Good Shoes

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.

Good Shoes – City By The Sea (YSI)

9. Arcade FireThe 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.

Arcade Fire – Rococo (YSI)

8. Laura MarlingI 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.

Laura Marling – Devil’s Spoke (YSI)

7. Beach HouseTeen 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.

Beach House – Zebra (YSI)

6. Mountain ManMade 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.

Mountain Man – How’m I Doin’ (YSI)

There are always bands you know you should have heard, but you just haven’t. And that irritates me, because more often than not when you eventually hear that band it becomes abundantly clear why you should have been listening to them all along. This very situation has occurred to me with Orange Juice. I’ve heard their name bandied about so often that it just became one of those  recognisable references, but never one I bothered to check out. Well consider me educated, because they’re bloody excellent, and I will be checking them out with haste (luckily Domino have apparently just got the rights to their back catalogue which means reissues are forthcoming).

What amazed me is just how much you can see that those references are really accurate. Too often you get bands referred to as ‘The new [someone]’ and it’s just too loose a description to have any real meaning. However, in this case you can really hear where newer bands have taken reference points. The jangly guitars are very similar in tone to those Good Shoes use, and the fey vocals are a dead ringer for Hayden Thorpe of Wild Beasts at times. So check out Orange Juice and make a quick comparison with the other two tracks, and tell me if I ain’t right.

Orange Juice – Blue Boy (YSI)
Good Shoes – We Are Not The Same (Single Version) (YSI)
Wild Beasts – We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues (YSI)

Ever since I first heard them I’ve been a big, big Good Shoes fan. The first song I heard was the demo version of ‘We Are Not The Same’ and I was immediately struck by the odd spiky guitars, slowly entwining instrumentation and just plain strange vocals I was presented with. As I collected more and more early recordings of the band, I became steadily more and more obsessed. I hoovered up facts, reviews of gigs and whatever else I could find in magazines – I even wrote their first Wikipedia page for fuck’s sake (under the name OnionHeadHat fact-checkers!). I was addicted. I think it had something to do with them being the first ‘underground’ band that felt like they were mine – no friend, magazine or other influence had told me to listen, I just heard them and that was it, they were ‘my band’ to introduce to others and rave about. I got my face onto the 7″ sleeve of their single, ‘Photos On My Wall’ and became stupidly excited by it. Think Before You Speak came out, I listened to it intently and loved it intensely – it took the old demos and added new layers and more complex arrangements. I saw them live for the first time soon after (it was brilliant in case you can’t guess what I thought about it). After this ever-increasing love affair, it took a long time for news of a new album to appear. Then a band member was replaced. I was filled with trepidation that a second album might not even appear.

However, come the end of last year we were treated to ‘The Way My Heart Beats’. Then, positive news of the next outing for my favourite Morden boys, No Hope, No Future was confirmed. I was all excited again, just like the first time. It got to January 11th and I was told that the album was exclusively available in indie record shops a full two weeks before the official release – needless to say I rushed out and snapped up my copy that afternoon. I listened to it as soon as I could. I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed. It actually lowered my mood for the day, I complained to my girlfriend and I didn’t listen to it again for a few days. Something didn’t seem quite right, it didn’t have the same feeling as the first album, and Rhys’ usually witty and urbane lyrics felt oddly self-serving and (gulp) simplistic. However, I couldn’t just let this band I’ve loved so much go without another try, so yesterday I gave it another go.

I don’t know what changed, but it was a different experience altogether. Each song sounded like an improved version of the ones I heard the first time I listened – I noticed the increased focus on the brilliant guitar work of Rhys and Steve, the far deeper sound of the album as a whole and it all started to fit together. This isn’t what I expected from that band I’d known so well, but that’s not the point, there’s a new member, a new subjective focus and with all this change there was bound to be a different feel to it all. The album opens with ‘The Way My Heart Beats’, a sucker punch of driven energy, faster than anything the band have produced before, and then shifts gear dramatically to give us ‘Everything You Do’, a gloomy affair, much slower than anything they’ve released too. It’s a bold statement of intent – this will not be a consistent followthrough from the last album, it’s going to switch things up.

It doesn’t make for a terribly cohesive listening experience, but it’s one that constantly surprises. The best three songs on the album arrive slap-bang in the middle of the album in the form of ‘Do You Remember’ (the song that best recalls the first album and then gives way to a largely instrumental outro full of new ideas), ‘Our Loving Mother In A Pink Diamond’ (the song that sounds least like the first album, powered along by Tom Jones’ drums and an almost proggy guitar pattern) and ‘Times Change’ (which is all about Rhys’ yelping vocals careering about in the verses before controlling itself to tell us that ‘Times change/So have you’). It’s this refusal to stick to one style (which they might have been criticised for doing before) that characterises No Hope, No Future; before the record’s done we have some arty, high-register guitar squeals on ‘Then She Walks By’ that Foals would be proud of and ‘City By The Sea’ closes it all up with something approaching a beautiful lament, as Rhys yearns for ‘a little more time/To feel your heartbeat close to mine’ as slowly tumbling guitar echoes around in lovely fashion.

Now don’t consider this a complete turnaround on my part, I’m still a little fazed by some of the lyrical content (‘I know/I know/I know/Oh no’ isn’t the greatest foundation for a chorus) as well as the gimmicky feeling of lyrical connections between songs (a little too ‘concepty’ for this album, I think) and the strange flow of the album doesn’t seem to sit quite right, but my initial impressions were definitely wrong. This is an exciting, changeable album from a band that offer something consistently different from the usual indie and art-pop crowd, even if their sound isn’t entirely consistent itself. What we have here is an experimental album that isn’t about messing around within songs, rather with them. Each song offers different ideas within the framework of Good Shoes’ usual jagged guitar work and biting look at British culture, and the results are by no means perfect, but definitely very good.

That’s all I could ever have wished for, a very good album from one of my favourite bands, and guess what? With every listen that familiar feeling of ‘my band’ is coming back to me all over again.

Good Shoes – Do You Remember (YSI)
Good Shoes – Our Loving Mother In A Pink Diamond (YSI)

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.

Arcade Fire – Lenin (YSI)

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.

Band of Skulls – Death By Diamonds and Pearls (YSI)

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.

Beirut – My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille (YSI)

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.

Beth Jeans Houghton – I Will Return, I Promise (YSI)

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.

Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta A Feeling (YSI)

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.

Bob Dylan – Must Be Santa (YSI)

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.

Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill (De La Edit) (YSI)

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.

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing (YSI)

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.

Esser – Headlock (YSI)

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.

Good Shoes – The Way My Heartbeats (YSI)

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.

Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks (YSI)

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.

Little Comets – One Night In October (YSI)

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.

Local Natives – Camera Talk (YSI)

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.

You wait an age for singles from your favourite bands, and two come along at once and with videos to boot. Both Vampire Weekend and Good Shoes have revealed their first singles from their sophomore albums, Contra and No Hope, No Future respectively, and both have had me jigging with joy for days now.

Vampire Weekend’s ‘Cousins’ is sprightly beast, packed full of yelps, skittering drums and dancing guitar lines and seems a – well – cousin of the ‘Weekend’s other speedy, indie-punk jaunt, ‘A-Punk’. The video’s bloody good too, directed by the brilliant Garth Jennings (who directed ‘A-Punk’ as well), with a wondrous section involving masks towards the end:

‘Under Control’, the first single, and second released song from Good Shoes’ new album is a darker affair than their usual fare, with a pulsing bassline and Rhys’ insistent, inimitable voice pushing the whole thing along at a brisk pace. Now I’m not going say it’s worse, but this video is frankly a little terrifying for some reason, so it’s not quite as smile-infused romp as the last one. Ah well, enjoy everyone!

Vampire Weekend – Cousins (YSI)
Good Shoes – Under Control (YSI)

Remembering those hazy days of the revival of British indie, I remember being excited by almost every band that did something even a little different to everyone else. But after that initial flush of ridiculous over-excitement, I narrowed my interest to three bands, an indie triumverate if you will. The Maccabees have of course gone on to release two excellent albums, Pull Tiger Tail have been through some shitty label-based troubles, but are finally releasing their debut album, and Good Shoes released a brilliant first album, Think Before You Speak, before, well, disappearing.

In the intervening time, it seems like Good Shoes have not rested on their laurels though. After the departure of their bassist, Good Shoes have been working hard on new material and have got a national tour lined up (including playing at evil corporate club, Digital in Newcastle which I’ll have to endure to see the band). And so, finally, they’ve released a free download for us all to sample entitled “The Way My Heartbeats”. It’s a frenetic affair, sounding like a song from the first album but played at double speed, whilst Rhys Jones’ strange, moaning vocals shout their way all over the whole thing. There are some drops in pace scattered around, and even a synthy middle eight, but it always returns to that breakneck-speed verse. And what’s more, it’s bloody brilliant. It retains everything I liked about the band – Rhys’ vocals, the jangly guitars, lovelorn lyrics, it’s all there but with a sprinkle of something slightly different just to get you excited for the rest of the new material. Welcome back Good Shoes, you were sorely missed.

Good Shoes – The Way My Heartbeats (YSI)

I’m going to have to say it again. Good Shoes were/are amazing, and I really want them to come back. Come on guys, The Maccabees have made their return, where are you? well, whilst searching for Good Shoes goodies, I found this really lovely cover of “Small Town Girl” by an (I think) Italian artist, Enrico Boccioletti, who goes by the name of Death In Donut Plains.

I gather this was done for a compilation somewhere on the interwebs, but it’s one of those rare covers that keeps the spirit of the original whilst changing it enough to stay interesting. The intro is all airy, hypnotic synths and occasional plucks of distant guitar, before the song proper starts and the jangling chords of Steve Leach are replaced by layers of electronic loveliness. The vocals are tinged with the merest hint of a European accent which, for some reason, I really, really love. I can’t get hold of any of his own work yet, but check out his Myspace page for some more great tracks (“Brotherhood” being my personal favourite)

Death In Donut Plains – Small Town Girl (YSI)
Good Shoes – Small Town Girl (YSI)

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