Archive | January, 2014

Making Marks – A Thousand Half Truths

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Making Marks – A Thousand Half Truths

Posted on 28 January 2014 by Joe

Making Marks, the Norwegian act that were one of our highlights at 2013’s Indietrack’s festival, are indie pop with a country twist. It’s an effective blend, especially with the sad but beautiful vocals of singers Ola Innset and Nina Bø as well as the country twang of Innset’s picking style of electric guitar playing.

making marks

They’ve been touring across Europe for a while now, picking up admirers along the way and so this debut album feels long overdue. As befitting a band with a sad country lilt and indie pop sense of fun there is a range of emotions on display here, with Ticket Machine and Forgive and Forget providing the happy indie pop and Barcodes bringing a sad, country feel to the fore. The harmonies on Barcodes are particularly striking and Uten En Trad and Like Spinning are others with echoes of the US mid-west that work well.

Falling in Love Again feels a little like a filler track and lacks the spark of many of the others, but this is the only lacklustre one on an album of remarkable consistency.

Flying High Forever closes proceedings and showcases Innset’s best guitar work. As debuts go this is more than solid; it is an enjoyable, fun listen to a talented band that have a clear eye on a US audience as well as the indie-kids of Europe. It is little wonder that we included them in our Top Ten Acts To Watch Out for in 2014 feature.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

A Thousand Half- Truths is released on Fika Recordings on 3 February.

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Free Swim – Transatlantic Tumnus

Posted on 27 January 2014 by Dorian

We are delighted to see the return of globe-trotter Paul Coltofeanu, last seen in his Android Angel guise, as the panda-pop genius that is Free Swim. The new video, below, for the song Transatlantic Tumnus is the first taste of their new EP due out later this year.

By Dorian Rogers

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Rainer – Rainer EP

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Rainer – Rainer EP

Posted on 27 January 2014 by Rob Finch

Before I listen to them, I can tell I’m going to be fond of Rainer. Musical influences they cite include a night-bus journey through South London’s Elephant & Castle (a haunting experience at the best of times). I have hopes that this EP might be the perfect accompaniment to Ben Aaronovitch’s latest Rivers of London novel set in the abaondoned low-rise-strewn cityscape. This minor key musical mishmash hardly disappoints.

Rainer_credit_Kat_Green_and_Albertine_Tucknott_low-650x650

Truth be told, there are too many ideas going on in this EP, which was released at the tail end of 2013. And each track is slightly too long (the four tracks weigh in it more than 15 minutes). There are perhaps an albums-worth of influences, styles, tempos and the fusion doesn’t completely gel. Yet I think a surfeit of ideas is a positive sign for the future, and in other respects this is an exceptionally well-produced record.

Each of the songs is a dark slice of urban electronic storytelling. Hope is a lush and beautiful opener. It’s flighty and sinuous and the most uplifting and poppy of the bunch. Contrastingly the second track, Satin, is dark, authoritarian and grimily industrial. It puts me in mind of Robocop and the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin: frightening. And yet in parts it has echoes of that long-neglected classic Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega.

Glass, the third track makes very little sense musically. It’s a bleepy hammer-clash that somehow transforms into dreamy Enya, and finishes up feeling somewhere between Alison Goldfrapp and Florence Welch.

The fourth, Dreams, is a languidly mad lovesong, like something from a fucked-up Human League track. If this all sounds a little esoteric, it is. And yet, ­­Rainer’s quality shines through.

7/10

by Rob Finch

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The New Mendicants – Into the Lime

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The New Mendicants – Into the Lime

Posted on 24 January 2014 by Dorian

The New Mendicants are a harmony-pop supergroup of sorts formed in Toronto by Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub/Jonny), Joe Pernice (Scud Mountain Boys/Pernice Brothers) and drummer Mike Belitsky (The Sadies). It will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of any of their bands to hear that Into the Lime is a string of melodic pop gems with beautifully sung vocal harmonies.

The New Mendicants - Into the Lime

Most of the songs are soft, tuneful and filled with sparkling guitars and bitter-sweet lyrics. A couple of the tracks were submitted (and rejected) for a film version of Nick Hornby’s ‘A Long Way Down’ so suicide (specifically by jumping) is a recurring theme. It is hard to pick out the best of these tracks as the quality is so high throughout the 10 song 30 minute run, but ‘Follow You Down’ and ‘Out of the Lime’ would be my playlist picks after my first few listens. These are such pleasurable, soft and subtle songs, the kind of thing that leaves you sad and smiling at the same time, that you want to play them again as soon as they finish.

It isn’t an entirely subdued affair, ‘Shouting Match’ is a more fuzzed up effort and the albums closer ‘Lifelike Hair’ (sung I assume by Belitsky) has a raucous 60’s garage sound that is like nothing else on the album. It is a slightly odd choice, but coming at the end it doesn’t disturb the flow of the album and adds a different texture.

Fans of Norman Blake coming to this album may be initially dissapointed as Pernice handles the bulk of the lead vocals on the album (and I suspect wrote more of the songs here). However, Blake’s sound is all over the record. His harmony work is wonderful, the playing and arrangements have his stamp and it truly sounds like a partnership. His lead vocal, on a beautiful version of Sandy Denny’s ‘By the Time it Gets Dark’, is one of the highlights of the album.

The New Mendicants

I was lucky enough to see the band play live last night in Camden’s Dingwalls and feel the need to incorporate a short live write-up into this album review. The live incarnation is a slightly different proposition to the album, with just Blake and Pernice on stage and only acoustic guitars (plus some glockenspiel) being played.

The set is a mixture of album tracks, covers and songs by the duo’s various bands being played to a small but attentive crowd. Lead vocals switch between the two and songwriting is tossed back and forth throughout the set. It is as relaxed and proficient a performance as you’ll be likely to see this year with even the mistakes (a fumbled glockenspiel solo) handled like it is all part of the show. The banter is engaging also, with Norman’s noisy tapping foot and Joe’s professed unfamiliarity with Norman’s work being recurrent jokes through the night.

The new songs sound great live and the chance to hear The Scud Mountain Boy’s ‘Grudge Fuck’ and Teenage Fanclub classic ‘Everything Flows’ played by the duo is pretty magical stuff.

They still have a couple of UK dates left to play, so if you are in Dublin tonight or Glasgow tomorrow I urge you to see them play, and why not pick up a copy of the album while you’re there?

9/10 (10/10 for the live performance)

By Dorian Rogers

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Michael A Grammar – Random Vision EP

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Michael A Grammar – Random Vision EP

Posted on 24 January 2014 by Joe

From Nottingham via Manchester to Brighton Michael A Grammar are as English as a shepherd’s pie and pint.

magnew970

This Midlands four piece, who are now decamped to the south coast, are musically steeped in the sweat and baggy T-shirts of Madchester.  There are two ways of approaching this blatant pilfering of an era. The first is to dismiss them as unoriginal  and urge them to come up with their own sound. The second is to stop being such a cynical so and so and just accept that they are good, whether you’ve heard this kind or music before or not. We fall into the second camp here. They are good. In fact, they are really good and the four tracks on this EP are huge and packed full of confidence and attitude.

Ok, yes, we’ll freely admit that second track Suzanna sounds a bit like Reef, with singer and guitarist Frankie Mockett’s deep vocals and the track’s funky riff. But Reef are pretty much the most famous band from my area of Somerset so that’s another tick in our books.

The Day I Come Alive is about a quarter Stone Roses and three quarters Mock Turtles, but it is such a great tribute to those two bands’ early 1990s era that we’ll forgive the imbalance. Upstairs Downstairs ups the Stone Roses quota and ends up being the highlight of what is a pretty great EP. They at least seem to realise that that more Stone Roses is ultimately a good thing – another tick duly applied. And the guitar work on final track The Way You Move is a joy to behold and takes this author straight back to Reading Festival 1991.

So after hearing this  EP and seeing that they had been the focus of a Guardian article last year I was genuinely shocked that they only had around 100 Twitter followers at the time of reviewing. Surely on the evidence of this EP those numbers are destined to rocket?

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Hospitality – Trouble

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Hospitality – Trouble

Posted on 23 January 2014 by Joe

Hospitality produced one of the best, if not the best debut album, we’ve heard in recent years back in 2012. The Brooklyn trio’s self titled release on Fire Records was a masterclass in indie music songwriting, with singer Amber Papini’s delivery and lyrics perfectly encapsulating the thoughts of young urbanites trapped in boring office jobs and dreaming of a better life.

hospitality_promo

But what also marked them out was that they had enough savvyness to appeal to a far wider audience than the likes of our little indie music blog. No less than Rolling Stone placed the album in their top 50 of that year.

We are happy to report that critical acclaim coupled with the chance to step out of their boring office jobs and spend more time on  their music hasn’t dampened their appeal. This second album is as stunning as their debut and shows a band progressing nicely, with guitars and synths powering them on together with clear influences from the 1970s world of progressive rock. More importantly though they still have some darn good tunes too.

Considering they have been knocking around since 2007 its no wonder they emerged in 2012 seemingly fully formed and were ready and able to produce a second great record.

Opener Nightingale sets the tone of the album well. Papini’s vocals over a crashing indie pop intro, then a 70s rock guitar riff, then slow again. Its like the Pixies meets King Crimson, the latter act being cited as a key influence on this album.

Papini’s voice sounds even better here on this album too, with a mix of croaky vulnerability and power, reminiscent of The Cardigans Nina Persson.

There’s some top singles to be harvested from this album as well. Miss Your Bones showcases some of the Wire and Gang of Four influences of the band and is a real treat with its choppy chords. They do slowies too. Sullivan being the pick of these.

With this strong release and a European tour being planned for 2014 we feel confident that they have a justified top billing in our Ones To Watch For 2014 feature.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Trouble is released on Fire Records on 27 January.

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Broken Family Band – It’s All Over

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Broken Family Band – It’s All Over

Posted on 21 January 2014 by Joe

After eight years of fun live shows, five albums and genre crossing pop the Broken Family Band called it quits in 2009.

For their passionate fanbase it was a sad moment. A band whose back catalogue was packed full of catchy songs skipping merrily across indie, rock, folk and Americana and all glued together by frontman Steven Adams’s clever, witty lyrics was no more.

The Broken Family Band

The Broken Family Band

In the great annals of music, whatever they may be, Broken Family Band will be lucky to get a footnote but that doesn’t make this compilation album any less important. In fact, listening back to these tracks this is just about the most essential album I can currently think of for any collection. Sure, they never fully captured their live spirit on disc. But the songs here are nevertheless awesome pop, bittersweet but never sad, and fun without ever straying into parody. Take Living in Sin, about falling in love with a Satanist, there is just the right balance of comedy and sorrow. On For Milton Mapes they set the template for John Grant’s magnificently melancholy solo work.

As a collection this hits the nail on the head. All their fan’s favourites are here from Hey Captain, with its indie rock breakdown midway through, to the electric guitar pop of At the Back of the Chapel, its got tracks that seem familiar, but never stormed the charts or garnered huge radio play.

But as the compilation moves along the country twinge becomes more of a full twang and it seems clearer how they were getting increasingly hard to pigeon hole and market.

An appreciation of whether you are a Broken Family Band kind of person will probably best lie in final track John Belushi, which for me perfectly encapsulates their blend of laughter with sadness and pop with country.

So, our advice is buy this as a perfect tribute to one of Britain’s best bands you may not have heard of. And if you like it then delve into their full albums, where tracks such as Michelle from the album Balls, Cocktail Lounge from Welcome Home Loser and Hello Love’s Dancing on the 4th Floor await.

9/10

By Joe Lepper (with additional material from Eve Lepper)

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Darren Hayman, Vortex Jazz Club, London (January 17, 2014)

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Darren Hayman, Vortex Jazz Club, London (January 17, 2014)

Posted on 20 January 2014 by Patricia Turk

Darren Hayman, formerly of 1990s indie band Hefner and now enjoying a seemingly never ending purple patch as a solo performer, is deep into his series of monthly ‘occupation’ gigs at the east London based Vortex Jazz club. Each sees him tackle a different theme or area of his back catalogue and along with special guests have the aim of creating, intimate, one-off gigs.

Darren Hayman (second from left) and band

Darren Hayman (second from left) and band

This month’s focus, over Thursday and Friday (January 16 and 17), was his January Songs project, in which Hayman wrote, recorded and released a song a day throughout January 2011. It is a project close to our hearts at Neonfiller and we timed our attendance for the Friday show to coincide with the performance of the track Arthur the Dog, the real life tale of the disappearance and recovery in the Somerset countryside of our editor Joe Lepper’s dog.

In documenting the mystery of what Arthur did during six cold nights away from home, plus the search for him involving dozens of local people, Hayman perfectly captured the joys and occasional fears of pet-owning life and the warmth of community spirit.

With his easy going and funny interaction with the audience the night was full of such anecdotes about about how and why each track was written, offering a fascinating insight into the creative process that gigs rarely offer. It was also refreshing to hear such honesty as he concedes that just because he wrote all the songs, it doesn’t mean he thinks they are all good. They do clearly all have merit though, as the songs played on the night skipped across genres and themes, including the spoken word track The Return and a subdued English call to arms for library goers in Shh.

With this performance, involving a backing band including Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge and Rotifer), it was clear Hayman revelled in the liberty the project offered him to indulge in whims and follow lesser-travelled topics through to fruition. And all the songs are laced through with irony and honesty, which I love.

I particularly liked I Want To Be A Volunteer about the pleasure he gets from his weekly, voluntary work on a local steam railway (‘I want to be tired and rewarded, I want to have useful working hands’), Baby, Be Good To Me, and It’s No Different For Girls, sung with Valentine Leys who joined him onstage.

He finished by leading the room in a rousing singalong of ‘We’re Tired Of Getting Dicked Around’ – and let’s face it, who isn’t? An ironically timeless message to end a set about a project all about time limits.

By Patricia Turk

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Rotifer – Black Bag

Posted on 17 January 2014 by Joe

Another year, another video from emerging label Gare Du Nord. After showcasing the video for Ink Run II  from Papernut Cambridge we are now pleased to introduce BlackBag, the latest video from Rotifer.

This is being released ahead of a double A-side single, featuring the track along with a new song Queen’s Drive.

Black Bag, which is on Rotifer’s Top 20 Album of 2013 The Cavalry Never Showed Up, has proved a crowd favourite at gigs, especially when they  headlined our Oxjam gig in 2012.

The track really is about a Black Bag, being filled by Robert Rotifer during a clear out, and features Paul Rains from Allo Darlin’ on lapsteel.

Queen’s Drive, about a Finsbury Park hotel, features Will Glanfield in saxophone. We are informed via their press release that this track is set to herald a danceable, “dare we say funky” new direction on Rotifer’s next album.

Black Bag is released on January 27 and can be preordered from i-Tunes here.

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The Mynabirds – What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood

The Mynabirds – What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Scott Hammond

Upon the 2010 release of this debut album, The Mynabirds songwriter and lead vocalist Laura Burhenn’s bold declaration of a desire to make music that “sounded like Neil Young doing Motown,” had the ring of a near laughable and repudiable claim that would ultimately leave the record on a hiding to nothing.

But with Burhenn’s subtle, adlibbed vocal gymnastics over the horn swirling outro of opening track ‘What We Gained In The Fire,’ there is encouragingly early evidence that the aforementioned quote would perhaps not look so rash. Then after just three or four tracks it is evident that Burhenn’s delightfully rich and sonorous vocals across these soul inflected pop nuggets go at least some way to making her statement seem entirely justified.

mynabirds

Originally a member of Georgie James, Burhenn has taken up the moniker of The Mynabirds, (incidentally, a spelling amendment aside, the same name as a short lived band from the mid-60s featuring Neil Young which, ironically, was actually on the Motown label) and one can only think that her time in the Washington DC duo was spent as an artist trying to find her voice. With this record that feat has truly been realised.

The pounding honky-tonk piano of “Let The Record Show” infuses the album with a frenetic energy at odds with the generally slow and contemplative mood while “Numbers Don’t Lie” contains 1960s girl group influenced “Oh La Las” at its bridge and a gospel soul chorus that sounds so familiar as to have the feel of an old standard. In similar vein, “Give It Time” contains another rousing, soulful chorus and Burhenn’s voice is perhaps at its most impressive as it powers above the sparse arrangement.

While any reviewer of this album would be hard pressed not to make too many mentions of Burhenn’s singing, (a voice that exists perfectly on a scale somewhere between Dusty Springfield and Linda Ronstadt) the production and playing efforts of Richard Swift have to be similarly commended. As well as providing synthesisers, guitars, bass and percussion, Swift tastefully embellishes the arrangements with strings and horns where necessary and always prevalent is a knowing subtlety that, instead of demanding attention, serves as the perfect palate on which Swift can get the very best out of his central player.

Laura Burhenn

Laura Burhenn

‘L.A Rain’ is the highlight of the album, its seductively meandering strings and reverbed guitar chops anticipating the arrival of the record’s most immediate and enduring chorus. Though imbued with a slight tinge of remorse, the album’s general theme seems to be that of acceptance and seeing hardship as necessary stepping stones in the move towards eventual contentment; ‘Wash It out’ shares the sentiment “Pinning the blame on someone never made much sense,” and following track ‘We Made a Mountain’ contains the lyric “Regret doesn’t undo a single thing, I hope you’re happy today,” which Burhenn joyously repeats at high register within a salvo of horns at the song’s close.

Though in thrall to the vintage aesthetic of retro pop and soul the production of this record clearly is, the assuredly honest and earthy potency of Burhenn’s delivery and songwriting class steer the Mynabird ship on a path that comfortably avoids anything approaching pastiche. In fact, there are nuances and touches of modernism that provide a contemporary spin on proceedings: ‘Right Place,’ for instance, features an accessible piano riff somewhat reminiscent of Coldplay’s ‘Trouble’ and a hooky chorus that wouldn’t appear out of place on any modern pop record of worth.

What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood is a short but very sweet affair, it clocking in at little over the 30 minute mark and it is one of those rare albums whereby the quality of each song doesn’t compel the listener to skip any of its 10 tracks. A standout of Nebraska based record label Saddle Creek’s considerable output, this debut deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning as amongst the cult indie label’s finest moments. Neil Young doing Motown is a notion of which we will never know the result; would it have sounded anything like what Burhenn has offered us here? Who cares when her music is this good?

by Scott Hammond

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