Archive | September, 2011

Wilco – The Whole Love

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Wilco – The Whole Love

Posted on 30 September 2011 by Dorian

Sky Blue Sky, Wilco’s 2007 album, turned out to be a significant turning point for the band. Out went the experimentation and angst that had made Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born so exciting, and in came a pastoral rootsy feel and a more relaxed outlook. It also marked the first album by a line-up that would prove to be the most stable in Wilco’s 16 year (and counting) career.

At first this was a disappointment, but as that album’s many strengths became apparent it became a firm favourite. Conversely Wilco (The Album) in 2009 initially impressed me with the variety of sounds on show, but has been the Wilco album I have listened to least since their debut record A.M. The Whole Love is probably closest in style to Wilco (The Album), but it does everything just that little bit better and is one of the most enjoyable albums of the year so far.

Wilco - The Whole Love

Bookending the album are two of the best songs in the Wilco catalogue, each reflecting the different sides of Jeff Tweedy’s musical palette. ‘Art of Almost’ is in the vein of ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’ or ‘Bull Black Nova’ with the steady rhythms and a motorik groove building to a dissonant coda. At over seven minutes it is some way shorter than the closing track ‘One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend’ which is all calm and beautifully subtle guitars that seems to fly by despite being more than 12 minutes in length.

Between these two long tracks sit ten songs that seem to span the whole Wilco career, not just the classic rock sounds of Sky Blue Sky or the experimentation of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but also the fuzzy pop of Summerteeth and some of the genre hopping confidence of Being There (the album that originally demonstrated what a force to be reckoned with the band are).

Nels Kline is a great guitarist and all three guitar players put in sterling work throughout. In general Nels Kline keeps his guitar antics at bay on this album, and when he does let rip the results are more interesting than before, the squeaky discord of the solo on ‘Dawned On Me’ being a case in point.

That doesn’t mean that the band have totally forgotten how to rock. ‘Standing O’ is one of my favourite tracks on the album and makes me wish that the band would up the pace and volume more often. You just know that this song is going to be a highlight of the bands’ excellent live show.

That said, the softer more acoustic songs are a joy as well, the aforementioned ‘One Sunday Morning…’ and ‘Rising Red Lung’ being as pretty and well played as anything you’ll hear all year. “Sumptuous”, I think, is the word to use here.

Wilco
It isn’t just the guitar work that deserves a mention, all the band play a considerable part in the songs. The rhythm section of Glenn Kotche and john Stirratt (the only original member other than Tweedy) are steady, tight and inventive throughout ogften offering more of a groove than people might expect. Refreshingly the bands keyboard players get a stronger roll this time around which gives the album more depth and also plays to the more pop orientated tendencies on ‘I Might’ and ‘Dawned On Me’.

The quality is very high throughout, with only the faux music hall of ‘Capital City’ not quite working (Tweedy has done this kind of thing much better before), and even that example is by no means a bad song. It would be churlish to complain about any minor missteps on an album this good, by a band that is playing with confidence, inventiveness and real skill. You get the pop Wilco, the rock Wilco, the experimental Wilco and the soft melodic Wilco, all of which adds up to one of the most satisfying releases of the year so far.

Physical CD purchasers (yes we still exist…just) can pick up a special edition of the album that features a colour booklet and a second CD featuring four bonus tracks.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Singing Adams, Bristol (Sept 24,2011)

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Singing Adams, Bristol (Sept 24,2011)

Posted on 26 September 2011 by Joe

Shame on you Bristol. Singing Adams, one of the best live bands in the UK, come to town and only 70 or so of you turn up. Slightly taken aback at the lack of numbers at this early gig at The Cooler nightclub, the band took to the stage, inhaled slowly and decided to give those that did turn up a gig to remember.

Singer and songwriter Steven Adams, who as former frontman of the Broken Family Band is more used to playing in packed venues and festivals, said, “it may take awhile but we’re going to take you to church and melt your face,” before blistering through an hour’s set of banter, tracks from their debut album Everybody Friends Now and some new ones destined for their second album.

As the band started with debut album tracks such as Old days and Move On, Adams beckoned the sheepish crowd forward and even gave them some party games as a reward.

Hybrid band names that are “just so wrong” is a game they have brought to the stage and ask the crowd to join in with. After offering up the excellent ‘Men at Bjork” the band delight as the crowd shout out their own versions after each song.

It warms the heart to hear a tightly played  track finishing and someone shouting out “Trextc” or “DuranDurannielennox.”  Among my highlights was someone getting it only half right and shouting out “Fred Westlife” in a frighteningly appropriate broad west country accent.

Not that they needed banter. This new project for Adams has marked a change of direction from his Broken Family Band days more towards indie rock. It’s a change he excels it, especially as he has assembled a fine bunch of indie loving musicians. The intricate, melodic bass playing of Michael Wood, the tight drumming of Melinda Bronstein and the indie riffs, part Teenage Fanclub, part Pulp at times, of guitarist Matthew Ashton, all combine well with Adams’ voice and understated showmanship.

What does remain from his Broken Family Band days is the singalong nature of the songs. Often the crowd are asked to join in with the choruses. Not in a cheesy way, these are choruses that demand a crowd to sing with, even if it is just 70 strong.

But this mini tour is something of a farewell to their debut album as they trial new songs and prepare to go back to the studio for album number two. On this performance of the newer songs  it’s going to be a stormer, especially Building A Wall.

Enough of the future though, for the encore the band performed their version of  St Thomas, with its sing along chorus of ‘when you come to Oslo, I’ll teach you how to sing.’ This final track is from Adams’s solo album Problems from 2005, which was released under the slightly different name of The Singing Adams.

Seventy people may not have had their faces melted but they certainly had a good laugh with a band that don’t let a little thing like a little crowd put them off.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

See Also: Review – Everybody Friends Now, Top Ten Albums of 2010 so far.

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REM Remembered

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REM Remembered

Posted on 25 September 2011 by Dorian

When I heard that REM had split I was surprised at how sad I felt about it. After all, I hadn’t purchased one of their new albums for close to two decades and, like most people, I had little expectation of them releasing another great album. The truth is that there are few bands that had as big an impact on the development of my musical appreciation as them and, having reached a certain age, I’ve lost that wonder you get on discovering a great new band and I’ll never feel the same about one as I did when I first heard REM in 1987.

I first heard REM, as many people did, when Document and ‘The One I Love’ propelled them into the big time. The first album I owned was the IRS compilation, Eponymous, in 1988 and many an evening was spent dancing in my bedroom to ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)’. I soon picked up their debut album Murmer and then their new release Green and loved them both, despite them demonstrating such different sides to the band.

R.E.M.

I loved all their albums, from the near perfection of Lifes Rich Pageant to the mixed bag b-sides and covers collection Dead Letter Office. I watched the video collections, the live video and became fascinated by the whole scene and the excellent Athens G.A. Inside Out documentary.

The band got more and more popular, and the release of Out of Time and Automatic for the People cemented them as one of the biggest acts on the planet and completed their ten year transition from an alternative act to a certified stadium phenomenon.

It is the opinion of most that it was after 1992 that the band started their slide with each album less interesting than the last, and their is some truth in that. Looking back though I don’t think that Monster is anywhere near the disaster that people make out, and in ‘What’s the Frequency Kenneth?’ it contains one of their best singles. New Adventures in Hi-Fi is also a decent album and, if it had been released straight after Automatic for the People I believe it would have been received better and not seen as part if the band’s decline.

Beyond that I feel  less than qualified to comment as I didn’t buy or even properly listen to any of their subsequent releases. I enjoyed the single ‘Imitation of Life’ from 2001, but I am guilty of condemning their latter output without listening to it, I let the reviewers do the listening for me. Part of the reason for this is that REM stopped being an essential part of my musical life shortly after Out of Time was released. The ubiquity of the singles and the stadium concerts started to alienate me, I was an elitist indie kid and sharing the band so broadly took much of the magic away however brilliant the albums were.

Now they have split I can look back with a lot of affection at one of the most important bands, a band who gained huge success, remained essential for over a decade and brought together the alternative and mainstream music scene like few other bands have managed (in fact, only Nirvana and Radiohead spring to mind). I am also pretty certain that their forthcoming best-of collection will show their whole career in a kinder light than people might expect.

My colleague Joe has posted  a fine selection of his top ten REM tracks and below are my picks. Six of the songs are by the band and four show the bands broader influence, few bands having as big an impact on the broader music scene as they did.

Laughing

This track from Murmer is a bit of a lost classic, and this early live footage is great viewing.

Feeling Gravity’s Pull

A great track from one of the band’s more maligned early albums, and one of my favourites.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

If you don’t like this song you don’t like music.

Swan Swan H

A beautiful version of this song taken from the Athens G.A. Inside Out film.

What’s The Frequency Kenneth?

One of their best singles taken from the disappointing Monster album.

Pop Song 89

The first song I heard from the first new REM album I ever bought.

Pylon – Crazy

Fellow Athens residents and one of the big influences on REM, who covered this song.

The Fatima Mansions – Shiny Happy People

Michael Stipe supposedly walked out of a Fatima Mansions gig in disgust, this was Cathal Coughlan’s response.

Pavement – Unseen Power of the Picket Fence

Another college rock success story play their tribute to Stipe and co.

Billy Bragg – You Woke Up My Neighbourhood

The Bard of Barking goes country with the help of Buck and Stipe.

By Dorian Rogers

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The Twilight Sad To Release Third Album Feb 2012

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The Twilight Sad To Release Third Album Feb 2012

Posted on 22 September 2011 by Joe

Scottish  band The  Twilight Sad have announced plans to release their third album in February 2012.

Called No One Can Ever Know, their PR people tell us that its set to “mark a sonic shift” from their trademark haunting squealing guitar rock. Think “Depeche Mode, The Cure or even Nine Inch Nails” they tell us.

To promote the release they are offering a free download of Kill It In the Morning, a track from the Fat Cat released album. Click here for details.

The Twilight Sad – Kill It In The Morning by Fat Cat Records

The first single from the album will be ‘Sick’ and is due for a 7” and digital release on November 15.

No One Can Ever Know is the follow up to Forget The Night Ahead, which made our Top Ten Albums of 2009 list. Full review here.

by Joe Lepper

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Top Ten REM Tracks From 1982 -1992 (when they were actually good)

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Top Ten REM Tracks From 1982 -1992 (when they were actually good)

Posted on 22 September 2011 by Joe

Around 20 years too late REM have finally called it a day.

The band announced the news that they are to part amicably after 31 years together on their website. Singer Michael Stipe said:”A wise man once said – ‘the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.”

Well, Michael the time to stop making records was arguably in 1992 after Automatic For The People, REM’s last good album, was released. That album, with its hits Everybody Hurts and Man On  The Moon, marked the end of a decade of remarkable albums.  Has any band had a more purpley purple patch than REM during the 1980s and early 1990s?

But sadly REM didn’t have the skill to call it a day then and an incredible seven more albums followed, each more lacklustre than the other.

Another reminder for the band to quit came in 1995 when drummer Bill Berry collapsed on stage with a brain anurysm. But no, they carried on. Even when Berry quit in 1997 they ploughed on for an eye-watering 14 more years.

Bassist Mike Mills explains that they made the decision while working on yet another greatest hits compilation. He said: “We started asking ourselves, ‘What next’?”

But let’s not dwell on their gradual decline. Here we present our top ten tracks from REM’s golden phase from 1982 to 1992. Let us not forget that in their prime they were  a remarkable band, presenting timeless music in a contemporary way and (cliche alert)  influenced a generation of musicians.

10. Orange Crush

9. Can’t Get There From Here

8. Talk About The Passion

7. So. Central Rain

6.  Fall On Me

5. The One I Love

4. Driver 8

3. Shiny Happy People

2. Losing My Religion

1. Radio Free Europe

Compiled by Joe Lepper
See Also:  Lifes Rich Pageant (25th anniversary reissue) Top 100 Albums (# 14 Murmur)

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Guided By Voices Announce New Album

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Guided By Voices Announce New Album

Posted on 21 September 2011 by Dorian

After a successful reunion tour the classic (not original) line-up of Guided By Voices have announced the release of a new album. The album, entitled Let’s Go Eat The Factory, is due for release on the 1st of January 2012 and will feature Mitch Mitchell, Tobin Sprout, Kevin Fennell and Greg Demos alongside Robert Pollard. It is the first time that this incarnation of the band has released a record since Under The Bushes, Under The Stars in 1996.

Guided By Voices

The track list for the new album is as follows:

01. Laundry And Lasers
02. The Head
03. Doughnut For A Snowman
04. Spiderfighter
05. Hang Mr. Kite
06. God Loves Us
07. The Unsinkable Fats Domino
08. Who Invented The Sun
09. The Big Hat And Toy Show
10. Imperial Racehorsing
11. How I Met My Mother
12. Waves
13. My Europa
14. Chocolate Boy
15. The Things That Never Need
16. Either Nelson
17. Cyclone Utilities (Remember Your Birthday)
18. Old Bones
19. Go Rolling Home
20. The Room Taking Shape
21. We Won’t Apologize For The Human Race

By Dorian Rogers

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Stephin Merritt – Obscurities

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Stephin Merritt – Obscurities

Posted on 20 September 2011 by Dorian

Stephin Merritt is best known to most in the guise of the Magnetic Fields, a band that released the superb 69 Love Songs. The album was critically acclaimed, made number 2 in our Top 100 albums list, and has proved to be a hard act to follow. Since it was released Merritt has spread himself a little thinly over a number of different releases by The 6ths, The Gothic Archies, The Future Bible Heroes and under his own name. His latter Magnetic Fields albums have remained interesting, with a number of stand-out tracks, but have been a bit single minded at times.

For a fan like me they have all been releases worth investing in, offering enough flashes of brilliance to justify the cover price, and I can forgive him having trouble matching an album that had as many ideas as most artists manage in a career.

Stephin Merritt - Obscurities

His latest release, Obscurities, collects b-sides, compilation tracks, alternative versions and unreleased songs from his time recording for Merge records in 1994-1999 and earlier. Merritt is the only musician on most of the tracks, with some drum and vocal contributions from other artists, and the bulk of the songs have a home recorded feel. Listening to a couple of the songs you understand why they weren’t used on a full album release, but in the most part the quality of tracks is high, and the selection never less than interesting.

‘Forever and a Day’, ‘The Song From Venus’, and ‘When You’re Young and in Love’ aren’t the albums strongest tracks, but they do leave you wondering how they might have turned out if he had completed the sci-fi musical, of which they were meant to be part, had been completed in collaboration with Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket). ‘Yet Another Girl’ is a piece of bouncy synth pop that is made more interesting by having Young Marble Giants’ Stuart Moxham on vocals (under the 6ths moniker). ‘You Are Not My Mother and I Want to Go Home’ is another interesting curio, written for the audio-book of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

Stephin Merritt

The real joy of this record is hearing the development and perfecting of the Merritt sound as a work in progress. Better examples of some of the songs can be heard on full magnetic Fields albums, but hearing the experimentation and refinement as a work in progress is fascinating.

Two of the songs here appear in different forms of official Magnetic Fields releases, and are two of the best tracks on the compilation. ‘I Don’t Believe You’ isn’t quite the match of the version that appeared on the synth-free I album, but it is still a great track and the addition of synths and 8-bit video game sounds give it a different feel. ‘Take Ecstasy With Me’, a track that appeared on Holiday, is sung here by the original Magnetic Fields vocalist Susan Amway and is superior to the album version.

This is a difficult album to score or fully recommend, it certainly isn’t a good starting point for people new to Merritt’s work, and it won’t appeal to everyone who loved 69 Love Songs. However, if you are a more committed fan of his work, and want to delve a little bit deeper into his catalogue, then you will find a lot to enjoy. It is a compilation that acts as a great companion piece to the career of this most singular and unusual musical talent.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Foo Fighters Take On Anti-Gay Protesters

Posted on 20 September 2011 by Joe

Foo Fighters credibility has sky rocketed after taking on anti-gay protestors at a concert in Kansas City.

After taking affront to Foo Fighters track Keep It Clean (Hot Buns) in August the right wing Westboro Baptists Church called for a picket outside the Sprint Centre where the band were due to play.

But instead the band decided to form a counter protest of their own. Dressed in full red neck gear the band racked up to the venue on an open lorry complete with hay bales and amps declaring “we got a song for ya!.”

They then performed Keep It Clean (Hot Buns), including its lyrics  such as “I’m in the mood for some hot man muffins” to the assembled mass of fans and any right wing extremists that answered Westboro’s call.

Here’s a clip of their performance.

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Jens Lekman – An argument with myself EP

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Jens Lekman – An argument with myself EP

Posted on 19 September 2011 by Joe

Jens Lekeman‘s first recorded material in four years is hardly a digression from his trademark swooping indie storytelling, but is laced with extra wit and a springy beat.

The title track is a burst of Paul Simon’s 80’s world music calypso, housing a loathsome view of drunk backpackers “pouring out like a tidal wave of vomit” from reggae nights in his self-exiled home of Melbourne as he walks the city’s streets.

Lekman has Google-mapped the EP on his blog allowing listeners to follow his lyrical journey, which goes a long way to realising New Directions and its lyrics such as  “The 45 merges into E20, the E20 merges into E6” as a sprightly light funk AA route-planner through Gothenburg.

It’s back to the Lekman’s string backed indiepop for Waiting for Kirsten, an ode Kirsten Dunst, and there’s a Latin Roxy Music sophistication about Santiago on A Promise.

But its closing track, So This Guy At My Office, is tame reggae which feels somewhat of a let-down after the journey Lekman has shown us.

It’s a sporadic EP, veering between the witty, and sober, but is as enchanting as any of Lekman’s previous work.

7.5/10

by David Newbury

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Twin Falls – Slow Numb

Twin Falls – Slow Numb

Posted on 15 September 2011 by Joe

To spot a failed musician, then look no further than record label proprietors or music journalists. There’s a belief stating- hanging around with pop-stars means their glamour will rub off, and you’ll get a name check from the stage. It doesn’t happen.

So it’s surprising when a former label owner make the transition into recording artist, with a deal and a proper album in their own right.

This is what happened to Luke Stidson. After taking a well-deserved cup of tea when his label Exercise 1 ceased, he started recording under Twin Falls and created this wonderfully woozy and romantic record, Slow Numb.

With Slow Numb Stidson has explored his love of his native Somerset and taken it to the heartland of lo-fi America, a landscape where Connor Oberst and Jason Lytle wander the prairies looking for Sparklehorse rarities.

Self-produced and playing many of the instruments himself, Stidson has stamped his personality on Slow Numb, and with that his record collection, resulting in an album which is brimming with influences, sometimes to the detriment of his own identity.

Of course, Grandaddy’s and Bon Iver’s humble-wry Americana is prevalent, but there are also moments of bluegrass transported into a 60’s village fete:  Janie I Will Only Let You Down, the poppiest on the album, is part Kinks, part The Bluebells with flowers in their hair infusing a simple nursery rhyme melody.

There are moments of complication that detract from his obvious song writing talent. How I lost My Somerset Accent is riddled with conflicting layers of pedal steel, xylophones and strings as though it can’t decide whether to be twee, epic, or laid back.

This aside Slow Numb has heartfelt melancholia coursing throughout. Ex Lovers is an oozingly gentle string and piano ballad, and It’s Hard to Find A Good Woman’s Hand to Hold is a tremolo fuelled stagger through a bar room after midnight.

Stidson’s welcome foray into recording acknowledges the contemporary with opener, Living Hell; a bellow powered and enthusiastic take on James Blake’s maudlin balladeering, which juxtaposes Slow Numb’s casual duskiness.

Critically, Slow Numb is an album which needs to be thinned out if Stidson wants to take Twin Falls to a stage where his romanticism is truly acclaimed, but it is nonetheless an impressive debut which signals a great songwriter in the making, so long as he finds his own niche.

7/10

by David Newbury

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