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.