The Leisure Society @ Union Chapel, 10/05/11
There are two fallacies in the world that somehow cling on to the fibres of the collective consciousness. First, that it’s okay to let your kids eat grapes from the bag as you drag them wearily around the supermarket, and second, that folk music is folk music. Maybe it was, once. Certainly you can take the genre back to the sixties or so and it can be split directly between earnest troubadour folk – your Dylans and your Mitchells – and the sort of Cropredy trad. folk that is just as earnest, but perhaps a little more snugly dressed.
Most people still want to think of folk that way, it seems, though the folk revival of the past half-decade is borne not of familiarity but of variety. You still have your tradition, by way of Bellowhead and The Unthanks, and you still have the troubadours: in your Bon Ivers and your, well, Bob Dylans. But then there are Mumford and Sons, who inject the genre with grand gestures and swooping romance. There’s Noah & The Whale, throwing in a healthy dose of pop melodies and blurring the lines in a wonderful sort of a way. And then there are the rest – never the same, always undeniably folk.
Take The Leisure Society, who stroll out on stage tonight to the dinosaur percussion of ‘Into The Murky Water’ – it rings of nothing else in music today, but rather harks back to the soundtracks of 1960s time-travel b-movies and the stop-motion of Ray Harryhausen.
Sonically, The Leisure Society are all about laying your ears under a cosy music blanket, and whilst the previous times we’ve caught them – all at festivals – the sound-tech haven’t been able to keep up with the band’s eight members it seems that the Union Chapel folk have it down. Surround sound live. Which of course is like advertising 3D theatre, but you get the idea.
There’s a wonderful balance between the bands two albums – their debut is allowed to venture out with appearances from less obvious choices such as ‘We Were Wasted’. When, towards the end, ‘The Last Of The Melting Snow’ is presented lovingly it becomes obvious that this is the source of many of the fans present – whispered singalongs escape the pews of the old church. But nobody sits here for one lone track – ‘Melting Snow’ acted only as the key to flood gates that opened upon the crowd gathered here, and everyone mouths every lyric. The liveliest tracks come courtesy of the band’s recent sophomore record – the title track that opens the night, as well as ‘You Can Keep Me Talking’ and lead single ‘This Phantom Life’.
The band have fun, and though the old folk standard of earnestness remains, they play around with each other – swapping instruments, telling stories, poking gentle fun of one another (if Nick Hemming and Christian Hardy ever make a buddy movie, we’ll be there in a flash). They bring out little aural treats – a rare Swiss percussion instrument, a vibrant and evangelical cover of Paul Simon’s ‘Me and Julio Down At The Schoolyard’. The Leisure Society could never have belonged in the old vision of folk, but tonight they prove that they have their own place.
Sufjan Stevens @ Royal Festival Hall 13/05/11
Days later, in a venue that a friend points out looks as if it should hold The Phantom Menace’s galactic senate, Sufjan Stevens steps out onto stage. Here stands a man who has come closer than any other in the past thirty or forty years to replicating the love and respect and cultish following of Bob Dylan. Here he stands, decorated head to toe in neon duct tape. Here he stands, with backing dancers, moving before them in a way that suggests both knowing irony and wish-fulfillment.
Stevens made his name with Illinois, the first great folk album of the new millennium. Against those which have come since, it still remains the best. Illinois is quiet, reverent, thoughtful and intricate. Only the last of those adjectives remains true of the music to have come more recently on his last album, The Age of Adz. Not that this is a bad thing. Where once he was quiet now he has bold. Where once he was reverent now he is impossibly audacious. He used to be thoughtful, now he gives us massive pop hits disguised as the apocalypse in sound.
Stevens opens with ‘Seven Swans’, a remnant of his folkier days brought back to life using electric shocks. It’s actually a relatively conventional start given the rest of the set ahead. Much of The Age of Adz makes an appearance, supported by visuals as much as sound – it’s a world away from The Leisure Society three days earlier, who performed in a church with nothing but fixed coloured lights by way of visuals. Stevens would have felt naked. Here he has moving backgrounds, foregrounds, photo essays on the mentally unstable influences on his music. He is, it turns out, a surprisingly funny man, and his dancing brings us back to that word ‘earnest’. There is an irony in it, but somehow you can tell that he means it, also. He is mocking pop music, but he simultaneously moves to become pop music. Though he finishes the (two and a half hour!) set with a trio of Illinois hits that culminate in a euphoric version of ‘Chicago’, the real climax comes at the end of the main set. One song – album closer ‘Impossible Soul’. Thirty minutes, three costume changes, glitter that falls from the ceiling, climbing up on the instruments and set. It’s an album ruiner – ‘Impossible Soul’ will never again feel as whole as it did there and then, an incredible half hour of dancing (both on stage and crowd), euphoria and intense emotions. Hearts inflating and brains exploding with unfulfilled inspiration. Earlier Stevens told us about his upbringing, his parents being part of a group who called themselves Star People. This is cultish, and this moment, and this night is cultish too. And we all are so very aware. We do not care. We would far rather be brainwashed by music than live without this moment.
Someone once told me that folk music was a tree, where a hundred thousand roots have come together to form something coherent and whole. Whilst I have severe worries about his understanding of how a tree grows, I kind of get that. But I think we’ve moved somewhere beyond that now. We’ve come to a point where we can look up the tree and into the leaves, and we can see a hundred thousand twigs and branches that echo the roots – branches that lead on from one artist and into another, and split into different moments of music and creation. Maybe some time ago there were just those two branches that escaped the trunk, but now there is so much more. There is the near-orchestral folk pop of The Leisure Society, and there is the schizodelia, the Star People Pop of Sufjan Stevens. Whatever it is, it’s still very much folk. And there’s so much more out there. So many leads to follow. So many people to hear.
Words: Stephen Thomas // Photo: Anika Mottershaw
May 30, 2011 No Comments
It’s a bold step that James Blake takes on his self-titled debut – the 22 year-old deigns to take dub-step the final step of the way to mainstream, and to do so by stripping from it most everything that defines the genre. WWL was lucky enough to have a listen to the album in its entirity and, given the amount of fuss that has been made about Blake being the ‘new king of dubstep’ or whatever it is that people are saying, we were surprised to find no overwhelming bass or drums. In fact, the only thing overwhelming about Blake’s debut is its simplicity.
Take, for instance, ‘Lindisfarne’ Parts I and II. Samples flirt with each other over the course of the two tracks, but they do little more – there’s an easiness to the music, dreamlike and calming. The vocals strike like a more R&B Bon Iver, and everything comes together in thin but very defined layers that work wonderfully together.
‘Limit To Your Love’, the Feist cover most listeners will be most aquainted with, remains the most soulful moment on the record – there’s a soulfulness to James Blake that most easily bears comparison to Bill Withers. Indeed, opening track ‘Unlock’ is plays with the experimental mindset of Sufjan Stevens’ most recent music, only backed up by Wither’s effortless vocals. Borne entirely from a 22 year-old kid from Deptford.
Much has been made of James Blake’s potential to sell records, though the album is maybe a little to diverse for some of the older listeners record labels might hope to capture. For every calming moment of soul along the lines of ‘Give Me My Month’, there’s a more daring equivalent like ‘To Care (Like You)’. As a result, it’s hard to tell what exactly James Blake represents as an album. We’re told it’s a revolution in dubstep, though it’s perhaps to big a step to count. It could be a revolution in soul, if it weren’t so alienating to older listeners. Whatever the case, it’s a fascinating album that leaves now doubt in our minds that James Blake is a sort of musical revolutionary. All he needs now is a cause.
The Six Best Tracks on James Blake
1. Limit To Your Love/2. Give Me My Month/3. Measurements/4. Lindisfarne II/5. To Care Like You/6. Lindisfarne I
January 24, 2011 No Comments
Man, that was a fun title to write. James Vincent McMorrow. It falls off your tongue like a slinky down the stairs – clumsy, but satisfying. It’s a name most won’t have heard yet. Give it time though – by this time next year, McMorrow will have the folkies under his thumb. I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a promo of his debut – out next Spring – and it’s one of the most lovely folk records of the last few years. Balancing Bon Iver with Fleet Foxes, McMorrow is right on the moment, aurally. Opening track ‘If I Had A Boat’ could serve Radio 2 just as kindly as it would serve 6 Music, as might ‘Breaking Hearts’ or ‘Sparrow & The Wolf’, and over the course of the album’s eleven tracks you’ll find yourself wooed again and again. We welcome him here for today’s Six Albums. When you hear JVM’s stuff all over the radio next April or so, give us a tweet, and thank us for telling you first…
The National – Boxer I first heard this album when I was just starting to write music seriously; it was a really exciting and completely unknowing time in my life, this essentially soundtracked it. The arrangements and production are so grand, and the songs have such a weight to them. I listen to this album more than any other; it’s flawless.
Neil Young – After the Goldrush It won’t be the first time this album has been mentioned on We Write Lists, no doubt, and it definitely won’t be the last. When I was younger I didn’t listen to many, if any, singer songwriters except for Neil Young. Harvest was the record my friends and I would sit around and listen to, but I discovered this album through my Dad. He used to sing and play ‘Tell Me Why’ on guitar. I remember being struck by the chord pattern, and the lyric is so sharp and vivid. At a time when so many people were making such incredible music, it’s hard to pick just one record out of the bunch, but this has always stood out for me, and I never grow tired of hearing it.
Sam Cooke – Night Beat Like most rhythm and blues singers and songwriters from the 50′s and 60′s, Sam Cooke was best known for his singles and his voice. But he also made a couple of classic and complete records; I guess Night Beat is his late night loneliness album. There’s a real sense of longing that pervades the whole thing, I find it so compelling. ‘Lost and Looking’ is such a dark song, there’s no light to it at all, and the way the album was recorded fits the music so perfectly. Also Billy Preston plays on the record, I think he was 16 at the time or something crazy like that, unreal.
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois I first started listening to him right before this album came out. I’d never heard someone who recorded like he did, playing so many instruments himself; it’s been a huge influence on how I work. I went to see him in a venue called The Village in Dublin. It’s not a big place, and he came out with these cheerleaders and horn sections and it was just magic. A few months later he was playing places 4 times the size and wearing enormous elaborate angel wings. The man is just a phenomenon. There are moments on this album that I seek out habitually, the high notes he harmonizes on ‘John Wayne Gacy Jr.’, the outro to ‘Predatory Wasp’, and ‘Chicago’ is pretty much the most joyous sounding thing I have ever come across in my life.
Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly
Listening to hip hop records made me want to start recording music; I really loved what producers like The Neptunes and Timbaland were doing at the time. I started listening to Missy Elliott after I heard ‘Get Ur Freak On’, then I went and bought everything she’d done before. This record is pretty revolutionary, I’d never heard hip hop made like this before, and the way she created this wholly unique singer/rapper/songwriter hybrid, no one did it before, and no one’s done it since – at least not on a level remotely close to her. She also had a great understanding of how to present the music visually, colourful and over the top. Before her so much of hip hop was about about posturing and looking cool, she made it fun, but without compromising on integrity.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over The Sea I remember reading about this record before I heard a note of it, and it was a long time after it’d come out. It was an article about Jeff Mangum, how important this album is and how it paved the way for all of these amazing indie artists that followed, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, the list went on and on. I knew it was something I had to hear, and from the first few chords of ‘King of Carrots Part 1′ I knew it was something that I’d love for a long long time to come. It just has everything, incredibly bold arrangements, lyricism beyond anyone else who was around at the time. It’s a terrible shame that he hasn’t been able to make more music since then, but if this is his musical legacy, then it’s a special one indeed.
James Vincent McMorrow is a singer/songwriter who will release his fantastic debut album, Early In The Morning, next March. In the meanwhile, he tours Europe in support of Fistful Of Mercy (Ben Harper’s current project), which includes a stop off at the Camden Koko tonight. Tickets are still available for the financially secure amongst us.
December 3, 2010 2 Comments
On Saturday the 30th of October Emmy the Great finished recording the songs for her second album, the follow-up to 2009′s First Love. We Write Lists gave her a call and spent forty minutes or so talking about the album, the influences and, amongst other things, what it means to be a genius.
How long were you in the studio for, then?
It took almost exactly one month to record, starting after a couple of weeks rehearsing with our producer. We’ve recorded thirteen tracks, but they total an hour and twenty minutes, so we’re going to have to work out which ones to drop. I already know a couple of the ones that won’t make it, and it’s sad, because they mean so much to me.
Why can’t you simply release an eighty minute album, like Sufjan Stevens might?
Oh no. Sufjan Stevens is potentially a genius. I think when you’re a genius like him, or Joanna Newsom, you can get away with releasing a two, three hour album. I don’t think I’m a genius. Being a genius is like being a Jedi – if you are one, you know it.
So what you’re saying it that the album very much isn’t genius?
Oh no, I don’t mean that. I think Gareth, our producer, is a genius. And I think what Euan can do with a piano, and the sounds Tom can get from an amp qualifies them as genius too, maybe.”
It’s just the main singer herself who isn’t the genius, then?
Yes! But that’s alright. I’m what binds everything together.
And what’s next for the album?
Now it goes off to be mixed, and when that’s done I’ll have a listen and say my piece. “I imagined this track being more… spooky.”
The album’s going to be spooky?
Not ‘spooky’ really. That’s Halloween speaking. But mysterious, I think. We put together an album mix at the beginning of the process, of influences we wanted. Suzanne Vegas, a Bulgarian choir, this Club Nisei Orchestra thing I found, David Lynch’s composer Angelo Badalamenti. We want to have these different influences but equally we want to try and keep the music concise and formed. It’s a pop album.
It’s a pop album in that we’re not trying to be authentic in the folk tradition. We weren’t before, either, but our influences on First Love were the musicians we had as teen crushes, that were of that Americana sound. This album is so much more what we intended to do with our first. We weren’t happy, so much, with the fidelity of First Love.
You funded the album through Pledge, much like our recent interviewee Emily Barker, how’s that working out for you?
So well! The money we made through these pledges came up to the equivalent of any album advance we would have got, maybe a little more. If we’d been looking for an advance from a reputable indie record label we’d have got the same, or less, than we did anyway. But we have to fulfil these pledges now. I’m writing so many postcards, and I keep forgetting to send them! The next week of pledges is going to be so crazy. The ones like going shopping in Tower Records in Hong Kong will be really fun. The handwritten lyrics not so much.
What songs are going to make the cut?
A couple of the ones I’ve posted as Pledge updates, definitely. Exit Night and Cassandra. And Trelick Tower, which might be my favourite. It’s really, really sad. It’s about a very specific period in my life and I didn’t realise at the time just how honest I was being about it. I said things I hadn’t actually realised I felt – I looked back on the lyrics when we came to record it and I couldn’t believe I was writing it, and that I’m sharing it with everyone. We played it to one of our friends who knew the story and she cried.
Do you think people who don’t know the context will be as affected?
Maybe. I hope so. I just hope I won’t have people in the front row singing along to every lyric with big smiles on their face, or doing the Macarena!
And no album title yet?
No. I want to go with a puritan theme, maybe. Pennsylvania Dutch. I’m very Amish! But yeah, there’s a streak of piety that runs through the album, all very tongue-in-cheek. Maybe we’ll do something from that.
Emmy the Great releases her as-yet-untitled second album sometime in early 2011. Until then you can continue to support the release by ‘pledging‘ towards it here, or simply pick up a copy of her Hg Prize-winning debut here!
November 2, 2010 No Comments
There’s a heck of a lot going down at the moment in the world of Sufjan Stevens – the notoriously reclusive musician has, in the last few weeks, announced an American tour, released a new EP, announced a new album and now, over at Stereogum, put up a brand new song from said album for us all to stream. Believe it or not, this flurry of activity belongs amongst the ongoing rebellions of Sufjan Stevens – a trend of showing his middle finger to the music industry that has been going on for some years now.
The Many Rebellions of Sufjan Stevens
1. His second album, Enjoy Your Rabbit, was an eighty-minute electronic rock odyssey based around the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Whilst his debut, A Sun Came, came in at just over and hour, and was heavily varied in both styles and influences, Enjoy Your Rabbit stood in the face of everything the music industry expects from an album. There were no singles, just fourteen tracks coming in only a few minutes shy of an hour and a half.
2. Michigan is absolutely nothing like its predecessor. Where Enjoy Your Rabbit was alive with the robotic sounds of electronica, Stevens’ follow-up record is a quiet and unassuming folk album. Michigan couldn’t be any less like its predecessor if it were recorded by William Shatner.
3. He decided to record fifty albums on the same theme, with one for each of the American states. Michigan was the first of these – an hour-long ode to his home state. The songs referenced obscure Michigan-based locations, plights of the people, and, if anyone else had been behind it, would have been entirely uninteresting to anyone born outside of the Great Lake State, as well as to a great deal of those within. As it was, Stevens recorded a diverse and interesting folk album that despite its odd concept was received with love across the country, and even beyond its shores.
4. And he almost went through with the threat! Two albums later, Stevens released his most well-received album yet – Illinois – a 73-minute album dedicated entirely to the state in question. Illinois is still widely-regarded as Stevens’ best album, but with no fanfare whatsoever, he has seemingly given up on the project. Some people claim he never planned to complete the series, others have claimed he still will. The problem with Sufjan Stevens, though, is that he might not even know himself. Stevens seems to do what he likes, musically, when he likes.
5. He didn’t record a follow-up to Illinois for five years, instead following the album that gave him his critical acclaim, and flourishing popularity, with an outtakes record and Christmas EP boxset. And then nothing for three years, until he released The BQE in 2009, alongside a re-interpretation of Enjoy Your Rabbit, recorded by a string quartet. In short, Sufjan Stevens released the album of his career, and then spent the four years that followed avoiding the follow-up that fans were begging for.
6. He doesn’t understand the concept of an EP, with his most recent, The All Delighted People EP, clocking in longer than the average album. In fact, at fifty-nine minutes, the EP is almost twice as long as many albums, and features two versions of the title track, both lasting around ten minutes, and a seventeen minute closer that takes eleven minutes just to get to the first verse. Sure, it’s shorter than most of his own albums – but then they tend to be longer than your averge Disney film, so it’s all relative.
7. He doesn’t really worry about promotion, releasing All Delighted People out of the blue, announcing a new album a mere month before the release, after months of silence. Sufjan Stevens doesn’t bother with Twitter, or Facebook. He will wait until the music is ready, and then he will release it. After all, why wait?
8.You can never guess what he will release next. Check how the albums have panned out so far: 1. Electronic rock – 2. Electronic rock, based on the zodiac – 3. Folk, based on American state – 4. Folk, based on faith and Christianity – 5. Folk, based on American state – 6. Folk, outtakes album – 7. Folk, five-disc Christmas song collection – 8. Orchestral and electronic instrumental album, based on a poor example of civil engineering – 9. Heavily-instrumented hour-long ‘EP’ – 10. Electronic and folk based album with, for the first time in ten years, no concept behind it.
I titled this ‘The Continuing Rebellions of Sufjan Stevens’ because that’s what his actions within the industry have always seemed like to me, though in reality they are probably not this at all. Rather, Sufjan Stevens is a man who has, for ten years now, released music as and when he likes, in whatever style he likes, about whatever idea he likes. Whether he’s folk or electronic rock – two genres that Stevens is almost unique in having mixed throughout his career – and whether he’s writing about roads or states, the zodiac or Christianity, it’s his talent that keeps us coming back for more.
All Delighted People is out now on iTunes, and all of the better internet retailers, like eMusic, and The Age of Adz is out on October 12th through Asthmatic Kitty Records and in the UK, presumably, on Rough Trade.
August 28, 2010 No Comments
1. Blue Roses – Blue Roses
The key thing to recognise her is that just because an album is great to fall asleep to, it doesn’t make it boring. There’s a difference between an album that sends you to sleep and an album that soothes you into one. Laura Groves’ debut as Blue Roses is a prime cut of soothing folk music, the perfect example of music that is at once beautiful, distinctive, endlessly enjoyable and deeply soothing. So soothing, in fact, that the album once spent three solid months in the CD player by my bedside.
2. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
Nebraska is, I suppose, a rock album. But it’s a very quiet one. An oasis amongst the majority of Springsteen’s back catalogue, Nebraska is everything Springsteen stands for, only a little bit subtler. The key track is the second, ‘Atlantic City’ – a song early enough on the record to be heard before you sleep, leaving you thinking dark but hopeful thoughts as you fall asleep. Everything dies, that’s a fact/Maybe everything that dies, someday comes back.
3. Long Gone Before Daylight – The Cardigans
Sometime around 2003 I caught, entirely by chance, what was probably the only UK screening of the music video for The Cardigans’ ‘For What It’s Worth’, the lead single from their fifth studio album. Though one of the weakest tracks on the album, it must have affected me somehow, because a couple of months later I spent the last of my pocket money on it in a French supermarket. The album, it turned out, was phenomenal. A step away from the band’s more cheerful earlier sound, Long Gone Before Daylight is a mature and warming country-pop record, and has been in steady rotation through my ears on a regular basis ever since that first purchase.
4. Isla – Portico Quartet
In many ways, Portico Quartet’s softmore record is the most conventional choice on this list. Wordless music is always more closely associated with sleep than its less instrumental counterpart. But there’s an important reason to choose Portico Quartet over any number of other jazz instrumental records: it’s unique. Nothing sounds quite like Portico Quartet, a selling point that comes down almost entirely to their use of a ‘hang’, a very modern instrument that produces a very distinct sound. It’s soothing, yes, but Portico Quartet’s music is also endlessly interesting and makes for sumptuous listening.
5. Seven Swans – Sufjan Stevens
Almost any Sufjan Stevens album will serve you will come the late of the night. Recently I’ve been enjoying his BQE record as a source of contemporary instrumentation, and it has sent me off to plenty of pleasant night’s dreams. Illinois‘ constant appearances on my bedside player leaves it as the album I have listened to in my life more than any other. But for simple, sweet goodnights, few albums better Seven Swans, a collection of devotional songs that are a benchmark in contemporary Christian music – loved just as much by atheists, agnostics and those of different faiths as it is by the Christian community itself. Maybe it’s because Stevens has always taken a very liberal approach to his faith – ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’, from Illinois, talks of struggling with faith when a teenage friend gets cancer. Seven Swans is perhaps a little lighter, topically, but is still very much the beautiful sort of music that Stevens is renowned for in his circle.
6. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Folk was always going to play a heavy role in this list. More folk songs have been sung around late night campfires than songs of any other genre. It’s precisely this communal harmonising that makes Fleet Foxes’ debut album such a great album to fall asleep to. It’s comforting, the sound of these protecting bodies around you. Also, it’s beautiful, beautiful music.
May 9, 2010 No Comments
When I was twelve I made my first ever mental music list. ‘The Three Acts To See Before I Die’. They weren’t necessarily the best acts in the world, nor even my favourite – they were simply the three recording artists I had not seen live before that I most wanted to experience before my (hopefully distant) demise. The list was simple, and summed up my entire musical taste at the time in five words:
As I said – not necessarily the greatest acts in the world, nor even the best live acts (though Robbie certainly comes close), but the acts that I most wanted to see. In the ten years to have passed by since I have managed to cross each artist from the list. Robbie was the first – Knebworth, 2003. Stereophonics followed in December of that year, and Billy Joel finally made it to England in 2006. Since then I have revised the list constantly as bands enter my consciousness and join the list, as I see them live and they leave it. The Hold Steady dropped in for a brief visit, until I caught them at Glastonbury 2007. Emmy the Great and Marina & The Diamonds each briefly featured. Other bands never had the chance – I saw Elbow live before I even had the chance to fall in love with their music. Due to my strict ‘three acts only’ rule Music Go Music never had a chance to fit on the list before I saw them last week. David Bowie is still waiting for a spot to open up for him. Currently the list reads:
She & Him
There’s no order of preference in my mind. These are three acts I am desperate to see. Three artists I’ve been waiting patiently to catch live for several years. Stevens and Crowe, in fact, have been staples on the list since its first update in 2006.
Everyone should have one of these lists. It gives them something to hope for, something small to aim for in life. My time on this earth didn’t peak when I finally completed the initial list in 2006. Nor will it peak when I complete this current version of the list. Music isn’t something to give meaning to your life, it’s just a tool to better understand it. Still, there’ll never be a word to describe the deeply satisfying feeling that surged through me today as I clicked ‘confirm’ and purchased two tickets to She & Him. One down, three to go.
February 18, 2010 No Comments
15. …For All The World To See – Death
Technically Death’s …For All The World To See dates back to the 1970s, when the tracks were recorded before being collected together thirty-odd years later and released by Drag City records. With hindsight, …For All The World To See is one of the most remarkable albums around – a visionary pre-cursor to the punk movement. That said, listened to out of context, the album still remains a deeply enjoyable and very listenable moment of music history, recommendable to anyone who has ever enjoyed a bit of rock and roll.
14. Major General – Franz Nicolay
When Franz Nicolay, the keys man for the fantastic Hold Steady, released his debut earlier this year, he accidentally put out one of the best side-project records ever made. At times startlingly similar to his work with the band, Nicolay also throws into the mix plenty of tracks that sound like nothing much you’ve heard before. Each track is a pleasure, and whilst some are clearly better than others (the magnificent ‘Cease-fire, Or, Mrs Norman Maine’ is a darned sight better than, say, ‘Dead Sailors’), together the album becomes a geuinely pleasurable and enjoyable experience – notable also for Nicolay’s voice sounding surprisingly similar to Meat Loaf’s…
13. Palace & Stage – Dusty Rhodes And The River Band
In May 2008 I stood in the dark and dingy basement room of Nottingham venue Rock City witnessing one of the best live performances I had ever seen without knowing the name of the artist. It was, as it turned out later, Dusty Rhodes And The River Band – a brilliant rock troupe that capture the raw live prescence of an early Killers whilst producing big, swaggering folk rock that has more in common of The Hold Steady than The Band. Possibly the most underrated album of the year, Palace & Stage roars with a boozy confidence and a brash and exciting sound.
12. Until The Earth Begins To Part – Broken Records
It has, in many ways, been a good year for folk music. Mumford & Sons and Ben Kweller both released excellent alt-folk records, with The Benny Andersson Band bringing a very Swedish effort into the mix also. It only gets better from here, too, with four more folk albums hiding away in the top ten. Broken Records’ debut is one of the better folk efforts of the year – the sort of charming record that you’d be forgiven for thinking don’t exist any more. A few tracks, such as opener ‘Nearly Home’ stand out above the rest, but for the most part Until The Earth Begins To Part is a consistently brilliant record.
11. The BQE – Sufjan Stevens
Originally performed way back in 2007, Sufjan Stevens’ fans have been patiently waiting for the last two years to get their hands on The BQE – a film-and-score set dedicated to and in honour of New York’s Broolyn-Queens Expressway. Whilst it works best with the accompanying half-hour flickering video footage, Stevens’ score is a wonderful piece of music by itself. At times gentle and orchestrated, it often glides like a well-made gear-change into a completely different sound – brash feedback or tinkling electronics. Whilst it isn’t the follow-up to Illinois that we’ve been waiting for since 2005, The BQE demonstrates Stevens’ ongoing ability to try his hand at anything and pull if off with an irresistible joie-de-vie.
December 12, 2009 No Comments
I’ve waited the wait, with all the patience of a car at a rail crossing, and December has finally arrived. It’s Christmastime, and even if it has been so commercially for far too long already I have kept myself quietly ticking over until today. These days it’s a bit of an art to avoid Christmas as long as I have – avoiding shops with radios and whole aisles in certain supermarkets; shouting at over-eager yuletide relatives. I’ve fooled myself into believing that all recent gift buying has just been far in advance of distant birthdays. The purchase of an advent calandar had to be entirely repressed until this morning, when I was forced to dredge the recesses of my mind to remember what the strangely-dimensioned cardboard box with doors was for. I think it was worth it, though. It’s Christmas, and I can break out the festive music once again for its twenty-five days in the sun*.
I used to make a Christmas mix each year, but I eventually realised that approxiately ninety-percent of the songs were seasonal slush – the melted grey remnants of what makes Christmas perfect, stamped upon and muddied by the feet of those who should know better. So now I don’t bother with a Christmas mix. Instead, I bring out my three favourite Christmas albums – collections that through some unimaginable feat contain nothing but wonderful snippets of the season. Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Songs For Christmas’, Phil Spector’s ‘A Christmas Gift For You’ and Rosie Thomas’ charming ‘A Very Rosie Christmas’. If you’ve never heard any of these, get on it. They’re all awaiting you on Spotify. If you’ve heard one, maybe two, the same goes. Don’t think you’re exempt, you cheeky Christmas beggar, you. It’s December 1st, and you’ll want as long as you can have with these three albums.
One thing I can offer though is my winter playlist. I reckon it’s important to have seasonal music that isn’t exclusive to Christmas itself, else you find yourself driving in a cold car on NYE with nothing but The Beach Boys to keep you company. As ever, I’ve welcomed December wrapped up warm in my house, forming this year’s winter mix. Cool songs to keep me warm on buses and trains; tracks that are inexplicably wintery and seem to suit early nights and chilly days. This year’s tracklist goes something like this:
Spotify: Winter Songs
1. Kiss Me Like You Mean It – The Magnetic Fields
2. We’re Goin’ To The Country – Sufjan Stevens
3. To Ohio – The Low Anthem
4. Country Mile – Camera Obscura**
5. Today I Am A Boy – Antony & the Johnsons
6. Snow Day – Rosie Thomas
7. Vapour Trail (feat. Josh Ritter) – The Cake Sale
8. How Deep Is Your Love – The Bird And The Bee
9. I Am Leaving – Blue Roses
10. On The Museum Island – Emmy the Great
11. The Swell Season – The Swell Season
12. The Last of the Melting Snow – The Leisure Society
13. Skinny Love – Bon Iver
14. Emily – Stephen Fretwell
15. Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones
*Or perhaps ‘days in the low light and cloud cover’ would be better suited.
**For some inexplicable reason, Spotify is yet to get their hands on this particular song. Feel free to fill its space with anything you like. Except Nickelback. For the love of god, not Nickelback.
December 1, 2009 No Comments
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve not been typing much around these parts of late. Unfortunately most of the stuff I write about on here involves music. And most of the time writing about music requires the ability to listen to music. A few weeks ago my laptop died, and so until I find a replacement my ability to listen to music; to consider, review and write about music is severely diminished. Soon I shall return in shining glory, and until then I might flirt with the keys of my temporary computer once or twice. For now though, I’ll drop a short list of the albums that I might not find time to write about once I’m back on my blogging feet. These are fantastic albums that have recently found their way onto my CD player, the music I’ve been wanting to write about, but have lacked the capability to do so for. I recommend all of these, old and new, with the sort of enthusiasm I usually reserve for describing Natalie Portman, or maybe Die Hard.
Sit Down And Listen Up:
1. Isla – Portico Quartet
2. Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons
3. Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris - Martha Wainwright
4. Run Rabbit Run – Osso
5. Silent Movie - Quiet Village
November 24, 2009 No Comments