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.