Archive | June, 2012

Picture Special: Ben Marwood, Nick Parker, Oxygen Thief at the Glastonbury Fringe

Picture Special: Ben Marwood, Nick Parker, Oxygen Thief at the Glastonbury Fringe

Posted on 25 June 2012 by Joe

With the Pilton, Somerset, based Glastonbury Festival taking a year off this year the town of  Glastonbury, just a few miles down the road, is hosting the first Glastonbury Fringe event, which features music and arts events between June 21 and July 1.

Among the gigs taking place over the two weeks of events was an evening with three singer songwriters at the Tor Leisure, Glastonbury, on June 23. Featured were Nick Parker, the Street, Somerset, based singer who is usually a solo performer but was performing on the night with his band The False Alarms. The band has just returned from a tour of Germany and this was Parker’s first UK show with them. Here’s our review of his 2010  debut album King of False Alarms.

Oxygen Thief, aka Barry Dolan, whose album we reviewed here, and Ben Marwood, whose debut album Outside There’s A Curse was released in January last year, also played on the night. Marwood is currently working on a second album.

Thanks to Duncan Batey for letting us publish these excellent pictures of the night.

Nick Parker and the False Alarms (pic by Duncan Batey)

 

Oxygen Thief (pic by Duncan Batey)

 

Ben Marwood (pic by Duncan Batey)

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Rotifer, Tigercats and Danny Kendall – 26th October 2012

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Rotifer, Tigercats and Danny Kendall – 26th October 2012

Posted on 24 June 2012 by Dorian

Neon Filler is very proud to present a fabulous bill of bands as part of the Oxjam Festival this October. The three bands playing are RotiferTigercats and Danny Kendall.

Oxjam

Rotifer

Rotifer is the work of Austrian born, England based, songwriter Robert Rotifer. His sixth album, The Hosting Couple, was the first release on Edwyn Collins’ AED label and was described by our reviewer as “Part Stones, part Kinks, part Bowie and even part Neil Innes in places”. Rotifer’s current line-up sees him backed by Ian Button (Death In Vegas) on drums and Mike Stone (Television Personalities) on bass. Listen to ‘Star City‘ from the Vostock 5 compilation and watch the video for ‘Canvey Island‘.

Tigercats

In 2011 we named Tigercats as one of our “ones to watch in 2012″. When they released their debut album this year they received a perfect 10/10 score, living right up to our high expectations. Our review described the album as “teaming with radio friendly, infectious hooks” and you can judge for yourself by listening to ‘Banned From The Troxy‘ or watching the video for ‘Full Moon Reggae Party‘.

Danny Kendall

Danny Kendall is the work of Ben Murray, sometime sticksman with the likes of Chris T-T and Jim Bob (of Carter USM fame). As Danny Kendall he released his debut EP this year and it is an understated gem, all sweet melodies and bittersweet lyrics. Listen to the fuzzy pop of ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ or watch him in more melancholy mode playing ‘Waiting On The Engines’.

Click the image below to buy tickets on line.

Click on the Oxjam logo below to find out more about this great nationwide event.

Oxjam

If you are coming to the gig please add yourself to the Facebook event.

Many thanks to Nic Newman for the design work, The Print Room for posters, flyers and tickets and SWAT for posters and distribution.

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David Lowery on Artists Rights

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David Lowery on Artists Rights

Posted on 23 June 2012 by Dorian

In a recent article for the Trichordist website David Lowery wrote an impassioned response to an article by an NPR intern, Emily White. Her article was about how she didn’t pay for music (apart from around 15 CDs) and posed the question “All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?” Lowery’s response was a lengthy exploration of the impact of music theft and supporting the artists’ rights to fair compensation.

David Lowery

David Lowery

Lowery’s piece isn’t perfect (his views on Spotify are open to question), and I don’t agree with everything he argues, but it is an intelligent and passionate article that raises some very valid points and highlights the dangers of a system where artists are not financially rewarded for their work. It is also pretty hard hitting in places. Music piracy may not have directly lead to the deaths of Vic Chesnutt and Mark Linkous, but if two artists of their caliber (and not forgetting the brilliant Jason Molina)  can’t make enough money to pay for their healthcare then something isn’t quite right.

Crucially the article isn’t an attack on Emily White (as many critics have claimed), it is explicit in being a response to her challenging some of her beliefs. It has also had a very positive effect in the amount of discussion it has raised, many people saluting Lowery for writing it and many others publishing counter arguments.

A different Emily White writes a clear and intelligent defense of her namesake and makes some very valid points about the changing face of music consumption and the other ways that Emily Whiten (and those of her generation) support artists. Crucially she misses the key point of the article, the issue of payment. Lowery isn’t saying people should buy CDs, he is saying they should pay for downloads, and that point is ignored in the article. She also gives an effusive “yes” to the questions “All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?” but ignores that fact that this is already the reality for people. If you change the question to “All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it and not have to pay for it. Is that too much to ask?” then things get a bit less black and white.

There have also been a whole raft of articles from the poetic to the passionate which argue that music should be free and artists should play for the simple gift of having an audience that allows them to express themselves. This argument sounds good, but troubles me for a number of reasons. Firstly I am not convinced that a world with only amateur musicians would be a good thing, for artists or fans alike. How would bands pay for tours and recording, and the music would have to play second fiddle to the day job. It would make international touring impossible for most artists, and our venues would be filled with the same sets of local artists. Secondly it suggests that someone who works hard on their art doesn’t deserve to be paid for it. I enjoy reading books, watching films and listening to music, I am very happy to pay money to support the people who create the art that I enjoy.

It is also a fact that somebody is making money out of the illegal download industry. Why should the Pirate Bay earn an estimated $14 million annually for the distribution of files and the artists don’t get a penny from their consumption?

Travis Morrison (of the Dismemberment Plan) writes an amusing piece looking at the  ways in which people used to steal music. There is a lot of truth in what he says, and Lowery can sound like the old “home taping is killing music” campaigns of the 1980s. However, the scale of things is fundamentally different now and the impact much greater. You would need a team of people to create enough mixtapes to contain the quantity of songs that people exchange in one go on a portable hard drive. You can get as much music in one hit, for free, as [people used to spend a lifetime collecting.

Jay Frank makes some interesting points and points to the sad fact that major labels are still winning when in comparison to the struggle that independents have to make money. However he, like several others, points to Lowery’s declining musical status as the real reason he is making less money. This may be true (and it is a crying shame as he is one of the best songwriters in the world) but it is not the point that Lowery was making. If an artist sells less then of course they make less money, if an artist is popular and all their music is downloaded illegally then that is a legitimate problem for them.

Lowery is a brilliant musician and passionate about artists rights to be rewarded for the great work they do, and not make money for ISPs and file-sharing sites instead – I find it hard to disagree with him on that. He may have some views that are open to question, but he has opened up a fascinating and challenging debate and for that he should be commended.

By Dorian Rogers

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Stevie Jackson  – (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson

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Stevie Jackson – (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson

Posted on 21 June 2012 by Joe

Belle and Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson’s tracks have been sparsely used across the B&S back catalogue but have always lit up each album with their pop-savvy nods to the Sixties.

In releasing his debut solo album (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson he has thankfully not opted for any strange flights of fancy into jazz or classical music, it is as you would expect, 12 tracks of intelligent pop of which each could quite happily sit within 12 forthcoming Belle and Sebastian albums.

While it is a solo album it still has a full band feel, with Jackson using a host of collaborators, including members of Belle and Sebastian, The Pastals and The Company over the lengthy six-year period it has taken to write and record the album. This gives the album an eclectic nature without sounding uneven. Indie pop is still what Jackson is all about.

Opener Pure of Heart starts low key before building up into Jackson’s trademark Sixties drenched pop and on second tack Just, Just, So To The Point there’s some great disco strings to add to the mix. He clearly held this one back from  Belle and Sebastian album discussions, as surely this would have been a shoo-in for their Trevor Horn produced Catastrophe Waitress or The Life’s Pursuit.

Man of God appears the most interesting, looking at song titles alone.  Could it be about Belle and Sebastian ‘s chief songwriter and Christian Stuart Murdoch? Sadly not from journalists point of view as the B&S lot are clearly an affable bunch unlikely to criticise each other  publicly or in song.  This track is actually about something far more tacky than inter band tittle tattle and recounts Jackson and collaborator Ray Moller, from The Company, trying to seduce the same girl with 70s soul records

Without a single duff track and packed full of Jackson’s influences from soul to disco to the likes of The Kinks and early Pink Floyd, this solo debut album offers few surprises but plenty of summery pop.

8/10

 by Joe Lepper

 

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Top Ten Great Songwriters – Part Two

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Top Ten Great Songwriters – Part Two

Posted on 19 June 2012 by Joe

What makes a good song writer? Is it the ability to turn a phrase on its head , capture an emotion perfectly or to simply be a great story teller? Here’s the second part of our top ten greatest songsmiths. View the first part here.

5. Chris Difford

Back in his days with Squeeze Chris Difford he would scribble down his lyrics, rush over to fellow band member Glen Tilbrook’s house, who would bring music to his wonderful words. While, arguably his best song writing days are behind him, he still releases and writes, with his last album coming in 2010, which just about qualifies him for our list as an active and releasing songwriter.

Chris Difford

Among the main reasons for his inclusion are his expert story telling and biting observational lyrics. For us his finest song was Squeeze’s Up The Junction, the tale of a doomed romance as  the protagonist drinks and gambles his way out of a family and home. It has no chorus and ends with him failing to get the girl, but was still a hit. Here’s one of our best parts where his life begins to crumble.

This morning at 4:50, I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator, Where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter, Within a year a walker
She looked just like her mother, If there could be another

And now she’s two years older, Her mother’s with a soldier
She left me when my drinking, Became a proper stinging
The devil came and took me, From bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly, No more nights nappies smelling

Humour is another facet of his lyrics and Cool for Cats typifies this well as the male bravado is given the Difford treatment with lines such as

I fancy this, I fancy that, I wanna be so flash
I give a little muscle, and I spend a little cash
But all I get is bitter and a nasty little rash
And by the time I’m sober, I’ve forgotten what I’ve had
And ev’rybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat

His enthusiasm for encouraging songwriting is another factor  in his inclusion as he spends some of his time these days giving talks and using gigs to explain his craft.

4.PJ Harvey

If an artists songwriting abilities were based on award nominations then Polly Jean Harvey has enough to justify a dozen careers in music. Four Mercury Prize nominations alone over an 18 year period, the last two as winner in 2001 and 2011, make her the most successful artist in that particular competition.

PJ Harvey

Even if you have little patience for back slapping industry events it is hard to argue with the quality of her back catalogue with 20 years worth of albums and barely a wrong step amongst them. Like Kristin Hersh she has an amazing ability to move between musical styles without ever losing her own identity. Vocally she is a real chameleon, listen to the timbre of ‘Rid Of Me‘ compared to the fragile folk stylings of ‘Let England Shake‘ for evidence of that.

Lyrically her work has always had a very personal feel, with raw sexuality and emotional openess a repeated theme. More recently her work has taken on a more thematic approach, never more so than on her critically acclaimed 2011 album Let England Shake. War, identity and the concept of England and Englishness being the central themes on the album. This doesn’t always make for easy listening, more poetry than lyrics, but it is bold songwriting and stands Harvey out from most of her peers.

Death was in the ancient fortress,
shelled by a million bullets
from gunners, waiting in the copses
with hearts that threatened to pop their boxes,
as we advanced into the sun
death was all and everyone.

3. Nick Cave

Nick Cave doesn’t just tell stories in song. He likes to get right inside the head of his protagonists, with criminals a particular fascination. With the Bad Seeds and as a solo artist Cave’s  gothic horror style makes him more akin to the likes of Edgar Allen Poe or Harry Crews than the Australian punk  scene he emerged from.

Take Mercy Seat, his track about a killer facing the electric chair that was so brilliantly covered by Johnny Cash. All the way through the protagonist bravely protests his innocence and says he has no fear for his impending death. But as the electricity sears through his body he finally admits to telling a lie. Whether the lie is about his innocence or his bravery in the face of death is nicely left for the listener to decide.

And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I’m yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth.
An eye for an eye
And a truth for a truth
And anyway I told the truth
But I’m afraid I told a lie.

The Murder Ballads album is another of our favourites, with Where the Wild Roses Grow among the album’s most well known and lyrically best tracks. Loosely based on the traditional tale Down in the Willow Garden it tells of a man killing his lover and laying her to rest among the flowers. Cave tells the story through the killer’s and victims eyes, with Kylie Minogue taking the role of the unfortunate lover. In this track and each of the others on the album he describes the moment of death so perfectly, it’s as if the listener was there. Here’s the final two verses of Where the Wild Roses grow where the terrible deed takes place.

On the third day he took me to the river
He showed me the roses and we kissed
And the last thing I heard was a muttered word
As he stood smiling above me with a rock in his fist

On the last day I took her where the wild roses grow
And she lay on the bank, the wind light as a thief
As I kissed her goodbye, I said, ‘All beauty must die’
And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth

Cave is still writing, using his skill as a story teller across music, film and literature, including writing the screenplay for Australian western The Proposition (2004) and as one quarter of Grinderman, which disbanded in 2011. At the time of writing he is helping develop a film adaptation of the Threepenny Opera with the actor Andy Serkis.

2. Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg is arguably the UK’s greatest living folk songwriter, with his lyrics managing to mix serious political and social commentary with sparkling observations. He is also one of the few songwriters to write about the issues of the day, with corruption at New International and the rise and ultimate fall of the BNP among his more recent subjects.

Billy Bragg at Glastonbury 2011 (pic by Joe Lepper)

Never Buy the Sun, about News International, phone hacking and the shockingly irresponsibly coverage of the Hillsborough stadium disaster in its Sun newspaper was written in 2011 and shows as far as Bragg is concerned the protest song is alive and well.

Among our favourites is Levi Stubbs tears. This heartbreakingly sad tale of a girl and her miserable life seeking salvation in the voice of Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs, whose tears mirror her’s. Here’s one of our favourite versus.

She ran away from home with her mother’s best coat
She was married before she was even entitled to vote
And her husband was one of those blokes
The sort that only laughs at his own jokes
The sort that war takes away And when there wasn’t a war he left her anyway

It’s no wonder Woody Guthrie, the great American protest singer is such an influence. Like Bragg Guthrie also transcended the simple protest song and often wrote about love and family life. We caught Bragg’s show at Glastonbury in 2011 and urge anyone who hasn’t seen him to do so. Anyone who wants some political discourse wll be disappointed, I’m just going to belt em out” he told the crowd.Its something he’s been doing for decades.

Joint 1.David Lowery

David Lowery first came to our attention when he was the singer with Santa Cruz country-ska-waltz-punk-pop band Camper Van Beethoven just before they split up (first time around) in 1990. The band were known as a bit of a one-hit novelty act thanks to ‘Take The Skinheads Bowling’  but this song (as good as it is) distracts from what a sophisticated songwriter and lyricist Lowery was and is.

David Lowery

The early songs were brilliant in their own right, humorous and anarchic with a real emotive sense of the world that Camper Van Beethoven existed in their formative years, but it is on the last albums they recorded where Lowery’s lyrical genius became apparent. On the peerless ‘Sweethearts’ he sings;

Angels wings are icing over
McDonnell-Douglas olive drab
They bear the names of our sweethearts
And the captain smiles, as we crash

Heard in the context of the music their is something just a little bit heartbreaking about those words.

Over the past two decades Lowery has done many things including recording with Sparklehorse, writing for Sussanah Hoffs and reuniting with Camper Van Beethoven in 2004 to record the brilliant concept album New Roman Times in 2004. Throughout that period his main day job has been fronting Cracker with guitarist Johnny Hickman and writing dozens of brilliant songs over their eight studio albums. His lyrics clover a whole trange of subjects but always manage to painty a beautiful picture, take these verses from ‘Big Dipper';

Hey Jim, Kerouac
(The brother of the famous Jack),
Or so he likes to say.
Lucky bastard

He’s sitting on the Cafe Xeno’s steps
With a girl I’m not over yet
Watching all the world go by

He continues to write and record music, and each new album serves up a selection of thoughtful, witty songs that sound like no one else. His last was released in 2009 and finished with these wise words;

So if you want to see what’s in the shadows
the burning meadows
of our apocalypse
I dream of fallow fields
I dream of winter
cause dying is easy,
It’s living that’s hard.

You can read lots more about David Lowery’s songwriting process (and get a bit of a history lesson to boot) at his 300 s0ngs blog.

Joint 1. John Darnielle

The Mountain Goats’  John Darnielle is America’s greatest story teller in song. Sometimes as on Sunset Tree his songs are about his own life and recovery from an abusive, early homelife.

The Mountain Goats (John Darnielle, centre)

Other times his songs are about fictional characters or the lives of real, sometimes famous people, such as Judy Garland and Charles Bronson, who feature on All Eternals Deck (2011). Autopsy Garland from that album, in which he imagines Judy Garland’s last moments, remembering the abuse from studio executives as she takes her final, global road trip away from the horrors of Emerald City, is a particular highlight in his career.

Fat rich men love their 12-year-olds
Deco cufflinks and cognac by the glass
Look West from London toward the emerald city
Remember Minnesota

Across his career Darnielle’s  lyrics are always compelling and his stories are always told with conviction. In an interview with InDigest Darnielle explains more about his motivation tell stories in song

 It’s kind of impossible for me to think of a song that doesn’t also tell a story. That whole period in the early nineties when indie-ish bands were into “abstract” lyrics that didn’t tell stories or have beginnings middles & ends, God I hated that

Among our highlights in a career, which started through releasing tapes  of just vocals and acoustic guitar made on a boombox and currently resides with Merge Records, is No Children from Tallahassee about a hateful, but wonderfully well-suited couple, and All Hail West Texas’s The Best Ever Death Metal about teenage friends Cyrus and Jeff. In one cruel moment Cyrus is sent to a mental institution, known as ‘the school’ because of his love of death metal, which paradoxically appears to be the only thing keeping him sane.

This was how Cyrus got sent to the school
Where they told him he’d never be famous.
And this was why Jeff,  in the letters he’d write to his friend,
Helped develop a plan to get even.
When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you.
The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you.
Hail satan! Hail satan tonight!

Darnielle used to work in such a place as a mental health nurse, proving Partridge’s point that the most successful songs are about what you know. It is perhaps the songs about his own life where his song writing is most poignant and powerful.

Here’s some lyrics from Pale Green Things, about a rare good memory about the step father who beat him. This  track, set at a racetrack with the young Darnielle gazing at the green moss and grass growing in the dirt underfoot as he stands beside his abuser, was another in our list to make our top ten tearjerkers list . The doubling up of the phrase ‘at last’ is simple but tearfully effective.

My sister called at 3 AM, Just last December
She told you how you’d died at last, at last
That morning at the racetrack, was one thing that I remembered
I turned it over in my mind,like a living Chinese finger trap
Seaweed in Indiana sawgrass, pale green things, pale green things

Despite a formidable track record of song writing behind him arguably Darnielle’s best work may still be ahead of him. As Autopsy Garland and For Charles Bronson on On All Eternal’s Deck (2011) showed the quality of  his song writing is showing no sign of letting up. Here in an exert from For Charles Bronson Darnielle charts the Death Wish star’s final years in film, battling alcoholism and his falling star.

Hit the gym each night, stay cool and seldom speak
Keep the heart of a champion, never let them see you’re weak

And whatever they say on your page three mention
Focus on the parts that make you feel good, be grateful for the attention

For more about John Darnielle see: Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives Part 4 – The Mountain Goats

Compiled by Joe Lepper, Dorian Rogers and David Newbury

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Top Ten Great Songwriters- Part One

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Top Ten Great Songwriters- Part One

Posted on 18 June 2012 by Joe

What makes a good songwriter? For some it’s the ability to tell a good story, for others it’s a turn of phrase that succinctly captures a common emotion. For some. such as Andy Partridge, one of XTC’s chief songwriters, it is simply to draw inspiration from your own life and community.

In a  feature  in The Guardian in 2005 Partridge is quoted as saying:

“I can’t write mid-Atlantic airport lounge music. I can’t talk about my hot babe with her leather and whip or meeting my cocaine dealer. I like to write about what’s going on around the town.”

In a nutshell, he writes about what he knows. This frees his work from pretension and gives his lyrics genuine meaning. As the article later alludes, the example of Partridge puts the meaningless drivel of the likes of Coldplay to shame. Chris Martin needs to have a wander around town more like Partridge if he ever hopes to gain a song writing reputation to match his bank balance.

We’ve been having a good listen to the lyrics and construction of some of our favourite tracks recently and have decided to attempt one of our Top Tens looking at the art of the great songwriter and those whose lyrics inspire and amaze us. We’ve set some ground rules. They have to broadly fit into the indie or alternative musical world we cover, which unfortunately rules out Kate Bush. They also have to be an active song writer who is still releasing. This  rules out Partridge,  as XTC’s last album was more than a decade ago.

Andy Partridge

In our list we’ve some who not only write great lyrics but are expert song constructors. For some their best work is behind them but they are still plugging away. Meanwhile, for others they seemingly get better with age. Others in our list really give thought to the art of songwriting and take delight in helping fans and music lovers understand the process better.

We’ve also cheated a little. It is in fact a top 11; we couldn’t separate our top two choices so decided to give them equal first.  So with all that in mind here’s the first part of  our top ten (okay, its 11 really) song writers. To view part two of this list click here.

10. Darren Hayman

As singer and songwriter with 1990s act Hefner Darren Hayman already had a good reputation on the UK indie scene for producing strong lyrics and well worked songs. Good Heart, which made our Top Ten Tearjerkers list, is a perfect example of this. In this track Hayman tries and fails to convince his lover to stay with lines such as

You were just there, in the right place. You smooth out the wrinkles on my face

But arguably his best work has come in recent years, during a productive and purplest of patches that includes two albums about his native Essex (Pram Town, Essex Arms), contributions to the Vostok 5 space travel art and music project, bass playing for another great modern song writer Robert Rotifer in his band Rotifer, an album of piano ballads (Ship’s Piano) and his  January Songs project, where he wrote, released and recorded a song a day in January 2011. He is set to release an album about British lidos and Essex witch trials.

Darren Hayman

Darren Hayman at the Vostok 5 exhibition, 2011 (pic by Dorian Rogers)

It is his January  songs project that is perhaps his most impressive in terms of songwriting, in which he gave his audience a fascinating insight into the song writing process and came up with some superb lyrics and song writing that made a mockery of the short time he spent on them. I Know I Fucked Up, sung by Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris and My Dirty Widow are among our highlights.

We drove to Barcelona on the road along the coast
The sun got in my eyes, we careered side to side
and now all I hear is the knocking of her heels on my casket

If you see my dirty widow
Tell her it’s ok
Tell her I don’t mind

A final mention goes to one of his songs on Vostok 5, A Little Arrow and a Little Squirrel, about the Russian  dogs Belka and Strelka, the first space dogs to return  to earth alive. Its line

“In a cage made of metal and glass, two beating hearts, beating too fast,”

perfectly captures the perilous, unusual situation these animals’ faced and shows a willingness by Hayman to write about the most leftfield of subject matter. It is among many highlights in a great songwriting career for Hayman that is showing no signs of letting up.

9.Luke Haines

Luke Haines is a different character from most of the people on this list, he has worked hard to commit commerical suicide many times in his career and he is as well known for being bitter as he is for great songwriting. But great songwriting is what he does, and it is something he did with his previous bands, The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder, and is something he continues to do today as a solo artist.

Looking back at his earliest songs, on the Mercury Prize nominated New Wave, he seems romantic and almost whistful. Jump forward to Now I’m A Cowboy and the lyrics get more sophisticated and literary with his best known song ‘Lenny valentino’ opening;

‘There were mourners on the street of every shape and size
The motorcade came down from Redondo
Assassins on the corner tried to throw you a line
You dirty-mouth comic Rodolfo’

Luke Haines

Luke Haines

The third Auteurs album (and possibly his career defining recording) After Murder Park cranks up the bile considerably opening with the line;

“When you cut your lover slack you’ll get a fucking monster back”

To be more accurate, the single version of the song, ‘Light Aircraft On Fire’, featured the f-bomb, the album version was cleaned up, a rather perverse back-to-front decision.

His work with Black Box Recorder was (briefly) more successful and well received by the critics, but no less barbed,

“Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it”

went the chorus to their single release ‘Child Psychology’.

These days Haines is a critically acclaimed author, two volumes published of his musical memoirs, and his music no longer infects the mainstream. That isn’t to say that he has lost his songwriting skills, far from it. His latest album about wrestling in the 1970s features some of his best songwriting, and is a surprisingly warm and nostalgic record.

8. Kristin Hersh

Kristin Hersh has always existed just inside the fringes of American indie music scene. Critically acclaimed and successful without getting quite the same level of attention as her contemporaries such as The Pixies. Her air of quiet oddness coupled with an unpredictable performance style, ranging from whispered to screaming, marked her out as something a little bit special.

Kristin Hersh

Kristin Hersh

Few artists have managed to preserve a range of styles so successfully for so long. Want sprightly indie rock? Then the Throwing Muses can supply it with songs like Counting Backwards. Feel like some delicate pop music? Then Kristin Hersh solo performing Your Ghost will be right up your street. And if you’d like something a bit rough and heavy then 50 Foot Wave performing Clara Bow should fit your mood. The latter being her lyrical style in microcosm, an evocative mix of delicate and violent imagery.

Whether it was soaking in your poppy tea
Or your southern hospitality
Your voice has a singsong quality
And bones were made to be broken
Bones were made to be broken

This wide variety of musical styles is coupled with some great lyrical themes which leap between the personal and the surreal. She is one of the most raw and personal lyricists with her mental health, relationships and even the loss of custody of her first son being the subjects of her songs.

More than 25 years into her recording career she is every bit as exciting a performer as she was in the early days of Throwing Muses. Her perfomance at The Breeders ATP in 2009 was testament to that as she rocked as hard as any other performer that weekend.

7. David Gedge

Admittedly The Wedding Present and former Cinerama frontman David Gedge is a bit of a one trick pony. The poor chap has been singing about love and most notably loss for almost 30 years. So why is he on this list, you ask? If anything this obsession with the intricacies of relationships, of the highs and lows, the introspection, the guilt and jealousy, is his strength not his weakness, as his turns of phrase continue to resonate with audiences today.

David Gedge, Yeovil Orange Box, 2011 (pic by Joe Lepper)

Even on latest Wedding Present album Valentina, written during recent years of enjoyable touring for Gedge, he still manages the self-deprecating aside to suggest all is not well as “everything about my so called life is boring.” Across the years this trademark bittersweet lyrical style has hoovered up fans, who have stuck with him resolutely as their own loves and losses come and go. Among our highlights are the jealous rant of My Favourite Dress from 1987’s George Best with lines such a “It took six hours before you let me down, To see it all in a drunken kiss, A stranger’s hand on my favourite dress.”

Almost every facet of relationships, of messing up, of getting it right are covered. The former in particular gets a real hand ringing from Gedge on I’m Not Always So Stupid, also from George Best, when he says:

I’ve made a fool of myself yet once again
A boy who’s been this cruel looks for others to share the blame
Somebody told me you went to work down south
As far away as you can from my big mouth
I bumped into Jane and she told me to drop dead
Oh she’s not to blame, I know exactly what I said.

The strange thing is though for anyone who sees Wedding Present live these days or follows his tweets Gedge is just about as happy as its possible to be, still living the dream, residing by the sea in Brighton and touring the world, belting it out to those who have loved and lost.

6. Jarvis Cocker

It’s typical for rock icons to play up to their ego- just take John Lennon who declared The Beatles bigger than Jesus. There are no such proclamations from Jarvis Cocker; instead he simply milks his ability to state the bloody obvious.

“I am not Jesus though I have the same initials”

Cocker’s lyrics shed light on the mundane while being emotionless. He is the raconteur of a night time world of fishnets and carrier bags in which he is a participant observer.

Disco 2000’s meeting with Deborah never refers to how he feels, it is purely descriptive, while My Legendary Girlfriend (“she’s crying tonight/ she has no one to hold”) only addresses his desire through questioning

Can you feel how much I want you?

His life only lain bare during Little Soul, where he receives imaginary advice from the perspective of his estranged father

I’d love to help you but everybody’s telling me you look like me/ Please don’t turn out like me.

Even when being personal he has to remove himself.

As Cocker grew as a songwriter his lyrics condensed from kitchen sink documentaries of joyriders and sex, to where ones imagination completes the story:  Inside Suzanne uses novella-like prose, whereas Roadkill is flourished with double meaning

“Your hair in braids, your sailor top: The things I don’t see any more.”

With arguably his greatest work, Common People, his effortless descriptiveness is astounding. He utilises schoolboy couplets, rhyming “pool” with “school”, and audaciously linking “I” with “eye”. My old English teacher would give me the birch for less, yet Cocker’s assured wry pulls it off. Yet once again he is detached, allowing the listener to become the narrator.

Essentially it is his ability to recreate traditional story telling. Five hundred years ago he would have been a travelling balladeer regaling provincial inns with tales of distant lands and buxom wenches – Cocker even has a signature jester dance to bring his words visibly to life – while Shakespeare would use pompous language and arty-farty imagery, *cough Albarn*.

Cocker’s song writing is working class reality garnished with outsider intellectualism. It could be you hiding in Babies’ wardrobe or raving in Hampshire, but it you wouldn’t be able to convey it with such gracious wit.

See Also: Top Ten Great Songwriters – Part Two

Compiled by Joe Lepper, Dorian Rogers and David Newbury

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The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

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The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

Posted on 12 June 2012 by Joe

Swedish folk troubadour Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, is on a bit of a hiding to nothing with his third album There’s No Leaving Now.

If he sticks to his tried and tested formula of both his debut album Shallow Grave (2008) and the bulk of his second album Wild Hunt (2010), of just passionate vocals and acoustic guitar playing, then he leaves himself open to accusations of lacking ambition.

If he mixes it up a little, adding perhaps piano as he did on Kids on the Run, the final excellent track from his second album, or electric guitar as he did on the Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird EP, then he risks alienating his audience.

Seemingly aware of the careful tightrope he walks of pleasing himself as an artist, his fans and music critics There’s No Leaving Now ends up as a solid collection of tracks that will please rather than excite pretty much everyone.

There’s enough sumptuous finger picking and fast paced strumming to please his fans, especially on the John Martyn-esque Leading Me Now. There’s also enough ambition on display to show he is moving on with his career, with drums, piano, slide guitar, strings and electric guitar added to at least half the tracks. It’s these more adventurous tracks that end up the more interesting, especially the electric guitar arrangements on 1904 and the gorgeous piano ballad title track that anchors the album nicely.

This difficult third album is in some ways his best as it has a variety and change of pace that the previous two albums largely lacked. But in other ways it’s also his most incoherent and leaves the listener with a sense that compromises have been made.

It also lacks the excitement of his previous two albums. There’s no joyous moments such as Wild Hunt’s King of Spain or that breathtaking rawness of his debut, where you could even hear the squeaks of his hand as it moved around the fretboard. Despite this lack of spark, it’s still a fine album, showing that he is keen to move on with his music, test out new ideas and prove that he is more than just a troubadour with a guitar and a big voice.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Mojo Fins – The Spirit EP

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Mojo Fins – The Spirit EP

Posted on 11 June 2012 by Dorian

When I reviewed Shake The Darkness, The Mojo Fins album from the middle of last year, I wanted the band to rough things up a bit and explore a more natural sound. Their new release, The Spirit EP (again recorded by Dave Eringa), hardly sounds like a garage recording but it does have a more organic sound. This sound, with simpler arrangements than on the album, suits their songs better and is a definite step forward.

Mojo Fins The Spirit EP

The songs also have more of a hook than before, although we aren’t talking about three minute pop songs here. The band still want to produce a big anthemic sound, but the songs are more memorable and have stronger melodies this time around.

Title track ‘Sweet Spirit’ starts things off perfectly with some beautifully picked folky acoustic guitar and brushed drums before the instruments build up and multi-tracked vocals come in. ‘Palace of Memory’ opens with haunting echoed piano before some more exquisitely played acoustic guitar comes in behind the records most restrained and strongest vocal performance. It is also the EPs best tune and most memorable chorus.

‘K2′ is folkier still and benefits from a musical space that was perhaps lacking on the band’s last long player. Just when you’d expect the song to kick in with a wash of instruments it doesn’t; instead we get restrained drums and more picked guitar. ‘When I Go’ finishes the EP in similar style, keyboards and electric guitar building the sound back to a sound more like the opening track, and it is a satisfying finish to a strong set of songs.

Other reviews of the band have used the dreaded “c” word, Coldplay. As with other examples (Milagres, one of my favourite acts from The Great Escape spring to mind) this is not really a fair or accurate comparison, and a bit of a lazy one. The similarities start and end with the production values and (at a push) the vocal style. The arrangements, playing and songs owe little to Chris Martin’s band of stadium bores. In fact it sounds a lot more like Prefab Sprout, and that (intentional or otherwise) is a far worthier source of inspiration.

I’d still like to hear the band rough things up a bit, and maybe look at a producer who, for want of a better word, “produces” less. However, this EP is a real step forward and contains some of the best music the band have put on record to date.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

The Mojo Fins play at The Concorde 2 this Wednesday supported by Thomas White, Forestears and Bat County. Details on the Facebook event page.

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The Modern Exposition – The Fifth Brigade

Posted on 09 June 2012 by Dorian

This video was put together more than three years ago for the excellent track ‘The Fifth Brigade’ by The Modern exposition.

The band play a “Gig For Gambia” next week in aid of City College’s ‘Trade 4 Aid’ project at Brighton’s Green Door Store.

The gig starts at 7.30 on Wednesday 13th June and full details can be found on this Facebook events page.

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Top 20 Albums of 2012…So Far

Top 20 Albums of 2012…So Far

Posted on 08 June 2012 by Joe

In June each year we usually whet your appetite for the plethora of end of year album lists with a look at our favourites of the year so far. Usually this involves 10 albums, but with such a stellar year for releases so far we’ve decided to double the size. We take pride in promoting new and interesting acts and we’ve got those in abundance this year as well as some old stagers who continue to roll back the years. This year also sees the emergence of a number of exciting UK acts, a group that has been sadly under represented in previous years. Sit back, pull up a bus ticket to your nearest independent record shop and delve into our Top 20 Albums of 2012…So Far.

20. Two Wounded Birds – Two Wounded Birds

 

Riding the waves off of the back of their 2010 EP, Keep Dreaming Baby, these Margate surf punks  have remained stalwart patriots to delivering vintage pop diamonds. Consisting of twelve progressively sentimental odes to the ‘rebel with a heart,’ Two Wounded Birds focus their attention on emanating throwback rock’n’roll jingles, so authentic they could almost be mistaken for the real thing.  (TW) More

19. The Wedding Present  – Valentina

 

After four years of relentless touring The Wedding Present have returned to the studio to release their eighth  album and first since 2008’s El Rey. These years of touring certainly show on their new album Valentina. Its tracks are tight, punchy and pop savvy; exactly the sort of album a band well versed in how to please an audience would make. Like a well-rehearsed gig its ten tracks whizz by. (JL) More

18. Wild Dreams – Choreography

 

What London band Weird Dreams have achieved with Choreography goes beyond mere nostalgia and hustles its plumage as a timeless pop record, wise beyond its years. It’s a record which could have been written any time over the past three decades, yet manages to sound current and lively. (DN) More

17. Lindsey Fuller – You Anniversary

 

It is rare to discover a record so unlike anything else you are currently listening to, a record you know will be with you for years after a first listen. Lindsay Fuller’s third album You, Anniversary, is such an album, it seduces and rattles your bones like a poltergeist at playtime. Each song an eulogy to the ghosts of Americana, which honours its southern roots yet refuses to be haunted by genre expectations. (DN) More

16. Oddfellows Casino – The Raven’s Empire

 

This third album by Oddfellow’s Casino really is a masterclass in recording, and comparisons that have been made to Sufjan Stevens are certainly accurate in this respect. The horns during the codas of ‘We Will Be Here’ and ‘Bluebirds’ or the drums in ‘When The Comet Came’ sound brilliant and you can imagine how good these songs would sound played by the full compliment of musicians live on stage. (DR) More

15. Lightships  – Electric Cables

 

Debut from Teenage Fanclub bassist Gerrard Love’s solo project, is pitch perfect summer pop full of gorgeous melodies and harmonies. What also marks this album out as such an ear-catching release is the way it unashamedly mirrors so much of what made the Teenage Fanclub of old such a great band. (JL) More

14. Shearwater – Animal Joy

 

Many other reviewers have dismissed this album from Austin’s Shearwater as a transitional phase. We disagree, with Fleet Foxes’ producer Phil Ek behind the mixing desk, the band have  evolved into a potentially powerful force in rock music while still sticking to their alternative and environmental roots. (JL) More

13. Jack White  – Blunderbuss

 

We are proud to admit that foppish indie bands who struggle to shift a few thousand CDs are our usual review fodder. It is unheard of for us to review an album that is top of the UK and US albums charts at the time of writing. But for Blunderbuss, the stunning solo debut of former White Stripes man Jack White, we will make an exception. (JL) More

12. Lambchop  – Mr M

 

As Lambchop albums go Mr M lurks somewhere between the soulful sound of Nixon and the intimacy of Is A Woman.  Its tender subject matter and strings give the impression that Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner is drifting up to heaven with Vic Chesnutt, the late singer- songwriter and friend to Wagner who the album is dedicated to. One of the most beautiful albums of the year. (JL) More

11. Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

 

The My Bloody Valentine-esque guitars may have been discarded on this their third album but Scottish band The Twilight Sad have lost none of their intensity. With Andrew Weatherall as producer and a bunch of vintage synths from Ben Hillier the sound is more controlled. Now lead singer James Graham’s voice is complimented  by deep, burring 1980s synths, reminiscent of Depeche Mode at their most sombre or early New Order. (JL) More

10. First Aid Kit – Lion’s Roar

 

The road to Nebraska is littered with the ghosts of Americana and getting there demands a humble homage to the stoic wraiths of bearded plaid shirts to navigate its precise route. It’s rare for outsiders to succeed and unknown for the path to start from suburban Sweden, yet First Aid Kit have majestically transposed their whimsical folk deep into the mid-west, repairing the genres often passive conservatism, to redefine the contours of alt-country. (DN) More

9. Guided by Voices – Let’s Go Eat The Factory

 

Let's Go Eat The Factory

This get together of the classic Guided By Voices line up has left us impressed. It doesn’t sound like Boston Spaceships or solo Robert Pollard it sounds like Guided By Voices. There are some developments in the 15 years since this line-up played together, most notably cleaner production and more keyboards, but from the ragged guitar intro of ‘Laundry and Lasers’ you know exactly where you are. These are songs from the garages of Dayton Ohio, played by a group of old colleagues who never grew out of wanting to play noisy poppy rock music. (DR) More

8. The Shins – Port of Morrow

 

The Shins - Port of Morrow

James Mercer’s Shins are back and getting regular play on alternative and mainstream radio stations alike.  There aren’t many acts that can appeal to such a large demographic, but then not all acts are able to expertly serve up one of the best summer pop music albums of the year. Mainstream music with an alternative edge doesn’t  get better than this. (DR) More

7. Hospitality – Hospitality

 

Central to the success of this Brooklyn indie-pop 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. (JL) More

6. Beach House – Bloom

 

Beach House’s fourth album is called Bloom for good reason, as it emerges spring like from the icy cold wintery pop of 2010’s breakthrough album Teen Dream. As with Teen Dream, Bloom is still full of wonderful dreamy synth and guitar pop but the duo, of singer and keyboardist  Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, are no longer walking with snow crunching under foot. They are now in a sunlit meadow somewhere gazing at the dandelions and marvelling at the world. (JL) More

5. Django Django – Django Django

 

Good old-fashioned pop with some modern art rock sensibility is key to Django Django’s appeal. Storm and the insane Duane Eddy-meets-astronaut-meets-Cairo market trader single Wor are included and are immediate standouts. But there’s plenty more pop up the sleeves of this London based band that topped our Bands to Watch Out for in 2011 list and met while studying art in Edinburgh. (JL) More

4. The Walkmen Heaven

 

To use an REM comparison, The Walkmen’s latest album Heaven is their Lifes Rich Pageant moment. Just like that fourth album by REM, Heaven is an album by a band on top of their game in life and career and enjoying every moment. Some fine work behind the production desk by Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse and Built To Spill producer Phil Ek has helped create this joyous sound. He’s not only added some pastoral Fleet Foxes moments, but has also roped in the Foxes’ Robin Pecknold for backing vocal duties. Think Fleet Foxes with balls. (JL) More

3. Field Music  – Plumb

 

Field Music Plumb

If you haven’t been sold on Field Music by any of their previous releases you are unlikely to be converted here, but you are clearly a lost cause. If you love their previous work you may find Plumb takes some time to reveal its brilliance, but once it does you’ll be hooked by their XTC and King Crimson-style riffs and quick fire pop. (DR) More

2. Frankie Rose – Intersteller

 

Well this was  a surprise. There we were bracing ourselves for another standard indie-pop release from former Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls member  Frankie Rose when this pops into our in box . Turns out she has created not just one of the best indie-pop release of the year, but one of 2012′s best pop albums. More

1. Tigercats Isle of Dogs

 

Our only 10/10 score for a new album this year and our only ever top mark from our co-editor for a new album. As an indie-pop album goes this is as good as it gets. It’s teaming with radio friendly, infectious hooks, especially on Full Moon Reggae Party, Easter Island and Banned at the Troxy. It also has a sense of completeness as the band take you on an indiepop road tour across the east end of London. More

Reviews by Joe Lepper, Dorian Rogers, David Newbury and Tom Watson

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