Monday, June 29, 2015

11 Shades of Love: Track-by-Track

You may remember Quiet Marauder as the creators of MEN, the 111-track quadruple album that came out towards the end of 2013, topped my Albums of the Year list that December, and made us all think long and hard about what it means to be a man. Conversely, you may never have heard of Quiet Marauder in your life, in which case the previous sentence probably blew your mind a little.

Either way, Quiet Marauder are back. Their second album, entitled 11 Shades of Love, is out today (buy it here), and while it's only one-tenth as long as its predecessor, I'm pleased to report that the band are still needling humankind's little foibles and nonsenses with just as much accuracy as in 2013.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Faith in the Future

Last week, Craig Finn announced that his second solo album, entitled Faith in the Future, was on its way and would be released on September the 11th. This news made me quite happy; far too many solo albums turn out to be inessential side attractions and one-off indulgences, so it's great to see that Finn is actually building a discography of his very own in parallel to his work with The Hold Steady.

Before I go any further, here's Newmyer's Roof, a preview track that was released to accompany the album announcement:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Crack in Everything: Horses

It's time for another instalment of A Crack in Everything, where great albums get a great big boot up the arse. Our subject this time around is Patti Smith's Horses...

It's the album that cemented Patti Smith's status as the godmother of punk. It's a forty-year-old rock 'n' roll record that thousands of people are still clamouring to see performed live by its sexagenarian creator. It's the LP that inspired countless people (not least a young Michael Stipe) to make music of their own.

Horses is a lot of things to a lot of folks. But is it perfect? If you answered 'yes', you clearly haven't been paying attention to how this works.

Before I tell you what's wrong with Horses, though, I'd like to say sorry to tracks 3 and 7. Had I written this blog last year, Birdland and Land would have been the first loose threads I tugged at, but when I saw Smith and her band perform Horses in Barcelona a few weeks ago, those twin ten-minuters were unquestionably the highlights. Birdland especially had always rather bored me at home, but stood there in front of the Heineken Stage, I finally clicked with the song's transcendent, atmospheric mood. It was a bit of an epiphany, and I wish to apologise unreservedly for my previous ignorance.

However, one song that did leave me rather cold in Barcelona (figuratively speaking) was Redondo Beach:

I love the *sound* of this song - the drums, the organ, the choppy guitar figure - but seeing it live made me realise how...well, boring it is. Unlike the best songs on Horses (Gloria, Free Money, and - how the scales hath fall from mine eyes! - Land), it doesn't rise, build, or really go anywhere at all; it just sits there, spinning its wheels and twiddling its thumbs while Smith has a go at reggae and we all wait for her to finish up and get back to the fun punky stuff.

However, Redondo Beach notwithstanding, I do feel that the first half of Horses is noticeably stronger than the second. The slump is less noticeable now that I've learned to love Land, but I still feel that Break It Up and Elegie let the side down a bit. The former is a blustery fist-clencher that lives and dies on the fact that the chorus is loud and the verses are quiet...

...and Elegie, in spite of being rather lovely, loses points for ending the album with a whimper rather than the full-blooded wallop it deserves.

I might have been more forgiving of Elegie in particular if it had been the penultimate track on the album, a brief moment of mourning for fallen friends before Land or Free Money or something closed out the album properly. In fact, Horses may be the only album that has ever been IMPROVED by the addition of a bonus track; my copy has a live cover of The Who's My Generation tacked onto the end of it, and this makes for a much better, more fitting finale than Elegie.

It's not elegant, but it works for me!

Monday, June 22, 2015

National Conference

Last month, I wrote a blog about two great sports-themed LPs that I'd been listening to a lot: The Mountain Goats' Beat the Champ (an album about professional wrestling), and The Baseball Project's 3rd (an album about - surprise, surprise - baseball).

Shortly after that post was published, I received the following recommendation from one Matt Jones on Twitter:

I was intrigued; not only did I have another fun-looking sports album to listen to, it was an album by the bassist from The Mountain Goats (i.e. the man who made even the dullest parts of Tallahassee kind of interesting). Better still, it was FREE!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rough Music on Jane Doe (Guest Post)

We've already heard from Pulco and Paddy Johnston this week; today, it's the turn of Rough Music guitarist Joe O'Connell to tell us about the album that inspired his band's contribution to Songs About Albums: Volume 1. Our third and final guest blog of the week is all about Jane Doe by Converge - take it away, Joe!

I can't pinpoint exactly when I first heard Converge in terms of dates, but I know exactly where I was: lying on my parents' sofa late at night in a brain-dead state, watching video after video of (probably) shit metal on MTV2. Just when I was considering that it might be time to go to bed, from nowhere came Converge's Concubine/Fault and Fracture. It was one of those perfect musical discoveries. You know when you're waiting to hear 'the new thing' without knowing exactly what you want it to be? Well it turns out that, at that time, I was in the market for some totally brutal thrashcore.

I was blown away. Not just by the song: the video is fucking terrifying. Unfortunately, thanks to MTV gremlins, the song info didn't appear at the end. The following day I posted a description on the Punktastic forum to see if anybody could enlighten me as to who it was by. However, as was often the case with my occasional internet utterances, nobody responded. It was some years - a good time after I had gotten into Converge properly - before I discovered who that video was by.

I should note that metal hadn't always been my thing. As a lot of people born in mid-1980s Britain will probably relate, I first properly got into pop music at the peak of the Britpop era, thanks in part to Blur's Country House. From there, my early CD collection became an accumulation of white and usually British men with guitars: Manics, Radiohead, Mansun, etc. My early teens were characterised by a desire to appear on Later... with Jools Holland wearing combat trousers and horn-rimmed, orange-tinted sunglasses, fronting a quasi-prog indie band.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pulco on Bakesale (Guest Post)

On Monday, Paddy Johnston shared his thoughts on Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism and explained why he had chosen to write a song about this record for Songs About Albums: Volume 1. Today, another SAAV1 contributor is here to give us their insight: please welcome to the stage Ash Cooke, also known as Pulco... 

I'm not altogether sure where and how I first discovered Sebadoh, but I guess that when you've loved a band for most of your adult life, you kind of feel like their music has been with you from birth anyway so it doesn’t really matter.

Most people generally experience a life-affirming sonic epiphany of some description as they begin to explore new music through their teenage years and beyond into their 20s, and I was no exception. I entered Falmouth art college in 1991, and the friends I made there opened my ears to all sorts of new bands, including Neil Young, Red House Painters, Pavement, Captain Beefheart, The Beach Boys, Soft Machine, and Ween, to name but a few. I quickly ditched the musical follies of my pre-teens and set off on a fresh musical journey that has enriched my life and generally kept me sane over the years ever since.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Paddy Johnston on Transatlanticism (Guest Post)

So Songs About Albums: Volume 1 was released on Saturday, and the response has been exceptionally positive so far. Paddy Johnston's Greyscale Dream (a tribute to Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism) is the first track on this album about albums; in today's guest blog, Paddy has very kindly agreed to share his thoughts on Transatlanticism and give us a bit of insight into why he chose to write a song about it. Over to you, Paddy...

My love of Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism began not with the album itself, but - fittingly enough - with a compilation.

The compilation in question is Atticus: Dragging the Lake, Vol. 3, which was released in February 2005. I doubt many people remember the Atticus compilations now, but at the time they were a pretty big deal if you were of a certain age and your musical taste leant towards what was very loosely termed 'emo'. I was sixteen when that compilation came out, had just started trying to play in bands with school friends, and was super excited to listen to it, having loved volumes one and two.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Separation Sunday & Why I Chose It

By now, you're hopefully aware that Songs About Albums: Volume 1 is being released tomorrow (June 13). But did you know that one of its ten constituent tracks was written and performed by lil' old me?

That's right - when I was drafting in artists for this project, I rather selfishly reserved a space for myself (or rather for Shiny Tiger, my charismatic music-making alter ego). I used this completely unearned platform to write a song about Separation Sunday, The Hold Steady's second album and one of my personal all-time favourites.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Album Wall is 2!

First, a reminder. Songs About Albums: Volume 1 is coming out this Saturday (that's the 13th of June), so please tell your friends, make some noise, and generally spread the word. The compilation will be free to download from The Album Wall's SoundCloud and Bandcamp pages as of Saturday morning, although three of the ten featured tracks can already be heard and downloaded here if you want a sneak preview.

Right, now that I've had my little plug...

...I hope you're in the mood for a celebration, because The Album Wall is TWO YEARS OLD today! The blog's very first post was published on this day in 2013, and we've had all sorts of fun since then:
I'm so proud of everything The Album Wall has been over the last two years, and I couldn't have done it without all of you. I'm not about to thank everyone by name, but suffice it to say that if you've ever read, enjoyed, shared, commented on, questioned, or contributed to my little album blog in any way, I'm immensely grateful for your help.

And, of course, I'm still going strong - hopefully I'll be dissecting your favourites and making up bizarre theories for many years to come.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Universal Themes Journal

Bristol Airport, Lulsgate Bottom // Wednesday 27th May

I am killing time in WHSmith, waiting for my gate to be announced so that I can board my flight to Barcelona. Whilst flicking through the latest issue of Uncut - I tend not to buy the magazine nowadays, but I still like to sneak the odd peek at their album reviews when the opportunity arises - I spot an article about Universal Themes, the new Sun Kil Moon album that's due out in just under a week.

Sun Kil Moon's previous LP, Benji, was among my favourite albums of 2014, and so I am thrilled to learn that its follow-up is mere days away; better still, Uncut's very positive four-star review suggests that this new'un will be very much in the same stellar league as its starkly beautiful predecessor. Slipping the magazine back into the rack, I pull out my phone and add Universal Themes to my ever-expanding album wishlist, just above Flamingo by Brandon Flowers.

Hotel Hesperia Del Mar, Barcelona // Sunday 31st May

I am lounging in my hotel room in Barcelona. This is a much-needed day of rest; I have witnessed more than 20 performances since my shoes first hit Spanish soil on Wednesday, and thanks to Bacardi's corporate presence at the Primavera Sound festival, I have imbibed more than my fair share of rum in that time too.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Primavera Sound 2015: 5 New Faves

In my last blog post, I told you all about my first Primavera Sound festival - the good bits, the bad bits, the cool stuff, the uncool stuff, and so forth. However, you may remember that I was tantalisingly reluctant to talk about the new bands that I'd discovered during my time at the festival, and that's because I was saving that blog for today.

Single Mothers at Primavera Sound 2015
Single Mothers (Pitchfork, Saturday)

Without further prolongment, then, here are five of my favourite new (to me, anyway) bands from Primavera Sound 2015. I'd strongly recommend that you kick-start your weekend by listening to all of them.

  • We'll start, topsy-turvily, with the very last act I saw last week: Single Mothers, a punkrocky foursome from Canada. Thousands would disagree with me, but I thought they were the perfect band for 3.10 in the morning; they re-invigorated my tired ears (not to mention my tired feet) and got me to a place where I could jump around for one last time before going home. I particularly enjoyed the singer's complete disregard for his own wellbeing as he tumbled about the stage and in and out of the crowd.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Primavera Sound 2015: The Good & The Bad

I'm back! My first Primavera Sound festival is over, and I've got plenty to say about my stay in Barcelona. On Friday, I'll be sharing five of my favourite new bands from the festival; firstly, though, I thought I'd just list some of the best (and worst) things about my Primavera experience.

What was good?

  • The music, obviously. I discovered plenty of new bands - again, come back on Friday for more on that front - but Primavera Sound 2015 also helped me to rediscover several old favourites, namely Brand New (with The Crimea disbanded and Davey MacManus working as a nurse in Africa, it occurs to me that Jesse Lacey is probably the closest thing music currently has to a Davey substitute), Interpol ("This is my favourite!" - me, at the start of practically every song Interpol played on Saturday night), and especially Damien Rice, who - armed with only a guitar, a loop pedal, and his own voice - still managed to make me feel all of the emotions I felt when I saw him with a full band back in 2007.

  • The location. The Parc del Fòrum is a slightly unusual venue - with nary a blade of grass in sight, it looks more like a skate park than a festival site - but it's perfect for its purpose. Oh, and since it's right next to the water, you get a great view of the Balearic Sea while you listen to the bands (especially if the band in question is playing on the H&M Pro stage). 

  • The stalls. The Rough Trade tent (a staple of the Green Man Festival, which I will also be attending this summer) was a very welcome presence on the festival site last week - being the album addict I am, I loved being able to watch an awesome new band and then purchase their CD immediately afterwards without even leaving the Fòrum. Several Spanish record labels also had their own stalls on-site, which was very cool - I purchased a Helen Love CD from the Elefant Records stand, which is ironic because Helen Love are actually from South Wales.

  • The app. I've only had a smartphone for about a year, and so Primavera 2015 was my first app-assisted festival experience. The Primavera Sound app - a sort of digital festival programme that told you all about each act and notified you when one of your favourites was about to start - was free to download and a pleasure to use; it'd be great to see more festivals doing this sort of thing in future (that means you, Green Man organisers!)