Monthly Archives: December 2009

Redress the balance: Albums I never got round to listening to

Hey, like I said, blame Spotify for me not getting round to hearing a ton of new music this year. I spent much of 2009 engrossed in the back catalogues of Spoon, Les Savy Fav, Beck and Yo La Tengo, so you can understand why a lot of trendy young things passed me by.

So, from now till the end of the year, I hereby promise to – at the very least – listen to the following albums of 2009 that my friends have been haranguing me for avoiding:

The Mountain Goats – The Life Of The World To Come

Girls – Album

Japandroids – Post-Nothing

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms

Passion Pit – Manners

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains

A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Ashes Grammar

Volcano Choir – Unmap

JJ – JJ N° 2

Sorry for being such a slacker.

Songs of 2009 – Out of the limelight.

I’m not going to do a list of my favourite songs of 2009 because that would be boring and unoriginal, and chances are you’ve probably read about the exact same songs in a million other places. Instead, here’s my playlist containing fifteen album tracks, none of which were released as singles, which I notched up on my bedpost as having loved dearly over the course of the year. When you’ve read through it all, you can also feel their brilliance as nature intended, by hopping over to the superconnected playlist I’ve made over on Spotify (though the Tortoise track will be absent because their oeuvre is not yet available). Continue reading Songs of 2009 – Out of the limelight.

Albums of 2009 – Lis(z)tomania!

UPDATE: Grab a convenient playlist featuring two key tracks from (almost) all of the albums featured here.

2009 has been a year when I’ve taken stock of a fair bit of older music – thank Spotify for that! – which might explain my profligacy in terms of listening to some really highly-regarded new albums. Nonetheless, in the last few weeks I’ve clawed back lost ground and taken the opportunity to investigate the hype surrounding some of this year’s gems.

In the interests of economy, I’m only listing my fifteen favourite albums; there were plenty of others that I enjoyed, but couldn’t justify adding to this list. So, as well as the albums listed below, do please go and have a listen to wonderful albums like Doves‘ triumphant Kingdom Of Rust, The Cribs‘ Johnny Marr-enhanced Ignore The Ignorant, and Atlas Sound‘s mesmerising Logos. But without further ado, and a bit more explanation where necessary, here are my offerings: Continue reading Albums of 2009 – Lis(z)tomania!

Modest Mouse — Electric Ballroom (16/12/09)

The last time I saw Modest Mouse performing live, it was May 2007 – they were raising the roof of the Royal Albert Hall while Liverpool were busy losing in the Champions League final. Since then, a lot has changed. Johnny Marr has taken time out of the band to work with The Cribs; Liverpool are no longer even competing in the Champions League. And this time round, Modest Mouse have swapped the hallowed hall imbued with the spirit of Hendrix for the sardine-packed club atmosphere of Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Their numerous instruments and bandmembers shoehorned onto a stage barely bigger than my bedroom, the band look and sound like a troupe of consummate professionals, ostensibly touring in support of an EP, but in reality taking to the stage out of love for their devoted followers, and love of taking their rural groove out on the road. Continue reading Modest Mouse — Electric Ballroom (16/12/09)

Hot Chip – One Life Stand

Much as I enjoyed Hot Chip’s third album, Made In The Dark, I’ll admit that it was a slightly cluttered, claustrophobic listen. There was a lot going on in some of the tracks – “Shake A Fist” and “Don’t Dance” in particular – and though this was offset by the sparser, more low-key numbers (the title track, for instance, was  a masterpiece of concision), the overall vibe was very busy and slightly unfocused. Which is why I’m very excited by the literature surrounding the band’s forthcoming fourth album, entitled One Life Stand because a range of sources have suggested that it will be a more stripped-down and focused affair – an album’s album, if you will.

The album’s release is being preceded by a digital release of the title track which, in truncated form, occupies a radio-friendly three-and-a-half-minutes. And it’s a great pop song, in the catchy mould of “Ready For The Floor”, albeit with an added jaggedness and bite. “Tell me where you’ve been… where you’ve been staying” whispers Alexis Taylor in his most conspiratorial tone, backed by clattering steel drums and a synth line rich in overtones. After a time, synth-wizard Joe Goddard pipes in with a somewhat supernatural moan which continues throughout the chorus, followed by one of the most glorious, buzzing synth melodies I’ve heard in a long time. “One Life Stand” is foreboding and seductive; its relatively simplistic structure belies the love of pop music beating at its core. It’s a wonderful addition to the band’s catalogue of cult classics, and I really do expect it to break high into the charts.

Hot Chip  – One Life Stand (embedding disabled by Parlophone, joyless souls that they are)

These New Puritans – We Want War

UPDATED: The stunning video for the song has been released to YouTube.

I thought there were a pair of comparable albums to come out of the post-Klaxons beats+thrashy guitars+searing synths movement. The first, released in 2007, was These New Puritans’ Beat Pyramid; the second, Late Of The Pier’s Fantasy Black Channel, exhumed from some twisted nightmarish grave in 2008. For me, Beat Pyramid was the superior beast, displaying a lot less cheese, an attempt to tackle disparate conspiracist topics like numerology and doppelgängers, and generally coming across like the work of artists with a little more focus and sensibility. Fantasy Black Channel was more messy and sprawling and clumsy, while Beat Pyramid tried out some interesting conceptual manœuvres (refrains, lyrical and music themes that re-surfaced elsewhere on the album, intra-album remixing) that they pulled off with some aplomb.

And so I’m rather glad that These New Puritans are back, this time wielding a seven-minute-plus single called “We Want War”, which precedes the 2010 release of Hidden, their sophomore album. “We Want War” is undoubtedly a more ambitious and high-budget affair, boasting woodwind arrangements, choirs, and the actual sounds of warfare. It’s also lost some of the DIY charm of the band’s previous work – where before they had beats that sound like they’d been punched in the chest and run over by an articulated lorry, this new material rides in on suspiciously crisp taiko drumming. Though the tone is supposed to be foreboding and doom-laden, it’s actually much less harrowing and brutal than songs like “Infinity ytinifni”.

For all that, it’s still a storming track, boasting several sudden shifts in tone and pace, and a combination of samples and loops and kitchen sinks that thrills and astonishes me. They’re clearly a band of wild ambition and excess, but key to “We Want War”‘s appeal is that it reins in any really extraneous excess, and we end up with a long, long song, that doesn’t outstay its welcome. The comparison I imagine will be made will be with Massive Attack – this song shares that Bristol group’s unnerving sense of dread and apocalypse. “We Want War” also rides along the same kind of lazily terrifying beat as Massive Attack’s “Inertia Creeps”. Expect Hidden to be a less unkempt album, but certainly no less indicative of the band’s manifold talents and experiments.

These New Puritans – We Want War