Friday, June 28, 2013

Young Knives - Out with the Old?

Sick Octave - the forthcoming fourth Young Knives album - will be released in September, and as with quite a lot of things these days, it's all thanks to Kickstarter. If you haven't pledged any of your filthy lucre to the band by this point, well, you're too late, but take a look anyway. The pitch was penned by a band sick of the music biz and yearning for complete control:

"We...wanted to be free of record labels and producers making decisions about our music. For some reason when you are working with record labels it’s an assumption that you book into a £500 per day studio and a producer tells you what is wrong with your music and makes it better for you."

As exciting as the promise of a "completely undiluted Young Knives record" is, this does raise a concern or two in my mind. Assuming that the last three YK albums were label-funded,  are now we to infer that those recordings didn't really count? Are the Knives that we've come to know and love merely the dust that remained after this fun-loving young band had been stomped into the ground by the iron boots of The Man?!

Don't get me wrong, I'm super-excited for Sick Octave. I downloaded the Oh Happiness EP yesterday (I went for the 'SICK VINYL' tier, in case you were wondering) and those four tracks are very promising indeed. But they do represent a definite departure, which does nothing to soothe my fears that Henry, House of Lords and The Drummer consider their back catalogue to be little more than a long, snake-like poo.

So here's my little love letter to the first three Young Knives LPs, lest we all forget how good this shit sounds...

Voices of Animals and Men
Most of my friends thought the Young Knives were stupid when they first arrived on the scene. Everyone thought they were too gimmicky, wearing smart shirts onstage and singing with English accents and not being as good as The Kooks, apparently. She's Attracted To was shunned for being too repetitive; Weekends and Bleak Days for rhyming 'summer' with 'bummer'. But my friends were wrong, because those two songs are great and so is pretty much everything else on this CD. Coastguard, for example, sounds like Interpol wearing a stripey one-piece bathing suit, and the album's bookends are two of my favourites: Tremblings of Trails sounds thrillingly miserable, while Part Timer is nothing short of exhilarating.

When this record first came out, I liked it even more than Voices..., although I'd probably reverse that decision in retrospect. Where the first album had a dark, sinister underbelly, Superabundance has a dark, sinister overbelly; Counters even contains references to carbon monoxide inhalation, as pretty much every review of this album pointed out. Still, look behind the darker and edgier veneer and you'll find a brilliant balance of stellar indie singles (Terra Firma, Up All Night) and appealing oddities (Flies, I Can Hardly See Them).

Special mention goes to Turn Tail, a string-backed coward's anthem that's uplifting in spite of its own despair. One comment on the song's page points out that if Kings of Leon or Arcade Fire had released Turn Tail, everybody would have prostrated themselves before it. I'm inclined to agree.

Ornaments from the Silver Arcade
Okay, so this is the weakest of the trilogy, but Fellowship of the Ring is still a top-notch film and Ornaments from the Silver Arcade is still well worth picking up. It will always remind me of the strange little summer that I spent working in the Next stockroom and carving out a belated career on Total Club Manager 2003. This album is a bit less unified than the previous two, but that's kind of nice in a way - each song has a slightly different feel, and it keeps things interesting. Human Again is frantic and fast-paced, whereas Vision in Rags sounds more subdued. Then there's the menacingly funky Silver Tongue; the sweet bongo action and tasty climax of Woman; and the closing track, Glasshouse, which is insistent and catchy and glowing and golden.

So then, Young Knives. By all means ride off into the stripped-down, experimental, DIY sunset, but remember this: just because your new album is awesome doesn't mean that your old albums are crap. I'm certainly still listening to them, for whatever that's worth.

In the interest of balance, here's a sentence-long wank over the Oh Happiness EP:

Reproduction is really awesome and broody and dirty and Maureen kind of sounds like Heroes but more introverted so basically amazing and Signs of Weakness kind of sounds like a Grandaddy song towards the end which is fantastic and I haven't really gotten into the title track yet but maybe it will grow on me.

Here's Maureen, which really is really really good (video probably NSFW). Merry weekend everybody!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: Peyote Smile by Dead Shed Jokers

Mere moments after The Album Wall was wrenched from my brain-womb, I received a message from one Jamie Richards. He wanted me to listen to Peyote Smile by the Dead Shed Jokers, and I couldn't help but oblige. What can I say? I was flattered by his faith in my nascent album blog; I had published precisely one post by this point, and yet Mr. Richards seemed to think that a thumbs-up from this slimy, wriggling newborn of a music website would count for something.

Thanks for the early vote of confidence, Jamie. Here's that review of that album by that band you manage.

This is an impressive record. The drums are impressive, the guitars are impressive, the vocals are's the aural equivalent of the show-off that everyone knew in junior school who had all the best Pokémon cards.

But is it any good? Well, yes, for the most part. The best bits - or at least, my favourite bits - are the short, fast, and reasonably direct tracks like Peculiar Pastimes and Tabloid Hangover. Dead Shed Jokers have carved out a niche for themselves by taking the music that was all over MTV2 back in the mid-noughties (especially Queens of the Stone Age) and superimposing some big, Bruce Dickinson-style vocals on top. Sounds impressive, right?

And it often is. There's a song called Interesting Point, But... which I'm quite heavily into (especially the bit where they kick it into high gear and it turns into a rollicking, No One Knows-style number), and if you like The Rat by The Walkmen then you'll love Jericho, the fourth track on this album. There's even a bit of Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster in there somewhere, which is a huge plus in my book.

Two criticisms, though:
  1. There are these calmer, smoky-sounding bits that keep happening - the first half of Magic Teatime is a prime example - and while it's nice to have a slightly varied sound, these parts aren't nearly as interesting as the riffing, rocking stuff that appears elsewhere.
  2. It sometimes feels a bit unfocused, a bit piecemeal. This is especially true of the last couple of tracks; Monkey Song is full of cool moments, but it would have been better if they'd just chosen one idea and stuck with it. Those frantic highlights (Tabloid Hangover, Jericho, etc.) don't tend to change gears too often, and their relative straightforwardness is arguably their greatest strength. By contrast, the last bit of the album feels slightly all over the place, as if they still had a tonne of good ideas in the bank but only five minutes left on the record.
Still, Peyote Smile has plenty of awesome moments, so it's definitely worth a listen. DSJ aren't quite sure if they want to be a sneering stoner rock band or a cheesy, bombastic classic rock outfit, and the album-length tug of war between these two extremes is quite entertaining to listen to.

Peyote Smile is available here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Things Found in Liner Notes, Volume 1

If, like me, you're an advocate of buying the CD or record instead of downloading, then you've almost certainly used liner notes as an argument for the physical artefact at some point. But is an inlay booklet really worth forking out for? 90% of the time, I'd say no. But occasionally, you leaf through the liner notes and find a hidden Easter egg that makes it all worth it.

Here are some cool things I've found in my CD cases recently. This is just a smattering of stuff - the result of an afternoon's browsing - so I'll most likely share another selection of interesting inlays before too long.
  • The liner notes for Key Lime Pie by Camper Van Beethoven contain interesting snippets about the band members, including a lot of information about shoes. One anecdote tells the story of how lead guitarist Greg Lisher once "lost a shoe in the Mojave Desert". There then follows a description of this shoe (black, size nine) and an address that you can send it to should you happen upon it.

  • Some of the people whom Bikini Atoll saw fit to thank in the liner notes for Liar's Exit: 'Lynchriderlulu', 'The Porn', and 'That fat kid who loves cakes'.

  • Manowar, being Manowar, aren't satisfied with merely listing the people who were involved in an album's creation. The Kings of Metal booklet refers to the various producers and engineers as the 'Digital Death Squad'; instead of a management team, they have a 'Vanguard of the Elite'. Oh, and their live crew are credited as 'The Magnificent Soldiers of Death'. Sounds better than 'roadie', doesn't it?

  • The Young Knives have often been described as a quintessentially English group, and their first album, Voices of Animals and Men, is lined with information on such quintessentially English activities as Morris Dancing, beekeeping (see below), and Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling.

  • While scanning the 'This album couldn't have happened without...' acknowledgements inside Jarvis Cocker's first solo album, I noticed that he'd mentioned someone named Joel. Since Jarvis didn't bother to include a surname, I can only assume that he was referring to me.

  •  Electro-Shock Blues gives us Eels lyrics, yes, but the booklet also contains a few black-and-white comic strips that seem faintly pertinent to some of the songs. Here, for example, is the Baby Genius comic:
Image taken from Thanks to Pacifico for uploading it.
  • Sufjan Stevens opted to embellish his 'here are the people who played on/contributed to Illinois' list with little comments about their performances. Example: "James McAllister plays all the sophisticated drum parts. Man, he's good!"

  • The lyrics booklet for Okkervil River's I Am Very Far includes the words to a song that isn't on the album. It's called Weave Room Blues, and it was the B-side to Wake and Be Fine.

  • Anyone who sprung for the CD edition of Hello Land! by the Guillemots will find this nice little poster inside the case:

As I say, there are probably loads of other cool bits and pieces hidden away in my CD collection, so I'll report back if I find anything else of interest. That's it for now, though; it takes more than a couple of hours to scale The Album Wall.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Trouble with The Suburbs

I mentioned in my Track Ones post that I wasn't overly keen on Arcade Fire's third album, and sadly, it's not just because they used a song called Ready to Start as track two.

There was a time when I was absolutely besotted with AF. Funeral was nigh-on flawless, and while Neon Bible did have a couple of songs that I didn't much care for (not least its dull lead single), these iffy patches were easily overshadowed by the good bits. I spent hours learning to play Intervention on my dodgy Casio keyboard, and (Antichrist Television Blues) is my second most listened-to song of all time*, although I'm still not sure what those brackets are doing in the title.

At the start of 2010, Arcade Fire could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. Their still-slender songbook - at that point comprising just two albums and an EP - had already given me some of the best songs I'd ever heard, and their forthcoming third LP would surely provide several more. Right?

Well, in fairness, there are some absolutely stellar songs on The Suburbs. Empty Room is my personal favourite, and the two that come after it (City with No Children and Half Light I) are pretty special too. In fact, Empty Room/CwNC/Half Light I/Half Light II could have been the best four-track EP ever burned onto a CD, especially given how nicely they all flow together.

But unlike Neon Bible, which had three corkers for every mild let down, the 15-minute goldmine that constitutes the second quarter of The Suburbs is (in my opinion) pretty much the only part that doesn't disappoint. The other 12 tracks aren't exactly bad, but they certainly don't hit that sweet spot onto which Funeral and Neon Bible splattered their guts.

So here, in handy bullet-point form, are some of the things that spoil The Suburbs for me:
  • Stupid Starts
    I realise I'm starting to seem over-obsessed with this, but seriously - Ready to Start and The Suburbs need to be the other way around. The title track is a plodding, humdrum excuse for an opening salvo - not unlike Black Mirror from Neon Bible - and the tense, edgy sound of Ready to Start would have made a far better first impression. Mind you, RtS isn't perfect either, and you could snip off the last minute or so without losing anything important.

  • Modern Man
    It could have been a solid track, this, but they did it in some odd time signature just for the sake of being quirky and, well, I reckon the extra beat kills it:

  • Month of May
    Before I'd heard this album, somebody told me that Month of May was the new (Antichrist Television Blues). It's not. Admittedly, the chugging, angry-sounding guitars are pretty cool, but the songwriting is just naff. Lyrics like 'Month of May, it's a violent thing' and 'I know it's heavy/I know it ain't light' sound like they were made up on the spot.

  • The Big Moments Aren't That Big
    Okay, so Arcade Fire are great at these big, show-stopping numbers where they throw everything they've got at it and make everyone's hearts explode and whatever. Funeral had Wake Up, Neon Bible had Intervention...but what does The Suburbs have? I've seen both Sprawl II and We Used to Wait described as this album's highlights, but neither one grabs me by the internal organs in anything like the same way as their older stuff (or indeed Empty Room, the album's true highlight). Sprawl II is good fun, I guess, but it's too content to just stay on one level for five and a half minutes instead of building to anything. WUtW seems like it's going to be utterly amazing - the first verse sounds nice and dramatic - but again, it doesn't go anywhere. The initial tension doesn't get the payoff it deserves, and the rest of the song just sort of floats around while Win Butler complains that nobody writes letters any more. Like the album at large, it could have been a lot better than it is.
Nice to get all of that off my chest. I don't hate The Suburbs, and the overall theme - nostalgic longing for the simplicity of childhood - is pretty well-executed. But like I said, the good tracks - the really stunning, Arcade Fire-quality tracks - could be contained on an EP, along with maybe Rococo as a stand-alone single. Wasted Hours can be the B-side.

*My number one most-played track is Nights of the Living Dead by Tilly and the Wall. Here it is, in case you haven't come across it before:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Short Albums

I catch the train to and from work, and since my journey takes the best part of an hour, I usually have time to listen to one full album each way. This morning, however, I managed to squeeze in two: Tosta Mista by Hooded Fang, and This Many Boyfriends by, er, This Many Boyfriends. Both albums are pretty petite, and while some people might complain that a thirty-minute running time doesn't represent good value for money, I like a nice, concise LP that doesn't hang around any longer than it needs to.

Both of those albums are well worth a listen, by the way. I realise that it would be kind of ironic if I wrote reams and reams of text about the art of keeping it brief, so instead, here are five more short albums that I recommend checking out. Descriptions won't exceed the length of a Tweet (140 characters).

Reckoning by R.E.M.
Punk for sensitive people. Every track is a winner; some folk say that Camera or Time After Time let the side down, but they are wrong.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
One of my most-played of all time. It unfolds beautifully, a glorious whole that's done and dusted within forty minutes.

File:The Pains of Being Pure at Heart cover.png
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
It has all the rises and falls that a full-length album should have, but it doesn't outstay it's welcome. Compare Hey Paul with Stay Alive.

How to Ruin Your Life by The Murderburgers
Pop-punk from Scotland. Fifteen tracks in about half an hour. It's Over Already is perfect, and even the worst tracks are invigorating.

Hörse of the Dög by The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster
Remember to pronounce the umlauts. At around 25 minutes, this is the shortest of all, delivering blow after blow without wasting a second.

Do you have any other short 'n' sweet favourites to add? Share them in the comment section below. In the meantime, here's a quick blast from that last one:

Monday, June 17, 2013


The band describes their sound as "everyone high-fiving everyone"
 - from Fang Island's Wikipedia Page
As the right-hand side of my blog suggests, I've been listening to Fang Island quite a lot recently. I came across them while I was searching for something similar to Titus Andronicus, and while their song Asunder wasn't quite as...wordy as anything from The Monitor, it still grabbed me pretty hard. Have a listen:

One hearing was enough to lodge the thing deep in my brain. Asunder's blistering pace and celebratory sound compelled me to find out more, and so at the next available opportunity I popped down to Spillers Records and asked if they had the album. They didn't, but they were kind enough to put in an order and, one week later, I was the proud owner of Major by Fang Island.

I've often bought albums on the strength of one track alone, and I've often been disappointed to find that the rest of the album isn't up to the same standard. This, thankfully, was not the case with Major. Now that I've spent some time with the record as a whole, Asunder is far from my favourite track on there. It might not even be in my top three.

Instead, I've found myself rather smitten with Make Me. It's got several severely sweet guitar hooks, and a chorus that I can't help but shout along to, even though I've no idea what the words are. Sadly, I can't find a non-live version of it on YouTube, so here's another highlight instead:

That was Never Understand, another track that you'll be struggling to forget for a while now. The whole album is packed with that kind of excellent (and, crucially, unpretentious) melody-making; if you like guitar music, you owe yourself this LP. The one criticism I could level at Major is a complaint that it's difficult to hear what they're singing sometimes, and I think it's fair to say that rousing songs like these deserve to have their every lyric learned by heart and yelled along with the CD as the listener jumps around his bedroom. But this is a guitar album (with occasional piano bits), and the vocals clearly aren't meant to be the main focus, so perhaps we should concentrate on accurately air-guitaring the riffs instead of committing the words to memory. Besides, you don't need to hear every syllable they sing; just hearing the word 'weekend' poke through the riffs in Make Me is enough to lift the whole song to another level of euphoria.

Annoyingly enough, I'm now into the sixth paragraph of this little review thing and I don't feel I've said anything that wasn't summed up in than the half-sentence I culled from Wikipedia at the start. In the film of your life, this is the music that plays every time you do something right, and if that doesn't sell you on Fang Island then I don't know if anything will.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Track-by-Track: Pale Green Ghosts

File:John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts.jpg

After all the upturned thumbs that Queen of Denmark elicited in 2010, John Grant's second solo album had a lot to live up to. I realise that this won't be the most topical album review ever written, but even though Pale Green Ghosts came out over three months ago, it's still a record worth talking about. Also, I didn't have a music blog back in March, so...yeah.

Here are my thoughts on the 11 tracks that make up this rather singular CD:
  1. Pale Green Ghosts
    Six minutes long and almost entirely synthesised, this trumps even E-Bow the Letter in the bizarre lead single stakes. It does make a fantastically striking introduction to Electronic John Grant (there was nothing like this on Queen of Denmark), but should it really be track one? For me, it sounds more like the album's dark, brooding centrepiece.

  2. Blackbelt
    This one's good. It sounds a bit like Of Montreal. In some ways, I think that this should have been the lead single - it's more poppy than the album's title track, and it still works as a 'check out my cray-zay new direction' statement of intent. I love his quick-fire delivery in this song, especially the "you think you're mysterious/you cannot be serious" couplet. It's just so throwaway; I think lesser artists would have made much more of that line, but JG just pops it out and keeps going.

  3. GMF
    Somewhat less electronic than the first two tracks, this is the first song on the album that sounds like something from Queen of Denmark. Specifically, GMF is very, very similar to It's Easier, but while you might initially feel disappointed that John is repeating himself, it's interesting to note how different in tone the lyrics are. The older track (one of QoD's highlights, I might add) was sad, suspicious, and slightly low on self-esteem, while this new song...well, he kicks off the chorus by singing "I am the greatest motherfucker that you're ever gonna meet", so he's obviously gained a little confidence since 2010.

    I saw John Grant at Cardiff's Swn Festival last year, and he previewed a few songs from Pale Green Ghosts, including this song. He mentioned that it came about after a friend asked why all of his lyrics were so miserable and self-loathing, so perhaps the 'greatest motherfucker' line is just him taking the piss out of himself. Perhaps he deliberately made this one sound a bit like It's Easier, the better to contrast the apparent arrogance of GMF with his usual self-deprecation!

    Or perhaps it just happens to sound a bit like another song. Interesting side note: GMF is also the name of a shop that sells car parts. I spotted a branch in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago and found it quite amusing, given what those three letters stand for in this song. Where was I?

  4. Vietnam
    This is another song he previewed at Swn. I wasn't especially keen on it then, but this sparse arrangement - drums, strings, and not much else - does a lot more for it. It's a lot more intense this way; there's so little melodic content in the first verse that it's kind of hard to tell whether or not he's singing in tune. Y'know, in a good way. The string section comes in a bit later on to add a bit of depth, and a good thing too because it would get a bit boring otherwise. It sounds as if I don't like this song, doesn't it? I do, though; it's based around a cool metaphor (silent treatment-as-weapon) and it probably would have made a better track one than Pale Green Ghosts.

  5. It Doesn't Matter To Him
    Love the stormy guitar intro, love the sci-fi synth outro, love the bits in between. Especially the verses, which are pleasantly verbose and perfectly delivered. The lyrics kind of throw you at first - lines like "I get to sing for lovely people all over this lovely world" actually make him sound content - but don't worry, it is still a John Grant song, and there's a nice slice of sadness waiting for you in the chorus.

  6. Why Don't You Love Me Anymore
    This is the one I don't like. It's too long, it's too samey, and it feels awfully bloated compared to the leaner electronic tracks like Blackbelt and Vietnam. Heck, even the title seems overlong compared to those two! It might have sounded better as a Midlake-backed, Queen of Denmark-style soft rock number (see tracks 3, 5 and 10), but to be honest, I don't think the album would have suffered all that much if this song had been cut altogether. It's horribly positioned, too; just as the album is threatening to get really, really good, this six-minute dirge comes along and everything grinds to a halt. This  would have been the perfect moment to deploy Pale Green Ghosts, but alas, that ace has already been played.

  7. You Don't Have To
    Fortunately, John Grant is not the sort of man who lets his albums go to shit in the second act. This one's fab, with another great synth solo and a crisp clarity that's extremely refreshing after the dense musical fog that made a migraine of the previous track. It's arguably even better live (see video below), but either way, the bitter lyrics and the simple, slow-burning melody are utterly stunning. And it sounds a little bit less like Rufus Wainwright's Vibrate when it's not being played on a grand piano.

  8. Sensitive New Age Guy
    Hm. I really like this one, but what on earth is it doing here? It's completely at odds with everything else on the album, and while it's a nice break from all the post-relationship trauma we've been exposed to thus far, it feels like a foreign exchange student from a different CD. It's upbeat, it's wacky, and most bizarrely of all, there's a third person involved in the story he's telling - a 'she' to steal the limelight away from John Grant's narrator and his lost love! Maybe I'm overlooking something; maybe the smirking, semi-rapped lyrics are meant ironically, the black-humoured retelling of something that was truly tragic at the time. Maybe this song is somehow the most depressing of all.

  9. Ernest Borgnine
    Oh, and how's this for mood whiplash? After a dippy, danceable workout that's (ostensibly) about a latex-clad wonder woman, we get a song about being HIV-positive. Here, JG skewers himself through a vocoder, sounding calmly perplexed and unsure of what to do next. Not that you'll spot that straight away; the album's last snatch of electronica has the potential to become a groovy late-night classic, complete with saxophone. If I ever buy a car, this will be the soundtrack to my soul-searching small hour drives, along with something from Boys Outside by Steve Mason.

  10. I Hate This Town
    This one would sound positively jolly if it weren't for those darn lyrics. The verses aren't all that, but the chorus really takes it to another level, with some extremely shrewd use of the 'F' word and a singalong factor that will prove irresistible to anyone who isn't keen on their hometown. Oh, and the closing lines ("Now I'm packing my bags again/And you are not inside of them") are devastating in their simplicity.

  11. Glacier
    A beautiful closer, with plenty of piano flourishes and even more top-notch work from the string section. "This pain/It is a glacier moving through you/And carcing out deep valleys/And creating spectacular landscapes"...if JG is addressing himself here, he's certainly being nicer than in Ernest Borgnine.
Now Pale Green Ghosts clearly isn't perfect. But the way in which it pinballs between electronic experimentation and more down-to-earth stuff allows it, miraculously, to both meet and defy the expectations heaped upon it. It's definitely worth a go if you haven't already given it one.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

3 for Free

So you want some new albums to listen to, but you've spent all your money on food/petrol/Fabergé eggs? Fear not! Here are three rather good records that you can download gratis:

Secrets of the Witching Hour by The Crimea

Everyone got super-excited when In Rainbows came out and you could pay what you want for it, but the Crimea fans in the audience weren't all that impressed. And that's because some months previously, our favourite band had made their second album available online...for free! As you'll see in the sidebar on the right, this is one of my favourite albums EVER, so I'd strongly recommend that you download it as soon as possible. It's actually a pretty good summer album, in spite of its slightly downbeat themes.

Best Tracks: Don't Close Your Eyes On Me, Light Brigade, Several Thousand Years of Talking Nonsense

BOAT FOR SALE by Ed Stockham

BOAT FOR SALE cover art

Okay, I may be a little biased here because I know Ed personally, but this is definitely worth a download. It's a pay-what-you-want album, but it does look like you can pay nothing if you're so inclined (although you should definitely stump up whatever cash you can, I'm sure Ed will appreciate it). If you ever watched Spider! on CBBC, you'll find plenty to love here; it's lo-fi but lovely, and a great one for a rainy day.

Best Tracks: i'm not a wise old man, a monster on my shoulder, running

Terroruterino by Siesta!

Terroruterino cover art

Just because you don't understand a word they're singing doesn't mean it doesn't rock. Siesta! are a Spanish band whom I discovered through The Waiting Room (a very good radio show that features all kinds of weird and wonderful music), and this album is...well, it's a krautrock album that you could probably get away with playing at a party. Download if you like motorik beats and Mediterranean madness.

Best Tracks: A una chica llevaría una isla desierta, Turbomanises, Uranes

Do you have any good free albums to share with the class? Post a link in the comments below, preferably with a brief description of what it sounds like.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Track Ones

Hi there, and welcome to The Album Wall. This is a blog about albums, and since most albums start with track one, I've decided that my blog ought to do the same. Here are five of the best track ones I can name:

Begin the Begin - R.E.M. (from Life's Rich Pageant)

Songs with 'start' or 'begin' or 'go' in the title always make good track ones. I remember being distinctly annoyed at Arcade Fire for not kicking off The Suburbs with Ready to Start. Thank goodness, then, that R.E.M. were savvy enough to spot this song's potential as an opener. If you're listening to all of their albums chronologically, Life's Rich Pageant marks a pretty huge turning point, and that nice little guitar lick (together with Michael Stipe's "let's begin again" line) is the perfect announcement of their crisp new sound.

The Chad Who Loved Me - Mansun (from Attack of the Grey Lantern)

Nothing catches the ear like a big orchestral flourish. I remember the first time I listened to Attack of the Grey Lantern rather vividly, and that's mainly because I was so instantly smitten with that intro. Everything about this song, from its cinematic first steps to its elegant descent into chaos, suggests a top-notch LP to follow. Still, as good as The Chad Who Loved Me is, the opening string motif is arguably even sweeter when (SPOILER ALERT!) it pops up again at the end of the album.

Dance Yrself Clean - LCD Soundsystem (from This Is Happening)

The best curtain-raisers are the ones that leave you saying 'Damn! And that was just track one!' Dance Yrself Clean, a nine-minute goliath of an opening gambit, is a fantastic example. It starts slowly and quietly, worming its way under your skin and abruptly blowing your mind at around 3:08. And then it happens again.

Cloud Shadow on the Mountain - Wolf Parade (from Expo 86)

And if you don't like slow starts, there's always this frantic little slice of heaven. Cloud Shadow on the Mountain doesn't beat about the bush; instead, it sets fire to the bush and dances naked around it, chanting nonsense lyrics about scorpions and gazelles and dreamcatchers. It's just the right shade of odd, and a great one to have in your headphones when you're out running. Not jogging, mind you, but running at full tilt as if you're being chased by the government or something.

Grace Kelly Blues - Eels (from Daisies of the Galaxy)

Electro-Shock Blues was a dark, downbeat, depressing diamond of a CD, but for all of its based-on-a-true-story morbidity, the closing track (P.S. You Rock My World) did hint towards a light at the end of the tunnel. Daisies of the Galaxy is that light, and while the colourful artwork is a pretty big clue, the album's first few notes - parped out by a jolly-sounding brass section - leave no room for doubt. Grace Kelly Blues is the ultimate statement of cheery defiance, with Mr. E describing in detail how shitty the world is before adding "I think, you know, I'll be okay."

Oddly enough, not one of these songs is the best its parent album has to offer. Admittedly, Cloud Shadow on the Mountain comes close, but the point is that a good track one should set the scene instead of stealing the show. Sure, we can all agree that Lose My Breath is a fantastic way to start an album, but if Beyoncé et al didn't put any effort into the rest of Destiny Fulfilled then why should we?

What's your favourite track one? Answers on a postcard, or in the comments below.