Archive | January, 2014

Glastonbury Festival 2014 Emerging Talent Competition Details Revealed

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Glastonbury Festival 2014 Emerging Talent Competition Details Revealed

Posted on 14 January 2014 by Joe

Glastonbury Festival organisers have announced details of their 2014 Emerging Talent Competition, offering bands and artists the chance to win a slot on one of the main stages.

In addition, we are delighted to announce that for the second year running Neonfiller.com’s co-editor Joe Lepper will be one of 40 online music writers chosen as a judge to help to whittle down the applications to a long list of 120 acts.

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour at the Glastonbury ETC finals

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour at the Glastonbury ETC finals

The competition is open for one week only from Monday 20th January to Monday 27th January. Entry is free and full details can be found here.

The long list of 120 acts will be whittled down further to just eight by judges including Glastonbury organisers Michael and Emily Eavis. The lucky eight will then take part in a live showcase final in April.

Emily Eavis said:We get very excited about new music, and the Emerging Talent Competition is just a brilliant way for us to discover fresh talent. Our stage bookers come down to the live finals, and dozens of the acts who’ve entered over the years have been given a slot at the Festival. We can’t wait to see what this year’s competition brings!”

Previous applicants who have performed at Glastonbury include Stornoway, Scouting For Girls, Treetop Flyers, the Golden Silvers, Ellen and the Escapades, the Subways and, last year, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour (who ended up playing five sets at Glastonbury 2013).

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Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags

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Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags

Posted on 12 January 2014 by Dorian

With a title that nods to Dischord band Dag Nasty and oblique references to Pavement’s recent reunion tour this album says a lot about Malkmus’s attitude to musical nostalgia.

Wig Out at Jagbags

The single from the album ‘Lariat’, currently on rotation on 6 Music, contains another nostalgic moment with him singing about growing up “listening to the music from the best decade ever” (he’s talking about the 80s). I have no doubt that Malkmus genuinely loves that decade’s music the best, but the closest musical counterpoints for this album are the 1970s (you can hear a bit Zappa here, a bit of Steely Dan there across the album) and the 1990s when Pavement were the most interesting indie-rock band on the scene. In ‘Shibboleth’ we even get the Jicks channeling the Pixies through the Malkmus filter.

The album, recorded during a spell in Berlin, seems to find Malkmus at his most relaxed and positive in years. Other than the aforementioned dig at his own, and others, band reunions (a dig that comes across as pretty playful) this is a pretty positive and good natured record. Indeed, in recent interviews about the recording Malkmus admits to being friends with Fran Healy of Travis and even got his mate to source a local horn section for the album. The horn section is used well on a few songs and adds a nice dimension to the sound (especially on the excellent ‘Chartjunk’) although in other respects there is little here to surprise anyone familiar with his solo or late Pavement work.

The band manage to produce a sound that is simultaneously slick (these are good players) but loose enough to retain some of the slacker qualities Malkmus is known for. New drummer Jake Morris has pretty big shoes to fill, following on from Janet Weiss and John Moen, as the band’s sticksman. But he acquits himself well and there is no noticeable drop in quality in this area.

Overall this is a very enjoyable record, perhaps the most consistently likable Malkmus solo album to date, and to my personal preference is mercifully short on some of the more laboured guitar workouts that tainted a lot of his mid-period solo work.  What it does lack is the couple of killer must-listen tracks that you’d be sure to include on a best-of album. The singles are good, and the quality is consistently high, but I’m not sure I could pick out many individual songs to include among his career best.

However, that doesn’t take anything away from this being a very welcome release from the band, sometimes consistency and likability is enough to make an album a success.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Howe Gelb – Little Sand Box Set

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Howe Gelb – Little Sand Box Set

Posted on 09 January 2014 by Joe

Howe Gelb appears somehow ill suited to a solo career. The Giant Sand frontman seems just too much of a sociable guy to go it alone and it’s no surprise to find that the best of this eight CD box set collection of Gelb’s solo work is not solo at all. Instead what emerges is one of the music industry’s best collaborators with an ability to skip merrily across notions of genre, particularly with the Voice of Praise Gospel Choir on this set’s highlight ‘Sno Angel Like You.

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Even Dreaded Brown Recluse (1991), his first solo album, is created out of collaboration rather than a search for isolation. With tour promoters at the time concerned that Giant Sand’s already prolific output was diluting their ability to regularly pull in crowds Gelb hit upon the idea of releasing a solo album. That way tour promoters stayed happy and the band’s steady income from shows remained intact.

This album is also essentially a Giant Sand album in all but name, featuring its members John Convertino and Joey Burns and having the same eclectic Giant Sand mix of country, blues, punk, folk and jazz. As a collection it’s got an even looser feel than Giant Sand albums of the time, but there are still plenty of highlights interspersed in Gelb’s weaker flights of fancy.

The country twang of Picture Shows and the acoustic feel to Loretta and the Insect World sound great here and are among the best. Special mention goes to the full band feel of Warm Storm, another to add to the great Gelb cannon. But then there’s the grunge dirge of Actually Faxing Sophie and the weak Vienna 2-Step Throw Away, Vigdis and Blanket for Tina that bring down the quality and are among the more skippable moments.

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Hisser (1998) feels a little more solo, recorded on a four track at his home while as a single parent. But band mates and friends pop by and add weight and company to the album’s low-key tracks when needed. In terms of song writing this also features some of Gelb’s finest works, especially 4 Door Maverick, which he later reused for the Alegrias album, but more of that later. This track is part of a fine run of acoustic guitar tracks early on in the album through to Propulsion that are a delight. Creeper is another highlight and features a pump organ that he picked up for $35 dollars. As with Dreaded Brown Recluse, Hisser takes a turn midway through into more eclectic, odder jazz piano territory. But if you are even reading this then you will more than likely be a Gelb fan already and fully versed in his genre skipping tendancies.

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Confluence (2001) was born out of Giant Sand’s split, when the classic line up featuring Burns and Convertino moved on to form Calexico and “everything turned to shit” according to Gelb, via music journalist Sylvie Simmon’s notes that accompany this box set. Convertino and others still appear on the album but this has far more of a solo feel and I’m not sure Gelb is enjoying the experience one bit. In a word, this is depressing. Saint Conformity and 3 Sisters set the sombre tone for the whole album, which is the least appealing in this box set. Nevertheless it does contain one of my favourite Gelb songs among this whole set, Blue Marble Girl, featuring beautiful backing vocals from his second wife Sofie Albertsen Gelb.

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Things look up for 2003’s The Listener. Gelb has reformed Giant Sand with musicians from Scandanavia and he’s happy as Larry. Gelb is in a good place and the music is upbeat and at times even silly. Mainly with a piano lounge singer feel to it he comes across as a kind of Lou Reed with a sense of humour. It feels a little like a vanity project, the only time his solo work veers into that territory, but at least he’s having fun and that’s a joy to hear on this album. Among the highlights are Felonius, Cowboy Boots and the dramatic shuffling tango of Torue (Tango De La Tongue), which just about makes up for the lack of a killer tune.

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Three years later comes the key album in this collection, Sno Angel Like You, which is one of our Top 100 albums of all time. This 2006 album showcases an almighty partnership, with the Voices of Praise gospel choir, whose vocals breathing new life into old songs, such as Neon Filler, and on a whole bunch of new tracks just perfect for this spiritual feel. Gelb’s songwriting has always at its best been about subtlety, with the right turn of phrase or catchy chorus almost effortlessly slipped into his songs. Here those traits are given some rare bombast and its an uplifting experience that adds a whole new dimension to his music. A perfect match. The live album ‘Sno Angel Winging It (Live) is a nice addition to this box set as well, and was especially nice for me to hear as I managed to get to see Gelb and Voice of Praise perform this album at the time.

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A few more Giant Sand albums and tours pass by but in 2011 he’s back on the solo trail again and involved in another sterling collaboration, this time with gypsy musicians from Spain. As with ‘Sno Angel the music on Alegrias is at its heart Americana but using the distinct sounds of his collaborators to Gelb’s advantage. Recorded largely in Cordoba, Spain, the entire album is wonderful thanks to the classy playing of guitarist Raimondo Amador. Among many highlights are Notoriety and Blood Orange, which feature backing vocals from Prin La La and Lonna Kelley respectively

To close the box set Some Piano, a collection of piano releases brought together in one CD, is included. This takes me a little out of my indie rock and Americana comfort zone. It’s essentially a series of jazz piano instrumentals and while a nice inclusion in showing the breadth of his talent and style its not one I’ll be listening to repeatedly.

There are two ways of approaching this box set for those wanting to hear more Gelb. One is to embrace his eclecticism and varying quality of his releases, just buy it and discover the wheat from the chaff for yourself. The other is to just get ‘Sno Angel Like You and Alegrias, the two standout albums in his back catalogue, and marvel at how his best solo work is not solo at all.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Highlights of five years of music blogging

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Highlights of five years of music blogging

Posted on 06 January 2014 by Joe

Five years ago this month myself and co-editor Dorian Rogers decided to start our own music blog. There were lots of reasons, with wanting to write about music the main and obvious one.  Back then I never thought it would last five years but now I can’t imagine life without it. We’ve made no money from the venture and probably never will but that’s not what the site is about, we do it because we enjoy it and have a genuine passion for helping emerging acts get some deserved publicity.

Neonfiller.com is no longer just the two of us anymore, we are proud to have a team of regular contributors who help us to cover around 150 album releases a year and gigs across the UK each month. We even put on our own gigs from time to time. It’s been a great five years and I thought I’d mark the occasion by jotting down five of my favourite highlights.

5. Meeting a bass playing panda

It started with an email back in 2010 from then Surrey-based  musician Paul Coltofeanu about his band Free Swim. He told us they had just released a free EP about a man who was really busy, grafted  some extra arms to his body, had second thoughts and had them removed. We were intrigued. On first listen our relationship was sealed as I discovered they were no mere novelty act. The music was quite simply superb, blending Super Furry Animals with Frank Zappa. Due to some fortuitous timing I ended up being the first person to ever review the band’s debut EP.

Free Swim

Free Swim

In the following years Paul sent us more EPs with equally diverse subjects, from a mountaineering panda to love triangles in Croydon. Musically he’s a great talent, as his other more rock project The Android Angel shows. But it’s his sense of humour and ability to hook in music journalists like us, those at The Guardian and 6Music that impresses us too. Free Swim, who features a bassist in a giant panda suit when they play live,  were also the headliner at our first show in Brighton. A new Free Swim release is promised for 2014. We can’t wait.

4. Top 100 albums list

All good blogs have a top 100 list, right? We tried to do something different with ours and make it loosely based on alternative music with a strong focus on new wave and indie pop. This meant there was no space for albums by the likes of The Beatles, even if I admire them greatly. We released the list ten at a time over a number of weeks and I’m really proud with the result.

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As far as I know we have the only Top 100 album list to feature both The Monks and Tar Babies. So what was number one? You should head over to the list here and find out yourself.

3. Darren Hayman wrote a song about my dog

We are in regular contact with artists about their latest releases and tours. Sometimes we just have a nice chat on Facebook or Twitter. One of my more unusual conversations was with Darren Hayman who during January 2011 was asking for inspiration for songs as part of his attempt to write, record and release a song a day that month.

Knowing he has a dog owner I suggested the tale of my dog who went missing but thankfully turned up after a week alone in the Somerset countryside. Darren was happy to oblige once he knew it had a happy ending. It was illuminating  to  be on hand to offer Darren details of Arthur’s story. The result was remarkable and my biased highlight of his January Songs project and eventual album.

2. Bristol venues

Bristol is my nearest City with decent music venues; and what music venues they are. From the floating Thekla, legendary pub The Fleece, the eclectic Trinity Arts Centre to the out the way Polish Ex Servicemen’s Club. There’s also the beautiful acoustics of St George’s converted church venue and the revamped Colston Hall.

Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012

Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012

The city is simply awash with a range of excellent venues of all sizes and over the years I’ve reviewed some of my favourite gigs thanks to this excellent location, taking in the likes of Belle and Sebastian, Chuck Prophet, Field Music and Okkervil River.

1. Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent judging

Last year was my first year as a judge for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition, in which the winner gets a slot at this prestigious event, which is just eight miles from my home. It was a real pleasure going through the submissions and I’m still in contact with the three acts that I eventually submitted, including Wilitshire’s Super Squarecloud.

Super Squarecloud

Super Squarecloud

As a judge I also got to go to the festival and the contest’s final battle of the bands in Pilton, where I got to see the level of work that goes into just this one aspect of this giant event first hand.

by Joe Lepper

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Mark Lanegan – Has God Seen My Shadow?

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Mark Lanegan – Has God Seen My Shadow?

Posted on 02 January 2014 by Rob Finch

Baritone blues balladeer Mark Lanegan has had a long and critically acclaimed career. In his anthology, Has God Seen My Shadow?, Lanegan reveals a morose overdose of his neuroses.

Flirting with success in the Screaming Trees, and Queens Of The Stone Age, Lanegan has collaborated with a host of notable musicians including Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis and even Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.

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Lanegan is also known for a series of fine albums with Belle & Sebastian’s erstwhile breathy chanteuse Isobel Campbell. Yet it’s another  duet that is Lanegan’s finest hour on this anthology. In 2004 he teamed up with PJ Harvey to sing Come To Me – an astonishing and spine-chilling love song. The vocals complement each other perfectly in a sinister desolate lyricism – including the line “Coughing up my heart”, a line that resonates perfectly for the bereaved lover. Interestingly, the song’s lyrics also provide the inspiration for the title of this anthology.

In contrast with all this sombreness, One Way Street provides an almost upbeat element to this otherwise maudlin collection. But it’s a musical illusion. In fact, the Bourbon-infused lyrics are as darkly dour as any, and you could lay a new footpath with gravel from Langean’s voice. And it’s at this grim-humoured point in the anthology that I realised that Mark Lanegan is musically and vocally extraordinarily similar to Nick Cave. Lanegan – like Cave – majors on drug-fucked bastard blues.

Mirrored is another eerie masterpiece which appears to be about seeing yourself as a puppet reflected in the eyes of your true love. Also worth a listen is Kimiko’s Dream House, which sadly evokes a young woman’s soulless Stepfordesque/Daily Mail existence. Despite that, it’s a song that comes oddly close to sounding like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Critically though, I feel at times Lanegan tends to the solo artist’s self-indulgence and losing the plot. On some tracks, such as One Hundred Days, Lenegan strays dangerously near to sounding like Chris De Burgh.

This collection is dominated by dirges full of regret (I like dirges full of regret). And while individually, each has it’s own beauty and vigor – anthologised they threaten to become an oppressive mass. There’s a reason DVD boxsets are popular and CD boxsets were not. These tracks are like burnished jewels that need to be kept, each in separate cabinets, to be admired in the musical museum – not thrust into some Smaugish treasure mountain.

Fortunately for the chronically short of patience such as myself – the best tracks are up front (disc 1 if you like). The second half is very much take-it-or-leave-it stuff. If you’re going for a cheeky MP3 download (rather than forking out for this elaborately packaged anthology), may I recommend the number five (a dolorous 60s inspired blues song by the name of Pill Hill Serenade) number 12 (the gospelly Lexington Slow Down), the number 14(Wheels – a truly sombre track leavened with parping horns), and to follow, the number 15  (the grizzledly Neil Youngish Mockingbirds).

It’s a shame that these great tracks are somewhat diluted by trying to bring together an anthology of largely just the solo material. A more liberal career retrospective may have produced a more polished sounding piece of work.

8/10

by Rob Finch

Mark Lanegan – Has God Seen My Shadow? is released on January 13 via Light In The Attic

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