Tag Archive | "The Mountain Goats"

Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain

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Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain

Posted on 24 May 2018 by Joe

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best.

This ninth album from group features some of the strongest personal song writing from leader Will Sheff, something which made other career high points like The Stage Names (2008) so effective.

The band’s 1980s influences, as used so well on The Silver Gymnasium (2013), are also deployed perfectly here once again.

And it feels like a band, rather than just Sheff and some others. That’s because he used the same close knit group that were with him two years ago on tour to promote their Away album.

“It was my favorite touring experience in many years… I felt like a kid again. I realized how phenomenally lucky I am that I’ve been able to play music for this long,” says Sheff.

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The results are uplifting and even spiritual in places, which is perhaps no surprise as Sheff’s recent visits to Quaker meetings are clearly a huge influence on his life currently.

Opener Famous Tracheotomies is superb. Here Sheff recalls the time of his own windpipe incision as well recounting the variety of celebrities to have also had this procedure.

It’s a track Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle would have been proud of. There’s something so bizarrely life affirming about hearing about the medical records of the likes of Ray Davies, Gary Coleman and Motown star Mary Wells put to a laid back 80s pop funk soundtrack.

There’s some great melodies here too. The Dream the Light is superb enough with its gospel choir and cheesy synths, but is elevated further by its strong chorus.

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I had to check that Love Somebody wasn’t a cover of an 80s chart ballad. It sounds so familiar, like I’ve been listening to this on radio for years. Turns out that its definitely Okkervil River, written by Sheff, bassist Benjamin Lazaar Davis and guitarist Will Graefe.

It’s not all 80s FM pop though.

Don’t Move Back to LA with its acoustic guitar picking is a timeless addition to the Okkervil River collection. Just beautiful.

The list of fine tracks goes on across an album of all killer, no filler and one I’d recommend to any Okkervil newbie as a great place to start. That’s not something you can often say about an act that has been around for 20 years.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

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Top 20 albums 2017 – Part One

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Top 20 albums 2017 – Part One

Posted on 13 December 2017 by Joe

Welcome to the first part of our end of year round up of the top 20 best albums 2017. In keeping with our ethos of promoting new and diverse music our list contains a raft of independent artists.

Keep checking back over the next few days when we will be revealing who has made it into the Top 10 of our list of  best albums 2017.

20. El Goodo – By Order of the Moose

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Welsh psychedelic act El Goodo spent eight years making this pop gem, which puts their own distinct slant on the US garage music scene of the late 1960s.

There’s a cinematic quality too. This makes it sound at times like a cross between a Spaghetti Western soundtrack and the Oompa-loompa songs from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the good version with Gene Wilder, that is). It Makes Me Wonder is among many high points. A worthy inclusion in our best albums 2017 list.

19. Warm Digits – Wireless World

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Newcastle duo Andrew Hodson and Steve Jefferis’ third Warm Digits album is an electro gem for 2017. Here they team up with a host of guest stars to showcase their squelchy synth music.

Peter Brewis from their Memphis Industries label mates Field Music excels on End Time. So too does St Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell on Growth of Raindrops.

18. Nick Parker – Besta Venya

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This third album from Somerset singer-songwriter Nick Parker blends the two sides of his live shows perfectly, from upbeat, crowd pleasers, such as Down With the Yoof, to poignant numbers such as Guess I’ll Never Know.

The Other Half at the end of this 12 song collection even takes him to Beatles territory, complete with flugal horn. Read our full review here.

17. Granite Shore – Suspended Second

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With Brexit approaching we could perhaps all do with listening to this second album from Granite Shore – the musical project of Nick Halliwell, who runs Exeter based label Occultation Records. Here all our fears of the unknown, the anger (well for remainers at least) of the decision and sense of hopelessness are laid bare.

His savviest move though is to channel these emotions through smart 1970s inspired pop, with legendary singer songwriter John Howard bringing added class with backing vocals and piano on tracks such as Buyer Beware and Where does the sadness come from? . Read our full review here.

16. Ralegh Long – Upwards of Summer

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On his second album singer-songwriter UK based Ralegh Long has looked to his early inspirations of 80s/90s college indie rock to produce a decidedly more upbeat affair than his debut Hoverance.

Gone are the pastoral folk subtleties of that first album to be replaced by jangly guitars, smart pop hooks and euphoric choruses, such as on Take Your Mind Back. This best albums 2017 entrant has impressed others too, with the album scooping this year’s HMUK and Pledge Music Emerging Artists Award. Read our full review here.

15. Fazerdaze – Morningside

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New Zealand’s Amelia Murray (aka Fazerdaze) emerged as one of the best breakthrough acts of 2017 thanks to this highly impressive debut. While it relies heavily on the C86 indie scene for influence it sounds thoroughly modern.

Signed to New Zealand’s esteemed Flying Nun Records label, she played a raft of gigs in the UK this year to promote this May release, which features highlights such as Lucky Girl.

14. Co-Pilgrim – Moon Lagoon

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Mike Gale’s Hampshire and Oxfordshire based band Co-pilgrim has been releasing smart melancholic pop albums for years now, always impressing us. Here he’s dusted off his distortion pedal for a first half of belting 90s US college rock tracks. This includes Turn It Around and You’ll Look Pretty As A Picture….When The Acid Rain Hits Ya.

He then shrinks back into the shadows for a second half of introspection and poignancy. Every home needs at least one Co-Pilgrim album.  This is a great place to dive in to Gale’s world. Read our full review here.

13. The Mountain Goats – Goths

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Goths get The Mountain Goats treatment in 2017, with singer-songwriter John Darnielle telling tales from the subculture, daringly with a lounge, jazz feel, complete with sumptuous Fender Rhodes keyboards. Gene Loves Jezebel’s footnote in music history on Abandoned Flesh is among man high points.

Meanwhile, Yorkshire’s provincial Goth hot spots are given an ode on Andew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds, as Darnielle cements his role as America’s best story teller in song. Read our full review here.

12. Android Angel – The Hissing and the Hum

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Since he sent us the debut EP from his band Free Swim back in 2010 Paul Coltofeanu has never let us down. Time and again across Free Swim’s funny and perfectly executed pop he has impressed.

Here, in his other guise The Android Angel he excels again, blending club sounds, soundtrack rock and whimsical pop perfectly on tracks such as Cloudless Sky and West Wind.

11. The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions

The New Pornographers - Whiteout Conditions

Even with a stronger focus on synths, and the disappointing lack of Dan Bejar, this is unmistakable as a New Pornographers record. The tunes are as strong as ever.

There’s also a couple of “should have been a top 10 hit” singles among them, including High Ticket Attractions. A.C Newman is in fine voice and with the vocal support of Neko Case and Kathryn Calder it sounds pretty great throughout.

Coming soon: Best albums 2017 Top 10.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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The Mountain Goats – Goths

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The Mountain Goats – Goths

Posted on 19 May 2017 by Joe

The Mountain Goats driving force John Darnielle has forged a critically acclaimed song-writing career on his ability to convey the emotions of society’s outsiders.

As a result there is an inevitability about Goths getting The Mountain Goats treatment.

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From the addicts on All Eternals Deck (2011) and We Shall All Be Healed (2004), to the small town wrestlers on last year’s Beat the Champ, Darnielle is a story teller who perfectly encapsulates the tragedies and triumphs of life.

This even extends to himself, as a music loving teen escaping into alcohol from an abusive homelife, on The Sunset Tree (2005).

He has also introduced us to characters like Jeff and Cyrus, the tragic young bandmates of All Hail West Texas (2002)’s The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out Of Denton.

To some extent Goths is the continuation of Jeff and Cyrus’ story, of teens finding identity through music. Except here they have grown up and are looking back at their younger selves through older eyes.

Second track Andre Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds encapsulates this. Here the protagonist is drawn back to his past after moving from this provincial goth hot spot in Yorkshire to London and back again.

Other older and former goths question their youthful obsession with darkness and death. Unicorn Tolerance is particularly good at conveying the soft vulnerability underneath those who look odd, morbid and even dangerous to those around them.

The narratives move across the world, from the UK, Berlin, Portugal to the US, which is the main focus We Do It Differently on the West Coast, where an older goth still closely follows the scene.

Goth performers are also featured. There’s a jaded former singer lamenting the changing music industry and his fading star on Shelved. Here he wistfully remembers riding the stage hydraulics and being tethered to a cross with the sad knowledge that such excitement is behind him.

As with All Eternals Deck there are also tales of real life celebrities, such as on Abandoned Flesh where Gene Loves Jezebel’s footnote in music history is the focus.

In terms of musical arrangement the Mountain Goats are on top form here.  Many of the tracks having a lounge, jazz feel, where the older current and former goths are cast as piano singers reminiscing about the good old days.

The use of woodwind, arranged and played by Matt Douglas throughout and a Fender Rhodes keyboard rather than guitar, help too as does the drumming of Jon Wurster.  Bassist Peter Hughes is also a highlight across the album. He even gets to do a traditional goth bass solo on Shelved.

One of the best is opener Rain in Soho, where drama is added by a 16-strong contingent from the Nashville Symphony choir who dropped by from a nearby Mahler rehearsal in Nashville, where this album was recorded.

As with all Darnielle’s subject matter he offers an understanding and poignant interpretation of their highs and lows. This album is particularly effective as Hughes points out, because they themselves are older, former goths.

“While John writes the songs, as he always has, it feels more than ever like he’s speaking for all of us in the band, erstwhile goths (raises hand) or otherwise,” says Hughes.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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The Mountain Goats – Trinity Centre, Bristol (November 17, 2015)

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The Mountain Goats – Trinity Centre, Bristol (November 17, 2015)

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Joe

“You saved my life,” shouts one fan to John Darnielle, the songwriter and frontman for The Mountain Goats, towards the end of the band’s blistering set in Bristol’s converted church venue Trinity.

Darnielle, acknowledges the compliment but with perspective. “No I didn’t. You did that, all I did was provide the music you listened to at the time,” he replied.

This exchange is a good indicator of how Darnielle’s story telling song writing style, which always offers hope amidst despair, impacts on his fans.

John Darnielle

John Darnielle

It also shows how much he knows the value of music as a healer, whether he is singing about his own demons, from an abusive home life on the album The Sunset Tree, or about the real, sometimes tragic lives, of his wrestling heroes on the band’s latest album “Beat the Champ.”

This respect for the power of music is also evident in The Mountain Goats live performance here, as it  perfectly blended Beat the Champ tracks with a career spanning greatest hits show across, an at times, frantic hour and 45 minutes.

Darnielle is equally at home jumping around on stage with a full band and leading sing-a-longs on crowd pleasers such as No Children, This Year and Up the Wolves, as he is during the set’s solo middle section, which included an excellent version of 2008’s Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle complete with a discussion about the killing skills of the Nintendo plumber.

This solo section also provided a chance to play some of his older tracks to please the old guard that were evident here. This included Song for an Old Friend, from a 1995 compilation from Pottery Records called The Wheel Method, as well as Waving At You, from 1996’s Nothing For Juice album.

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While driven by Darnielle’s songs and stage prescence The Mountain Goats for some time have been a proper band, with Jon Wurster’s emotionally charged drumming and Peter Hughes’ melodic bass now firmly part of The Mountain Goats sound.

Increasingly on record, with albums such as Beat the Champ and All Eternals Deck, there has a good use of horn and string sections as well.

For this leg of the tour they are joined by Matt Douglas on clarinet, sax as well as guitar and keyboards. He is a welcome addition bringing the latest recorded band sound to stage, especially on Beat the Champ tracks such as the epic Heel Turn 2, which has the potential to be as big a live favourite as This Year and No Children.

The last time we saw The Mountain Goats in Bristol was a couple of years ago with just Darnielle and Hughes at the more sedate setting of St George’s Church. To see Darnielle and co for the first time as a pogo-ing rock outfit in a packed venue showed what a truly rich live act they are.

While the life saving ability of their songs is still open to question they are without doubt one of the most life affirming acts around.

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

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The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

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The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

Posted on 15 April 2015 by Joe

A Mountain Goats wrestling album was strangely inevitable. As followers of the band’s frontman John Darnielle on Twitter will know he’s a big sports fan. As followers of their music will also know Darnielle loves to spin a good yarn and wrestling is certainly full of plenty of tales.

Darnielle’s focus here is primarily the characters involved in the sport, both the wrestlers themselves and the fans like him, who as a young boy watched in awe as his heroes tumbled around for glory.

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South Western Territory and The Legend of Chavo Guerro offer a bold pair of openers, one painting a melancholy picture of one local wrestler making ends meet and the other a passionate ode to Darnielle’s childhood hero Guerro.

There’s tragedy too on this album. Luna, about a fire in 2010 that destroyed much of veteran female wrestler Luna Vachon’s possessions, is exceptional in its sadness, with Jon Wurster’s shuffling drums and jazz feel offering hope for Luna when all seems lost.

Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan, about the murder of Bruiser Brody, is another weepie, albeit an action packed one, and once again Wurster’s emotive drumming shines through here.

There’s a lot of familiar territory for Darnielle in wrestling. A common theme, in particularly on The Mountain Goats’ 2011 album All Eternals Deck, is the metaphorical masks people wear to hide away from trauma.

Here the masks are also very real as well as symbolic, in particular on Animal Mask and Werewolf Gimmick. Bull Ramos, who features towards the end of story, is another of these mask stories, as he is seemingly fighting for his life in surgery and clings to his carefully crafted image of the brave wrestler with the bull whip throughout.

Musically Darnielle’s arrangements continue to get ever more complex, as elements of classical, jazz and of course the folk and indie rock that the band are most associated with intertwine here.

Darnielle continues to have a fine ear for melody too, although here the killer tunes are back loaded towards the end of the album, with Luna among many picks in its latter stages. In contrast the first half is let down by inconsistency. The Legend of Chavo Guerro is full of driving energy and passion, while Foreign Object and the too long Heel Turn 2 feel more like album fillers.

These are minor gripes though on another album from The Mountain Goats that continues to shine the spotlight on the incredible resilience, wonder and frailty of human beings, from hulking costumed lumps tying each other knots to the wide eyed kids in awe of them.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top 10 Albums – Here’s Mine, What Are Yours?

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Top 10 Albums – Here’s Mine, What Are Yours?

Posted on 10 July 2014 by Joe

We’ve covered our Top 100 alternative and independent albums, Top 10 debut albums and also compiled lists of our favourite folk and psychedelic albums. But I thought for a change I’d take away the restrictions of time and genre and present a list of my top ten albums as a way of finding out what your Top 10 Albums are. It’s a trickier task than you may think. I have constant nagging doubts that I should have included Lou Reed’s Transformer or Blondie’s Parallel Lines. You will face similar dilemmas. Feel free to tell us your Top 10 albums of all time in the comment box below.

10. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)

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Following their huge debut album Licensed to Ill the Beastie Boys second album went in a more experimental direction under producers The Dust Brothers and became one of the best ever examples of sampling. From Public Enemy to The Beatles through to Curtis Mayfield and film soundtracks there are hundreds of snippets that make up each track. The end product is a tribute to music and modern culture and an outstanding album from start to finish. To find out more about the songs and riffs featured on the album click here.

9. Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – Gorilla (1967)

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As a child, back when there were record players and cassettes and MP3s were the stuff of a mad man’s dreams, this was one of a handful of albums I used to beg my parents to play. This debut by art college psychedelic 1920s jazz mash up specialists is fun thanks to the humour of songwriter and vocalists Vivian Stanshall. But above all its got great tunes thanks to the involvement of Neil Inness, who went on to form the Rutles and has an outstanding ear for a good pop song. With tracks such as Cool Britannia, the Intro and the Outro and I’m Bored regularly used in advertising, TV and film this obscurity from a silly age will be surprisingly familiar.

8. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree (2005)

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There are autobiographical albums and then there’s The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats and its frontman and songwriter John Darnielle. Here he lays bare an adolescence in the shadow of domestic abuse where he escapes into music, romance, drink and drugs. Its an album about survival and must have taken a huge amount of courage to write. Final track Pale Green Things, recalls the death of his step father and is so emotional and personal he can’t even play it live anymore. It is an impressive piece of work that shows the courage of young people and led me to become a fan of Darnielle and his band ever since. For more about The Mountain Goats read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

7. Fairport Convention- Liege and Lief (1969)

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A running theme of the albums I’ve selected is an admiration of the effort that has gone into their writing and production. Fairport Convention Liege and Lief’s was written and recorded following a tragic motorway accident in which their drummer Martin Lamble died and guitarist Richard Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklin also lost her life. What emerged was one of the most influential folk albums of all time as their mourning, painstaking research into traditional English folk and rock roots came together to create an outstanding set of songs. From Tam Lin to Crazy Man Michael this album is to this day one of the most exciting of any genre.

6. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

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I came late to Bob Dylan. It was something about the voice, the Christianity and whole 1980s rock star image that put me off. Then I saw Martin Scorcese’s documentary centred around his mid 1960s albums and the time he went electric. From Bringing It All Back Home to Highway 61 revisited to Blonde on Blonde it remains my favourite period of Dylan’s music. Of the three Highway stands tallest, just. Like a Rolling Stone is its most well known track but the power of Ballad of a Thin Man and Desolation Row are among those that keep me coming back to this album time and again.

5. The B-52s – The B-52s (1977)

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When Rock Lobster, one of the singles from this debut from the Athens based band, was re released in the mid 1980s, I had no idea just how talented they were. I loved Rock Lobster but after getting this debut album I was awestruck. Ricky Wilson’s guitar playing is unique and in they were also blessed with three incredible vocalists, with Ricky’s sister Cindy particularly standing out. Her emotion on Dance This Mess Around and Hero Worship alone are worth the cover price alone. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.

4. XTC – English Settlement (1982)

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On a monthly basis I kick myself for not including this in our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Albums list. Our XTC album of choice was the excellent Drums and Wires. But as the years have gone by it is English Settlement that I now believe was the Swindon band’s masterpiece. Sure it has the singles Sense Working Overtime and Ball and Chain, but it’s the lesser known tracks such as No Thugs in Our House and English Roundabout that really shine here. It was to have opened the door to fame and fortune, but sadly coincided with a chronic bout of stage fright for song writer Andy Partridge who was unable to tour following its release or indeed since. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

3. The Clash – London Calling (1979)

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Of all The Clash albums none are so perfectly executed as their third London Calling. Steeped in Caribbean and US influences this manages to expertly show The Clash for what they were a London punk band with a global outlook. This topped our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Albums list and remains one of my favourite albums thanks to superb lyrics on tacks like Lost in the Supermarket and instant pop appeal of tracks such as Train in Vain. Listening again it barely ages and remains a timeless classic. Read our full review of London Calling here.

2.  David Bowie – Hunky Dory (1971)

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Last year I detailed my surprise discovery that David Bowie wasn’t just a silly man dancing in his pyjamas wth Mick Jagger. He was in fact the coolest man in music as albums such as Low, Heroes and this pre-Ziggy album clearly show. Of all his albums that I’ve recently discovered this is my favourite due to its sheer quantity of classic, inventive pop songs. Any album that has the tracks Changes and All You Pretty Things is deserving of a place on this list. But to add in Life on Mars, Queen Bitch and Quicksand as well makes this album one of the best pop albums of all time..

1. The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

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Hey what about Sgt Peppers, Joe? Well, what about it? This seventh UK studio album from the Fab Four is by miles and miles of old George Martin infused studio tape the best Beatles album and in my view the best album of all time. You want pop? It’s got it in Taxman and Dr Robert. You want stunning orchestral melodies? Well, why not check out Eleanor Rigby. Or maybe awesome rock rifts are your thing, in that case She Said She Said will appeal. It’s even got the children’s classic Yellow Submarine, and on Tomorrow Never Knows a track that quite rightly is used to herald the start of counter culture. And then there’s the production with Martin’s backwards loops redefining music. Sgt Peppers is good, but this was the real game changer for modern music.

by Joe Lepper

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The Mountain Goats, St George’s, Bristol (Oct 7, 2013)

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The Mountain Goats, St George’s, Bristol (Oct 7, 2013)

Posted on 08 October 2013 by Joe

It was fitting that John Darnielle choose the track Love, Love, Love, from his 2005 album The Sunset Tree to start this first gig in a short UK tour as a Mountain Goats duo with long time bassist Peter Hughes.

From the gallery of this full and magnificent Georgian church venue to the pews beneath, the faces of the 350 or so people in attendance were full of love for Darnielle and his music, which has been part of many of their lives for the last decade or more.

John Darnielle (l) and Peter Hughes (r)

John Darnielle (l) and Peter Hughes (r)

But its not just the songs, with their common themes of self-reliance and overcoming fears, that bring such adoration. Love is also directed at  his and Hughes’s personalities and stage prescence. There were smiles and laughter aplenty as the transfixed audience heard insights into the song writing process and comic tales of performing to just one person in a German venue “as indie was going out and everyone was suddenly into electro music.”

As a duo, due to other commitments of their drummer Jon Wurster, the set was perfectly tailored for a mostly acoustic guitar and bass arrangement, with the black suited and long haired Darnielle switching to the imposing grand piano in the centre of the stage for five tracks in the middle.

It was this piano segment that was the most suited to the venue, with Eziekiel 7 sand the Permanent Efficacy of Grace, from 2009’ The Life of the World To Come a highlight. This tender haunting song about torture in the desert is among his most powerful tracks and even better live. The audience too played their part, with Darnielle and Hughes impressed with their perfectly timed applause just at the end of those magical mili-seconds as the sustain of the piano keys drifted away.

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The first gig in this tour meant there were a couple of loose moments, Hughes and Darnielle out of time a couple of times, a forgotten chord here and there, but it didn’t matter. It was all part of the experience as Darnielle and Hughes made this large venue in the heart of Bristol seem like we were sitting around our living room having a chat and a singalong.

Another welcome aspect of this tour was that it wasn’t to promote a specific album. Their last album was 2012’s Transcendental Youth, with most of its songs ill suited to a duo arrangement due to their beautiful horn arrangements by Matthew E White. This made it more of a career retrospective with a chance to play less well known tracks such as Cheshire County, from the 1995 EP Nine Black Poppies as well as the title track from 2008’s Heretic Pride, part of The Mountain Goats successful stint with the label 4AD.

The set ended with a rousing version of Furniture Store, a cover of a song originally by their friend Joel’s band Furniture Huschle, with the crowd standing up and joining in throughout.

Earlier on a member of the audience shouted out “John, it’s been four songs in and you haven’t mentioned Satan yet.” Darnielle laughed as he knew that the opportunity to sing of “the dark Lord” would be too big a chance to turn down as the giant image of Jesus looked down on the stage from behind him in this former church.

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It was the encore where that particular fan and the rest of us, who were still standing, were treated to the appearance of Satan. First with No Children, the track from Tallahassee about a loathsome, devilish couple that is surely in most Mountain Goats fans top ten tracks list. Then the gig ended as we had all hoped, with The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton. This tale of two teenagers separated through an archaic attitude to mental health and human expression with its finale singalong of ‘Hail Satan” was just about the only track that could have ended this gig.

Darnielle informs us that he doesn’t plan what to say between songs “and bands that do are the worst people on the planet.” He may not plan his banter but he certainly knows how to use it effectively, as well as plan a set list for a massive church. As he left stage a fan in the front handed him a sketch. Darnielle hugged him warmly then later praised him on Twitter. Love, Love, Love indeed.

 By Joe Lepper

Set List…compiled by Matt Telfer.

Love, Love, Love

Linda Blair was born innocent

Up the Wolves

You or Your Memory

The Diaz Brothers

You Were Cool

Maybe Sprout Wings

1 Samuel 15:23

In memory of Satan

Tallahassee

Genesis 30:3

Ezekiel 7 and the permanent efficacy of grace

Cheshire County

Heretic Pride

Absolute Lithops Effect

Woke Up New

Furniture Store (Furniture Huschle cover)

ENCORE – No children, Best ever death metal band out of Denton

See Also: Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives: The Mountain Goats

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The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas

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The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Joe

These days bedroom recording artists have Logic X  and a raft of other gadgets to play around with. Back in 2001  The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle relied on his Panosonic RX-FT500 boombox and its tiny, tinny condenser mic. Turns out this ancient piece of technology, which was bought by Darnielle in 1989, died for a while in the 90s but revived itself  for this recording, was perfect for taking the listener into the heart of his story telling lyrics.

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The technology was just one part of the perfect storm of amateur equipment and mundane events that make All Hail West Texas, which has been reissued this month with seven extra tracks, such a special album. Recorded truly alone, at his new home in a new town during a week while his wife was away playing hockey, gives him a sense of isolation and really understanding the characters he’s writing about here.

Be it Cyrus and Jeff, Darnielle’s two teenage heroes whose dreams are shattered by an adult world that doesn’t understand them in Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, or the life spiraling out of control in Fall of the Star High School Running Back, Darnielle’s alone time brings them to life. Color in Your Cheeks, about making friends and an idealised view of US immigration, is another that clearly benefits from Darnielle’s lonely situation and his sense of longing for  friendship.

Another factor in its recording was he’d just started a new healthcare job, working with children in a residential facility, and was undergoing a period of  ‘orientation’ training, leaving him plenty of time to scribble down lyrics and flesh out the likes of Jeff and Cyrus.

Mostly recorded as they were being written using this old machine also gives the album a unique feel as if Darnielle had to get the song committed to cassette before it broke down again or the tape ran out.

Thankfully the remastering involved here is more a lick of paint than a full scale renovation. To spruce it up too much which destroy its splendour. The seven extra tracks are also welcome, recorded around the same time and also showing the same keen sense of melody and interesting lyrics of those that made the final cut. Waco would ordinarily have become one of his most well known songs, but the tape cut out as he was recording and further attempts to sing it never quite matched this take for Darnielle. Indonesia, which he confesses would not have sounded out of place on his first album for 4AD Tallahassee, is another highpoint of these extra tracks.

So over a decade on what else is there, apart from some great lyrics and intimate, amateurish recording, that makes this album special? The music itself has to be good to make a great album, and here, Darnielle’s acoustic guitar and vocal delivery are full of wonderful melody and passion. Pink and Blue, for example, is so simple, so effective and so darn catchy. Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton even has a crowd pleasing singalong ‘Hail Satan’ that delights Mountain Goats audiences to this day.

For those new to Mountain Goats this is a pretty good starting point, but far from typical of their current sound. It was the end of an era, with The Mountain Goats moving to the large indie label 4AD shortly after and more intricate, clever use of studio production. Now on Merge they are firmly a full band centred around Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster. There are die hard fans that regret Darnielle’s progression and prefer him to continue to slave away at the boombox. I for one welcome his musical education and feel equally uplifted by the rising horn sections that light up The Mountain Goats’ 2012 album Transcendental Youth as I do when I hear Darnielle strumming away on his own in front of his old Panasonic boombox.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Matthew E White – The Thekla, Bristol (April 21, 2013)

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Matthew E White – The Thekla, Bristol (April 21, 2013)

Posted on 22 April 2013 by Joe

Matthew E White’s signature story on stage is about his failed attempt to meet his hero Randy Newman. Armed with the address of his gated mansion in Los Angeles and a couple of his own CDs, White got as far as Newman’s maid, who promised to pass his music and a note on to the great man.

Matthew E White

Matthew E White

He’s still waiting for a response and in the meantime is spending his time creating marvelous, genre defying music in his native Richmond, Virginia, with the Spacebomb collective of musicians.

The Newman tale is a nice story and is part of an engaging and warm performance from White aboard Bristol’s legendary former fishing boat venue The Thekla. Tonight its hull was packed. No wonder, given White is touring his critically acclaimed debut album as a solo artist Big Inner, a mix of soul, country, funk and rock featuring brass, a choir and even disco strings.

Here the set was dominated by Big Inner tracks but this time as a bearded country rock five piece, with keyboards and slide guitar filling in for the horns and strings. While giving a different edge to Big Inner’s near perfect production, this arrangement, especially the keyboard wizardry, is still superb.

Big Inner track Steady Pace’s driving funk remains intact and White, resplendent in chunky knit jumper and gigantic beard, and the bassist even performed an excellent Shadows style guitar dance. Big Inner tracks Hot Toddies and Brazos groove was also far from hindered by the vintage sound of this guitar and keyboards live sound. Big Love, the album’s star track, was another to work well even without its album sheen.

Matthew E White

Matthew E White

A Newman song inevitably appeared, a tender version of Sail Away, and by the encore there was time to trail a new song Human Style, which was very much in the style of Big Inner and showing that White, whose brass arrangements brought to life The Mountain Goats’ most recent album Transcendental Youth, has far more than one remarkable solo album in his locker.

Before the set was over White was full of thanks for those that turned up, seemingly genuinely impressed that so many people are coming to his gigs to hear his tender songs. At the end he promised to be on hand at the merchandise stall, desperate to tell people more about The Spacebomb collective from Richmond that created Big Inner and this tour. “And if you are ever in Richmond, look me up, we’ll have dinner, go out for drinks, it’ll be fun,” White said. Coming from a man who was happy to saunter into Randy Newman’s mansion he seemed like he genuinely meant the invitation. Nicest guy in music? Possibly on this evidence.

By Joe Lepper

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Matthew E White – Big Inner

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Matthew E White – Big Inner

Posted on 23 January 2013 by Joe

We first became alerted to Matthew E White, the bearded behemoth of a musician and arranger from Virginia, when The Mountain Goats recruited him to organise the horn arrangements on their 2012 album Transcendental Youth. The deftness of the trumpets from his nine-piece band brought out new qualities in Mountain Goats man John Darnielle’s songwriting in one of the most successful collaborations of the year.

Around the same time he was also releasing his debut album Big Inner in the US, which has finally been released over here in the UK. Here White is putting his full band through their paces with a mission to blend New Orleans soul funk with the laid back qualities of country.  The end result is timeless country soul at its best and fans of Lambchop’s Nixon are going to love this.

Where this album is most successful is the big horn section numbers in particular Big Love.  This track starts off with squeaking sax, like a later Talk Talk track, before the killer bass line kicks in while the piano takes the melody behind White’s laid back vocals. Strings appear in places before the awe inspiring chorus complete with gospel choir backing vocals. Amazing stuff.

Much of the rest of the album sticks to a more laid back groove, more akin to Lambchop than White’s more direct and evident soul funk influences. The melancholic Hot Toddies and opener One of These Days provide some of the best of these relaxed moments.  The latter’s horn arrangement in particular is a work of beauty.

There is still time across its seven tracks to bring in some of the epic qualities that make Big Love such a killer track. The almost cinematic sounding gospel choir and refrain of “Jesus Christ is your friend’ on Brazos, which builds up wonderfully across its nine plus minutes, is a particular standout and proves a perfect closing track to one of this year’s most interesting UK releases.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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