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Camper Van Beethoven, The Haunt, Brighton (30th May 2013)

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Camper Van Beethoven, The Haunt, Brighton (30th May 2013)

Posted on 02 June 2013 by Dorian

It is always a special thing when you see one of your all time favourite bands, it is made even more special when it is more than a decade since they last played in the UK. That time they played in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the south bank, this time I’m seeing them in the less salubrious but more intimate Haunt in Brighton.

Camper Van Beethoven

The name alone means that newcomers are likely to struggle with the concept of Camper Van Beethoven, and when faced by this group of graying musicians playing their unique mix of ska, pop, punk and country tunes it is not always an easy sell. To the initiated they are pretty much the perfect band, and this is as close to perfect as a gig can get.

David Lowery is an unassuming front-man, and his vocals are not going to win any singing contests, but his songs and lyrics are wonderful and his delivery of them filled with just the right levels of pathos. The rest of the band are excellent as well, Victor Krummenacher’s wandering bass lines, Jonathan Segal’s close to the edge fiddle and Greg Lisher’s scorching lead guitar. The four veterans joined on drums by Cracker’s Frank Funaro, original drummer Chris Pederson now living in Australia.

Camper Van Beethoven

As a fan-boy you have the conflict of being spoilt for choice with the shear number of great tracks you’d like to hear and knowing that thney’ll never be able to play every one of your top choices. The band work through a long set that covers every period of their career and includes so many of their best songs that I’ll even forgive them for not playing ‘Sweethearts’, ‘We’re A Bad Trip’ or ‘That Gum You Like Is Back In Style’.

‘Waka’ opens the show, an instrumental track that throws in every kind of music from their repertoire in one pot gets away with it through force of personality. Second up is ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ the Quo cover that almost made them stars when released in the US in 1989. In fact both their “hits” are played tonight with ‘Take The Skinheads Bowling’ making a highly enjoyable appearance later in the set.

It is difficult to pick out highlights, so good was the standard throughout, but I’ll never tire of hearing ‘All Her Favorite Fruit’ or ‘Seven Languages’ and to hear them played live is such a rare thing that it takes some beating.

The band choose not to leave the stage for the standard encore routine, objecting to the fact that it wastes a song in the process. As a result they manage to fit in ‘Good Guys And Bad Guys’ and ‘Ambiguity Song’ at the end of the set, both songs  as brilliant now as they were  in 1986 and 1985 respectively.

I understand that this is a bit of an impartial review, and one that is no good to you know that their UK tour is over. But if it makes one reader pick up one of their albums and fall in love with one of the world’s best bands, then that makes my job worthwhile. Maybe that person will be there in the audience with me in 2023.

By Dorian Rogers

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Camper Van Beethoven – La Costa Perdida

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Camper Van Beethoven – La Costa Perdida

Posted on 16 February 2013 by Dorian

Since reforming for shows and recording back in 2002, after a 13 year hiatus, Camper Van Beethoven have not been prolific. After releasing a song-by-song recording of Fleetwoood Mac’s Tusk followed two years later by a proper new album, New Roman Times, they looked like becoming a live band only. Nine years later we see the product or a return to the studio with the release of La Costa Perdida, their homage to Northern California.

La Costa Perida

Where New Roman Times was a dense political concept release La Costa Perdida is a light, airy melodic affair and certainly a more accessible first listen.

‘Come Down The Coast’ is gentle and melodic and light, it is a song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on either of the band’s last two pre-split albums, unmistakably Camper Van Beethoven. ‘Two High For The Love-In’ is even better, adding that layer of oddness that marks the bad out from David Lowery’s other band, Cracker. It is also one of the two songs on the album that feature the full classic line-up of the band with Chris Pedersen on the drums. He also features on the albums title track, one of those country-ska tunes that no other band could play and get away with.

‘Northern California Girls’ sits at the album’s centre, and mixes a clear nod to the Beach Boys with the kind of beautiful melancholy sound that  the band excels at, Greg Lisher’s crystal clear lead guitar and Jonathan Segal’s fiddle sounding as unique as ever.  To the initiated it is a magical sound that you appreciate all the more for the rarity of which it is put to record.

I’m a hug fan but stepping back and being objective I have to admit that there are a couple of tracks on the album that don’t quite work. ‘You Got To Roll’ is just a bit ponderous and seems to break up the mood of the album a little. ‘Peaches In The Summertime’ is another misstep, trying a little too hard to sound like the Camper Van Beethoven of old and not quite hitting the mark. Neither of these are bad songs, but they don’t fit so well on the album and have me reaching for the skip controls.

Even though David Lowery has been busy during the last nine years, both with Cracker and solo, this is unmistakably a Camper Van Beethoven record. It is a nostalgic and affectionate album, and the band clearly still love playing together after all these years. Let’s hope that it isn’t another nine years before they get back in the studio again.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

 

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David Lowery on Artists Rights

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David Lowery on Artists Rights

Posted on 23 June 2012 by Dorian

In a recent article for the Trichordist website David Lowery wrote an impassioned response to an article by an NPR intern, Emily White. Her article was about how she didn’t pay for music (apart from around 15 CDs) and posed the question “All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?” Lowery’s response was a lengthy exploration of the impact of music theft and supporting the artists’ rights to fair compensation.

David Lowery

David Lowery

Lowery’s piece isn’t perfect (his views on Spotify are open to question), and I don’t agree with everything he argues, but it is an intelligent and passionate article that raises some very valid points and highlights the dangers of a system where artists are not financially rewarded for their work. It is also pretty hard hitting in places. Music piracy may not have directly lead to the deaths of Vic Chesnutt and Mark Linkous, but if two artists of their caliber (and not forgetting the brilliant Jason Molina)  can’t make enough money to pay for their healthcare then something isn’t quite right.

Crucially the article isn’t an attack on Emily White (as many critics have claimed), it is explicit in being a response to her challenging some of her beliefs. It has also had a very positive effect in the amount of discussion it has raised, many people saluting Lowery for writing it and many others publishing counter arguments.

A different Emily White writes a clear and intelligent defense of her namesake and makes some very valid points about the changing face of music consumption and the other ways that Emily Whiten (and those of her generation) support artists. Crucially she misses the key point of the article, the issue of payment. Lowery isn’t saying people should buy CDs, he is saying they should pay for downloads, and that point is ignored in the article. She also gives an effusive “yes” to the questions ”All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?” but ignores that fact that this is already the reality for people. If you change the question to ”All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it and not have to pay for it. Is that too much to ask?” then things get a bit less black and white.

There have also been a whole raft of articles from the poetic to the passionate which argue that music should be free and artists should play for the simple gift of having an audience that allows them to express themselves. This argument sounds good, but troubles me for a number of reasons. Firstly I am not convinced that a world with only amateur musicians would be a good thing, for artists or fans alike. How would bands pay for tours and recording, and the music would have to play second fiddle to the day job. It would make international touring impossible for most artists, and our venues would be filled with the same sets of local artists. Secondly it suggests that someone who works hard on their art doesn’t deserve to be paid for it. I enjoy reading books, watching films and listening to music, I am very happy to pay money to support the people who create the art that I enjoy.

It is also a fact that somebody is making money out of the illegal download industry. Why should the Pirate Bay earn an estimated $14 million annually for the distribution of files and the artists don’t get a penny from their consumption?

Travis Morrison (of the Dismemberment Plan) writes an amusing piece looking at the  ways in which people used to steal music. There is a lot of truth in what he says, and Lowery can sound like the old “home taping is killing music” campaigns of the 1980s. However, the scale of things is fundamentally different now and the impact much greater. You would need a team of people to create enough mixtapes to contain the quantity of songs that people exchange in one go on a portable hard drive. You can get as much music in one hit, for free, as [people used to spend a lifetime collecting.

Jay Frank makes some interesting points and points to the sad fact that major labels are still winning when in comparison to the struggle that independents have to make money. However he, like several others, points to Lowery’s declining musical status as the real reason he is making less money. This may be true (and it is a crying shame as he is one of the best songwriters in the world) but it is not the point that Lowery was making. If an artist sells less then of course they make less money, if an artist is popular and all their music is downloaded illegally then that is a legitimate problem for them.

Lowery is a brilliant musician and passionate about artists rights to be rewarded for the great work they do, and not make money for ISPs and file-sharing sites instead – I find it hard to disagree with him on that. He may have some views that are open to question, but he has opened up a fascinating and challenging debate and for that he should be commended.

By Dorian Rogers

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Top Ten Great Songwriters – Part Two

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Top Ten Great Songwriters – Part Two

Posted on 19 June 2012 by Joe

What makes a good song writer? Is it the ability to turn a phrase on its head , capture an emotion perfectly or to simply be a great story teller? Here’s the second part of our top ten greatest songsmiths. View the first part here.

5. Chris Difford

Back in his days with Squeeze Chris Difford he would scribble down his lyrics, rush over to fellow band member Glen Tilbrook’s house, who would bring music to his wonderful words. While, arguably his best song writing days are behind him, he still releases and writes, with his last album coming in 2010, which just about qualifies him for our list as an active and releasing songwriter.

Chris Difford

Among the main reasons for his inclusion are his expert story telling and biting observational lyrics. For us his finest song was Squeeze’s Up The Junction, the tale of a doomed romance as  the protagonist drinks and gambles his way out of a family and home. It has no chorus and ends with him failing to get the girl, but was still a hit. Here’s one of our best parts where his life begins to crumble.

This morning at 4:50, I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator, Where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter, Within a year a walker
She looked just like her mother, If there could be another

And now she’s two years older, Her mother’s with a soldier
She left me when my drinking, Became a proper stinging
The devil came and took me, From bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly, No more nights nappies smelling

Humour is another facet of his lyrics and Cool for Cats typifies this well as the male bravado is given the Difford treatment with lines such as

I fancy this, I fancy that, I wanna be so flash
I give a little muscle, and I spend a little cash
But all I get is bitter and a nasty little rash
And by the time I’m sober, I’ve forgotten what I’ve had
And ev’rybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat

His enthusiasm for encouraging songwriting is another factor  in his inclusion as he spends some of his time these days giving talks and using gigs to explain his craft.

4.PJ Harvey

If an artists songwriting abilities were based on award nominations then Polly Jean Harvey has enough to justify a dozen careers in music. Four Mercury Prize nominations alone over an 18 year period, the last two as winner in 2001 and 2011, make her the most successful artist in that particular competition.

PJ Harvey

Even if you have little patience for back slapping industry events it is hard to argue with the quality of her back catalogue with 20 years worth of albums and barely a wrong step amongst them. Like Kristin Hersh she has an amazing ability to move between musical styles without ever losing her own identity. Vocally she is a real chameleon, listen to the timbre of ‘Rid Of Me‘ compared to the fragile folk stylings of ‘Let England Shake‘ for evidence of that.

Lyrically her work has always had a very personal feel, with raw sexuality and emotional openess a repeated theme. More recently her work has taken on a more thematic approach, never more so than on her critically acclaimed 2011 album Let England Shake. War, identity and the concept of England and Englishness being the central themes on the album. This doesn’t always make for easy listening, more poetry than lyrics, but it is bold songwriting and stands Harvey out from most of her peers.

Death was in the ancient fortress,
shelled by a million bullets
from gunners, waiting in the copses
with hearts that threatened to pop their boxes,
as we advanced into the sun
death was all and everyone.

3. Nick Cave

Nick Cave doesn’t just tell stories in song. He likes to get right inside the head of his protagonists, with criminals a particular fascination. With the Bad Seeds and as a solo artist Cave’s  gothic horror style makes him more akin to the likes of Edgar Allen Poe or Harry Crews than the Australian punk  scene he emerged from.

Take Mercy Seat, his track about a killer facing the electric chair that was so brilliantly covered by Johnny Cash. All the way through the protagonist bravely protests his innocence and says he has no fear for his impending death. But as the electricity sears through his body he finally admits to telling a lie. Whether the lie is about his innocence or his bravery in the face of death is nicely left for the listener to decide.

And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I’m yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth.
An eye for an eye
And a truth for a truth
And anyway I told the truth
But I’m afraid I told a lie.

The Murder Ballads album is another of our favourites, with Where the Wild Roses Grow among the album’s most well known and lyrically best tracks. Loosely based on the traditional tale Down in the Willow Garden it tells of a man killing his lover and laying her to rest among the flowers. Cave tells the story through the killer’s and victims eyes, with Kylie Minogue taking the role of the unfortunate lover. In this track and each of the others on the album he describes the moment of death so perfectly, it’s as if the listener was there. Here’s the final two verses of Where the Wild Roses grow where the terrible deed takes place.

On the third day he took me to the river
He showed me the roses and we kissed
And the last thing I heard was a muttered word
As he stood smiling above me with a rock in his fist

On the last day I took her where the wild roses grow
And she lay on the bank, the wind light as a thief
As I kissed her goodbye, I said, ‘All beauty must die’
And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth

Cave is still writing, using his skill as a story teller across music, film and literature, including writing the screenplay for Australian western The Proposition (2004) and as one quarter of Grinderman, which disbanded in 2011. At the time of writing he is helping develop a film adaptation of the Threepenny Opera with the actor Andy Serkis.

2. Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg is arguably the UK’s greatest living folk songwriter, with his lyrics managing to mix serious political and social commentary with sparkling observations. He is also one of the few songwriters to write about the issues of the day, with corruption at New International and the rise and ultimate fall of the BNP among his more recent subjects.

Billy Bragg at Glastonbury 2011 (pic by Joe Lepper)

Never Buy the Sun, about News International, phone hacking and the shockingly irresponsibly coverage of the Hillsborough stadium disaster in its Sun newspaper was written in 2011 and shows as far as Bragg is concerned the protest song is alive and well.

Among our favourites is Levi Stubbs tears. This heartbreakingly sad tale of a girl and her miserable life seeking salvation in the voice of Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs, whose tears mirror her’s. Here’s one of our favourite versus.

She ran away from home with her mother’s best coat
She was married before she was even entitled to vote
And her husband was one of those blokes
The sort that only laughs at his own jokes
The sort that war takes away And when there wasn’t a war he left her anyway

It’s no wonder Woody Guthrie, the great American protest singer is such an influence. Like Bragg Guthrie also transcended the simple protest song and often wrote about love and family life. We caught Bragg’s show at Glastonbury in 2011 and urge anyone who hasn’t seen him to do so. Anyone who wants some political discourse wll be disappointed, I’m just going to belt em out” he told the crowd.Its something he’s been doing for decades.

Joint 1.David Lowery

David Lowery first came to our attention when he was the singer with Santa Cruz country-ska-waltz-punk-pop band Camper Van Beethoven just before they split up (first time around) in 1990. The band were known as a bit of a one-hit novelty act thanks to ‘Take The Skinheads Bowling’  but this song (as good as it is) distracts from what a sophisticated songwriter and lyricist Lowery was and is.

David Lowery

The early songs were brilliant in their own right, humorous and anarchic with a real emotive sense of the world that Camper Van Beethoven existed in their formative years, but it is on the last albums they recorded where Lowery’s lyrical genius became apparent. On the peerless ‘Sweethearts’ he sings;

Angels wings are icing over
McDonnell-Douglas olive drab
They bear the names of our sweethearts
And the captain smiles, as we crash

Heard in the context of the music their is something just a little bit heartbreaking about those words.

Over the past two decades Lowery has done many things including recording with Sparklehorse, writing for Sussanah Hoffs and reuniting with Camper Van Beethoven in 2004 to record the brilliant concept album New Roman Times in 2004. Throughout that period his main day job has been fronting Cracker with guitarist Johnny Hickman and writing dozens of brilliant songs over their eight studio albums. His lyrics clover a whole trange of subjects but always manage to painty a beautiful picture, take these verses from ‘Big Dipper’;

Hey Jim, Kerouac
(The brother of the famous Jack),
Or so he likes to say.
Lucky bastard

He’s sitting on the Cafe Xeno’s steps
With a girl I’m not over yet
Watching all the world go by

He continues to write and record music, and each new album serves up a selection of thoughtful, witty songs that sound like no one else. His last was released in 2009 and finished with these wise words;

So if you want to see what’s in the shadows
the burning meadows
of our apocalypse
I dream of fallow fields
I dream of winter
cause dying is easy,
It’s living that’s hard.

You can read lots more about David Lowery’s songwriting process (and get a bit of a history lesson to boot) at his 300 s0ngs blog.

Joint 1. John Darnielle

The Mountain Goats’  John Darnielle is America’s greatest story teller in song. Sometimes as on Sunset Tree his songs are about his own life and recovery from an abusive, early homelife.

The Mountain Goats (John Darnielle, centre)

Other times his songs are about fictional characters or the lives of real, sometimes famous people, such as Judy Garland and Charles Bronson, who feature on All Eternals Deck (2011). Autopsy Garland from that album, in which he imagines Judy Garland’s last moments, remembering the abuse from studio executives as she takes her final, global road trip away from the horrors of Emerald City, is a particular highlight in his career.

Fat rich men love their 12-year-olds
Deco cufflinks and cognac by the glass
Look West from London toward the emerald city
Remember Minnesota

Across his career Darnielle’s  lyrics are always compelling and his stories are always told with conviction. In an interview with InDigest Darnielle explains more about his motivation tell stories in song

 It’s kind of impossible for me to think of a song that doesn’t also tell a story. That whole period in the early nineties when indie-ish bands were into “abstract” lyrics that didn’t tell stories or have beginnings middles & ends, God I hated that

Among our highlights in a career, which started through releasing tapes  of just vocals and acoustic guitar made on a boombox and currently resides with Merge Records, is No Children from Tallahassee about a hateful, but wonderfully well-suited couple, and All Hail West Texas’s The Best Ever Death Metal about teenage friends Cyrus and Jeff. In one cruel moment Cyrus is sent to a mental institution, known as ‘the school’ because of his love of death metal, which paradoxically appears to be the only thing keeping him sane.

This was how Cyrus got sent to the school
Where they told him he’d never be famous.
And this was why Jeff,  in the letters he’d write to his friend,
Helped develop a plan to get even.
When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you.
The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you.
Hail satan! Hail satan tonight!

Darnielle used to work in such a place as a mental health nurse, proving Partridge’s point that the most successful songs are about what you know. It is perhaps the songs about his own life where his song writing is most poignant and powerful.

Here’s some lyrics from Pale Green Things, about a rare good memory about the step father who beat him. This  track, set at a racetrack with the young Darnielle gazing at the green moss and grass growing in the dirt underfoot as he stands beside his abuser, was another in our list to make our top ten tearjerkers list . The doubling up of the phrase ‘at last’ is simple but tearfully effective.

My sister called at 3 AM, Just last December
She told you how you’d died at last, at last
That morning at the racetrack, was one thing that I remembered
I turned it over in my mind,like a living Chinese finger trap
Seaweed in Indiana sawgrass, pale green things, pale green things

Despite a formidable track record of song writing behind him arguably Darnielle’s best work may still be ahead of him. As Autopsy Garland and For Charles Bronson on On All Eternal’s Deck (2011) showed the quality of  his song writing is showing no sign of letting up. Here in an exert from For Charles Bronson Darnielle charts the Death Wish star’s final years in film, battling alcoholism and his falling star.

Hit the gym each night, stay cool and seldom speak
Keep the heart of a champion, never let them see you’re weak

And whatever they say on your page three mention
Focus on the parts that make you feel good, be grateful for the attention

For more about John Darnielle see: Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives Part 4 – The Mountain Goats

Compiled by Joe Lepper, Dorian Rogers and David Newbury

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Top 20 Albums of 2011

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Top 20 Albums of 2011

Posted on 02 December 2011 by Joe

We have to admit the year started badly in terms of album releases.  By March we were struggling to think of more than a couple of excellent album releases let alone begin a shortlist of 20.

Then winter turned to spring and the flood gates opened with  new bands emerging and some old stagers reliving their glory days and in some cases bettering them. We have our first ever classical music entry in an end of year album list, some great new UK folk music and a staggering achievement in song writing by one familiar face in our end of year lists.

We’ve even found room for an album about 1970/80s wrestling by one of the music industry’s funniest and most caustic writers and artists.

In the end its turned out to be a pretty fine year for releases, as two of the biggest names of 1990s alternative music battle it out for our top two places.  Get your bus fare ready, prepare to race down to your local independent record store, and enjoy Neonfiller.com’s Top 20 Albums of 2011.

20. Johann Johannson – The Miners’ Hymns

In a year of public sector cuts, strikes and the Gleision mining tragedy this soundtrack by  Jóhann Jóhannsson to Bill Morrison’s mining documentary of the same name helped it become our first classical music entry in an end of year list. The haunting and powerful music he creates to depict the brutal hardships of the industry and the chaos of the 1984 strike were recorded live at Durham Cathedral, which gives it added gravitas. Read our full review here.

19. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

This Texan band’s follow up to its critically acclaimed previous albums The Stage Names and The Stand Ins brings more fire and bite to their sound as frontman Will Sheff took co-production duties. At times cinematic, at others indie rock not one of its 11 tracks are skippable. Among are highlights are opener The Valley and one of its singles Wake Up and Be Fine.  Read our full review here.

18. John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves

Former Ariel Pink collaborator John Maus has plunged deep into the murky waters of the early 1980s to deliver one of the most stark, fascinating and strangely enjoyable slices of synth pop you will hear all year. Among our highlights on this, his third album, is the track ‘Cop Killer’. Read our full review here.

17. The Leisure Society  – Into The Murky Water

This second album by The Leisure Society gives us the urge to jump in our Neon Filler branded Morris Minor, dress up in our  Prisoner gear and take a dip in the murky waters of Bognor Regis or Portmerion, stopping off for some fish and chips and a pickled egg. This eccentric, most English of albums was one of the highlights of our summer. Read our full review here.

16. Timber Timbre – Creep on Creepin On

Featuring core multi-instrumentalist members Taylor Kirk, Mika Posen and Simon Trottier this peach of an album by Canada’s Timber Timbre seems to inhabit another universe where 1950’s B-movie soundtracks and dirty rock and roll rule supreme. It’s a strange mix that works thanks to Kirk’s soulfully odd (or should that be oddly soulful) vocals and the added instrumentation of pianist Mathieu Charbonneau and saxophonist Colin Stetson to add to its vintage charm. Read our full review here.

15. Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell – Kite

Just like the Mercury nominations we like to feature a new folk act in our end of year round ups. This year’s slot goes to the excellent Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell. Nominated for a 2011 BBC Folk horizon award, given to emerging new talent, they have clearly caught the ear of Radio 2’s Mike Harding and his production team. Rachel Unthank and her husband Adrian McNally are also admirers and produced this wonderful debut from the pair  in Northumberland. Read our full review here.

14. Singing Adams – Everybody Friends Now

This debut album from former Broken Family Band man Steven Adams’ latest project was one of the best indie-pop releases of the year, mixing Adams’ clever and poignant lyrics with a fine bunch of melodies. His band are a bunch of seasoned indie and alternative musicians and live they are well drilled outfit. We have been so impressed that they topped our Top Ten bands to watch out for in 2012 list. Our highlights on this excellent album include the singles I Need Your Mind and Injured Party. Read our full review here.

13. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

With its stripped back feel, punctuated with squealing electric guitars and flutes, Apocalypse can be an unsettling listen at times, but not for too long as Callahan’s luxuriously deep voice has a calming influence and can easily draw you back to normality.  Read our full review here.

12. Battles – Gloss Drop

There are so many striking aspects to Gloss Drop, the follow up to the crazy, cartoonified thrill ride that was Battles’ last album Mirrored.  The range of singers including Gary Numan, the sense of fun and above all some superb drumming are just some that immediately spring to mind. Read our full review here.

11. David Lowery  – The Palace Guards

The Palace Guards is the first solo album from  Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven front-man David Lowery. It’s taken a while to come out but  its been worth the wait. This is among the best work from one of alternative music’s most engaging songwriters. Read our full review here.

10. The Miserable Rich – Miss You In The Days

Three albums in and The Miserable Rich are really hitting their stride as one of the UK’s most innovative acts, mixing compelling story telling with chamber pop and most importantly some damn fine tunes. Among the highlights on this their third album is the swirling Ringing the Changes. Read our full review here.

9. Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?

This  solo album from New Pornographer Calder has the professionalism and confidence you’d expect from a seasoned performer and her personality shines through lifting it above the norm and adding real charm to proceedings. The album was recorded while looking after her mother who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. This gives the album an underlying sense of melancholy in places that adds an emotional depth few songwriters can manage. Read our full review here.

8. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

The Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle’s song writing and survival instincts grow stronger with each release.  With three different producers there’s a surprising consistency as he exposes his hidden demons and offers up  some bittersweet tales of the famous along the way, from Charles Bronson to Judy Garland.  Uplifting stuff.  Read our full review here.

7. Low – C’Mon

C’mon may just be this year’s great American album, with echoes of Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons throughout. With very precise production from Matt Beckley and the band,  which is fronted by husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, they have created an album that is melancholy, epic and just plain beautiful in places. Read our full review here.

6. Destroyer – Kaputt

An immaculate attention detail in recreating the sounds and production of the 1980s has helped Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) become the second member of Canadian super group The New Pornographers to enter our Top 20.  Bejar has never sounded better as he takes the role of world weary rock star reminiscing in style. Part New Order, part Prefab Sprout, this is arguably his best album to date.  Read our full review here.

5. Wilco – The Whole Love

Wilco - The Whole Love

The Whole Love is probably closest in style to previous album Wilco (The Album) but  that little bit better. It also shows  a band at the peak of its powers, playing with confidence, inventiveness and real skill. You get the pop Wilco, the rock Wilco, the experimental Wilco and the soft melodic Wilco, all of which adds up to one of the most satisfying releases of the year. Read our full review here.

4. Luke Haines – 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s and Early 1980s.

Luke Haines Wrestling

The former Auteur and author of the excellent  book Bad Vibes returns from a two year recording break to turn his attention to the world of British wrestling from around 30 years ago. Witty, concise, well executed and completely unlike any other album we’ve heard this year. Haines clearly isn’t quite ready to throw the towel in just yet on his recording career. Read our full review here.

3. Darren Hayman – January Songs

Busy doesn’t even come close to describing  Darren Hayman’s year. He was involved in the  Vostok 5 art exhibition and album about space explorers, released an album of piano ballads  The Ships Piano, plays bass in Rotifer and  is involved in all sorts of Christmas releases for  Fika Recordings. His crowning achievement though for us was to write,  record and release a song a day during January. The end product January Songs, which is available to download and from January 2012 in CD format, contains some of the former Hefner frontman’s best work and offered a  great example of social media interaction between artist and audience, who helped him along the way with lyrics and ideas.  Read our full review here.

2. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Thanks to production from Beck the former Pavement frontman has ditched some of his rock star, guitar squealing cliches to reveal one of  his best albums for years and certainly his best since his Pavement glory days. The finely honed  single The Senator is among our many highlights. Read our full review here.

1. Boston Spaceships – Let It Beard

Let It Beard

Narrowly pipping Stephen Malkmus to the top spot is another veteran of the 1990s US alternative music scene, Robert Pollard and his act Boston Spaceships. The album echoes a number of Pollard’s favourite classic acts, the Beatles are in there, but it is The Who that are the most obvious influence on this guitar drenched album. It has the Pollard stamp throughout and you can’t imagine anyone else producing a record quite like this now, or any time in the last 30 years. Read our full review here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

See also: Spotify - Neonfiller.com’s Best of 2011 Spotify List.


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Top Ten Albums of 2011….so far

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Top Ten Albums of 2011….so far

Posted on 08 June 2011 by Joe

Welcome to our round up of 2011′s album releases so far. Our early thoughts are that compared to the same time last year 2011 hasn’t been as great. True, there’s been some fine albums, but far less competition to get into our top ten and only one runaway contender for the top slot.

The list below  picked itself fairly easily but whereas in June last year we pretty much already our Top 20 Albums of 2010 list in place. There were a handful that did narrowly miss out though, and are more than likely to feature in our end of year Top 20. These include Johann Johannsson’s classical masterpiece Miners’ Hymns and newcomer Alice Gun’s Blood and Bone.

Another feature of this year’s list is the dominance of American acts with a folk, country leaning, with just three UK acts making our list and one Canadian.

Sit back, get your early Christmas lists ready and enjoy Neonfiller’s Top Ten Albums of 2011 ….so far.

10.Singing Adams – Everybody Friends Now

Featuring former Broken Family Band singer songwriter Steven Adams this UK act hark back to a golden era of indie music from the likes of Teenage Fanclub and The Wedding Present. Underpinning this debut are some damn fine tunes. The future of UK indie music is in safe hands. (Read our full review here)

9. The Leisure Society – Into the Murky Water

A beautiful, inventive and thoroughly English pop record that more than matches this former Willkommen Collective act’s stunning debut The Sleeper. (Read our full review here)

8.Bill Callahan Apocalypse

With its stripped back feel, punctuated with squealing electric guitars and flutes, Apocalypse can be an unsettling listen at times, but not for too long as Callahan’s luxuriously deep voice has a calming influence and can easily draw you back to normality.  (Read full review here)

7.Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Timeless harmonies and lush pastoral folk arrangements are the hallmarks of Fleet Foxes and this their second album sticks close to the formula. It’s beautiful stuff at times, with real care taken over production values. (Read full review here)

6. The Decemberists – The King is Dead

A  change of pace and style for Colin Meloy’s band on an  album that is most influenced by the radio safe country pop of REM.  (Read our full review here)

5. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

John Darnielle’s song writing and survival instincts grow stronger with each release.  With three different producers there’s a surprising consistency as The Mountain Goats expose their hidden demons and offer some bittersweet tales of the famous along the way, from Charles Bronson to Judy Garland.  Uplifting stuff.  (Read our full release here)

4. David Lowery – The Palace Guards

The Palace Guards is the first solo album from Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven front-man David Lowery. It’s taken a while but  its worth the wait as this is among his best work. (Read the full review here)

3. Okkervil River- I am Very Far

The Texas act are back with an ambituous, cinematic indie rock album.  Among our highlights are opener ‘The Valley’, with pounding drums and a string arrangement that is part ‘Bellbottoms’ by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, part Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. (Read our full review here)

2. Destroyer – Kaputt

Although this was the only one of our Top 10 that made NME’s lacklustre Top 50 albums of 2011 so far list, don’t let that put you off. Dan Bejar has never sounded better, harking back to an early 80s sound, it is part Prefab Sprout, part New Order as Bejar takes the role of world weary rockstar reminiscing in style. (Read our full review here)

1. Darren Hayman – January Songs

Our runaway top placed album goes to former Hefner frontman Darren Hayman and his successful attempt to write, record and release a song a day in Janaury. Not only did he come up with 31 excellent and diverse songs,  featuring a range of artists such as Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris and Spanish band Litorol, but he also created a multi-media experience that gave his audience a unique insight into the song writing process. Each day to compliment the song, he also released a video, video diary and artwork. People were invited to submit ideas and help with lyrics and our co-editor’s runaway dog Arthur even inspired a song. January Songs is a  superb effort that is going to take some beating if it is to be toppled from first place by December. (Read our full review, including a link to buy this download only album, here)

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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David Lowery – The Palace Guards

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David Lowery – The Palace Guards

Posted on 20 February 2011 by Dorian

The Palace Guards is the first solo album from Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven front-man David Lowery, and it is something of a triumph. Originally conceived as a set of songs that would be released only on YouTube (you can read more about this on his excellent ’300 Songs’ blog here) it is a typically esoteric nine song collection recorded with a variety of accomplices over several years.

David Lowery - The Palace Guards

David Lowery - The Palace Guards

Opening with the titular ‘The Palace Guards’ the album throws an immediate curve-ball, the song doesn’t sound like either of his bands, it sounds more like Pavement. Two thirds of the way through the song it takes a twist and sounds just like a David Lowery song, and a good one at that. The songs on the album sound in parts like you’d expect it to, a bit Cracker here, a bit Camper Van Beethoven there and even some snatches of Sparklehorse (the late Mark Linkous guests on the album). This is no surprise, I certainly wasn’t expecting a brand new direction for this record, and a it is an album that has an identity of its own.

The songs are top quality throughout, we get stomping country on ‘Raise ‘Em Up On Honey’, indie rock on ‘Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing To Me’ and (best of all) whimsical balladry on ‘I Sold The Arabs The Moon’. There really isn’t a bad track on the album, and in the few weeks I have owned the album, it has already become my most played record of the year.

You can tell that the songs here were not conceived as an album. They don’t flow in a sequence as a purpose created album would, some changes of pace and style are a little jarring. This doesn’t seem to matter though as the quality of the songs is so good, it is a little like listening to a “best of” collection from a set of albums you’ve never heard. The one downside of the album is the length, at only 9 tracks it is over all too soon. But hey,that means that you get an album, as Sum 41 would say, that is all killer, no filler.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

To buy a signed copy of the  album (and get an immediate digital download) go to David Lowery’s website here.

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