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Robert Rotifer – About Us/They Don’t Love You Back

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Robert Rotifer – About Us/They Don’t Love You Back

Posted on 01 April 2019 by Joe

Robert Rotifer’s latest is one of those while you were out collections , offering up versions of two recent, less conventionally released albums you may have missed.

In both Brexit looms large – with his love for Britain and Europe and crucially a Britain in Europe the key emerging theme.

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The first of this two disc collection from the Austrian born, long time Kent resident  is an English version of his his 2017 German language release Über uns.

This is a calming friend of an album, with gentle guitar picking backing his melancholy take on a Britain that is departing Europe. We Have Lost, which opens the album perhaps best exemplifies this.

As for his love for Britian, this comes across most strikingly on Westgate Towers, which features some of the most beautiful parts of Canterbury, where he and his family have lived for many years. Who would not want to lie in the sunshine in the gardens surrounding the Westgate, after listening to this?

They Don’t Love You Back

The second album, They Don’t Love You Back, sees  last year’s  77-minute long stream of consciousness, charity release about Brexit converted into a more straight forward release with separate tracks.

A detailed review of They Don’t Love You Back can be found here. If you want to take advantage of the separate track listings to dip in, we recommend the first Psychedelic folk opener and the title track (track 10).

With a 16-minute medley of They Don’t Love You Back at the end of About Us added on, there are plenty of options to choose from when listening to Rotifer’s most recent work.

Speaking of options, as I write MPs are set to vote on yet another range of Brexit possibilities. As the right wingers and centrists alike step into the lobby I can only hope that the real, human side of Brexit, as featured on these two albums, is considered.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information visit Robert Rotifer’s Bandcamp page.

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Best Albums of 2018

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Best Albums of 2018

Posted on 17 December 2018 by Joe

It’s been a good year for debut albums in our latest Best Albums list.

Politics has also loomed large, with a number of releases, including our top placed  album, trying to make sense of the chaos of Brexit.

We have also included a special focus on acts from one of our bases – the South West of England, which continues to produce some of the UK’s most best music.

16. Nicholson Heal –Big Jupe

Bristol based Nicholson Heal impresses with his debut album, with a keen focus on melody and  featuring a wonderful brass section. Deservedly one of our  Glastonbury Festival emerging talent competition longlist entries back in 2017. Full review.

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15. Tigercats- Pig City

Tigercats are back, bigger, brassier and they’ve brought the party with them, careering round the capital on this gem of a third album, which makes great use of their new horn section and African influences. A deserved spot in our best albums of 2018 list. Full review.

Tigercats

14. The Billy Shinbone Show – The Billy Shinbone Show

Jesse Budd from Glastonbury based psychedelic popsters Flipron becomes Billy Shinbone for this eclectic solo album that blends 1960s psychedelia with country and Cajun music. Fans of Robyn Hitchcock’s recent albums will find a lot to like here. Full review.

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13. Superorganism – Superorganism

This global octet, with members from the UK, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, have impressed us greatly with their stunning debut, which is packed with a range of styles, big choruses and delicious hooks.

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12. Okkervil River – In the Rainbow Rain

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best, featuring great tunes in the likes of Love Somebody and Pulled Up The Ribbon as well as some of the strongest personal writing yet from their leader Will Sheff. Full review.

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11. Guided by Voices – Space Gun

Space Gun may well be the best album that Robert Pollard has recorded under the Guided By Voices moniker since he resurrected the band back in 2012. Full review.

Space Gun

10. Papernut Cambridge – Outstairs Instairs

Former Death in Vegas man Ian Button and his crew continue to reinvent 1970s pop, this time covering themes of grief and loss as he reflects on the passing of his father, whose words of wisdom on No Pressure are among many, many highlights. Full review.

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9. Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

For his third album Liverpudlian Alex Highton has turned up the synths and 1980/90s influences to great effect. This is particular notable on opener Benny Is a Heartbreaker, an Ultravox-esque thriller of a song. Full review.

Alex Highton

8. Front Person – Front Runner

Canadian singer songwriters Kathryn Calder (The New Pornographers) and Mark Hamilton (Woodpigeon) come together  produce one of the best albums of 2018. Their trademark passionate lyrics and beautiful vocal delivery combine perfectly on this debut, which features some smart use of vintage electronica. Full review.

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7. Neko Case- Hell On

The world’s best female vocalist? We certainly think so, especially after hearing this latest highly charged release. She certainly has a lot to be emotional about this time around with this album arriving after her house burnt down and amid a battle with stalkers. Yet another career highpoint and a worthy entry in our best albums of 2018 list.

Neko Case - Hell-On

6. Jack Hayter – Abbey Wood

A derelict children’s home provides the inspiration for former Hefner man Jack Hayter’s latest, where everything falls into place. It has a strong back story, some moments of genuine drama, great music and above all sincerity. Full review.

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5. Robert Rotifer – They Don’t Love You Back

The Austrian musician, broadcaster and Kent resident has created an epic stream of folk, psychedelic consciousness that perfectly encapsulates the senseless chaos of  Brexit. Recorded as a 77 minute track as part of a Wiaiwya Records project to raise money for Médecins Sans Frontières. Full review.

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4. The Go! Team- Semicircle

Eu-bleedin’-phoric! There’s no other word combo to sum up the sheer exhilarating joy of this Go! Team latest. Full review.

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3. Parquet Courts Wide Awake

Parquet Courts had already done their bit for guitar rock on their first three albums. Now they expertly take their music into new directions, thanks to Danger Mouse on production duties.

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2. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

Melbourne band’s three guitars pack a punch, especially on this album’s fantastic opening featuring  An Air Conditioned Man, Talking Straight and Mainland. Full review.

Hope Downs

1. Field Music – Open Here

From its chamber pop gems to pop-tastic foot stompers, this latest from Britain’s most interesting act continues to delight.  There are serious messages too, as the band eloquently express their fears around parenthood in post-Brexit Britain. A deserved top spot in our Best albums of 2018 list. Full review.

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Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Robert Rotifer – They Don’t Love You Back

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Robert Rotifer – They Don’t Love You Back

Posted on 17 July 2018 by Joe

Robert Rotifer has found something positive from his worst nightmare. How very stiff upper lip. How very English of him.

The Austrian, who has been living in the UK for decades, is among the very many left shell-shocked by 2016’s Brexit vote. For him and his family in Kent it has extra resonance. Will he even be able to stay in the country? Still such important questions are up in the air.

He’s been rallying against the decision ever since with incredulity, anger, despair and sometimes humour. The whole omni-shambles of Brexit does often seem more akin to political satire. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Rotifer - they don't love you back

Amidst this state of confusion, John Jervis of Wiaiwya Records stepped forward to give Rotifer a small lifeline and the chance to put all these swirling thoughts onto disc.

His offer was to be one of seven artists, who are each recording a 77 minute track to raise money for Médecins Sans Frontières. Brexit was the obvious muse for Rotifer’s part to the  project, which has also helped him fulfill a long held musical desire.

He explains:

I’ve always wanted to do one of those long-form psychedelic song suites with playful bits, recurring motifs, extended hypnotic bits and found sound segues.

Coupled with this long standing desire he also decided to record mostly at the moment of writing, to give it a spontaneous feel. The format and this method perfectly suits his experience of Brexit and the dream like state the UK has been left in.

The voices of those affected, Europeans dealing with racism and news announcements of the whole political mess, drop in and out among his finger picking and strumming on this largely acoustic guitar based psychedelic folk album.

There’s a family trip to the beach from his home town, Canterbury, that’s full of warmth and fear for the future in equal measure. There’s an ode to Jervis too.

Some songs within this 77-minute are more structured, such as the They Don’t Love You Back segment. Other times its like a frantic folk jam. It’s almost like Rotifer’s trying to get as many notes onto disc as he can before the Prime Minister Theresa May kicks him out.

The end result is excellent – a swirling, whirly-gig of summery folk. Part rant at Brexit, part love letter to England – which, sadly, for 51.9% of voters at least, is not loving him back.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

For more about Wiaiwya’s 77 project click here. The project’s Just Giving page can be found here.

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Best Albums 2016 – Neonfiller’s Look At The Year’s Best Releases

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Best Albums 2016 – Neonfiller’s Look At The Year’s Best Releases

Posted on 14 December 2016 by Joe

After taking some time in June to list our favourite albums so far this year, the time has come to reveal our Best Albums of 2016.

The surprise alternative pop album of the year has not budged from its number one slot, but our extended end of year list has given us the chance to add a further 10 albums to our selection.

There are a few more veteran performers here, but also plenty of new bands with some stunning debuts released this year.

It may have been a horrible anus  in terms of politics and the death of iconic legends but 2016 was still a great year for music. Sit back and enjoy our Best Albums 2016 list.

20. Picture Box – Songs of Joy

 

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Robert Halcrow uses his brand ‘wonky pop’ to take you on a tour of the lesser known nooks and crannies of his home City of Canterbury, in Kent. The demise of its speedway team, its smelly former tannery and a pet fish shop are the stars of this thoroughly eccentric look at small town England. Read the full review here.

19. American Wrestlers – Goodbye Terrible Youth

 

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The brain child of Gary McClure, once of Manchester band Working for A Nuclear Free City and now living in St Louis, this new act’s debut album earns a deserved spot on our list for its personal subject matter and catchy hooks all blended perfectly together with lashings of distorted guitar. Read the full review here.

18. Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door

 

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Not Your Door is a deeply personal album for Robert Rotifer, taking in his present life living in Canterbury, Kent, as well as his past, growing up in Vienna. But with its themes of family and the very notion of home it aims to resonate with many. Its post Brexit release also offers a thoughtful alternative view on EU relations. Read the full review here.

17. Rapid Results College – In City Light

 

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Rapid Results College is such a great name for a band, cemented in modern urban life with tongue firmly in cheek about its pressures, pace and pitfalls. Their debut album left us enthralled, taking in influences such as XTC and their keen focus on melody, all channeled through some of the cleanest production you will hear all year. Read the full review here.

16. Southern Tenant Folk Union – Join Forces

 

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After the ambitious Chuck Norris Project of last year, in which the Edinburgh folk collective used film titles by the rightwing actor to protest against his politics, their latest album goes back to basics. This has a more traditional sound, focusing on their bluegrass and Celtic influences, but still with plenty of politics and above all heart. Read the full review here.

15. Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are

 

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Incredibly, this is now the 22nd solo album from the hardest working man in music and proves another high point in an illustrious career. Read the full review here.

14. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

 

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Third album from the former Sugar and Husker Du man’s most settled line up for years. The key to its success is its ability to tackle the tough issues of life in the most fun way possible, as Mould’s rage and melody once again combine perfectly.  Read the full review here.

13. Woodpigeon – TROUBLE

 

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Heartbreak, loss and a globe trotting meander prove the powerful inspiration for Mark Andrew Hamilton’s latest album. Beautiful and inspiring. Read the full review here.

12. John Howard – Across the Door Sill

 

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This may just be the best album to date by John Howard, the 1970s singer songwriter who is enjoying a renaissance in recent years as an independent artist. His time capsule preserved vocals are in abundance here thanks to some sumptuous layering to create an entire choir of Howards backed simply by piano. Beautiful. Read the full review here.

11. Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

 

 

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Many bands have trod the well worn path of capturing the pains of being young within three minute, fast paced pop songs, complete with guitar solos and rousing sing-a-long choruses. But no one does this quite like Martha. This collection from the north east of England act is another deserved entry to our end of year round up. Read the full review here.

10. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity

 

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Like an extended rock jam, taking in science fiction, monsters and, naturally, some awesome guitar riffs this is another stellar release from the Australian psych rockers, with a little help from some robots and a gigantic wasp. Read the full review here.

9. Dressy Bessy – King Sized

 

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Fabulous return from a six-year break for the US act. This works particularly well by merging their beefier pre- hiatus sound with the pop nous that made their early work so infectious. Read the full review here.

8. The Wave Pictures – Bamboo Diner in the Rain

 

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Underneath what may very well be 2016’s crappiest album cover lies this year’s best blues LP, as The Wave Pictures take their fascination with American blues to new levels. Read our full review here.

7. Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves

 

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Former Death in Vegas man Ian Button and crew have created their very own 1970s pop band. Full of fuzzed up guitar riffs and stomping rhythms there would have been plenty to satisfy the charts back in the day, especially the album’s title song, and its best pop tune, Radio. Read the full review here.

6. Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages – Vol 1

 

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One of Hayman’s best pieces of work and possibly his most important, preserving the oral history of the relatives of those who survived the horrors of the Great War as well as paying tribute to the village life these soldiers left and thankfully returned to. Read the full review here.

5. Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield

 

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Childhood memories and the toils of adulthood mix wonderfully on the former Delgados singer’s latest album. With the track Parks and Recreation she has also created one of the best songs of recent years. Read the full review here.

4. Arborist – Home Burial

 

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Imagine a colliery band on tour of the Appalachians and I guess you are somewhere near this sound conjured up in this stunning debut from the Northern Ireland based act, that also features The Breeders Kim Deal on vocals. It’s Americana, but not like you’ve heard it before. Read the full review here.

3. Free Swim – Life Time of Treats

 

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Free Swim’s Paul Coltofeanu is a silly chap, that’s why we like him. We’ve already been enthralled by his collection of quirky EPs but here, on the act’s debut album, he joins forces with chum David Turn to  take the charm up a few notches. Ray Mears, air drumming, Neville Southall’s moustache and angry internet sensation Gordon Hill are among the cast of stars that Paul and David encounter. There’s some fine music here too, which shows they are no mere novelty act. Read the full review here.

2. Evans the Death – Vanilla

 

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On album number three London act Evans the Death have upped, shredded, beaten up and garrotted the ante. It’s full of rage, the guitars are heavier than before, the vocals fiercer and the ambition turned to stadium sized proportions, with a brass section and even a funky bass added to the mix. Incendiary album from what very well be Britain’s best rock band. Read the full review here.

1. The Monkees – Good Times

 

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The comeback to beat all comebacks. Originally planned as merely something to sell on their 50th anniversary tour this album has ended up grabbing the headlines in its own right. With Fountains of Wayne man Adam Schlesinger at the helm, a stack of lost demos to dust off and new tracks from talented Monkees fans such as Andy Partridge and Ben Gibbard, Good Times both pays tribute to their place in 1960s pop history and creates a great, modern day indie and alternative pop album in its own right. A well deserved number one slot. Read our full review here.

Top Ten Albums of 2016 So far was compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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John Howard – Not Forgotten, The Best of John Howard Vol 2.

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John Howard – Not Forgotten, The Best of John Howard Vol 2.

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Joe

John Howard’s renaissance continued in fine form last year with the release of John Howard and the Night Mail, a collection of timeless pop written and performed with Andy Lewis (Paul Weller Band), Robert Rotifer (Rotifer) and Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge).

It ended the year gracing many a best of list, including our own, and even charted, albeit in the Austrian independent releases run-down.

As a result Howard’s music has come to the attention of a wider audience and may well be the reason you are reading this now.

John Howard and the Night Mail

John Howard and the Night Mail

Never one to miss an opportunity Howard has decided to release a second volume of his best of series to show his new admirers what else he’s been up to in recent years.

So for those who are new to Howard’s music let’s take a few lines to recap his tale.

It’s a familiar story, glam pop boy and his piano meets record company, in his case CBS in the 1970s. Boy then gets dumped by record company, ends up quitting recording and working for the music industry in A&R for a couple of decades. Much older boy then meets internet generation, decides to record again and the pair live happily ever after.

Since the release of his comeback album, the appropriately titled As I Was Saying in 2005, he has released around a dozen more, as well as a handful of EPs covering lesser known artists he admires such as Alex Highton.

On his first best of compilation These Fifty Years, released in 2009, the focus was on his 70s heyday and comeback releases up to that point. Here the focus is exclusively on his comeback, with the internet generation helping with the track list as Howard keeps a close eye on downloads, streams and Youtube interest to guide him.

John Howard - As I Was Saying

John Howard – As I Was Saying

Among our picks on this compilation are the As I Was Saying tracks the Dilemma of the Homosapien, with its killer chorus, and Taking it All to Heart, that perfectly sums up the emotions of a rejected artist. There’s also a heavy focus on glam pop, with upbeat songs such as Making Love To My Girl, from Same Bed, Different Dreams (2006) and Believe Me, Richard, From Storeys (2013) among highlights.

Maybe I Know Why and Born Too Early are among the best of the ‘slowies’ here. Both are from Hello, My Name Is, a largely autobiographical collection looking back to his time in London in the 1970s and society’s changing attitudes to sexuality

But as with any compilation this is as much about what isn’t on it as what is.

What awaits those who want to delve further into his releases are further gems on As I was Saying such as the Magic of Mystery. Bob/Bobbi, from Hello My Name Is, which gives genuine heart and substance to a drag queen he once met while on holiday, is another to seek out.

Also missing here are tracks from 2012’s You Shall Go the Ball!, featuring reworkings of his 70s demos that failed to see the light of day. It is here that an extra layer to the Howard story unfolds with his carefully crafted soundscapes interspersed with tracks such as the magnificent The Deal, where his adoration of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s solo work is clear.

And there’s some great covers too to discover, particularly his version of Alex Highton’s Songs for Someone and Darren Hayman’s Elizabeth Duke, on his Songs for Someone EP.

John Howard interpreta “The Bewlay Brothers”, de David Bowie from Oscar Garcia Suarez on Vimeo.

Looking back on his comeback output Howard’s initial failure to be a star in the 1970s may just have been the best thing to happen to him. The break from performing for a couple of decades has beautifully preserved his voice. Just watch him performing his cover of Bowie’s Bewlay Brothers in Barcelona in January this year (see above) to see what we mean.

It has also meant he is fiercely independent, embracing home recording technology and the promotional possibilities of social media to great effect to take direct control of how his music sounds and is released.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top Five Protest Songs of 2015

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Top Five Protest Songs of 2015

Posted on 27 November 2015 by Joe

From the tragic consequences of US gun laws to the UK’s ongoing debate around inequality and low wages as well as worldwide debate around the plight of refugees fleeing war torn Syria, it’s been another year where political songwriters have had lots of inspiration.

Here we take a look at our five favourite political songs. All can be loosely called protest songs, but also offer more than that, often looking at the real lives of those affected by the political decisions taking place.

Darren Hayman – Down Among the Dead Men

Chants for Socialists is a rare political album from Darren Hayman. As you would expect from the former Hefner frontman it carries none of the bombast of Chumbawumba. Instead he has taken the lyrics from Victorian socialist William Morris, set it to music and given it a modern take with a choir of friends and those living nearby Morris’s former London home.

On this, one of the album’s standout tracks, Hayman successfully conveys a comforting sense of comraderie among the hopelessness of a world of social injustice, all sounding like a mix of The Kinks and a Victorian pub singalong thanks to co-writing duties from frequent Hayman collaborator Robert Rotifer.

Villagers- Little Bigot

A few years it would have been inconceivable that Ireland, with all the atrocities its Catholic society forced on women and gay people would allow same sex marriages. In the year Ireland really came of age Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien penned the album Darling Arithmetic, which is as much about Ireland’s attitude to gay men like himself as it is a wonderful collection of songs about love.

He is keen that this shold be seen as a love album first and a protest album second, but on Little Bigot he rejoices as finally the old way of thinking is cast aside. “So take the blame, little bigot. And throw that hatred on the fire,” he sings.

Belle and Sebastian – Cat with the Cream

Politicians and the banking elite are the smug cats here on Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch’s bitter take on British politics. Written after the Tory led coalition came into power in 2010 it was not released until this year when the Conservatives won an outright victory and looked to lap up even more cream. ‘Tory like a cat with the cream’ sums up many of that party’s politics wonderfully, but Labour and their ‘grubby little red’ MPs and the Lib Dems ‘flapping hopelessly’ also come under fire.

John Howard and the Night Mail – Tip of your Shoe

This is the second mention in this list of protest songs for Robert Rotifer, who in between fronting his own band Rotifer and helping Darren Hayman out, also collaborated this year with 1970s singer songwriter John Howard as part of the Night Mail. Here Rotifer’s lyrics and Howard’s wonderful voice and music take on xenophobia and right wing media commentators, especially ones of the likes of Katie Hopkins, who spout all sorts of vile political rubbish on their “21st century toilet wall” of social media.

Southern Tenant Folk Union – Slaughter in San Francisco


It seems incredulous that the US government still allows gun ownership to go unchecked in yet another year of horrific shootings. The school shootings are particular tragic and provide the sad inspiration for Slaughter in San Francisco, among the best songs on Southern Tenant Folk Union’s album The Chuck Norris Project, which is packed full of protest at a range of issues from bigotry to gun laws.

Here singer Rory Butler provides genuine emotion as he shows the horror of such incidents through the eyes of one of the frightened young victims. It’s one of the year’s most heartbreaking songs that sadly is set to have resonance for years to come until the US legislature finally sees sense on gun crime.

Compiled by Joe Lepper

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Alex Highton – Nobody Knows Anything

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Alex Highton – Nobody Knows Anything

Posted on 26 November 2014 by Joe

Alex Highton first came onto our radar two years ago when his debut album Woodditton Wives Club landed on our doormat. This collection of savvy pastoral folk pop, inspired by his own family move from London to the Cambridgeshire village of Woodditton, was beautifully arranged; perfectly mirroring his transition from city to rural life.

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Two years on he’s still producing high quality folk music, but on Nobody Knows Anything his palette is far broader and there is a range of genres at his finger tips. There is also a raft  of notable backing musicians too such as Robert Rotifer on electric guitar, John Howard on piano and the wonderful English folk vocals of Nancy Wallace.

On one hand Nobody Knows Anything is still the rural folk album that Woodditton Wives Club was. There’s the similar Pentangle style double bass, acoustic guitar and the addition of Wallace to add further folk class.

But on the other hand Highton has packed this with squelchy synths, nods to the 1960s psychedelia and pop as well as more modern alternative music by the likes of Field Music. One reviewer had even compared a track to the Only Fools And Horses theme tune.

These two strands of rural folk and modern eclecticism never conflict thankfully, they just weave in and out of each other as old friends and by the end it ceases to matter whether this is a folk album that became more ambitious or an ambitious album that wants to retreat back into the comfort of Cambridgeshire village life.

Take one of the highlights, Sunlight Burns Your Skin, for example. It starts with largely vocals and acoustic guitar. So far so folk. Then Rotifer’s electric guitar comes in and a world of psychedelic pop ushers in with trombone, backing vocals, more trombone, more guitar, more of everything and eventually comes to close with an acapela breakdown.

The same transition from small to downright  huge occurs on You don’t Own This Life, the album’s opener, which starts with some smart guitar picking and ends up with a whole load of clarinet and a trip to Dixieland.

It Falls Together and Fear are the ones that will delight Field Music fans. Like Field Music’s David Brewis, Highton is a fan of Talking Heads and it shows on these two jerky, pop tracks.

And then one of the album’s key tracks Panic ushers in. With its emotion and low key Northern delivery  Panic will particularly appeal to Elbow fans, albeit ones that also like thick squelchy synths, delay effect guitar and film soundtracks. Miserable Rich are another act that bares similarity – particularly on the beautiful Somebody Must Know Something.

As it progresses it’s clear this is no ordinary folk album with its broad range of genres, melody and invention, but for those familiar with Woodditton Wives Club this is unmistakeable Highton, only more so.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

 

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John Howard – Songs For Someone

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John Howard – Songs For Someone

Posted on 23 July 2014 by Joe

Darren Hayman, Alex Highton, Ralegh Long, Robert Rotifer and Ian Button are five lucky fellas to have their songs covered by rebooted 1970s singer songwriter John Howard.

Since his comeback more than a decade ago, following a 20 year or so hiatus, Howard has made up for lost time with a raft of original material and the occasional covers collections.

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 2013.

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 2013.

But whereas previous covers have mostly paid tribute to those that influenced his early career, such as Laura Nyro and Paul McCartney, here he passes a musical nod to the emerging and more established independent UK artists he has collaborated with in recent years.

For Long, whose track The Gift from his 2012 EP of the same name is covered here, getting the Howard treatment must be an especially pleasing honour. When Long sent us The Gift to review he cited Howard as a major influence. We helped match them up via email and since then their friendship has blossomed, they perform together and help promote each others releases and ventures, including Gare Du Nord Records, the label set up by Long, Button and Rotifer.

Howard’s version of The Gift shows Howard to be a musician who takes his time, who really listens to a song he is covering to ensure he can give it his own take and bring out a particular theme. His version of The Gift sounds likes the perfect thank you to a young musician he clearly admires.

A good cover should offer a new interpretation as well as pay tribute to the source material. Howard achieves that on all the tracks here, especially Song For Someone,  from Alex Highton’s 2012 album Wooditton Wives Club.

After hearing Woodditton Wives Club, about Highton’s move from London to the Oxfordshire countryside with his family, Howard was clearly smitten, as we were when we reviewed it. It’s a wonderfully honest collection of acoustic guitar folk about family life and location. It’s also an album about looking back, learning from the past and moving on, common themes in Howard’s post comeback work.

Song for Someone is a track that I liked a lot but for me was overshadowed by others on the album such as You’ve Got The Trees. Howard though clearly homed in on it straight away and reinvents it as a great big old romantic piano ballad while achieving the neat trick of retaining the intimacy of Highton’s understated vocals. The pair’s mutual back slapping continues later this year when Howard appears on Highton’s forthcoming album.

Howard clearly likes covering Rotifer’s tracks. He did a great job turning Rotifer’s Creosote Summer, from 2012’s The Hosting Couple album, into a pop Waltz on a recently released Gare Du Nord sampler. He does another fine job on So Silly Now, a track about the relationship between a music fan and his collection from Rotifer’s 2013 album the Cavalry Never Showed Up. Howard brings to the table those extra few years of experience in the music business as if he really knows some of the famous names mentioned in the lyrics. He even finds time to unleash his Brian Wilsonoator (disclaimer: actual equipment may not exist)  from his home studio in Spain. I never even thought of Pet Sounds hearing the original, now I can’t separate the two.

Ian Button gives such a summery, psychedelic pop shine to his music under his Papernut Cambridge moniker. Here Howard sounds strips away the psychedelia and gets to the heart of the song to really draw out its melody and lyrics. Rather than the lush twinkle of Button’s production, here Howard has focused on cellos, which ensure a 1960s feel is retained as well as serving to give the song an extra sadness.

As with Button and Rotifer, who provided two thirds of his backing band when he played at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London last year, Darren Hayman is another musical collaborator. Back in 2007 Howard was invited by Hayman to play on his first album as Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern. The original is jolly folk pop but on Howard’s version the tone is sadder, the pace is slower and of all five the transformation is the most remarkable. I like the original but I adore this version.

Howard is enjoying a good streak in his ongoing comeback, especially with the release of his most recent album Storeys last year. Has the influence of Hayman, Rotifer, Long, Highton and Button been a factor in this recent fine run of creative form? Listening to his tender take on their tracks here that seems likely.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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