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The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

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The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Dorian

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

Brill Bruisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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The New Pornographers – War on the East Coast

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The New Pornographers – War on the East Coast

Posted on 16 July 2014 by Dorian

On August 25th The New Pornographers release their new album Brill Bruisers on Matador records.

Brill Bruisers

To promote the release the band have made a video available for the song ‘War On The East Coast’ available on YouTube and you can watch the clip below.

The song is sung by Dan Bejar, also of Destroyer, and described by A.C Newman as being influenced by “mid-nineties second-tier Britpop attitude”.

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Neko Case – Man

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Neko Case – Man

Posted on 13 June 2013 by Dorian

Neko Case is a bit of a Neon Filler favorite whether that be with her role in the New Pornographers, playing wonderful live sets or on her own solo albums.  The last of these was Middle Cyclone which made it in to our top ten albums list when released in 2009.

So we are very excited that she is back after more than four years to release The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You via ANTI on the 2nd September. Case says of the album:

“My brain wilderness is more dense and dangerous than I thought,” says Case. “It was an embarrassing and hilarious march, but I now feel like a more streamlined being. It’s a good feeling. Four years of my life took ten years hostage, then gave me back twelve.”

The album was executive-produced by Case and recorded at Wavelab in Tuscon, as well as Portland, Los Angeles and with Phil Palazzolo in Brooklyn. Tucker Martine, Case and Darryl Neudorf mixed the album, with backing by guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, vocalist Kelly Hogan and multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse. Other guests include M. Ward, Steve Turner, Howe Gelb, and members of The New Pornographers, My Morning Jacket, Calexico, Los Lobos and Visqueen. In addition to eleven new songs written by Case, The Worse Things Get… features a cover of ‘Afraid’ by Nico.

The first song from the album. ‘Man’, featuring M.Ward on guitar, is available to view below and gives good reason to be excited about what is likely to be one of the best albums of 2013.

By Dorian Rogers

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A C Newman – Shut Down The Streets

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A C Newman – Shut Down The Streets

Posted on 15 October 2012 by Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?

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Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?

Posted on 01 September 2011 by Dorian

It is very unusual to get the opportunity to properly live with an album prior to writing a review. If you manage to get an advance copy it often only leaves a few weeks to get the review done and if you get the album on the day of release there is a rush to finish the review in the same week. This does the albums a disservice as great music can take time to reveal itself fully and sometimes it is necessary to leave an album and come back to it some time later in order to fully appreciate everything on offer.

The fact that Kathryn Calder’s debut album has had such an unusually long gap between the American and European release has afforded me that rare opportunity.

Are You My Mother?

Calder joined The New Pornographers for 2005’s Twin Cinema whilst she was still playing with her own band, the now defunct, Immaculate machine. She added keyboards and vocals to the band and had the unenviable task of delivering Neko Case’s vocals at most live outings for the band. Her confident performances in a band that included A.C Newman, Dan Dejar and the aforementioned Case showed that she was a real talent and her vocals have gained more prominence against Case’s on the albums Challengers and Together.

Her solo album has the professionalism and confidence you’d expect from a seasoned performer and Calder’s personality shines through lifting it above the norm and adding real charm to procedings. The album was recorded whilst she was looking after her mother who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. This isn’t something that has an overt influence on the album, although opening track ‘Slip Away’ doesn’t need to be over analysed to be interpreted as a response to the experience. The album does have an underlying sense of melancholy, something that cuts through the sweetness of some of the songs and adds emotional depth to the more downbeat numbers.

Kathryn Calder

The album moves between floaty piano lead ballads and sprightly pop, a mixture that works perfectly and means that the albums ten songs fly past. Once the beautiful ‘Down the River’ moves to the fuzzy pop burst of ‘A Day Long Past Its Prime’ you realise that the album is almost at an end and the urge to skip straight back to the start is almost irresistible.

I’ve posted the videos for ‘Castor and Pollux’ and ‘Arrow’ and these two songs show the ends of the spectrum with the former demonstrating Calder’s keen pop sensibilities and the latter demonstrating her skill with the soft piano lead ballad. Her voice is lovely throughout, delicate and warm, and her lyrics are poetic, charming and sincere.

Elsewhere on the album a few other styles are thrown out. ‘If You Only Knew’ is an acoustic guitar and hand-claps singalong that reminds me of music from the 1970s. I can almost imagine Buckingham and Nicks singing it for Fleetwood mac circa Rumours. The soft folky ‘So Easily’ is scratchy and low key whilst final track ‘All It Is’ moves from soft and wistful to screeching guitar reflecting the interesting musical palette on the album.

It is an album that offers the listener variety, excellent song writing and a pitch perfect vocal performance. For me it was one of the best albums of 2010 and it will be sure to be one of the best albums of 2011 for those who discover it on its European release.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Destroyer – Kaputt

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Destroyer – Kaputt

Posted on 01 March 2011 by Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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The New Pornographers – Moves

Posted on 10 February 2011 by Joe

We’re enjoying the latest star studded video by The New Pornographers from last year’s album Together. It features the story of the New Pornographers in movie form, with just a pinch of creative licence. Watch out for Ted Leo having fun portraying the band’s multi-instrumentalist Kathryn Calder. Others involved include Paul Rudd.

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Top 20 Albums of 2010

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Top 20 Albums of 2010

Posted on 20 December 2010 by Joe

We usually compile a top ten albums of the year list, but in recognition  of 2010 being one of the best years in recent memory for indie/alternative releases we’ve decided to double the size.

The year started well with ambitious albums by the likes of Field Music, Los Campesinos! and Owen Pallett and got better with stellar releases from the likes of The National, the welcome return of Belle and Sebastian and some surprises from the likes of Janelle Monae. Some familiar names return to our end of year countdown on a list that features some excellent new UK music. Sit back, get your emails to Santa ready and enjoy Neon Filler’s Top 20 Albums of 2010.

1. Field Music Measure

Measure, a double album no less, sees the band move on yet another level. There are aspects of the sweeping, mazy songs on their eponymous debut as well as the jerky, more structured pop of second album Tones of Town, but a whole lot more has been added. Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, even ELO, XTC, The Move and 10cc are thrown into the mix. This album came out at the beginning of the year but its breadth and ambition continues to astound as the year comes to an end.  Read our full review here.

2. The Miserable Rich – Of Flight and Fury

Of Flight and Fury is the second album from Brighton’s The Miserable Rich and it picks up from where their excellent debut left off. Part of Brighton’s Willkommen Collective they are the most compact and focused of the bunch. One of our top ten bands to watch out for in 2011, we are expecting big things from this band. Read our full review here.

3. Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern – Essex Arms

The album is the second part in a trilogy about Hayman’s native Essex and continues with a warts and all nostalgic look at working class England. Like its predecessor Pram Town (which topped our Top Ten Albums of 2009 list) Essex Arms is wonderfully evocative of a place and time, without descending into sneering or cloying sentiment. Surely Hayman has earned national treasure status by now.  Read our full review here.

Essex Arms

Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern - Essex Arms

4. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

Deerhunter have named their fourth album Halcyon Digest for good reason, as once again the US band serves up an unusual and effective mix of music that takes a range of influences from the golden years of rock n roll to the 1990s shoegazers. Halcyon Digest is lush, layered and timeless. Deerhunter’s most focused and accessible album yet. Read our full review here.

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

5. Janelle Monae

The debut album from former stage school kid and Outkast collaborator Janelle Monáe could well be the most eclectic album of the year so far. Mixing orchestral pieces, hip hop, soul, pop, psychedelic rock, folk and even a collaboration with Of Montreal into 18 tracks. It is ambitious and mesmerising as it effortless travels between genres. Read our full review here.

6. Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love

It’s been a long wait for such adoring fans, but the band are now firmly back after a four year hiatus touring and with a sparkly new album, Write About Love, a concept album of sorts about, well, love. So where does Write About Love sit in its catalogue?  For us its one of their best yet. Welcome back Belle and Sebastian. Read our full review here.

Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love

7. The Walkmen – Lisbon

With Lisbon US band The Walkmen have delivered a perfect follow up to their last album You and Me, which topped our Top Ten Albums list for 2008. Retaining You and Me’s stripped back, timeless production with nods to the 50s and 60s, Lisbon has plenty more goose bump moments and once again offers a perfect showcase for lead singer Hamilton Leithhauser’s stunning rock vocals and the band’s love of vintage instruments. Read our full review here.

8. Owen Pallett – Heartland

With the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara involved, Heartland is at times pure Brian Wilson  as it effortlessly takes in aspects of classical music, electronica, pop and indie-cool. Read our full review here.

Owen Pallett

9. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

As debuts go Astro Coast is already a modern indie classic. Full of  a marvellous mix of riffs, indie rock influences such as  Sonic Youth and Pavement, passionate singing and some neat tricks as well. It is all that is good about the best of modern US indie rock. Read our full review here.

10. The National  – High Violet

How can a band this good, this radio friendly, this professional not be bigger? Why is it that the likes of Muse, Radiohead and Coldplay play in front of multi-zillion seater stadiums and headline major festivals and not The National? After the release of High Violet The National are well on their way to similar success. Read our full review here.

11. Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago.

When the end of the world comes, as pollution lays waste to the Earth, Shearwater’s leader singer Jonathan Meiburg will be on a nuclear  ravaged tropical island somewhere screaming bloody murder in his haunting baritone at the corporations and politicians. This indie/folk/rock album is powerful stuff. Read our full review here.

12. Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson, who takes to the stage under the name Tallest Man On Earth, must be bored to tears with being compared with early Bob Dylan, especially when in many respects he is actually better than the great man at the same stage in his career. Read our full review here.

13. Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Opening track and lead single ‘The High Road’ kicks things off beautifully on this debut album from Shins frontman James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse and is a sign of the good things to come. By the time you’ve listened to ‘Vaporise’ and Mercer’s surprisingly good falsetto on ‘The Ghost Inside’ you know that the duo have produced something worthy of an end of year best of list. Read our full review here.

14. Beach House  – Teen Dream

The slicker production and attention to detail  on Teen Dream  compared to previous releases unsurprisingly coincides with a move to the label Sub Pop, which has a strong track record of getting the best out of its eclectic mix of artists ranging from The Fleet Foxes to Postal Service. Read our full review here.

15. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

Los Campesinos! are among the most divisive of bands. A bunch of shouty students, spouting immature teen angst to some, one of the most innovative British bands around for others. Their 2010 release Romance is Boring is a pretty good case for the latter’s cause. Read our full review here.

16. New Pornographers – Together

When we first heard the song ‘Your Hands (Together)’, from the fifth album by The New Pornographers, we were disappointed. So much so that we avoided the album and didn’t review it on this site. But after hearing another track from the album, the brilliant ‘Crash Years’ (one of our songs of the year) we realised we were missing out. Building on the more subtle styles of 2007’s Challengers with a return to the more bombastic power chords of their earlier albums this is classic pop music at its best.

The New Pornographers - Together

17. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

After the first 30 seconds of opening track ‘Like The Ocean Like The Innocent’ we were sceptical. We’ve heard enough meandering drone rock to last a lifetime, but nine minutes later at the end of the track we were converted. This is music with genuine substance and power. Read our full review here.

18. Allo Darlin’

Allo Darlin’s self titled debut is a near perfect slice of British “twee” pop played by associates of Amelia Fletcher and Darren Hayman. Melodic, sweet and sensitive it has possible singles from start to finish. The more jaded listener might find songs like ‘Heartbeat Chili’ a little hard to stomach, but if you keep your mind open there is much to love here. One of the discoveries of 2010, and very much a band to watch in 2011.

Allo Darlin

19. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul

Second appearance for Danger Mouse in our top 20, this time his long awaited collaboration with the late Mark Linkous, aka Sparklehorse. Unreleased for some time due to contractual wrangles it was originally intended to accompany a book of visuals by David Lynch. The book was published, but the album itself was shelved and emerged some months later during 2010. It features contributions from a number of singers and musicians including the Flaming lips, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop, can be a difficult listen in places but as you would expect from Linkous and Danger Mouse, stunning in others. Read our full review here.

20. Fang Island  – Fang Island

Imagine if you will Bill and Ted’s band Wyld Stallyons, but better, speeded up and backed by members of Primus, Faith No More and The Descendents. It’s a heady mix of humour, power chords and squealing solos that Fang Island pull off with aplomb. Read our full review here.

To hear more by the bands above (and some other great acts from the year) listen to our best of 2010 Spotify playlist.

See Also – Top Ten Albums of 2008, Top Ten Albums of 2009

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Kathryn Calder – Castor and Pollux

Posted on 08 December 2010 by Dorian

Any excuse for a song by the wonderful Kathryn Calder. This video made for her by Evan Tyler.

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Kathryn Calder – Arrow

Posted on 05 November 2010 by Dorian

Lovely song by New Pornographer’s keyboard player and vocalist Kathryn Calder. The animated video is a thing of beauty.

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