Friday, April 29, 2016

Fresh from 2013

What were you doing back in 2013? I mostly remember it as the year that I, flush with unspoken thoughts about my favourite music, started this blog; who'd have guessed that I would still be updating The Album Wall three times a week almost three years later? Had you asked me back in June '13, I probably would have bet against it.

Of the many albums I listened to in those early days, one of the most enjoyable was Furniture by Aberystwyth's Race Horses, which came to my attention after it was nominated for the 2013 Welsh Music Prize (in spite of the fact that it was actually released in 2012). You can read my thoughts on that album here.

Of course, by the time I first wrapped my ears around Furntiure, its creators had already called it a day. As I was belatedly discovering fantastic tracks like Mates and My Year Abroad, Race Horses singer Meilyr Jones was living in Rome, discovering Italian culture and percolating ideas for his solo album.

That album, titled simply 2013, came out last month, and you can really hear the notes Jones took during his stay in Italy. The album's overall sound is like the sonic lovechild of Gruff Rhys and Ennio Morricone, conceived while Neil Hannon watched through a peephole and quietly jerked off. No expense has been spared on the orchestration here: string and brass instruments mingle with harpsichords and recorders*, and Jones's bright-eyed pop sensibilites are smushed up against more classical influences to create something very fresh indeed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Survey: How Do You Consume Music?

If you live in the UK and you fancy filling out a survey about your music listening habits, then today's your lucky day! I don't have any particular points to prove with this investigation - I just like looking at data, and hey, maybe this data will tell us something interesting that we didn't already know.

If the form below looks a little weird on your device, try this link instead:


Please share the survey with your friends - I want to see responses from all sorts of different people, not just people who read this blog!

Here's that link again:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Still Waiting for a New Tilly and the Wall Album

Tilly and the Wall are great. You may remember them as 'that band with a tap dancer instead of a drummer', but they are so, so much more than that one gimmick. Just listen to Rainbows in the Dark from their second album, Bottoms of Barrels:

This song is pretty much everything I want from music: heavenly horns, an insistent melody, a simple chord pattern, and loads of lyrics, passionately delivered. Oh, and two key changes. The tap shoes are in there too, but their presence sounds like the most natural thing in the world, not the deliberately quirky substitution that most people assume it to be.

Heavy Mood, Tilly and the Wall's most recent album, came out in October 2012, a solid three and a half years ago. If you ask me, a follow-up is long overdue, but the band have been worryingly quiet of late:
I don't mind waiting for my favourite bands while they work on their albums, but these omens seem to suggest that Tilly and the Wall are never coming back. If true, the world will be a slightly less colourful place for their loss.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Betting on Music: Why I Don't Try Before I Buy

According to a recent BBC article, "half of consumers" listen to albums online before purchasing the physical versions. For artists and record stores, that statistic is probably very welcome indeed: for years, we've worried that fans are streaming music on Spotify instead of purchasing it for keeps, but that BBC report suggests that a surprising number of people actually do both. Loads of record shops have listening posts and/or a 'try before you buy' option that lets the customer hear a couple of songs before parting with any cash, and if that's how people are using streaming services then that's brilliant.

Personally, though, I can't see myself ever using Spotify to make purchasing decisions. Why? Well, just as some people enjoy gambling on horses or football, I love taking a chance on music. I can't deny that I get a glow from staking £10 on a CD that could, for all I know, be a complete dud; it's one thing to purchase music that you already know you love, but I find it even more rewarding to take a leap of faith and see what I end up with.

But the thrill of gambling isn't my only reason for doing things this way. Sometimes, you need a good few listens to really 'get' what an artist is trying to convey, and I worry that if I start using Spotify or Apple Music or whatever to screen every album I'm interested in, I'll wind up dismissing a lot of music that I could have really enjoyed had I only spent a little more time with it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wallow with Mothers

Stephen Fry - the British actor, writer and tea pedlar - came under fire last week for some comments he made about child abuse victims:
"It's a great shame and we're all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place - you get some of my sympathy - but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy because self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity. Get rid of it, because no one's going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself."
Now, Mr Fry's decision to scold the victims of molestation is a pretty questionable one, and it's surprising to hear someone who in the past has spoken candidly about his own mental illness suggest that people can simply 'get rid of' their emotions.

"Don't feel those feelings; hold them in instead!"

Besides, I think his assertion that "self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity" is way off the mark. Self-pity isn't a pleasant emotion, sure, but it can be a very beautiful one, and if you don't believe me then I'd strongly recommend that you listen to When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired by a band called Mothers.

Here are some choice lyrical excerpts from When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired:
"Everything you touch turns to gold; everything I touch turns away" (Burden of Proof)
 "I don't like myself when I'm awake" (It Hurts Until It Doesn't)
 "Walked as softly as I could, and still I stepped on all their feet; I want to apologise to everyone I see" (Too Small for Eyes)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bellowhead: Folk the Rules

"All music is folk music. I ain't never heard no horse sing a song." 
- Louis Armstrong
When you think of folk music, what do you picture? A sea of beards, acoustic guitars, and seriousness? Or some guy bouncing around in a sparkly silver waistcoat while two violinists have a dance-off and a trumpet player buoys the audience to join in with the actions?

Photo by Cardiff Folk Club. Not pictured: sparkly waistcoat (that came out later!)

I caught the Cardiff leg of Bellowhead's farewell tour last night, and if there's one thing I learned from that show (and from the band's twelve-year career at large), it's that folk music can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. Yes, most of the songs they played were based on traditional compositions, and yes, there were a lot of fiddles involved. But therein lies Bellowhead's mad genius: these quintessentially 'folky' elements are blended and bastardised with all kinds of other influences, resulting in a sound that's utterly beyond categorisation yet unmistakeably still folk music at its core.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Why I'm Not Bothering with Record Store Day This Year

First of all, I want to make it clear that I'm not writing this because I want everyone to boycott Record Store Day. I'm all for supporting independent record shops, and queuing up for those special RSD releases is as good a way as any to do that; even if tomorrow morning is the only time you visit your local store all year, I guess it's better than nothing at all. Indeed, this quote from Ashli Todd (co-owner of Spillers Records, the shop where I buy most of my CDs) makes it clear that businesses like hers really need people to turn out for Record Store Day in particular:

"There are some great releases [on Record Store Day], but you have to sell everything, as the stock is non-returnable, and getting that right over 550 releases is a huge pressure. Some shops still haven't broken even from last year's event."
- From this Times article (you have to subscribe to read the whole thing, sadly)

So it certainly isn't my aim to persuade you to give Record Store Day a miss this year. By all means, get up at the crack of dawn and fill your boots with limited edition vinyl - just know that I'll be tucked up in bed, not caring that you beat me to a discful of Interpol remixes or a repressing of Regina Spektor's third album.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

We Were Evergreen: A Fresh Look

I first discovered We Were Evergreen at the 2011 Green Man Festival. They played a brief set on the Green Man Pub stage (now the Walled Garden stage), and it seemed like everyone present was very taken with the French trio's sweet, sunny, and slightly silly brand of indie pop. The songs they played that Saturday afternoon were all superb examples of what I refer to as 'Orange advert music'; that is, the sort of music that played over those twee mobile phone adverts you used to see in the cinema.

You know, before Orange merged with T-Mobile, became EE, and hired Kevin fucking Bacon to be in their ads. Happier times.

Monday, April 11, 2016

EP Corner: Titans' Daughters

Jo Whitby (a.k.a. Laurence Made Me Cry) released her first album, The Diary of Me, back in 2013. It was, for the most part, a gently lovely folk album, but weirder tracks like Intelligent Mister Toad and Remedy demonstrated that Whitby had no qualms about putting down her acoustic guitar and  experimenting with electronic stuff when the feeling took her.

Three years on from The Diary of Me (which, by the by, was nominated for the 2013 Welsh Music Prize), we have Titans' Daughters, the first of two EPs that Laurence Made Me Cry will reportedly be releasing this year. From the off, it's clear that Whitby's interest in the more electronic end of the musical spectrum has overtaken her desire to write finger-picked acoustic numbers; as much as I loved All That Patience Brings and the bright Bagpuss beauty of Between Destinations, the redoubled focus on synthesised sounds gives this EP has a darker, more dramatic atmosphere that's difficult to resist. From By the Throat onwards, you can really hear that the stakes have been raised:

Friday, April 8, 2016

Twisting in the Public Library

As Burning Hell frontman Mathias Kom recently revealed, Public Library (his band's new album, released last week and available here), was basically written to spite a critic who took issue with the wordiness of Kom's songs:
"At some point, I read a negative review...that criticised me for being too verbose. I'm pretty sure the writer used the word 'clever' in an uncomplimentary way as well, the way you would use it when speaking about your friend's obnoxious six-year-old. And, just like an obnoxious six-year-old, my response was to start writing songs that exaggerated the verbiage of People [Public Library's predecessor, released in 2013] into downright logorrhea."
The resulting LP is kind of like a musical adaptation of Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler: eight short stories covering eight different genres, each one paired with a fab pop/rock/indie accompaniment. The Road is a music biography with a splash of magical realism; Nonfiction is a romance novel, albeit one delivered with a good deal more subtlety than that genre is perhaps accustomed to. The album's lead single, Men Without Hats, is a kind of coming-of-age story about becoming obsessed with music for the first time, an experience to which I'm sure most of the people reading this can relate:

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Ambassador

Gabriel Kahane, an unabashed architecture nerd, would have you believe that The Ambassador is an album about buildings. And, to be fair, there's plenty of evidence to support that interpretation: for instance, each of the ten tracks on this record is subtitled with an address in Los Angeles, resulting in such instantly memorable song titles as Griffith Park (2800 E. Observatory Ave.) and Empire Liquor Mart (9127 S. Figueroa St.).

Indeed, the album's very name is derived from one of these locations (3400 Wilshire Boulevard, the former site of the Ambassador Hotel), although it also doubles as a concise summary of the role that Kahane fills throughout: he's an ambassador for LA, giving us a guided tour of such local landmarks as the Lovell House, Musso & Frank Grill, and the Bradbury Building.

And I guess The Ambassador is a classier title than 10 Los Angeles Landmarks You MUST Visit Before You Die.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Death to #RealMusic

Facebook is a great way to find out who you disagree with, isn't it? If you use the social network on a regular basis, you may well have seen memes like these:


It would seem that a lot of people have very strong opinions about what constitutes 'real' music. The folks who litter the social media superhighway with this kind of crap are perfectly happy to dismiss entire genres out of hand for pretty flimsy reasons: hip-hop isn't 'real' music because Kanye West uses samples instead of playing his own instruments, and pop isn't 'real' music because autotune is cheating, you guys. R&B isn't 'real' music isn't Bohemian Rhapsody, I guess?

Note that it's pretty easy to do this in the other direction - Bicycle Race, anyone?

Of course, all music is 'real' music. This 'down with everything but a very narrow definition of rock music' attitude is the pits, and it's particularly disappointing when these little nuggets of Luddism are being propagated by people you know. I don't want to suggest that these #realmusic memes are anywhere near as bad as those terrifying 'Britain First' posts, but honestly, they cause me to react in much the same way: Ew, really? I thought better of you, person who shared this. You just went way down in my estimations.

Friday, April 1, 2016

March Playlist: To Live by the Sea

April has arrived, but before you all nip off to buy The Burning Hell's new album (out today), here's a quick look back at the music I was listening to in March:

1. New Friends - Pinegrove
(from Cardinal)

This cracking song is basically a resolution to forget the past, embrace the present, and generally make more of an effort, which is exactly what Pinegrove should have done with their album artwork.