Free Swim’s Paul Coltofeanu is a silly chap, that’s why we like him.
His band Free Swim first came to our attention in 2010 when he sent us their odd, but brilliant, debut EP – Two Hands Is Ok, about a busy man’s attempt to graft on an extra pair of hands to help him cope with his many daily tasks. The releases got even sillier over the years with bromance, the escapades of a Chinese dissident panda as well as antique dealer TV sleuth Lovejoy emerging as further subject matter
Over that time Free Swim has also played live with a bassist in a giant Panda costume and, perhaps most surprisingly, ave taken six years to release their debut album.
For this collection Paul has enlisted Free Swim regular and long time friend David Knight, who over their EPs has contributed some marvellous spoken word segments. The pair for years have also arranged “album club” nights where they drink wine and air drum through albums from start to finish. This album is very much in keeping with their friendship, as the pair take in a host of new issues from internet reviewers (I guess, like me), Youtube sensations, the bits of hair that pop out of Beano character Billy Whizz’s head and even Everton legend Neville Southall’s magnificent moustache.
But don’t go thinking that Paul and his mate David are only having a laugh. Care has been spent in production and the music here is excellent, with Paul’s vocals and arrangements deservedly earning comparisons with Super Furry Animals, albeit with a few nods to The Kinks, Half Man Half Biscuit and King Missile along the way.
Opener, Discuss at Great Length Very Interesting Things, is typical Super Furry Animals-style indie pop, that emerges as fully Free Swim when David starts recounting an unhealthy obsession with Southall’s ‘tache.
And so the world of Free Swim opens up with The Slingshot Manoeuvre in Apollo 13 taking in cosmic guitar chords and Billy Whizz’s hairdo and third track Self Appointed Genius taking aim at people like me, sitting by keyboards, giving hard working bands marks out of ten.
The pair’s air drumming exploits get a nod on There’s Room in My Bass Drum for You and there’s a political resurrection thriller going down in The British Prime Minister Has A Secret.
This debut album ends with a trip to hell on A Bit Of Hell Is Worth It For a Lifetime of Treats where gobby Gordon returns to take a deserved place among the demons.
For six years now we’ve been banging on about the glory of Free Swim, who may, or may not be pleased to see that we’ve given them considerably more out of ten than the self appointed geniuses usually dish out.
by Joe Lepper
Free Swim – Life Time of Treats is available to download for free here.
I had worried that Free Swim would cease to be an active recording act. When Paul Coltofeanu (for Free Swim is him) left these shores, ending up in Prague, I was unsure what would become of his musical aliases. So it is with great relief, and no little pleasure, that I’m able to review the latest Free Swim EP.
I wouldn’t say that this EP was a return to form, the previous release was excellent, but it is a return to full-on Free Swimminess. She Dreams In Lights was a dreamy psych-pop affair that sat closer to Coltofeanu‘s other identity, The Android Angel, in terms of sound. Well Done Everyone sounds like a direct follow-up to the previous EP Dennis!, and is the perfect addition to the Free Swim catalogue.
The story is about a man who stops going out in order to save the money he needs to emigrate. During this time he immerses himeself in US TV shows, cultivates a deep respect for the actor Ian McShane and falls in love with countless female lead characters along the way.
How this story is served upo to the listener is five full-throttle guitar pop tunes. The sound of which will be imnstantly familiar to any Free Swim fan, and it is a sound that couldn’t be mistaken for any other band.
Each song is pretty great, and tells a chapter of the story sumamrised above. ‘Meal for One’ must be the only song on record that references Ian McShane in so much detail, and even includes a short biography.
‘Roaring Loudly Whilst Driving On A Good Stretch of Road’ is the best named track on the EP and certainly features the best musicianship, including a proper rock guitar solo. I don’t know how much radio play Free Swim will get gthis time around, but 6 Music really needs to get this one on their playlist.
The EP ends with ‘Fine Women’, essentially a list of women’s names (plus a few random men, Andi Peters for example) read to a typical guitar pop backing. Oddly it manages to be one of the most enjoyable songs on the EP and has much more repeat listen appeal than you’d expect. It is educational as well, if you consider finding out that Caroline Quentin is from Reigate counts as an education.
It is a real pleasure to have Free Swim back, and I hope that we’ll get the opportunity to see them play in the UK some time soon. Well done everyone indeed.
We are delighted to see the return of globe-trotter Paul Coltofeanu, last seen in his Android Angel guise, as the panda-pop genius that is Free Swim. The new video, below, for the song Transatlantic Tumnus is the first taste of their new EP due out later this year.
Five years ago this month myself and co-editor Dorian Rogers decided to start our own music blog. There were lots of reasons, with wanting to write about music the main and obvious one. Back then I never thought it would last five years but now I can’t imagine life without it. We’ve made no money from the venture and probably never will but that’s not what the site is about, we do it because we enjoy it and have a genuine passion for helping emerging acts get some deserved publicity.
Neonfiller.com is no longer just the two of us anymore, we are proud to have a team of regular contributors who help us to cover around 150 album releases a year and gigs across the UK each month. We even put on our own gigs from time to time. It’s been a great five years and I thought I’d mark the occasion by jotting down five of my favourite highlights.
5. Meeting a bass playing panda
It started with an email back in 2010 from then Surrey-based musician Paul Coltofeanu about his band Free Swim. He told us they had just released a free EP about a man who was really busy, grafted some extra arms to his body, had second thoughts and had them removed. We were intrigued. On first listen our relationship was sealed as I discovered they were no mere novelty act. The music was quite simply superb, blending Super Furry Animals with Frank Zappa. Due to some fortuitous timing I ended up being the first person to ever review the band’s debut EP.
In the following years Paul sent us more EPs with equally diverse subjects, from a mountaineering panda to love triangles in Croydon. Musically he’s a great talent, as his other more rock project The Android Angel shows. But it’s his sense of humour and ability to hook in music journalists like us, those at The Guardian and 6Music that impresses us too. Free Swim, who features a bassist in a giant panda suit when they play live, were also the headliner at our first show in Brighton. A new Free Swim release is promised for 2014. We can’t wait.
4. Top 100 albums list
All good blogs have a top 100 list, right? We tried to do something different with ours and make it loosely based on alternative music with a strong focus on new wave and indie pop. This meant there was no space for albums by the likes of The Beatles, even if I admire them greatly. We released the list ten at a time over a number of weeks and I’m really proud with the result.
As far as I know we have the only Top 100 album list to feature both The Monks and Tar Babies. So what was number one? You should head over to the list here and find out yourself.
3. Darren Hayman wrote a song about my dog
We are in regular contact with artists about their latest releases and tours. Sometimes we just have a nice chat on Facebook or Twitter. One of my more unusual conversations was with Darren Hayman who during January 2011 was asking for inspiration for songs as part of his attempt to write, record and release a song a day that month.
Knowing he has a dog owner I suggested the tale of my dog who went missing but thankfully turned up after a week alone in the Somerset countryside. Darren was happy to oblige once he knew it had a happy ending. It was illuminating to be on hand to offer Darren details of Arthur’s story. The result was remarkable and my biased highlight of his January Songs project and eventual album.
2. Bristol venues
Bristol is my nearest City with decent music venues; and what music venues they are. From the floating Thekla, legendary pub The Fleece, the eclectic Trinity Arts Centre to the out the way Polish Ex Servicemen’s Club. There’s also the beautiful acoustics of St George’s converted church venue and the revamped Colston Hall.
Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012
The city is simply awash with a range of excellent venues of all sizes and over the years I’ve reviewed some of my favourite gigs thanks to this excellent location, taking in the likes of Belle and Sebastian, Chuck Prophet, Field Music and Okkervil River.
1. Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent judging
Last year was my first year as a judge for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition, in which the winner gets a slot at this prestigious event, which is just eight miles from my home. It was a real pleasure going through the submissions and I’m still in contact with the three acts that I eventually submitted, including Wilitshire’s Super Squarecloud.
As a judge I also got to go to the festival and the contest’s final battle of the bands in Pilton, where I got to see the level of work that goes into just this one aspect of this giant event first hand.
The Android Angel is Paul Coltofeanu, probably best known to our readers as the man behind panda-bear themed rockers Free Swim. However, in reality it is Free Swim who are the side project, Lie Back and Think of England is actually the third album to be released under The Android Angel moniker.
If you are used to his Free Swim work then the able might come as a bit of a shock. The brilliant EPs that he released under that banner tend to be a full-on blast of off-kilter guitar pop, so hearing the atmospheric 23 seconds of opening track ‘Homes’ followed by the gentle acoustic guitars and hushed vocals of ‘Solutions’ is evidence that you are in a different part of Paul Coltofeanu’s musical brain.
To some degree this album can be seen as a logical next step from the forth Free Swim EP, She Dreams In Lights, which already hinted at influences like The Flaming Lips, Super Furry Animals and Sparklehorse in the sound that he was producing. This is a pretty record, full of subtle playing and sweet melodies; beautifully self-produced in in Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, Germany and the UK.
The title track is just lovely, with Sarah Mahony adding some excellent vocals to a duet that is lyrically rather downbeat. Some of the references in the song may date it a little, but they also give the song a place in time that suits the mood.
‘Distant Star’ is even better, a fully formed slice of fuzzy pop that deserves a place on any radio station playlist (and has already featured on Tom Robinson’s 6 Music Show). This is followed by ‘Ability Park’ which is a kind of jazz-folk instrumental that showcases Paul Coltofeanu’s musical skill and mastery of melody pretty perfectly.
One of the things that takes a little time to get used to on listening to this record is adjusting to the less jokey nature of the songs. I’m so used to hearing him sing about growing extra hands or eating a vienetta that a delicate folk song like ‘Foreign Son’ seems at odds with my expectations. This only takes a couple of listens to adjust to though, and it isn’t going to trouble anyone new to The Android Angel who isn’t already a Free Swim devotee.
The only slight criticism I have of Lie Back and Think of England is that the last few tracks seem to break the cohesive nature of the album. ‘Chicago John’ is a fantastic song, I love the instrumentation on the track and it is a lot of fun. It doesn’t seem to quite fit with what has come before though, and sounds much more like a Free Swim track, but it is quite brilliant on its own. Finishing the album with two instrumentals is also little out of kilter with the general flow of the album, although ‘Follow The River’ nicely wraps things back to the opening track.
All told this is about as interesting an album as I expect I’ll hear all year, brilliantly played and written and (despite the influences) like nothing else on record. He’s proved the master of the concept EP with Free Swim and as The Android Angel he has taken it one step further with an extremely impressive album.
Who are they? The Android Angel is one of the two musical projects of multi-instrumentalist Paul Coltofeanu from Surrey, UK. The other is the acclaimed, surreal pop-fantasy of Free Swim (As heard on Radio 1, 6music and at our gig last February).
What do they sound like?
He cites Sparklehorse, Beck, Eels, Brolin, Spiritualized and Air, but let’s see what BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson has to say about them:
“Reigate’s most musical son – the startlingly talented and prolific Paul Coltofeanu. Not content with the ever growing success of Free Swim he returns here to his alternative persona as The Android Angel to charm the pants off readers this weekend with this cheeky slice of twee electropop.
It seems to me that Paul’s increasingly assured approach to musicmaking depends partly on a whimsical approach and exceedingly light touch so that he never appears to be taking the importance of his work too earnestly.
Yet also on a real seriousness of execution so that his songs and recordings are all quietly crafted to perfection. Here is an artist to watch in 2013 because – to coin a cliche – whatever he comes up with next, you can always expect the unexpected.”
Or you could take a listen to the brand new track ‘Her Shoulders’ that was released on Soundcloud this morning. Hot off the press.
Written during summer 2011 while volunteering on a farm in the Romanian mountains, on a Water Buffalo reserve in the Ukraine, sat on the banks of Varosliget Lake in Budapest and in the squares and parks of Berlin, I spent the following year recording the album in the downtime between writing and touring the first four Free Swim EPs.
The unique story of the album’s creation, and the eclectic, melodic, experimental music thereon ensure that it promises to be quite unlike anything else released in 2013.”
I didn’t realise until Free Swim got in touch with us this week that we were the first ever blog to review them, way back in 2010. Since their first EP, Two Hands is Ok, landed on our doormat in November that year, they’ve been building up a solid reputation as one of the UK’s most interesting and fun indie acts and favourable reviews by many others have followed.
But underneath all this classic English eccentricity the band, which is in essence multi-instrumentalist Paul Coltofeanu, is actually very, very serious about music, sounding a little like Super Furry Animals mixed with Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, but wholly unique.
On EP number four She Dreams in Lights they’ve toned down the whimsy and decided its time to unleash Free Swim, the indie pop and rock act on the public.
BBC Radio One has already bitten and Coltofeanu, who wrote all tracks and played all the instruments on the EP, turning up on Hew Stephens show recently to chat about the EP.
There’s still a loose theme to this EP, of a girl falling asleep and dreaming, but as Coltofeanu explains: “I was purposely trying to leave it a bit more open to interpretation and ambiguous this time round.”
It’s a savvy move, letting the public focus more on the music rather than the gimmicks and to showcase a five-song collection that stands up well against the band’s influences, most notably Super Furry Animals.
It’s third track Vuvuzela Venezuela with its sweeping build up, and opener Records in the Basement, where the protagonist falls asleep amid Mercury Rev style indie psychedelic pop riffs, that are the immediate standouts with their clever turns of phrase and twinkling guitars. Final track The Snooze Function, when the girl awakes, is the most psychedelic of this collection with more than a nod or two to The Flaming Lips.
By turning down the whimsy and focusing more on the music they’ve lost none of their excitement or identity and there’s every chance this could be the breakthrough EP they deserve.
by Joe Lepper
She Dreams in Lights is available as a free download from Sex Farm Records
Preparing to review this EP was a bit nerve wracking, at Neon Filler we have been big supporters of Free Swim and are promoting their next gig, so what to do if the latest work was duff? I’d end up feeling like all those journalists who had to write good reviews of Oasis albums because they had spent the previous years proclaiming them the saviours of music and didn’t want to lose face. The good news for me is that the EP isn’t duff, far from it, and may well be my favourite Free Swim EP to date.
The story on this one isn’t as outlandish as on previous outings, no grafted hands or mountaineering Pandas here, it is your typical boy meets boy, boy meets girl, boy loses boy, boy meets girl story. The opening track ‘Oh Dennis’ is power pop perfection with the kind of guitar riffing you get on Hold Steady records and a charming off-kilter love story at the heart of the song.
‘Croydon Fernandes’ is a more boisterous punky affair, perfectly complimenting the hyper-male activities or our protagonists as they spot planes, eat scotch eggs and play air cello. The song thunders long along until the arrival of the “undeniably lovely” Sophie Buttercup leaves our protagonist all alone.
‘The Smell of Pregnancy’ finds him sad, alone and abandoned pleading;
“Just promise you’ll always watch your Hornblower DVD once a year and think of me.”
This song is the standout song on a fine EP, the Batman theme instrumental section and slap bass outro being two of the fine musical highlights on a deceptively sophisticated track. Paul Coltofeanu (who plays everything here) shows a lot of skill throughout, and a real flair for production that lift this EP above the average DIY effort. The aforementioned slap bass, the keyboards on ‘Oh Dennis’ and the drums on the final track, the sweeping ‘Cycling Holidays In The Ardeche’, are just some of the musical elements that add real depth to what is (in all other respects) a fun and witty pop record.
Fee Swim seem to be getting better with each release, and another EP is planned for this year, time I think for a record label to sign them up and fund the double concept album they were born to make.
By Dorian Rogers
Listen to and download all the Free Swim music on their Bandcamp page.
See Free Swim live with Twin Brother and Stick In A Pot at the Green Door Store. Details here.
Neon Filler are very happy to be able to present our first gig, happening on the 24th February 2012 at The Green Door Store in Brighton. The three bands on the bill are some of our favourite acts that we have discovered this year.
Topping the bill is the brilliant Free Swim, a band who have impressed us with their first two EPs and who played an excellent set at The Hydrant earlier this year.
To hear (and buy) their EPs go to their Bandcamp page here.
The first support comes from Twin Brother, a band that impressed us with their set at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.
Listen to a selection of their songs on their Soundcloud page here.
Completing the bill is the excellent Stick In A Pot. You can listen to some of their tracks on their website here.
If you are going to come to the gig, then please add yourself to the Facebook event.
Last year London band Django Django topped our list of acts to watch out for in 2011. As autumn came they didn’t disappoint as they began unveiling tracks from their forthcoming highly promising debut album.
Another to justify their place on the 2011 list was The Miserable Rich, who unveiled their superb third album Miss You In the Days in October.
This year we look at our top ten bands to watch out for in 2012. Some have already being wowing festival crowds and attracting attention in the blogosphere. As 2012 progresses we predict these bunch will climb up the festival bills and garner even more praise. Sit back and enjoy Neonfiller.com’s top ten acts to look out for in 2012.
10. Alice Gun
Just before the 2011 Mercury nominations were revealed a few names cropped up among bloggers, including ourselves, for possible inclusion. One of those names was little known singer -songwriter Alice Gun, whose debut album Blood and Bone impressed us greatly when it was released early in 2011. It’s sparse, it’s eerie and a beautiful debut that was sadly overlooked by the Mercury panel. Comparisons to PJ Harvey are inevitable, but Gun is her own artist and we are expecting big things of her in 2012 as word of her talent spreads.
Tigercats from London are that rarest of bands, an indie-pop act that you can actually dance to. After a string of singles and EPs they are finally ready to release their debut album in 2012. We’ve had a sneak listen to a couple of tracks already and we predict it will bring them to a far wider audience than the small band of wise indie-kids that have already discovered them.
The album will be backed by a series of tour dates. Among our favourite Tigercats tracks, and one we are keen to see live is Easter Island, which was released in August 2010.
8. Free Swim
Free Swim are one of those unusual bands that pop up in our inbox occasionally that leave us lost for words. The first email we received was to promote their debut EP Two Hands Is Ok, about a man who was so busy he had to graft another set of arms onto his torso. The next time it was to tell us of EP #2 Yolanda the Panda, about the adventures of a mountain climbing Panda. The subject matter may be comical, but they are serious about their music, sounding like a cross between Super Furry Animals and King Missile. A whole bunch of other reviewers from 6Music to XFM also agree. Live they are a force to be reckoned with as their bassist becomes a real life Super Furry Animal by donning a giant panda costume. A funny, interesting band that are set to release their third EP in 2012 and continue wowing crowds with their unusual live show. Here’s some footage we took at one of their 2011 gigs, in Brighton.
7.Kill It Kid
How Kill It Kid are not already one of the UK’s biggest bands is a mystery. Their 2009 self titled debut album’s mix of rootsy blues and rock wowed critics, but failed to shift CDs. But 2012 could prove to be their year as they continue touring to promote 2011’s excellent second album Feet Fall Heavy, which features a bigger and bolder sound. We predict a main stage slot at one of the major festivals in 2012, surely the perfect stage for their ballsy approach to rock. What’s more in Chris Turpin and Stephanie Ward the band, which formed at Bath Spa University, are blessed with two excellent singers.
During our visit to Glastonbury this year we made sure we spent alot of time at the BBC Introducing stage. First up on the Friday were Brighton’s Twin Brother and what a performance they put on. Held together by the sumptious vocals of singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alex Wells, the band evoke classic mid 1980s sounds of Aztec Camera and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Twin Brother also played the Anglo-French White Nights festival during 2011 and a string of dates are booked in for 2012.
Here’s an acoustic version by Wells of Send Me A Letter, a track from one of their planned releases during 2012.
5.Two Wounded Birds
Margate’s Two Wounded Birds were another act that dazzled us at the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury. Surf-punk is probably the best way to describe them as they mix classic punk, with surf and rock and roll. They are also gaining alot of attention from national radio stations and online broadcasters, including 6Music and NME online.
4. Dry the River
Festivals have been key to Dry The River’s excellent 2011, bringing their energetic live sets to events such as Glastonbury and Brighton’s Great Escape. Gradually they’ve been building up a solid fan base thanks to their mix of accessible classic rock with an alternative, folk edge. They start 2012 as part of the Q:Now the Sessions events playing XOYO, London in January and are certain to start climbing up the festival bills during the summer. In a few years time we wouldn’t be surprised to see this band, which formed in East London in 2009, headlining a festival main stage.
Already Idaho 20-something Trevor Powers, who performs under the name Youth Lagoon, has generated plenty of buzz in the US. His debut album The Year of Hibernation, which has been released on the influential Fat Possum label, has been given near universal critical praise, including a coveted Best New Music tag from Pitchfork. His subject matter of love, loss and anxiety is still immature at times, but he is at the start of what promises to be a long career. We are confident that the US buzz around Powers will soon spread to the UK. Watch out for European tour dates in 2012.
2.The Revival Hour
DM Stith is one of the gems of US label Athmatic Kitty’s roster. The multi-instrumentalist has spent much of 2011 supporting label mate Sufjan Stevens on tour and promoting his dramatic debut album Heavy Ghost. For 2012 he is taken a slightly different direction with his new porject The Revival Hour. This collaboration with John Mark Lapham from The Earlies was formed through a mutual love of Roy Orbison and judging by their first single Hold Back they have been heavily influenced by the 1960s. An album is due out in 2012 and is set to feature contributions from Stevens, My Brightest Diamond and Shearwater. Hold Back is one of our highlights of 2011 and we anticipate the album to be one of the best of 2012.
1. Singing Adams
After splitting from the Broken Family Band its songwriter and lead singer Steven Adams (pic: second from left) has taken an indie pop direction with his next project Singing Adams. Bringing in indie stalwarts Matthew Ashton, Melinda Bronstein and Michael Wood the band perfectly compliment Adam’s bittersweet and often humourous song writing. We saw them in September in Bristol play to about 70 people, a far cry from Adams’ time with festival favourites Broken Family Band. This meagre crowd is set to grow in 2012 once word spreads. They are a well drilled and engaging live act and in 2012 are set to release their second album. Some tracks were trialled at the gig we saw in September and we were left impressed. Watch out for this band at a festival or venue near you, they could soon be your next favourite band.
The band’s debut album Everybody Friends Now was one of our highlights of 2011. Here’s one of our favourite tracks from the album, I Need Your Mind.