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The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

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The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Dorian

Most reviews of Brill Bruisers, the 6th album by Canada’s New Pornographers, focus on this being a return to form “their best since Twin Cinema”. This is only half true, it is their best album since Twin Cinema but as their last two albums were both excellent as well I see it more as a continuation of consistently good form.

Brill Bruisers

Brill Bruisers does seem to be a return in some respects, retaining the slight melancholy of the last two albums but restoring some of the more high-tempo pop elements from the earliest recordings. This is widescreen pop, lots of guitars, lots of keyboards, pounding drums and LOTS of voices. You only have to listen to the brilliant title track to be sucked in by the multiple vocal tracks blending perfectly together.

AC Newman retains the bulk of the lead vocals here, and writes the majority of the tunes, but also hands vocals (backing and lead) to regulars Neko Case and Kathryn Calder. Their voices on the albums “slowy” ‘Champions of Red Wine’ being pitch perfect stuff. Additionally we get vocal assistance from Neko’s bandmate Kelly Hogan on four tracks and Amber Webber of Lightning Dust dueting with Dan Bejar on ‘Born With a Sound’.

Dan Bejar provides three tracks here and they are all excellent additions and a nice change of texture from the Newman songs on the record. Lead single ‘War on the East Coast’ being a great slice of power-pop and showing another side to the enigmatic Bejar in the process.

However, as much as this is a real band effort, and one where each member does their job brilliantly, a New Pornographers’ album is only ever going to be as good as Newman’s songwriting and his choice of arrangements. The good news is that things are looking good in both those departments, with this being an album that has no quality dips from start to finish. What it might lack in the sparkling surprises of those first three albums is an overall sound and quality throughout the run.

That isn’t to say that the album holds no surprises, even for a seasoned fan of the band. ‘Drug Deal of the Heart’, sung by Kathryn Calder, is short and simple (eschewing the more showy approach of the rest of the album) and sounds like a Magnetic Fields song (or a 6ths song at least).

It may be an album without dips, but it does have peaks, not least the double punch of ‘Wide Eyes’ and ‘Dancehall Domine’. The former showing Newman’s genius at holding back Neko Case’s vocals to a small part in a song where the obvious thing would have been to smother it. Less really can be more. The latter is just brilliant guitar pop with brilliant pop vocals and perfectly encapsulates Newman’s approach to producing a modern twist on glam rock. And by glam rock we are looking at a sweep of music that goes all the way from ELO to Sigue Sigue Sputnik, the latter being an act that are rarely quoted as influences. But if Newman wants to look to Sigue Sigue Sputnik and then produce an album this good then it is clearly a much better idea than it looks on paper.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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A C Newman – Shut Down The Streets

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A C Newman – Shut Down The Streets

Posted on 15 October 2012 by Joe

Of The New Pornographers many talented members Carl Newman’s solo output has arguably been overshadowed by the more complete work of Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) and Neko Case.

Bejar’s Kaputt was a deserved fixture on many 2011 best albums lists and Case, who has delivered a number of sublime near perfect country tinged gems such as Middle Cyclone and Blacklisted during her solo career.

Sadly Newman’s two solo albums, also under the name A C Newman, before this year have been tame in comparison. Slow Wonder (2004) had a handful of good tracks, mostly at its powerful start such as Miracle Drug and On the Table, but the production suffered from Newman’s basic drumming arrangements. And while this was addressed on 2009’s Get Guilty, with the hiring of drummer Jon Wurster, the album still had too many fillers. It was also too akin to the New Pornographers weakest album to date the lacklustre Challengers.

But finally with his third release Shut Down the Streets, Newman has an album to rival his fellow supergroupers. An emotional year for Newman, in which his mother died and his son was born, provided the moving inspiration for an album that ends up being a celebration of life and makes the listener feel good to be alive.

A considered approach to production, with deliberate nods to the 1960s such as on Hostages, gives Newman’s pitch perfect vocals the chance to shine. The album does slip a little into dad rock territory at time, which perhaps is not a bad thing for a new dad like Newman. But at least fatherhood appears to have driven out his usual opaque lyrical style for a directness to finally match the punch of his music.  Lines such as “we’ve been waiting for you” on Strings about the birth of his son may sound corny, but at least they are to the point.

The crowning glory though is his decision to enlist Case for backing vocals duties throughout. Their harmonies are one of the wonders of the modern music world and in the absence of a New Pornographers album this year it’s great to hear them together again. The track Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns, in particular leaps out as if it were classic New Pornographers thanks to Case.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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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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Destroyer live at Heaven (28/06/11)

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Destroyer live at Heaven (28/06/11)

Posted on 03 July 2011 by Dorian

Dan Bejar is an intriguing figure, with The New Pornographers, and on his own under the Destroyer alias, he has recorded some of the best music of the last decade, but most people will have no idea who he is. His latest album by Destroyer, entitled Kaputt, is one of the best albums of the year so far and may be record that brings him the acclaim he deserves. (Read our review of Kaputt). The opportunity to see him play live on stage was an intriguing one, what I had seen on YouTube of past live outings had veered greatly in quality with some fairly shambolic solo outings.

First  up on stage was duo Amor De Dias, an act that I knew absolutely nothing about before the gig, featuring a member of the Clientele was all I could glean from their merchandise on sale. What I saw on stage on stage was a charming and subtle set from the the pairing (him English, her Spanish – I think) with hushed vocals and skillfully picked Spanish guitar. Her vocals took a while to settle, but proved to be a unique and enjoyable sound whilst his reminded me of The Kings of Convenience. Definitely one to look out for if you are going Indietracks later this month.

Amor De Dias

Destroyer took to the stage as a much bigger band than I was expecting, the 8 piece band producing a much bigger and harder edged sound than expected. Bejar is a reluctant front-man, crouching on the stage between songs and engaging as little as possible with the audience. Imagine Ginsberg fronting a band that is a cross between Spandau Ballet and the E-Street band and you just about get the picture.

Destroyer

It really is a great set, and a much better live experience than I was anticipating. There are a number of musical comparison points from Roxy Music to The Blow Monkeys, and it is a deliberately evocative sound that Bejar has chosen to adopt this year. In the hands of a less talented, more conventional, figure that could end up as a fairly valueless nostalgia trip, but what we end up with is something that is completely unlike anything else you’ll hear despite the reference points.

The set is lifted primarily from Kaputt and it is pretty well note perfect from start to finish, the smooth 80s sound given just enough edge and volume live to make it an experience. Bejar, despite his lack of comfort, takes the songs in his stride and is an engaging figure. His lyrics are interesting and oblique, and his vocal style is all his own. You can’t see him ever becoming a household name, and I doubt he wants to be, but on the strength of the performance today his cult status can only grow.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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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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Destroyer – Kaputt

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Destroyer – Kaputt

Posted on 01 March 2011 by Joe

There’s a little seen Youtube clip from 2009 of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar performing a then new song called ‘Chinatown’ during an acoustic set in Dallas.

It’s a beautiful song, one of his best. But what the audience and the clip’s small Youtube viewer numbers cannot have guessed was how it, along with eight other tracks that made it onto Kaputt, would be transformed within 18 months into Bejar’s best album to date.

Since trailing this track live Bejar hit on the idea of incorporating more than a little 1980s production style. It was a masterstroke as the era’s sax and trumpet sounds interweave perfectly with the  New Order style bass lines and Prefab Sprout-esque harmonies.

All the time Bejar’s unmistakable throaty vocals, like an aged rock star looking back at his 80s heyday, delivers his trademark clever lyrics. It’s of course just an act, as he was barely into his teens at the height of New Order and Prefab Sprout’s fame, but it’s a role he performs admirably.

Time and again in reviews of this album the same message rings out loud and clear “this album has such a great feel to it”  and this review wholeheartedly backs that view.

Not only does Kaputt feature some of Bejar’s best songs, like ‘Chinatown,’ but the production is stunning. The horn section drifts over the music beautifully creating from start to finish a remarkable album, leaving the listener desperate for more, and that is even after the 11 minute plus final track ‘Bay of Pigs (Detail)’.

There’s a nice progression on the album as well, like an 80s stream of consciousness. For example when New Order gets a mention on ‘Blue Eyes’ the next track ‘Savage Night at the Opera’ becomes a full blown homage to the band, with its unmistakable Peter Hook bass line and Bernard Sumner guitar riff.

This 1980s love-in was achieved with similar success by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti on last year’s Before Today. Those that enjoyed that album, or Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout, or indeed Roxy Music’s work of the early 1980s, will adore Kaputt.

Despite enjoying his previous albums as Destroyer and work with The New Pornographers, I’ve always had criticisms. Sometimes Bejar’s lyrics and melodies were too meandering. Those faults have been eradicated here, with Kaputt using his meandering style to full effect to create one of 2011’s first contenders for album of the year.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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