When the Willkommen Collective of chamber pop and folk bands began emerging in Brighton a few years back there were two acts that stood out from the pack, The Miserable Rich and The Leisure Society. It is no surprise that both have now gone on to slightly larger indie labels and greater success through their blend of Englishness, beautiful music, pop savvy tunes and story telling.
While for us The Miserable Rich are story tellers that happen to play great music, with The Leisure Society their music is arguably far more about the tunes than the lyrics. ‘Last of the Melting Snow’ on The Leisure Society’s debut album The Sleeper (review here) even achieved a prestigious Ivor Novello nomination.
On this their second album, as with their debut, they have once again produced some great tunes all wrapped up in a warm, cosy sense of Englishness.
The first single ‘This Phantom Life’ (see video here) is among the most pop savvy tracks, but there’s so much more radio friendly stuff here, suggesting that bigger and better things await this English treasure of a band. ‘Dust on the dancefloor’ and ‘You Could Keep Me Talking’ are our pick of the tracks.
But as with all good albums there needs to be even more than just a good sense of melody, they also need a sense of direction and purpose. For us this album gives us the urge to jump in our Neon Filler branded Morris Minor, dress up in our The Prisoner gear and take a dip in the murky waters of Bognor Regis or Portmerion, stopping off for some fish and chips and a pickled egg on the way and listening to this most summery, most eccentric, most English of albums.
With the year almost at an end we thought it a good time to profile some of the indie and alternative acts we predict big things for in 2011. We’ve got an eclectic bunch for you. Some have already generated a buzz among the mainstream media, and the likes of BBC 6Music, while others are more obscure but have dazzled us so much this year that we are sure greater success beckons over the coming months. We’ve got some more traditional indie music acts, some exponents of so-called nu folk, some experimental ambience and even a bit of gypsy music. Sit back and enjoy Neonfiller.com’s Top Ten Bands To Watch Out For In 2011.
1. Django Django
Scottish band Django Django’s track ‘Storm’ was a highpoint of 2009. It left us at Neon Filler and countless others gagging for more. Another single Wor followed this year and it showed even more promise, fusing fifties guitar riffs and odd rhythms. It also showed a band unafraid to experiment, full of humour and an act that look like they delight in surprising an audience.
Already the darlings of the BBC and with a number of festival appearances under their belts 2011 is set to be a big year for the band with the long awaited release of their debut album. I’m going out on a limb here but I’d wager that if you like Sunderland band Field Music you are going to love Django Django.
2. The Miserable Rich
Comedian and record reviewer Stewart Lee recently said of Darren Hayman, “isn’t it about time he won an award or something.” We feel like that about The Miserable Rich as well. One of the best acts to emerge from UK’s Willkommen Collective they are two albums into their career and on each they have displayed lush string arrangements, pop savvy melodies and beautiful, often tragic lyrics.
‘Somerhill’, from second album Of Flight and Fury (review here) about my hometown Brighton is one of my favourites. ‘Knife Throwers Hand’, from 2008’s debut album Twelve Ways To Count, is another stand out and made our Top Ten Weepies list. This is a fine, fine band who are deserving of far more success.
3. Allo Darlin’
Allo Darlin’ have a great pedigree in music that is often described as “twee”. Singer Elizabeth Morris plays with Amelia Feltcher’s Tender Trap and Bill Botting is one of the bassists in Darren Hayman’s shifting backing band. It is the honesty and romance and playful melodies of these bands (and the kings of twee Belle and Sebastian) that make them so great, and Allo Darlin’ are a welcome addition to this much maligned genre.
We had the privelage of seeing them perform a captivating set at the End of the Road Festival in September and their self-titled debut album is one of our favourites of the year. “Twee” has a pretty loyal following, and I’m sure that they’ve taken this band to their hearts already, but any fan of quality pop music will find much to love with this band.
4. Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings is the work of 19 year old Dylan Baldi from Cleveland. He produces lo-fi indie-pop of a type that sucks in the best of the late 70s, mid-80s and 90s. Think Wavves without the tiresome “attitude” mixed with the geeky charm of blue album Weezer. The songs sound like they were recorded in his bedroom (and they probably were) but the tunes are so catchy that it is easy to forgive the scratchier elements of the (lack of) production.
A handful of 7 inch singles and EPs released in 2010 have been collected by Wichita (read our review of Cloud Nothings as part of the Wichita Recordings tour here) on a single CD. The full length debut is set for release in early 2011. The presence of a professional producer may worry the lo-fi purists, but with songs this good it should prove to be one of the releases of the year.
5. Sky Larkin
Sky Larkin are the second band in our top 10 to have featured in our Wichita Recordings gig review and they proved to be as good a band live as they are on record. Not a new act, they formed in Leeds in 2005 and have two albums under their belt, but they are a band that has being going from strength to strength.
Their sound is influenced by US indie, Sleater Kinney spring to mind, but very British as well. Katie Harkin’s voice and guitar are at the heart of the bands sound, but the rhythm section are tight and just flashy enough to lift the bands sound above the ordinary.
Touring their second album saw them supporting Les Savy Fav, Blood Red Shoes and Frightened Rabbit in the second half of 2010. This will have brought their music to a wider audience, an audience that is sure to grow in 2011.
Folk pop outfit Revere are hard to define. I’ve tried with the aforementioned ‘folk pop’ tag, but there is also gypsy music and Ennio Morricone soundtracks to add to their exhilarating mix as well. At times downbeat and subtle while at others epic and sweeping the act, which was formed by duo Stephen Ellis and Andrew Hawke around five years ago, is now a mighty eight-strong and features glockenspiel, a horn section and strings.
2011 is set to be a big year for the band, mainly as we believe the music would be perfect for festival crowds looking for something new and different. Among their best tracks on Hey Selim! are ‘As The Radars Sleep’, ‘We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow’ and ‘The Escape Artist’. Read our full review of Hey Selim! here.
7. The Robot Heart
The Dust EP by Brighton, UK, band The Robot Heart and released on Bleeding Heart Recordings, was one of the treasures of 2010. This stunning debut for both label and band with its mix of chamber pop, choral harmonies, indie cool and down to earth folk is simple, effective and wonderful.
They are potentially the most commercially accessible on out list, with their trademark soft twinkling acoustic guitar, subtle drumming and basic piano melody hard to dislike. We are predicting big things for The Robot Heart in 2011, when a new album is promised and larger tour dates and support slots beckon. Read our review of Dust here.
Special Benny sent us their debut album Toys in 2010 along with a single page PR blurb waffling on about Frank Zappa and being perfectionists. We gave it a listen and were blown away by the breadth and ambition of the music.
Largely instrumental bringing in indie, 70s rock, and yes, very clearly Frank Zappa’s music, you name it, its on it. Its fun as well, like US indie metal band Fang Island and what’s more its great music for listening to in a car. In fact we’ve been listening to this everywhere with a hop, skip and jump in our step. Sold yet? You should be. Pick up a copy of Toys (review here), see them live and help make 2011 the massive year it should be for this special band.
The 1980s are back (again…) but this time it isn’t the poppy synths or new romantic look that is being revived it is the more downbeat end of the C86 scene that is seeing a comeback. This is a trend that has been going on in US music for a little while and is now coming back home.
Heralding from Glasgow, home of The Pastels, they have the sound of the 60s as filtered through the mid-80s perfected. With only a couple of 7 inch singles released to date they still have a long way to go to prove that they are more than just a good tribute act but they show enough promise to make them one to watch in the coming year.
10. St Gregory Orange
Tucked away on Under the Bus Station Clock, the excellent compilation of Wakefield areas bands released this year from Philophobia Music was ‘Pan Away And Fade To Black’ by St Gregory Orange. It was among a number of standouts from bands like The Bambinos, but St Gregory Orange’s track was particularly striking for its soft, electro feel.
Not sombre like more familiar Yorkshire electro pioneers, such as early Human League or showy like, er, well later Human League, but it was enough to get our interest. We have since enjoyed their 2009 eight track mini album Things We Said In Bedrooms. An EP and another album are due out in 2011.
There’s something likeable about them too, especially when reading their Facebook updates. Take this one about a recent unusual gig for example. “St. Gregory Orange performed a set of improvised noise to literally tens of people over four 30 minutes sets whilst artist Bruce Rimmel produced a mural of marker-pen-interpretation. There was wine too.” Sounds fun.
Click here to hear ‘Pan Away and Fade To Black’ by St Gregory Orange
We usually try and stick to reviews of forthcoming and newly released albums and EPs but occasionally we miss something that is so up our alley that it would be a crime not to review it. So please welcome to our pages Dust, the debut EP released earlier this year by Brighton based folk/indie act The Robot Heart
There are many like The Robot Heart that fit into the so called nu-folk bracket, but unlike , say Mumford and Sons, this act manage to take folk to new, more mainstream levels and crucially retain credibility.
This credible nu-folk arena is fast becoming a busy place, with fellow Brighton acts like The Miserable Rich and Leisure Society doing well. The Robot Heart are a more than welcome addition.
The Robot Heart
Why the praise? Well, from the beautiful arranged harmonies on opener ‘Raining Stones’ to the heartbeat rhythms of standout track ‘Lost In Stereo’ it’s clear this is no ordinary act.
The mix of chamber pop, choral harmonies, epic film score quality and down to earth folk is exceptional but like all good ideas based on simple foundations. Just a twinkle of acoustic guitar here, a basic piano melody underpinned by subtle brush drummed percussion there. Its simple but remarkably effective in creating a sense of mood.
The track ‘The Robot Heart’, is a case in point with its wintry feel and sounds a little like Tuung at times. Final track ‘Singing To The Ghost’, which is one of three acoustic tracks to round off the EP, is another standout that retains an epic quality despite its more low key production.
As an EP Dust is perhaps the biggest tease of the year, leaving me full of anticipation for their first full length debut, which is due out next year on their label Bleeding Heart Recordings.
Listening to the fabulous ‘Pisshead’ by The Miserable Rich got me thinking about drinking songs. Alcohol must surely be the drug of choice in the sex and drugs and rock n roll trinity. Heroin has inspired some good songs, from the Stranglers to Lou Reed, but it doesn’t speak of a common experience with most listeners. The same is true of 1960s LSD fuelled psychedelia. Oasis and Eric Clapton are both living proof that cocaine and good music making seldom mix.
Drinking is a subject that is part of the common experience of songwriters and music fans alike. It is often a troubled relationship between artists and the demon booze. Lots of songs about drink are part of the singers struggle with it. Rarely are songs about alcohol in any way celebratory more often they are showing up the bad side. Revellers must see the irony when they drunkenly sign along to ‘Born Slippy’ or ‘Too Drunk to Fuck’.
And it isn’t just drinking as a subject for, or as a catalyst in, song writing. It is also the environment of music. From jazz to heavy metal the music has always been played in clubs and bars, accompanied by a drinking crowd. Even dance music, more closely associated with pills and powders, is part of the drinking culture. Look at the streets of Ibiza or Falaraki for evidence of that.
So it is no surprise that drinks and drinking are the subject of so many songs. Here is a selection of some of my personal favourites.
Camper Van Beethoven – ‘(We’re a) Bad Trip’: Taken from the Californian bands confusingly titled second album II & III. This typically snotty and atypically punky song tells of some dude-hating party crashers who drive up on the lawn and drink all the beer.
Tom Waits – ‘I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You’: Waits has written many booze driven songs, but my favourite is from his 1973 debut album. A beer drenched love ballad set at closing time in the bar.
Grandaddy – ‘Jed The Humanoid’: What could be sadder than the story of a beloved robot, Jed, who meets his downfall when he discovers and drinks all oh his crteators booze?
The Magnetic Fields – ‘Love is Like A Bottle of Gin’: Sophisticated witty song from the peerless 69 Love songs album. “It turns a genius into an ass and makes a fool think he is wise”. Indeed.
Bad Manners – ‘Special Brew’: Bad Manners were always the least cool of the ska revival bands, but in 1980 they were second only to Madness in my eyes. I’m not sure if this is a love song that just uses the words special brew as a metaphor, or a love song to the drink, but I don’t suppose it matters.
The Hold Steady – ‘Party Pit’: A very large percentage of Hold Steady songs are about drugs and drink and partying. With it’s “gonna walk around and drink some more” refrain this is one of the most anthemic.
Guided By Voices – ‘How’s My Drinking?’: Robert Pollard is a legendary heavy drinker who has written some great songs on the subject. This mournful, but unapologetic, number ends with the simple message “I won’t change”
Hefner – ‘The Hymn to the Alcohol’: Hefner produced some of the best lovelorn bedroom indie of the 1990s. This booze drenched ode to lost love is one of the highlights of their second album.
I’ve put together a Spotify playlist of these songs* and a few more so that you can give them a listen. I’m also keen to hear your selections. Please post them below and I’ll add them to the playlist.
*I couldn’t add all the songs because Spotify didn’t have them all (No Hefner? No Grandaddy?? – poor show Spotify) so some substitutes were picked.
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. Just five members and a lack of guest musicians marks them out from some of their sister acts.
Singer James De Malplaquet is like a more restrained Neil Hannon, his British upper middle class stylings seeming less affected than the Divine Comedy front man. He is brilliantly supported by the strings of William Callderbank and Mike Siddell, who, as members of The Leisure Society, The Sons of Noel and Adrian, Shoreline and more, must be the hardest working string section in Britain. The group is rounded off by former Clearlake guitarist Jim Briffett and the bass of Rhys Lovell.
Lyrically the songs move easily from classical references, ‘Pegasus’, to small town vignettes, ‘Somerhill’, to tales of debauched living, ‘Hungover’. At 45 minutes and 9 songs (plus instrumental interludes and one hidden track) it is a very well paced album that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
De Malplaquet is an excellent singer whose voice is capable of carrying the prettiness of the melodies as well as being theatrical when needed. He brings to mind a very British version of Beirut’s Zach Condon and the band back that up, although lacking the bombastic horns of the American act.
As a band they are possibly too folksy and whimsical for the tastes of some, but to the more open minded listener it is a pretty exceptional record. It is a charming record that demands repeated listening and is one of the best albums released by a British act this year.
The Leisure Society’s debut album came out in March this year to pretty universal acclaim. The band have now moved from the Willkommen label to a “proper” label, Full Time Hobby, and put the album out again.
This new edition of the album includes a bonus EP of demos and unreleased tracks, mainly recorded at the same time as the album.
The Leisure Society have a sound that is hard to find comparisons with other artists. The easiest reference point is The Beach Boys, but a Beach Boys that got their sound from rural England rather than the beaches of California.
Ivor Novello nominated track ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’ is an album standout, with its blissful harmonies and beautifully arranged flutes and strings, but there are many other equally good songs on the album. ‘A Short Weekend Begins With Longing’ and ‘Save It For Someone Who Cares’ stand out, and both manage to be sweet and heartfelt whilst staying the right side of tweeness.
Backed by members of Brighton’s Willkommen collective band leaders Nick Hemming and Christian Hardy have produced a musically very accomplished album. This is made all the more impressive by their decision to produce everything themselves and complete all the recording away from the studio environment.
The additional EP, A Product Of The Ego Drain, is a nice extra for people picking up the album at this issue. The demos and unreleased tracks are of a high standard and compliment the main album perfectly. The “new” tracks, a cover of Gary Newman’s ‘Cars’ and a new single version of ‘Save It For Someone Who Cares’ are what make the bonus CD that little bit special. Both are excellent examples of what the band do best, melody, vocal harmony and accomplished instrumentation.
The EP may not be enough to make someone buy a second copy of the album but it is icing on the cake for anyone who doesn’t own this excellent album and is picking it up for the first time.
Held in the dramatic chapel of the 18th century Highbury and Islington church, the evening was a celebration of the many acts that make up the collective.
Arriving just as things kicked off we headed to the bar. No drinks were allowed in the chapel itself and we ended up missing the opening act Rowan Coupland. Drink completed we headed down and took our pew to watch the original Willkommen act, Shoreline, take the stage. The first of the collectives bands that I heard, they have recorded some of my favourite tracks of the last few years. Beatrice Sanjust Di Teulada is a captivating front woman and the performance was assured and skilled. Finishing with a magical ‘Shipwrecked’ they set a high standard for the other bands to follow.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim proved to be one of the few missteps of the evening. They weren’t bad, and I’ve enjoyed their recorded output, but the sound didn’t work in the setting or sit comfortably alongside the other acts. The upside of this dip in quality was the opportunity to pop to the bar before the next band hit the stage.
The Sons of Noel and Adrian are the Willkommen act that I struggle with most on record. I like their sound, and their album is good, but I’m not always sure I’m enjoying them. Live they make perfect sense, and the venue was the perfect setting. Songs like ‘This Wreck is not a Boat’ really took flight and the chorus of voices and foot stamping rhythms had me hooked. On balance they were the best band on the night.
The Leisure Society arrived and were faced, due to band overrun and a strict chapel curfew, with only 15 minutes of stage time. Their set, featuring an inspired cover of Gary Newman’s ‘Cars’ and the Ivor Novello nominated ‘Last of the Melting Snow’, certainly deserved more time. Joined on the stage for the finale of their final song by dozens of their Willkommen colleagues, all armed with ukuleles, they were the perfect closer to the main stage events.
After the Leisure Society finished I bolted upstairs to the bar and took seat in an armchair next to the smaller second stage. The Miserable Rich proved to be the perfect act for this environment and played a brilliant set. Sadly late night train travel needs arrived to break up the party and we had to leave before the Laish Quartet took the stage. Kopek were also billed to play the event and I must have missed their performance as well. Cramming eight acts into your bill for the evening may have been a little ambitious.
The gig had the sense of a festival and seemed intimate all at once. If i go to a more enjoyable evening of music all year I will consider myself blessed. I recommend that anyone who wasn’t there (or anyone who was) heads to the next Willkommen event at Brighton’s Stanmer House on July 5th.
Kudos has to go to William Calderbank and some other collective members who seemed to be on stage all evening.
The Willkommen collective is a group of 25 musicians working across a dozen or more projects. They initially joined forces through the band Shoreline, the first Willkommen Collective band. This then was followed by Sons of Noel and Adrian, The Miserable Rich and The Leisure Society (pictured). All the other bands have grown out of these acts.
Shoreline and Sons of Noel and Adrian’s Tom Cowan tells Neon Filler that the name for the collective came about as the bands share the same cellist William Calderbank, meaning they literally have Will in common. The Miserable Rich were also touring Germany at the time and its lead vocalist James De Malplaquet thought Willkommen would be a nice linguistic tie in, says Cowan.
Aside from the Willkommen bands themselves members of the collective can be seen playing in other bands and have members in Lightspeed Champion. Willkommen members were also in the now defunct Hope of The States.
The bands have been gaining exposure over the last year, with BBC 6 Music being one of many DJs showcasing their unique sound.
Here’s a selection of some of our favourites on the label.
The Leisure Society
The Leisure Society are the Willkommen act most likely to break through in a big way this year. Their sound is very radio friendly, but still perfectly in line with overall feel of a Willkommen act. They also have an easy hook for journalists as songwriter Nick hemming was previously in a band with Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows.
The band’s debut single ‘The Last Of The Melting Snow’ has also been honoured with an Ivor Novello nomination for ‘Best Song Musically & Lyrically’, in esteemed company up against Elbow and The Last Shadow Puppets. Their debut album, The Sleeper, is available now on Willkommen Records.
Band members: Nick Hemming, Christian Hardy, Helen Whitaker, William Calderbank, Michael Siddell, Sebastian Hankins, Darren Bonehill and Beatrice Sanjust di Teulada.
Shoreline are the band where it all started and their members can be seen through most of the other Willkommen acts. They play folk music with a rich orchestral feel and in Beatrice Sanjust Di Teulada they have a vocalist of real skill and subtlety. ‘Shipwrecked’, from debut album Time Well Spent, is an epic that could have been recorded at any time in the last 100 years. Time Well Spent is available now on Willkommen Records.
Band members: Tom Cowan, Nick Hemming, Willam Calderbank, Beatrice Sanjust Di Teulada, Mike Siddell, Alistair Strachan, James De Malplaquet and Jacob Richardson.
Sons of Noel and Adrian
Sons of Noel and Adrian may be a difficult proposition to an audience in the age of Xenomania with their old world sound. To anyone who has been fortunate enough to see their foot stomping live show they make perfect sense. Big harmony vocals and driving percussion make songs such as ‘A Wreck is not a Boat’ a real listening experience.
Band members: Jacob Richardson, Tom Cowan, William Calderbank, Mike Siddell, Catherine Cardin, Jo White, Alistair Strachan, Nick Hemming, Rowan Coupland, Marcus Hamblett, Daniel Green and Helen Whitaker.
The Miserable Rich
The Miserable Rich have been described as chamber pop or, by the NME, as “orchestro-folk”. Neither of these terms quite sums them up but do go some way to define the lush orchestration and hushed vocals that make up their sound. A slightly easier proposition to market than their more folky colleagues, their debut album Twelve Ways To Count has had rave reviews from a wide range of publications.
Band members: Will Calderbank, Mike Siddell, Jim Briffett, Rhys Lovell and James de Malplaquet.