Fika Recordings, the UK indie label set up by tea and cassette enthusiasts (yes, really), is launching an advent calendar style MP3 giveaway during December.
The smart marketing campaign is to promote its six track 10” vinyl release of Christmas in Howarth, the latest in a string of releases this year by one of the UK’s busiest songwriters Darren Hayman.
Those releasing free tracks during December include Hayman, Terry Edwards, The Wave Pictures, Josie Long, Ballboy and Tigercats, who are one of our Top Ten bands to watch out for in 2012. By Christmas more than 50 tracks will be released.
For more information and to download the tracks click here.
Fika, which is named after the Swedish word for afternoon tea, specialises in cassette and vinyl releases. Each release comes with a digital download code, a tea bag and a recipe for a cake.
This marks the end of a busy year for former Hefner frontman Hayman, who has already written, recorded and released a song a day during Janaury for his January Songs project (review here). This is currently available on download and is set for a CD release in January 2012. He has also released The Ship’s Piano (review here).
The Camden Koko is a near perfect venue to see CW Stoneking. The former Camden Palace was originally opened in 1900 and retains much of the fin de siècle glamour, but it now sits slightly anachronistically against the neon lights, smart bar and mobile phone camera wielding audience. In much the same way CW Stoneking’s music and persona seem like something frozen in an earlier time, in this case 1930s America.
The Dodge Brothers
In support on the night were The Dodge Brothers, a skiffle band that features film critic Mark Kermode amongst its members. The band plays an enjoyable full throttle set that doesn’t outstay its welcome. I’m no huge skiffle fan but I liked the set a lot and was impressed at what an accomplished bass player Kermode was, and not a bad vocalist either.
CW Stoneking takes to the stage in his traditional attire, all white with a red bow tie, and politely addresses the crowd before starting a set that may be one of the best I have seen all year. Drawn largely from his excellent Jungle Blues album his voice, and the brass heavy band, sound fantastic. His work could have fallen the wrong side of pastiche, but actually sounds almost timeless despite being so heavily drawn from a past that CW Stoneking seems to still inhabit.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was how funny he would be, his storytelling making me laugh out loud (not something I often experience at concerts). Whether it be anecdotes about his time in New Orleans, or tales of when he was shipwrecked by a crew of scientist sailors off the coast of Africa the between song banter was witty and self-aware.
On all the songs the brass section packed a real punch and the pounding drums (the biggest bass drum I have ever seen) were the perfect backing for Stoneking’s soft picking and haunting vocals. When the rest of the band left the stage and Stoneking played a few songs solo you saw another side to the act, one that was solely focused on the voice and presence of the slightly odd, but very captivating Australian blues-man.
In the encore the band played ‘The Love Me or Die’, a particular popular song with the audience (and a real highlight from an excellent set). One woman asked me if she could stand in front of me during the performance to get a better view of her favourite song. Even her weird ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ style dancing couldn’t distract me from a wonderful performance of an excellent song.
Luke Ritchie’s ‘The Water’s Edge’ is the result of persistence and a lot of hard work. After his first EP deal fell through he went through a six month period of recording a song a week and creating a series of podcasts, which by the time he had finished, had resulted in 8,500 downloads. The podcasts attracted the attention of leading names in the industry and led Ritchie to being put in touch with Nico Muhly, a classical composer who composed pieces for five of the songs on this
‘The Water’s Edge’ is a good demonstration of London based Ritchie’s song writing ability, combined with the beautiful arrangements of Nico Muhly. The general feel of the album is melancholic, largely owing to Ritchie’s emotional voice which is his strength, but there are more uplifting songs on the album which prevent it from being too dark.
The opening song ‘The Lighthouse’ includes pieces composed by Muhly as well as the backing vocals of Jazz vocalist of the year nominee, Nia Lynn. Here Ritchie and Lynn’s voices are perfectly harmonised giving Ritchie’s even more depth than it already has.
The second song on the album, ‘Shanty’ is more upbeat with more of a folk-like feel, however there is an underlying anger in the song and an air of insincerity in the line ‘Hope your safe, Hope your sound’.
Ritchie’s musical ability is demonstrated in ‘Off Your Guard’ with delicate guitar playing and vocals that build the atmosphere of the song. The same can be said for ‘Looking Glass and ‘Right then and there’ which give the album an atmospheric feel which Ritchie’s voice lends itself to well.
‘Song to Sundays’ finishes the album on a lighter note musically and the title gives a good indication as to the feel of the song.
This album is accomplished in terms of instrumental, vocal and lyrical ability, however it lacks a theme or a real direction that could be down to something as simple as the order of the songs. Despite this, one should not take away from the fact that the songs are well written, and Ritchie’s passion for music should be aptly rewarded.
It’s been three years since I last saw Okkervil River perform. Since that impressive set at Explosions in the Sky’s ATP Festival in Minehead in 2008 the band have gone on to produce two critically acclaimed albums, The Stand Ins and this year’s I Am Very Far as well as a collaboration with 60s icon Roky Erickson.
Back in the west country, this time as headliners, they have opted for the impressive Trinity Centre in Bristol, a converted old church wedged into the part of the city centre where giant roundabouts rule supreme.
Okkervil River's Will Sheff
What was most striking about their ATP performance was the intensity of the performance, in particular singer and chief songwriter Will Sheff’s showmanship. They’ve lost none of that as the years have passed. If anything they are even more intense with the fiery rock of I Am Very Far dominating a set that also included a large chunk of The Stand Ins and 2007’s The Stage Names, for many their best album.
Sheff these days looks like a kind of American Jarvis Cocker in maths teacher suit jacket and glasses barely staying on his face, deep in concentration during the slower songs, manic during the fiery ones.
Among the highlights was the quick change from Piratess, one of the slower ones from I Am Very Far, into the upbeat Pop Lie, one of the stand out tracks from Stand Ins and one of the best critiques of the music industry going.
Banter was minimal at the beginning with the band barely coming up for air until the end of Pop Lie about five songs in, but they warmed up as the set went on. Their search for food among the roundabouts of Bristol was one focus, as was a troublesome jack plug that briefly interrupted the start of The Valley. But by the end you couldn’t shut them up, although the topic became rather myopic – their evangelical mission for everyone to raise their hands and clap along Wembley style.
A Classic Education
Including the encore they put in a grueling hour and three quarters set, with only a brief solo acoustic interlude by Sheff offering a break for the rest of the band. It looked exhausting and this feat was not lost on the three quarters full venue, who were particular excited during an encore that included Girl in a Port, Unless It Kicks and Sheff’s many requests for us to raise our arms aloft and clap.
The support for their current UK tour was A Classic Education from Bologna, Italy , and fronted by Canadian Jonathan Clancy. They turned out to be a real hidden gem, straddling a world of indie rock somewhere between The Shins and Echo and the Bunnymen, as they showcased tracks from their album Call It Blazing such as Spin Me Around.
Neon Filler are very happy to be able to present our first gig, happening on the 24th February 2012 at The Green Door Store in Brighton. The three bands on the bill are some of our favourite acts that we have discovered this year.
Topping the bill is the brilliant Free Swim, a band who have impressed us with their first two EPs and who played an excellent set at The Hydrant earlier this year.
To hear (and buy) their EPs go to their Bandcamp page here.
The first support comes from Twin Brother, a band that impressed us with their set at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.
Listen to a selection of their songs on their Soundcloud page here.
Completing the bill is the excellent Stick In A Pot. You can listen to some of their tracks on their website here.
If you are going to come to the gig, then please add yourself to the Facebook event.
The world of indie-pop is often more fractious than an ever splitting dance genre. For the countless derivatives of house there’s are twee antitheses, just as funky house has its handbag, post-punk has its riot grrl, similar but never the twain shall meet. For Shrag, however, this niche malarkey is nonsense, they’re just a band doing what bands do, and that’s, being in a band.
You see, Shrag are the kind of group who you feel you know, like a pile of scatter cushions in the sitting room corner, they’re always there, not always used, but it’s nice to have them just in case: An essential mainstay of the indie scene.
Over the past five years of touring toilets, playing the railway stations and swanking off to New York, they’ve attained the status of indie-pop royalty through being a band unfazed by the tastemakers and evolving into the girl boy duet fuelled post-punk to make the twee-erati melt.
They are the obvious headliners for a Scared to Dance event, a one off for the club night which is London’s home to all things indie, but appears to be hit by the recent Neon Filler curse of being shamefully quiet with The Lexington only half full (see our recent live reviews for The Miserable Rich and Singing Adams).
Sadly this show will be forever marked by the untimely death of Peter Sykes, guitarist with This Many Boyfriends who were originally due to play tonight, but rather than being a maudlin night of cod reflectiveness each of tonight’s bands are geared towards major sets.
Indeed Pocketbooks are taking tonight very seriously by bringing along a string section from The Little Orchestra in what plays as a gambit for larger venues in 2012. However, their epic scope falls flat and it seems a bit, well, Beautiful Southy. It’s not quite twee and hand clap laden for pure indie pop nor are the harmonies memorable. The tracks with Emma Hall singing alone lift the set, especially the wonderful Sound Of The Carnival, but it’s all rather sedate.
In fairness, any group following London trio, Fever Dream, are going to struggle. Clean cut melodic office pop has nothing on visceral agit-noise-gaze which grafts Kevin Shields into the Public Image line up, then forcing him to cover Deerhunter with only a lo-fi four-track and one effects pedal. Truly mesmerising.
Tonight though is all about Shrag who without a new record to plug have the chance to maraud through new songs while maintaining an air of welcoming familiarity. Watching Shrag feels like seeing your mate’s band play, such is the openness of their between song banter, be that discussing vocalist Helen King’s descending gusset or the mystical Replicant growl emanating from Steph Goodman’s keyboards, yet never detracting from delivering noisy post-punk.
Their conviction is never questionable and as King prowls the stage before dropping to her knees for the poetic bile of The Habit Creep there’s a tense passion which propels Shrag beyond art-pop into narcissistic terror-twee.
Screechy yelps and call and responses are Shrag’s bread and butter, so with Tendons in the Night and Devastating Bones they’re in safe territory, while Rabbit Kids shoots a classically catch sing along chorus over a gnarly jangle.
Whether it’s shouty or harmonious, Shrag have to golden rules of indie-pop in their DNA. There’s the thundering drums, Casiotone punches, 1-2-3-4’s and, of course, interaction which borders on the brilliantly farcical.
There are plenty of things going wrong, guitarist Bob (I shall call him Bobbie) Brown uses the wrong pedals and doesn’t know which songs are next, Goodman’s Keyboard has a mind of his own and drummer Andy Pyne was nearly incapacitated by a bad back, but none of this stops King spinning like a demonic dynamo in what is a fantastically coherent show.
There are obvious comparisons with Prolapse or even The Fall, but tonight they’re better than any contemporaries because they’re fun and carefree, just how indie-pop should be.
Shrag have been recording with Andy Miller who’s worked with Mogwai and the Pipettes, a perfect choice for a band who tonight blended relentless art noise and melodic pop to charming perfection.
There aren’t many artists whose personal life overshadows their musical output but Serge Gainsbourg wasn’t like most artists. His early career was spent smoking Gitanes, lurching between love affairs with various screen sirens and drinking his way through the nightclubs of Paris.
Later he would become a dishevelled regular on French television, setting fire to a 500 franc note and drunkenly declaring his wish to bed Whitney Houston, before dying of a heart attack at 62.
It’s little wonder that, apart from a bar of heavy breathing in ‘Je t’aime… moi non plus’, history can’t handle Gainsbourg’s musical accomplishments and some of the singer’s best work remains largely forgotten.
The 40th anniversary edition of Histoire de Melody Nelson may not change our image of Gainsbourg as the original libertin français but it should reaffirm his skills as a musician. First released in 1971, the concept album centres on the inappropriate relationship between Gainsbourg and teenager Melody Nelson, breathlessly voiced by his then lover, Jane Birkin.
In true Gainsbourgian style, the extremes of taste are pushed to breaking point with theatrical string accompaniments and the climactic death of his muse in a plane crash. But behind all of this provocative excess lie carefully concise song constructions (the album lasts only 28 minutes) and probably the most accomplished orchestral-pop marriage in the history of music.
Of course no one wants to remember Gainsbourg for carefulness or marriage. Revisiting Histoire de Melody Nelson for the disturbing Lolita-esque undertones alone is enough. The love of extremities, the refusal to settle for the middle ground and the commitment to controversy (this is the man who sang a song with his daughter titled ‘Lemon Incest’) are what fuel our enduring fascination with Gainsbourg, even if they end up overshadowing his talents as a musician.
Listening to this iconic album again traces the roots of artists as diverse as Grizzly Bear, Super Furry Animals and Pulp back to the musical innovations of Gainsbourg.
The deluxe edition of Histoire de Melody Nelson includes vocal takes as well as DVD material of original music videos and interviews with sound engineer, Jean-Claude Charvier and photographer, Tony Frank. The extras are interesting enough for the casual Gainsbourg fan and the instrumental takes highlight the intricacy of Dave Richmond and Dougie White’s rhythm compositions but anything you really need to know about Melody Nelson is addressed in Gainsbourg’s original 8 tracks.
The combination of psychedelic pop and funk-inspired bass with Jean Claude Vannier’s orchestral arrangements still sounds as audacious as it did forty years ago.
Album opener, ‘Melody’ undercuts a scratchy guitar line with impulsive flourishes of strings, creating a seething anticipation that builds until we finally hear Birkin declare herself as ‘Melody Nelson’. Vannier and Gainsbourg manage to create this kind of expansive sound and narrative within very brief windows. ‘Valse De Melody’ intensifies Gainsbourg’s guttural pleas for ‘le soleil’ and ‘le bonheur’ around a cloying two-minute waltz. But however claustrophobic Gainsbourg’s guttural croon may become, the delicate orchestral accompaniments that shiver behind him seem to assure us of his innocence.
‘He’s the best and the worst’ Brigitte Bardot said of her once lover and indeed Histoire de Melody Nelson shows Gainsbourg as the tasteless maverick but also the master songwriter and poet; someone who still inspires today’s most innovative artists.
Last year London band Django Django topped our list of acts to watch out for in 2011. As autumn came they didn’t disappoint as they began unveiling tracks from their forthcoming highly promising debut album.
Another to justify their place on the 2011 list was The Miserable Rich, who unveiled their superb third album Miss You In the Days in October.
This year we look at our top ten bands to watch out for in 2012. Some have already being wowing festival crowds and attracting attention in the blogosphere. As 2012 progresses we predict these bunch will climb up the festival bills and garner even more praise. Sit back and enjoy Neonfiller.com’s top ten acts to look out for in 2012.
10. Alice Gun
Just before the 2011 Mercury nominations were revealed a few names cropped up among bloggers, including ourselves, for possible inclusion. One of those names was little known singer -songwriter Alice Gun, whose debut album Blood and Bone impressed us greatly when it was released early in 2011. It’s sparse, it’s eerie and a beautiful debut that was sadly overlooked by the Mercury panel. Comparisons to PJ Harvey are inevitable, but Gun is her own artist and we are expecting big things of her in 2012 as word of her talent spreads.
Tigercats from London are that rarest of bands, an indie-pop act that you can actually dance to. After a string of singles and EPs they are finally ready to release their debut album in 2012. We’ve had a sneak listen to a couple of tracks already and we predict it will bring them to a far wider audience than the small band of wise indie-kids that have already discovered them.
The album will be backed by a series of tour dates. Among our favourite Tigercats tracks, and one we are keen to see live is Easter Island, which was released in August 2010.
8. Free Swim
Free Swim are one of those unusual bands that pop up in our inbox occasionally that leave us lost for words. The first email we received was to promote their debut EP Two Hands Is Ok, about a man who was so busy he had to graft another set of arms onto his torso. The next time it was to tell us of EP #2 Yolanda the Panda, about the adventures of a mountain climbing Panda. The subject matter may be comical, but they are serious about their music, sounding like a cross between Super Furry Animals and King Missile. A whole bunch of other reviewers from 6Music to XFM also agree. Live they are a force to be reckoned with as their bassist becomes a real life Super Furry Animal by donning a giant panda costume. A funny, interesting band that are set to release their third EP in 2012 and continue wowing crowds with their unusual live show. Here’s some footage we took at one of their 2011 gigs, in Brighton.
7.Kill It Kid
How Kill It Kid are not already one of the UK’s biggest bands is a mystery. Their 2009 self titled debut album’s mix of rootsy blues and rock wowed critics, but failed to shift CDs. But 2012 could prove to be their year as they continue touring to promote 2011’s excellent second album Feet Fall Heavy, which features a bigger and bolder sound. We predict a main stage slot at one of the major festivals in 2012, surely the perfect stage for their ballsy approach to rock. What’s more in Chris Turpin and Stephanie Ward the band, which formed at Bath Spa University, are blessed with two excellent singers.
During our visit to Glastonbury this year we made sure we spent alot of time at the BBC Introducing stage. First up on the Friday were Brighton’s Twin Brother and what a performance they put on. Held together by the sumptious vocals of singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alex Wells, the band evoke classic mid 1980s sounds of Aztec Camera and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Twin Brother also played the Anglo-French White Nights festival during 2011 and a string of dates are booked in for 2012.
Here’s an acoustic version by Wells of Send Me A Letter, a track from one of their planned releases during 2012.
5.Two Wounded Birds
Margate’s Two Wounded Birds were another act that dazzled us at the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury. Surf-punk is probably the best way to describe them as they mix classic punk, with surf and rock and roll. They are also gaining alot of attention from national radio stations and online broadcasters, including 6Music and NME online.
4. Dry the River
Festivals have been key to Dry The River’s excellent 2011, bringing their energetic live sets to events such as Glastonbury and Brighton’s Great Escape. Gradually they’ve been building up a solid fan base thanks to their mix of accessible classic rock with an alternative, folk edge. They start 2012 as part of the Q:Now the Sessions events playing XOYO, London in January and are certain to start climbing up the festival bills during the summer. In a few years time we wouldn’t be surprised to see this band, which formed in East London in 2009, headlining a festival main stage.
Already Idaho 20-something Trevor Powers, who performs under the name Youth Lagoon, has generated plenty of buzz in the US. His debut album The Year of Hibernation, which has been released on the influential Fat Possum label, has been given near universal critical praise, including a coveted Best New Music tag from Pitchfork. His subject matter of love, loss and anxiety is still immature at times, but he is at the start of what promises to be a long career. We are confident that the US buzz around Powers will soon spread to the UK. Watch out for European tour dates in 2012.
2.The Revival Hour
DM Stith is one of the gems of US label Athmatic Kitty’s roster. The multi-instrumentalist has spent much of 2011 supporting label mate Sufjan Stevens on tour and promoting his dramatic debut album Heavy Ghost. For 2012 he is taken a slightly different direction with his new porject The Revival Hour. This collaboration with John Mark Lapham from The Earlies was formed through a mutual love of Roy Orbison and judging by their first single Hold Back they have been heavily influenced by the 1960s. An album is due out in 2012 and is set to feature contributions from Stevens, My Brightest Diamond and Shearwater. Hold Back is one of our highlights of 2011 and we anticipate the album to be one of the best of 2012.
1. Singing Adams
After splitting from the Broken Family Band its songwriter and lead singer Steven Adams (pic: second from left) has taken an indie pop direction with his next project Singing Adams. Bringing in indie stalwarts Matthew Ashton, Melinda Bronstein and Michael Wood the band perfectly compliment Adam’s bittersweet and often humourous song writing. We saw them in September in Bristol play to about 70 people, a far cry from Adams’ time with festival favourites Broken Family Band. This meagre crowd is set to grow in 2012 once word spreads. They are a well drilled and engaging live act and in 2012 are set to release their second album. Some tracks were trialled at the gig we saw in September and we were left impressed. Watch out for this band at a festival or venue near you, they could soon be your next favourite band.
The band’s debut album Everybody Friends Now was one of our highlights of 2011. Here’s one of our favourite tracks from the album, I Need Your Mind.
Darren Hayman has announced details of a CD release of this year’s January Songs project, which saw the former Hefner frontman write, record and release a song a day during January.
Just 1,500 copies of the CD will be made available, with the cover of each copy featuring an individual hand drawn picture by Hayman.
The CDs will be released on 31 January 2012, to mark a year since the end of the project. Teaming up with Hayman on the project were a raft of collaborators including Allo Darlin, Ballboy and The Wave Pictures. Hayman’s Facebook and Twitter followers were also encouraged to supply subjects for songs and help with lyrics.
The songs range from folk to jazz to glam disco. To read our full review of January Songs click here.
To read more about the project, including Hayman’s journal and song videos, click here.
The legend of Trevor Powers, the 22-year-old bedroom musician who goes by the name Youth Lagoon and has been snapped up by the Fat Possum label, is of a kind of younger, more suburban Bon Iver.
Live Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Powers’ album The Year of Hibernation emerged after a period where he was holed up feeling increasingly insular.
But the effectiveness of the comparison ends there really. While Vernon spent three months in a shack in the wilderness nursing a failed romance and music career, it turns out that Powers was just a bit too busy to go out from his home in Boise Idaho. He had a lot of college work on apparently.
Also while Vernon’s loss was painfully laid bare on his stunning debut For Emma For Ever Ago, for Powers his only real loss was that his girlfriend was working a lot so he didn’t see her much.
“I was really busy with school. My girlfriend was working 60 hours a week, so I was not seeing her very much. Everyone was busy with school and had a lot going on. While I was really busy, my anxiety was getting really bad. And I had this project of recording these songs when I would come home from school. In a way, I would isolate myself and just work on songs. It was kind of a weird, lonely year.”
As a result the influences behind Year of Hibernation are far too shallow to really hold a torch to For Emma.
But if you think this review is going to be negative because Powers is a young man and hasn’t really experienced a lot then think again.
He may lack the depth of Vernon and his songs may be a little immature lyrically but he has still come up with a remarkable album. If anything his immaturity is part of his appeal. It gives the subject matter a simplicity that anyone can relate to, even if it is from the mouth of a relative babe.
Take the track 17 with its warm electric keyboard intro and repeated lyrics, “when I was 17, my mother said to me, don’t stop imagining, the day that you do is the day that you die.” A simple, sentimental message that is effectively delivered.
Another is Montana and its video about a young lad waving goodbye to his father who is off to fight in Vietnam and never to return. Fast forward 20 odd years and the boy is a man wandering the countryside of Montana with his father’s ghost watching over him all the time. It’s like a terrible US Tv movie, but because its Powers and because sentimentality is what he does it sort of works.
Further praise goes to Power’s lo-fi production. Simple keyboards and electric guitar, mixed with computer drum tracks and his androgynous, vulnerable vocals. It’s like Postal Service through an echo chamber at times, like Beach House at others.
The electric guitar riff on Daydream is particularly effective, as is the whistling effect on Afternoon and Montana, which nicely conjures up an image of an army of bedroom indie kid musicians marching towards a gig triumphant.
So if sentimentality is not your thing, then maybe this is one to avoid, but if you like the mystique, of his admittedly slight, surburban legend as well as bands such as Beach House then this is going to appeal.