Monday, December 31, 2007

Thank you 2007 and hello 2008.

Why? Simply because I want to believe that! Here I am, for the second New Year in blogland, thinking about those things that I think might just be the new best things. This time, and for what that is worth, my inclination is that 2008 will be the year that sees pop, folk, dance and punk (in almost any combination imaginable), and possibly also country too, staging a revival that simply defies any reasonable definition. If you don't like that idea then, I'm sorry to say, that is your problem and not mine.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007 - Things that I forgot to mention...

The title says it all - they are many and varied but perhaps that is actually a good thing! In 2007 I bought more new music than in any previous year and, despite that, my wants list is longer than ever. In many ways I'd regard that as a result and I even took myself to see live music in a quantity that I've never done before and it is something I fully intend to do again in 2008 because picking highlights is almost impossible.

Here are a few more of my pictures instead [click on any of them them to see larger versions]:

Arcade Fire live @ Latitude 2007.

While Damon Albarn's latest vehicle, The Good, The Bad and The Queen was, for all its technical perfection, just about as involving live as watching a music DVD it still had its merits and not least amongst them Paul Simonon [The Clash] on bass guitar.

I am old enough to remember the Brit-pop duelling in the early 1990s and so it was a relief to discover that, maybe older and wiser, Jarvis Cocker remains the artist that he was. Sure he can sing, and write songs too, but above all he is a performance artist and also a comedian of the highest order.

Jarvis Cocker live @ Latitude 2007.

Live music is all about enjoyment and few, if any, embody that as completely as CSS. They spent almost the whole of 2007 touring and, to be quite honest, conveyed the impression that nothing else could have pleased them more...

Lovefoxxx of CSS live @ Latitude 2007.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Digital domination? Not just yet...

Firstly a note that is not directly related to music: exactly ten years ago today Jorn Barger coined the word 'weblog' for something that was, for better or for worse, the genesis of the phenomenon that you are now reading! They were very rare indeed then but, as I write this, that is no longer true.
The now ubiquitous word 'blog' was a contraction that seems to have entered the language sometime in 1999. The BBC website has an interesting article on this topic but I wonder if languages other than English have another popularly-used term for the same concept?

The UK singles market is not entirely dominated by downloads and the proof of it came yesterday when Leona Lewis failed to make it an eighth week at the top. She was replaced by a CD single that is only available from UK supermarket chain Tesco and, with all profits going to the British Red Cross, it is a duet of Louis Armstrong's
"What a Wonderful World" featuring Katie Melua and the late Eva Cassidy and is once again released on the Dramatico label, which is run by (ex-Womble!) Mike Batt.

The UK single charts in the weeks running up to Christmas are prone to surprises and probably less-heavily dominated by downloads as they hardly make good presents. Even two weeks out however this wasn't in any reckoning as a #1 contender and I just can't help but think that this is actually symptomatic of one thread that 2008 promises. She has said quite publically that her third album Pictures (2007) was the last co-written with Mike Batt. It is a brave decision and it will be very interesting to see what she does next.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is there any good Christmas pop?

Well, although I've just heard All I Want For Christmas Is You, I must admit that there are many songs that I dislike much more than Mariah Carey's contribution to the genre.
In general Christmas pop songs leave me pretty cold but there is one however, and it was a topic of conversation at work today, that does not and that is the 1987 collaboration between The Pogues and (the late) Kirsty McColl: Fairytale Of New York. It is still quite untouchable - and amazingly is now twenty years old. The message is that good ones don't come around very often and, in my opinion, the second-best is genuinely American and is the original release of Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses
(they were from Kent, OH) in 1981.
In 1998 it was, and I'm sorry if you had now successfully forgotten this fact, covered by The Spice Girls on the CD(1) single release of Goodbye. It was not one of their finest moments
and the less said about that version the better.
As for Christmas albums, particularly compilations, they are only worse as they are so much longer! The only one, and it is not a compilation, that I can deal with is this and it is a quite different proposition. Most would probably not even consider it to be such a thing, although it is, and I'm currently listening to it quite voluntarily.

Abriendo Puertas dates from 1995 and, although originally released in the US, could hardly be further removed from Bing Crosby's White Christmas or for that matter the usual Christmas weather here in the UK. (White Christmas, the song, was written by Irving Berlin in 1940 and first became famous as it was used in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn and thus well before the 1954 film White Christmas, in which it was also used.)
That was long before global warming but the point is still relevant; one original verse, omitted in the musical due to legal concerns and always subsequently, concerned an un-named rich resident of Los Angeles who hankered after a traditional winter up-north!
That the second track Dulce Amor which, as well as the pervasive Mariachi influences, features a short but nevertheless quite recognisable melody sampled from Walking In A Winter Wonderland that only makes it better still. The Eurythmics recorded a version of the original song and its exact origin is unknown with music by Trad and a lyric courtesy of Anon - prolific artists both. Rather later Mandy Moore also covered it and the fact that it was never released in the UK probably says all that needs to be said about that version.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Curioser & curioser...'Want to Listen' Music - Part 7

This may, or it may not, be the last in this 2007 series but with most supposedly significant new album releases now suspended owing to the festive season I have found a little time to look into the things I have put into the "to check later" folder in the last six months or so. First discovery: there are a lot more of them than I thought. Second discovery: there also are a lot more than just those that I had already underestimated!

Today the semi-centennial Grammy Award nominations were made public - and on them I intend to comment tomorrow - but in the meantime here are two (well, actually three) more items from the as yet unplumbed depths of my 2007 wish list and it seems very appropriate to start off with one from America which, as far as I can tell is not nominated in any of the myriad categories. It wins my 2007 award for 'Nominative Curiousness' and perhaps more importantly also proves that American indie is alive, well and also available in the UK!

The 'prize', just in case you were wondering, is simply to be mentioned here and the 2007 winner is... [drum roll]... Andrew Jackson Jihad.
If that wasn't enough the clinch is surely that the album is entitled People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In the World, which might also be in the running for the award for 'Longest Album Title' of 2007.

This discordant American punk-folk outfit hail from Phoenix, AZ and are signed to Asian Man Records (a rather tiny indie label run from Monte Serreno, CA) and yet amazon.co.uk both list and stock it!
So what is it about the rabbit on the album art? Well, I kid you not, track 8 is entitled Song Dedicated to the Memory of Stormy the Rabbit and guess that might be a clue.

Here is another oddity but one that is from closer to home. I know I risk getting a reputation for championing French music but I've decided that should it happen it's just something I'll have to learn to live with. WatooWatoo (a link to their MySpace page) come from Bordeaux, having started life in Paris, and the album La Fuite was released on 11 June 2007.

This album is released by Letterbox Records, based in Whitehaven, Cumbria. Click the above image to find the band's own website. It's French pop but with nods to all kinds of other, almost always older, genres such as lounge pop while it is actually mostly electronically written. France does this sort of thing very well indeed but, surprisingly, isn't too good at exporting it.
Here is another slightly older example, this time from 2005 and released by EMI, that I'd also really like to hear.

Coralie Clément - Bye Bye Beauté

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ambiguous warning messages...

Many CDs have warning messages affixed to them and this is probably the most common of them...

It is pretty clear what this is intended to do but I suspect that it may not. It clearly was not written by or for the age-range to which the message applies! To any young-teenage kids, whom it is presumably meant to protect, it is probably a shining beacon of the possibility of 'adult content' and an open invitation that might well be regarded as counterproductive.
This was on one of the CDs that my niece has on her birthday wish list. She will be nineteen - therefore is already an adult - and I'm quite certain that it has nothing on it that is likely to surprise her or indeed almost anyone else even approaching that age and, more to the point, why does this advisory apparently only apply to parents and their offspring?
I'm still a bit concerned about it however as my parents are coming to visit me this weekend. They are quite obviously rather older than me but the message implies that I should also warn them if I intend to play it or any other record so labelled!

The warning above is usually found on US albums but such things are not only confined to foreign shores...

This one is home-grown and it is on the cover of my copy of what is currently (and seems likely to remain) the biggest selling album of 2007 in the UK which, although first released in late 2006, is 'Back To Black' by Amy Winehouse.
This warning was actually intended to apply to the album and not,
as it has unfortunately since turned out, the artist but this week she was nominated for six 2007 'Grammy Awards'.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

First Light --- albeit thirty-eight years late!

In a career spanning thirty-eight years and despite numerous line-up changes Wishbone Ash have now released twenty-two studio albums and these are generally held to start with Wishbone Ash in 1970 and currently end with the 2007 album Power of Eternity.
Only today I discovered their long denied (but oft-rumoured and certainly never released) zeroth album First Light actually does exist! In early 2007 a devoted American collector purchased the original 1969 acetate recording at auction and then made it available to Talking Elephant, their current label, which has now remastered it and made it available for the very first time!

Six of the eight tracks on it were to reappear, often in a much modified form, on their slightly later albums and the other two - Road Of Day To Day and Joshua - have never resurfaced on any publicly released recordings. For me at least this is one album I simply have to have!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My charts of 2007...

The practice I had last year notwithstanding, compiling such a list is certainly no easier than it was last year. I have however decided to attempt it slightly earlier this year but – things being as they are – it is again a rather nebulous concept of a ‘top ten’ so there is certainly no way that I’m going to attempt to put them in any order other than alphabetical by artist and without additional comment.

Here goes…

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse
Candie Payne – I Wish I Could Have Loved You More
Client - Heartland
Dolores O’Riordan – Are You Listening?
Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls
New Young Pony Club – Fantastic Playroom
Seabear – The Ghost That Carried Us Away
Siobhan Donaghy - Ghosts
Stephanie Dosen – A Lily For The Spectre

To keep the list to just ten (it really should be more like a bakers’ dozen) I have avoided including any albums that have not had a bona fide UK first release in 2007 and, hopefully without any very glaring compromises, also tried to reflect the kind of albums I like at the moment. The inclusion of Siobhan Donaghy’s second solo album, Ghosts, is not merely a token major-label entry even though I have only previously mentioned it before it was released. I really like her first album, Revolution In Me, but my already high expectations were exceeded and I really can’t see why this was not more of a commercial hit. The cover artwork of promotional copies has an interesting twist on that of the commercial release in which, while the strangely upholstered chair is still there, she is nowhere to be seen…

There are more that I’m also very tempted to add, including a couple that I haven’t really listened to enough to come to an opinion that is reasonably stable. Then there is the vexatious question of whether to include EPs and mini albums (I haven’t but see below) and that is important.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that, when it comes to the EPs I’ve bought this year, My Manic And I (a 4-track 45 rpm 7”) is definitely top of a field that is not without serious competition and so I suspect EMI will have a major artist on their hands when Laura Marling’s debut album is released in February and, furthermore, that she will also be one of the “must see” live acts of 2008.

That said 2007 has not been short of memorable singles and in the charts a certain pop revival may even be detected. The following are a fairly mixed bag from 2007, pop taken in the widest sense of the meaning, that I just happened to like and that is ultimately what pop singles are all about. 2007 has also been the year in which legal downloads entered the UK chart reckoning for all legally-downloaded songs, which has certainly altered the dynamics of the UK ‘Top 40’ singles. On balance I think that it has done no harm whatsoever but my Luddite inclination still leads me still to prefer real ones (and on vinyl if possible) but it has also been a good year for that kind of thing too and, as an aside, here is another one, 'Follow Me Down', that is somewhere between a EP and a full-blown album consisting as it does of six tracks.
There isn’t a bad track on 'Follow Me Down', in my opinion, but it is an apparently diverse and yet quite artless wonder of the kind that that has eluded many bands that have enjoyed long and successful careers. At the moment my second favourite track from it is Lips Of Cleopatra, which somehow slightly reminds me, not that I mean this to detract from it in any way whatsoever, of something Wishbone Ash forgot to write and record in their heyday – Pilgrimage (1971) and Argus (1972) – except that Wishbone Ash didn’t use keyboards until their fourth album, Wishbone Four (1973) so perhaps it rightly belongs there instead! It does have a sound and song-writing style, in both music and lyric, that although not in any obvious way derivative is still almost uncanny.
This track is immediately followed by a song that almost any artist, including the most successful, would simply love someone to write and then to offer to them to record: the pop-noir of Gracelin is breathtaking in its inspiration and deceptively simple execution. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that Poppy & The Jezebels are on the set list of at least some of next summer’s best festivals.

Gracelin would have made my list of favourite singles (see below) had it been released as a single. It wasn’t but, the again rather different-sounding, Nazi Girls was and it is available on vinyl too. If 2008 sees the above release followed by a full length LP then there’s no doubt that I’ll be buying a copy as soon as I can.

Below, again merely in alphabetical order but with the odd additional comment, are a few 2007 UK chart singles that have particularly caught my attention:

Arctic Monkeys – Fluorescent Adolescent (10” vinyl mix)
Calvin Harris – Acceptable In The 80s
Freemasons – Uninvited (a cover of the 1998 Alanis Morisette song, featuring Bailey Tzuke on vocals)
Hoosiers – Worried About Ray
Kate Nash – Foundations
Mark Ronson – Valerie (a cover of the Zutons track, featuring Amy Winehouse on vocals)
Plain White Ts – Hey There, Delilah
Robyn – With Every Heartbeat
Sugababes – About You Now

And here are a few more that didn’t bother the charts unduly but, in my opinion, really should have done…

Dragonette – I Get Around
Remi Nicole – Rock ‘n’ Roll
Stefy – Chelsea

Talking about charts, here’s something of an eye-opener. If you think that Europe is anything like an integrated place, when it comes to music, just looking at the charts of the constituent countries would suggest otherwise. The following site helpfully provides listings for many countries, including some beyond Europe, updated weekly: http://allcharts.org/music/

As there is still almost the whole of December 2007 to go I’m still reserving the right to make late additions or even maybe even alterations but, unlike the former, the latter is quite unlikely. The next question is what will be the trends in 2008? Well, I’m thinking about it as best I can…

Friday, November 30, 2007

The ghost that carried us away...

Proud though I am of UK music you may have realised by now that I'm almost equally at home delving into that which comes from beyond these shores. Somewhere, almost in the middle of the nowhere that divides Europe and North America, is a nation that in its entirety has a population (~300,000) no greater than a modest city or just about 60% of that of the state of Wyoming. The latest from this land of musicians that has come to my attention is the band Seabear...


In musical terms Iceland is somewhere strange indeed: in 2007 the better known artists Bjork and Sigur Ros have both released much anticipated albums and we should not forget other Icelandic artists such as GusGus (who - first pub quiz fact - are unique as the only Icelandic act to have had a #1 hit single in Mexico) and their erstwhile female vocalist Hafdis Huld. She is now a solo artist and released her first solo album, Dirty Paper Cup, in 2006 (and it was one of my top-ten albums of 2006) and bands, such as Múm that have taken a more acoustic approach to their music.

Seabear are another Icelandic act worthy of note and this album, their first, sees them recently signed to the Berlin-based independent label Morr Music. It is actually sung in English nearly free of any accent, as if that matters, which is actually by far the least of its virtues because it is almost impossible not to like every one of the twelve tracks; at least at the moment track 2, Cat Piano, has my vote but only by a whisker.

There is more: the album is currently readily available on 12" vinyl and their recent single is also available on 7" and is a cover version of a song that one might deem should never be covered by anyone --- it is nothing more sacred than the post-punk angst of Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. Despite the apparent minefield it has actually been widely covered down the years and KT Tunstall sometimes performs it in her live set. Here is some additional, and quite useless, pub-quiz trivia...
Teenage Kicks was apparently John Peel's favourite song ever and, apocryphal as that may be, it was certainly performed at his funeral and also was, on his show in 1978, the the first song that was ever deliberately played twice back-to-back on BBC Radio 1.

Whatever happened to Fefe Dobson?

Well it is now quite a while since I posted the last update so here, at long last, is a new one: Return & Revenge.
It's about the new album, which is entitled Joy.
Fefe who??? Quite! [For the latest that I know see here.]

If you can remember this, her 2003 eponymous début album, then I suspect you do know who...

Yes, it was not huge and that was certainly true here in the UK but I think it was good nonetheless. Good enough indeed that Island (Universal) went ahead with the recording and production of her second album, Sunday Love, only to then terminate her contract and not release the album either. Or at least that is what I gather happened...
A few copies almost certainly do exist but the asking price for those I've seen offered for sale is in excess of £500 (very roughly $1050 & €700). Amazon.co.uk still list it but only as available from third parties at the above ridiculous prices. It would appear that even the cover artwork was completed, which I think only adds to the suspicion that it was shelved at the very last possible moment, and here it is.

I assume that Island/Universal are simply refusing to grant a licence on the copyright of the recording to anyone else willing to release it. So for an artist, stuck in the worst of all worlds and stymied by major label woes, this must seem about as cynical and demoralising as it can get for had they binned her just before the album was recorded she could have touted it elsewhere (subject only to some rather less overwhelming issues).
This is clearly nowhere near the whole story and I'd be fascinated to know more even if it is, like much of the above, only hearsay and speculation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Heroes & Thieves - still no release in the UK!

I've been waiting for this since forever but there is still apparently no official UK release, and it was exactly the same with Harmonium three years ago. Quite what is going on here is a mystery to me but, such nonsense notwithstanding, I now have a genuine US release that is distributed by Universal Music. That it had to come from the US is merely an annoyance that can again be blamed, almost certainly, on major label machinations and not the artist.

Vanessa Carlton - Heroes & Thieves (2007)
(click image to view at 900 x 900 px.)

The album itself it is as stunning as it should be and a true progression from the first two, Be Not Nobody (2001) and Harmonium (2004). It is less obviously piano-heavy than the latter but also rather more assured than the former. It is quite possible that the reason Harmonium sold poorly compared with her début was, at least in part, because it was less easily accessible to the myriad floating-buyers and maybe even lyrically unpalatable (the lead single White Houses in particular) to the conservatively minded. I actually, and not just to be awkward, much prefer Harmonium to Be Not Nobody and so I can certainly see where Heroes & Thieves is going.

She has certainly not sold out but the piano aspect, although very much still there, is not so predominant. Her songwriting is actually at most only a little less quirky than it was on Harmonium but this album is less likely to provoke a boycott by the conservative element and actually marks a return to favour in the US. The odd thing is that I suspect the factor that, at least in part, has facilitated this is that the album was produced by none other than Linda Perry -
a former member of 'Four Non-Blondes' - who is also no stranger to a conservative backlash, as she experienced first hand after a US TV appearance, but has since become one of the most reliable US pop producers (and also songwriters) of recent times and particularly so for female artists.

I haven't really settled on favourite album tracks yet but, having listened to it several times now, I like it every bit as much as Harmonium overall and thus also more than Be Not Nobody. My current opinion is that it that there isn't a weak track on this album and it just seems more natural and less fractious than the latter and also so much more complete than the former. Excellent though Harmonium is, and I still listen to it regularly and not only for its highlight tracks, Heroes & Thieves is thus probably even better!
Interestingly enough track 5 - The One - features what might seem a rather risky undertaking that works beyond the extent that it doesn't seem in the least out of place. The co-vocalist on this track is an icon of 1970s pop - none other than Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac (and also considerable solo) fame.

Heroes & Thieves is more commercial than Harmonium, that is certain, but the truth is that doesn't necessarily mean it can't also be better.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

2008 - You are old when...

...policemen look young; at least that was the traditional answer!

I'm now thinking that music has the 'thin blue line' on the defensive. There have, for certain, been many very young recording artists for decades but now we have those that both write and record (and sometimes produce as well)! That would not mean much if they were not making waves.
Now they are, therefore it matters a great deal, and they may possibly have a surprising influence in 2008. Here are two that I suspect we will soon hear much more of:

I've been on about Laura Marling for months and with, I believe, good reason. God knows; modern English folk needs and richly deserves the likes of her!

Now (17th November) even NME has seen fit to decide that she might be the one to re-energise UK folk for the next generation and that is something that is long overdue. My advice is to buy the EP My Manic and I on 7" while you still can do so affordably! There are no covers of trad. folk and no quasi-traditional folk either, just four new tracks. They are, in fact, all rather remarkable and that would still be true even if they were not all written and performed by a seventeen-year-old!
Two of them were recorded live and she already has a quite awesome reputation for live performance.
Her, as yet untitled, début album is due to be released by EMI on February 4, 2008 (subject, of course, to industry machinations).

On the subject of mini albums (and this one is a six-track 33 rpm 12”, but also available on CD) I’m finding it difficult to find one I like any better than Follow Me Down, the début release by Poppy & The Jezebels, which I only mentioned fairly recently although it was originally released about six months ago. It is, to say the very least, surprising…
... and they also write their own songs but their sound is more pop-rock grounded, is influenced the rather old (The Velvet Underground), combined with the fairly new (Cat Power) and both nefariously filtered through The Pixies, their more electro-peers but then with their own new twists on rock, electro and acoustic stuff on top of that!

You know it makes no sense whatsoever, on the face of it is therefore an utter mystery, but that actually
isn't quite true ...

Follow Me Down (2007) sounds entirely logical.

In fact it is an incredibly accomplished début (and it is even available on 12" vinyl) regardless of the fact that the average age of the band members is still just about sixteen. It does make perfect sense too - they simply decided not to attempt to be be the next girl-pop band and who could blame them? They could however still be a surprise in 2008 and already have a reputation for conjuring live tricks that go beyond the ordinary. The album is released on Reveal Records.

Would I like to see these artists live in 2008? Yes. Both please! (and also plenty more that I could add...)

Note added 27th November:
I've added a new, more relevant, image that is of the vinyl version and also wish to add some facts that I overlooked. The vinyl release is limited (but still available affordably) to the extent that all copies are numbered by hand there is a poster included that is individually signed by all four members of the band. I thought it might be quite good but, having listened to it loads of times now, I was wrong again and it is actually so much better than that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Surprises: the obvious and the actual..

The title is, to an extent, the subtext of 2007 for me. This time last year I anticipated going to a festival no more than I anticipated being run down by a cyclist; at least I decided on the former and had a few days, rather than at most a couple of seconds, to prepare for it. I actually worried much more about the former, as I had some time to do so, but when it happened the itself event itself was very much better and certainly more willingly memorable.

The better has tended to involve music and, within weeks, it will be up to me to say what I think are my favourite albums of 2007. I actually do still regularly listen to all the albums in last year's list (so I'm obviously pleased with that as I can at least predict what I'll keep liking fairly reliably) but now I have a whole load more too, some of which I have failed to mention in the meantime, that clamour for attention.
Last year was the first time I did this and it seemed quite an easy choice then. This year it does not look such an easy prospect. This is not because music has, in my opinion at least, gone bad in 2007 but rather the opposite! I feel the pressure more this year and at least partly because there is a greater diversity now known to me that is worthy of consideration. It also leads me to say that I think that most of those who do claim that music has taken a turn for the worse in 2007 are, yet again at least very largely, victims of their inability to perceive that, as it has always done, music changes continuously. What you like is almost certainly out there somewhere - it would so be totally boring any other way - and what you need to do is find it!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Ghost of Christmas Past...

I like Christmas, when it actually arrives, but with the six weeks leading up to it I have various problems. I'm clearly getting old as it seems a case of wishing six weeks of one's life away; for kids that's probably fine but for the rest of us doesn't that merely seem a waste of time?
On the music front it is, rather than 'Christmas Cheer', more a case of 'Christmas Fear' - a deadly serious industry battle for the mysterious kudos associated (at least in the UK) with "The Christmas # 1" (single) and the hearts and minds of those who buy CDs (or whatever) only at this time and for, mostly younger, family members of whose musical tastes they understandably have little or no comprehension. I don't actually entirely understand my own, so attempting to second-guess such things on behalf of others hardly seems a credible undertaking.

On 'reality TV' there is a parade of wannabes and their gang-masters in behest of the major labels. Deadly twins both and equally Dickensian in their tortuous ventures towards assuaging their vices - for the former the holy grail of 'celebrity', for the latter 'bankability' - and between them there is precious little to discern. A few achieve it, fewer still go on to make a career of it and the odd one goes further still. To be honest that applies to both sides pretty equally, except that some are more equal than others. Those already on the industry side tend to start out better off and with the lion's share of the decision-making power. It has ever been thus...

The compilation "Now That's What I Call Christmas" will be playing, yet again, in every shop and this year the most successful 'Christmas #1" artists ever' (1996,7 &8) - a.k.a. The Spice Girls - are back in the reckoning but it could be worse, I suppose, as
there is inevitably a new release by Sir Cliff Richard.
There will also be numerous other compilations, some released by the behemoths of decades past and they are not always without real merit, particularly as an introduction to those artists for anyone not already familiar with their work. One trend in 2007 (that I totally failed to see coming) was the rising popularity of certain bands from the 1970s: amongst the prominent are, perhaps least surprisingly giving their high-profile 2007 reunion concert appearance, Pink Floyd but also Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy. I certainly don't need any compilations of the latter two bands as I have almost all of it already.

That includes some possibly unusual items. Before Thin Lizzy moved to the Vertigo label for the their fourth album, 'Nightlife' (1974), they were signed to Decca Recordings. In those days promotional copies for review by radio DJs were specially pressed 7" vinyl , often in the format of a 45 rpm EP.
This one was produced for the release of Thin Lizzy's album 'Vagabonds Of The Western World', their last album released by Decca, in 1973.

The A-side consists of ' Vagabonds Of The Western World' and 'The Rocker', which was to be a career-long live favourite, and the B-side has 'Gonna Creep Up On You' and 'Little Girl In Bloom'.
That is enough nostalgia for now but it does prompt me to say that this a good time to delve into all that you had neglected before, whether that is this year or even decades ago.
Just in case you had forgotten, and I had until just this evening, reacquaint yourself with Thin Lizzy's first album released on Vertigo in the UK (on Mercury/Phonogram in the US), which was 'Nightlife' (1974). It is readily, and cheaply, available on CD and it sounds as good now as it always has. If you can be bothered to track down an original vinyl copy, and that is what I'm listening to right now (actually an original Mercury one from the USA), then all I can say is good for you!
This another temporary image and I'll try to add a better one later this weekend.
That's better - 17th November.

This is the 1974 US version of Nightlife as released on Mercury.
[Click on it for a larger image as is now a common feature here.]

'Live and Dangerous' (1978) still remains one of the best live albums I've got. There are indeed many who would say that it is one of the best live albums ever - see numerous reviews on-line - and I have to say that I'm pretty much down with that. It is also serves as a fine compilation of their best output from Nightlife up until that point!
Here is a more difficult challenge - but it is purely as a matter of fun - and that is to try and divine what kinds of music and maybe even (if I/you/we were feeling brave) those artists that will be big in 2008!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Applause, Cheer, Boo, Hiss

This is another album I've decided to buy entirely unheard but, for that matter, who would think of that title let alone consider it for their début album? Almost certainly a band that has already got through five bass players and a drummer and all that before even releasing their first album to the wider world! They are a three-piece but the one constant and defining presence is vocalist Elizabeth Powell who also handles six-string duties and, in this regard, some reviewers across the Atlantic have compared her to Charlotte Hatherley and that is no bad thing in my opinion.

Needless to say the band in question, Land Of Talk, is yet another that comes from Montreal and, quite honestly, that matters just as much as, quite truthfully, it should not.

And she did a damn good job with the artwork too...

I, for one, can't wait to hear it. Needless to say it is on order, and at a total bargain price, so I'll report back as soon as I have it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Cardiff is where the sŵn shines at night!

It all makes more sense when you know that 'sŵn' means 'sound' in Welsh and that the (indoor) Sŵn Festival is taking place in venues across Cardiff this weekend. I rather wish I was there but originally, for reasons of a prior commitment, I couldn't really make it. As that fell through I actually could have been! What is worse is that the list of artists includes two I mentioned a couple of weeks ago - The Duke Spirit and Sons and Daughters. Well, at least I've got their new vinyl releases as a consolation and here is one of them...

The Ex Voto EP, on 10" vinyl, signed by all five band members.

The Ex-Voto EP is an indication of the direction that the second album from the London five-piece, entitled Neptune and recorded in America, is likely to take and that would seem to be somewhat less intensely heavy than was Cuts Across The Land (2005). When heard live then I suspect that it might be less so but it is still stunning. Not much has changed otherwise; Liela Moss is still singing in her distinctive style and the four others are still (largely) keeping her covetousness for their instruments at bay! I saw them live in at 'The Astoria' in London in May 2005 and it was an absolutely blistering performance.
Not so long ago I mentioned their December 2006 7"-only (at least in a physical format) single 'Covered in Love', which was a tribute single to Desmond Dekker and Arthur Lee. The 7" (Velo Records) has rather sensitive cover versions of '007 Shanty Town' from the former and 'A House Is Not A Motel' from the latter, while the download version has four tracks. The others are Jessie Mae Hemphill’s ‘I’m So Glad’ and another track by Love, 'A Message To A Pretty'.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Letters, Letters... wonderfully weird!

Once upon a time, not so long ago, letters in the mail were the main form of communication.
Letters, Letters have, on their eponymous début, messed with this perception and all the misunderstandings that words can convey...

The band comes from Montréal (how near inevitable does that seem) but they also have help from Chicago. Amazon.co.uk does not appear to know about this release yet while Amazon.com does, but only on CD. Don't however, even for one moment, think that we in the UK are on the losing end of this particular game. The album is released by 'Type Recordings', as many strange but good things are, and they have released it as a 12" LP on vinyl. This is available only in the UK and limited to just 500 copies; all of them pressed in strawberry-red clear vinyl!
The music on the album is I think, and this is after just three listens to one of the aforementioned vinyl copies, a new take on what I can best describe as dirty low-fi electronica; it has much instrumental variety and merit but also the very interesting addition of both male and female vocals, sometimes both together in the same song. That does not mean something bad, very far from it in fact, but for a 'Type Recordings' release to have any vocals at all is really rather remarkable.
Now you can understand why I'm unwilling, as I mentioned earlier this week, to be tempted into making my 'Best Albums of 2007' selection so early in the year. I'm not saying this album will be in that list but I'm certainly not prepared to exclude new possibilities just because it is the start of November.

I should have, in fact, added another 'Type Recordings' release to my post yesterday that considered music for autumn and winter nights. That is Le Fumeur de Ciel by the Parisian artist Julien Neto, who has released under various other monikers and on assorted labels, which was released in 2005 but is now available on 12" LP for the first time. It is a wonderful concoction of electronica, melded with dusty acoustic samples, and the album is entirely instrumental. France is a real, yet often unrecognised, force when it comes to this and related kinds of ambient music. I have reviewed Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique already and I am rather tempted to buy a copy of the Colleen album The Golden Morning Breaks. (These are both released on the Manchester-based The Leaf Label.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Halloween -- instrumental rot -- To Rococo Rot -- or rot in hell?

I've been asked recently what I thought about 2007 and what I might expect of 2008. If I were able to do the latter with any reliability then I most probably would not be doing the job that I do now.
As it is only the start of November I'm going to keep my partly evolved thoughts, such as they are, a secret for now and focus on other music I have and like. I had intended to compile a playlist for Halloween but I never got around to doing it. In fact it seems that it doesn't matter at all as it will be just as appropriate for all the dark winter nights, bonfires, feasts, fireworks and the like regardless of what the remembrance is for.
Lyrically this kind of situation is a minefield but there are plenty willing to take the challenge however. Instrumental rock and pop is rather conveniently in the throes of a revival and, while it has its roots in earlier times, I think it still has a great deal to offer.

For spooky listening just start here (and suggest your own favourites):

Rock It To The Moon - Electrelane (1998)

Yes, it is almost ten years since this was released and it was their first album but this is still so good. There are no decipherable lyrics (except on the 'hidden track' at the end) but that is no problem! There are human voices on some, on the first track there is just a dog barking, but the arrangements are amazing.

Far more recent (2007), and perhaps rather more electronic, is abc123 by To Rococo Rot.

This EP (an 8-track 45 rpm vinyl 12") is released by Domino Records and it is well worth having.
What is more, and particularly if you find it too cheerful, try playing it at 33 rpm instead; while rather different in mood it still seems to sound authentic!

If you really crave absolute authenticity, and a desire to rot in hell circa 1970, then Black Sabbath and the albums Black Sabbath and Paranoid are prerequisite and these should really be on original vinyl (Vertigo). That would take some beating!
November 9:
That temporary image is no more! Here is an image that is the real deal instead.

The album was released over thirty-seven years ago and, quite coincidentally, on the very same day that I started at primary school aged almost 4½! I don't remember the original release, of course, but the image above is taken, notwithstanding, from the cover of an original 'Vertigo' vinyl copy from 1970 that I now have. (Click the image - as often is the case in this blog - for a larger version of the image that, in this case, is 800 x 800 pixels.) To take the story to the present I actually took this image this evening using the original vinyl album, a digital camera and nothing else particularly clever.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

'Want to Listen' Music - Part 6

It is at this time of year that the dreaded 'Christmas Factor' is usually starting to rear its ugly head again but at least 26th November 2007 will see one thoroughly fine album release:

Remi Nicole - My Conscience and I

I just hope it is released on vinyl since the singles already released, Fed Up and Go Mr Sunshine, both were. That issue aside, just when did we last see album art like this?
November 5:
The release for this seems to have been delayed until December 3, although the single 'Rock 'n' Roll' will be released on November 26.

This album will certainly be on my Christmas list, along with the new album Overpowered by Roisín Murphy. Moloko was weird but also very involving - Do You Like My Tight Sweater? was their first album (three more were to follow) - and that it would seem (without giving Mark Bryden all due credit I suspect) to have much to do with the (actually accidental) vocalist who hails from Arklow via Manchester and then, later, Sheffield.

The title track Overpowered is available as a double 12".
It is well worth the search.

And the list could, indeed will, be so much longer...

PS:
As I'm very unlikely to compile a list of "Top EPs of 2007" I've already decided that 'My Manic and I' is right at the top of the list that I'm not going to compile. It scares me slightly and not much music does that! The rumour is that Laura Marling's début album will be released in the UK on February 4, 2008.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Irresistible vinyl...

I've just had a weekend that involved a lot of listening to music that I already have but some of which I had quite forgotten. The thing about that is that it is a dangerously counter intuitive experience for it reminds me only of more music that I would like. I certainly have the necessary will power to overcome that but only most of the time.
I can be broken down however and it happened this weekend because two of my favourites have decided to gang up on me, which is thus just far too much to resist...

London band The Duke Spirit are back, and while I could have had the Ex Voto EP on CD from Amazon, I have it ordered (on 10" vinyl and also signed) for the same price from the ever surprising Pure Groove Records in Archway, north London.
If that wasn't enough then Glaswegian band Sons and Daughters are also back, with the single Gilt Complex on 7" vinyl.

I can't wait and will review them as soon as they arrive!

These releases may even give some clues to the forthcoming albums by these bands but I wouldn't place a bet on that as neither band has been much inclined to the predictable.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More from Wales...

No One Can Drag Me Down/Disappear is the début single from Cate Le Bon and it was available as a free download in the spring of this year. It was more importantly limited to just 500 physical copies and it is still available on 7" vinyl as of today. It is GBP 5.00 (about €7,50 US$ 10) and these prices are exclusive of delivery. The delivery charges are both reasonable and plainly stated on the website.
If you want to buy it then try Spillers Records in Cardiff, which is also the oldest surviving record shop in the world as it was founded in 1894, and enter Cate Le Bon in the Artist section of the Music Search box. They delivered my copy in three days.
This release is label-less as it is self-released and also all copies of it are numbered by hand so, having already had the good fortune to hear her play live (as pictured below), I decided that this 7" was well worth the risking of a fiver!

The album, which is to be entitled Pet Deaths, should follow soon but as yet I can find no date or other information about this release.
One thing I can say is that she will be appearing live in Cardiff as part of the new
Sŵn Festival, which will take place in venues across the city over the weekend of 9th - 11th November 2007.

Elegies To Lessons Learnt

I have mentioned this band before and this is one album that I have been looking forward to for a very long time. It is the first true album from iLiKETRAiNS and if you have heard the Progress:Reform EP then you would expect little else. While none of the tracks from that EP are repeated here the more recent single Spencer Percival does feature.
The album mainly addresses historical topics and this kind of music is quite surely not to everyone's taste but if you like it then you might well like this album a great deal. The label Beggars Banquet has also made it available on a suitably historical format too and the 12" LP edition is particularly worthwhile owning if just for the the artwork and the excellent quality of its packaging.

The cover artwork 'Tree of Eyam' was also created by the band. It is like the subject matter of many of the songs and is rather on the dark side. Reviewing the album is not as easy as I thought it would be and I think it is a "Marmite experience". Music-as-a-history-lesson is almost certainly either passion or poison!
I fall in the former category, and there is no doubt about that, but I'll try and provide some more objective commentary on individual tracks from the album no later than this coming weekend. In the mean time I'll end with one of my own images
because, while the sun doesn't always shine, I like trains too.


This is Minehead shed, Somerset, at work on a misty morning in March 2006.

Think about this while listening to the to The Beeching Report, which is the final track on the Progress:Reform EP. While this route just survived the mass cull in the 1960s, and has eventually become a major tourist attraction, the great majority didn't.

Monday, October 15, 2007

And Now It Makes Perfect Sense...

Powerful but mellow, autumnal and almost entirely different to the kind of music I bought before this time, this album could well be the one that started me on a different listening regime entirely although it seems unlikely that one album alone could have had such an effect.

In favour of this general theory is that I can find no earlier example and also, as far as I can remember, it was the first album that I bought having heard not a single release by (any of) the artists behind it. I read a review, in the Sunday Times I think, then simply ordered it. It was, very luckily for me, a good choice indeed because not only did I like it I also discovered that I didn't really realise just what more there was available to listen to.
I haven't stopped doing so since then!

Saint Low was formed, after the demise of US East Coast indie band Madder Rose, by vocalist and songwriter Mary Lorson and her partner Billy Coté and this album was their first release. Lorson wrote rather few Madder Rose tracks but both wrote and produced all on this album. She still provides the vocals that were already her trademark but the change defines a really marked difference in emphasis. The album is more consistent in style, actually much more claustrophobic, than the final Madder Rose albums Tragic Magic (1997) and Hello, June Fool (1999) on which Coté played guitars but also wrote most tracks. I subsequently bought those and have listened to them again several times in the last two days: I think that, actually, I like them quite a lot more now than I did when I first bought them seven years ago.

The album Saint Low (2000) remains unique in the true sense of the word; it would not have mattered one little bit had I been listening to it for the very first time today and
this was its day of release! The music doesn't sound dated in any way whatsoever - far from it for in fact. Coté was freed to compose, and then play, guitar parts that are often mirages of deliberate, sometimes quite reckless, understatement. While sometimes "only just there" they often leave a solo 'cello to do much of the hard work on strings and that is "just so 2007". Saint Low deserve more credit than is often given...

It is also slightly unnerving given that, having listened to it quite often for about seven years, I still can't even figure out which are my favourite tracks let alone why - although Johnson City almost certainly is one - because it is actually very hard to work out exactly what they are about despite, or perhaps because of, the lyrics. To write a song that can mean totally different things, depending on the mood of the listener at the time but without simultaneously causing mental confusion, clearly isn't a trivial achievement: this album is built from them and very little else - Crash, A Thing Or Two, Keep An Open Mind or perhaps even After The Fall, the epic closing track that is over ten minutes long.
The growing list of albums I want to listen to has inevitably grown longer still. I told you I was falling behind and now I want to hear the following albums, some released as 'Mary Lorson and Saint Low' as apparently artist and band had become the source of some confusion.

  • Tricks for Dawn, 2002
  • Piano Creeps, 2003 (I overlooked this one at first, sorry.)
  • Realistic, 2005
More soon but one thing, that is worthy of note if you are searching for these releases, is that although Saint Low are an American act their releases to date have all been on London-based independent label 'Cooking Vinyl Records'. The good news however is that none of these albums are currently remotely difficult or costly to source, at least in the UK.

I'm catching up; and so hopefully is Royal Mail...

It's taken me a long time to catch up after my unplanned absence and now there is so much new stuff that I want to get hold of to listen to, of which more below. To do that however I rely heavily on the services of Royal Mail, the UK Postal Service, to bring packages to my door and just recently this long standing organisation has been involved in protracted industrial action over the subject of changes demanded by the modern competitive environment. It is possible that, for all parties involved and not merely out of my self-interest, over the recent weekend a deal has been reached that will put all interested parties back on course.

Quite possibly the future of Royal Mail is at stake here and this kind of consideration somehow reminded me of the past, an increasing music collection, and then a 2003 album Give Up - The Postal Service.
I no longer even attempt to keep my CD and vinyl collections in any logical order and although this probably started as a matter of lassitude it has now become a quite deliberate policy.
By profession I'm a chemist, which seen in simple terms (that are almost always good) involves toxic cookery and, when things don't go quite so well, nu-alchemy!
As an undergraduate therefore I had to go to lectures on quantum physics that left me cold and also seemed incredibly pointless and theoretical. The 'Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle' has few such simple and useful applications larger and thus more useful than the subatomic. Put very simplistically it states that it is fundamentally impossible to know "what some thing is and where it is simultaneously just so long as it is far too small to be useful in any sensible way" - but my life-enhancing discovery is that it also describes my music collection perfectly. By ensuring that remembered and sought for items regularly, but of course totally unpredictably, become mislaid a natural quid pro quo means that those which have genuinely become either forgotten or lost will inevitably come to light again!
Thus, while I was hunting for the CD Give Up, I preternaturally came across my CD of the (eponymous) 2000 album Saint Low. I had forgotten about it for several years and so I listened to that again too! In fact I found both and they are too good to be forgotten and so I'm planning to review both albums on here in the next week.

I've also got a whole list of things I want to find an excuse to order - enough to keep me out of mischief at least until Christmas - and the first few arrived on Saturday and this morning. Coming soon are my thoughts on:
iLiKETRAiNS - Elegies to Lessons Learnt
Maxïmo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures

Already on order are (yet) another two albums from the hot-bed that continues to be Montreal and they are...
Patrick Watson - Close To Paradise
Letters Letters - Letters Letters

... and that is not to mention the latest album from Stars - In Our Bedroom After The War, which I have already mentioned!
Last for now, but not least is Awyren - Cerys Matthews' first EP entirely in Welsh, which was released today on CD by Cardiff-based KungFu Records. Sorry about the poor representation of the cover art - I'll add better as soon as I can. (24 October - at least one job got done!)

Amazon.co.uk does not seem to know about this one, and I can't tell you quite what it sounds like yet either, but I have just ordered it regardless! It is available, worldwide, from sebon.co.uk; always a good place to search for all music Welsh! The price is GBP 5.50 (for guidance only - US$ 11.00, € 8.25) and this includes post and packing in the UK. For delivery abroad add GBP 1.00 (about US$ 2.00 or € 1.50).