Saturday, December 30, 2006

Goodbye, 2006!

Everyone has their own view of the music that made 2006 unique - these are my first thoughts and I hope they look forward as much as back. In some ways I think that 2006 was the year that proved that 2004 and 2005 weren't simply some fluke of nature!
It is not generally disputed that the music industry entered the new millennium in a state of largely self-inflicted malaise - having convinced itself that managing its own gradual decline was the best that could be hoped for. I'm afraid that the principal blame here must go to the major labels in the US as they duly responded - in perhaps the worst way possible - by axing most of their promising, but as yet unprofitable, artists mostly in favour of aging "bankers".

It was a veritable "Night of Long Knives" and the repercussions were also felt across Britain and Europe as those same labels also controlled most artists here too. It was the best thing happen in a very long time - BUT the commercial ineptitude that it displayed simply beggars belief! With new technologies making recording, releasing and promoting music ever easier, surely the last thing to do is to release all your carefully signed, nurtured and contract-bound new talent as free agents on a ready and willing market?

Too right - and that is why we are where we are now! Why not add a comment or criticism now? ~R

Few albums could be so strange...

It has been a British joke for a very long time... that there is no such thing as a good French pop album, let alone a good French artist and, perish the thought, one that sings in French.

Now there is and she also 'sings' many of the instruments too - welcome to the curious world of Camille Dalmais! She is perhaps best known for singing with the band Nouvelle Vague that covers classic punk and new wave songs in a French lounge/bossa nova style, to great effect and critical acclaim, but in English.
That is not all she does however: her two solo studio albums are arguably even better, certainly far more original. That said she is at her best live and 'Live au Trianon', recorded over two nights (17/18 October 2005) but not released until autumn 2006, is one of the finest live albums this side of anytime!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Three from one... Helios, Goldmund and Sono.

It is hard to tell what music in 2007 will bring; it looks set fair for another good year and live music of all kinds is likely to remain prominent. It seems unlikely that 2007 will be dull, whether or not my predictions are correct, as there is just too much going on at the moment for it to be any other way.
There may be some subtle changes and I can imagine that some dance music - perhaps pop-trance in particular - will return from its recent slumber. A slightly longer bet would be that 'ambient' and 'chill' will also make a comeback along with 'down-beat electronica' and perhaps 'trip-hop' too.

The title says it all - Keith Kenniff is Sono, Helios and Goldmund and he has released under all three monikers in 2005/6.
The results range from Bjork's Hyperballad, re-worked as a harp-led piece on a 10" single (Sono), to the electronica-plus-acoustica of Eingya (Helios) and the rather more piano-led and acoustic-based Corduroy Road (Goldmund) but all three are entirely instrumental. They are however far from dull and the two albums alone amount to almost 90 minutes of quite pure and surprising beauty.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Those 2005 albums... (part 2)

Tour advertisement from 2005.

Following on from the last post, and if a swirling background of electric guitars is more your thing, then this might be to your liking. London based five-piece The Duke Spirit have been around since at least 2003 and while their early vinyl stuff is hard to find the 2005 album Cuts Across the Land is the obvious place to start. There is the 13-track standard version, available on CD and vinyl, and a 'Special Edition' CD that also includes an additional 10-track CD that comprises demo versions and live session recordings. Buy the former for the glory of the cover artwork and the fact that it is vinyl, the latter for the mainly very worthwhile additional recordings and because heard even live-by-proxy 'The Duke Spirit' are simply awesome!

They should be touring again in Spring 2007 and in the meantime they have released a very limited edition 7",
Covered in Love and it features two tracks by recently deceased artists that they hold as influences. The tracks are Desmond Dekker's '007 (Shanty Town)' of 1967 and the Arthur Lee track 'A House Is Not A Motel' from the 1967 'Love' album Forever Changes; both are sung by Liela Moss with the band providing their signature sound.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Those 2005 albums... (part 1)

Well I said I'd get back about this subject sooner or later...

I have finally got around to thinking about the 2005 albums that I still listen to on a regular basis. This is no order of merit - it is just what comes to mind here and now - but 'Sons and Daughters' 2005 album The Repulsion Box remains right up at the top of the listening list.
Why this band has not been more successful beats me; their 2004 EP Love The Cup was almost as good too. They are signed to Domino Records and both the EP and LP mentioned above are readily available on CD and also, with a little bit of searching, on quality vinyl. So are the singles - the pick of which is probably Dance Me In c/w Drunk Medicine - but without a moment of doubt 'Sons and Daughters' is truly an "album band".

They fuse elements of punk and folk with dark and often quite surprisingly brutal lyrics and all accompanied by some seriously martial percussion. The vocals are never less than fantastic - Scott Paterson has a great Glaswegian growl - and when Adele Bethel is angry, as she often seems to be, there is no mistaking it!
If you want to try the slightly less intense,
lyrically somewhat more ambiguous, side of 'Sons and Daughters' then I recommend starting with the Love The Cup EP and it is never better demonstrated than on the closing track Awkward Duet.

Thank God for 'Take That'...

No joking, damage limitation is the best we can hope for in the run up to Christmas and so this was never going to be the greatest week for UK music. Few would have expected otherwise but when the chips were well and truly down today only the reformed Take That, the butt of so many boy-band jokes more than a decade ago, came like King Arthur and his Knights to the rescue of the UK Singles Chart in its time of greatest need!

With all other heavyweights opting out of releasing singles in the UK during the Christmas madness only they were likely to be able to stand between Sir Cliff Richard and the #1 spot (it would have caused him to have a UK #1 in six successive decades and thus be in the record books for at least a billion years) but they proved well able to hold the line, keeping their 9th UK #1 on top for a fourth week. The release on Wednesday of the single by 'X-Factor' winner Leona Lewis should ensure the threat of a back-lash is minimal.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I'm supposed to be telling you about the albums of 2005 that I still frequently listen to, and in a bit I will do so, but I have just been reminded of a splendid solo album from 2004, Grey Will Fade by Charlotte Hatherley. She was then still lead guitarist with Ash, but as of early 2006 she has been a solo artist. Her first new release, on 'Little Sister Records', is out on Monday 17th December. There is a four-track download EP and also an extremely limited 7" release of first single Behave.

Luckily I already have the vinyl version on pre-release and a fine thing it is too. Just like Grey Will Fade it is full of strange twists: some are lyrical but most are musical. Grey Will Fade is still one of my favourite albums of 2004 - and few would attempt the kind of key and time changes to be found on it.
The 'B' side of the 7" is a remix of Behave and I generally have rather mixed feelings about such things. This particular one I really like however - I'm not sure quite why but it just "works". It presages her second solo album The Deep Blue, which is due to be released in March 2007.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another week, another cover version.

Lily Allen has been big news in 2006; recently her third single 'Littlest Things' appeared. There is a limited vinyl 7" release of this single and the 'B' side is a surprise, to say the least! It is a cover, largely played on guitar but also with keyboards, of Keane's Everybody's Changing from their first album. Keane memorably don't do guitars - it is their defining statement!
I think this works very well however - it is less gloomy than the original, but not by much - and her voice is actually not too far from that of Tom Chaplin and her vocals sound far less strained! Many myths surround Lily Allen's music on vinyl and are they often misleading:

The singles, excepting the 200 copies of 'LDN' c/w 'Knock Em Out' that accompanied the original "download only" release (below, bottom left), are not that rare. The vinyl single of its second release (below, bottom second from right) was c/w 'Nan, You're a Window Shopper'. The latest single 'The Littlest Things' (below, bottom right) has as its 'B-side' the cover mentioned above.

The album 'Alright, Still' is widely claimed, if one believes much that is written on the internet, not to exist. Exist it does, but I believe only to the extent of 800 copies worldwide; three of which are pictured above!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

2006 - My 'Top Ten' Albums

The reason these choices are in alphabetical order is that they are just my current 2006 favourites.

Amy Millan
- Honey From The Tombs
Bat For Lashes - Fur and Gold
Corinne Bailey Rae
- Corinne Bailey Rae
Hafdis Huld - Dirty Paper Cup
Ilya - Leaving Sans-Souci
Lily Allen - Alright, Still
Nerina Pallot - Fires
Shakira - Oral Fixation (Volume 2)
The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes
Yeah, Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones

I could easily have added half a dozen others and the order is merely determined by my mood at any particular time. I have likewise also excluded several very recent additions to my collection as they have an insufficient listening profile for me to have formed a proper opinion of them. Corinne Bailey Rae and Karen O (of Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs) could however hardly be more different in vocal style but are both on record as being a big fan of the other. I have also just noticed that, although these albums span a wide spectrum of musical styles, there is not a male vocalist in a predominant rôle on any of them!

Two of these albums should in truth be excluded. Shakira's album was due for release in the UK and Europe in November 2005 but was postponed for three months. Genuine 'European' copies were however avilable from Singapore from mid November and mine is one of those. Nerina Pallot's album was also released in 2005, on her own label 'Idaho', but frankly nobody took much notice until it got a major label release on '14th Floor Records' in 2006. This was a re-mixed version - as the artist put it 'more spangly'; the version I have is the original one.

I'm pretty confident I'll still be listening to all these albums this time next year. This begs an interesting question - which albums that I bought in 2005 do I still regularly listen to?

X-Factor - the world waits and wonders... but does anyone really care?

To be quite honest I couldn't care less who wins 'X-Factor', or any other reality pop-production for that matter. They haven't had a good record when it comes to enduring winners - in fact often the second best have done far better in the longer term. Two exceptions come to mind - Will Young (the first 'Pop Idol') and Kelly Clarkson (the first 'American Idol') - and they both continue to have success on either side of the Atlantic and elsewhere. The 'Idol' and 'X-Factor' formats are however examples of UK TV ideas that have been exported to the US with massive success.
The winner of 2006 X-Factor is almost certainly going to be Leona Lewis - the chosen song is one of Kelly Clarkson's earlier efforts and it certainly won't suit the male vocalist that is her only rival. The big issue is that it doesn't really suit either of them, and was also one of Clarkson's least impressive songs. This despite the fact that she was one genuine find; she has a powerful voice and an impressive range as she finally showed on her multi-million selling second album "Breakaway".

For now at least it seems that real stars are going to have to make it to the top the hard way, as they have almost always had to do. Which brings me to thoughts of memorable albums of 2006, and also what made a lasting impression - the albums of 2005 that I still often listen to, for example.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ice Cream Is Nice (monsters are not)

For some reason the most wanted items always take the longest time to arrive and never has it been truer than with this CD. It has been several years in the making and then two different Amazon Marketplace sellers let me down on this one (the only two times this has ever happened to me and so I’m not planning to dwell on it). When it finally arrived this morning I hardly dared listen to it. I had high hopes based on the single ‘Tomoko’, (available on vinyl and which I have) but what if it was to prove an overall disappointment after all the waiting and the effort to get it? I can’t tell you what might have been but I can say that it is far better than I dared hope for.
This is an album that proves ‘pop’ is not a dirty word after all and also that the genre is far from exhausted! Better still, but rather unfairly as it deserves a wide audience, you’ll probably have this gem almost to yourself at least for now be that for your own listening or for confounding your friends.

Dirty Paper Cup is an odd name for an album but then its maker is called Hafdis Huld Thrastardottír, though she drops the last name for stage purposes. She is Icelandic, was formerly a singer with the nine-piece-collective Gus Gus, and that is probably all you need know about her back catalogue as this album is totally different. It is basically acoustic/electronic pop with more than the occasional strangely un-pop lyric (her shoes used to be a crocodile - Tomoko) all sung in a voice that ranges from a rather characteristic tuneful loud whisper to a sweet if slightly husky soprano. It is also much more than that for the arrangements are often as sparse as they are beautiful.

The ‘Dirty Paper Cup’ of the title is explained in track 7, in case you were wondering, and the very curious title for this review comes from track 8. I might be suffering from a case of track 6, but it is that kind of album: 13 tracks packed into 42 minutes and only one makes the four-minute mark. Not one even tempts me to make the effort of skipping it, which is the defining moment for a really good album. The final track, the short Sumri Hallar, is sung in Icelandic.

The penultimate track Who Loves The Sun? is indeed a cover of the Lou Reed song, which was the opening track on the 1970 album Loaded, the fourth studio album by the ‘The Velvet Underground’ but never before did it sound like this (this track in particular reminds me of Isobel Campbell's solo stuff) and I haven’t come across a cover of such an old track that really works since Vanessa Carlton covered 'The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black on her 2002 début album Be Not Nobody but the same song was also covered (in Japanese) by Utada Hikaru on her 1999 album First Love.
That said Nothing Else Matters was ingeniously and quite shamelessly covered by Lucie Silvas and it appears - as a piano ballad - on her 2004 début album Breathe In. Many of her fans didn't even realise that it was a cover of a track originally written and recorded by 'Metallica' and taken from their eponymous first album that was released in 1991.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

So this is Christmas! Five weeks and counting…

Welcome to Christmas and a music industry hiatus! It is seemingly inevitable - almost any artist who is worth anything avoids releases during the second half of November and all of December. It is the season to be jolly disappointed and it merely provides a parade of 'greatest hits' and truly dire 'seasonal compilations'.
Perhaps it is now time to drop hints about all those albums that you have wanted but never quite managed to acquire during the last year, or even just to listen properly to those you did get but then failed to pay enough attention to because of a lack of time; it cannot be said that 2006 has been remotely short of noteworthy albums.

The weekend papers are hotly debating the merits, or otherwise, of his very recent solo album (I haven't heard it so I can't comment) but he has without doubt been busy this year.
The former Pulp songwriter (and lead singer) Jarvis Cocker has joined forces with Neil Hannon (ditto and formerly of Northern Irish band The Divine Comedy) to write lyrics for music composed by French electro-traditionalist duo Air. It is true that Pulp, and even more so The Divine Comedy, were surprisingly popular bands in France, but would the album be any good and, importantly, who would do the vocals?

The answer to the first question is yes - the songs themselves are good, very good in fact - and 5:55 is also a surprising album: the lyrics are sung or sometimes barely more than spoken by Charlotte Gainsbourg but always perfectly match the accompaniment or more likely vice versa.

For far too long French 'pop music' has been something of a standing joke. While the above album is almost entirely sung in English, if you like it I suggest that you listen to 'Camille - Le Fil'. It is sung almost entirely in French and is another real highlight of 2006!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lithium - the third element.

Bring Me To Life was the first UK single released by Evanescence, a band from Little Rock AK, and it spent five weeks at the top of the UK singles chart in 2003. That was good work from a new goth-rock band from small-town America, especially given the timing in the UK, and even then all was not well within the band…
When they were in only a few months into touring their first album, Fallen, which went on to sell 15 million copies worldwide in just two years, co-founder Ben Moody (credited as the main songwriter) quit the band and went into rehab. He very soon reappeared however - but now writing for the likes of Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson.

If he thought that in so doing he had left Evanescence to founder under the stewardship of his former girlfriend, Amy Lee, that was to prove a serious misjudgment. It afforded her the chance to take full control and pick her own band; they then toured the album for another 18 months. On balance it seems to have worked out quite well because, while it is not in exactly the same style - and I'm inviting all kinds of adverse comments in this review - I think the second album The Open Door is actually as impressive as Fallen!
It has been criticised by several reviewers due to the fact that the songs here sound fairly similar to one another, and I can understand what this is about, but to me Fallen had one, albeit minor, flaw in that it sounded slightly disjointed: a product of two talents at war, who could never quite agree on exactly what they were trying to achieve.

To a degree that tension probably inspired Fallen and I must admit that The Open Door doesn't have anything quite like My Immortal, but it couldn't last. However, putting the 'goth' imagery aside for a moment, My Immortal is basically a very good piano ballad accompanied by very distinctive and inspired rock vocals and arrangements. There is no shortage of either on this album - both being Lee's home territory. With new songs written, and a band far tighter than ever, would such inspiration return on the second album?

Here is my current view:
Taken in general terms The Open Door is musically slightly less heavy than Fallen but it is also sometimes lyrically far darker. It does indeed reach the previous heights (or are they depths?), with a vengeance, on the track Lithium. It makes one wonder who this song is about but what it is about is fairly obvious. While it may be mere coincidence, like My Immortal, it is the fourth track on the album.
Lithium is however, despite what several reviewers have claimed, certainly not a cover of the Nirvana song of the same name although (were he still around to listen) Kurt Cobain might have approved of the sentiment if not the song!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Negative reviews are fine, but...

As the title says negative reviews are fine by me although, mainly out of necessity, I tend to only review my likes.
Why however, and it is very evident on , are reviewers who post a negative review of something almost always disinclined to suggest things we might like instead (and thus make a really positive contribution), while reviewers posting a positive review seem far more likely to suggest other things we might like as well?

Coming soon, reviews of:
Imogen Heap - Speak For Yourself
Thea Gilmore - Harpo's Ghost

and perhaps things you can't even imagine! If you don't like this idea then you should send me some suggestions...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Amy, Amy, Amy!

It is Halloween and, perhaps appropriately, Amy Winehouse is Back To Black...

The album is out and it is amazingly good - as all top music reviewers have been saying - but what is it about this album that makes it so different to Frank in 2003? Yes it is slightly more polished, and it is certainly more consistent in style (but see below) and perhaps also better produced, but is it really such as a big departure from Frank?
I think not, and I'm rather pleased too. Frank was critically praised, nominated for a '2004 Brit Award' and even won her an 'Ivor Novello Award' for songwriting in 2004. It was regarded then as something slightly off the mainstream, and it didn't sell in vast quantities (though enough to have recently gone 'platinum' in the UK!), but the concept had much promise. Island Records clearly agreed and didn't attempt to fix anything that wasn't broken. In fact it seems they allowed the fixing of the few things that were, mostly by interfering less and in particular by not meddling with the album's production. This appears to have been a big issue with Frank and she claims that, although she loves to perform the tracks from it, she can't stand listening to the album. Having heard Amy perform live I can believe that; Back To Black sounds much more authentic and this may also account for it's consistency.

There is I suspect also a bit of duplicity involved. Popular taste has been moving in the direction of her music, indeed live music in general, in the intervening time and both the label and the magazine reviewers have responded accordingly:

The Voice of 2007. There's none better. - MOJO and Contender for 'Album of the Year' - NME.

That all seemed fairly obvious to me three years ago, hence my post last week that included my review of Frank from 2003, but what do I know? I feel vindicated as I have just had a look on
to see how 'Back To Black' is selling.

Even I was shocked and stunned - Back To Black is currently #1 in Music! Here she is looking quite normal.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Knives Don’t Have Your Back…

If you like the band Metric (of which she is the lead singer) or Haines’ work for the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene (notably vocals on ‘Ballad For a Seventeen-year-old Girl’) I can’t, in all honesty, say whether or not you are going to like this album at all!

The nearest this album gets, musically, to anything on Metric’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now is probably The Lottery. It reminds me ever so slightly of Calculation Theme but even that connection seems tenuous.

On this album Emily plays piano and sings – that is basically the deal here. There are also other musicians involved of course, drawn from the firmament of Canadian talent that currently seems almost unstoppable, but this is a very personal recording and it is hard to reconcile this album with her Metric persona. Released by Last Gang Records, it is presented in a quite splendid digipack including full lyrics. My current favourite tracks are 'Crowd Surf Off A Cliff', 'The Lottery', and 'Reading In Bed' but that could well change with repeated listening.

It is difficult still to see how this album fits in, until you delve in to the background of both band and artist, when some of it really starts to make sense - particularly if you can find a copy of her 1996 release "Cut In Half And Also Double".

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Looking Forward to Listening to...

There are now several albums due for imminent release that I really want to listen to but, far more than any other, it is 'Back To Black' that I want to hear and it is reckoned to be even better than her début. That the first single, Rehab, from the forthcoming album, which is released on 30th October, entered the UK singles chart today at #27 on download alone is rather promising but ever since she released Frank, back in 2003, I have believed that Amy Winehouse was a star simply awaiting her place and time. I reviewed Frank back then, and I still stand by everything that I wrote almost three years ago, so here are my comments newly retrieved from!

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful:

***** I'm wasting my time. You can only listen..., 4 Nov 2003

I wouldn’t have thought this album to be my kind of music at all. I was intrigued by the reviews I had read in the press and so I bought it anyway. I was disappointed; but only by what I had read, not what I heard.

One of my favourite tracks, ‘Cherry’, is not even on the sleeve play-list.
Tacked on after ‘You Sent Me Flying’, it is short, sweet and devastatingly brutal. Comparing a love to her new guitar, Amy sings...

“Maybe we could talk ‘bout things
If you were made of wood and strings.”

No one gets off lightly on this album - she doesn’t spare herself on ‘What Is It About Men?’ and ‘Amy, Amy, Amy’. The lyrics are thoroughly modern; the music is a stunning blend of jazz, blues and things… Somehow it doesn’t seem false or contrived as she can make it all sing, and then some.

This album will surprise you: and keep listening beyond the Outro as there are a couple of bonus tracks there.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is This The Price We Pay For Progress?

It is a good question, never more relevant that at the moment. One thing that is quite certain is that South Yorkshire has been providing a very diverse and persuasive soundtrack recently. No sooner had the Kaiser Chiefs highlighted the slightly less salubrious side of Leeds than the Arctic Monkeys served up a fine riposte from Sheffield replete with the hazards of a night out on their town!

Leeds soon replied, on a completely different front, with the very different but equally successful sounds of Corinne Bailey Rae. Maybe Sheffield has retaliated and I simply haven’t heard about it but it is certain that Leeds has struck again!

It is rock, but not remotely like the zeitgeist tendencies of the above bands. The album Progress.Reform is quite different to any of the above and consisting of just seven tracks it might even be regarded as an EP but I see good reasons to not to do so - just for a start the subject matter is often erudite, eccentric and a world away from the modern, even if the music isn’t.
The first track, Terra Nova, is about Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1911-12 and the third track, Rook House For Bobby, is about the descent into isolation and eventual madness of chess player Bobby Fisher. This is not normal subject matter on any album and what is more they have a liking for using genuinely old recording equipment and performing live, shrouded in steam and wearing BR uniforms from circa 1960! Stainless Steel is rather different to the tracks that have come before: it starts gently, with a plucked guitar, but gradually builds – and there is more than 8¼ minutes of it in which to do this – into a rock epic of surprising proportions.

While there is, as such, no title track to this album its alter ego duly arrives at the very end and it is sung in the first person supported by a rather surprising indie backing 'choir': this song is The Beeching Report - the band is iLiKETRAiNS.

For those that like the slightly offbeat, eccentric even, this album comes highly recommended.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bat For Lashes - Fur and Gold

I promised to get back with my thoughts on this album, once I had listened to it enough to have a reasonably stable opinion, and here they are: reviewing this album is almost impossible! Here goes anyway...

Start at the beginning, continue to the end, then stop.
I chose the title because of the books this album reminds me of - 'Alice In Wonderland' & 'Through The Looking Glass'. That is near as I can get to the often surreal, yet still utterly engaging, nature of the album. From start to end it is a conundrum: the less you understand it the more you want to, and for every insight or pearl of wisdom there is a contradiction.
There are, however, a few things I can say with certainty: Bat For Lashes (a.k.a. Natasha Khan and her talented collaborators) have unleashed one of the best début albums of 2006. It seemingly came from nowhere (I first read about it in 'The Fly'), its genre is almost unspecifiable and it is addictive - very dangerously so as it only took one listen to get me hooked and that is quite unusual! I took comfort in the fact that there are far more destructive addictions... and that the music, vocals and the lyrics are all very special and move seemlessly from the densely woven, yet never muddy sounding, to utterly ethereal understatement and the percussion, be it martial drums or hand-claps, is to die for!
Together it pulls you into a world that, although you somehow can't quite actually grasp or escape it, you don't want to commit to: a dangerous yet enticing place that, it seems, also shares many features with the one in which we usually live.

The album is far more than mere escapism however and all the better for it - as the spoken vocals of 'What's A Girl To Do?' attest - because there are things about this and many other tracks that are so familiar to us in the real and imperfect worlds...

"Trying to hold it together
Keep my love as light as a feather"

...from 'Sad Eyes' being a good example.

This is a subtle album but, even if you happen to hate it, could never be regarded as a bland one and that is part of why it so good. 2006 has produced many fine albums/artists and this, although rather different, is right up there with the very best of them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not only music...

Are all professional music buyers/reviewers obsessed with the day job? It might sometimes seem that way but there is at least one exception! This comes from the buyers blog sent out as e-mail on 21 September 2006; while the rest of his colleagues were waxing lyrical over their latest purchases Richard Austin had his mind set focussed on the natural world…

Richard Austin - UK Office Friday 15 September 2006
The Tangled Web We Weave..: Just outside the 'Old Folks Home' at Esprit Towers [AKA 'The Shed'], where we aged team members sit whiling away our twilight years was recently discovered a sacred plant - WILD HOPS !!!

This, as you will know, can be magically transformed into the medicinal beverage known the world over as 'BEER' - A secret known only to certain alchemical adepts who live in strange temples known as 'Breweries'.

In our ancient land, we prefer our beer dark, room temperature and with a healthy scattering of beak & twig in the silt at the bottom. Less advanced nations [or so I've heard] actually have theirs COLD, YELLOW & with BUBBLES in it!! Unbelievable, I know.

It would seem that our sacred Hop Plant is also the happy home to four Garden Spiders [Araneus diadematus], which I've affectionately named "One", "Two", "Three" & "Four".

Three appears to be the least successful as I've never actually seen him/her eating anything. One & Two are the engineers & have built incredible webs spanning from the plant up to the side of the building. Four is the opportunist, with it's web lurking in the space between that of One & Two, ready to snare any unfortunate flying thingy that thinks it's got away with it.
Every morning they do whatever spiders do as the equivalent of 'Yawn-Stretch-Make Coffee-Feed Cat', then set about repairing their orb webs & restoring them to the previous days magnificence. Then they sit there, slap bang in the middle & wait.
These amazing little creatures not only have developed an automatic sticky on / sticky off system for making their webs [which are actually stronger, lighter & more flexible than steel], but have turned patience into an art form!
An inspiration for these IT driven times.

This is absolutely brilliant escapism and if music can’t induce that feeling then what is it for?

The connection between hops, beer and music isn’t exactly a revelation: the reasons why hops [Humulus lupulus] are so vital in beer are many and varied. Viewed from a chemical, pharmacological and phytogenetic basis it is actually very interesting plant indeed and the genus Humulus is one of two generally recognised in the plant ‘family' Cannabidaceae: the other being the genus Cannabis. If I were you I would stick to the beer... (and not just to remain legal). Not all that is natural is good: coniine (hemlock) and strychnine are generally rapid acting, and often fatal, natural plant products!
This is a female of the species Araneus diadematus, The 'Garden' or 'Cross' spider. A truly fearsome creature at most about 15mm long. The biggest threat she poses is that she might regard potential suitors as a "free lunch date" - quite literally!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Amy Millan - Honey From the Tombs.

If Amy Millan only did her day job – as vocalist with the band ‘Stars’ – that would be reason enough to regard her as one of the very best of current female singers and the 2005 album ‘Set Yourself On Fire’ by ‘Stars’ is a true masterpiece in my opinion.

It is she also who, along with some of her band mates and many others, works in the awesome and rather avant-garde indie collective ‘Broken Social Scene’ who released their second and self-titled LP in 2005 (2006 in the UK). You might think that would be a punishing workload for anyone but not, it would seem, for Amy. We already know ‘indie Amy’ and ‘experimental Amy’ but I for one never expected that her first solo album ‘Honey From The Tombs’, which was three years in the making, would bring us ‘alt-country Amy’ and when I read the first reviews I was equally curious and alarmed!

I shouldn’t have worried because she seems to have near flawless judgement: the album is quirky, lyrically clever and her vocals are as wonderful as ever. It is much more acoustic than her usual outlets, and "Hard Hearted (Ode to Thoreau)" actually reminds me a bit of Norah Jones at her bleakest and best, but if you like Cerys Matthews’ solo music then you’ll probably find much to like here and track 9, "He Brings out the Whiskey In Me" sounds like a inspired hybrid between Cerys’ "Chardonnay" and Sandi Thom’s "Sunset Borderline". If you like the album 'Fires' by Nerina Pallot then you should seriously consider listening to this (and also vice-versa). For what my thoughts are worth the final track, "Pour Me Up Another", reminds me of Mary Lorson and something from the eponymous album ‘Saint Low’, released in 2000. This album is definitely a risk well worth taking… and it is available on vinyl too (as are the singles)!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bat for Lashes, and a UK music link

It's perhaps little comfort for you over in the US, but there is a monthly UK magazine "The Fly" that reviews all things UK indie (it also includes forthcoming UK gig listings and sometimes publishes reviews of major events that have taken place) and its free, but only if you can pick it up at your local venue or record store. The good news is that you can subscribe to it; the very bad news is that the cost in the US is GBP 40 (about US$ 70) for 11 issues each year, which I suspect is almost entirely the cost of mailing. A UK subscription is currently £9, which again is inclusive of postage.

It's reviewers are however, in my humble opinion, and given that everyone secretly has their own peculiar flaky musical foibles (I know that I do but I'll save those for a later post!) , generally pretty solid and reliable. Being very much a novice at this, I think I've now attached their review of Fur and Gold by Bats For Lashes, which is I hope just readable if you zoom in! It is so in my browser but if it isn't in yours please feel free to send me some hints and, preferably constructive, abuse!


Monday, September 11, 2006

My first ever blog.

Well here I am at last, in the realm of millions. I have for ages read plenty of them, commented on them, and for some time thought that I should perhaps even try one of my own but with, I have to say, no timescale for starting said project - next month never, next year maybe - but no pressure and certainly no timescale for posting the first bulletin. My most desultory plans were however wrecked on the rocks of music discussion; it was always a likely subject but the timing, as it happens specifically the album 'Fur and Gold' by Bat For Lashes, was not quite what I had intended at all.
I really wanted only to reply to a couple of comments already posted, but to do that I was forced to register, and so this otherwise quite unremarkable Monday evening was the moment I was finally tipped over the edge - next month or next year became this evening!

Why the title "Thoughts on music"? Well of course it started with that, and I needed a title after all, but the one very interesting comment I read that really made me post, rather than simply reply in respect of the above, is this generally applicable comment by Paul.

Hard to keep up with music overseas :(
Well yes it is, and it's no different this side of the Atlantic I'm afraid, but surely it is easier than it has ever been? We just need to talk more; so to all of you at The Yellow Stereo, keep up the good work!