Friday, August 30, 2013

The Most Depressing Album of All

Depressing Album Week is almost at an end, so let's crank it up to 11 with the most depressing album in my entire collection, if not the whole damn world: Hospice by The Antlers.

Hospice is not an easy listen. I can hardly bear Kettering, the second track, simply because Peter Silberman sounds like he's got the microphone halfway down his throat the whole time. You can hear every noise his mouth makes; not just the words, but the sound of his lips parting, his cheeks clicking, his tongue moving around. It's too intimate, and in that respect it sets a pretty good precedent for the rest of the record.

I'm not entirely clear on the story that Hospice tells - something about a guy and a girl in a shitty relationship, and also the girl has terminal cancer - but even when the details are a little vague, this is still an absurdly upsetting album. Not merely depressing - upsetting. Both Hospice and Tallahassee are about severely fucked-up relationships, but the guy from The Mountain Goats sounds kind of gleeful throughout his dysfuntional little tale. His songs are the kind that could conceivably be shouted along to, drink raised to the ceiling and bittersweet endorphins rattling around in your head. There aren't any songs like that on Hospice. The only smiles are insane ones, mad with the shadow of death and misery that hangs over this album. Compare No Children from Tallahassee with Bear from Hospice; there are plenty of similarities, and yet their tones are world apart.

Where albums like Last of the Country Gentlemen and perhaps even Tallahassee can offer comfort as well as sadness, it seems like The Antlers would sooner tear off your skin and prod your tender flesh with a stick. Hospice was recorded on quite a low budget, it seems, and some of the production verges on being genuinely difficult to listen to (not unlike some of the lyrics).

Which begs the question of why anyone would ever choose to sit through Hospice. It's sonically challenging and impossible to detach from; a major theme is the protagonist's feeling of guilt, as if he's somehow to blame for the woman's illness, and when her siren voice comes shooting out of Thirteen, you can't help but feel responsible too:

"Pull me out
Pull me out
Can't you stop this all from happening?"

It's all absolutely agonising, up to and including the Epilogue, which has the same melody as Bear but somehow sounds a lot darker (Bear, believe it or not, is this album's big pop single). Here's a snatch of Epilogue's lyrical content:

"You return to me at night just when I think I may have fallen asleep
Your face is up against mine, and I'm too terrified to speak
You're screaming
And cursing
And angry
And hurting me
And then smiling
And crying

And then, just when you feel like nothing good will ever happen to you ever again, a magical, miracle sound explodes out of your headphones and makes you feel electric and you realise that this, this feeling is why you've been listening. The point I've been brushing up against all week is that depressing albums make you feel good, and as horrible as Hospice is, it's one of the most amazing listening experiences out there. Essential.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tallahassee Revisited

If you asked me to name the most depressing song I could think of, I know exactly what I'd say. Forget Radiohead, and Leonard Cohen, and so on; the most depressing song I can name is Shop Vac by Jonathan Coulton.

Last of the Country Gentlemen doesn't even come close to Shop Vac in the depressing stakes. Josh T. Pearson sounds pretty miserable on that album, for sure, but where Country Dumb and its cohorts are bursting at the seams with leaky, sobbing emotion, Shop Vac hints at some even more depressing stuff: emptiness, detachment, and a complete lack of caring. Check out these lines:

"If you need me, I'll be downstairs with the shop vac,
You can call but I probably won't hear you,
Because it's loud with the shop vac on,
But you'll be okay, 'cause you'll be upstairs with the TV,
You can cry and I probably won't hear you,
Because it's loud with the shop vac on."

It's subtle, and the song is so upbeat that a cursory listen gives very little indication of what's actually going on. Incidentally, I think a sad set of lyrics becomes a lot more depressing when stuffed into a catchy pop song like Shop Vac - at least you know where you stand with howlin', shiverin' Josh Pearson.

When I branded Tallahassee with my mark of indifference last month, I had very little notion of the plump, juicy concept that was throbbing beneath its skin. As I said towards the end of that blog post:

"I've just taken a peek at Tallahassee's Wikipedia page, and it's apparently a concept album (I did wonder - a lot of these songs are about marital breakdown and falling out of love) so I'm interested to have another listen and see how knowing about the story changes my perception of things."

Any Tallahassites I disappointed with my first impression will be pleased (and perhaps a little smug) to hear that I have indeed had another listen, and quite a few more on top of that. Whether it's because I've learned about the Alpha Couple or simply because I'm a little more familiar with the songs now, Tallahassee has been right at the forefront of my regular rotation recently.

And my favourite thing about it is just how bleak it's turned out to be. Don't get me wrong, none of these tracks are as misleadingly chirpy as Shop Vac, and nobody will ever mistake No Children for a happy song. But as depressing as that song is on its own, things get a whole lot more upsetting when you tie it all together. Remember Alpha Rats Nest, Tallahassee's closing track? I thought it was a bit goofy when first I heard it. Have a listen:

Well, I was doing a bit of research - trying to work out what each song was about, and what it had to do with the central story - and there was one person on SongMeanings who thought that Oceanographer's Choice was about the protagonist drowning his wife, and Alpha Rats Nest was him setting fire to their house with himself and her corpse inside. That's only one interpretation, but pretty much everyone seems to agree that, at the very least, ARN is about the house burning down.

I find Tallahasse depressing (and hence awesome) for the same reason I like Shop Vac. Breaking up would actually be a happy ending for this couple, but that just ain't gonna happen. Instead, they stay together (for increasingly vague reasons) and drink all the alcohol they can get their hands on in a house that, like their marriage, is constantly on the verge of falling apart.

There are still songs that don't seem to have any obvious relation to the overarching plot (See America Right, Peacocks) and, yes, songs that I still don't much like (The House That Dripped Blood, International Small Arms Traffic Blues). But Tallahassee has shot up in my estimation since First Impressions Week; where it struck me as a disappointingly unexplosive listen at first, I now can't get enough of its little miseries. A depressing backstory can do wonders, it seems.

Oh, one last thing. It would be remiss of me to reappraise Tallahassee without mentioning Liam from the 1p Album Club (he did a guest post for me a few weeks back). After I posted my lukewarm first impression, he emailed me his own thoughts on the album, and his words of enthusiasm for it - especially for the lyrics and the story they tell - was a big part of what made me keep listening. Thanks, Liam!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Last of the Country Gentlemen

It's Depressing Album Week! Let's talk about the albums that make us sad...

As far as my dad is concerned, all of the music I like is exceptionally depressing. He's heard me listening to Radiohead, Bright Eyes, and perhaps one of the less jolly Eels albums, and he's tarred my entire collection with that same bleak brush.

So he's already convinced that every artist on my wall is super-miserable. And then one day, he hears Last of the Country Gentlemen by Josh T. Pearson bleeding through the wall, and he can't help himself. "This is an extremely depressing album," he opines, poking his head around my bedroom door. "Even by your standards."

If we're talking about depressing albums (and we are, all week) I can't fail to mention LotCG: as far as dear old dad is concerned, it's the most depressing album I've got.

And you can definitely see how he arrived at this conclusion. This CD contains almost an hour of music, and the only instruments involved are an acoustic guitar, a modest string section*, and Pearson's haunted, howling voice. Each song is a wretched, drawn-out thing, lamenting the implosion of one relationship or another; it could be that they're all about the same breakup, but I prefer to think that each song details The End Times of a different relationship. Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ, for example, finds Josh T. dumping a lady who's become a little too dependent on him, while Honeymoon's Great! Wish You Were Her is sung a few years down the line, by which point Pearson is a married man with a head full of second thoughts.

It's not a barrel of laughs, that's for sure, but depressing? I never feel depressed by the end of it. It's emotional, it's intimate, it's almost uncomfortably personal...and yet the songs, downbeat though they are, make me feel happy. It's hard to explain, but take a listen to Country Dumb (video below) and tell me whether you feel miserable or strangely uplifted by the end of it.

"We're the kind who start the books but who just do not finish,
We're the kind who have ten thousand would-be-great, ungrateful, too-long run-on songs,
We're the kind still stuck in the past but who see well into circle future,
You see I miss you woman and baby you ain't even yet gone.
You see I miss you babe and woman you ain't even yet gone."

Oh god, it's cathartic! By this point, incidentally, our narrator is completely defeated - a broken man who knows precisely how his relationships will crash and burn before they've even hit the dual carriageway. And as depressing as that sounds, I love it! Just like I love Let Down by Radiohead, Easy/Lucky/Free by Bright Eyes, and The Medication is Wearing Off by Eels. They ought to make me feel cold and empty, but instead they make me feel warm and fuzzy.

Of course, there are songs and albums that do make me feel properly depressed. Two in particular spring to mind, but you'll have to wait a little longer to find out what they are. See you on Wednesday for more Depressing Album Week action!

*Featuring Warren Ellis out of The Dirty Three and The Bad Seeds! Wikipedia never fails to teach me something new.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Prefer Their Earlier Work

Some years ago, my drum teacher David said something that really got me thinking. He had been making me play along to a Jamiroquai track, and he asked whether or not I was into Jay Kay and Co. I replied that I was familiar with a few songs, but certainly no expert - he recommended that I purchase Emergency on Planet Earth as soon as possible.

I never did buy it (sorry, David!), but there was a reason why he recommended that album instead of, say, Travelling Without Moving. You see, Emergency... was Jamiroquai's debut album, and David was convinced that the first album was always the best, regardless of the artist in question.

Now you've probably already thought up at least pieces of evidence to the contrary. If David's maxim that first = best held true for every artist, that would make Pablo Honey better than OK Computer; it would mean that On Avery Island, rather than In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was Jeff Mangum's magnum opus; it would mean that The Magnetic Fields hit their peak before Stephin Merritt even started doing the vocals.

But let's not be so dismissive of David's theory. There are certainly plenty of albums that back it up - innumerable acts have released one great album and followed it up with a slew of duffness. I'm not going to start naming them now, put some examples in the comments if you like.

Having made this big assertion, David went on to say that the first album is the purest representation of a band, and each release after that gets further and further removed from what they were. I'm inclined to agree, but I would add that a band leaving behind what they were isn't necessarily a bad thing. If Generation Terrorists is pure, concentrated Manic Street Preachers, that's fine, but I personally prefer the bastardised version of their sound that showed up on The Holy Bible. I like GT too, but if the real Manics are so in thrall to Guns 'N' Roses then give me the diluted version any day.

Speaking of The Holy Bible, I'm pleased to announce that next week will be Depressing Album Week! I'll be taking a look at why depressing music can be so uplifting, and revealing what I consider to be the most depressing album ever. Oh, and I'll be re-assessing Tallahasse, which you'll all be looking forward to I'm sure.

In the meantime, feel free to share evidence from either side of the first = best argument, and enjoy your bank holiday weekend!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cars Can Be Blue

I usually like albums with some sort of unifier. It could be an overarching story, a running theme, or just a word that pops up a few times over the course of the record. No matter how obvious or how trivial they are, I love the things that tie it all together; whether it's the crumbling marriage in Tallahassee, the music-will-fix-our-relationship outlook of Revenge Songs, or just the general fuzzy good vibes of Clouds Taste Metallic, it's the unifiers that keep me coming back. They're why I listen to the whole album, instead of tearing out the best songs and forgetting about the rest.

But I've broken my own rule with two recent purchases: All the Stuff We Do and Doubly Unbeatable, both by a band called Cars Can Be Blue. I saw them play here in Cardiff recently, and since they were flogging their CDs for £5 each (as long as you signed their mailing list) I treated myself to a double. Neither of these albums has much in the way of a concept or a theme; you've got songs of love (I Wish I), songs of hatred (So Cheap), and plenty of songs about doin' the nasty (Dirty Song, D in the P, Pretty Special, She Needs It...I could go on). You've got hippies, groupies, cute guys, perm guys,'s just a girl speaking her mind about a bunch of stuff, with a guy who sometimes chimes in to back her up.

And that's awesome, but we're not about to find any unification on the lyric sheets. How about in the music itself? Well, it's true that the majority of these songs are lo-fi garage rockers with less chords than the Sex Pistols, but even that doesn't fly as a unifier. To call either of these albums a collection of fun, fuzzy indie rock songs would be to forget about the sexy lothario synths of Do You Want It? (The SEX, I Mean)* and the unpleasant stomp that underpins Cycle of Violence. D in the P and Bend That Rod even have operatic bits, if you can believe it. Oh, and a song called The Pincher that sounds like it's being sung by Maximillion Pegasus from Yu-Gi-Oh!

So what is there to tether these records together? Very little, actually, and that's what makes them so much fun. As the title of the first album suggests, it's just all the stuff they've done, lumped onto a CD and sold to anyone who wants it. And believe me, you do want it (the CD, I mean) - both of these albums are chock-full of rad little songs that will make you smile, laugh, and rock out. CCBB have something for everyone, and that's why everyone should investigate 'em.

Incidentally, I bet the Cars Can Be Blue guys hate pretentious write-ups like this, all italicised album titles and concept-pondering. I kind of hope they never read it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Does the Physical Version Matter?

My girlfriend and I are currently in the process of moving home. In fact, we've almost finished moving home; at the very least, we've arrived at the point where spending the night in our new house is more comfortable than staying in the room we've just vacated, but while a good ninety percent of our earthly possessions have now made the great leap over from our previous residence (i.e. my parents' house), one big task remains and that's The Album Wall itself.

You see, this blog is named for my problematically large CD collection, which is still mounted on the wall in my old bedroom. Here's a photo:

And it just keeps getting bigger. We can hope that with bills to pay and appliances to buy, I might not have much CD money going spare in the months to come, but even if I stopped buying albums forever as of tomorrow, I'd still have to house all CDs in that picture.

It's inconvenient, and where people with too many clothes can simply take the ones they don't wear anymore to a charity shop, I'm reluctant to part with any of these albums, even the ones I haven't played for years. I know that as soon as I've let them go, I'll start missing them.

An obvious solution - and one that's been suggested to me many times - is to rip all the CDs to my computer and then clear them out. But I've never really taken to that idea; I feel that if I don't have the disc and the packaging, I don't really have the music. Even the few albums I did take to a car boot sale have been erased from my hard drive - I just don't feel entitled to listen to those songs any more. Besides, if I still wanted to listen to them, I wouldn't have sold them in the first place, right?

I've read lots of different arguments for buying (and keeping) the CD or record instead of just downloading the files. The most common one is that people like to have the physical artefact; to admire the album art; to read the inlay; to have the complete package, as it were. I agree with that to some extent, but while I do like to read the liner notes and get a bit of insight, I don't think that's my big obsession.

As sad as it sounds, I think I just like buying things. Another common argument for buying rather than downloading is supporting the artist, keeping record stores alive, and so on, and while I certainly do want to do that stuff, I think I would still buy the albums even if it didn't benefit the band/shop. I'm a collector, pure and simple - my dad collects Penguin Classics with black spines, and I collect CDs with rad music on them. The music would sound just as good if I'd just downloaded it, but having the thing to go with it gives me an extra kick of collector-endorphins on top.

As for my ever-expanding collection, I suspect I'll find somewhere to put all of those CDs. Whether or not my girlfriend will be happy with the situation is another matter.

Are you obsessed with the artefact? Or do you just download the songs and enjoy them on their own? Comments are welcome. In the meantime, here's a song about having a new house:

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Short Album About Love

Last Friday, shortly before I grabbed my cereal bars and jetted off to Knee Deep, I went for a quick circuit of the charity shops on Albany Road. Having come across something of a payload in Save the Children, I came back with no less than five new albums:
  • Desire Lines by Camera Obscura
  • A Short Album About Love by The Divine Comedy
  • The Concretes by The Concretes
  • Under the Blacklight by Rilo Kiley
  • No Singles by Japandroids
I'm pretty happy with all of these purchases (heck, for a pound each I can't really complain), but I am exceptionally happy with the Divine Comedy album in particular. Take a look to the right, and notice how Partygoing is no longer my "current favourite album".

And how has 1997 Neil Hannon trumped the Future Bible Heroes? By putting together one of the best short albums ever, that's how. As I mentioned on Twitter the other day, my list of great Short Albums would have been a lot richer had I heard this record a couple of months earlier. A Short Album About Love scarcely breaches the half-hour line, and so it's very digestible indeed. It's been long time since I got to the end of an album and immediately started listening to it again. 

Hannon's greatest trick here is making each song feel absolutely massive. Where most albums would feel incomplete with only seven tracks, each number on this album is so inflated that there's no room left for complaint. Someone comes on like a spaghetti Western soundtrack, while In Pursuit of Happiness is packed with xylophone, castanets, and oomph.

My favourite track is I'm All You Need (see video above), the insistent closer whose dreamy coda reminds me a little of The Day After the Revolution by Pulp. But If... deserves a mention too, if only because it seems like the sort of track that people probably wouldn't like. There are loads of stupid lines:

If your name was Jack/I'd change mine to Jill for you

But then that's what love is! It makes you say stupid shit!

So yeah, A Short Album About Love: my new favourite album. It could be yours too.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When Yer Twenty Two

Sorry folks, but it's my twenty-second birthday today and I'm excusing myself from doing a proper blog post. Here are a few occasion-appropriate songs for you to enjoy - feel free to suggest other birthday-related tracks in the comments section.

See you on Friday!

I Was Born by The Magnetic Fields

Happy Birthday by The Birthday Party

When Yer Twenty Two by The Flaming Lips

Monday, August 12, 2013

Knee Deep Festival 2013

I must be a very irritating person to attend a festival with. I very rarely skip tracks when I'm listening to an album, and for pretty much the exact same reason, I don't like to miss even a second of a band's live set. Even if I've never heard of the act in question, I'll want to see the whole thing, from beginning to end, or it doesn't count. This results in a lot of running around, few opportunities to rest, and me shouting things like "come on, we don't want to miss Candle Wanker's first song!"

Just so we're clear, there was no band called Candle Wanker at Knee Deep 2013. But it was the first time I actually managed to disengage my 'don't miss a moment' drive, and I spent a good portion of my weekend hanging out with friends and investigating the food stalls* rather than catching every single set.

That said, I still saw a few bands over the course of the festival. Here are a few of my favourites:

Cloud Boat played on Friday night, just as it was getting dark, and their soothing, ambient sound was perfect for relaxing after a three-hour car journey (not to mention the stress of discovering that there was no cash point on-site). They successfully encouraged most of the audience to stand up and come to the front, but not me - I was lying on the grass, watching the stars come out, and as cheesy as that sounds, it was the perfect way to enjoy Cloud Boat's music. It's easy to take that voice for granted when you're listening to a recording, but hearing it come out of an actual person's mouth is something else entirely.

I saw Splashh at last year's Swn Festival, but I'm pretty certain they weren't as good then as they were on Friday night. They had a lot more personality than I remember, and while 'krautrock Oasis' probably doesn't sound like an especially appealing combination, it really works rather well. Bonus points for the bassist, who had a nice hat and an amazing capacity for playing the same thing over and over again for, like, ten minutes.

Sivu was the unfortunate chap who happened to be playing just as the rain started on Saturday night, but rather than run back to the tent, I shuffled right to the edge of the stage and huddled under the small but serviceable awning to stay dry. Songs like this are a lot more affecting when you're sat at the singer's feet, but even the people who were sat in the rain behind me agreed that it was a very intimate set. Sivu seemed like a lovely chap, too; he was absurdly grateful towards the people who were watching him, especially given the inclement weather.

Deafkid's set was probably my favourite of the festival. Their music is pleasant with just the right amount of weirdness. Have a listen; I really like this song, especially the 'what the hell...' refrain.

Were you at Knee Deep this weekend? Who were your favourite acts? Share your choices in the comments section.

*Most notably The Cauldron, who do a mean paella and an outstanding pulled pork wrap.

Friday, August 9, 2013

How the Album is Losing its Value (Guest Post)

Guest post by Liam from the 1p Album Club

I edit a music blog of album reviews. The albums that I, my friends, and a disparate bunch of strangers review are albums that were created with talent, passion and time, yet are now sold online for just 1p. The penny you pay for your album on the Amazon marketplace (look out for the 'Available New & Used from…’ option) is just a nominal token in order for their sellers to make a few pence profit from the slightly higher postal charges – a standard £1.26. Once the biggest-selling music format, second hand CD albums are now just another commodity that are no longer needed in today’s world of free online streams and downloads.

1p Album Club is a backward-looking blog that aims to take these now criminally undersold past releases and highlight the fact that cost and value are very different things. However, I'm not here simply to plug our blog, and I want to use this guest post (thanks, Joel!) to argue that the value of an album is decreasing not only financially but in other ways too. I’d argue that online listening technology is simply not geared towards the album as a format.

Picture the scene – teenage me is sat in 1995 listening to Blur’s The Great Escape having paid upwards of £12 for it. I listen from start to finish, soaking it in; from the opening single of Stereotypes to the gentle closing gem of Yuko and Hiro. There are songs that I don’t particularly like on first listen, but I've paid for it so I'm going to listen. Yuko and Hiro ends up one of my favourite songs on the album.

File:Blur thegreatescape.png

Fast forward 18 years and imagine my teenage equivalent now. He hears talk of Blur and heads to YouTube. He searches ‘Blur’ and has page after page of songs to choose from - all the singles, the big hits, live versions and alternate versions – but where’s Yuko and Hiro? Well, it doesn't matter, right? He’s got live versions of Coffee & TV to sit through! He heads to Spotify and there are all the albums, so he clicks on The Great Escape. Having invested no money in the album, there’s no nagging obligation that encourages the persistent listening that makes the album a grower. Spotify is there, like a school-gate drug dealer offering up never ending alternative hits. “Hey, you like Country House? You’re just a click away from Girls and Boys – go on, give it a try! You’re listening to The Great Escape, have you heard Pulp? You’ll just love Different Class.” Yuko and Hiro doesn’t get a look in.

You get the picture.

This isn’t to say that this is all bad. I have a friend who is always listening to new music and is a constant source of album recommendations. Where does he hear of these new bands? His Spotify recommendations. They do work and, should you have the inclination, you can of course give albums a full listen on Spotify; it’s just that I’d argue that you’re not encouraged to. Newcomers to music these days are using technology that is reliant on algorithms which, by their nature, are geared towards the most played singles and big hits. iTunes will sell you an album, but if you don’t want to take a risk on those album ‘filler’ tracks, you don’t have to – just pay per song! As I wrote in an introduction to my own blog a year ago, a result of this is that people end up listening to more bands, but less of their music.

There are pros and cons to this new listening technology for bands and artists alike; what I am firm on, however, is that the album as a format is one of the big losers. If we’re constantly directed to the singles, we lose the context of the full album. Look at the concept album, for example. Whether you like The Streets or not, the ‘rap opera’ that is A Grand Don’t Come For Free is reliant on being listened to in order. Out of context, Get Out of My House is arguably a pretty shit song, but it plays its part in the story of the album. This technological tendency towards ‘greatest hits’ steers people away from albums like A Grand..., so over time, will people stop listening to concept albums? Will people stop making them?

For my part, I still regularly buy albums - new releases as well as those for a penny – but I worry that future generations are being directed away from the format. That’s why I think blogs like The Album Wall are important. There will always be music fans like Joel out there who love a good album, but it’s hard not to agree that, on the whole, the album is not as valued as it once was.

 A big thanks to Liam for writing this - it's reminded me of just how many mind-blowing album tracks I might never have heard were it not for my compulsive need to own the CD. is well worth a visit; you'd be surprised at some of the stuff that's available for so little. I'd also heartily recommend following @1pAlbumClub on Twitter, and not just because they occasionally retweet me.

I'm off to the Knee Deep Festival today, so have a great weekend and I'll report back on Monday!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Inform? Educate? Off with its 'ead!

It's no secret that Public Service Broadcasting are a fantastic live band. I first saw them back in December (you can read my review for The MMP if you're interested), and they were so good that I shelled out to see them a second time in May. Both gigs were great fun: a brilliant combination of awesome music and shrewdly-used film.

After that pair of knockout live shows, I was obviously pretty excited to get my hands on PSB's debut album. But while Inform-Educate-Entertain was good, it wasn't quite the revelation I'd been hoping for. I wasn't alone in this, either - check out this review from

Now, in fairness, I don't entirely agree with that conclusion. The film clips certainly add something, but I think crackers like Night Mail and The Now Generation stand up perfectly well without them. In fact, they sound fantastic (each of those two songs has an absolutely incredible final minute or so) and Public Service Broadcasting have a great knack for creating music that's both atmospheric and immediately arresting. Here's Lit Up, another excellent example:

So what's the problem? If you ask me, it's the first two tracks. The opener seems like a cool idea at first: it's an overture-style composition that mixes elements from some of the songs that follow. But once you're familiar with those songs, you don't want to hear snippets of them all mashed together - you want to hurry up and get to the real McCoy.

Track 2 is Spitfire, an absolute blinder. But as good as it is, it's got no place on this album. Spitfire, you see, had already been featured on an EP called The War Room, and since it felt right at home there, it feels a little out of place when it pops up here. I realise that failing to include one of your best-known songs on your debut album doesn't sound like a good move, but Spitfire's presence makes Inform-Educate-Entertain feel more like a Greatest Hits compilation than a cohesive studio album.

So my solution to this problem is simply to start the album from track 3. Theme from PSB makes a great opener, and while this does leave the album feeling a little short, there's nothing wrong with leaving your audience wanting more.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Antics vs. Our Love to Admire

File:Interpol - Our Love To Admire.jpg

Last week, I came across a thread on the Drowned in Sound music forum called Albums You Think Are A Band's Best Work But Most People Think Are Average At Best. Spotting an opportunity for some shameless self-promotion, I posted a link to this blog post, which treads some similar ground. I asked if anyone else finds themselves biased towards the first album they hear by an artist, even if that record is rubbish compared to the rest.

Here's one of the replies I got:

I love me a bit of Interpol, but like a lot of their fans, I do feel that Our Love to Admire was somewhat weaker than their first two full-lengths. It didn't help that its immediate predecessor was Antics, an album that any band would struggle to live up to. While OLtA isn't a complete flop, it certainly isn't up to the high standard that Antics set - heck, even Faceless_Opinion eventually realised that the earlier albums were better. For my part, there's one big reason why I'd take Antics any day:

It's more concise.

It's shorter, yes, but there's actually not much in it: OLtA is the lengthier listen by about five minutes, and even though it's got one more track than Antics, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks that 11 tracks is unreasonable. But goodness gracious me, if you're looking for an album that feels a lot longer than it actually is, look for Our Love to Admire. It's not nearly as direct as Antics; where that album was packed with lean, mean post-punk hits and the odd slow one for diversity, OLtA is typified by tracks that feel five minutes long, even when they're not. Strangely, the ones that actually are that long are among the better ones; Pioneer to the Falls and Pace is the Trick span more than ten minutes between them, and they're two of my favourites. No, it's songs like No I in Threesome*, Wrecking Ball, and The Scale that I'm not keen on; plodding 'atmosphere' songs that don't go anywhere and outstay their welcome.

Of course, OLtA does have The Heinrich Maneuver, which actually wouldn't have sounded out of place on Antics. It also has All Fired Up and Who Do You Think, two shorter, snappier songs of the type that could have lent the album a lot more levity in greater number. I remember the Uncut review of this album; they gave each track a rating out of five, and those two songs only got two stars each. No I in Threesome got the full five. Perhaps I'm in the minority regarding that song, but no matter which tracks they choose to pick on, it seems like almost every Interpol fan considers OLtA to be a disappointment.

So let's have this corker from Antics instead:


*Interpol have always been kinda horny, but never quite as obviously as on No I in Threesome.

Friday, August 2, 2013

3 for the Car: Driving Albums

I only recently passed my driving test, so when I was in sixth form and everyone was speeding about in their snazzy little cars that they knew how to operate, I was doomed - like Iggy Pop - to forever be the passenger. Okay, so it was nice to get so many lifts, but this arrangement afforded me a frustrating lack of control over the music we listened to. At best, the driver would throw on some Meat Loaf and everyone in the car would sing along to that; at worst, I'd get stuck listening to Lovin' You by Minnie Riperton.

But I've got my own pink license now, which means that I'm finally master of the car stereo! Here's a trio of albums that, in my limited experience, work well behind the wheel...

File:The Hold Steady - Almost Killed Me cover.jpg

The Hold Steady - Almost Killed Me
Okay, so it starts a little too quietly, but if you can time it right, the effect is perfect. Use the first part of Positive Jam to reverse out of your drive or wiggle out of your parking space, and try to hit the road just as the drums kick in. After that, it's all triumphant, crunchy rock - it's hard to keep both hands on the wheel, such is the air-punching awesomeness of songs like The Swish and Knuckles, which you can hear in this video:

Titus Andronicus - Local Business
This album isn't even out in the UK yet, but one of my wonderful family members managed to sneak an import under the Christmas tree last year. And I'm glad they did it, because it meant that by the time I passed my test, I was familiar enough with this CD to shove it in the stereo and sing along to (most of) the words as I drove. Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus is about a road accident, which might not be ideal, but aside from that it's all gold. Take the snappily-named Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter, for example:

CAKE - Comfort Eagle
And just before I tattoo the words 'I LIKE BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND ANYTHING THAT SOUNDS LIKE HIM' across my forehead, here's something a little different. Comfort Eagle isn't quite as frantic as the other two albums, and the steady, almost hip-hopppy beats that underpin everything make for pretty good listening when you're driving around the city (although, again, there's a song about traffic trouble - Long Line of Cars might grate a little if you're stuck in a queue). Drumming along on the wheel is pretty much a dead cert. Here's my personal favourite, Pretty Pink Ribbon:

So there are three good driving albums that you can take for a spin this weekend. What do you tend to fill your car stereo with? Recommend me something in the comments!