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.