With violent simplicity, a four-day holiday teases with the trappings of summer. Relinquish reason, and fall for this meteorological trick. Continue reading RSD07
A friend’s sister has been in town, visiting from the Garden State. She brings with her the baggage of a gentler pre-campus life: sprinklers on lawns, the station wagon, and the sodium-glare of streetlights on wide tree-lined avenues. Nothing evokes endless estival evenings like Real Estate‘s second album, Days. But at a certain point, I had begun to wonder if Matthew Mondanile’s plangent, cyclical music would overwhelm the elegant simplicity of his childhood friend Martin Courtney’s lyrics, which are lifted wholesale from the imagery of dusky suburbia. Continue reading Eternal summers turn to fall
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.
Yo La Tengo are one of those bands that I really should have got into around the time I got into Wilco, Modest Mouse and Sonic Youth. They’re one of the great cult indie groups of the last twenty years, and I regret not hearing wonderful albums like I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out earlier on. Many critics would say that the band are at their strongest when exploring polar opposites in quick succession – witness the 11-minute freak-out of “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” being followed by the succint pop of “Beanbag Chair” – and, on recent evidence, their forthcoming twelfth album, entitled Popular Songs, will be a continuation of their present form.
Two tracks have been released on the sly, for free, into the wider cybernetic community, and each reveals a very different facet of the band. The first to be tentatively revealed was the tight, bluesy “Periodically Double Or Triple”, which contrasts Ira Kaplan’s nervous, hushed vocals with a storming organ groove and an insistent, shuffling beat. Halfway through, in place of a middle-eight, the song suddenly cuts to a burst of dissonant lift-music in one of those unexpected about-turns that is sure to leave some listeners scratching their heads. For me, it’s the perfect antidote to what has gone before it in the song, and when the regular riff cuts back in, I felt pleasingly refreshed, an effect intensified by the barbershop backing vocals.
The latest track to be set free is the opening track of Popular Songs, entitled “Here To Fall”, and it couldn’t be more different from “Periodically…”. Emerging from a noisy squall of reverb and wah-wah reminiscent of The Verve at their prime, a buzzing bass guitar leads into a beautifully evocative psychedelic passage, with soaring strings and lilting electric piano. Here, Kaplan’s vocals are equally anxious and lacking in confidence, which fits perfectly with the tentative exploration and frontier-breaking of the music. The percussion is intricate and precious, and washes of effected noise break out between the channels. The chorus, offering the dubious opening couplet of “I know you’re worried / I’m worried too,” is a thing of wonder and amazement, with the lyrics falling between gaps in the music in a manner that could so easily have been messy and ill-thought out. There are lovely little passages of instrumental virtuosity, and the song finally resolves into a neat string arrangement that sets up the rest of the album perfectly.
I really can’t wait for Popular Songs and I encourage you to check out these two early gems. Yo La Tengo’s finest albums are known for veering between wildly divergent styles without compromising on a consistent feel and thematic link, and I dearly hope that their twelfth LP will deliver on these qualities. I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.
After five weeks of idle procrastination at university (exams were over; the weather was good, Central London was there for the taking), I have arrived back in the suburbs and am primed for blogging action. In true Nick Cave style, my intention is to be at my desk every morning at 9, ready to fill up my timesheet with a whole shed-load of posts. In all probability, because I’m not even 10% as cool as Nick Cave, this plan will fail. But it won’t be for want of trying.
I will try and elaborate on the following things:
- Blur’s Friday night Hyde Park extravaganza;
- Synecdoche, New York;
- Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
- Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
- Spoon – Got Nuffin
- Future Of The Left – Travels With Myself And Another
That’s a whole lot of jazz.
I’m man enough to admit that the following albums leave me pretty much in tears by the time they finish:
- Amon Tobin – Supermodified (occasionally)
- Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
- Blur – 13
- Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
- Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
- Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
- Jaga Jazzist – What We Must
- Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood
- LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
- Low – Drums And Guns
- M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
- Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
- Portishead – Third
- Pulp – We Love Life
- Radiohead – OK Computer
- Radiohead – Kid A
- The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
- TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
- Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
What does this tell me? Well, other than that I’m possibly an emotional trainwreck, it also suggests that I’m a real sucker for killer album closers, notably those that are long, protracted, portentous and often outstay their welcome. Sometimes, these final songs are emotionally charged to such a degree that I feel utterly drained. At other times, it’s just the pent-up sadness that eventually emerges from an album full of grief, depression or sadness. When a songwriter lays his soul bare on record, it’s hard for me to not empathise.
This has made me sound like someone close to the brink, which I’m not, so I’ll stop now.
So I finally received my beta invitation for Spotify, the new internet-based music-streaming service that’s absolutely free at the point of use, but is subsidised by the occasional advert. And I’m exceptionally happy, because, much as I love buying music, I also like hearing songs that I’ve heard a lot about, but which aren’t being played on the radio, because the radio only plays rubbish.
This means that Spotify makes an awful lot of sense for any kind of music listener.
It’s 100% legal, because the money raised from advertising and premium passes goes to the record companies; it’s of a decent quality – around 160 kb/sec; and, best of all, they’ve put an awful lot of thought into the design of the application, which is available for both Mac and PC. It’s a joy to navigate around in; it’s dead easy to find artists, albums and individual songs; and what is even more promising are its ‘social’ features. Any user of Spotify can create playlists, for which a URL will also be created, which can be shared with any other user. Already there are plenty of websites springing up which list and categorise people’s uploaded playlists: for instance, some enterprising souls have created playlists for Pitchfork’s Top Albums and Top Songs of 2008, which is ideal for anyone wanting to actually hear the music that’s being acclaimed but not heard through conventional media.
The only downside is that it’ll probably convince me to buy more music too, for now that I’ve finally heard ESG’s “Moody”, or the excellent live version of Wilco‘s “Poor Places”, I’ll definitely be thinking of buying the original albums. Of course, nothing beats the physical embodiment of an album, as I’ve already discussed, but I’m not exactly going to rush out to buy an album from which I’ve heard absolutely nothing; only read reviews.
That aside, it’s also a great way of hearing old singles that I really should have heard by now – for instance, Gil Scott-Heron’s landmark proto-rap poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. However people use Spotify, it makes money for the music industry, which can’t be a bad thing, given its current beleaguered state (I would give anything to get Guy Hands‘ hands off EMI), without imposing a compulsory cost on the end-user. It’s a great idea, and while I’m here in halls, freed from the constraints of bandwidth download limits, I’m planning on making heavy use of it, not only to preview my potential purchases, but also to stock up on the music history that I’m lacking. Next stop: Arthur Russell!
As Michael points out, I’ve so far refused the temptation of listening to the preview of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand on their MyFaceSpaceBook, and I think my reasons are pretty justified. For one thing, my pre-ordered 2-disc edition of the album has already been dispatched from Amazon (along with Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion). This immediately impressed me – I don’t think I’ve ever pre-ordered an album on Amazon before; if I do want to buy an album as soon as it’s released, I usually prefer to visit my local HMV (other record stores are available!) – because I should hopefully receive the album not too long after tomorrow, which is probably sooner than I could have hoped to visit a record store, judging by my packed schedule for the next few days.
I’ve been anticipating Franz Ferdinand’s third album for a very long time: in fact, pretty much as soon as I had finished listening to their second album, and I’m really hoping it’s been worth the lengthy gestation. Experience tells me that, when my expectations are so high, there is no better way of releasing all the suspense than to wait until I have the physical embodiment of the album in my hands, ready to be played in super stereo, the way it was intended, as opposed to the low bitrate/dodgy ethics of a MySpace listening party or a BitTorrent leak. My case in point is Muse’s Black Holes And Revelations, which was probably my most eagerly-awaited album of 2006. Though I did end up bussing it to HMV on the day of its release – and then promptly heading off to school – by that point, I had already heard it from half a dozen different sources and, in many ways, it wasn’t the best preparation. I had heard it so much, and heard so much about it, that when I actually listened to the thing properly, there were no surprises. I already knew the synthesiser trickery employed in several songs; I was already aware of the conspiracy theories referenced in the lyrics. It wasn’t actually that much fun, and so that’s why I’ve decided that abstinence is the best preparation this time round.
Having written all that, I must confess that, by some indistinct means, I have heard the album-version of “Lucid Dreams”, which is already being referred to as the highlight of the album, and clear proof that the band can take their music-to-make-girls-dance in a faithful electronic direction. Personally, I think it’s a tremendous piece of music, initially swaggering, then mind-boggling, finally hip-shaking and dancefloor-quaking. It’s not a million miles away from the works of Moroder and the like, but it’s still refreshing to hear an updating of the synth-tastic dance music of the 70s from a band who really do know their stuff. Judging by the reviews though, the rest of the album doesn’t entirely live up to the heady heights of “Lucid Dreams”, but I’m still hopeful.
AND IN OTHER NEWS
May I recommend Wilco’s “Impossible Germany”, taken from last year’s Sky Blue Sky album. The band’s sixth studio album was a much mellower affair than usual, taking much more inspiration from more traditional country music. It was critically panned, but one of the highlights in many reviewers’ eyes was “Impossible Germany”. It’s utterly gorgeous, and really shows off the lilting guitar work of Nels Cline. However, to gauge a true impression of Wilco’s more experimental, adventurous work, you can’t do better than getting a copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which was released in 2002 after various sagas between the band and their former record label. It’s extraordinary.
Are there any albums that I would award a score of 10.0, Pitchfork style? Well, being a bit more generous in places than Pitchfork, yes. There is still a little bit of overlap between the two sets of albums (the Pitchfork one used to be a group page on Wikipedia, but I think it’s since disappeared), but there are also some fairly substantial differences. Without further ado:
Amon Tobin – Supermodified
Arcade Fire – Funeral
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
David Bowie – Low
The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
Gorillaz – Demon Days
LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
Led Zeppelin – IV
Massive Attack – Mezzanine
Modest Mouse – The Moon And Antarctica
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf
Radiohead – OK Computer
Radiohead – Kid A
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun
Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
Steely Dan – Aja
Talking Heads – Remain In Light
Tortoise – TNT
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
The main thing with this list that it overlooks possible faults with individual songs on albums in the pursuit of perfection as a whole. A 10.0 album, in my book, should be cohesive and thematic, without necessarily needing to have every song nailed.