So, we’re back from Glastonbury. Our clothes our muddied, our bodies resting after the best showers of our lives, and the world’s least likely tanline formed half way up our calves (courtesy of the necessity of wearing wellies in 30 degree weather). In the next week or so we’ll get our Glasto photos up on the site (we went retro with an analogue camera). Until then, enjoy a custom-made list of every single thought we had at Glastonbury this year. Don’t worry, there aren’t many. Mostly we were just trying to stay upright in the mud.
1. Travelling light is key. We had one bag, one tent, and eighteen sherpas.
2. They’re right when they say ‘It’s not the same without the rain’. It’s significantly better.
3. If we were to make a venn diagram where a red circle represented ‘Men who take their shirts off when temperatures hit twenty degrees’ and a blue circle represented ‘Men who could reasonably be described as ‘a bit of a dick”, all we would have is one purple circle.
4. Next time we are for-going tents in favour of bringing sheds.
5. This year’s festival trend is going to be woolly hats made to look like Sesame Street characters. We don’t know who came up with this, or spread it across so many vendors with such success, but they are clearly marketing geniuses.
6. Lemonberry is a better festival drink than any other. Lemonade with strawberry blended into it, and bits floating about.
7. Mumford and Sons are successful because they appeal to two major demographics: fans of well-made, beautiful folk music and people who like to sing loudly while holding a can of Strongbow in the air.
8. This works out very well for Mumford and Sons, but not so well for us. Our enjoyment of Fleet Foxes was dampened by three ‘blokes’ behind us who, whenever they got bored of sumptuous vocal harmonies, started shouting ‘IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT BUT MINE’ at the top of their bleedin’ voices.
9. West Holts is the BBC4 of Glastonbury. You won’t always have heard of the artist playing, but they’ll always be interesting.
10. The BBC clearly know who the secret guests are before the festival: this year iPlayer was showing two ‘classic’ sets from previous festivals prior to the weekend kicking off. One by Radiohead and one by Pulp.
11. Shangri-La remains as scary as it is fascinating.
12. The walk people adopt in order to not fall over in Glastonbury’s sludge is not dissimilar from that of Captain Jack Sparrow.
13. As cynical as we wanted to be about it all, we ruddy loved that Coldplay set.
14. When Stornoway thanked the previous night’s headliners U2 for supporting their Pyramid stage opening slot, we laughed. When Dan Mangan made the same joke about The Chemical Brothers on the Other Stage, we still laughed. But only because he’s so bloody nice.
15. Our favourite sets were (in chronological order) by: The Worry Dolls, Billy Bragg, Stornoway, Emily and the Woods, Fool’s Gold, Elbow, Coldplay, The Low Anthem, Don McLean and his Amazing Twenty Minute Singalong to American Pie, Laura Marling, John Grant and what we saw of Bellowhead before returning to our tent and collapsing into a sunstroke slumber.
June 27, 2011 No Comments
As timing goes, The Low Anthem are probably wise to be releasing their third album, Smart Flesh on February 21st – two months before label-mates Fleet Foxes release their sophemore record. Thanks to the familiar vocal harmonies of single ‘Charlie Darwin’, and the release of their breakthrough album coming a few months after Fleet Foxes debut in 2008, it was the latter that stole most of the glory, and many of the fans.
With luck, Smart Flesh will give The Low Anthem another chance to shine. The album opens with a song that echoes back to their last record – on ‘Ghost Woman Blues’ the band are coming home with music soothingly reminiscent of their earlier song ‘To Ohio’, which provided, along with its reprise, the hopeful adventuring theme of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. The band still sing as though they are romantic travellers here, but now they sing as though the road is not the means to an end, but the end itself.
In many ways, Smart Flesh feels very much like a sequel to OMG,CD – the sound is so similar, there’s a gorgeous instrumental in the form of ‘Wire’, and strange and soothing stories told in wide and empty spaces. The record itself was recorded, apparently, in an ‘abandoned pasta warehouse’, and you can certainly feel that in the music. Not the pasta so much, but in the cavernous space around them perhaps – the loneliness in the presence of sound, it isn’t hard to imagine the band huddled around with their instruments in a dark warehouse somewhere in the eastern borders of Rhode Island. In this sense, the album can draw comparisons with Springsteen’s Nebraska – itself a storytelling album where tales are shared through rough but beautiful music.
Smart Flesh, like its predecessor, finds its greatness in the variety of tracks – quieter on many of the tracks, and brasher on others (‘Boeing 737′ being a prime example). At times it is show-stopping (‘Hey, All You Hippies!’), at other moments it is heart-stopping (‘I’ll Take Out Your Ashes’). By the time the grand finale draws in – the seven-minute long title track that harks back to OMG,CD‘s ‘To The Ghosts Who Write History Books’ – Smart Flesh has taken the listener completely. Though never groundbreaking, Smart Flesh is always warming, comforting and enticing. As Fleet Foxes prepare to release a bold new album of their own, it will be interesting to see who wins the folk nation’s hearts this time round.
The Six Best Tracks on Smart Flesh
1. I’ll Take Out Your Ashes / 2. Smart Flesh / 3. Wire / 4. Ghost Woman Blues / 5. Hey, All You Hippies! / 6. Apothecary Love
February 7, 2011 No Comments
This weekend saw an exciting announcement, as Fleet Foxes sent into the world not only details of their second album, Helplessness Blues, but also a free download of the album’s title track. It is, thankfully, everything fans might have hoped for from the follow-up to the band’s terrific self-titled debut which came out way back in 2008. ‘Helplessness Blues’ is bigger, grander, more… invigorating than anything the band has yet released. Less of the ethereal wooziness, more direction, more verve and a punch packed in powerful guitars. Now, we like to start features here at We Write Lists, but they very often fall by the wayside – nevertheless, we’ve been listening non-stop to ‘Helplessness Blues’, and it seems a perfect starting place for a new feature in which we’ll take some new music we love and pull it apart to reveal six similar tracks that are worth a listen or eight. Welcome to If You Like, You’ll Love, let’s hope we can keep it up! All the tracks below are featured on a Spotify playlist here!
Simon & Garfunkel – ‘I Am A Rock’ More than ever before, Fleet Foxes have drawn on the harmonies and sounds of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. ‘Helplessness Blues’ opens with the sort of folksy wisdom that Simon’s lyrics were renowned for, and though ‘I Am A Rock’ differs greatly from the song, both tracks take the roots of their lyrics and build up a wall of music around them.
Emmy the Great – ‘Bad Things Coming, We Are Safe’ Taken from Emmy the Great’s debut album, First Love, ‘Bad Things Coming…’ feature the sort of chugging guitars that pull the rest of the song along with them. They keep a pace that adds another level of excitement to the music, and makes for a mighty fine folksy work-out mix. I would imagine.
The Low Anthem – ‘Charlie Darwin’ So similar to Fleet Foxes on first listen you could be forgiven for thinking it was in fact them who had recorded this, the opening track to The Low Anthem’s third album revels in the time it has to spare. If punk music was the genre that felt what it had to say was so important that it should be shouted into the world as fast as possible, folk is the genre that says ‘You know what? This is too important to be rushed. This needs to be said slowly, carefully, so it can be considered fully and deemed either worthy, or beautiful, or both.’
Mumford & Sons – ‘Timshel’ Too many people accuse Mumford & Sons of being sell-out folk, or pop, or whatever. No thank you, we at WWL say. Take ‘Timshel’ for instance – gentle and heartfelt, it’s precisely the reason that before all the radioplay, the television spots and Grammy nominations the critics had Mumford & Sons down as ‘Britain’s Fleet Foxes’.
Neil Young – ‘Harvest Moon’ One of the earliest imfluences for Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold, Neil Young still rings true throughout the band’s output. The title track on 1992′s Harvest Moon album is a perfect example of the gentle communion of vocals and guitars that Fleet Foxes have taken as a structure and run with. Also, it’s perhaps one of the most underrated Young songs.
Fleet Foxes – ‘English House’ Taken from their debut EP Sun Giant, ‘English House’ is a great and often overlooked Fleet Foxes song – there are perhaps glimmers of ‘Helplessness Blues’ present here – heavier beats, more emphasis on the rhythm than the harmonies, and those chugging guitars again.
Fleet Foxes’ second album, Helplessness Blues, is released on May 2nd – but you can download the title track here now, and for free too! All the songs featured in this week’s If You Like, You’ll Love are available to listen to on Spotify here. Amazing, no?
February 1, 2011 No Comments
We would perhaps like it to, but originality does not run wildly amongst the streams and rivers of the world we live in. We cannot simply dip our cup into a nearby water supply and drink up some endless supply of new ideas. Everything is borne of something else. The Hold Steady and The Gaslight Anthem could not exist without Springsteen. With no Madonna there’d have been no Gaga. So when one finds something fresh, something so totally different from anything else around, it deserves to be celebrated.
Well done, then, Anaïs Mitchell, who masterminded the terrific album Hadestown. It is not, we should recognise, a work of pure originality – the record is a folk opera starring musicians such as Ani DiFranco, Justin Vernon and The Low Anthem’s Ben Knox Miller, and it takes its plot from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Still, who has ever heard of a folk opera? Let alone one as musically vivid, with such a talented and established cast as that of Hadestown.
It’s not unusual for stories to be told through music. That’s kind of how this whole concept of ‘song’ got started in the first place. But it is much less common for stories to be told over an album, with different voices filling different roles. Hadestown wouldn’t work so perfectly without these voices – the wonderful Greg Brown, of whom I had not heard prior to the record, brings his character of Hades to life with the deep twang of a man who does not enjoy the suffering he shares with his world.
And this is how the album works – like any story the listener’s enjoyment lies in the distinct and unique voices of the individual characters. As it happens, Mitchell herself, as the misguided Eurydice, is little more than a supporting character to Vernon’s Orpheus, DiFranco’s Persephone and Brown’s Hades. This does not matter though, for the foundations of Hadestown were laid deep in Mitchell’s mind, built up by her hands and her ears. It may be Justin Vernon or Ben Knox Miller whose voice you hear, but it is Mitchell’s words that they live off, that the breathe through.
Maybe there isn’t such as thing as originality anymore, but Hadestown is the beautiful and triumphant evidence that just because something isn’t entirely original, it doesn’t mean it cannot be entirely fresh.
July 1, 2010 1 Comment
5. God Help The Girl – God Help The Girl
As curious a project as any other this year, God Help The Girl is the soundtrack to an as-yet non-existent film. Masterminded by Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, God Help The Girl bears not only musical similarities with the band, but also some of the same songs. The Life Pursuit‘s ‘Act of the Apostle’ and ‘Funny Little Frog’ are given new life by the wonderful vocal cast gathered by Murdoch – a cast headed up by marvellous new talent Catherine Ireton. The lyrics, as any Belle and Sebastian fan might expect, are charmingly quirky, and the accompanying music only serves to hype up what could be one of the most curiously anticipated indie films of 2010.
4. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin – The Low Anthem
The Low Anthem have had an unfair battle with lazy journalists in 2009. Too many music reviewers have put on the constantly surprising Oh My God, Charlie Darwin and, on the basis of what can only really be the opening two tracks, have turned it off and noted down ‘the new Fleet Foxes’. The Low Anthem are the new Fleet Foxes in the same way that Music Go Music are the new Abba – the sound is certainly there, and noticably so, but it’s mixed in amongst a beautiful myriad of other influences. Every turn the album takes is unexpected – sometimes content to stick to folksy roots, often willing to throw in some garage rock emotions, sometimes content just to put out some of the most touching songwriting of the decade.
3. Isla – Portico Quartet
Last year I had enjoyed Portico Quartet’s Mercury-nominated debut so much I ignored its 2007 release date to include it on my end of year list (at a respectable seven). What Portico Quartet proved then – and now again with Isla - is that no matter how long it has been around for, music is always able to surprise with new, fantastic genres and bold, terrific sounds. Portico Quartet are uniquely themselves – there isn’t another band around today releasing music this satisfying to listen to, this refreshing to hear. Put it on in your car on a long, miserable journey; in your bedside CD player after a dull, dreary day. Nothing this year will refresh your mind and emotions so pleasingly as Isla.
2. My Maudlin Career – Camera Obscura
Once upon a time, Camera Obscura were another twee cousin in Belle and Sebastian’s little Scottish family. With this, their fourth studio album, the band finally find their footing on the staircase to another level. Kicking off with the livewire ‘French Navy’, My Maudlin Career does all it can to establish the band as something entirely different from anything else in music today. Maybe they don’t quite succeed in that, but amongst lush strings and clever lyrics Camera Obscura at least prove themselves as capable of brilliance in the most pleasant surprise of the year.
1. First Love – Emmy The Great
It had been a long time coming when, in February, Emmy the Great finally released her debut album. It struck me from first listen as something special. I had planned to play it on my CD player as I wrote up an important essay on my laptop. Approximately thirty-two seconds into the opening track, ‘Absentee’, I scrapped said plan and chose instead to lie on my bed next to the music, reading the lyrics as I soaked in a fair mix of songs I had never heard before but instantly loved and songs I loved but had never heard before as they played out now. First Love is a minor masterpiece in modern British folk music. A rare case in which recommending an album’s best tracks simply isn’t possible – as a collection of songs, First Love is as near perfection as most people dare to get.
December 14, 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
As my post the other day suggested, I’m a big fan of seasonal music. In fact, every season of every year I like to make myself a soundtrack for the coming months – a forty to fifty minute collection of songs to see me through the coming quarter. I time these carefully – my winter mix comes into play on December the first, providing a cool warmth that will keep me going long after the Christmas tunes fade out. Spring kicks in the first of March – before anything’s really changed in these parts of the world. And so, as I walk around listening to my new collection of songs that I love, I will see the world slowly grow and change around me. It’s a beautiful thing. Summer starts for me on the first of June. It’s the season that has the loosest theme for me – this year’s mix consisted entirely of cover versions of well-known and lesser-known folk and soul songs.
If you work it out, that places the debut of my Autumnal mix around the beginning of September. Or, in layman’s terms, now-ish. Maybe, if tenacity is on my side, we’ll be seeing each other here long enough to make a series of this, but for now I present my We Write Lists mix for Autumn 2009. It features a lot of the music I’ve been going on about over the past few weeks, whether it be the specific tracks, or simply other songs from the same artists. I recommend you download the mix – though I would, of course.
1. Coney – Stephen Fretwell
2. Never Had Nobody Like You – M. Ward (feat. Zooey Deschanel)
3. Crooked Legs – The Acorn
4. Everyone – Van Morrison
5. Fallen From The Sky – Glen Hansard
6. First Love – Emmy the Great
7. Everyday – Vetiver
8. What I’m Looking For – Brendan Benson
9. A Short Weekend Begins With Longing – The Leisure Society
10. Astronaut – Beach House
11. To The Ghosts Who Write History Books – The Low Anthem
12. Cease-Fire, or, Mrs. Norman Maine – Franz Nicolay
Around and about Sussex way the leaves are still on the trees. Can’t see them moving for a couple of weeks yet. But that’s the key. I listen to these tracks as I walk about my village, as I travel on buses, in cars. And as I listen the leaves start to fall; and sooner or later they aren’t there anymore, and these songs become not just about love, loss and all the other themes. They become the soundtrack to your autumn. The songs that were playing whilst your life went on around you.
September 3, 2009 No Comments
It’s going to be a Low Anthem winter round my neck of the woods, I can tell you that now. It’s barely been a fortnight since I purchased the album for myself, but it’s fast becoming my favourite of the year. I often find myself needing the songs, like an addiction to a painkiller for a pain that no longer lingers.
I’d avoided The Low Anthem for far too long after reading somewhere that they were ‘of the same school as Fleet Foxes’. It’s a shame really that such a claim was ever made – though the opening track of the album certainly has rings of the Foxes about it, the comparison is almost impossible to keep up beyond those first four minutes and thiry-five seconds. I love Fleet Foxes, like all red-blooded folksters should, but The Low Anthem are on a whole other level, fuller, broader in influences. Rockier and calmer depending on where you are. This is mulled music – full of the tastes and flavours of all the music you know, you’re used to, but with something warmer to heat the very depths of your soul.
I’ve been thinking of late about seasonal music – the songs I tend to listen to only when the world is at the right angle for them. We needn’t mention Christmas songs – it’s a widely regarded fact that anyone who listens to them either side of December needs some sort of slap round the head. But their are sounds that fit the season – The Low Anthem will be firmly set into the Autumn/Winter collection, alongside The Leisure Society’s ‘Last Of The Melting Snow’ and, yes, Fleet Foxes. Spring has Goldfrapp’s charming Seventh Tree album. Summer forever belongs to the livelier jangly bands like Vampire Weekend.
Does it make these bands less worthy, that their music (to me, at least) can only fit within certain seasonal perameters? There are those who’d argue it does, I’m sure, but fortunately for us those people can keep their minds closed and open for business over in the murky depths of NME.com – I’ll forever support these bands for what they do. That I can’t listen to Seventh Tree in November doesn’t make it any less of an album. If anything, it makes it a superior album – one that can define a period of our lives and soundtrack our memories in a way that will always remind us of a time behind us, even when the rain comes down and the sun doesn’t shine.
The Half-Dozen Best Seasonal Songs:
1. The Last Of The Melting Snow – The Leisure Society (Autumn/Winter)
2. Snow Day – Rosie Thomas (Winter)
3. Gold – Interference (Summer/Autumn)
4. Easter Parade – Emmy the Great (Spring)
5. Charlie Darwin – The Low Anthem (Autumn/Winter)
6. Love in the Harbour – The Bees (Spring/Summer)
September 2, 2009 No Comments