Archive | September, 2012

Mark Eitzel – Don’t Be A Stranger

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Mark Eitzel – Don’t Be A Stranger

Posted on 30 September 2012 by Dorian

Mark Eitzel has never been famous for the cheery nature of his songs, and following the second break-up of American Music Club and a heart attack in 2011 there is nothing to suggest a lifting of his mood on his first solo album in three years. Indeed, given the lack of commercial success for his solo work, and his recent addition on a list in a second hand record shop of artists that shop staff shouldn’t buy, you’d be forgiven for expecting a statement of defeat here. So it is a surprise to find this to be one of the most positive sounding albums of his solo career to date.

Mark Eitzel - Don't Be A Stranger

This positivity may not be evident to listeners from the lyrics on the album, from the opening track ‘I Love You But You’re Dead’ the subjects are pretty dark and stark. This may seem like normal service from Eitzel but the arrangements are so breezy and light that the overarching mood is one where he is enjoying singing and recording these songs. Recent interviews have suggested some financial good fortune enabling the recording and an acceptance that he will never be a successful recording artist. This seems to have removed some weight from his shoulders and the result is one of his most enjoyable sets of songs in years.

American Music Club fans looking for any rough edged guitar are going to be disappointed, this is a loungey album throughout  but the playing and arrangements are consistently strong. The picked guitar and strings on ‘The Bill Is Due’ may be one of his prettiest compositions to date, complimented by his distinctive soulful vocals.

If the album has one weakness it is that there is not enough variety in the sound, the very clean arrangements walking a fine line between smoothness and blandness at times. There are just enough distinctive arrangements to break up the album however, and the piano and vocals only arrangement of ‘We All Have To Find Our Own Way Out’ may just be the albums masterpiece.

Eitzel is one of the great singers and songwriters of his generation, one who doesn’t get enough credit for excellent back catalogue. Don’t Be A Stranger is his most accessible recording for years and deserves a bigger audience than I expect it will get.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Efterklang – Piramida

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Efterklang – Piramida

Posted on 29 September 2012 by Dorian

It may be an age thing but recently albums seem to be giving flashbacks to my teenage years in the 1980s. Last week it was Race Horses  recalling a distaste of Ultravox, this week Efterklang are bringing one hit wonders Black to mind. There is something about the percussion, electronic production and baritone vocals that recall afternoons listening to commercial radio station Southern Sound who seemed to feature ‘Wonderful Life’ on an endless playlist.

Efterklang - Piramida

Since they released the beautiful Parades, an album that was built around dozens of musicians, Efterklang have taken a tactic of stripping things back and then building them up again. 2010’s Magic Chairs was built around a traditional band recording on to which they added layers of additional instruments later. Piramida seems to repeat the trick, only with a sparse and somber electronic foundation to build upon.

It is this foundation that harks back to 1980s, with vocal, keyboard and percussion production sounds lifted straight from that era. Even with dozens of guest musicians on hand to add voices, horns and keyboard sounds it is the least orchestrated album that the band has produced. It is also the least accessible, taking several listens to warm to. It is a album that takes time to reveal itself, but it is worth the initial persistence to let it unravel its charms.

It is not an album that will appeal if you are looking for catchy melodies or a sing-a-long chorus, the songs brood and build and work their way into your brain over time. That doesn’t mean that there is no immediacy to the album, the jazzy ‘The Ghost’ sounds wonderful on first listen and opener ‘Hollow Mountain’ offers lively string stabs and choral vocals to draw you into the album.

Albums like this, song collections that demand you listen to them in sequence several times to fully understand them, are becoming more and more anachronistic as downloading single tracks or listening on shuffle becomes the common form of consumption. On Piramida you’ll get the best experience from listening to the tracks in sequence through to the glitchy ‘Between the Walls’ and the beautiful vocals and flutes of ‘Monument’. If you do that a couple of times through you’ll find that this is one of the most rewarding listening experiences of the year so far.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Top Ten Books About Music – Updated

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Top Ten Books About Music – Updated

Posted on 27 September 2012 by Joe

There’s plenty of rubbish books about music out there. Hatchet jobs, cobbling together a potted history of a band that adds nothing to understanding their music. But once in a while a real gem comes along, offering a different, sometimes personal take on the music industry. Here’s ten of the best music books around that are not only a good read but offer the reader the chance to really get to know the subject matter.

1. Lester Bangs – Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung


Lester Bangs is a legend among music writers, portrayed by Phillip Seymour-Hoffman in the film Almost Famous and died tragically at the age of 33 in 1982. For some he is one of America’ best writers, it just so happens that he wrote music reviews in the likes of Rolling Stone rather than novels.

Perhaps his best trait is that he wrote about how music made him feel, rather than whether it will be a hit. Among the highlights here are his review of a Barry White gig recounting the grotesque caped image of ‘bulbosity’ wandering around murmuring about “lurve” in a hundred different ways. His time with The Clash on tour in 1977 is another high point, as is his arguments with Lou Reed and thoughts on John Lennon’s death. “Did you see all those people standing in the street in front of the Dakota apartment where Lennon lived singing “Hey Jude”? What do you think the real — cynical, sneeringly sarcastic, witheringly witty and iconoclastic – John Lennon would have said about that?” This excellent collection of Bangs work is a must for all music fans.

2. Rob Young – Electric Eden 

What started off as a look at the explosion of folk rock bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s soon turned into an epic exploration of UK folk music taking in the  Victorian era through to the modern day; from Vaughn Williams to David Sylvian and Holtz to Talk Talk. While the musical forms of folk music differ, all those featured in this weighty tome have the same attribute in common; a desire to find Albion in music.

It is the golden era of folk that Young started to explore that still dominates this book, but by turning the very notion of folk music on its head and spanning multiple generations of musicians Young has created one of the most absorbing, clever and inspiring books about British music.

3. John Peel – Margrave of the Marshes

John Peel died while writing his autobiography. He’d barely got started, reaching about 1960 and the beginning of his life as a DJ in the US. His widow Sheila takes over the story from there and what follows is as much about the couple as the DJ and the history of alternative music over the last 40 years.

Even though the bulk of the book is told from Sheila’s view, it is pure Peel. She knew his thoughts on the future of British radio and music better than anyone. There’s some great stuff here. The couple’s friendship and fall out with Marc Bolan and the later years when Peel started recording his show at home. The anecdote about the many members of Belle and Sebastian performing across the house for one of the legendary Peel sessions is particularly endearing.

4.Simon Reynolds – Rip It Up and Start Again

While Lester Bangs writes about how music makes him feel Reynolds takes another tact, how music is influenced by and influences society. This is his take on that largely unwritten part of music history 1978 to 1984. The over analysed punk of 1976 to 1977 is just the beginning for him and the story is particularly insightful of John Lydon’s musical influences, reggae and even prog rock that was so despised by the early punks.

Across the book, there are thoughts on Devo, Pere Ubu, Magazine and others. Often it is tales of missed opportunities, of pretension and of artists failing to live up to expectation like Vic Goddard of Subway Sect and Howard Devoto of Magazine.

5. Dave Simpson – The Fallen


The Fall fan and journalist Simpson’s attempt to track down all 50 plus members and ex members of the band almost ends up destroying his life. It’s a tough job, which he miraculously pretty much achieves. What emerges is a bizarre picture of life working for and with Fall frontman Mark E Smith, which at times, according to Simpson’s book, is like working in a Victorian factory, with Smith as the mill-owner.

Simpson even gets to interview the man himself  but it is the memories of the more recent members plus the infamous fight on stage in New York where Smith ended up sacking the entire band that  are among the true highlights.

6. Luke Haines  – Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part In It’s Downfall.

As lead singer with the Auteurs Haines’ reluctantly found himself part of the heady time of Britpop in the mid 1990s. This stunningly written and above all funny look back of that time is full of vicious musings about those around him. For us at Neonfiller we particularly  like the recurring appearance of Noel Gallagher, who annoyingly for Haines turns out to be a nice bloke despite his “mindless northern bluff”.

Others to get a tongue lashing including Radiohead’s Thom Yorke – “that most heinous of creatures, a heavy rock outfit, fright-wig and all” and Blur – “those habitual bandwagon jumpers”.  It’s the classic tale of a nearly man of modern music, who while convinced of his own genius is painfully aware of his own failings.

7. Chris Twomey – Chalkhills and Children

The story of XTC is one of the most interesting in modern music. The band of friends from Swindon, driven by the songwriting genius of Andy Partridge, who are to this day one of the UK’s most beloved bands despite never reaching the commercial success their talents deserved.

Poor management and business decisions coupled with Partridge’s crippling stage fright, which prevented them from touring from 1982 just when their album English Settlement and its global hit single Sense Working Overtime were about to propel them to the big time. They soldiered on for another 18 years producing critically acclaimed albums but sinking further into a Kafka-eque music business hole that included going on strike from their label Virgin. All of this is told wonderfully by Chris Twomey who interviews the band, their producers and those that know them. Most of the band’s members still live in Swindon making them the George Bailey of modern music, full of talent and wonder but never able to leave the town their grew up in.

8. Julian Cope – Head On

Head On is the story of Julian Cope’s discovery of the Liverpool punk scene and his subsequent adventures as an (almost) pop star with The Teardrop Explodes. His drug-fuelled adventures with the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Bill Drummond and David Balfe (the subject of Blur’s ‘Country House’) are hilarious and often astonishing. Cope proves to be a very accomplished writer and his honest account of his own, very flawed, personality make this book a compulsive read.  The book now comes packed with the sequel, Repossessed, a worthy if more downbeat successor.

9. Bill Drummond – 45

45 is the age that Drummond reached when he decided to write this series of memoirs, it is also the speed of a 7-inch single. The bulk of the memoir tells of his days as a man who was obsessed with nothing more than the pursuit of a hit single.

Drummond is a witty writer, and his life has been interesting enough to make these tales into real page-turners. The best bits are the descriptions of his time with the KLF and the K Foundation as they attempted ever more outrageous stunts. There’s a real sense of sadness as Drummond looks back and is filled with real doubts about what he has achieved.

10. James Greer  – Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll

Guided By Voices are the ultimately indie-rock act. They have produced dozens of albums, recorded many of them (quite literally) in a garage and have a strong cult following. They have also been a fairly insular act, not touring for many years and rarely appearing in interviews. Pollard himself being far too busy writing and recording to do much else.

Greer has a unique insight into the band being both a fan and also one of the revolving cast of players in the bands 21-year existence. He is also a music journalist and his writing on the band is of a very high quality.

The book deals with Pollard as a songwriter and also the band as a group of friends who meet and drink in a garage in Dayton Ohio. The stories jumping backwards and forwards between the bands final tour and their inception when Pollard was a 30-something school teacher are consistently engaging and have a pleasant, personal feel.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

Editors Note: This is an updated version of a list that first appeared in Neon Filler in 2009. Since then we’ve realised we should have included Chris Twomey’s Chalkhills and Children due to it being such a compelling  tale of a band that never quite fulfilled their potential. We have also since read Rob Young’s Electric Eden. This fascinating look at British folk music is a deserved new edition to the list. 

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Picture Special – Richard Hawley

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Picture Special – Richard Hawley

Posted on 27 September 2012 by Dorian

Photographer Steve George captured the Mercury Prize nominated singer live at Brighton’s Dome on 19th September 2012.

Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley

To see more of Steve’s work, or to book him, please visit his website http://stevegeorgephotography.co.uk.

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Clara Luzia – The Range

Clara Luzia – The Range

Posted on 27 September 2012 by Joe

The music media is inundated with a barrage of press releases and promos each day. In such a world that is driven by technology there’s a wonderful irony that word of mouth has become the best way for emerging artists to ensure their work is even heard.

I’m not sure I’d have given a press release, tweet or Facebook update telling me about Austrian singer songwriter Clara Luzia’s new album The Range, a moment’s notice if it wasn’t for a bloke called Dave at an Allo Darlin’ gig recommending her.

He explained how talented she was, how great her voice but also how difficult it was for an artist from Austria to get gigs, radio play and attention in the UK. To put it bluntly singer songwriters with good voices are ten a penny round our way.

Intrigued by Dave’s enthusiasm, we checked her out on Youtube, sent an email to her PR firm, the new album was duly delivered and it turns out Dave was bang on.

The Range, her first international album and showcasing some of the best tracks from her previous albums, is full of interesting twists and turns on the basic singer songwriter genre. Her voice firstly is the most interesting, with a similar croaky mix of vulnerability and power that The Cardigan’s Nina Persson excelled at.

It’s an  accessible and appealing voice even if The Range’s opener Morning Light, which dates back to 2007, serves up a vocal curveball,  in that she sounds a little like Yoko Ono amid this track’s wonderful terrace chanting chorus.

Backed by a range of instruments, including piano and clarinet, this mix adds something different to the usual indie drums, bass and guitar fare. It is where the piano thuds in on tracks such as Love in Times of War, which appeared on last year’s album Falling Into Place,  where the blend of vocals and instruments shines. This track in particular has a marvellous epic quality.

The Gardener Of The Ground Below is another stormer, slow, moody chamber pop akin to the likes of Ra Ra Riot.

The album takes a slight dip in the middle with Faces, featuring spoken word verse by Emma McGlynn, which sounds a little cheesy, like the All Saints Never Ever. It’s a shame as the chorus is great. Next track Tidal is also among the album’s weaker moments, but surprisingly it takes the reggae rhythm of sixth track Fine to hook me back in. Her voice is remarkable here, and it’s this track that could just be a surprise hit in the UK, with its strong remix potential.

Final mention goes to Queen of the Wolves, a stomping blend of pop and folk that reminds me of another act that came to us through word of mouth, one of our Ones To Watch for 2012 Alice Gun.

Can Luzia, who has won an Austrian Music Award for her 2007 release The Long Memory and founded her first band 13 years ago, succeed in bringing her compelling voice and music to more UK ears? Dave certainly hopes so, and who are we to argue with the power of word of mouth.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information visit Clara Luzia’ website here.

 

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Robert Pollard – Jack Sells The Cow

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Robert Pollard – Jack Sells The Cow

Posted on 25 September 2012 by Dorian

2012 seems like a slow year by Robert Pollard standards, it is almost October and this is only his second solo album release. Even with three Guided By Voices albums and touring duties it is a slowdown compared to 2011 where he released six albums across five different identities, including the years best album in Boston Spaceships’s double album final release. Five albums in one year (and eleven in two) is an absurd amount by any other artist, but the prolific Mr.Pollard has never had a problem with song writing quantity.

Robert Pollard - Jack Sells The Cow

The song writing quantity has sometimes lead to a quality control issue, and this has always been most noticeable on his side projects and solo releases, with Guided By Voices and then Boston Spaceships being the vehicles for his most structured albums. Recently though he has shown more of an even standard on his solo offerings, something that has reduced the number of throwaway numbers but has also made his work just that bit more predictable.

From that point of view Jack Sells The Cow doesn’t start off brilliantly, ‘Heaven Is A Gated Community’ is a Pollard by numbers mid-paced rocker that sounds all too familiar. It isn’t a bad song, Pollard is too good a writer for that, but it doesn’t grab me or offer anything new. Song three, ‘Who’s Running My Ranch’, is where the album really starts to kick in with voice samples, vocal overdubs, Batman theme bass and some pleasingly erratic guitars making the song an early high-point. It also illustrates a step forward for his work with Todd Tobias as they seem to be more comfortable and adventurous in the studio.

There are also a couple of songs that throw back all the way to the first ever Guided By Voices release, Forever Since Breakfast, in that they demonstrate Bob’s early REM influence. This is most notable on the bounce and jangle of the sprightly ‘Pontius Pilate Heart’, this is alt-pop at its best and could easily have been sung by a young Michael Stipe. Hearing Bob sound this free and light of touch is refreshing and it is on these songs that the album makes its mark.

There are some great noisy rockers on the album, ‘Fighting The Smoke’ has some beautifully dirty bass sounds, and nobody else does over-effected vocals this well. However, it is on the quieter moments where the songs really shine through here. ‘Red Rubber Army’ is one of those songs that sounds unique and familiar all at once, a melody so deceptively simple that you know Bob wrote it in a few minutes, close to perfect.

Robert Pollard will release better solo albums than this, possibly later this year, but by any standards this is a good record with a few moments of genuine genius.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Festival Number 6, Portmeirion, Wales

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Festival Number 6, Portmeirion, Wales

Posted on 24 September 2012 by Joe

Festival number 6 must be one of the last large musical gatherings of a year in which the UK weather dominated and indeed ruined many like minded ventures.

To hold the inaugural Festival number 6 in Wales, which has more rain per day than Rangoon does in its monsoon season, seems like a damp and sodden suicidal  invitation to the rain dogs. Thankfully though the September weather failed to prevent the multitudes from revelling in one of year’s most gloriously surreal weekends of diverse entertainment.

First up let’s talk about the location, Portmeirion, a large sprawling fake Italian village constructed years ago, embedded on the tumbling down to the sea Welsh coastline, made famous globally as the set of cult sixties TV show The Prisoner, with its distinct  houses, towers, verandas and bandstands. It’s an inspired choice of venue for a festival as the village was taken over, the local woods turned into mini raves, the bandstands into tiny venues and the large lawns atop the village holding a huge 7,000 capacity marquee. It was magnificently and meticulously organised.

King Creosote

The line up as well was superb, leaving our jaws agape as we tripped the light fantastic with Spiritualized, got our rocks off with Primal Scream, who in middle age have turned into the leanest of  kick ass rock machines. Their track Loaded never sounded more apt as the sights at the festival went from the sublime to the ridiculous as we witnessed three ladies in twenties bathing suits swimming in a tiny, tiny pool, a semi clad fire dancer doing her stuff to a dubstepped up version of War Pigs, Stuart Maconie interviewing Simon Day, King Creosote and one of our favourite live acts Stealing Sheep stealing our hearts with their skewed sideways folk rockery.

Stealing Sheep

We dined on Brains bitter and Italian fancies, met no VIPS in the VIPs tent and stood slack jawed at the awesomeness of Oldham’s The Whip, who used lights and one of the best sound systems I’ve ever heard all to great effect. We witnessed The Wedding Presents’ David Gedge thrashing out Brassneck, poets both good and bad and…. coming to a large venue near you soon, Tony Law rocking the comedy tent.

On Saturday night I wasn’t the only one moved to tears when a large male voice choir bizarrely covered ‘Blue Monday’ and went on to dedicate ‘You’ll never walk alone’ to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. It was absolutely incredible. New Order, themselves were also on the bill and continued to reduce grown men to tears. To put it bluntly this was simply one of the best festival I’ve ever been to as the withdrawal symptoms continue. We understand that all being well this could be a fixture in the festival calendar for another three years at least.

Rain gods you cannot defeat us. To paraphrase New Order, we were touched by the hand of god…or it could just have been Prisoner star Patrick Magoohan?

Words by John Haylock, pictures by John Haylock and Arthur Hughes.

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Race Horses – Furniture

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Race Horses – Furniture

Posted on 23 September 2012 by Dorian

Reviews of the latest Race Horses album seem to lazily continue to compare them to Gorkys Zygotic Mynci and The Super Furry Animals as if it is essential to have a Welsh reference point for the band. Whilst it is true that there were some similarities to those acts on their 2010 debut (the album that spawned the brilliant 60s tinged single ‘Cake’) it is far from a meaningful reference point for their sophomore effort Furniture.

Race Horses - Furniture

In reality this album shows the band moving away from the psychedelic touches and adopting a 80s pop production sheen. In terms of song styles Pulp (circa His and Hers) is close, but in no way is this album lacking originality.

It is an album of mixed success, veering from the sublime to dull too often across the 10 tracks on offer. When the band want to produce quirky slick pop, as on the title track and the bouncy ‘Mates’, it works brilliantly and fully lives up to the promise of their debut. However, when they slow it down as on ‘Nobody’s Son’ I’m reaching for the skip button and remembering how much I always hated Ultravox as a child.

‘Sisters’ is the album’s stand-out track, reminiscent of Pulp’s ‘Babies’ (one of the great singles of the Brit-Pop era), and is probably my most replayed song so far this year. If students still have indie discos then this song deserves to be a floor filler for freshers round the country this term.

‘What Am I To Do’ fares better of the slower numbers, but is followed by a short inconsequential piece of filler before the classic pop tricks return on ‘Bad Blood’ which features some great falsetto singing. The good patch continues with the synth-pop sounds of ‘My Year Abroad’, the first single from the album, and ‘See No Green’ which is another of the better judged slower numbers.

Sadly the album finishes with ‘Old and New’ and we are back in Ultravox territory again, this may be an attempt to be moody but it is dull stuff and plays to few of the band’s strengths.

Race Horses are a very good band and Furniture is almost the great album they are clearly capable of making. If you pick it up I’d be surprised if you regret it, but you may find yourself reaching for the skip button on a few occasions.

7/10

By Dorian Rogers

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David Byrne & St.Vincent – Love This Giant

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David Byrne & St.Vincent – Love This Giant

Posted on 17 September 2012 by Dorian

Collaborations are something to approach with caution, for every example where the combining artists bring out the best in each other (Iron & Wine and Calexico) there is another where the worst of both is brutally exposed (the appalling Lulu by Lou Reed and Metallica). The good news is that Love This Giant, the work of David Byrne and Annie Clark AKA St.Vincent, falls firmly into the former category and may well be my favourite album of the year so far.

Love This Giant

Love This Giant has the sound of a true collaboration, both artists seemingly having an equal role in the creative process and performance here. There are a couple of moments where each could be guesting on the others record, ‘Ice Age’ and ‘Outside of Space and Time’ being the only songs credited to just Clark or Byrne on the album. On most tracks the sound is so cohesive that you’d think the pair had been working to together for much longer than the two years that it took to take this album from idea to public release.

Both artists come from an art school background, and have displayed tendancies in the past to let the concept crush the execution in their music, something that often leads to records that are moreinteresting than enjoyable. Love This Giant, from the opening seconds of the brilliant ‘Who’ shows itself to be a fun, high quality, set of pop music. It is clever and sophisticated, but never in a way that stops the music being accessible.

The decision to work with a brass band throughout proves to be a masterstroke, giving the album a clear identity. Combined with some brilliant guitar from Bryne and Clark, and some subtle drum programming you have an album that really does sound like nothing else you’ll hear this year.

It is hard to pick out key tracks on an album of such a consistantly high quality, but ‘The One Who Broke Your Heart’, featuring the Dap Kings and Antibalas, has “should have been a top 10 hit” written all over it.

Both parties seem to have been inspired by the collaboration, Clark sounds more natural and less mannered than on her solo work and this is the best thing that Byrne has done for years, even putting his most recent Eno collaboration in the shade.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Jim Noir  – Jimmy’s Show

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Jim Noir – Jimmy’s Show

Posted on 17 September 2012 by Joe

Jim Noir, aka Greater Manchester based singer songwriter Alan Roberts, has been knocking around for a few years now peddling his DIY Beach Boys take on English pop with increasing critical acclaim. We are fans here, his music is interesting and full of wonderful hooks and influences from 60s psycheldia, Brian Wilson through to 80s electro pop.

So what does Jimmy’s Show, his latest album, add to the Noir collection? More of the same sumptuous pop harmonies and nods to English pop through the ages. But there’s an added edge with this album, which is arranged in two halves; the first full of his usual 1960s whimsy and the second turning darker, more austere with more of a 1980s synth pop influence. It’s a good mix, as while I enjoy the first half, there is a limit to how many songs about the Queen’s corgis, drinking tea and driving  an Escort Cosworth I can take.

Key songs in the whimsical half of Jimmy’s Show are the album’s first single Tea, and Sunny, with typically odd ball lyrics such as “riding a bike is tricky when your stabilizers are set in stone” amid lashings of harpsichord. Ping Pong Time Tennis, the one about the Queen’s corgis, is another highlight as it takes Noir’s whimsy to Bonzo-Dog Doh Dah Band proportions, complete with Vivian Stanshall impression.

On the second half Old Man Cyril with its new wave electro sounds and the slow psychedelic folk of Fishes and Dishes are among my favourites, with the latter providing a fitting close to the album.

Noir is one of those artists like Voluntary Butler Scheme and Rotifer that use their knowledge of pop music and skill in arranging to please both musos and those that just like a good tune.  Noir may not have hoards of screaming fans after him, but he’s still a pop star to us.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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