October 3, 2011
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December 24, 2010
10. Good Shoes - No Hope, No Future
If you’ve been reading here long enough, you’ll know I have a serious soft spot for Good Shoes. Morden’s finest jangly miserablists were one of my first true musical loves, so perhaps I’m being a little biased here. Then again, I think there’s a serious case to be made for this being one of the year’s most underrated releases, perhaps because reviewers couldn’t separate the band that faced them from the image of one from the indie revival circa 2006/2007. But with a more open mind applied, No Hope, No Future is quite a different beast to its predecessor. Songs like ‘Our Loving Mother In Pink Diamond’ are far more intricate and layered than previous output while their more familiar numbers (‘Times Change’ and ‘I Know’ spring to mind here) have picked up a few new tricks in a faster pace, more willing to abandon a single, controlling melody. This is the sound of a group who have matured, but were met with a press that refused to believe that they had. I’ll be keeping the faith.
9. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Feeling for Arcade Fire is now so strong, I’m starting to wonder if they’ll ever have a release that won’t be hyped to high heaven – frankly, the sheer amount of discussion about this album before it had come out (I saw in-depth discussions about the significance of the album artwork appearing the day it was revealed) could have destroyed the band if the album wasn’t quite up to scratch. Luckily for them then that they have quite as much talent as they do, eh? Any album that starts with the understated majesty of the title track and follows it seamlessly with the stomping ‘Ready To Start’ is onto a winner and even if it’s not quite the magnum opus people are claiming it is, it’s definitely further proof that the ‘Fire are one of the most exciting prospects for continued brilliance in… well, the world right now.
8. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
I have a feeling this is what Laura Marling always wanted – Alas, I Cannot Swim might have wowed many, but I’m not sure if she was completely happy with it. This, her second album embraced a darker, wilder feeling that always inhabited her lyrics and let it loose in places, whilst utilising her considerable skills as a truly emotive soul to spin tales of real beauty (‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ really, really works in the current British climes). There’s the creeping outside influences that Johnny Flynn succumbed to somewhat in songs like ‘Alpha Shallows’, but the difference here is that they’re wrestled into shape, slotting into the songs rather than overtaking them. What shines through is how much of Ms. Marling we see here – this is less an album of music than a document of the person she was as she recorded it. She may be telling stories, but the ‘I’ of the title really is Laura.
7. Beach House – Teen Dream
Teen Dream is the moment Beach House broke out of the dream and into the pop. All the hallmarks of the band are there; laconic speeds, hazy synths and circuitous guitar lines, but in amongst it all lies a new knack for a properly catchy melody. Ask anyone who’s listened to ‘Norway’ recently, it will have been stuck in their head for days. This really helps move the album along too – as songs slip into one another the thing that breaks you out of simply letting it all wash over you is the appearance of a refrain you can really grab a hold of. A consistently beautiful, engaging listen.
6. Mountain Man – Made The Harbor
This group of Vermont-based ladies came out of nowhere, made me shiver in delight and seem to have disappeared again just as quickly. Luckily, I don’t think I’ll get bored of listening to this before they re-emerge. A collection of sparse, harmony-laden songs (both new and covered) with never more than a guitar and vocals to their name shouldn’t be this nice to listen to, but it is and with audible recording studio silences and stifled giggles between tracks, this could almost be a single long performance, which only adds to its intimacy. Not to blow my own bugle, but I think I said it best when I wrote that “this is heart-warming and haunting in turn [and] could soundtrack a summer day or a winter’s night”. That’s Made The Harbor’s greatest trick – making such similarly executed ideas sound so wonderfully disparate.
August 16, 2010
I am completely undecided on this song, yet everyone else seems to love it unreservedly. On the one hand, the lyrics are fantastic, and I always like Regine’s contributions. On the other, the synth backing seems incredibly contrived, like the band haven’t used it with any other thought than ‘this will really get people talking’ (and, all credit to them, it has). I’m just not sure I can take it completely seriously. Thoughts?
May 27, 2010
So there are new Arcade Fire songs, and the album’s coming out on the 2nd August in the UK. I am really very, very excited about this, not least because the two songs available to stream on the band’s website are an entirely new prospect for the band – they sound as though they’re finally having fun.
‘The Suburbs’ is a piano-led jaunt that, whilst not entirely joyful in tone, shows a far lighter sonic side to the band, whilst ‘Month of May’ is a punky onslaught, complete with self-referential lyrics about making a record. It’s a strange new world for everyone’s favourite Canadians, and it’s seeming like a brilliant one.
I won’t post the new songs, partly because you should buy them (direct download is available from their website for only $1.99), partly because if you don’t want to buy them you can stream them, and partly because I feel that if I did post them the Web Sheriff would be shutting me down quicker than you can say ‘Une Annee Sans Lumiere’.
So here’s ‘Une Annee Sans Lumiere’.
January 11, 2010
In case you’re not from around these parts, you might not know that the UK is really rather snowy at the moment. Apart from being really bloody fun (Heaton Park in Newcastle is just brilliant to sledge in), it does mean walking has become somewhat more necessary recently. In an unrelated incident, a friend and I were arguing the merits of the two Arcade Fire albums. I’m of the opinion that Neon Bible is better because it’s just grandiose and explosive and brilliant throughout. He’s of the opinion that Funeral is better… just because. Whilst I think it’s a bloody good album, it just never got to me in quite the same way as their sophomore effort did, but trudging through the snow today, Funeral found its niche for me. The whole goddamn album is just made for walking through a quiet expanse of whiteness – it’s perfectly pitched between its more restrained moments of plaintive beauty and those times when the whole band just seems to want to scream at you whether for good or for ill, and when you’re enjoying a walk there’s nothing quite like an album that can fluctuate like this one does. So there you are, snow’s not just good for bringing an entire country’s transport infrastructure to a standstill, it helps lil ol’ me get a sense of what an album’s trying to do. Ho-hum.
December 27, 2009
What with the spirit of goodwill that’s being bandied around at the moment, I thought it only proper to recognise the achievements of those bands whose albums weren’t quite good enough (or didn’t exist enough) to be included on my end of year album list. So here we go, the unrecognised gems of this fair year of music. Oh and if you’re too lazy to download them all from below, and too impatient to wait for the next half tomorrow, here’s a big ol’ Zip file stuffed full of ‘em.
I know this has been around for quite a while, but 2009 was the year that this song was finally released, and it’s my list, ok? A more sparse and upbeat affair than their usual offerings, Montreal’s finest have created a jaunty, guitar-driven imagining of everyone’s favourite Bolshevik’s childhood, chock-full of piano sweeps and not-quite singalong moments.
I still haven’t got round to listening to this album, but if this song is anything to go by, it’ll sound like the White Stripes. A lot. I mean, everything about this song, from the vocals, guitar tone, crashing drums and even the skittering, twitching solo sounds like Jack and Meg. And in my head, that can never be a bad thing, it’s just badass from begininning to end.
Some didn’t take to it, but Zach Condon’s brief foray into laid back electonica made me a happy man. There’s something about the rising and falling of the underwater synths in this song, coupled with his idiosyncratic drawl that never fails to make me pleased, it sounds like a more chilled-out Hot Chip at times. If Zach ever decides to bring back his Realpeople alter-ego again, I for one will not be unhappy.
Another North-East entry, this time trying to wrestle the London-centric new-folk scene all the way up the A1. Ms. Houghton’s four track EP, Hot Toast Vol. 1 gave us an alternative to all those Southern softies (note: I am one) with a punchier folk lilt, with this opening track the standout.
Now, I understand this is a controversial choice for a blogger to make, but honestly, this is (to use the common vernacular) a CHOON. It always made me a little happier to be in a place playing crappy music, and when it was played in Newcastle’s coolest club (World Headquarters) by the coolest DJ (Tom), it vindicated my guilty pleasure. Plus, hearing Fergie sound like a fucking idiot when she shouts “Drank!” and “La chaim!” will never tire.
To be honest, this is a favourite just because of how fucking insane it is. I hated it when I first heard it, but one more listen convinced me that polka + Dylan’s new voice = terrifying, hilarious, genius. It’s brightened up my whole Christmas.
It’s not as good as the original, but the sound of those synths and Pip’s Essex preaching accompanied by Posdnous’ classic flow was always going to be a good idea. “Thou shalt not think that having a blog makes you a journalist”. Oops.
Time will tell if this band can get out of the one-trick-pony phase they seem to be in now, but their first single was my song of the summer. It’s an infectiously whistle-filled romp of post-punk surf pop that charmed many a blogger and even the discerning ears (read in sarcastic tone here) of Radio 1 for a time, albeit a long time after summer was over.
I really liked Esser’s album when it came away, but my interest waned after a few listens, it just seems to lack the real substance that a truly good album needs, but his singles were always winners, and ‘Headlock’ is no exception. Re-released to promote the album, it just jumps out at you, all mockney vocals and cheap-sounding synths and beats. It’s endlessly danceable and emininently catchy.
The sample track from the Morden boys’ second album piqued my interest in them all over again, with a heavier, quicker sound, but retaining the jangling guitar tone and Rhys’ yelping vocals that I fell in love with. Brilliant.
I’d never paid much heed to Grizzly Bear before this, the whole American indie sound is alien to my frosty British ears a lot of the time, but this the swooning vocals put over a sluggish stomping beat in this song just grabbed me, it sounds far more sinister than it should, and the video is bloody wonderful.
This is an insanely cheery slice of debut single indie-pop from Newcastle’s favourite new bunch of smiling loons. Full of yelps and charmingly twee lines like ‘Just like Carlisle, she lies on the border‘, the band seem to specialise in gettingnunder your skin and getting you to twitch about, just like the song. They’re getting an increasing amount of love up north, and if they keep making songs like this I can certainly see that extending all over this fair green land and maybe beyond.
I haven’t got hold of their album yet, but Local Natives’ indie band version of Fleet Foxes’ harmonies along with an irrepressible quick-march tempo is just beautiful. The amount of instruments they get into this song without making it sound overstuffed is a masterclass in prudent songwriting.
December 18, 2009
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I read this on Condemned To Rock ‘n Roll and liked their answers so much I thought I’d try it myself.
List 10 musical artists (or bands) you like, in no specific order (do this before reading the questions below). Really, don’t read the questions below until you pick your ten artists!!!
3. Andrew Bird
4. The White Stripes
5. We Are Scientists
6. Future of the Left
7. Tom Williams & The Boat
8. Johnny Flynn
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
10. Arcade Fire
What was the first song you ever heard by 6?
‘Manchasm’ – I’d heard a lot about how crazy the band were, but never expected to go on Youtube and find a band sounding like an evil B52s with lyrics about a sound engineer and a cat called Colin. I’ve loved them since.
What is your favorite song of 8?
‘The Wrote and the Writ’ – It’s one of the most perfect pairings of beautiful songwriting with poetry I’ve ever heard.
What kind of impact has 1 left on your life?
They changed my entire musical perspective, opening my eyes to things like intelligent rock to rampant experimentalism and a whole heap in between. I can only fault one of their albums (and let’s be honest Pablo Honey doesn’t really count, does it?) and I think they’re the best band in the world, ever.
What is your favorite lyric of 5?
They’re breaking both my hands
They’re breaking both my hands
And telling me to
Take it like a man
And take it like a man
Well fuck that.
There’s something simultaneously very angry and very vulnerable about that, somehow.
How many times have you seen 4 live?
None, although I’ve seen The Raconteurs once so does that count as ½?
What is your favorite song by 7?
‘Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet’. It’s a little different to their other tracks, a bit more of a downbeat folk track with some very odd lyrics and a beautiful lilt to it, it’s wonderful.
Is there any song by 3 that makes you sad?
I haven’t known of his work for long enough yet to have a real emotional connection to any of it, to be honest.
What is your favorite song by 9?
‘Maps’ – isn’t that everyone’s favourite?
When did you first get into 2?
I think I heard about Muse just before Absolution came out (Wikipedia tells me that’s 2003, making me 14) and went out and bought Showbiz and Origin of Symmetry and bloody loved both of them.
How did you get into 3?
Heard about him on Hype Machine, listened to ‘Tenuousness’ and that was that!
What is your favorite song by 4?
‘Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine’ – Just a raucous slice of guitar brilliance, and so visceral.
How many times have you seen 9 live?
Once, Reading Festival this year. It was brilliant, so brilliant in fact that Thom Yorke did an impromptu mini-cover of ‘Maps’ just before the final song later that night.
What is a good memory concerning 2?
Listening to Origin of Symmetry very loudly with my two best friends when we were all young and impressionable was somewhat wonderful. Seeing them at Wembley Arena wasn’t too bad either.
Is there a song by 8 that makes you sad?
Again, ‘Wrote and the Writ’. The lyrics are purposely slightly obscure, but there seems to be something tragic about the priest figure he mentions.
What is your favorite song by 1?
Frankly, that’s a little impossible to choose. ‘Just’, ’15 Step’, ‘2+2=5’ and ‘Paranoid Android’ all spring to mind, but I already know I’ve missed some.
How did you become a fan of 10?
Shamefully, ‘Funeral’ completely passed me by, and so it took Neon Bible’s amazing reviews to make me take notice, and once I’d heard that there was no going back.