Monday, August 31, 2015

August Playlist: Roll with the Changes

August - and, by extension, summer - is just about over, but before we dive head-first into autumn (my favourite time of year, brimming with colour and crispness and dancing celebrities), let's look back at the last thirty days and take stock of what I was listening to this month...

1. Dimed Out - Titus Andronicus
(from The Most Lamentable Tragedy)
August was the month I finally sank my teeth into Titus Andronicus's two-disc rock opera, The Most Lamentable Tragedy. The album's rollicking lead single is still a highlight, but there's plenty more where this came from - read my thoughts on TMLT here.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

What do you picture when you picture Las Vegas? Glitz and glamour? Bright lights and big wins? Roman-themed gambling palaces? If so, Brandon Flowers has news for you...

I bought Hot Fuss, the first Killers album, shortly after its release in June 2005. By December, I had grown tired of it, and so I sold it to D'Vinyl Records (along with Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head) in exchange for a copy of Mogwai's Come On Die Young. A good upgrade, you might think, and you'd be right.

But I quickly realised that I missed Hot Fuss. I saw dozens of cool music people telling the internet how rubbish The Killers were, and I missed Hot Fuss all the same. I missed Hot Fuss right up until the day when I purchased a second-hand copy of Hot Fuss and re-added it to my collection, refilled the gap that had opened up in my heart when I sold my original copy to Mr D'Vinyl for £3 off a Mogwai CD.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Memories of Reading Festival 2007

The 2015 Reading and Leeds Festivals kick off tomorrow. This means that Britain's railways will soon be clogged with eager young campers who have spent the past few days practising their tents and wondering whether or not Gaz will manage to smuggle in that bottle of Smirnoff he's been saving all summer.

While they brace themselves for the weekend ahead, I'd like to take a moment to tell you all the story of my first visit to the Reading Festival...

My first Reading festival was an ordeal before I'd even boarded the train. Under the impression that the Carling Weekend was a mandatory rite of passage for newly-minted sixteen-year-olds, I had booked my ticket within seconds of the box office opening, all the while assuming that my friends were simultaneously sat at their computers, F5-ing the Ticketmaster website, doing the exact same thing as me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why I've Never Heard Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run turned forty years old yesterday. As you'd expect, this milestone prompted a flurry of tweets and articles from all corners of the musical universe:

And lists, obviously.

Sadly, though, I was unable to join in with this storm of appreciation for one simple reason: I have never listened to Born to Run

Monday, August 24, 2015

Green Man 2015: Five Favourites

Well, I'm back from the Green Man Festival, and it was just as I remembered: great music, beautiful scenery, and lots of rain. Before I hop in the shower for a much-needed wash, here's a quick off-the-top-of-my-head list of some of the best acts I saw over the weekend:

Public Service Broadcasting
Long-time readers of The Album Wall won't be at all surprised to see Public Service Broadcasting at the top of this list. Their set on the Far Out stage yesterday was tremendous, even more so than the PSB shows I've seen previously - the new songs from The Race for Space sounded fab, the old songs from Inform-Educate-Entertain sounded fresh and superb (with a few new twists and turns to keep us fans on our toes), and the audience absolutely loved it. The trimmings were marvellous, too; from the dancing brass section to the light-up Sputnik to the surprise astronaut who joined the band onstage towards the end of the show, there was plenty to enjoy besides the always-excellent music.

The Antlers
Last time I saw The Antlers live, the setlist was almost entirely composed of numbers from their then-new album Burst Apart. This time around, they played a roughly equal mix of songs from Burst Apart, old favourite Hospice, and last year's Familiars. These three albums sound very different from one another, but I must say that Peter Silberman et al chose their songs very cleverly this time around; the oldies, like Shiva (from lo-fi Hospice) and Putting the Dog to Sleep (from the more electronic Burst Apart) somehow sounded like they could just as easily have been plucked from Familiars, a more soul-influenced album that deploys lots of horns and longer-form songwriting than any previous Antlers release. Also, DID I MENTION THAT THEY PLAYED PUTTING THE DOG TO SLEEP I FRICKING LOVE THAT SONG OH JESUS 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Memories of Green Men Past

Tomorrow, I'm heading to Brecon for my first Green Man Festival for three years. I attended Wales's pre-eminent hootenanny every year from 2009 to 2012, and having missed the last two festivals for various reasons, I'm excited to be back in the shadow of the Sugar Loaf, watching set after set of great music, old and new.

Left: Me at Green Man 2010. Right: Me (and others) at Green Man 2012.

While I worry about what to pack, here - in no particular order - are a few of my favourite moments from the Green Man Festivals I've attended in the past:

Wilco (2009)
Wilco headlined the last night of my first Green Man Festival, and they were easily the best act of an already stellar weekend. Highlights included Spiders (Kidsmoke)I'm the Man Who Loves You, and the crazy noisy part of Via Chicago.

It was crazier and noiser live.

The Flaming Lips (2010)
I've gone off The Flaming Lips in recent years (largely because of the circumstances surround Kliph Scurlock's sacking from the band), but back in 2010, they were still one of my all-time favourites, and boy was I thrilled to finally see them live. All of the awesome stuff I'd heard about - the laser hands, the confetti cannons, the giant hamster ball - was present and correct, and singing along to Do You Realize?? was easily one of the best live music moments I've ever experienced.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Thoughts on The Most Lamentable Tragedy

As of last month, everyone inhabits a slightly more perfect universe in which Titus Andronicus have recorded a feature-length rock opera and we can all listen to it. I've listened to The Most Lamentable Tragedy many times over the last week or so - below are some of the thoughts I've had whilst doing so.

  • It's great to see The Most Lamentable Tragedy continuting Titus Andronicus's long-running 'No Future' saga, and No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant may be the best instalment yet. I love how the repeated line "I hate to be awake" can easily be misheard as "I ache to be awake", expressing both that the protagonist is only happy when he's asleep and that he never really feels like he's truly awake.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

10 Questions for Trembling Bells

I first discovered Trembling Bells at the Green Man Festival in 2009. Their shambolic - and I use that word in the most positive sense imaginable - folk/rock sound was completely unlike anything else I heard that weekend; Alex Neilson's drumming, Lavinia Blackwall's operatic vocal capabilities, and the band's ragged yet soaring melodies were a highlight that stuck with me for months afterwards.

The band recently released their fifth studio album, The Sovereign Self, and it's the most delicious stew of myths 'n' riffs you'll probably ever encounter. The record's eight tracks mix prog, krautrock, pop, and medieval folk influences to create something entirely unique, and perhaps its greatest achievement is the way in which it balances primal rock-out-with-us music with a nigh-impenetrable web of musical, literary and historical references.

Trembling Bells very kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about the new album, so without further introduction, here those answers are:

Photo by Oliver Neilson

Your new album is called The Sovereign Self - what's the story behind that title?

Alex Neilson: It's a quote from the English dramatist Dennis Potter. He was discussing Philip Marlow (the lead character in his televisual masterpiece The Singing Detective) and suggesting that the character's rather questionable attitudes are redeemed by an essential, imperishable goodness that remains when all around him - his friends, the institutions he is subject to, even his own mind and body - are making it tough for that goodness to flourish.

Potter's work is one of the things that closest reflects the complexes and combativeness of my own mind. The violence is real. The sexual compulsions are real. The sentimentality is real. And they are all vying for supremacy over a troubled and brilliant personality.

Not that I am describing myself that way. I just recognise those potholes.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Get Happy!

If you read this blog frequently then you'll probably have spotted that I really like listening to sad, depressing music. It's not that I myself am sad and depressed, and nor do I wish to become sad and depressed; I just love music that makes me feel, and it just so happens that 95% of the truly emotive music out there is sad and depressing.

Occasionally, however, I'll encounter an album that's moving in the opposite way. It's difficult for a happy album to have the same impact as an overwhelmingly sad one - I suppose sadness is generally felt much deeper than happiness or contentment - but it does happen, every once in a great while.

Lupercalia by Patrick Wolf is a tremendous example. I purchased this album (released in 2011 and named after an ancient pagan festival) on Amazon recently, and it's just so joyful and so at peace with both past and present that it's impossible not to feel that same happiness yourself. Here's House, one of the album's many happy highlights:

I think the thing that makes Lupercalia so potently jubilant is the fact that Patrick Wolf didn't exactly make his name by singing happy songs about how wonderful everything is. Lupercalia was preceded in the Wolf discography by The Bachelor, an album of real conflict and strife; PW spent most of that record besieged by vultures and lost in thickets, making the peace and joy of Lupercalia all the more striking by contrast. In the context of PW's back catalogue, Lupercalia is not mindlessly happy fluff but a moving and much-deserved resolution to the unhappiness that marked its predecessors.

Friday, August 7, 2015

On Finding Signed Albums in Charity Shops

Story time!

The album pictured above is Flap!, a thoroughly excellent little set from the Australian jazz troupe of the same name.

I picked this album up from a charity shop in Penarth (British Red Cross, if memory serves) back in 2012. I'd never heard of Flap! at that point, but my eye was caught by the eye-catching album cover and the presence of a song named Tetris on the tracklist very much sealed the deal (I'm a total Tetris addict, as I've mentioned previously).

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Damien Rice Showdown: 9 vs. O

Damien Rice's 9 (above right) is one of my all-time favourite albums. It's also a favourite of Harry Orme, who I recently met via email; Harry sings and plays guitar for People Poems, a Leeds-based act whose big and beautifully bare songs are quite clearly influenced by the quivery, emotive sound for which Damien Rice is known.

However, as Harry told me a few weeks ago, Rice's debut album O "just edges past" 9 in his book. I took issue with this - I'm firmly of the opinion that 9 >  O - and so I challenged Harry to a kind of verbal duel, to be held right here on The Album Wall.

Below, Harry has very kindly explained why he thinks O is better than 9. First of all, though, here's my argument for the latter...

The Case for 9

by Joel Dear

Perhaps 9 just came along at a better moment than O. I didn't really listen to much music in the early '00s, and when the floodgates finally did open a little later that decade, I was too busy devouring the discographies of R.E.M. and Radiohead and other alt. rock giants to pay any attention to a beige-coloured slip of an album with little more than a scribble on the front cover. 9, on the other hand, could hardly have found me at a better time; I actually didn't get 'round to Damien Rice's second album until late 2007, roughly one year after its initial release, but the me who bought that CD one wet autumn afternoon was the perfect audience for the music thereupon. I was a self-centred teenage idiot who thought he was lonely and depressive and romantic, and those ten tracks suited to a T the persona that I had constructed for myself. I imagine The Smiths scratched a similar itch for people who were teens in the 1980s.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Wolf Alice Welcome

Last week, I wrote a guest post for superb sex blogger and self-professed pervert Girl on the Net. It was kind of about Wolf Alice's debut album, My Love is Cool, but it was far more about sex and the way music sounds when you're having it.

If you want to see what happens when amateur music blogging meets even-more-amateur smut writing, you can read my guest blog here; if, on the other hand, you'd rather remain in the dark regarding the finer details of my sex life, feel free to ignore the link above and enjoy this SFW blog post about the Wolf Alice album instead.

What makes the perfect debut album? If anyone knows, it may well be Wolf Alice - they released a truly tremendous debut effort, entitled My Love is Cool, back in June, and it's the perfect example of how to nail your band's first LP.

Every tiny detail of this album is perfectly geared towards cementing Wolf Alice as your new favourite band. For one thing, there's a vast range of styles on show here - without wishing to sound like a cynical marketing executive, My Love is Cool is the perfect portfolio with which to attract new clients fans. There's something here to please rock fans of all stripes; whether you like screamy grunge, straightahead krautrock, cool synth-pop, slow-building shoegaze, or anthemic classic rock, this album's got the whole darn cheeseboard.