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Top 10 Disappointing Follow-Ups

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Top 10 Disappointing Follow-Ups

Posted on 16 January 2012 by Dorian

The Godfather Part Two is one of the finest films ever made, even better than the excellent first film in the series. The Godfather Part Three is not a terrible film, but after seeing the first two films in the series it is a pretty miserable way to spend more than two and a half hours of your life. In music hearing a bad album is no big deal, you put it aside and forget about it, but hearing a favourite act follow up a classic album with a bad one is a dispiriting experience.

Here we present our Top 10 Disappointing follow-ups.

10. Pavement – Terror Twilight

Pavement Terror Twilight

Up until this point Pavement had a pretty much blemish free copybook, a set of challenging singles and four brilliant albums to their name. Brighten The Corners in 1997 was as good a set of off-kilter indie guitar pop as any released in the decade and looked close to breaking the band to a bigger audience.  The quirky charms of ‘Carrot Rope’ two years later raised my hopes for the follow-up, sadly these were dashed on hearing the full product, Terror Twilight. There are good songs on the album, notably the singles ‘Spit On A Stranger’ and ‘Major leagues’ but it is a strangely flat record. The production by Nigel Godrich is cold and lifeless, something that can be said about the majority of the songs here. Spiral Stairs never wrote songs as great as Malkmus, but the lack of any of his songs here is another missing piece of the Pavement puzzle. The band would break up after touring this album, but they had started to give up even before it was recorded.

9. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder

Some Loud Thunder

In 2005 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah looked like they could be a real band to watch. Their self-titled debut was over hyped but it contained some brilliant songs and was one of the most promising debuts of the year. Two years later they released Some Loud Thunder and proceeded to rain on the musical parade. The album was produced by Dave Fridmann and it is hard to tell if it is his fault or the bands for the first song on offer, which is pretty much impossible to listen to. I tolerate a lot of difficult production from a band, but the remaining songs on the album, whilst perfectly well produced, are just not very good at all. The band play around musically all over the place, but they seem to have forgotten that a good song needs to be the basis of their instrumental indulgences. The band wisely retreated after this and it would be another four years before they released another album.

8. The Strokes – Room On Fire

The Strokes - Room On Fire

How do you follow up an album that throws you on the cover of every music magazine and spawns half a dozen instant indie-disco classics? The answer The Strokes had for this question seems to be producing the same album again, but with worse songs and the vocals mixed absurdly low in the mix. There are a couple of half decent singles on Room On Fire, but beyond that I can’t think of one interesting thing to say about it.

7. The Pixies – Bossanova

The Pixies - Bossanova

Including the Pixies in this chart is going to seem like sacrilege to some readers, this is after all one of the most beloved of all the 1990s acts. The thing is, I love the Pixies and even love a number of the songs that are featured on this album. The surf-rock instrumental stuff is cool, ‘Dig For Fire’ is a great single and several of the other tracks are as interesting and exciting as anything else that was released that year. The thing is though that this album followed Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, two of the best records ever released. In that context it couldn’t fail to disappoint, it is just nowhere near as good a record as either of its predecessors. It also differs from these two classic albums in that it is quite dull in parts, it just feels a bit flat and lacking in the excitement I’d come to expect from this most singular of bands. Trompe Le Monde would step things up a bit a year later and (without any sign of a new album) Bossanova remains the worst record in their back catalogue.

6. Elastica – The Menace

Elastica The Menace

The five years Elastica took to release The Menace was longer than the post-punk period they thrived to emulate and marked them as millennium’s first has beens. Their album Elastica was the fastest selling debut ever, spearheading a savvy guitar pop which oozed suave lo-fi and visceral sophistication. It was urban and reinvigorating, an essential classic. The Menace, however, is drowned in the fug of brown sugar, banker talc, scrapped recordings and litigation.  When it’s not pandering to Casio bedsit clichés Justine Frischmann rejects angsty vocals for shouting “Your Arse My Place”, relying on Mark E Smith to add oral quality. It’s a disjointed album, much of which had already appeared on an EP, from a one trick band sacrificed to drugs, arguments and time.

5. Blur – The Great Escape

Blur The Great Escape

Parklife was a brilliant era defining guitar pop record, a huge leap forward for a band that had started life as an identikit baggy outfit. It was witty, melodic, and despite being heavily influenced by classic British pop (XTC, The Kinks, Madness and Julian Cope all spring to mind) it was a record that was very of its time. If you were to have described the album to a set of suited music executives and asked them to reproduce the record what they would have come up with would be The Great Escape. The same ground is covered, the same style of songs are featured and the same tricks are trotted out, but in all cases they are not as successful. On Parklife Phil Daniels provides guest vocals, on The Great Escape it is Ken Livingstone. On Parklife the videos are colourful and fun, on The Great Escape the colourful video for ‘Country House’ is embarrassing (Graham Coxon looks filled with self-loathing in that one). Albarn is too good a songwriter to produce a total stinker, and there are some good songs on here, but on the whole it is a pretty charmless record.

4. REM – Monster

REM - Monster

REM are one of the most important bands ever, it is as simple as that. They enabled many alternative acts to make the popular crossover and  produced music that influenced more bands than almost any other act. In 1994 they were at their commercial and critical peak, thir last album, Automatic For The People, was their most popular yet and the reviews were uniformly positive. Two years later their response to this was to produce their worst album to date, an album of murky rock that failed to play to any of their musical strengths. ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth?’ was a brilliant lead-off single, but a misleading example of the overall quality to expect. The album as a whole is murky, underwhelming and seldom rises above being ordinary. People may listen to the album and wonder why I’m making a fuss, it is a decent set of melodic alt-rock right? But to me it was the sound of a band moving from essential to irrelevant in the space of twelve songs.

3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

BON-IVER-BON-IVER

For Emma, Forever Ago was a good album with an interesting back-story. Frustrated love-lorn musician Justin Vernon retreats to a cabin and records a sparse, haunting and subtle album with beautiful yet simple arrangements. The critics went wild for it and a new hero of American music was born. It seems that the critics were so enamoured that when it came to reviewing Vernon’s self titled second album they chose to ignore what a bad album it was, perhaps they had written the reviews in advance of receiving the album. These same critics were clearly too embarrassed to admit their mistake and forced to include Bon Iver high up in their end of year charts. Our review of the album damns it with faint praise and comparisons to Toto and Enya are accurate, this is an album that is overproduced and uninteresting.

2. Primal Scream – Give Out, But Don’t Give Up

Primal Scream

When Bobby Gillespie’s Primal Scream released Screamadelica it shocked the critics by not just being a great album but by perfectly marrying rock and dance music in a way that no other artists had managed to achieve up to that point. So, how best to follow up this feat? A by-the-numbers rock and roll album that is the aural equivalent of a pasty faced man in leather trousers dancing out of rhythm. The playing is fine, the music passable with some pretty terrible lyrics and vocals all adding up to a truly mediocre album. You are left wondering whether the success of Screamadelica was really down to Primal Scream at all or more to do with the various DJs and producers who peppered the album. A subsequent career veering between the average and the un-listenable has done little to quell this notion.

1. Stone Roses – The Second Coming

Listen up and listen good Stone Roses fans. Your adored band are crap. There I’ve said it. Yes of course their debut, self titled album (one of our top ten indie/alt albums of all time ) was remarkable. But that is less to do with The Stone Roses and more down to the direction of producer John Leckie (our top alternative music producer of all time) , who expertly mixed the band’s ballsy Mancunian live style with a 1960s experimental feel, some great tunes and wonderful guitar arrangements.  Under Leckie the band’s  major deficiencies were also masked, most notably singer Ian Brown being complete pants and  chief song writer and guitarist John Squire being some kind of megalomaniac, guitar riffing version of Mr G from Summer Heights High. On Second Coming, their atrocious second and final album, they parted company with Leckie and with it any sense of direction. All they were left with were their glaring deficiencies.  Ten Storey Love Song is probably the only track that emerges with any credit. Love Spreads, with its depressingly long guitar intro sounds like the kind of tired rock U2 were churning out on  Rattle and Hum. Begging You sounds a little like U2 Achtung Baby era but a whole lot more like Bobby Davro doing a bad impression of Primal Scream.

by Dorian Rogers, David Newbury and Joe Lepper

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Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

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Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

Posted on 14 November 2011 by Joe

The legend of Trevor Powers, the 22-year-old bedroom musician who goes by the name Youth Lagoon and has been snapped up by the  Fat Possum label, is of a kind of younger, more suburban Bon Iver.

Live Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Powers’ album The Year of Hibernation emerged after a period where he was holed up feeling increasingly insular.

But the effectiveness of the comparison ends there really. While Vernon spent three months in a shack in the wilderness nursing a failed romance and music career, it turns out that Powers was just a bit too busy to go out from his home in Boise Idaho. He had a lot of college work on apparently.

Also while Vernon’s loss was painfully laid bare on his stunning debut For Emma For Ever Ago, for Powers his only real loss was that his girlfriend was working a lot so he didn’t see her much.

He tells San Diego City Beat,

“I was really busy with school. My girlfriend was working 60 hours a week, so I was not seeing her very much. Everyone was busy with school and had a lot going on. While I was really busy, my anxiety was getting really bad. And I had this project of recording these songs when I would come home from school. In a way, I would isolate myself and just work on songs. It was kind of a weird, lonely year.”

As a result the influences behind Year of Hibernation are far too shallow to really hold a torch to For Emma.

But if you think this review is going to be negative because Powers is a young man and hasn’t really experienced a lot then think again.

He may lack the depth of Vernon and his songs may be a little immature lyrically but he has still come up with a remarkable album. If anything his immaturity is part of his appeal. It gives the subject matter a simplicity that anyone can relate to, even if it is from the mouth of a relative babe.

Take the track 17 with its warm electric keyboard intro and repeated lyrics, “when I was 17, my mother said to me, don’t stop imagining, the day that you do is the day that you die.” A simple, sentimental message that is effectively delivered.

Another is Montana and its video about a young lad waving goodbye to his father who is off to fight in Vietnam and never to return. Fast forward 20 odd years and the boy is a man wandering the countryside of Montana with his father’s ghost watching over him all the time. It’s like a terrible US Tv movie, but because its Powers and because sentimentality is what he does it sort of works.

Further praise goes to Power’s lo-fi production. Simple keyboards and electric guitar, mixed with computer drum tracks and his androgynous, vulnerable vocals. It’s like Postal Service through an echo chamber at times, like Beach House at others.

The electric guitar riff on Daydream is particularly effective, as is the whistling effect on Afternoon and Montana, which nicely conjures up an image of an army of bedroom indie kid musicians marching towards a gig triumphant.

So if sentimentality is not your thing, then maybe this is one to avoid, but if you like the mystique, of his admittedly slight, surburban legend as well as bands such as Beach House then this is going to appeal.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Bon Iver – Bon Iver

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Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Posted on 17 June 2011 by Joe

Those that loved For Emma, Forever Ago, the stunning debut from Justin Vernon recording as Bon Iver, are going to have to get used to the fact that was a one off.

Its unique song writing process is not going to be repeated. He is not going to sit in a log cabin for three months in the winter and pour his heart out in song again. He may never produce a low-key tender album like it again. That period in his career is over, done with, finished.

Those that cannot accept that should avoid Bon Iver, Vernon’s self titled follow up album like the plague. Those who are open to Vernon moving on with his career may just find something to like.

Bon Iver, the album, is the work of an altogether different Vernon. A successful Vernon, who has turned Bon Iver into a well-respected live act, is a successful recording artist and has collaborated with Kanye West.

This is not the same pre For Emma Vernon who was essentially a failure, in love and music, who holed up in a log cabin to pour his heart out.

One of the major changes is that he has transferred elements of his festival sized live sound into the studio. This for us is where Bon Iver is most successful, especially as we were left impressed when we saw Vernon’s well-crafted rock act at The Breeders ATP festival in 2009.

Bon Iver at Breeders ATP

Bon Iver at Breeders ATP, 2009

Tracks such as opener ‘Perth’, with its atmospheric electric guitar intro and military drumming, capture  the ‘Bon Iver as rock band’ notion perfectly. So too does ‘Towers’, starting off like something from REM’s early catalogue and featuring some beautiful trumpets. ‘Calgary’ is another that left us impressed and is sure to be a live favourite as Vernon rises higher up festival bills over the coming years.

Another highlight is ‘Holocene’, more low key but arguably the most beautiful on the album.

Sadly the rest of the album is not as strong. ‘Minnesota WI’’s strange reggae rhythm and RnB, yes that’s right I said RnB, vocal style sounds a little like his experimental Volcano Choir work, but without the atmosphere. The saxophone on this track just sound weak as well, especially when compared to the sax-tastic album Kaputt, released by Destroyer earlier this year.

‘Hinnom, TX’ just sounds bland, like a Kanye West filler track. Worst of all is ‘Wash’, which reminds us of Enya with its drifting, washed out vocals. As for  ‘Beth/Rest’ this sounds like Chris De Burgh with its cheesy keyboards. This final track on the album is quite frankly an embarrassment.

Even though we are among those who recognise Vernon’s need to move on with his music this album has too little of what he is good at as a live musician, very little of the subtlety of For Emma and above all no killer tune or melody.  As a friend pointed out recently “it sounds a little like Toto”, surely a compliment in comparison to Enya.

6/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top 100 Albums (60-51)

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Top 100 Albums (60-51)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

We are approaching the half way point  as we compile our Top 100 indie and alternative albums of all time. There are some albums here you will have seen on similar lists before. But we’ve also opted for some obscurities with the aim of highlighting some different music for you to seek out.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. We hope you enjoy this fourth instalment. Here’s our previous instalments ( 70-61 , 80 – 7190 -81 , 100-91).  See you next week for 50-41.

Also, for  more great albums visit our  Classic Albums section

60.Modest mouse  – Good news for people who love bad news

Modest Mouse were already one of the more successful US alternative acts around during the early 2000s. With the release of this 2004 album their popularity went through the roof. Thanks to singles like ‘Float On’ and ‘Ocean Breathes Salty’ the album became Platinum selling and gave the band a Grammy nomination. While achieving mainstream success the album also retained the band’s edge and showcases a range of styles to appease the casual listener and hardcore Modest Mouse fan alike. The slow banjo strum of ‘Berkowski’, the beautiful ‘Blame it on the Tetons’ and the frenetic ‘Satin in a Coffin’  are removed enough from the mass appeal of  the killer riff of ‘Float On’ to earn this a justified place in our Top 100 list.

59. Apples in Stereo – The Discovery of a World Inside The Moone

Robert Schneider’s The Apples In Stereo are the best place to start when listening to the Elephant 6 and The Discovery Of A World Inside The Moone is their finest hour. From horn blasting opener ‘Go!’ to the acoustic whimsy of ‘The Afternoon’ it never puts a foot wrong. The album manages to be a great retro homage without ever falling into the trap of being a pointless exercise in nostalgia. Vocal harmony, hand claps and a genius command of melody runs throughout the album. Classic pop, psyche, garage and even white funk (‘The Bird That You Can’t See’) make for a really enjoyable set.

58. Dag Nasty  – Can I Say

Along with Fugazi  Dag Nasty emerged form the ashes of DC punk outfit Minor Threat. While Minor Threat’s lead singer Ian Mackaye took a more experimental approach to music with Fugazi, Dag Nasty took a simpler but no less effective route. While sticking to short songs about everyday  teenage frustrations, of friendships and politics the  focus was on melody, with singer Dave Smalley’s vocals perfectly matching former Minor Threat guitarist Brian Baker’s wondrous technique of picking chords on this their debut album. From the title track through to ‘Thin Line’ and ‘Values Here’ to this day the excitement level hasn’t dropped, with the songs sounding as fresh and relevant now as when we first heard them years ago as teenagers when it was released in  1986. Wig Out At Denkos, the follow up album with vocalist Peter Cortner, who is now in The Gerunds, is also well worth checking out. To read our full review of Can I Say visit here.

57. Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel – Nail

Jim Thirwell (AKA Clint Ruin) has been releasing single syllable four letter titled albums under the varied Foetus banner for 30 years. The best of these as Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel in the mid-1980s. An early exponent of the “industrial” sound he produced albums that had a much more varied sonic sound-scape than many of his contemporaries. Built around metallic percussion and tape loops Nail includes a wide and varied set of instrumental sounds from classical orchestration, fierce guitars, big band jazz, twang guitar and old style rock ‘n’ roll underneath Thirwell’s guttural snarling. The album has an impact and is clearly trying to shock (murder, including the Manson family massacre, features prominently) but it features some fantastic music; ‘Descent Into The Inferno’ and ‘The Throne Of Agony’ belie their titles by being great pop tunes and full of catchy hooks.

56.Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

The story behind this debut album from Justin Vernon recording as Bon Iver is one of the most compelling in our list. After splitting from his band DeYarmond Edison and his girlfriend he holed up in a cabin in the woods for three months with his guitar and some  songs of loss and love he had built up over the years. The end result was this hauntingly beautiful collection. As remote as his isolated cabin the songs are sparse but make full use of a full band feel and even a horn section when necessary. Tracks such as ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘re:Stacks’ stand up on their own, but it as part of this unique project, which made our Top Albums of 2008 list,  that they really come alive.

55. Fatima Mansions – Viva Dead Ponies

Viva Dead Ponies was the second album by former Microdisney singer Cathal Coughlan and stands as his greatest music achievement. Uncompromising, aggressive, abrasive and acerbic yet sugar coated with sweet melodies and pretty synth pop flourishes. Read more about this album in our Classic Albums section.

54. Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque

There are so many good albums from Scottish band Teenage Fanclub to choose from. We could have picked excellent debut Catholic Education, 1993’s Grand Prix or 1994’s Thirteen. But we’ve plumped for third album Bandwagonesque as our choice. More accessible than Catholic Education and coming after the disastrously bad The King, the sound was crisper, full of Big Star style guitar riffs and some fine melodies. It signalled a band with renewed strength from classy singles like ‘What You Do To Me’ to the  melancholy ‘December’.

53. Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade

Zen Arcade represented a real shift in the hardcore punk landscape on its release in 1984. The first two Hüsker Dü albums were all about short, sharp, noisy, fast blasts, with not a big need for melody. This is a 23 song concept album with a  range of styles and approaches, a kind of indie punk White Album. The punk aesthetic is there, the production is thin and much of the music is loud and brutal; the who record was recorded and mixed in 85 hours and most of the songs captured in a single take. Amongst this are acoustic numbers, piano driven instrumentals and experimental sounds-capes, totally at odds with what their audience would have been expecting. The thing that makes this record really great is the quality of the songwriting, from both the bands singers Grant Hart and Bob Mould. Mould supplies ‘Something I Learned Today’, ‘Broken Heart, Broken Home’ and ‘Chartered Trips’. Hart matches this with ‘Never Talking To You Again’, ‘Pink Turns To Blue’ and ‘Somewhere”. These are all great catchy hardcore punk pop tunes and make this a record that is ambitious and enjoyable.

52. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Orange

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in their 1990s prime were one of the best live acts around. Like Jerry Lee Lewis mixed with The Cramps their dirty take on rock ‘n’ roll could have come from the devil himself. The fury and energy of their live shows were impossible to truly capture on CD, but this 1994 album by the band was probably as close as they got.  From the first sensational disco stringed intro of ‘Bellbottoms’ onwards this is an album meant to be played loud. From ‘Dang’ to ‘Flavor’ to ‘Blues X Man’ there’s no let up with Spencer like a filthy southern preacher bellowing ‘blooooozze explosion’ at every opportunity. It also heralded a more experimental period for the band, with the 2010 reissue featuring some interesting remixes blending rap, soul and dance music with the best rock ‘n’ roll since the 1950s.

51.Television – Marquee Moon

‘Marquee Moon’ is a near perfect debut album from a band who would go on to release just one more album before taking a 14 year break. If it had been the only thing they released they would still be seen as an important part of the New York punk and new wave scene, it is too good an artifact of that time. The guitar interplay between singer Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd is brilliant, sparse when it needs to be, and is copied heavily to this day. This tight, stripped down musical approach is paired with a set of songs that never put a foot wrong. ‘Venus’ and ‘Prove It’ are highlights, but the album centers on the  title track, a song that never wears out its welcome for any of the 10 minutes and 47 seconds running time.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Top Ten Albums of 2008

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Top Ten Albums of 2008

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

Neon Filler’s round up of the best ten alternative and indie albums of 2008 is dominated by US acts, with the UK’s so-called next big things failing to live up to expectations.

Of those that made our top ten, seven are from the US, one from Canada and just two from the UK. Shamefully poor releases by the likes of Pigeon Detectives, Razorlight and Keane ensured that a Brit pop revival is unlikely in the near future.

Although the most interesting music of the year came from the US, the nation of the free shouldn’t get too above itself. There was no Is This It, no Nevermind, nothing to make a thousand teenage bands drop what there doing in their droves and embrace a new way of playing music.

Those that narrowly missed out include Fleet Foxes, Okkervil River, Amadou and Mariam and MGMT.

1. Walkmen – You & Me

From the reverbed guitar on opening tack Donde Esta la Playa to the end of last track, the ballad ‘If Only It Were True’, it is obvious You & Me is among the best releases of the year. Not only has it that increasingly rare quality of being consistently good throughout, it signals a dramatic shift in The Walkmen’s creative output.  Gone is the emotionless pounding of previous singles such as The Rat and in comes a slower, emotionally charged 60s garage sound. The album, the band’s fourth, also marks a milestone for lead singer Hamilton Leithauser. His emotion is there for all to hear, perhaps for the first time in the Walkman’s back catalogue, especially on ‘Red Moon’. Standout track is undoubtedly In the New Year, an organ drenched epic.

9/10

http://www.myspace.com/thewalkmen

2. Boston Spacehips – Brown Submarine

After a disappointing set of 2007 releases it looked like things were going to get worse in 2008 with the release of the below par Superman Was a Rocker album. But Robert Pollard rallied well with the excellent Robert Pollard Is Off To Business and seemed to be showing signs of his old self. And with the release of Brown Submarine, the first release from his new band Boston Spaceships he really got into his stride.

‘Ready to Pop’ and ‘Psych Threat’ burst with energy as well as horn and string flourishes. ‘Soggy Beavers’ could be an outtake from the classic Alien Lanes LP. ‘You Satisfy Me’ is an album high-point and ‘Two Girl Area’ would stand up favourably against any Pollard song.

Being in a proper band again has clearly revitalised Bob and this could be the best album he has released since he broke up Guided by Voices.

9/10

http://www.bostonspaceships.com/

3. Shearwater- Rook

Created by Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff Shearwater have in the past been regarded as a mere folk off-shoot of their band Okkervil River. The beautiful but patchy Palo Santo (2006) began to change that and 2008’s Rook cemented Shearwater as a powerful musical entity in its own right. Minus Sheff and with Meiburg full time, after quitting Okkervil River to concentrate on Shearwater, Rook is packed full of sweeping, impressive tracks, steeped in natural imagery.

Meiburg’s distinctive baritone on songs such as ‘Snow Leopard’ and ‘Leviathan Bound’ have earned the band comparisons with TalkTalk for good reason. Stand out tracks include ‘Rook’ and ‘Hunter’s Star’, on an album that takes the sound of Palo Santo to another level and announces Shearwater’s emergence from Okkervil River’s shadow.

9/10

http://www.myspace.com/shearwater

4. Bon Iver – For Emma Forever Ago

The story of Bon Iver is a compelling one. Justin Vernon splits from his band and retreats to a cabin in the woods for four months. He creates the nom de plume Bon Iver and records the songs that would become For Emma Forever Ago. The songs on the album are as remote and haunting as their origins would suggest.There are overdubs, guitar, drums, vocals and, on the title track, even horns. But these are in keeping with the haunting sound of the record and never smother it.

Bon Iver at Breeders ATP

Bon Iver

There are no weak tracks on the album, and several outstanding ones. ‘Skinny Love’ showcases Vernon’s vocals, and ‘Creature Fear’ has a great chorus amid the drama. It is album closer ‘Re:Stacks’ that best captures the sound of isolation, and ends the album beautifully. For Emma Forever Ago’ is the most accomplished debut of the year and showcases a real new talent.

8.5/10

http://www.boniver.org/

5. Mountain Goats  – Heretic Pride

After three albums of autobiographical introspection the Mountain Goats John Darnielle arrived in 2008 with one of the band’s best albums yet. While Darnielle’s past subjects have included his own shocking childhood experiences of abuse on Heretic Pride, which is produced by John Vanderslice and Scott Solter, there is no such thread, just a collection of immediate and powerful songs. Gone is the autobiographic to be replaced by grand yet homely images of teenage love, religion, motels and middle America.

The opening half is particular powerful from ‘Sax Rohmer #1’ through to ‘Autoclave’. True, some may find Darnielle’s voice jarring but particularly on the album’s standout track ‘San Bernadino’ this album shows a far greater vocal range. Darnielle says on the album’s title track, “they come and pull me from my house, and they drag my body through the streets,” perhaps a passing reference to his confessional previous albums. With Heretic Pride this public ordeal has ended and the Mountain Goats emerge the better for it.

8/10

http://www.mountain-goats.com/

6. TV On The Radio – Dear Science

TV On The Radio really are cooler than cool. They’re based in Brooklyn, Bowie records backing vocals for them and in their spare time they are actors, producers, painters and make music videos for other hyper-cool bands.

Their 3rd album, Dear Science, is their most satisfying yet. It mixes Talking Heads (circa Remain In Light) with a contemporary sonic experimental streak, and comes out as something pretty unique.

‘Halfway Home’ is an excellent choice of opener, propulsive, hypnotic and featuring some great falsetto vocal flourishes. ‘Dancing Choose’ is a frenetic chant built around a great pop chorus. ‘Golden Age’ sits at the centre of the album and is brilliantly funky, like Midnite Vulture’s era beck with the jokey irony.

8/10

http://www.tvontheradio.com/

7. Dodos  – Visitor

In the Dodos’ world of indie-folk, drums, acoustic guitar, good melodies and just a hint of Africa are all you need. This third album by the California based Dodos is their most accomplished to date, marrying classic folk and African rhythms with a rock edge through frenetic finger picking and off-kilter percussion. What is most immediate about Visitor is that at its heart it is just two people bashing away at drums and guitars, a back to basics approach that gives the album a unique warmth.

The Dodos

Stand out tracks include ‘Red and Purple’ and ‘Jodi’. ‘Fools’ is another track worth mentioning, a firm favourite at live shows. Its Matt Amato directed video also garnered heavy interest pre-album release via the likes of YouTube, creating a justifiable buzz around the band.

8/10

http://www.myspace.com/thedodos

8. The Week That Was – The Week That Was

The decision to put Field Music on an indefinite hiatus was bad news for anyone who had heard their brilliant 2007 release Tones of Town. The good news was that this meant two albums from the Field Music camp, David Brewis’ School of Language and Peter Brewis with the Week that was.

The self titled album owes a lot to the sounds of the 70s, particularly XTC. Listening to stomping opener ‘Learn to Learn’ it is hard to believe that Brewis wasn’t taking production notes at the Drums and Wires recording sessions. The string laden ‘The Story Waits for No One’ could have been an outtake from XTC’s career high Apple Venus. ‘The Airport line’ could well be the best new wave chamber pop song ever recorded.

The album is more complex in arrangement than Field Music, with strings and pianos playing an equal part to the guitars and drums on many tracks. But it is still a compact pop album weighing in at 8 tracks and just over 30 minutes.

So any disappointment at the demise of Field Music is soon forgotten. Maybe we’ll be treated to four new bands in 2009?

8/10

http://www.myspace.com/theweekthatwas

9. Neon Neon – Stainless Style

The Super Furry Animals were one of the most interesting and enjoyable bands to come out of the UK 1990s scene. But since 2001’s Rings Around The World album they seem to have been in something of a rut. The albums aren’t bad, they just sound like a band repeating itself to an ever smaller audience.

Singer Gruff Rhys clearly just needed something new to energise him as his collaboration with producer Boom Bip, as Neon Neon, is something of a triumph. Stainless Style is a concept album about John Delorean, the Back To The Future car designer and drug trafficker. This unlikely backdrop produces a set of sparkling songs that, in the most part, could have been recorded in 1982. Songs featuring guests Yo Majesty, Spank Rock and Fat Lip have a more modern Hip Hop feel, but it is those with the 80s sheen that work best.

‘Dream Cars’ and ‘I Told Her on Alderan’ are as good as it gets and are probably top 10 hits in an alternate reality where the DeLorean dream lives on.

8/10

http://www.myspace.com/neonx2

10. Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning – Something For All Of Us

While it may seem like half Canada’s musicians are in the Broken Social Scene collective, from Jason Collett to Leslie Feist, at its core it is guitarist and lead vocalist Kevin Drew and bassist Brendan Canning. The first in the Broken social Scene Presents series, Spirit If (2007), showcased the work of Drew and last year Canning had his chance to shine with Something For All Of Us. It is a challenge he more than meets, bettering Drew’s album in terms of  pure pop and creating some of Broken Social Scene’s best and most melodic tracks.

Broken Social Scene (right: Brendan Canning)

Standout songs include the singles ‘Church Under the Stairs’ and ‘Hit the Wall’. The album has its fillers, such as ‘Been At It So Long’ and even one duffer, the misjudged reggae influenced track ‘Love Is New’, but these are minor criticisms of an otherwise excellent addition to the BSS catalogue.

8/10

http://www.brokensocialscene.ca/

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Volcano Choir – Unmap

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Joe

If ambient music is your thing then Volcano Choir, the side project of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, is definitely going to light your joss stick.

Featuring Vernon and members of Collections of Colonies of Bees, who like Vernon are from Wisconsin, the aim was to create an intimate piece of music, mixing folk and ambient music with a focus on vocal harmonies.

The start of this project predates the launch of Bon Iver, with much of the song writing taking place largely in 2005 before being polished off in November last year.

In between Vernon had achieved critical and commercial success with Bon Iver following the release of the band’s stunning 2008 debut For Emma, Forever Ago. As a result it is hard to avoid comparing Unmap with Bon Iver, as unfair as that is.

Despite being a clear ambient departure  much of Vernon’s Bon Iver sound, his subtle melodies and whispering vocals,  are present on Unmap. It is a satisfying listen, full of beautiful layers, but it does lack much of the passion and sound that Vernon has created with Bon Iver.

Across the nine tracks there are really only two standouts. Opener ‘Husks and Shells’, is rare for the album as it features acoustic guitar as the dominant sound. It works well and it would have been good to hear similar across the album. The other standout is ‘Islands, IS’, with its electro beats and bleeps weaving in and out of Vernon’s whisper it is probably the most accessible and listenable track on the album.

For  those expecting a follow up to For Emma, Forever Ago listening to Unmap will feel a little like walking into a new age shop by mistake.  The crystals look nice, the incense smells good but there’s not much more to it and you have to walk out sheepishly in search of something with more substance.

6.5/10

by Joe Lepper, Oct 2009

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