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The Walkmen – Heaven

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The Walkmen – Heaven

Posted on 08 June 2012 by Joe

To use an REM comparison, The Walkmen’s latest album Heaven is their Lifes Rich Pageant moment. Just like that fourth album by REM, Heaven is an album by a band on top of their game in life and career and enjoying every moment.

Some fine work behind the production desk by Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse and Built To Spill producer Phil Ek has helped create this joyous sound. He’s not only added some pastoral Fleet Foxes moments, but has also roped in the Foxes’ Robin Pecknold for backing vocal duties. Think Fleet Foxes with balls and you are somewhere near this new Walkmen sound.

Opener We Can’t Be Beat is perhaps the most Foxey of the lot, acoustic guitar, harmonies and above all Walkmen lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s stunning vocals rising above it all.

Thankfully the band’s trademark focus on vintage guitars, keyboards are strewn across this album as the uplifting Love is Luck, Heart breaker  and The Witch come next followed by the album’s centerpiece track Line by Line. With the cleanest and crispest of electric guitar parts and vocals for most of it this track is a masterclass in the phrase ‘less is more’.

While sparser than last year’s Mariachi influenced Lisbon, Heaven manages to create a bigger sound from such a simple and traditional arrangement of  guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals. Even the tracks of just vocals and guitar sound big, such is the joy that pours out of every groove, piece of data or rainbow CD glint, depending on your format.

Heaven  also manages to recreate the sense of emotion and drama of their breakthrough 2008 album You and Me as well as provide a great single in the title track.

In many ways Heaven is the most complete Walkmen album yet, bringing together the best of their previous work and adding a new pastoral production that brings out the band’s most recognizable and sellable quality – the passionate rock vocals of Leithauser.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top 100 Albums (100-91)

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Top 100 Albums (100-91)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

‘Not another Top 100 albums list,’ we hear you cry. Well, yes it is. But we hope that this one will be different from the rest. Granted, there are some albums here that you will have seen on many lists before but we’ve also opted for some obscurities as well with the aim of bringing some different music for you to seek out.

First, let us explain our ground rules. We are an indie and alternative music website so while Pet Sounds and Revolver are among our favourites you won’t find them here on this list. We’ve gone for mainly independent label artists but those on the majors with an independent and alternative slant are also included. We’ve gone for one album per artist, which has been tough for us. We have set no timeline as well, which has meant we have been able to plunder our record collections, our Classic Albums section as well as our recent reviews to bring you music from the 60s through to the last few years.

Everyone has their own list, but this is ours based on our love of alternative and independent music over the years. We will be releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. Hope you enjoy this first instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

100. Half man Half Biscuit – Back in the DHSS


John Peel favourites, Half Man Half Biscuit, famously missed a TV recording to go to a Tranmere Rovers game and later in their career took a lengthy break to go back on the dole. This lack of professionalism didn’t stop this, their debut album, from being the best selling independent record of 1986. They are one of the few bands who have managed to do comic songs and make them work. Songs about 1970s TV stars, children’s television and The Velvet Underground make this album a pretty unique experience.

99. Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Broadcasting From Home

Classically trained multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes, who tragically died of cancer in 1997, left behind one of the most diverse legacies in music. He added Burundi drumming to Adam and The Ants, the strings for Sid Vicious’ My Way and some wonderful albums with his experimental-folk-classical  band The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. There were five PCO studio albums but Broadcasting From Home from 1984 is the pick of the bunch, especially as it features the, often used by movie producers and advertisers, track Music For a Found Harmonium. Simon’s son Arthur has since revived the PCO, which continues to tour. More details here.

98. Neko Case – Blacklisted

Neko Case - Blacklisted

Part-time New Pornographer Neko Case has been producing great music on her own terms for several years, and Blacklisted is a high water mark. Backed by members of Calexico, The Sadies and Giant Sand she combines the smokey allure of a bar room singer with the old-time country vibe of Patsy Cline. The songs are dark and beautiful and Case sings them with power and style.

97. The Monks – Black Monk Time

Formed in the mid 1960s in Germany by a group of former American GIs The Monks were punks before their time, experimented in feedback and even  had haircuts of actual monks.  Recorded in 1966 in the early hours of the morning during a hectic performing schedule Black Monk Time was their only album and offers a mid 60s slice of one of the greatest punk pioneer acts. For a full review of the 2009 re-release of Black Monk Time click here.

96. The dB’s – Repercussion


The dB’s are the forgotten men of the 1980s jangle pop scene, their albums received a lot of attention from the critics, but little interest from the buying public. Lead by songwriters Peter Holsapple (who would later work with REM) and Chris Stamey (who would leave the band after this release) The dB’s understood how to write quirky melodic songs as well as any of their contemporaries.  The songs are just as catchy as their debut album, but the production is better and the instrumentation more interesting. Put simply, this is a great pop album and it deserved a much bigger audience.

95. Tar Babies – No Contest

This 1980s act from Wisconson started life as a hardcore punk outfit before drifting more into funk. Here on this little known 1988 album No Contest, released on the legendary SST label,  they blend the two perfectly. Quite simply its a great punk album and an even better funk album.

94. Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird started out playing a twisted variant on swing jazz with his band Bowl of Fire. By 2005, when this album was released, most of the jazz stylings had been dropped in place of a left-field take on folk, pop and alternative rock & roll. Live Bird plays several instruments at once and his musical virtuosity and deadpan vocals are a delight on this album.  His lyrics are oblique and the song structures are as impressive as anything you’ll hear. Few artists have managed to pull off an album this ambitious, and Bird does it with ease.

93. The Walkmen – You & Me


This 2008 album from Brooklyn band The Walkmen  is among our most recent entries and topped our Albums of 2008 list.  ‘In the New Year’ is a highlight, but the album’s true quality is its consistency throughout. Almost mariachi in places, punk in others, Velvet Underground at times all held together with lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s fierce vocals. Last year’s excellent album Lisbon took the style and mood of You & Me further, but for us You & Me is the better of the two. It’s a tough choice though. Our tip, buy both.

92. No Means No – Wrong

No Means No - Wrong

No Means No’s brand of jazz-hardcore is like nothing else on the varied Alternative Tentacles label. The Wright brothers, along with guitarist Andy Kerr, are more skillful players than your average hardcore punks. Opener ‘It’s Catching Up’ sets the scene, charging in at 100 miles an hour of raucous abuse, and the pace deviates and varies dizzily from there on in. The bass and drums are heavy and the guitars loud throughout, it is intelligent music but never stops being a lot of fun.

91. The Dukes of Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot

This is the second album by XTC’s mid 1980s pyschedelic alter ego band The Dukes of Stratosphear. It coincided with XTC stopping touring and shows a band throwing themselves into studio work. With producer John Leckie on board each track is a loving, beautiful recreation of the 1960s music they love. Small Faces, Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys are just some of the influences on this remarkable album. The Stone Roses were reportedly so impressed with it they hired Leckie to produce their self titled debut. Read our full Classic Albums review of Psonic Psunspot here.

by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers.

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The Walkmen – Lisbon

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The Walkmen – Lisbon

Posted on 18 October 2010 by Joe

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 as well as the band’s love of vintage instruments.

There’s even more of an epic feel at times on Lisbon than You and Me, with the slowed down, mariachi feel of ‘Stranded’ showing a band that is maturing nicely.

Before You and Me the band were perhaps best known for the single The Rat, a rollercoaster of indie rock with no let up. The consistency of You and Me changed them into far more of an album band. Lisbon also has not one single duffer across its 11 tracks. It also has a couple of new rivals to The Rat, as well as You and Me’s standout In the New Year. Lisbon’s ‘Angela Surf City’, with its powerful build up is easily a match, as is the anthemic ‘Victory’. Both are sure to be new crowd favourites.

There’s a nice arc to the album as well, Juveniles being the scene setter, with its passionate vocals and vintage guitar twangs. High quality indie rock takes over on ‘Angela Surf City’ and ‘Victory’ and then for the final few tracks the pace slows down until the title track rounds things off . Among these final tracks ‘While I Shovel the Snow’ is the most meloncholy.

The consistency and sense of emotion conveyed on Lisbon have prompted another high score from us and I’d be surprised if Lisbon doesn’t make not just ours but many other best albums of  year lists come December.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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ATP Festival Curated By Pavement – Minehead, UK. May 2010

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ATP Festival Curated By Pavement – Minehead, UK. May 2010

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Joe

ATP is among the most remarkable of festivals. Since it started around a decade a go its crucial difference is that a specific band often  gets to choose the line up.

This tends to give it a greater sense of ownership for the band that curates and  for their fans, who get a greater insight into their tastes and influences. The holiday resort settings, of comfy chalets rather than tents and muddy fields, also help.

This time around it’s the turn of Pavement to curate an ATP event, at Butlins in the British seaside resort of  Minehead. Reunited for a nostalgia tour after going their separate ways in 1999, the band that was influenced by and have influenced so many has come up with a  line-up dominated by US guitar rock and punk legends, with the odd curveball thrown in.

Friday

Opening the festival in the late afternoon was Avi Buffalo, signed to Sub Pop, barely out of their teens and over here from their native California to promote their recently released debut self titled album. They’ve pulled the short straw getting to open the event as many are still arriving. They didn’t care, just pleased to be there. A short engaging set on the smaller Centre Stage was full of tracks from their debut album and ended on a high with ‘Remember Last Time’. The guitar solo on that track is as much a thing of beauty live as it is on the record.

Main stage opener Surfer Blood (pictured above) is another up and coming new band, this time from Florida. Triumph of the geeks was how my friend described this motley bunch of fat, thin, weedy, bad jumper wearing young things that packed a real punch. Lead singer bellowing out tracks such as ‘Take It Easy’ from their debut Astro Coast as well as a new song, ‘I’m Not Ready’, which was full of their familiar catchy riffs. “Ever witnessed the pinnacle of a career,” says bassist Brian Black to lead singer John Paul Pitt in a self deprecating way. They know they are privileged to be here. What new band wouldn’t want Pavement’s seal of approval?

Calexico (pictured below) decided to play a set that they see is best suited to the rock festival audience, with a focus on many of the more conventional guitar lead songs from their catalogue. This was a mistake as it is the more atmospheric acoustic tunes that would have set them apart from the other ATP acts.

Nevertheless they are a very slick band, most of the group being in demand session musicians, and they produce a note perfect sound. Highlights include the mariachi blast of ‘Crystal Frontier’ and their covers of Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ and The Minutemen’s ‘Corona’.

In sharp contrast at the same time on the Centre Stage was The Walkmen. Lead singer Hamilton Leithhauser has a voice to rival ACDC’s Brian Johnson and tonight they put in a killer performance. A minor bass amp explosion put them off their stride three songs in but only slightly. Showcased tonight were some new tracks off the new album, due out this summer, which sound in a similar vein as their excellent 2008 album You and I. ‘New Year’ from that album is now as big a crowd pleaser as ‘The Rat’, and both were among the highlights of a powerful, passionate set.

Friday’s main stage headliners Broken Social Scene are veterans of ATP Minehead now, having headlined the Explosions in the Sky curated event two years ago. They are now a different beast.  Leaner and showcasing tracks from their latest album Forgiveness Rock Record. Tracks from the hook laden first half of the album such as ‘Art House Director’, ‘Texico Bitches’ and ‘World  Sick’, went down particularly well. Although Forgiveness Rock Record dominated the gig, the biggest cheers still went out for classics such as ‘Fire Eyed Boy’ and ‘7/4 (Shoreline)’.

Couple of gripes, one being BSS’s Lisa Lobsinger. She follows in the footsteps of previous BSS female vocalists such as Leslie Feist but her voice is far weaker. Drifting on and off stage like Helena Bonham Carter,  she sauntered, whispered and vanished. Not even the glimmer of a smile, in sharp contrast to the energetic displays of BSS mainstay Brandon Canning. The other gripe was frontman Kevin Drew, who had the touch of the Bono about him tonight. “We’re all forced to love,” he glibly declared before ‘Forced To Love’. Er, no were not. Just play the song man and stop talking rubbish.
Special final mention must go to Mission of Burma and Quasi. Although formed originally in 1979 and looking their age MoB played with the energy and excitement of the new bands that started the day. Quasi rounded off the day for us at Neon Filler. They are musos with edge, the rock three piece to beat all three pieces and in drummer Janet Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, they have one of the stars of the festival.

Saturday

The day of Pavement’s headline performance starts in jovial fashion. Kentucky band Wax Fang, the lovers of the guitar, performed Purple Rain in its entirety  and perfectly with more than a little Prince tongue in cheek on the smaller Red stage.

Meanwhile over at the Centre Stage The Drones were justifying their reputation as one of the best live acts around. Lead singer Gareth Liddiard, who is vocally like an Australian Joe Strummer with a bomb attached to him, powered his way through the set that got better as it went on. Kept going by the rock steady bass and drums, the band allow his guitar work and vocals to shine. Sometimes it goes too far, too over indulgent, but on tracks such as ‘Shark Fin Blues’ all aspects came together perfectly.

Almost in anticipation for Pavement, whose frontman Stephen Malkmus is no stranger to guitar solos, it was a day dominated by the guitar, with Blitzen Trapper following on where The Drones and Wax Fang left off. Blitzen Trapper, from Portland, Oregon, is a strange act. Jack of all genres but masters of none and their  prog rock guitar work sadly became tedious after a while.

In the midst of  the predominantly guitar based acts of the day Mark Eitzel (pictured below) was something of an oasis of calm. Backed by drums and electric piano he presented an act that was more music hall than music festival and it was wonderful.

The consumate entertainer, despite a nervous twitchy disposition, preceded each song with  an entertaining (and often shocking) story. These stories moved from his time working at a Butlins holiday camp, to the death of his mother to his experiences with a heroin addict girlfriend and in the porn industry. Some were tall tales, others were clearly very real and personal.

The set mixed his solo songs with a healthy dose of American Music Club favourites, including ‘Nightwatchman’, ‘Johnny Mathis’ Feet’ and ‘Patriot’s Heart’. The songs are challenging in content and Eitzel voice is a very powerful instrument, easily the strongest vocalist of the weekend, and the songs have a real emotional impact.

Pavement (pictured above) proved to be the the perfect festival band. The excitement of seeing a reformed legend was matched by the quality of their set. No confrontational artists here, no set made up of new songs ands obscure b-sides. This was a crowd pleasing “hits” set played well with ‘Cut Your Hair’, ‘Stereo’, ‘Summer Babe’ and Spiral Stair’s ‘Two States’ going down particularly well with the crowd.

From the opener ‘Box Elder’ to the final encore track ‘Debris Slide’ the quality of the songs never dipped. It is easy to forget that, for all their slacker reputation, what an accomplished band Pavement were. There is a real variety to their sound, pop hooks, scuzzy no-wave noise, and balls out power chords all make an appearance. And in the soft and thoughtful ‘Here’ they have a candidate song for the great American songbook.

Malkmus is the star of the show, looking no older than he did back in the early 90s. His casual approach to playing the guitar, all loose hands and slinging it over his shoulder, belies his skills. The joker in the pack Bob Nastanovich is also excellent value jumping around, screaming and shouting his way through his vocal parts.

Throughout the weekend you got the sense they enjoyed their role of curators, popping up in the audience at the acts they’d chosen and holding court outside their VIP chalet. Drummer Steve West even treated people to a stone masonary display during the day, his other career outside drumming.

The end to the evening was another rare escape from guitar rock and proved to be the most eclectic segment of the weekend. Over at the Reds stage was the Syrian dance of Omar Souleyman, who worked the crowd into a frenzy while remaining calm and assured himself. Teenage geek tales from an acoustic set by Atlas Sound followed and then it was the turn of the best party band around San

Francisco’s Still Flyin‘. This 12 piece’s blend of West Coast indie music, ska and reggae was another highlight.

Sunday

Tim Chad and Sherry are made up of former Lambchop and Silver Jews members and put in a fun, laid back set blending funk, country and soul at the Centre Stage in the afternoon. But it was up to Wax Fang to continue the weekend’s love affair with the guitar. Top draw musicians, but by day three what the crowed perhaps didn’t want was another guitar solo orientated band, no matter how engaging.

Some of the most exciting bands across the weekend where among the oldest, just like Mission of Burma others such as The Raincoats and The 3Ds were also  class acts.

Terry Reid was also a fine advert for the older generation. Looking and sounding like a London cabbie who’d won the pools in his perma tan and Californian English accent. He’s a soulful, powerful singer, full of passion and showing he is an experienced performer but nowhere near a jaded one.

Then there was veteran Mark E Smith to round off proceedings on the main stage. With his band The Fall (pictured above) as headliners you never know what you will get. Luckily this was among the best Fall performances I’ve seen. Buoyed by what Smith describes as the best band “he’s ever had” and a great new album Your Future Your Clutter, which dominated the set, he was in jovial mood. Opener ‘Our Future Your Clutter Showcase’ was an early indication of just how good this band are. Each came on in turn sounding out the clear, crisp familiar Fall groove, then the man himself shuffled on. Looking 20 years older than his 50 or so years in crisp white shirt, leather jacket and suit trousers.

Smith belted out and mumbled track after track, all from the most recent few albums. Drifting across the stage, trying to put off his latest drones with his queen bee amp twiddling, retuning of instruments and  random mic switching. Creativity through fear and confusion has been his mantra for years. The band looked hardened to it though.

A highlight was the encore. “That’s it” Smith said after a short two song encore including ‘Reformation’. But as the lights went up and people departed he came back on. The look of joy on his face as the tired indie crowd is forced to run back humiliated to hear recent classic Sparta FC for a second encore was a thing of beauty, just like the guitar solo of Avi Buffalo at the start of the weekend.

Words by  Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

We have more pics from the festival at our Facebook page.

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The Walkmen – Live, Brighton, UK, Feb 2009

Posted on 17 September 2010 by Joe

The Walkmen kicked off their set at a crowded Concorde 2 in Brighton with ‘Donde Esta La Playa’ from their current album You & Me. The bulk of the set was drawn from this album, intersepersed with songs from their back catalogue.

You & Me is an excellent album, and stood out from the pack of releases last year, but it isn’t an album without flaws. It can be a little one paced, and it has a tendency to meander through tracks that would be improved if they were kept tighter. These factors seemed to be magnified when the songs were played live. When the band did tighten their act, as on ‘In The New Year’, where Hamilton Leithauser really gave his vocal chords a bashing, it was great to see. The rest of the time things seemed a little subdued on stage and in the audience.

The prominence of their jazzier side seemed to frustrate some parts of the audience. Some members of the crowd spent a lot of energy shouting for ‘The Rat’ between each song. When this song came, two thirds of the way through, it did prove to be one of the highlights of the evening. A noisier and tighter song, it had energy that was missing elsewhere in the set.

The best song of the night was the first encore ‘New Country’ where Leithauser was joined on stage by guitarist Paul Maroon. This showed that they were quite capable of subtlety without losing focus.

The audience was left feeling that the band were capable of pulling off a really special performance, but this wasn’t it.

7/10

by Dorian Rogers

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