Archive | May, 2017

The Mountain Goats – Goths

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The Mountain Goats – Goths

Posted on 19 May 2017 by Joe

The Mountain Goats driving force John Darnielle has forged a critically acclaimed song-writing career on his ability to convey the emotions of society’s outsiders.

As a result there is an inevitability about Goths getting The Mountain Goats treatment.

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From the addicts on All Eternals Deck (2011) and We Shall All Be Healed (2004), to the small town wrestlers on last year’s Beat the Champ, Darnielle is a story teller who perfectly encapsulates the tragedies and triumphs of life.

This even extends to himself, as a music loving teen escaping into alcohol from an abusive homelife, on The Sunset Tree (2005).

He has also introduced us to characters like Jeff and Cyrus, the tragic young bandmates of All Hail West Texas (2002)’s The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out Of Denton.

To some extent Goths is the continuation of Jeff and Cyrus’ story, of teens finding identity through music. Except here they have grown up and are looking back at their younger selves through older eyes.

Second track Andre Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds encapsulates this. Here the protagonist is drawn back to his past after moving from this provincial goth hot spot in Yorkshire to London and back again.

Other older and former goths question their youthful obsession with darkness and death. Unicorn Tolerance is particularly good at conveying the soft vulnerability underneath those who look odd, morbid and even dangerous to those around them.

The narratives move across the world, from the UK, Berlin, Portugal to the US, which is the main focus We Do It Differently on the West Coast, where an older goth still closely follows the scene.

Goth performers are also featured. There’s a jaded former singer lamenting the changing music industry and his fading star on Shelved. Here he wistfully remembers riding the stage hydraulics and being tethered to a cross with the sad knowledge that such excitement is behind him.

As with All Eternals Deck there are also tales of real life celebrities, such as on Abandoned Flesh where Gene Loves Jezebel’s footnote in music history is the focus.

In terms of musical arrangement the Mountain Goats are on top form here.  Many of the tracks having a lounge, jazz feel, where the older current and former goths are cast as piano singers reminiscing about the good old days.

The use of woodwind, arranged and played by Matt Douglas throughout and a Fender Rhodes keyboard rather than guitar, help too as does the drumming of Jon Wurster.  Bassist Peter Hughes is also a highlight across the album. He even gets to do a traditional goth bass solo on Shelved.

One of the best is opener Rain in Soho, where drama is added by a 16-strong contingent from the Nashville Symphony choir who dropped by from a nearby Mahler rehearsal in Nashville, where this album was recorded.

As with all Darnielle’s subject matter he offers an understanding and poignant interpretation of their highs and lows. This album is particularly effective as Hughes points out, because they themselves are older, former goths.

“While John writes the songs, as he always has, it feels more than ever like he’s speaking for all of us in the band, erstwhile goths (raises hand) or otherwise,” says Hughes.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock

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Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock

Posted on 11 May 2017 by Joe

It’s taken 21 albums but Robyn Hitchcock has finally gone down the self-titled route for a release, which by happy coincidence just happens to be one of his best in years.

From its purple, cat stroking, cover to its backwards guitars, it is a psychedelic explosion of awesomeness, with oodles of noodles of nods to the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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But this is no mere retro throwback album. It sounds modern, full of energy and helped along by a full band and punchy production from Brendan Benson and recorded in his adopted home, Nashville

It sounds fun too, with band mates Grant-Lee Phillips, Pat Sansone, his partner the Australian singer songwriter Emma Swift, and long time collaborator Gillian Welch clearly having a hoot, as is Hitchcock, whose lyrics here once again perfectly blend self-deprecation with hope

“I’m a loser, but I’m walking on air,” he sings on Sayonara Judge, summing this up perfectly.

Other highlights include the twinkling, shiny Mad Shelley’s Letterbox and the country twanged 1970 In Aspic.

His new home’s twang is also featured heavily on I Pray When I’m Drunk, a country, booze-fuelled foot stomper that is helped along by his deliberately, oh-so, British vocals.

Autumn Sunglasses is another highpoint, where Hitchcock channels his inner Pictures of Matchstick Men to serve up a simply glorious slice of psyche pop.

But just singling out a few tracks does it a disservice – the whole album is good and there’s lots more for you to discover yourself.

If you have drifted apart from Hitchcock over the years then this album demands you tuck straight back into one of the UK’s most enduring artists.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock is released by Yep Roc. More details here.

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Preview: The Flaming Lips – Birmingham (August 12, 2017)

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Preview: The Flaming Lips – Birmingham (August 12, 2017)

Posted on 08 May 2017 by John Haylock

Pump up the giant pysche-bubble, saddle up the unicorns and set the controls for Birmingham on August 12 when The Flaming Lips will be beaming down.

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These Oklahoma aliens have selected the Arena, one of 11 The Rainbow Venues located in diverse, industrial spaces in the Midland’s city’s Digbeth area. There they will  play a set that is expected to contain a fair amount of classics from their long career as well as highlights from their latest album, Oczy Mlody.

As we can testify, having dropped down to see them in Manchester earlier this year, they have taken their animal themed live shows to new extremes with a unicorn joining their stage throng.

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Mind expanding visuals and musical mayhem awaits in a show that should not be missed, especially as support is provided by the equally adventurous Public Service Broadcasting.

For more information and how to buy tickets visit The Rainbow Venues site here.

By John Haylock

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Nick Parker – Besta Venya

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Nick Parker – Besta Venya

Posted on 05 May 2017 by Joe

As a recording artist Nick Parker has something of a split personality.

On one hand the Somerset based singer-songwriter is keen to commit to disc his upbeat, often funny, proven crowd-pleasers from a relentless touring schedule that takes him across Europe and the UK festival circuit each year.

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On the other, each of his three albums also showcase at least three or four slower, subtler track. It is often these more nuanced songs that emerge as the best. Free from the pressure of trying to please a crowd, they are given more time to develop across their chorus and verses and often have the melodies that linger the longest.

The same applies on his latest Besta Venya, with the best three tracks tucked away at the back.

The first of these is a wonderful duet with his daughter Flo, backed by just mandolin and aptly titled A Simple Song. With the less is more ethos in full flow this may well be the best on the album.

Then there’s Not Fooling Me, a lullaby written with after show gigs in mind and almost hidden at the 11th track mark. Backed by cello, violin and piano this has the best arrangements on the album.

Right at the album’s close is The Other Half, with another fine melody and this time accompanied by a Beatles-esque arrangement of flugal horn and full band. It may be the last track on the album but is often the  first I go to.

As for the crowd pleasers, they demand attention too, especially as they will have just delighted many of those buying this album at post-gig merchandise stalls.

Down With the Yoof, about embarrassing dads, will be a particular welcome inclusion for those who have just seen him perform. This involves a neat multi-media aspect, where a member of the crowd places a mobile phone featuring footage of Parker’s singing mouth over their face.

Nick Parker performing Down With the Yoof

Nick Parker performing Down With the Yoof

Es Tut Mir Leid, about the English trait of apologising all the time, is another interactive track that works as well on album as it does live, where the audience is asked to help out with sing-along prompt cards.

Each track comes with an explanation about its subject matter or how it was written. This is important as these are a key part of Parker’s engaging on-stage banter.

When talking of the tracks about his life as a songwriter and performer,  this is particularly effective.

A case in point is Make Yourself At Home, which references a mis-booking for Parker where he was asked to play in the lobby of the Cheese and Grain in Frome, as people made their way to their seats to see John Cooper Clarke. A support slot gone wrong.

An Open Letter To My Human is another that requires this self-deprecating explanation. This focuses on his inability to write about politics, as seen through the eyes of his disapproving dog. Given he travels frequently to Europe from a country that has voted for Brexit it may not be long before he relents in spite of the inevitable pet protests.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about Nick Parker visit his website here.

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Eyelids – Or

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Eyelids – Or

Posted on 02 May 2017 by Dorian

Or, the second album by Eyelids (the band being confusingly called Eyelids Or in the UK), comes hot on the heels of their first ever UK dates and my opportunity to hear some of their new songs for the first time live. The new songs they played, plus the couple already released as singles, gave me a pretty good idea what to expect from the album. Sophomore releases can be disappointing, often pieced together from sings written at the same time as the debut in order for a label to get a quick follow-up release. With Eyelids being made up of veterans, with many albums to their credit, this wasn’t ever going to be the case and this album is filled with the freshness and wealth of ideas you’d expect from a band at their peak.

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The album kicks off with ‘Slow It Goes’ a single that was a real statement if intent when it came out last year,  all sparkling riffs and 60s beat-pop vocals. ‘Camelot’ keeps the pace up with a guitar line that could be straight from a Cracker record and guest keyboards from Jay Gonzales (from Drive-By Truckers) adding some extra depth.

This is an album with some nice changes in pace and after a break-neck start we slow down for the rather lovely pairing of ‘Falling Eyes’ and ‘Tell Me You Know’, the latter pulling in some of 60s psyche influences that were front and centre on their debut.

This is an album which is expertly sequenced and really doesn’t sag at any point. As such I’ll avoid the temptation tom wax lyrical about each song here. Honourable mentions go to ‘My Caved In Mind’ (another single surely?) which features an insanely catchy almost new-wave opening riff and ‘Moony’. Any song that sites Black Sea era XTC as the influence for the rhythm section is alright by me.

The real triumph of the album is how well the band pull all the different elements together across the board.  The playing is uniformly great, their debut showed off some great guitar playing and this release continues to impress. It isn’t just the guitars though, strong vocal harmonies and an excellent rhythm section make this more than just about the axes.

The use of guest performers is another big tick in the box. Sometimes when a band brings in guest players it feels like little more than an excuse to get a name on the liner notes. The guests here all have a purpose, and that purpose is to sound as much like themself as possible. When we hear Peter Buck’s mandolin it sounds just like Peter Buck and when Jonathan Seagal’s violin comes in it could only be the Camper van Beethoven man playing. This is a band of musical magpies and the bits of magic they bring from other bands, from other influences and different sounds is all carefully designed to make Eyelids sound as good as possible.

Peter Buck also produced the album and, along with engineer Thom Monahan, he does a great job. This is an album that sounds really good, all the elements are given space and the balance on the album is just right. Buck is clearly a fan of the band as well, appearing (see above) in the video for ‘Falling Eyes’.

If you loved their debut album you’re going to love this, nothing about it disappoints. If you haven’t heard Eyelids already then this release is a great place to start (before quickly going back to hear their previous LP and EP releases). You can thank me later for introducing you to your new favourite band.

10/10

By Dorian Rogers

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