Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year Wishes

Here we are, then: the last day of 2014. I've already weighed and measured the best albums of this year, so now it's time to look into the future, to wonder what musical marvels 2015 might have in store for us.

Now, we already have a few dead certs. Modest Mouse, for example, have assured us that they will be releasing a new album next year, as have The Decemberists. But today's blog post isn't concerned with these releases; instead, it's all about speculation, the unconfirmed classics of 2015.

Here, then, are 5 artists that I'd really, really like to hear more from in the next 12 months. As far as I'm aware, none of these bands have given any indication that new work is on the way, but hey, if you're going to indulge in a little wishful thinking, the 31st of December seems like an opportune time for it.

The Magnetic Fields
Wishful-O-Meter: 2/5
It doesn't seem too optimistic to hope for a new MF album in 2015. In fact, you might even say we're due one - Distortion came out in 2008, Realism in 2010, and Love at the Bottom of the Sea in 2012, so if Stephin Merritt keeps up this every-other-year workrate, there should be an extra album in the MF discography by this time next year. Failing that, I'd settle for some Merritt solo action, or another 6ths album.

Wishful-O-Meter: 3/5
Wikipedia may count 2013's Across Six Leap Years - the latest Tindersticks release - as a studio album, but I don't. It was more of a career retrospective, and while it's cool that Staples et al bothered to re-record all of their old hits, I'm still waiting for a proper follow-up to The Something Rain (which came out all the way back in early 2012). Bonus points if the new one is on a par with The Hungry Saw - it's not my #1 favourite 'Sticks album, but demanding something as good as Tindersticks II at this stage just seems churlish.

Iron Maiden
Wishful-O-Meter: 1/5
If West Ham United's most famous fans fail to release a new album in 2015, this will be the longest Maiden drought the world has endured since the band's eponymous first album was released in 1980. The Final Frontier was almost four and a half years ago now, and so it seems perfectly reasonable to expect a follow-up before Christmas comes 'round again.

Tilly and the Wall
Wishful-O-Meter: 4/5
Things have been disquietingly, uh, quiet in the Tilly camp of late. Their official website still features 'upcoming' tour dates from June 2013, and nobody seems to have heard much of anything from them since Heavy Mood came out. Still, a boy can dream...

Wishful-O-Meter: 1/5...but also 5/5
"More and more gardens are coming into bloom" said Fyfe Dangerfield in a news post on the Guillemots website back in June. On Summer Island, the follow-up to 2012's springtimey Hello Land!, is now two years and three months overdue, and while Fyfe and Co are supposedly still working on it, we're still waiting for some kind of sign that it's nearing completion.

As you can see, I've given this release two completely opposite wishful ratings: a 1 because they can't possibly need another whole year on this, and a 5 because it's beginning to seem like this album will never see the light of day. Time will tell, I suppose, but one thing's for sure: if they continue at this rate then the seasonal quadrilogy that they promised us back in 2012 won't be complete until some time in 2019.

* * *

So that's it for this year! I'll maybe revisit this list in December '15 and see how many (if any) of my wishes came true. In the meantime, have a happy new year and cross your fingers for some great music in the months to come! 

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Albums I Got for Christmas

Well, the 25th of December has whizzed by for another year, and so it's time once again for me to dig an eager hand into my Christmas stocking and sort through the musical goodies that Santa was kind enough to bring me this year.

Here are the CDs that I was given as presents this Christmas:

Put Your Back N 2 It by Perfume Genius
I heard Sarah listening to Perfume Genius a little while back, and their languid, unhurried sound appealed to me in a way that languid, unhurried sounds rarely do. I suspect that this will be a good album for bedtime - it's in the same kind of vein as Pride, the languid and unhurried but exceptionally beautiful third album from Phosphorescent (definitely check that one out if you haven't already).

Friday, December 19, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2014

Time for the big one, then. I've already told you my favourite songs of 2014, and with that warm-up out of the way, I'm now ready to reveal my favourite albums.

Frankly, I can't quite believe that it's been a whole year since Quiet Marauder scooped top honours in December 2013, but a year it has been and we're about to find out who is following in their footsteps. We know that it won't be any of the bands from my Honourable Mentions list; those albums were good, but not quite good enough for the final list.

Without further ado, then, here are The Album Wall's Top 10 Albums of 2014:

10) Commune by Goat
World Music, Goat's first album, was pretty good, but I never managed to shake the feeling that it wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be. Commune is a lot closer to being that album; it feels much more full-on and much more mystical than its predecessor, and that full-on mysticism is what makes Goat such a great prospect. That and the rhythms - I particularly like Bondye, which uses metal chains as a percussion instrument.

Standout Tracks: Talk to God // Bondye

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Top 20 Songs of 2014

Great albums would be nothing without great songs so before I reveal my Top 10 Albums of 2014, I'd like to share some of the best songs I've heard this year. Some you will know, some you may have missed, but all of them are excellent and that's an Album Wall guarantee.

Just to clarify, any song is eligible as long as its parent album was released in 2014. That stonking new Modest Mouse song, for example, is not on the list; even though we're listening to it here and now in 2014, the new album won't be out until March 2015, and so as far as I'm concerned it's not a 'Song of 2014'.

Also, I'd finished compiling this list before Lampshades on Fire was made available to hear, so there we are. Now, without further ado, here are my Top 20 Songs of 2014!

20) Did I Ever Love You by Leonard Cohen
This song attracted a lot of criticism for its "bouncy country" section that "sounds like Mumford & Sons", but whatever - I still love it, and the contrast between those sad, achy verses and that abruptly upbeat chorus is one of the best things about it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014: Honourable Mentions

Only now, as I revisit all the albums I bought this year, do I realise just how good 2014 has been. True, there have been quite a few albums that didn't live up to my expectations, but many others have met and exceeded those expectations quite wonderfully.

I'll be sharing my Top 10 Albums of 2014 this Friday; in the meantime, I'd like to mention a few marvellous albums that, while not quite good enough to crack my Top 10 list, are still more than worthy of your attention.

I'll start with Mogwai's Rave Tapes, one of the first albums I bought this year and a fine addition to Mogwai's uniformly fine back catalogue. It's not a career best - it's neither as instantly gratifying as Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will nor as rewarding as earlier efforts like Come On Die Young - but songs like Remurdered and Repelish have a dark, brooding sound that's very, very cool. Blues Hour is my personal favourite; Mogwai don't often do lyrics, but when they do, the results are always awesome (see also: Cody, R U Still In 2 It).

Friday, December 12, 2014

10 Predictions for the New Modest Mouse Album

Modest Mouse fans - myself included - have been getting very excited this week, and it's all because of this photo:

This was the band's inaugural Instagram post, and it was the world's first indicator that our five-year Mouse drought (seven if you don't count No One's First and You're Next) may finally be nearing an end. Shortly after this mysterious 45rpm record hit the indie rock headlines, a spokesperson from the band's record label confirmed that, yes, Modest Mouse would be releasing a new album in early 2015.

Woohoo! Now, let's try and guess what that new album will be like...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Revisiting Life's Rich Pageant

There was a time when Life's Rich Pageant was my favourite R.E.M. album, perhaps my favourite album period. This wasn't merely because it felt like a hipper choice than Automatic for the People (although I won't deny that I enjoy feeling hipper than everyone else), but because I genuinely felt that Just a Touch and The Flowers of Guatemala were some of the best tracks in the R.E.M. pantheon.

I came back to LRP yesterday, and I must admit that it's not quite the world-beater I remember. The skyscraping solo in The Flowers of Guatemala (I swear to God, this was my #1 favourite song ever at one point) now sounds disappointingly prosaic, while Just a Touch - which used to sound like a thrilling rollercoaster ride of a song - has decayed into a slab of by-the-numbers rock 'n' roll filler.

Monday, December 8, 2014

On Working Without Headphones

I forgot my headphones this morning. At time of writing, I have already endured an entire morning without music (excluding the Titus Andronicus album that I was listening to in the car), and I'll still be here for a few hours yet.

Okay, okay, I realise that this is about as #firstworld as problems get - many people don't have the option of listening to music while they work, and I should be grateful to know that, as long as I remember my cans tomorrow morning, I can immerse myself in Damien Rice and The Hidden Cameras for the rest of the week.

Friday, December 5, 2014

December, Not Christmas

On Monday, I suggested 10 lesser-known Christmas songs for people who are sick to death of Slade, Band Aid, Cliff Richard, and all the other music that's pretty much inescapable from Bonfire Night onwards.

But what about the people who don't want to listen to Christmas music at all? I've seen quite a few Grinchy Scrooges on my Facebook feed this week, all of them complaining that it's too early to break out the Christmas records, or that they simply hate Christmas in general and wish everyone would stop talking about it.

Well, for the benefit of those people, today's blog will concern itself with non-Christmas albums that are nevertheless perfect for this time of year. December is a rather lovely month, what with autumn gradually turning into winter, and it'd be a shame to completely abandon ourselves to seasonal cheese when there's so much other music that's ideal for the latter part of the year.

Without further ado, then, here are three albums for a non-festive December:

The Magic Position by Patrick Wolf
I only purchased this album last month, so it already held a distinct autumn/winter feel for me. Still, I'm pretty sure that The Magic Position would sound Decembery even in June, with its evocations of bonfires and rotting leaves and its sprawling array of warming sounds (including - yes - a Christmassy-sounding glockenspiel on the title track).

"And you were my husband, my wife, my heroine - now this is our final December." 

Key Wintry Track: Bluebells, which seems to compare the slow decline of a romantic relationship to the Earth's slow descent into winter at the end of each year. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Race for Space

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about Public Service Broadcasting's second album and what it might be like. I speculated that it might be - indeed, should be - a concept album, similar to their WW2-themed EP The War Room. But, y'know, longer.

I also recounted some suggestions from people on Twitter:

Oh, and to my delight, I actually received a response from the band shortly afterwards:

Monday, December 1, 2014

10 Christmas Songs You Might Not Know

December is upon us, which means that it's now officially okay to listen to Christmas music. In fact, you're pretty much obliged to listen to Christmas music, so if you're not a big fan of Wizzard and Nat King Cole and Cliff fucking Richard, you may want to find something else with which to occupy your ears this December.

And that's where today's blog comes in. If you're bored of the same old Slade - because, let's face it, all Christmas CDs have basically the same tracklist - here are 10 lesser-known Yuletide classics that you might not have come across before. I've certainly never spotted any of these on a seasonal compilation, anyway.

1. A Christmas Duel - The Hives and Cyndi Lauper
A rollicking and gleefully hateful cheating song - and then some! Frankly, I'm not sure why Cyndi and The Hives haven't worked together since. I'd gladly listen to a whole album of this stuff.

2. A Christmas Carol - Tom Lehrer
Tom Lehrer ought to be everybody's songwriting hero. This is a characteristically sardonic take on the most wonderful profitable time of the year, recorded in an era when it wasn't yet clichéd to be cynical at Christmas (more on that later).

Friday, November 28, 2014

EP Corner: Latvia

It's time for another visit to EP Corner, and I'd like to kick off this latest edition with a tip for all up-and-coming musicians: if you name your album or EP after a particular place, you'll automatically be offered a gig in that place.

At least, that's what happened to Cardiff's own Local Sports Team. They decided, for whatever reason*, to dub their debut EP Latvia, and shortly after its release, they were contacted by an enthusiastic blogger from Riga, who sorted them out a headline slot in a local club. You can read the full story here if you'd like further proof that your own debut should be named Wembley.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Origin:Orphan (or, The Art of Saving the Best for Last)

Since I first listened to AWOO back in July 2013, I've been slowly falling in love with The Hidden Cameras. I've now acquainted myself with the lion's share of their back catalogue, and the latest addition to my HC collection was Origin:Orphan, their fifth full-length album, released in 2009. I bought it off Amazon for, uh, not very much, and while it initially struck me as somewhat sub-par, repeat listens have been kind to it, and O:O is now up there with Mississauga Goddam as one of my favourite HC releases.

Allow me to expand on this. Repetition is a big part of the HC sound, but even I, with my everlasting 'ard-on for ostinato, found much of Origin:Orphan to be rather samey, at least on the first couple of spins. In the NA was a particularly irritating offender - not only is the tune pretty repetitive, but pretty much every line ends in the exact same way:

That wasn't the only track I had a problem with, though - He Falls to Me, Colour of a Man, and several other songs were simply too boring for the me who first slotted Origin:Orphan into his car's CD player. Mind you, it wasn't all negative - the album's final three tracks managed to rescue the whole experience for me, with Underage and The Little Bit coming as a particularly life-affirming (and brilliantly brassy) one-two just as I was about to give up. The closing track is lovely as well.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Five Years of Audio Antihero

Five Long Years cover art

An antihero is, put simply, someone who does heroic things but doesn't behave in a heroic way. Wolverine is a common example; he fights on the side of good, but he's a drinker, a smoker, and a bit of an all-round curmudgeon, none of which are normally considered to be heroic qualities.

Let's apply this trope to the music industry. A traditional 'hero' would be the label who put out catchy, accessible music that everybody instantly loves. Audio Antihero, on the other hand, have a slightly different approach:

"We know, we know. You THINK you want a squeaky-clean pop song, but deep down, that's not really what you're looking for. Here's the music that you really NEED: some wonky punk stuff, a folk song that sounds like it was recorded in the bowels of a ship, and a nine-minute droney thing."

I only came across Audio Antihero last year. The first AA release I listened to was There is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing of Time by The Superman Revenge Squad Band, and while that one grabbed me more or less immediately, it was followed by left-turn after left-turn after left-turn.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Eight is Great

"Ever wonder why there aren't more than 10 songs on most albums? 'Cause it's a chore to write half a dozen. Some guys lay back and rest on their laurels like lazy old hacks."

The above is an excerpt from Track Number 8 by Sun Kil Moon. It's a classic slice of Mark Kozelek grouchiness, but while broad accusations like this are certainly preferable to MK's ongoing feud with The War on Drugs, I would like today to make an argument to the contrary. Fewer tracks doesn't necessarily signify a lazy artist, or a bad album - in fact, I'm fast becoming convinced that eight tracks (just eight - imagine how lazy that must seem to Mark Kozelek!) is actually the perfect amount.

Of course, I've always had a fondness for short albums, but eight is a particularly appealing number. For one thing, it splits neatly in half - even if you're not listening to the album on vinyl (and goodness knows that I probably won't be), you can still tell where Side A ends and Side B begins.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

El Pintor vs. The Others

My oh my - people have been saying a lot of big things about El Pintor, haven't they? Critics are gleefully citing Interpol's fifth album as a full-blown return to form, and one person that I spoke to even went so far as to suggest that it's their best since Turn on the Bright Lights, the band's much-loved debut.

Is this true? Is this anagrammatically-titled opus really better than Antics? Do these songs truly reach the same dizzy heights as Say Hello to the Angels and Roland and The New?

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Songs You Showed Me

This Christmas, let the people who formed your musical tastes know that their efforts weren't wasted!

Well, if the adverts are anything to go by, we're allowed to start thinking about Christmas now, so here's a Christmas-themed blog to get us all in the festive mood.

My girlfriend Sarah is currently in the process of compiling a Christmas CD for her dad. This gift isn't merely a playlist of seasonal songs, nor is it merely a set of songs that she thinks he'll appreciate. Quite the opposite, in fact: it's actually a collection of music to which he introduced her.

This song will almost certainly feature, along with choice tracks from John Martyn, Suzanna Vega, Rufus Wainwright...

Now, this may seem like a rather futile exercise at first. Why give dad a CD full of songs that he a) already knows and b) already cherished enough to pass them on to his first-born child? Why not give him some new tunes to cherish instead?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sounds of the Eighties

Ah, the 1980s: a decadent decade of synthesisers, experimental hairstyles, and Malibu. I would have fit right in.

Of course, '80s culture is still pretty darn popular today - you might argue that people are just wearing those neon-coloured tights 'ironically', but our lingering affection for the sound of the eighties seems completely sincere. The meteoric rise of HAIM (I think you're meant to shout it) in 2013 proved that synthpop could still put bums on seats in the 21st century, and this year has seen the release of quite a few albums that are similarly eighties-indebted.

Today, I'm going to focus on two of those albums: 1989 by Taylor Swift, and Age by The Hidden Cameras.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Taylor Swift vs. Spotify: An Alternative Angle

So Taylor Swift has decided to remove her entire discography from Spotify. I realise that most of you were already aware of this - it did happen more than a week ago - but I just wanted to include a recap for my readers in news-proof domes.

Reactions to this news can, by and large, be sorted into two piles:

  1. "Good for her! She's standing up for musicians and their right to be remunerated for what they create."
  2. "It's a money thing. Clearly she's just trying to force everyone to buy her albums instead of streaming them."

Depending on what you think of Ms Swift, this is either a righteous crusade to restore music's status as 'something worth paying for'...or a money-grabbing act of greed from someone who has already sold millions upon millions of records.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Eagerly-Awaited Albums

Do good things come to those who wait? Or does anticipation just lead to disappointment?

Last week, I treated myself to a handful of new albums from Spillers, as I often do when payday rolls around. Here's what I bought:

  • My Favourite Faded Fantasy by Damien Rice
  • At Best Cuckold by Avi Buffalo
  • Crush Songs by Karen O
  • Furious Finite by Little Arrow
  • We Come from the Same Place by Allo Darlin'
Now, as much as I like the Little Arrow and Allo Darlin' records, I'm mainly going to focus on those first three for the purposes of today's blog. The thing that all three of those have in common is that they've all been a very long time coming: It's been four years since the first Avi Buffalo album, and the gap between 9 and My Favourite Faded Fantasy was a whopping EIGHT years (to the day, in fact - both were released on the 3rd of November).

Friday, November 7, 2014

Growing, Showing, and Courting Strong

The grower/shower dichotomy dominates many walks of life, music included. A good album will generally fall into one of two camps: those instant classics that rock your world from the word go, and those slow burners that gradually win your heart and take over your stereo.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Music Not to Get Married By

Avid followers of The Album Wall may well be wondering why I haven't posted a new blog since last Wednesday. Where was Friday's blog? And Monday's? Are you getting lazy, Joel? Don't you care any more?

Okay, I'm not suggesting that laziness didn't have its part to play, but I'd like to think that a larger chunk of the blame for this minor schedule slip can be pinned on my cousin's wedding. The ceremony took place on Saturday, and it took place in Yorkshire, which meant that the time I usually reserve for blogging was instead spent driving to and from Stamford Bridge*.

Pictured: me at the reception. I was probably making that face because of all the driving it took to get there.

Still, it was a lovely wedding (with, if you'll excuse my sudden verve for matters decorative, a wonderfully autumnal colour scheme), and the three-course meal was obviously much appreciated. In fact, the only thing that wasn't perfect was the choice of music.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bright Lights, Lovers' Quarrel

First, a recap: The Lost Music Club is a record label (founded earlier this year) that exclusively deals in "unreleased gems of the analogue age". The music industry is a fickle beast, you see, and one can only imagine the number of albums that never saw the light of day because somebody in charge just so happened to chang their mind. It's almost painful to think of all the artists who poured everything into crafting the perfect musical experience, only to watch that particular kettle come abruptly off the boil, its bubbling contents poured philistinely down the kitchen sink of pop music history.

Fortunately, we've got people like Jack and Liam to unearth these long-buried musical treasure troves (yes I know I'm mixing my metaphors shut up) and open them up for everyone to enjoy. The first such trove was Speedy's News from Nowhere, a poptastically English record that was put together during the latter days of the Britpop explosion and then promptly forgotten about for a decade and a half.

Monday, October 27, 2014

10 Fucking Songs

Last week, I went on Twitter to complain about how long it had been since I last sat down and made a proper playlist. Eager to crack my knuckles and exercise my track-selecting skills, I asked people to suggest potential themes; Ash Cooke's suggestion (famous painters) proved too tricky, especially given my self-imposed "no songs I don't have" rule, but this suggestion from @Archrawr seemed a lot more doable:

In fact, I decided that "sweary songs" would be too broad a playing field, and so I added an extra restriction of my own: my playlist would solely consist of songs with the word 'fuck' in them.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Emperor Yes & The End of the World

There have already been loads of albums about the end of the world. Muse's Absolution, The Crimea's Secrets of the Witching

Okay, I'll start again. There have already been at least two albums about the end of the world, but what makes An Island Called Earth (the debut album from London-based trio Emperor Yes) different is the fact that the world actually doesn't end on this record. Sure, awesome opening track The End of the World insists that we're about to bear witness to our planet's final hour...

...but the lyrics of Astronauts ("the planet had been rescued by two men in white spacesuits!") make it clear that humanity manages to dodge the bullet on this occasion. It's more Armageddon than Dr. Strangelove; the world was going to end, but we got our shit together like a group of bees boiling a wasp* and we lived to fight another day.

Here's the weird thing, though: Astronauts is only the sixth track on this album. It is followed by another six tracks, which means that the averted apocalypse is only half the story here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Songs of Innocence, Words of Nonsense

U2 did some sort of Q&A session on Facebook last week and things got slightly awkward when - to the surprise of no one - they were called out on their decision to force new album Songs of Innocence into every iTunes library on the planet. Here's how it went:
Q: "Can you please never release an album on iTunes that automatically downloads to people's playlists ever again? It's really rude."
Bono:  "Oops. Sorry about that...I had this beautiful idea and we got carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing. A drop of megalomania, a touch of generosity, a dash of self-promotion, and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn't be heard."
As my emboldening suggests, it's the last part of that sentence fragment in which I'm interested today. I'll admit that I did feel a pang of sympathy for U2 when I first heard Bono's apology - after all, I've written songs, and I know better than Bono what it's like to wonder if anyone will ever actually listen to them.

But yesterday, I found myself re-reading that quote, and my sympathy gave way to annoyance. Now I realise that, if Bono really cared about those songs, he chose the worst possible way to release them.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Balls to Bonus Tracks

I appreciate that selling an album nowadays is nigh-on impossible. Streaming sites like Spotify (as well as good old-fashioned piracy) have made purchasing the physical version less essential than ever, and so it's easy to see why artists and record labels might think that bonus tracks are a good idea. They're an incentive, a little extra something for the people who actually bothered to visit a record shop and fork over some cash - who could object to that?

Well, me, as you probably guessed from this blog's title. Bonus tracks get on my nerves, and frankly, I wish bands would cut that shit out. I don't want any extra tracks on my CDs, and here are several reasons why:

They ruin the finality of the closing track
Imagine your favourite closing track. Better yet, use one of mine: Still Life from Suede's Dog Man Star.

Now, there are a lot of closing tracks that would work equally well in any other slot, but Still Life is absolutely not one of them - that spectacular final chorus, those majestic strings, and the flickering guitar figure at the very end should only EVER be followed by awed, open-mouthed silence (see also: São Paulo by the Guillemots).

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Crack in Everything: Ocean Rain

Welcome to A Crack in Everything, the thing I sometimes do where I point out everything that's bad about the albums I love. It's a positive process.

Telling everyone that your new record is "the greatest album ever made" is risky business. Sure, it gets our attention, but you're setting yourself up for quite the tumble - after all, there aren't many albums that could live up to that kind of hype.

It's to Echo & The Bunnymen's credit, then, that Ocean Rain was extremely well-received; given the hyperbolic marketing campaign, even a quite-good album would have been laughed out of town. But Ocean Rain was good enough that people could kind of see where McCulloch and Co were coming from. Even if it wasn't really The Greatest Album Ever Made, it was close enough that the rock world were prepared to let it slide. After all, it would be churlish to complain about the album that gave the world My Kingdom and Seven Seas and The Killing Moon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

5 from My Wishlist

So the 2014 Welsh Music Prize shortlist was announced yesterday, and while (as predicted) American Interior and Futurology did indeed make the cut, so did ten other albums with which I am not familiar.

Here's the thing, though: I'd dearly love to repeat my WMP odyssey of 2013, but purchasing the nominated albums that I don't already own would cost me the best part of £100. I simply don't have that money lying around at the moment, and even if I did, there are several other CDs that are significantly further up my wishlist than anything on the shortlist.

So, no - barring the possibility of an unexpected windfall, I won't be reviewing each WMP-shortlisted album in turn like I did last year. Sorry, but if I spent all my money on Euros Childs and The Gentle Good, I'd have none left for...

My Favourite Faded Fantasy by Damien Rice
Mere weeks ago, the idea of a third Damien Rice album seemed like a pipe dream. We hadn't seen hide or hair of Mr Rice since 2006 (the year when the criminally underappreciated 9 first saw the light of day), and it was looking increasingly like we'd never hear from him again...until news of My Favourite Faded Fantasy broke and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

I've kept away from the album's single (I Don't Want to Change You, already available to hear online), simply because I want the album to be a surprise when I finally do hear it. I'm hoping for something that's just as good and as emotionally wallopy as 9 was.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Papernut & The Primitives

The album on the left is There's No Underground by Papernut Cambridge. The one on the right is Spin-O-Rama by The Primitives. Both albums are released today, and so I thought I'd review them side-by-side, to find out what else they have in common. Words in red refer to the Papernut album, while the blue words are all about The Primitives.

With There's No Underground, Ian Button's outfit have created a pleasantly odd little world in which people manage to get by without any help from the government or, uh, the tube. The album is populated by such oddball characters as 'The King of the Prams and the Dustbins' and the mysterious 'umbrella man'. This is the sort of thing you'd find on a Mansun album, but the songs actually sound more like a cross between The Kinks and Robyn Hitchcock.

Spin-O-Rama, as far as I can tell, aims to evoke the dizzy euphoria that you get on those funfair rides that spin you around until you vomit.

Friday, October 10, 2014

In Anticipation of the Shortlist for the 2014 Welsh Music Prize

or, 'Crap! I Might Actually Have Listened to Some of This Year's Nominees!'

As some of you may remember, I followed last year's Welsh Music Prize very closely. Some might say too closely; I dedicated an entire blog post to each nominee, listening to all 12 albums in turn and deciding, over the course of several weeks, which act I was rooting for. You can relive the whole saga here if you're so inclined.

I'd dearly like to do it all again this year, but I've got a bit of a problem. The WMP folks haven't revealed their 2014 shortlist yet - the announcement is slated for next Tuesday - but there are two albums that are almost certain to be included:

Left: American Interior by Gruff Rhys. Right: Futurology by the Manic Street Preachers.

Now, the whole reason I embarked upon my great WMP adventure last year was because I'd only heard one of the twelve album's on the 2013 shortlist (Praxis Makes Perfect by Neon Neon). I felt kind of bad for ignoring all of this (presumably) excellent Welsh music - music made, more or less, on my own doorstep - and so I bought and blogged about each album as an act of penance.

But if Gruff Rhys and the Manics both make this year's shortlist - and they surely will, given the glowing reception that both albums received - I'll have heard more than one of the nominated albums, and the whole thing will be a little less meaningful for it. There could be others, too - it will be a travesty if Quiet Marauder's MEN isn't included on the shortlist, and I'm pretty sure that Andrew Paul Regan's very good Dinas Powys album is eligible, too. If all four of these albums get the nod, I'll already be familiar with a quarter of the shortlist, and while I suppose I can still blog about those records that I already own, it won't be an epic voyage of discovery like last time. Besides, I'm not sure I can muster yet another blog about MEN.

Oh well. All I can do at this point is wait and see - the shortlist will be announced on Tuesday, so I'll make a decision once I know which albums are up for the gong. In the meantime, here's a choice cut from last year's shortlist:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Road Songs

Aside from love and death and possibly a couple of other things, I feel like touring is one of the most written-about subjects in pop music.

It makes sense: once an artist has hit the big time, such go-to subjects as having no money, having no friends, and wanting to get the hell out of this two-bit town become somewhat inappropriate, and the pressures of being on the road become a far richer and more sincere source of inspiration. Sure, you could do what Bruce Springsteen did and just carry on singing about your blue collar, but nine times out of ten, your fans will see through this ruse and your career will crash and burn (just as Springsteen's did).

Monday, October 6, 2014

How I Spent My Sunday

Sunday, October 5 (Morning)

It's been a distinctly lazy Sunday for me thus far. I left bed briefly to make some toast and put some washing on, then it was straight back to bed to waste a few hours on the internet.

In bed is where I am when I remember that Wooden Arms are releasing their debut album, Tide, in the UK tomorrow. After a recommendation from Josh 'SCRIBER' Price, the band emailed me a while ago to ask if I would write something about the record. I said that I would, and so I decide that I'd better get hopping.

Friday, October 3, 2014

3 for Autumn

Autumn is my favourite time of year, and while I talk a lot of romantic talk about the smell of the air as you scrunch through the leaves, my love for this season is largely music-related. Okay, so autumn's relatively close proximity to Christmas certainly doesn't hurt, but even if I didn't have some presents and a roast turkey to look forward to, this would still feel like the perfect time to revisit my favourite albums.

Yes, I'm one of those insufferable wankers who genuinely believe that music sounds better in autumn, to the point where many of my favourite albums are totally contraband during the warmer months. I fear that listening to them when the sun is out may spoil them somehow, and so I save them for the dark nights and the crisp days that make up much of October and November.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In Defense of Pretense

Today, I'd like to tell you about my friend Mark (don't worry, he won't mind - he never reads my blod anyway). Mark is a big music fan, but he does have a frustrating tendency to dismiss bands for being pretentious. It's very much his go-to excuse; if he doesn't like a song, or an album, or an artist, he'll play the 'pretentious' card:

"What do you think of these guys, Mark? I bought their new album the other day, and-"
"Ugh, they're a bit pretentious..."

Quiet Marauder, who of course released a 111-song album about men last year, are a prime example of a great band whom Mark considers 'pretentious'.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Writing the Wrongs by Poundstore Riot

I'll admit that I didn't have high hopes for Poundstore Riot, any more than I would for the contents of an actual pound store. Call it snobbery, but that's not a band name that makes me keen to find out more.

But then I read the duo's (presumably made-up, although who knows?) back story, and I became a lot more interested. The conceit, roughly summed up, is thus: four-track enthusiasts Ash Cooke and Stu Kidd were arrested for inciting a riot at a pound shop, and they were encouraged to embrace their DIY musical talents and record Writing the Wrongs as part of their rehabilitation.

Yes, it sounds like a wobbly premise for a GLC-style comedy album, but that's not what this is at all - it's actually a wonderful love letter to the art of home recording.

Friday, September 26, 2014

First Impressions: Tim

It's First Impressions week here on The Album Wall, which basically means that I've been listening to various albums for the first time and blogging my thoughts on the fly. I've already shared my primordial opinions on Sparklehorse and Superchunk; now it's the turn of The Replacements.

First, though, a little context. My first exposure to The Replacements came when I purchased Let It Be at a CD and record fair in St. David's Hall. More recently, I bought all five of the band's albums in a bargain box-set thing from Fopp. I've already listened to Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and Hootenanny, but I've been saving Tim for First Impressions Week, denying myself its splendour until today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

First Impressions: No Pocky for Kitty

We're slap-bang in the middle of First Impressions Week, in which I listen to albums I've never heard before and blog as I go. Monday's blog was all about Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain by Sparklehorse; today, I'm going to take a look at Superchunk's No Pocky for Kitty.

I bought I Hate Music - Superchunk's latest album - last year, and while there were some fantastic songs on that CD (Low F and Me & You & Jackie Mittoo were highlights), I found the overall album to be...well, not quite a classic. I had expected Superchunk to be a legendary indie rock band, but some of IHM's less spectacular songs sounded like the work of old jobbers from the '80s who were still churning out albums long after they should have called it quits.

Monday, September 22, 2014

First Impressions: Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain

Last year, I bought three albums that I'd been meaning to listen to for a while (AWOO by The Hidden Cameras, Tallahassee by The Mountain Goats, and Curtains by Tindersticks) and blogged my thoughts on those albums, track-by-track, as I was listening to them.

This week, I'm doing the same thing again: three albums, three blogs, three first impressions. First up is Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, the fourth and final LP in the Sparklehorse oeuvre (Mark Linkous, of course, killed himself back in 2010). My first listen to this album is long overdue, so let's not delay it any further...
  1. Don't Take My Sunshine Away
    Will this be a gentle opener (like Homecoming Queen and It's a Wonderful Life) or a harsh, dissonant cruncher (à la Pig)? It's somewhere in the middle, as it happens; Don't Take My Sunshine Away is a reasonably laid-back rock song, but there's a mean-sounding lick running through it, and this takes over at around 2mins 30secs, briefly transforming the song into a twisted beast of a thing. There are some burbly Grandaddy noises in there, too, which are always appreciated.