Monday, December 26, 2016

Taking a Break

Hi everyone - hope you had a lovely day yesterday whether you were celebrating Christmas or not.

I was planning to take a week off from the blog after Christmas, then resume normal service on the 2nd of January. However, I'm writing this on Boxing Day to let you guys know that The Album Wall's winter hiatus will actually last a little longer than provisionally planned: not only will there be no new posts before the end of December, I won't be posting anything throughout January either.

I've decided to take a full month off in order to recharge my batteries and have a proper think about what I want The Album Wall to be in 2017. The odd holiday aside, I've been publishing three blog posts a week on this website since mid-2013, but I'm worried that my rigid Mon/Wed/Fri schedule has resulted in a lack of focus and left me prioritising quantity over quality. Here's something that's been happening far too often of late: blog day arrives, I realise I haven't picked a topic for today's post, and I end up pumping out a few paragraphs of gushing but ultimately pointless praise for, say, The Soft Bulletin because I happened to listen to it the other day. If you read a post on The Album Wall in 2016, there's a good chance I wrote it at work during the thirty minutes I get for lunch each day; on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I spend that half-hour break frantically typing up half-formed thoughts about music while also trying to eat a sandwich. It's exhausting, and frankly it too often fails to yield something that's actually worth reading.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Top 10 Albums of 2016

Crikey, this was a hard list to make. So many ace albums had to be left off - I considered doing an 'honourable mentions' list as a way of recognising the albums that fell just barely outside my top 10, but that list could easily have included another 20 albums and I probably STILL would have had a crisis of conscience over any I missed out.

So instead of going down that road, I'd simply like to present my top 10 albums of 2016. These are the cream of the cream of the crop, and interestingly, two of them weren't represented at all in my Songs of 2016 list. Just goes to show that the whole is sometimes stronger than the sum of its parts, eh?

Once you've finished reading, feel free to tell me how wrong my opinions are on Twitter.

10) Still Valid by MJ Hibbett & The Validators

To call Still Valid a light-hearted album would perhaps be a touch misleading, given that it contains songs like Burn it Down & Start Again (about corrupt politicians) and The 1980s How it Was (about the hairspray whitewashing of a decade primarily characterised by poverty and nuclear terror). Still, MJ Hibbett's sense of humour always shines through, even - especially - when he's worrying about his age on tracks like Can We Be Friends? and That Guy. In fact, as I mentioned in my (and my mum's) review of Still Valid, Hibbett's lyrics have really helped me to stop worrying about the fact that I'm no longer in my early 20s.

Best Tracks: Can We Be Friends? // That Guy // We Did It Anyway

9) Adult Teen by Lisa Prank

Father/Daughter Records became one of my favourite record labels this year, and Lisa Prank's album Adult Teen is a big part of why (although I would also strongly recommend Air Guitar by Sat. Nite Duets). It's a pretty straightforward set of songs - each track consists of little more than a vocal, an electric guitar track, and a synthetic drum machine beat - but the album's attitude, breakneck delivery, and acute understanding of how messy the transition from teenager to grown-up can be make for a great listening experience. It's flippin' catchy, too. Read my review of Adult Teen here.

Best Tracks: Drive Anywhere // Take it All // Heart 2 Heart

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Top 20 Songs of 2016 (10-1)

My top 10 songs of 2016 are listed below. Be sure to read numbers 20 through 11 first!

10) Drive Anywhere by Lisa Prank
(from Adult Teen)
The sound of your life hurtling headlong into the jaws of adulthood like a car speeding towards the edge of a cliff. A rushing thrill of a song with a kernel of time-waits-for-no-man melancholy hidden somewhere in the middle.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Top 20 Songs of 2016 (20-11)

Christmas is less than seven days away, and so it's list week here on The Album Wall! Here's what to expect between now and the weekend:
  • Monday 19 December: Top 20 Songs of 2016 (20-11)
  • Wednesday 21 December: Top 20 Songs of 2016 (10-1)
  • Friday 23 December: Top 10 Albums of 2016
Below is the first half of my 'Songs of 2016' countdown. All of these songs (to the best of my knowledge) were released on full-length albums for the first time this year; some selections, such as #17, were available on singles/EPs prior to 2016, but as this is primarily a blog about albums I'm using the release date of each song's parent album in order to determine eligibility for this list.

(The above rule does mean that a few great songs are sadly absent from this top 20. Most notable are Phoebe's Lips by CHUCK, which first appeared on Happy New Years Babe in 2015 and was re-released as part of the My Band is a Computer compilation this year, and Fuck the Government, I Love You, which was the second track on Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom's Don't Believe the Hyperreal several months before it was the third track on The Burning Hell's Public Library. Fuck the Government was actually my 19th favourite song of 2015, so it would be kind of weird to include it in the 2016 list too.)

Without further small print, then, here are my top 20 songs of 2016 (part one):

20) Attached to the Lamp by Sat. Nite Duets
(from Air Guitar)
This is one heck of an opening track. I love the chugging pace, and I love how the words and the tune fit together like two pieces of K'Nex. "Maybe we could go back to Cleveland and play for the sound guy and the other band..." Playing a gig to an empty room never sounded like so much fun.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Clarity (Guest Post)

The third and final guest post of the week comes from Simon and Dyfrig of Scumbag Familiar. They've written some words about Jimmy Eat World's Clarity and why they chose to record a song about it for Songs About Albums: Volume 2.

1999 was a dark time for rock music. Limp Bizkit were the one of the biggest bands in the world, but on the positive side, Will Smith had just released the hip-hop epic Wild Wild West. However, we've chosen Jimmy Eat World's Clarity as the cultural highpoint of that particular year, and it still sounds fresh and exciting.

We both first discovered Jimmy Eat World through Bleed American, their breakthrough album which fused big riffs with poppy goodness. Their preceding album, Clarity, is a much more ambitious affair. Not many rock albums start with a ballad, so Table for Glasses is a startling and beautiful opening to what is a genre-defining album.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Paul McCartney Can Do What He Likes (Guest Post)

MJ Hibbett on Paul McCartney's always-unpredictable solo career and why he wrote a song about it for Songs About Albums: Volume 2.

When Joel put the call out for bands to record songs about other artist's albums, my thoughts turned immediately to Paul McCartney. Admittedly, this isn't in and of itself a particularly rare occurrence. When I'm writing a song, when I find myself shaking my head excitedly during a gig, when I use a zebra crossing, when I play the pipes of peace - on these and on many other occasions I think of Paul McCartney, because Paul McCartney is BLOODY BRILLIANT.

What I struggled with was deciding which album to write a song about. As everybody with 1% of a brain knows, Band on the Run is a solid gold bona fide absolute classic of ROCK up there with heavyweights of Sunday Magazine Lists like Pet Sounds, Blonde On Blonde, or his first band's discography. There are good cases for a lot of his lesser known early releases (like Ram, McCartney, McCartney 2Tug Of War) to be cited as Underappreciated And Revolutionary, and he's currently on a pretty AMAZING streak of Actually Flipping Great Albums stretching back (according to expert critics*) (*me) to the release of Flaming Pie in 1997.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Monitor vs. The Virginia (Guest Post)

Owen Chambers (a.k.a. Tremolo Ghosts) on Titus Andronicus, their masterpiece of a second album, and why he wrote a song about it for Songs About Albums: Volume 2.

The Monitor by New Jersey punk band Titus Andronicus is an album about civil war. Not, strictly speaking, the Civil War fought between the Union and the Confederacy in North America from 1861 to 1865, although the band do utilise historical events and speeches from that period to enrich their sprawling punk masterpiece.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Dark Houses

After nearly two years of radio silence, The Lost Music Club - a record label dedicated to releasing "unreleased gems of the analogue age" - are back with a) a vengeance, and b) their best release yet. Dark Houses were a short-lived British band whose lineup included three former members of Hope of the States, and Dark Houses is the eponymous debut album that was committed to tape circa 2006 but kept from the public ear until The LMC got their hands on it earlier this year.

It's strange, given that Dark Houses was recorded roughly a decade in the past, but I don't think I've heard another album this year that so perfectly captures the prevailing mood of Great Britain in 2016. It's hard not to be reminded of our present mid-Brexit malaise upon hearing the lyrics of the wonderfully drunken-sounding Rot and Gin:

"We're an island lost at sea
Save yourselves, here monsters be
A land of drunken drinkers drink
To everything we used to be"

There's a nostalgia in that lyric (and elsewhere on this album) that very closely resembles the longing that seemingly drove many people to vote Leave back in June, the longing to return to an idealistic past version of Great Britain that may or may not ever have existed. "This country isn't what it was," sings Sam Herlihy on Pidgin England, and for a moment you wonder if this thrilling, widescreen rock album was masterminded by a Daily Express reader.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Hidden Cameras Come Home

The last couple of Hidden Cameras albums have seen Joel Gibb and co. moving further and further away from the signature sound that Gibb once dubbed "gay church folk music". 2009's Origin:Orphan explored a variety of different genres and tossed bombastic brass arrangements and cool electronic touches into the pot, while 2014's Age had a darker atmosphere and an '80s underground sort of feel that incorporated elements of goth and dub music.

But now it would appear that Joel Gibb - who was born in Ontario but moved to Berlin some time ago - has had his fill of exploration for the time being and is ready to go home. The Hidden Cameras' new album is called Home on Native Land, and Gibb has described it as both "a return to my homeland" and "an inquisitive ode to Canada".

Monday, December 5, 2016

EP Corner: Wilds EP

Wilds are a band from Seattle who cite Mclusky and Built to Spill among their influences. Their debut EP - simply titled EP - came out back in October, and at just over 9 minutes in length, it's a bite-sized chunk of thick, fuzzy indie rock with a pleasantly noisy centre.

The first track, Endings, sounds a bit like Death Cab for Cutie, but it's less clean, less neat than any Death Cab track I've heard, and the stuttering snare drum blast that kicks in about two-thirds of the way through is probably too harsh to sit comfortably on the likes of Plans or Codes and Keys. It's the sort of song that Ben Gibbard might write after driving through a Mad Max-style wasteland for a day or two with Single Mothers on the car stereo.

Friday, December 2, 2016

November Playlist: Winter's On The Phone

Hey everyone - it's December! But before you break out the Christmas hits, here are 10 non-Yuletide tracks that I really enjoyed listening to in November and that I hope you'll enjoy listening to right now.

1. Holy Hell It's Cold by Quiet Marauder

(from MEN)

I tend to revisit MEN (originally released in 2013 - read my three-year-old review of it here) every year at around this time, and this rib-tickling but also slightly sobering cut seemed like an appropriate choice given the current temperature outside.

2. Treaty by Leonard Cohen

(from You Want it Darker)

You Want it Darker - which it's probably safe to assume was written and recorded by a Leonard Cohen who knew that he would soon be dead - has a certain duality to it. Many of its songs make it sound like Len had made his peace with the world and was ready to go, but a couple of songs (including Seemed the Better Way and this beautiful number) suggest a certain amount of regret, a desire to go back and change something. More thoughts on You Want it Darker here.