A mixtape for winter’s end, spring’s stirring, and the reïmagination of rock. Continue reading Frühlings Erwachen
In 2007, as an angst-ridden teenager, I would lie in bed on Saturday mornings and put on the title-track of Deerhunter‘s second album, Cryptograms.
This was the era when Bradford Cox’s pop sensibility could still only be described as nascent. The song would hit me like a migraine or a nervous breakdown; Cox’s distorted bark emerging through a tapestry of pulsing one-note bass, coruscating electric guitar, and all manner of weird tape loops. It’s a primal, urgent and terrifying song that’s lost none of its potency even as the gentleman behind it has matured into a compelling ‘popular’ songwriter.
This time last year, I bored you all to death with my fifteen favourite albums of 2009. At the time, I suggested my list was not very useful because I had spent much of the year catching up on older music thanks to Spotify.
A year on, plus ça change. A friend told me he was surprised to see Fleetwood Mac extremely high on the list of most-listened to music on Spotify. I told him I was probably the reason behind this.
Nevertheless, for (non)completists’ sake, I shall persist with this probably pointless exercise. It might give you some weird insight into my warped tastes, at least.
Because I don’t wish to look like a slacker, you can also expect me to publish a list with albums I will get round to listening to in the near future. Continue reading Under-informed profligacy – Favourite Albums of 2010
For me, the appeal of Spoon lies in their economy and their minimalism. On an album like Kill The Moonlight, Britt Daniel and co. showed off a range of styles and structures, but never let any element get ahead of the others – consequently, nothing runs further than it needs to, and no song is extended beyond the bare minimum required to convey a lyrical theme. My only hesitation with it was that some songs felt slightly sketchy and underdeveloped. Pleasingly, on 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, an album about which I have enthused much, Spoon showed a mastery of their art: the style is still almost goadingly economical, but certain songs are fleshed out with greater maturity. “The Underdog”, for instance has a glossy horn section that I simply could not have imagined them using on a previous album.
The prospect of new music, then, is an exciting one, and the latest EP, entitled Got Nuffin, will offer a tantalising snapshot of the band’s current fascinations. The title track, “Got Nuffin”, is right up there at the top of their game. The drums are crisp and urgent; Daniel’s vocal tics and yelps are still very much a fixture, adding emotional detail to an already foreboding air. On a couple of occasions, guitars de-tune ominously, and after about a minute, an insistent piano part pings away in the left channel. Some people have compared it to Deerhunter’s excellent “Nothing Ever Happened”, and it’s true to say that both songs share a motorik beat, and a similar use of feedback and stabs of guitar. But they’re really very different beasts, and Got Nuffin is an exceptionally well-crafted four-minute slice of magic, where the tension continually mounts, without any release. The end sees the piano build to a more substantial role, and the guitar threaten to envelop the whole song, before a teasing fade-out leaves us gagging for more. Any ideas when we’ll be hearing a new album from the band?
First of all, apologies for the lack of updates. I’m afraid not all of us have eight-week terms, and the last few weeks have been criminally hectic.
Now, a lot of my friends have highlighted my lack of knowledge of recent pop music. It’s true that I don’t listen to what’s in the charts, and I’m sometimes surprised when I tune into the radio and hear something I never imagined would have entered the pop universe – M.I.A., for instance. I had no idea she had become so big. Scanning down a list of the current UK Top 40, I have never knowingly heard a song by The Saturdays, Lady GaGa, Taylor Swift, Akon, Alesha Dixon, James Morrison, Tinchy Stryder, Jason Mraz, Leona Lewis or Lemar. It doesn’t bother me, but it does bother others.
What does frustrate me is the terribly low expectations of pop listeners. Why does it require a trailer for a bad stoner comedy to get people listening to M.I.A.? There’s nothing excessively pretentious about her music; it’s hugely entertaining; random sonic effects bounce out of speakers – put simply, there’s no excuse not to go and listen to her songs. I’m incredibly glad that she’s now receiving some mainstream love, but of course there are countless other artists whose music would be perfectly palatable for a pop-loving audience, but who have never received that big break. Music critics often talk of a band writing “great pop songs”, without mentioning that the pop breakthrough has so far eluded the band in question.
Here, then, are some artists who I would sorely love to see gain more exposure in the wider community, because there’s nothing unreasonably difficult about their music, and because they write great pop songs. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably heard of most of these bands. But go and tell your pop-loving friends about them, in the hope that they too will come to appreciate better, more intelligent pop music.
My Morning Jacket – prone to lengthy jams in live shows, their studio albums have got progressively more pop, without really sacrificing on the quality. Often, it’s just straight up rock and roll, with a smattering of reverb, and some alt.country flavourings. It never fails to lift my mood. (Download now: Wordless Chorus, Gideon)
Belle & Sebastian – this Scottish troupe have been around for years, never making any great inroads at mainstream success, despite the fact that they write beautifully charming, witty, unpretentious songs that reference everything from folk, to electronica, to Motown and soul. Once again, it’s truly uplifting, engaging music that doesn’t make a great show of its intelligence. (Download now: Step Into My Office Baby, The Blues Are Still Blue)
Calexico – who doesn’t want to hear mariachi-tinged Americana that takes in elements from dub, folk, krautrock and popular indie rock? Over the course of their career, they’ve made some of my favourite, and most consistently enjoyable, albums, which are packed full of diverse ranging songs that evoke a singular image of the deserts of California and Arizona. (Download now: Writer’s Minor Holiday, Dub Latina)
The Decemberists – like MMJ, they can get quite progressive, but when they write sweet, romantic ditties, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get played on the radio. No one can fail to love “Summersong” on the first listen. (Download now: Summersong, The Perfect Crime #2)
Deerhunter – Their earlier work was aggressively ambient and shoegazy, but their recent album, Microcastle, is a triumph of pop melodies, inflected with tortuously beautiful guitar fuzz. In Bradford Cox, they have one of the most beautiful, troubling and haunting voices in music, but when he harmonises with the rest of the band, the result is sublime. (Download now: Heatherwood, Agoraphobia)
Field Music – I feel like I’ve extolled this Sunderland three-piece’s virtues way too many times. They no longer make music under that name, but their second album in particular is a masterpiece of indie pop, with strange vibes of Genesis and 80s prog rock, but all contained in three minute songs. (Download now: A House Is Not A Home, She Can Do What She Wants)
The National – framed with beautiful orchestral flourishes, this band’s genre-less music is wonderfully evocative, employing tasteful U2-isms and Springsteen-isms with the dark brooding mood of Interpol. (Download now: Fake Empire, Secret Meeting)
The Shins – darlings of the indie world, but why has nobody else heard their musically diverse, exceptionally well-written pop songs? They even had their music sprinkled through the film Garden State. (Download now: Kissing The Lipless, Phantom Limb, Sea Legs)
Spoon – what more can I write? Their music is beautifully sparse and minimalist; no song ever carries on where it’s not necessary; the lyrics are funny and insightful; even their albums are strangely brief. They’re just the complete band. Their music was featured in The O.C., as I discovered when I played an album to some friends. But why didn’t anyone follow it up? (Download now: Don’t You Evah, The Way We Get By, Stay Don’t Go)
There’s simply no reason not to spread the word of the gospel.