Friday, September 30, 2016

Moon Saloon

If I had to describe Moon Saloon by Arc Iris in one word, I would choose the word 'colourful'. I don't appear to be the only one, either; in their review of Moon SaloonThe Line of Best Fit made mention of the album's tendency towards "technicolour star-gazing" described its sound as being "dyed in a myriad of colours".

It's irrational, of course, to describe music in this way. Saying that an album 'sounds colourful' is a bit like saying that a flower 'smells red': unless you've got some form of synesthesia, it doesn't really make sense.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The First Time Ever I Saw Los Camps!

One of the best gigs I ever went to was the time Broken Social Scene played at The Point, a former church in Cardiff Bay that was one of the city's best venues back in 2006 but - infuriatingly - has since been closed down due to noise complaints from the neighbours.

Broken Social Scene are a phenomenal live act. It's rare to attend a sold-out show and see the stage as crowded with people as the dancefloor itself, but it wasn't just a case of strength in numbers: every person on that stage was giving it their all, creating a euphoric racket that we in the audience didn't tire of even after a marathon two-hour set plus encores.

But I'm not here today to talk about Broken Social Scene, or their two relentlessly awesome drummers, or how pleased I was when I and the guy next to me simultaneously shouted for I'm Still Your Fag and they actually played it. I'm here today to talk about the support act who kicked off that magical night at The Point.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Skip a Stone, Let it Sink

It's a sad truth that the vast majority of romantic relationships eventually fail. The oft-quoted statistic is that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but how many more millions of couples split before they even get as far as the wedding? What are the true chances that any given relationship will last until one person dies?

At the beginning of Mutual Benefit's new album Skip a Sinking Stone, we find Jordan Lee (the man at the centre of this ever-shapeshifting musical project) reeling from a relationship that unfortunately didn't work out. As he tosses pebbles into a vast lake, he wonders if he'll ever be able to fall in love again, and he observes that making a relationship stick is like trying to skim a stone: some of them sink straight away, while some hop along briskly for a little while before running out of steam and disappearing into the water after all.

When you embark upon a new relationship, you're hoping against hope that, this time, the pebble will bounce away over the horizon and somehow keep going forever - unlike all the failed skimming stones cluttering up the foreground of the CD cover.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hello Autumn (Playlist)

I love autumn, and I especially love listening to music when it's autumn. The crisp, cold air, the changing colours around me, the fact that I'm wearing a jumper that's I've had since I was in secondary school...all of this stuff serves to enhance the sounds I'm hearing and up the general feeling of warmth and nostalgia. This is my time of year, people.

Yesterday (the 22nd of September 2016) was the autumnal equinox and the official beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere. To mark the occasion, I asked my Twitter followers to suggest some of their favourite autumnal albums - the following playlist is made up of songs from the records they chose (plus a few favourites of my own).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Backchat: Charles Griffin Gibson on CHUCK's Back Catalogue

Welcome to another edition of Backchat, where bands and artists look back at the albums they've released over the years and share their memories with us fans. My guest this time is Charles Griffin Gibson, a songwriter with a wonderfully nasal voice who lives in New York City and makes top-quality laptop pop. Most of his albums and EPs have been self-released, but earlier this month, Old Money Records - an imprint of the Audio Antihero label - issued a compilation of CHUCK tracks entitled My Band is a Computer (read my review of it here).

With CHUCK's music now in front of a wider audience, this seems like a good time to sit down and look back at what Charles has been putting out over the last few years. Here's the man himself to tell us the whole story:

(self-released, 2010)

I made People when I was 23. I had just moved to New York. I was living up in Washington Heights in Manhattan. I was in a 3 bedroom apartment with 4 friends. I was sleeping on an air mattress that would deflate every night, so I would just wake up on the ground. Rent was $400 a month. I'm not trying to glamorise any of this; I'm just painting the picture.

My sister's friend got me a job as a production assistant on The Celebrity Apprentice. The job was mostly driving to CostCo to buy snacks, and then I would distribute the snacks on set. After several months of that, I had a few weeks of unemployment and decided to record an album. I had already made two in college, but they weren't really that good. The songs I had written up until that point were generic and sappy. But when I got to New York, I made friends with a group of guys who were in a band called Uncles (core members are now in the band Frog, also on Audio Antihero) and I remember being really inspired by their music, in particular their lyrics. They were much more compelling and visual and specific than the other stuff I was listening to. Also, there was a lot of humour in their work that I related to.

Monday, September 19, 2016

They Are The Gothic Archies

Longtime readers of this blog will not need to be told that 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields is one of my favourite albums ever. I bought the triple CD set in Bristol in 2009; I was there for a university open day, but I managed to squeeze in a trip to Fopp before catching the train home. I spread the album over a whole weekend, listening to Volume 1 on Saturday morning, Volume 2 on Sunday morning, and Volume 3 on Saturday night. I Don't Believe in the Sun, Papa Was a Rodeo and Promises of Eternity were among the instant stand-outs, but I quickly learned to love all 2 hours and 52 minutes of it. It established Stephin Merritt as one of my favourite songwriters, and I've since delved deeper into his work: I now own all the Magnetic Fields albums, plus several other discs released under other names like The 6ths (Hyacinths and Thistles), the Future Bible Heroes (Partygoing and Eternal Youth), and plain old Stephin Merritt (Showtunes).

However, somewhere along the line I realised that 69 Love Songs hadn't been my first taste of Merritt's musical talents after all. In October 2006, a few years before that trip to Fopp in 2009, I bought an issue of Uncut magazine that came, as all issues of Uncut magazine do, with a free CD featuring tracks from some of the latest new releases. One of those tracks was Crows by a band called The Gothic Archies.

I liked the singer's bewitchingly deep voice and his knack for a clever internal rhyme (example: "Every day we hear the same dumb list of those crows' woes"), but for whatever reason I didn't bother to investigate The Gothic Archies any further. Only much later, when I had fallen in love with 69 Love Songs and was digging around to see what else its author had created, did I twig that The Gothic Archies were yet another Stephin Merritt side project, just like The 6ths and the Future Bible Heroes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Goodbye Darlin'

Earlier today, everyone's favourite indie poppers Allo Darlin' announced on Facebook that they will be calling it quits after one final show in London this December. This news made me sad (not least because I was under the impression that they were currently in the studio, beavering away on a new album) and so I'd like to offer this short tribute to Allo Darlin' and, in particular, their superb second album Europe.

I am not a particularly keen traveller. My parents took me on many foreign holidays when I was little - Italy, Portugal, even Australia - but since I became an adult and assumed responsibility for my own movements, I've made little effort to continue adding pins to my map. In the last five years, I've been to exactly three places outside of Great Britain: Porto (for a music festival), Barcelona (ditto), and Copenhagen (where I ate at one of the best restaurants in the world courtesy of my uncle, who lives in Denmark and sometimes reads this blog - hi Mark!). While my friends have traversed the globe, slept in hostels and met all sorts of people in all sorts of places, I've mostly stayed put here in Cardiff and observed their adventures through the window of Facebook. And I've mostly been perfectly happy to do so, partially because I've got a lot of things keeping me here (a relationship, a full-time job, my family, a fantastic local record shop) and partially because I'm just not of a travelling nature.

All of that being said, there's one album that has proven consistently capable of making me forget my aversion to check-in desks and unfamiliar public transport systems, and that's Europe by Allo Darlin'. This record is like a key that unlocks a quite uncharacteristic feeling of wanderlust in me; it's very difficult to listen to songs like Northern Lights and the title track without wanting to zip over to the continent and see what's going on in all those other places you've heard about. Even the sad, spare Tallulah triggers a yearning for the sort of rich melancholy you can't really feel in your own homeland.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Currents & Contour Lines: Lisa Hannigan's At Swim

Lisa Hannigan's new album At Swim was recorded in New York and largely inspired by an extended stay in London. Instead of revelling in the big city atmosphere, though, Hannigan spends most of this LP torn, struggling to choose between the heady fun of a foreign metropolis and the cosy comfort of home. Opening track Fall gives us a taste of the illicit thrills and vibrant unknowns to be had in places like London or NYC...

"Drain the spirits from the jars, hop the fences, steal the cars, run on fumes and from the law, burn for us right through the fall"

...but the singer herself never sounds entirely ready to commit, to book a plane ticket and make a bee line for the life she's describing. Over the course of At Swim's eleven tracks, we hear several references to feeling lost or adrift or 'off course', and the emotional heft of this album hinges on that idea of being unsure where you're heading, or even where you want to be heading.

Monday, September 12, 2016

10 Questions for Martha

"Courting Strong was about punks growing up. Blisters is about grown-ups who stayed punk."

Martha are four people from Durham. Together, they make noisy indie pop that is emotive, socially conscious, and a whole lot of fun, all at the same time. The band's debut album, Courting Strong, was one of my favourite albums of 2014; their new record, Blisters in the Pit of My Heart, came out earlier this year, and it is every bit as good as its predecessor.

A fantastic listen from start to finish, Blisters is made up of eleven  songs that cover everything from relationships to menial employment to influential anarchist Emma Goldman. I've been listening to it a lot, and so I was thrilled when two of Martha's members, Nathan Stephens-Griffin and JC Cairns, very kindly fielded a few of my questions about their new album for this blog...

Photo from (Nathan Stephens-Griffin far left; JC Cairns far right).

The Album Wall: Let's start with the new album's title. The phrase 'blisters in the pit of my heart' appears in the lyrics of Ice Cream and Sunscreen, but why did you decide to name the whole record after that line?

Nathan Stephens-Griffin: We were originally going to name the album 'Christine' after our friend Christine from Milky Wimpshake; we had the song about her, and it seemed to sum up where we are as people and the kind of central thesis of the album, with the visceral, messy, terrifying side of life juxtaposed with love and romance and companionship.

Friday, September 9, 2016

My Band is a Computer

The past is the place to be on this superb compilation from Audio Antihero spin-off Old Money Records

Funny thing, nostalgia. The most mundane experiences start to seem glorious once they're in the past; as Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff sang on Pink Slips, "show me my best memory, it's probably super crappy".

A yearning for the past is one of the main driving forces behind My Band is a Computer, a selection of songs recorded by NYC resident CHUCK (a.k.a. Charles Griffin Gibson) over the past five years or so. This compilation is the inaugural release from Old Money Records, an offshoot of the always-ace Audio Antihero Records that will reportedly focus on "reissues, compilations and archiving of the under-heard and under-appreciated". If that's the goal, then MBiaC is a great first play; I had never even heard of CHUCK before I listened to this record, and now I find myself compelled to go back and check out the albums from which these thirteen tracks were culled.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Predictions for the New Young Knives Album

Here's something I posted on Twitter a couple of weeks ago:

Here's the reply I received shortly afterwards:

Monday, September 5, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

Over the weekend, I ran a Twitter poll asking people to vote for their favourite Sparklehorse LP. Debut album Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot shot into an early lead, but after 24 hours and a total of 70 votes, the final results were as follows:
  1. It's a Wonderful Life (41%)
  2. Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (34%)
  3. Good Morning Spider (19%)
  4. Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (6%)
2001's It's a Wonderful Life, the third of Sparklehorse's four albums, is an intriguing winner. It was conceived as a slightly sarcastic response to critics who complained that Good Morning Spider - an album written and recorded shortly after Mark Linkous overdosed in a hotel bathroom and temporarily lost the use of his legs - was too depressing, and while every Sparklehorse album has its fair share of sad bits, Wonderful Life is easily the most sombre of the bunch.

This album doesn't have a soaring indie anthem like Vivadixie standout Someday I Will Treat You Good. It doesn't have a moment of breakneck fury like Pig from Good Morning Spider. King of Nails admittedly rocks pretty hard, but even that track feels tethered and thoughtful rather than angry or cathartic:

Besides, King of Nails is something of an anomaly amongst the album's overall sound and feel. This was the first time Linkous recorded an LP outside of his own home studio, and the time he spent in the studio with Dave Fridmann (the man who produced - among many, many other great recordsDeserter's Songs by Mercury Rev) resulted in a far warmer, fuller-sounding release than either Vivadixie or Good Morning Spider. Listening to Wonderful Life is like wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting in front of a fireplace on a cold autumn evening: it's not as thrilling a rollercoaster as Vivadixie or as patchwork a quilt as Good Morning Spider, but if you're looking for an album that you can sink into like an generously-cushioned armchair or a hot bath at the end of the day then step right this way.

Friday, September 2, 2016

August Playlist: Getting Good at Sleeping In

Autumn technically doesn't start for another few weeks, but screw it - it's September, this unpleasantly hot 'n' sticky summer is almsot over, and it's time to dig out your favourite jumper and fall in love with music again. This playlist, featuring ten of the songs I listened to most last month, is as good a place as any to start:

1. Red by Okkervil River

(from Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See)

An exercise in elegant melancholy. The off-key organ solo is...somewhat less elegant, but as a whole, this track about an estranged mother and daughter thinking sadly of one another is very lovely indeed. Read my thoughts on its parent album here.