June 2010


Tomorrow I’m starting a journey to Glastonbury. The day after Glastonbury I embark on a transatlantic tour the likes of which Kerouac could never have dreamed of (well, Las Vegas and Florida). As such, this blog may have to take a little downtime as I doubt I’ll have extended access to a computer for a little over a month. So I’m going to post tracks by lots of the artists I’m looking forward to seeing next weekend as a sort of temporary swansong(s). Until next we meet.

The xx – Fantasy (YSI)
Snoop Dogg – Drop It Like It’s Hot (YSI)
Mos Def – Auditorium feat. Slick Rick (YSI)
Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours (YSI)
The National – Terrible Love (YSI)
Mountain Man – How’m I Doin’ (YSI)
Wild Beasts – The Devil’s Crayon (YSI)
Midlake – Roscoe (YSI)
Tom Williams & The Boat – Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet (YSI)
Meursault – One Day This’ll All Be Fields (YSI)

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This song sounds like a Sega Mega Drive short-circuiting as Thom Yorke tries to play it with both controllers at once.

Yep.

Flying Lotus – …And The World Laughs With You (feat. Thom Yorke) (YSI)

When I first heard about Mountain Man, the description of their music never grabbed me. Three girls, one guitar, a capella – for some reason these terms didn’t endear me to them. However, constant praise has a way of battering me into submission and their album, Made The Harbor has finally made its way into my ears, and my ears are all the better for it. What I’d missed in those initial reviews wasn’t what the band really did (that meagre description above is completely and utterly accurate), but how they could make that particular combination absolutely enthralling.

In just half an hour of vocal and occasional guitar, this Vermont group teach you that folk music needn’t rely on numerous instruments to ensure its variability (I’m talking to you Stornoway), it’s all in the melodies – or in this group’s case, the harmonies. These days, any harmony-driven folk group is immediately compared to Fleet Foxes, but Mountain Man shirk any such influences by sounding so totally authentic that they just couldn’t be drawing on anyone else’s inspiration. What ends up most impressive is how these girls can take such a sonically limited album and make it truly chageable throughout – we hear spine-tingling folk (‘Animal Tracks’), barbershop (‘How’m I Doin”) and even what sounds like a medieval carol (‘Mouthwings’) – and it’s (again) all in the charming, off-kilter harmonies. It never becomes samey because, simply, no two songs are the same, even if they’ve been produced and played in exactly the same way.

This is heart-warming and haunting in turn, could soundtrack a summer day or a winter’s night, draws on timeless New World and Old World sounds and manages to sound totally new and smile-inducingly familiar all at once. It’s a great big ball of contradictions, but one through line remains – it’s brilliant.

Mountain Man – White Heroin (YSI)

… This song is almost too beautiful, and Speak Before I Can gets more wonderful every time I listen to it. That’s all, really.

Laura Marling – Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) (YSI)

Folk music can be many things: Relaxing, introspective, beautiful, poetic. One thing folk music does very little is convey a sense of true urgency, but in listening to Gills (Dry) by The Spend, that’s just what happens. The furiously strummed, picked and plucked guitar trips over itself to get where it wants to go throughout, acting as melody and percussion simultaneously, guiding and embellishing the song, and never letting the vocals drag the pace down. You might say that this kind of sound simply isn’t folk, but taking those vocals into account as they float over the guitar, carrying that warm, familiar feel of honest introspection, it all becomes clear. It’s all over very quickly, but that urgent feeling won’t leave you for a while afterward.

The Spend – Gills (Dry) (YSI)

The Morning Benders have chosen a name that doesn’t lend itself well to a British audience (‘bender’ means something quite different over here). With that in mind, it’ll take more work than usual to stop us sniggering and start taking the band seriously – luckily with Big Echo, the Berkeley band’s second album, they have put in the required effort and then some. This is gorgeous. For two years straight, this blog has enabled me to soundtrack my summer with a song so effervescent and sunny that it’s barely left my ears for months (see: This Is Ivy League, The Drums). This year it seems I haven’t just got a summer song, but a summer album, and it’s a little different to what’s come before.

This isn’t a summer album in the sense of unbridled joy and optimism, this was made for lying on the grass to, staring too long at the sun and listening to the birds (if you weren’t listening to this album instead of course) – it runs the gamut from quiet melancholia (‘Wet Cement), past laconic experimentation (‘Pleasure Sighs’) and straight into songs that don’t so much energise as pep up (‘Hand Me Downs’). What the band seem to have mastered is a sense of restraint with their music, not in an xx sense of complete quietness, but in not allowing themselves to go over the top too quickly, letting the song bubble before bringing it to the boil in one wonderful moment of release. Because of this, the listening experience is incredibly rewarding, taking in every quiet moment and being surprised and elated by the louder ones.

It’s not just the songcraft that makes this so wonderful though, the band have created an overall sound that transcends the usual indie-pop template. Sure, they are ostensibly an indie band, and at times Chris Chu’s voice is a dead ringer for Julian Casablancas, but there’s a lot more to them – their harmonies are ’50s through and through whilst their production is indebted to Phil Spector and ’60s pop in general. It’s an intriguing mix, and one that throws up some beautiful creations. Opener and first single ‘Excuses’ is a bewildering mix of harmonic action and well-considered chorus work whilst ‘Mason Jar’ is an echoing, drum-heavy track that sounds like a sweltering day in the inner city. In fact, the weakest tracks are when the older elements are dispensed with. ‘All Day Day Light’ pushes the Strokes reference into the instrumentation too and suffers for it – despite being a good pop song, it lacks the interest of what comes before.

It’s the constant interest in just what could come next that makes Big Echo quite as good as it is; like a good book, you never quite want to stop listening and come back to it later. In fact, that question of suitability for a British audience is ultimately what affirms the sound of this album – just like a British summer, you’re never sure if the next song will be rainy, sunny or thundery, and maybe that’s what makes it so much fun. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to get some shorts and grab a lemona- Oh, it’s raining.

The Morning Benders – Pleasure Sighs (YSI)

It’s nice to have a band to champion, and for me that band is Tom Williams & The Boat. It’s even nicer when said band really starts to do well for themselves, and this group have done just that. With more and more BBC radio appearences under their belt and support slots with Stornoway (who I think are a lesser band myself), the future looks pretty wonderful for the Kent six-piece and that’s only got better as they’ve now announced no less than four slots at this year’s Glastonbury, which apart from being utterly brilliant in and of itself also means I can definitely say I’m finally seeing the band live.

In support of this fantastic announcement, the band have made a video for, and are releasing their Springsteen-powered folk-pop gem ’90mph’ as a single on June 21st. It’ll be available for download on iTunes (along with last single, ‘Concentrate’) and can be pre-ordered from their spiffy new website right now. Check out the song and video below and, if you’re going to Glastonbury too, make a note of them, it’s going to be good.

Oh, and just because I’m thinking of Glastonbury, here’s a track from the man who made me smile the most in the most unexpected fashion from that weekend last year:

King Charles – Love Lust (YSI)