Monday, February 29, 2016

On Finally Hearing Born to Run

Last August, forty years and one day after the release of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, I wrote a blog post all about the fact that I had never listened to it. My attempts to justify this oversight - perhaps even to frame it as some kind of protest - basically amounted to: "Well, I've heard Thunder Road and the title track, so I think I've got the basic gist of it."

Hand-wavy bullshit, I now realise. Judging an album on its best-known tracks is so the opposite of what The Album Wall is supposed to be about that I'm actually kind of ashamed of myself; where would I be today if, for example, I had assumed that Losing My Religion was the only song from R.E.M.'s Out of Time worth hearing? I would have robbed myself of Country Feedback, Belong, Me in Honey, Near Wild Heaven, Half a World Away...

You get the picture. At any rate, I finally got around to purchasing Born to Run a couple of weeks ago, and I'm pleased to report that, yes, Joel '15 was wrong: there are *numerous* worthwhile tracks on that CD besides Thunder Road and Born to Run itself.

Friday, February 26, 2016


"I'm turning into someone else," sang Caroline Polachek on the penultimate track of Something, Chairlift's second LP.

How accurate that statement turned out to be. Something was a big, fabulous throwback, couched in decadent '80s synth sounds and topped with just a sprinkling of cheese. Even the artwork looked like it was designed for an old VHS cassette:

Last month, however, that gloriously retro chrysalis has opened to reveal Moth, Chairlift's third album. Moths, of course, are usually gross and terrible, but this moth is actually rather beautiful:

Granted, that stunning red-tinged skyline does kind of dilute the grossness, but even the moth itself looks oddly gorgeous - just look at the feathery detail on its feelers!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Whatever Happened to The Long Blondes?

The other day, I found myself revisiting Someone to Drive You Home, The Long Blondes' sterling debut album (which, incidentally, will turn 10 years old later this year). The band, sadly, has been defunct since 2008, but the five people who made Someone to Drive You Home - and its underrated successor "Couples" - are still out there somewhere.

Shall we find out what they've all been up to since The Long Blondes' stint as Sheffield's coolest ambassadors was cut short? Yes, I think we shall:

Kate Jackson

Lead Vocals

Well here's some good news right off the bat: not only is Kate Jackson still making music, but her debut solo album (British Road Movies by Kate Jackson and The Wrong Moves) is due out sometime soon. You can sign up to Jackson's newsletter here; this rough 'n' ready live performance of a song called The Westerlies suggests that British Road Movies (which will take the form of both an album and an art exhibition - Kate Jackson does art, too) will be well worth looking out for:

UPDATE (Aug 2016): British Road Movies is now available and Kate was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her first solo album - click here to read the interview.

Dorian Cox

Lead Guitar / Keyboards

When I Googled the name 'Dorian Cox', the top result was this Guardian article, which features Cox's account of the stroke that put an abrupt, premature end to The Long Blondes and, sadly, rendered him incapable of playing guitar. When that article was written, it was unclear whether or not its author would ever be able to play again; "doctors and physiotherapists cannot give me a definitive answer," he wrote. "I'm trying to write songs and am still managing to write lyrics. Musically, all I can do is play a keyboard with one's not the same as playing guitar."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Kanye West & His Ever-Changing New Album

The release of Kanye West's new album, The Life of Pablo, has been something of a clusterfuck. Everything, from its title to its tracklist to its musical and lyrical content, has been revised multiple times, and quite a few of those revisions occurred after its official release date (14 February).

It would be easy to chalk this all up to a simple lack of planning, but many commentators have found a different angle on the whole thing:

Sources like The Guardian and The New York Times are suggesting that Kanye's recent activity represents a big, brilliant shoulder-barge to the boundaries of what an album can be. Your average LP is a finite work with a beginning, a middle, and an end; when it's released, we take it as read that the version we hear - the version sold in record shops, streamed on Spotify, and reviewed by critics - is the complete, definitive version, and that everyone who buys it will receive the same end product. The Life of Pablo - and all the conflicting takes, edits, leaks and bootlegs thereof - demolishes these norms, and whether by accident or by design, Kanye West may well have fundamentally changed the way we all think about albums.

I mean, the whole thing seems like kind of an awkward mess to me, but then it's easy for me to snark because a) I haven't heard the album, and b) all of this 'death of the album as we know it' talk is kind of terrifying for me.

Friday, February 19, 2016

On Leonard Cohen's Early Work

I like Leonard Cohen a lot, but as I realised a few days ago, my knowledge of his repertoire is basically limited to the post-MTV era. The first song of his that I ever heard was Everybody Knows from I'm Your Man, and that track is pretty representative of how I think of Mr Cohen: a deep, earthy voice preaching messages of doom over several layers of synthesisers and, more recently, a lush mini-orchestra of rock and classical instrumentation. I've got Live in London, so I'm familiar with older tracks like Suzanne and So Long, Marianne and Bird on the Wire, but the versions I know were sung by a much older man than the Leonard Cohen who initially wrote and recorded them.

Besides, I bet the original version of So Long, Marianne didn't feature Dino Soldo and his SWEET HARMONICA SOLOS.

I listened to 1971's Songs of Love and Hate for the first time earlier this week, and it came as something of a shock. The voice is just about identifiable as Cohen's, but it sounds like he hasn't truly grown into it yet; I was speaking to Josh (a friend of mine and a big Leonard Cohen fan) about this last Sunday, and he agreed that Len is just one of those people who makes more sense as an old person. Cohen is to music what Ian McKellen is to acting; he's so good at playing wise, wizened wizards and elderly gentlemen that it's kind of bizarre to imagine him working in the same field when he was young.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Savage Orders

Savages seem to love a good imperative. Their first album, released in 2013, was called Silence Yourself; it opened with a track named Shut Up.

The band released their second album last month, and this one bears a far less intimidating command on its front cover:

In many ways, Adore Life is the polar opposite of its predecessor. The album's artwork is dominated by blinding white instead of doomy black; the title suggests something celebratory and ultra-positive. Instead of ordering listeners to shut their mouths and remove their voices from life's dumb, distracting cacophony, these songs extend an inviting hand and offer you a world that's free of suffocating restrictions, a world of freedom, love, sex, and chaos.

Monday, February 15, 2016

An Absolutely Cuckoo Valentine's Day

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and to mark the occasion, a few of us got together at Gwdihw and covered our favourite tracks from 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields.

Me (as Shiny Tiger) performing some Magnetic Fields song, probably

It was a slightly bizarre experience, to be quite honest. Listening to an album - particularly an album like 69 Love Songs - tends to be a very private experience, and so it was strange to hear those gorgeous Love Songs in public. Finding myself surrounded by people who knew all the words to Absolutely Cuckoo and Washington, D.C. was something of a revelation; until last night, a small part of me suspected that I may have just imagined 69 Love Songs, because surely if those songs were real then everyone would be singing them?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Tindersticks Come Back Fighting

It's been a while since I listened to The Something Rain, Tindersticks' last proper studio album, but it doesn't stick in my mind as one of their best. If memory serves, the album was pretty well-received when it came out back in 2012; several reviewers even suggested that, as a follow-up to the disappointing Falling Down a MountainTSR represented a big return to form.

However, I personally had two big problems with this assertion. Firstly, I *love* Falling Down a Mountain (goodness knows why some folk were disappointed by that album), so even if The Something Rain had been the best album ever, I wouldn't have seen it as a 'return to form' so much as a continuation of the winning streak that the 'Sticks were already on (and had been on since The Hungry Saw, which is also excellent).

But then, that was the other issue: as far as I was concerned, The Something Rain simply didn't live up to its immediate predecessors, nor to the glowing reviews that I had read prior to purchasing the album. Sure, it had a few excellent tracks (namely Show Me Everything, This Fire of Autumn, and Slippin' Shoes, and sometimes Frozen depending on my mood), but it also bore quite a bit of dull, ponderous - dare I say it? - filler.

Okay, it's sort of tense and atmospheric, but did this track really need to be 7 minutes long? It sounds like DVD menu music. And what follows isn't really worth waiting for - Goodbye Joe is a short instrumental track that, while pleasant enough, doesn't really serve much of a purpose, and then that's the album's over. Talk about your anticlimaxes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Awkward Pop Songs

JANK (all the coolest bands use CAPS LOCK nowadays) are a band from Philadelphia whom I came across the other week whilst idly poking around the nooks and crannies of Bandcamp. My decision to purchase their album, Awkward Pop Songs, was mostly due to the name of its ninth track Spilt to Bill, which I found hilarious.

Before I had even seen the video above, I strongly suspected that Awkward Pop Songs was an album conceived in some guy's band-postered bedroom and fuelled by innumerable slices of pizza. It just has that sound to it: slackerly yet energetic, high-fively yet wistfully nostalgic. More than anything, this album reminds me of after-school N64 session and hanging out in student digs that smelled like joss sticks and damp.

Awkward Pop Songs is a good name for an album, but I'm not sure it reflects JANK's sound entirely accurately; vocally, they're somewhere between Brand New and blink-182, but the music behind those vocals is more restless and complex than the usual emo/pop-punk fare. Fidgety Pop Songs would perhaps have been a more appropriate title.

Monday, February 1, 2016

January Playlist: Just One Rose

Good news, everyone: monthly playlists are back for 2016! Here are 10 of the tracks that most tickled my tympanic membrane in January...

1. Animal Life - Shearwater
(from Animal Joy)
Shearwater are a band I've been meaning to investigate for ages, and January 2016 was the month in which I finally got around to it. Animal Joy was the album I purchased (thanks to @dickiesview on Twitter for the recommendation), and it's a very strong set of songs - Animal Life could well be one of my all-time favourite opening tracks, and I've only owned its parent album for about two weeks.