Monday, December 30, 2013

5 Songs for the New Year

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and this is my last blog post of 2013. I'd love to do a great big review of the last twelve months, but to be honest, my memories of early '13 aren't all that detailed. Besides, I'm sure you're all busy buying alcohol and newspapering the floor in preparation for the big blowout tomorrow night, so I'll keep this one short.

Here are five songs that are ideal for a brand new year:

This Will Be My Year by Semisonic (from Feeling Strangely Fine)
A defiant ode to the hope that, this time, you'll win. The fact that I first purchased Feeling Strangely Fine (also featuring big hits like Closing Time and Secret Smile) around this time of year only cements its newyeariness in my own mind.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What I Got For Christmas


So Christmas Day is receding into the distance and all we've got left to remember it by are leftovers and, if we're lucky, some good presents. As you'd expect, CDs tend to make up a healthy percentage of my seasonal Stack O' Loot, and this December was no different. Here's a quick rundown of the albums I got for Christmas this year, along with explanations of why I asked for them in the first place.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Conversation with Simon from Quiet Marauder

His was one of the brains behind my album of the year, and yesterday, Quiet Marauder's Simon M. Read very kindly gave up an hour of his time for a chat with me. As you'd expect, we spent most of that hour talking about MEN - the 111-track leviathan that pipped Okkervil River to my personal top spot last week - but we also found time to discuss The Magnetic Fields, the tragic life of Leslie Grantham, and, ooh, just about everything in between.

Here's how it went...

"I haven't murdered anybody - I want to make that clear."

Hi Simon. Are you doing anything good for Christmas?
I'm going to be in Plymouth for Christmas, seeing my family.

Is Plymouth your hometown, then?
Yeah, it's where I'm from originally. I don't go back there very much, and when I do go back it's changed significantly; it's got these big new shopping malls now. We only had a Virgin Megastore there when I was growing up, and we've got all the shops now. It's kind of exciting. But I don't know anybody there - apart from my family, obviously - so it's a bit dull. I tend to go down there just for a few days.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Top 10 Albums of 2013

Right, I've done the best songs of 2013 - now it's time for the albums. These are my ten favourite albums of the last 12 months, and each one is an outstanding testament to the album as a format. Some scale the highest of high concepts with subtlety and aplomb, while others simply succeed by filling a CD with corkers from one rim to the other.

One side note before we get started: The Crimea's Square Moon is noticeably absent from this list, but not because it's not good enough for the top ten. The band's double-length swansong was officially released this summer, but since I got a pre-order version way back in autumn 2011 (ner ner na-ner ner), I don't really count it as an album of 2013. If you like, you can read my tribute to Square Moon - and The Crimea generally - by clicking here.

Right, now that that's out of the way, let's crack on with that all-important list...


#10 - Reflektor by Arcade Fire
There are plenty of reasons to dislike it (not least its inescapable promotional campaign, which certainly ruffled the feathers of one Trent Reznor), but it's hard to deny that Reflektor is one of the best albums of 2013. It's easily been among the most talked-about, and that kind of hype will often lead to disappointment when things actually get released, but fortunately, the music on those two discs more than justified it. It was a more daring, more ambitious, and altogether more exciting album than The Suburbs, with songs like Afterlife and Here Comes the Night Time making up for the slight lack of truly brilliant tunes on the band's previous release. Oh, and even if it could quite easily have fit on one CD,  the second one makes it feel a lot bigger, and a lot more important.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 20 Songs of 2013

2013 has less than a fortnight left in it, so it's high time I started making some lists. I'll be sharing my favourite albums of  the year on Friday, but I figured I'd build up to it a little bit first.

To that end, here are my top twenty songs of twenty-thirteen. Some are from albums that I've been banging on about for months; some are from records that I've never even mentioned on the blog before. It was quite difficult to decide on the right order, but lists like this are so much better when somebody wins, don't you think?

One more note before we get started: I considered limiting myself to one song per artist, but then I decided to scrap that idea because, hey, if your album contains two really spectacularly amazing songs, I want to reward that. Reward it with kudos from my piffling little music blog.

Anyway, enough explanation. Let's rock...

#20 - Lately I've Found Myself Regressing by The Superman Revenge Squad Band
(from There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time)
My list starts with the opening song of an album I've blogged about a lot recently. More or less every song on There is Nothing... is a lyrical corker, but on Lately I've Found Myself Regressing, they really knock it out of the park musically as well. The frantic drums, the warm-sounding instrumentation, and the "let's pack in as many syllables as we possibly can" stanzas come together to create something truly magical: a magnificent musical meditation on getting back to one's roots that bursts out of its two-minute runtime and leaves debris strewn about your mind for hours afterwards.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Orpheuses

Greek mythology lends itself to rock music surprisingly well, and there's one myth in particular that I've heard retold in quite a few different songs. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice seems to be very fertile ground for songwriters; in today's blog post, I'll be looking at three artists who have tackled the tale and taken it in their own unique direction.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Crack in Everything: Automatic for the People

This is the second instalment of A Crack in Everything, a series of blog posts that give me the opportunity to tear into the faults of the albums I love, no matter how minor they may be. The first one covered Queen of Denmark by John Grant - you might wanna read that one first.

File:R.E.M. - Automatic for the People.jpg

If Out of Time was the moment when R.E.M. hit the big time, Automatic for the People found them capitalising upon it. Just as OK Computer is the Radiohead album, Automatic... is the R.E.M. album, the one that always appears in Best of All Time lists. Heck, there's a song on There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time (Flavor Flav) that singles out Automatic for the People as the peak of R.E.M.'s career; even though they continued to get bigger after this one came out, they never released anything better.

But Automatic... isn't perfect, and in today's blog post, I'm going to explain why.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wherefore Dinas Powys?

Dinas Powys cover art

Dinas Powys is an album - the new album, in fact - by Andrew Paul Regan, a local musician who used to go by the name of Pagan Wanderer Lu. I bought this album for two reasons:

1) I heard APR play Time Crisis, 1982 in a session for The Waiting Room (it's a radio show, click the link and check it out) and really liked it. I leapt over to his bandcamp page but found that the song didn't appear on either of his albums to date; when I heard, some months later, that he had released a new'un, I checked the tracklist and, sure enough, there it was.

2) It's named after a station that I pass through almost every day en route to work. I'm not sure why that endears it to me - after all, that big Dinas Powys sign on the cover just reminds me that I'll be in the office soon - and to be honest, I probably would have bought the album with Time Crisis, 1982 on it regardless of the title. Still, Dinas Powys station is a tiny bit of my own life, and so I'm all the more interested in the CD that uses its name and likeness.

Monday, December 9, 2013

What I Missed - Uncut's Best of 2013

So December is here and the end-of-year lists are rolling in. I will be posting my own list on the blog in due course, but I thought I'd do a small disclaimer first. I haven't listened to anything like the number of albums that most listmakers will be drawing from this month; where magazines and proper music websites probably get sent a tonne of new releases each month, most of the albums in my Top However Many will be ones that I went out and bought.

This leaves me with a pretty limited longlist - my favourite albums of 2013 will by no means bear any resemblance to the actual best albums of 2013. I've pretty much finalised my list already (I just need to put everything in order), but for the sake of diversity, I thought I'd have a look at some of the other albums of the year to see if I've missed anything big.

As I mentioned in this blog post, I'm a semi-avid Uncut reader, so while I was faintly curious to see what the likes of Q and Mojo had at number one, it was the Uncut list that I was really interested in. Since their end-of-year issue rather handily came supplied with a free CD of ongs from their favourite albums of 2013, I figured that a quick blast through those 14 tracks would be a good way to dip a toe in the murky musical waters that I failed to explore this year.

Friday, December 6, 2013

MEN and How it Makes Us Look


How does one review MEN? Quiet Marauder's four-disc, 111-track debut album is immune to all the usual tactics; a short summary couldn't possibly do it justice, while any attempt to properly plumb its murky depths is doomed to fall tragically short. It would take a 10,000 word dissertation to really get to the bottom of it.

So here's what I'm going to do. The following paragraph will be the quick review, a 'long story short' version that Metacritic can quote from if they so desire (I'll even give it a rating!). That way, those of you without much time on your hands can see what I thought of MEN without having to scroll too far down. Once that's out of the way, I'm going to dig a little deeper and take a look at just how accurate the album is as a portrayal of the male psyche.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

5 New Albums I Now Own

Back at the '-er' end of October, I posted a blog called 5 New Albums I Want Right Now. It was pretty much exactly what the title promised: a quintet of newish releases that I simply couldn't wait to get my grubby little mitts on.

I now own all five of those albums, so today I'm going to sit down and see whether or not my excitement was valid. After all, a new album isn't necessarily a good album...

File:ArcadeFireReflektor.jpg
Reflektor by Arcade Fire
I've already mentioned that I prefer this album to its predecessor, but just because it stomps on The Suburbs doesn't mean I'm going to hand it an 'Album of the Year' trophy as a reward. My opinion of Reflektor shifts every time I listen to it; at first, I thought disc one was genius and disc two was boring, but after another play, I decided that they were both completely brilliant. Then I started to like disc two more, because the songs on disc one had started to lose their novelty (the Jonathan Ross cameo on You Already Know will never not be jarring).

Monday, December 2, 2013

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

For those of you who haven't spent hours of your life on TV Tropes, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a character who often pops up in films and television programmes. Her purpose is to give the jaded male protagonist a new lease on life, usually by showing him how wonderful the world is when you just go out there and do something fun!

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Crack in Everything: Queen of Denmark

A Crack in Everything is a new thing that I'm doing where I take one of my favourite albums and list everything that's wrong with it. Why? Because no album is perfect, and I think that knowing the flaws is an important part of appreciating anything.



As much as I really liked Pale Green Ghosts, it still wasn't a patch on Queen of Denmark. There was a time when I put this album on every single night when I went to bed; in fact, I still do that every so often, and so I'd say there's a pretty good chance that it's my most-played album of all time. The critics love it too, especially the critic who decided to stick it at the top of Mojo's 'Best of 2010' list. Everyone seemingly agrees: Queen of Denmark is brilliant.

But it's not perfect. Somewhere amongst the swooping choruses and majestic melancholy, there are problems, and today I'm going to lay them bare.

If anyone has ever claimed to not like QoD, I'd wager that their main criticism was its pace. It's all very mid-tempo - perhaps even plodding - and I can see how this unhurried sound might get a bit hard to digest over the course of an hour-long album. The Queen of Denmark special edition bonus disc thing had a song called Supernatural Defibrilator on it, and while it might well be overly goofy (not to mention completely at odds with JG's other stuff), it would have made for a nice respite had it actually made the album:


The songs on the non-bonus disc (i.e. the album proper) are generally a bit AOR, and it's not hard to imagine someone who would be bored by that. John Grant isn't short of attitude - the shockingly brilliant Jesus Hates Faggots is sufficient evidence of that - but a couple of slightly more upbeat numbers certainly wouldn't have gone amiss.

Ah, but there is a more upbeat number! It's called Silver Platter Club...


...and strangely enough, it's one of my least favourite songs on the album. Sure, it's fun to begin with, and when that bouncy piano line first bounds into earshot, you're grateful for the change of pace. But that last chorus doesn't half drag. "I'm sorry that they didn't hand it to me on a silver platter like they did to you," sings Grant. "I'm sorry that I wasn't able to become the man you think I should aspire to." And then he sings it again, and again. I still enjoy hearing the horn section fall apart behind him at the end, but it could easily have happened sooner without really losing anything.

While we're on the subject of songs that don't ring my bell quite as loudly as their neighbours do, I feel I ought to mention Chicken Bones and Caramel. Even with its clever wordplay ("You better watch out, sugar, 'cause I'm about to get my Old Spice on"), the former always struck me as slightly too stompy and silly, and while the latter is an undeniably impressive vocal display, the reverent, hymnal lyrics never felt quite at home on the album at large.


And then there are the first two tracks (TC and Honeybear and Marz. I mean, they're both superb, but they're the only songs on the album that don't feel especially personal. Listening to a John Grant song usually involves getting uncomfortably intimate with his emotional life, and yet that doesn't really happen with that opening brace. Check out the lyrics:

"For TC and his Honeybear, the world will not stop moving. With rendez-vous and longing stares, and hearts that won't stop burning. Before that Honeybear had given up, he felt so sad and lonely..."
- TC and Honeybear

"Bittersweet strawberry, marshmallow, butterscotch, polar bear cashew, Dixieland phosphate chocolate"
- Marz

Instead of the usual first-person confessionals, we get a story about two lovers (who I realise are probably supposed to represent JG and his beau, but still) and a string of surrealist strangeness. Neither lyric is necessarily irrelevant to the songs that follow, but they certainly sound they were written from a different place and that does kind of detract from the oneness of the album.

This is getting really quite pompous now, so I'll leave you with proof that, in spite of all this, Queen of Denmark is still an utterly stunning record:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Rattle Through My Inbox

I'm rather proud to announce that, somewhere down the line, The Album Wall has become a blog worth tapping. People have started sending me music, presumably in the hope that I'll review it, or at least point a finger their way.

In fact, I've received enough stuff over the last couple of weeks to merit a blog post about it all. Let's take a whistle-stop tour through the contents of my inbox...

& by The Moth & The Flame
This is a six-track EP by a band from Utah, and judging by the promotional material, the big draw here is the fact that it was produced by Joey Waronker, a session musician who, among other things, played drums for R.E.M. on a couple of their post-Bill Berry albums. Aside from the stupid name that they've given this release (how do we pronounce it? 'Ampersand'? Just 'and'?), it's actually pretty cool; Monster has an appropriate menace to it, and Winsome sort of sounds like Reckoner by Nine Inch Nails at the start but ends up being more Radiohead-ish. Sorry makes me think of submarines for some reason.

For fans of: Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead (think Where I End and You Begin), or possibly The Antlers if The Antlers were funkier. These are purely sonic comparisons, though; The Moth & The Flame don't pack anywhere near the same emotional punch as either of those bands.

Super Adventure Club - Straight From The Dick
Straight From The Dick by Super Adventure Club
These guys are from Glasgow, and it's audible from the first couplet (side note: if I like a band more because the singer has a Scottish accent...does that make me a racist?) In all honesty, I was expecting to hear some nigh-unlistenable youth club punk rock lurch out of my speakers when I pressed play on this one, but you need only hear the start of track two, Fuck The Pop, to realise that Super Adventure Club are surprisingly accomplished musicians (surprising because, well, their album is called Straight From The Dick) The shouty moments are balanced with sweet fiddly bits and it all comes out quite nice. Even songs like Dog With Two Dicks have a sincere pop sensibility in there somewhere.

For fans of: Personally, I'd have said the first Young Knives album, but I played Straight From The Dick to a friend and he immediately declared that they reminded him of Dananananaykroyd. So yeah.

 APES EP
APES EP by Pulco
I was surprised to hear from Pulco, because he's an artist that I've actually heard of (I think he's sort of local, which may explain why). I like the conceit behind this one: a short collection of songs and poems, accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar and a bit of background noise (although he's cheated a little bit, because pianos and basses do pop up from time to time). I'm not familiar with Pulco's usual output - I guess it's usually a bit more filled-out than the stuff on APES - but I can imagine that this would be a nice change of pace, a quiet diversion from the usual noise, a chance to sit back and reflect on things.

For fans of: It actually reminds me of Oasis a little bit, but it's better than this would suggest. Perhaps Neil Young would be a kinder comparison? Moments like Double Denim sound like they could be influenced by the softer moments on Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere.

Snarling by Givan Lötz
The email promised that this was a 'slowcore' album, and that led me to expect a handful of songs that sounded like Low or something. Instead, I got a 17-track goliath (plus three bonus tracks) that doesn't really do anything for me. This stuff is just kind of boring; it sounds a bit like a band called Les Jupes (well worth checking out), except with none of the tunes. Plenty of atmosphere, though; it's a very atmospheric album, I'll concede that much.

For fans of: Eh...Bon Iver, maybe?

Cloud - Comfort Songs (August 5th 2013/Audio Antihero Records)

Comfort Songs by Cloud
This one was sent to me by Audio Antihero, the label behind There Is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing Of Time by The Superman Revenge Squad Band. Considering how much I slobbered over that album, I can hardly blame AA for wondering if I might like one of their other releases, and as it happens, I rather do. Comfort Songs isn't really anything like There Is Nothing..., but it's still great on its own terms. I did state that this would be a "whistle-stop" blog, so I'm not allowing myself a full, start-to-finish spin of this album just now, but what I have heard so far is enough that I'll almost certainly be back for the full show. It's alarming, really; I'll soon be at the point where Audio Antihero can just tell me to buy something and I will.

For fans of: So far? The Polyphonic Spree, although I think that this album might have other diversities to which I'm not yet privy.

It's nice that I'm now in a position to just sit back and wait for good music to pop into my inbox. The occasional duff'un is only to be expected, but at least three of these unsolicited emails have led to some music that I can really get behind. Keep it coming, y'all!

If you want to send me something, my email address is thealbumwall@outlook.com. I can't make any promises about including stuff in the blog, but I'll do my best to listen at the very least. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sound of Echoes


It's funny how one good album can send you back to another. I recently bought Echoes by The Rapture as part of a 4 for £10 deal in Fopp (along with albums by Santana, The Stills and Mew), and one of the first things I thought of upon hearing it was Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem.

This isn't a huge surprise; the album was produced by LCD mainman James Murphy and released on the DFA label, which he co-owns. So a little LCD-ness was probably inevitable, even if Echoes was released 16 months before the first LCD Soundsystem album.

But the similarities go beyond the NY dance-punk sound that these acts share. Both Echoes and Sound of Silver kick off with an extended dance track (Olio and Get Innocuous!) before moving onto something more straightforward (Heaven and Time to Get Away). They both have slow numbers (Open Up Your Heart and New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down), they both have raucous lead singles (House of Jealous Lovers and North American Scum), and they both have plenty of rhythm.


However, Sound of Silver does have one thing that Echoes doesn't, and it makes a pretty big difference:


Not just All My Friends, mind you, but the life-affirming long-formers with which Sound of Silver is littered. After House of Jealous Lovers - just as you're really hooked on the album, and ready for The Rapture to reel you in - you get hit with a string of numbers that are just angular, danceable funk by the numbers. Sister Savior, Killing, Echoes...these tracks are good on their own, but they kind of blend into one on the album.

Meanwhile, LCD Soundsystem are pulling out show-stopping ruminations on death and getting older like Someone Great and, yes, All My Friends. Echoes is less mature (a quality that may be forgiveable on account of its having been released earlier), more fixated on love, its good bits, and its dark side.

So while they do have their similarities, Sound of Silver strikes me as the kind of album that will stick around forever. Echoes...doesn't, so much. It's a helluva house party, but doesn't have the staying power of its cousin.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Silver Gymnasium: Digging Deeper

Read this blog and this blog before you read this blog.

Go to http://apps.npr.org/okkervil-river/ to try the interactive map for yourself

So I've just been listening to Okkervil River's interactive Meriden map, and it was really a rather lovely experience. Will Shelf narrates you around his hometown and shares various childhood memories while an instrumental version of Lido Pier Suicide Car plays in the background. At the end, a box pops up and pretty much tells you that the new album is inspired by Sheff's memories of his hometown. Mind you, I'm pretty sure that none of the stories he tells actually appear on The Silver Gymnasium; I don't remember anything about murdering frogs or climbing trees to find Michael Jackson on the lyric sheet.

Which perhaps means that the map stories are an appendix to the album proper, and all of Sheff's best Meriden stories are tucked away in the songs themselves. On Monday, I thought that The Silver Gymnasium was about a journey from A to B; by Wednesday, I was wondering if points A and B were actually birth and death, the album a chronicle of an entire life. Now I just think it's about looking back, and while the album is subtitled 'A Pageant of New England', I don't think it's really about the place where Will Sheff grew up; Meriden is just an archetypal small hometown, a canvas on which to splatter nostalgic reminisces, and the listener can swap it for their own hometown if they like.

So that, one working week later, is what The Silver Gymnasium is about. One thing I haven't mentioned, though, is the title, largely because I had no idea what it referred to. Of course, I'm allowed to use the internet now, and the album's Wikipedia page handily informs me that the title "is taken from the Charles Lewis Silver Memorial Gymnasium found in Meriden's Kimball Union Academy, the boarding school which Sheff attended." Fittingly, the title is just another of Will Sheff's Meriden Memories (perhaps that would have been a better title? Perhaps not.)

All that's left to do now is clear up a few details:
  • Lido Pier is (seemingly) a reference to The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. A car is pulled out of "the surf off Lido Pier" and they find a dead chauffeur inside. According to this blog, even Chandler himself never really worked out who killed him. I'm still none the wise as to where Lido Pier is, because all the other search results for 'lido pier' are related to the Okkervil River song.

  • Pink-Slips are not, as I guessed on Monday, permission letters for school trips. They are actually notices that employees receive when they get the sack, kind of like the P45 in Britain. This makes a lot more sense in the context of the song.

  • I can't be certain that the title of Black Nemo is really a reference to Little Nemo, but his Wikipedia page will tell you all about him if you're curious.

  • I've still no idea who Frankie is, although a commenter on SongMeanings suggests of Down Down the Deep River that "it's about the singer remembering his childhood best friend's death". If Frankie is that best friend, it would certainly explain this line in Walking Without Frankie: "I last saw you, Frankie, walking through that New Hampshire dew. And when you shot five thousand feet up into the grey sky, what could I do?"

  • Something I realised: you know how, on Monday, I remarked that Down Down the Deep River's intro sounded very eighties? Well, Will Sheff was born in 1976, so the events about which he reminisces in these songs probably took place in the 1980s. Perhaps that intro and the synthy sound of Stay Young (see video above) were deliberate homages to the music of his childhood?

  • Another SongMeanings commenter highlights the last line of It Was My Season ("Oh, Jason, I know") and points out that the forbidden romance that the song describes is probably between two men, which may account for why it's forbidden.
So that's everything I managed to ascertain about The Silver Gymnasium in the space of five days. I don't think I could have chosen an album more laden with supplementary material; there's a whole ream of text on the CD sleeve that I didn't bother to analyse, and while I'm pleased that I found the interactive map (seriously, try it now), I didn't get around to trying the fugging video game. That's a whole other blog for a whole other time.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Silver Gymnasium: Hitting the Books

This blog post ain't gonna make a lick of sense unless you read Monday's blog post first.



Image from stereogum.com

On Monday, I tried to figure out the meaning behind Okkervil River's new album, The Silver Gymnasium, simply by listening to it all the way through. My theories were speculative rather than definitive - at first, I thought it was all about some kind of journey, a travelling album, but having had another listen, I now wonder if it's more about life in general, and our 'journey' from youth to maturity. Pretty deep, right?

Anyway, today I'm going to take a look at the album's packaging: the liner notes, the lyric sheet, and any information printed on the CD sleeve. Let's see if it helps...

The first big clue is on the back of the album. This is printed just above the track list:

- GUIDE -

THE SILVER GYMNASIUM

"A Pageant of New England"

PERFORMED BY

OKKERVIL RIVER

NEW HAMPSHIRE - LIVE FREE OR DIE

This doesn't necessary change anything, but in mentioning New Hampshire (and New England as a whole) it does give us a setting, a backdrop against which the action can unfold. Underneath the track list is a sort of map key, showing dirt roads, paved roads, waterways, and various species of animal and plant. It's not entirely clear what it all signifies, but it certainly doesn't harm my travelling hypothesis.

Inside the sleeve is a quote from Marion V. Cuthbert (1896-1989):

I told my child
God could make worlds.
Delight was a fountain in his eyes.
Remembering his own secret world
Which he might turn to in any wakeful hour
Or enter in a dream...

He, himself, was four,going on five,
And after that would be six.

The last part of this quotation casts an ominous growing-up shadow on the initial description of childlike fantasy; perhaps my pretentious "youth to maturity" theory might actually have been correct.

Anyway, let's dive into the lyric sheet, and see if my ears missed anything important on Monday. It Was My Season is certainly a youthful opener, with the narrator sounding like he's in the prime of his life ("Step out of your trailer and into this dark! It's warm and it's breathing, and it's our season.") But there's also the hint of less pleasant things, the first taste of adult life and its inevitable sadnesses, perhaps: "I called a friend, my world at end, my words unwound. I said, 'It's crashing down around our heads. We're dumb. We're dead. Shut up about it now.'"


On a Balcony reads like a realisation that the bad side of life can actually be kind of fun. Lines like "baby's not a wreck on the wayside yet, although she stuck out her neck to see how dark she could take it" suggest a certain drugginess, pushing oneself to the limit to find out how far you can go. This, perhaps, is what enjoyment becomes once the childish fantasies have gone.

Yikes, I'm depressing myself. Down Down the Deep River still seems to be more or less what I initially saw it as - the beginning of a big journey - except that journey is now life itself. "Say you still see it. Say you remember. Are we going down the deep river?" Things are changing, everything is going...uh, down the deep river, and while some things remain (like the narrator's father, for instance, who is "not going anywhere"), that doesn't change the fact that "it's scary, baby."

I'm beginning to suspect that Pink-Slips aren't precisely what I thought they were, but this song does highlight a wonderful contradiction. Sticking with the 'journey through life' theory, this is around the point where people start getting wistful and feeling nostalgic about their earlier years. But, to quote from the lyric sheet: "This wish to just go back...when I know I wasn't ever happy! Show me my best memory - it's probably super crappy" The grass is always greener, etc.

(Side note: I love it when lyrics are laid out like this, with proper punctuation and everything. It's like reading a novel rather than scanning the words to a song.)

Lido Pier Suicide Car might be an account of a failed suicide attempt - "When he catches me in freezing seas, he'll lead me into land...I just have to take that hand...can you hear the shouting, out there beyond the boundary? Some distant voice is sounding..." Beyond that, I'm not really sure; I'll maybe come back to this one on Friday, when I'll be allowed to Google the significane of Lido Pier.



Okay, this track-by-track approach is taking longer than I thought (surely nobody is still reading by this point?), so I'm going to skip to All the Time Every Day, which is presented on the lyric sheet in a question/answer format:

"Q: Do you stop and stare, struck dumb, hands shaking, washed by this constant panicked wishing for what's lost? As you're standing on some curb, waiting to cross, would you say you feel like some weak leaf, wind-turned and tossed?

A: All the time. Every day. Every day, all the time. All the time. Every day, every day."

Things are definitely getting older by this point, and my previous guess about "boredom, numbness, and a lack of feeling" may have been less accurate than simply saying that the narrator is frail and scared of everything at this stage.

The title of Black Nemo refers, I think, to some kind of fairy tale about a boy who has a big adventure in the land of dreams. Given the last few lines of this song - "I know you think you miss him. I know you think you knew him, but you were passing through him. Light as air he's leaving. There...he's gone." - it seems like a life is ending, but there's also a kind of regression. The song starts with a line about "Meriden months stuck in Indian summers", and a hazy, half-remembered sort of atmosphere permeates the entire song. The narrator, I think, has died, and in his last moments he returns to the memories and the fantasies he had as a child.

Speaking of Meriden, I was rather surprised by what I found when I turned the lyric sheet over:

Taken from TwentyFourBit

This is a map of Meriden, New Hampshire, and it seems like the one that comes with the CD is just a paper version of a fully-interactive map that the band created to go with the album. You can't really see it in that picture, but one of the points is marked 'Where I last saw Frankie' (a name that surprisingly doesn't appear elsewhere on the lyric sheet, outside of Walking Without Frankie).

Everything so far has just been guesswork. On Friday, I'm giving myself free rein to explore the internet and find out everything and anything I can about The Silver Gymnasium; I'm pretty sure that my first stop will be that interactive map. Come back on Friday to find out what it's really all about.

Click here for the final third of my Silver Gymnasium trilogy.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Silver Gymnasium: A First Glance

When it comes to sleuthing out the meaning of an album, I've noticed myself getting lazy of late. In my Reflektor blog, I admitted that I wasn't sure whether or not there was a concept behind it; in my Young Knives write-up, I openly conceded that I had no idea what it was about at all. I feel guilty now, and I suspect that instead of shrugging and carrying on, I probably should have looked deeper and tried a little harder to ferret out some sort of sense. I was in a rush, I guess.

I picked up The Silver Gymnasium from Spillers on Saturday. Figuring that Okkervil River albums are typically packed with literary references and hidden meaning, I decided that this would be a good record to really think hard about. Okkervil rivers run deep, etc. To that end, all three Album Wall blog posts this week will be dedicated to working out exactly what The Silver Gymnasium is all about. For this first instalment, I'm doing it First Impressions style: no looking up the lyrics, no looking at the liner notes, and no rewinding or repeating of tracks. Just one listen, once through, and we'll see what I can glean from that.

On Wednesday, I'll allow myself a glance at the lyric sheet, and on Friday, I'll hit the internet and see what I can find out from the experts. For now, though, I've only the songs to go on...


The record kicks off with It Was My Season. It seems to about a forbidden love, filled with talk of secret meetings when the parents are away.

I'm uncertain as to the meaning of On A Balcony. It has me picturing a Romeo and Juliet kind of scene, with the lover calling down from a balcony, but that's based on little more than the name of the song.

Wow, talk about your eighties intro. Down Down the Deep River strikes me as a travelling song, with lyrics about sleeping in a tent and heading "down the road in December, down down down the deep river". Perhaps the whole album is about a journey from A to B, and this is just the beginning?

Deeper meaning aside, this is one heck of a tune.

Pink-Slips are the permission slips that parents have to sign before their children go on a school trip, right? This sounds like a 'We Gotta Get Out of This Place' sort of song, complaining about a crappy home town (populated by "sluts of both sexes") and expressing a deep desire to leave.

Lido Pier Suicide Car is a quieter, more considered song, at least until the last minute or so. Given the title and the talk of seeing God in the first couple of lines, it sounds like it's being sung by someone who is moments from death and thinking back on their life.

I'm really not sure about Where the Spirit Left Us. If I have to take a guess, though (and I do), I'd say that it's maybe about falling out with your travelling partner and carrying on the journey alone. Again, though, that's more to do with the title than the lyrics. Gleaning meaning on the first hearing is difficult, yo!

In White, our intrepid traveller runs into some danger. Near the end of the song, we find him nearly 'whited' out, insisting that "winter's here, it's too cold to drown".

Stay Young is about just that - staying young instead of growing up and dealing with life. "You've only got one", as Will Sheff tells us near the end, "so stay young."

I haven't a clue about Walking Without Frankie, so I'm going to grab my made-up travelling yarn and take another stab that's based entirely on the song's title. If you assume (somewhat generously) that my guess about Where the Spirit Left Us was correct - that our protagonist has split up with the person he was journeying with - then this song might well be him regretting that break-up and wishing he was still with him/her. "I want Frankie!"

All the Time Every Day sounds like it's about boredom, numbness, and a lack of any feeling, good or bad. My no-rewinding policy has left me without a specific line to point to as evidence, but hey, that's the impression it's given me and I'm sticking to it.

And so to Black Nemo, the final track on what actually has been a rather good album (regardless of how little meaning I've been able to chisel from it). Fittingly, we're finishing with another song that I can't quite puzzle out, although it seems to me that the narrator has died and now he's watching seasons fly by and seeing everything from the other side, beyond the grave. Incidentally, this song mentions On A Balcony again, so perhaps my concept album theories aren't so far-fetched after all.

I suppose we'll see. Come back on Wednesday, by which time I will have studied the lyrics and liner notes. Hopefully they'll help to shed a little light on this album.

Click here for Part 2.

Friday, November 15, 2013

There Is Nothing More Frightening...



So this album by The Superman Revenge Squad Band was one of the five that I mentioned in my greedyguts wishlist blog a couple of weeks ago, and I'm pleased to announce that - mildly disturbing artwork aside - it's really rather good. In fact, it's probably my favourite out of those five (although I haven't picked up my Okkervil River CD from Spillers yet so I'd better reserve that judgement for now).

Perhaps my favourite thing about There Is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing Of Time is its talent for taking a seemingly arbitrary pop-culture reference and spinning it into gold. Paulie in Rocky Three - yes, that's the name of the song - starts with a description of this one scene in Rocky III where somebody smashes up a pinball machine (disclaimer: I have never seen any of the Rocky films), but as it transpires, the whole point of that song is that he can remember random bits of films and TV shows better than he can remember important events from his own life.

And then you have a track called Flavor Flav, which is a particularly inventive break-up song:

"If you leave me, I'll be left like Public Enemy without Flavor Flav. It would be functional, and the records would still sell (after all, Chuck D is the main man). We'd get through this somehow, but I don't think I'd want to fight the power without you."

Ben Parker - yes, like Spider Man's uncle, I believe that's this guy's name - then goes on to compare himself post-relationship to R.E.M. post-1993, acknowledging that bigger things await (like headlining Glastonbury) but suspecting that the best work is in the past and that all of those festival-goers will only want to hear the songs from Automatic for the People.


This album speaks to me on an almost embarrassingly intimate level, and I'm pretty sure it's because everything is framed in terms of albums and films and TV shows and magazines. When he sings about acting like his 13-year-old self in Lately I've Found Myself Regressing, 'regression' means reading and listening to all your old favourites, not necessarily behaving like a younger person.

And while it's true that lyrics are more interesting when they refer to albums you love and TV shows you've grown up with, I think there's a little more to this album's appeal than just 'oh awesome he's talking about R.E.M.'. This bit from We're Here for the Duration sums it up pretty well:

"I'm quoting from telly 'cause it makes much more sense, people understand stuff that comes from Joey from Friends more than they ever know."

Basically, feelings like nostalgia and discontent and wanting things to change are best expressed in cultural references because it's a language we all speak. Parker rounds off that song by quoting verbatim the chorus from Iron Maiden's Can I Play With Madness, as if to illustrate his point.

It's been a long time since I was so interested in an album's lyrical content - I've really only scratched the surface of how scarily accurate these songs are to my life - but I should mention that the music itself is pretty good too. Special mention for closing track The Angriest Dog in the World, which reveals that The Superman Revenge Squad Band have really mastered the art of the slow build:


The album can be download from the SRSB bandcamp page. Go buy it, bros and girlbros.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reflektor vs. The Suburbs

File:ArcadeFireReflektor.jpg

I've made no secret of my mild disdain for The Suburbs - it's not a bad album, but it simply isn't in the same class as its predecessors. Funeral was the rawly beautiful opening statement; Neon Bible expanded on that, reaching a little further thematically and clearing up some of the messier parts; I'm not sure what exactly The Suburbs was. For me, it never felt like a natural continuation of the Arcade Fire canon.

Fortunately, Reflektor does. If Funeral sounded like the Arcade Fire, and Neon Bible sounded like the Arcade Fire with more money and bigger arenas to sing to, then Reflektor is the Arcade Fire cutting loose and really exploring everything that they can be. There are duff bits, sure, but they're part and parcel of the big, pretentious double album experience. It's some experience.

It seems that some people don't like Reflektor's tendency to have a big jam when it should be serving up another of those rousing Arcade Fire anthems (e.g. Wake Up, Intervention). But I quite like the jams; Afterlife and the title track are two of my personal highlights, and they're both based around insistent musical patterns rather than lung-bursting choruses. Besides, I don't remember any big anthems on The Suburbs, except perhaps for City with No Children. If you ask me, Here Comes the Night Time is more of a classic Arcade Fire track than anything on album number three.


I haven't yet established whether or not this album has a proper concept or running theme. It sometimes seems like they're just touching on as many big subjects as they can, like religion (on Reflektor), sex (on Porno), death (on Afterlife) and fame (on Flashbulb Eyes and Normal Person) to name but a few. But this mish-mash still comes out sounding more ambitious than The Suburbs. A concept album about childhood and nostalgia and stuff sounds great on paper, but to be honest, I think it's slightly below the usual Arcade Fire focus. Less childhood memories, more ruminations on death and religion!

One more (slightly unusual) point: I feel like my favourites from Reflektor are the songs that I'm supposed to like. Reflektor, Afterlife, Here Comes the Night Time...these are clearly the record's big set pieces, the ones that the band intended to form the focus of every review and write-up. The equivalent songs on The Suburbs are Ready to Start, We Used to Wait, and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), none of which really rattle my cage. Without wanting to sound too hipster, I preferred the more marginal tracks like Empty Room (a short, sharp blast) and Wasted Hours (a quiet campfire song).

So yeah, for all of its faults, I think Reflektor wins this one. It's exciting, because it feels like the Arcade Fire are building a truly immense discography, the sort of thing that Stereogum will have great fun ranking from worst to best in a few years time.

Monday, November 11, 2013

5 Hidden Tracks

Last week, the NME posted a list - voted for by their Twitter followers - of '28 Magnificent Hidden Tracks'. They covered all the obvious ones like Endless, Nameless by Nirvana and Train in Vain by The Clash, as well as a whole bunch that I'd never come across before.

But they (or their readers) missed a few gems. Here five of my favourite hidden tracks:

An Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter by Mansun
"The lyrics aren't supposed to mean that much..." Hidden at the end of Attack of the Grey Lantern, this wonky little jam debunks all of the bonkers concept album theories in mere moments. Or does it?

How to find it: It's tacked onto to the end of the (already quite long) epic Dark Mavis, with a bit of silence in between.

I'm Not Over You by R.E.M.
That rare hidden track that's in the middle of the album rather than right at the end. This is a short little torch song that numbers among Up's sweetest moments.

How to find it: It arrives right at the end of Diminished.

Mr E's Beautiful Blues by Eels
How many hidden tracks were also their album's lead single? Beautiful Blues was not listed on original copies of Daisies of the Galaxy, although it seems that later pressings opted to draw a little more attention to it.

How to find it: It's track 15 on Daisies of the Galaxy, separated from everything else by a moment's silence at the end of Selective Memory.

It's a Heartache by Arab Strap
Ten Years of Tears wasn't so much a greatest hits compilation as a collection of bits and pieces with the odd hit single thrown in for good measure. The last track is a triple-header, starting with an abridged version of There Is No Ending from The Last Romance and culminating in some bizarre electro business. This Bonnie Tyler cover is right in the middle, and it sounds perfect coming out of Aidan Moffat's mouth. Nice violin work too.

How to find it: It comes straight after There Is No Ending on the Ten Years of Tears compilation.

Untitled by R.E.M.
Can I have two R.E.M. songs? Yes? Alrighty then. I've heard unkind words said about this song - apparently Peter Buck did the drums, and apparently people weren't very impressed - but the emotive, circular vocals are the perfect goodbye from Green.

How to find it: It's the 11th track on Green - just keep listening after the end of I Remember California, which is listed as the last song.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Young Knives - In with the New!

Photo by @BethanDyer70

Well, I got it totally wrong in my Eddi Reader review - as it turns out, Henry Dartnall is quite the storyteller. His between-song yarn about getting locked out of his hotel room with only his pants on wasn't quite up to the heartwarming standards of last Saturday, but when he announced earlier in the night that the next song (Something Awful) had been written after his grandfather died of Alzheimer's...it still wasn't heartwarming, exactly, but this revelation was surprisingly stark and, well, sad, especially given the band's usual level of stage banter seriousness (Exhibit A: the Hilton hotel pants story).

My fear - expressed here - that the Young Knives would be shunning their back catalogue on this tour was largely unfounded as well. Okay, so the majority of the set was dedicated to playing the new album, Sick Octave, in its entirety, but they brought the goods out for the old guard before the end. We got Vision in Rags off Ornaments from the Silver Arcade*, Weekends and Bleak Days and The Decision** from Voices of Animals and Men, and Terra Firma and Turn Tail*** from Superabundance. A token offering, sure, but enough to reassure us that they haven't forgotten those oldies.

Besides, I quite like witnessing entire albums played live. The only other one I remember seeing is A Matter of Life and Death by Iron Maiden (imagine how many standards they must have cut from the setlist that night, given how big their back catalogue is) and while both that gig and this one did provoke a mild case of 'aah what are these new and unfamiliar songs why didn't I listen to the album more before tonight', both were entertaining and enjoyable experiences in spite of the hits they displaced. Besides, it will be nice to one day say: 'Oh, you like that album, yeah? Well I saw it live."

It shouldn't have taken me three paragraphs to say this, but yes, I like Sick Octave. It's challenging, it's experimental, and it's loads of fun, especially when performed live in front of a projection of a naked man. My only complaint about the gig concerns how closely they stuck to the studio tracks, using pre-recorded sounds to make every song as similar to the album version as possible. Since I'm still not particularly familiar with the album, this didn't dampen the experience too much for me, but it is nice when songs sound a little different in the live arena.

Incidentally, I still have absolutely no idea what any of it Sick Octave is about - the only clue I've got is Henry's story about his granddad and how he imagined him turning into an end-of-level boss instead of dying - but that's something I can work out over time.

In the meantime, I have glanced through the YK catalogue one more time and constructed my perfect Young Knives setlist. As much as I enjoyed last night, this is what I wish they'd played. Call it an exercise in Friday fanboyism. Have a good weekend!

JOEL'S ULTIMATE YOUNG KNIVES SETLIST
REPRODUCTION
OWLS OF ATHENS
WOMAN
UP ALL NIGHT
IN THE PINK
COUNTERS
HERE COMES THE RUMOUR MILL
EVERYTHING FALLS INTO PLACE
TERRA FIRMA
("We're gonna do a couple off our new album now...")
MAUREEN
ALL TIED UP
HUMAN AGAIN
JOHN
THE DECISION
SILVER TONGUE
LOUGHBOROUGH SUICIDE
(A curtain falls, revealing a 20-piece orchestra, who help out with...)
TURN TAIL
GLASSHOUSE

 (woo yeah more!)

Encore 1:
PART TIMER
BED WARMER
DIALING DARLING
SIGNS OF WEAKNESS

(more! more!)

Encore 2:
TREMBLINGS OF TRAILS
SHE'S ATTRACTED TO
CURRENT OF THE RIVER
(extended version, where the final chorus is repeated over and over again for about twenty minutes)

Maybe next tour.

*"It's off our third album, so you might have missed this one", quips House of Lords.

**I know it's one of their best-known songs anyway, but I'd like to think that the Young Knives feel obliged to play The Decision every time they're in Cardiff because of the 'I am the Prince of Wales! I'm your monarch!' bit.

***That bit in the middle of Turn Tail - stompy distortion tantrum into life-affirming eight-second guitar solo - never ceases to wow me.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Michael Stipe Presents...


After the Alcopop bike blog on Monday, I toyed with the idea of a 'Compilation Week' - a whole week's worth of blog posts about compilations, samplers and mixtapes - but I eventually decided to forget about it because a) I wasn't really sure what else to write about, and b) I'm seeing the Young Knives tomorrow and - one way or another - I'll probably want to blog about that on Friday. 

So instead of padding it out for the rest of the week, I'm skipping straight to my favourite compilation of all time. I've been buying Uncut every so often for over eight years, and since every issue comes with a free CD, the lower end of my Album Wall is littered with things that came stuck to magazines. I've discovered a lot of great bands through those compilations, but I never spat out my retainer and signed up for a subscription because a) I'd soon have more free CDs I could handle, and b) of all the discs I've picked up on my own initiative, my favourite is still the one that was attached to the first issue I bought.

Image from The Dicko's Collectables

Let's travel back in time to the summer of 2005. I was 13 going on 14, and I'd only been buying albums and seriously listening to music for about six months. For reference, this was around the time when I discovered the Eels and The Flaming Lips, both of whom would go on to number among my very, very favourite bands.

Anyhow, I was on Albany Road for one reason or another, and I decided that it was time to pop my music magazine cherry. I purchased the current issues of Q and Uncut, because both of them promised stories about R.E.M. (my favourite band, then and now). Q just had a live review of a recent R.E.M. gig, but Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe were Uncut's cover stars for the month, and a multi-page feature about the band's history was that issue's centrepiece.

Here's where it gets complicated. That issue of Uncut came with three different covers, and all three had a different CD attached. Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe had each put together a compilation of their favourite songs, and the mix you got depended on the cover you bought. I plumped for the yellow one, depicting the band in their early '90s heyday, and consequently ended up listening to Mr Stipe's personal favourites.

And what favourites they were-slash-are. For starters, this was the collection that introduced me to Tilly and the Wall; if you take last.fm's word for it, Nights of the Living Dead went on to become my most-played song of all time.


It also gave me my first taste of Bright Eyes with a live version of We Are Nowhere And It Is Now, but perhaps even more important were the obscure tracks, the ones by artists I've barely even heard of since. Coming Down (an intimately soaring track) by Karen Elson (a model who married Jack White); Je T'Aime Scumbag (a celebration of sluttiness) by The Citizens Band (some kind of cabaret supergroup); H to the President (a futuristic political rage) by Flash to Bang Time (Stipe's sister's band). All gems.

Best of all, though, is No Boys by Leona Naess. This song doesn't even seem to exist outside of Michael Stipe's mixtape, and that's a shame because it's really beautiful and it deserves to be heard by everyone. I managed to track it down on GrooveShark, and I implore all who read this to have a listen:


As I mentioned above, Uncut have brought me all manner of goodies since - I found The Hold Steady, Okkervil River and Josh T Pearson through their free CDs - but none to match Michael Stipe Presents... 

It's probably on eBay if you dig deep enough.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Highway to the Velodrome

Image of Alcopopular 6: Highway to the Velodrome FIXIE BIKE (pre-order)

Alcopop! Records are releasing a sampler on a mountain bike, of all formats. We can all agree that this is pretty awesome, but how are the songs? There's no point buying a bike if the music it represents is rubbish.

Fortunately, I've had a listen to the tracks that come with that swanky set of wheels, and the whole set is just as colourful as the bike itself. Here's a track-by-track look at Alcopopular 6: Highway to the Velodrome.
  1. The King is Dead by Max Raptor
    A pretty sweet bassline, and the compilation instantly reveals itself to be heavier than I expected. This song doesn't sound much like a brightly-coloured bike (more like a black one with flaming tassels on either handlebar) but it's one rollicking way to kick things off. Thumbs up.

  2. Tongue Surfer by Gnarwolves
    This one's kind of all over the place; the song is half-over before it's even settled on a particular tempo, and when it finally does, it opts for a sort of fist-pumping, cymbal-whacking punk-pop feel of which I'm not a big fan. Thumbs down.

  3. Toucan Surf by Jaws
    Ooh, cool synths. Three tracks in and this compilation is already showing its diversity, so that's definitely a plus. Yeah, I really like this one - it reminds be a bit of that band Peace, only less baggy and a bit more intelligent. Thumbs up.

  4. Cream Soda by Playlounge
    Wontoothreefor! These guys sound like This Many Boyfriends, which can only be a good thing, but I do wish the vocals were a little higher in the mix. The best bit is the nice (albeit brief) jangly breakdown that shows up around the 1:20 mark. Thumbs most of the way up.

  5. Digsaw by The Wytches
    I pledged my allegiance to The Wytches in my Swn Festival blog, so it should come as no surprise that I'm into this. I still prefer them in the flesh, but this eerie little groove is still a worthy addition to any Halloween playlist (yes, I realise I'm several days late, but it's never too early to plan for next year). Thumbs up.

  6. Seventeen by Night Engine
    A pulsing, stomping track, laced with squiggly synths and spider-fingered guitar playing. It's got that Franz Ferdinand disco feel going on, and the singer sounds like David Bowie - if that's not a recommendation I don't know what is. Might be my favourite so far. Thumbs way, way up.

  7. Friends With Girls by The Spills
    Okay, I get how this one works: it starts off sounding sort of relaxed, and then the music gets louder and the singer gets shoutier...and 'round we go again. It is sort of infectious, though, and I do like a singer who isn't afraid to knacker the old chords. Thumbs about 75% up.

  8. Wet Wet Wet Wet by Axes
    Mm, not sure about this one. It's an instrumental, and once the introductory tomfoolery is out of the way, it turns out to be based around a slightly military snare drum pattern that eventually turns into an upbeat indie rocker. That's pretty cool, but then it changes again; it's a big mess of shrill guitars and gear changes, and it's difficult to get a handle on. Thumbs out sideways.

  9. Toothache by Throwing Up
    I like it. It's simple, it's got a punky chug to it that you can really nod along to, and - hey! - you can even hear what she's singing. Thumbs up.

  10. Sand Smiles by Birdskulls
    The verses are all right, but on the whole this song doesn't do much for me. It sounds like the Foo Fighters and Dinosaur Jr. having a jam together, except it's not really amounting to much and J Mascis is getting kind of bored and...eh. Thumbs most of the way down.

  11. Arabesque Bedouin by Radstewart
    I've heard the name Radstewart a lot lately - I think they're relatively local - but this is the first time I've met their music. I somehow had the impression that they were a noisy indie punk band with loads of fuzz and not many tunes, but this is actually really good, a quiet and measured song that's reminiscent of Pavement or Tullycraft. A nice surprise, and a hearty thumbs up.

  12. Tastes Like Medicine by Menace Beach
    This one's great, a shoegazey stormer with proper go-for-it drums and haunting ladyvocals somewhere up top. Thumbs up.

  13. Grim by Crushed Beaks
    Eh, not sure. It's a bit ham-fisted, although I do like the distorted, distant organ or steel drums or whatever that sound is in the chorus. Thumbs out sideways.

  14. Ganger by Pet Moon
    An odd'un to end on. It starts with clinky, Phosphorescent-like percussion, swirling synths, and extremely crisp vocals that sound oddly poppy when juxtaposed with references to Satan. And then it begins to build, adding more layers of synth and a very ambient helping of canned drums. I think I like it - it ends up sounding very epic indeed - but boy, it's a sneaky one. Thumbs up.
I think the best way to judge a sampler/compilation/mixtape is to think about how many tracks you're likely to keep coming back to. There are at least four or five such songs on Alcopop's bike, and that seems pretty good to me.

Also, if this sampler is supposed to introduce people to some of the artists on the label's roster, its creators will be pleased to hear that I'm definitely interested in hearing more of Night Engine. Do they have an album out, or...?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Eddi Reader @ The Gate, Cardiff

I'll keep this one short - goodness knows you guys get enough of my wittering during the week - but I've just come back from seeing Eddi Reader and I felt that it merited a wee blog post. Most of the bands I see live barely utter a sentence between songs, and so it was really refreshing to be a part of Ms. Reader's audience as she shared tales of her travels and the stories behind her songs.

Best of all was the stuff about her family. Clan Reader seems to be made up of a near-endless array of colourful characters, from drunken uncles to eccentric, fire-and-brimstone grandmothers (not to mention the various aunts from whose wardrobes Eddi's outfit had been culled), and so we were treated to a lot of fun family stories over the course of the setlist. Reader's impression of her mum singing Moon River was a particular highlight.

The Young Knives are playing at Clwb Ifor Bach next week; I bought two tickets this afternoon, but as enjoyable as that evening is sure to be, I am a little melancholy at the prospect of a gig that doesn't feature this level of storytelling. Eddi Reader was a warm, engaging presence (as was support act Keiran Goss), and the yarns she span around each song were just as essential as the music itself.

Not to do down the music, mind you. Reader's voice is quite phenomenal, and her sidemen were excellent as well, five specialists in meandering musical conversation who kept the jammy, laid-back atmosphere going even between songs. The accordion player was particularly special; it's a sod of an instrument to play, that one, and it's nigh-on impossible to look cool whilst playing it, but he was exceptionally impressive nonetheless, reeling off impossibly dexterous solos at the drop of a pink straw boater.

A great night, then, and since Sarah's parents (very kindly) paid for our tickets, it didn't cost me a penny! Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and I'll see y'all back here on Monday.

Photograph by whoyougonnacall

Friday, November 1, 2013

5 Old Albums I Want Right Now

Following on from Wednesday's blog post - in which I listed five new releases I was lusting after - I will now select a few albums of a slightly older vintage. Most of these are still relatively new (none were released outside of my own lifetime, for example), but none of them are so new that they could reasonably be referred to as 'new' albums.

Got that? Then let's go...

Star of Love by Crystal Fighters
I went to Fopp in Manchester a couple of years ago and they had this album on the stereo. I asked the guy on the till what it was, he told me, and I asked to buy a copy. It was out of stock. I still lie awake sometimes, wondering why on Earth they were playing it to their customers if it wasn't available to purchase.

The track that has me excited: Xtatic Truth, a particularly memorable track that has kept Star of Love on my wishlist ever since Manchester.



*

Castaways and Cutouts by The Decemberists
Like that album by The Superman Revenge Squad Band, this was another recommendation that came from Twitter. Unlike The Superman Revenge Squad Band, I am already pretty well-acquainted with The Decemberists, but I'm yet to get my hands on Castaways and Cutouts because, well, I've never seen it in shops. But a hearty commendation from @Driver_8_Ace may well have me adding it to a virtual shopping basket very soon.

The track that has me excited: The one about your mum.



*

Humber Dogger Forties by John Mouse
I first came across John Mouse in the Green Man Festival's Far Out Tent. I've seen him several times since (albeit with fewer band members each time), and yet I still haven't gotten around to buying his probably awesome album. That will change...soon.

The track that has me excited: The Last Great Rhondda Romance, one of the most curiously heartwarming songs you're ever likely to hear.


*

Can Our Love... by Tindersticks
Tindersticks are good because, like Nick Cave, there's always another album in their discography. Since I acquired Curtains, this one has been next on my list, mostly for the cuddly donkey on the front.

The track that has me excited: I don't know any of the songs on Can Our Love... but, as my Curtains write-up demonstrated, that doesn't mean I won't love them. Here's one of my favourites from that album, Let's Pretend.



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Love and Other Hideous Accidents by The Just Joans
Last.fm radio is a dear friend of mine, but it does have an irritating tendency to play amazing songs that are nigh-on impossible to track down afterwards. For example, I was thrilled when Eels released their Useless Trinkets compilation because it meant that I could finally get my hands on Rotten World Blues. Hideous Accident by The Just Joans is a great song, but finding its parent album has proved to be somewhat fiddly. Maybe I just haven't been trying hard enough.

The track that has me excited: The sort-of title track, represented here by a live performance because YouTube doesn't know the studio version.



So there you are - factor in the albums I mentioned on Wednesday, and you've got a pretty solid list to draw from if you ever need to buy me a present.

Actually, don't buy me any of these because I've just been paid and I intend to go shopping tomorrow. Have a good weekend!