across ‘Til The Band Comes In with more defined verse/ chorus patterns and less oblique lyrics, but the subject matter is as off-beat as ever, Joe is about a lonely old dying man, Thanks for Chicago Mr James is about the end of young hustlers relationship with a gay older man, Time Operator is sung by a man so lonely and isolated he calls the speaking clock for company, he’s fantasised for so long about the voice at the other end of the line he really thinks he’s in with a chance – “I wouldn’t care if you’re ugly, cause here with the lights out I couldn’t see, you just picture Paul Newman and girl he looks a lot like me”.

Towards the end of the A side the title track rises to a crescendo, with brass section flourishes and a soul singer backing, Scott sings about taking his leave with perhaps the promise of return – “If you need me to move through, you know where I’m found, still alive, with my sub-human sound to the ground.”

Side A ends with The War Is Over (Sleepers), a promise of peace following the overall chaos which reigned previously. However, war is as much a metaphor for life in this song and the peace that is found is the peace of the tomb – Everything Still, Everything Silent, As after the rain, Still we are after the rain.

‘Til the Band Comes In was not well received at the time and didn’t chart confirming Scott’s fall from grace. For the next few years his career limped along with a series of albums of covers in a strictly middle of the road rut, seemingly a burnt out case at 27. As with the B side of ‘Til the Band Comes In these are all good for what they are, but not satisfying for the same reasons, Scott Walker is too good a writer to sing other peoples songs.

A Walker Brothers reunion rescued Scott from a lifetime of cabaret and Working Mens Club engagements. Although there was no original material to begin with, by their final album Scott was ready to write again. His four songs on Nite Flights are where Scott Walker reappears and strikes out for terra incognita, a road he still travels getting further and further out.    

by Garry Todd



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