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


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...

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!