John Grant is a curious man. After the split of his former band The Czars, Grant moved to New York in order to study for a degree in Russian medical translation. Presumably because straight Russian translation was just a little too easy for him. It was WWL favourites Midlake who brought the man back to music. Whilst studying his ridiculously clever degree, Grant made time to gig on rare occasions, including a short stint supporting Midlake. The band encouraged him to record an album, and this year’s Queen of Denmark is just that. Supported by Midlake themselves, acting as little more than a (ruddy brilliant) backing band, Grant’s album is a haunting and witty collection of songs in key of amazing. As always we consider ourself incredibly lucky here at We Write Lists to host John Grant for another edition of Six Albums. Thanks must go, once again, to the wonderful Bella Union, who continue to support WWL like the French support cheese shops. (Stereotypically?)
There are so many favorite albums for me and the fact that Talk Talk, Cabaret Voltaire, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and Devo to name just a few are not on my list is a crime in my opinion, but the albums below were extremely important for me in terms of context. WHEN they happened in my life. WHAT they did to me, HOW they changed my outlook.
1. Nina Hagen — Nunsexmonkrock
This will always be one of my top albums. Rolling Stone called it “the most unlistenable album of the year” in 1982 but for me it was an introduction to a world I had no idea even existed. I was just a church-going choir-boy and when I saw the cover (vinyl) of Nunsexmonkrock I was shocked and horrified and completely fascinated all at the same time. I spent weeks going back to it in the store and then, one day, I finally worked up the nerve to buy it. Such things were forbidden in our house and so I knew there could be dire consequences if it were to be discovered by my parents. When I first listened to it, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was listening to it under the covers in my waterbed because I didn’t want to be discovered, but I was too horrified to continue, then slowly, over the course of the next months it became my number one favorite album. It represented everything that was different and foreign to me and also that I couldn’t wait to get away from Parker, Colorado. Favorite tracks: ‘Antiworld’, ‘Smack Jack’, ‘Future is Now’, ‘Born in Xixax’
2. Divinyls — Desperate
I guess you can say I really loved the ladies, I felt rejected by a lot of men in my life and strong, confident, take-no-prisoners women like Christina Amphlett were my heroes. I remember seeing her on a late-night video show in the early eighties and I was transfixed. She looked and acted like a monster and was drawing all over her face with red lipstick. Every song on Desperate is a short pop masterpiece in my humble opinion and it can’t be more than 35 or 40 minutes in length and always leaves me wanting more. It is full of energy and engaging, personal lyrics that tell of scenarios that were completely foreign to me at the time. ‘Boys in Town’, ‘Elsie’, ‘Take a Chance’, ‘Ring me Up’. I keep going back to it time and time again.
3. Kate Bush — Hounds of Love
This is another album that totally blew my mind. It is a cohesive unit and it flows from beginning to end and it is a masterpiece (so is The Dreaming in my humble opinion). There are lots of bleak landscapes but there are also times when there is a little hole in the thick, gray cloud cover and the sun shines through. I’d never heard a voice like hers, I’d never heard such longing and melancholy and beauty, plus it was primarily listened to during long trips late at night on the road to take home the boy I was in love with at the time. He didn’t love me, I don’t know if he even liked me and he was just using me because he needed someone to drive him back to the sticks where he lived. There was no one else on the road that late out in the country and I just remember the light from the dashboard hitting his face and his hand on my arm, because he knew he had to invest a little something to get what he wanted.
4. Eurythmics — Touch
This is probably the album that turned me on to electronic music. I hadn’t heard Kraftwerk or Cabaret Voltaire or Visage or Blancmange or Yello yet although it wasn’t long at all before I would. I love every song on this record except for ‘Right By Your Side’ which I considered to be too positive and up-beat and major-key for my liking at the time. ‘Here Comes the Rain’ again, ‘Who’s That Girl’, ‘No Fear, No Hate, No Pain (No Broken Hearts)’, ‘Aqua’!!!!!!! all got me through yet another horrifying year of High School.
5. The Carpenters — Horizon
This is probably where I learned about chorus and layering and amazing harmonies and cheese. But the cheese didn’t bother me. We were a church-going family, so there was cheese aplenty. Anyone who says they don’t like Karen Carpenter’s voice is either a Nazi or a Liar or both : )
6. Yello — Stella
Yello has accompanied me through about 3 decades of my life and it all started with this record. I was intrigued by the strange vocals and the accents (I thought they were Mexican) and the cinematic soundscapes mixed with infectious electro-beats and catchy lyrics were a very bizarre and welcome in my tiny world. ‘Sometimes’ is probably one of my all-time favorite tracks and who doesn’t love ‘Vicious Game’ or at least one of the many fantastic remixes it has yielded through the years? It is one of my dreams to visit their mansion in L.A. and check out their massive collection of synths. I would also like join Shirley Bassey, Stina Nordenstam and Billy Mackenzie as one of their collaborators. That would be beyond all belief systems and off all hooks.
John Grant is the former lead singer of The Czars, and the man behind the fantastic album Queen of Denmark, out now on Bella Union and available anywhere remotely sensible.
July 23, 2010 No Comments
It has been just under a year since We Write Lists first burst forth into this world, crying and unsure quite what to do with itself. After the intial clean-up, our first action, way back in July 2009, was to create the Hg Music Prize – a periodic table-inspired rip-off of the Barclaycard Mercury Prize. Last year’s Hg went to the wonderful Emmy the Great, for her debut album First Love.
Much like the Mercury Prize, the Hg is open only to British acts who have released albums in the last twelve months – that is August 1st onwards, seeing as last years nominees were announced on July 30th. Albums can be of any genre, though there is this year a strong supply of folk-orientated music. Mainly because folk-orientated music is ruddy brilliant.
The award will ultimately be decided by a panel of friends, bloggers, maybe a musician or two, and myself – so though the result may not directly reflect my choice, it will at least be slightly fairer than my end of year list, during which I essentially run around my bedroom shouting out the name of my favourite album until I feel light-headed. Which is normally after about two circuits.
So, without further ado, the nominees for the Stephen Thomas Hg Music Prize 2010, complete with Spotify links for your enjoyment.
Ed Harcourt – Lustre (Spotify)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Spotify)
I Am Kloot – Sky at Night (Spotify)
Marina & the Diamonds – The Family Jewels (Spotify)
Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can (Spotify)
Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (Spotify)
Mystery Jets – Serotonin (Spotify)
Noah and the Whale – First Days of Spring (Spotify)
Noisettes – Wild Young Hearts (Spotify)
Portico Quartet - Isla (Spotify)
Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill (Spotify)
The xx – xx (Spotify)
So, as you can see, a varied selection with a definite folk slant that also leaves room for pop, indie, alternative rock and instrumental jazz. Enjoy all of the albums, and the winner will be announced on September the 7th.
July 20, 2010 No Comments
I have a tumultuous ongoing relationship with compilation albums. On the one hand, they are essentially mixtapes for general consumption – and I love mixtapes. And consumption, as long as we’re not talking about the archaic name for tuberculosis. On the other hand, though, compilation albums are used, more often than not, as a quick way to an easy buck. More and more often compilation albums are being put together with no care and very little thought. The thought that usually is put into the compiling rarely goes beyond “What do I think Joe Public wants to hear?”, the answer usually being “The Hoosiers!” Seven new compilation albums are released in the UK today, ranging from Ultimate Pop Junior – a collection featuring Bob The Builder, Teletubbies and something called ‘I Am A Gummy Bear (The Gummy Bear Song)’ to Club Anthems 2010, which is essentially three discs of electronic seizures. All this has inspired me, in the loosest sense of the term, to look at three of the worst, and three of the best compilation albums.
Ultimate Pop Junior - As with many of the albums on my ‘bad compilation albums’ list, this collection is interchangable with any number of children’s music CDs. The fact of the matter is that Ultimate Pop Junior is indeed the ultimate example of a bad children’s music collection. When was it decided that all children want to listen to is a mixture of novelty songs (both Jedward and the awful ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo?’ feature here) and music directly related to their favourite TV shows? The problem with a mix like this is that it perpetuates the myth that this is what children listen to, and that results in more children actually listening to novelty pop when in fact all they need is some good fun classic pop music. When I was a kid I enjoyed Billy Joel’s ‘Uptown Girl’, Elton John’s ‘Crocodile Rock’ and pretty much anything by Queen. Though all this music was trashy pop fun, it was based upon real musical ability, and directly contributed to the appreciation for good sound that developed in me from that point onwards. In ten years time, I dare you to find a single Bowie fan who started by listening to the music of Justin Beiber.
Epic – This is the problem with bad compilation CDs. So common are they that two of my three choices are mixes that are released today. The 3-disc collection that is Epic presumably targets itself as the sort of person who cried when Oasis split up, or goes to see Danny Dyer films in the cinema. Or at all. The collection is simple in premise – it aims to feature only songs that are, in their charmingly clichéd wording, Epic. They fill the record with songs by The Killers, Editors, Blur and The Charlatans. Few of these tracks are what I would consider as ‘epic’ – not in the same way the Sigur Ros’ expanse or Midlake’s majestic sweep are epic – but all of which at least fall into the same sort of genre. Except when the compilers evidently run out of ideas, and suddenly The Hoosiers and Scouting For Girls have made it on. I’m not a fan of either band, but that isn’t important. What’s important is that ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ is by no means epic. It’s pop, and the only reason it’s on the record is to fill up the record with number one singles under the misguided idea that number ones are all people buy albums for. The NME collections regularly suffer similarly as they hypocritically throw in songs by bands they tear apart in the magazine, simply because said band is a regular feature in the charts.
Happy Songs – I think my biggest problem with the Songs collections (Happy Songs, Sad Songs, Housework Songs, Break-Up Songs, Sad Songs II, Housework Songs: Spring Clean Edition) is not the emotional-theming of the collections – I often listen to happy songs or sad songs (though I rarely listen to ‘housework songs’). Rather, my issue is the fact that there is never really any need to own the records. The Songs collections are the sort of pointless compilation made entirely out of songs you are pretty much guaranteed to have access to already. Each edition features a Queen song as standard, often as the first song, and follows it with thirty to forty other tracks direct out of Britain’s collective CD conciousness. Everyone already has ‘Good Vibrations’, there’s no need for it to feature on a compilation. The Songs CDs are essentially Heart FM commited to disc.
Late Night Tales – I absolutely LOVE the Late Night Tales collection, even when the music selected is not necessarily My Sort Of Thing. Why? Because the series is the musical equivalent to our very own Six Albums – relying on a different artist each album to compile a selection of their own favourite tracks. The series serves as an insight into the minds of the musicians we love, as well as an excellent way to introduce us to less widely-known tracks that are, inevitably, brilliant. The Cinematic Orchestra like Burt Bacharach. Who knew? Nouvelle Vague are Glen Campbell fans, and Belle and Sebastian are, perhaps unsurprisingly, into their Donovan. The best feature of the series though are the exclusive tracks each artist donates to their record. Nouvelle Vague covered ‘Come On Eileen’, which is enough to convince me.
The Saturday Sessions – Released as a sort of thinking man’s Live Lounge, The Saturday Sessions are the first thing that have ever made me thing Dermot O’Leary might not deserve the nickname I gave him a few years back (prepare yourself for hilarity: Dermot… O’Dreary!). Where the Live Lounge CDs regularly feature bland pop acts covering bland contemporary pop songs, The Saturday Sessions feature occasionally less well known artists covering older, more inspired songs. Camera Obscura cover ABBA’s ‘Super Trouper’, Zero 7 cover The Kink’s ‘I Go To Sleep’ and Amy Winehouse covers The Teddy Bears’ ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’. Though there are also acoustic versions of original songs the highlights come either in trashier pop acts providing inspiring turns on other’s songs (notably The Feeling on ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ and Nerina Pallot on Kylie’s ‘Confide In Me’) or in covers by artists you’ve never heard of previously (Stoney’s stunning version of The Stone Roses’ ‘Waterfall’ and Jont’s gentle take on Goldfrapp’s ‘Number 1′. The Saturday Sessions proves that the problem with Live Lounge isn’t the premise, but the music.
The Wigan Casino Story – Volume Three: The Final Chapter – I could have chosen any collection from this wonderful series of northern soul releases. The series as a whole represents precisely what compilations should do – introduce people to new and wonderful music. Whilst the entire series offered a new look at an oft-forgotten genre, it’s the third and final edition that peaks the collection, featuring the ice-cool Blanche Carter track ‘Halos Are For Angels’ – a song destined to feature on a Tarantino soundtrack, and a song that excited me endlessly the first time I heard it. Compilations are worth the hassle for moments like those alone.
July 19, 2010 No Comments
When they first emerged, sometime around 2005, The Pipettes were an oddity amongst other pop acts on the scene. Drawing heavily on Wall Of Sound-style production techniques the band were a good three years ahead of their time with the retro pop revival that would eventually be called upon by Girls Aloud on their single ‘The Promise’ and Duffy on, well, just about everything she’s released thus far. Still, despite some respectable success with We Are The Pipettes the girls – Gwenno, Rose and RiotBecki – disappeared from the pop scene soon after the promotional rounds were done. Now, four years after their debut album, the band return. But only in a sense – Rose and RiotBecki have left to pursue other projects, and Gwenno’s sister Ani has been brought in. As new album Earth vs. Pipettes is set to prove, Ani is not a replacement for the two departing Pips, but an entirely new entity. Expect the Wall Of Sound to be replaced by a slightly more Bananarama-inspired style. The beat remains, though. Earth vs. Pipettes is, above all things, an excellent pop record, and the sort of album that can only come from a band inspired by a billion different artists before them. We’ve been fortunate enough to grab Gwenno and Ani for another edition of Six Albums, which as ever offers us an all-too-brief look into the minds behind the music.
Brenda Wootten and Richard Gendall – Children Singing
We had this one on vinyl at home, and my Dad always played it. It’s great, just a bunch of kids singing in Cornish with Brenda leading, we listened to a lot of Cornish tapes when we were little, some of them were hilarious, a lot of satire but this one really stood out. ‘Onen, Dow, Try’ was my favourite, just ‘one, two, three’, the melody feels like it’s from another time, but the song was really simple and fun. The album cover is amazing and I was immediately drawn to it, and they were like me, and on record!
Cor Cochian Caerdydd – Songs of Freedom/Dros Rhyddid Daear
I mention this one as I have it, but we listened to a lot of the other tapes that my Mum made with the Choir growing up. In fact, we sang these songs nearly every single day and always on Saturday in the centre of Cardiff to raise money, for the Anti-Apartheid movement, Nicaragua and Palestine amongst many others. I love their use of the protest song and the worker’s song, at their peak they had enough energy to be a part of making a change, and even now they are a very important group in my opinion. It’s their use of street performance, of impromptu singing for a greater good, I could perhaps name them as one of my favourite musical outfits!
Queen – Greatest Hits
My friend, Emma, gave me this to borrow when I was eleven and it took me a very long time to give it back. Ani and I used to sing every song, we knew all the words and I remember trying to figure out who should sing what in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It’s all so ridiculously bombastic, annoyingly so on songs like ‘Flash Gordon’ (which I always fast forwarded) but when they get it right, like on ‘Killer Queen’ or ‘Somebody To Love’ it’s perfect and to the point but you can hear that it’s grounded in Classical music which makes it so much more complex yet effective at the same time.
Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope
I distinctly remember the music video for Together Again and wanting so much to be able to dance like Janet and have crazy big hair and piercings like her. She was all over Top of the Pops at the time and I just thought she was the coolest thing ever, always a dance routine with a chair… classic! There’s a special place in my heart for that 90s tinny drum beat and if you’re gonna feature a rapper it’s got to be Q-tip surely?! And with producers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who I didn’t realise along with most R&B legends have also produced The Human League, you can’t really go wrong. This album and sound really reminds me of being 13.
Electric Light Orchestra – Xanadu
I discovered this album much later, it’s never too late but I wish I had known about ELO sooner. I just love Jeff Lynne so much, he’s done so much in music that I wish I had, just amazing. I love the warmth and fullness and the beautiful ridiculousness of this album, it’s got everything a pop maniac would love. If you’ve never tried it, it’s the best album to listen to whilst out jogging, kind of makes you feel like you’re flying (I only went out jogging about three times) which is super.
‘N Sync – No Strings Attached
I think I near enough wore this CD out. I was obviously in love with Justin Timberlake and having been to America a few times during this period I saw how mad they all were about them. They didn’t ever seem huge over here but I suppose we had our own boybands? I was never really a Backstreet Boys kinda girl either, ‘N Sync and East 17 for me, not Backstreet Boys and Take That (though I obviously love Take That now) Their videos for this album were all amazing and It’s gonna be me is still one of my favourite pop tunes ever. I also tried and failed to learn the dance moves for it, I thought I was cool… I know it’s plastic but it is fantastic pop.
The Pipettes’ latest single, the brilliant ‘Call Me’ is out now, and features excellent use of the dialling tone. The new album, Earth vs. Pipettes is out September 6th, but I’m sure I’ll remind you all of that nearer the time.
July 16, 2010 No Comments
Last night I made the mistake I have feared making for years. In my over-excitement regarding dinner (the greatest of all the Evening Meals) I removed my laptop from my, well, lap and – in doing so – managed to throw my external hard drive to the floor. My. External. Hard. Drive. The guardian of all that is good. The protective bodyguard to my entire digital music collection. Holder of 300GB of songs. Larry*. Thrown to the ground, all in the name of shephard’s pie. As I called the Computer Repair Nerd this morning I couldn’t help but remind myself of why I have always remained such an ardent supporter of physical copies – not just of music, but of films and, almost depressingly, of books.
1. The stress.
My next three days will be spent hoping that Jon, the lovely computer hobbit who took my hard drive away today, will be able to recover something – anything – from it. I shall spend most of the time sitting in a chair, in my room, rocking back and forth as he puts Larry through all sorts of strange data-recovery rituals.
“First, I’ll freeze it.” Jon tells me. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this. We aren’t, after all, trying to find a solution that will preserve Walt Disney’s head for future generations of scientists and fans of poking famous frozen things.
Of course, none of this would have been a problem if I listened to myself in the first place and had bought everything in the hard drive as a physical copy first. Sure, every now and then I lose a CD or two (for instance, where in cocking hell is my Stephen Fretwell album?) but it takes a lot more effort to lose three thousand CDs than it does to lose three thousand albums all stored in one little box that is smaller than your face.
2. Physical is prettier.
This is one of those (despressingly common) situations where the old adage ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’ is a load of utter bollocks. Yes, the music is the key part of an album, but there is so much more to it than that. Artwork, and lyrics, and little square booklets all add up to the experience of an album. Classic albums such as Sgt Peppers and Dark Side Of The Moon would almost certainly have less of a cult following had their distinctive album covers been limited to a 250 pixel square. I love being able to read through the contents page in the Seldom Seen Kid case, or thumb through the mini-sleeves within Joanna Newsom’s latest record. And it isn’t just artwork, either. Can anyone on this earth really deny the simple pleasure gained for sliding one’s finger along the slick black curve of a vinyl LP? No, they can’t. Because they would be wrong.
3. It’s cheaper.
“WHAT? Stop talking crazy talk, Mr. Crazy Talk, you crazy talker, you!”
No, really. Check it out for yourself. More often than not these days, buying a physical copy of an album, online, and having it shipped to your door so you never even leave your house is very often ACTUALLY CHEAPER than downloading the record from iTunes. Case in point: any sensible person would want to own the fantastic Forever Changes by Love, and would be willing to shell out the £7.99 it sells for on iTunes. But wouldn’t you rather pay the £3.99 that play.com charge for the EXACT SAME EDITION, only this time with a free CD and case attached to the eleven brilliant songs you are paying for? Of course you would. You know why? Because you’re not an utter fool.
That said, I am an utter fool, and it is precisely my reliance of digital music that leaves me where I am now. Stressed, though thankful I at least have a CD player and a copy of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book to settle my nerves**.
*Yeah, my hard drive is named Larry.
** I do in fact own more than one CD, that’s just the current one I am listening to. I also own to B*Witched ones and that Shakira one where she’s kind of topless but playing it really cool on the cover.
July 6, 2010 No Comments
Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ was rare for me in the sense that I came to love it through first loving a cover version. In fact, long before I heard the original, before I bought Various Positions album and posited it myself between The Clash and Coldplay, variously, I had heard perhaps a dozen different versions, none of which Cohen’s. For this, the song is rare to me – I normally come to know an original before exploring the ranging covers available – but for most people this is perhaps the common way of discovering ‘Hallelujah’.
Most everyone who knows ‘Hallelujah’ will have first heard a version other than Cohen’s, whether it be Jeff Buckley’s magnificent re-imagining, which inspired almost every cover that followed it, John Cale’s reeling vision, which has featured on soundtracks varying from Scrubs to Shrek, or perhaps the more recent Alexandra Burke cover, which caused controversy amongst music fans when it was chosen as the winner’s song in 2008′s reality talent show X-Factor, and went on to become the fast selling single by a female in UK chart history. I’ve had in my time the opportunity to see the effervescent Rufus Wainwright cover the song, but also to see Cohen himself perform it – notably in a style more reminiscent of Cale – and I am unsure a song has ever existed that holds more possibilites for interpretation by other artists.
As a place to start We Write List’s new ongoing feature about some of our favourite covers, there is no more logical a place to start than ‘Hallelujah’, a song best known by its covers. What is perhaps most remarkable about the song is its versatility – that so many artists find a creative outlet within the majestic boundaries of the lyrics, and yet manage to create such different songs from such a solid and set starting point.
Buckley, for instance, is at once soft and appalling saddening as he struggles through the song. It sounds exactly like that, though – a struggle. His voice crumbles under the crushing devastation he injects into the song, and for a short while it feels as if there is no hallelujah in ‘Hallelujah’. All that while, though, the beauty is so present, and so intense, that such a hopeless vision of the song does not matter, not really, not for now.
Alexandra Burke injects more popular sensibilities into the song, a sellable factor that does not necessarily seem in-keeping at first with the true nature of the words, and the meaning. The production is slick and soulless, as is the instrumentation. Everything, musically, is set to sell, as if the recording studio had a button on its desk that read below ‘Make Popular’. A choir kicks in, and at first adds nothing at all, but isn’t that how choirs work when Simon Cowell is in charge. But then – then there is Burke’s voice. Smooth and sultry, it perhaps lacks the broken nature inherent to most other visions of Cohen’s lyrics – but it is bolder, stronger and in many ways more soulful than one has any right to expect from a chart-topping cover. By the end it is apparent that Burke’s ‘Hallelujah’ is not one aquainted with the sadness of past versions, but rather is a swooping gospel ballad. In this sense, it is unlike anything released before by a reality star – a soulful song covered originally.
Though most recent covers find their inspiration in Buckley’s, Jeff Buckley himself found inspiration in John Cale’s 1991 version. There is, at times, a sense of irony in Cale’s cover, particularly apparent in his delivery of the line ‘but now you never show it to me, do ya?’ Remarkable for being the first of the modern interpretations of the song, there are so many of these now that Cale’s is lost in the shadows – particularly behind Buckley’s behemoth. Nevertheless, there is something new to be found here – a subtly wry take on one of the most beautiful songs written.
Unsurprisingly, the ‘Hallelujah’ put forward for review by Imogen Heap is a much starker affair, a much more sparse song, than anything before it. Besides the lyrics and structure, there is little comparison to be made between Heap’s and either Cohen’s or Cale’s. Breathy and desperately lonely, Heap’s cover is brief but perhaps the most original version of the song since Cohen himself.
Similarly – or as similar as possible to Heap’s quiet and empty version – Regina Spektor offers a gentle interpretation devoid of the heavier instrumentation of most recent covers. Reliant on subtle strings and the most basic of piano, the song is carried by the bittersweet cello and Spektor’s own haunting voice.
There are dozens of entries to this catalogue, and to list them all in any form of detail would fill an afternoon both for you and I. It’s easy to skip over so many of the inferior versions, more difficult to ignore those by Rufus Wainwright, k.d. Lang or Kathryn Williams. Only one version remains impossible to ignore, however.
Allison Crowe is perhaps renowned a little too much around these parts. She is considered consistently magnificent – a burden on talent nobody should be given. Nevertheless, her cover of ‘Hallelujah’ is simply stunning, and remains one of my favourite covers of all time. Taking, as ever, inspiration from Cale’s style of the song, Crowe throws in more soul and sadness than any one person should be capable of. In Crowe’s hands, the song has as much majesty as Cohen could ever have conveyed, as much sadness as the Buckley version and as beautiful instrumentation – though completely original, and even more sparsely terrific – as Spektor or Wainwright or anyone else you may care to mention. Simply, a song so beautiful has never been sung so beautifully.
Allison Crowe – ‘Hallelujah’
March 24, 2010 No Comments
49. Orange Juice and Lemonade – The drink that says to you, “Hello there, it’s summer now.”
48. Counting down – Deeply satisfying knowing that no matter how rubbish you are at tap-dancing or drawing squirrels, you can always count from fifty all the way down to one.
47. Chocolate and Pear Crumble
46. BBC Radio 6 Music
45. Labradoodles – Not quite a labrador, not quite a poodle. Best of both worlds, really.
44. Wimbourne Model Village – Stomp around pretending to be a giant, whilst appreciating the fact that you’ve just seen all this round the corner but bigger, and for free.
43. American Politics – Like English politics, only interesting.
42. Boggle – You get to shake things, and spell.
41. Terrible 80′s Horror Films
40. Boring Postcards – See above.
39. Balloons that stay up longer than you thought they would
38. Owning things – Anti-commercialism be damned.
37. The Sunday Times
36. Taking photos of ugly people – Makes you feel better about yourself. Thank you, ugly people!
35. Threadless t-shirts
34. Pens – They help us write. Without them, words would be easier to rub out.
33. Finding twenty pounds in your summer coat pocket – Like a present from your former self. Wasn’t your former self lovely?
32. Blue Tits – They’re more interesting than robins, and have a funny name.
31. First Edition books – I feel smarter already!
30. Itching – Mm, that felt good.
28. Cider – The hearty sort that comes poured from kegs and makes you grunt with appreciation.
25. Sticking stamps on things.
24. Socks – Mine are usually stripy.
23. Sun-dried tomatoes – If people were tomatoes, you’d be eating your grandparents now.
21. Stony beaches
20. Dolphins in top hats
19. Childhood teddy bears – Hello, Apple Juice*. I’ve missed you.
17. Not knowing how a film is going to end – Surprise! Oh, I wasn’t expecting that at all. Wonderful.
16. Testing various forms of facial hair out whilst shaving.
15. Judging books by their cover – It guarantees a much more visually appealing book shelf.
12. Not being able to dance convincingly in a club, but still giving it a good go nonetheless.
11. Saying ‘brambles’
10. Running your fingers through your hair
9. Having someone else run their fingers through your hair
8. Listing things – I like listing things, and therefore I put it on this list. And created an entire website for my lists.
6. Staying in bed – Especially on days when you really shouldn’t.
5. The hash key – ‘#’ looks like a waffle at an angle.
3. Reading – “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
2. Live music
1. Cookies – The chewy ones, please. Chocolate, with Rolos melted within them.
*Apple Juice was the name of one of my favourite childhood toys, alongside his rabbit best friend Light Brown. I was not great at naming my toys.
March 23, 2010 No Comments
I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours or so falling all the more in love with Joanna Newsom. Yesterday morning, armed with a month’s worth of restuarant tips, I made my way to the bank. Unfortunately, in order to get to the bank I had to pass through HMV. Well. Sort of. I had to pass HMV. The ‘through’ bit was my own addition.
Anyway. Careful not to spend money, I limited myself to one item, and as soon as I saw Joanna Newsom’s first album in five years, I made my decision. Three discs, for the price of your average independently-released record. Three discs.
As expected, the album is a sumptuous mix of harps, piano and wavering vocals. Perhaps more melodic than some Newsom’s previous two albums, Have One On Me peaks at the beginning of the second disc, with the uncharacteristically short ‘On A Good Day’. Nevertheless, nowhere does the album bow below being Absolutely Lovely, and more often than not it borders on Ruddy Beautiful. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Newsom’s quirky orchestration and unusual vocal techniques will not be to everyone’s taste. My father, this morning, asked if she was ‘practicing’. She isn’t, though. In fact, Have One On Me is pitch-perfect and effortless, and well worth a listen.
Have One On Me: The Six Essentials
1. On A Good Day
2. Does Not Suffice
3. You and Me, Bess
4. Good Intentions Paving Co.
6. Baby Birch
March 6, 2010 No Comments
The Living Sisters should be done for false advertising. They are, as it turns out, not sisters at all – rather a trio of established musicians known elsewhere for work within The Bird and the Bee and Lavendar Diamond, amongst others.
I had the pleasure of reviewing the album over at the frankly magnificent For Folk’s Sake, and so shan’t be saying much here, beyond this short list:
Half A Dozen Things To Know About The Living Sisters:
1. Their debut album Love To Live isn’t due out til late March, according to Amazon, and will cost a frankly mortifying £17.99 in England, which is a bit silly really. Most likely it’s just a typo on the site, though, and it’ll sell for £7.99 which I think we can all agree is A Bit More Reasonable.
2. The album is fantastic, though, and I’ll probably buy it even if it is £17.99. In fact, the album is so fantastic that if it had been released two weeks earlier (thereby beating Music Go Music’s Expressions onto the shelves) it would briefly have been the best album released so far this year. As it stands, it will actually only be the second best album released so far this year. Which is still pretty good.
3. Harmonies are all well and good, but what really makes the band so lovely is that their music sounds a bit like Les Paul and Mary Ford or She & Him, only more folky.
4. On one song the ‘shoo-bop-doo-wop’, which is thoroughly amazing.
5. If you think about it, being the second best album of the year so far also makes you the second best album of the decade so far. Which is even more impressive.
6. Their best song is either ‘(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am’ or ‘How Are You Doing’, the latter of which opens the album and is in digital form below.
mp3: ‘How Are You Doing‘ by The Living Sisters
February 25, 2010 No Comments
Ask young people today what their favourite Nirvana gig was, and a lot of them will say it’s their MTV Unplugged performance. They’re wrong, of course – young people today are too young have experience Nirvana first hand. Hell, I was seven when Kurt Kobain killed himself/was murdered/ascended to sit at the right hand of God. In two years people who will be legally able to drive will have been born after Kobain died. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s impressive that after all these years the Unplugged session is still so popular. It’s the nature of acoustic tracks, you see. Everyone likes to hear songs they know taken in another direction. It’s exciting, different and in the spirit of it, we’re presenting our respective half dozen best acoustic version lists. Nirvana not present. – Stephen
1. Have A Nice Day (Acoustic) – Stereophonics
First things first – the original album and single versions of ‘Have A Nice Day’, arguably Stereophonics’ most popular song, are stinking piles of awful. There’s no subtly, it bounces around with a mis-informed irony worthy of Alanis Morissette and is generally the worst thing ever put out by the best band in the turn-of-the-century dad-rock genre. Still, this acoustic version (that I found on a free CD from a respectable Sunday newspaper) is slower, heavier. Frankly, it’s beautiful, as if Stereophonics are covering an entirely different artist’s song. And seeing as Stereophonics are one of the best covers artists around, that can only be a good thing.
2. Destiny (Acoustic Mix) – Zero 7
Though always consistent with the quality of their music, every once in a while Zero 7 break beyond the boundaries of excellence that normally cap all ambeint dance music. This track from their debut album Simple Things is one of those moments of brilliance – and that’s just the album version. Drawn back, bare bones and sultry, ‘Destiny’ is one of the sexiest songs ever recorded. Ever. Certainly the sexiest song to utilise the word ‘porn’.
3. Switching Off (Acoustic Version) – Elbow
I loved Elbow before they were cool. No, really. Honest. Don’t believe me? Well, screw you. The original version of ‘Switching Off’ can be found on their second record, Cast Of Thousands. Like ‘Destiny’, the original is spectacularly beautiful and rather than show it up, this acoustic re-do only adds to the song’s charming nature. Listening to this while you read late at night, last thing before bed, it’s almost as if Guy Garvey is sitting at the end of your bed with a guitar in his arms. An intimate song sung for you. Which, you know, is weird if you’re a dude. But it’s a weird I can put up with.
4. Staralfur (Live Acoustic) – Sigur Ros
I’m going to be honest here. When I first heard this song, I was watching The Life Aquatic. I already knew Sigur Ros, owned Takk…, but that was about it. Wes Anderson is some sort of soundtracking genius. If we ever have a Dozen Best Soundtracks list, you can bet your bottom dollar that The Life Aquatic will feature. Like, twice. Unfortunately, when I went searching my harddrive for Staralfur, I found I didn’t have the album version. What I did have, however, was this stunning acoustic version, found on a free CD from Q Magazine. If you only learn one thing today, let it be this: Free CDs have the best tracks.
5. Chicago (Acoustic) – Sufjan Stevens
Hey! Hey! Hey! Guess what? I love Sufjan Stevens! No way, dude! I do too! No way! Crazy. You know why everyone loves Sufjan Stevens? Because he’s awesome. ‘Chicago’, in any of its billion, gazillion forms is pretty much the perfect example of said awesomeness. It’s been used pretty puch everywhere under the media sun – TV spots, film. Hell, I even have a mash-up rap album with it on. Sometimes when a song penetrates every corner of society (or even only one or two corners, as this song arguably has) it’s good to bring it back down to earth and hear it in its most raw form. No, I don’t mean farting the tune while you’re in the bath. Acoustic, my friends. Acoustic.
6. Perfect Day (Acoustic Demo) – Lou Reed
You know what I was just saying about a song that penetrates society? I remember back around 1999 when an all-star version was released for charity. It featured Boyzone singing ‘It’s such a serfect day’. Hahaha. Failed pronunciation. Ever since, however, ‘Perfect Day’ has been almost too well known. This acoustic demo is almost the severest of antidotes to that problem – it’s soulful, but not in the preachy way the final cut was. And, wonderfully frustratingly, the lyrics aren’t quite polished, so you keep singing them incorrectly. Excellent.
The reason I love this version is because it departs so much from the burst of energy that is the album version. They’ve deconstructed and then rebuilt it so that it is a brilliant song in its own right. It’s so chilled and de-layered in a way that reveals its melancholy as the lyrics are placed right in front of you.
2. Jack’s Mannequin – La La Lie (West Winter Acoustic Version)
With this band having the piano play a significant part in their sound, you might expect their acoustic versions to be the song stripped down to the piano and McMahon’s vocals. But this version is more than that, since the guitar avoids being redundant and backing vocals keep it interesting and somewhat upbeat. I already love the original song, but this version gives it new meaning and makes me want to drive at night listening to it, ie. I love it.
3. Brand New – Sowing Season (Yeah)
They could have maintained the nervous energy of the song and that feeling of wanting to smash things up. But they brought it down to a calmer apathetic tone and they did the right thing. There’s a lot of yelling, a lot of fits of anger in Brand New songs but they always seem to tidy it up for acoustic versions and bring it down to the extremely depressing and calm level. It’s beautiful.
4. Sugarcult – Memory (Acoustic)
The lyrics are definitely on the emo side, but my goodness I love this song. Pop punk bands don’t always succeed in acoustic-ifying their songs without making them sound pointless, or even sickening. ‘Memory’ doesn’t have that issue; the song doesn’t sound just like the original version but quieter. They’ve kept the same pace, but manage to slow things down just right for the guitar solo and I love how they dealt with that.
5. Alexisonfire – Boiled Frogs (performed by Dallas Green)
5. Alexisonfire – Boiled Frogs (performed by Dallas Green)
An acoustic Alexisonfire song would seem unlikely for this Canadian band of the post-hardcore variety but that would be forgetting that vocalist Dallas Green can really sing and that his other project City & Colour has a much mellower sound. Much mellower.
6. Incubus – The Warmth
This band knows how to play their instruments so nothing is lost when they decide to play acoustic. There’s still that eerie sound to the song thanks to
August 4, 2009 No Comments