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...

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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.