Archive | April, 2015

Villagers – Glee Club, Nottingham (April 26, 2015)

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Villagers – Glee Club, Nottingham (April 26, 2015)

Posted on 27 April 2015 by John Haylock

That rare thing nowadays, a seated gig, a respectful attentive audience but sadly no stage diving. Nottingham’s Glee club is mainly a comedy venue but it is also ideal for music due to its beautiful acoustics. That is essential for a bill like tonight’s featuring the stripped back new album Darling Arithmetic from Villagers and the precise vocals of their creative force Conor O’Brien.

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Villagers now have three albums under their belts and they continue to go from strength to strength, consolidating and refining their musical journey, which has already won them a devoted fanbase and one that continues to astonish the attentive listener. Rarely in the history of contemporary music has the delicacy of a perfectly enunciated vocal delivery and backed by exquisitely attractive semi acoustic instrumental passages been so perfectly well executed.

The new album I feel is a polite guest in your house who underneath the calm exterior wants to swear at your Mum. It’s a love album, but also filled with the anger O’Brien feels at times as a gay man facing sexual intolerance in Ireland.

Live O’Brien and band weave hypnotic, hushed tales of love, prejudice and loss, although they can also kick bottom at the drop of a hat. The Waves, from their second album Awayland (2013) for instance was given a lesson it will never forget; all strum and drums to the nth degree.

Conor O'Brien

Conor O’Brien

Yet it’s the new songs that take centre stage and impress, the album is played in its entirety, opening somewhat nervously with the short title track and proceeding to mesmerize with Everything I Am Is Yours and No One To Blame, by the time they hit the wonderful So Naive they were cooking on gas. Darling Arithmetic is basically a solo effort but for the live shows Conor has surrounded himself in a sympathetic cocoon of instinctive and frighteningly adept musicians and on Little Bigot and Hot Scary Summer they are playing as one to such a degree the music attains that elusive and spiritually harmonic gestalt that Mike Scott of The Waterboys once described as the Big Music.

For the encore the band depart temporarily as Conor performs Ship of Promises and Becoming a Jackal solo, the audience is spellbound and hanging on every word of these two tracks from Villagers’ 2010 solo album Becoming a Jackal. The band return for a final flourish with a devastatingly honest Pieces, also from their debut album, as well as Courage, the lead track from Darling Arithmetic that closes a most intimate and powerful show. Darling Arithmetic, it’s fab, do the math.

*Support this evening comes from Surrey born Luke Sital Singh, a tall bespectacled skinny guy with an incredible voice a most deft touch with electric and acoustic guitars, even venturing to the  keyboard at one point to deliver a short intense set of depressing songs, his words not mine. All numbers were from his debut The Fire Inside and very good they were too, especially Fail For You.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes

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They Might Be Giants – Glean

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They Might Be Giants – Glean

Posted on 24 April 2015 by Joe

The last They Might Be Giants album in my home wasn’t for me, it was a present for my first child when he was born.  Called Here Come the ABCs it was an album that proved that the eclectic TMBG pair of John Flansburgh and John Linnell were masters of producing cool, catchy, educational kids songs as well as grown up pop.

We know full well here at Neonfiller.com how during the 1980s and 1990s they produced some of the best and unusual pop music of the era, especially one of our Top 100 Albums of all time  Lincoln from 1988 and the absurdly catchy singles Ana-Ng and Birdhouse in Your Soul.

TMBG

There’s more though, they have one two Gammys and back in 1983 trailblazed a new way of listening to music, offering there tracks through a dial-a-song phone service. More than 30 years later they have revisited and updated the  dial up idea and throughout 2015 have been offering a song a week every Tuesday through smartphones, as well as online via www.dialasong.com and their Youtube Channel.

To promote it a bit more and show what those of us who prefer to have a CD or record in our hand are missing out on they have pulled together 16 of these dial-a-song tracks so far for their latest album Glean.

What is clear is that they have lost none of their charm and ability to defy genre, with songs about romance and prison all  with instruments ranging from crunchy power pop guitars to squelchy synths and 1920s jazz.

Is there another Ana-ng here? Well not quite, but the track Answer comes as darn close as its possible to be. So too does lead single Erase, which has a chorus that shows just how they have lost none of their keen sense of melody.

Another highlight is Unpronounceable and the growers include the violin focused Music Jail Pt 1 & 2 and the excellent fun take on blues Underwater Woman. Special mention also goes to the surely Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band influenced psychedelic jazz of Let Me Tell You About My Operation.

For this They Might Be Giants fan it feels good to welcome their grown up music back into my home.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

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Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

Posted on 21 April 2015 by Joe

There’s something so wonderfully precise about Villagers’ frontman Conor O’Brien’s voice. Each line is told with such clarity and on this, their third album, the messag O’Brien wants to convey is loud and clear; this is a love album and one made by a gay man from Ireland.

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So while it is sort of a ‘coming out’ album, there’s far more too it than that, with romance rather than sexuality taking centre stage. As he told the Irish Times in an interview  in April “it’s not a news story: Man is gay” adding that he wants  Darling Arithmetic to be seen as a “human love album because everyone in the world feels those emotions at some stage.”

That is clearly laid out on Hot Scary Summer. Yes there’s mention of the “homophobes” he and his partner encounter, but the real story here is that it’s a break up song. Two men in Ireland encountering prejudice together, only to break up. The overwhelming message here is heartbreak not sexual politics.

Musically as well there’s a clearer sound, with Villagers first two albums feeling very much like full band affairs and crowded as a result. Here it is essentially just O’Brien, his guitar and some slight, added instrumentation. It works better as a complete album as well, with Becoming a Jackal and Awayland having great tracks but lacking consistency. Here for the first time O’Brien has delivered a consistent listen from start to finish with its similar pacing and romantic themes. There’s even some career high tracks to rival Becoming a Jackal’s standout Home. Here the opener Courage, just O’Brien and a gentle, simple strumming, reveals itself to be a pop song of sorts, with a melody that sticks with you long after the album has finished.

After three albums O’Brien finally seems to have settled on a sound to do justice to his undeniable talent as a song writer.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

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The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

Posted on 15 April 2015 by Joe

A Mountain Goats wrestling album was strangely inevitable. As followers of the band’s frontman John Darnielle on Twitter will know he’s a big sports fan. As followers of their music will also know Darnielle loves to spin a good yarn and wrestling is certainly full of plenty of tales.

Darnielle’s focus here is primarily the characters involved in the sport, both the wrestlers themselves and the fans like him, who as a young boy watched in awe as his heroes tumbled around for glory.

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South Western Territory and The Legend of Chavo Guerro offer a bold pair of openers, one painting a melancholy picture of one local wrestler making ends meet and the other a passionate ode to Darnielle’s childhood hero Guerro.

There’s tragedy too on this album. Luna, about a fire in 2010 that destroyed much of veteran female wrestler Luna Vachon’s possessions, is exceptional in its sadness, with Jon Wurster’s shuffling drums and jazz feel offering hope for Luna when all seems lost.

Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan, about the murder of Bruiser Brody, is another weepie, albeit an action packed one, and once again Wurster’s emotive drumming shines through here.

There’s a lot of familiar territory for Darnielle in wrestling. A common theme, in particularly on The Mountain Goats’ 2011 album All Eternals Deck, is the metaphorical masks people wear to hide away from trauma.

Here the masks are also very real as well as symbolic, in particular on Animal Mask and Werewolf Gimmick. Bull Ramos, who features towards the end of story, is another of these mask stories, as he is seemingly fighting for his life in surgery and clings to his carefully crafted image of the brave wrestler with the bull whip throughout.

Musically Darnielle’s arrangements continue to get ever more complex, as elements of classical, jazz and of course the folk and indie rock that the band are most associated with intertwine here.

Darnielle continues to have a fine ear for melody too, although here the killer tunes are back loaded towards the end of the album, with Luna among many picks in its latter stages. In contrast the first half is let down by inconsistency. The Legend of Chavo Guerro is full of driving energy and passion, while Foreign Object and the too long Heel Turn 2 feel more like album fillers.

These are minor gripes though on another album from The Mountain Goats that continues to shine the spotlight on the incredible resilience, wonder and frailty of human beings, from hulking costumed lumps tying each other knots to the wide eyed kids in awe of them.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Finals – Pilton Working Men’s Club (April 11, 2015)

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Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Finals – Pilton Working Men’s Club (April 11, 2015)

Posted on 12 April 2015 by Joe

It was the closest Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Contest finals I’ve seen in three years as one of 40 music writers, who help sift through thousands of entries in the early judging stages.

Last year as soon as innovative electro pop act M+A had completed the first of their allotted two songs the audience at Pilton Working Men’s Club near the festival site, knew they had watched the winner. The same happened the year before with the beautiful folk of Bridie Jackson and the Arbour.

K.O.G. and the Zongo Brigade

K.O.G. and the Zongo Brigade

But this year was different. At least half of the eight acts tonight put forward a great case for being chosen as the winner by the judging panel, that included the festival’s stage bookers and organisers Michael and Emily Eavis.

In the end it was 16-year-old singer songwriter Declan McKenna who won.

Why did he win in this closely fought competition? The power of a song helped. In Brazil, the first track of his two song set, this bandana clad kid had the best song of the night, an immediately catchy track with a great melody all from him, alone on stage with his guitar, synth and box of tricks for company.

Declan McKenna

Declan McKenna

Also the focus of the contest, to uncover original emerging talent, shone through. His precocious talent was hard to ignore. If the 16-year-old McKenna can create music like Brazil now then what can he do in five, ten, 15 years time? This boy will go far and the judging panel knew it.

If second placed Shields had won there still would have been a worthy winner. Their powerful rhythm section elevating them above the usual indie pop fare. So too with third placed K.O.G. and the Zongo Brigade, who started proceedings with an energetic set combining African music, funk and rap.

Shields

Shields

But there was far more than these three. MoD was sensational with his hip-hop jazz fusion. And Princess Slayer, with their stadium friendly set were another valid contender for the top prize

While the rest of the acts may have lacked the eventual winners’ originality they all were worthy finalists, from the folk of Lucy Kitchen to the well-worked vocal arrangements of Isaac Lee-Kronick.

Declan McKenna receiving his prize from Michael Eavis

Declan McKenna receiving his prize from Michael Eavis

Shortly before presenting McKenna with his prize of £5,000 and a main stage slot Michael Eavis announced that all the acts would be appearing at the festival. It was a fitting end to a contest that continues to impress.

by Joe Lepper

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Ralegh Long – Hoverance

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Ralegh Long – Hoverance

Posted on 07 April 2015 by Joe

During  our six years of reviewing at Neonfiller the most memorable albums have been those with the ability to create a world and immerse the listener in it. While Owen Pallett did this with the fantastical on Heartland, one of our standout picks from 2010, often the best exponents of this conjure up worlds closer to home.

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Darren Hayman did this wonderfully with his images of growing up in new town Britain on Pram Town (2009). So too did the Tigercats on their 2012 debut Isle of Dogs, which captured  urban life for British 20 somethings perfectly.

Step forward Ralegh Long to join this list and take the listener into the world of the English countryside for this rural inspired collection of romantic and thoughtful songs.

The press release makes great play of this pastoral feel to this debut album from Long. As a writer who tends to review albums while dog walking in the English countryside it certainly passes my pastoral test, as Long’s whispering vocals, Jack Hayter’s weeping pedal steel merge gracefully with the bird song around me.

But it’s not just the feel to the album that is so appealing, it’s the songs as well. Tracks like No Use, Love Kills All Fear and The Light of the Sun stay with you long after the album has finished. Love Kills All Fear is a particular standout with its strong Prefab Sprout influence.

As well as capturing the mood of the countryside perfectly Long also reveals himself here as being a songwriter of great quality.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

Hoverance is released on Gare Du Nord records, the label Long runs alongside Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge) and Robert Rotifer.

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Courtney Barnett – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (April 5, 2015)

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Courtney Barnett – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (April 5, 2015)

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Joe

After a double whammy of Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol at the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery it was then on to the Rescue Rooms to see Australia’s latest sensation, the irresistibly dour Courtney Barnett.

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You like words? She’s got a whole dirty mouthful of them, most of them about feeling vulnerable. Her lyrics are like listening to her casually articulating an inner monologue but done in such a charmingly throwaway manner that tonight’s sold out show becomes a heaving screaming adulation-athon.

The next day I feel like I have a large hadron collider inside my head. It was a great gig but I had reservations – namely that the drummer and bassist want to be Nirvana, which meant Courtney’s fabulous lyrics get lost in the rock. That’s right I said rock, as there was me expecting a caustic Joni Mitchell, but instead she came across as more like Patti Smith doing Lou Reed’s Rock n Roll Animal. At least her track Depreston sounded recognisable and Avant Gardener was a blast.

Courtney has presence, she can write the best lyrics I’ve heard for many a year, she’s going to be huge and best of all, she appeared in my dreams last night as Arya from Game of Thrones, instead of a guitar she had a sword and she stuck it right in my heart, it’s still there now. Meanwhile, back at Winterfell.

By John Haylock

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