Tag Archive | "Alex Highton"

Best Albums of 2018

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Best Albums of 2018

Posted on 17 December 2018 by Joe

It’s been a good year for debut albums in our latest Best Albums list.

Politics has also loomed large, with a number of releases, including our top placed  album, trying to make sense of the chaos of Brexit.

We have also included a special focus on acts from one of our bases – the South West of England, which continues to produce some of the UK’s most best music.

16. Nicholson Heal –Big Jupe

Bristol based Nicholson Heal impresses with his debut album, with a keen focus on melody and  featuring a wonderful brass section. Deservedly one of our  Glastonbury Festival emerging talent competition longlist entries back in 2017. Full review.

NicholsonHeal

15. Tigercats- Pig City

Tigercats are back, bigger, brassier and they’ve brought the party with them, careering round the capital on this gem of a third album, which makes great use of their new horn section and African influences. A deserved spot in our best albums of 2018 list. Full review.

Tigercats

14. The Billy Shinbone Show – The Billy Shinbone Show

Jesse Budd from Glastonbury based psychedelic popsters Flipron becomes Billy Shinbone for this eclectic solo album that blends 1960s psychedelia with country and Cajun music. Fans of Robyn Hitchcock’s recent albums will find a lot to like here. Full review.

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13. Superorganism – Superorganism

This global octet, with members from the UK, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, have impressed us greatly with their stunning debut, which is packed with a range of styles, big choruses and delicious hooks.

superorganism-1024x1008

12. Okkervil River – In the Rainbow Rain

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best, featuring great tunes in the likes of Love Somebody and Pulled Up The Ribbon as well as some of the strongest personal writing yet from their leader Will Sheff. Full review.

OkkervilRainbow

11. Guided by Voices – Space Gun

Space Gun may well be the best album that Robert Pollard has recorded under the Guided By Voices moniker since he resurrected the band back in 2012. Full review.

Space Gun

10. Papernut Cambridge – Outstairs Instairs

Former Death in Vegas man Ian Button and his crew continue to reinvent 1970s pop, this time covering themes of grief and loss as he reflects on the passing of his father, whose words of wisdom on No Pressure are among many, many highlights. Full review.

Papernut Cambridge

9. Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

For his third album Liverpudlian Alex Highton has turned up the synths and 1980/90s influences to great effect. This is particular notable on opener Benny Is a Heartbreaker, an Ultravox-esque thriller of a song. Full review.

Alex Highton

8. Front Person – Front Runner

Canadian singer songwriters Kathryn Calder (The New Pornographers) and Mark Hamilton (Woodpigeon) come together  produce one of the best albums of 2018. Their trademark passionate lyrics and beautiful vocal delivery combine perfectly on this debut, which features some smart use of vintage electronica. Full review.

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7. Neko Case- Hell On

The world’s best female vocalist? We certainly think so, especially after hearing this latest highly charged release. She certainly has a lot to be emotional about this time around with this album arriving after her house burnt down and amid a battle with stalkers. Yet another career highpoint and a worthy entry in our best albums of 2018 list.

Neko Case - Hell-On

6. Jack Hayter – Abbey Wood

A derelict children’s home provides the inspiration for former Hefner man Jack Hayter’s latest, where everything falls into place. It has a strong back story, some moments of genuine drama, great music and above all sincerity. Full review.

abbey wood

5. Robert Rotifer – They Don’t Love You Back

The Austrian musician, broadcaster and Kent resident has created an epic stream of folk, psychedelic consciousness that perfectly encapsulates the senseless chaos of  Brexit. Recorded as a 77 minute track as part of a Wiaiwya Records project to raise money for Médecins Sans Frontières. Full review.

Rotifer - they don't love you back

4. The Go! Team- Semicircle

Eu-bleedin’-phoric! There’s no other word combo to sum up the sheer exhilarating joy of this Go! Team latest. Full review.

The Go Team SEMICIRCLE album artwork SMALL

3. Parquet Courts Wide Awake

Parquet Courts had already done their bit for guitar rock on their first three albums. Now they expertly take their music into new directions, thanks to Danger Mouse on production duties.

parquet courts

2. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

Melbourne band’s three guitars pack a punch, especially on this album’s fantastic opening featuring  An Air Conditioned Man, Talking Straight and Mainland. Full review.

Hope Downs

1. Field Music – Open Here

From its chamber pop gems to pop-tastic foot stompers, this latest from Britain’s most interesting act continues to delight.  There are serious messages too, as the band eloquently express their fears around parenthood in post-Brexit Britain. A deserved top spot in our Best albums of 2018 list. Full review.

field-music-lp

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Top 10 Albums of 2018 ….so far

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Top 10 Albums of 2018 ….so far

Posted on 20 June 2018 by Joe

Each June we take a moment to look back on our favourite albums of the year so far. Inventive pop is a key theme his time around, with bands keen to push their boundaries and take their sound into new directions. It’s certainly paid off in the case of many of our Top 10 Albums of 2018 …. so far. We will revisit this list once again in December, when we will reveal our favourite albums of the year.

 

10. Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

For his third album Liverpudlian Alex Highton has turned up the synths and 1980/90s influences to great effect. This is particular notable on opener Benny Is a Heartbreaker, an Ultravox-esque thriller of a song.

Alex Highton

Read our full review here.

 

9. Guided by Voices – Space Gun

Space Gun may well be the best album Pollard has recorded under the Guided By Voices moniker since he resurrected the band back in 2012.

Space Gun

Read our full review here.

 

8. Superorganism – Superorganism

This global octet, with members from the UK, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, have impressed us greatly with their stunning debut, which is packed with a range of styles, big choruses and delicious hooks.

superorganism-1024x1008

 

7. Okkervil River – In the Rainbow Rain

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best, featuring great tunes in the likes of Love Somebody and Pulled Up The Ribbon as well as some of the strongest personal writing yet from their leader Will Sheff.

OkkervilRainbow

Read our full review here.

 

6. Tigercats – Pig City

Tigercats are back, bigger, brassier and they’ve brought the party with them, careering round the capital on this gem of a third album, which makes great use of their new horn section and African influences.

Tigercats

Read our full review here.

 

5. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake

Parquet Courts had already done their bit for guitar rock on their first three albums. Now they expertly take their music into new directions, thanks to Danger Mouse on production duties. The results are pure joy.

parquet courts

 

4. Neko Case – Hell On

The world’s best female vocalist? We certainly think so, especially after hearing this latest highly charged release. She certainly has a lot to be emotional about this time around with this album arriving after her house burnt down and amid a battle with stalkers. Yet another career highpoint and a worthy entry into our top 10 albums of 2018 list.

Neko Case - Hell-On

 

3. The Go! Team – Semicircle

Eu-bleedin’-phoric! There’s no other word combo to sum up the sheer exhilarating joy of this new The Go! Team album.

The Go Team SEMICIRCLE album artwork SMALL

Read our full review here.

 

2. Field Music – Open Here

From its chamber pop gems to pop-tastic foot stompers, this latest from Britain’s most interesting act continues to delight.  There are serious messages too, as the band eloquently express their fears around parenthood in post-Brexit Britain. A deserved high placing in our top 10 albums of 2018 list.

field-music-lp

Read our full review here.

 

1. Jack Hayter – Abbey Wood

A derelict children’s home provides the inspiration for former Hefner man Jack Hayter’s latest, where everything falls into place. It has a strong back story, some moments of genuine drama, great music and above all sincerity. This is not only one of the best folk albums of the year, but currently our favourite album of 2018.

abbey wood

Read our full review here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

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Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

Posted on 06 April 2018 by Joe

One of the best aspects of running a music blog is receiving a fantastic album in the post.

But 0ne of the most frustrating aspects is to see such a release fail to get the publicity it deserves from the wider music media.

This has happened many times over the years with acts such as the wonderfully inventive Free Swim and the beautiful Co-Pilgrim, both bands that dazzle time after time as exponents of great English pop.

We do our bit. We promote such acts via social media and write reviews, however, we are just a small fish in a gigantic pond.

Alex Highton

With this in mind we were delighted to receive the third album from another English pop dazzler, Alex Highton, ahead of its March 30th release. But have been also frustrated to discover, via a hasty Google search, that so few reviews have been published since then.

Let’s at least get this review out there and hope more follow. Alex Highton and his great music deserves it.

But before we wade into this latest release here’s a quick recap of Alex Highton’s recent career. He first appeared on our radar in 2012 with the release of his debut album Wooditton Wives Club. This focuses on his own move from city to rural life and features some marvelously savvy pastoral folk-pop. Song for Someone on this is a particular highpoint, and was later covered expertly by John Howard.

Two years later 2014 album number two, Nobody Knows Anything, was released. This saw his palette become far broader, with electronica and a few nods to 1960s psychedelia added to the mix. It garnered a 9/10 score from us.

With this third album Liverpudlian Alex Highton has turned up the synths with 1980s and 1990s influences coming more to the fore. This is particular notable on opener Benny Is a Heartbreaker, an Ultravox-esque thriller of a song.

There’s a Part to Everyone That You Can(‘t) Love is also a great pop song, complete with woodwind section, oddly placed brackets and clapping.

Another highlight is Getting Fucked Up (It’s all you ever do), which somehow manages to blend Beck’s back catalogue with George Harrison’s Beatles epic Within You Without You. This is not the first time the Fab Four’s influence has become apparent across Alex Highton’s albums.  Although previously he appeared to be more of a Macca man, particularly on some of his more whimsical numbers.

Across the ten tracks there a range of different styles. All are hinged together by an inventiveness and desire to do more with the notion of the three minute pop song.

So here we have a great album, one that will appeal to a wide range of people, with a varied array of tastes. The production value is strong. The tunes are excellent.

It is demanding to be reviewed, listened to and even cherished.

What are you waiting for?

9/10

By Joe Lepper

For more information about Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness visit here.

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John Howard – Songs From The Morning

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John Howard – Songs From The Morning

Posted on 05 February 2018 by Joe

In the year he becomes a pensioner John Howard continues his prolific renaissance with another of his regular EPs that pays tribute to those who have influenced him.

Previous collections have introduced us to some real gems. From the likes of Randy Newman and Laura Nyro to some a welcome revisiting of the music of lesser known artists, such as Alex Highton’s beautiful A Song For Someone.

John Howard

John Howard

Here, as John Howard marks his 65th year, he is focusing on his folk roots with some tender versions of well known and rare songs from the 1960s and 1970s by Sandy Denny, Tom Springfield, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and the Incredible String Band’s Mike Heron.

Among the most passionate is his take on Nick Drake’s From the Morning, which closes the tragic singer songwriter’s final album Pink Moon (1972). As John Howard says in his accompanying press release “it’s astonishing that he could write such an upliftingly beautiful song, celebrating nature and his delight at the changing of day into night” when he was falling to an abyss of mental illness that claimed his life. Here Howard gives it an even more uplifting feel, with accordion and piano creating a wall of sound for the splendor of life that Drake describes.

John Howard’s take on Denny’s The Lady and Buckley’s Morning Glory are two further high points. The simplicity of the production on these is particular strong, focusing on Howard’s two key strengths – his wonderfully preserved pop vocals and piano playing.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information on John Howard please visit his Facebook page.

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Alex Highton – Nobody Knows Anything

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Alex Highton – Nobody Knows Anything

Posted on 26 November 2014 by Joe

Alex Highton first came onto our radar two years ago when his debut album Woodditton Wives Club landed on our doormat. This collection of savvy pastoral folk pop, inspired by his own family move from London to the Cambridgeshire village of Woodditton, was beautifully arranged; perfectly mirroring his transition from city to rural life.

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Two years on he’s still producing high quality folk music, but on Nobody Knows Anything his palette is far broader and there is a range of genres at his finger tips. There is also a raft  of notable backing musicians too such as Robert Rotifer on electric guitar, John Howard on piano and the wonderful English folk vocals of Nancy Wallace.

On one hand Nobody Knows Anything is still the rural folk album that Woodditton Wives Club was. There’s the similar Pentangle style double bass, acoustic guitar and the addition of Wallace to add further folk class.

But on the other hand Highton has packed this with squelchy synths, nods to the 1960s psychedelia and pop as well as more modern alternative music by the likes of Field Music. One reviewer had even compared a track to the Only Fools And Horses theme tune.

These two strands of rural folk and modern eclecticism never conflict thankfully, they just weave in and out of each other as old friends and by the end it ceases to matter whether this is a folk album that became more ambitious or an ambitious album that wants to retreat back into the comfort of Cambridgeshire village life.

Take one of the highlights, Sunlight Burns Your Skin, for example. It starts with largely vocals and acoustic guitar. So far so folk. Then Rotifer’s electric guitar comes in and a world of psychedelic pop ushers in with trombone, backing vocals, more trombone, more guitar, more of everything and eventually comes to close with an acapela breakdown.

The same transition from small to downright  huge occurs on You don’t Own This Life, the album’s opener, which starts with some smart guitar picking and ends up with a whole load of clarinet and a trip to Dixieland.

It Falls Together and Fear are the ones that will delight Field Music fans. Like Field Music’s David Brewis, Highton is a fan of Talking Heads and it shows on these two jerky, pop tracks.

And then one of the album’s key tracks Panic ushers in. With its emotion and low key Northern delivery  Panic will particularly appeal to Elbow fans, albeit ones that also like thick squelchy synths, delay effect guitar and film soundtracks. Miserable Rich are another act that bares similarity – particularly on the beautiful Somebody Must Know Something.

As it progresses it’s clear this is no ordinary folk album with its broad range of genres, melody and invention, but for those familiar with Woodditton Wives Club this is unmistakeable Highton, only more so.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

 

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John Howard – Songs For Someone

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John Howard – Songs For Someone

Posted on 23 July 2014 by Joe

Darren Hayman, Alex Highton, Ralegh Long, Robert Rotifer and Ian Button are five lucky fellas to have their songs covered by rebooted 1970s singer songwriter John Howard.

Since his comeback more than a decade ago, following a 20 year or so hiatus, Howard has made up for lost time with a raft of original material and the occasional covers collections.

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 2013.

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 2013.

But whereas previous covers have mostly paid tribute to those that influenced his early career, such as Laura Nyro and Paul McCartney, here he passes a musical nod to the emerging and more established independent UK artists he has collaborated with in recent years.

For Long, whose track The Gift from his 2012 EP of the same name is covered here, getting the Howard treatment must be an especially pleasing honour. When Long sent us The Gift to review he cited Howard as a major influence. We helped match them up via email and since then their friendship has blossomed, they perform together and help promote each others releases and ventures, including Gare Du Nord Records, the label set up by Long, Button and Rotifer.

Howard’s version of The Gift shows Howard to be a musician who takes his time, who really listens to a song he is covering to ensure he can give it his own take and bring out a particular theme. His version of The Gift sounds likes the perfect thank you to a young musician he clearly admires.

A good cover should offer a new interpretation as well as pay tribute to the source material. Howard achieves that on all the tracks here, especially Song For Someone,  from Alex Highton’s 2012 album Wooditton Wives Club.

After hearing Woodditton Wives Club, about Highton’s move from London to the Oxfordshire countryside with his family, Howard was clearly smitten, as we were when we reviewed it. It’s a wonderfully honest collection of acoustic guitar folk about family life and location. It’s also an album about looking back, learning from the past and moving on, common themes in Howard’s post comeback work.

Song for Someone is a track that I liked a lot but for me was overshadowed by others on the album such as You’ve Got The Trees. Howard though clearly homed in on it straight away and reinvents it as a great big old romantic piano ballad while achieving the neat trick of retaining the intimacy of Highton’s understated vocals. The pair’s mutual back slapping continues later this year when Howard appears on Highton’s forthcoming album.

Howard clearly likes covering Rotifer’s tracks. He did a great job turning Rotifer’s Creosote Summer, from 2012’s The Hosting Couple album, into a pop Waltz on a recently released Gare Du Nord sampler. He does another fine job on So Silly Now, a track about the relationship between a music fan and his collection from Rotifer’s 2013 album the Cavalry Never Showed Up. Howard brings to the table those extra few years of experience in the music business as if he really knows some of the famous names mentioned in the lyrics. He even finds time to unleash his Brian Wilsonoator (disclaimer: actual equipment may not exist)  from his home studio in Spain. I never even thought of Pet Sounds hearing the original, now I can’t separate the two.

Ian Button gives such a summery, psychedelic pop shine to his music under his Papernut Cambridge moniker. Here Howard sounds strips away the psychedelia and gets to the heart of the song to really draw out its melody and lyrics. Rather than the lush twinkle of Button’s production, here Howard has focused on cellos, which ensure a 1960s feel is retained as well as serving to give the song an extra sadness.

As with Button and Rotifer, who provided two thirds of his backing band when he played at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London last year, Darren Hayman is another musical collaborator. Back in 2007 Howard was invited by Hayman to play on his first album as Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern. The original is jolly folk pop but on Howard’s version the tone is sadder, the pace is slower and of all five the transformation is the most remarkable. I like the original but I adore this version.

Howard is enjoying a good streak in his ongoing comeback, especially with the release of his most recent album Storeys last year. Has the influence of Hayman, Rotifer, Long, Highton and Button been a factor in this recent fine run of creative form? Listening to his tender take on their tracks here that seems likely.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top 10 Bands To Watch Out For In 2014

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Top 10 Bands To Watch Out For In 2014

Posted on 06 December 2013 by Joe

We are pleased to introduce you to our annual look at the year ahead and those bands and solo acts that we think you should look out for in record shops (yes they still exist, go to them and find out) and gig venues. In our latest list we’ve got bands from the UK, US and South Africa all hand picked by our  our team of  expert contributors.

10. Super Squarecloud

super squarecloud

We heard their song Lollymoon while judging this year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition and fell in love with their blend of math rock and twee pop, It is no surprise that they remind us a lot of XTC with their sense of musical invention, as they too come from Wiltshire. Their debut album Soupeater was released late in 2013 and we think it’ll help catapult them from their south west of England heartland into many more UK lugholes during 2014. (Joe Lepper)

9. Catfish and the Bottlemen

Catfish-and-the-Bottlemen

Led by the implausibly titled Van McCann, the rascally Catfish & The Bottlemen are already armed with an impressive arsenal of incendiary two-minute indie firecrackers that will surely see them blow up some time in 2014. An album is expected early in the new year and is sure to feature some of their current stage set highlights  including the raucous Rango, crowd favourite Sidewinder, and the howitzer that is their single Homesick. Exhaustive touring has already helped catch the ear of BBC radio presenters Zane Lowe and Steve Lamacq who have both championed them. 2014 is the year they explode, mark our words. (Kevin McGough)

8. John Wizards

johnwizards

Despite receiving critical acclaim from The Guardian and BBC 6 Music, South African six-piece John Wizards have flown somewhat under the radar in 2013. Having supported Jagwar Ma on their UK tour, we are looking for their blend of electro rhythms, township basslines and Graceland-esque guitar riffs to appeal to 2014’s summer festival crowd in particular. Their sound is one of overriding optimism, perhaps stemming from their multicultural lineup and the history of South Africa. If 2014 offers up another heatwave, then John Wizards could provide the perfect soundtrack. (Conal Dougan)

7. New Mendicants

newmendicants

You’d be hard pressed to find two better exponents of melodic guitar pop than Teenage Fanclub veteran Norman Blake and Pernice Brother Joe Pernice. It makes sense that they would collaborate and as New Medicants they are set for a big 2014 . Joined on drums by Mike Belitsky of The Sadies they have so far released one EP and played some very well received live shows (including their Bristol show which we reviewed) where they mix new songs with their own classics. January dates in the UK followed by their first full album mean they’ll be making a big (if soft and sensitive) noise in 2014. (Dorian Rogers)

6. Withered Hand

withered

Otherwise known as Dan Willson, this Scottish singer songwriter has signed to indie pop heavyweights Fortuna Pop in the UK and Slumberland Records in the US for the 2014 release of his next album New Gods. Its track Black Tambourine, which was released late in 2013, was enough for us to propel Wilson straight into this list. If the rest of the album is as exciting as this track it’s likely to be a shoo-in for our end of 2014 best albums list. But we are jumping the gun a little. For now, go see him, go buy his album and help him have a great 2014. (Joe Lepper)

5. Making Marks

Makingmarksvid

It was at 2013’s Indietracks Festival that we first saw Making Marks, the Norwegian indie pop act with a country feel that for the last two years has been steadily building up interest among indie popsters. Their debut album A Thousand Half Truths, featuring the track Barcodes,  is due in February 2013 and we anticipate their audiences will grow as a result. Formed in Oslo their star turns are vocalists Ola Innset, whose intricate guitar picking style is worth paying close attention to, and Nina Bø. (Joe Lepper)

4.  Alex Highton

alex-highton-woodditton-wives-club-main

Highton’s album Wooditton Wives Club, about his move from London to a small Cambridgeshire village proved to be one of our favourite releases of 2012. Turns out we are not the only ones to be enjoy his refreshing take on folk and pop as improbably Ashton Kutcher is among his fans. The Guardian also likes him and in 2013 interviewed him when he topped their readers’ vote for the best breaking act. 2014 marks a busy year for Highton, who releases his next album Nobody Knows Anything in April. He also has a tour of the UK and Europe planned.  Go see him if you can. (Joe Lepper)

3. Wolf Alice

New-Wolf-Alice-500x333

Wolf Alice impressed us as one of the best new acts that we saw at the Great Escape Festival this year. A simple mixture of good songs, good playing and assured, if understated, performance made them stand out. This year they’ve released a handful of impressive singles and EPs demonstrating their knack for wistful, melodic indie rock. At the time of writing they were due to headline the Club NME New Year’s Eve Ball at Koko, which shows how highly they are regarded by the music press, and we expect to see much more of them in 2014. (Dorian Rogers)

2. Temples

Temples_LARGE

These  psychedelic rock revivalists from Kettering emerged during 2013 after their virtues were extolled by the likes of Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr. First coming to the attention of Heavenly Records founder Jeff Barrett  in 2012 with the self-produced ‘Shelter Song,’ Temples soon evolved  into a full touring band over the next 12 months and, despite their youth, they have added a  watertight live dynamic to accompany their considerable song-writing chops. They certainly impressed us when we caught their Bristol show late in 2013. Think the melodies of psychedelic-era Beatles, the 12-string jangles of The Byrds and a hint of Madchester bagginess; all  given a hypnotic contemporary twist. Over the next 12 months we predict many more than Marr and Gallagher will be left impressed. (Scott Hammond)

1. Hospitality

hospitality_promo

As debuts go Hospitality’s self titled 2012 album has been among the best we’ve heard since Neonfiller launched in 2009. Signed to Fire Records this Brooklyn trio’s set is full of infectious pop hooks all delivered superbly by lead singer Amber Papini, whose songwriting and vocals perfectly sum up all the hopes and fears of the developed world’s 20 somethings. But these are no mere indie, niche act as the likes of the mainstream Rolling Stone are  among their many admirers. After a quiet 2013 they are back in 2014 with a new album Trouble, including the song I Miss Your Bones, which displays an even keener ear on appealing to mainstream and indie audiences alike. (Joe Lepper)

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Alex Highton – You’ve Got The Trees

Posted on 08 November 2012 by Joe

As a country dwelling, dog owning, music fan I do a lot of my music listening and reviewing while walking across the Somerset levels.

Here’s a short film I made of my recent early morning walks throughout Autumn, with Glastonbury Tor in the background and the cows, frost, sunrise and great music for company. The music featured here is You’ve Got The Trees by Alex Highton, one of the UK’s most promising singer songwriters. This track is featured on his 2012 album Woodditton Wives Club, about Alex’s own move from an urban to rural landscape. It seemed the perfect choice once I’d edited the footage together. Alex has kindly given me permission to use his song for this film.

by Joe Lepper

For more information about Alex visit his website here.

To read our 8/10 review of Woodditton Wives Club click here.

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Alex Highton – Woodditton Wives Club

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Alex Highton – Woodditton Wives Club

Posted on 02 February 2012 by Joe

There’s something so reassuringly cosy about the music of Alex Highton, the singer-songwriter who briefly flirted with fame three years ago when movie star Ashton Kutcher emerged as an unlikely fan.

His latest album Woodditton Wives Club, loosely based on his own move from the city to the village of Woodditton, Cambridgeshire, is as English as, well, a visit to a Cambridgeshire village.

Like an aspiring Ray Davies the album charts Highton’s search for a Shangri-La  away from the crime and loneliness of city life in rural Cambridgeshire. He even sings like Davies at times, but mostly  in the folk tradition of  Nick Drake or fellow Liverpudlian Paul McCartney.

Rob Young’s excellent study of British folk music Electric Eden is full of versions of Highton, who over the decades from Holst to Vaughn Williams to Richard Thompson and the Incredible String Band, searched for a quieter more traditional part of Britain away from the city. On the evidence of this album he is perhaps deserving of a mention in an updated version of the book. From instrumentation to songwriting to Highton’s endearing voice, this album is beautifully arranged.

Take one of our many highlights such as Stupid, its use of trumpets perfectly capture the spirit of The Kink’s village green as well as echo other more modern UK folk acts such as The Miserable Rich.

The Great Divide features some of the best guitar playing. Drake would have been proud to see his influence used so carefully. Towards the end of the album, with Highton firmly entrenched in country living, his voice and songwriting even seems calmer, more settled. What Will You Do When They Break Your Heart Again? is probably my favourite, mainly due to its nod to Pentangle, including Danny Thompson-esque double bass and John Renbourne guitar moments.

Three years on from Kutcher’s recommendation on Twitter, which prompted 63,000 hits to his Myspace page in two days, Highton is still unknown. Underservingly so on this evidence. We may not host Hollywoord parties or have a bitter divorce dispute with Demi Moore, but our little voice singing his praises will have to do for now.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

 

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