Tag Archive | "Luke Haines"

Sixteen of the Best Songs of 2016

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Sixteen of the Best Songs of 2016

Posted on 29 December 2016 by Dorian

We recently published our Top 20 Albums of 2016, but this only reflected a section of the amazing songs that came out this year.  There were great albums we missed, albums that just missed out and songs that came out on single this year. So, as a bit of an end of year bonus, here are the best songs of 2016 that didn’t feature in our end of year album list.

16. ESP Ohio – Royal Cyclopean

It wouldn’t be Neon Filler without a Robert Pollard track, and this horn driven gem from his latest collaboration with Doug Gillard is one of his best this year.

15. The Wedding Present – Rachel

There are rumours that this year’s Wedding Present album may be there last, if that is the case then they are finishing on something of a high.

14. Childish Bambino – Me and Your Mama

Donald Glover is a successful comic actor, the face of the young Lando Calrissian and a Grammy award-winning singer, sickeningly talented.

13. The Shins – Dead Alive

The Shins releasing a song that sounds like they could have recorded 15 years ago may not seem that exciting, unless you think early Shins is about as good as music gets. Which I do.

12. Allo Darlin’ – Hymn on the 45

Allo Darlin’ sadly called in at day in 2016, but just as they played their final shows they released one last single. A final document, if nothing else, of why they’ll be missed.

11. Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

Car Seat Headrest is the work of Will Toledo, this year’s bespectacled indie geek de jour. The album justifies the hype this time around.

10. The Avalanches – Subways

The new Avalanches album may not be much of a step forward given the huge gap between this and their debut recording, but there were enough good songs to make it worth a listen.

9. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

The New York band have been releasing consistently great music since they broke through with Light Up Gold in 2012. The title track from their latest album shows them in almost subdued mode.

8. Angel Olsen – Shut Up and Kiss Me

2016 was a bit of a breakthrough year for Angel Olsen, her 4th LP getting a lot of attention and radio play. This track showcases as much fuzz-pop as folk and is a bit of a break from the softer country vibe she’s associated with.

7. Case/Lang/Veirs – Best Kept Secret

Three of the best vocalists in country-pop come together and, unsurprisingly, the results are great.

6. Okkervil River – Judy on the Street

Every two or three years Will Sheff’s band release an album and they all range from good to excellent. This track from Away is no exception to the rule.

5. Teenage Fanclub – Thin Air

More than a quarter if a century in and Teenage Fanclub can still produce some of the best melodic guitar pop around.

4. Girl Ray – Trouble

One of the best bands that we saw at Indietracks this year and one of the bands to watch out for in 2017.

3. Field Music – Disappointed

Due to its release at a busy time we sadly didn’t get round to reviewing Field Music’s excellent 2016 album Commontime. We still loved it though and can assure you it was a typically excellent release from the Brewis brothers. This was a single and one of the best tracks.

2. Luke Haines – Smash The System

Smash The System saw Haines revisit some of his previous themes, with a number of nods to his Baader Meinhof album. The Monkees references in this song are confusing but welcome.

1. Eyelids – Slow It Goes

Eyelids didn’t have a new album out in 2016, that is coming next year, but they did release this song and showcased what we can look forward to. Excellent video as well.

Compiled by Dorian Rogers


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Luke Haines – Bush Hall, London (June 3, 2014)


Luke Haines – Bush Hall, London (June 3, 2014)

Posted on 09 June 2014 by Dorian

Luke Haines loves a concept album, his last three solo albums all being concepts and his interest in such things dating back to the Baader Meinhof album in 1996. So it makes perfect sense for him to devote an evening songs from his excellent New York in the 70s album, released last month, and his seminal response to the terrorist Red Army Faction.

Luke Haines

Haines is a very well respected recording artist, whose reputation for misanthropy and bitter barbs has served him much better in recent years than it did when he was making a play for pop stardom with The Auteurs. He is perhaps less well known for being a top draw live performer and a pretty handy guitar player. In classic power-trio mode he is backed by a tight bass and drums section and together they sound pretty great all evening.

The songs from his most recent album may divide the critics (even on this site) but they are  punchy live and are arguably improved when separated from the deliberately hissy 70s production style.

All the songs work well tonight but ‘Jim Caroll’ (my favourite song from the album, with some of the best lyrics) sounds particularly good, with ‘Cerne Abbas Man’ coming a close second.

The Baader Meinhof section of the evening manages to be even better, and sounds incredibly fresh for a 70s themed songs originally recorded almost two decades ago. It is an incredibly cohesive record, so it is hard to pick out any songs that are better than the rest from this set, but the opening trio of ‘Baader Meinhof”, ‘Meet Me at the Airport’ and ‘There’s Gonna be an Accident’ is pretty hard to beat.

After the main set ends Haines returns to the stage solo for acoustic renditions of three songs, one apiece from each of his other recent solo records. Fans of The Auteurs even get a brief treat as he inserts a long section of ‘Junk Shop Clothes’ into the middle of ’21st Century Man’ right after the lyric “I was all over the 90s, I was all over in the 90s”.

After the end of this set the band returns again for one last song. Repetition is one theme of New York in the 70s album so there is no little humor in them playing ‘Lou Reed Lou Reed’, the albums most repetitive song, for the second time. The crowd don’t mind, we’ve been treated to enough high quality music for one evening and Haines is aloud that last indulgence. A rock and roll one off playing a gig that must be up there with the best of his career.

By Dorian Rogers




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Luke Haines – New York in the ‘70s

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Luke Haines – New York in the ‘70s

Posted on 20 May 2014 by Joe

I can never fully decide whether Luke Haines is an underrated, national treasure or an overrated failure lurching through middle age from one vanity concept album to another.


At times he can be witty and brilliant, such as on 2011’s 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early ’80s, which brought to life the bygone era of TV wresting and its characters. This was the first part of a ‘psychedelic trilogy’ that also featured 2013’s Rock and Roll Animals and concludes with this look at New York in the 1970s.

Unfortunately though this last offering in the trilogy just feels too much like a vanity project with no sense of quality control. The result, sadly, is lacklustre and humourless.

There’s a basic conceit somewhere about comparing the drugged up club and art scene of New York with rubbish English towns and life. This could have worked as the basis for a song but it is not an interesting enough concept to be able to carry a 12 track album.

Lyrically even Haines seems bored by the concept, at times just reciting lists of New York celebrities and British seaside towns, or whispering through efforts such as “’Oh Lou Reed, Lou Reed, rock and roll is Om, like the Doo Ron Ron.” It just all seems a little lame for a man of Haines’s talent with the written word, particularly his Brit Pop memoirs Bad Vibes and Post Everything.

Musically, New York in the ‘70s fares little better as the tracks move between synth pop and guitar rock, with hints of US rock solos and excess all played by someone who thought he had a good idea but has discovered it wasn’t before it was too late to call a halt to the studio time he’d booked.

This is not Haines at his best and unlike his far better recent albums left me thinking that if Haines can’t be arsed anymore why should I be arsed to listen to his latest albums? Of course I’ll be back for more. He’s a witty and talented guy, even if he doesn’t show it on this album.


By Joe Lepper


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Documentary Special

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Documentary Special

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Dorian

We appear to be in the midst of a bit of a golden age for music documentary, with films about interesting and surprising subjects coming out or being announced with increasing regularity. The reduced cost of making films in the digital age and the new crowd sourced methods of getting funding make creating a film about a relatively obscure artist achievable without the need for cinema showings or guaranteed DVD sales to support the endeavor.

Last year was a good year for the music documentary at both ends of the success and attention spectrum. At the top end was the Oscar winning ‘Searching For Sugarman’ which took an artists that was both obscure and hugely famous (depending on where you live) and coupled it with a fascinating story to great effect. Also notable was the epic homage to George Harrison, ‘Living In The Material World’, that was perhaps too comprehensive but was certainly a labour of love for Martin Scorsese.

TV has been another good source with BBC4 and Sky Arts leading the way in showing interesting and well produced documentary films on a wide range of artists. Sky Arts tends to show archive films but the BBC have made and shown excellent films on the likes of Squeeze, The Kinks and a surprisingly in-depth look at the work of Chas and Dave. They also have a film about David Bowie in the pipeline which features world renowned Bowieologist Nicholas Pegg in a consultant role.

Lawrence of Belgravia

Lawrence of Belgravia

Last year saw two of British music’s greatest curmudgeons celebrated in film, Felt/Denim/Go-Kart Mozart main-man Laurence and former Auteur Luke Haines.

‘Laurence of Belgravia’ was perhaps the better film and showed Laurence as an increasingly delusional figure, clinging on to concepts of stardom that  would never come, although it is all wrapped up in a self-perpetuated myth by the artist himself. (You can watch a trailer for the film here).

‘Art Will Save The World’ shows Luke Haines as a figure who is increasingly affable and comfortable with his place in modern music. At odds with his (again self-perpetuated) image as the most evil man in Brit-pop it sees him moving towards becoming something of a national treasure. It is perhaps best viewed as a companion piece to his excellent memoir, ‘Bad Vibes’. (You can watch a trailer for the film here).

Pitchfork has also entered the music documentary arena  and done some sterling work as part of their Pitchfork Classic series of films. These films are similar in concept to the 331/3 series of books focusing on a single album by the band in question whilst offering up some biographical details about them. These films to date have been of a very high quality and managed to get all the principle players interviewed for the films and included some excellent archive footage. Best of all is the recent film about Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, and managed to make a brilliant record seem even better. (You can watch the whole of the film on the Pitchfork TV site here).

The Sad and Beautiful world of Sparklehorse

The Sad and Beautiful world of Sparklehorse

Below I preview four films scheduled for release, or in development, most of which have been made possible by crowd funding (the pros and cons of which I will not discuss here, although it is much debated).

‘The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse’ is a film about the music of the late Mark Linkous, one of my favourite recording artists. The UK interview filming has been completed and the producers are currently trying to raise funds for interviews in the US and Europe on this crowd-funding website. I have mixed hopes for this film based on the interviews captured to date, with some like-minded musicians such as Jonathan Donahue and Ed Harcourt included as talking heads. More worrying is the appearance of TVs Matthew Wright in the film, he may be a big fan but this doesn’t add credibility.  Hopefully the remaining interviews will include collaborators like David Lowery, Dangermouse and PJ Harvey and the archive footage could be what lifts this film.

‘Song Dynasties’ has already managed to get full funding through Kickstarter and looks set to bring out the story of Kevin Barne’s Of Montreal on DVD later this year. The film has been put together from hundreds of hours of footage from throughout the band’s career and has been 16 years in the making. If it is anything like as entertaining as Of Montreal are live on stage then it will be captivating viewing. (You can read more about the project and watch a trailer for the film here).

In February we posted a review of a little-known (in this country at least) album by the South African punk band National Wake.  We now have an opportunity to find out more about the African punk scene thanks to the forthcoming release of ‘Punk In Africa’, a film made by Deon Maas and Keith Jones in South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Kenya. (No UK showings of the film are currently scheduled but more details about the film and some footage can be found here).

Best of all is ‘Are We Not Men?’, a film about Devo. And  if you watch the trailer (above) you’ll see what an exciting film it looks to be. Devo were colourful, subversive, different and had some ideology to support the ideas in their songs. The perfect subject for a documentary film and one that should appeal to those unfamiliar with the band as well as their fans. The film was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $70,000 and is scheduled for a release in August this year.

If you have any favourite music documentary films, or know of any interesting projects in production, please post a comment below.

By Dorian Rogers


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North Sea Scrolls – Komedia, Brighton (6th December 2012)

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North Sea Scrolls – Komedia, Brighton (6th December 2012)

Posted on 08 December 2012 by Dorian

An album of fictional historical events featuring songs by two of music’s grumpiest men and a narration by an Australian journalist isn’t likely to be everyone’s cup of tea. However, we liked it so much that it sneaked in as a late entry into our albums of the year chart. Even though I had enjoyed the recordings a lot I was curious to see how the album would work as a live performance.

North Sea Scrolls

And a performance is what this was, it wasn’t a gig in the conventional sense. There was no support and the entire album was performed in order including Andrew Mueller’s spoken introductions to each song. The musical line-up was Luke Haines on guitar, Cathal Coughlan on keyboards and Audrey Riley providing cello accompaniment.

As with the album Haines and Coughlan sing their own songs, but seeing them play instrumentation on each others songs made the set seem more unified. This isn’t a close collaboration like St.Vincent and David Byrne but seeing the album performed live make it seem more cohesive than on record, especially as Mueller (a bashed gavel between each song) ties the performance together.

The three men are dressed in white suits and pith helmets, their musical underground tribute to the Raj, and this adds to the absurdity of the performance. Performed in character, there are no words between songs, they make their stories seem deadly serious even when they concern Chris Evans, Ian Bell from Gomez or an Australian IRA tribute act.

Luke Haines is in the middle of a bit of a purple patch and his songs on the album continue in the same vein as his wrestling exploration from 2011. He has received the lion’s share of the attention in reviews of the album and it is true that his songs are the more immediate and obviously witty on the album. ‘Broadmoor Delta Blues’ is a particularly enjoyable track and starts the show and album brilliantly.

However, Coughlan’s songs have as many merits even if they take a little longer to sink in. In live performance his songs sound even better, his voice being a striking instrument with some power. Just as on the album it is the contrast between the two artists style and voices that make then set so satisfying.

As a whole the album works brilliantly as a live performance piece and I hope the two artists will unite to present more discoveries from history in the future.

By Dorian Rogers


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North Sea Scrolls

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North Sea Scrolls

Posted on 25 November 2012 by Dorian

North Sea Scrolls is an album that brings together two celebrated musical grumps*, Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlan, along with journalist Andrew Mueller to create an alternative history of the British Isles. (*this isn’t the word that I was originally going to use but after watching Art Will Save The World last night I’m studiously avoiding the use of the “M” word).

The North Sea Scrolls

The album is based around the information from the scrolls that have been discovered offering a new view on our history, excerpts of which are read out by Mueller between the songs. Among the concepts featured are the ritualistic sacrifice of Chris Evans, Joe meek as the Minister of Culture, Enoch Powell as Poet Laureate and Ian Ball, the kidnapper of Princess Anne, having a crisis of identity in Broadmoor about Ian Ball the singer from Gomez.

The album is split equally between songs by Haines and Coughlan, and despite having very different styles they sit nicely together across the album. The arrangements are simple, mainly guitar and vocals or piano and vocals, with some additional cello on some numbers. This lets the songs do the talking, with the distinctive vocals and off-kilter lyrics making the absurd concepts believable and amusing all at once.

The album is presented twice, once with just the songs and Mueller’s intro and outro pieces and additionally with his readings from the scrolls presented before each song. This is a wise move as it gives the album a longer lifespan for most listeners. Whilst it is very much worth listening to the full concept first, at least a few times through, you’ll find yourself just wanting to listen to the songs after a while.

2012 has already presented one of the most thoughtful concept albums that I have heard in years, Darren Hayman’s The Violence and North Sea Scrolls matches that album in terms of conceptual inventiveness. Neither album would score as highly if all they had was an interesting concept, what Haines and Coughlan have in common with Hayman is intelligent lyrics, distinctive voices and way with melody.

This is likely to be a marmite album, obscure references (I had to Google a lot of people mentioned) and acidic delivery isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste. Even some of those who like Haines’ work may struggle with Coughlan’s Scott Walker style delivery and vice verse  However if, like me, you see the brilliance in both you will find that November has delivered one of the best albums of the year and unquestionably one of the most unusual.


By Dorian Rogers


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Top Ten Books About Music – Updated

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Top Ten Books About Music – Updated

Posted on 27 September 2012 by Joe

There’s plenty of rubbish books about music out there. Hatchet jobs, cobbling together a potted history of a band that adds nothing to understanding their music. But once in a while a real gem comes along, offering a different, sometimes personal take on the music industry. Here’s ten of the best music books around that are not only a good read but offer the reader the chance to really get to know the subject matter.

1. Lester Bangs – Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung

Lester Bangs is a legend among music writers, portrayed by Phillip Seymour-Hoffman in the film Almost Famous and died tragically at the age of 33 in 1982. For some he is one of America’ best writers, it just so happens that he wrote music reviews in the likes of Rolling Stone rather than novels.

Perhaps his best trait is that he wrote about how music made him feel, rather than whether it will be a hit. Among the highlights here are his review of a Barry White gig recounting the grotesque caped image of ‘bulbosity’ wandering around murmuring about “lurve” in a hundred different ways. His time with The Clash on tour in 1977 is another high point, as is his arguments with Lou Reed and thoughts on John Lennon’s death. “Did you see all those people standing in the street in front of the Dakota apartment where Lennon lived singing “Hey Jude”? What do you think the real — cynical, sneeringly sarcastic, witheringly witty and iconoclastic – John Lennon would have said about that?” This excellent collection of Bangs work is a must for all music fans.

2. Rob Young – Electric Eden 

What started off as a look at the explosion of folk rock bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s soon turned into an epic exploration of UK folk music taking in the  Victorian era through to the modern day; from Vaughn Williams to David Sylvian and Holtz to Talk Talk. While the musical forms of folk music differ, all those featured in this weighty tome have the same attribute in common; a desire to find Albion in music.

It is the golden era of folk that Young started to explore that still dominates this book, but by turning the very notion of folk music on its head and spanning multiple generations of musicians Young has created one of the most absorbing, clever and inspiring books about British music.

3. John Peel – Margrave of the Marshes

John Peel died while writing his autobiography. He’d barely got started, reaching about 1960 and the beginning of his life as a DJ in the US. His widow Sheila takes over the story from there and what follows is as much about the couple as the DJ and the history of alternative music over the last 40 years.

Even though the bulk of the book is told from Sheila’s view, it is pure Peel. She knew his thoughts on the future of British radio and music better than anyone. There’s some great stuff here. The couple’s friendship and fall out with Marc Bolan and the later years when Peel started recording his show at home. The anecdote about the many members of Belle and Sebastian performing across the house for one of the legendary Peel sessions is particularly endearing.

4.Simon Reynolds – Rip It Up and Start Again

While Lester Bangs writes about how music makes him feel Reynolds takes another tact, how music is influenced by and influences society. This is his take on that largely unwritten part of music history 1978 to 1984. The over analysed punk of 1976 to 1977 is just the beginning for him and the story is particularly insightful of John Lydon’s musical influences, reggae and even prog rock that was so despised by the early punks.

Across the book, there are thoughts on Devo, Pere Ubu, Magazine and others. Often it is tales of missed opportunities, of pretension and of artists failing to live up to expectation like Vic Goddard of Subway Sect and Howard Devoto of Magazine.

5. Dave Simpson – The Fallen

The Fall fan and journalist Simpson’s attempt to track down all 50 plus members and ex members of the band almost ends up destroying his life. It’s a tough job, which he miraculously pretty much achieves. What emerges is a bizarre picture of life working for and with Fall frontman Mark E Smith, which at times, according to Simpson’s book, is like working in a Victorian factory, with Smith as the mill-owner.

Simpson even gets to interview the man himself  but it is the memories of the more recent members plus the infamous fight on stage in New York where Smith ended up sacking the entire band that  are among the true highlights.

6. Luke Haines  – Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part In It’s Downfall.

As lead singer with the Auteurs Haines’ reluctantly found himself part of the heady time of Britpop in the mid 1990s. This stunningly written and above all funny look back of that time is full of vicious musings about those around him. For us at Neonfiller we particularly  like the recurring appearance of Noel Gallagher, who annoyingly for Haines turns out to be a nice bloke despite his “mindless northern bluff”.

Others to get a tongue lashing including Radiohead’s Thom Yorke – “that most heinous of creatures, a heavy rock outfit, fright-wig and all” and Blur – “those habitual bandwagon jumpers”.  It’s the classic tale of a nearly man of modern music, who while convinced of his own genius is painfully aware of his own failings.

7. Chris Twomey – Chalkhills and Children

The story of XTC is one of the most interesting in modern music. The band of friends from Swindon, driven by the songwriting genius of Andy Partridge, who are to this day one of the UK’s most beloved bands despite never reaching the commercial success their talents deserved.

Poor management and business decisions coupled with Partridge’s crippling stage fright, which prevented them from touring from 1982 just when their album English Settlement and its global hit single Sense Working Overtime were about to propel them to the big time. They soldiered on for another 18 years producing critically acclaimed albums but sinking further into a Kafka-eque music business hole that included going on strike from their label Virgin. All of this is told wonderfully by Chris Twomey who interviews the band, their producers and those that know them. Most of the band’s members still live in Swindon making them the George Bailey of modern music, full of talent and wonder but never able to leave the town their grew up in.

8. Julian Cope – Head On

Head On is the story of Julian Cope’s discovery of the Liverpool punk scene and his subsequent adventures as an (almost) pop star with The Teardrop Explodes. His drug-fuelled adventures with the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Bill Drummond and David Balfe (the subject of Blur’s ‘Country House’) are hilarious and often astonishing. Cope proves to be a very accomplished writer and his honest account of his own, very flawed, personality make this book a compulsive read.  The book now comes packed with the sequel, Repossessed, a worthy if more downbeat successor.

9. Bill Drummond – 45

45 is the age that Drummond reached when he decided to write this series of memoirs, it is also the speed of a 7-inch single. The bulk of the memoir tells of his days as a man who was obsessed with nothing more than the pursuit of a hit single.

Drummond is a witty writer, and his life has been interesting enough to make these tales into real page-turners. The best bits are the descriptions of his time with the KLF and the K Foundation as they attempted ever more outrageous stunts. There’s a real sense of sadness as Drummond looks back and is filled with real doubts about what he has achieved.

10. James Greer  – Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll

Guided By Voices are the ultimately indie-rock act. They have produced dozens of albums, recorded many of them (quite literally) in a garage and have a strong cult following. They have also been a fairly insular act, not touring for many years and rarely appearing in interviews. Pollard himself being far too busy writing and recording to do much else.

Greer has a unique insight into the band being both a fan and also one of the revolving cast of players in the bands 21-year existence. He is also a music journalist and his writing on the band is of a very high quality.

The book deals with Pollard as a songwriter and also the band as a group of friends who meet and drink in a garage in Dayton Ohio. The stories jumping backwards and forwards between the bands final tour and their inception when Pollard was a 30-something school teacher are consistently engaging and have a pleasant, personal feel.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

Editors Note: This is an updated version of a list that first appeared in Neon Filler in 2009. Since then we’ve realised we should have included Chris Twomey’s Chalkhills and Children due to it being such a compelling  tale of a band that never quite fulfilled their potential. We have also since read Rob Young’s Electric Eden. This fascinating look at British folk music is a deserved new edition to the list. 


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Luke Haines – Outsider/In

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Luke Haines – Outsider/In

Posted on 11 July 2012 by Dorian

Outsider/In is the closest thing you’ll hear to a Luke Haines’ ‘Greatest Hits’ package. He has very few songs that could be classed as hits but, unlike the demo and b-side heavy Luke Haines Is Dead collection, this two CD set is made up of singles and album tracks from across  his career.

Luke Haines Outsider In
Whilst this more straightforward song selection, except for the inclusion of tracks from the The Auteurs vs Mu-Ziq EP, makes it less desirable to anyone who already knows and owns most of Haine’s work it does make for a close to perfect introduction for anyone who is interested in checking him out.

What is interesting in retrospect is hearing what a consistent producer of excellent records Haines is despite his (somewhat self-perpetuating) reputation for sabotaging his career. The Auteurs songs from the New Wave tracks, through the brilliant ‘The Rubettes’ to the orchestral reinterpretations are uniformly excellent. His early solo work is also much better than my memory would suggest and, although I struggle with the whole of the Oliver Twist Manifesto album, ‘The Death of Sarah Lucas’ sounds great.

Best of all is the inclusion of a handfiul of tracks from his Baarder Meinhoff project, an album that is criminally hard to track down. ‘There’s Gonna Be An Accident’ must be the funkiest song about German terrorists ever written.

This album isn’t a complete career retrospective, and that is a shame. Add a third disc containing tracks from his last three solo albums as well as his best songs as Black Box Recorder and you would have something just about perfect. As it is this is an excellent collection of tracks from one one of the finest songwriters this country has ever produced and anyone new to his work could do a lot worse than start here. And I think that most new listeners will be buying the full albums and the two excellent books of memoirs off the back of the experience.


By Dorian Rogers


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Top Ten Great Songwriters- Part One

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Top Ten Great Songwriters- Part One

Posted on 18 June 2012 by Joe

What makes a good songwriter? For some it’s the ability to tell a good story, for others it’s a turn of phrase that succinctly captures a common emotion. For some. such as Andy Partridge, one of XTC’s chief songwriters, it is simply to draw inspiration from your own life and community.

In a  feature  in The Guardian in 2005 Partridge is quoted as saying:

“I can’t write mid-Atlantic airport lounge music. I can’t talk about my hot babe with her leather and whip or meeting my cocaine dealer. I like to write about what’s going on around the town.”

In a nutshell, he writes about what he knows. This frees his work from pretension and gives his lyrics genuine meaning. As the article later alludes, the example of Partridge puts the meaningless drivel of the likes of Coldplay to shame. Chris Martin needs to have a wander around town more like Partridge if he ever hopes to gain a song writing reputation to match his bank balance.

We’ve been having a good listen to the lyrics and construction of some of our favourite tracks recently and have decided to attempt one of our Top Tens looking at the art of the great songwriter and those whose lyrics inspire and amaze us. We’ve set some ground rules. They have to broadly fit into the indie or alternative musical world we cover, which unfortunately rules out Kate Bush. They also have to be an active song writer who is still releasing. This  rules out Partridge,  as XTC’s last album was more than a decade ago.

Andy Partridge

In our list we’ve some who not only write great lyrics but are expert song constructors. For some their best work is behind them but they are still plugging away. Meanwhile, for others they seemingly get better with age. Others in our list really give thought to the art of songwriting and take delight in helping fans and music lovers understand the process better.

We’ve also cheated a little. It is in fact a top 11; we couldn’t separate our top two choices so decided to give them equal first.  So with all that in mind here’s the first part of  our top ten (okay, its 11 really) song writers. To view part two of this list click here.

10. Darren Hayman

As singer and songwriter with 1990s act Hefner Darren Hayman already had a good reputation on the UK indie scene for producing strong lyrics and well worked songs. Good Heart, which made our Top Ten Tearjerkers list, is a perfect example of this. In this track Hayman tries and fails to convince his lover to stay with lines such as

You were just there, in the right place. You smooth out the wrinkles on my face

But arguably his best work has come in recent years, during a productive and purplest of patches that includes two albums about his native Essex (Pram Town, Essex Arms), contributions to the Vostok 5 space travel art and music project, bass playing for another great modern song writer Robert Rotifer in his band Rotifer, an album of piano ballads (Ship’s Piano) and his  January Songs project, where he wrote, released and recorded a song a day in January 2011. He is set to release an album about British lidos and Essex witch trials.

Darren Hayman

Darren Hayman at the Vostok 5 exhibition, 2011 (pic by Dorian Rogers)

It is his January  songs project that is perhaps his most impressive in terms of songwriting, in which he gave his audience a fascinating insight into the song writing process and came up with some superb lyrics and song writing that made a mockery of the short time he spent on them. I Know I Fucked Up, sung by Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris and My Dirty Widow are among our highlights.

We drove to Barcelona on the road along the coast
The sun got in my eyes, we careered side to side
and now all I hear is the knocking of her heels on my casket

If you see my dirty widow
Tell her it’s ok
Tell her I don’t mind

A final mention goes to one of his songs on Vostok 5, A Little Arrow and a Little Squirrel, about the Russian  dogs Belka and Strelka, the first space dogs to return  to earth alive. Its line

“In a cage made of metal and glass, two beating hearts, beating too fast,”

perfectly captures the perilous, unusual situation these animals’ faced and shows a willingness by Hayman to write about the most leftfield of subject matter. It is among many highlights in a great songwriting career for Hayman that is showing no signs of letting up.

9.Luke Haines

Luke Haines is a different character from most of the people on this list, he has worked hard to commit commerical suicide many times in his career and he is as well known for being bitter as he is for great songwriting. But great songwriting is what he does, and it is something he did with his previous bands, The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder, and is something he continues to do today as a solo artist.

Looking back at his earliest songs, on the Mercury Prize nominated New Wave, he seems romantic and almost whistful. Jump forward to Now I’m A Cowboy and the lyrics get more sophisticated and literary with his best known song ‘Lenny valentino’ opening;

‘There were mourners on the street of every shape and size
The motorcade came down from Redondo
Assassins on the corner tried to throw you a line
You dirty-mouth comic Rodolfo’

Luke Haines

Luke Haines

The third Auteurs album (and possibly his career defining recording) After Murder Park cranks up the bile considerably opening with the line;

“When you cut your lover slack you’ll get a fucking monster back”

To be more accurate, the single version of the song, ‘Light Aircraft On Fire’, featured the f-bomb, the album version was cleaned up, a rather perverse back-to-front decision.

His work with Black Box Recorder was (briefly) more successful and well received by the critics, but no less barbed,

“Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it”

went the chorus to their single release ‘Child Psychology’.

These days Haines is a critically acclaimed author, two volumes published of his musical memoirs, and his music no longer infects the mainstream. That isn’t to say that he has lost his songwriting skills, far from it. His latest album about wrestling in the 1970s features some of his best songwriting, and is a surprisingly warm and nostalgic record.

8. Kristin Hersh

Kristin Hersh has always existed just inside the fringes of American indie music scene. Critically acclaimed and successful without getting quite the same level of attention as her contemporaries such as The Pixies. Her air of quiet oddness coupled with an unpredictable performance style, ranging from whispered to screaming, marked her out as something a little bit special.

Kristin Hersh

Kristin Hersh

Few artists have managed to preserve a range of styles so successfully for so long. Want sprightly indie rock? Then the Throwing Muses can supply it with songs like Counting Backwards. Feel like some delicate pop music? Then Kristin Hersh solo performing Your Ghost will be right up your street. And if you’d like something a bit rough and heavy then 50 Foot Wave performing Clara Bow should fit your mood. The latter being her lyrical style in microcosm, an evocative mix of delicate and violent imagery.

Whether it was soaking in your poppy tea
Or your southern hospitality
Your voice has a singsong quality
And bones were made to be broken
Bones were made to be broken

This wide variety of musical styles is coupled with some great lyrical themes which leap between the personal and the surreal. She is one of the most raw and personal lyricists with her mental health, relationships and even the loss of custody of her first son being the subjects of her songs.

More than 25 years into her recording career she is every bit as exciting a performer as she was in the early days of Throwing Muses. Her perfomance at The Breeders ATP in 2009 was testament to that as she rocked as hard as any other performer that weekend.

7. David Gedge

Admittedly The Wedding Present and former Cinerama frontman David Gedge is a bit of a one trick pony. The poor chap has been singing about love and most notably loss for almost 30 years. So why is he on this list, you ask? If anything this obsession with the intricacies of relationships, of the highs and lows, the introspection, the guilt and jealousy, is his strength not his weakness, as his turns of phrase continue to resonate with audiences today.

David Gedge, Yeovil Orange Box, 2011 (pic by Joe Lepper)

Even on latest Wedding Present album Valentina, written during recent years of enjoyable touring for Gedge, he still manages the self-deprecating aside to suggest all is not well as “everything about my so called life is boring.” Across the years this trademark bittersweet lyrical style has hoovered up fans, who have stuck with him resolutely as their own loves and losses come and go. Among our highlights are the jealous rant of My Favourite Dress from 1987’s George Best with lines such a “It took six hours before you let me down, To see it all in a drunken kiss, A stranger’s hand on my favourite dress.”

Almost every facet of relationships, of messing up, of getting it right are covered. The former in particular gets a real hand ringing from Gedge on I’m Not Always So Stupid, also from George Best, when he says:

I’ve made a fool of myself yet once again
A boy who’s been this cruel looks for others to share the blame
Somebody told me you went to work down south
As far away as you can from my big mouth
I bumped into Jane and she told me to drop dead
Oh she’s not to blame, I know exactly what I said.

The strange thing is though for anyone who sees Wedding Present live these days or follows his tweets Gedge is just about as happy as its possible to be, still living the dream, residing by the sea in Brighton and touring the world, belting it out to those who have loved and lost.

6. Jarvis Cocker

It’s typical for rock icons to play up to their ego- just take John Lennon who declared The Beatles bigger than Jesus. There are no such proclamations from Jarvis Cocker; instead he simply milks his ability to state the bloody obvious.

“I am not Jesus though I have the same initials”

Cocker’s lyrics shed light on the mundane while being emotionless. He is the raconteur of a night time world of fishnets and carrier bags in which he is a participant observer.

Disco 2000’s meeting with Deborah never refers to how he feels, it is purely descriptive, while My Legendary Girlfriend (“she’s crying tonight/ she has no one to hold”) only addresses his desire through questioning

Can you feel how much I want you?

His life only lain bare during Little Soul, where he receives imaginary advice from the perspective of his estranged father

I’d love to help you but everybody’s telling me you look like me/ Please don’t turn out like me.

Even when being personal he has to remove himself.

As Cocker grew as a songwriter his lyrics condensed from kitchen sink documentaries of joyriders and sex, to where ones imagination completes the story:  Inside Suzanne uses novella-like prose, whereas Roadkill is flourished with double meaning

“Your hair in braids, your sailor top: The things I don’t see any more.”

With arguably his greatest work, Common People, his effortless descriptiveness is astounding. He utilises schoolboy couplets, rhyming “pool” with “school”, and audaciously linking “I” with “eye”. My old English teacher would give me the birch for less, yet Cocker’s assured wry pulls it off. Yet once again he is detached, allowing the listener to become the narrator.

Essentially it is his ability to recreate traditional story telling. Five hundred years ago he would have been a travelling balladeer regaling provincial inns with tales of distant lands and buxom wenches – Cocker even has a signature jester dance to bring his words visibly to life – while Shakespeare would use pompous language and arty-farty imagery, *cough Albarn*.

Cocker’s song writing is working class reality garnished with outsider intellectualism. It could be you hiding in Babies’ wardrobe or raving in Hampshire, but it you wouldn’t be able to convey it with such gracious wit.

See Also: Top Ten Great Songwriters – Part Two

Compiled by Joe Lepper, Dorian Rogers and David Newbury


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Top 20 Albums of 2011

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Top 20 Albums of 2011

Posted on 02 December 2011 by Joe

We have to admit the year started badly in terms of album releases.  By March we were struggling to think of more than a couple of excellent album releases let alone begin a shortlist of 20.

Then winter turned to spring and the flood gates opened with  new bands emerging and some old stagers reliving their glory days and in some cases bettering them. We have our first ever classical music entry in an end of year album list, some great new UK folk music and a staggering achievement in song writing by one familiar face in our end of year lists.

We’ve even found room for an album about 1970/80s wrestling by one of the music industry’s funniest and most caustic writers and artists.

In the end its turned out to be a pretty fine year for releases, as two of the biggest names of 1990s alternative music battle it out for our top two places.  Get your bus fare ready, prepare to race down to your local independent record store, and enjoy Neonfiller.com’s Top 20 Albums of 2011.

20. Johann Johannson – The Miners’ Hymns

In a year of public sector cuts, strikes and the Gleision mining tragedy this soundtrack by  Jóhann Jóhannsson to Bill Morrison’s mining documentary of the same name helped it become our first classical music entry in an end of year list. The haunting and powerful music he creates to depict the brutal hardships of the industry and the chaos of the 1984 strike were recorded live at Durham Cathedral, which gives it added gravitas. Read our full review here.

19. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

This Texan band’s follow up to its critically acclaimed previous albums The Stage Names and The Stand Ins brings more fire and bite to their sound as frontman Will Sheff took co-production duties. At times cinematic, at others indie rock not one of its 11 tracks are skippable. Among are highlights are opener The Valley and one of its singles Wake Up and Be Fine.  Read our full review here.

18. John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves

Former Ariel Pink collaborator John Maus has plunged deep into the murky waters of the early 1980s to deliver one of the most stark, fascinating and strangely enjoyable slices of synth pop you will hear all year. Among our highlights on this, his third album, is the track ‘Cop Killer’. Read our full review here.

17. The Leisure Society  – Into The Murky Water

This second album by The Leisure Society gives us the urge to jump in our Neon Filler branded Morris Minor, dress up in our  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. This eccentric, most English of albums was one of the highlights of our summer. Read our full review here.

16. Timber Timbre – Creep on Creepin On

Featuring core multi-instrumentalist members Taylor Kirk, Mika Posen and Simon Trottier this peach of an album by Canada’s Timber Timbre seems to inhabit another universe where 1950’s B-movie soundtracks and dirty rock and roll rule supreme. It’s a strange mix that works thanks to Kirk’s soulfully odd (or should that be oddly soulful) vocals and the added instrumentation of pianist Mathieu Charbonneau and saxophonist Colin Stetson to add to its vintage charm. Read our full review here.

15. Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell – Kite

Just like the Mercury nominations we like to feature a new folk act in our end of year round ups. This year’s slot goes to the excellent Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell. Nominated for a 2011 BBC Folk horizon award, given to emerging new talent, they have clearly caught the ear of Radio 2’s Mike Harding and his production team. Rachel Unthank and her husband Adrian McNally are also admirers and produced this wonderful debut from the pair  in Northumberland. Read our full review here.

14. Singing Adams – Everybody Friends Now

This debut album from former Broken Family Band man Steven Adams’ latest project was one of the best indie-pop releases of the year, mixing Adams’ clever and poignant lyrics with a fine bunch of melodies. His band are a bunch of seasoned indie and alternative musicians and live they are well drilled outfit. We have been so impressed that they topped our Top Ten bands to watch out for in 2012 list. Our highlights on this excellent album include the singles I Need Your Mind and Injured Party. Read our full review here.

13. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

With its stripped back feel, punctuated with squealing electric guitars and flutes, Apocalypse can be an unsettling listen at times, but not for too long as Callahan’s luxuriously deep voice has a calming influence and can easily draw you back to normality.  Read our full review here.

12. Battles – Gloss Drop

There are so many striking aspects to Gloss Drop, the follow up to the crazy, cartoonified thrill ride that was Battles’ last album Mirrored.  The range of singers including Gary Numan, the sense of fun and above all some superb drumming are just some that immediately spring to mind. Read our full review here.

11. David Lowery  – The Palace Guards

The Palace Guards is the first solo album from  Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven front-man David Lowery. It’s taken a while to come out but  its been worth the wait. This is among the best work from one of alternative music’s most engaging songwriters. Read our full review here.

10. The Miserable Rich – Miss You In The Days

Three albums in and The Miserable Rich are really hitting their stride as one of the UK’s most innovative acts, mixing compelling story telling with chamber pop and most importantly some damn fine tunes. Among the highlights on this their third album is the swirling Ringing the Changes. Read our full review here.

9. Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?

This  solo album from New Pornographer Calder has the professionalism and confidence you’d expect from a seasoned performer and her personality shines through lifting it above the norm and adding real charm to proceedings. The album was recorded while looking after her mother who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. This gives the album an underlying sense of melancholy in places that adds an emotional depth few songwriters can manage. Read our full review here.

8. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

The Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle’s song writing and survival instincts grow stronger with each release.  With three different producers there’s a surprising consistency as he exposes his hidden demons and offers up  some bittersweet tales of the famous along the way, from Charles Bronson to Judy Garland.  Uplifting stuff.  Read our full review here.

7. Low – C’Mon

C’mon may just be this year’s great American album, with echoes of Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons throughout. With very precise production from Matt Beckley and the band,  which is fronted by husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, they have created an album that is melancholy, epic and just plain beautiful in places. Read our full review here.

6. Destroyer – Kaputt

An immaculate attention detail in recreating the sounds and production of the 1980s has helped Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) become the second member of Canadian super group The New Pornographers to enter our Top 20.  Bejar has never sounded better as he takes the role of world weary rock star reminiscing in style. Part New Order, part Prefab Sprout, this is arguably his best album to date.  Read our full review here.

5. Wilco – The Whole Love

Wilco - The Whole Love

The Whole Love is probably closest in style to previous album Wilco (The Album) but  that little bit better. It also shows  a band at the peak of its powers, playing with confidence, inventiveness and real skill. You get the pop Wilco, the rock Wilco, the experimental Wilco and the soft melodic Wilco, all of which adds up to one of the most satisfying releases of the year. Read our full review here.

4. Luke Haines – 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s and Early 1980s.

Luke Haines Wrestling

The former Auteur and author of the excellent  book Bad Vibes returns from a two year recording break to turn his attention to the world of British wrestling from around 30 years ago. Witty, concise, well executed and completely unlike any other album we’ve heard this year. Haines clearly isn’t quite ready to throw the towel in just yet on his recording career. Read our full review here.

3. Darren Hayman – January Songs

Busy doesn’t even come close to describing  Darren Hayman’s year. He was involved in the  Vostok 5 art exhibition and album about space explorers, released an album of piano ballads  The Ships Piano, plays bass in Rotifer and  is involved in all sorts of Christmas releases for  Fika Recordings. His crowning achievement though for us was to write,  record and release a song a day during January. The end product January Songs, which is available to download and from January 2012 in CD format, contains some of the former Hefner frontman’s best work and offered a  great example of social media interaction between artist and audience, who helped him along the way with lyrics and ideas.  Read our full review here.

2. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Thanks to production from Beck the former Pavement frontman has ditched some of his rock star, guitar squealing cliches to reveal one of  his best albums for years and certainly his best since his Pavement glory days. The finely honed  single The Senator is among our many highlights. Read our full review here.

1. Boston Spaceships – Let It Beard

Let It Beard

Narrowly pipping Stephen Malkmus to the top spot is another veteran of the 1990s US alternative music scene, Robert Pollard and his act Boston Spaceships. The album echoes a number of Pollard’s favourite classic acts, the Beatles are in there, but it is The Who that are the most obvious influence on this guitar drenched album. It has the Pollard stamp throughout and you can’t imagine anyone else producing a record quite like this now, or any time in the last 30 years. Read our full review here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

See also: Spotify – Neonfiller.com’s Best of 2011 Spotify List.


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