May 2009

Exams are over, the sun is shining, summer has begun, and I’m back to blog you silly. Well, a late birthday present came through and I got £25 to spend on Amazon. I proceeded to buy six albums: Pulp’s Different Class, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, a physical copy of In Rainbows, Manic Street Preachers’ Generation Terrorists, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde (mainly because I watched High Fidelity and felt bad for not owning it) and, finally, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa & Come On Pilgrim.

I’ve wanted to invest in a Pixies album for a long time, mostly because every time I heard one of their songs, I inevitably asked who was playing it and it always came back with the answer, “Pixies, obviously!”. So having, got round to it finally, what do I think? It’s bloody fantastic, that’s what. Experimental, but with enough of a real rock feel to it to hold it all together whilst Frank Black and Kim Deal’s wailings never cease to amaze. I’ve not listened to it enough to really form a favourite track, but here’s one an few early favourites:

Pixies – Gigantic (YSI)

Apologies homies, I’m currently in the midst of university exams, thus my absence. However, the Glastonbury lineup was announced today, and I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about a festival. Here are some choice cuts from that juicy lineup:

Blur – There’s No Other Way (YSI)

Cold War Kids – Hospital Beds (YSI)

The Specials – Ghost Town (YSI)

Friendly Fires – Photobooth (YSI)

Roots Manuva – Join The Dots (YSI)

This is the second of the two albums I got for my birthday that I just happen to feel like reviewing:

Esser has been on my radar since I saw him at Reading Festival last year. Sandwiched between two bands, I was, embarrassing as it is to say, only there to keep my place in the crowd. However, when Ben Esser and his gang of happy cohorts took to the stage and started playing I was immediately enthralled. Relying on synths and percussion to create music that made the whole tent dance like crazy people was something to behold.

Ever since, I’ve slowly been collecting singles and getting more and more interested and, finally, his album, Braveface has been released. From your very first listen, whilst it’s clear that whilst lyrical prowess is not his strong point (“Felt so good just to be alone/Then you call me up late night on the phone”), Esser is not afraid of taking on genres. In the space of ten tracks, he slips effortlessly from the synth-samba of “Satisfied”, faux-blues in “Leaving Town” and pure synth soundscaping in “Stop Dancing”, stopping at many points along the way. It’s all held together with the languid vocals of Mr. Esser himself, this album is all about the experience of each track, not the band’s sound as a whole.

That could be unpalatable, but honestly it’s really quite refreshing. To have an album where every track is enjoyable individually isn’t a feat most bands could achieve without making the listener a little annoyed, but somehow it’s pulled off magnificently here. I’m not sure how he plans to continue from here, but this is an album for the moment, and that’s all that matters when you’re listening to it.

Esser – Braveface (YSI)

Having a birthday is always a good way of acquiring new music, and my latest one proved no different. My lovely girlfriend splashed out and, amongst other things, got me not one, but two albums I’d been awaiting with baited breath. Here’s the first:

The Maccabees sophomore effort, Wall of Arms has been something I’ve been waiting for since the debut came out, and I’ve been excited for since I first heard the brilliant “No Kind Words“. After a few listens, I can tell you it was well worth the wait. This is the best kind of evolution a band can have for that “difficult second album” – enough of the original sound remains while enough invention and improvement has gone on behind the scenes to give us something new to listen to.

The initial shock of the dark, brooding and afore-mentioned “No Kind Words” is tempered by the amount of upbeat tracks and lead single “Love You Better” sets the tone perfectly. Orlando Weeks’ voice shines through as always, but there’s a more interesting instrumentation going on here, full of stabs of guitar and echoey background vocals. Title track “Wall of Arms” starts louder than any other track but lulls into a beautiful little ditty and “Can You Give It” is full of guitar hooks and completely uplifting vocals. The second half of the album does drag a little more than the first half and “Bag Of Bones” really isn’t the most interesting way to finish the album, but on the whole there’s very little to complain about. More than anything else, this album is more of a relief than anything, it proves The Maccabees aren’t a one-trick indie pony, but a fully fledged band, ready to progress and keep enthralling us.

The Maccabees – Can You Give It (YSI)

I really love Tom Williams & The Boat. After finding out about them last year, every time I look them up again they’ve done something to make me smile. They release songs for free, they send me personal emails, they support brilliant bands (I’ve missed them supporting Good Shoes and Laura Marling, which is a real kick in the teeth), they seem, through the misty veil of internet correspondence and Myspace, like genuinely nice people. Oh and they release bloody good music.

For the uninitiated, the band are a Tunbridge Wells-based six piece band with knack for producing folk-tinged pop gems. They’ve developed a big ol’ high-profile fanbase, with Huw Stephens and the ever-awesome Steve Lamacq firmly behind them. And that all leads us to this point, with the release of new single “90mph”.

An upbeat intro kicks us off (aided with Blues Brothers-style saxophone which will always make me happy) which leads into a song as fast-paced as the title suggests. This is the hookiest and most immediately sing-along-able song the band have produced yet, and it really shows off their range, especially when compared to my personal favourite track “Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet” (see here for details of that little beauty).

But I have to say, as good as the single is, the album taster that’s been sent out with it, “Too Slow” is my favourite of the two. It’s been very much the trend to have darker laments of late (White Lies anyone?), so to have a song that starts off utterly destitute and slowly adheres to its own lyrics, “slow things are picking up”, and become a white hot explosion of loveliness and joy may not be fashionable, but works brilliantly. The buildup of instruments alongside Tom’s gradually more and more howled vocals to reach a crescendo that immediately reminded me of the peak of Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” is wonderful, and I simply couldn’t fault it.

If there’s any band in Britain more deserving of acclaim than these guys, even if you take away all the good music and simply admire them for their sheer niceness, I have yet to find them, and I don’t think I will. Good on you Tom Williams and your wondrous boat, you’re brilliant.

Tom Williams & The Boat – Too Slow (YSI)
Tom Williams & The Boat – 90mph (YSI)

Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey’s a bloody genius. I don’t care if Tinselworm wasn’t quite up to scratch, Part Troll and Bewilderness are amongst some of the best stand up I’ve ever seen. He’s a genius through and through, comedically gifted, musically gifted and he owns a chameleon. Lucky man.

So to see that he had an hour long special on BBC Two discussing the intricacies of the orchestra, mixed with his own brand of musical stand up, I was excited to say the least. And I was not disappointed – from the use of bass clarinets and mute trombones in ’70s cop shows, bassoon players loving The Beegees and a full song using cowbells as the lead instrument it was hilarious and curiously educational. But by far the most amazing part of the show was Bill’s own rearrangement of his classic apocalyptic rock opera “Insect Nation” for the full orchestra, which I include for your listening pleasure. If you’re in the UK, watch the whole show on iPlayer here, and if not, content yourself with this song, and let’s hope it goes up on Youtube.

Bill Bailey – Insect Nation (Orchestral Version) (YSI)


I am, essentially, a massive geek. In my younger years I liked to indulge in Warhammer 40,00, I’m a music geek, I like comic books, I’m studying Science Fiction as part of my English degree next year. But my major standout geekiness is my penchant for video games. I bloody love gaming, I’ll play online shooters, sports games, RPGs, all of it. And one brilliant knock-on-effect of this is the music side of it all. Sports games particularly always try to invest in a good soundtrack, and my recent purchase of the first skate. game (incidentally, an amazing game if you’re at all interested) has proved this spectacularly.

With a soundtrack including Black Flag, Booker T, N.W.A, Bowie and The White Stripes they really have outdone themselves. But my favourite track has been one I’d never heard before, Band of Horses “The Funeral”. All plaintive guitar picking and hushed, falsetto vocals it takes a minute before it blows up into a reverb drenched epic beauty of a track. Next time you’re playing a game, listen closely, you never know what you’ll find to love.

Band of Horses – The Funeral (YSI)

Last night I headed (rather shamefully for the first time) to Newcastle’s best venue, The Cluny to see a certain Mr. Lewis and his brand new backing band, The Junkyard. The Cluny is a beautiful little place, located in a very threatening-looking area, but after the trepidation of walking there, all worries are extinguished once you get into the industrial-looking bar and the underground back room. With a raised bar area and narrow little performance space and a lot of tasteful exposed brickwork, it really is a lovely place to head for a gig. Now, other than my Location Location Location style love of the venue, the night was amazing for a whole other reason.

I’ve heard quite a bit about Jeffrey Lewis’ stage shows before, but wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer brillliance of it all. Any artist who can seamlessly switch between solo guitar ‘n’ vocals ditties to out-and-out punk tracks to full-band ’50s inflected pop songs in one show is a genius any way, but three particular points to this night astounded me more than others:

1) He created some kind of insane ambient noise soundscape and I enjoyed it. If he can make me enjoy that, he can make me enjoy anything.

2) The animated song sections were excellent. With a Macbook, the rest of the band and a projector, Jeffrey treated us to a fairy tale about a magic rock, a horror story about an ever-growing brain and a lecture on the rise of Communism in Korea (No. 5 in a series about Communism in general apparently)

3) “Roll Bus Roll” closed the set and genuinely has the potential to become an alt-anthem, it’s just beautiful.

Basically, if you get the chance to see this polymathic, talented, wonderful bastard of a man any time soon, I urge you to take it, it will be an amazing night.

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – Roll Bus Roll (YSI)
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – Broken Broken Broken Heart (YSI)

Future of the Left are, quite frankly, incredible. Constantly making musical and lyrical left turns, they don’t pander to any kind of convention, they make their listeners go on the journey with them, surprising them at every turn.  Andy Falkous’ screamed vocals are wonderfully unhinged, he sounds like he might either break down or just leap out of your speakers and attack you at any moment. What’s even better is just how, well, lovely they seem to be on stage, like music is just their way of venting anger. Curses is one of my favourite albums of the last few years, “The House That Hope Built” got my mouth watering for their next outing, and after hearing “Arming Eritrea” from that second album, Travels With Myself And Another, I’m positively vibrating with anticipation.

Beginning with the heavy guitar ‘n’ bass stabs over metronomic drumbeats that we became so familiar with on the last album, it’s all so-far-so-good. But as the stabs get faster, and Andy’s vocals get more frenzied, we’re treated to a burst of far more expansive, high-register melodic guitar, so loud it threatens to drown out the vocals, before abruptly switching back. It’s just what I for one was hoping for, the sheer fury and vitriol of the band is still there in abundance, but this is one group of lads who refuse to stick with one style for too long. It’s safe to say, there’s only one thing we can truly be certain of with this new album – it’s going to be good.

Future Of The Left – Arming Eritrea (YSI)

PS. Thanks, and much love, go to Sweeping The Nation for helping me find this