Archive | January, 2015

Stick in a Pot – Hard Shoulder

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Stick in a Pot – Hard Shoulder

Posted on 28 January 2015 by Joe

Stick in a Pot’s last album 2011’s A Number More Than Nothing At All impressed us so much we invited them to play at our first Neonfiller.com gig in Brighton. They didn’t disappoint as band leader Piers Blewett and his ensemble took us through an engaging set of indie-folk.

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Since then band Blewett has also been releasing under the moniker tiNhearT and is now back again as Stick in a Pot, complete with a eight strong troop of musicians if this taster single from their forthcoming second album is anything to go by.

Available for free, Blewett and co have released Hard Shoulder as part of a six track collection, which features five low key Blewett solo tracks.

The verdict? Hard Shoulder  sounds just as impressive as A Number More Than Nothing At All’s tracks, with a lovely indie-folk melody supplemented well by the ensemble cast  that also includes a horn section.

Among the extra tracks Your Public Awaits, which showcases Blewett’s distinct, whispering English folk vocals well, is among the high points as is the prog-ish phazer of Farther I Find.

by Joe Lepper

To listen or download Hard Shoulder click here.

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Tigercats – Mysteries

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Tigercats – Mysteries

Posted on 27 January 2015 by Joe

With Isle of Dogs, Tigercats arguably produced the perfect debut album. In garnering a rare 10/10 from us it seemed to perfectly encapsulate 20-something urban life as each song meandered across the records shops, bars and venues of their native East London. Now signed to Fortuna Pop and with Allo Darlin’s Paul Rains in their ranks they have also managed to nail the potentially tricky second album too.

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Second albums can be a minefield. So many bands just try and repeat their debut hoping the sound will still be fresh, while others try too hard to change, veering off into experimental and unsuitable areas. Here Tigercats have met that challenge by ensuring their sound has moved onto the next level, while at the same time sticking true to their original ethos. It sounds simple enough, but so few bands manage it.

So how has the sound changed? Firstly, it is more polished, thanks to the band able to rack up a considerable amount of hours at Soup Studios, where bassist Giles Barrett works.

Secondly, there is real ambition here sonically. Not content, as so many indie pop bands are ,with a simple sound they’ve drafted in Gallon Drunk’s Terry Edwards to supply saxophone and horns across the album. This perfectly completes their core drums, bass, guitar, keyboards sound and sets them further apart from the pack. Rains too really adds some polish to the guitars, as he does so well in his day job with Allo Darlin’.

The third and perhaps most welcome change is the elevation of keyboardist Laura Kovic’s role. While on Isle of Dogs her vocal duties were largely confined to final track Johnny, here she is everywhere. She not only duets perfectly with lead singer and songwriter Duncan Barrett across the album but has lead vocals on two tracks, Laura & Cesar and Sleeping in the Backseat. It’s a smart move by the band, really adding depth to the songs with her softer vocals perfectly matching Barrett’s. At times with the horns and Kovic’s vocals there is even a Prefab Sprout quality to their tracks, which here seem more romantic, albeit in a sardonic way thanks to Barratt’s clever lyrics. Junior Champion for example manages the zenith for indie-geeks everywhere, of being simultaneously a love song and ode to chess.

In our review of Isle of Dogs we said Tigercats were an indie pop band you can dance to. For Mysteries they emerge as an indie pop band you can actually first dance to at a wedding – and there are not many of those bands around. With this amount of progress they have set the bar high indeed for album number three.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Southern Tenant Folk Union – Merlin Theatre, Frome (January 24, 2015)

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Southern Tenant Folk Union – Merlin Theatre, Frome (January 24, 2015)

Posted on 25 January 2015 by Joe

Edinburgh based folk and blue grass collective Southern Tenant Folk Union arguably took a big risk with their latest and sixth album, which improbably uses Chuck Norris film titles as a springboard for a collection of left leaning protest songs.

It has paid off though with critics and fans alike so far approving of the album’s odd notion as well as its eclectic take on bluegrass, which moves effortless from protest folk song to funk, to soul to jazz.

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Live the new album, called The Chuck Norris Project, works even better, making their two hour set that takes in their bluegrass back catalogue and gospel standards, perfectly weighted and enthralling throughout.

What also comes across strongly live is the strength of the musicianship and vocals, especially guitarist and lead vocalist on The Chuck Norris Project, Rory Butler who opened the set with a handful of his own Nick Drake-esque tracks, such as Cigarettes in Silence. His vocals tonight were superb, beautiful even at times, especially on his own songwriting contribution to the Chuck Norris Project, Slaughter in San Francisco, about the heartbreak of a school shooting.

Rory Butler and Pat McGarvey (l-r)

Rory Butler and Pat McGarvey (l-r)

Tonight the collective was a quintet, including percussionist Steve Fivey, whose contribution to The Chuck Norris Project is vital, especially on the more film soundtrack moments, such as on The Wrecking Crew Part 1. On double bass was Craig Macfadyen and their violinst for the night and this section of the tour was Frome resident Gemma White. She is a long term collaborator of  STFU band leader and banjo player Pat McGarvey, having also played in his former band The Cole Porters. McGarvey proved an engaging host giving plenty of time to offer funny anecdotes and explaining the stories behind the songs, whether they be left leaning protest songs, love songs or bluegrass standards.

We learn before the joyfully romantic Let Me Wipe The Tears From Your Eyes, which is about his wedding,  that the ceremony also featured a reading of Rutger Hauer’s death speech in Blade Runner.

Before Ida Don’t Go, from their fourth album Pencaitland, we find out that when they performed on the track on Irish TV show the Late Late Show they had to settle for second billing behind a dancing dog performing a canine version of Gangnam Style.

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With White there performing at her local venue this gig had an extra friendly feel, which was also helped by the venue itself where the seating goes right up to the front of the stage. This proved invaluable for the set’s encore, where the STFU unplugged the central mic they play around and went entirely acoustic for a rousing gospel singalong up close with the audience.

STFU are continuing to show how far the boundaries of bluegrass can be pushed, while ensuring they do not leave the traditionalists behind.

By Joe Lepper

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Darren Hayman – Chants for Socialists

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Darren Hayman – Chants for Socialists

Posted on 23 January 2015 by Joe

This latest release by Darren Hayman is perfectly timed for election year, offering a powerful reminder of the too often forgotten ideals of community, workers’ rights and friendship, as we gear up for voting.

As those who have followed former Hefner man Hayman’s solo career will know, his releases are varied and involve a strong attention to detail. From an instrumental album about lidos to a trilogy about Essex, including its shameful witch trial past, he immerses the listener in his diverse work.

This latest album is no exception, with Hayman taking a pamphlet of idealistic chants from Victorian socialist William Morris as the source material and delving deep into its lyrics and ethos.

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A key feature is the strong socialist ideal of togetherness, that united workers and families can rise from their sorrow and defeat the evils of greed and capitalism. On this album Hayman has used a choir of people local to Morris’s former homes to convey this ethos. He even recorded their parts in these  homes: Kelmscott House in Hammersmith as well as the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

In addition Hayman traveled to Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire, to use Morris’s own piano for the album. And if that wasn’t enough Morris’ s letterpress was deployed to hand print limited vinyl editions of this release.

But while such details are important, this album should live or die on its music. Thankfully time has been taken over the songwriting as well. When Morris’s chants  require sadness Hayman is there to supply the right melody, particularly on the heartbreaking The Day is Coming. When a sense of optimism is needed he pops up with a smart guitar riff and infectious melody for May Day 1894. This is the album’s standout track and would be a sure fire hit if we happened to live in an alternate reality where a bloke from a 1990s indie band putting music to a  19th century political pamphlet is the secret of success.

To keep the songwriting fresh he’s also drafted regular collaborators and friends Ralegh Long and Robert Rotifer. Long’s tender songwriting style lends itself wonderfully to The Message of the March Wind, which may just be my favourite on the album.

Rotifer offers up his 1960s influences to good effect on Down Among the Dead Men, which sounds a little like it’s from a lost Ray Davies kitchen sink drama soundtrack.

But Chants for Socialists doesn’t always play to its strengths. The choir is chief among its assets but at times it feels too understated in the mix, more St Winifrids School Choir than the voice of a strong community. When they sing “We Will It”, on The Day Is Coming, they sound like they can barely muster the will to make a cup of tea let alone the will to “open wide the door” and send the “rich man” packing in “hurrying terror.” When the choir is used well the results are remarkable, such as on on the bold opener Awake London Lads, on the intro to A Death Song and their backing vocals on Down Among the Dead Men. I’d like to have heard more moments like those on this album.

Another strength is the array of musicians Hayman is able to call on. Nathan Thomas’s french horn addition to The Message of the March Wind and Down Among the Dead Men is really powerful but across the album he has been used far too sparingly.  The emotional pedal steel playing of Jack Hayter, who is also a former Hefner member and still a regular collaborator of Hayman, is a notable absentee on this album too.

There’s a book we frequently reference on this website called Electric Eden, by Rob Young. This charts modern folk music from its roots in Morris’ time through to the modern day. What Hayman is doing here is Young’s very definition of folk, taking traditional material from one era and recreating it in another. With our own modern May elections fast approaching I hope that the ideals of Morris and this album filter through in some way to the polling booths. It’s a slim hope though.  I also hope Young hears this album and considers including a section on Hayman in any forthcoming revision- he certainly deserves it after the effort that has gone into this.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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The Sound – The Edsel Box Sets

The Sound – The Edsel Box Sets

Posted on 22 January 2015 by John Haylock

Some bands are destined to be sidelined out of musical history. It’s not fair and it’s not based on logic as regrettably too many others are remembered and lauded despite being hopelessly untalented and vacuous. Go figure.

The Sound were one of those talented, sidelined bands that had everything but the breaks, those little pieces of luck than can snowball into good fortune. Theirs instead is a story of tragedy and frustration despite leaving behind them a body of work that still stands the test of time and should be mainlined into the collective consciousness of music lovers everywhere.

The Sound (Adrian Borland second from left)

The Sound (Adrian Borland second from left)

Formed in the late 1970s from the ashes of the late Adrian Borland’s former band The Outsiders, they soon came to the attention of John Peel, who played them regularly and for whom they recorded various sessions (included in this box set) In addition, they also rubbed musical shoulders with more successful contemporaries such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Gang of Four and Joy Division, which helped gain the attention of major label giant Warners, who signed them up and put them on their new offshoot label Korova records for an initial three album deal.

But unfortunately their celebrations were shortlived and they spent most of the next decade struggling for recognition and eventually called it a day in 1988. Borland continued to make music but suffered years of depression and in April 1999 he committed suicide.

In an effort to rectify their wonderful legacy Edsel are releasing the second of two box sets of their work. Released last April the first box set contains their first three albums, Jeopardy, From The Lion’s Mouth and All Fall Down, as well as a live CD of a Radio One in Concert gig.

The second box set, to be released next month, contains their remaining studio albums, a double live set and everything else they released up until their end. Both of these sets are also crammed full of b-sides, demos and radio sessions.

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Jeopardy came out in 1979 and was recorded in just ten days. It’s an intense, urgent and brash statement of intent as angular and brutal rhythms collide with Borland’s emotionally charged vocals. The opening track ‘I can’t escape myself’ sets the lyrical landscape, as the second verse typifies the angst and searching nature inherent in Borland’s subject matter when he sings “seems like my shadow, mocks every stride, can I learn to live, with what’s inside.”

This debut album’s standout track is ‘Missiles’, recorded in a climate of cold war hostility, with Thatcher and Reagan sabre rattling and amid cruise missile controversy, it expressed an anger and fear felt by many with its passionate delivery still having the power to chill. The music press responded kindly and the album garnered much praise, and the band undertook an eighteen date UK tour supporting label mates Echo and the Bunnymen. Things were looking good.

October 1981 saw the release of their follow up From the Lion’s Mouth, which was a much more nuanced effort. Atmospherics and subtlety were abundant, making this a much more satisfying listen especially with the added light and shade due in no small measure to the addition of Colvin Max Myers who provided extra keyboards and vocals.

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The songs veer from optimistic anthems like ‘Winning’ to beautifully restrained love songs such as ‘Silent Air’, the centrepiece is the aptly titled ‘New Dark Age’ and a constant live favourite proved to be ‘Skeletons’.

Despite critical acclaim From the Lion’s Mouth only reached 164 in the UK  charts. Warners wanted a more commercial sound and were getting frustrated. The band responded by ignoring them completely and put out album number three All Fall Down in 1982. It contains much to admire, a more experimental feel, a drifting away from their roots into more sombre territory. Its memorable tunes are more scarce but that’s not to say it’s not without it’s highlights, for example ‘Monument’ is a slowly simmering song of epic proportions, by anybody else’s reckoning this would be a good album, yet Warners heard it and gave up on the band. The feeling was mutual, so in 1984 the band signed to the independent label Statik.

As mentioned Box one contains an additional disc comprising of two entire recordings from BBC Radio one in concert programme from the time and are incendiary.

Drummer Mike Dudley says of the time: “We certainly didn’t feel defeated when Warner’s dropped us. We were a self-contained unit, we always believed in the underlying strengths we had and believed in the songs.” As evidenced on their first recordings for Statik in 1984  the mini album Shock of Daylight proved they still had much more to offer. It’s a fiery resurgence, a middle finger to all those who expected the band to crash and burn after the Warners debacle with beautiful melodies, great vocals and showing a band totally comfortable in their art.

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In 1985 came Heads and Hearts and despite protestations from some of the band who were unhappy with the result, hindsight arguably proves them wrong as this is among their best work. In some ways it sounds like the bastard son of Joy Divisions Closer, the production is big, it’s classy but still retains all the emotional impact of their earlier work.

When anyone suggests to you that the eighties were a wasteland for UK music (apart from Boney M, obviously !), give them a copy of Heads and Hearts. From the get go it proves a remarkably coherent and dare I say it ‘catchy’ piece of work. The opener ‘Whirlpool’ is a swirling dervish of a tune, as its title suggest it sucks you in, ‘Total recall’ is yet another classic track and would have made a brilliant single, driven along by a moody bass line and suddenly erupting into a triumphant chorus of ‘there must be a hole in your memory, but I can see, a distant victory.’ It would have been a brilliant single, fitting in nicely with the likes of a nascent New Order, Blancmange or The The. Of the eleven tracks, not one is wasted, every tune hits the spot, ‘One Thousand Reasons’, ‘Wildest dreams’  and ‘Temperature Drop’ are like foreplay for the ears.

A year later Borland’s bouts of depression became more marked. A live document In the Hothouse came out in 1986 but the Statik label folded and the end was in sight for the band.

One further album Thunder Up came out in 1987 on the Belgian label Play it Again Sam. On tour in Spain later that year Adrian sadly succumbed to a breakdown, dates were cancelled, it signalled the end for the band and they called it a day in 1988.

Adrian continued to make music on and off throughout the nineties, cruelly his demons finally caught up with him in April 1999 when he threw himself into the path of an oncoming train at Wimbledon station. Last word goes to bassist Graham Bailey. “The personal nature of Adrian’s lyrics always hooks you in, he had this unique ability to make it sound like he’s addressing you personally. He was an immensely talented lyricist and it’s not an exaggeration to say he was a genius.”

By John Haylock

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Ricked Wicky – I Sell the Circus

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Ricked Wicky – I Sell the Circus

Posted on 16 January 2015 by Dorian

2014 was one of the most up and down years in all my 20+ listening to the music of Robert Pollard. The ups included two first rate albums by the rejuvenated Guided By Voices. The downs included the collapse (again) of Guided By Voices and a rare Robert Pollard album that I couldn’t get along with, under his Teenage Guitar moniker.

It is hard to say what 2015 will bring, or indeed just how many records he will release, but the release of his first album as Ricked Wicky is a pretty stellar start to the year.

Ricked Wicky I Sell The Circus

I Sell the Circus sees Pollard teamed with regulars Todd Tobias and Kevin March as well as Dayton based cover band professional Nick Mitchell. It also sees him producing my favourite non-GBV recording since he called it a day with Boston Spaceships.

It is the Yin to Teenage Guitar’s Yang, showcasing the other side of Robert Pollard’s album style. Where that album was all fuzz and crackle, this is a surprisingly well produced record, where that album was half-formed ideas and snippets this is a set of fully formed psych-pop classics.

It is a remarkably consistent, by Pollard’s standards at least, with no duff tracks on the album. It is also a very well sequenced album, with no risk of front loading the standout tracks. These alternate universe radio favourites are peppered through the album and surprisingly strong for an artist roughly 1 billion tracks into his career.

The attractively titled ‘Piss Face’, completed with distorted slide guitar, is the kind of off-kilter rock that Boston Spaceships exceled at. This is followed immediately by the acoustic ‘Even Today and Tomorrow’ which is what Love might have sounded like if they were fronted by a sozzled former school-teacher rather than Arthur Lee.

‘Frenzy of Blame’ is the most obvious “pop song” on the album, and in the great tradition of Pollard casually throwing in a classic two-thirds of the way through an album. To the converted this will come as no surprise but whether the uneducated will ever take the time to listen to this album is another question.

Pollard is surely at peace with his place in the musical world, his days of employing star name producers to push his albums a distant memory. In fact he sounds like he is having more fun on this album than he has for a long time. Album closer ‘A Real Slab’ is a case in point as Pollard and co. knock out three and a half minutes of the best Who song the Who never recorded.

If Pollard was to bring out a dozen even better albums this year it wouldn’t be a surprise, but if this is the last record we see from him in 2015 it would be more than enough.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition Details Announced

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Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition Details Announced

Posted on 15 January 2015 by Joe

Glastonbury Festival has announced details of its Emerging Talent Competition 2015, which offers new acts from UK and Ireland the chance to compete for a main stage slot at this year’s event.

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The competition is free to enter with the winner also netting a £5,000 PRS for Music Foundation Talent Development prize to help develop their career. Two runners up will receive £2,500 from PRS.

Those interested are urged to be quick. Entries are only accepted for one week, from 9am Monday 19 January to 5pm Monday January 26, via the Glastonbury Festivals website.

To enter, acts will need to supply a link to one original song on SoundCloud, plus a link to a video of themselves performing live (even if it’s only recorded in a bedroom).

Previous entrants have includes The Subways, Stornoway and last year’s winners M+A.

2014 Glastonbury ETC winners M+A

2014 Glastonbury ETC winners M+A performing at last year’s event

Once the entries are in a panel of 40 music writers, including Neonfiller.com’s Joe Lepper, will whittle down the thousands of expected entries to just 120 acts. This longlist will then be handed to a judging panel, including Michael and Emily Eavis, who will filter it down further to just eight artists. These eight artists will then compete in a live finals at Pilton Working Men’s Club in April to decide the winner.

Glastonbury co-organiser Emily Eavis said:  “New music is such an important part of Glastonbury, and the Emerging Talent Competition is always an incredible way for us to find fresh talent from across the musical spectrum. In fact, eight of the acts that entered in 2014 ended up with slots at Glastonbury 2014. I can’t wait to hear who we discover this year.”

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Southern Tenant Folk Union – The Chuck Norris Project

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Southern Tenant Folk Union – The Chuck Norris Project

Posted on 13 January 2015 by Joe

It’s a testament to how far the Southern Tenant Folk Union push the boundaries of folk that their sixth album features tracks all named after Chuck Norris films and they can make a banjo sound like a John Carpenter soundtrack.

In fact musically the album  may feature mandolin, fiddle and aforementioned banjo but the Chuck Norris Project seems a long way from folk, with jazz, soul and funk among the genres that weave in and out of these songs. The added use of clarinet and orchestrated violin, along with cello, give it an epic soundtrack quality as well.

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But do not think that this is a series of covers of 80s action move soundtracks. While all tracks are named after Chuck Norris films they are not about the right wing Hollywood hardman, who once proclaimed that electing Barack Obama as President would bring “a thousand years of darkness.” Instead these films, with titles such as The President’s Man, Slaughter in San Francisco and Invasion USA are used as jumping on points for a range of weighty modern issues from gun control to terrorism and equality.

For those that enjoyed their last album, 2013’s post apocalyptic themed Hello Cold, Goodbye Sun, this acts as a fine follow up with even more musical invention and a similar ‘end of days’ feel driven by a genuine fear from band leader Pat McGarvey of Norris’s right wing take on world politics.

Among the many highlights are the clarinet and beautiful vocals from Rory Butler on Octagon, one of the album’s slower tracks. His vocals also add genuine emotion to the heartbreaking Slaughter in San Francisco, about the continuing horror of school shootings in America. The seven minute long orchestral Martial Law is another high point on a truly original album.

Given McGarvey’s passion for cinema music (he is also a member of the Incredibly Strange Film Band) surely it’s about time STFU were commissioned to produce a movie soundtrack? Although for political reasons I suspect Norris himself may pass on using them for any of his future releases.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Alternative Top 40 – Winter 2014/2015

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Alternative Top 40 – Winter 2014/2015

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Universal Horse

The Alternative Top 40 is a regular music chart shared across multiple music blogs, and a great way of discovering music you might not have heard elsewhere. We are delighted to be among those blogs involved in sharing this list, which is created from nominations from you and compiled by the website Universal Horse.

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To contribute to the next #AltTop40 all you have to do is suggest your favourite tracks of the moment to Universal Horse via their online form – or email them a top 5 at alternativetop40@gmail.com by Saturday 4th April.

Here’s this month’s edition (note that for its January edition Universal Horse only counts releases from the previous 12 months, making this a de facto ‘tracks of the year’ list):

1. Vessel – Red Sex

2. Eels – Where I’m Going

3. Wenonoah – Hide

4. Copeland (Ft. Actress) – Advice to Young Girls

5. Noura Mint Seymali – Tzenni

6. Boxcar Aldous Huxley – The Slow Decline of the London Necropolis Railway

Telegrams Elapsing by Boxcar Aldous Huxley

7. Rabit – Red Candles

8. Swans – She Loves Us

9. SJ Esau – Soul II Skull

10. Robert Plant – Little Maggie

11. Die Antwoord – Ugly Boy / +
12. The Brackish – Surf’s Down / +
13. Rachael Dadd – Strike Our Scythes / +
14. Bob Mould – I Don’t Know You Any More / +
15. Perfume Genius – Queen / +
16. Alex Dingley – Knuckle Bone / +
17. New Cowboy Builders – Black Moses / +
18. Deerhoof – Exit Only / +
19. Gulp – Vast Space / +
20.  Yasmine Hamdane – Hal / +
21. The War on Drugs – Red Eyes / +
22. The Spitfires – I’m Holding On +
23. Marilyn Manson – Third Day of a Seven Day Binge / +
24. The Bug feat. Manga – Function / +
25. La Dispute – Extraordinary Dinner Party / +
26. Papernut Cambridge – Nutflake Social / +
27. tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain / +
28. Paul Orwell – Tell Me, Tell Me / +
29. Tape Waves – Looking at the Sun / +
30. Grumbling Furs – All the Rays / +
31. Downard – Metal Office / +
32. Porcelain – My Friend Paranoia / +
33. Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Herod 2014 / +
34. Xiu Xiu – Stupid in the Dark/ +
35. Psyence – Chemicals for Breakfast / +
36. Happyness – Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same / +
37. Henry Blacker – Pullin Like a Dray / +
38. Adrienne Lenker and Buck Meek – A Better Time to Meet / +
39. The Van Allen Belt – Clouds/ +
40. The Spiritualized Mississippi Space Program – Always Forgetting with You / +

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