Monday, December 29, 2008

Thank you, everyone.

When I added a counter to this blog in early 2008 my dream was that, within a year, it would tell me that I had reached a thousand distinct readers. That is something over which I have no control whatsoever but I didn't need to worry - you made it happen and then some.
What I couldn't possibly have imagined is that, a couple of days before the start of 2009, it was set to reach 10,000.
I am quite stunned; my humble thanks to everyone that has visited this site, returned to it, left comments (always appreciated even if critical) and everyone else that has directly or indirectly helped with it in so many ways. I started 'Thoughts On Music' tentatively in September 2006 and I could not then conceive of writing a dozen posts. I can hardly believe that this, when I publish it, will be my 285th post to this blog!

For me the importance doesn't stop there. If I had not started this I very much doubt that I would have decided to go to Latitude 2007, a venture I repeated in 2008, or seen so many other live bands, read so much about music or even bought so much of it. There are also all the people that as a result I have had the pleasure to meet or talk to, most of whom are at least indirectly a result of this.

Just now, and purely for fun, I've taken out the limiter in the 'I've Just Listened To...' sidebar. Of course I've listened to more than this since I introduced it (I couldn't possibly include everything) but for now it is complete and as compiled.

Where next? Thoughts for 2009.

I've been reflecting on what I wrote here at the end of 2007 and two things immediately strike me.
The first is that, if I say so myself, my predictions for music in 2008 were rather closer to what actually happened than I ever dared hope they might be.
What I did not foretell is the economic and political circumstances that would prevail come the end of 2008. It seems that not many others in positions of power did so, which however makes me feel no better at all.
I'm by inclination a stoic optimist and in 2009 that seems to me to be a good place to start. It's all something of a lottery but the worse the place it starts then surely the better the odds that it will soon improve? Political change is a little like few days sunshine after endless rain, or a few good songs that either capture the new reality or engender optimism - any of them can suddenly change the prevailing mood out of all apparent proportion. On all fronts 2009 is likely to test this hypothesis to the highest degree but I don't think for one moment that music is likely to let the side down!
I've been thinking about how I see music (especially in the UK) in 2009 and think that it is going to be harder to call than it was in 2007 or 2008, which are the only years that I have previously written about in this way. Over the New Year Holiday I'm going to have the opportunity to talk to some friends about this and, while I already have some ideas as to what I think might happen, I'll be back at the very start of 2009 with some hopefully more focussed thoughts.

Two artists already widely tipped for success in 2009 are 'Florence and The Machine' and, having already seen them live in 2008, I'm certainly down with that. Florence Welch is well... quite exquisitely indefinable.

Live at the 2008 iTunes Festival in London.

Imagine a new version of Alien, in which Kate Nash has become the unwitting host to a chimera that is part Björk, and you are getting slightly close to what this is all about.

On a totally different theme here is another Londoner, Emma Deigman, whose début album is due out in April.

It was mostly recorded live, with full horn and string sections, and often in a single take. It is produced by Eliot Kennedy (previous credits include Bryan Adams, Take That, Spice Girls and Celine Dion) but that is not to say that she sounds like any of the aforementioned. She does write her own material however - watch out Sasha Fierce!

That is just for starters.
Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 28, 2008

The end of the road?

The retail crisis has come to music. UK high street music/video/games retailer Zavvi, formerly known as Virgin before a management buy-out not long ago, has become the latest high profile casualty of the recession.

It is another sign of the times and I feel for its staff above all other considerations. I can live without Zavvi as a chain and I don't think I've actually bought a single item from it since the name change. If its demise eases the pressure on HMV then so be it. If HMV were to fail too then it would leave the UK with no widespread high street entertainment chain and that would be a shock.

What bothers me more is the effect that the current circumstances will have on the few remaining independent music retailers in the UK, and without doubt it is these that I would miss much more. They are real shops staffed by helpful, knowledgeable and totally dedicated music lovers.
I mention this with some sadness as London's 'Sister Ray Records' called in the administrators on 24th December. I just hope that a way can be found to keep it trading for now, strangely enough more than ever, we need stores such as this. Whether visiting in person or buying from them on-line it is vital that we show our support for them - and the only worthwhile way of doing that is to give them custom.

It is literally a matter of life of death.
If they vanish it is very unlikely that they will ever be replaced and I rather doubt that the situation is any better in other countries either.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Those albums I have failed to mention before...

This is certainly not intended to be my last post of 2008 but, as I'm going to do that holiday thing for the next few days, it set me thinking about all the things I have missed in 2008.
Much of it does not really belong here but there is also so much music too, and that certainly does matter.
I could write a list of albums that I've failed to get in 2008 just as long as the one of my favourites (et sequi) that I did and it would comprise many and various things. There are others that I simply failed to mention for one reason or another and here are two that come to mind tonight.

The Bairns - Rachel Unthank and The Winterset (2007)

For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver (2008)

On the face of it two very different albums and yet they share something of a common theme.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ilya lyrics, again.

The lyrics of 'Soleil, soleil' have been amongst the most sought after information on my blog in 2008. At first it surprised me a great deal but now it no longer does; if the information not readily available then the web and its most famous search engine is the obvious port of call. I do exactly that but hadn't really thought about the consequences. One of which is that, without having to trawl the likes of MySpace, I have been alerted to many artists, recent and old, that I would probably never have discovered otherwise.

Here are the lyrics to the title track of that Ilya album:

They Died For Beauty --- (San) Ilya
Farewell my lovely
You sleep so cold
And how I'll love you forever.
My darling, I suppose


We had everything
And still wanted more
We tore the stars down from the sky
Sometime back in '64
Now I remember the memory
Forever tonight.

Let these words be my testament
To each day that went wrong
Without you dear, I am nothing
And there's nowhere I belong.

Farewell my lovely

You sleep so cold
And how I'll love you forever.
My darling, I suppose

We had everything
And still wanted more
We tore the stars down from the sky
Sometime back in '64
Now I remember the memory
Forever tonight.

Let these words be my testament
To each day that went wrong
Without you dear, I am nothing
And there's nowhere I belong.


We had everything
And still wanted more
We tore the stars down from the sky
Sometime back in '64
Now I remember the memory
Forever tonight
Forever , fo-o-o-orever tonight.
We had everything
And still wanted more
We tore the stars down from the sky
Sometime back in '64
Now I remember the memory
Forever tonight
Forever, fo-o-o-orever tonight.

There is, in fact, no weak track amongst the nine on this album and if you think this year's release by Portishead might be a bit too much like hard work you might well like to give this a chance instead. Or just first - you might even like them both - with each for the right situation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Look Into The Eyes Of A Borrowed Horse...

It is not the best time of year to seek new releases but it is a good time to look back on those that you wished you had paid more attention to in the last twelve months, and for my part I can suddenly think of plenty, or try to find those that, despite whatever effort made, slipped under the net. Now might be a good time to find them at bargain prices.
Several people have recently asked me about the 10" vinyl-only EP, Edrych Yn Llygaid Ceffyl Benthyg, by Cate Le Bon that I mentioned as being one of my two favourite EPs of 2008 not so long ago.

The good news is that, at least as of today, it is still available from Spillers Records in Cardiff and is £5.99 + P&P. I just hope her début album finally sees the light of day soon for having heard some live tracks, and apparently destined for release almost eighteen months ago, it is a bit tantalising.

What will 2009 bring? Who knows, but if I were to add a third EP to my list for 2008 it would have to be Taxi - Nicole Fermie.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The single is dead? Ten pop singles of 2008.

I mentioned this here recently and, since Friday afternoon is often a good time to do such frivolous things and the opportunity presented itself, I mentioned it - albeit in slightly different terms - to my colleagues at work.

"What? pop... singles... in 2008?"
"Yes, that's right."

They were probably protesting their innocence but I added "if that's too much choice then that's fine, let's only consider ones by female artists or all-female bands!"

Pop, in all its disguises, has returned in 2008 and here - according to the above criteria - are ten singles (in alphabetical order) that I think matter in this respect.

  • Disturbia - Rihanna
  • I Kissed A Girl - Katy Perry
  • Issues - The Saturdays
  • It Was You - Sharleen Spiteri
  • Keeps Gettin' Better - Christina Aguilera
  • Nothing Sweet About Me - Gabriella Cilmi
  • Piece Of Me - Britney Spears
  • Rain On Your Parade - Duffy
  • So What - P!nk
  • The Boy Does Nothing - Alesha Dixon
Pop is back for sure and, although it takes a lot from the past, it also offers something new. That is why, after over half a century, pop still matters.

Barefoot Contessa - but not the film or the food show!

To whoever has been looking for a track list for the 1995 self-titled début album Barefoot Contessa; I can't find that information either. I do now know that it has nine tracks and, while released on label 'Indy 500', it does not appear to be available new at the moment. I can find a number of copies available but they are not cheap, starting at about £35 ($50). It is an album I'd like to have but in the current circumstances I'm not prepared to pay that much for a CD.

Thanks to a recent 'anonymous' comment here is the track list:

Barefoot Contessa - Barefoot Contessa (1995)

Such Sweet Sorrow
Gone Too Soon For My Time
Carnal Knowledge
To Be Continued
How Can You Say You Really Feel
The Big Lie
No Means Yes

Here, however, are what I currently believe to be (singles excepted) the recordings of Barefoot Contessa:
  • 1995 Barefoot Contessa
  • 1996 You Can't Go Home Again
  • 1997 Happy Together EP
  • 1999 Blues For A Honey
  • 2001 Oh The Sweet Power
Apart from the aforementioned all are fairly readily available at a reasonable price. I mentioned 'Blues For A Honey' earlier this year. When it comes to albums that, while not new releases, were new to me in 2008 it remains amongst the most played.

My apologies to everyone looking for the lyrics to a number of albums - including those by Imelda May and Jill Jackson - that I promised I would post a month or so back. I've just been too busy to sit down and work them out from the CD. I hope to get it done over the holiday season. That brings me to another issue: artists that might become big in 2009.
Last year it seemed fairly obvious to me but not this year. Does anyone have any guesses?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What I am is what I am, are you what you are, or what?

For the last couple of weeks I've spent much of my time thinking about, and listening to, all the new music I have come across in 2008. That is interesting in itself but it has made me think more generally about about the ways in which music evolves - why certain things come round again and how and why they are reinvented or recycled.
Things crossing my mind currently include my favourite singles of 2008, particularly widely successful ones and for a reason, also a top ten of cover versions from 2008, and why I think both topics matter.

One of the cover versions that I really like is a bit like a comet - it comes back to shine brightly every ten years and so - thus at least for those under twenty-something it will probably always be associated with Emma Bunton and TinTinOut (for whom it was a 1999 UK single). It was originally written by Edie Brickell and Kenny Withrow and appeared on the 1988 album 'Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars', which was the début by Texan band Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians.
It has appeared once again in 2008 as one of the few covers on 'Deranged', the self-released début album by West Virginian singer-songwriter Stacee Lawson.

I like this version of 'What I Am' to bits and actually most of the rest of the album too - it came within a whisker of being included on the second of the two lists of Albums of 2008 that I posted last week.

Friday, December 05, 2008

My 2008 in Music (Part 2)

In my last post I mentioned that I'd split my best-of-albums into two lists. The first was what I regard as 'indispensable'. If you were to take the dozen of them away, saying that I didn't deserve to own them, these would be their replacements:

  • Adele - 19
  • Bellowhead - Matachin
  • Duffy - Rockferry
  • Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
  • Imelda May - Love Tattoo
  • Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Sunday At Devil Dirt
  • Kira Fontana - The Inner Revolution
  • Mary Hampton - My Mother's Children
  • Noah and the Whale - Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down
  • Operator Please - Yes, Yes, Vindictive
  • Shoreline - Time Well Spent
  • Sons and Daughters - This Gift
They are, of course, in no way direct replacements but in toto these two-dozen albums define my 2008 album space fairly accurately - happy to indulge in that which is currently popular while also inclined to dive into what might seem, at least in the mainstream, currently slightly obscure.

I almost forgot this one, by a band that defy genre, gender and geography:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

My 2008 in Music (Part 1)

It was difficult to reduce this category to just ten albums last year and so I added two later. This year that has proven impossible to all intents and purposes so this year I've decided to do it slightly differently.

I've chosen to split albums into two groups. The first of twelve (below) and the second (probably of ten or twelve) and, although you could argue that there will inevitably be a grey area between them, it might be worthy of discussion!
This is the first list and these are my most 'indispensable' albums of 2008. The selection is of course totally biased by my own tastes but this year two albums released by a major label feature on it, and justifiably so I feel. It is, as ever, a rather nebulous concept of a 'top 12' - there is no way that I'm going to attempt to put them in any order other than alphabetical by artist and without additional comment.

It includes two 'major label' releases, which is up from just one in last year's (original) list, and it probably isn't a quirk of statistics. I suspect my next ten choices, which I shall reveal shortly, will show that to be a significant, if rather minor, change.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Its funny what you miss, its funny what you don't...

They are back and not just in knitwear, although that is what the image above is of. Neither can it erase the memory of the circumstances in which I lost my "Old World Underground..." t-shirt.

I miss Metric, a lot, but they have promised a new album - already in the can - that will be released in early 2009.

Here's another surprise: Sunday at Devil Dirt was certainly one good thing in 2008; now Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan have spoiled us with a bonus for Christmas! It is a CD EP called 'Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart' and, while the title track does feature on the album the other five here, also recorded during the album sessions, do not and tend to be more mellow than those tracks that appeared on the album.

The artwork for the EP...

...probably mirrors the sentiment and 'Asleep On A Sixpence' and
'Rambing Rose, Creeping Vine' particularly do so.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Boca al Lupo

One of the facts of getting older is, perhaps, that you should pay more attention to your own sanity. I'm still not sure how this works but, for me at least, this seems to include the realisation that I like a far wider range of music than I did when I was a teenager. It is true that what I liked then was not just current chart; now I like a diverse range but it still includes plenty of chart music. I liked much folk/roots music then too and I still do. Wholly electronic music is something that I'd never really considered until somehow, and quite why I can no longer remember, I decided to give it a try...

If, however, you had asked me about this kind of electronica three years ago I'd have questioned both your sanity and mine.

Then I discovered that I like it! Not all of it, of course, but that applies equally to any category of music. One of the first albums I bought in this genre was the 2007 re-release of Xela - For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights. I was acquainted with releases by the 'Type Records' label before that but this was my first experience of Xela and I mentioned it here.

The new Xela album In Boca Al Lupo was pre-released on 2 x 12" vinyl on 24 November TYPE043V. It is wonderful and, although I have not yet listened to it sufficiently often to fully appreciate it, my thoughts are that it is rather more movingly sinister and organic than Frosty Mornings... but like it totally without lyric. It is a shame that it wasn't available in time for my suggestions for Halloween music, as it would have been the perfect dénouement.

In Boca Al Lupo is released (in the UK on import) on CD on 9 December 2008 but you might still be able to get the vinyl version here.
A prolific artist without doubt but some Xela releases have to be grabbed as soon as they appear and this, a 12" vinyl only collaboration with the The North Sea, is a good example...


Friday, November 28, 2008

An obvious revelation - Rocket Science For Dummies...

I've known this before but never allowed myself to believe that it is true. It follows on from the fact that, some years ago, I decided to buy music I was interested in, whether it is "popular" or otherwise. For a long time I have had no problem with current pop and this year I have finally given in and acknowledged that, however many albums I buy and however much I like them (or don't), I will only ever be able to scratch the surface of what I might like whether it is totally commercial or rather obscure and from wherever it comes. This new reality has certainly influenced my purchases and listening this year and, quite probably, kept me relatively sane.

This is the cheapest CD I have ever bought, and it arrived today. It cost US$ 0.01 (plus $5.48 international airmail from the US) and it is not something you are likely to find in HMV, Zavvi or even on
It is weird, it is wonderful in a pop-fusion way, and there's a new album - Rocket Science For Dummies
- coming very soon:

It's a beautiful fate, take yourself on a blind date
Substitute your self-hate, everything else can wait
It's a beautiful fate, requiem for all that's fake
Let yourself celebrate, everything else can wait

From "Beautiful Fate" on the forthcoming album 'Rocket Science for Dummies' by Astronauts of Antiquity. The thing is that you need their first album, on which India and B Rhyan combine a host of curious influences, and it is still available for $0.01 + p&p.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

No Reservations

Yesterday (at work) we ended talking about traditional American blues-rock and its influence in the UK. My older colleague harks on about a 2008 casualty, the late Bo Diddley, which prompted me to mention that I saw Seasick Steve live @ Latitude 2008 and that he referenced the very same (and he uses bespoke guitars too). In addition to this is the fact that, particularly in the last six months, I've been making efforts to rediscover all the vinyl I bought about twenty years ago - much of it second hand even then - and for some reason I suddenly woke up the following morning thinking about a band called Blackfoot.

What followed is a first on this blog! I delved in the long disregarded boxes in the loft and luckily soon found what I was seeking. It was before I left for work and this is important because the only place I can still play cassettes is in my car!
This was recorded live in Newcastle-on-Tyne, hence the inclusion of 'Howay The Lads' at the end (!), and released in 1982
. It also shows how much of the UK-styled interpretation of blues-rock Blackfoot had taken on board by this time. I have mentioned the 1970s and early 1980s as being, in my opinion, the heyday of live albums already this year and I'd like to add this to my 'best-of' list.

I then had an idea that I could do better on vinyl...

No Reservations was the first album, Antilles AN-7076, of 1975.

The opening track, Railroad Man is actually a cover of the Shorty Medlock song. Rickey Medlocke is the main man here, although the band has multiple vocalists and twin lead guitars, but he is the son of the aforementioned. This is an album much concerned with change and dislocation, which makes it seem relevant once again.

This was followed in 1976 by Flyin' High, which I also have on vinyl, and that perhaps shows even more European rock influences. The back cover of the LP (Epic PE 34378) has an interesting band biography dating from 1976 (click image to see it readable in a new window).

Thoughts On Music -- an update...

Following on from that which I wrote on Monday I suddenly seem to have loads of ideas - it's amazing what a few rather boring days at work can do. At work we've ended up talking about music a few times and as I don't think that my colleagues, of different ages and musical tastes, know about this little sideline but they have quite accidentally given me inspiration.
One thing it has made me realise it just how much music I have listened to this year and that not all of it, by any means and even to me, is brand new music. They have narrow tastes in music, if only in my opinion, but I know that I'm certainly enjoying expanding mine!

Monday, November 24, 2008

2008 matters because... Part 1

I've not posted much recently but that is not because music has been far from my mind. Rather the opposite in fact; it is just that I have been listening to it and thinking about it rather than writing about it. Several people have asked about lyrics to some albums I have mentioned recently, particularly 'Jill Jackson' - Jill Jackson and 'Love Tattoo' - Imelda May and I hope to have these on-line this coming weekend at the latest.

Some say, and it has been the case for decades, that the latest year is just more proof of the end of the world as we know it. I am quite willing to believe that the global economy in 2008 has suffered vicissitudes unknown in the lifetimes of most of us but does that therefore mean the end of music as we know it? I'd wager that the answer is no for that never really happens, new layers are simply added and, while some genres fade in popularity and prominence (not always the same thing) they rarely disappear completely and have a tendency to return, revisited and reinvented, when least suspected. I have only one reservation and that is: Do you get the feeling that things are undergoing a subtle, but perhaps profound, change?

Think back over the last year and there are some surprises, the most surprising often not being the most immediately obvious. A good and fairly easy place to start is the continuing ascent of apparently unlikely, but often very successful, cover versions.

Who, say three years ago, would have predicted the likes of Adele covering Bob Dylan's Make You Feel My Love?
It's the only cover on her 2008 début album '19' but what a dangerous choice - he has rarely played it live, hinting that it it is too difficult to perform under pressure - but when she performed it live on 'Later... with Jules Holland' as a piano ballad it went stellar and is now to be a single.
Leona Lewis has just released an updated version of her #1 2007 album 'Spirit', which went straight to the top spot again this week; of the two new tracks on it one is actually a cover version of Run from the 2003 Snow Patrol album 'Final Straw' which she first revealed, by performing it live, on BBC Radio 1's 'Live Lounge' in 2007 and again on X-Factor a couple of weeks ago.

I've heard this cover of Willie Nelson's Angel Too Close To The Ground (from the soundtrack to the 1980 drama Honeysuckle Rose), performed live by Beth Rowley twice now and it is amazing:

If you had not have fallen then I would not have found you
Angel flying too close to the ground.

I patched up your broken wings and hung around a while
Kept your spirits up and your fever down.
I knew some day that you would fly away
For love's the greatest healer to be found

So leave me, if you need to, but I will still remember
Angel flying too close to the ground.

It is included, as a duet, on her 2008 début album 'Little Dreamer', which also includes a fine cover of Bob Dylan's I Shall Be Released and also some very good new songs. In my opinion So Sublime is the best of them, and amongst the best on the album, but it is all a close call.

I'll expand on what I mean by this generalisation in the coming weeks, but this is my premise:
Could the diversity that we have seen this year be the start of a new era of popular music we can hardly yet even imagine?

Monday, November 17, 2008

EPs of 2008...

I find categories with many competing possibilities particularly difficult by dint of the selection criteria: on one hand I don't want to appear biased but, on the other hand, that is exactly why I'm writing it!

This is the easiest category to deal with as there are relatively few contenders. Last year the selection process was pretty easy and this year it has not been too difficult either but there still are important differences: last year both artists/acts came from the UK and sung in English but this year that is not true!
The problem with doing this is that, having listened to the contenders for the category, what to listen to while writing that is not apt to influence the decision and is yet complementary? My answer, available on CD and well worth a listen, is Kiln House - Fleetwood Mac (1970, 12" vinyl, RSLP9004).

In 2008 one of the two doesn't come from the UK and one doesn't sing in English (on the EP)! At least you can't say that I've not chosen two that are in a similar genre, though that was not true last year either. Here they are, in no order:

  • Sun Giant - Fleet Foxes
Released in the US in late 2007 and, following their signing to Bella Union, in the UK in early 2008, is this EP by Seattle all-male five-piece 'Fleet Foxes'. They made tight vocal harmonies cool again - even before the release of their eponymous début album later in 2008 - and they sing in English.
  • Edrych Yn Llygaid Ceffyl Benthyg - Cate Le Bon
The long promised album, apparently to be entitled Pet Deaths, has still not appeared but in early summer 2008 this 5-track EP, released only on 10" vinyl and sung entirely in Welsh, more than made up for that! Some of the tracks are far more complex than those she has show-cased before.
I can't yet quite explain why I think this but the final track, O Bont i Bont, sounds like one of the very best modern French pop songs that has never actually been written!

Two incomparable but equally innovative and worthwhile EPs; demonstrating beyond doubt that the genre is still well and truly alive.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It is no hardship...

This week I started to listen systematically to every 2008 album release that I own, and make notes, with the idea being to choose the ten or so that I think have mattered the most to me. It is most certainly a labour of love. (It does include albums released in 2007 elsewhere but not in the UK - and, as a balance, I'm also including albums I have that were released elsewhere in 2008 are but not yet on full release in the UK).
It is a larger task than I had presumed and you could say that I've manipulated the rules to suit my purposes but if they can do it on 'X Factor' then surely, in the absence of experts, it is my prerogotive too?
Last minute entries are always welcome, and there may be more yet, but I'm glad that I started this assignment when I did.

A full week of evenings spent listening wouldn't get through half of it and, from a purely practical aspect, necessities such as eating and sleeping make that quite impossible anyway. I also made some predictions for 2008 and so it is therefore only right that I should be held to account.

I think that I'm now settled on about half of it and, if the pattern is anything to go by, it is going to bear no more relationship to the charts - in the UK, the US or anywhere else - than it did last year. That is not to say that I don't listen to, or like, chart music because actually I do; I'll mention some that has caught my ear in 2008 in another post.
'Thoughts On Music 2008' certainly isn't over yet but 'Thoughts on Music 2009' already exists in my mind!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Too soon to review; but not too early to predict!

I'd say that it is still too early to compile and publish any list of 'best of 2008'. That is not to say that I haven't given thought to such matters, for of course I have, but that is a different matter entirely!
On the other hand it certainly is not too early to consider what and who might be influential in 2009 and, although that is still open to question, this EP is already on my list...

As far as I can tell this is currently only available to download, which is a shame, but that is not to detract from its merit at all. She is the principal part in a trio that includes the tight accompaniment of Tom (bass) and Howie (percussion) while she sings lead vocals and also plays lead guitar - her trademark red Strat - an interesting choice for one who, as a child, learned classical piano.
You might have heard her before, without even realising it, as she provided backing vocals for some tracks on the Goldfrapp album 'Seventh Tree'. Her début album is due in 2009.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Silence Is Wild

You could well be forgiven for thinking that I had somehow lost my obsession with music from Canada, which featured so prominently in 2007. That is, however, far from the truth even if that about which I have written has largely had its focus elsewhere and I can't really see myself losing touch with Canadian music as it has had, directly or otherwise, so much influence on that which I have discovered and come to like over the last five years.

Silence Is Wild - Frida Hyvönen (SC184, 2008)

Not yet released in the UK, but released by label 'Secretly Canadian' last Tuesday is SC184, Silence Is Wild, the second album by Frida Hyvönen and the less sparsely arranged follow-up to her 2006 début, the little-lauded but still rather splendid and piano-led, Until Death Comes. Recorded in Stockholm earlier in 2008 it is from an artist for whom the label name is particularly apt. It was released as SC184 (and also on vinyl) on November, 4 and I have it on order so I'll soon be able to comment with more authority.

Another recent sophomore album, Some Are Lakes, comes from the very genuinely Canadian band Land Of Talk. I, unlike some considerable minority, liked their last offering 'Applause, Cheer, Boo, Hiss' and this one, I think, is even better.

I already have this, on vinyl indeed (Saddle Creek Records - lbj126), and I'll add some detail on what I think of individual tracks when I've listened to it a few more times.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A remarkable week, when all is said and done...

I can think of plenty of things to say but this song, and many others on the album Carry The Light, amongst them - 'No More Lies' and 'Time For A Change' - tell a story far better than I could ever hope to:

Run Like Hell

Building bridges
Across rivers deep and wide
We might need a telescope
To see the other side
We all know
That something must be done
'Cause the future is fading fast
just like a setting sun.

We can hear a distant sound
Like the ringing of a bell
We better do something fast or

War here, war there,
War everywhere.
A leader lies and someone dies
But do they really care
And could we face the truth
If truth were even there.
Who's gonna tell our children
The future isn't their's...

We can hear a distant sound
Like the ringing of a bell
We better do something fast or

Now don't get me wrong
The ending isn't clear
Many chapters of this book
Have all been filled with fear
I can hear the pages turn
It's the chance we've waited for
We're ALL in this together
And we've seen it - ALL before.
As we wake up in the in the morning
To face another day
Wishin' for blue skies
And all we get is grey
We try to keep our hope alive
No matter what they say
It is time that we get busy
And do something more than pray

We can hear a distant sound
Like the ringing of a bell
We better do something fast or

If the album 'Carry The Light' puts me in mind of any other that I have then it is 'Live - Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush' (1978) and that is no bad thing at all. This classic rock album has recently been re-released on CD and it is one of the favourite live albums that I own.

Things can, and in time will, get better...

A Change Is Gonna Come - Leela James (2005)

On the other hand, while writing this, I'm currently listening to an equally relevant but at least in style very different album. It was released only a few years ago but that could be an age; it is now more immediately relevant than ever it was hitherto.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

More albums I want - 2008, part 7.

Here goes with another selection from 2008 and these are already on order and, indeed the last I already have. One of the most common enquiries here in the last few weeks are about who is supporting Seth Lakeman on his autumn UK tour. I don't know and, when I saw Seth Lakeman live in Frome in July the support act was not advertised in advance as far as I could find.

Only later, when it finally occurred to me that she was not completely overshadowed by Seth Lakeman, I realised that should have bought this at the time but I didn't. Now I have it on order and can't wait to hear her renditions of delta blues and rock again.

With backing musicians playing various instruments on various tracks, this is not the same as the remarkably visceral, if slightly messy, solo performance that she provided when supporting Seth Lakeman back in July. That is not to say that I was disappointed, for I wasn't, but I did wonder at the time that perhaps with backing musicians...
I also, rather contrary-wise, anticipated not liking the album as much. I was possibly wrong on both counts: NOT playing solo seems to make her sound more focussed on CD. Live with a band I can't say but now I wonder.

That topic tempts me to mention another artist of whom, until very recently indeed, I was completely unaware:

Kelly Richey - Carry The Light (2008)
High school history teacher and also blues-rock guitarist, this album is on US import only and that is a pity.

In a completely different style, but still quite American in a totally different sense, is the pop-fusion trio called Brazilian Girls. Brazilian they are not and the only female is Sabina Sciubba, an Italian New Yorker bought up in France and Germany, while Didi Gutman is Argentinian and the trio is completed by Aaron Johnston. The music, which involves a host of guest musicians, is eclectic but involves elements of pop, dance and electronica combined with any other influence that took their fancy (and they are very many and varied) in an unconsciously free-flowing way and similarly employs lyrics in at least five languages, several of which are often combined in one song. It is not however music difficult to listen to, far from it in fact, and I find it hard to pick favourites but here goes:
  • Losing Myself
  • Berlin
  • L'interprete
  • I Want Out
Some artists have been invoked as influences and Blondie is the one I have seen cited most often. I think that that is an invidious comparison when, as it often is, taken too far. This album doesn't actually, when taken as a whole, sound much like anyone else well known and this is exactly why its unpredictability is so welcome and refreshing - take it as it comes and it is a delight to listen to again and again.
That there are very slight similarities at times, particularly in the prominence of the vocals, that at times make me think CSS - all of who are Brazilian and, Adriano Cintra aside, female - is perhaps no great surprise. While the second CSS album, Donkey (2008), is greatly different to their 2006 début, CSS, it remains a splendid example of how something rather improbable can take hold and soon become something unforgettable; at Glastonbury 2007 they even made the sun come out! I had seen the Glastonbury footage before I saw them at Latitude 2007 in the sunshine a couple of weeks later and, given the circumstances of their formation, they were simply electrifying playing live. That trait, I strongly suspect, is also true of Brazilian Girls and I hope to get the chance to find out.

Friday, October 31, 2008

As Fools We Are

I wrote a Halloween/All Hallows' Eve themed post last year and this year I decided to have another go with the theme being the connection between Halloween, which has become increasingly "celebrated" or at least commercialised in the UK in recent years; the event known "Bonfire Night", held to celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspiritors to blow up Parliament in 1665 and, this year only, the dénouement of the most fascinating US Presidential contest in my lifetime!
This wonderful cocktail of superstition, religion and politics needs a soundtrack and a dark one at that - of shock, fear, change, possibility and perhaps ultimately redemption. Here is my condensed selection of music for the next week:

To start with is the album 'Rock It To The Moon' by Electrelane. The fairground ride has the word 'pleasure' on it, the lights are lit, but the whole scene is deserted.
The music is similarly almost devoid of voices: On the first track a dog barks in a distorted electronically-warped sound-scape. When voices do fleetingly appear on tracks they are often indecipherable souls - the snatch distinguishable is "some fallen angels". This is what I imagine happens when the 'Piper At The Gates of Dawn' reaches the end of the road and is negotiating with Charon. Much of the later output by Electrelane is similarly obscure and, while less obviously so, instrumental, and seemingly concerned with some journey - the 2007 album No Shouts, No Calls would be suitable too.

In the last couple of years the UK has seen a huge explosion in music perhaps best termed nu-folk which, although not at all a unique phenomenon, has produced some remarkable artists and when dark, disturbing songs are required few can hold a candle to Laura Marling. Last Monday 'Night Terror' was finally released as a single but it originally appeared in 2007 on the 7" EP 'My Manic and I' and the title track is no less disturbing.

Not everything is so scary and, sticking with the nu-folk acoustic genre, here is a band that have been around for a couple of years now but are finally getting some well-deserved recognition. They are called Fireworks Night and take a slightly more mellow approach and, to support the Halloween theme, their female co-vocalist is Rhiannon; for those with long memories the very same as the benevolent mythical Welsh witch who was made famous, at least in music, by Stevie Nicks.

Their first release was a 7" single in 2006 rather prophetically titled
'The Day We Fell Through The Ice'.

It was followed in 2007 by the album 'As Fools We Are' and, while not exactly cheerful, it is quietly optimistic about the way things will turn out and I like it for that.

They have not been idle since and their new EP 'A Mirror, A Ghost' will be available on Organ Grinder Records very soon.

Like music, like life.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

When you can't find what you've mislaid...

This was me today and I just can't find my CD of Amy LaVere - Anchors and Anvils!

I trawled for it in my CD collection, without success, but then got distracted by my vinyl collection knowing full well that it would not be found there. While that did not solve the original problem it was to prove interesting on the day that AC/DC went straight to the top of the UK album charts.
I found three albums, packed together in a polythene sleeve, that I'm convinced I've never ever listened to! That's careless and particularly so as I had at least made the effort to note - on a slip of paper inside each sleeve - when I acquired them, which was November 1987!

This is the most interesting of the three - the original French release, Disques Carrere 67.484 (1981) - on vinyl and complete with very sensible storage instructions on the inner sleeve:

The music is a far cry from that of the, far more recent, French artists that I was listening to earlier today but that is just the way it is. It may not be groundbreaking, and wasn't even thus when it first appeared, but it has nevertheless stood the test of time remarkably well.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fragile Heart - Jill Jackson lyric

I said earlier in the week that I was going to try and work out the lyrics for this album, even though it is probably one with which few are yet acquainted.

Jill Jackson live in Edinburgh in 2008.

I started with Track 8 simply because, on what is a remarkable album, it caught my attention first:


Here comes the sunshine
To brighten my day.
There go my worries
I've washed them away.
Now I have blue skies
They're no longer grey.

Out of the darkness, into the light
Everything's madness, but hey that's just life
I just need someone to kiss me goodnight.

Ooh, ooh, ooh - Right from the start
Ooh, ooh, ooh - my fragile heart
Ooh, ooh, ooh - tears me apart
Ooh, ooh, ooh - my fragile heart.
So long ago
When love was young
So much to give
And no one to blame
And I just need shelter

Every day I'll fight but I'm hidin' away
Most times I can't find what to say.
I just need someone to take it away.

Ooh, ooh ooh, - Right from the start
Ooh, ooh, ooh - my fragile heart
Ooh, ooh, ooh - tears me apart
Ooh, ooh, ooh - my fragile heart.

Here comes the sunshine
To brighten my day.

For the lyric of 'Rain On My Window' see here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hard to find, easy to like and still largely unknown.

It's rare these days that I can spend a whole evening listening, over and over again, to an album that I've just acquired. It has happened before and this evening, for the second time in a month, it just happened again.

While the album cover is hard to reproduce to any exciting degree I have tried my best. The same cannot be said of the album and, yes, I have already started on the lyrics! The ten tracks on it are these:

  • All Of The Colours
  • Last To Know
  • What If I Stay
  • Inside Out
  • Mind In Bloom
  • Stumble
  • Don't Let Me Go
  • Fragile Heart
  • Rain On My Window
  • Lullaby
It is unusual in many ways. It had to come to me from the US, yet this is an album by an artist from Scotland. It is certainly influenced by Nashville, country and Americana both, but is not remotely derivative and on several songs her native accent shines through. It is more Americana-influenced and less rock-acoustic, particularly in the choice of backing instruments I think, than Amy Macdonald's This Is The Life but also not really oceans apart, at least in music territory.

She is a talented songwriter and guitarist - entirely acoustic on this album.

For those lucky enough to be at 'The Green Martini', in Concorde NH, this evening then you are soon to hear her perform live and, to tell the truth, I envy you. Just enjoy it and if you were there - or at any other gig on her tours - please feel free to really wind me up by telling me about it!

The rumour machine whispers that the Grasshopper EP is due soon and I await that with great interest. Acoustic or not? I don't know!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More albums I want - 2008, part 6.

Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, I couldn't find much enthusiasm for new music.

I knew that it was my fault but to appreciate it fully is to be faced with the opposite problem and now is the time to indulge in new music. Some things just have to be good and, right now, it doesn't bother me if that happens to be unashamedly reinvented retro-pop, but
not either 'The Pipettes' nor 'Los Campesinos!', and the totally strange album title doesn't do any harm at all.

Sweden's Those Dancing Days - 'In Our Space Hero Suits'.

Positively post-Abba, Sweden is fun again, though if you have been reading here that is not always so obviously true. Without any doubt one of my most-listened-to albums of the last six months is by another Swedish band, Oh Laura, and the album 'A Song Inside My Head, A Demon In My Bed' seems to have gained very little recognition in the UK.

For the last six months or so I've been hard pressed to avoid falling for new music from America, so here is yet another one to add to the list. It was released in the UK last Monday (13 October) and in the US almost a fortnight earlier.

'Deranged' - Stacee Lawson is an album that in essence is very much in tune with much of the new-folk/pop/rock currently so popular in the UK. It should, if there were any justice, find popularity this side of the Atlantic but then, while I'm usually an optimist I often find that it is tainted by realism. If I had it my way Stephanie Dosen would be hugely successful here for 'A Lily For The Spectre' is a wonderful album that has become one my most played of the last year or so.
That's just two, and I can think of many more, but it is way past bed time!

If you get the chance, and want to see a band that is worth far more than the hype that is starting to gather around it, I'd choose The Joy Formidable; just watching their live set is exhaustingly wonderful so goodness knows about the performance aspects...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Yet more lyrics - Nitrogen Pink & Corridor

You will almost certainly have to click on the images below to enlarge and hopefully then make them readable but, since I can provide them thus, here are the lyrics from the 10" Nitrogen Pink by Polly Scattergood scanned straight from the fly-sheet provided with that release.

The surroundings here are urban, near industrial rather than sylvan, but then why should that be surprising?

Live at 'The Walpole', New Cross, London on 27/09/08.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nitrogen Pink

Another artist I saw live at Latitude 2008 was Polly Scattergood, who performed on the Sunset Stage early on Sunday afternoon. While the picture below looks rather of the kind that one gets from booths that take passport photos, it is actually the cover of 10" vinyl single Nitrogen Pink (Mute, 2007, and since released by Mute US in 2008).

No album yet but several singles - all available on vinyl - and already a very fine live act indeed.

Hard to categorise I know and, while some would say pop-punk in an instant, that's not the half of it. She is indeed both these things at times but at many others she has too much of that wilful, yet vague, dislocation
of the care-worn singer-songwriter for that aspect not to come out in the wash. Her music is all the better for it.

[Click images to enlarge the images below and ask me if you want other versions.]

Polly Scattergood on the Sunset Stage @ Latitude 2008.
Adjusting the microphone... this was taken just before the soundcheck.

That is not to say that this means gloomy, depressing music or performance. This is music aimed not at those angry at a particular moment in time, as punk quite deliberately was, but at a whole new generation of uncertainty.

Just fifteen minutes later and very much live!