Archive | April, 2012

Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue The Complete Sessions

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Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue The Complete Sessions

Posted on 29 April 2012 by Dorian

Mermaid Avenue was the road where Woody Guthrie lived in New York, and was the name given to the first volume of songs that Billy Bragg and Wilco collaborated on in 1997. The songs were taken from lyrics that Guthrie had written but never recorded, for which there was no known melody, with around 3000 of these songs in the archive of his daughter Nora. Initially Billy Bragg was invited to record the songs and then he invited Wilco to join the project.

Mermaid Avenue Complete

Volume one of the sessions was a brilliant album, the differences between the writing style of Bragg and Wilco (principally Jeff Tweedy and the late Jay Bennett) added variety but also sat well together. Bragg’s work is more traditional, and closer to the style of Guthrie, with Wilco sounding typical of the Summerteeth era, and both acts produce some of their best work on the album. A second volume followed which featured another fifteen brilliant tracks, it was a little less cohesive as a collection but demonstrated just how much great music had been written and recorded.

Volume three is a real surprise showcasing another seventeen tracks, most of which are of as high a quality as anything from the first two collections. There are obvious reasons why some of the songs were left off first time around, ‘When Th Roses Bloom Again’ was found out to not be a Guthrie tune, ‘Gotta Work’ was written and sung by Corey Harris and wouldn’t have fit the brief of the original album and ‘The Jolly Banker’ was recorded in 2009 by the modern incarnation of Wilco. Why some of the other tracks weren’t consider is more of a mystery, the quality is so consistently high.

Also featured in the set, released to celebrate Woody Guthrie’s centennial year, is a DVD of ‘Man In The Sand’ a documentary about the original project and the recording of the album. It is fascinating viewing and gives a nice summary of Guthrie’s life as well as the processes that went into putting the original album together. It also shows some tensions between Bragg and Wilco during and after recording, largely about which songs to include and who should get to mix the songs for the album. This is perhaps understandable given that the artists didn’t know each other well before the recording and had to learn how to work together and what the boundaries of the project were.

What is a lot more surprising about the project is just how many great songs it produced and what a satisfying listen it is over the three discs in the complete set. As a package it is pretty hard to beat and recommended to fans of Guthrie, Bragg or Wilco as well as anyone who is interested in country, folk or protest songs.

If you already have the first two albums then the third set of songs is available as a digital download separately, and is well worth adding to your set.

10/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Allo Darlin’ – Europe

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Allo Darlin’ – Europe

Posted on 27 April 2012 by Joe

Homesickness is a recurring theme on Europe, the second album by UK indie-pop act Allo Darlin’. Named after a disastrous tour of Europe, which involved a near fatal gas fumes issue with their van, the album revolves around lead singer Elizabeth Morris’s reflections on her native Australia and the band’s life in London as they road trip unhappily across the continent. They clearly miss home, but where, many of the songs ask, exactly is home?

Tallulah, with just Morris’s vocals and ukulele, is where these ideas come out most strongly, with Morris one minute reminiscing about a drive, with her friend in her “university car” in Australia, where the car door is so hot it burns their arms, and the next minute back on tour, in Berlin, writing postcards.

She clearly hates where she is but where does she long to return to, she ponders with the line, “And it’s been a long time, Since I’ve seen all my old friends, But I really love my new friends, I feel I’ve known them a long while.” As she remembers  Tallulah Ghosh on the car tape player in Australia and thinks of friends across the globe she heartbreakingly leaves the listener with this terrible thought,  what “if I’ve already heard all the songs that’ll mean something. And I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that’ll mean something.”

Another reason Tallulah, which has been a highlight of their live sets for a while and previously appeared on a 2010 Hangover Lounge’ EP, stands out is because it takes a welcome break from the band’s usual indiepop style. While this more up tempo style works well in places on the album, I just get the sense that I’ve heard this kind of jangly pop far too many times before over the last 30 years.

The tricksy picking of guitarist Pail Rains and the driving rhythm section of bassist Bill Botting and drummer Michael Collins, plus Morris’s  natural vocals, are what has attracted their small but dedicated following over the years. But I can’t help feeling it could be their undoing if they continue to stick with this tired old C86 style on future albums.

Their peers such as London’s Tigercats or  Brooklyn’s Hospitality have successfully breathed new life into the indiepop genre, but this is something Allo Darlin’ fail to do on the bulk of Europe.

Morris’s vocals just seem to work so much better on the ballads, such as Tallulah and another highlight Some People Say. Her track I Know I Fucked Up on Darren Hayman’s 2011 January Songs project was another recent vocal triumph. But on Europe’s upbeat tracks such as Capricornia her style seems slightly out of place, not strong enough for pop, like a folk singer who has found herself in the wrong band as she struggles at times to squeeze all the words in.

There are welcome flashes of where their sound may go, the violin on the album’s title track and slide guitar on Some People Say hint at a growing influence of US country and folk on the band, who are touring the US as this review is being written. I hope this is a path they continue to follow. Such moments bring to mind First Aid Kit’s country twanged  album The Lion’s Roar of earlier this year, which was produced by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis. He would do an equally fine job on bringing out the country heart of Allo Darlin’.

Allo Darlin’ are clearly still wedded to their indie-pop influences and Tallulah Ghosh tapes, but Europe, even with its flashes of brilliance, only offers the prospect of something as “amazing” as the day Morris sings about in Some People Say.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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Truck Festival Announces Line-Up Additions

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Truck Festival Announces Line-Up Additions

Posted on 26 April 2012 by Joe

Neonfiller.com favourite Emmy The Great (pictured) and one of our top ten bands to watch out for in  2012 Kill It Kid are among a raft of additions to the Truck Festival line up. Taking place in Oxfordshire on July 20th and 21st  the festival is now in its 15th year and will be headlined by The Temper Trap and Mystery Jets.

Also added to the bill is Bombay Bicycle Club collaborator Lucy Rose, Oxfordshire  act This Town Needs Guns and The Magic Numbers bassist Michele Stodart, who is releasing her debut solo album this year. Others added are Josh Kumra and ‘orchestral country pop’ act Gabriel Minnikin & The Fast Country.

Among those already announced are British Sea Power, The Low Anthem, Tim Minchin, Future of the Left and Frightened Rabbit

Tickets including camping at the Hill Farm, Steventon,  event cost £69.

For more information click here.

See Also: Guide to the UK’s Best Festivals 2012

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Presley, Cobain and Houston Next On Tupac Hologram Firm’s Wishlist

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Presley, Cobain and Houston Next On Tupac Hologram Firm’s Wishlist

Posted on 26 April 2012 by Joe

The firm behind the Tupac hologram that appeared at this year’s Coachella Festival,  has revealed it is considering bringing Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson back to the stage as well.

Kurt Cobain

Top of the ghoulish wishlist of Musion Technology’s head of music Sanj Surati is to team Justin Bieber with Elvis Presley on stage. In an interview with the NME he said that “would be a cool thing.”

Among other dead rock stars the firm would like to create holograms of are Jimi Hendrix and Whitney Houston.

The hologram of Tupac, who was killed in 1996, appeared at this year’s Coachella festival including a performance  of ‘2 Americaz Most Wanted’ as a duet with Snoop Dogg.

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St Gregory Orange  – Midnight At The Sycamore Lounge

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St Gregory Orange – Midnight At The Sycamore Lounge

Posted on 24 April 2012 by Joe

St Gregory Orange were one of our standout acts that appeared on Wakefield based label Philophobia Music’s 2010 compilation Under the Bus Station Clock.

Their interesting, sombre track on this compilation, Pan Away And Fade To Black,  was enough for us to name them one of our top ten  bands to watch out for in 2011. Thing is, as with another on that list, Django Django, we were a year too early.  It has taken them a while to come up with their second album but as the saying goes, it has  been worth the wait.

Turns out there’s far more to the band than a spot of synth sound scaping that typified Pan Away And Fade To Black and which starts Chalklines, the opening track of Midnight At The Sycamore Lounge.

As Chalklines progresses the soundscape passes and the abstract lyrics come in the album quickly turns to some kind of northern English, Flaming Lips, Pavement, Pulp hybrid. It’s not a great opening, a little unnerving in places, especially the bit about “starting drinking in the afternoon” but you get the sense that is maybe the point. Their world is not meant to be easy going. There’s a lot of drinking going on, not nice drinking instead a kind of  unpleasant,  weary drinking to forget type drinking.

The sparkle of this album though is its ability to create their own universe, even if it’s a bit of a crap one, set in the wee small hours, possibly on a park bench in a Northern town, watching the dawn break as two blokes relive the horrors and joys of a Saturday night out.

It’s not until the well worked string and acoustic guitars of third track Salem AM that the album and the night out with the St Gregory Orangers really gets going, part Streets, part Malkmus this album oozes  slacker pop with intelligence. My Exile Years get s a little more Flaming Lips as it “sleep walks through my waking life with a bottle in my teeth” and the St Gregory lads  struggle again to remember a night out, possibly while clutching a can of Red Bull.

Somnambulist Atlas and the backing vocals on No Tragedies are other highlights on an album that is at times difficult, frequently clever and above all different. I guess spending the early hours in Wakefield with The Flaming Lips, Pavement and two blokes carrying synths trying to remember the events of only a few hours ago was never going to be an average night out.

7.5/10

by Joe Lepper

Midnight At The Sycamore Lounge is released by Philophobia Music on May 28. For more information click here.

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Fighting Kites – Chuck Close

Posted on 23 April 2012 by Dorian

Just discovered this act, Fighting Kites, who release their music on Variant Records. lovely stuff for fans of the quieter side of (deep breath) Instrumental-Post-Rock-Noise-Pop.

The video below is for Chuck Close, the opening track from their eponymous album – available for pre-order from the following link http://fightingkites.bandcamp.com/album/fighting-kites-2

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Record Store Day 2012

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Record Store Day 2012

Posted on 20 April 2012 by Dorian

Tomorrow is Record Store, a celebration of music and all the things that make record stores such an integral place in the music industry. The widespread move to MP3s and online consumption models has made a big impact on the industry and seen many shops close over the last few years, but many independent retailers have hung on and maintained a large loyal customer base that enjoys the tangible elements of music consumption.

Record Store Day 2012

Record Store day is in its 4th year and as usual a huge quantity of exclusive and limited records is available for those prepared to get up early and join the inevitable queues. You can visit the Record Store day website  for a full list of titles on release and there is something to appeal to most musical tastes with vinyl being the primary format on offer.

I’ll be queuing myself with the hope of picking up records by Field Music, Guided By Voices, Ryan Adams, the Wedding Present and maybe an early release of the box-set of the Mermaid Avenue Sessions by Billy Bragg and Wilco. As usual I will set myself a strict budget, but in the heat of the moment, with a queue behind, it is easy to get carried away and come home with a handful of unexpected items. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop Dr Who sound effects record is one item that may well make it into my bag, despite the fact that I am unlikely ever to play it more than once.

Living in Brighton I am lucky to have aq handful of participating shops to choose from on the day – Rounder, Ape, Endless, One Stop, Borderline and Resident (voted the UK’s best independent record store for the second year running) all on my door step. You can find a list of participating stores near you at http://www.recordstoreday.co.uk/participating-stores.aspx.

One thing about Record Store Day does bug me, and that is the way it is used as amoney making exercise by some. In 2010 I just missed out on a copy of ‘Fool’s Day’ by Blur, their much anticipated reunion single. That very same day it was available on Ebay for hugely inflated prices, and not just a couple of copies but dozens and dozens. Each year the same thing happens, sealed copies of hard to get records are sold on Ebay as soon as they fly off the shelves.

In the NME this week a feature on Record Store day (and kudos to the paper for such a big feature) had some ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ for the day. One of the ‘don’ts’ listed was:

Don’t play any of the records for Heavens sake. This will sharply diminish their value.

Now, this list was intended to be comic, and I don’t want to be too pious, but it does highlight a nasty truth about the day. If it is about a few individuals making a quick profit at the expenses of others, then is that really a celebration of the record shop? Or does it turn something fun and celebratory into a kind of Bargain Hunt with queues?

I know people who used to habitually buy up tickets from popular concerts and then sell them on Ebay at a profit when the shows had sold out. You could argue that is just people using their common sense to make some money, or you could argue that it is a nasty reflection on a greedy capitalist society. if you actively reduce the supply, then it isn’t a fair state of supply and demand.

The same is true of Record Store Day purchases, the price charged in the stores on the day is a fair reflection of the supply and the demand. If people who have no interest in owning or listening to the records, then buying them just to sell them at a profit denies people who really want them the opportunity to get them at a fair price. The shops restrict purchase to one item per person, but I have seen people come in with friends to get extra copies (and even coordinate other groups of friends at other shops). Even if only a few people try and use the day as a money making experience then it can ruin it for dozens of others, there are only small amounts of many of the records on sale.

So, if you want to really celebrate the music and the record stores you love, then go down tomorrow morning and buy yourself some musical treats. And then take them home, rip off the plastic and play them. After all isn’t that what a record is for?

By Dorian Rogers

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Somerset Festival Organisers Fill Gap Left By Glastonbury Break

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Somerset Festival Organisers Fill Gap Left By Glastonbury Break

Posted on 19 April 2012 by Joe

The Glastonbury Festival  is taking a break in 2012 but central Somerset festival organisers are not resting on their laurels when it comes to making live music available this summer.

On July 21 the one day Godney Gathering is back for a second year, at Godney Farm near to Glastonbury. Starting at 5pm and finishing at 1am there are five acts for the £20 admission cost.

Godney Gathering 2011, pic by Mathew Danby

Headlining will be festival rockers Subways, followed by The Hoosiers, whose debut album The Trick of Life topped the UK album charts in October 2007.

Others are Reef surf folk side project Stringer Beasant, Manchester indie rock outfit The Rainband, psychedelic rock from Goldray and Glasgow surf band Young Aviators.

Organisers have promised a £2.50 limit on all alcoholic drinks sold at the bar. For ticket details  and more information click here.

This year also sees the first Glastonbury Fringe festival. Taking place between June 21 and July 1 the event involves music, art and theatre at venues across Glastonbury.

Nick Parker

Highlights include Ben Marwood, Oxygen Thief and Neonfiller.com favourite Nick Parker at Tor Leisure on June 23. Jim Lockey and the Solumn Sun, Gaz Brookfield and Oleander Brown perform at the same venue on June 22, and a Shamanic Trance Dance Workshop at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms on June 21 also looks intriguing.

For more information about Glastonbury Fringe and ticket details  click here.

By Joe Lepper

See Also: Godney Gathering 2011 Review , 2012’s Best Festivals Revealed

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Hospitality – Hospitality

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Hospitality – Hospitality

Posted on 18 April 2012 by Joe

Fire Records, the home of alternative music veterans  Giant Sand and Mission of Burma, has taken a leaf out of labels such as Slumberland and Fortuna POP! and bagged themselves a beauty of an indie pop act in Hospitality.

Central to the success of this Brooklyn trio’s self titled debut album is the singing and songwriting of lead singer Amber Papini. Her turn of phrase, effortless vocals and keenest of ears for a catchy single are only hinted at on opener Eighth Avenue, a kind of Belle and Sebastian rip. But as the album progresses track after track of hook laden, memorable, potential singles follow.

Among the highpoints is Betty Wang, about a clean living former colleague of Papin, at  a “financial day job”, according to the accompanying press release. It’s a joyous sing-along and one of my favourite tracks of the year. The chorus of another singalong, The Right Profession, is another that stayed with me long after the album had finished.

It is not just Papini’s pop savviness that warms me to Hospitality. The arrangements are lifted markedly by some smart saxophone arrangements, most notably on second track Friends of Friends and end track All Day Today.

I can’t fault any of  the 10 tracks. In fact It sounds like an awful cliché but as the saxophones and jangly guitars drift off on the final track All Day Today I didn’t want this album to finish such is its warmth and sense of fun. Great debut, great find for Fire Records and a surefire contender for our end of year Top 20 album list.

9/10

Joe Lepper

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Elvis Costello & The Imposters – The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook

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Elvis Costello & The Imposters – The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook

Posted on 18 April 2012 by Joe

Part of me still thinks of Elvis Costello  as a bespectacled, angry young man, singing in grainy TV footage in a tight suit, about his aim being true, failing to stand up for falling down and the plight of British industry under Margaret Thatcher.

Of course I know he’s not. In reality he’s a portly 57-year-old and one of the music industry’s most prolific artists; dabbling in soul, classical music, country as well as excelling at the UK new wave genre that launched his four decade long career.

This latest live album release is testament to what is a stunning track record in music but crucially has a nice twist to it. The tracks are chosen by a giant game show spinning wheel, which is spun by fans and was first used by Costello and the Imposters on their Revolver Tour in 1986. For this live album  the giant wheel was used over two nights at The Wiltern, Los Angeles in May 2011.

When this album was initially released last year, as a limited edition box set featuring all 34 songs played over two nights plus DVD, book and tour poster, it caused a minor stir with an eye popping £176 price tag. Even Costello himself said it was a waste of money.

With die-hard Costello fans shunning this mammoth priced album his record label Universal has decided to re-release it in a streamlined CD and DVD pack, featuring 16 tracks on each. Priced at around £13 this is ironically great value considering its preposterously priced initial release.

True, it’s a little cheesy at times, but I  can’t fail to be bowled over by a giant spinning wheel triggered by a fan and prompting Costello and his band of veterans to ease into their showbiz versions of classics from Alison and Radio Radio to Watching the Detectives.

As is so many times said in live album reviews, it will not win over any new fans. But if someone wanted to hear Elvis Costello by now surely they would have done so. For Costello fans it’s a pretty decent package even if some of the versions are little vaudeville at times. I guess though, it’s hard to be anything else with a whacking great spinning wheel behind you.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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