Future Of The Left


Round Three.

It was an odd year. With music a less dominant part of my life these days, what I came into contact with tended to be directly related to what I was writing or talking about for DIY or FFS. I heard about a a heap of great albums (I will never tire of great music writing), but the amount of pure listening I did was far than it has been. Which is why, as I sit with headphones over my ears and a full pack of chocolate buttons melting in my mouth, I’m finding it hard to decide. When the albums you’ve loved in a year have been far less listened to, the amount you can critically discern between them is a lot less than it might otherwise have been. But here we go.

Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams

After ‘Coming Down’ swept across the blogs, many, notably myself, were somewhat jazzed about the idea of a epic-scale, anthemic gloom-rock approach from the L.A. four-piece. We didn’t get it. What we got was an album that embraced a true idea of evolution in sound – a step along the girl-group, surf-punk, fuzz-friendly Ascent of Man chart if you will. It refined, retuned and ultimately improved in every way on the group’s debut and, with ‘Coming Down’ as centrepiece and ‘Hold Your Hand’ as finale, indicated what the next image of Dum Dum Girls might look like too.


Dum Dum Girls – Coming Down

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo

This was a grower, and by “grower” I mean that I was completely unimpressed, put it aside in some distant corner of my iTunes library, lost the CD copy and forgot it had been released at all. Then, four months later, it was played at work and I realised how brilliant it is. I mean just great. That there is a grower. Mixing experimental ambience with the drive of classic rock, Smoke Ring… is a wonder, a beautiful comedown. The whole thing envelops you like warm rain, Vile’s voice soothing as drums pound and guitars chime all around you. Easy listening in the best possible way.

Kurt Vile – Baby’s Arms

Future of the Left – Polymers are Forever

There are some certitudes in life that we must be aware of. Examples: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction; Alan Rickman is the best; any Future of the Left release will make it onto my end of year list. EP though it may be, this is still one of the best collections of music this year. Maniacally leaping between styles (even within songs) throughout and even more maniacally approaching lyrical output (relationships, Joe Pesci, international relations) this is everything I could want from a FotL release: ferocity, insanity, hilarity.


Future of the Left – Polymers are Forever

Peter Stampfel and Jeffrey Lewis – Come on Board

I promise I’m not being (too) wilfully obscure with this one. Yes, it may only have been available from the pair’s live shows, and yes it might have taken me a month to find the album artwork, but you can find it online. Somewhere. Whatever the difficulties, this is most definitely worth its placing. This the sound of two kindred spirits separated only by their particular decade of musical popularity. Each complements the other’s own brand of weirdness spectacularly, with Stampfel’s gurgling squeals and Lewis’ croaky drawl mixing to make the best set of badly sung anti-folk tales I’ve heard all year.


Peter Stampfel and Jeffrey Lewis – He’s Been Everywhere

The Antlers – Burst Apart

I don’t like this much as Hospice. But that was never really going to happen, was it? Frankly, the best complement I can personally give Burst Apart is that it isn’t Hospice and it still ended up as one of my albums of the year. A definite step away from the “concept album”-as-concept album, The Antlers treated this one as an experiment, simplifying into indie-rock (‘Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out’), playing at being their heroes (the Kid A/Amnesiac-isms of ‘Parentheses’) or messing with new genres (the distorted soul of ‘Putting the Dog to Sleep’) and succeeding at each and every one. This doesn’t need to be Hospice anymore, it’s brilliant in and of itself.


The Antlers – Parentheses

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

I genuinely can’t understand the backlash against this one. I know, I know, I’m a Radiohead douche but seriously, how can this be a bad album? “Not as good as In Rainbows,” fine, but a bad album? Nah. This is complex, beautiful songcraft with a spectacular generic twist halfway through – what introduces itself as a beat-heavy album, some naturalistic iteration of the aforementioned Kid A/Amnesiac era, between ‘Feral’ and ‘Lotus Flower’ becomes a more vocal affair, and with a hilarious non-sequitur punchline for the more desperate of us fanboys (that line in ‘Separator’) to boot. Time will prove people wrong on this one.

Radiohead – Separator

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

Smog and Bill Callahan have been skirting around the peripheries of my music collection for years now, but have always seemed too revered, and perhaps too obscure, to simply dive into without a useful introduction. How kind of Bill to do that for me. Apocalypse is simultaneously traditional and experimental in its take on country-folk, sounding unmistakenly American, but in a distinctly literary fashion – this is more exploration (hence the experimentation) of a sound rather than a retreading of it. It makes for an album that’s as intriguing for its context as its overt content, and, by association, Callahan’s back catalogue looks just as enticing to me now.


Bill Callahan – Drover

Other Lives – Tamer Animals

There haven’t been many new bands in recent years that have grabbed me, shaken me awake and metaphorically said ‘LISTEN TO HOW AWESOME WE SOUND!’ like Other Lives did for me in 2011. Their music sounds so magnificently grand, so all-encompassing in its earthiness that it seems paradoxically unearthly (captured beautifully in their video for ‘For 12’). Clutching at the heady ambitions of classical music and expressive soundtrack work and roping it together with grounded, traditional folk sounds should simply not be this effortless, but they soar together somewhere in between in wonderful fashion. I need more of this in my life, and quickly at that.


Other Lives – Dark Horse

Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On

If Kurt Vile was a grower, this was a revelation. I was actively irritated with this album at first. Where were the folk creaks and strains I loved so much from before? Why was Taylor Kirk crooning? And what THE HELL was a saxophone doing there? It can’t be overstated that I’m an idiot. As Kirk himself sings on ‘Black Water’, ‘All I need is some sunshine.’ Once I saw that light, there was no turning back. Timber Timbre’s exercise in creepifying the sounds of old-fashioned pop is remarkable, showing the talent they have for subtly twisting the familiar into unsettling shapes in a completely new way.


Timber Timbre – Woman

Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen

This started at the top of my list and never left. It’s simply one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard – and I’ve put enough thought into that to say it without pretence. I could expend mountains of hyperbole to explain that, but since Pearson himself kept it so simple, it would seem false to do so (that and I’ve done it elsewhere). What I will say is that this album can take your breath away, such is the depth of the emotions, it can drain you, such is the starkness of Pearson’s troubles, and it can (if I’m any example) completely affirm any pretentious belief you may have in the transcendent power of music. It may not be straightforwardly enjoyable, but by fuck is it satisfying, beautiful, devastating and incredible.


Josh T. Pearson – Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This might be my favourite episode of The Folk Bloke yet – not for any actually professional reasons, just because I managed to get songs from Skyrim and Future of the Left into it.

Sven – Ragnar the Red (YSI)
Sven – The Age of Aggression (YSI)

I’ve said a lot about Future of the Left in the past, so I won’t say much beyond the fact that their new EP is streaming now, I’m severely excited to hear more material from this new line-up and that the sample cut below sounds like evil Muppets.


Future of the Left – New Adventures

There are some gigs that you just know will resonate with you long after it’s all over. Whether it’s the crowd, the atmosphere, the venue or the band itself, you can feel that you’ll be going over those few hours you spent in your head for days to come. Two nights ago I had the distinct pleasure of seeing one my favourite bands, Future of the Left at my favourite Newcastle venue, The Cluny, and I’m doing that right now.

Seeing FotL up close (I’ve only ever seen them on a the big ol’ NME stage at Reading Festival before) was quite unlike anything else I’d ever witnessed on a music stage. I’ve never properly been to a truly up-close-and-personal ‘angry’ gig before, and if there’s one thing that categorises Andy Falkous it’s his anger, and the energy that gives him on stage. Two songs in, he was drenched in sweat and swigging beer so that he could keep screaming his surreal non-sequiturs at us whilst Jack Egglestone kept their powerful drum sound rolling and Kelson ripped his bass to shreds. Each member knows exactly what to do, and how to do it exactly right, and it’s this that makes them as tight a band as they are; never sloppy, never willing to let the energy of ther music take over and push them out of their scarily regimented style. The audience (myself most definitely included) were lapping it up, screaming with joy at every new song, mosh pits forming every time the tempo was stepped up (‘Small Bones, Small Bodies’ and ‘Land of my Formers’ were positively explosive) and chanting lyrics back at Falko like they were (dark, hilarious) nursery rhymes.

But between every few songs they’d stop to breathe and unleash some of the funniest stage banter I’ve seen. The humour that characterises their lyrics is clearly a natural thing as they unceremoniously ripped apart any fan foolish enough to shout song requests and insulted their sound man. Frankly the reason this gig was quite so brilliant is because the band refuse to stop entertaining, even when the songs are over. As a case in point, their final song, the live-only ‘Cloak the Dagger’ was extended to a fifteen minute session of feedback and weird interludes as Falko slowly but surely deconstructed the drum kit and scattered it across the stage while Kelson started playing the Inspector Gadget theme tune and mumbled obscure dance track lyrics. I think this is the secret Future of the Left don’t want to let on – beyond all the audience-baiting insults, fury and general moody persona, they put their heart and soul (and throat in Falko’s case) into every gig and it seems like they just want people to enjoy themselves. Well, mission accomplished guys.

Setlist:

1. Arming Eritrea
2. Chin Music
3. Wrigley Scott (YSI)
4. Small Bones, Small Bodies
5. Plague of Onces
6. Manchasm (YSI)
7. You Need Satan More Than He Needs You
8. Stand By Your Manatee
9. Land Of My Formers
10. Fingers Become Thumbs
11. Yin/Post Yin
12. My Gymnastic Past
13. Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood
Encore
14. The Hope That House Built
15. Cloak the Dagger

So here we are, the final list, my five favourite albums of 2009, I do hope you’ve enjoyed my selections, and maybe found some new stuff for your mp3 players to eat up. Speak to you all soon!

5. Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I

When I first listened to this latest effort from New York’s premier anti-folk troubadour/comic book artist I expected what I’d heard before in my brief forays into the Lewis back catalogue; gentle, off-centre ditties about charmingly witty and strangely perverse subjects. In fact, I was kind of wrong. For a start, a lot of this album is a lot louder than I expected it to be, with opener ‘Slogans’ blasting the whole affair into life in a whirl of Libertines-ey razorwire riffs whilst I actually found a lot of the subject matter to be charming and witty, but mostly conventional in its approach. And maybe that was the best way to really introduce me to Jeffrey Lewis, expect the unexpected. The album takes lyrical left turns throughout, with love songs to Greyhound buses (‘Roll Bus Roll’) giving way to existential musings (‘If Life Exists?’) before discussing how whistling prevents hearing corpses talk about you (‘Whistle Past The Graveyard’) whilst musically we’re met with folk ditties, Cake-style freakouts (‘The Upside-Down Cross’) and indie-punk anthems (‘Broken Broken Broken Heart’). It’s Lewis himself who makes this album what it is then, infusing every track with his own irrepressible charm and verve, not to mention his distinctive nasal whine (certainly not a bad thing, by the way). There’s just so much to be told on this album, you just want to hear what he’s telling you throughout, and it’s a storytelling experience as much as anything else and that’s what makes it quite so special.

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

4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Not having been alive in 1983, nor having done any kind of extensive research into the music of that time, all the talk about how POBPAH (lovely acronym that that is) are simply rehashing the famous C83 tape flies right over my head. I’ll tell you what I hear on this album – some unfairly talented young people making shimmering, occasionally loud, twee indie music in an almost perfectly-realised way. It doesn’t matter that this has been done before, and it certainly doesn’t matter that the band have done their research into what they want to sound like before they made their album, what matters is that this is one of those albums where every song feels like an old friend after one listen. And it’s the second listen that counts, where you realise for the first time just how well made all of these songs are. ‘Young Adult Friction’ is a gloriously sparking love song, ‘A Teenager In Love’ is quietly glimmering pop masterpiece whilst ‘Everything With You’ is a punk-flecked headbanger for kids in NHS specs, complete with a wonderfully out of place stadium rock guitar solo. If I was a bit younger and a bit further back in my relationship, this would be the perfect soundtrack for falling in love to.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Everything With You (YSI)

3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another

Future of the Left are quite likely the most menacing band I’ve ever heard. Menacing because they’re not balls-out terrifying like a death metal band, menacing because you can never quite tell whether they’re joking, menacing because there’s always the suspicion that they’re even angrier than they let on, and it might just all tumble out of your speakers and throttle you without you realising. And I love them for it. There’s something in that commitment to releasing your anger through music, but in no immediately obvious way that makes me smile. It seems the intelligent way to do it. Packing barely twelve songs into just over half an hour, this is a tightly-wound ball of aggression, taking in ‘The Hope That House Built’s barely-contained war march, hellish (PUN) anthem ‘You Need Satan More Than He Needs You’ and the spring-loaded punk of ‘Stand By Your Manatee’ before winding down with the spectacularly odd spoken-word explosion of ‘Lapsed Catholics’. It all seems like the perfect follow-up to Curses – it has all the same vitriol, the same mish-mash of the heavier genres and the same sense of deranged playfulness of subject, but something is lying there behind it all, differentiating it, with a bigger grin, and a bigger sense of something truly dangerous behind that grin.

Future of the Left – Chin Music (YSI)

2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

This was, as any regualar readers will know, my most anticipated album of the year. After three EPs that I couldn’t get enough of and after experiencing them live, I really couldn’t freaking wait for Sigh No More. I was not to be disappointed. Choosing some of their best songs from the original EPs and surrounding them with some excellent new additions to the catalogue was a very good call, appeasing the fans with new material whilst showing new ones what they’ve been missing. This is a group who seem assured of their positions within each song at all times, using each instrument to full effect, and bringing every track to life with incredible precision. We all know they’re masters of the uplifting buildup by now, with tracks like ‘Winter Winds’, ‘The Cave’ and ‘White Blank Page’ all exhibiting that particular talent, but there’s a wealth of different styles on show here, with quieter tracks like the brooding ‘I Gave You All’ being given just as much space to breathe as its more ostentatious neighbours. Marcus’ beautiful keening vocals are another source of wonder, moving from scratching solos to taking its place amongst the rest of the band as they harmonise like nobody else. Not only that, but ‘Dust Bowl Dance’ showed room for expansion, embracing electric instruments and making an almighty racket with them. It has to be remembered that this is a debut album too, they may have had more experience than many new bands do when they recorded it, but for a band to put together such a coherent, beautiful record on their first try is nothing short of amazing, and their new-found larger fanbase is just reward for the hard work they’ve put in so far.

Mumford & Sons – White Blank Page (YSI)

1. The xx – xx

To be honest, this was probably the easiest choice of them all, but I still ask myself one big question whenever I think about this album – where the hell did it come from? In today’s world of leaks, Myspace fame and PR overload, how did The xx seem such an unassuming prospect until they hit us with xx? It was a miracle of timing and possibly purposeful mystery that brought the band to everyone’s attention at the same time, creating a singular (mainly bloggy) fervour to write about them just before the album came out and they played the summer festivals. It’s not just the mystery of their appearance that makes them incredible though, I’m still bowled over by just how assured a debut this is, particularly from teenagers with basically no experience or exposure to the world they were entering. And yet The xx have made an album that should be and, I imagine, is looked at with incredulity to think getting a better sound means adding more to it. These are eleven tracks of quiet, gloomy romance that have been picked back to their bare bones, skeletal reminders of what they could have been, and how unnecessary it would have been to fill them out. Songs like ‘VCR’ get by with so little instrumentation they could almost seem incomplete, but occasional touches of bass or the barest hints of synth high hats push them into their own uniquely quiet territory.

Romy and Oliver’s vocals are the real centre piece though, their interplay, weaving in and out of each other, joining together and overlapping is a masterclass in how boy-girl vocals needn’t be a gimmick or oppositional; they can act in symbiosis, saying the same things in different ways. The instruments act in a similar way, with quietly picked guitar parts following bass throbs while gentle synths wind their way around both. In ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’, the sparse drum machine dance beats lead the way, allowing for other instruments to make their way into the mix, quietly creating an almost imperceptible crescendo that disappears as quickly as it formed. It’s the Jamie Smith’s well-studied exercise in silence-as-production-technique that accentuates these moments, makes them important to the listener, and elevates the vocals above the rest – and it’s the silence rather than anything else that characterises this album. It’s an odd idea, but silence has been the only true new sound this year – almost everything else on this list can be traced back to someone elses’ music, but the silence on xx is so singular it becomes its own feature, and that’s why this album is the most important, and, more usefully, the best of the year.

The xx – Heart Skipped A Beat (YSI)

Just as a round-up, here’s the full list:

1. The xx – xx
2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another
4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
5. Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I
6. The Horrors – Primary Colours
7. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
8. Telekinesis – Telekinesis!
9. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
10. The Maccabees – Wall of Arms
11. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinsons – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
12. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
13. Hockey – Mind Chaos
14. Pull Toger Tail – PAWS.
15. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose

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!!!

1. Radiohead
2. Muse
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.

Arcade Fire – Antichrist Television Blues (YSI)
Radiohead – Videotape (YSI) [That’s another favourite…]


I think of Future of the Left as the musical equivalent of the comedian Stephen Wright – they say hilarious, and often insane things, but in a completely deadpan way. Their odd mix of punk/metal music with satirical, and blackly comic lyrics is unlike anything else being made right now, and every time I listen to them I hear something else that makes me chuckle. Consider this verse from “Lapsed Catholics”:

Whose prison break is the most impressive?
I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder.
Such patience, such verve and poise,
But wait a minute, shit, that’s the wrong film.
Morgan Freeman would roll in his grave… if he were dead,
Which he nearly was, if you believe the hysterical gung-ho Technicolor crapfest
That is Sky News, or Murdoch live, or whatever the hell the devil calls himself.

Where else are you going to find that spoken in menacing tones over slowly intertwining acoustic guitars that eventually snap into momentary explosions of overdriven noise? I never reviewed FotL’s first album, Curses, because I started this blog after it came out, and I never reviewed their second, Travels With Myself and Another, because… well, I’m just lazy and stupid. So consider this a review of the band’s output as a whole.

If you crave something heavier than the norm, whilst retaining a sense of irony and self-reflexivity that only bands like Art Brut can truly pull off, look no further. This is a band that can switch between singing (or screaming) about Satan (‘You Need Satan More Than He Needs You’), dinosaurs (‘Yin/Post-Yin’), train vandalism (‘Throwing Brick At Trains’) and sausage on a stick (‘Wrigley Scott’) without a moment’s notice. And whilst all this goes on, their musical style varies just as much – old single ‘Manchasm’ sounds like an evil B-52s whilst ‘The Hope That House Built’ could be an apocalyptic war march. They’re an absolute marvel of a band, and I can’t recommend both albums enough. Oh, and did I mention that they’re absolutely incredible live?

Future of the Left – Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood (YSI)
Future of the Left – Stand By Your Manatee (YSI)

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