Archive | January, 2013

Glastonbury Emerging Talent Judging Update: Bands That Have Impressed Us So Far

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Glastonbury Emerging Talent Judging Update: Bands That Have Impressed Us So Far

Posted on 31 January 2013 by Joe

As a judge in the Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition I’m spending the next few weeks wading through around 200 tracks of up and coming indie/alternative/folk acts, writes Neonfiller.com’s Joe Lepper.

There’s around 40 of us music blogging journalists judging this year, all tasked with picking our favourite three tracks with the aim of creating a long list of talent to go to festival bosses, including Emily and Michael Eavis.

In total 8,000 acts submitted entries and eventually a shortlist of just eight will emerge with the bands asked to battle it out at the Pilton Working Man’s Club for a chance to win a main stage slot at the festival.

It’s a great prize but the competition also gives bands the chance to make contact with the online music journalism community. So even if you don’t win the top prize, or even make the long list, its still a great chance for publicity and to make contact with music journalists.

In this first update I’ll be introducing you to a couple of the acts that have caught my ear in the early stages of judging. Their inclusion here should obviously be taken as an indication that I like them, but not that they will be in my final top three. I’ve plenty more to wade through before I make that choice. Also I ask that any bands that I mention here or in further updates do not get in contact with me during the judging process.

Swnami

First band to interest  me was by coincidence the very first clip I clicked on, Wales’s Swnami and their track Mynd a Dod. They look about 12-years old but play with the confidence of a far older band, with their tracks full of the epic indie rock qualities of Sigor Ros mixed with the smart pop of early XTC or early Foals.

Their unique selling point, not that its that unique in Wales, is that they sing in Welsh, with it’s beautiful rolling vowels giving their music a real edge and a welcome change from the usual Americanisms and mockney we hear among indie rock bands.

Super Squarecloud

Next band that has stood out so far is Super Squarecloud, a five piece that bills itself as Maths rock. Even after a few seconds you can tell they are a little bit different,  on their very mathsy track Lolly Moon. The opening heavy guitar riff jerks in and out in time seemingly only with itself, while their vocalist  Jo Ford sings sweetly over it. It jerks about a bit more, giving the listener no chance to even get  an abacus out to calculate the rhythm.

It’s odd, strange, beautiful pop that you certainly can’t dance to and is all the better for it. Great stuff, especially for fans of other innovative UK bands such as Free Swim and Special Benny. The three of them should tour together; it’d be one hell of a show.

 

We’ll post more updates after our next trawl through the entries.

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Tom Morgan  – Orange Syringe

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Tom Morgan – Orange Syringe

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Joe

The Lemonheads songwriter and former Smudge frontman Tom Morgan has stripped things right down on his latest solo album Orange Syringe to emphasise the deeply personal storytelling nature of his songwriting. It is Morgan’s harshly real lyricism that stands out and it’s often pitted against a dark and brooding sound; usually led by acoustic and slide guitars.

The listener is first plummeted into this introspective world on opener One True Love, then again on track two Best Thing For Baby, which has a boozy break-up feel to it. However, the melancholia and slow-hand strum of this style usually has enough of a hook to it to draw you in. Later on, Awkward Living sounds similarly downtrodden but comes out fighting and actually glides out quite optimistically on an organ sound.

The Australian singer first rose to prominence in the 1990s with grunge pop outfit Smudge and later as writer for The Lemonheads, penning hits such as It’s A Shame About Ray. It is no surprise when the pace picks up that the sound of this era that comes to the fore. A notable comparison could be Pavement or perhaps some of Grandaddy’s poppier moments. Both Taste For Blood and Fatherland have a rockier and more upbeat – even playful – feel.

I’ll provide the wine is again a bit jauntier, seeing as Morgan is documenting his family history while buying a bottle of wine, yet he hasn’t abandoned his dark humour completely. Virtuoso too is another low-fi rocker, penned around the refrain “Have a little patience, in a week it’s going to be concrete”. Jungle Boy offers up something unique in the context; a short blast built on an edgy, grunge riff.

Penultimate number Mess With The Bull has an intricate acoustic riff and brings to mind Elliot Smith. Musically it switches between minor and major chordswhilst lyrically the switch is between humour and something more sinister;something that suggests dark clouds are on the horizon. It is a trait that could define the album.

Closer Final Final The One The One leaves things with a heavy heart, while electric guitar and organ providing just a bit of life. Perhaps Morgan’s voice is a major factor behind such a melancholic mood but Orange Syringe is at times a struggle, although this is unlikely to put off fans of his work who will be well aware of Morgan’s style and its undoubted charm. In the right time and place its disarmingly open lyrics are impressive and ultimately it becomes an enjoyable listen for those new to his work.

6/10

By Matthew Nicholson

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Men Without Hats First European Tour In 20 Years

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Men Without Hats First European Tour In 20 Years

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Joe

Canadian synth pop legends Men Without Hats will be performing in the UK for the first time this week (Feb 1)  to promote their latest album Love In The Age of War.

The UK date at London’s Islington O2 Academy will mark the start of a European tour that also takes in dates in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Sweden. Full details can be found here.  We’ll be at their London show with a review to follow next week.

This latest tour  for the band,  which is fronted by Ivan Doroschuk,  follows a US tour last year with The B-52s and The Human League.

While 1983’s single The Safety Dance is their biggest and most well known single it is their 1984 album Folk of the 80s (Part III) that has most impressed us during their career. Here’s a clip of the title track, one of our favourites from that album.

by Joe Lepper

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Cocteau Twins Guitarist Robin Guthrie To Tour UK

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Cocteau Twins Guitarist Robin Guthrie To Tour UK

Posted on 29 January 2013 by Joe

Robin Guthrie to a generation of stargazers and shoegazers remains the unlikely godlike guitar hero who accompanied the suitably ethereal vocals of Elizabeth Fraser in the legendary Cocteau Twins.

His often beautiful guitarscapes became an integral and iconic part of one of the eighties most revered and influential bands, creating such classics as Victorialand, Heaven or Las Vegas, Head over Heels and Treasure. Their music still resonates and reverberates, it remains timeless.

Since the Cocteau Twins split in the late nineties Robin has gone on to forge a large body of instrumental solo work, working with such luminaries as Harold Budd and currently ex-Ride frontman Mark Gardener.

His immediately recognizable style with its  great swathes of hugely melodic FX , echoing and billowing, like snow falling on amplifiers, is also evident on his current album ‘Fortune’

Next month (Feb)  he is heading out on the road for a 17- date UK tour. We will be reviewing the first date at Nottingham’s Glee Club. For full details of the tour click here.

by John Haylock

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Dennis Wilson  – Pacific Ocean Blue

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Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue

Posted on 29 January 2013 by Joe

When a rock star dies young, in sad and mysterious circumstances, their works often become mythologised. That’s particularly true of Dennis Wilson and the once-rare Pacific Ocean Blue. Yet, despite the bullshit surrounding it, this remains a fine album.

Even for those non-Beach Boys fans out there, it’s worth plunging into these azure shallows of 70s mellow rock. But the fans should be warned: this is no early classic rock n’ roll era Surfin’ Safari, nor is it anything like the awesome experimental Pet Sounds era. It really doesn’t sound like any Beach Boys album you’ll have heard (even the later ones).

Indeed, the purity of the Beach boys harmonies are a million miles from the haggard soulfulness of the boozefucked mid-70s Dennis Wilson. The middle Wilson brother’s inner struggle eventually outstripped the more famous Brian’s own mental and cognitive implosion – and his tale was sensitively portrayed in the recent BBC 4 documentary, Dennis Wilson: the real Beach Boy (available episodically on Youtube).

The ocean really is at the heart of this record. But unlike the overt faux surfy themes that created so many great earlier Wilson/Jardine/Love tunes, in Pacific Ocean Blue the sea appears as a meditiative theme of the record – not a concept or cheap gimmick. It’s actually cocktail of an album of love, loss and soul that is infused with warm salty liquid lushness. On paper it shouldn’t work. This is a washed-up 60s band drummer going solo in the glam rock/pop era at the dawn of punk. Now-unfashionable blues, gospel, synth and a host of other influences place this album squarely in the 1970s. Yet Pacific Ocean Blue has somehow achieved a timeless quality. And I think what makes it work so well is the over-riding feel of the record being made by a repentant bad boy with time to think. Dennis Wilson may have been the George Best of rock n’ roll, but his aimlessness, his rootlessness, his anchorlessness, actually meshes this album’s material.

Dennis – the surfer, the slacker, the boozer, the shagger – spent more than five years putting this together. Maybe it matured in whisky, but that time was well worth it. Nothing demonstrates this fact that two of the best tracks never made it to the original 12-track LP and remain as instrumentals on the reissued 16-track CD version. I have to admit to being deeply moved by the instrumental Holy Man. The opening piano chords make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. There’s a deja vu in it. I feel like I heard these synths on one of my dad’s old LPs (I almost certainly didn’t as it was never released). The only comparison I can find is a defunked sound of The Commodores classic instrumental, Machine Gun. The other fine instrumental, Mexico, is a simple hispanic piano/acoustic/trumpet combo. It updates flavours of Rodrigo’s Concerto D’Aranjeuz, that could easily – but never does – stray into Herb Alpert territory.

Although I initially had my reservations, Pacific Ocean Blue is one of those rare albums that grows incrementally more beautiful with each listen. The originally released tracks meld Wilson’s influences and suffuse them in balmy Californian currents. Tug of Love (Feel the Pull) is beautifully sad and is the most Beach Boys-like in it’s harmonics. As the track progresses it becomes a synthy spiritual that could just as easily have been among the late 90s efforts of J. Spaceman.  At other times – the start of the blues-y Friday Night for instance – there are hints of maybe The Doors, or perhaps even a foretelling of Dire Straits (shock! Horror!), while at the same time it evokes a thunderous oceanic tempest, as well as inner turmoil. Clever.

Sadness is truly available in bucketloads here, especially with Thoughts of You, a song that pulls the heartstrings. Ending with the line, “Silently you touch my face”, it could be a love poetry, a break-up line, but which just makes me want to burst into tears in the context of his subsequent untimely death.

The title track is definitely the most upbeat-sounding of the album. Yet, while the name superficially suggests a vivid seascape, the theme is heavily borrowed from the more overt Beach Boys track Don’t Go Near The Water. In fact, the line “It’s no wonder, the Pacific Ocean is blue” is one of the weakest on the album. Perhaps the upbeat feel was a sop to the record company to give them a  single from what is, very much, a selection of tracks designed to be an album.

That album feel is firmly established by the Side A opening track, River Song, an intensely soaring glam rock-spiritual. It’s another flaw of the album that there’s too little of this epic spiritual influence and too much mid-70s glam boogie-woogie zeitgeist-surfing influence at play. Conversely, Dreamer with its funkhorn, Isaac Hayes like interludes could have been recorded in no other decade than the 1970s. And that’s a very good thing.

While Pacific Ocean Blue is a child of its time, all the songs remain fresh and there’s something that’ll appeal to almost any music lover. The album comes complete with, not a wall of sound, but maybe a warming, embracing sonic air curtain. It’s many-layered quality has stylistic echoes down the decades to later artists. Time has an almost Radiohead-like clanging changeability, yet is still an orchestrated lovesong. The Flaming Lips may owe Dennis Wilson a good deal, while Playground Love, the first track of Air’s Virgin Suicides soundtrack is a near facsimile of the minor key intro of End of the Show.

On it’s 1977 release, Pacific Ocean Blue only flirted with the US Billboard Hot 100 for a few months and then disappeared into obscurity and deletion. This inevitably contributed to some of the hipsterish have-you-heard-ism. Ultimately, so did the fact that six years after Pacific Ocean Blue was released Dennis Wilson was found drowned – allegedly in the foetal position – in that self-same blue water at Marina del Ray, behind Venice Beach in Los Angeles. He was just 39.

Please don’t glibly believe the hype about this record. Just listen to it. Immerse yourself in the warm ocean and let yourself drift.

By Rob Finch

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Top 10 – Epics

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Top 10 – Epics

Posted on 27 January 2013 by Dorian

I’m a big fan of the purity of the three minute pop song, concise and exciting it takes some beating. However, sometimes you want to hear something with a bit more substance, a song that you can get lost in that twists and turns and draws you in. These epic songs don’t come along often, and they can take some time to appreciate, but they often end up as your favourite track by an artist.  Below we present our top ten epics. We’ve set an arbitrary minimum length of seven minutes to qualify for the list, but the longest track here clocks in at a whopping 17:43. This could take some time…

1. Yo La Tengo – Night Falls On Hoboken

2. Television – Marquee Moon

3. Wilco – Spiders (Kidsmoke)

4. Of Montreal – The Past Is A Grotesque Animal

5. The Stone Roses – I Am The Resurrection

6. Phosphorescent – Los Angeles

7. The Wedding Present – Take Me

8. My Bloody Valentine – Soon

9. Sparklehorse – Cow

10. The Velvet Underground – Sister Ray

Compiled by Dorian Rogers with suggestions from our Facebook followers.

For more epic tracks listen to our Spotify playlist, currently at 25 tracks long it clocks in at three hours listening time.

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Matthew E White – Big Inner

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Matthew E White – Big Inner

Posted on 23 January 2013 by Joe

We first became alerted to Matthew E White, the bearded behemoth of a musician and arranger from Virginia, when The Mountain Goats recruited him to organise the horn arrangements on their 2012 album Transcendental Youth. The deftness of the trumpets from his nine-piece band brought out new qualities in Mountain Goats man John Darnielle’s songwriting in one of the most successful collaborations of the year.

Around the same time he was also releasing his debut album Big Inner in the US, which has finally been released over here in the UK. Here White is putting his full band through their paces with a mission to blend New Orleans soul funk with the laid back qualities of country.  The end result is timeless country soul at its best and fans of Lambchop’s Nixon are going to love this.

Where this album is most successful is the big horn section numbers in particular Big Love.  This track starts off with squeaking sax, like a later Talk Talk track, before the killer bass line kicks in while the piano takes the melody behind White’s laid back vocals. Strings appear in places before the awe inspiring chorus complete with gospel choir backing vocals. Amazing stuff.

Much of the rest of the album sticks to a more laid back groove, more akin to Lambchop than White’s more direct and evident soul funk influences. The melancholic Hot Toddies and opener One of These Days provide some of the best of these relaxed moments.  The latter’s horn arrangement in particular is a work of beauty.

There is still time across its seven tracks to bring in some of the epic qualities that make Big Love such a killer track. The almost cinematic sounding gospel choir and refrain of “Jesus Christ is your friend’ on Brazos, which builds up wonderfully across its nine plus minutes, is a particular standout and proves a perfect closing track to one of this year’s most interesting UK releases.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Pink Fairies – Never Never Land

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Pink Fairies – Never Never Land

Posted on 21 January 2013 by Joe

The thing is, define psychedelia. Ok, I think we we can all agree Hendrix is the master psychsman. Our recent top ten albums from the golden age of psychedelia came to the same conclusion. After Jimi though all bets are off, one man’s bongo and bass marathon in Marrakesh is another man’s annoying fey folk whimsy recorded on bad acid under a conker tree in Hyde Park in 1967.

 

In my definition, certain criteria have to be met, the resulting work should take your brain to the  planet  Hargapaphon in the Greater Mushroom Spiral arm, (turn left at San Francisco, go straight on for 867 light years, when you see God, you’ve arrived ) blatant recreational drug use is highly desirable, being darlings of the late Sixties, early Seventies counter culture is a good thing, the use of backwards guitar is a sure fire winner, a far out sleeve can work wonders, oh , and it must be met with critical bemusement, hostility or indifference. Ladbroke Grove based Pink Fairies and their debut 1971 album Never Never Land fulfills most of those criteria …with knobs on.

Theirs was a convoluted gestation (see Rich Deakins highly readable ‘Keep it together’ for further enlightenment) with their previous incarnation the Social Deviants with Mick Farren at the helm,  but by the time of Never Never Land the band was Paul Rudolph lead guitar, John Alder (also known as Twink) drums, Duncan Sanderson , bass, and Russell Hunter, more drums.

Polydor signed them up in 1970 and they recorded a non-album single, ‘The snake’ in January  71. The label was impressed enough to offer them a deal for a debut album which duly arrived a few months later, housed in an iconic sleeve portraying the band cartoon-like as fairies and pixies  sitting on a planet looking out into the universe, once seen never forgotten. Never Never Land  was raw, it was rock but not overtly so, it had  light and shade, it had elements of rebellion, nihilism and pure escapism, needless to say the band weren’t too happy with it. They felt they had failed to capture the wild freakoutness of their legendary live shows, but I disagree totally it’s an album that lights my fire every time I play it.

Let’s try and convey some of that magic to you dear reader. The album starts with Do It ( the b-side of The Snake single and features on this excellent compilation by Kris Needs), which  introduces itself with  a misleading  acoustic strum, then  suddenly erupts in your face  with a rush of freaked out rock n roll, inciting us all to ‘do it, don’t talk about it maaaaaaaaan if you ain’t gonna do it, do it, do it’ ….

‘Heavenly man’ on the other hand is a  gloriously sublime slice of slippery psych with Paul pulling out a repeated guitar effect that takes your breath away, is it about God ?, is about a gay relationship ?… who cares ?!…when the lovely lyric hits ‘ smiling down on me’ it is beyond brilliant.

‘Say that you love me’ is like a powered up mad Indian pow wow dance; crazy riff, crazy guys. Towards the end Paul pulls off effortless spiraling notes, Twink hits those skins hard as hell and lyrics seem secondary. ‘War girl’ is the most beautiful tune, a delightful rolling thread of bass and drums over Paul’s sustain laden guitar, and what a solo; restrained, yet disgorging emotion like you wouldn’t  believe. It is blues through the haze of a Hendrix soundtrack inspired acid vision.

The title track is a slowly building bonfire of  amazingly dexterous drum rolls and crashes. Paul then comes in with guitar, weaving and phasing,  and those drums, they jump out and take you to never never land, cue wah wah build up, higher and higher as it reaches a plateau, then blisses out with backward guitar overdubs and gentle  feedback.

‘Track 1 side 2’ Is actually track 1 track side 2 (who said hippies had no sense of humour ?). It has a mournful piano, drum and  vocal intro, most untypical of The Pinks, that is until the two minute mark when as if from nowhere the boogie arrives, the band mesh perfectly and hit meta psych riffola, my favourite solo of Paul’s ever, if it don’t move ya, you’re dead ….or a Tory. It’s mad, it’s far out, it’s  too bloody short.

‘Thor’ is a moments guitar FX respite before the onslaught recommences. ‘Teenage rebel’ is a playful rockin’ romp complete with a biting solo from Paul, at one point it tries to leave earth’s orbit before Twink throws in a solo for no apparent reason, then it’s banquet time , the centrepiece of the album rears its trippy head ‘Uncle Harry’s last freakout’,  an ode to rolling joints and ‘doing it’ for the people. It is ragged, it is lengthy and it is only rock ‘n’ roll but I love it as  Paul pulls out all the rabbits, lead, rhythm, riffs oh ! he’s all over it. Twink  and Russell keep  superhuman time, it is a planet sized monster of indulgence, but guess what? It works, with its closing  lament of  ‘you and me can be so very free’, it eases down only to build for the big crescendo, ‘scuse me while i  die. It is better than sex, it is the best drug ever, it is….the finale to Uncle Harry’s last freakout and it’s delirious !…..peace reigns. The closing track ‘The  dream is just beginning’ leaves us on an optimistic vision of the future, ‘we’re winning, we’re winning’.

So, all that’s left is for you to do is buy a copy.

by John Haylock

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Dutch Uncles – Out Of Touch In The Wild

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Dutch Uncles – Out Of Touch In The Wild

Posted on 20 January 2013 by Dorian

Dutch Uncle’s previous album, 2011’s Cadenza, was their first for the label Memphis Industries. The album was very enjoyable but did suffer from a lack of a distinctive sound, echoing label-mates Field Music and Versailles residents Phoenix over the album of precise pop music. Out Of Touch In The Wild fares better, despite being even more of a magpie’s nest that its predecessor.

Field Music are still the most obvious comparison point but a much heavier use of keyboards on the album, and a different approach to songwriting, mark the album out from being too much of a homage to the Brewis brothers. The album also owes a big musical debt to some of the shinier 80s pop acts, this glittery pop sheen being one of the things that works best on the album.

Dutch Uncles Out of Touch In The Wild

The album is of a very consistent quality, and with the ten tracks mostly clocking in around, or under, the three minute mark, it doesn’t suffer from much filler. The album’s two standout tracks come next to each other early on in the album. ‘Fester’ is driven by some wonderfully rhythmic marimbas, and wouldn’t be too out of place on a Hot Chip album. ‘Godboy’ is a classic piece of chamber-pop that suits Duncan Wallis’ high pitched vocals perfectly and demonstrates the lovely instrumental arrangements that make up the album.

Throughout the album Wallis sounds less mannered than he did on Cadenza, and whilst his vocals wont be to all tastes he is unlikely to be as divisive as someone like Hayden Thorpe from Wild Beasts. His dancing may be more of a cause for concern as the video for ‘Flexxin’, another of the album’s best tracks, shows below.

This is a slightly troubling album in that, despite the nice array of sounds on show, it doesn’t bring anything new to the party. Being a more electro-pop influenced version of Field Music may not be enough in the long term. However, this is a fresh and enjoyable album and has just enough identity to deserve a place in your collection.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Neonfiller among Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition 2013 judges

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Neonfiller among Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition 2013 judges

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Joe

We are pleased to announced that Neonfiller.com has been selected as one of 40 online music websites to take part in the judging for the Glastonbury Festival emerging talent competition.

The prize is a main stage slot at this year’s festival. Entry is free but bands have to be quick as the competition is only open from 9am Thursday 17 January to 5pm Thursday 24th January. More information about how to enter can be found here.

As a judge Neonfiller.com’s co-editor Joe Lepper will help compile a long list of 120 acts by sifting through tracks over the coming weeks and listing his favourite three acts.

The long list will then be whittled down further to just eight by a judging panel including organisers Michael and Emily Eavis ahead of a live final showcase in April.

Joe will be blogging regularly on Neonfiller.com  throughout the judging process with articles about the acts that have impressed him. His role as a judge also means he will be attending and reviewing this year’s festival.

Previous winners have included Stornoway, The Subways and Ellen and the Escapades.

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