Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Winding Down

As of today, The Album Wall will no longer be updated on a regular basis. I've been posting three blogs a week - one on Monday, one on Wednesday, and one on Friday - for nearly four years now, and while I'm proud of myself for sticking to that schedule so rigidly, I've had a think and I've decided that it's time to stop now.

I started this blog in 2013 because I had loads of things to say about the music I was listening to; these days, by contrast, I often feel like I'm only listening to music so that I've got something to blog about. I'd better have a browse on Badncamp, I'll find myself thinking of a weekend afternoon, so that I've got something for the blog on Monday.

I've loved writing The Album Wall, and it has not been without its perks. I've heard loads of great music that I probably wouldn't have come across otherwise; I've been lucky enough to speak with some of my very favourite bands and songwriters; I've had countless great conversations with fellow music fans on Twitter and broadened my horizons in all sorts of different ways. And I still get a thrill when somebody shares the words I've written, or when one of my followers buys an album on my recommendation, or when an artist thanks me for taking the time to write about their songs.

But I'm afraid I can't keep this up any more. For one thing, writing three blog posts a week uses up a surprisingly large portion of my spare time - I do have a full-time job outside of The Album Wall, and doing both puts a real squeeze on how much time I have to relax and do all the other things that I enjoy (like playing games, reading, writing non-blog stuff, and making music of my own).

More importantly, I fear that I'm losing my ability to enjoy music in the pure, simple way I used to. Nowadays, whenever I'm listening to an album, I'm always trying to come up with an angle - a hot take for the blog - and I want to relearn how to appreciate and lose myself in music without feeling the need to pick every sound apart and probe each lyric for some deeper meaning.

I'm a horrible judge of my own work, and so I'm honestly not sure whether I'm going out on a high here or simply burying the dead horse that I've been flogging for far too long. The Album Wall won't cease to exist entirely - I still have a few things in draft that I'll be publishing at some point in the near future, and I'm sure the blogging itch will revisit me every so often when I discover an album I really love or hear a song that really makes me think. (I'm listening to 50 Song Memoir by The Magnetic Fields a heck of a lot right now, and I may well have to put pen to paper - or finger to keyboard - once I've organised my thoughts on that.)

For now, though, I'd like to say au revoir and thank you very much for reading The Album Wall and indulging my over-thinking these last few years. Every read, retweet, share, comment, submission and recommendation meant a whole damn lot to me. I don't want to name too many names because I'm bound to miss somebody out, but extra-special thanks are due to my girlfriend Vicky for bearing with me on all the evenings when I came home from work and leapt to my laptop to frantically finish off that day's post; to Jamie from Audio Antihero for his encouragement and for all the great music; and to all the lovely people who ever wrote guest posts for The Album Wall and gave me an occasional day of rest.

Goodbye for now - keep an eye out for the odd new post, and do bear in mind that I'll still be semi-active on Twitter (@TheAlbumWall) if you ever want to say hi or tell me about the awesome new album you've just heard.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Crimea: Secrets of the Witching Hour at 10

The Crimea's Secrets of the Witching Hour came out on the 30th of April, 2007 - ten years ago this coming Sunday. It made headlines at the time not for its musical content (more on which shortly) but for the fact that it was released as a free download on the band's website.

That seems unremarkable now, so here's some context. In April 2007 - more than a year before Bandcamp was launched, more than a year before Spotify was launched, several months even before the release of Radiohead's pay-what-you-want seventh album In Rainbows - The Crimea, whose previous LP came out on Warner Bros. Records and included a UK top 40 single in Lottery Winners on Acid, decided to give their new album away for free over the Internet.

And it's not like Secrets of the Witching Hour was just bashed out on autopilot. It's clear that a lot of thought and feeling went into the creation of this album, and giving it away gratis was a very generous move on the part of its creators. These eleven tracks are dressed up in a lot of pop culture references and apocalyptic imagery, but strip it all back and what you're left with is a nakedly emotional and darkly honest break-up album. ("She did you no good; she brought you only harm," Davey MacManus tells himself repeatedly at the beginning of Requiem Aeternam.) It's one thing to spin your heartbreak into songs, but to then set those songs free - to allow people to store your deepest, darkest feelings in their iTunes libraries without asking for a penny in return - is something else entirely, especially given that the decision to charge nothing for SotWH pretty much ensured that all press coverage of the album would focus primarily on its price (or lack thereof) rather than on the songs themselves.

Friday, April 21, 2017

EP Corner: Four Songs Too Long by Low Horizon

Low Horizon are a band from Houston, Texas. There are currently four people in the band - John Gottlieb, Brandon T. Cane, David Dao and Jasmine Fuller - but it wasn't always thus. In fact, Low Horizon's website is home to this rather ambitious Venn diagram that maps out all the present and former members and the things they have in common:

You see, the band were originally a three-piece, and when two of the three members went off to medical school in 2015 it looked like the sun had set on Low Horizon. But John - the one remaining member - decided to keep going, and with the blessing of his former bandmates Jack and Travis he rebuilt Low Horizon from the ground up, re-recording their songs in his home studio and recruiting a new group of collaborators to help him keep the fire burning.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Fly Towards the Moon: Q&A with Morgan Murphy from Mothpuppy

Maryland band Mothpuppy make scuffed-up indie rock music that, in spite of its slightly melancholy side, is as warm and as comforting as that well-worn, increasingly threadbare jumper that you've had in your wardrobe for as long as you can remember. Their new LP Cool & Pretty is out now and Sad Cactus Records, and the band's singer/guitarist Morgan Murphy very generously agreed to answer a few of my questions about the album and how it came to be...

image source:

The Album Wall: So why did you call your band 'Mothpuppy'?

Morgan Murphy: I don't really have an interesting answer for that! It's something that people were calling me in my first year of college, and I couldn't think of anything else when I made my Bandcamp page. And then it stuck and people wouldn't let me change it.

TAW: Ha. And here I was looking at it and thinking 'ooh it's so interesting how they've put a universally reviled creature alongside a universally adored creature, I wonder what it means???'

MM: Ha, well I do love moths and puppies alike so maybe that was part of the reasoning.

TAW: What do you like about moths?

MM: I think they're beautiful and super-interesting to look at. Someone told me the reason they're attracted to light is because they're always trying to fly towards the moon - I'm not sure if that's true, but it's a nice thought.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Beautiful Bugs: Cool & Pretty by Mothpuppy

Kittens and puppies are cute. Moths and fleas are gross. Boys are tough; girls are pretty. Violins belong in orchestras, whereas electric guitars belong in garages. Good is good and bad is bad and everything is either one or the other.

These are the sort of pointless divisions and categorisations and over-simplifications in which Mothpuppy chew all kinds of holes on their new LP Cool & Pretty. Led by singer/guitarist Morgan Murphy, the Baltimore band revel in putting things in the wrong boxes, or even in emptying all of the boxes onto the carpet and just mixing everything together. The result is a raggedy slacker-indie album that's incongruously decorated with golden ribbons of gorgeous, mournful violin - ribbons that bring out the gorgeous, mournful side of the songs themselves. On the face of it, these songs are about drinking cranberry juice and taking out the bins, but on a deeper level, they're really about seeing the beauty in the things everyone else perceives as ugly.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Through a Kaleidoscope: Q&A with Philippa Zang

Philippa Zang's album Embarrass Yourself came out earlier this year on No Dice Tapes and it's an oddball DIY pop gem - listening to it feels like getting a fresh start in a sweet new world of fun opportunities and video games and oversized jumpers. There are lots of different feelings and ideas packed into its twelve little tracks, and I was lucky enough to ask Philippa a few questions in order to get to know the album better...

The Album Wall: Please introduce yourself - who are you and what should everyone know about you?

Philippa Zang: I am Philippa and I come from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but am currently living in Dresden, Germany. I love the guitar, language and mango juice, and I don't trust rules or gender.

TAW: Why is your new album called Embarrass Yourself?

PZ: 'Embarrass yourself” was something I wrote absent-mindedly on the cover of a notebook when i first arrived in Germany in September. At the time it felt like everything I did had the potential to be embarrassing - I was in a country where I didn't know anyone and didn't speak the language. It was necessary for me to put myself in uncomfortable situations in order to open up even small opportunities and build a new home for myself abroad.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Standing Where The Point Used to Be

I am standing on Mount Stuart Square, about five hundred yards from the waters of Cardiff Bay. It is a warm and sunny April evening - the busiest part of the day is over, and aside from a few stray pedestrians and the odd seagull, the street is more or less deserted.

Before me looms the spire of St Stephen's, a Gothic-style church and Grade II listed building that has stood on this corner for more than a hundred years. Back in the noughties, this place was a 500-capacity music venue called The Point; I can still remember spilling out onto this very pavement, exhausted and ecstatic, in the middle of a sticky August night in 2006. Broken Social Scene had just finished a gargantuan two-hour set, plus multiple encores, and I (a shaggy-haired GCSE student, just barely fifteen years old) had been in the thick of the crowd for the whole thing, jumping around and sweating buckets and shouting for them to play I'm Still Your Fag. That show at The Point remains one of the best gigs I've ever attended - The Rolling Stones were also in town that night for a concert at the Millennium Stadium, and I must say that I feel a little sorry for the thousands of people who spent the evening with Keith and Mick instead of with Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning and goodness knows how many others.

Monday, April 10, 2017

How Do You Wish You Felt? - Embarrass Yourself by Philippa Zang

I first came across Philippa Zang's music on The Le Sigh, who premiered the short 'n' sweet video for Zang's track how do u feel last month.

Perhaps it's just the sight of that animated pink teacup smiling alongside his cracked brethren on a charity shop shelf, but how do u feel makes me feel really weepy. (Weepy in a happy sort of way, mind you - not the sort of weepy you get when Ellie dies at the beginning of Up, but the sort of weepy you get towards the end of the film when Carl finds her 'Thanks for the adventure - now go have a new one!' message.)

"How do you feel? How do you wish you felt?"

Friday, April 7, 2017

Happy Birthday Barafundle (Guest Post)

Barafundle, the fourth LP from off-kilter Carmarthenshire outfit Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, came out on the 7th of April 1997 - exactly twenty years ago today. Christophe from La Forme has written a few words to mark the occasion.

A sharp contrast to the bloated rock star posturing of Oasis's Be Here Now and the pre-millennial stress of Radiohead's OK Computer, Barafundle arrived in April 1997, seemingly cut off from all current trends and influences and with none of the bullish, misplaced self-confidence of the 'Britpop' that preceded it. Instead, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci created their own world of childhood memories and half-remembered stories from the Welsh coast and furnished it with a wide array of delicate, imaginative acoustic instrumentation.

Over sixteen brisk tracks, Barafundle celebrates the simple pleasures of visiting relatives, good weather, warm fires, and growing up in West Wales. Musically, the band file back the often dizzying psychedelic eccentricities of their previous albums and replace them with spacious acoustic arrangements, soft brass, and odd medieval flourishes. This approach gives the band's wonderful melodies and harmonies clarity and space to breathe.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

EP Corner: Halogen Days by Vassals

There's an edgy, insomniac nervousness to Halogen Days, the new EP from Brooklyn band Vassals. Shay Spence's staccato basslines twitch like sleep-deprived eyes as she sings of nights spent awake and days spent wandering around in an aimless daze, squinting in the fuggy sunlight.

Monday, April 3, 2017

No Faith in the Future: We All Want the Same Things by Craig Finn

The artwork for Craig Finn's new album We All Want the Same Things depicts a sodden motorway beneath a dismal grey sky. Red brake lights glow weakly in the rain, and the cars ahead slow to a crawl as they approach some unseen obstruction. Has there been an accident? A collision, a collapsed bridge? Or is it just ordinary congestion...?

Uncertainty about the future is kind of a central theme for this LP. Finn reminds us that nobody can really know what lies ahead; all we can do is try our best to be ready for it. The penultimate line of the album's final track, Be Honest, is as follows:

"If revolution's really coming then we all need to be well"

We All Want the Same Things is an album for interesting times, and its release was very well timed indeed because there are a lot of interesting things happening on both sides of the Atlantic right now. Theresa May triggered Article 50 last week, which means that the Brexit process is now officially underway, while over in America Donald Trump and his team are still battling allegations of Russian involvement in last year's presidential election. Right now it feels nearly impossible to predict where we'll all stand next week - let alone in a couple of years' time - and for that reason, We All Want the Same Things feels like the perfect set of songs for this moment in history. Unimaginably huge changes could be just around the corner for all of us, and so the important thing to do right now is to look after yourself and embrace the here and now.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Get It Out: Q&A with Joe Sherrin (a.k.a. SLONK)

Released earlier this month, Songs About Tanks is the new album from SLONK (real name Joe Sherrin) and it serves as an unflinching document of just how hard a break-up can be. Much of the record was written and recorded within just a week of the break-up, and though Sherrin's words are draped in all kinds of lovely, cosy-sounding instrumentation, you can hear that his wounds are still painfully fresh. Here, he answers some questions about Songs About Tanks and what was going on in his life during its creation.

The Album Wall: Please introduce yourself - who are you, what should we know about you, and where did the name 'SLONK' come from?

Joe Sherrin: My name's Joe Sherrin. I play in lots of Bristol-based bands, and SLONK is my solo project. 'SLONK' is just a nonsense word I used to use, e.g. "just slonk that over here please, Steve". I was pretty stuck trying to find a name for my solo stuff, so I just went with that - I like that it's silly and a bit weird. Turns out 'SLONK' has an Urban Dictionary definition though, so that pissed me off.

TAW: Your new album, Songs About Tanks, is a break-up album. What's the story behind that title? What do tanks have to do with breaking up?

JS: I put the song We're Both Going To Be Fine up online in its original demo form (just guitar and vocals) back in November, and I put in the comments to my friends who found the song upsetting, "don't worry guys - the next batch of songs will be about tanks and harlots, like usual". That was a lampoon, though; none of the songs are about tanks. They're wetties.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Unsteadied: A Craig Finn Playlist

Craig Finn's new LP We All Want the Same Things came out last week and you should definitely buy it because it's his best yet.

I'll probably write a proper review of We All Want the Same Things at some point in the very near future, but for the moment, I'd like to take a quick look back at Finn's last two solo outings: 2012's Clear Heart, Full Eyes and 2015's Faith in the Future. It's been really interesting watching the singer from The Hold Steady build up his very own body of work outside the band, and so for the benefit of any Hold Steady fans who haven't yet sampled Finn's own-name stuff, I've chosen five of my favourite tracks from each of those records and sequenced them into this nifty little playlist. I hope you enjoy it - maybe have a listen while you wait for your copy of the new album to arrive?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Corpse: Songs About Tanks by SLONK

Countless artists have written songs about breaking up, but few break-up albums cannonball into the deep end of that experience like Songs About Tanks, the new LP from Bristol's SLONK (real name Joe Sherrin). This record isn't funereal and sombre like The Boatman's Call; nor is it as resigned a farewell as The Walker Brothers' classic break-up song Make it Easy on Yourself. Most end-of-relationship albums, even the really angsty and depressing ones, find some sort of closure by the end, but Songs About Tanks isn't so much about finding closure as it is about painting a devastatingly detailed picture of the immediate fallout. There's no real 'journey' here, no healing process that ends with our protagonist getting over it and moving on - this album simply seeks to capture exactly what it's like to have your heart ripped in half.

And it does that very well indeed. Sherrin has a great eye for detail, and his lyrics do a superb job of documenting the tiny little pains that follow the end of a relationship: changing your passwords so that they no longer include your ex's name; realising that the little songs the two of you used to sing to each other will never be sung again; going back to their flat, the one you used to share, and noticing that all the photos of you have been taken down. Rather remarkably, the lion's share of Songs About Tanks was written and recorded within a week of the break-up that spawned it, so as a listener you feel very close - almost uncomfortably close at times - to the centre of it all. You feel like you're standing right there at ground zero, looking over Sherrin's shoulder as he surveys the debris.

Friday, March 24, 2017

To Journey Freely: Q&A with Mo Kirby of The Nightjar

The Nightjar are a post-folk quartet from London whose debut LP, Objects, came out last week. Recorded in rural Portugal, the album is a bewitching listen indeed: The Nightjar's music is evocative of wide open spaces, of flickering candles, and of a vast sea lapping at the shore of a pebble beach on a moonless night.

Ahead of a gig in Camden next month and a number of other live appearances after that, The Nightjar's lead singer Mo Kirby very graciously took the time to answer some of my questions about Objects and its constituent songs and sounds.

Image credit: Paul Blakemore

The Album Wall: Why did you choose to call yourselves 'The Nightjar'?

Mo Kirby: A nightjar is a bird with silent flight. It hunts at night, has a strange call, and nests on the ground. They are unusual birds with lots of interesting folklore attached to them. The characteristics and behaviour of the birds attracted us to the name, but we also heard that - very unusually - nightjars had been found nesting in marshland next to where we lived in London. We were already considering using the name, but that sealed the deal.

TAW: You describe your music as 'lo-fi post-folk'. What is 'post-folk', and how is it different from regular folk music?

MK: Folk music as a genre is very hard to pin down. To me, it is music rooted in and referencing a tradition, and it is shared and passed on in a particular way. I would feel uncomfortable describing what we do purely as folk music. We reference folk traditions, but we have taken it somewhere else. What we do is inspired by traditional folk music and folk revival, but it's developed in response to these...hence the 'post'.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Post-Folk: Objects by The Nightjar

The word 'folk' used to refer to a type of music designed to be enjoyed by large groups of people. Old-fashioned folk songs aimed to create a feeling of community and togetherness, emphasising simple tunes and lyrics that everyone could join in with. Far more recently, 'folk' has come to denote a far lonelier sort of music: the word now gets thrown at acts like Bon Iver and Nick Drake and early-period Leonard Cohen. These days, 'folk' is one person with an acoustic guitar singing fragile, solitary-sounding songs to a room full of quiet, attentive listeners rather than to a choir of bawdy drunks in a crowded pub.

The Nightjar are a band from London who describe themselves as making "lo-fi post-folk" music. As the phrase 'post-folk' suggests, their sound is a step beyond that of the quivering, poetic mopes who commonly purport to be 'folk' musicians nowadays - not only is their particular twist on folk music not designed for consumption by large, loud groups of people, you almost get the sense that it's designed for a time when all other people have disappeared off the face of the Earth entirely.

Monday, March 20, 2017

All at Sea: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank at 10

If you ignore the various EPs, mini-albums, and rarities compilations they've released over the years, Modest Mouse's discography can be roughly divided into two equal parts.

Their first three albums - This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About (1996), The Lonesome Crowded West (1997), and The Moon & Antarctica (2000) - were made by a tight-as-hell trio who knitted together weird, wonky riffs and strong, sinewy rhythms to create brilliant and bizarre indie rock that perfectly evoked the immense, sprawling, spread-out strangeness of North America. Having only ever driven on British roads, I can't really speak from experience - the longest journey I ever completed took me from Cardiff to York and covered roughly 250 miles, which is slightly less than the distance between Seattle, Washington and Spokane, Washington - but whenever I listen to those first few Modest Mouse albums in all their long-playing glory, the feeling I'm left with is similar to the feeling I imagine truck drivers get about eight hours into an eleven-hour shift. During longer tracks like Truckers Atlas from The Lonesome Crowded West, you begin to lose all sense of time and space, until eventually all you're aware of is Jeremiah Green's drumming stretching off into the distance like endless yellow lines on the tarmac.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fourteen Floors: Hurray for the Riff Raff & The Long Journey Upwards

Buried deep in the second half of Hurray for the Riff Raff's wonderful new album The Navigator is a track called Fourteen Floors.

Gentle and slight, Fourteen Floors is not The Navigator's most memorable song by any stretch of the imagination.  It doesn't have the purposeful drive of pre-release single Hungry Ghost; it certainly doesn't scale the same spine-tingling heights as Pa'lante, the album's stunning climax; it's not even on quite the same level as Halfway There, the lovely little acoustic song that mostly stands out because it provides a gentle moment of calm between The Navigator's two fieriest tracks (The Navigator and Rican Beach).

Nevertheless, I find Fourteen Floors strangely intriguing, and so I'd like to take a closer look at this song today. What is it about? What does it add to the album? And what are the 'fourteen floors' supposed to represent?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

EP Corner: List of Equipment by Lusterlit

Lusterlit are two people - Susan Hwang and Charlie Nieland - who write songs about books. This fun little collaborative project grew out of the Bushwick Book Club, a loose collective of NYC-based songwriters who come together once a month for what the Club's website describes as "an hour-long orgy of book-related songs and book-inspired food and drink". It's like a regular book club, but you have to write and perform a song about the book instead of just talking about it (which I imagine makes things far trickier for the people who just come for the wine and only pretend to have done the reading).

Both Hwang and Nieland have released collections of their own work in the past, but the List of Equipment EP (which came out a couple of weeks ago) is Lusterlit's first release as a duo. It features five different songs about four different books:
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
  • The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  • The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
At this point, I should confess that I haven't read *any* of the above books - I did skim a brief summary of each one on Wikipedia before writing this blog post, but my knowledge of List of Equipment's source material sadly ends there. However, even I am aware that this is a pretty varied selection: you've got a gory Western, a French cookbook, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi classic, and a magical realist superhero novel.

Monday, March 13, 2017

To All Who Had to Hide: The Navigator by Hurray for the Riff Raff

In the wake of Donald Trump's election victory last November, there was much talk about 'identity politics' and the possibility that the left, by placing too much focus on the concerns of minority groups, drove a significant number of moderate white voters to the right.

I don't wish to debate the validity or otherwise of this theory right now (although I largely agree with Hadley Freeman's assertion that it's kind of shitty to suggest that gay rights, racial equality, and other issues that don't primarily affect straight white men are 'niche' concerns) - I only mention it because this line of thinking has spawned a toxic 'THIS IS WHY TRUMP WON!' atmosphere that effectively tells certain people to keep certain parts of their identities hidden so as not to piss anyone else off. Discussions about racial profiling, abortion rights, LGBTQ+ issues, et cetera are seen as counterproductive because they don't involve everyone, and some people have suggested that we on the left will only bring Trump voters back onside if we stop banging on about this stuff and focus on the issues that 'normal' people (i.e. straight white men) are worried about too.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Unpresidented Jams: Tunes for Trump's America

Truth be told, I'm not sure how many of the songs on Unpresidented Jams - the 'fuck Trump' charity compilation that Audio Antihero released the other week - are actually *about* Donald Trump and the current political climate in the USA. I know that at least a few of the tracks featured here were written and recorded back in the relatively halcyon days of the Obama administration, but...well, I don't know. Maybe it's because every single breaking news story these days seems to revolve around Trump and his cabinet of horrors, or maybe it's just because it's difficult to enjoy music at all right now without asking what it has to say about the present mess we're in, but either way, I didn't have to listen too closely to Unpresidented Jams to start hearing every line as a piece of political commentary.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Behold the Once & Future Me: Sick Scenes by Los Campesinos!

"Not right to call this old age...but it certainly ain't youth!"

The sixth Los Campesinos! album, Sick Scenes, finds the Cardiff-spawned septet trapped between two great galumphing horrors of equal awfulness. Behind them gapes the terrible maw of The Past, a big patchwork monster made of break-ups and missed penalties and old gig posters; before them looms the incomprehensible massiveness of The Future, a colossal giant who towers high above the clouds and promises naught but death. You've got a big ugly mess on one side, an unknowable multitude of potential devastations on the other, and Los Campesinos! in the middle, desperately trying to ignore these two abominations and concentrate on the football.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Getting it Wrong: A Chat with Jamie from Audio Antihero

Audio Antihero is a record label that specialises in all shades of off-kilter indie music. The label's very first release was the furiously fidgety We're Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On to Block Out the Noise by Nosferatu D2, and since then Audio Antihero's purview has expanded outwards to include everything from folk music to laptop pop, experimental soundscapes to route-one punk.

The man at the helm of the Audio Antihero frigate is Jamie Halliday. Jamie lived in London when the label first launched, but he has since moved to the USA, a country that - as you may be aware - recently elected TV business guy Donald Trump as its leader. In the wake of Trump's inauguration, Jamie (with the help of many cool bands and artists from the US and elsewhere) put together a compilation album called Unpresidented Jams to raise money for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Friday, February 24, 2017

All of This Will Disappear: Impermanence by Peter Silberman

"I'm disassembling...piece by piece..."

Impermanence opens with a crisis. The creative process that led Peter Silberman to write and record this album was triggered a few years ago by an injury that left the Antlers frontman temporarily deaf in one ear and agonisingly sensitive to sounds that he scarcely even noticed before. This devastating setback - and I'm sure that having your hearing wrecked is horrible even when you don't make music for a living - drove home to Silberman the fact that everything is subject to change, and that everything ends eventually. As he himself puts it, Impermanence is the result of being forced to "consider the finite".

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes Revisited

With both the UK and the USA seemingly becoming more insular and inward-looking with each new day, now would be a good time to revisit Hurray for the Riff Raff's Small Town Heroes even were it not for the fact that its successor is due out next month. Originally released in February 2014, this album may just be the reminder we all need right now of the importance of open-mindedness and progressive, compassionate thinking.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Antlers: Why Has Peter Silberman Gone Solo?

Later this week, Antlers frontman Peter Silberman will be releasing his debut solo album Impermanence. I always find it interesting when a band's chief songwriting force goes solo (what's the point, I often wonder, when you already have creative control?), and it's particularly intriguing in this case because The Antlers themselves started life as a Peter Silberman solo project. It was only eight or nine years ago that they assumed the form of a proper band with an established core lineup: drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci didn't get involved until Silberman already had a couple of albums in the bag, and even the most recent Antlers record - 2014's superb Familiars - still credited Peter Silberman as the sole writer for every track.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Memories of Mansun's Attack of the Grey Lantern

This is my copy of Attack of the Grey Lantern by Mansun. The album came out on the 17th of February, 1997 - exactly twenty years ago today - but I was only five years old back then, and I didn't get my hands on this CD until roughly a decade later.

It all started when I heard Wide Open Space on a compilation CD that came free with a 2006 issue of Uncut magazine (Legacy: The Best of Mansun was among the new releases reviewed in the mag that month). I had never listened to Mansun before that, but there was something intriguingly out of the ordinary about Wide Open Space that I just couldn't brush off. I loved the nervous two-note guitar riff, I loved the cartoonish yet vaguely nightmarish touches going on in the background, and I loved the song's circular structure - the claustrophobic way it went around and around, sounding (ironically, given the title) like it was gradually closing in on you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

EP Corner: Oui EP by American Anymen & Lise

The Oui EP. a four-track collaboration between New York collective American Anymen and French artist Lise, has two basic settings: yearning for the past, and trying to cope with the present. The tension between then and now is reflected in the album's sonic landscape - somehow or other, it sounds like a fuzzy DIY bedroom recording and a sumptuous soul classic at the same time. It's as if The Moldy Peaches had a baby with If You Leave Me Now by Chicago.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Great Con: Attack of the Grey Lantern at 20

Is Attack of the Grey Lantern a concept album? Certainly, Mansun's gapless debut - which came out on the 17th of February, 1997, making it 20 years old as of this Friday - bears many resemblances to the archetypal rock opera. There are recurring characters and motifs; ambitious, widescreen arrangements; and the whole thing flows seamlessly from one song to the next, as though each segue were facilitated by a team of unseen stagehands, pulling ropes and running around backstage to keep everything running smoothly.

But if it is a proper concept album with a proper narrative (à la Tommy and The Wall), well...what is that narrative? What is the actual *plot* of Attack of the Grey Lantern?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Support Happiness: 10 Questions for Tammy

Brooke and Aaron are two people from Brooklyn, NY who perform together under the name Tammy. Their music is a gorgeous brew of indie, country and folk influences, and their debut album This (released late last year) slopes gently back and forth between doe-eyed romance and dagger-eyed contempt, to deliciously bittersweet effect. It's a great rainy day album, and the two members of Tammy very kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about it - here goes:

The Album Wall: Why did you choose the name 'Tammy'?

Brooke: Tammy's the name of a character in a rock opera we haven't written yet.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Rattle Through Fragments & Curiosities by Armstrong

Some years ago, I downloaded A Brilliant Escape. a free sampler from Ontario-based record label The Beautiful Music. This compilation (still freely available here if you fancy a listen) brightened up many a dreary afternoon at work back when I first acquired it in 2013, and even now I find it a far more enjoyable listen than many albums I actually paid money for. A Brilliant Escape is very generous for a free sampler, offering up lots of good songs and several great ones: my personal favourites are the weepy I Hope He's Everything You Wanted Me to Be by Scottish miserablists The Just Joans and a wonderful track called This One by somebody named Armstrong.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Love, Unlove: This by Tammy

Brooklyn duo Tammy bill themselves as a 'sex folk' band, but if you're looking for songs about throbbing members, quivering womanhoods and screaming orgasms, you'll have to look elsewhere. Tammy tell the stories either side of the sexual encounters; they sing the moments leading up to sex and the moments that come afterwards.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Vampire Stories: An Interview with Adam Klopp of Choir Boy

Released towards the end of 2016, Choir Boy's Passive with Desire is a haunting, lushly-textured album that sounds like it was torn directly from the dark underbelly of the 1980s. Some of its songs are beautifully bittersweet; others sound downhearted and despondent; still others sound utterly tormented.

It all makes for a rather bewitching listening experience, and it's all pinned together by the gloriously ghostly falsetto of Adam Klopp from Ohio, USA. Adam was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Passive with Desire - read on to find out all about his musical influences, his fondness for vampire imagery, and quite a bit more besides. 

The Album Wall: What does it mean to be 'passive with desire'?

Adam Klopp: The phrase 'passive with desire' is a reference to a conversation I had with a friend near the tail end of the writing process. She brought up how people can be passively suicidal - not necessarily actively trying to die, but hoping the universe might take control and do away with you via car crash or something. I hadn't  heard the concept articulated like that before, and it really resonated with me. I think a lot of people get depressed or nihilistic and fantasize about not existing, even if they're not at risk of ending their own lives.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Damien Rice & The Story of O

Damien Rice's debut album O came out exactly 15 years ago today. To mark this anniversary, I thought I'd take a look back at the most delicate LP of 2002 and try to work out exactly what it's all about.

Why did Damien Rice call his first album 'O'? Several years ago, I wrote a blog post suggesting several possible explanations: it's an exhortation to God, it's a reference to his Irish heritage, it's a number zero signifying worthlessness! I felt very clever and insightful and pleased with myself until someone on Twitter came along and burst my smug little bubble:

How could I have missed it? In all my pondering and theorising about the symbolism of the letter O, I had overlooked the fact that Amie, O's sixth track, contains a whopping great title drop:

"Amie, come sit on my wall
And read me the Story of O
Tell it like you still believe
That the end of the century
Brings a change for you and me"

As you may be aware, Story of O (or Histoire d'O if you speak French) is an erotic novel that was originally published in the mid-20th century. Its central character, only ever referred to as 'O', is a fashion photographer who willingly becomes a sexual slave and grows more and more submissive as the story goes on; I won't go into the beady details right now, but Story of O can be read in full on the Internet Archive if you're so inclined. I must admit that I haven't read it myself, but from what I've heard it makes 50 Shades of Grey look like an issue of Jackie.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Ghostly Yearning: Passive with Desire by Choir Boy

The artwork for Choir Boy's Passive with Desire (released late last year on Team Love Records) features a pair of vampires with pale faces, black cloaks, fearsome fangs and blood-stained lips. One of them is eyeing you up hungrily, while the other twin appears to be in a state of near-orgasm as he imagines biting into your neck and bursting open your jugular vein.

Choir Boy mainman Adam Klopp - the man who dressed up as Dracula for those two photos - will offer you a dozen different explanations as to what the bloodthirsty vampires on the cover of his band's first album represent. They reflect the album's themes of death and depression and darkness, but there's also a nostalgic element to the image, which was conceived - at least in part - as an attempt to recreate a Halloween photo from Klopp's childhood. Then there's the way in which vampires, with their habit for feeding off of others, might be seen as a metaphor for abusive relationships, or our greedy capitalist society, or...

Yes, one can read lots of different things into the vampire imagery that adorns this album (and has also shown up in Choir Boy's gig posters, band photos, and a music video). But funnily enough, when I actually *listen* to Passive with Desire, I don't hear vampires at all - I hear a ghost.