Archive | August, 2011

Playgroup Festival 2011

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Playgroup Festival 2011

Posted on 23 August 2011 by Dorian

In the beautiful countryside location of Eridge Park, near Tunbridge Wells, The Playgroup Festival entertained about 2000 people in its second year in existence. Unusually, for a music website, I’m not going to talk a lot about the bands and there will be very little reviewing of what occurred on the stages, I’ll try and sum up the (ahem) vibe of the festival instead.

Fire

The biggest plus point, and the real success story for the organisers, is just how into the spirit of the event the attendees were. The theme was woodland animals, and each ticket came with an accompanying animal suggestion, foxes, hares, badgers and the like. More than 50% (75% at times I’d estimate) of the people you saw had some sort of costume or facial decoration in fitting with the animal theme. This may be off-putting to people who don’t want to dress up, but there was never a sense that people out of costume weren’t invited to the party, and it made for a constantly interesting visual spectacle. In this way it put the End of the Road festival to shame, the theme there is very loose and for all that it is a wonderful event it does seem like people are reluctant to let go and have any fun.

Along with a variety of stages, tents and stalls at the event was a central hay bale arena. In this arena a variety of sporting contests were carried out pitting one animal group against another. One minute you might see a fox narrowly beating an owl in a backwards sack race, the next you could get involved in a badgers vs. hares tug-of-war.

Super Janet

The musical acts on show were not big names, and very few of the attendees would have been attracted by the names on the bill. What we were treated to was a consistently high quality of acts, and a very wide vareity of musical styles across the site. I don’t know the names of many of the acts I saw (the lack of an easily accessible programme being one of the festivals organisational issues) but the mixture of folk, hip-hop, ska, pop, electronica and more was enjoyable, unusual and I enjoyed the freedom to go where I wanted and see what was happening without being at the mercy of a schedule. Of the acts that I can name ska band Los Albertos deserve a mention for their rapturously received Friday night set, the sprightly folk of Early Ghost was a lovely discovery and Super Janet proved to be the best wedding band at the weirdest wedding you’ve ever been to.

OK, in order to move up the festival league tables Playgroup may need to look at bringing in a better known headline act in the future, but I would much rather they continued their policy of booking interesting high quality music rather than booking a b-rated “name” on the bill (a role Razorlight are performing at a number of small festivals this Summer).

The other entertainment available, from cinema to burlesque to cabaret and DJs was of a similarly high standard and fun to be had from stumbling into a tent and seeing what was on offer meant that the evenings never got boring despite the relatively small site.

I’ve taken a while to get round to writing this review and it has given me the opportunity to talk to a number of other Playgroup attendees and get their feedback on the festival. The great majority had a very good time and loved the informal (if slightly shambolic) atmosphere, and the overwhelming response is a thumbs up for the event.

Some common issues have come back; the early finish, the number of toilets and lack of showers, the crowded feel in the camping area, no access to cash and food stalls running out of food. Most of these are down to the size of the festival and the need to balance the budget when selling enough tickets and provide sufficient facilities. I also felt that the main stage could have been sectioned off in a separate area to give the site more sense of space and give the main acts more of a feeling of occasion.

However, a small festival has to work hard to get the right balance between the elements that make it fun and unique and the practicalities. Leaning too far towards the practical can ruin the mood, but staying too informal means that the festival can’t grow and develop. I hope that the festival returns next year with a sensible size increase, some new facilities and a few lessons learnt from this year. I also hope that the sense of fun and freedom that marked this year’s event is still evident.

At a time when so many uni-kit festivals are failing to make money, or being cancelled, it is great to discover a festival that offers a truly different experience. I’ll be back complete with a full body otter costume next year.

By Dorian Rogers

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Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic

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Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Posted on 19 August 2011 by Joe

With Beck at the helm Stephen Malkmus and his post Pavement band The Jicks have created their most focused and appealing record to date.

Gone is the meandering and squealing 70s rock solos of their last album, 2008’s Real Emotional Trash. In its place is a genuine warmth and commitment. Mirror Traffic  sounds like an album that Beck and the band have spent time on rather than just jumped in the studio, jammed for a while and then said ‘that’ll do’.

The most immediate improvement is the length of the songs. Take track eight ‘Spazz’ for example. At just 2min 30 sec it drives along neatly rather than careers and crashes as Real Emotional Trash’s tracks did.  It ends leaving you wanting more, rather than reaching for the fast forward button as an indulgent five minute guitar solo becomes too tedious to bare.

Another change is the lyrical focus, with Malkmus’s streams of consciousness seemingly making more sense in places. He’s still a silly man lyrically. But on stand out track ‘Senator’, with its chorus “I know what the senator wants, what the senator wants is a blow job,” the listener is left in no doubt what Malkmus thinks of US political corruption.

Beck has also brought a range of styles to the production table. It’s still an alternative rock album but on track two ‘No One Is (As I Are Be)’ the rhythm section sounds more like 1960s folk group Pentangle, with its soft jazz style and acoustic guitar. Beck’s fondness for the 1960s shines through further on the track as trumpets softly nestle in the background.

Among other standouts  is ‘Asking Price’, with its moments of Velvet Underground guitar playing. ‘Stick Figures in Love’ is as fine an indiepop track as you will hear all year.

There’s the occasional unnecessary moment. I’m not sure what value there is in the short instrumental ‘Jumblegloss’ for example. But its so short and inoffensive and the rest of the album is so good that it hardly matters.

We had the pleasure of seeing Pavement at their ATP Festival in Minehead in 2010. There all the band’s influences were laid out. If one criticism could be made it was that the line up was a little too guitar heavy, a little too full of fret wankery. Perhaps Malkmus thought the same too in preparing this album, which is one of those rare moments in music where the timing, the mood and the production come together just perfectly. Real emotion without the trash.

9.5/10

by Joe Lepper

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They Might Be Giants – Join Us

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They Might Be Giants – Join Us

Posted on 16 August 2011 by Dorian

Join Us is They Might be Giant’s 17th album, and their first album not aimed at kids since 2007’s The Else. They have spent the bulk of the last ten years producing child friendly fair, with Here Comes Science from 2009 being the best of the bunch (I advise anyone with toddler age children to pick up the CD/DVD of this, it is inspired). I’ve been a big fan of the duo since I first heard ‘Don’t Let’s Start’ in 1987 (2nd album Lincoln made our Top 100 chart) so I was excited to see that they were back with a “proper” album.

They Might Be Giants - Join Us

Opening track ‘Can’t Keep Johnny Down’ is They Might Be Giant by numbers, but in a good way. It is all accordion, catchy melody, clever puns and the sound of one John’s drawling vocals whilst the other John belts out fuzzy power chords. To a new listener it may not have a huge impact, but to an old fan it is very refreshing to have the band back on the stereo again.

The album is played with a full band, a concept that still seems novel to me despite being something that has been the norm since John Henry was released back in 1994. In all other respects the band hasn’t moved along a lot since the mid-1990s, and that is something to be thankful for. This is a resolutely They Might Be Giants album, more mature maybe than their first few releases, but not so much as to lose what it is that makes the band so much fun.

The usual typical mixture of styles is here, quirky pop, folky acoustic numbers, electronic ditties, songs that defy classification and the nerdy disco funk of ‘Celebration’ (possibly my favourite song on the album – and no doubt one that many listeners will want to skip).

They Might be Giants aren’t just masters of catchy melody, they know how to write interesting, witty and irreverent lyrics. ‘When You Die’ is all high tempo bouncy beats, chirpy horn sounds and some of the most ill-willed songs on the album. It also sounds like a song that could have appeared on any one of their late 1980s albums. Something about returning to producing a “proper” album seems to have made the two Johns want to celebrate what it is to be They Might Be Giants and embrace the sounds from throughout their career.

The fascinating thing in listening to an album like this is marvelling at how much musical ground it covers without ever stopping sounding just like They Might Be Giants. There are few bands that have a sound as identifiable, as uniquely singular and yet so erratic and all over the musical map.

There are going to be a lot of people who will be put off by just that, they’ll see the band as being too quirky, too much of a novelty. Humour and clever touches are often seen as weaknesses in music when pseudo-intellectual lyrics and faux-emotions are lapped up by people swaying their arms in fields. To me it is refreshing to hear a band, however many years they’ve been together, producing genuinely intelligent good humoured inventive pop music.

There isn’t a huge single like ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ (which is, after all, one of the best singles of all time) and the album isn’t quite up there with Lincoln and Flood, but it is one of the best pop albums I’ve listened to this year. It is time to welcome back They Might Be Giants, a band that aren’t just there for the kids.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Top Ten Tracks From The Early 1990s.

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Top Ten Tracks From The Early 1990s.

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Joe

Exclusively for Neonfiller.com author Nina de la Mer has selected her top tracks from the early 1990s, which provides the backdrop for her debut novel 4a.m.

It was a potent era for music. Some embarrassing,  some ground breaking as the illegal rave scene, indie music and grunge emerged from their late 1980s niches into mainstream culture. We’ve even got a bit of Acid Jazz (for those that remember that short lived cross over).

Sit back, comb your middle-parting-curtainy hair-do, practice your nightclub gurning, paint a smiley face and enjoy our early 90s musical nostalgiathon.

To coincide with the list Nina has also given us a copy of 4am to give away. Details of our 4am competition can be found here.

10.  Stereo MCs – Connected

9. Orca – 4 a.m.

8. Marmion – Schöneberg

7.  Liquid – Sweet Harmony

6. The Stone Roses – Ten Storey Love Song

5. Brand New Heavies – Brother, Sister

4. The Age of Love – Age of Love (Watch Out For Stella Mix)

3. Nirvana ­– Heart-Shaped Box

2.  Sabres of Paradise – Smoke Belch II

1. Smashing Pumpkins – Today

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London Riot Blaze Decimates Indie CD Stock

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London Riot Blaze Decimates Indie CD Stock

Posted on 10 August 2011 by Joe

The UK indie music scene is facing a “disaster” after hundreds of thousands of CDs were destroyed  in a warehouse blaze during rioting in London.

The Sony DADC warehouse in Enfield housed CDs for hundreds of UK and European independent labels through the distributor PIAS.

All the stock was destroyed in the blaze, which music trade association AIM says will lead to “much hardship for the artists and labels affected.” Labels are now battling to ensure release dates are met and stocks can reach retailers.

AIM chairman and CEO Alison Wenham said: “This is a disaster for the music community.”

She called on music fans to help the artists and labels affected by buying a digital album from an independent label or seeking out a CD by one of the affected labels at their local independent record stores, who are also set to be hit as stocks dry up.

A Statement from AIM adds: “This way the labels will be able to remanufacture their CDs and vinyl more quickly, to resupply the record shops who are also affected by the riots.”

Arctic Monkeys' single among releases effected

Arctic Monkey's single among releases effected

PIAS  has been working with Sony to find a temporary distribution partner. The distributor said: “It is envisaged that they will be in a position to pick, pack and ship orders in the course of next week.”

Among artists affected is Arctic Monkeys, which lost thousands of copies of its new single The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala. Limited stock of the Domino label released single is now available direct from the band’s website.

Domino said: “While relieved that no one was injured in the incident, we’re upset about the loss and destruction of our stock, and thinking of our friends at other independent labels who were also affected by the fire.

“We are currently working hard with Sony DADC to maintain our release schedule and keep business going as usual.”

Another is former Busted singer Charlie Simpson. Holly from his PR firm Dawbell Digital tell us that “we’ve had Charlie Simpson’s debut album affected; 30,000 stock was in the warehouse and the record is out next week.”

Here is a list of labels affected. Why not show your support for the UK’s independent music scene by googling them, check out their artists and download an album today.

1234, 2020 Vision, Accidental, Ad Altiora, Adventures Close to home, Alberts, All City, Alt Delete, Ambush Reality, Angular, Ark, ATC, Atic, Atlantic Jaxx, Azuli, B Unique, Backyard, Bad Sneakers, Bandstock, Beggars, Big Chill, Big Dada, Big Life / Nul / Sindy Stroker, Boombox, Border Community, Boysnoize, Brille, Bronzerat, Brownswood, Buzzin Fly, Can You Feel It, Catskills, ChannelFly, Chemikal Underground, City Rockers, Counter, D Cypher Dance To The Radio, Deceptive, Def Jux, Dirtee Stank, Divine Comedy, Domino, Drag City, Drive Thru, Drowned in Sound, Duophonic, Eat Sleep / Sorepoint, Electric Toaster, Emfire, F. Comm, Fabric, Faith And Hope, Fantastic Plastic, Fargo, FatCat Feraltone, Finders Keepers / Twisted Nerve, Fingerlickin’, Flock Free Range, From The Basement, Full Time Hobby, Goldsoul, Gronland, Groove Attack, Halftime, Hassle, Heron, Hum&Haw, Independiente, Info UK, Join Us, Kartel, Kensaltown, Kitsune, Kompakt, Laughing Stock, Leftroom, Lex, Lo Max, Loose, Love Box, Lowlife, Lucky Number, Marquis Cha Cha, Memphis Industry, Merok, Metroline, Mute, Naïve, Nation, Navigator, New World, Ninja Tune, Nuclear Blast, One Little Indian, Output / People in the Sky /, Process, Pale Blue, Palm, Peacefrog, PIAS Recordings, PIP 555, Productions, Play To Work, Powerhouse (T2), Propaganda / Ho Hum, Raw Canvas, Red Grape, Red Telephone Box, Rekids, Renaissance, Respect Productions (PES digital), Reveal Records, RMG, Rock Action, Roots, Rough Trade, Rough Trade Comps, Rubyworks, Ruffa Lane, Search And Destroy, Secret Sundaze, Secretly Canadian / Jagjaguwar / Dead Oceans, Sell Yourself, Setanta, Shatterproof, Sideone Dummy, Slam Dunk, Smalltown, Soma, Something In Construction, Sonar Kollectiv, Soul Jazz, Southern Fried, Stranded Soldier, Subliminal, Sunday Best, TARGO, Taste, Ten Worlds, Thrill Jockey, Total Fitness, Touch And Go, Track And Field, TriTone, Trouble, Try Harder, Turk, Turnstile, Twenty 20, Underworld, Union Square, Urban Torque, Vagrant, Vice, Victory, Wagram, Wall Of Sound, Warp, Wi45, Wonky Atlas, Word And Sound, Xtra Mile, You Are Here

by Joe Lepper

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Boston Spaceships – Let It Beard

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Boston Spaceships – Let It Beard

Posted on 08 August 2011 by Dorian

Robert Pollard can be his own worse enemy, his decision to record and release so many albums makes it hard for consumers to tell the wheat from the chaff. In the past you could count on his Guided By Voices output and you had to be a bit cautious with everything else. Since the demise of GBV this has become a trickier pursuit, good Bob and bad Bob come from all angles, but Boston Spaceships have been pretty consistently on the good side.

Let It Beard

The latest from Bob’s main band is better than on the good side, it is his first album in a while that is on the great side. 70 minutes and 26 tracks long it is the masterpiece that he has been promising since he formed the band with Chris Slusarenko and John Moen, both of whom are on great form here. It is an expansive rock album and the quality of the songs is easily matched by the energy of the playing, Moen’s drumming has never sounded better and Slusarenko is proving to be the best musical partner for Pollard since Doug Gillard.

The album echoes a number of Pollard’s favourite classic acts, the Beatles are in there, but it is The Who that are the most obvious influence. That taken into account it has the Pollard stamp throughout and you can’t imagine anyone else producing a record quite like this now, or any time in the last 30 years.

Alongside the offbeat rockers, punky stompers and proggy jams, all featured here, are some great pop numbers. Best of these is the catchy ‘Make a Record for Lo-Life’, the sort of song that makes you sad that you’ll probably never get the chance to see it live (unless an unlikely UK tour surfaces). Bob even gets his groove on with the excellent ‘Chevy Marigold’ with soulful backing vocals from Tahoe Jackson being a perfect vocal partner.

Jackson is just one of the many well selected guest artists on the record, most of whom add guitar to the record. ‘You Just Can’t Tell’ features Colin Newman adding that 1970s Wire sound, Dream Syndicate man Steve Wynn trippily solos on ‘I Took on the London Guys’ making it sound like the Byrds at their most psychedelic. Classic line-up GBV axeman Mitch Mitchell gets a typically scrappy solo on ‘You In My Prayer’, fresh from the recent reunion gigs. Best of all is the typically big guitar solo from J Mascis at the end of ‘Tourist U.F.O.’, it couldn’t be played by anyone else and fits perfectly with the mood of the song.

Guest spots aside, the real reason why this is such an excellent album is the high quality of songs and playing throughout the album. It sounds like a classic four sided record, each side has an identity but the whole album holds together brilliantly. Spin, in a review that seems to have been written by someone who has only half listened to the album, seems shocked by the albums 26 song length. That shows a lack of understanding of Pollard’s back catalogue, it is more common than not for his albums to exceed the 20 song mark, and ignores the fact that this is a record that dips less than anything else he has produced in years.

It is a big, ambitious, energetic album and most artists would kill to be this exciting five albums into their career, let alone with their fifth release of the year (and it isn’t over yet with a Circus Devils album scheduled for October). The best album of the year? Possibly. The best guitar rock album of the year? Definitely. The kind of album that makes you want to throw caution to the wind, open the windows and turn the volume up real loud and one that deserves a caution free score.

10/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Mastodon – Deathbound

Posted on 03 August 2011 by Joe

Mastodon produce one the best videos of the year, featuring some gruesome Muppet based violence. Be warned this is not for the squeamish. I don’t think we’ll ever look at Fraggle Rock Doozers in quite the same way again.

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Indietracks Festival 2011 (July 29-31)

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Indietracks Festival 2011 (July 29-31)

Posted on 03 August 2011 by Joe

This year’s Indietracks, now in its fifth year, was frankly one of the great festivals on the calendar. It had moments of magic that you couldn’t architect through pyrotechnics, a well choreographed routine or bringing on a gospel choir – you simply had to be there.

Witness Edwyn Collins, Saturday night’s headline act. The generator fails on the main stage. The Hidden Cameras try an impromptu acoustic set nonetheless and somehow pull in one of the biggest crowds to the front as people gather to hear better. And their bombastic style translated beautifully to the hotch potch collection of instruments they could get their hands on and still get a sound out of.

The Hidden Cameras

So Collins is set up in the indoor stage following Milky Wimpshake who are blistering through a set in almost sheer darkness. The electrics are fixed. The normally boomy indoor stage produces a crisp clean sound because it’s absolutely packed with pretty much all 1,000 of the festival goers, and Collins comes on.

At least we think so. Victim of a double brain haemorrhage in 2005, Collins performs his set seated, struggling to muster much in the way of banter between songs, yet his voice still fizzes with power, his delivery upbeat. As the set plays out, we get the crowd pleasers – Rip It Up – and finally the Ivor Novello award-winning artist stands for his hit A Girl Like You. There’s a collective recognition that we’re getting a rather good deal for our ticket price in this three or four minutes alone.

Math and Physics Club

So, that was one very small part of the Saturday. Yet you’d have been more than satisfied if the day had ended on Math and Physics Club‘s sensational set of breezy, guileless songs, particularly ‘Lisa’, about the charms of a girl bass player. Apt given that The History of Apple Pie, who were on before them (successfully sounding not a million miles away from last year’s headline act The Pains of Being Pure at Heart) featured just such an asset.

The weekend had been building up quite nicely, what with Pocketbooks opening on Friday. Anther highlight was Suburban Kids With Biblical Names pulling off a great show as the headline – an almost trademark Swedish-indie sound (think Billy the Vision, even I’m from Barcelona) with some very cool, almost jazz (yes, I said it) chord progressions.

Indietracks site bathed in sunlight

But after Collins on Saturday, Sunday looked like a tough day to perform on. Highlights included Papa Topo (which I assume must mean Daddy Mouse), Majorca’s answer to a wayward piano lesson spooned into three-minute sparkly pop songs, if that ever needed an answer.

Sloppy Joe was the most unlikely of surprises, with the Tokyo band producing an incredible Smiths-y set – and drawing an enthusiastic crowd where there had just been bare grass in front of them as they opened.

Sloppy Joe

Madrid’s Zipper were great on the indoor stage, with driving fuzz-warm tunes carrying cutesy vocal lines that could have come from a kids’ TV show they were so upbeat. While in the church, MJ Hibbett singing with A Little Orchestra was a treat for those lucky enough to get an ear through the door.

And then Jeffrey Lewis happened. His band the Junkyard seemed to the ones in charge as they were setting up. Lewis looked like he’d wandered on from the audience. Until he took control of what was a tour de force. It’s supposed to be anti-folk, but that’s probably because he’s a genuine individual talent, a true auteur – what do you measure him against, except what he’s not. Making up the set as he went, he tore through songs, often starting them up himself and shouting titles to the bassist (his brother) and the drummer, daring them to keep up.

Jeffrey Lewis (far left) joined by Herman Dune (far right)

Songs map out his acrobatic thought patterns with engaging, rhythmic lyrics. Almost Sly Stone in their simplicity, Leonard Cohen in their sophistication and scope. You could cast aside his rap about killing mosquitos as a gimmick, but as a showcase for his literate wit it’s undeniable.

The audience were genuinely quite angered that they couldn’t weasel an encore out of him.

So how do you keep the roof off after that? Crystal Stilts turned the indoor stage into their own dark church of post punk. Singer Brad Hargett  swayed on stage like a reverend Bob Dylan, with tousled hair and shades, delivering the songs over a wall of noise. Between numbers he didn’t say a word. And the whole thing was utterly compelling.

Crystal Stilts

And then there was nothing left but Herman Dune. Looking like a Canadian Mountie lost in the Alps, the French troubadour delivered a masterclass of song writing. More folk than indie, certainly in sentiment, but there’s no doubt he was the perfect headline to an Indietracks that surpassed all expectations

by Matt Whipp

Indietracks have made available an excellent 40 track compilation, featuring the bands who played at this year’s event,  on a pay what you want basis.  All proceeds go to The Midlands Railway Centre that hosts the event.  Click here to download.

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