Friday, July 31, 2015

July Playlist: Sing My Song to Me

I've spent a lot of July looking backwards, musically speaking, and that's reflected in my playlist for this month. Only three of the ten songs below were released in 2015; the others all come from bygone years, whether it's 2014 (Living Solar Panels) or 1967 (Jackie).

So I invite you to twist your neck around, gaze into the past, and enjoy the songs that I've been stuffing into my ears this month...

1. Ist Das So? - Wir Sind Helden
(from Die Reklamation)
Guten Tag is the Wir Sind Helden song that I blogged about earlier this month, but this fast 'n' furious opening track may be even better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mogwai Albums from Worst to Best

I finally got my hands on a copy of Mogwai's Rock Action the other week, which means that I now possess all eight of the band's studio albums. This, together with the recent announcement that Mogwai will be releasing a three-disc career retrospective later this year, seems like a good excuse for a look back at the band's oeuvre so far.

Here, then, are Mogwai's albums listed in order of merit, starting with my least favourite 'Gwai record and ending with my all-time #1. Please note that this list only includes Mogwai's proper studio albums; no compilations, soundtracks, EPs, EP+6s, live albums, or other miscellanea will be included.

#8 - The Hawk is Howling (2008)
My least favourite Mogwai album is still pretty darn good (I particularly love The Sun Smells Too Loud, and I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School), but in general, it's just not as memorable as their best work. Even Batcat - the album's leanest, meanest moment - isn't as hard-hitting as Glasgow Mega-Snake or Rano Pano or Hunted By a Freak (comparable but superior tracks from elsewhere in Mog discog).

I don't doubt that Hawk is some people's favourite; after all, it's the only one with no vocal parts whatsoever, which I suppose makes it the only 'pure' Mogwai album of the eight. For me, though, that purity makes The Hawk is Howling feel kind of impenetrable - it could do with a Cody or a Blues Hour just to cut some steps into the mountain, y'know?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Running vs. Sprinting

A couple of weeks ago, I told you all about The Burning Hell and their unique knack for finding power in powerlessness. Shortly after that blog post went up, I realised that said knack wasn't unique at all - in fact, there's at least one other album in my current rotation that pulls the exact same trick.

Sprinter is the second album by Torres, a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott from Macon, Georgia. It was one of my Top 5 Albums of 2015 So Far, and it's another great example of that 'power from powerlessness' thing that I mentioned a fortnight ago.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wir Sind Helden

Today's blog is interactive! The first thing I'd like you to do is listen to the song below - it's called Guten Tag, and it's by a German band called Wir Sind Helden.

Pretty fun, right? Kinda goofy-sounding? It even had a cheesy truck driver's gear change in the middle!

At this point, I'd like you to grab a pen and write down what you think Guten Tag is about. Don't think too hard about it - just jot down the first thing that popped into your head when you heard it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Trouble with Streaming

Yesterday, Spotify - presumably fuelled by the fear of Apple Music stealing all their users - rolled out a new feature called Discover Weekly. What this means is that, every Monday morning, Spotify will give each user a two-hour 'mixtape' (read: playlist) of songs it reckons that user will like.

Now, I don't use Spotify (or any music streaming service) very much, so I don't suppose I'm the target audience for this new feature. Bear that in mind as I tell you why I dislike it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Day-Glo Dreams & The Art of Depressing Me

I've long thought that the most depressing music is that which doesn't immediately announce itself as such. The work of Radiohead, for instance, is often dismissed as 'music to slit your wrists to', but it's not like Thom Yorke et al make any secret of that; nobody is going to mistake No Surprises for a happy song, and for me, that obviousness kind of dulls the emotional impact.

Conversely - and this is an example that I've used previously - Jonathan Coulton's Shop Vac sounds upbeat and chirpy the first time you hear it, and only later do you realise how depressing the song truly is.

To wit: the narrator and his partner have become almost completely detached from each other, to the point where they never spend any time together any more. Still, it doesn't matter if she cries about it, because he'll be downstairs, and her sobs will be drowned out by the Shop-Vac (whatever that is).

Have you ever seen a movie or a TV show where one of the good guys unexpectedly turned out to be a baddie? Remember how shocked you were when that person revealed their true loyalties? Well, that's similar to what I'm talking about here - Radiohead don't make me feel depressed, because I'm not expecting their songs to be anything but misery and doom. The truly upsetting songs, the ones that really make you feel hollow and horrid inside, are the ones that let you get close to them; the ones that let you listen several times and believe that you've found the feel-good hit of the summer before they spin you around and plunge a knife into your back.

All of which brings me to Day-Glo Dreams by Helen Love.

Surely these Scott Pilgrim-esque funsters don't have anything depressing to say? Right...?

At first, this record sounds like the soundtrack to Super Monkey Ball or something. There are shiny synths and catchy choruses and all sorts of sparkly sonic bells and whistles that hide, for now, the album's true subject matter.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wilco: A New Hope

Upon discovering that Wilco were giving away a surprise new album for free this morning, my first thought was: "Why the heck have they called it Star Wars?"

Having downloaded the album and listened to it twice, I'm still none the wiser on that front. Perhaps Jeff Tweedy is just really, really excited for The Force Awakens.

However, titular concerns aside, I'm pleased to report that Star Wars is actually a dang good album - certainly better than a free giveaway has any right to be. When I heard the news, I kind of assumed that this would just be some undercooked, mostly improvised 'gift to fans' that wouldn't really count as a proper Wilco album, but happily, Star Wars is a million miles from the tossed-off rubbish I feared it would be.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

10 Questions for ESKA

ESKA is the woman behind one of the most beautiful, challenging, and original records of the year so far.  Her self-titled album blends its creator's spectacular voice with a dizzying array of musical genres, including funk, folk, psychedelia, experimental music, soul...I could go on.

This mesmerising musical stew has been rewarded with deafening hollers of critical approval (at time of writing, ESKA has a Metacritic score of 82, indicating 'Universal Acclaim'), and after years of co-writing and featuring on other people's tracks, Eska Mtungwazi has finally stepped into a spotlight of her own.

I recently sent ESKA a few questions about her amazing album, and she was kind enough to supply me with some answers. So, without further preamble...

Why did you decide to name the album after yourself?

It has taken over 150 released titles (as a co-writer or featured artist) for me to arrive at this album. 'ESKA' felt like the most appropriate title for a work that finally reconciled my artistic and cultural identity.

Is there a narrative or theme that ties these songs together?

On closer lyrical inspection there's a city and a river, the colours blue and red, references to mythological characters. The work as a whole sets me up as a heroine in my own quest. I suppose the quest was my journey making this album - I drew those conclusions once the record was complete.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Get Powerless with The Burning Hell!

Here's an album that I've been wanting to tell you all about for quite a while. I discovered Canadian indie funsters The Burning Hell at a gig in Cardiff last month (I was mainly there to see support act Quiet Marauder), and so rad were their jams that I was compelled to buy one of their CDs.

The CD that I bought was Flux Capacitor, and friends, it truly is a rare gem. Great tunes, fantastic and frequently hilarious lyrics, fab brass/wind arrangements...this one has it all. I've never known another album to be so beautifully sad and yet so joyously celebratory at the same time.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Looking Forward to the Rest of 2015

This whole week has been dedicated to The Album Wall's 2015 Halftime Report. I've already shared my favourite songs and albums of the year so far; now it's time to look to the future.

Here are five albums (not including the Iron Maiden album and the potential Tindersticks album that I discussed last week) that I'm looking forward to hearing in the latter months of 2015:

The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus
Out July 28

If there's one band I from whom I really, really want to hear a five-act, multi-disc rock opera, it's Titus Andronicus. They already proved their ability to make untedious long albums with The Monitor, and early signs suggest that they'll be able to do the pretentious concept album thing (lot's of fun) without actually making over-pretentious music (less fun). Case in point: lead single Dimed Out, a body-blow of a punk rock song that's probably more enjoyable than anything that's ever been tagged 'rock opera' in the past.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My Favourite Albums of 2015 (So Far)

Following on from Monday's blog - a list of my 15 favourite songs from the first half of 2015 - today I'd like to look at some of the best albums from that same six-month period.

Detailed below are the five current top contenders for my own personal 'Album of the Year' award; like the songs on Monday, they're listed in random order, just in case I don't hear anything better before Christmas and my current frontrunner actually turns out to be my favourite of 2015. Gotta keep some semblance of suspense, right?

My Love is Cool - Wolf Alice
This album only came out about a fortnight ago, but it's already given my ears many a roughing-up. My Love is Cool is a superb 'hello' album; not only does it establish Wolf Alice as a cool, dangerous outfit that you wish you could be a part of ("You can join us if you think you're wild, you can join us if you're a feral child"), it also demonstrates that this is a band with many an arrow in their quiver. There's a really great range of styles on show here: between sirenic synth numbers, crank-it-up rawk, and slow-building Slowdive homages, there's really no room to get bored.

Standout Track: You're a Germ

Monday, July 6, 2015

My Favourite Songs of 2015 (So Far)

We have now entered the second half of 2015. In recognition of that fact, this entire week will be dedicated to The Album Wall's 2015 Halftime Report - later in the week, I'll be selecting some of my favourite albums of the year so far, as well as highlighting some forthcoming releases that will hopefully be rocking my world between now and New Year's Eve.

Today, though, is all about the songs. Here - in no particular order, are 15 of my favourite tracks from the first 182 days of 2015.

Disclaimer #1 - Not included in this list are songs from albums that have not yet been released, e.g. Dimed Out by Titus Andronicus. That song will undoubtedly prove to be one of the year's best, but as The Most Lamentable Tragedy isn't out until late July, it's not eligible for this halftime list.

Disclaimer #2 - I'm only one person, and while I do get sent a few albums here and there, I do buy most of the music I listen to myself. This does rather limit the number of CDs I'm capable of taking in; if your favourite song doesn't feature in the list below, it may well be because I haven't heard its parent album yet. Feel free to recommend anything I might have missed!

Foreign Object - The Mountain Goats
(from Beat the Champ)

One of the most straightforward songs on both this list and Beat the Champ itself, but that simplicity is very much an asset for Foreign Object, a tight little horn-led thing that's sung from the POV of a wrestler who doesn't care about winning as long as he can "make 'em bleed like pigs".

Friday, July 3, 2015

New Year Wishes: Progress Report

Today - the 3rd of July - is the first day of the second half of 2015. The whole of next week will be dedicated to a halftime report, which means that I'll be looking back at some of my favourite songs and albums of the year so far, as well as highlighting a few records that I'm excited to hear in the latter half of 2015.

As for today's blog, well, now seems like a good time for a progress check. Back at the very, very end of 2014, I named five artists who I fervently hoped would release new albums in 2015. Those artists were:
  • The Magnetic Fields
  • Tindersticks
  • Iron Maiden
  • Tilly and the Wall
  • Guillemots
So, now that half a year has are those new albums coming along, folks?

The Magnetic Fields
There's been no sign of a proper follow-up to 2012's Love at the Bottom of the Sea, although Stephin Merritt did play a couple of never-before-heard "micro-songs" to a small dog named Lola. That may well be it for this year, I fear.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June Playlist: Set the Silverware Shaking

Another month has come and gone, which means that it's time for another monthly digest playlist thing! Here are ten of the songs that kept me boppin' last month...

1. The Stranger Fair - Jack Hayter and Ralegh Long
(from Songs About Albums: Volume 1)
I could have chosen any of the ten tracks from Songs About Albums for this month's playlist, but this beautiful tribute to Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights seemed like a wonderful way to kick things off. If you haven't downloaded the compilation yet, go here now - it's free!