Archive for the 'Music' Category

My Top Ten Albums of 2011

December 18, 2011

Here’s what has become my yearly rundown on my favorite new stuff this year. I hope you hear something you like.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of all the tracks.

I’m not going to bother with reviews and just let the music speak for itself.

Fujiya and Miyagi – Ventriloquizzing

This band should be much bigger – particularly with an album as high quality as this.

Battles – Gloss Drop

Dutch Uncles – Cadenza

tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L

Wire – Red Barked Tree

Album can be heard here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2011/jan/04/wire-red-barked-tree

Rival Sons – Pressure and Time

Seen these guys at High Voltage – twice. They’re terrific and, while there’s nothing original in their retro rock sound, it’s addictive stuff.

Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing

A good companion to the Rival Sons album. They’ve given up on the electronic elements that gave their Wild Mountain Nation album a Beck-ish sound.

Liturgy – Aesthetica

An anti-death metal death metal album. The cover is white, the font is Helvetica black and the band don’t wear panstick.

Dope Body – Nupping

This is insane.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

There are no surprises on this record other than this being the best thing he’s done in years. The Death of You and Me is, in my humble opinion the best song he’s done since the Morning Glory album.

Notable tracks

And finally here’s some great tracks that were released this year.

Field Music – (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F26357005&secret_token=s-2eVk9&

Eugene McGuinness – Lion

The Scaramanga Six – Trouble

Hella – Headless

Swallow and the Workshop – Snakes in the Grass

Pyyramids – That Aint Right

Jazz Odyssey: My Attempt to “Dig” Jazz

February 19, 2011

I’ve long felt like I should like jazz but, despite the occasional half-arsed effort, it’s never quite clicked with me. And this bothers me a little. Many of the artists I love wear their jazz influences on their sleeves. Steely Dan’s love of jazz isn’t so much on their sleeve as constituting an entire appendage. XTC has always managed to work a bit of jazz in to their work here and there. Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa were more beatniks than hippies and consequently jazz was their keystone.

It left me feeling like I was only happy with the watered down, less authentic version of the music. And that seems like a shame to me.

So what’s kept me away from jazz? Well, It seems alien, with it’s own language and rules that seem utterly bizarre to any outsiders.

I think this clip from The Fast Show sums up most peoples feelings about jazz pretty well:

Sure, it’s a joke (and one I love) but the details seem pretty much on the nail. Note the presenter listing the bands personnel, all of whom have rather odd names, and assuming that this will mean something to us. He then goes on to explain the structure of the music in technical detail as if this is helpful to the viewer. This is not natural territory for your average rock fan – even someone with my slightly odd and obsessive tastes. When the music starts it’s absolute chaos. Oddly the audience seem unbothered by the spectacle before them and the presenter even seems to be enjoying it.

Of course The Fast Show specialised in presenting us with incomprehensible people such as the Channel 9 presenters and Rowley Birkin QC so it was inevitable that the jargon of jazz would find a home there.

I’m not interested in the jargon myself, I just want to get into the music. But even that seems quite difficult if you don’t know where to start.

Now, it could be argued that if you have to work to get into it then it’s not worth getting into. This is an attractive idea but any music fan has an album that they love today that they were indifferent to when they first heard it. In fact I often miss the old days when buying a record was a big event because this was a purchase I was going to have to live with. I’d save my hard earned cash to buy an album and then I’d have to keep listening to it all the way through even if I wasn’t entirely convinced that I liked it. If I’d invested my money well it would start to click. I figure the same might be true with jazz.

In fact I recently came across an interview with Harvey Pekar (the American Splendor guy) who was an obsessive jazz fan. He was asked how he got into jazz and this is what he said:

I was 16 years old and I was just flailing around, looking for an interest. I heard, you know, these jazz records. They were modern records, at the time in the ’50s, and I realized that I didn’t fully get what was going on. But I liked a lot of what I heard. What I felt was, if I listen to this stuff enough, I could train my ear so I could hear what was going on. I kept on buying records and listening to them. Finally, I was able to hear the relationship between the jazz improvisers’ solos and the underlying structure that it’s based on, the chord progression. That was pretty easy to do in the swing era, y’know, when jazz was, like, pop music, you know. It had made the charts and everything like that.

I want to work this stuff out too.

So I’ve started going on Spotify and trawling through possible records. I’ve tried to live with them for a bit and I’ve been working out what I like and what I don’t like. I thought I might start posting some reviews of jazz albums on this blog (under the banner Jazz Odyssey after the dismal Spinal Tap jazz workout). There aren’t many jazz primers out there for the rock fan so maybe this will help anyone out there that’s interested.

If you are interested then stay tuned daddio.

My Top Ten Albums of 2010

December 28, 2010

One of the few regular features of this blog: a list of my favorite albums of the year! Here they are starting with the bestest of the best and working downwards.

Field Music – Measure

A few years ago the brothers Brewis decided to split up and go their separate ways. Boo!
But then they both came out with two rather different but equally brilliant albums. Yay, twice as much music!
But then they decided to get back together again as Field Music. Boo, less music!
They released Measure, a double CD, 20 track album. Yay! Everyone wins!

For those who don’t know, Field Music make a wonderful amalgam of seventies style pop with the quirkiness, complexity and inventiveness (if not the length) of prog rock. Think of Todd Rundgren at his most inventive.

Twenty tracks is a lot and there is a danger that releasing so much material might result in poor quality control, but there’s no evidence of that here. The first disk certainly contains the more traditional songs while the second disk feels more like a continuous piece. For a similar idea hear the second half of Kate Bush’s Hound’s of Love album.

My advice to newcomers is to put the first ten tracks on heavy rotation and get used to them before moving on to the next ten.

The New Pornographers – Together

Ahhh, The New Pornographers. They seem incapable of making a bad album.

One of the dangers with power pop bands is that they can settle into sameyness all too easily. And refreshingly every album has a different tone that sets it very slightly apart from the last.

On this album there is a more of a heavy orchestral sound that slightly recalls ELO. In any case everything sounds bigger.

The result is an album that maybe my favourite of theirs so far. Certainly the first three songs of this album are some of the finest they’ve recorded.

Shining – Blackjazz

In short this is the unholy love child of King Crimson and Ministry. An easy comparison to make because they’ve adeptly covered songs by both bands.

There’s a jazz influence – though you may need to listen hard to notice. There’s a prog influence that’s never far away. And finally the whole lot is dipped in industrial metal.

I find it a very seductive combination but some may balk: too heavy for proggers, too weird for metallers and too much of both for anyone else.

The Posies – Blood/Candy

And now back to another power pop album.

The Posies are an odd pair and while they always make interesting records you can never be quite sure which way they’ll go.

With this album it’s as if they decided they were going to make a straight up, honest to goodness, pop record. There’s very little here that’s as maudlin or spikey as some of their previous efforts. This record jumps styles but never looses focus.

I sincerely think this may be the best album they’ve done.

OK Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

The biggest cliché you can possibly say about OK Go is: They do great videos but their songs are shit. Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!

I think the truth behind this comment is that power pop is not widely popular with the general public and the audience for their videos has gone much wider than the tiny circle of power pop aficionados.

Weirdly I think the whole thing with the videos puts certain people off OK Go and that’s a terrible shame.

This is a bold, bright album that improves with every listen.

Wavves – King of the Beach

It was terribly sad to hear of Jay Reatard’s death at such a young age, and while no-one could ever fill his shoes, Wavves is probably as close as we could hope for this year. A big punky psychedelic mess of vibrant pop stupidity. I saw them live this year, featuring Reatard’s former band “mates” and they were fantastic.

These New Puritans – Hidden

I often find myself drawn to strange combinations and this is a weird combination that works beautifully. Dramatic strings and industrial style electronics. If your ears are jaded this might lift their spirits.

C.W. Stoneking – Jungle Blues

Clearly Stoneking doesn’t have much time for modern music. And by modern I mean anything recorded in the last sixty years. His tunes are a combination of styles that recalls Cab Colloway and old school blues and jazz. The man himself looks like a chubby white bank clerk but sounds like a 100 year old black man recalling his hallucinatory past from his porch. The danger with any project that recalls the past in this fashion is it can end up being a hollow pastiche but Stoneking brings enough charm and lopsided humour to make it all crackle like an old 78.

Hans Zimmer – Inception

I don’t often listen to soundtrack albums but Inception is an exception. A film that won over millions and annoyed a few doubters also has a soundtrack that easily holds it’s own. Johnny Marr makes an incredible contribution with his distinctive guitar sound that really lifts the whole album. It’s also nice when you get little details like this:

Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back

Well this was an odd one. Gabriel, who produces very few records at best, decides to do a covers album. This is often a bad sign that an artist is in decline (Annie Lennox, Erasure and Duran Duran have all struggled since their cover albums). But Gabriel decided to make things hard for himself and record without drums and guitars, just piano and strings. The results were quirky in the extreme with a failure for every victory. For example, his version of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” is probably one of the best interpretations of a much-covered song; but then things go very wrong with a ghastly cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit that is brave but misconceived.

I went to see this album performed live, half expecting a night of tedium, but it turned out to be a triumph and a very special night. It was a thrilling experience with both cheers from the crowd and heckles.

Is this really one of the greatest albums of the year? Perhaps not but it’s one of the bravest and most exciting. It’s incredible to see an old warhorse like Peter Gabriel challenging himself (and sometimes failing) in such a public way. You don’t see Phil Collins doing this kind of thing.

Finally

Just a few other albums I liked this year:

– Bellowhead – Hedonism

– School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire

– LoneLady – Nerve Up

– Screaming Females – Castle Talk

Finally, I notice that my top ten hardly resembles anyone elses. All I can say is that I love a good pop song, I have no need to appear cool, and I don’t read the music press. Contrary to what you may assume, I have heard many of these fashionable albums (at least briefly) and they left me cold. I genuinely like the stuff I’ve listed and I hope you might check it out.

Happy new year.

Adam Ant at The Scala: 30th April 2010

May 2, 2010

A few weeks ago I was surprised to see that Adam Ant was doing a gig. And it wasn’t some huge venue but at the Scala which only holds about 500 people. The main surprise was that Adam was doing a gig at all; the last time he announced some big live shows it was on the Here and Now eighties package tour. Within a few weeks of that announcement he was arrested for waving a starters pistol at some guys who’d mocked his clothing choices. That put paid to his tour and it seemed the end of his already stalled music career.

Consequently he went public with his mental health problems which he said had been exacerbated by drinking.

Now, out of the blue and to little fanfare, he announced he was doing this tiny gig. The show was going to be a Pirate Metal Extravaganza. Other than that, details were non-existent. Was he going to do new material? Old material? Covers? I had no idea.

The Support

The first band on was Spitfire. A three-piece who looked young enough to be my own bastard offspring. They were fantastically exuberant, bouncing around the stage while the female drummer walloped the almighty crap out of the drum kit. Their songs were a bit average but if they can sort that out they should have a great future.

Next up was Dead Sensation. They looked like Motley Crue and their singer managed to inspire instant hatred; he looked the part with long black hair in a wife beater and leather trousers but had all the false bonhomie and singing ability of an accountant at a Christmas party. There seems something terribly wrong about a singer who wears his own band merch and then announces we should all go to their MySpace page after the first terrible song. During the second song Adam Ant appeared with a big smile on his face holding a can of Strongbow. He danced across the stage to big cheers from the crowd. And then he danced backwards into the lead guitarist. Ooops!

They limped through a few more songs and before long the singer-accountant asked us if we’d heard of The Rolling Stones. I assumed this was a joke to introduce a mauling of a classic song. I needn’t have worried; they played Angie. They played it horribly out of tune; the rhythm guitarist had a comically confused expression on his face throughout as if a tone-deaf ghost was responsible for the horrible noise he was making. Then to rub salt in the wound, Adam came out again to soak up more cheers from the crowd.

They soldiered on through the rest of their set but they didn’t stand a chance.

To my surprise it became clear that yet another band was setting up. They looked like lesbian time-travellers from the eighties, brandishing brass instruments. This did not bode well. As it happens they were called The Cesarians and they were superb. Their singer was like a lounge lizard ranting at a bus stop – some sort of unholy alliance of Bryan Ferry and Mark E Smith. Their music took me back to that rather odd period in the mid-nineties when bands like The Divine Comedy and My Life Story suddenly became popular with big dramatic arrangements.

And then, another band starts setting up! At this point I was wondering if Adam Ant would ever get on stage. Ah well, I guess we’ll just have to endure whoever it is.

The band hit the stage and my jaw hit the floor. I was amazed to see Youth (of Killing Joke) and Zodiac Mindwarp. Me and the missus would happily pay money to see Zodiac so this was a big deal for us. Even more impressive was that he looked in excellent health. I’ve seen Zodiac a few times and he’s appeared to be getting fatter and wheezier every time. The last time I’d seen him he was in a pub after his gig at Underworld. The famously lecherous Mindwarp was sitting next to two young blondes who seemed very pleased to be in his company. I could tell something was seriously awry when he finally turned to the young ladies, said “not tonight girls” and shuffled out of the pub. Tonight he was wearing a three-piece suit, trousers held up with a studded belt, and somehow he’d forgotten to put on a shirt. He prowled the stage looking like the filthy old bastard he used to be. Youth on the other hand, in a stove pipe hat and red faced, looked like a fifty year old Artful Dodger who was winded after a brisk run from the rozzers. The music was just basic blues-rock jams, but Zodiac is always good value for money.

When they’d finished Zodiac said “Adam ya fat cunt, you’re next”

At Long Last, Adam Ant

When the band hit the stage the first noticeable thing was that there was a lot of them: ten including Mr Ant. The second noticeable thing was that four of them were women – which might go to prove that Adam likes the ladies and the ladies like Adam. Finally I noticed the bassist was the lead singer of Rachel Stamp, who’s a great front man in his own right.

Adam seemed very talkative from the start. He announced that the band was called Adam Ant’s Pirate Metal Extravaganza and they hadn’t really rehearsed. This last fact was fairly apparent. They went into a couple of covers including Bolan’s Get It On.

As Adam rabbited in between songs it became obvious that the band was nervous. They clearly didn’t have a set list and didn’t know what they’d be doing next. It was also apparent that Adam was a bit the worse for drink and was likely to say pretty much anything, sometimes at length.

Maybe the band should be called Adam and the Rants (yes, that was a joke. You can keep it).

So at this point I was wondering if this was going to be a night of covers. Then the band did an Adam Ant song and it was fantastic. Adam’s performances of his own material sometimes seemed a bit dismissive, and the band was a bit ramshackle. Adam’s loose cannon behaviour gave the evening a strong feeling of unpredictability. All of this combined to make a performance of covers and old material edgy and exciting. It really was quite incredible.

After an encore of Stand and Deliver Adam decided to come back and treat us to something special. He was going to read to us from a book. For this he wanted complete silence from the audience. As you might imagine, expecting a room of over excited, drunk people to stay silent is a bit challenging.

He started reading. There was some talking in the audience. Adam stopped and said that we hadn’t paid all that much for the show so could we all just shut up for a few minutes.

He started again. A few sentences in a woman shouted out “Adam, I’ve been following you for twenty-nine years!” “So have I love” he responded “Now could you shut up so I can read this out”

He started again. This time someone was talking at the back of the stage. “Can you shut up!” he shouted behind him.

He started again. He got interrupted again. At this point I think the audience realised that this might never end and so silence was maintained long enough to get to the end.

What was he reading that was so important? It was a couple of pages from Lemmy’s autobiography. I still have no fucking clue what that was about.

And so a remarkable evening ended. It’s fantastic to see one of pop music’s greatest eccentrics back in the spotlight being his brilliant, bizarre and difficult self.

Let’s hope he doesn’t stay away from the stage so long again.

On the Trail of the Heavy Metal Umlaut

January 23, 2010

I was listening to the Word Podcast today and they had a very interesting guest: Phil Smee. Because I’m a lover of psychedelic rock I know Smee best as the owner of Bam Caruso records and the guy who compiled the fantastic Rubble compilations. I was also aware that he designed record sleeves.

What I didn’t know was that he’d designed the Motorhead logo.

If you want to hear him talk about it, you can download the podcast here. He starts talking about it after about five minutes.

Excitingly, he explains why he used the umlaut over the second O.

Back in those days you added fonts to your artwork by using Letraset. For those who don’t know, Letraset was basically a sheet of letters much like transfers. You put the plastic sheet of letters on your artwork and then rubbed a pen or pencil over it to transfer it to the paper.

B3FEE4B3-CE89-4D4A-AE2C-030B5EC911C9.jpg

Phil Smee then describes how very often you’d run out of letters, usually vowels, and this stuff was expensive so you’d have little tricks to work around it. He would use the foreign characters and then scratch off the bits he didn’t need, such as the umlauts. On this occasion he transfered the umlaut, looked at it and thought that it looked pretty good so he left it there.

Further on he says he needed to make a similar economy when he got to the H. He’d run out of Hs so he used a small L and part of a W.

So I had to have a look at this and check out the improvised h.

Here is the original logo:

motorhead_smee.png

Sure enough his description entirely matches up with the design.

From the next album onwards the logo looked like this:

motorhead_next.png

I’ve seen this logo a million times and never thought twice about it. Now I can’t stop looking at it. Look at how bloody wonky it is. The ‘h’ looks all weird, the ‘ead’ is pointing in a hundred different directions at once. What the hell is happening with that ‘a’? And the letters are meant to be on a curve but aren’t uniform at all.

What a bloody mess.

This got me looking at some of the Motorhead album covers and I was looking at Bomber when I saw this:

filthybody.png

Where the hell is Philthy Phil’s body meant to be? Are we to believe that Philthy Phil’s disembodied head is shooting Germans from that turret?

Anyway….

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a band whose name was altered by Letraset.

Apparently Therapy? got their question mark when the designer of their first record sleeve was using Letraset. He hadn’t spaced the characters properly which left a big gap at the end of the bands name. What else is a designer to do? He decided to add a question mark thereby changing the bands name.

Still, I don’t imagine we’ll be reading a wikipedia article about Heavy Metal Question Marks anytime soon.

My Top Ten Albums of 2008

December 23, 2008

I was surprised to find that I’ve only bought 11 albums that were released in 2008.  So this isn’t going to be so much a “best of” as a few mini reviews.

516kvviqfll_sl500_aa240_1Ladytron – Velocifero

Synth pop with girly vocals doesn’t get much better than this.  There are three tremendous  tracks with Ghosts, Black Cat and Runaway (and the rest of the album isn’t too shabby either).  I’ve heard that this isn’t a huge departure from their last album, but that one slipped under my radar – if you’ve already got Witching Hour then consider yourself warned, otherwise dive in.

41y0gukjcal_sl500_aa240_1Bob Mould – District Line
Wire – Object 47

Proof there is life in the old dogs yet.  Both Mould and Wire brought out albums that reminded us why we love them without caricaturing their past.  Sadly Bob has got a bit too fond of autotune but otherwise there’s nothing to criticise in District Line.  Object 47 is a very polished noise machine.

Max Tundra – Parallax Error Beheads You

This is probably my favorite album of the year.  Twiddly complexity meets pop elegance.  It’s relentlessly geeky and yet manages to be quite charming too – that’s not an easy trick to pull off.

The Residents – The Bunny Boy

I got this in readiness for their gig in London.  It’s quite good in parts but I can’t help but feel that the music has been slave to the concept, and the concept isn’t strong enough to save the music.  Any music lover’s unfamiliar with The Residents would be better off getting The Commercial Album. 

Beck – Modern Guilt

Beck’s a funny old beast.  His albums are always hugely enjoyable when I first get them but they get less satisfying with each repeated listen.  This is no different.  Chemtrails is a great track (which has a passing resemblance to Skip Spence’s War In Peace) and the rest of the album is fine.  But yeah, kind of meh.

Deerhoof – Offend Maggie

Deerhoof rock out with twee Japanese vocals.  Or something.  Not as great as their Friend Opportunity album but it’s still growing on me.

Underground Railroad – Sticks and Stones

This is probably second place for album of the year for me.  Songs in a Mogwai style might be a reasonably good description.

Vampire Weekend

This album has been talked to death.  It’s great.  I liked it a lot more before my neighbours started playing it full blast every bloody weekend.

Veda Hille – This Riot Life

A little bit Tori Amos.  A little bit Judee Sill.  A little bit better than the former but not as good as the latter.  A little bit weirder than both.

The Black Keys – Attack and Release

Hey, wouldn’t it be great if The Black Keys got out of their basement for once and recorded an album properly with a hot producer?    A great idea on paper; was pretty dull in practice.

My Top Ten Singles of 2008

December 20, 2008

’tis the season to make music lists.  Thanks to the power of last.fm and YouTube I can share my most played singles from 2008.

If you want to hear these songs play back to back then click on this link.

1. Ladytron – Ghosts

The rhythm to Personal Jesus has rarely been stolen to such powerful effect

2. Black Kids – I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You

An irresistible pop song with all the right elements: a nice riff, some girly chants and cute lyrics delivered in laid back style

3. Max Tundra – Will Get Fooled Again

This comes from his tremendous new album.  This track is all about the dangers of believing what you see on the internet (but don’t take my word for it).

4. Those Dancing Days – Hitten

A pop tune with a tinge of regret, unexpected in a band so young

5. Cardiacs – Ditzy Scene

I make no apologies for loving Cardiacs.  Sadly their leader Tim had (ironically, considering their name) a heart attack and so this might be the last material we ever hear from him.  Sad.

6. Zoot Woman – We Won’t Break

The new album seems to be a long way off but this Gilliam-esque video will have to do for now

7. Wire – One of Us

Great to have them back with a fantastic album

8. Let’s Wrestle – I Won’t Lie to You

Infectious lo-fi pop

9. I Was a Cub Scout – Pink Squares

A mellow song that just sort of crept up on me.  Certainly a grower.

10. The Futureheads – Walking Backwards

A spiky pop tune