Friday, January 30, 2015

January Playlist: Let's Not Think About Tomorrow

So here's a new thing. From now on, my last blog of each month will take the form of a playlist, a recap of what I've been listening to (and indeed blogging about) each month. I'm afraid I can't be bothered to compile and share a proper Spotify playlist, but I do encourage all of you to do so for yourselves.

Anyhow, here are 10 of the songs I've been loving since New Year's...

1. Summer Here Kids - Grandaddy
(from Under the Western Freeway)
My first blog of 2015 was all about Grandaddy's debut album, and how it's arguably just as good (and as depressing) as its more popular sequel, The Sophtware Slump. This song in particular is a corker, and what better way to kick off a January playlist than with a song about summer?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Decemberists: Doing It for the Fans

Here are some facts about The Decemberists:

  • Prior to this month, they hadn't released a new studio album since 2011.
  • Their last album, The King is Dead, was something of a departure from their previous work. It scrapped the epic prog-rock structures and fantastical narratives that had characterised albums like The Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife, and it erred instead towards a more folksy, down-to-earth sort of songwriting.
  • While The King is Dead was reasonably well-received by critics (its metascore of 77 trumps the meagre 73 achieved by The Hazards of Love), I personally consider it their weakest album to date. It had far less personality than any of its predecessors, and fewer stories to tell; furthermore, the album's musical backdrop was significantly blander than the band's spectacular, accordion-pumping norm.
With all of the above in mind, you can probably guess how I felt going into What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, the first fresh batch of Decemberism in almost precisely four years. I was excited, certainly, but that excitement was cut with more than a little trepidation; any artist could be forgiven a small foray into the ho-hum after a project as ambitious as Hazards of Love, but if this new album had proved as ordinary as The King is Dead, I'd have had no choice but to assume that the Decemberists I had once loved were dead, buried, and surreptitiously replaced by indieblah clones of their former fun selves.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: Innovation In The Trade by Pulco

Innovation In The Trade cover art

Ash Cooke (a.k.a. Pulco) describes his new album, Innovation In The Trade, as an effort to "immerse myself in a growing love of all things Dada...reject reason...prize nonsense, irrationality and intuition."

If you're unfamiliar with Dadaism and its ideas, this song is as good an introduction as any.

All of which sounds like great fun, but it does make my task as a reviewer rather tricky - how can one find meaning in deliberate nonsense? Short of producing an equally surreal, equally Dadaist write-up, how might I shed light on an album that goes out of its way to avert all reason and logic?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Supergrass and Their Not-So-Sloppy Second

Second albums are notoriously sticky wickets. The best bands - the Radioheads and Mansuns of the world - overcome Second Album Syndrome by going bigger and more ambitious; other bands are content to simply rest on their laurels and phone it in on album number two.

At first glance, Britpop bruisers Supergrass seem to fall into the latter category. Their sophomore effort, 1997's In It For The Money, sounds in many places like it was written on the spot - most of the lyrics are nonsense, and song structure seldom strays from the classic verse/chorus/verse/chorus/Rob does a solo on whatever instrument he's got handy/chorus/chorus format.

In this song, that instrument was a theremin.

Even the song titles appear to betray a stark lack of effort; G-Song, for example, is a song in the key of G minor, and given how little the lyrics Richard III actually have to do with King Richard III, I'm forced to assume that the late monarch just so happened to be in the news that day, and that his name seemed as good a title as any.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Björk Battles the Leakers

Björk's new album came out yesterday, which is weird because it wasn't supposed to come out until March. Who do we have to thank for this earlier-than-anticipated release?

Why, the good people of the internet, naturally! Vulnicura was leaked online a few days ago, and so Björk and her record label responded by rush-releasing the album on iTunes, presumably to stop people from downloading the leaked version and forgetting to buy the real thing in two months' time. The digital version is available now, although you will have to wait until March if you want it on CD.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Long Song (Guest Post)

In today's blog, Paul Jennings scours his library for >8 minute odysseys that he actually likes...

Meat Loaf. It's always Meat Loaf. Usually Bat Out Of Hell. All 9 minutes 53 seconds of it.

You know the guy. He's the one nursing his quid, analysing the pub jukebox, trying to find the long songs. It's quantity over quality. He demands his VFM. He wants his Meat Loaf. If you're very unlucky he'll double up with a portion of American Pie, weighing in at a calorific 8 minutes 33 seconds. I feel sick and fetch my coat.

The beauty of the 3 minute pop song is that if you don't like it, there'll be another one along shortly. Hard to do when ruffle-cuffed theatre boy insists on dragging his songs out to a fortnight.

The long song is wide open for self-indulgence. The six minute solo for the bassist who feels undervalued by the band or the drummer still irked that he didn't get a co-writer credit on the last album.

So, I set myself a challenge. Five songs of eight minutes or over that won't make you hit the skip track button.

1. Johnny Was - Stiff Little Fingers
from Inflammable Material, 1979

“Woman hold her head and cry,
'Cause her son has been shot down in the street and died,
Just because of the system”

Encore favourite from 1979 classic Inflammable Material. SLF have made this Bob Marley cover so firmly their own it's hard to believe it wasn't written in and about their native Belfast.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Waiting for My Okkervil River CD to Arrive

I recently ordered a couple of albums from Amazon Marketplace. They were Loves Comes Close by Cold Cave and Down the River of Golden Dreams by Okkervil River.

The Cold Cave album arrived very promptly indeed, and while it's nowhere near as satisfying as the more recent Cherish the Light Years, it is a pretty cool slice of Joy Division-imitating electrogoth.

As of this morning, however, I'm still waiting for that Okkervil River album.

Sure, the cover is horrifying, but I bet the music is awesome!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Wolfshank Redemption

It's not like I hadn't heard of Patrick Wolf before last summer. On the contrary, his was a name I'd heard many times, but for some reason I had never bothered to check him out. He, like Deus and Owen Pallett and so many others, was just another indie act that I was content to know I would probably like if I ever did take a listen.

But, as of August 2014, I still hadn't listened to a single Patrick Wolf track. And so it was that I arrived in Cornwall for the Knee Deep Festival with practically zero knowledge of the biggest name on the bill. I strode up to Stage A, eager to find out what I had been missing all these years...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Songs About Albums

Write and record a song about your favourite album!

Are you a musician? Do you like albums as much as I do? Then here's something that you might want to get involved with: The Album Wall's Songs About Albums compilation!

Basically, I'm hoping that a bunch of cool bands and artists will write and record original songs about their favourite albums of all time. These songs will then be lumped together on Bandcamp - I'll probably ask Nest of Cogs to do some nice artwork - and given away as a free download.

If you'd like to write and record a song about your favourite album, please drop me an email on to let me know that you're interested. Here's what I'll need to know:
  • Your band/artist name
  • The album that you'd like to record a song about
  • Confirmation that you are happy for your track to be given away as a free download
You can also contact me on Twitter if that's easier.

The deadline for getting in touch is the 31st of January, and I'll need the completed recordings by the 31st of March. Your song can crib from any genre, and take any form - you could write a song about a particular track from your chosen album, or a memorable experience that you had while listening to that album.

I look forward to hearing everybody's ideas!

If you don't want to write an original song, why not cover a Magnetic Fields song instead? The Album Wall's 69 Love Songs Covered project is still ongoing, and there are still plenty of great tracks available to record!

Friday, January 9, 2015


Why did Herman Dune decide to name their fourth album 'Giant'? Perhaps it was simply because of its size - at 16 tracks and 55 minutes, it does feel like a bit of a giant, especially by my own attention-deficient standards.

But the tracks themselves aren't 'giant' in the usual musical sense of that word. If you told me that you'd written a 'giant' song, I'd expect some kind of Rush-esque musical odyssey, with synthesisers and duelling solos and histrionics fireworking out of every orifice. I wouldn't expect something like 1-2-3/Apple Tree, a relatively simple acoustic ditty with a charming reprise, a catchy tune, and not much else.

That wasn't meant as an insult - this is actually one of my favourite songs at the moment

It's worth mentioning that the album's title is also one of its constituents. Giant is track 13 of 16 on Giant, but to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what the song is supposed to be about. The lyrics are sung by a man stood on a cliff as an ant climbs up his leg; it's vague, impressionistic stuff, and the only meaning I can glean from it is the notion that, relatively speaking, everyone is simultaneously a giant and a dwarf. It just depends on the perspective, the point of view.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mining for Misery

In previous blog posts, I've made no secret of my fondness for seriously sad music - nothing fires me up, aurally speaking, like a shot or two of depresso. With this in mind, you can imagine how delighted I was to discover, amongst the music I got for Christmas this year, not one but two incredibly sombre songs about coal mining.

I must admit, this wasn't a subject I would previously have cared to hear many songs about. I'm used to depressing songs about love and depressing songs about death, but Brassed Off aside, I've been rather ignorant of the 'Colliery Miserabilia' sub-genre until now. Still, it's not hard to see how fruitful a topic mining might be for musicians; not only was the work itself presumably pretty depressing, you've also got the equally unhappy matter of pit closures to sink your songwriting teeth into.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Don't Call it a Classic

Have you ever picked up an issue of Q magazine? I used to be something of a regular reader, and while I eventually got sick of reading features about Oasis, I must admit that the mag's album reviews informed many of my early purchases. For example, I bought Blinking Lights and Other Revelations solely on Q's recommendation, and that was the beginning of a major love affair with the Eels and their music.

Still, even in those days, I did have one problem with Q's reviews, and it concerned their 5-star rating system. As in many other publications, every Q album review was accompanied by a score of 1 to 5 stars; 4-star albums were further decorated with a little 'Q Recommends' badge, while the rare 5-star albums got a little gold rectangle that said 'Q Classic'.

And therein lies my complaint. For me, the word 'classic' means more than just 'really good'; it denotes a work that has weathered trends, stood the test of time, and proven its exceptional qualities by defining (or redefining) the boundaries of its genre.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Under the Western Freeway

Happy New Year, everybody! I've decided to start 2015 in much the same way as I began 2014: with an in-depth blog post about a rather depressing album. Last year, it was Mogwai's Come On Die Young; this year, it's Under the Western Freeway by Grandaddy. Let's jump in, shall we?

Like The Bends and His 'n' Hers, Grandaddy's first album is a '90s classic that was quickly overshadowed by its immediate sequel. I'm not going to argue that Under the Western Freeway is a magnum-er opus than The Sophtware Slump, but to see it as a mere warm-up would be to greatly underestimate its value.