Archive | Album Reviews

Frontier Ruckus – Enter the Kingdom


Frontier Ruckus – Enter the Kingdom

Posted on 20 February 2017 by Joe

Michigan’s Frontier Ruckus have stepped up a gear on this, their fifth album. Their usual indie charm is still evident, but they’ve added sophisticated string arrangements too, as they take a melancholy look at suburban family life.


For songwriter Matthew Mills there is plenty of source material,  with his own father’s struggles to keep hold of the family home after losing his job and having to rely on disability benefit.

Modern suburban ‘Netflix’ families are also a focus. This is particularly on opener Visit Me, where they are seen through the windows across the city outskirts in the “sweat pants” watching the “season finales”.

Other high points include Our Flowers Are Still Burning, which features a sardonic video with the band finding bleary eyed solace in their friendship the morning after a house party.

I first heard Frontier Ruckus through their debut The Orion Songbook, which erred far more on the side of Americana than this release.

But here bassist, musical saw and melodica player Zachary Nichols proves exemplary as a string arranger,  bringing a chamber pop feel to this consistent album.

This consistency is perhaps the album’s greatest strength.  From start to finish the quality of music is high, as the sweeping strings bringing a sense of hope to American family life.

Given the turbulence of recent political events in the US, hope is something they will certainly need to cling on to in the coming months.


by Joe Lepper


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Surfer Blood – Snowdonia


Surfer Blood – Snowdonia

Posted on 06 February 2017 by Joe

It is perhaps inevitable that Surfer Blood’s latest, Snowdonia, will be remembered less for its catchy, powerful tracks like ‘Six Flags in F or G’, and more as an album to emerge from tragedy.

Coming after last year’s death of guitarst Thomas Fekete, at the age of just 27 from a rare form of cancer, this is a tough album for any young band to have to make.


They’d be forgiven for hurriedly churning it out to get back on the horse, but instead they’ve created a tour do force that is a fitting tribute to their departed friend.

Perhaps one of the reasons this is such a good album is that for the first time since their stunning 2010 debut Astro Coast, lead singer and chief songwriter John Paul Pitts has taken a tighter rein, writing and mixing it alone with the new line up in mind. This includes greater vocal layering featuring guitarist Michael McCleary and bassist Lindsey Mills, who has replaced original member Kevin Williams.

This focus on vocals is important as it was Pitt’s gigantic voice that made them stand out from the rest of the indie rock crowd back in 2010.

Among the high points are the aforementioned Six Flags in F or G, a Pixies-esque stomper, and the joyously catchy opener Matter of Time.

Another is Taking Care of Eddy, which channels the Ramones to offer an affectionate tribute to an elderly relative  of Pitts’ girlfriend.

Their tragic year is not sketched over though. Final track Carrier Pigeon, deals with cancer, specifically Pitts’ relationship with his parents following his mothers’ diagnosis with breast cancer. Despite such heavy subject matter it emerges as one of the most radio friendly pop tracks.

With 2013’s more downbeat Pythons and 2015’s 1,000 failing to impress me, this album feels like a return to form for the Florida act and certainly their best collection since their debut.


by Joe Lepper


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Mile Me Deaf – Alien Age

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Mile Me Deaf – Alien Age

Posted on 03 February 2017 by Joe

Sound the breakthough album klaxon. Wolfgang Möstl’s Mile Me Deaf act  has always been experimental but they are on the cusp of the big time on the basis of this latest, ambitious release

On previous releases he’s been looking to push the boundaries of indie rock and guitar pop.

Here he’s pushed, then smashed his way past them, veering off into trip hop, dub, jazz, and ambient. Above all, as XTC once proudly sang, This is Pop.


Of course it wouldn’t be a Mile Me Deaf release without some left-field caveats to it.

It is pop with a massive alien, psychedelic twist, as the album is a loose collection of tracks about the end of the human race. But you’d never know its content was so dystopian with a sound more akin to a Flaming Lips festival headlining set, with its mish-mash of infectious melodies supplemented by a rag-tag collection of riffs, loops, twists and turns.

This is best typified on lead single Blowout, which follows the same successful template Tame Impala have pursued in recent years – make them dance, make them feel weird.

Then on Shibuya+ he hands lead vocal duties over to Katarina Trenk, and another great single is born, as he channels the spirit of Bristol’s early trip hop scene.

Among other high points is Headnote#2, which has a neat Massive Attack shuffle to it and a fantastic rock film score middle section.

The klaxon has sounded, its now up to you and a bit of luck to make this the hit it deserves to be.


by Joe Lepper

For more information about Mile Me Deaf visit their bandcamp page here.


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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody


The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

Posted on 31 January 2017 by John Haylock

What a long strange trip it’s been for Oklomaha’s The Flaming Lips.

At the start of their journey there were primitive anarchic splodges of shambolic, psychedelic cacophony and disintegrating shards of brain scan feedback. This was most notable on their fabulously riotous early nineties albums such as Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Oh My Gawd.

They now find themselves part of the mainstream, well sort of.


In a world that is quite obviously insane and totally preposterous I suppose it should only be right and proper that Lips frontman Wayne Coyne is regarded as our bonkers saviour.

Let’s face it, rather him than Chris Martin or Ed Sheeran. Madness over sanitised sanity any day.

Anyway he’s not mad he’s just got an imagination that is bigger than a massively big tree with a six lane highway that’s been carved through it.

Think Brian Wilson meets Paul McCartney in a drugs factory. Think outside the box of frogs. He’s merely emancipated himself from mental slavery and got lost in the Strawberry Fields of the Nephilim, as you do.

Let’s not forget the band’s unsung heroes Steven Drozd, a name that sounds spookily a bit like an android, and Michael Ivins. These quietly loyal men at the back, whose melodic sensibilities have repeatedly come to the fore, have formed with Coyne a formidable song writing partnership.

So here we have another collection of loony tunes to devour, digest and discuss.

Oczy Mlody comes luke warm on the heels of the mildy entertaining Terror, and the awful Embryonic.

Over the last few years Wayne has spread his love too thinly, collaborations with Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Tame Impala and basically anybody he meets in a studio with a joint. This has been much to the detriment of the band he fronts.

There have been far too many side projects to distract from his primary directive- to blow peoples minds with the Flaming Lips.

I am happy to report that we’re on course again. This is the best Flaming Lips release since Yoshimi and those evil bastard robots grrr grrr.

It’s a relatively subdued album but absolutely littered with hooks, innocent magic, solemnity and gorgeousness. In the distance Death stands silently with a big scythe in one hand and a copy of Pet Sounds in the other.

Opening with glacial perfection the instrumental title track meanders gently into How?? an absolute Lips classic. Wayne’s vocals here are beauty personified. This will take the place of Do You Realise in their canon of crowd pleasing, heart string tuggers.

There Should Be Unicorns is a darkly hypnotic piece of electronica, with a haunting tracked vocal. Toward the end a scary Darth Vader voice speaks about swans and shit and I hastily conclude this is the best Lips track I have ever heard.

Sunrise and Nigdy Nie continue the lovely ethereal vibe. One Night While Hunting For Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill, is as mad as its title suggests. Imagine a skeletal folk song from an alternative Cornish universe, where a confused semi naked Poldark meets Dr Timothy Leary.

Listening to the Frogs with Demon’s Eyes similarly morphs into a hallucinatory experience. Epic in scope and heaven on headphones, whilst on a train heading into St Pancras railway station at four in the morning.

The Castle is catchy-catchy pop. It sleepwalks on candyfloss, it’s a sexy rumination featuring mushrooms, bumble bees and dragons and should come with a free Arthur Rackham print.

We a Family closes on a high. It’s an anthemic little excursion; walking boots not required.

Back on track then. Where on Earth (or any other planet ) they go next is anybody’s guess. But be assured the trip is definitely not over yet. Tickets please.

These are some of The Flaming Lips best songs of their long career, don’t take my word for it, those evil robots are coming to get you. Yeah.

Words by John Haylock


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Best Albums 2016 – Neonfiller’s Look At The Year’s Best Releases

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Best Albums 2016 – Neonfiller’s Look At The Year’s Best Releases

Posted on 14 December 2016 by Joe

After taking some time in June to list our favourite albums so far this year, the time has come to reveal our Best Albums of 2016.

The surprise alternative pop album of the year has not budged from its number one slot, but our extended end of year list has given us the chance to add a further 10 albums to our selection.

There are a few more veteran performers here, but also plenty of new bands with some stunning debuts released this year.

It may have been a horrible anus  in terms of politics and the death of iconic legends but 2016 was still a great year for music. Sit back and enjoy our Best Albums 2016 list.

20. Picture Box – Songs of Joy



Robert Halcrow uses his brand ‘wonky pop’ to take you on a tour of the lesser known nooks and crannies of his home City of Canterbury, in Kent. The demise of its speedway team, its smelly former tannery and a pet fish shop are the stars of this thoroughly eccentric look at small town England. Read the full review here.

19. American Wrestlers – Goodbye Terrible Youth



The brain child of Gary McClure, once of Manchester band Working for A Nuclear Free City and now living in St Louis, this new act’s debut album earns a deserved spot on our list for its personal subject matter and catchy hooks all blended perfectly together with lashings of distorted guitar. Read the full review here.

18. Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door



Not Your Door is a deeply personal album for Robert Rotifer, taking in his present life living in Canterbury, Kent, as well as his past, growing up in Vienna. But with its themes of family and the very notion of home it aims to resonate with many. Its post Brexit release also offers a thoughtful alternative view on EU relations. Read the full review here.

17. Rapid Results College – In City Light



Rapid Results College is such a great name for a band, cemented in modern urban life with tongue firmly in cheek about its pressures, pace and pitfalls. Their debut album left us enthralled, taking in influences such as XTC and their keen focus on melody, all channeled through some of the cleanest production you will hear all year. Read the full review here.

16. Southern Tenant Folk Union – Join Forces



After the ambitious Chuck Norris Project of last year, in which the Edinburgh folk collective used film titles by the rightwing actor to protest against his politics, their latest album goes back to basics. This has a more traditional sound, focusing on their bluegrass and Celtic influences, but still with plenty of politics and above all heart. Read the full review here.

15. Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are



Incredibly, this is now the 22nd solo album from the hardest working man in music and proves another high point in an illustrious career. Read the full review here.

14. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky



Third album from the former Sugar and Husker Du man’s most settled line up for years. The key to its success is its ability to tackle the tough issues of life in the most fun way possible, as Mould’s rage and melody once again combine perfectly.  Read the full review here.

13. Woodpigeon – TROUBLE



Heartbreak, loss and a globe trotting meander prove the powerful inspiration for Mark Andrew Hamilton’s latest album. Beautiful and inspiring. Read the full review here.

12. John Howard – Across the Door Sill



This may just be the best album to date by John Howard, the 1970s singer songwriter who is enjoying a renaissance in recent years as an independent artist. His time capsule preserved vocals are in abundance here thanks to some sumptuous layering to create an entire choir of Howards backed simply by piano. Beautiful. Read the full review here.

11. Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart




Many bands have trod the well worn path of capturing the pains of being young within three minute, fast paced pop songs, complete with guitar solos and rousing sing-a-long choruses. But no one does this quite like Martha. This collection from the north east of England act is another deserved entry to our end of year round up. Read the full review here.

10. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity



Like an extended rock jam, taking in science fiction, monsters and, naturally, some awesome guitar riffs this is another stellar release from the Australian psych rockers, with a little help from some robots and a gigantic wasp. Read the full review here.

9. Dressy Bessy – King Sized


Dressy Bessy Kingsized

Fabulous return from a six-year break for the US act. This works particularly well by merging their beefier pre- hiatus sound with the pop nous that made their early work so infectious. Read the full review here.

8. The Wave Pictures – Bamboo Diner in the Rain



Underneath what may very well be 2016’s crappiest album cover lies this year’s best blues LP, as The Wave Pictures take their fascination with American blues to new levels. Read our full review here.

7. Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves



Former Death in Vegas man Ian Button and crew have created their very own 1970s pop band. Full of fuzzed up guitar riffs and stomping rhythms there would have been plenty to satisfy the charts back in the day, especially the album’s title song, and its best pop tune, Radio. Read the full review here.

6. Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages – Vol 1



One of Hayman’s best pieces of work and possibly his most important, preserving the oral history of the relatives of those who survived the horrors of the Great War as well as paying tribute to the village life these soldiers left and thankfully returned to. Read the full review here.

5. Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield



Childhood memories and the toils of adulthood mix wonderfully on the former Delgados singer’s latest album. With the track Parks and Recreation she has also created one of the best songs of recent years. Read the full review here.

4. Arborist – Home Burial



Imagine a colliery band on tour of the Appalachians and I guess you are somewhere near this sound conjured up in this stunning debut from the Northern Ireland based act, that also features The Breeders Kim Deal on vocals. It’s Americana, but not like you’ve heard it before. Read the full review here.

3. Free Swim – Life Time of Treats


Free Swim

Free Swim’s Paul Coltofeanu is a silly chap, that’s why we like him. We’ve already been enthralled by his collection of quirky EPs but here, on the act’s debut album, he joins forces with chum David Turn to  take the charm up a few notches. Ray Mears, air drumming, Neville Southall’s moustache and angry internet sensation Gordon Hill are among the cast of stars that Paul and David encounter. There’s some fine music here too, which shows they are no mere novelty act. Read the full review here.

2. Evans the Death – Vanilla



On album number three London act Evans the Death have upped, shredded, beaten up and garrotted the ante. It’s full of rage, the guitars are heavier than before, the vocals fiercer and the ambition turned to stadium sized proportions, with a brass section and even a funky bass added to the mix. Incendiary album from what very well be Britain’s best rock band. Read the full review here.

1. The Monkees – Good Times


The Monkees - Good Times

The comeback to beat all comebacks. Originally planned as merely something to sell on their 50th anniversary tour this album has ended up grabbing the headlines in its own right. With Fountains of Wayne man Adam Schlesinger at the helm, a stack of lost demos to dust off and new tracks from talented Monkees fans such as Andy Partridge and Ben Gibbard, Good Times both pays tribute to their place in 1960s pop history and creates a great, modern day indie and alternative pop album in its own right. A well deserved number one slot. Read our full review here.

Top Ten Albums of 2016 So far was compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers


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The Wave Pictures – Bamboo Diner in the Rain


The Wave Pictures – Bamboo Diner in the Rain

Posted on 01 December 2016 by Joe

Underneath what may very well be 2016’s crappiest album cover lies this year’s best blues LP, as The Wave Pictures take their fascination with American blues to new levels.


From the riffs and solos of City Forgiveness (2013) to the gorgeous vintage feel of their Billy Childish produced Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon (2015) and the acoustic sweetness of this year’s A Season in Hull, this collection has elements of them all. As a result it is perhaps the best of the lot.

There’s a sense of growing resentment at the digital world across this album, in music and our lives. It possibly explains why the album cover, which features guitarist Dave Tattersall, bassist Franic Rozycki and drummer Jonny Helm clutching their instruments by what looks like a hedge, is so rubbish.

Why waste time digitally editing fancy covers when there’s good music to play?

And there’s plenty of it too, especially on Now I Want To Hoover My Brain Clean. This is one of half a dozen blues rock tracks that carries this ethos of going back to basics perfectly.

Others in this mold are opener Panama Hat and closer The Running Man.

There’s a break from these heavy riffs with a few acoustic numbers that fit in perfectly, especially Meeting Simon At the Airport and the slide guitar and brush drumming on the title track.

A great The Wave Pictures single too emerges with Pool Hall, which brings another common theme across the album – of focusing on everyday British life through the sounds of 1970s American blues rock.

As well as pool halls, here being torn down to make flats, David Tattersall’s wonderfully detailed lyrics take us to betting shops and pubs, complete with a landlord with crisps down his shirt. Even the colours of flowers in vases he passes get a mention. If ever a musician has a novel to write it is him.

In the press release Tattersall says that they don’t want to be a blues band, “but the blues is there” at the “core of everything we do. We love it,” he adds.

With his accomplished and original guitar solos and Helm and Rozycki’s moody rhythm section they have the musical expertise to be among the blues greats. They may not like it, but their metamorphosis into a modern day and thoroughly British Creedance Clearwater Rivival is satisfyingly nearing completion


by Joe Lepper

For more information about The Wave Pictures click here.


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Tom Mansi and the Icebreakers – Rock and Roll on Bones


Tom Mansi and the Icebreakers – Rock and Roll on Bones

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Sarah Robertson

Tom Mansi and the Icebreaker’s Rock and Roll on Bones is my album of the year so far.

His gravelly purr of a voice, which oozes depth and character, is the epitome of the blues rock genre, effortlessly painting an image of interminable touring, excessive whisky consumption and a broken heart or ten.

His voice is also supported by the freshest writing I’ve heard in a long time and I’m stunned that I could have so easily missed this album, the band desperately lacking the profile they deserve.


Mansi’s unique writing is a rarity in an increasingly homogenised market, with even the most seemingly alternative names micro-managed and marketed by their corporate record labels.

But there’s none of that nonsense here. This is pure unfiltered talent.

The trio that make up this band met at school and have been playing together for nearly 20 years in one form or another.

‘We’ve been playing together for longer than we haven’t,’ Tom Mansi told Neonfiller. This is the trio’s fourth album but the third under the name Tom Mansi and the Icebreakers. I asked Mansi, if they’ve been together for such a long time, how did this album come about?

He attributed a number of things. Escaping from a fast-paced London lifestyle before the birth of his first daughter was one, he said. ‘I just had time to write, plus the writing was done with the bass rather than guitar so the tracks were written in a more stripped down way,’ he said.

The album was also kick-starter’, so its launch was paid for by multiple donors rather than a label.

‘We knew people really wanted it,’ said Mansi. No doubt the band’s recent residency at Shorditch’s Blue’s Kitchen supported this endeavour.

The recording process was also different from their previous efforts, with each of the tracks recorded live. ‘Our dynamics (on the album) are completely natural, we all sang and played at the same time. And I think recording live makes it more of a music experience than a process,’ Mansi said.

The album opens with the title track ‘Rock and Roll on Bones’, a funk swing styled track that offers a taste of interesting history. It describes a time during the Soviet era when Western music was banned, explains Mansi. ‘They bootlegged rock, pressing it into whatever they could find, including ex-rays that could be carried around easily.’


There are multiple stand-out tracks on the album, No Comment scoring high on my chart along with the devastatingly sexy Heartbreak Hooligan. The phenomenal bass-lead melody of Year as a Ghost is as brilliant as it is earie, Mansi sounding like a modern-day Jim Morrison with his convincing sorrow and genius poetry. No wonder the band included the lyrics on the album sleeve.

Little Black Box follows suit with brilliantly surreal marine-based analogies for problems in love, guitarist Paul White using a playful special effect to support the underwater theme.

While these three men have been playing together for a long time, this album is clearly a significant breakthrough, Mansi describing it as the album they’ve always been waiting for.

My only criticism is that while the writing is original, there is some formula to their presentation with the trio relying on White’s guitar playing to carry the album touch more than they should. But luckily for us listeners, for now it’s a formula that works brilliantly.

By Sarah Robertson

For more information about Tom Mansi and the Icebreakers visit their site here.


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Arborist – Home Burial

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Arborist – Home Burial

Posted on 22 November 2016 by Joe

While the palette used by Northern Ireland act Arborist is Americana, their debut album offers so much more.

It’s not just there are other genres coming through, from piano balladry and traditional folk to rock and pop. There’s an atmosphere here that makes it sound so unlike any Americana music I’ve heard. It’s haunting, uplifting, sad and exciting all at the same time.


This is perhaps best shown on second track Dark Stream. This seems to combine all of the above genres, all held together by some lovely brass flourishes. Imagine a colliery band on tour of the Appalachians and I guess you are somewhere near this sound.

Andrew Bird’s recent releases are perhaps the nearest comparison to this debut by Arborist, which is led by songwriter Mark McCambridge. Both have gone back to America’s traditional folk for inspiration to create wholly modern releases, full of interesting instrumentation.

There’s even the Breeders’ Kim Deal here. She drops by for backing vocal duties on the band’s first single Twisted Arrow. Deal is both setting up Arborist well for publicity but crucially is here because she and McCambridge know her vocals fit perfectly.

Another point of reference is Leisure Society. This is particularly the case on the wistful pop of A Man of My Age, which is one of many standout tracks on a debut album of rare consistency and quality. I Heard Him Leaving also shows McCambridge to be a songwriter of some note. It’s lyrics and music oozes with the pain of a broken relationship and even hints at murder balladry through the brief glimpse of  a kitchen knife

McCambridge and co are a band not to be underestimated and certainly shouldn’t be dismissed as merely another Americana act.


By Joe Lepper

For more information about Arborist and Home Burial click here.


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American Wrestlers – Goodbye Terrible Youth

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American Wrestlers – Goodbye Terrible Youth

Posted on 10 November 2016 by Joe

Hopefully this is second time lucky for American Wrestlers’ Gary McClure, once of Manchester band Working for A Nuclear Free City and now living in St Louis.

After the Manchester early 90s-inspired pop act wound down in 2013 McClure met his American wife Bridgette Imperial, moved across the Atlantic and while working in a warehouse created this debut album under the name American Wrestlers.


The assumption is that going from being in a band to working in a warehouse brings with it a degree of humbling and introspection, which is exactly how Goodbye Terrible Youth sounds. It has a homespun feel as if McClure is pouring his heart out into his bedroom recording equipment. But the songs themselves are big, full of distorted guitar, catchy hooks and choruses. Its a winning blend.

It also has a lovely vintage feel. This is especially through the keyboards on the excellently titled opener Vote Thatcher as well as Blind Kids. With McClure’s slightly nasal vocals (I like them by the way, that’s not a criticism) both these American Wrestlers tracks sound like OMD letting their hair down for a moment.

Twinkling indie pop is there too, on the 80s indie pop influenced Give Up, among many potential single.

What appeals most is the sense that love has gone into the lyrics, production and melodies. These have  no doubt been hammered out in between shifts at the warehouse. When an artist creates something that you can tell they are proud of it almost flows through the music to the listener. That’s happening here.

I felt hooked in from the first bars of the intro of Vote Thatcher right through to the final keyboards on closing track Real People.

With Bridgette on keyboards, bassist Ian Reitz and Josh Van Hoorebeke McClure’s project American Wrestlers is now a full band, which has been signed by the respected label Fat Possum for good reason judging by these tracks.


by Joe Lepper

For more information about American Wrestlers click here.


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John Howard – Across the Door Sill


John Howard – Across the Door Sill

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Joe

This may just be John Howard’s best album to date. It’s just so wonderfully simple, featuring only his time-capsule preserved voice and piano.

Apart from simplicity why else does it work so well? For a start, his vocals are excellent and deserve to take centre stage. After his first ultimately doomed pop career in the 1970s a two decade hiatus followed. This allowed his voice to be preserved, tonsils tucked away in a jar (perhaps by the door Eleanor Rigby style), ready for his comeback.


This latest release from John Howard also works because his soundscape skills and home production techniques learned in recent years have meant he can really go to town on vocal layering. At times there’s an entire Howard choir involved and they sound sensational, giving it a dream like quality throughout.

There’s also a strong sense of freedom on this record, making him bold enough to let the songs carry on until he feels he’s done with them. In two tracks it take more than nine wonderful minutes for that to happen.

To release tracks of such length you really need to nail the songwriting and here he does that well with the piano providing a hypnotic, film score rhythm to the vocal melody. The track Outward in particular has that in abundance with its dark, foreboding piano reminding me of the music to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s stairway to heaven scene in their 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death. The layered vocals really work well here, giving an added, angelic quality.

There is space for one traditionally structured pop song, In Pig and Pies, which comes in at a relatively concise four minutes. The Howard choir really gets going here as the decades cascade past in the lyrics. It reminded me a little of Howard’s track from You Shall Go To the Ball, The Deal, which also channelled the spirit of Denis Wilson so well.

We have said it before that Howard may be one of the most independent artists we have encountered in our six years of reviewing. Part of this is because he’s experienced the constraints of the 1970s music industry so revels in the freedom that internet promotion, self production and independent labels can bring.

Across the Door Sill is another great example of an artist playing to his strengths, of vocal ability and songwriting, and carried out very much on his own terms.


by Joe Lepper

John Howard – Across the Door Sill is released on Occultation Recordings in November


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