Archive | Album Reviews

The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives

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The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives

Posted on 23 October 2020 by Joe

Considering the world has gone to pot due to Covid-19, the Mountain Goats have been relatively prolific in terms of album releases this year. Fresh from releasing his DIY album Songs for Pierre Chuvin at the start of lockdown, John Darnielle’s troop are back six months later with Getting Into Knives.

Recent releases have been more thematic, such as focusing on goths, wrestlers and even pagans. Here Darnielle’s crew offer broader themes of loss and fear, You know, the usual emotions during a global pandemic.

Recorded in Memphis pre lockdown its beautifully produced. This is unsurprising given at the mixing desk is Matt Ross Sprang, who engineered the Goats last pre-lockdown release In League with Dragons.

Darnielle’s song writing is on top form, as per usual. Stalwart Peter Hughes as reliable as ever on bass. Jon Wurster’s drums once again adds rhythmic emotion as only he can. Meanwhile, becoming a quartet with multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas a while back has benefitted them in particular, especially adding woodwind to the mix.

There’s some proper hits on Getting Into Knives. Get Famous is particularly marvellous with a fabulous chorus and superb woodwind and horns.

There’s thoughtful slower, jazzy numbers (Tidal Wave) and some stomping anger (As Man Candles As Possible).

Their lo-fi lockdown album Songs for Pierre Chuvin ended up a top ten selling album in the UK. Could this more lavish release repeat that feat for The Mountain Goats – Getting Into Knives?

9/10

By Joe Lepper

The Mountain Goats – Getting into Knives is released on Merge Records.

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John Howard – To The Left of the Moon’s Reflection

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John Howard – To The Left of the Moon’s Reflection

Posted on 06 August 2020 by Joe

The pandemic is inescapable across album number 17 from 1970s singer/songwriter turned 21st century indie artist John Howard.

Writing and recording began in his home studio in Spain during the winter of 2019 and carried on into Spring this year, when the world suddenly locked down and we started living in fear of our lives from Covid-19.

So as a listener in a Covid-19 world it is a slightly odd experience. Almost every new release’s mood and lyrics sound like they are about the pandemic and lockdown. It’s as if the artists like Howard are emerging from lockdown, even though they can no longer play live. But they can take small comfort in digital releases and online gigs.

I wonder what I’d have made of this album without a great big lumbering health crisis as the backdrop of its release this summer?

Among my favourites is Centuries, a tale of love and nature, but the spectre of pandemic comes through again in the lyrics. The lonely old tree it describes will always be there. When the world was right, wrong, and hopefully right again.Any of the reasons I warm to this particular track is because it features the full John Howard choir of vocal layering. Howard is responsible for all the instruments and vocals by the way.

While some of Howard’s many releases, since his return to recording at the turn of the century, have been piano based, this features a range of keyboards and acoustic guitar, mastered by long term collaborator Ian Button.

This collection has a nice mid tempo feel to it. In addition, there’s a melancholy feel to most tracks but not too downbeat.

I know I do disservice to see the pandemic across the tracks. There’s other subjects at work here. But as a post lockdown release it sets the mood perfectly, whether intended or not.

8/10

By Joe Lepper

To The Left of the Moon’s Reflection is available via John’s website, as well as the usual digital channels. It is released in America via Kool Kat Musik.

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The Sinclairs – Sparkle

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The Sinclairs – Sparkle

Posted on 24 April 2020 by Joe

What kind of music will we be listening to post lockdown?

As we emerge from our cacoons and our routine of one walk a day will we want something slow and dramatic? Or will want something fast and furious to reflect our new freedom? Will we go back to the future and crave sci-fi B-movie style synths?

I like to think the answer may well be all three, which is exactly what is on offer in the debut from The Sinclairs, formed by Damned drummer Rat Scabies and Jesse Budd, aka Billy Shinbone, from Flipron and guitarist with Neville Staple’s band.

Armed with his trusty Gretsch, Budd’s picking, reverb and tone is on top form here and works well with Scabies’ punk nouse and drum pounding.

This instrumental though is not just another Ennio Moricone tribute album, its got a New Wave twist too with added electronica. This places it firmly in the sci-fi soundtrack territory that the early B-52s achieved. This is especially in reference to their ‘Duane Eddy on Mars’ guirarist, the late great Ricky Wilson and his uniquely tuned surf’s up Mosrite.

There’s lots to like here, especially the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion-like Lipstick Rumble. Rat’s drums are particularly pounding here.

For the more guitar twang numbers then opener La Venta sets the scene well. Half Way Round Your Dreams is another guitar high point – odd, quirky and Western.

Meanwhile, Plimpton 322 is for those that love a spooky sci-fi theremin.

Could this be the soundtrack for our odd Covid-19 lockdown times as well as being a post pandemic party album? I’m probably spending too much time indoors and my brain is becoming warped, but I’m very much in the mood for some science fiction meets the harsh reality of a Western film plot.

8/10

More information about The Sinclairs can be found here.

by Joe Lepper

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The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin

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The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin

Posted on 24 April 2020 by Joe

For the first time in almost two decades Mountain Goats songwriter and frontman John Darnielle has returned to the Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox that served him so well through his early career.

Not since 2002’s All Hail West Texas has this trusted electronic collaborator been dusted off for a Mountain Goats release. Why should it with a stellar band assembled for recent releases and tours, including bassist Peter Hughes, Superchunk drummer John Wurster and multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas?

But the sonic scope of last year’s In League With Dragons or another beautifully produced album, 2011’s All Eternals Deck, is simply impossible as Covid-19 locks us down.

Darnielle has instead gone back to his lo-fi roots, pressed play, stood the boombox on one end to avoid a faulty click, worked on a song a day and produced a great album for our isolated days.

Songs for Pierre Chuvin is based on the French historian Chuvin’s book A Chronicle of the Last Pagans. This is Darnielle’s inspiration across a collection that feels that each is written as if a sweeping string section or melancholy set of horns should be heard.

But stripped back it does admirably, showcasing what Darnielle has always done – writes good lyrics with good melody. That’s it. Simple. That’s all you need for a good song.

And on Exegetic Chains we have one of the first great lockdown songs. Is that now even a genre? Take these  lyrics for example:

Keep the chains tight

Make it through this year

…if it kills you outright.

Other highpoints include second track Until Olympius Returns, where he venomously vents at hierarchies, whether pagan temple dwellers or perhaps referring to the politicians mishandling the current crisis. It also features a great “yeah”, which I always like to hear.

There are further parallels across this collection to the pagens’ constant threat to life and the Covd-19 fearing set of online communities we have become. Here we are adjusting to loneliness and blotting out the full impact of those dying alone in hospital.

Digital and Cassette

Songs for Pierre Chuvin is released digitally but also as a cassette in the US. This physical form of the album sold out swiftly with a third edition of a further 2000 copies underway. If any are left over they will be sold at future gigs.

The digital release too is proving popular, especially here in the UK. After its first day it had reached number seven in the album charts, solely on digital sales.

While this is very much a solo album, his bandmates and the whole team of people that rely on income from the Mountain Goats are firmly on his mind. Proceeds of this release will go to them.

8/10

By Joe Lepper

For more information visit The Mountain Goats bandcamp page.

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Seazoo – Joy

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Seazoo – Joy

Posted on 06 April 2020 by Dorian

Joy is Seazoo’s second album, their first being critically acclaimed and award nominated back in 2018. We loved them at Indietracks last year and we’ve been looking forward to this album ever since. The band had  a string of live dates in support of the album planned and things were looking pretty promising for them.

Then, like for everyone else, the rug is pulled out and the world gets put on pause. The album gets a delayed release and when it does come out there are no record shops with it on the shelves, and no live dates to support it. Luckily things like Bandcamp exist and people can mail order, or enjoy the album digitally, but the current climate does take the shine off the release of one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard this year.

Seazoo Joy

This is straightforward indie guitar pop, and I mean that 100% as a compliment, it is music that I love and Seazoo do it with aplomb. This is a band that knows how to write great tunes, can play and has an accessible and immediate sound. That doesn’t mean it isn’t sophisticated, there is enough of an identifiable sound, and enough in the production, to keep things interesting.

Things bounce in from word go with ‘The Pleasure’ and really don’t let up until 10 songs and 33 minutes later. It’s such a breezy pleasure that things fly by, even considering the moderate run time.

Mid way through there is a nice change of pace as ‘Throw It Up’ cranks the volume up a bit. Two of my favourite moments on the album are this and ‘I See Beauty’ when the band let go a little. That isn’t to say the lighter stuff in’t good, it is just nice that they vary the textures on the album. In fact ‘Heading Out’ may be the fluffiest bit of pop on the whole album and it is an absolute, well, joy.

I’m looking forward to being released and getting to see the band play in the late Summer/early Autumn (hopefully the former). Until then I think I’ll let this be the soundtrack to an indoor Spring and I urge you to as well.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Eyelids – The Accidental Falls

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Eyelids – The Accidental Falls

Posted on 13 February 2020 by Dorian

The first time I listened to the Accidental Falls, Eyelid’s 3rd full album, I wasn’t immediately taken. Their first two grabbed me immediately, and have remained firm favourites, but this one felt different. I’m lucky enough to get access to some albums early, and my first listens were just before Christmas, and I put the album to one side knowing I had until February to make my critical assessment.

In January I started to listen to the album again, and after a couple more plays it clicked. Really clicked. It made perfect sense (if an album can make sense) and I went from lack of surety to certainty, this was a great album, as good as the first two. So, it seems, Eyelids have delivered their first “grower”.

Eyelids - Accidental Falls

The album differs from their previous releases in that the lyrics were written by Tim Buckley collaborator Larry Beckett, with the band providing the musical contributions. The effect of this is that the album sounds more 60s and 70s influenced than even their previous recordings. Not in a tired or pastiche way, more in a general mood and tone.

Opener ‘Dream’ is a beautiful languid piece built around a simple but captivating guitar line. Eyelids have always been built around the intricate guitar interplay and it is clear from song one that The Accidental Falls isn’t looking to deviate from that pattern.

The band can also rock pretty well and the title track ups the volume nicely. It is another great piece of melody with pounding drums and some big guitars.

The album has a great balance throughout of quiet tunes and more rocking numbers that you know will sound even better live. Special mention has to go to ‘Found At The Scene Of A Rendezvous That Failed’, simply one of the best songs on the album. It is probably the most self-consciously retro production on the album (and is a previously unrecorded Buckley and Beckett composition), you wouldn’t be at all surprised if you had heard the song on a lost Beatles demo. Mermaid Blues also deserves a mention with one of the nicest guitar lines you’ll likely hear all year.

I asked Eyelid’s own Chris Slusarenko whether producing an album based on someone else’s lyrics had changed how they approached the record.

“I think we were not really sure what would happen once we sat down with Larry’s lyrics.  That first creative get together with Larry was maybe a bit sheepish on our end.  He’s a total legend and I think we thought maybe we’d get a really special 7″ or EP out of it.  And since writing our own lyrics is such an important part of what we do I think we weren’t sure how the process would work.  But I went home with his giant stack of lyrics (ranging from the 60s to now) and wrote River.   John went home that same night and wrote insomnia.  We were off to the races really.  I sounded like we wrote those lyrics–it came from inside us.  After that the process ranged from sending songs for Larry to write lyrics to (At Sea, Dream) to a Goethe translation (The Accidental Falls–which is the most rocking Goethe translation of all time!  ha!) to one song that Larry  & Tim Buckley wrote together in 1966 (Found At The Scene…).   We just became it but really it feels like Eyelids.  I guess that’s why Larry was so good with Tim Buckley (and other artists).  You can’t even imagine that Tim didn’t write the lyrics because they were SO him!  I think the same can be said for Eyelids.  It just feels like us and the songs melted through us.”

The album definitely sounds different to previous Eyelids recordings, the response to the lyrics must have made a difference, but it loses none of the melodic brilliance that has made the band a Neon Filler favourite since they formed.

It is also nice to see the album getting press (and very favourable press) this side of the Atlantic. Hopefully some sales will follow, and we’ll see the band doing a UK tour later this year.

The album gets a valentine’s day release and is highly recommended for fans of the band or anyone looking for a great guitar pop album.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers 

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Duncan Batey  – Little Black Classics

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Duncan Batey – Little Black Classics

Posted on 09 January 2020 by Joe

Its been a while since Glastonbury’s Duncan Batey last got in touch with us, having first impressed us with his acoustic folk Blindsided EP back in 2013.

We caught up with him again four years later at the Glastonbury Calling festival and were warmed once again by his thoughtful, melancholy songs, backed by cello and double bass.

Duncan Batey in Glastonbury 2017. Photo by Joe Lepper

With a new decade underway he’s back again with his debut album, to offer a wider audience a sample of his work.

Once again he’s backed by a welcome string section, this time with a violin added to the mix, aling with accordion, slide guitar and more.

The effect is modern and traditional, mixing a 1960s feel with melancholic modern folk and chamber pop.

This 10-song collection opens passionately with Cleanskin, with strong, often high vocals blending well with the string section beneath.

Little Black Classics, the one with the accordion, has a European feel to it and blends melancholy with pop sensibility well. Imagine Ray Davies on holiday in France.

Stoney Ground is another song to stand out, with harmonica helping further to marry the traditional with the modern. While not a direct ode to Arthur Lee’s timeless band Love, it made me want to immediately go and play their 1967 classic Forever Changes.

My favourite may be Home By Now, a simple acoustic number where vocal and string section combine perhaps the best. It also features the most catchy of this album’s choruses.

Talk Talk

Meanwhile, Run is surely influenced by those miraculous final Talk Talk albums such as Laughing Stock.

There’s a range of styles here but with a distince blend of old, new it works well. Like an old friend it has a feel that immiedately hooks me in, as the sounds of Love, Talk Talk and the Kinks swirl around amidst Batey’s vocals and those marvellous strings.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

More information is available at Duncan’s bandcamp page.

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Best Indie and Alternative Albums 2019

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Best Indie and Alternative Albums 2019

Posted on 13 December 2019 by Joe

Our best albums 2019 list features the 15 albums that we can’t stop listening to.

What a year! It’s been beset with political turmoil. But in terms of music its been another fantastic 12 months.

This time around 15 albums have impressed us for our annual round up. This ranges from a return to form for one of our favourite US acts to an intriguing funk concept album about Trump.

Lots of our other top acts over the last few years have also marked 2019 in style with stellar releases. There’s plenty of interesting new acts as well that impressed during the year.

But enough from us. Here’s the 15 best albums of 2019 that we urge you to seek out and investigate yourselves.

15.The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

The Mountain Goats - In League with Dragons

John Darnielle and co once again excel with  a collection taking in themes of celebrity and this time the mythical heroes of their youth. Here the production is even more sumptious than it has been in recent years, with one of our favourite artists Owen Pallet on production desk duties. Read our full review here.

14. John Howard – Cut the Wire

1 Cover

The singer songwriter’s fierce sense of independence rises to the fore on this collection that has a far greater focus on his 1960s and 1970s musical influences, sitting somewhere between The Beach Boys and whimsical English pop. Read the full review here.

13. Jenny Lewis – On The Line

Jenny Lewis On the Line

We may miss the sparkling pop of Rilo Kiley but Jenny Lewis is still delivering great songs as a solo artist. Continuing on from where 2014’s The Voyager left off she cements her role as one of the best country-pop balladeers around.

12. Stealing Sheep – Big Wows

Stealing Sheep

The evolution of Stealing Sheep continues and any of the more folksy pastoral elements of their first two albums  have been cast aside in favour of a greater pure-pop approach. The good news is that it suits them perfectly, and anyone who has seen them live this year can attest to what a great glittery performance that is. Additionally, ‘Jokin’ Me’ has to be the best song released this year and deserves to be a chart smash (if that even exists as a thing anymore?).

11. The National – I Am Easy To Find

TheNational_IAmEasyToFind

The “stadium band it’s ok to like” continue to deliver the goods on their eight album. An array of guest female vocalists add some difference to the sound this time around and compliment Matt Berninger’s smooth croon perfectly.

10. The New Pornographers – In The Morse Code of Break Lights

New Pornographers

The second Dan Bejar free New Pornographers album in a row may miss his contributions but the rest of the band do their best to make up for that. Simi Stone joins the band, adding a third female vocalist, and AC Newman delivers some pitch-perfect tunes. ‘You’ll Need A Backseat Driver’ is worth the admission fee alone.

9. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountain

Purple Mountains

Purple Mountains is notable as David Berman’s first post-Silver Jews album, and his first recorded work in over a decade. It is also notable as one of the most consistent records of his fascinating career. Sadly it stands as his final work, tragically he committed suicide in August this year.

8. Guided By Voices – Warp and Woof

warp_and_woof_gbv_

This is just one of the three albums the prolific band released this year. Originally coming out as a set of EPs the songs are short, urgent and focused. It is a purple patch for the lo-fi legends but this stands out (just) as the best of the bunch.

7. Pip Blom – Boat

Pip Blom

The Dutch indie popsters have a very identifiable sound, and a very appealing one. Their debut album continues on from their excellent early singles and is one of the most enjoyable, and freshest, releases of the year.

6. Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All the Time

Album number five for the Scottish act is full of epic melodies and meloncholy lyrics as they cement their place as one of the most innovate indie rock and alternative bands in the UK. James Alexander Graham’s downright beautiful vocals elevate them even further. VTr and The Arbor are among our favourite tracks here.

5. Penelope Isles – Until the Tide Creeps In

Penelope Isles

Brighton base dPenelope Isles play a melodic dream pop, their debut album has a scope and sophistication that reveals their music school background. In lazy journo style I hereby dub them “the British Deerhunter”.

4. School of Language – 45

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

David Brewis from Field Music turns his attention to Donald Trump and the US far right on this cheeky, funky and in places angry collection. The lyrics left us nodding in agreement and chuckling, while David’s inventive take on his influences of Prince and Talking Heads continues to impress us. Read the full review here.

3. Corridor – Junior

Junior - Corridor

Sub-Pop’s Corridor are a French Canadian band that deliver a pulsing guitar pop that evokes post-punk and the pulsing rhythms of Stereolab in equal measure. It is epic and rhythmic and melodic and one of our favourite discoveries of the year.

2. Fontaines DC – Dogrel

Fontaines DC at Glastonbury 2019, photo by Joe Lepper

Fontaines DC at Glastonbury 2019, photo by Joe Lepper

This  Dublin band’s stunning debut sounds like a blend of Joy Division, The Smiths and the Buzzcocks. While lyrically they are cemented in their Dublin background, especially with Grian Chatten’s powerful vocals. They impressed us so much at Glastonbury 2019 that we rushed out to buy this debut – there’s not many live acts that have the power and talent to do that.

1. Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

deerhunter-why-hasnt-everything-already-disappeared-review-1547764133-640x640

Their best album since 2010’s melody packed release Halcyon Digest? We certainly think so. In fact its filled with even more melody and inventive ways to present a song, veering from classic pop  to alternative rock at will on this all killer, no filler collection.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Catch up with our Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition longlisters

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Catch up with our Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition longlisters

Posted on 03 October 2019 by Joe

One of the best parts of being a judge in the Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition is keeping in touch with the artists that impressed during the selection process.

Last time out our three long listed entries were Brighton band Roma Palace, singer-songwriter Laura Goldthorp and indie and jazz act Saachi.

Roma Palace made it through to the last eight shortlisted finalists and appeared at last year’s festival. They also impressed us recently with their new single You.

Roma Palace

Roma Palace performinh at the Glastonbury ETC 2019 finals (pic by Matt Turner)

This month we have also caught up with Saachi and Laura.

Saachi

 

Saachi lead singer Saachi Sen has let us know that in October she is releasing a new single Dark.

This comes amid a busy year for Saachi having played festivals including Cambridge Big Weekend and Pride in London.

Released as a solo track, Dark was part recorded at London’s Abbey Road and is “about being proud of who you are, no matter what preconception the world could have of you.”

As with her Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition entry, Dark also impresses us, showcasing Saachi’s great song writing and superb voice. It’s got a great message too.

Laura Goldthorp

 

Meanwhile, Laura Goldthorp’s track Candy Shops is still earworming its way nicely through our noggins. She’s back with another slice of great pop with a new single Supernova.

This is the first single off an upcoming EP and can be found via her social media sites.

According to Laura, the track is an “honest exploration of creative anxiety”.

 

 

 

by Joe Lepper

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August Single/EP releases – Roma Palace and return of Broken Family Band members

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August Single/EP releases – Roma Palace and return of Broken Family Band members

Posted on 14 August 2019 by Joe

This month two singles/EPs in particular have caught our year. Firstly, Roma Palace from Brighton have released a new single You this month.

This is their first release after impressing during the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition and the festival itself.

As a judge in the competition we long listed Roma Palace and was delighted to see them make it through to the final shortlist of eight. Although they did not win they did impress the festival organisers enough to appear at the event.

The track follows in the tradition of their previous tracks like Tell Me, mixing pop, indie rock and blues perfectly. One to watch out for.

We have also been sent word from Steven Adams that he has hooked up with former fellow Broken Family Band alumni Tim Victor, for his latest band – Portland Brothers.

Portland Brothers

Portland Brothers

Their four-track debut EP is released on August 23 and is a must for Broken Family Band fans, marking a return to the country and classic pop roots of their releases.

Since the Broken Family Band broke up Adams has been involved in a number of musical projects that have we’ve consistently been impressed by.
by Joe Lepper

Roma Palace can be found on Souncloud here.

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