Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Search of The 21st Century Beatles

Big news! Chris Martin likes One Direction and, judging by the comments on, people aren't best pleased:

Now, I've already documented my viewpoint on matters like this, and when I was brainstorming ideas for today's blog post, I considered straight-up trolling the 'but they don't even write their own songs!' camp. I very nearly wrote an evil little thing about how One Direction are basically the same as The Beatles - something tailor-made to get The Gatekeepers of Musical Authenticity all riled up.

I eventually decided that 'Are One Direction The New Beatles?' wasn't an article I wanted to write, but I still see plenty of similarities between the two acts. I'm sure that many other people have made this point, but for all of their envelope-pushing, The Beatles had obsessive fans, feature films, and loads of hits, just like 1D.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Benji: Songs About the Past

Aside from being an early contender for Album of 2014, Sun Kil Moon's Benji is also a great testament to the power of music as tombstone. There's an awful lot of death strewn throughout these 11 songs, but Mark Kozelek's intention isn't simply to depress us (although goodness knows he manages that anyway) - the songs are written to give meaning to those lost lives, to ensure that the gone aren't forgotten.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Scottish Albums of the Year

Scottish Album of the Year Award

The longlist for this year's SAY (Scottish Album of the Year) award was released yesterday You can see the full list here; I've only heard 3 of the 20 albums nominated, but since that's better than I managed for the Welsh Music Prize, I'm going to blog the hell out of it anyway.

I'll start with my thoughts on the three nominees I know, and then I'll talk about a few other albums that should perhaps have made the list.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Tenacious D are Smarter Than You Think

On the face of it, Tenacious D's self-titled debut is a very dumb album. It contains songs about anal sex, threesomes, and 'hard fucking', as well as several skits that touch upon such topics as purchasing food from a drive-through and performing push-ups with one's penis. Oh, and at the climax of the 18th track, Rock Your Socks, Jack Black commands the listener to "drop trou and squeeze out a Cleveland steamer".

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dead or Alive?

Here are two albums that came out today:

The one on the right is Goodbye, Cagoule World by Benjamin Shaw; the one on the left is I'm Dead by Glimmermen, a band from Dublin. The former is the latest offering from the consistently intriguing Audio Antihero label, while the latter was sent to me in an email by somebody who thought I might appreciate it. I'm Dead actually seems to have been available for some time, but I'm told that today marks the album's proper UK release.

You might be wondering why I've lumped these two albums together instead of reviewing them individually, and it's because they land on either side of the same divide. Cagoule World is a sickly-sounding album about being alive; I'm Dead is a lively-sounding album about being dead. And so I thought it would be fun to examine them side-by-side.

Friday, April 18, 2014

3 New Beginnings

I wanted to do an Easter-themed blog for Good Friday, but what exactly does an Easter-themed blog about albums look like? Easter doesn't have nearly as much good music as Christmas does - once you've listened to Jesus Christ Superstar, you've pretty much exhausted this holiday's repertoire.

I considered 'songs about chocolate' as a topic (Chocolate Jesus by Tom Waits, Chocolate by Tindersticks...that could have been quite a fun one actually), but since Easter is all about fresh starts and the arrival of springtime and fluffy bunnies and newly-hatched chicks and that sort of thing, I thought I'd do this one instead.

Here are three albums that marked bold new beginnings for the artists who made them. Each one represented a press of the reset button, a departure from the ditches that had previously been dug, or a shift onto new shores at the very least. Happy Easter!

Embryonic by The Flaming Lips
At War with the Mystics and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots weren't exactly anodyne AOR unit-shifters, but compared to 2009's Embryonic (and everything that The Flaming Lips have released since), those albums look like bubblegum. This album demonstrated just how weird Wayne Coyne and his merry men could be when they cut loose; out went the whimsical songs about autumn birds and karate girls, and in came a faintly nightmarish collection about goodness knows what. Pressing 'play' on this one and hearing Convinced of the Hex for the first time must have been quite an experience for anyone who expected another Yoshimi.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Want One or Want Two?

According to Wikipedia, Rufus Wainwright's two Want albums were originally going to be released together as a double album. For my part, I'm glad he spread these songs out across two separate releases, because listening to the entire Want saga in one go would be pretty exhausting. I was planning to have a Rufus double feature yesterday evening, but by the time I'd finished listening to Want One I was ready for bed.

Of course, the other upside of having two single albums instead of one double album is that we can judge them against each other! I've stated my preference for Want One in the past, but I've never really fleshed out that statement with an explanation. Well, here are three reasons why Want One is better than Want Two:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tips of Icebergs

I like Bruce Springsteen a lot, but I really ought to make more of an effort with his back catalogue. At time of writing, I only have three Springsteen CDs: Born in the USA, which I picked up at a car boot sale some years ago; Greatest Hits, which I found in a charity shop; and Nebraska, a more recent purchase that I bought after reading about it in this book.

Admittedly, buying three CDs by the same guy does suggest moderate commitment to the artist in question, but Bruce Springsteen's discography spans across four decades; I don't feel like I can call myself a full-blown fan when he's got sixteen studio albums that I haven't even listened to.

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Favourite Charity Shop Find

God only knows how many CDs I've bought from charity shops down the years. Scope, PDSA, Cancer Research...they've furnished me with all sorts of second-hand goodies, from unexpectedly good stuff that I would never have paid full price for (e.g. Destiny's Child) to 'holy crap why would somebody give this away' albums by The Magnetic Fields and Camera Obscura.

That said, my all-time favourite charity shop find wasn't a CD at all. It was a vinyl record.

I remember the day quite clearly. I was on Wellfield Road in Cardiff, on my way to somewhere else, with no real intention of doing any shopping. But then I saw a vinyl copy of Mansun's Six on display in the window of Kidney Research UK, and immediately decided to pop in.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

5 Artists Who Should Release a New Album, Already

It's been too long!

File:Decemberists at Merriweather.jpg
The Decemberists
  • Last Proper Album: The King is Dead, released in January 2011.

  • Recent Activity: They put out a live album, We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, in March 2012, but haven't released anything since. They've got a few gigs in May - a festival and a couple of benefit concerts - and singer Colin Meloy recently recorded an EP of Kinks covers, but aside from his vague assertion that he's "starting to dabble" with new Decemberists material, there's been no word on when we might get a new set of songs from the band.

  • Why I'm Desperate for New Material: The King is Dead was good, but it represented a conscious effort to strip things back after the proggy song structures and epic rocking that littered The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love. As enjoyable as it is, the slender, folksy LP that the band left us with in 2011 simply isn't enough to keep us going for this long. We need more (and I personally need more of the aforementioned proggy epic rock).

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: You by My Name Is Ian

You cover art

Music is a pretty self-centred thing, and so it's refreshing to hear a few songs that are focused on 'you' rather than 'I'. This record's obsession with the second person is apparent from the moment you read its title; You, for the most part, is a breakup album, and its central protagonist isn't giving up without a spell spent wallowing, obsessing, begging, pleading, et cetera.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Can Speedy Measure Up to Britpop's Best?

Speedy - News From Nowhere *review copy*

Prior to the announcement that their long-lost debut album was to be belatedly released by The Lost Music Club, I'd never even heard of Speedy, much less listened to any of their songs. Nonetheless, I was well up for News From Nowhere, because it represented an opportunity for me to enjoy the heady rush of Britpop firsthand (I was a little too young to appreciate the movement in its heyday; for reference, Country House and Roll With It were released on the day I turned 4).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The First Quarter of 2014

I've been pretty lazy with new releases thus far in 2014. In fact, of all the presumably brilliant albums to have seen release since New Year's Day, I've only bought three. They're all good albums, mind, even if none of them feel like 'Album of the Year' material; I just feel like I should be paying closer attention to the stuff in the window of Spillers.

Still, with three months of the year already down, I thought I'd better do some kind of Q1 review. Here's what I think of the three new albums I've bought this year...

Rave Tapes by Mogwai
It's a solid album, this, although I don't feel that it's quite up there with Mogwai's best. Quite a few tracks seem not to go anywhere (e.g. Simon Ferocious, whose most interesting feature is the completely unrelated synth fanfare that introduces it); that said, songs like Blues Hour and Remurdered more than make up for that issue. The former is a particular highlight - Mogwai don't often do songs with singing in them, but when they do materialise, they are always absolute treasures, and Blues Hour is no exception: