Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September Playlist: Come What May

Blimey, another month over - this place will be filled with Christmas music before long!

In the meantime, here are 10 of the tracks that have been tickling my fancy over the last 30 days. Click here for last month's playlist.

1. Grown-Ups - The Burning Hell
(from People)
I spent roughly 700 words analysing this album's closing track last week. Today, I'd like to draw your attention to the equally ace opening track - from the awesome first line ("You were a Nazi hunter...") to the wistfully ambiguous ending ("By the time you read this..."), Grown-Ups is the perfect representation of what it's like to not be a kid any more.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Trawl Through Yo La Tengo's Record Collection

I must admit that I was slightly disappointed a few weeks ago when I realised that the new Yo La Tengo album - which I had just purchased on a whim from Spillers Records - was basically a covers album. Of the 14 tracks that make up Stuff Like That There, only 5 are YLT originals, and 3 of those (All Your Secrets, The Ballad of Red Buckets, and Deeper Into Movies) are simply re-recorded versions of songs from previous albums. What a waste of a tenner, I thought to myself that day as I wished I had bought the new Iron Maiden release instead.

However, I may owe Yo La Tengo an apology, because Stuff Like That There is actually far more up my street than I initially anticipated. For starters, the matter of who wrote which songs does nothing to change the fact that this is a lovely-sounding LP; the whole work has a gentle, laid-back feel that makes it an appropriate soundtrack for both sunny summer days and cosy autumn evenings.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: The Sparkle in Our Flaws by Chantal Acda

When a character in historical documentary series Game of Thrones says that "winter is coming", the words are usually meant as a warning. Jon Snow isn't just making idle chit-chat when he drops the catchphrase that launched a thousand hoodies; he's reminding everyone that darkness, death, and ice zombies are just around the corner.

I mention this because Chantal Acda's The Sparkle in Our Flaws strikes me as a 'winter is coming' sort of album...but not, I'd like to make clear, in the Westerosi sense. These eight songs conjure up images of a far lovelier winter, where sunlight shimmers on frozen lakes and everything feels crisp and fresh and invigorating.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Industrialists and Other People

Industrialists is the ninth and final track on People, an album by The Burning Hell (you may remember that I wrote some words about Flux Capacitor, another LP of theirs, a couple of months ago). The song, which clocks in at precisely 7 minutes, takes the form of a eulogy, posthumously telling the story of a young man who...well, did a lot things. Over the course of the track's 420 seconds, he tames a wild horse, starts his own company at the age of ten, buys a property in Mexico, duels a man for his wife, and brings her back to America along with 400 immigrant labourers, whom he then instructs to build a golden pyramid. Oh, and then he's found dead, presumably - although it's not explicitly stated - murdered by a disgruntled employee who was sick of neglecting his family to slave away on some guy's pyramid.

It's quite a tale.

The central character of Industrialists is never named, but we do know that, prior to his gruesome death (he was coated, Goldfinger-style, in the molten gold that the labourers were using to construct his office building), he was fond of reciting this mantra, which also gives the song its chorus and the album its title:

"It takes all kinds of people to make a world,
It takes all kinds of people to make a world,
From the farmer in the field to the spaceman in space,
Everybody has a reason, a purpose and place."

These words are effectively a mission statement for People as a whole: each of the record's nine songs has a title that refers to a specific group of people (e.g. Travel Writers, Barbarians, Amateur Rappers), and by singing about all these different kinds of people, Mathias Kom and his musical mates do indeed "make a world" - or, at the very least, a pretty great album, populated with keenly-developed characters and fun vignettes from their lives.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Tindersticks I vs. Tindersticks II

Most bands only release one self-titled album, but Tindersticks - narcissists that they are - released two: one in 1993, and another in 1995. The first one was adorned with a painting of a woman in a red dress, the second with a black-and-white photo of the band's guitarist, but both covers bore the same eleven letters, and the band wouldn't release a non-eponymous studio album until 1997's Curtains.

When Tindersticks afficionados talk about these two albums, they eliminate any potential confusion by referring to the red dress album as Tindersticks I and to the black and white album as Tindersticks II. What nobody can quite agree on, however, is which of the two albums is superior; I've seen arguments for both sides, and today, I'm going to throw my 2p in as well.

Friday, September 18, 2015

EP Corner: Quarters

Matthew Pastkewicz was one of the many talented musicians heard on MEN, the record-breaking, quadruple-disc, 111-track debut album from Cardiff's favourite bedlamites Quiet Marauder.

Quarters, an EP that Pastkewicz released under his own name earlier this year, is absolutely nothing like MEN. For one thing, it has 109 fewer tracks, making it pretty short even by EP standards. For a second thing, its two songs have more in common with Mogwai and their Rock Action roster than with the lo-fi, melodica-heavy unfolk in which Quiet Marauder specialise. Pastkewicz's own press release thingy describes his sound as "drone based post-rock", but speaking as someone who briefly heard drone daddies Sunn O))) boring the Primavera crowd to death back in June, I will say that Quarters is far more exciting than that description might suggest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Walking with Music

Yesterday, I caught the train to work for the first time in months. I've missed catching the train since I got a car - it's a nice opportunity to read a book and rest my head on a window for twenty minutes or so - but what I've missed even more is the part where I have to walk between the train station and the office.

For years, a large chunk of my music listening was done whilst walking, but it's a habit that I more or less dropped entirely when Darth, my handsome black Volkswagen, entered my life just over a year ago. In many ways, he's made my life a lot easier, but as I dance-trotted my way towards Cadoxton station yesterday evening, I found myself wondering if the benefits of having a car were worth the sacrifice of my daily music walk.

I've been struggling lately to make strong connections with new music the way I used to, and I think there are two reasons for this:

1) I'm old and jaded and nothing sounds as amazing to my ears now as practically everything did when I was a 13-year-old newbie.

2) Where I used to listen to music in parks, on streets, and as I ran to catch my train or the start of a uni lecture. Now I pretty much only listen to music in the car and at my desk.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Traitor Shore

The Traitor Shore is the new LP from Reichenbach Falls, and it's all about being left behind. More specifically, it seems to deal with being left behind by a lover who has travelled abroad, away from the album's narrator, but it will probably hit home for anyone who's ever been left behind by anyone: boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, friends, family members, whatever.

The album's title refers, essentially, to anywhere you're not; it's the city or country or continent for which the object of your pining has abandoned you (closing track Canada suggests that this particular story's 'traitor shore' is the Canadian coastline).

'Pining' is actually the perfect word to describe this record as a whole; it's pining Americana with pining melodies and pining lyrics about pining for someone who'll shortly be half a world away.

Mind you, that's not to say it's all miserable weedy whinging, because it's not - pining isn't the same thing as whining, and tracks like The Departure Lounge and Hey Migrator are among the most invigorating 'baby please don't go' songs you're ever likely to hear:

Even so, this is the sort of album that will sound best if you miss somebody, and if you can picture the somebody you miss as you're listening to the lyrics. It's very en vogue nowadays to leave one's life behind and go travelling, and I'm sure there are plenty of records that are tailor-made for the folks who choose to do that, but The Traitor Shore isn't one of them. It's not an album for people to listen to as they shoestring from one far-flung destination to the next; it's an album for the people back home to listen to as they think about their globetrotting pals and wonder if they're thinking about them, too.

The Traitor Shore is out today, and can be purchased from

Friday, September 11, 2015

Reconstruction of the Fables

There's a great story behind Life and How to Live It, the fourth track on R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction.

Once upon a time in the band's hometown of Athens, Georgia, there lived a reclusive old man named Brivs Mekis. He hardly ever left his house, and most of his neighbours simply referred to him as 'that Russian guy'. When Mekis died, they discovered that the inside of his house was split down the middle - he effectively had two houses in one, each individually inhabitable, each equipped with all necessary facilities and mod cons.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

...And Sometimes I Just Sit

Welcome to the world of Courtney Barnett. Actually, 'world' may be something of an overstatement - it's really more of an island, consisting of nothing more than the armchair and the blue-and-green rug featured on the cover of her debut album:

And what does Barnett do on this island? Well, sometimes she sits and thinks; sometimes she just sits.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Looking Back at LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver

I didn't really 'get' dance music as a teenager. Sure, I enjoyed hearing the odd snatch of Darude's Sandstorm at parties, but my adolescence was an era during which most of my proper music listening was done alone, either on the stereo in my bedroom or via headphones while out for a walk. Dance music was party music, and so I never paid it that much attention; I preferred music that meant things, songs that made you feel things, and as far as I was concerned, the only ambition of this entire genre was to serve as background music for dancing, drinking, and shagging (none of which numbered among my favourite pastimes, at least not until I went to university).

LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver was the album that showed me the error of my assumptions. I purchased it around the end of 2007, having noticed it near the top of practically every 'Albums of the Year' list I encountered, and it instantly proved to me that dance music could mean things and make you feel things (whilst still serving as a perfectly serviceable soundtrack for dancing, drinking, and shagging). James Murphy knew his way around a beat, for sure, but he also knew how to write seriously amazing songs: funny songs with attitude like North American Scum and Time to Get Away, and beautiful, emotive songs like All My Friends and Someone Great.

Humour and emotion. Those two attributes are central to so much of my favourite music, and they're two things I never thought I'd find in HMV's 'Dance' section. For sixteen-year-old Joel, Sound of Silver was a revelation; he could feel all cool and edgy whilst singing along with Time to Get Away, he could feel wild and unhinged whilst listening to Watch the Tapes, and he could pretend he was cynical and jaded and grown-up whilst wondering what NYC had done to warrant New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down.

And, unlike so much of the stuff that spoke to me when I was in secondary school, Sound of Silver still resonates now that I'm 24. Sound of Silver is the obvious example - look at me now, looking back on what it was like to be a "real-live emotional teenager" - but there's also All My Friends, which should probably be kept in a box marked, 'Do Not Open Until You've Grown Up And, Feeling Wistfully Nostalgic, Find Yourself Trying To Recapture Your Youth': 

"You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan, and the next five years trying to be with your friends again." 

Sound of Silver always sounded kinda futuristic (the spacey, metallic-looking cover art probably helped in that department), but I'm realising now that it was also future-proof; no matter when you first heard it, no matter what year it was or how old you were, you'll come back to it several years later and realise that James Murphy is singing about you, now, revisiting the past and pining away for your younger days like some sad old fool with a face like a dad and a laughable stand.

Perhaps that's what he was always singing about?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: Wasting Away and Wondering by The School

The great thing about pop music is its ability to elevate simple, ordinary statements like "I love you" or "I'll see you soon" to the level of poetry, of high art, of grand drama. There's a perfect example of this on The School's new LP, Wasting Away and Wondering; the album's fifth track, Don't Worry Baby (I Don't Love You Any More), doesn't venture much further than the nine words that make up its title, and yet it somehow manages to wring gallons of tragedy and melancholy from the subject of breaking up:

A subject so well-worn and oft-explored that it shouldn't really have any emotional impact whatsoever at this point.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

New Grandaddy Album?!

Yesterday, Jason Lytle tweeted this:

GD, of course, is shorthand for Grandaddy, Lytle's scruffy sci-fi alt. rock band. After disbanding in 2006, Grandaddy reunited for a few gigs in 2012, but we haven't heard any new material from them since Just Like the Fambly Cat, which was released over nine years ago.

Frankly, I wasn't expecting to ever hear another new Grandaddy song (let alone a full album), and judging by the reaction to Jason Lytle's tweet, neither was anybody else:

However, it appears that Grandaddy are indeed hard at work on a new LP, and while we'll probably have to wait a while even to find out the release date, we can at least speculate on what the follow-up to Just Like the Fambly Cat might sound like.