Monday, November 30, 2009

My 2009 In Music - albums

It has, as I mentioned last week, taken a long time and a lot of soul-searching to come up with any reasonable list of my least-dispensable albums of 2009 and on reflection the way I divided it in 2008 suddenly appeared false, or at least redundant, as it changes from day to day depending on 'things'.

In 2009 I've decided to do it in one hit, although I will feel free to add things, but again I am certainly not intending to rate it in order because that is quite simply impossible for reasons more immediate than those involved in choosing what should be in the list anyway. That's enough of preamble and self-justification so here it is in the raw; my most-cherished albums of 2009 listed alphabetically by artist:

Amy Millan - Masters Of The Burial [link]
Bat For Lashes - Two Suns [link]
Blue Roses - Blue Roses [link 1] [link2]
Caroline Weeks - Songs For Edna [link]
Chairlift - Does You Inspire You? [link]
Dear Reader - Replace Why With Funny [link]
Eilen Jewell - Sea of Tears [link]
Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo - Despite The Snow [link]
Florence and The Machine - Lungs
Frida Hyvönen - Silence Is Wild [Link]
Kendel Carson - Alright Dynamite [link]
Lau - Arc Light [link]
Lightning Dust - Infinite Light [link]
Lily Allen - It's Not Me It's You [link]
Little Boots - Hands
Marissa Nadler - Little Hells [link]
Mummers - Tale To Tell [link]
Ohbijou - Beacons [link]
Paramore - Brand New Eyes
Po'Girl - Deer In The Night [link]
Polly Scattergood - Polly Scattergood [link1] [link2]
Stricken City - Songs About People I Know
The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning [link]
The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

Please feel free to comment, argue and suggest additions/deletions by comment or e-mail. I will add links and further comments as and when I get the time through December. Albums released in December 2009 are clearly eligible for addition too, as are a few that I have recently acquired but have not, as yet, listened to sufficiently to form a stable opinion.

There are no images in this post because I don't want to prejudice anything. On the other hand I have already mentioned many of these artists in 2009... if you want to see what I wrote then please use the search facility in the side-bar.

Artists highlighted in green are those that I have seen live in 2009 or, if in orange, those from before but also mentioned in 2009. Items/artists highlighted in red are those on which I have commented in 2009.

Now over to you!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My 2009 in music: EPs and mini-albums

It is that time of year again; the season for making lists. This is not however my Christmas wish list but rather the first part of the music that I have heard in 2009 that I particularly liked.
It, like all the other parts to follow, is obviously a personal selection so if you agree with some and disagree with others then it is well worth doing; should you discover anything from it that had either not caught your attention or merely forgotten then all the better and, as usual, all comments, positive or negative, are welcome.
As I did last year I started with one of the categories that I find it easier to get my head around. It is better this year even though 'EPs and mini-albums' has become a whole lot more complicated than it was in 2008. As usual I'm not going to attempt to rank them, not least because that depends on
my mood at the time. These have however proved enduring favourites and so here they are, in alphabetical order and by arist:

A major departure from the selection I made last year is that as well as owning said items I have actually seen five of the seven acts live in 2009. The exceptions being Amy LaVere and Le B because I didn't get the opportunity to do so. Of these seven acts/artists only one has released a full album to date and that is Amy LaVere, who has released two, and the second of them, 'Anchors and Anvils', was in my list of 2008 albums.

There are also a few EPs that overlap with 2009 artists and albums that I think worthy of note, but probably need no introduction, simply for the remixes:
The nine items above are, at least in my collection, represented equally on CD, 7" vinyl and 12" vinyl --- so not even dead on physical format! The artwork of many of these items has already appeared in my posts in 2009 but not all of it so here is some more...

There is more (including links from this post) to follow soon...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Infinite iteration...

The title might sound like math homework from decades long past but it is actually an observation on a much more recent problem. It is a more welcome problem, I must add, but an example of the fact that some things seem to get harder with practice and - at for me at least - writing year-end lists is one of them.

I have not fulfilled all the promises I made for my blog this year and only I am to blame there. I have however succeeded in listening to more music, both recorded and live, than ever before. That is another large part of the problem: taking stock in the last few weeks has only now made me realize how true that is. Worse still, in this regard alone, is that the guidance I have received from many sources in the last year has meant that very little of it, live or recorded, can simply be dismissed at the first pass; furthermore not only is there far more to consider it is also more varied in nature and that is a big problem hence the title of the post!
How do you whittle the list down without obvious accusations of a travesty of justice? I have had, and then discarded, various ideas about categorization but in the end I think I'm going to do it much like last year:

  • Two complementary lists of albums (I'm not sure how one will be distinct from the other).
  • A list of EPs/mini-albums (of which I have rather more this year than last).
  • A list of singles (probably).
  • A list of live acts that I have liked the most.
The last is a new category and to some extent it will overlap with the foregoing ones. Another that I'm still considering is a shortlist of albums from earlier years that I have acquired for the first time in 2009. Don't get me wrong, I love doing it but it does not actually get any easier and perhaps that apparent contradiction is actually part of the appeal.

I've even got a working list of 2010 artists and albums to keep an eye on and, as the second decade of the 21st century dawns, it doesn't look disappointing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And the problem is?

We were having a discussion at work today and, as such things do, it ran along fairly predictable lines. It was about new media and the effects they have, in particular social networking. I was, as always, out-gunned two to one (one older and one younger than I) so I don't think it is entirely an age related issue in the wider sense. I was sticking to my positive stance, as usual, when one of my colleagues suddenly asked "Can you even conceive of what it might be like to write a blog?"and you can probably guess the news story this week, concerning one of the most infamous blogs of all time, that started this particular line of discussion.

The two halves of my brain went in to overdrive and in conflicting ways, which is of course why the human brain works as well as it does. One side was telling me that I'd been rumbled for I thought that they did not know about that which you are currently reading; the other was saying that if they now do there's no denying it and so just keep on going. Both sides however were SCREAMING at me say something credible and to do it fast.
"Rather like reading one but more involving and committed." I ventured and I got away with it, at least for now, but should the question arise again I'll be very much better prepared:

  • I realize that I might have to defend what I write, or even what I write about, but that is not a new media phenomenon. I don't think I should have to defend my reasons for writing simply because it is on a digital platform.
  • Who would want to read what I write/publish? That, often levelled, question applies to anything but you don't know until you do it. Just ask the agents and publishers that turned down JK Rowling about that; to blog simply allows self-publishing and greater powers of self-delusion.
  • It is faintly egotistical (a valid point) but on the other hand it is equally liable to court opprobrium as it is to curry approbation.
  • I enjoy researching and writing it and the interaction it provides beyond the blog itself, or merely on-line.
  • I enjoy the challenge and the opportunities it has given me and quite frankly I don't care what the nu-Luddites think. If you don't like new media then just don't read it: I'm fine with that equilibrium situation.
The next thing to say is that I do read other blogs about music and in a light that is perhaps different simply because I write one myself. They are a source of inspiration, perspective and a pointer to new music too. Here are two rather different ones, both quite remarkable.

A comprehensive selection of new and recent music from Sweden:

If you find yourself in New York, or wish you could, this is what you need to know and more:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When folk became fashionable...

It was fairly clear a year ago that 2009 was going to see a resurgence in electro-pop and electronica in general and so it has proved. A rather different genre, which has been chipping away at public indifference for several years, also made huge strides in 2009. Folk/roots and its associated acoustic palette, whether modern or traditional, had long been seen in the UK at least as predominantly the preserve of middle-aged males drinking ale in the local pub.

It became very clear that something had changed: turn on BBC Radio 1 and one can often be forgiven for thinking your tuner has changed to the traditional end of BBC Radio 2 territory and that impression could only be reinforced at many of this summer's festivals.
These are young, talented performers playing a vast range of acoustic instruments and appealing to a young audience as well as the traditional one. Last year Laura Marling, signed to EMI, blazed the trail and seems to have been touring non-stop ever since.
I have mentioned quite a few acts already, as I have always had a soft spot for such music and Bellowhead, touring 2008 album Matachin, is indubitably one of the finest of the hundred-plus live artists of all genres that I have seen this year.

Here are a few more albums/artists to consider, not all of which I have heard yet. I'll start with the latest album by the artist who has possibly done the most to promote this trend over the last decade or so...

Sweet Bells - Kate Rusby (2009, Pure Records)

One new band that seems to have found favour in influential circles is the one that, on hearing them repeatedly on BBC Radio 1, made me realize that things had really changed and that I have probably seen more banjos deployed in 2009 than since forever... In the BBC Radio 1 'Live Lounge' sessions it is expected that the band will perform a cover version: Calvin Harris' - I'm Not Alone and it was as truly amazing as it was a surprising choice.

Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons (2009, Island/Universal)

I have mentioned the eleven-piece Bellowhead already but very recently the sole female member thereof has just released her début solo project.

No Man's Fool - Rachael McShane (2009, Navigator Records)

Many of these albums comprise a mixture of interpretations of traditional songs and completely new ones and this, the second album from Derbyshire singer, songwriter and fiddle player Bella Hardy, is no exception.

In The Shadow of Mountains - Bella Hardy (2009, Noe Records)

And finally, for now...

Here's The Tender Coming - The Unthanks (2009, Rough Trade/Beggars)

They may have changed the artist act name to 'The Unthanks' but it is still the same sisters and this album also includes traditional material, including the title track that also appears on 'The High Level Ranters' album 'Ranting Lads' that I have already mentioned.

Where does that leave us? Well, I'd like to think that it bodes very well for 2010. The raised profile and popularity of the whole genre is likely to inspire others contemplating similar forays in acoustic music and that can hardly be a bad thing.

This post focusses entirely on UK artists but that is not to say that there aren't others working in similar territory and equally deserving of a mention. I have seen several of them live in 2009 and mentioned some already but a fuller retrospective should follow soon. It should bode well for the 2010 festival season, particularly those such as Green Man Festival, EOTR 2010 and The Cambridge Folk Festival.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Hard Hearted (Ode To Thoreau)

I love it when people ask about lyrics. It serves to remind me that I'm not the only one who thinks they matter, and who finds them fascinating, so thanks to whoever asked about this one...

... 'Hard Hearted (Ode To Thoreau)', which comes from Amy Millan's début solo album 'Honey From The Tombs'.

I think that they are thus:

Hard Hearted (Ode To Thoreau)

I have a hard hearted island
Where I live alone
I've seen my love grow big as a mountain
And scatter like ashes and bones
These things I have forgotten
Memory I've left behind
Something was always drifting away
So I'll stay.

It may be the night it might be the morning
Never again will I weep
Cos I've got the wind blowing beside me
And the water can sing me to sleep
That sky can do my crying
Seasons can have my goodbyes
The city can keep all its history
And leave me.

I have been beat, I'm not defeated
Not bitter, not bound and not meek.
When disappointment is a slow burning fire

Let it drown under the sound of my feet.

If you want other lyrics then just please ask and, if you haven't already done so, her recently released sophomore solo album, Masters Of The Burial, is well worth a listen and I have the lyrics for that too.

Monday, November 02, 2009

2009 Isn't done yet - more new music, part 13

Over the last few days there has been lot of discussion about music in 2009 and, I have to admit, I've been involved in some of it whether that be in person or, as this evening on the likes of MySpace and perpetuating that, right here right now. That is fine, in so far as it goes, but why draw a line under 2009 in music when there are still two months to go? I know that the few weeks before Christmas may not be the best but surely that's no reason to write it off already and who knows from where it might come? In truth my wish-list is probably now longer than ever and here are just four rather diverse examples from it:

It seems an age since Norway's Anne Lilia Berge Strond (aka Annie) released her first solo LP 'Anniemal' and actually it was 2005. This one is her second and it is 'Don't Stop'.
Next up is a long underrated star of the UK rock guitar scene, though to very good effect, more recently prominent as the guitarist in Bat For Lashes' live band: she is former 'Ash' guitarist and solo artist Charlotte Hatherley.

Her second solo album, The Deep Blue (2007), garnered a reputation for being somewhat difficult to get to know and possibly not without reason. I have it on vinyl, so that is not for want of trying, but this one seems rather more approachable and that is not to say it is in any sense derivative, for it is not, rather she seems to be reinvigorated and if you have seen a live 'Bat For Lashes' gig this year then it is surely not hard to understand why.

Next up is another band that I have mentioned before but this time one from France. A garage/rock/punk four-piece, with something curiously Parisinenne, 'Plasticines' return with their second album 'About Love', which is a follow on from 'LP1' (2007), except that it isn't quite as simple as that...
Zazie Tavitian left the band after the first album and has been replaced, albeit in a different rôle, by drummer Anaïs Vandevyvere.

Now that's interesting: but just try persuading almost anyone that France has home-grown pop (it most certainly does) and you will find it at best difficult, at worst Sisyphean. The very thought of trying to convince anyone that it has [even one] credible all-female rock band is almost too scary to contemplate. Why are we so blinkered?

To finish how could I possibly resist adding yet another album of folk/Americana to my list?

This one is the third release by Lisa Redford and one much championed by Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2 - and the same 'whispering Bob Harris' for those of us whose memories can just about stretch back to the 'Old Grey Whistle Test'- therefore absolutely no chance whatsoever.