Archive | January, 2016

Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield

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Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield

Posted on 29 January 2016 by Joe

Emma Pollock has such an assertive voice. She had it during her time in legendary Scottish indie band The Delgados, in her solo work, her time in Canadian/Scottish band The Burns Unit and when she guested on the Dry the River track Roman Candle in 2014.

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Here on her first solo release in five years she sounds perhaps even bolder, as she tackles some weighty issues around the death of her mother, illness of her father and memories of her childhood.

Even the title In Search of Harperfield is deeply personal, referring to the name of her parents’ first home together. To be this open about your life and family takes the kind of courage she’s exhibited in her singing throughout her career.

But while the deeply personal lyrics are a key strength of In Search of Harperfield it is the music itself that makes this such a fine album.

Parks and Recreation is a superb single, as it looks back to a teenage turf war from 1984 between the young Pollock and her friends with miners’ children who had been given a free holiday at a nearby caravan park.

The production is bold too, full of sweeping strings on tracks such as Cannot Keep a Secret and Don’t Make Me Wait, quirky electronica on Alabaster and he folk of Clemency, where almost, just almost, Pollock turns from indie pop singer to diva.

It’s hard to fault this album so quite simply I won’t. It sounds great, the lyrics and attention to detail about family life and growing up are superb and the production perfectly shows off her vocals. Already a contender for our end of year best album list.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Best of 2015 Albums – The Ones That Got Away

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Best of 2015 Albums – The Ones That Got Away

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Joe

Like many music blogs the work we do reviewing albums and writing features is a labour of love, rather than a source of income. Sometimes though this means planned reviews of albums don’t get written up as life gets in the way. This happened towards the tail end of last year, a busy time with family matters and the day job.

With a bit of time in January we thought, better late than never, we’ll get some brief reviews up of our quartet of Best of 2015 Albums that escaped us at the time

The Everlasting Yeah – Anima Rising

 

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Formed from the UK based members of That Petrol Emotion, this debut is a true hidden gem. On a first casual listen some of the tracks, like opener A Little Bit of Uh-huh and All Around the World its full of some standard Rolling Stones or Primal Scream rock riffs. But then the layers of guitar music begin to shine through and a far more sophisticated beast than the tired, old rock of Gillespie and co becomes apparent. This is perhaps best heard on Take That Damn Train Again, which is elevated way beyond standard rock fare with the addition of Gallon Drunk’s Terry Edwards and his marvellously insane saxophone playing.

The ‘slowie’ Everything is Beautiful is among our highlights and the sort of track we’d like to hear more from on future releases. There’s some lovely guitar work here and this track has the best melody on the album and reminded us a little of XTC’s later work – high praise indeed.

Design – Black Marker Red Marker

 

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Time for one of our local bands, hailing from Somerset this trio are formed by former Chesterfields band member Simon Barber and features Helen Stickland on guitar and Rob Parry on drums. It sounds nothing like the twee pop of the Chesterfield though and instead more akin to another great West Country band of old – 1980s punk act Thatcher on Acid, particularly on the driving bass on opener You Only Had to Ask.

There’s some good tunes on here, as well as zeitgeist lyrics tackling weighty issues of the day such as consumerism and the Middle East. If You Like That is among the best  on the album, as is the more rock orientated Kill Someone.

Promised Land Sound – For Use and Delight

 

promised land sound

Slapped wrists indeed for us in missing this excellent album from folk, pop, psychedelia, you name it, act from Nashville. There’s some downright lovely guitar arrangements here as you’d expect from a band from Nashville, and in lead vocalist Joe Scala they have a great frontman, whose relaxed vocal delivery seems effortless but takes a lot of work for far less talented singers to get right.

Those who saw Alabama Shakes in the US recently may have caught them live. You were lucky on the evidence of thisalbum . Check out the final, frantic minute of Push and Pull (All the Time) to hear why we were so impressed with this release.

Chorus Girl – Chorus Girl

 

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This debut album from this London-based guitar pop quartet is full of great indie anthems, part Breeders, part the quality, modern indie-pop we’ve come to expect from their label Fortuna Pop. The beating heart of these songs is their chief songwriter Silvi Wersing, whose vocals brings a certain,  at times goth, edge to the music. Key tracks include Sweetness and Slight and opener Oh To Be A Defector.

Reviews by Joe Lepper

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Great Lakes- Wild Vision

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Great Lakes- Wild Vision

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Joe

Great Lakes are among the least well known  of the bands to emerge from the Elephant 6 Collective, which also boasts Jeff Mangum and Apples in Stereos among its luminaries.

They are also among the least successful commercially. Listening to this, their fifth album since forming 20 years ago and first since 2010’s Ways of Escape, I can see why.

The blend of country twang, most notably on album opener and its best song Swim the River, with brooding ballads is pleasant enough. But its not pushing boundaries as another Elephant 6 act Apples in Stereo do and nor is the quality of songwriting up their with Mangum’s great tracks.

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Here is a passable attempt to sound a bit like Giant Sand, which leaves the listener not marvelling at this album, but instead thinking, “I fancy listening to some Giant Sand right now.”

The vocals of Ben Crum, the only original member still with Great Lakes, are good enough but sound too much like Howe Gelb, Giant Sand’s frontman. If someone had played me Nature Is Always True from this album and said it was a Giant Sand album filler track then I’d have niaively believed them. Indeed while Giant Sand’s albums were typified by a mix of killer and filler, Wild Vision is just all filler.

Given this lack of originality it is hard to go crazy with praise for this album. But that doesn’t make it bad. The songwriting is ok and the sound is pleasurable but beyond background music or a talking point to kick start a conversation about Giant Sand there’s little here to remember.

I would have thought after nearly 20 years as a recording entity that Great Lakes would have found their own sound by now but there’s nothing here to suggest they ever will.

5/10

by Joe Lepper

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John Howard – Not Forgotten, The Best of John Howard Vol 2.

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John Howard – Not Forgotten, The Best of John Howard Vol 2.

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Joe

John Howard’s renaissance continued in fine form last year with the release of John Howard and the Night Mail, a collection of timeless pop written and performed with Andy Lewis (Paul Weller Band), Robert Rotifer (Rotifer) and Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge).

It ended the year gracing many a best of list, including our own, and even charted, albeit in the Austrian independent releases run-down.

As a result Howard’s music has come to the attention of a wider audience and may well be the reason you are reading this now.

John Howard and the Night Mail

John Howard and the Night Mail

Never one to miss an opportunity Howard has decided to release a second volume of his best of series to show his new admirers what else he’s been up to in recent years.

So for those who are new to Howard’s music let’s take a few lines to recap his tale.

It’s a familiar story, glam pop boy and his piano meets record company, in his case CBS in the 1970s. Boy then gets dumped by record company, ends up quitting recording and working for the music industry in A&R for a couple of decades. Much older boy then meets internet generation, decides to record again and the pair live happily ever after.

Since the release of his comeback album, the appropriately titled As I Was Saying in 2005, he has released around a dozen more, as well as a handful of EPs covering lesser known artists he admires such as Alex Highton.

On his first best of compilation These Fifty Years, released in 2009, the focus was on his 70s heyday and comeback releases up to that point. Here the focus is exclusively on his comeback, with the internet generation helping with the track list as Howard keeps a close eye on downloads, streams and Youtube interest to guide him.

John Howard - As I Was Saying

John Howard – As I Was Saying

Among our picks on this compilation are the As I Was Saying tracks the Dilemma of the Homosapien, with its killer chorus, and Taking it All to Heart, that perfectly sums up the emotions of a rejected artist. There’s also a heavy focus on glam pop, with upbeat songs such as Making Love To My Girl, from Same Bed, Different Dreams (2006) and Believe Me, Richard, From Storeys (2013) among highlights.

Maybe I Know Why and Born Too Early are among the best of the ‘slowies’ here. Both are from Hello, My Name Is, a largely autobiographical collection looking back to his time in London in the 1970s and society’s changing attitudes to sexuality

But as with any compilation this is as much about what isn’t on it as what is.

What awaits those who want to delve further into his releases are further gems on As I was Saying such as the Magic of Mystery. Bob/Bobbi, from Hello My Name Is, which gives genuine heart and substance to a drag queen he once met while on holiday, is another to seek out.

Also missing here are tracks from 2012’s You Shall Go the Ball!, featuring reworkings of his 70s demos that failed to see the light of day. It is here that an extra layer to the Howard story unfolds with his carefully crafted soundscapes interspersed with tracks such as the magnificent The Deal, where his adoration of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s solo work is clear.

And there’s some great covers too to discover, particularly his version of Alex Highton’s Songs for Someone and Darren Hayman’s Elizabeth Duke, on his Songs for Someone EP.

John Howard interpreta “The Bewlay Brothers”, de David Bowie from Oscar Garcia Suarez on Vimeo.

Looking back on his comeback output Howard’s initial failure to be a star in the 1970s may just have been the best thing to happen to him. The break from performing for a couple of decades has beautifully preserved his voice. Just watch him performing his cover of Bowie’s Bewlay Brothers in Barcelona in January this year (see above) to see what we mean.

It has also meant he is fiercely independent, embracing home recording technology and the promotional possibilities of social media to great effect to take direct control of how his music sounds and is released.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Shearwater- Jet Plane and Oxbow

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Shearwater- Jet Plane and Oxbow

Posted on 15 January 2016 by Joe

Maybe its middle age, perhaps a sudden hankering for nostalgia, but it’s clear the urge to revisit the 1980s is strong for Okkervil River’s Will Sheff and their former keyboardist Jonathan Meiburg, who now leads environmentalist prog rockers Shearwater.

While the focus of Okkervil River’s 1980s drenched 2013 album Silver Gymnasium was more Breakfast Club with its nostalgic, adolescent themes, Meiburg’s political and conservationist zeal sees him look to more serious inspiration, most notably Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and Scary Monsters, by the sadly departed David Bowie.

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Over the last decade or so Meiburg’s Shearwater has favoured drama through its songs, often about the tragedies and joy of nature, as was heard on their 2010 album The Golden Archipelago, about the conservation threat posed to the world’s fragile islands.

When they signed to Sub Pop in 2012 and released Animal Joy the same sense of political and environmental drama continued, but this had a more radio friendly sound.

This album is a natural progression on both Animal Joy and The Golden Archipelago. It’s beautifully produced and wonderfully dramatic, thanks to the addition of film composer and percussionist Brian Reitzell, whose cinema credits include Lost in Translation.

It’s also accessible, full of 1980s electronica and synths, which provides a great juxtaposition to Meiburg’s more traditional baritone and the band’s timeless subject matter, about humans’ relationship with the natural world.

There’s also an unease for Meiburg in being an American on this album. Unsurprising really for this environmentalist to be part of a country that is one of the world’s biggest polluters.

This discomfort is best shown on the album’s lead track Quiet Americans, which acts as both an implicit apology for his country’s treatment of the planet and an call to arms to make amends.

But while there’s more electronica on this album than on previous releases the band can still be safely categorised broadly as guitar pop/rock, with the riffs of Back Channels proving another highpoint. Pale Kings too is joyous guitar pop and Only Child sounds like one of Richard Thompson heavily produced 1980s albums.

Is there any filler? Filaments is almost there due to its lack of melody compared to tracks like Quiet Americans. However, its driving bass and vintage synths turn this mundane song into another highlight.

While lacking the melodies that made Rook one of 2008’s best albums, this album as a whole is sonically perhaps their best yet. Given that this is the most cinematic of their releases it is strange that they have yet to create a film soundtrack – which surely must be the next stage in Shearwater’s evolution.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent 2016 Competition Launches

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Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent 2016 Competition Launches

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Joe

Details of this year’s Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent competition, which offers UK and Ireland based acts a chance to play on one of the iconic event’s main stages, have been announced.

As well as a main stage slot, the winner will receive a £5,000 talent development prize from PRS for Music Foundation. There are also £2,500 PRS development prizes for two runners up.

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We are also delighted to announce that Neonfiller.com’s editor Joe Lepper will once again be among a panel of 40 music writers, who will be helping to compile a long list of 120 acts.

This long list will then be whittled down to an eight-strong shortlist by judges including festival organisers Michael and Emily Eavis. All eight will then compete at a live finals at Pilton Working Men’s Club, near to the festival site, in April, when the winner will be announced.

The competition is free to enter and open to any musical genre. But you need to get a move on as it is only open for entries for one week only, from 9am Monday 18th January until 5pm Monday 25th January 2016 via glastonburyfestivals.co.uk.

When entering acts need to supply an original song on Soundcloud plus a link to a video of themselves performing live.

For the last two years the quality of the eight finalists has been so high that all were offered slots at that year’s festival.

Declan McKenna performing at Glastonbury last year

Declan McKenna performing at Glastonbury last year. Photo by Joe Lepper

The 2015 winner Declan McKenna, who was aged just 16 when he won, has since been signed by management company QPrime, which also handles Metallica, Muse and Foals.

Last year also proved a breakthrough year for Nadine Shah, one of Neonfiller.com’s three long list entrants in 2013. As well as the release of her critically acclaimed album Fast Food, Nadine also featured on two tracks on Ghost Poet’s album Shedding Skin.

Commenting on the launch of this year’s competition Emily Eavis said: “New music has always been a huge part of what we do at Glastonbury, and the Emerging Talent Competition has become an incredible way for us to discover and help draw attention to the very latest talent.”

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Pete Astor – Spilt Milk

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Pete Astor – Spilt Milk

Posted on 06 January 2016 by Joe

It says something about the quality of Pete Astor and his 1980s band The Weather Prophets that their track Worm in my Brain emerged as one of the best on the recent 76 track commemorative box -set reissue of the NME’s C86 tape. Up against the likes of Primal Scream and The Wedding Present this track with its wonderful guitar arrangement and Astor’s honest vocals stands up remarkably well 30 years on.

spilt-milk

Once of Creation band The Loft and still managed by Creation boss Alan McGee while in The Weather Prophets, Astor went solo in 1990. But a familiar story in music unfolded – critical success greeted Astor, while success continued to elude him.

He took a break for a few years, some more solo projects eventually followed, Astor briefly reformed The Loft and healso took on a new career, as a university lecturer on the music industry.

Now signed to Fortuna Pop he starts 2016 with this his eighth solo album. On this evidence Fortuna Pop, where he joins a recent roster of young up and coming bands as well as veteran indie troopers such as Darren Hayman, is a good fit.

The guitar and vocal delivery from Worm in my Brain is still there thankfully on this release, which has an unshowy production that allows the songs and lyrics to shine. The sparse use of a talented backing band, that includes former Hefner man Jack Hayter on pedal steel, helps as well. This means that when they do appear it has more impact.

As a disciple of the “sing what you know about” school of songwriting, so advocated by XTC’s Andy Partridge among others, Astor’s lyrics are unmistakably that of a middle aged man, full of wistful nods to the past and a wry look at the present and future. As he puts it in accompanying press release, time passes, shit happens; some losses, some gains. Don’t cry – but I did.” This is a good way to sum up this album’s feel.

My Right Hand about friendship and the country sounding Good Enough are among the best but for me Sleeping Tiger emerges as the stand out track. It’s got the melody, the full band feel and a great guitar hook driving it throughout. Very Good Lock is another good introspective piece that offers hope to the downtrodden.

As an advert to a new audience this album will hopefully do its job, with Darren Hayman’s recent solo work and the meloncholic melodies of Co-Pilgrim good points of reference for the uninitiated.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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