Snow brings a bundle of emotions wrapped up in pillows of fragile beauty. The stillness of the garden, as flakes come to rest, silently, upon the lawn. The feeling of limbo, either stranded in the house or resorting to the lazy predictability of fireside conversations with comfortable friends in the pub. The lack of adventurousness, pitted against stirrings of the heart bereft of an adequate outlet. The realisation that the blank white mass will turn to mucky slush and glistening films of ice. Such is the stuff of a wintry playlist. Continue reading Snow Wave
Three closing songs to mark the passing of a year and the predictable dreariness of a new one. Continue reading Glitter, wind, more of the same
“And I heard of that Japanese girl, who jumped into the volcano—
Was she trying to make it back,
Back into the womb of the world?”—Beck, “Volcano”
- Pink Floyd — One of These Days
- Shy Child — Disconnected
- Yo La Tengo — Saturday
- Blur — The Universal
- Kanye West — Who Will Survive in America
- TV On The Radio — Love Dog
- Spoon — Out Go The Lights
- Cut Copy — Strangers In The Wind
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Midnight Man
- J Dilla — Last Donut of the Night
- Pulp — Sunrise
I have my friend RP to thank for getting into Yo La Tengo. Until I started at university, I only knew of the band via their referential, reverential song- and album-titles (example: I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass). Then, I met RP, who plays cello in this band, and who lived above me in halls. We swapped mixtapes, and I had to up my game, naturally.
Yo La Tengo’s output vacillates between Beatles-y pop and Sonic Youth-esque experimental freak-outs. Then, in 2000, they released And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, which is possibly my favourite of their albums. It is an extremely quiet album, which undresses itself by degrees, without revealing everything. Built on ambient drones and oddly disembodied drum machines, its songs only rarely edge into livelier territory: mostly, it sounds like displaced children creeping around suburban homes (see the album artwork, left, which is the work of Gregory Crewdson). If that sounds too forbidding, consider that I would offer a similar description to the music of The xx. Also, you should know that the band has a delicious sense of humour (“When in Nashville, visit Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack” etc.).
The album opens with “Everyday“, which is the perfect point of entry. Leave your preconceptions at the gate, and step inside a microcosmic world of faintly dripping taps, electrical humming, the rustling of crockery in the dishwasher. Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, the married couple who are at the heart of the band, murmur nonsensical couplets, softly, in harmony.
“I want to cross my heart,
I want to hope to die.
I hear Kate Moss talk, she talks to me:
She’s looking for a new beginning, everyday.”
Halfway through, an insistent baritone guitar lurks in, and a theremin-like whistling drifts near the top of the mix. The arrangement sounds like it’s coalescing into a suburban nightmare, and yet each element remains isolated, dissonant and perpetually thrilling.
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
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.
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!
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.