Archive | July, 2015

Bert Jansch – Live At the 12 Bar

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Bert Jansch – Live At the 12 Bar

Posted on 31 July 2015 by Joe

Bert Jansch’s passing in 2011 was a tragedy for music. From the 1960s right up until his later years this stellar guitarist and underrated songwriter was capable of hanging onto his old fans and still bring in new ones alike, especially with his excellent 2006 album Black Swan.

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A key factor in his enduring appeal was his effortlessly dazzling guitar playing and his place in music history, along with Davy Graham and John Renbourn, in taking folk music to new and sometimes even exotic levels.

In short the man was a legend. But he didn’t do legendary gigs, instead they were often warm intimate affairs, and this 1996 gig at the 12 Bar is no exception. As ever his guitar playing here is beautiful and the mix of songs spanning his career to date, including favourites such as Blackwater Slide, Woman Like You and Strolling Down the Highway, gives it a greatest hits feel and therefore makes it a superb introduction to his work for the uninitiated.

Don’t expect long rambling banter from Bert though. That gets in the way of the songs and his chats here are brief, but to the point and still friendly. He’ll make a wry aside here and there and focus on giving a small piece of detail about the song, which is why he was on stage in the first place after all. During such brief interludes he takes time to make sure the name Jackson C Frank is remembered during his cover of the American songwriter’s Blues Run The Game. Same goes for Victor Jara, the murdered Chilean folk singer who is the subject of Let Me Sing.

Is this live set exceptional? No, but crucially it is typical of a warm spirited, much missed giant of English music.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Tame Impala – Currents

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Tame Impala – Currents

Posted on 30 July 2015 by Joe

With this their third album Tame Impala have truly emerged from mere interesting Australian psych rock act to global pop sensation in waiting.

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Hitting the UK album charts at number three this month and number one in Australia,  Currents deserves to be their most successful album to date. The weird trippy psych rock of their debut album Innerspeaker and the stomp of its follow up Lonerism, in particular its stand out track Elephant, are still here. So too are the synths you can lose yourself in and the quirky phasered drum rolls and guitar licks. But here they sound far more pop, far more danceable, with the bass squelchier and the band’s key figure Kevin Parker’s vocals purer, almost soulful at times.

The Less I Know the Better and Cause I’m a Man are genuine pop gems, to rival Innerspeaker’s top pop picker Solitude is Bliss. Let it Happen, in all its nearly eight minutes of glory, is weird, wonderful pop that could conceivably go on far longer.

So where does this leave Watson and co? A good point of reference is perhaps The Flaming Lips, another eclectic psychedelic outfit that embraced pop music on gusto ,on Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi and the Pink Robots. Take note festival organisers A Lips and Impala double bill on your main stage would be sensational. But on this evidence it may not be long before Tame Impala gets star billing of the two.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Splendour – Wollaton Park, Nottingham (July 18, 2015)

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Splendour – Wollaton Park, Nottingham (July 18, 2015)

Posted on 28 July 2015 by John Haylock

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as you wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself,
It’s later than you think

…so sang The Specials back in the heady mists of post punk and on this sunny July day these lyrics rang truer than ever as what seemed like the entire population of Nottingham gathered in the beautiful grounds of Wollaton Hall for the biggest party of the year.

The Specials

This year’s Splendour had a distinctly retro feel, with The Specials topping a bill, which also included James and Banarama. It was like a Forest game but with a ‘Now ! that’s what I call Eighties!’ soundtrack. As well as this retro fell there were plenty more distractions at this family friendly event as well this year, including a funfair and extra stalls and more comedy acts.

Among the potential stars of the future that also appeared was Indiana, a local lass with a confident swagger and a really strong voice; a kind of Paloma Faith meets Roisin Murphy from Moloko vibe. She really got the crowd going and if she gets the breaks she deserves she’ll go far as she went down an absolute storm.

Unfortunately Lawson suffered disastrous sound gremlins at the start of their set and frantic hand gestures from the band to their road crew failed to rectify the sound until the third number. They pluckily soldiered on but the impetus had gone, a shame because their punchy pop recipe could have been a winner amongst an eager crowd of younger listeners.

Time to get down to the serious stuff and tell you about Nottingham’s best new band in years Eyre Llew. This trio of two guitarists and a keyboard player were playing only their third gig to a rapt audience on the Wollaton Hall Courtyard stage. Sadly they were only given half an hour but they used it wisely, utilising the quiet/loud aesthetic to great effect as they veered from hushed and whispered vocals to emotionally charged ambient guitar atmospherics. Next time lads, louder much, much louder! Watch this space.

Bananarama

Warning, this next paragraph contains references to “two thirds of the world’s best selling all girl band” (the compere’s words not mine).. “give it up for Bananarama”. In my time I’ve seen amongst others Dylan, Sabbath, Bowie, Nirvana, Cash, Cave, The Velvet Underground, The Flaming Lips. What am I doing here watching Banarama? Why, I’m dancing to ‘Robert De Niros Waiting’ that’s what, and you know what…they were great and I think the majority of middle aged mums present who still can’t dance for toffee agreed. Venus, Help and It Ain’t What Ya Do’ were blared out amongst a set that was cheesy, but magnificently so.

Who would have thought that of all the bands from the Eighties James would still be relevant and so bloody popular. They drew a huge crowd on the main stage with Tim Booth proving to be an evergreen front man; cool, calm, collected and prone to that funny dance he still does every five minutes. They kicked off with their biggest hit from their 90s heyday Sit Down and it was glorious, absolutely glorious. At one point guitarist Larry Gott sat on the monitor, Tim was above him singing and dancing totally in the zone. James must be one of our greatest pop treasures and long may they reign.

James

After a fractious Specials gig six months ago in Nottingham, there set was either going to be a 90 minute Terry Hall hissy fit or a delirious run through of some of the best loved songs you’ve ever heard. Fortunately for all concerned it turned out to be the latter.

Opening with the eerie strains of Ghost Town the band play out this number one mini-melodrama to great effect, even dragging it out to twice its original length and improvising.

They went on to kill a ravenous audience and they were not going through the motions either. They still meant it maaan as they ploughed through some of the most biting, politically astute observations you’ll ever hear in song. They tore through Stereotypes, the aforementioned Enjoy Yourself, Rat Race, Too Much, Too Young, Monkey Man, Message To You Rudy. By this time I half expected Brian Clough to descend grinning from the heavens, it was just wonderful to look around and see a vast heaving panorama of terrible dad dancing, mums throwing kids around with gay abandon and even sullen teenagers putting their phones away for five minutes to dance with complete strangers.

Terry Hall even asked someone to get the band a couple of 99s from the ice cream man half a field away, and later was heard to say where’s those fucking ice creams? Yes, I know this sounds crazy but even Terry was in a good mood.

Splendour continues to go from strength to strength, this now annual fixture set in such fantastic surroundings and with such a family orientated vibe is cheaper than Alton Towers, nearer than Skegness and infinitely less stressful than a Forest home game. Splendid.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes

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Owl & Mouse – Departures

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Owl & Mouse – Departures

Posted on 15 July 2015 by Joe

One of the standout tracks on Fika Recordings superb free advent calendar give away of songs in the build up to Christmas 2011 was Sandwich Day by Owl & Mouse. This beautiful song perfectly encapsulated the lazy, cosy feel of a relaxed Christmas, thanks to the vocals of the band’s lead songwriter Hannah Botting. She’s a future star of indiepop but perhaps is yet to realise it.

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A reasonable point of reference for Owl & Mouse, which also features Hannah’s sister Jen, Dan Mayfield and Emma Winston (Enderby’s Room) and Tom Wade (We Aeronauts), is Allo Darlin’. It’s a comparison Botting clearly dislikes, saying while “very flattering” it is “not very accurate in my opinion”. But with her soft Australian vocals and the predominance of ukulele it is a likeness that serves a useful purpose. If you love Allo Darlin’, whose bassist Bill Botting is Hannah’s brother, then you are likely to find a lot to like in Owl & Mouse.

As a debut album The Fika Recordings released Departures gives a good account of the band and shows the indie pop buying public what an asset to the genre Botting is as a vocalist and lyricist.

Production wise there’s a really strong start with Keep Your Eyes Open Wide, which features some lovely synth work from Winston that perfectly matches Botting’s vocals. Winston and Botting’s combination is a real strength in the band that is exploited well here.

There are other strengths too. The combined vocals of the band, especially the baritone of Wade work really well. Sick of Love is another strong track, with guitar added to the mix and the vocal arrangement on Misfits is wonderful.

There are trumpets too, which are used well on the album’s title track, and the sad love song Canvas Bag, which emerges as perhaps the album’s best track. Guitar from Paul Rains, of Allo Darlin’ helps this song.

But the album doesn’t always play to these strengths and it seems to fall back into the band’s comfort zone at times. Too often the ukulele is at the fore, at times unfairly muscling out Winston’s wonderful keyboards.

There is a need for a slight, intimate sound. Botting sounds like she’s confiding with the listener so the bombast of heavy electric guitars and pounding drums may seem out of place. But the focus on ukulele feels a little too comfortable and unambitious at times. This is a band that sounds like they have outgrown the ukulele but can’t give it up, like an early teen with a childhood teddy bear.

Take Octopi. The trumpets here sound great, but Winston struggles for attention over those bloody ukuleles. This also happens on Worst Kiss, which sounds like a demo of what could be a great song.

As a fan, reviewer and listener I’d like to see more ambitious production with far more synths, more vocal interplay and far less ukuleles. Until they truly find their voice, play to their strengths more and ditch those bloomin’ ukes those unwelcome comparisons with Allo Darlin’ are likely to continue.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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Vonda Shepard – Rookie

Vonda Shepard – Rookie

Posted on 10 July 2015 by John Haylock

Don’t get me wrong I like lashings of sharp 90 degree riffs played by skinny kids in ripped cardigans, cute indie popsters singing about how boys are horrid, punishing European techno with not very subtle S&M overtones and woozy folktronica with wobbly choruses (usually in Welsh ) as much as the next  moccasin wearing hipster but sometimes it’s nice just to bathe in the sultry vocal warmth of a real classy singer. Hello? Vonda? Yes, I mean you.

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‘Classy’, a rare phrase nowadays but in this instance a perfectly fitting one, for Vonda Shepard, who is now onto album number fourteen. I’d never heard of her until recently and I suppose some of you Philistines will call this middle of the road territory or heaven forbid, BBC Radio 2 playlist fodder. She was after all the bar room singer for five long seasons of Ally McBeal, the most middle road of all US TV shows in recent years.

But having such a narrow view would be a pity as Vonda proves here that she can pack a punch on rollicking self-penned, strutting bluesy numbers and is equally at home knocking out a tuneful ballad, think Janis Joplin without the self destruct button. I imagine the only thing Vonda is addicted to is muesli and attending regular yoga classes in the mall on Thursdays, yes, she’s a clean living gal and seemingly without the cliched rock n roll baggage, and what’s more she has hair to die for darling.

The title track, Rookie, Need Your Love and Turn It Up are confident mid tempo stompers, they’ll drag you onto the dance floor, do some pouting then touch your arse accidentally. If you wait long enough she’ll bang out some tearing at the heartstrings songs about lurve lost and lurve gone done wrong, see Looking for the Days and Tell My Body for further details.

Miss Shepard shows that she is the perfect antidote to vacuous technicolour-twerking, teenage girl pop star and boy band banality and should appeal to fans of Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams and apprentice hairdressers everywhere. A rookie cookie monster of a fourteenth album.

By John Haylock

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Top 20 Albums of 2015…so far

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Top 20 Albums of 2015…so far

Posted on 03 July 2015 by Joe

At the year’s half way point we take a look back on some of our favourite albums of the year so far. There’s been a distinct up turn in pop amongst our largely indie and alternative releases, with Franz Ferdnand and Spark’s collaboration and the return of Go! Team and They Might Be Giants amongst the standouts. We also feature an homage to arguably the UK’s golden era of pop, a concept album about wrestling, some prog rock, some teen angst, a bit of adult angst and another regular placing for Robert Pollard, who retains his tag as rock’s most productive artist. Watch out for our end of year list in December.

20. Mammoth Penguins – Hide and Seek

 

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Mammoth Penguins, the new band formed by Standard Fare’s Emma Kupa, are one of the best new acts to emerge this year. At it’s heart it’s basic indie pop of drums, crunchy guitar chords, bass and bitter sweet lyrics. But an elevation comes from Kupa’s distinct vocals, which here seem clearer and more powerful than on Standard Fare releases. Plus there seems to be a sharper focus to the songs as well, which pack a real punch. Read our full review here.

19. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color

 

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Our contributor Sarah Robertson’s favourite album of the year launches itself into our top 20 thanks to its “timeless, soulful” sound and a range of songs “that could provide the backdrop to a cult road trip film.” Read our full review here.

18. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

 

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Fronted by John Darnielle and still very much a three piece, with Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster in tow, the Mountain Goats’s latest is a concept album about the very human tales of wrestling, from their young fans to the stars of the ring themselves. Heartbreaking and joyous. Read our full review here.

17. The Bevis Frond – Miasma and Inner Marshland Reissues

 

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Welcome reissue for the cult 1980s prog rock act’s first two albums. The band’s driving force Nick Salomon is still very much guitar noodling and plays for the second time in two years at Glastonbury this year. Read our full review here to find out why his band is so adored by guitar luminaries such as Jay Mascis.

16. Matt Creer – The Leeward Tide

 

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As calms after the storm go this latest album by Isle of Man singer songwriter Matt Creer is just about perfect. We first heard his beautiful take on folk music via a Tweet from Chris TT. We hope this placing in our Top 20 albums of the year so far prompts others to discover his remarkable talent. Read our full review here.

15. They Might Be Giants – Glean

 

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The iconic pop duo have revisited and updated their 1980s dial-a-song idea to release a song a week throughout 2015. Glean rounds up the best of those released so far and reveals they have lost none of their pop credentials. Read our full review here.

14. Papernut Cambridge – Nutlets (1967-1980)

 

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So it appears Hot Chocolate used to be cool. Who knew? Well, Ian Button, who releases under the Papernut Cambridge moniker, did. The former Death in Vegas/Thrashing Doves man is something of a 1970s pop expert and this fine collection features ten covers of his favourites from around that time. Read our full review here.

13. SLUG- Ripe

 

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Any album that is connected with Field Music is likely to be enthusiastically received at Neon Filler towers. The band have produced some of our favourite music over the last decade. Ripe is the twisted brain child o their touring bass player Ian Black and has both Brewis Brothers on board for the ride. Imagine Queen producing their music in 21st Century Sunderland and you get a flavour of what is on show here.

12. Calexico – Edge of the Sun

 

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You know what you are going to get when you play a Calexico album, the smooth sounds of Californian country rock with a consistent undercurrent of Marichi brass. Edge of the Sun offers no surprises, but is their most satisfying release in years. Iron And Wine’s Sam Beam, Neko Case and Gaby Moreno all pitch in with vocal support on an album that would sound best listened to in a desert.

11. The Tigercats – Mysteries

 

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Now signed to Fortuna Pop and with Allo Darlin’s Paul Rains in their ranks the London band have managed to nail the potentially tricky second album after the critical success of their debut Isle of Dogs. It sounds great and as ever the songwriting and lyrics are superb. Read our full review here.

10. Evans the Death – Expect Delays

 

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The despair for young people under coalition and now Conservative government since 2010 is embedded in every scream, guitar riff and drum beat on this incendiary latest album from the London four piece. This is what it feels like to be young and pissed off in all its magnificent angst. Read our full review here.

9. Ralegh Long – Hoverance

 

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Gare Du Nord label artist Ralegh Long takes the listener into the world of the English countryside for a beautiful, rural inspired collection of romantic and thoughtful songs. Read our full review here.

8. Southern Tenant Folk Union – The Chuck Norris Project

 

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The Folk and bluegrass collective took a bold step using the film titles of right wing action star Chuck Norris to take on the weighty issues of the world, from gun crime to racism. Thankfully it worked, especially on Slaughter on San Francisco, where their singer Rory Butler delivers one of the vocal performances of the year. Read our full review here.

7. The Wave Pictures – Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon

 

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Is this the best dirty rock n roll album of the year? We declared as such back in February and so far few have come close. With Billy Childish on board for production duties the trio get down and dirty and even roll out a couple of Creedence Clearwater Revival numbers. Read our full review here.

6. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

 

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His 2010 album The Age of Adz may have been his most successful to date but it never sat quite easy with us. Granted its electronica was innovative but Stevens always sounds best to us with a stripped back sound and a hanky to wipe away the tears from his sad lyrics. Here he reveals his most intimate album yet focusing on his uneasy relationship with his late mother Carrie and his adoration for his step father Lowell Brams, who he runs his label Asthmatic Kitty with. This album is magnificently sad and uplifting in equal measure, as all great Sufjan Stevens albums should be.

5. Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

 

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Following a five year break between albums the Scottish indie pop legends were back with one of the best releases. With added disco chic on The Party Line they even dip their toe into politics, with The Cat with the Cream and its heart breaking take on coalition government era Britain.

4. Villagers – Darling Arithmatic

 

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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. Read our full review here.

3. Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes

 

Robert Pollard - Faulty Superheroes

Like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts I too love rock and roll. But sometimes the idea of putting another dime in the juke box baby fills me with horror. Then just when you’d almost given up hope an album comes along and renews your faith in rock and roll. This is that album. Read our full review here.

2. FFS – FFS

 

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This merging of art rockers Franz Ferdinand with 1970s oddball pop duo Sparks is one of the few collaborations in music that works. The Sparks brothers of Ron and Russell Mael look to have the upper hand in directing this, at times utterly bonkers, collection of pop songs. Alex Kapranos and co seem content to follow their lead and enjoy the ride. Read our full review here.

1. The Go! Team – The Scene Between

 

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The whole album from start to finish is teaming with singles, with wonderful hooks, riffs and choruses shining throughout. Its perfect pop and we challenge anyone who professes to have any form of appreciation for a good pop song to dislike this album. This gained a rare 10/10 from us when released. Read our full review here.

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Mammoth Penguins – Hide and Seek

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Mammoth Penguins – Hide and Seek

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Joe

Mammoth Penguins, the new band formed by Standard Fare’s Emma Kupa, are one of the best new acts to emerge this year. At it’s heart it’s basic indie pop of drums, crunchy guitar chords, bass and bitter sweet lyrics. But an elevation comes from Kupa’s distinct vocals, which here seem clearer and more powerful than on Standard Fare releases. Plus there is a sharper focus to the songs as well. They just seem to pack more of a punch than most other guitar based indie pop we’ve heard this year.

Mammoth_PENGUINS

Take Cries At The Movies for example, the listener gets the feeling that Kupa has lived through this, thanks to her strong vocal delivery. On Strength In My Legs there is genuine power conveyed in the trio’s music.

The opening of Work It Out is also a big, wonderful statement of intent as is the album’s closer When I Was Your Age.

Granted the production is unadventurous. It sounds like it was recorded live, but it’s clear and powerful and sometimes this less is more approach is the best option. The songs are good too for an act that have emerged as the finished article and on this evidence are perhaps only one more album away from rivaling Standard Fare in indie pop fans affections.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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