Tag Archive | "American Music Club"

Woodpigeon – TROUBLE

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Woodpigeon – TROUBLE

Posted on 09 March 2016 by Joe

Last time we saw Mark Andrew Hamilton, aka Woodpigeon, he was supporting Mark Eitzel at the Fleece in Bristol. It was just him, his beard, a heavy knit jumper, a guitar and his beautiful vocals. It was a solid set by a support act but no more than that.

Unknown to the audience at the time this was no ordinary tour of the UK for this Canadian singer songwriter. His relationship was ending and he was left fragile and distraught. What followed was an extended break from music as he took on the role of traveller, moving across the globe on a journey of both introspection and enthusiasm for the world, both good and bad.

Woodpigeon at The Fleece, Bristol (Mar 3, 2013)

Woodpigeon at The Fleece, Bristol (Mar 3, 2013) – pic by Joe Lepper

Travelling for two years across Europe, Canada and South America he experienced rioting in Istanbul and the longest break he’d had from music since he began writing in 2005. Given so many of his previous songs had been about the joy of love, to go through this messy break up effectively cut off his inspiration for much of this period.

This is the album that emerged from that time. It is not only the best he has made but arguably a contender for album of the year. Quite simply, it’s got the lot, in particular the crushingly sad backstory of a break up that became a new inspiration for Hamilton. Anyone who has heard Bjork’s epic Vulnicura will know how the loss of love can transform a songwriter.

It’s also got great production. It’s subtle with much made of the rhythm section of Colin Edward Cowan on bass and Daniel Gaucher on percussion. As with The Mountain Goats’ drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Peter Hughes the combination of Gaucher and Cowan also give a quality songwriter’s songs added emotion. The bullet like snare on Whole Body Shakes and funky but doom-laden bass bring to mind both the plastic bullets firing across the streets of Istanbul and the messy break up that sent him on this journey.

woodpigeon

The press release gives us a “less is more” cliché about the production, but in this case it is true. This focus on rhythm backed by sweet electric guitar picking with the occasional cello or piano accompaniment gives more power to these songs than any orchestra could rustle up.

The songs themselves are also beautiful, full of that introspective heartbreak that Sufjan Stevens does so well. It also leaves questions unanswered, such as on Faithful. Is it him or his former partner that was unfaithful? Perhaps both, perhaps neither? Meanwhile, on Canada there’s a genuine pop song here. This is uplifting and while positioned at track four could easily be the last track as the songwriter finally finds peace in his new home, which at the time of writing was in Vancouver.

Three years ago seems such a long time ago when looking at how far Hamilton has come both emotionally and as an artist in a journey that has transformed him from a solid support act for Mark Eitzel, to conjuring up an album to rival the quality of the former American Music Club man himself.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Woodpigeon – TROUBLE is released on April 1. More details here.

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Mark Eitzel – Don’t Be A Stranger

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Mark Eitzel – Don’t Be A Stranger

Posted on 30 September 2012 by Dorian

Mark Eitzel has never been famous for the cheery nature of his songs, and following the second break-up of American Music Club and a heart attack in 2011 there is nothing to suggest a lifting of his mood on his first solo album in three years. Indeed, given the lack of commercial success for his solo work, and his recent addition on a list in a second hand record shop of artists that shop staff shouldn’t buy, you’d be forgiven for expecting a statement of defeat here. So it is a surprise to find this to be one of the most positive sounding albums of his solo career to date.

Mark Eitzel - Don't Be A Stranger

This positivity may not be evident to listeners from the lyrics on the album, from the opening track ‘I Love You But You’re Dead’ the subjects are pretty dark and stark. This may seem like normal service from Eitzel but the arrangements are so breezy and light that the overarching mood is one where he is enjoying singing and recording these songs. Recent interviews have suggested some financial good fortune enabling the recording and an acceptance that he will never be a successful recording artist. This seems to have removed some weight from his shoulders and the result is one of his most enjoyable sets of songs in years.

American Music Club fans looking for any rough edged guitar are going to be disappointed, this is a loungey album throughout  but the playing and arrangements are consistently strong. The picked guitar and strings on ‘The Bill Is Due’ may be one of his prettiest compositions to date, complimented by his distinctive soulful vocals.

If the album has one weakness it is that there is not enough variety in the sound, the very clean arrangements walking a fine line between smoothness and blandness at times. There are just enough distinctive arrangements to break up the album however, and the piano and vocals only arrangement of ‘We All Have To Find Our Own Way Out’ may just be the albums masterpiece.

Eitzel is one of the great singers and songwriters of his generation, one who doesn’t get enough credit for excellent back catalogue. Don’t Be A Stranger is his most accessible recording for years and deserves a bigger audience than I expect it will get.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Mark Eitzel – We All Have To Find Our Own Way Out

Posted on 15 September 2012 by Dorian

Mark Eitzel plays ‘We All Have To Find Our Own Way Out’ at The Palmeira in Hove on Saturday 8th September 2012.

 

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Mark Eitzel live at The Palmeira, Hove, 8th September 2012

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Mark Eitzel live at The Palmeira, Hove, 8th September 2012

Posted on 15 September 2012 by Dorian

American Music Club were one of the great bands of the late 80’s/early 90s to come out of America, Mercury and Everclear are two of the best albums recorded during the 1990s. The band’s singer and songwriter, Mark Eitzel, has continued to release excellent underrated albums since their demise (excepting a five year reunion period) and has a new album out later this month. As such it seems wrong somehow that one of his only two UK dates is on a makeshift stage in the corner of a pub in Hove.

Small Town Jones

Small Town Jones

However, what this does mean is that those that have bought tickets for the sell-out show get treated to a wonderfully intimate show with one of the most unique performers in modern music.

Up first is Small Town Jones, a North Devon band who are signed to the record label of the evening’s promoters, Brighthelmstone Promotions. The band have a warm sound with a pleasant country feel and the vocals and guitar playing are accomplished. The duo set-up suits the songs, but does lead to a slightly samey feel after a while with the mid-tempo tunes crying out for a bit more variety. I’ll be looking them up to hear their recordings and would definitely check them out again to see them in full band format.

Up next, shuffling nervously on to the stage is the man himself, accompanied only by a keyboard player so he can perform in “the lounge style”. The familiar hat and beard frame the face of a man who seems happy and relaxed despite his typically nervy overall demeanour.

Mark Eitzel

Mark Eitzel

The set is predominantly based around his more recent solo material with typically upbeat titles like ‘Why I’m Bullshit’ (from 2009’s Klamath) and ‘I Love You But You’re Dead’ (from the forthcoming Don’t Be A Stranger) sounding wonderful in the intimate and low-key environment.

Eitzel live, especially when not with a full band, is as much a confessional stand-up show as it is a musical performance. The stories that come between songs are a part of the experience and are often as hilarious as they are sad. He is perhaps even more self-deprecating than he was the last time I saw him, at the Pavement ATP festival in 2010.

Later in the set we are treated to a few numbers from his American Music Club back catalogue including a typically passionate ‘Patriot’s Heart’ (from their come-back album Love Songs For Patriots) and ‘I’ve Been A Mess’ from the brilliant Mercury. These songs sounding just as good arranged for c]=vocals and keyboard as they did with the full band on record.

At the end of the show Eitzel reluctantly (after a couple of false starts and trying to leave the stage at least once) finishes with a Barbara Streisand cover, Streisand being the subject of an earlier anecdote. It is a slightly strange end to a an exceptional evening of music from one of the unsung heroes of American recording.

Eitzel has no more UK gigs planned, but US based readers can see him play one of 11 gigs scheduled from November through to January.

Watch Mark Eitzel get style advice from Billy B, style consultant and makeup artist for Lady Gaga here.

 By Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (20-11)

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Top 100 Albums (20-11)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. Hope you enjoy this latest instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

20. The Flaming Lips – Soft Bulletin


Soft Bulletin from 1999 marked a change of direction for The Flaming Lips from their experimental  earlier albums to a more conventional  rock sound. Although  coming after Zaireeka, their four disc album to be played on four separate stereo systems simultaneously, arguably anything would have seemed conventional. ‘Race for the Prize’ and ‘Waiting for Superman’ are among many highlights on their ninth album Soft Bulletin, but perhaps our standout is ‘The Spark That Bled’, a perfect example of how the band managed to merge their sentimental charm with a psychedelic edge. This commercial direction for the band was to continue for the next two albums, with great effect on album number 10 Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. By their 11th album At War with the Mystics this focus on pop music seemed a little tired and they made a welcome return to  their experimental roots with the sprawling 2009 double album Embryonic.

19. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

On his first solo outing after splitting Whiskeytown Ryan Adams recorded a surprisingly honest and sensitive album considering his alt-country bad boy reputation. The album is a homage to the good and bad side of relationships, moving between celebratory and despairing over 15 brilliant tracks. After an opening conversation about Morrissey albums it kicks into the rollicking country-blues of ‘To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)’ before settling into a quieter acoustic feel for the remainder of the album (excepting the Stonesy ‘Shakedown On 9th Street’). Backed by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch (two of the best players in rootsy Americana) the playing is never less than excellent and the singing (including duets with Emmylou Harris) is top notch throughout. Great singing and playing coupled with the best set of songs in Adam’s, never less than interesting, career add up to a great album.

18. Belle and Sebastian  – The Boy With The Arab Strap


For us aged, fey indie-kids at Neon Filler picking the best Belle and Sebastian is a tough call. Sometimes 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister is our favourite, other times Dear Catostrophe Waitress whets our appetitie. But after having a good trawl though their back catalogue in recent weeks the one we keep coming back to is their third album, 1998’s The Boy With the Arab Strap. The production is pitch  perfect allowing the subtle instrumentation to work around lead singer Stuart Murdoch’s stories. There’s some great tunes as well. Among our highlights are the title track, ‘It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career’ and ‘Dirty Dream Number Two’. Guitarist Steve Jackson’s turn on lead vocals on  ‘Seymour Stein’ is another highlight on this much loved album by this much loved band.

17. American Music Club – Mercury

American Music Club - Mercury

Most critics name the previous American Music Club, Everclear, as the bands finest hour but we think that Mercury just pips it as the band’s true masterpiece. Mark Eitzel paints a pretty bleak picture lyrically on many of the songs here but his soaring vocals, lush instrumentation and warm production soften the blow. It is the most varied album of the bands career mixing slow paced ballads (‘I’ve Been A Mess’), indie pop (‘Keep Me Around’) and loose noise (‘Challengers’). Guitarist Vudi sounds like he is fighting the urge to let rip at all times, but it is this forced restraint that adds tension to the quieter songs. The album contains the bands greatest and best known song ‘Johnny Mathis’ Feet’, a deserving entry into the great American songbook. Eitzel is a confusing and oblique character, but anyone who writes a song with the title ‘What Godzilla Said to God When His Name Wasn’t Found in the Book of Life’ deserves our attention.

16. The Mountain Goats – Sunset Tree


The Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle is a master story teller. On latest album All Eternals Deck the focus was on other’s lives, including Judy Garland and even Charles Bronson. But on 2005’s The Sunset Tree Darnielle looks to his own life with dramatic effect as he recalls his teenage years in an abusive home. Across the album these deeply personal tales chart his escape into a world of video games, music, drink, drugs and storytelling away from the grim reality of his homelife and his drunken step father. It’s harrowing stuff, but never depressing. The tracks from ‘Dance Music’ to ‘This Year’ are about survival and are full of hope.  Final track ‘Pale Green Things’ provides a  fitting conclusion with Darnielle recalling his step father’s death and remembering a rare nice day out at the race track. For more about The Mountain Goats read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

15. Sparklehorse – Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot

The late Mark Linkous released four albums as Sparklehorse in his too-short life and Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot was a dazzling and mesmerising debut. Played largely by Linkous alone (with a handful of musicians including David Lowery in support) it is an eclectic, sad and beautiful collection. Despite moving between the soft elegance of songs like ‘Homecoming Queen’ to the catchy alt-rock like ‘Someday I Will Treat You Good’ and the dischord of ‘Tears On Fresh Fruit’ it always sounds cohesive and natural. Linkous came from a traditional folk background and moved into alternative rock music, the album suceeds in bringing these styles seemlessly together. This works perfectly on the banjo lead ‘Cow’ with the memorable refrain “Pretty girl, milkin’ a cow, oh yeah”.

14. REM  – Murmur


Back in 1982  executives at record label IRS were keen to send their recent signing REM on the road to rock stardom. Only problem was that the band were having none of their methods. Shunning the label’s choice of producer Stephen Hague and pressure to incorporate guitar solos and synthesisers into their music, they instead wanted to create a timeless feel. With producer Mitch Easter, who had worked with the band on their first EP Chronic Town, on board the band managed to get free rein to turn the tracks they’d been touring for a year or so into the album they wanted. From start to finish this is packed with great tracks with first single ‘Radio Free Europe’, ‘Talk About The Passion’ and ‘Catapult’ among many highlights. Musically it’s a mix of The Byrds, particularly through Peter Buck’s guitar style, and Pylon, the eccentric new wave band from their home town of Athens, Georgia. REM’s approach was proved right in the end. Wthin a few months of its release they were well on their way to superstardom, supporting The Police at Shea Stadium and producing a fine run of commercially and critically acclaimed albums throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

13. Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings And Food

Talking heads - More songs about buildings & food

Picking the best Talking Heads album is tough, most of their albums (including either of their live albums) could claim a place in this chart. One of the most important American acts of the 1970s and 80s they mixed soul and funk influences into their jittery new wave sound. More Songs About Music And Food takes a measured step forward from their 1977 debut and embraces David Byrne’s interest in the people and landscape of middle-America. Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth provide a tight simple backing to the wired frontman and neat guitar interplay with Jerry Harrison adds texture to the bands sound. The album contains few of the band’s best known songs, only their cover of Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’ was a hit, but it is their most rounded collection. ‘Found A Job’ stands out in particular, with a great instrumental outro, and is as good a song as you’ll find by any of New York new wave acts.

12.Blondie – Parallel Lines


Has there ever been a better female fronted band than Blondie? In our ears and minds the answer is a clear ‘no’. Take Blondie’s third album, 1978’s  Parellel Lines for example. It boasted a ker-ching making six singles among its 12 tracks. What’s more  the album tracks that didn’t make it on to 7” were pretty fine  too. Blending rock, new wave, and even disco on ‘Heart of Glass’, the tracks echo the sixties at times, such as on ‘Sunday Girl’. Under producer Mike Chapman  it was musically inventive too, with the guitar work of King Crimson’s  Robert Fripp  on ‘Fade Away and Radiate’ still capable of sending shivers down our spines to this day.

11. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead

As the album opener ‘The Queen Is Dead’ kicks in with punchy bass and drums you are immediately aware you are listening to something pretty special, and equally aware that Morrisssey was wrong to dismiss the role of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce in the band. The Smiths were one of the most important bands of the 1980s and it is difficult to overstate tyhe fanatcism of their fanbase at the time. Morrissey is a fascinating figure and, like him or not, their has never been another singer like him and his lyrics are witty and erradite here. Jonny Marr shines on the album and the arrangements are uniformly excellent throughout, it is also a little surprising how subtle and restrained his playing in. Only ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ showcases his signature jangle and it isn’t until the end of ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ that he lets rip (and then only for a short burst). ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is the highest peak on an album of peaks and deserves a place on every best of the 80s collection.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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