Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Music for Migraines: 3 Soothing CDs

Today, I had a migraine. It certainly wasn't my first - I've been getting them every so often since sixth form - but this one was particularly unpleasant because it occurred in the office. My usual response to a migraine is to go and lie down in a darkened room, but this isn't really an option when you're in work and your bed is several miles away, so I just had to tough it out. Not fun!

Music has been a key ingredient in my survival of previous migraines, so I thought I'd share a trio of top headsoothers with you guys today. One's taste in music can be significantly altered by a migraine; suddenly, you crave songs without edges, the sort of songs you'd probably find boring under normal circumstances.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Crack in Everything: Born in the USA

It's time for another instalment of A Crack in Everything, where we discover that even the best albums have their problems. Click here to see which albums I've already scrutinised.

For quite some time, Born in the USA was the only Bruce Springsteen album on my rack. Sure, I had his Greatest Hits, but if we're talking about proper, 'this is how these songs were meant to be heard' studio albums, BitUSA was the sum total of my Springsteen experience until I finally picked up Nebraska a few months ago.

Friday, July 25, 2014

EP Corner: Of The Night

Welcome to EP Corner. This is something I plan to do every once in a while - a solid EP can be just as satisfying as a full-length album if it's done well, and to demonstrate this, I'd like to share some of my favourite four- or five-trackers with you lot.

For my first exemplary EP, I'd like to discuss Of The Night by the Guillemots. This four-track platter was served up back in 2006, and it's notable because each song was helmed by a different band member. Here's what it says in the CD case:
  1. She's Evil (featuring Monstro)  // (written by MC Lord Magrão + Monstro)
  2. The Rising Tide // (written by Fyfe Dangerfield)
  3. Bad Boyfriend // (original concept + loops by Greig Stewart, expanded on by Guillemots)
  4. By The Water // (written by Aristazabel Hawkes)
For reference, Hawkes is the bassist, Stewart is the drummer, Dangerfield is the singer/pianist, and Magrão was the guitarist until he left the band last year.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Top 10 Debut Albums

I'm not sure where it started, or how long it's been going on for, but quite a few people have been tweeting their 'Top 50 Debut Albums' over the last few days.

I wanted to jump on the bandwagon, but I'm not sure I've even heard fifty debut albums, let alone fifty good ones. I decided that I could just about stretch to a Top 10, so here we are - The Album Wall's Official Top 10 Debut Albums:

10. Give Blood by Brakes
Recorded in one long take (or so I vaguely remember reading), this awesome album gave the world its first glimpse of the Brakes and their bonkers little world.

Standout Track: Hi How Are You

9. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
In which Alec Ounsworth finds beauty and brilliance in his own nasal passages, and deigns to share it with us. As every review mentioned at the time of its release, Davids Byrne and Bowie were both big fans.

Standout Track: The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth

Monday, July 21, 2014

Trwbador Strike Back

Trwbador - Several Wolves cover

When I reviewed Trwbador as part of last year's Welsh Music Prize extravaganza, I noted that it seemed like something of an hors d'oeuvre, a tantalising warm-up for what I predicted would be a truly satisfying second course. Here's what I wrote:
"I feel like this is a kind of primordial release for Trwbador, and what really interests me is what they might do with album number two. Having set out their slightly avant-garde take on Orange advert music here, they'll either use that sound as a springboard for weightier, more fully-realised songwriting...or they'll take an even sharper left turn and get down to some serious studio tinkering. Either way, I reckon it'll be excellent."
- Joel Dear, 11 October 2013

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can You Enjoy an Album with Friends?

While films are best enjoyed with other people - you go to the cinema with your friends, or get them 'round your house to watch a DVD - music is often characterised as the refuge of the loner. If you want to see the latest big movie, you rifle through your phonebook to see who's available; if you want to listen to that new album that everyone's talking about, you go up to your bedroom and put on your headphones. Alone.

Obviously there are environments like clubs and gig venues where music becomes a shared experience, but this is The Album Wall, not The Sticky Floor - I'm specifically talking about listening to albums in full, the way you'd watch a film in full at your local Cineworld. Can you enjoy an album when you're listening to it with other people? Can the presence of other people actually enhance one's appreciation of an album? Or is it always better when you're on your own?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Days of Abandon

Right, fair warning: today's blog is just several paragraphs of me gushing about the new Pains of Being Pure at Heart album. I mentioned it briefly in my 2014 halfway report a couple of weeks ago, but now I'm going to really spill my guts. Ready?

OH MY GOSH I LOVE THIS ALBUM. I was pretty keen on TPoBPaH's first two albums, but I think this one tops them both. I was a bit worried when I read that Days of Abandon was softer-sounding than its predecessors, but as much as I like a bit of fuzz and distortion, I like these sounds even more.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Silver Gymnasium: The Video Game

I've been meaning to write this blog for a while. I've been aware of Okkervil River's Silver Gymnasium video game ever since I did that week-long review of the album last year, but I've only just found the time to play through it.

It was rather different to what I expected.

If you don't want to know what happens in The Silver Gymnasium: The Video Game, stop reading now. I'd definitely recommend that you play the game before scrolling down any further.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Learning to Love Pink

I used to hate Pink. When I was in Year 9, my RE teacher (for reasons unknown) made the whole class listen to Family Portrait, and even at the relatively un-discerning age of 13, I found it to be really, really bad.

"Your pain is painful"

On that day, I decided that Pink was a musical abomination, not worthy of my ears (I was kind of an elitist back then). Never mind that she had three entire albums at that point in time - I had heard one song, and that was enough for me to dimiss her entire output, past and future.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Public Sophomore Broadcasting

Will Public Service Broadcasting release a second album? And, if so, what will it contain?

These are questions that I've been pondering recently. I've been listening to last year's Inform-Educate-Entertain album again, and while I maintain that it isn't perfect, it's still an utter barnstormer for the most part.

But how will they follow it up? I suppose they could just do more of the same, but while I wouldn't be unhappy with another album that's exactly like Inform-Educate-Entertain, I would be a little disappointed. We're familiar with PSB's gimmick at this point - it's time for them to take it up a notch.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Charity Shopping with Twitter

I'm embarrassingly new to the smartphone game - less than a month ago, I was still using the hyper-outdated LG phone that I inherited from Sarah when she first graduated to smartphones.

However, I'm pleased to report that I have now joined the 21st century and got myself an iPhone. I'm still kind of awed by all the stuff it lets me do; I can check Facebook, play Risk, and even write these blogs on the go. Like the N64 owned by your far cooler friend in primary school, this is the kind of technology that has always seemed to belong to other people, but now I've got it in my pocket as well and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Amy's Top 5 Music Videos (Guest Post)

Guest post by Amy Harrison

In all honesty, at the inception of this article I wanted to pick out the best crop of new music video directors to keep an eye out for.  However, after researching further into it, I didn’t come up with much.  There are two main reasons for this:
  1. There isn’t much money in music videos any more.  Equipment and editing have improved rapidly to the point where anyone can create a crisp, clean image on their desktop.  Gone are the days of several million dollar music videos.  Even music channels are starting to replace music videos with original programming (or, in some cases, re-runs of kitsch sitcoms) in order to draw in audiences.

  2. Music videos are no longer seen as a viable platform to showcase talent.  The '80s were experimental.  The '90s understood the importance of cult material with alternative consumers, which allowed directors to show off their film knowledge.  The '00s had Web 2.0. There is now an industry encouragement to create and publish your own material on the internet because it is much more accessible.
So rather than relaying music video history, which has been covered several million times before, I thought I’d just have fun with it and remind you of (or introduce you to) some awesome music videos.

One More Time by Daft Punk
(2003, directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi)
This is less so for the music video alone, more for the film it’s attached to called Interstella 5555, about an alien band being kidnapped and brainwashed by an evil manager to perform on earth, told through the songs of Daft Punk’s album Discovery.  Daft Punk had grown up as fans of Captain Harlock, a fictional badass space pirate created by Leiji Matsumoto, and whilst recording Discovery they developed a plot for a film they wanted to make in a similar style.  Upon completion of their album they approached Matsumoto, who agreed to make the film acting as visual supervisor and bringing on Takenouchi of Dragonball fame to direct.  It’s a really fun film that is a product of talented artists collaborating with a childhood hero.  It’s just adorable.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

2014 - Halfway Report

2014, take a seat. We need to talk.

You've been here for a solid six months now, and in all honesty, I'm not bowled over by the contribution you've made.

Now, don't get me wrong - there's been some great music released since you showed up back in January. I really enjoyed those albums by Real Estate, Stephen Malkmus, The Afghan Whigs, Stanley Brinks, Mogwai, The Hidden Cameras...but as good as those CDs are, I can't say that I've formed a real emotional connection with any of them.

But there's still time to turn things around. Heck, the previous guy did most of his best work in the autumn/winter period - of the five albums that we earmarked in 2013's halfway report, only two went on to make the end-of-year list - so we're not overly concerned about your performance just yet. I'm just giving you a slightly crummy assessment now in the hopes that it will spur you to do even better in the months to come.

And, I have to admit, you have given us a few genuine gems while you've been here. We did a 'Top 5' list for your predecessor this time last year, and so we decided it would only be fair to do the same for you...

The Best Albums of 2014...So Far!

Benji by Sun Kil Moon
This album of songs about the past is this year's Last of the Country Gentlemen, i.e. a sparse sounding album with considerable emotional clout. Jim Wise remains my favourite song of the year to date...

Are We There by Sharon Van Etten
...closely followed by Every Time the Sun Comes Up, the closing track from Sharon Van Etten's latest album. Even if the rest of the album had been a write-off, it would have been worth sitting through for that song alone. Fortunately, the other stuff is pretty amazing as well.