Tuesday, 6 December 2011

2011 Songs

In no especial order, and stylistically all over the place, a youtube playlist of songs from 2011, I'm sure I've missed out a fair few...

Thursday, 22 September 2011

It's Crazy What You Could Have Had: A REM Eulogy

Somehow I never thought they would, I thought they were one of those bands that had gone on so long that they’d just retreat into inaction rather than add a full stop to their career. I thought they’d tour again, in the past week I had reiterated my desire to see them live, indeed it was an absolute priority. I had never seen them and for a band so important to me, so ingrained it was abominable that I hadn’t yet. I missed my chance and it is crushing, never to get lost in Drive chiming out from Peter Buck’s guitar, never have heard the call to arms of These Days. They join LCD Soundsystem as a band I stupidly missed while I had the chance. They were a special band, one I remember being played a lot growing up. It was mostly albums from Out of Time onwards, when they were huge, and on regal form before they famously, and fairly mythically dipped, it was more perhaps a fashion change coinciding with a slight dip in their hunger, never the less Up and Reveal are still wonderful. Around the Sun might indeed be more salvageable had the production been less plodding. Indeed their last two albums represented an upswing, if not completely ideal, regardless their last song on their last album Blue feels a worthy full stop, like as a friend commented, if Bring me the Disco King is the full stop on David Bowie’s career, as seems increasingly probable, I can live with that.
 It was only when I was searching out music myself years later when I delved back into their first phase, when they were contemporaries of The Smiths and reacting against the bombastic 80s stadium rock and inspired by Stipe listening to Patti Smith’s album Horses. They merged the jangly guitars of The Byrds into punk and new wave sound, and set about relentlessly releasing albums and touring. They were confrontational, they told audiences who frequently requested ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ to fuck off, they played everywhere and anywhere with their unashamedly arty sound. They were odd, their singer was a strange stage presence who would often mumble more than sing, it would be years since they started before Stipe had the confidence to stick his vocals up in the mix. Considering he went on to be one of the most distinctive voices in alternative rock, these were inauspicious beginnings
 Still there is something to the inaudibility of the early records, the lyrics that were hard to pick up had a cloak of mystery, something haunting and mystic conjured by smoke and mirrors. Even when you could hear his lyrics later on, they never made that much linear sense anyway, except they were often a string of images which seemed to make a deeper sense than a literal one. They also, perhaps most contentiously wrote political songs, something that has been basically dead to mainstream music for a long time now. Of particular note for me was Cuyahoga, a song about a polluted river, that manages to vent fury at pollution, and be a brilliant song at the same time, something so much protest music fails to achieve.
The enigmatic oblique lyrics were only some of the appeal however, though I think very few singers anymore manage this trick of being odd without being trite, Peter Buck was also as central and a perfect foil, adding relentlessly pretty guitar lines to track after track. They also employed piano to great effect, who can forget the gorgeous Nightswimming? They were willing to change things up too, following up the pop of Out of Time, their big breakthrough with an album of fuzzy acoustic semi folk obsessed with death with Automatic for the People, which happened to have that overplayed and over covered Everybody Hurts that seems to generate a lot of hate, for not much reason. Following that was the loud guitar and rocker to play live Monster, a cracking album. The widescreen New Adventures in Hifi was a slight mess but crammed full of brilliant songs, E-Bow the Letter being a career highlight. They have plenty of curios of albums too, their early years had a wonderful country pastiche with Don’t Go Back to Rockville. Up their dalliance with electronic textures is perennially underrated, though recently seems a lot of people feel the same about it. At My Most Beautiful is wonderful. Document is a great album trapped between the two poles of REM, the stadium rock before their success with the famous ‘It’s the End of the World as we know it’ on it. The earlier albums are full of amazing tracks, less well known than the more well stuff. Driver 8 has been described as the archetypical REM song, with its sing along but enigmatic vocals and an absolutely stunning guitar line.
Most of all they’re a band that managed to be become ubiquitous without sacrificing their outsider perspective, they never abandoned their pretentions, to all the accusations they sold out, they scaled the heights with brilliant music. It’s too their credit that after all this time they were able to do something that took me by surprise. Unfortunately it was to split up. For 10 years of their career they were a cult band who no one thought would go on to do anything, for another 10 they were world conquering giants, who could do anything and still be hailed. For the last 10 they seemed to trying to relive their glory days with varying degrees of success, and yet were by all accounts a stunning live band, with a pedigree of songs that few can match. With their career now a closed book (accepting of course they could still have a change of heart) looking back on their achievements, they are one of the all time greats. They will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ok rather neglected this

Here's new rather mood ruining mixtape of my recent listening habits, hopefully followed up soon by a proper podcast!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

So Q1 report on music.

This has been a mixed year for music in my mind, there’s been plenty of good stuff, but as yet a lot seems to have stopped short of brilliance. Elbow released what almost seems their difficult second album, despite it actually being their 5th and actually quite wonderful, REM released their bazillionth album and further arrested their increasingly mythical decline, Radiohead hopefully haven’t started a decline but have perhaps released their least ambitious album for a long time, and it does suffer for it, although I am still listening to it.

This year, as often is then one of debuts, most notably James Blake’s self titled debut album featuring the most outstanding single of the year so far, a cover of Feist’s Limit To Your Love, a fantastic amalgam of Dubstep low end, love of empty space in a record and a fantastic voice. Spiralling towards more adventurous experiments in music are Nicolas Jaar and Space is Only Noise, a record that I have enjoyed if not yet taken to heart, and Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972, which quite frankly I’m not sure doesn’t just exist to give me a headache, probably going to be album of the year then.

Braids debut album, Native Speaker, I have just got and completely fallen in love with, the beautiful delicate music recalls Beach Houses’ excellent album Teen Dream last year, however mixed with Bjork style vocals. I’m not sure yet it will last. Dum Dum Girl’s He Get’s Me High EP is also fantastic, quick, breezy and incredibly exciting. Another new project that seems more interesting than it has the right to be is Horror’s frontman side project Cats Eyes, which may be maybe overly dour (unsurprisingly perhaps) it is at least more interesting, than the Horrors.

PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake is perhaps the winner of the returning lot, a delicate and bruised album that could maybe be faulted as a ‘state of the nation’ style album, but can’t fault the ambition in dealing with a left field topic and it definitely has the tunes to back it up. Another return is the Fleet Foxes, whom seem to have brought back with them a backlash of being ‘the American Mumford and Sons’, which seems totally unfair, Mumford and Sons have never done anything as good as ‘Mykonos’, a track so pretty it can stop me in my tracks. If the first album disappointed on repeated listens, what I have heard of the second is promising.

Also in the future is the Wild Beasts album, the lead single ‘Albatross’ is absolutely fantastic, and maybe represents a retreat from the silliness of the second album (that I adored) which represents a gained confidence in their abilities to turn a very lovely tune. The little adornments of piano are utterly gorgeous, and I am looking forward to this hugely. The Beastie Boys album should be a massive pile of summer fun too, I need to listen to the new Low album properly as well, however otherwise I await surprises.

On the Radiohead album, I can't deny some disappointment that it wasn't some new earth shattering album that jumped to heir of album of year elect. It is lacking in that kind of ambition, seems more of a low key album, revisiting some old ideas, some old tricks. Regardless some of the tunes are spectacularly pretty.

Please give a listen to my latest fairly meandering new mixtape here:

Thursday, 7 April 2011

I host a podcast now!

I am playing host to RelicNews' Music Podcast! We chose a spring theme, everyone got to bring 3 songs and there was a request...I come accross as a massive prude about nudity in videos (yes Yeasayer your videos are silly but ultiamtely poor. There I said it.) and also shout down Axyl too often :( sorry :(

Friday, 25 March 2011

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Song for the Day...finally!

and 2 for the price of 1

build a rocket boys! review

Despite their long history, Elbow’s fifth album, ’build a rocket boys!’, has almost been treated as their difficult second album, such has been the worry about them selling out their style to put bums on seats. There was no need to worry in a way, Elbow’s big hearted tunes were always going to carry on to a bigger audience, and at the gig I saw them at a few days ago there was weird mix of old and young at the gig, whom were extremely polite but also enthusiastic and bereft of the idiots that often sour being at the front. This balancing act of remaining artistic credulity while appealing to stadium sized audiences is a difficult one, and Elbow’s deftness of touch pulling it off is commendable.

Despite this, there have been tradeoffs with the new album, and while their accommodation of their new position has produced some great songs, there does seem to be a diminished anger and fire in the songs. On High Ideals Garvey sings “the fire in my chest / has turned to acid at the very best” perhaps relevantly. The Grounds for Divorce style guitars return for Neat Little Rows but that seems almost a perfunctory hark back to the song, even if it is good in and of itself. The rest of the album remains pretty low key musically, simmering electronics on ‘The Night Will Always Win’ and strings on Open Arms. You are left wanting something to challenge, some element of the music to surprise you.

The album’s start is highly promising, if slow, 8 minute 'The Birds' followed by the 6 minute 'Lippy Kids' hardly promise a snappy album, but they are both very well constructed, the music of the former explodes towards the end, whereas the gentle Lippy Kids is quietly spectacular. Later highlights include the subdued and nostalgic ‘Jesus is a Rochdale Girl’ which has some of Garvey’s best writing to date. High Ideals is a grower, and the final track 'Dear Friends' is soppy in that good way only Elbow can really do, it's the musical equivalent of being pleasantly drunk at 2am in the company of friends in front of an open fire.*

While musically unadventurous, it is also solid, and occasionally brilliant, and Guy Garvey’s song writing is still pretty superb, it’s very warm and pulls off being incredibly positive without getting too cheesy. When it does veer towards the cheesy, particularly on ‘Open Arms’ it seems so shameless it gets away with it, though it is also perhaps the sort of sing-a-long chorus Guy Garvey can slightly lazily write in his sleep. It is an album that won’t blow anyone away, and in the end probably doesn’t quite match Leader’s of the Free World or Seldom Seen Kid in quality directly, but it gets under the skin and rewards plenty of return listens. Now to wait for their promised Shoegaze album.

Must Listen to Tracks:

Lippy Kids

Jesus is a Rochdale Girl

*credit to Neil :P

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A baby reviews my jukebox selections.

I was sat at my normally favourite pub in Northallerton and as ever took advantage of the jukebox. However there was also a baby in the pub who seemed determined to share his general displeasure at my selections. Here are his apparent reviews.

1.       Bob Dylan – Tangled up in Blue
Ooh eeer...Sadly I also seemed to pick a live version by accident that wasn’t really working over the slightly quiet sound system so it sounded mostly acapella. The baby did not like this one bit and gave a judgement of WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.  2/10 from the baby I’d judge.

2.       Pulp – The Trees
Better, the baby stayed quiet during most of it.  6/10

3.       Doves – Snowden
Again the baby seemed quite lulled, but did interrupt some of the middle. 8/10

4.       Radiohead – Knives Out
Oddly probably the best received of the tracks, heard barely anything during this 9/10

5.       Gorillaz – Glitterfreeze
Oh dear. Mark E Smith scares babies, it’s official. 3/10

6.       Magazine – Shot by Both Sides
Shut the baby up almost immediately! However the baby clearly felt it went on too long and spent  the last minute whining loudly. 7/10

7.       The Beatles – Nowhere Man
Quietened but not perfect, maintained a constant sound of slight dissatisfaction, suspect the baby is more of a McCartney than Lennon fan.  6/10

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Day for the Song!

Sometimes, this is my favourite song ever.

New Wild Beasts!

Albatross - Wild Beasts

Sounds more introspective than last album, that music is very very lovely, actually reminds me of Seperator by Radiohead a bit.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Another Song for the Day...

Glitter Freeze by Gorillaz, criminally underrated track from the album, I have the live version here because it was live that turned me completely to the song. Sadly no Mark E Smith who managed to look cantankerous and confrontational, which is something often lost from big scale live music, normally all bands go for the Coldplay nice guy routine to win over a big audience...watch glastonbury performance for him, but the sound quality seemed a little quiet on that and everyone looks depressed...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Where is Home?

Sometimes a song will stumble on a sound so great, so gorgeous that I could listen to it, or I so think anyway, forever. Burial’s album Untrue is gorgeous and beautiful enough, but it is his remix of Bloc Party’s Where is Home that really got me. It is a remix that so directly and so completely taps that minor key soulfulness of all the good dance music. It is a remix that completely reconstructs the original song and completely beats not just the original song but the whole album at its whole game. A Weekend in the City from which it comes is purportedly about a night out in London, but it never comes close to capturing the sound of a rainy night out in a city as evocatively as this remix.
The original vocal appears in stabs of chipmunked vocals as well as more direct samples, but also at a minimum. A dubstep beat keeps time, and dips out occasionally, and the piano is echoed into oblivion. This is top drawer stuff to obsess and obsess over.

Ok if this goes any further things are going to get silly

First we get the bonkers Lotus Flower video, and now REM have a silly dancing video (you can find it here)

Sadly it's not Michael Stipe doing the dancing, which is sad, since imagining the video with Stipe makes it 1000000x better.

Take a tip from Yorkie Fruit and Nut there and do it yourself next time, though I suppose he did do the very funny video for Mine Smell that Honey that happened without much comment

Another shocking instalment of Song for the Day

Scott Walker! No not that one! The good one!

The New Strokes

Strokes have a new video out (you can watch it here)

There has been a moderate bubble of hype developing over the new album, and while this sounds reasonably fun is anyone really expecting great things from them anymore? I don't think this track really has much going on (Casablancas sings "everyone's singing the same song for the last 10 years", surely that's rather been what he's doing really, the rest of the music scene has been fairly fast moving this last decade) yet is pleasant enough.

It is actually reasonably sad though, too many bands are condemned for never matching up to their debut, and some never actually do, The Strokes and Interpol being the main offenders. It always feels a cheap shot, the difficult second album is not a myth, and further is often a response to growing audience so flattening or simplifying the sound can make it work better in bigger venues. Conversely a band trying to rescue a diminishing fanbase can be led the other way, desperately changing their sound towards new and not necessarily successful. Think of how Snow Patrol managed to become fairly insipid stadium pop as soon as Run became a hit, when previously they actually have some pretty interesting if unoriginal albums in the back catalogue.

Neither is necessarily bad but this new Strokes isn't doing much for me. They were always somewhat soulless, it was almost their gimmick, but now somehow that's caught up with them, and the cool veneer has slipped away to leave a middling band. The lockstep guitar rhythms that are their bread and butter work fine, but the melody is not that special and it advances at a pretty slow pace. The lyrics aren't brilliant and aren't quite laconic enough or screamed enough which was always the two sides to their song writing.

Lets all just watch them absolutely kill Take it or Leave it on Letterman 10 years ago. No shame in playing this same song for the last 10 years, just fingers crossed this new album improves when I hear more of it, and they can reach this level of intensity again.

Very First Impressions of Collapse Into Now

I did have some mixed feelings when it comes to anticipation for this album, but having listened through now first impressions are good. I like the rockier songs such as Discoverer, All the Best and Mine Smell like honey, and a lot of the slower ballads such as Every Day is Yours to Win and Uberlin worked well, even though the latter maybe pillaged their earlier masterpiece 'Drive' a fair amount.

Some bits didn't work for me, me, marlon brando, marlon brando and me didn't really do anything for me, nor did alligator aviator antimatter autopilot.

Concluding the album however Blue sounded absolutely fantastic, recalling E-Bow the Letter a bit with spoken word and gorgeous guitar underneath, with Patty Smith again providing longing singing over the top. Wonderful.

In summary, decent album veerying to good, probably still not top drawer sadly, REM albums probably damned to ever suffer in comparison to what has come before, but very much a keeper and definately not another Around the Sun. File next to Out of Time for not that great but lovely stuff on it on present listen but obviously early days, only heard it once. It does seem to be much richer in texture than REM have been for a while, when actually listening to the layers of instruments can be very rewarding.

REM - Collapse into Now is now streaming at NPR

Collapse into Now

So far haven't actually finished listening to it myself yet, it has reviewed fairly poorly so far which perhaps is cause for concern, but I have liked the tracks I have heard so far. Will post impressions later.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Song for the Day!

Lovely tune, if belonging maybe to a slightly crowded genre of lo-fi guitars and dreamy vocals at present