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'.