Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December Playlist: Something New Going On

And so here we are: the last blog post of the last month of 2016. Truth be told, I've spent most of December listening to crappy Christmas music, but I did find time for some other stuff too. Here's the cream of what I've been subjecting my ears to these last 30 days:

1. Hi How Are You - Addie Pray
(from Screentime)
A slacker-rock anthem for staying up too late and watching crap on your laptop. "And I'm not getting enough rest/'Cause I can't stop watching Top Chef!"

Monday, December 28, 2015

First Impressions: Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River

What's the best Okkervil River album? It's a question that I find difficult to answer, and as it stands, I've only heard four-sevenths of their discography; The Stage Names is probably the most cohesive start-to-finish experience, although the The Silver Gymnasium yearning nostalgia-pop is every bit as invigorating a listen. And then there's Down the River of Golden Dreams, which while not as outwardly concept-y as its successors does feature three of the best OR tracks I've yet come across (It Ends With a Fall, The War Criminal Rises and Speaks, and The Velocity of Saul at the Time of His Conversion).

Of course, if you've heard the album that separated Down the River... from The Stage Names, the question is a far easier one. More or less everyone on the internet seems to agree that Black Sheep Boy is Okkervil River's magnum opus, from the good folk at Stereogum to my own Twitter followers:

I've never listened to Black Sheep Boy, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. I know that it's supposed to be one of Will Sheff's darker outings (no mean feat considering that its immediate predecessor was the album that introduced us to these lyrics), and I know that it's some kind of concept album, but that's about as far as my knowledge goes: I haven't heard any of the 11 tracks that make up the record, and as I type this sentence, I've no idea whether or not its generally accepted status as Okkervil River's Best Album is justified.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Top 10 Albums of 2015

2015 has been an excellent year for new music, and selecting just 10 outstanding albums from the riches lately lavished upon my ears was no easy task. Several deserving LPs have cruelly been excluded here, but rules is rules (even if I made them up) and only 10 records can make the final cut.

So here they are: The Album Wall's Top 10 Albums of 2015. How many have you heard?

10) The Sovereign Self by Trembling Bells

This is a glorious folk-proggy mess of an album. The Sovereign Self finds Trembling Bells straddling the river of history, dipping a big net in the water, and throwing everything they catch into the pot. Straightahead krautrock, medieval ballads, psychedelic hard's all here, bubbling noisily away, and the resulting stew is quite remarkable indeed.

Best Tracks: I is Someone Else // Killing Time in London Fields // Sweet Death Polka

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top 20 Songs of 2015 (Part 2)

Here we go, then - the cream of the cream of the crop. Here are my Top 10 Songs of 2015 (if you missed the first half of this list, click here to read it before continuing):

10) Eugene & Maurice by Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom
(from Don't Believe the Hyperreal)
Eugene & Maurice is a bit of an oddity on Don't Believe the Hyperreal, which is - for the most part - an album of duets. However, this song (the album's closer) is sung by Ariel and Ariel alone, lending a sad, lonely feeling to a song that frankly would have been heartbreaking enough anyway. Eugene & Maurice tells the true story of author Maurice Sendak and his partner Dr Eugene Glynn; since both men are now (spoiler alert!) deceased, I suppose this biography was never going to have a happy ending, but Sharratt's splendidly sad and decidely Anway-esque delivery somehow makes the whole thing even more devastating.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Top 20 Songs of 2015 (Part 1)

It's that time of year again! Time to take stock, to look back, to make a big list of the year's best music and put it all into some sort of order. Here's a rough schedule for The Album Wall's End of Year Week 2015:
  • Today: Top 20 Songs of the Year (20-11)
  • Wednesday: Top 20 Songs of the Year (10-1)
  • Friday: Top 10 Albums of the Year
It's been a heck of a year, musically speaking, and we've got a lot to get through between now and Black Friday, so let's jump right in. Here's the first half of my 'Songs of 2016' list:

20) Wish Upon a Bar by Frog
(from Kind of Blah)
Verbose, slow-building indie rock? Slurry wordplay on a Disney classic? The sense - implied by the warm, glowing sound and made explicit by the second verse - that all of this is happening around Christmastime? It's like this song was made for me.

Friday, December 11, 2015

My Albums of the Year (from Other Years)

Next week, I'll be compiling a list of what I feel to be the best albums released this year. Which artists will make my top ten? Which outstanding LP will follow in the hallowed footsteps of MEN by Quiet Marauder and Days of Abandon by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart? Will Sun Kil Moon's Universal Themes do as well as Benji did last year?

These questions will be answered next Friday (although Mark Kozelek, if he's reading this, probably shouldn't hold his breath on that last one). In the meantime, I have a different sort of list to share with y'all: a list of superb albums that weren't released in 2015.

You see, my CD-buying budget isn't exclusively reserved for brand new releases, and many of the albums that touched my soul this year were released...y'know, in the past. The five records listed below would be ineligible for any self-respecting 'Best of 2015' list worth its salt, but they've nonetheless brought me a lot of enjoyment this year, and I feel that this deserves to be recognised in itself.

So, without further ado, here are my Top 5 Albums of 2015 (That Weren't Released in 2015):

5. Wishmaster by Nightwish
Released May 2000
I was given this album as a Christmas present back in 2013, but I only really discovered the full extent of its brilliance this year. I particularly love Bare Grace Misery, which should have been the theme for Gladiators, and FantasMic, a mind-blowing multi-part metal odyssey about, um, Disney movies. Trust me, it's far more epic than I've just made it sound.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


One would be hard-pressed to argue that All of Something by SPORTS was a happy album; on the contrary, the album's peppy, perfect choruses and 'four friends rocking out in the garage' feel belied a deep, desperate melancholy that only really became apparent after, ooh, four or five listens. "Take my mind off the empty space in this heart of mine" indeed.

In spite of this, though, All of Something was unmistakably a summer album. Songs like Saturday and Get Bummed Out sounded like school holidays, like endless August afternoons, like skateboards on sun-blasted pavements, and even if Carmen Perry's lyrics were kind of depressing at times, the music itself was mostly pretty upbeat.

But don't worry, because here's Addie Pray, Perry's solo thing. If you enjoyed All of Something but longed to experience its melancholic undercurrent without having to peer through those deceptively joyous pop-punk songs, then Screentime is the album that you've been waiting for.

If All of Something was the soundtrack to a bummed-out summer, then Screentime is perfect for autumn/winter, particularly if you spend the colder months in bed with only your laptop and your favourite jumper for company. It's a hibernating album; Carmen Perry has retired to her quarters for the winter, and aside from the occasional visitor (one of the guys from SPORTS shows up to help with a few of these tracks), she'd like to be left alone, thank you very much.

Monday, December 7, 2015

EP Corner: These Things Are Not That Fun

You won't hear a more perfect piece of misdirection this year than The Woods, the first track on These Things Are Not That Fun by West London four-piece Fresh. Singer/guitarist Kathryn Woods opens the EP by apologising for a couple of errors on the (unheard) preceding take:
"I fucked up one chord and I think I messed up a time, so more take. Okay. Sorry."
This snippet of studio chat implies a certain perfectionism, and the gently lovely acoustica of the song itself suggests that These Things... could be your new favourite record for lazy Sunday afternoons.

Friday, December 4, 2015

On CDs as Gifts

Earlier this week, I rang my mum to ask what granny (her mum) might like for Christmas.

"There's a CD she's asked for," came the reply. "I'll text you the name of it."

Now, I'm always happy to have an excuse to go CD shopping, and obviously my gran can request whatever she wants for Christmas - I still haven't received that text, but I daresay I'll be happy to go into Spillers or HMV once it comes through and purchase whatever's desired. Nevertheless, this conversation reminded me of a rather grim thought I'd had the previous week when reading about the exorbitant sales that Adele's new album, 25, had been racking up.

Within seven days of its release, 25 sold 800,000 copies in the UK alone. Its first week in America saw 3.38 million copies shifted. Obviously, downloads account for a large portion of both numbers, but not as large as you might think - this article suggests that it's been a roughly even split between digital sales and CDs so far, at least in the USA.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Your Christmas Songs

It's December, which means that - according to 64% of those polled - it's now officially acceptable to listen to Christmas music. As ever, this watershed has prompted a flurry of 'Best Christmas Song' lists; not just the Wizzard 'n' Mariah countdowns you used to watch on VH1, but also the now-obligatory 'alternative' Christmas playlists so beloved of indie rock websites.

Oddly, those cool, hip, left-of-the-dial lists are fast becoming just as predictable as the Top 100 video marathons. Just as every Now That's What I Call Christmas! compilation is obliged to feature Slade, Shakin' Stevens et al, so the likes of Low, Sufjan and The Killers have made every 'alt. Xmas' playlist an exercise in going through the motions.