Archive | June, 2011

Glastonbury Festival 2011

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Glastonbury Festival 2011

Posted on 28 June 2011 by Joe

The Glastonbury Festival is something to be enjoyed and endured, especially the latter when the weather decides to play some evil tricks.

With rain lashing down from Wednesday, when the 200,000 festival goers began arriving, through to Saturday morning the vast  Somerset dairy farm site was soon covered in foot deep sticky mud.

Tough slog though the deep mud

Simple journeys to the third world slum toilets, or to one of the dozens of stages soon became a tough old slog. By Sunday the sun came out, the mud dried but we were faced with further cruelty, blistering heat on vast open fields with little shade.

It’s a true endurance test. But thankfully as a local (I live six miles away) and as a volunteer steward (with my earnings going direct to my local school charity) I was spared much of the horrors the paying public endure, such as the traffic jams and the desperate search for a camping space.

For me I could cycle to and from site and stay in the nicer crew camping area with showers. This made all the difference.

Nowhere to hide from the sun on Sunday

Another important aspect to remember is that it is a festival of contemporary performing arts offering something for pretty much any taste, not just those attracted to the chart acts and bland indie rock of the Pyramid stage line up.

For those like me who are not keen on Beyonce or Coldplay there is plenty more to see. I managed to see some of my favourite gigs without seeing a single Pyramid stage act.

Here’s my Friday to Sunday run down of some of the acts we saw proving that there’s far more to this famous festival than just Beyonce.

Friday

With rain forecast and the mud building up I decided to stick to one area for early afternoon, taking in the BBC introducing, John Peel and Oxlyers in West stages. All in tents, creating a better atmosphere and crucially shelter from the rain.

Things started badly with French pop folk act Cocoon whose dull Coldplay-light set in the large John Peel Stage was pleasant enough but uninspiring. Danny and the Champions of the World‘s tired pub rock in the Oxlyers in West also left me deflated.

I sought refuge in the small BBC Introducing tent and thankfully Brighton’s Twin Brother was on hand to provide one of a raft of festival highlights. Just 100 or so turned up to watch their short 25 minute set in this small tent but those that did were treated to one of the UK brightest unsigned talents. The key to their engaging live show was the band’s hub, multi-instrumentalist Alex Wells and  his  deep Lloyd Cole-esque voice. He provided a truly captivating performance on tracks such as ‘Lungs’. His first release is due out in October we are told.

Twin Brother's Alex Wells

Over to Oxlyers in West again for Dry the River who impressed my colleague when they played the Great Escape festival in Brighton in May.  I can see why, they commanded the stage with their fast paced folk rock set. This band is destined for larger stages and the few thousand or so in this medium sized tent were impressed.

As the rain got heavier Oxlyers in West became a bit of a squeeze.  Emmy the Great, aka Emma-Lee Moss and her band, made light of their sudden popularity. “You don’t even know who we are, you’re all welcome though,” she said. The Darren Hayman collaborator delivered one of the best natured sets of the weekend. Her songs such as ‘We Almost Had a Baby’ are bittersweet tracks of love and modern life that have a wide appeal and I expect the rain and the search for shelter will have helped shift a few more CDs for them.

Emmy the Great

Next up for me was the first of the day’s legends; the 1980s band Big Audio Dynamite, formed by The Clash’s Mick Jones.

Despite the rain and the foot deep mud I was more than willing to trudge across site and up a hill to the Park’s main stage, which is set in a slight dip giving it a crater like intimacy.

I stopped off to see The Vaccines on the way, a band I’ve criticised before for being bland without ever seeing live. My feelings were justified as they ushered out their radio friendly electric Mumford and Son’s style hits like ‘Post Break Up Sex’. Their cover of The Standells ‘Good Guys Don’t Where White’ was pretty good though.

Safely at The Park I plonked myself within spitting distance of BAD (I didn’t spit by the way). As they took the stage, I was struck by how old they looked. Jones like a hundred-year-old Larry Grayson in suit jacket and jeans and Don Letts with grey hairs under his hat and wearing what I can only describe as a school caretaker’s brown coat

BAD's Mick Jones

It was great to hear the old BAD songs though with ‘Medicine Show’ and ‘E=MC2’ outstanding, but there was a sadness in seeing these old men play what seems now like quite dated music. Letts looked like he could do with a nice cup of tea to go with his toasting.

Time for another quick word about the Park. It’s a kind of festival within a festival. Surrounding the crater like main stage is the giant ribbon look out tower, Glastonbury sign, and the wonderfully surreal Rabbit Hole venue, in which characters send you on missions to find vegetables and can even cut your hair.

The Park also plays host to a special guest for two nights. They are usually big and this year the rumours where that Pulp and Radiohead would take to the stage.

Trapped by Radiohead

Tonight the rumours were confirmed and it was Radiohead’s turn. Even though I haven’t really liked any of their albums since Kid A I was swept up briefly by the sense of occasion of this giant of festival rock act playing a relatively small stage. But with the rain lashing down and seemingly half the festival site cramming into the Park it became apparent that not only could I barely see anything, but the sound did not travel well beyond a hundred metres from the stage. As chants of ‘turn it up’ rained down around me I decided to miss this precious rock experience and sought a saviour.

Step forward Billy Bragg. This year Bragg was curating the tented Leftfield stage and his  hour and a quarter headline set tonight in the dry was just the tonic.

“If you want subtle political critique you are in the wrong place. I’m just going to belt them out,” said Bragg as he delivered a fine set of classics like ‘Greetings from the New Brunette’, on his telecaster and acoustic guitar, punctuated with some excellent rants and briefly joined by Badly Drawn Boy for some intricate guitar work.

Billy Bragg

The BNP, public sector cuts, tax evaders and U2, who were taking to the Pyramid stage at around the same time, all came under fire. As Bragg finished a sing along encore of ‘New England’ I decided this was a good way to end the day. I choose to ignore the opportunity to watch the pompous Bono in the rain, even though he was getting barracked by UK Uncut protesters.

Saturday

Another perk of being local is being close enough to take my six-year-old son for a day. Under 12s go free and we braved the mud to spend most of the day in the Kidz Area. I have mixed feelings about kids at Glastonbury. Watching some of the parents push buggies around foot thick mud or seeing kids my son’s age surrounded by drunks watching the Chemical Brothers at 11pm makes me question why many bring them.

But after a few hours at the Kidz area I can see why. It was a little oasis of less mud (extra effort had been made laying saw dust) and my son was enthralled by the endless rides and entertainment featuring children’s TV stars.

Kidz Field

After my son was safely packed off home in the late afternoon it was time for music again on this  rainless day. With an hour to kill before California act Fool’s Gold were at the large outdoor West Holts stage I popped into the cabaret tent just in time to see Jeremy Hardy, who expertly handled some drunk hecklers and delivered a set that I would expect from an experienced comedian.

After an entertaining set from Fool’s Gold, who expertly combine sunny California pop with African music, it was time for some more legends.

Reformed for this special gig at the Acoustic stage Pentangle were something of a folk super group back in the1960s and 1970s. Featuring the original line up of guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, singer Jacqui McShee, drummer Terry Cox and bassist Danny Thompson, for a folk fan like me this was a very special occasion.

Pentangle

Even though they’d barely rehearsed together the old magic was still there. Watching Renbourn weave his intricate guitar playing around Jansch’s riffs and Thompson and Cox’s jazz folk rhythms was one of my favourite  musical moments at the festival. They seemed delighted to be there as they swept though tracks such as ‘Hunting Song’, ‘Bruton Town’, ‘House Carpenter’ and ‘Cruel Sister’. This was an experience to cherish.

Glastonbury is all about simple decisions, such as do I give myself a coronory getting to see a band far away or sit tight. The vast size and distances make travelling around difficult and you have to except you will miss some acts. After Pentangle I was faced with a half hour trek through mud to see Battles at the John Peel stage or the easier option of seeing Janelle Monae at the nearby West Holts. I went for the tougher choice after missing Battles before at an ATP Festival.

Battles

It was worth the hard slog especially to see Battles’ drummer John Stanier, who took centre stage in a set dominated by the excellent recent album Gloss Drop. Among the highlights was the album’s guest singer Matias Aguayo joining the band for ‘Ice Cream’.

Sunday

To say the sun came out is an understatement. Suddenly the rain soaked site became bathed in sunshine with temperatures reaching the late 20s. Gigs in tents was once again my priority with the site offering little other respite from the baking sun.

The BBC Introducing stage was my first port of call with the 80s indie pop of the Yes Cadets and Margate surf punks Two Wounded Birds providing two more to add to our ones to watch list. The latter were especially good.

Two Wounded Birds

Ok Go in the nearby John Peel tent was my next destination. I arrived early to see the last half of The Joy Formidable, one of the most hyped up acts at the festival. Even though their epic indie rock was not to my taste their performance was highly impressive. When the festival returns in a couple of years I expect to see them on a main stage line up. Those fans there felt they had seen one of this long running festival’s classic performances.

I love a band that makes a bit of an effort and Ok Go certainly do that. Known for their inventive videos this US pop rock are equally impressive live. With each member dressed in a bright coloured suit.  I was left impressed with both their showmanship and song writing.

Ok Go

Squeeze are the nearest comparison as OK Go  put in for me the performance of the festival, featuring great versions of ‘Here it Goes Again’ (the one with the treadmill video) as well as ‘This Too Shall Pass’ and ‘Sky Scrapers’ from their most recent album Of The Blue Colour of the Sky. It was a masterclass in audience engagement as they invited a member of the crowd up to play guitar on one track and indulged in some crowd surfing.

Back at the BBC Introducing stage I found myself in the audience of a live BBC 6Music acoustic session from Super Furry Animal frontman Gruff Rhys. Just three tracks, but all wonderful, especially ‘Sensations in the Dark’ from his latest album Hotel Shampoo.

Gruff Rhys

As I bid farewell to the indie tent area it was over to the main Other Stage for my final two acts of the day, TV on the Radio and Eels. The sun was still beaming down during TV on the Radio’s set and while they delivered a polished performance, even with regular lashings of sun cream and water the heat was unbearable.

By the time Eels came on the sun was starting to set and the band fronted by Mark Everett provided a fitting end to my Glastonbury.  All with  giant beards the band delivered a mixture of classic singles and recent album tracks in a quirky Blues Brothers revue show style. It was a mix that worked well for the stadium sized crowd.

Eels

Highlights included ‘Novocain for my Soul’ and ‘Souljacker Part 1’ as well as  tracks from 2009’s Hombre Lobo such as  ‘The Look You Give That Guy’ and ‘Tremendous Dynamite’.

As I cycled home in the dark later that night I thought to myself would I go again when it returns in 2013. Despite being caked in mud, weary and deprived of sleep the answer is still yes.  The festival will still have its critics, some of whom have actually been and experienced the mud rather than just watched it on the tele. But ultimately Glastonbury is so big your experience  is what you want to make it. For me as a music fan it is still an exemplary festival.

8/10 (would have been 10 if the weather wasn’t so cruel)

by Joe Lepper

See Also: Rain and mud greets Glastonbury Festival-goers , Neonfiller’s Best Small Festival Guide2011

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Other festivals for 2011

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Other festivals for 2011

Posted on 25 June 2011 by Dorian

If you missed out on going to Glastonbury, or you did go and want more festival action, there are still plenty you can go to later in the Summer. Below are three of our favourites that offer up something a little bit different.

Playgroup Festival

Playgroup festival

The Playgroup Festival is only in its second year, but it already looks like becoming a regular part of the summer festival landscape. Taking its inspiration from The Secret garden Party and Bestival it aims to offer a unique experience where the overall atmosphere is just as important as who you might be watching on the stage.

One mistake a lot of small festivals make is trying to get recognisable names on a small budget and ending up with a load of formerly famous acts on the bill. That is fine if your idea iof a good time is watching Dodgy headline the main stage and then moving on to watch Miles Hunt from the Wonderstuff DJ in the dance tent. Playgroup take a different tack, picking a load of lesser known but high quality acts from a wide range of genres and creating a really interesting bill. Acts to look out for includes; The Apples, Early Ghost, Gypsy Hill, Kovak, Los Albertos and Quantic y su Combo Barbaro.

They say “Our events are theatrical without being theatre, musical without being just gigs, artistic without being exclusive, accessible without being bland, fun without being shudderingly ‘wacky’, and involve you, without ramming anything down your throat!”

Woodland animals are the theme this year, so be prepared to see people dressed as stags, hares and badgers to roaming the festival fields. The festival is at Eridge Park, halfway between London and Brighton, and buses to the event (complete with magicians on board) can be booked along with the tickets.

http://playgroupfestival.com/

Indietracks

Indietracks

Indietracks does exactly what it says on the tin, it is an indie music festival at a vintage railway. It is this simple gimmick that makes this one of the most unique festivals of the year. Sure, if you don’t like indie pop then the addition off steam trains is unlikely to win you over, but if you do it is a great way to spend a few days.

The line-up this year is as strong as ever, bands to look out for includes; Edwyn Collins, Jonny, Chris T-T, Herman Dune, Milky Wimpshake, Hidden Cameras and The Bumblebees.

They say “Indietracks is a unique summer festival which combines heritage trains and indiepop music, and is located in the Derbyshire countryside. Guests are free to enjoy the regular facilities of the Midland Railway Butterley such as the steam train rides, farm and museum, and enjoy a range of new and established indiepop bands.”

The festival takes place at the Swanwick Junction site of the Midland Railway Butterley.

Read our review of the 2010 festival.

http://www.indietracks.co.uk

End of the Road

End Of The Road

End of the Road is the biggest of the festivals previewed here, but even at an increased 10,000 capacity it is still small enough to be able to escape from the crowds. The great strength of this festival is the consistent quality of music on show and the idyllic setting.

A focus of folky acts and Americana works perfectly in the beautiful gardens, but the organisers aren’t scared to through a few noisy rock acts into the mix. Bands to watch out for this year includes; Beirut, Mogwai, The Walkmen, Phosphorescent, tUnE-yArDs, The Leisure Society, Allo Darlin’ and Gordon Gano & The Ryans.

They say ” The idea with the End of the Road Festival was to organise an intimate festival with our favourite artists and to create a festival with a friendly and relaxed feel. The Larmer Tree Gardens (North Dorset/Wiltshire borders, UK) is the perfect venue to create this kind of atmosphere – where music-loving, open minded and chilled out people get together in the beautiful countryside whilst parrots and peacocks wander around!”

Read our review of the 2010 festival.

http://www.endoftheroadfestival.com/

By Dorian Rogers

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Rain, Traffic Jams and Mud…it’s Glastonbury Festival Time Again

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Rain, Traffic Jams and Mud…it’s Glastonbury Festival Time Again

Posted on 23 June 2011 by Joe

Neonfiller is covering the Glastonbury Festival for the first time this year and was on hand to picture some of the 200,000 revellers making their way to the site, at Worthy Farm, Pilton,  Somerset.

With the rain lashing down as festival goers arrived on Wednesday (22 June) the site quickly turned into a traditional Glastonbury mudbath. Even though the gates opened at 8am, around two days before the festival and bands get underway proper, camping space was scarce within a few hours.

Those arriving on Thursday and Friday are set for disappointment, with only spaces on the flood plain area, near the toilets and paths left.

There was better news for those driving to the event, with traffic jams less prolific than previous years, with more revellers clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to park their cars early overnight on Tuesday.

Among the indie and folk acts we will be trying to watch across the massive festival site will be Emmy the Great and Big Audio Dynamite on the Friday, Battles and folk legends Pentangle on the Saturday and Eels and Suzanne Vega on the Sunday.

We will also be checking out the festival’s family credentials at the Kidz Field. Well, that’s the plan at least, weather permitting. The Forecast for the rest of the weekend is more scattered showers.

The Park area.

The Park area is among the areas we’ll be spending a lot of time with the area’s main stage set to play host to two special guest performances on Friday and Saturday night.

We will be publishing our full review of the event plus more pictures early next week.

by Joe Lepper

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Tom Tom Club

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Tom Tom Club

Posted on 22 June 2011 by Dorian

In the middle of Stop Making Sense David Byrne leaves the stage to put on his famously big suit, during this period the band on stage morphs into Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth’s side project Tom Tom Club. It is a part of the film that I’ve always liked (although I know those that didn’t), sure the bit where Franz starts rapping about “James Brown” makes me squirm a little but I loved the catchy riffs and cute vocals.

I’d never claim that Franz and Weymouth were the key to Talking Heads (Byrne is clearly the genius of the group) but they were a big part of the sound and the debut Tom Tom Club album was on my stereo as much as My Life In the Bush of Ghosts when I first picked it up.

Tom Tom Club

Tom Tom Club in 2011

That debut album is a still a favourite, ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ being the most worn out track on the 2009 reissue, and stands-up as a lesser classic of the 1980s. It is a surprise to look back and see just how influential, sampled and copied ‘Genius Of Love’ was (and still is). In 1981 it was already being used by the hip hop community as this track (below)  by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five shows, and many other hip hop acts have used the beat or the core riffs over the years.

In the mid 1990s Mariah Carey used the song pretty much wholesale for her hit ‘Fantasy’, a song where the original band members (including King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew) get the writing credit.

I’m excited to be seeing the band play this July as part of their 30th anniversary tour. I haven’t purchased any of their albums since ‘Close to the Bone’ in 1983, and they have been patchy, if fun, records. But as a long time Talking Heads fanatic the chance to see these two members of the band is an opportunity I don’t want to miss. And the opportunity to hear their classic early singles played live is something I’m really looking forward to.

Tom Tom Club tour the UK as part of their 30th anniversary celebrations between July 14th and 20th. Details of dates can be found at. http://www.tomtomclub.net/.

By Dorian Rogers

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The Mojo Fins – Shake The Darkness

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The Mojo Fins – Shake The Darkness

Posted on 20 June 2011 by Dorian

The uncertainty of the music business, and the ease of home recording, has lead to an increase in bedroom produced records over the last few years. This has created a gulf between the haves and have nots of the music industry making the big sound primarily the domain of the super rich band. The Mojo Fins have bucked the trend by decamping to the Rockfield Studios (the studio where some of the greatest albums of the last 40 years have been recorded) to record with Manic Street Preachers and Idlewild producer Dave Eringa.

The Mojo Fins

Album opener, ‘Books Begin’ sets the stall pretty well, the guitars are effects heavy and the drums heavy in the mix. It also introduces some the beautifully played strings that are laced throughout the album. ‘Last Dance of the Decade’ of the decade improves on the formula with more prominent use of the strings and a nice melody on the chorus.

Overall this isn’t an album built around catchy hooks, although these are pop songs, as the sound and mood of the album are what catches the attention. This isn’t a criticism as the playing and production are spot on throughout and they have created a consistent mood which makes this very much an album experience (again, a little at odds with the single track consumption model).

‘Owning My Condition’ sits nicely at the middle of the album and dirties the guitars a bit, a nice change of pace from the clean and polished sound that pervades the majority of the record. The same is true of ‘Broken Link’, a song that has elements of The National in the guitar sounds on display.

With an album of this type; well produced, dramatic guitars and romantic singing style, it is difficult not to mention Coldplay. Unfortunately any band trying to produce music like this will be lumped in with Chris Martin’s bunch. That does ignore the fact that Coldplay got all their best ideas from Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, and it is some of the same influences that can be heard on ‘Shake The Darkness’. I was also interested to hear an 80s smooth pop sound on some of the tracks, and found myself reminded of some of Prefab Sprouts big romantic numbers.

All in all a good album that makes superb use of the studio environment, and layers on the instruments with aplomb. I’d be interested to hear an album that was rougher, and more immediate, from the band but there is plenty of time for that on their next release.

7.5/10

The Mojo Fins play an album launch gig at Brighton’s Green Door Store on June 24th.

By Dorian Rogers

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Richard Thompson – Live at the BBC

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Richard Thompson – Live at the BBC

Posted on 20 June 2011 by Joe

There are a lot of firsts for this box set, featuring three CDs and one DVD of Richard Thompson’s BBC sessions and live recordings from the early 1970s through to 2009.

It’s the first CD release for around 18 songs of his songs, and the first ever release of a range of acoustic and different arrangements, including a newly released version of  ‘Meet on the Ledge’ from his Fairport Convention days.

It is the first collection of BBC recordings to be sanctioned by Thompson and the DVD is the first approved by him that spans the bulk of his solo career and to feature his decade long work with his former wife Linda.

But while this box set, packaged rather nicely in a book, is certainly a must for Thompson fans it provides a more than welcome introduction to one of the UK’s greatest musicians, a true folk rock pioneer and certainly one of England’s most accomplished guitarists.

In essence the 3CDs of sessions and live recordings can be broken up nicely into three stages: his work with Linda covering the first disc, the second looking at the highs and lows of his 1980s solo work and the third focusing largely on his role as a folk music legend in the new century.

With over 80 tracks there’s a lot to take in so this segmenting works well allowing the listener to dip into say his 1980s electric guitar rock work or countrified twang of his work with Linda when the mood takes.

Among my highlights are the Andy Kershaw session from 1987 with just Thompson and his acoustic guitar on the second disc. This offers some wonderful versions of in particular ‘Valerie’ that showcases his acoustic guitar playing talents.

This segment on the second CD also follows the worst part of this collection, but that is down to my taste and dislike for this 80s rock phase. The offending two sessions are  tracks from a 1986 concert at the Hammersmith Palais that sounds like dated middle of the road rock , a little bit Waterboys, a little bit Dire Straits.  The problem is that while his fender strat work is a marvel, this type of music was not his strength. The other offender is a 1985 session for Kershaw in which tracks such as ‘You Don’t Say’ just sound like a poor man’s Police.

The first CD is also with faults. The production on the earliest sessions for John Peel is a bit ropey. Also towards the end of his partnership with Linda their performances suffer from some dated chorus effects on the guitar. Nevertheless this first disc has some of this box set’s most interesting moments, in particular versions of ‘”Dragging The River” and the excellent “Modern Woman” which have never been released before.

Perhaps the best CD for me is the third focusing on the last ten years and  featuring his renaissance as a folk legend amid a growing popularity for folk music in the new century.

This CD shows the breadth to his appeal as it features sessions for the BBC’s new music station 6Music alongside sessions for long time fan  Kershaw and veteran DJ Bob Harris. His versions of ‘Old Thames Side’ and ‘Let It Blow’ from Front Parlour Ballads, recorded for Tom Robinson on 6Music, are among my highlights. ‘Meet On The Ledge’ also provides a fitting end, originally a 1968 Fairport Convention single it is given a breath of fresh air on his Hub Session for the BBC in 2009.

What is perhaps most interesting about this box set is it shows how Thompson is such a bizarre mix of contradictions. While peculiarly English he has a distinct global outlook  and is happy to embrace different styles. He has expertly revisited and reworked traditional,  pastoral folk  but feels curiously urban and intrinsically influenced by his own London upbringing. It’s a prolific career that is far from over and given the high quality of the more recent BBC sessions in this box set, clearly still has much to offer.

8.5/10

by Joe Lepper

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Bon Iver – Bon Iver

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Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Posted on 17 June 2011 by Joe

Those that loved For Emma, Forever Ago, the stunning debut from Justin Vernon recording as Bon Iver, are going to have to get used to the fact that was a one off.

Its unique song writing process is not going to be repeated. He is not going to sit in a log cabin for three months in the winter and pour his heart out in song again. He may never produce a low-key tender album like it again. That period in his career is over, done with, finished.

Those that cannot accept that should avoid Bon Iver, Vernon’s self titled follow up album like the plague. Those who are open to Vernon moving on with his career may just find something to like.

Bon Iver, the album, is the work of an altogether different Vernon. A successful Vernon, who has turned Bon Iver into a well-respected live act, is a successful recording artist and has collaborated with Kanye West.

This is not the same pre For Emma Vernon who was essentially a failure, in love and music, who holed up in a log cabin to pour his heart out.

One of the major changes is that he has transferred elements of his festival sized live sound into the studio. This for us is where Bon Iver is most successful, especially as we were left impressed when we saw Vernon’s well-crafted rock act at The Breeders ATP festival in 2009.

Bon Iver at Breeders ATP

Bon Iver at Breeders ATP, 2009

Tracks such as opener ‘Perth’, with its atmospheric electric guitar intro and military drumming, capture  the ‘Bon Iver as rock band’ notion perfectly. So too does ‘Towers’, starting off like something from REM’s early catalogue and featuring some beautiful trumpets. ‘Calgary’ is another that left us impressed and is sure to be a live favourite as Vernon rises higher up festival bills over the coming years.

Another highlight is ‘Holocene’, more low key but arguably the most beautiful on the album.

Sadly the rest of the album is not as strong. ‘Minnesota WI’’s strange reggae rhythm and RnB, yes that’s right I said RnB, vocal style sounds a little like his experimental Volcano Choir work, but without the atmosphere. The saxophone on this track just sound weak as well, especially when compared to the sax-tastic album Kaputt, released by Destroyer earlier this year.

‘Hinnom, TX’ just sounds bland, like a Kanye West filler track. Worst of all is ‘Wash’, which reminds us of Enya with its drifting, washed out vocals. As for  ‘Beth/Rest’ this sounds like Chris De Burgh with its cheesy keyboards. This final track on the album is quite frankly an embarrassment.

Even though we are among those who recognise Vernon’s need to move on with his music this album has too little of what he is good at as a live musician, very little of the subtlety of For Emma and above all no killer tune or melody.  As a friend pointed out recently “it sounds a little like Toto”, surely a compliment in comparison to Enya.

6/10

by Joe Lepper

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Sandy Denny – The North Star Grassman and the Ravens

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Sandy Denny – The North Star Grassman and the Ravens

Posted on 16 June 2011 by Joe

As an introduction to the talents and flaws of the late English folk singer Sandy Denny this reissue (release date June 20, 2011) of her debut solo album does a pretty good job.

It also offers  a chance to look back on the start of a solo career that never quite took off in the same way as many of her male peers, such as Richard Thompson, John Martyn and Bert Jansch. A career that also failed to bring Denny the same commercial appeal of other female singer songwriters such as Carole King and latterly Kate Bush, who was emerging as a major recording artist shortly before Denny’s death in 1978.

For many Denny’s greatest achievement was not as a solo artist, but as part of the 1960s Fairport convention line up that created the ground breaking folk rock album Liege and Leif. It would be a foolish music fan indeed though to dismiss her solo work. To do so would miss out on some of her best vocal performances and song writing. But equally it would also be remiss to get too misty eyed about her talents. Denny as a person and a recording artist was a mess at times and this album is not without its faults.

Recorded in 1971 after she had left Fairport Convention and her follow up band Fotheringay had come to an end, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens offers a range of styles from blues, to folk to King-esque piano ballads. It marks a transition for Denny from her folk roots to forging a career as a  female British singer songwriter, unheard of at the time.

In terms of the folk and folk rock tracks on this debut she is peerless as a vocalist. Her electric version of the traditional ‘Blackwaterside’ is wondrous. The title track , her own composition, is another and one that is heavily influenced by folk tradition, of sailors never returning and imprisonment in towers, which was a particular theme throughout Denny’s songwriting.

But it is her more personal  ballads were this album really comes alive. ‘Late November’, about the death of former Fairport band member Martin Lamble, and ‘Next Time Around’ about former boyfriend, the tragic Jackson C. Frank, are real standouts here. ‘The Optimist’ is another wonderfully written track and the more low key production of ‘Crazy Lady Blues’, reportedly about her friend Linda Thompson,  is another treasure.

Where the album falls down though is on the more bluesy numbers. Denny was an accomplished blues singer, but her take on Bob Dylan’s ‘Down in the Flood’ and Charles Robins ‘Let’s Jump the Broomstick’ just sound weak and unadventurous in comparison to tracks like ‘Late November’. Crucially it is also hard not to compare her with one of the greatest and most popular female blues singer of the period, Janis Joplin, on such tracks.

Clearly in producing the album discussion took place as to whether this Joplin-esque blues style should be more prominent, with ‘Honky tonk Woman’ among tracks rejected.  Thankfully her more personal style won through. Nevertheless the mix of styles leaves an album that is uneven when held up against say King’s ‘Tapestry’ or even Bush’s ‘Kick Inside’.

The extras on this reissue, featuring some BBC live recordings as well as demos,  are a welcome addition and just as interesting as the original album. The low key demo of ‘The Optimist’ is among the best, revealing itself to be better than the finished article. Free from the polish of a mixing desk and a full band the song writing of Denny is allowed to shine on this track.

Denny was an undoubted talent that through her unique English folk voice managed to evoke a sense of melancholy, drama and realism to her songs that few others can match. But her voice was perhaps ultimately the undoing of her solo career, with its strong folk style never accessible enough to achieve a global audience even if it influenced many.   She  also hated being on her own and found solo touring difficult at times. She died in 1978, of a brain hemorrhage weeks after a drunken fall onto concrete at her parent’s Cornwall cottage, a much loved cult figure but not the star that this start of her solo career promised.

8.5/10

by Joe Lepper

See Also: Top Ten Albums from the Golden Age of Folk Music

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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Free Download

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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Free Download

Posted on 15 June 2011 by Dorian

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah / Hysterical from CYHSY on Vimeo.

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Battles – Gloss Drop

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Battles – Gloss Drop

Posted on 14 June 2011 by Joe

There are many striking aspects to Gloss Drop, the follow up to the crazy, cartoonified thrill ride that was Battles’ last album Mirrored.  The range of singers, the sense of fun, the nods to post punk pioneers and above all some superb drumming are just some that immediately spring to mind.

On Mirrored the key aspect to the band’s frenetic take in rock was singer and guitarist Tyondai Braxton’s cartoonified voice. But with Braxton no longer part of Battles, the band have opted to instead produce an album that is half rock  instrumental and half featuring guest vocalists, most notably Gary Numan.

It’s a move that works a treat especially on the album’s standout track ‘Ice Cream’, which features Matias Aguayo on vocals and is the band’s best since ‘Atlas’ on Mirrored. It also owes a lot to Neon Filler favourite the post punk pioneer former XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews.

Gary Numan’s heavier effort ‘My Machines’ is another highpoint, showing that with the right rock focused backing band the godfather of electronic music still has something to offer.

Among the instrumental highlights is the short Caribbean influenced  track ‘Dominican Fade’ and opener ‘Africastle’.

The most striking aspect though is the work of drummer John Stanier. He makes Battles what they are. “A battleship” of a drummer “a man machine” are just some of the accolades he has picked up. We agree, his ability to change direction, be inventive and importantly keep the crazy song structures of Battles together are breathtaking. Gloss Drop proves that coping without Braxton was easy, there is no way the band could survive if Stanier left.

8.5/10

by Joe Lepper

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