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Best Indie and Alternative Albums 2019

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Best Indie and Alternative Albums 2019

Posted on 13 December 2019 by Joe

Our best albums 2019 list features the 15 albums that we can’t stop listening to.

What a year! It’s been beset with political turmoil. But in terms of music its been another fantastic 12 months.

This time around 15 albums have impressed us for our annual round up. This ranges from a return to form for one of our favourite US acts to an intriguing funk concept album about Trump.

Lots of our other top acts over the last few years have also marked 2019 in style with stellar releases. There’s plenty of interesting new acts as well that impressed during the year.

But enough from us. Here’s the 15 best albums of 2019 that we urge you to seek out and investigate yourselves.

15.The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

The Mountain Goats - In League with Dragons

John Darnielle and co once again excel with  a collection taking in themes of celebrity and this time the mythical heroes of their youth. Here the production is even more sumptious than it has been in recent years, with one of our favourite artists Owen Pallet on production desk duties. Read our full review here.

14. John Howard – Cut the Wire

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The singer songwriter’s fierce sense of independence rises to the fore on this collection that has a far greater focus on his 1960s and 1970s musical influences, sitting somewhere between The Beach Boys and whimsical English pop. Read the full review here.

13. Jenny Lewis – On The Line

Jenny Lewis On the Line

We may miss the sparkling pop of Rilo Kiley but Jenny Lewis is still delivering great songs as a solo artist. Continuing on from where 2014’s The Voyager left off she cements her role as one of the best country-pop balladeers around.

12. Stealing Sheep – Big Wows

Stealing Sheep

The evolution of Stealing Sheep continues and any of the more folksy pastoral elements of their first two albums  have been cast aside in favour of a greater pure-pop approach. The good news is that it suits them perfectly, and anyone who has seen them live this year can attest to what a great glittery performance that is. Additionally, ‘Jokin’ Me’ has to be the best song released this year and deserves to be a chart smash (if that even exists as a thing anymore?).

11. The National – I Am Easy To Find

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The “stadium band it’s ok to like” continue to deliver the goods on their eight album. An array of guest female vocalists add some difference to the sound this time around and compliment Matt Berninger’s smooth croon perfectly.

10. The New Pornographers – In The Morse Code of Break Lights

New Pornographers

The second Dan Bejar free New Pornographers album in a row may miss his contributions but the rest of the band do their best to make up for that. Simi Stone joins the band, adding a third female vocalist, and AC Newman delivers some pitch-perfect tunes. ‘You’ll Need A Backseat Driver’ is worth the admission fee alone.

9. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountain

Purple Mountains

Purple Mountains is notable as David Berman’s first post-Silver Jews album, and his first recorded work in over a decade. It is also notable as one of the most consistent records of his fascinating career. Sadly it stands as his final work, tragically he committed suicide in August this year.

8. Guided By Voices – Warp and Woof

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This is just one of the three albums the prolific band released this year. Originally coming out as a set of EPs the songs are short, urgent and focused. It is a purple patch for the lo-fi legends but this stands out (just) as the best of the bunch.

7. Pip Blom – Boat

Pip Blom

The Dutch indie popsters have a very identifiable sound, and a very appealing one. Their debut album continues on from their excellent early singles and is one of the most enjoyable, and freshest, releases of the year.

6. Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All the Time

Album number five for the Scottish act is full of epic melodies and meloncholy lyrics as they cement their place as one of the most innovate indie rock and alternative bands in the UK. James Alexander Graham’s downright beautiful vocals elevate them even further. VTr and The Arbor are among our favourite tracks here.

5. Penelope Isles – Until the Tide Creeps In

Penelope Isles

Brighton base dPenelope Isles play a melodic dream pop, their debut album has a scope and sophistication that reveals their music school background. In lazy journo style I hereby dub them “the British Deerhunter”.

4. School of Language – 45

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

David Brewis from Field Music turns his attention to Donald Trump and the US far right on this cheeky, funky and in places angry collection. The lyrics left us nodding in agreement and chuckling, while David’s inventive take on his influences of Prince and Talking Heads continues to impress us. Read the full review here.

3. Corridor – Junior

Junior - Corridor

Sub-Pop’s Corridor are a French Canadian band that deliver a pulsing guitar pop that evokes post-punk and the pulsing rhythms of Stereolab in equal measure. It is epic and rhythmic and melodic and one of our favourite discoveries of the year.

2. Fontaines DC – Dogrel

Fontaines DC at Glastonbury 2019, photo by Joe Lepper

Fontaines DC at Glastonbury 2019, photo by Joe Lepper

This  Dublin band’s stunning debut sounds like a blend of Joy Division, The Smiths and the Buzzcocks. While lyrically they are cemented in their Dublin background, especially with Grian Chatten’s powerful vocals. They impressed us so much at Glastonbury 2019 that we rushed out to buy this debut – there’s not many live acts that have the power and talent to do that.

1. Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

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Their best album since 2010’s melody packed release Halcyon Digest? We certainly think so. In fact its filled with even more melody and inventive ways to present a song, veering from classic pop  to alternative rock at will on this all killer, no filler collection.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Front Person – Front Runner

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Front Person – Front Runner

Posted on 27 September 2018 by Joe

Separately Canadian singer songwriters Kathryn Calder and Mark Hamilton have impressed us for years, the former as a solo artist and member of the New Pornographers and the latter who records and performs as Woodpigeon.

But after a chance meeting it seems a perfect partnership, under the name Front Person, has been created.

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The pair met in a studio hallway, clicked, and decided to start a band there and then, or so the press release legend claims. It’s a nice story though so we’ll go with it.

The result encapsulates all that is great about their solo work, their passionate lyrics and beautiful vocal delivery. Like Squeeze’s Difford and Tilbrook their contrasting voices work perfectly in harmony. This is particularly the case on second track Long Night, one of many high points.

This Front Person debut is an ambitious release too. Rather than just recording in any old studio and any old instruments they’ve managed to gain access to raft of historically significant musical artefacts housed at the National Music Centre in Calgary.

Here they used its vast collection of electronica, from classic Mellotrons, Orchestrons, Optigans and the world’s first commercially produced synths.

But this vintage tech never overtakes this project, which still feels like a folk rock album at heart. Take Shorter Days for example, its an epic song that never becomes too showy thanks to Calder’s lead vocals, Hamilton’s backing contribution, as well as some well timed piano interludes.

This City is Mine, with Hamilton taking lead vocal duties, is another worth mentioning. It’s as near as this album gets to Trouble, his 2016 passionate album about love and loss.

As solo artists they are great, but together as Front Person they’ve created something wonderful. Let’s hope this partnership continues for years to come.

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

El-Goodo

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

ralegh long

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

moonlagoon

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 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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