Jeffrey Lewis

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I felt like death during this show so I filled full of music that meant I didn’t have to talk. Luckily, that meant Meursault got a double bill and lots of big, long songs got some nice airing out. Depending on whether you’re me or not, that could be a good thing.

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This week’s Fok Bloke show took a shizophrenic turn, veering wildly from songs about terrible things to songs about other things, and I think I harped on about it a bit too much. It was quite exciting.

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Part two of round-up day on MFAGW comes in the form of my Christmas Day show for DIY Radio, a (mercifully for some, I’m sure) mostly presenter-free episode where I played a stream of my favourite Folk Bloke tracks of the year. If nothing else, it’s a bloody good line-up of music – Bill Callahan, Alessi’s Ark, Saintseneca, Rob St. John and, obviously Josh T. Pearson all make appearances. If you want an hour of delightful music to reminisce on, stick it on and lay back.

Josh T. Pearson – Thou Art Loosed!

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I’m just going to leave these here. Do with them as you will.

Tenacious D – Double Team (YSI)

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Today, DIY Radio broadcast the first episode of my new weekly show, The Folk Bloke, and that’s what you can see above. If you like the kind of thing I post here, you’re more than likely to approve of the show, so please do listen in. Please? Oh, go on. Please?

Metronomy – Radio Ladio (YSI)

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

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)

Sorry for the long wait between posts folks, I’ve been slack after coming back from uni, and I’m afraid I have more bad news, I’ll be away for about two weeks from tomorrow on holiday. But fear not, I leave you with something wonderful.

I got an email from Laura Marling’s mailing list a week or so ago, proclaiming her to having played with Jeffrey Lewis. Now seeing as I love her and newly love him, this seemed like something I should hear immediately, and hear it I did. For an odd little new section on the Guardian website, Jeffrey Lewis has started singing the news and then performing tracks with other artists, and the result of the first of these was his collaboration with Ms. Marling (link). And a weird one it is too.

They’re covering Eminem’s “Brain Damage” in a simplistic sing-song style (x4 alliteration), with Jeffrey’s tell-tale drawl sitting uncomfortably but wonderfully next to Laura’s dictive style. It’s not an instant classic, but I’ve listened to it a lot recently and it makes me smile, which is never a bad thing. And with that I leave you!

Jeffrey Lewis and Laura Marling – Brain Damage (Eminem Cover) (YSI)


Weezer – Island In The Sun (YSI)

I never really “got” Jeffrey Lewis. I saw him at Reading last year, and whilst it was prefectly nice, I just didn’t understand the fuss about him. But, getting his new album, ‘Em Are I, I’ve successfully been converted. It’s the lyrics, I just want to listen to every single thing he has to say. There aren’t many artists with the ability to craft funny, poignant, uplifting and insane things in one song, but he definitely ranks among these lucky few.

The music itself is completely different to my expectation, and I think it’s down to the addition of the Junkyard band to the mix, which has resulted in a lot more band-oriented tracks, with Libertines-style guitar, Cake-like freak-outs and even what sounds like a square-dance all represented. But in every track Lewis’ voice still takes pride of place. I think I’ll just list some lyrics that I love, and you can have a listen for yourself.

“Going bald will be the most manly thing I do”
“I still don’t have a cellphone, but this seashell gets reception, and the ocean won’t stop calling, and I want a restraining order”
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – To Be Objectified (YSI)

“Everyone you meet is not better than you”
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, oh come on that’s not me at all”
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – Slogans (YSI)

“I had a pig, it really was a sight, when it was dark, he glowed at night”
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – Good Old Pig, Gone To Avalon (YSI)

Ah Saturday, after two days, the aches of sleeping in a tent, drinking too much and being crushed by immovable idiots start to make their way deeper into your muscles. But unbowed, we struggled into the arena to see Bombay Bicycle Club (incidentally, with Katharine and Matt, who introduced me to them – thanks guys!). Again, we really made the right choice as an opening act. A lot has been made of BBC’s age, but to me it really doesn’t matter. No matter how old you are, if you’re this wonderful and effervescent, you’re always going to be a hit. Their Strokes-y guitar lines, Jack Steadman’s tremulously Oberst-like voice, everything about it was lovely. Plus, the token inclusion of a badly dancing panda (from their “Evening/Morning” video) never fails to impress.

Leaving with smiles on our faces, we headed over to the Alternative Tent to see the highly-recommended Jeffrey Lewis and the Jitters. Now I’m always partial to a bit of anti-folk, and the opening with “I Ain’t Thick, It’s Just A Trick” was a lovely little relaxing feeling, but it was all a little flat for me, after the sheer energy of the first band, it just seemed as though I still wanted that. So our next band – on the main stage this time – was a good choice. The Subways (local heroes where I come from) came bounding onstage, Billy Lunn shirtless and screaming. They launched into a lot of newer tracks (the explosive “Girls and Boys” proving the best), but the reaction from the crowd was frenzied when they played their first album’s tracks. “With You”, “Rock and Roll Queen” and the awesome “Oh Yeah” all provoked massive singalongs.

Next, we ran across the field to the NME tent once more, this time to catch the Mystery Jets. In a set peppered with tracks from their second (and much more successful) second album, they really conjured up the whole ’80s vibe of their album, they matched their bouncy melodies with a bouncy persona, smiling throughout and really making the atmosphere a good one. “Two Doors Down” was always going to be a highlight, but “Zoo Time” as a closer drew an obviously wonderful chant out of the crowd, even if most of them didn’t realise there was a first album at all.

Back to the main stage and We Are Scientists were in full swing, mixing older songs with new, covering ’80s classics whose names I can’t recall with guitarists from Editors and providing their unrivalled between-song banter. Seriously, they’re hilarious, who can blame them for supporting themselves with a stand-up show? But their tunes don’t suffer, “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” still crackles along, and “The Great Escape”‘s breakneck verses don’t disappoint. After being introduced as WAS’ aftershow band, Editors more than fulfill their billing. Their album tracks might not be massively interesting, but their singles sound amazing when played live. Tom Smith was clearly loving the experience, jumping on his piano during the breathless chorus of “Bullets” and generally running around the stage constantly, his best Ian Curtis impression blurting out of the huge speaker stacks. “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors” proved a standout moment, from the first verse until the end, everyone seemed to know the words around us, and it was impossible not to join in.

The Raconteurs were always going to be well-attended, but as Jack White emerged onto the stage, the roar that met him seemed unreal. He truly has become a legend. The show itself lived upto his reputation. Despite the second album not being as good as the first, the songs they played from it were brilliant. “Top Yourself”‘s moody blues carried well, and closer “Salute Your Solution” (which I think is the best rock song for years) blasted through the crowd like the juggernaut it is. But it was always going to be “Steady, As She Goes” that got the greatest reaction, even if it was two songs shy of the end. Its effortless, punchy rhythm made everyone move, and Jack White’s wails positively filled the air.

Bloc Party was our last appointment at the Main Stage and luckily (from what I’ve heard since about the sound problems) we were at the front. Accompanied by a stand-in bassist for Gordon Moakes, they tore through a set full of tracks from both the previous albums, as well as a couple from the album that came out on the Thursday the festival started. It’s difficult to say which tracks were the best received, because adoration for Bloc Party is something to be reckoned with, every track was screamed for. However, the best moment was the incredible laser light show that started with “Flux”. Kele Okoroke danced onstage and led the way for the rest of the audience. “Helicopter” and “The Prayer” may be their most famous outings, but they closed with their first ever singe, “She’s Hearing Voices” and it seemed to be a nostalgic moment for the band and the crowd at once.

But to be honest, we left without much ceremony, mainly because Cat was physically dragging me to the NME stage once more. We did slightly muck up on the timing though, as we got there just in time for the Bullet for my Valentine. Now I have nothing against metal, I can enjoy it (and their captive audience certainly were). It’s just that when the sound is so badly set up that the double kick-drum they used overpowered all of the other music, it doesn’t really make it anymore than violent drum ‘n’ bass. No, what we really came for was something a little more special. Manic Street Preachers really are something else. How a band with such juxtaposing members actually ever worked is beyond me, but work they do. Nicky Wire alone has an incredible stage presence, he carries himself so well, and he plays the crowd perfectly. James Dean Bradfield wields his guitar like a god, and always knows when to summon up the spirit of Richey Edwards to maximum effect – it makes the crowd go wild. It’s testament to this band that the crowd is so incredibly varied, metallers rub shoulders with indie kids, and feather boas are everywhere. Having seen them before, we knew we were going to have a good show in store, but they astounded everyone. Their set was just full of hits. They opened with “Faster”, which led into “Your Love Alone…”, then there was “Motorcycle Emptiness”, a cover of “Pennyroyal Tea” (Amazing), “If You Tolerate This…”, and “Motown Junk”. Not only that, they played a couple of lesser-known tracks (“Of Walking Abortion” and “Little Baby Nothing”) for the hardcore fans. Then they closed with the incredible “Design For Life” – I mean, what a way to end! Why anyone would choose The Killers over this I just cannot understand. If you ever get a chance, see them.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Open House
The Subways – Oh Yeah
Editors – Bullets
Bloc Party – She’s Hearing Voices
Manic Street Preachers – Faster