Archive | November, 2015

Top Five Protest Songs of 2015

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Top Five Protest Songs of 2015

Posted on 27 November 2015 by Joe

From the tragic consequences of US gun laws to the UK’s ongoing debate around inequality and low wages as well as worldwide debate around the plight of refugees fleeing war torn Syria, it’s been another year where political songwriters have had lots of inspiration.

Here we take a look at our five favourite political songs. All can be loosely called protest songs, but also offer more than that, often looking at the real lives of those affected by the political decisions taking place.

Darren Hayman – Down Among the Dead Men

Chants for Socialists is a rare political album from Darren Hayman. As you would expect from the former Hefner frontman it carries none of the bombast of Chumbawumba. Instead he has taken the lyrics from Victorian socialist William Morris, set it to music and given it a modern take with a choir of friends and those living nearby Morris’s former London home.

On this, one of the album’s standout tracks, Hayman successfully conveys a comforting sense of comraderie among the hopelessness of a world of social injustice, all sounding like a mix of The Kinks and a Victorian pub singalong thanks to co-writing duties from frequent Hayman collaborator Robert Rotifer.

Villagers- Little Bigot

A few years it would have been inconceivable that Ireland, with all the atrocities its Catholic society forced on women and gay people would allow same sex marriages. In the year Ireland really came of age Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien penned the album Darling Arithmetic, which is as much about Ireland’s attitude to gay men like himself as it is a wonderful collection of songs about love.

He is keen that this shold be seen as a love album first and a protest album second, but on Little Bigot he rejoices as finally the old way of thinking is cast aside. “So take the blame, little bigot. And throw that hatred on the fire,” he sings.

Belle and Sebastian – Cat with the Cream

Politicians and the banking elite are the smug cats here on Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch’s bitter take on British politics. Written after the Tory led coalition came into power in 2010 it was not released until this year when the Conservatives won an outright victory and looked to lap up even more cream. ‘Tory like a cat with the cream’ sums up many of that party’s politics wonderfully, but Labour and their ‘grubby little red’ MPs and the Lib Dems ‘flapping hopelessly’ also come under fire.

John Howard and the Night Mail – Tip of your Shoe

This is the second mention in this list of protest songs for Robert Rotifer, who in between fronting his own band Rotifer and helping Darren Hayman out, also collaborated this year with 1970s singer songwriter John Howard as part of the Night Mail. Here Rotifer’s lyrics and Howard’s wonderful voice and music take on xenophobia and right wing media commentators, especially ones of the likes of Katie Hopkins, who spout all sorts of vile political rubbish on their “21st century toilet wall” of social media.

Southern Tenant Folk Union – Slaughter in San Francisco


It seems incredulous that the US government still allows gun ownership to go unchecked in yet another year of horrific shootings. The school shootings are particular tragic and provide the sad inspiration for Slaughter in San Francisco, among the best songs on Southern Tenant Folk Union’s album The Chuck Norris Project, which is packed full of protest at a range of issues from bigotry to gun laws.

Here singer Rory Butler provides genuine emotion as he shows the horror of such incidents through the eyes of one of the frightened young victims. It’s one of the year’s most heartbreaking songs that sadly is set to have resonance for years to come until the US legislature finally sees sense on gun crime.

Compiled by Joe Lepper

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The Mountain Goats – Trinity Centre, Bristol (November 17, 2015)

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The Mountain Goats – Trinity Centre, Bristol (November 17, 2015)

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Joe

“You saved my life,” shouts one fan to John Darnielle, the songwriter and frontman for The Mountain Goats, towards the end of the band’s blistering set in Bristol’s converted church venue Trinity.

Darnielle, acknowledges the compliment but with perspective. “No I didn’t. You did that, all I did was provide the music you listened to at the time,” he replied.

This exchange is a good indicator of how Darnielle’s story telling song writing style, which always offers hope amidst despair, impacts on his fans.

John Darnielle

John Darnielle

It also shows how much he knows the value of music as a healer, whether he is singing about his own demons, from an abusive home life on the album The Sunset Tree, or about the real, sometimes tragic lives, of his wrestling heroes on the band’s latest album “Beat the Champ.”

This respect for the power of music is also evident in The Mountain Goats live performance here, as it  perfectly blended Beat the Champ tracks with a career spanning greatest hits show across, an at times, frantic hour and 45 minutes.

Darnielle is equally at home jumping around on stage with a full band and leading sing-a-longs on crowd pleasers such as No Children, This Year and Up the Wolves, as he is during the set’s solo middle section, which included an excellent version of 2008’s Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle complete with a discussion about the killing skills of the Nintendo plumber.

This solo section also provided a chance to play some of his older tracks to please the old guard that were evident here. This included Song for an Old Friend, from a 1995 compilation from Pottery Records called The Wheel Method, as well as Waving At You, from 1996’s Nothing For Juice album.

mgoats2

While driven by Darnielle’s songs and stage prescence The Mountain Goats for some time have been a proper band, with Jon Wurster’s emotionally charged drumming and Peter Hughes’ melodic bass now firmly part of The Mountain Goats sound.

Increasingly on record, with albums such as Beat the Champ and All Eternals Deck, there has a good use of horn and string sections as well.

For this leg of the tour they are joined by Matt Douglas on clarinet, sax as well as guitar and keyboards. He is a welcome addition bringing the latest recorded band sound to stage, especially on Beat the Champ tracks such as the epic Heel Turn 2, which has the potential to be as big a live favourite as This Year and No Children.

The last time we saw The Mountain Goats in Bristol was a couple of years ago with just Darnielle and Hughes at the more sedate setting of St George’s Church. To see Darnielle and co for the first time as a pogo-ing rock outfit in a packed venue showed what a truly rich live act they are.

While the life saving ability of their songs is still open to question they are without doubt one of the most life affirming acts around.

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Paper Mache Dream Balloon

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Paper Mache Dream Balloon

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Joe

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard were one of the breakthrough acts at this year’s Glastonbury Festival as they brought their brand of psychedelic rock to the Park and William’s Green stages.

However, these are no new artists, since forming in Australia in 2010 King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have churned out seven fun packed albums ranging from heavy rock to this piece of perfect pop psychedelia.

Paper-Mache

For Paper Mache Dream Balloon out go the distorted guitars and lengthy conceptual moments and in comes purely acoustic instruments, allowing front man Stu Mackenzie’s excellent flute playing to shine amid the double basses, harmonicas, violins, acoustic guitars and clarinet.

The result is a whimsical album, like the soundtrack to a lost Australian kids pop show from 1969. Fans of more latter day psychedelic exponents such as Dukes of Stratosphear and more recently Papernut Cambridge will love this especially as it harks back so vividly to those innocent days of lava lamp pop.

At times it is bizarre, like the frenetic Trapdoor and Bitter Boogie that sounds like a warped version of Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 classic Spirit in the Sky.

Mostly though its just great pop with Bone, the title track, Dirt and NGRI (Bloodstain) among many, many highlights.

After seeing them live I realized how fun this band is. Here they take the fun to a new level and produce one of our favourite albums of the year.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Fly Cat Fly – Pocketful of Pain

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Fly Cat Fly – Pocketful of Pain

Posted on 11 November 2015 by Joe

Recommended to us by Somerset based singer songwriter Nick Parker, this German trio have some stadium sized hooks and great melodies in their small indie band locker.

As a result Fly Cat Fly could be equally at home amid a sea of several thousand waving iPhones torches or in a dimly lit backroom of a little pub.

Fly Cat Fly. Photo by Photo by Robert Krampitz

Fly Cat Fly. Photo by Robert Krampitz

Opener Staring Holes is a case in point. It’s got some huge drumming in the intro, beautiful festival twinkling guitar but with its whispering vocals is also a slight, subtle track.

Third track Ready To is another high point with a great soaring chorus amid the distorted guitars, as is I Don’t Need Eyes To See, with its simple guitar part and Bowie like vocal delivery.

The centrepiece comes with Kingdom Come, a film soundtrack of a sweeping song that starts slight and slow then goes wonderfully ballistic towards the end.

Across all 11 tracks there’s plenty to like here and shows that there are still interesting new, guitar-based indie rock acts around.

For those UK readers wanting to see Fly Cat Fly they have a string of dates taking in London, Glastonbury, Bath and Swindon over December. More details here.

7/10

By Joe Lepper

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We gave an indie band a bad review…the response from one fan shocked us

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We gave an indie band a bad review…the response from one fan shocked us

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Joe

A strange thing happened last week following an album review we posted. For the first time in around six years of reviews and features we got our first piece of Twitter abuse.

We’ve had fans disagree with one of our views before. There have been people telling us our end of year best of lists are wrong to miss out a particular band or album. We’ve had bands respond sometimes with sadness about a review, but mostly with happiness for getting a mention. We’ve even been persuaded to change our minds about a review after strong lobbying from fans.

But we’ve never been sworn at and we’ve never been told to censor a review just because one of their fans disagrees with it

Here’s the particular Twitter response, from @coolguitarboy

swearyone

We were pretty surprised that our negative review for the debut album by London quintet The Leaf Library could garner such a response so we reTweeted it and copied @coolguitarboy in.

Then came something back from him  that was thankfully less sweary-pops, but nevertheless also worrying.

secondone

This response is something that we hear from time to time among indie music fans, in particular, that their beloved artists are somehow sacred because they don’t earn the mega bucks of their major label contemporaries. They believe that music reviewers and blogs should not print anything critical about them. But why not?

These bands and their labels are producing a product that they are asking consumers to buy. They then hire PR people to send them to people like us to review. If that product is not original, not interesting, perhaps just a bit bland surely it is right that reviewers give their honest opinion. Independent bands and labels are not charities. They are producing things to sell and if they sell a lot then perhaps they either run out or end up doing a deal with a major? Its business, but for the most part on a very small scale.

Of course subjectivity is also involved in a review, one fan’s “awesome must buy” is another reviewer’s “unimaginative mess”. But surely differing opinions on an album are allowed?

Surely it would be better for the likes of ‘coolguitarboy’ to tell us why an album that we have given a bad review of is so good.

Sufjan Stevens fans did this to us for our review of his Age of Adz album. They were so good at arguing their case that I went back and relistened and relistened and ended up agreeing with them. I was wrong on that one. Maybe I’m wrong about The Leaf Library.

I’ve yet to meet a label or a band that advocates such censorship and that they should be given protected status. Even Leaf Library shared our review, with a little joke too.

leaflibrary

They did this because a) they still recognise that someone has taken the time to listen to them rather than ignore them b) they are probably really nice people and c) they take reviews from small blogs like us with a pinch of salt.

The final point is the insinuation that blogs like ours are on the gravy train (admittedly a pretty rubbish one involving free CDs and gig tickets) and also don’t buy CDs or support independent music.

We spend vast sums each year on music both live and on disc. We also pay for the upkeep of this blog to promote those that do not often get reviewed. We get no money for it and give up our time to do that.

Just ask artists like John Howard, one of the most fiercely independent and talented artists around, or labels like Gare Du Nord records and their roster that includes the hugely talented Alex Highton, Rotifer, Picture Box, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge. Or ask labels like Fika Recordings, Brighton’s Bleeding Hearts or Wiaiwya, who did release The Leaf Library’s album but have also attracted favourable reviews from us in the past. All will vouch for our credentials as a blog that is extremely keen to promote good music.

But if any of the above produce something that is poor we will also give our honest opinion. We  will not lie about a product that we believe is not up to scratch.

The bands themselves don’t want to be treated like a charity case. That demeans them more than a bad review by someone who has taken time to listen to their music and give an opinion on it.

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The Leaf Library – Daylight Versions

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The Leaf Library – Daylight Versions

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Joe

The press release describes this debut from London quintet The Leaf Library as “wonderfully-woozy, drone-pop about meteorology”. The reality though is a hit and mostly miss album that at best can be compared to one of those nothingy, cloudy days where the most exciting weather development is a slight breeze or a bit of drizzle.

It is difficult to capture the sparse magic of Young Marble Giants, the sense of atmosphere created by Talk Talk or the subtle, fuzzed up melodies of Yo La Tengo. Nevertheless The Leaf Library make a stab at sounding like all three, with pretty poor results.

leaflibrary

Opener Asleep Between Stations drifts along pleasantly without ever really reaching its destination, while Tilting offers slightly more promise with trumpets coming in, but never raises itself above Broken Social Scene album filler status.

Acre is a six-minute master class of anti-climax that sadly is just plain boring, while Sailing offers little more. My notes just say “dull, dull, dull” for this one.

Pushing/Swimming fares little better, sounding like a real mess, particularly the percussion. It’s a bit like a Cocteau Twins gig that inexplicably is being held in a secondary school woodwork class.

But occasionally they nail it. Slow Spring has some nice guitar picking, not intricate enough to garner a “wow” but nice enough. Rings of Saturn has a great guitar hook and is the only really good track on an album that has borrowed too much from other bands and offers nothing new.

Leaf Library are clearly yet to find their own voice but Rings of Saturn at least offers hope that there’s an interesting band in there somewhere.

2/10

By Joe Lepper

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Co-pilgrim – Slows To Go

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Co-pilgrim – Slows To Go

Posted on 02 November 2015 by Joe

Our last album review of a Co-pilgrim release, for 2014’s Plumes, focused on why this talented band from Winchester is failing to get greater attention.

In song writer and frontman Mike Gale they have one of UK music’s best kept secrets, with his bittersweet lyrics merging beautifully with ’60s guitars and melodies. How his tracks are not well known is seemingly a mystery, we gushed.

co-pilgrim

With their latest release, Slows to Go, we are back at the gushing again. The same beautifully arranged guitar pop is evident, but sounds bigger here. The press release says as much too, with Gale keen to point out that this is much more of a full band release, with Andy Reaney’s bass, backing vocals from Claire Bennett and the lap steel and 12 string guitars of Joe Bennett, who as with Plumes is once again producer, all given greater prominence.

For points of reference Gale is a huge Guided by Voices fan and the same sense of indie melodies that Robert Pollard creates year in year out as a solo artist, with GBV and Boston Spaceships, are clear on this release. Teenage Fanclub at their song writing peak on Grand Prix is another, as is REM, particularly their earlier albums, where they too mixed melancholy and joy so well.

From the opening title track this larger sound is evident with its lush vocal harmonies that drift into second track Echo in My Dreams ,where the lap steel washes in and out over the guitar pop.

Speaking of pop You Come Over, You Go and She’s Finally Here have the album’s best melodies, instantly in the brain after just one listen.

Is there a duff track? Not one and even when Gale and co take a break from the lovely guitar pop with the lilting It’s a Blue Moon,  the lap steel’s emotion shines through to make it another standout song in this collection.

Looking across this album and its companions Plumes and A Fairer Sea (2013) this is perhaps the best of the three, the melancholy takes an even bigger backseat to optimism and musically this is the most polished of the lot with Gale’s songs given the sound they deserve.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

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