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Fairport Convention – Rising for the Moon (Deluxe Edition)

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Fairport Convention – Rising for the Moon (Deluxe Edition)

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Joe

Fairport’s trailblazing days were far behind them by this release and so were all their founding members. Like the Sugababes the band name continued long beyond the departure of all the original members. The Rock Family Tree for Fairport Convention extends to almost infinite dimensions.

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For this line-up Sandy Denny was back in the fold, raising high hopes for a return to form after a series of increasingly lacklustre albums.

In part the resulting album, released in 1975 and given the deluxe reissue treatment this year,  was a return to form, but as a Sandy Denny album in all but name. There are few traces of the folk-rock sound that Fairport Convention pioneered. Denny had already made a move away from that sound with her previous solo album Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. Many of the same lyrical themes are carried over between albums on the Denny penned songs, with a polished AOR production carrying touches of country rock in slide guitar lines.

At times the Denny led tracks sound very similar to the Christine McVie tracks from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. If you dig mid-70’s AOR you’ll like this album a lot.

Sandy Denny’s husband Trevor Lucas was in Fairport at this point and he sings a couple of country rockers which are pleasant enough but mostly founded on train metaphors with little to distinguish them from each other.

Dave Swarbrick, violinist with Fairport since their third album, takes lead vocals on a couple of tracks which cleave closest to the folk-rock template, but his voice is something of an acquired taste and unlikely to win over any new fans.

It’s with the final track of the original album, One More Chance, that the band take flight with something which hearkens back to their glory days, everyone taking turns to solo and spin out in epic style. A final hurrah for this line-up which promised much but ultimately failed to deliver.

The deluxe reissue adds a further five tracks, a live TV performance of White Dress, studio demos of Dawn and What is True, home demos of After Halloween and The King and Queen of England. Stripped of their studio polish all these tracks come across more powerfully and are superior to the album versions.

Completing this deluxe issue is a whole set of this line-up of the band live at the L.A. Troubador. With a set list drawn from Denny, Dylan, Holly and Fairport’s own back catalogue the band spend a blistering hour demonstrating what an excellent live act they were. Often live albums are a ropey cash in but this one more than justifies the reissue. It’s often said that some bands struggle to translate their live ability to the studio and this was certainly the case with this line up had Rising for the Moon managed to capture more of this passion and energy it would certainly have been a more successful album, rather than a footnote to their tangled history.

by Garry Todd

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Scott Walker  – From Teen Heart Throb To Avant Garde Artist

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Scott Walker – From Teen Heart Throb To Avant Garde Artist

Posted on 01 August 2013 by Joe

Scott Walker is the last man standing from the sixties to still be making anything approaching fresh music, with  his current work overshadowing his former persona as a bona fide pop idol teen heart throb. Imagine if Gary Barlow were suddenly to start making oblique art songs referencing the philosophy of Jacques Derrida all to a post-industrial sound collage; tricky isn’t it, but that’s what Scott Walker did, boy band to avant garde artist in five easy pieces.

Within the Walker Brothers Scott had been the only one seeking to move into writing, to get away from solely being an interpreter of other peoples words. On their second album he already has two writing credits and there are three on their last album. These songs stand out immediately from those surrounding them due to their idiosyncratic construction, they scan like short stories rather than conventional lyrics. Working with top arrangers Scott was learning his craft ready to break out into a solo career which has been stranger and more genuinely productive than most.

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With Scott 1 he establishes himself as a mature adult singer, trying to move out of the lovelorn teen market. A threeway split in writing credits between standards, Walker penned material and songs of Jacques Brel. The Brel material is most immediately arresting due to the scabrous lyrics and cabaret arrangements, My Death and Amsterdam in particular signalling a bold move from popular lyrical themes. Whilst Scott is fully in control of all the material and the arrangements and his phrasing on all the standards make his the version you want to hear, it is on his own material that he takes flight.

An unusual lyricist even then, Walker uses the song form as a vehicle for storytelling or mood setting. In Montague Terrace (In Blue) he sings of bedsits, the inescapable crowd and the curious loneliness of the city, “The scent of secrets everywhere”. Only the protagonists relationship seems to steel him against it, but there is a realisation that this is temporary, almost certain to end – “But we know don’t we, And we’ll dream won’t we, Of Montague Terrace in blue”.

The arrangements for Walker’s own lyrics also strike out for fresh territory. Decentred strings, drone forms, brass arrangements punch through for crescendo and there’s an unusual sense of time as the soundstage follows Scott’s own phrasing.

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Scott 2 comes galloping out of the traps with perhaps the most rollicking opening number of any album ever. Jackie had been a single released in 1967, banned by the BBC due to Brel’s lyrics concerning opium dens, brothels and “authentic queers and phony virgins.”  Later in the album Scott sings Next, another Brel song, this time about mobile army whorehouses and the psychic scars resulting, had anyone else ever sung about “gonorrhea” on a number one album before, or for that matter since?

After setting the bar so high at the outset Scott continues to vary the pace with a pair of excellent covers,   Best of Both Worlds and Black Sheep Boy, before the first of his own compositions on the album, The Amorous Humphrey Plugg. In the vein of Montague Terrace in Blue Scott sings a kitchen sink drama in first person, Humphrey Plugg, caught in suburban domesticity, seeking escape –  “Leave it all behind me, Screaming kids on my knee, And the telly swallowing me, And the neighbour shouting next door, And the subway trembling the roller-skate floor.”

His next original composition “The Girls From the Street” glows with poetic wordplay in waltz time, “ Snap! The waiters animate, Luxuriate like planets whirling ’round the sun, Collapsing next to me, Shouts don’t look sad, Things aren’t so bad, They’re just more wrong than right.”

Plastic Palace People takes a surreal bent with a floating protagonist Billy observing the streets from above, Don’t pull the string, Don’t bring me down, Don’t make me land”. Over floating chords with a rising and falling string motif we float along with Billy. Billy’s suspension above the ground a metaphor for adolescence caught between childhood and maturity, dreams and concrete reality. An hallucinatory soundworld is brought into play throughout with sharp discontinuities between sections, use of extreme reverb and leslie speaker on Scott’s voice when the main theme drops out.

There are further delights across the remainder of the album, a further Brel song, a couple of strong ballads, another Walker original The Bridge (a sorrowful song of lost love), and perhaps the best cover ever of a Bacharah/ David song,Windows of the World.

Scott 2 was the commercial highpoint of Scott’s solo career, reaching number 1 in the UK charts in April 1968, however, Scott was not satisfied describing it as the work of a “lazy, self indulgent man”.

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Following this success Scott was granted further creative control and for Scott 3, released in March 1969, he had written ten of the thirteen tracks, the remaining three being Brel covers.

The previous two albums had opened with furious stampeding Brel covers, Scott 3 shimmers into being with It’s Raining Today, a string section play a hovering drone, a bass modulates, a guitar strums a few chords – Scott enters looking out at the rain and reflecting on a love, now gone, almost forgotten. Almost the epitome of melancholic, but there’s a steel within the observation, which stops it being mere self-pity, “You out of me me out of you, We go like lovers, To replace the empty space, Repeat our dreams to someone new”.

The album proceeds at this stately pace, a quiet sadness permeating the first four songs.  Big Louise opens imperious, gong sounding, french horn playing a beautiful refrain, strings swelling as Scott sings about the broken hearted Louise, evoked with great economy across just a few lines, with the killer chorus “Didn’t time sound sweet yesterday, in a world filled with friends, you lose your way.”

We Came Through ups the tempo in the style of Mathilde and Jackie but this time the lyrics are less knowing, there is less distance than in those of Brel. The lyrics come from the perspective of the strong, those willing to inflict violence on the weak to wield power over and over through time. There is cruel despair in the final lines made all the more bitter for the upbeat delivery, “and as Luther King’s predictions fade from view, we came through.”

More exceptional songs follow, Winter Night, in particular a luminous miniature only eight or so lines but couched in a beautiful string arrangement, opening on a severe descending chord.

The album ends with three Brel covers, Sons of , Funeral Tango, and If You Go Away, the last of which is perhaps his purest lovelorn outpouring on record (and with the Walker Brothers he had mastered that market already).

Scott 3 had reached a respectable No.3 in the charts, and Scott had his own BBC TV show, a vehicle for his performances and for other guest singers. To capitalise on this he cut another album Scott Sings Songs from his TV Series in July 1969, containing only standards this reached No.7.

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By November 1969 Scott had released Scott 4, an album of only Walker penned music. Although now widely considered one of the best albums of the sixties, it was a notorious commercial failure at the time. Scott’s decision to issue it under his birthname Noel Scott Engel undoubtedly hindered it’s marketing, but the fact that it was his third album release in under eight months probably had a greater effect, albums in the sixties were luxury items costing approximately a tenth of the average weekly wage, few fans could have afforded to buy all three albums in such a short space of time.

Across Scott 4 Walker widens his lyrical ambit away from his previous themes, there are still love lost ballads, but he now takes in socio-political themes, oblique protest songs, and a song offering a plot summary of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

There is also a wider variety of songs styles across Scott 4, from Morricone spaghetti western score on The Seventh Seal, to pedal steel Country on Duchess and Rhymes of Goodbye and lounge funk on The Old Man’s Back Again.

As with Scott 3 the standout tracks are those with the most idiosyncratic arrangements, Angels of Ashes and Boychild. Angels of Ashes has a classical guitar line, punctuated by a harpsichord following Scott’s vocal, light snare brushing, bass line moving the song along, with sweeping strings wrapping it all together.  Boychild uses zither, acoustic guitar and hovering strings to shadow Scott’s vocal lines, a floating world of unsettled yearning – “Extensions through dimensions, Leave you feeling cold and lame, Boychild mustn’t tremble, cause he came without a name.”

Scott 4’s relative commercial failure undermined Scott’s ability to retain creative control.

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His last album on Philips, 1970’s ‘Til the Band Comes In makes this conflict apparent in the straight split between Scott’s songs on the A side and the covers he returns to on the B side.

A return to covers can only be a crushing disappointment to anyone following Scott’s development as a songwriter through the preceding albums. A great interpreter of standards by any measure, but by this point you only want to hear him sing his own songs because no-one else writes like he does.

The A side, however, is as strong as anything on Scott 4.  A loose suite of songs themed upon the residents of a block of flats, there is a return to character studies, mixed with topical satire/ social protest. Prologue opens the album with sound effects, tap dripping, keys in locks, children playing while a string section swells sorrowfully before fading into Little Things, a headlong brass stomp similar to Mathilde or Jackie.

Arrangements and song forms are straighter across ‘Til The Band Comes In with more defined verse/ chorus patterns and less oblique lyrics, but the subject matter is as off-beat as ever, Joe is about a lonely old dying man, Thanks for Chicago Mr James is about the end of young hustlers relationship with a gay older man, Time Operator is sung by a man so lonely and isolated he calls the speaking clock for company, he’s fantasised for so long about the voice at the other end of the line he really thinks he’s in with a chance – “I wouldn’t care if you’re ugly, cause here with the lights out I couldn’t see, you just picture Paul Newman and girl he looks a lot like me”.

Towards the end of the A side the title track rises to a crescendo, with brass section flourishes and a soul singer backing, Scott sings about taking his leave with perhaps the promise of return – “If you need me to move through, you know where I’m found, still alive, with my sub-human sound to the ground.”

Side A ends with The War Is Over (Sleepers), a promise of peace following the overall chaos which reigned previously. However, war is as much a metaphor for life in this song and the peace that is found is the peace of the tomb – Everything Still, Everything Silent, As after the rain, Still we are after the rain.

‘Til the Band Comes In was not well received at the time and didn’t chart confirming Scott’s fall from grace. For the next few years his career limped along with a series of albums of covers in a strictly middle of the road rut, seemingly a burnt out case at 27. As with the B side of ‘Til the Band Comes In these are all good for what they are, but not satisfying for the same reasons, Scott Walker is too good a writer to sing other peoples songs.

A Walker Brothers reunion rescued Scott from a lifetime of cabaret and Working Mens Club engagements. Although there was no original material to begin with, by their final album Scott was ready to write again. His four songs on Nite Flights are where Scott Walker reappears and strikes out for terra incognita, a road he still travels getting further and further out.    

by Garry Todd

 

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Top 10 Krautrock Albums

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Top 10 Krautrock Albums

Posted on 29 April 2013 by Joe

Our contributor Garry Todd has already dazzled us with his top tens of the golden age of folk and British psychedelia and has now turned his attention to this divisive genre. Sit back, pull up a Moog and settle down with us as we present Neonfiller’s Top Ten Krautrock Albums.

10. Tangerine Dream – Atem

 

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Tangerine Dream had formed in West Berlin at the end of the 1960s. Arising from the gallery scene and art school they would soundscape happenings and multimedia events before putting out records. Atem was their fourth album and saw increasing use of synthesiser to augment mellotron, guitar, organ, piano and percussion.

Soon the synthesiser would dominate their sound, but on Atem it is still just one voice amongst many. It is no surprise that they would eventually move into soundtrack work as each track works on a programmatic basis as an imaginary soundtrack, small motifs arise within the overall soundscape, but mostly the tracks work as environments, places to escape to or from. Atem was John Peel’s album of the year in 1973 for good reason.

9. Ash Ra Tempel – Schwingungen

 

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Coming out of the great power trio tradition of Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ash Ra Tempel were rooted in blues rock to a greater extent than most of their contemporaries. Opening the album with a slow blues shuffle on Light: Look at your sun,  you aren’t so far away in sound from Pink Floyd, but with the interstellar drift opening Darkness: Flowers must die this falls away and Ash Ra set sail for deep space. Drums kick in and additional percussion starts flailing as organ, guitar and bass lock together on a frantic groove.

Constant soloing by lead guitar rises and falls in the mix, saxophone bursts in whilst flanging and phasing effects drop in and out. All the while vocalist John L gets more frenzied, screaming of his disconnection from the universe and alienation. It’s clear that something has shaken free at the fade possibly John L’s mind. Side two opens with quiet drifting exploration, slide guitar, organ, piano, cymbals shimmer, there is no melody, it all about timbre. Slowly drums pick up in the mix and then drop out again, before a melody is brought in on wah-wah guitar with choral keening, and although it sounds a lot like the quieter moments of Pink Floyd’s Come in Number 51, your time is up on the Zabriskie Point soundtrack, this is no bad thing.

8. Harmonia – Deluxe

 

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Michael Rother from Neu! had formed Harmonia with Cluster when Neu! first split in 1973. Their first album had been a perfect union of the both talents and Rother went on to produce Zuckerzeit for Cluster and then reform Neu! for Neu! 75.

Although lacking the bile of the Dinger tracks on Neu! 75 a great deal of the energy and sound of those tracks continues on Deluxe. Rhythm, repetition and gliding guitar lines combine with synth arpeggios to streamlined driving effect. Insanely catchy riffs and chants on Monza ( Rauf und Runter) will have you singing along and pogoing in short order.

7. Amon Düül II – Yeti

 

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The muso-splinter group from the original Amon Düül commune were serious about rocking out in acid fried splendour on their second album, a double which gave them room to sprawl. One of the great psychedelic albums from gatefold sleeve to vinyl grooves. Fuzz bass, pummelling drums, twin electric guitars, keyboards, violin and soaring vocals throughout render maximum sensory assault.

The first album is studio based with a big influence coming from Frank Zappa, the second album is live and taken up with a monster jam with a large degree of improvisation. Taken as a whole it rocks hard.

6. Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk

 

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The first Kraftwerk album was a much a product of producer Conny Plank and his studio skills as the compositional chops of Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider. Building on organ, flute, bass and drums, Plank takes the mantric music and subjects it to various layers of distortion and studio processing stirring in sound effects and tapes. This is heard most clearly on second track Stratovarius which starts as a long keyboard drone manipulated with reverb, phasing and stereo panning until it hits a tape sequence of what sounds like ancient wooden machinery which leads to footsteps, then a drum kit falling down stairs and then a magnificent groove with a violin the source of magnificent feedback arcing over bass, drums, keyboards and guitar.

The tempo builds furiously up to a literal breakdown, everything stops and then slowly piece by piece it builds again until collapse leaves a plaintive violin line and sine wave synth. But that still isn’t the end. Playing in counterpoint they set the scene for a return of drums and fuzz guitar in a manic steadily intensifying riff until it just stops cold.

Currently Kraftwerk’s first three albums are not legitimately available for sale and have been out of print for over thirty years, a baffling state of affairs considering how exceptional and vibrant this music is.

5. Popul Vuh – In den Gärten Pharaos

 

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Popul Vuh virtually invented all the tropes of ambient music with this album. It opens with the sound of flowing water, a Moog line floats over, a simple heartbeat rhythm appears briefly and drops out, the synth takes over and it sounds like we’ve entered a cavern. Congas start and we are on a journey to find the sun. Eventually we emerge from the cavern into the garden, lush electric Rhodes Piano lines shimmer in the heat haze, conga rhythms roll and at the end you’re back in the water hearing gentle waves lapping at the shore.

The second side commences with a magnificent deep organ chord which cycles through a descending sequence. Synthesised choral chords appear above that and occasional cymbal percussion rolls over like thunder and it builds and builds and builds, until drums roll in.

4. Cluster – Zuckerzeit

 

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Cluster had previously been exponents of severe experimental synth noise, extremely spacy, occasionally atonal, no percussion. With Zuckerzeit they went pop applying techniques developed on previous albums to drum machine rhythm tracks, inventing a clunky kind of electro ten years early. Throughout the album simple rhythm tracks underpin synth arpeggios which twist turn and morph in counterpoint to each other, giving an overall sensation of relentless forward motion. The perfect soundtrack to a nightdrive through Babylon.

3. Neu – Neu 75

 

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Neu had effectively broken up in 1973 following the troubled recording sessions for their second album. Michael Rother, the guitarist, and Klaus Dinger, the drummer, were at odds over the direction of the band. Rother tended towards trippy ambience, whereas Dinger was intent on rocking out. Having got back together to fulfil a contractual obligation to make a third album Neu proceeded to make an album of two very different halves.

The first side is Rother for the most part making ambient music, pretty and blissed out, the second side is Dinger and he is really pissed off, inventing something like punk as a by product. This contrast was always there on the other records, just not usually so blatant. Whatever the internal dynamics both sides are to be treasured, side one for beauty, side two for snarl.

2. Faust – The Faust Tapes

 

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Fragments of songs collaged into a glorious rag bag of dislocated psychedelic noise. The Faust Tapes was an interim release put out when Faust signed to the fledgling Virgin Records in 1973. It sold at a special price of 48p, the price of a single at the time, and shifted 100,000 copies before it was deleted. Due to its collage structure and general unfinished nature it confounded and confused a goodly proportion of those who bought it at the time, but was probably responsible more than any other release at the time in bringing avant-garde techniques and tropes to a wider audience.

It is often weird but most episodes of drone or noise are quickly cross cut to melodies, then pure rhythm, back to drone, then more melody, into fake jazz, usually ending with sweet chanson – all the while being subjected to various studio treatments, echo, reverb, and filtering in an effort to further stretch out the soundscape. Not an album for fans of the well-crafted song.

1. Can – Tago Mago

 

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Can had already blazed a new path for West German psych fans with their first two albums, tracks like ‘Yoo Doo Right’ and ‘Mother Sky’ long hypnotic mantras of awesome buzzing repetition. Tago Mago had to be a double to take on the sheer invention of the music pouring out of the band at this point.

A double album but with only seven tracks, two side long epics, only one song under six minutes. The album is essentially patterned after an acid trip, side one the preliminary scene setting, side two coming up, side three and start of side four you’ve been up a little too long and wandering if you’ll ever feel normal again when the last track comes on and it’s dawn, the trip is over and you are on the other side asking for warm beverages.

by Garry Todd.

Editor’s note: I was a little uneasy at first about referring to this collection as a top ten of Krautrock. Kraut is a particularly unpleasant term for something or someone from Germany dating back to the first world war. We are more than happy to change though if anyone is offended. JL

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My Bloody Valentine – Hammersmith Apollo, London (March 12, 2013)

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My Bloody Valentine – Hammersmith Apollo, London (March 12, 2013)

Posted on 21 March 2013 by Joe

My Bloody Valentine have long been the most unassuming performers. No grandstanding axe hero poses are thrown – Kevin Shields does not have the moves like Jagger.

Although they do not indulge in the stagecraft of most performers there is a large visual element to their show tonight in the form of massive backdrop projection – enormous saturated dream images, midnight drives through avenues lined with trees, the ghosts of guitars fifty feet high – apropos of the narcotic haze in which you find yourself listening to My Bloody Valentine.

Latest album MBV

Latest album MBV

Just as their contemporaries Spacemen 3 were taking drugs to make music to take drugs to, My Bloody Valentine were at the heart of a unique explosion of drug consumption. Too young to have been punks and in thrall to the psychedelic scene of the sixties, there was a desperate need to escape the dreary conservatism of 1980s Britain.

This music is one of the most perfect aural representations of certain kinds of drug experiences. That isn’t to neglect the sex or rock and roll elements of the famous equation. If anything on record there is a perfect balance of sex and drugs in the chemistry of Kevin’s and Belinda’s half heard murmers.

Live the added dimension that the vocals bring to the mix is lost under the avalanche of guitar noise, too low in the mix to register. It’s a shame to lose this as the mystery of the half heard vocals is a hook for emotional involvement, the sheer majesty of the sound on it’s own can be dauntingly inhuman without this.

Opening with I Only Said, they run through tracks from Isn’t Anything, Loveless, MBV and their vital E.P.s. before closing with Wonder 2, the stand out track from latest album MBV.  Performed with great fidelity to their recorded versions, at the volume reproduced tonight you hear angel trumpets and devil trombones.

Standing in the slipstream of You Made Me Realise  with the pulsing roar of overdriven amps shaking through your internal organs you become acutely aware you’ve never quite heard anything this loud and maybe you may never hear anything again and for a minute you don’t mind.

by Garry Todd

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My Bloody Valentine – MBV

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My Bloody Valentine – MBV

Posted on 07 February 2013 by Joe

Tomorrow finally hit. The most highly awaited record since Smile actually exists and legions of fans must face the disappointment that it will inevitably bring. 21 years 2 months and 29 days is a long time to wait and want something that badly.

For the most part MBV sounds like it was recorded between 1993-94. The main elements of their sound are present and correct, tracks of fuzz guitar and bass, overdubbed tremolo lead guitar, layers of acoustic guitar overdubs, drum machine, flanged and phased guitar, the occasional synth string line and farfisa organ, muzzy vocals layered into a sirens call.

Throughout the record there’s a sense of something amiss. The sound is as immaculately wasted as ever but what is lacking are the tunes. The key point about My Bloody Valentine first time around was that they were a twee jangly c86 indie boy/girl band singing cute pop songs who had somehow got into bed with The Jesus and Mary Chain of Psychocandy and taken that sound even further out.

The pill of poisonous noise was crucially sweetened by the dreamy girl group pop song structure that it overlaid. Take away the pop and it undermines the thrill of the sonic overload constantly bearing down which is trying to steal away the song in another direction.

There are pop songs on the album, most notably across the middle third of the album, but they meander and lack resolution.

The big tease is left until the final track ‘Wonder 2’ when the ghost of the Jungle Album My Bloody Valentine were reputedly working on in 1994-95 is glimpsed. Over an amen break, a guitar maelstrom is unleashed and the world goes wonky. Had My Bloody Valentine put out a whole album like this in 1995 serious indie dancefloor damage would have ensued and big beat might never have happened.

There’s a bitter sweet sense of regret tied up with this record, for the lost futures, paths never taken, a terrible nostalgia for the utopian idealism glimpsed in the late eighties/ early nineties upsurge of drug culture lost in the inevitable confused comedown post Criminal Justice Act and only time will tell whether this will work in it’s favour in the long term.

Not expecting the second coming I’m just glad they’re back.

7/10

by Garry Todd

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Top Ten Albums From the Golden Age of UK Psychedelia

Top Ten Albums From the Golden Age of UK Psychedelia

Posted on 08 January 2013 by Joe

We’ve dusted off our tie-dye flares, set our alarm clocks to 25 o’clock and altered our consciousness to bring you our run down of the top ten UK albums from the golden age of psychedelia (1967-1968).  Our writer Garry Todd, who has also compiled this excellent Top Ten Albums from the Golden Age of Folk Music article for us, has delved deep into the heart of this magical era. Please be aware that this is a UK acts only list,  so as wonderous as America’s The 13th Floor Elevators and Brazil’s Os Mutantes were they will not feature on this list. So sit back, grab a kaftan, turn on your lava lamp and brace yourself for the trip of your life-time (or just your tea time, if time is tight).

10. The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)

 

Often overlooked and derided as a half baked mess, this self-produced Stones album was made during a year of famous drug busts and a loss of innocence, which led to cynicism and self-loathing for Jagger and Richards further along the line. However, Their Satanic Majesties Request is a much better album than many recognise as the Stones try to jam out of their blues box and succeed at most times in getting airborne. Most of the usual psychedelic signifiers are there, mellotron, harpsichord, leslie speakers, phasing, backwards tracking, flanging, all expanding the Stones sound beyond their hitherto basic blues rock. Between the jams come tidy pop-psych pearl drops ‘She’s a Rainbow’ and Garage-Psych rocker ‘Citadel’. A transitional album that swept the stage clean for their next classic run of albums up to Exile on Main Street. It was to be the only time they self-produced an album during their career, though.

9. Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)

 

Each member of Cream was a virtuoso performer and sometimes that led them up very bad paths, such as ten minute drum solos, but when they kept their egos under control they were a band of freakish power. For a famously expansive live band, on Disraeli Gears Cream keep their prolix tendencies contained with nearly all tracks being around the three minute mark. Following the appearance of The Jimi Hendrix Experience on the London scene Cream’s guitarist Eric Clapton had to work very hard to regain his ground as ‘god’. He almost made it with this album; check the tasty wah-wah on Tales of Brave Ulysses for example. This album also features iconic psychedelic cover art, with Clapton in full white afro Hendrix worship mode.

8. The Small Faces – Ogdens Nut Gone Flake (1968)

 

The Small Faces had come up through the mod scene but were pop tarts through and through. A band renowned for their chemical appetites in all their incarnations they were early and enthusiastic adopters of psychedelic substances but maintained a knack for writing catchy pop tunes about waiting for their dealer to deliver more speed. Ogdens Nut Gone Flake came in a fantastic novelty package which was a fourfold round reproduction of a tobacco tin and the novelty aspect wasn’t limited to the packaging, the second side of the album was ostensibly a song suite telling the story of Happiness Stan and narrated by ‘Professor’ Stanley Unwin (noted speaker of gobbledygook). Despite these handicaps to be taken seriously the album as a whole adds some serious groove and soul to the psychedelic equation. Coming from the mod scene, there’s a great deal of soul jazz chops underpinning the psychedelic phasing and jiggery pokery of the top end.  Add to this Steve Marriott’s rock soul vocals and Ronnie Lane’s tender lyricism and you have a pop-psych classic that went on to influence Blur amongst others.

7. The Who – Sell Out (1967)

 

The Who were another mod band which seized on the new sound and possibilities offered up by expanding studio technology in 1967. Pete Townshend was always looking for a manifesto or movement to hang his colours from and Sell Out was a perfect pop package, from the cover to the false radio idents between tracks. Opening with ‘Armenia City in The Sky’ the scene is set with a psychedelic showcase for Townshend’s guitar playing with phasing, panning and backwards effects all being deployed. Lyrical matter stretches from rites of passage to ESP. The album ends with ‘Rael’, a long form episodic run through of some of the music which would end up on Tommy.

6. Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

 

Pink Floyd were a hard working R’n’B dance band on the London scene for couple of years before they got into the studio as their improvising edge honed at the epicentre of the British psychedelic scene Joe Boyd’s UFO club. Getting signed to EMI gave them access to Abbey Road and its engineers fresh from working with The Beatles. The result was an astounding debut album, Barrett’s lyrics are full of imagistic poetry and the music has a potent chaotic rush enhanced by production effects.

5. The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow (1968)

 

A concept album song based on a short story by lead singer Phil May should be an instant turn off to anyone who missed the sixties, however, the tenuous linking story does not detract from this amazing unsung album.  The Pretty Things were contemporaries of The Rolling Stone on the London blues scene and their guitarist Dick Taylor had once been in an early line up of The Rolling Stones. Working with producer Norman Smith after he had produced Pink Floyd’s Piper at The Gates of Dawn they took the psychedelic sound and turned it up, applying a similar hard blues edge as Hendrix and Cream. S. F. Sorrow should have been a massive hit but was out of time being released at the end of 1968. The summer of love was long over and it was too soon for prog. Led Zeppelin released their first album the next year and became the biggest band in the world with a pretty similar sound.

4. Soft Machine – The Soft Machine (1968)

 

Possibly the most free form and psychedelic album ever made during the first flush of psychedelia. Being electric organ led their sound was characterized by the hectic overloaded throb of fuzz. Fat basslines, throbbing organ and jazzy drumming accompanied lyrics about consciousness raising, if written by Kevin Ayers, or being short, if written by Robert Wyatt. Soft Machine were mostly about the music, however, and lyrics and song really took a backseat to jamming. No ordinary noodling though as the attack each member brought to any of the songs on this album sets it apart from the run of the mill psych-pop cluttering the charts in 1968. Must be listened to at maximum volume.

3. The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

 

The beginning of the end for The Beatles was a landmark recording in so many ways it obscured the music until recently. The Beatles stole the glitter from all over the mid sixties scene and made it their own. It draws from pop, music hall, rock, soul, indian classical music, sound collage, chamber music, swing, and throws in the kitchen sink. Binding such as disparate mixture together is the combined genius of The Beatles, George Martin and assorted EMI studio engineers who took then current studio technology to its limit and beyond. All the hallmarks of psychedelic production are there, phasing, reverb, panning, leslie speakers, guitar feedback, flanging and varispeeding but deployed in service of the songs.

2. The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968)

 

The ISB had already taken folk psychedelic with their 1967 album The 5000 Spirits or the layers of an onion, but now moved even further out, with wildly allusive lyrics which draw from Greek Mythology, Indian Vedic poetry, Bahamian popular folk song and the folk traditions of every nation of the UK. Regarding the music it’s difficult to pin down as it’s no longer recognisably of any one tradition, mostly acoustic, the arrangements usually centre on a drone, and are then ornamented by layers of exotic instrumentation. Robin Williamson alone is credited as performing on twelve different instruments. One of the most singular albums of any era.

1. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold as Love (1967)

 

Axis was the second Hendrix album of 1967. No psychedelic slouch Jimi followed his debut with a record which went one louder. Hendrix had come up with ‘the slow motion speeded up sound that sometimes cut so deep’ and was developing as a lyricist in thrall to Bob Dylan. An album which commences with an alien visitation and ends up tripping out on love after calling in on rage, hopelessness, magic and more on the way. Radical uncertainty and ego loss never sounded as cool before.

Compiled and written by Garry Todd

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Top Ten Albums From The Golden Age of UK Folk Music

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Top Ten Albums From The Golden Age of UK Folk Music

Posted on 07 March 2011 by Joe

From the mid 1960s through to the early 1970s the UK folk music scene was transformed with a legacy that continues to influence indie and alternative artists to this day.

From America’s Midlake and Sweden’s Tallest Man on Earth to the UK’s current diverse folk scene of the likes of Tuung and The Unthanks the influences of this golden age of folk music were immense.

We thought it was about time that we paid tribute to this time and showcase some of the best albums produced by some familiar and less familiar names. We’ve drafted in folk music expert Garry Todd to compile this list for us as we present Neon Filler’s Top Ten Albums From The Golden Age of UK Folk Music.

1. Fairport Convention – Liege &Lief


Moving away from being the English Jefferson Airplane, and throwing off their predominantly American folk-psych influences, the band concocted this strange brew of ancient folk songs retooled for the psychedelic mindset. Born out of the tragic road accident which killed the original drummer, Martin Lamble, and seriously injured the rest of the band, Fairport’s fourth album is the philosopher’s stone of British folk rock. The first to fully realise an electrified British folk music.

The band’s alchemical manifesto is set out on opening song Come all ye in which Sandy Denny sets out to ‘Rouse the spirit of the Earth and move the rolling sky’. When Richard Thompson’s guitar takes flight duelling with Dave Swarbrick’s electric violin on Reynardine, it’s no mystery why this album was so influential.

2. Incredible String Band – The 5000 spirits or the layers of an onion


Out of the fertile folk scene of Scotland’s central belt, ISB were tremendously gifted musicians with a beatnik/proto hippie sensibility, who drew from a deep well of ethnic music, little heard at the time. Strong melodies augmented with keen harmonies and exotic arrangements, complement lyrics that range from whimsical conversations with clouds, to meetings with death and all points in between. They sound simultaneously ancient and modern all within the same song.

3. Roy Harper – Stormcock


Harper developed his idiosyncratic guitar style through years of itinerant wandering through Europe. On Stormcock he floats free from conventional songwriting, in a good way. His eddying fingerpicked guitar swells and rises over four long songs, bolstered with an orchestral arrangement and even Jimmy Page on one track. Often multitracking his voice into a epic chorus, Harper shifts register throughout in service of his songs. Throughout the album, Harper’s rails against religion, hypocrisy, power and it’s abuses with a sharp tongue and wit, with an occasional slide into low humour. The beautiful closing track, Me and My Woman, is where he finds some respite.

4. Bert Jansch – Rosemary Lane


Of all Jansch’s superb early albums, Rosemary Lane is the finest product of this purple patch. During a break from working with Pentangle, Jansch recorded the album at home with producer Bill Leader, as he had with his first few albums. Jansch makes these traditional songs truly his own, and the resulting ambience is intimate and immediate, as though the gentle melancholic lilt of Jansch’s hushed delivery were solely for you.

5. Shirley & Dolly Collins – Love, Death & The Lady


Dark, austere and forbidding, this beautiful, spare setting of traditional songs, is probably the peak of Shirley & Dolly Collins work. The arrangements of pipe organ and medieval instrumentation untether the mainly 19th century songs from their origins, setting them adrift in a melancholy world of their own. Shirley Collins has described herself being a conduit for the music. Her voice has an immediacy and purity, such clarity lost now, in an age of auto-tune and endless vibrato. The effect can beheartbreaking, as on Are you going to leave me?

6. Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left


It is hard to appreciate now that Nick Drake’s songs were once a precious secret. His albums reportedly sold less than 5000 copies each on original release, and were not widely available until released on CD in 1989. A fine guitarist with a strong lyrical style, his quiet, breathy delivery is supported on a bed of strings, adding drama and pathos to songs like River Man. Long overshadowed by the knowledge of his suicide, his music was sweetly introspective with a gentle melancholy often undercut by sly deprecative humour, as in Man in a Shed, or Poor Boy on his next album BryterLayter.

7. John Martyn – Bless The Weather


Bless the Weather was Martyn’s fifth album and his first solo album in what would  become his classic style, playing his guitar through an echoplex. Martyn develops his blend of Jazz, Folk and Rock into a spaced out hall of mirrors on Glistening Glyndebourne. His semi-slurred delivery only thickens from this point on, giving his songs a narcotic edge, even at their most romantic.

8. Comus – First Utterance


Murder ballads are a strong component of the folk repertoire. Comus took the murder ballad into the pagan wild woods and sacrificed it.  Although mostly acoustic the arrangements have a manic energy and intensity, which leaves most extreme rock looking puny and underfed. Roger Wooten, the lead singer and main songwriter sounds demonically possessed, throwing himself into the roles of rapist, murderer and asylum inmate with glee. The cover image of a twisted pain wracked man is fully representative of the lyrics. There are lighter moments but these are brief interludes before plunging back into the darkness. Step carefully into the forest.

9. Steeleye Span – Please to see the King


Ashley Hutchings left Fairport Convention after Liege and Leif, and founded Steeleye Span as a vehicle to delve deeper into traditional song. On their second album, Martin Carthy came on board and they went electric. With Carthy and Tim Hart the band had two strong male singers, but on the majority of songs Maddy Prior took the lead. All three harmonised terrifically throughout. Without drums the rhythm is carried through the interplay of guitar and bass, with violin often taking lead instrumental voice.

10. Lal & Mike Waterson – Bright Phoebus

Half of The Watersons make an original record with almost every significant musician in the British Folk Rock scene, it just has to be good, doesn’t it? Luckily, Bright Phoebus is a fantastic record with superb guitar work from Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy. Brilliant vocal harmonies from Lal and Mike are the centrepiece of glistening arrangements. There’s an eerie quality to most of the songs, listening to The Scarecrow will genuinely give you the shivers.

Compiled and written by Garry Todd

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About

Posted on 18 June 2010 by Joe

Neon Filler was created in 2009 by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers. Since then it has grown to include articles by our wonderful bunch of contributors,  regular Top 10 features and in  2011 we published our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Albums  list.

Although UK based we cover acts from around the world and give special preference to those local to us in Somerset, London and Brighton.  We also have a presence on Twitter and Facebook under the name IndieMusicUK, where we have more posts and feature our classic video clip of the day.

We are always keen to showcase the work of other writers to add to our list of contributors. We also welcome latest news, CDs and download links from artists, labels and PR folk. Our contact details can be found here.

The Neon Filler Team

Joe Lepper has been a freelance journalist  since 2003. When he’s not taking on paid commissions or carrying one of his two sons around on his shoulders he spends time editing and writing for Neon Filler.

He does most of his reviewing while dog walking near his home on the Somerset Levels. His favourite band is still XTC and he is yet to experience a gig as good as Fugazi at Brighton Zap  Club in 1989, although Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have come pretty close.

Joe is Neon Filler’s main live reviewer for the west of England. He is also a judge for the Glastonbury Festival emerging talent competition.

For more information about Joe visit  NewsandFeatures Ltd.

 

Dorian Rogers has worked in IT since 2000 and has long since abandoned any latent desires to be a rock star due to a realisation that some musical skill is required.

Dorian He’s one of the rare breed that still buys all his music on CD and loves going to the record shop on a   Monday to browse through the new releases. He has a crack like addiction to buying Guided by Voices and Robert Pollard CDs and owns more than is strictly necessary.

He lives in Brighton, which probably has the best record shops in the country and some increasingly good live music venues.

As well as editing Neon Filler he is one of the website’s gig reviewers for the Brighton area and London.

 

Garry Todd is fast falling into early middle age, regularly despairing of the contemporary pop scene, finding himself beset by incipient nostalgia until he remembers that he felt the same way twenty years ago.

 As has often been said there are only two types of music, good music or bad music, but who can really say which is which? Well Garry  can and as the final arbiter of taste his word is law.

His favourite album is Hex Enduction Hour by The Fall, his best gig experience was Royal Trux at the Brighton Media Centre in 1998 and his favourite festival  is The Green Man festival ( usually the worst weather though).

Having already wasted too much time listening to music he still can’t get enough and is our resident expert on all things folk.

 

Martin Burns is a big fan of live music and has been going to gigs since the mid ‘80’s.

His all time favourite live acts have been My Life Story, Bobby Conn and Blur.

He likes a wide range of music, from indie, to heavy metal, country and electronica.

Martin would have loved to have hung out in Laurel Canyon in the late ‘60’s and early 70’s but is equally happy living in Brighton, shopping and wearing hats.

He also spends his time coming up with superb Top Ten lists for us, including this beauty about The Top Ten Guitarists That Don’t Usually Make Top Ten Lists.

 

Rob Finch masterminds various bits of the NHS website in his unspare time,  keeping the nation healthy and happy.   40378_10150256257345305_3605831_n

At home he listens to jangly indie pop, on his commutes he listens to anything dark and interesting and if there’s any time left over he writes articles for Neonfiller.com.

Milky Wimshake, King Missile and John Grant are among the eclectic bunch to have tasted the nib of his pen already. He is also our resident expert on all things Dennis Wilson, by far the coolest Beach Boy of them all.

 

 

Sarah Robertson’s musical roots sprouted in the gritty town where she spent her teens; Doncaster. To her, the Venice of the north.Kew Gardens August 2010 029

A short-lived early taste for thrash and punk morphed into a keen consumption of rock, alternative and blues, with a plethora of influences including Jimi Hendrix, Jack White, Madeline Peyroux, Robert Johnson and Them Crocked Vultures.

Her best gig was her first live music experience– AC/DC at Donington Monsters of Rock in 1991, but recent years have featured music with a softer edge, and she is definitely now more Dead Weather than she is Daisy Chainsaw. Sarah supports Neon Filler’s coverage of the capital from her South West London home.

 

John Haylock, who covers our East midlands gigs, has wanted to be, at various times Marc Bolan, Jimi Hendrix, Thurston Moore and briefly, Cheryl Cole. He describes himself johnhaylckas “old and wretched” and in his time has seen We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re gonna Use It AND The Cheeky girls.

His best ever gigs though were Nirvana a Nottingham Rock City, Patti Smith at London’s Rainbow Theatre, Ted Chippington, also  at Rock City and Flaming Lips at Greenman Festival.

When he’s not attending festivals, eating pizza, driving in his car with a broken door and listening to songs about impending death he spends his time trying to meet middle-aged women that look like Kim Gordon (see picture).

 

Arthur  Hughes is our East Midlands based snapper who prefers small intimate gigs, but is equally at home at the Albert Hall, mewhere he was lucky enough to see the legend that is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Favourite acts include John Grant, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Roxy Music.

His  biggest musical  regrets are swapping a ticket to see Led Zeppelin in 1972 and never seeing the late great John Martyn perform.

 

 

Matthew Nicholson’s starting point with music is definitely guitar-wielding indie bands. However, this west country based matthewnwriter also loves to dance and is a sucker for an emotive or thought-provoking lyric.

Among his favourite gig memories are the Flaming Lips at Bristol Academy in 2003, Blur at Glastonbury 2009 and, as a reviewer, Hot Chip and Caitlin Rose in Bristol.

For more about Matthew’s music writing visit Stream Glastonbury.

 

 

Patricia Turk is a web editor  who enjoys spending large amounts of time on London buses, listening to music and feeling moody, andPatricia seriously affecting her workplace’s productivity by streaming BBC Radio 6 Music daily.

She’s also a keen live music fan and festival goer, and rates The Flaming Lips at Primavera Sound in Porto last year one of her all-time greatest gigs – so far.

 

 

Our Other Contributors:

Ryan Perry, Matt Whipp, Mathew Danby, Ben Murray, Jennifer Whitehead, Barnaby Salton, Sarah Woods, Leon Cox, and Nicola Collenette.

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