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 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:

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…