Monday, December 26, 2011
2011 was a funny year in music: some highs, some disappointments but I can't say anything really changed my life and that's what I want, music that changes my life. Anyhow, here's a list of what I'm looking forward to in 2012.
Queens of the Stone Age: You can all rest easy. Two nights ago I had a dream that Josh Homme played me the new Queens record on tape. It sounded amazing and even though in my dream, one song went for 45 minutes, I woke up assured that the wait will be worth it (not that we can complain - we've had the Crooked Vultures and the first album reissue in that time). Homme is on record saying that the record will be bluesy but also saying it will be a return to the robot rock of the earl days. Most likely it will be neither as what Homme says prior to release and what transpires on record is usually very, very different.
Cat Power: While I love those early indie records, the roots-soul direction of the last couple of records have made me love her unconditionally. I can't even begin to describe the effect her voice has on me as it is an instrument of pure emotion and beauty, it is mesmerizing. The charity single released on Christmas eve is a re-make of an earlier song so still little indication of what is to come.
Mark Lanegan: The dark lord returns with his first solo album since the excellent Bubblegum. The first track, the Gravedigger's Song, sounds like a natural extension of that record and that bodes very well.
Old bands: I have wrote that I think that Soundgarden recording is a bad, bad idea. Will I buy it? Of course... On that, do I care about the reformed Black Sabbath making a new album? Maybe I do, maybe I do... Do I care that the Smashing Pumpkins will have a new record? Not at all...
Other anticipated records include: Mazzy Star, Pinback, Japandroids, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Shins, The Knife, Sigur Ros (rumoured), The Evens, Leonard Cohen, Magnetic Fields, Sleigh Bells... More to come...
But one last question - should I care about Lana Del Rey? Everyone else seems too...
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
What’s an annual top ten list? It’s a list of music discovered (or rediscovered) in a year. I don’t go for too much cool new music, I just don’t get excited by most of it. I get kicks out of the old stuff
White Noise – Mogwai.
The strongest album opener I’ve heard in a long time. And also pure good Mogwai feel and power.
I Am Not Willing – Moby Grape
It’s a solid stoner cut, but I just love the power of the piano chords and drums and the lilting self-pity of the song.
The Bottle – Gil Scott-Heron
Social conscience was never so danceable. Step step step.
Lay All Your Love on Me – Abba
This is Abba at the pinnacle of their power. Secret of longevity: strong song chorus and dance beats. The melodic hook will stay but the beats mean future remixability. This song could go forever for me, especially with that mock-baroque synth line at the end.
All Night Long – Lionel Richie
Such a laid-back dance track. Killer chorus, fudged Caribbean accent, total 80s hit. He never got this good again, but he’s still big in the Middle East.
Chemtrails – Beck
Modern Guilt is such a neat & contained album, and this is the best on it. Great drumming and mood.
Video Games – Lana Del Rey
Because there haven’t been enough torch pop songs since Goldfrapp stopped doing ‘em. [That’s a big hint, Alison]. But here’s a hip new kind of song that sounds old and familiar (without too much kitsch). She’s only 25... a new take on Mazzy Star.
Only Living Boy in New York – Simon & Garfunkel
I blogged about this one – one of the best and feelingest songs about friendship. Ever. And the harmonies in the echo chamber – and the sweet bass – and the sheer love of it.
Walking Papers – Booker T Jones
Add ?uesto drums to the Booker Hammond and you’ve got funk in a bottle.
Cry Tough – Alton Ellis
This and the next cut came via Bob’s Theme Time Radio show. Such a great (Duke Reid) production – the way it references Dub but doesn’t cut in on a great song. Oh wait, that’s on the longer version of this song.
I Drink – Mary Gauthier
A small song that packs a huge emotional punch. So dry, knowing and hurting. The saddest laugh is at one’s own life.
Here’s the complete playlist at GrooveShark http://grooveshark.com/
(except the Moby Grape cut – that’s here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Got a list, submit that shit to metal.only.no.rubbish (at) gmail (dot) com
Sunday, December 18, 2011
First the negative: I despised Bon Iver's 80's baiting self titled record and it seems I'm largely alone in this. Bon Iver fans carried on like a bunch of whiney Justin Bieber acolytes against anyone who didn't think it was the greatest record since Sussudio and to all those BI fans I'd respectfully like to tell them that their taste is in their arse (I think I just lost a lot of readers right there - oh well). Iron and Wine went in a similar direction but I couldn't even listen to that record all the way through - I lived through the 80's once and I ain't going back. While some people don't like fingernails on blackboards, the particular sound that makes me cringe is metal scraping on concrete or St Vincent (sorry Adam). I actually think her music is getting worse (if that's possible) and really don't understand the fuss. Post-rock took a hammering this year with a just ok Explosions in the Sky and a good but unmemorable Mogwai record (sorry boys and Katie, that EP is boring). Jane's Addiction's first album in eight years was unfortunately not worth the wait and thank the Buddha Ben Gibbard split up with that She & Him girl because the music he makes when he is happy is pretty poor. Too harsh? It's a blog, get over it.
In the positives, The Antlers and My Morning Jacket both produced amazing records. The Foo Fighters record had no other ambition other than to rock your socks and succeeded while the Black Key's late in the year El Camino was a transcendent blues rock triumph. The biggest surprise was how enjoyable the Beastie Boys latest record was after years of so-so output. Yuck and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart kept the grunge flame alight while Tycho provided escapist mood scapes for recreational drug users. My second favourite Australian album of the year was Seeker Lover Keeper, a supergroup that was an excellent addition to a year which had a slew of strong releases by female artists. Anyhow, enough gibber jabber, here's the list:
10: Low - C'mon
Known for their hushed slowcore aesthetic, Low's excellent C'mon record was where they embraced their inner-Neil Young and rocked the fuck out. The eight minute Nothing but heart should put to rest any ideas that Low are anything other than consummate musicians following their muse and this album is peppered with a number of highs. Sure it's still slow moving but it's slow moving in the way a lethal snake moves - deliberate and deadly and ready to strike when you least expect it, this is a great rock record.
9: Wire - Red Barked Tree
In a pretty quiet year for quality punk and hardcore, post-punk lifers Wire showed the kids how to do it. Red Barked Tree sounded forward thinking, vital and an evolution of their sound while somehow sounding exactly like Wire should. For a bunch of men in their fifties, their message of environmental and financial destruction was no different from what they've been singing about for years but it seemed oddly prescient this year. Essentially, Wire were the occupy movement before the occupy movement existed but they are as astute and accomplished with their music as they are with their politics.
8: The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy
The Middle East was a short lived band from Townsville whose debut album is nothing short of amazing. The record twists through a number of genres but with a solid indie-folk basis, it is unrelentingly moving without conceit or any self awareness. There is a beauty here that is strangely rare in Australian records and my bet is that being a younger band they grew up on a steady diet of Radiohead and Australian indie rock (for example, The Go-Betweens). Those reference points are obvious but not overwhelming and the Middle East walked their own oddly gorgeous step until they dissolved without a trace mid year.
7: Ty Segall - Goodbye Bread
I came late to the Ty Segall party but was floored by this record which sounds like some classic rock nugget that got lost somewhere in the 70's but oddly timeless at the same time. The psyched out tales of domesticity and love are all the better for the ramshackle instrumentation and off kilter delivery. However, what shines through is the heart in these songs, there is real love here in both songwriting and delivery which makes Goodbye Bread one of the most joyous and fun records of the year.
6: Feist - Metals
It's probably poor form to say an artist sounds better because their latest album sounds more like someone else but I'm the king of poor form so there you go. On Metals, Feist has edged closer to the soul sound Cat Power that has been mining for the last few records and she's all the more brilliant for it. Feist's voice is at times sensual, angry and powerful in a way that is absent on The Reminder. If anything, there is a lot of fight and retribution on this record and that passion bleeds through the speakers. Further, I'd say it's one of the most beautifully orchestrated and produced records of the year with a production that is as broad as it is intimate but what shines through most is the singular and expansive passion of Laslie Feist herself.
5: Tom Waits - Bad As Me
Tom Waits has always sounded like some rough hemmed circus barker from the depression era and thanks to the fucked world banking system, Waits is finally in time with his dark obsessions. As such, he sounds reinvigorated and devilish on Bad as me railing against the man, the wars we needlessly fight and general bad behaviour all round. Many of the narratives in this record are based on the poor man's point of view where hope is somewhere else (Chicago apparently), the hard times are hardest and darkness stalks every street. Somehow Waits sounds ebullient and focussed despite the material, a pure force of gravel voiced revelry, but most of all, this album is endlessly entertaining and fun to listen to. Waits hasn't sounded so vital in years and reminds us that he is one of the most singularly unique artists still releasing records today.
4: Wild Flag - Wild Flag
We all know that gender politics in music suck arse but Wild Flag (like Sleater-Kinney before them) blow all that 'pretty good for a girl band' shit out of the water - they are great band period. With so many big name rock bands failing to make a connection this year, Wild Flag just kicked down the door and announced where the party is happening. What's great about this record is that many of the songs themselves are about being in love with music which as music fans is something we can all relate to. The songs range from nuggets era break downs to White Rabbit-esque psych freak outs (Glass Tambourine) but they are never less than captivating and soulful. Easily the best rock album of the year by a mile.
3: James Blake - James Blake
Nothing splits the kids in the room like a record that on first listen is either revelatory or incomprehensible. To me, coming somewhere between Antony's sense of otherworldly melodrama and For Emma, Forever Ago's hushed aesthetics, James Blake's music is simultaneously unsettling, spellbinding and gorgeous. While it's not impenetrable, James Blake ultimately rewards repeat listens and the music slowly reveals its inherent complexities and subtleties. While the auto-tuned vocals, tilted loops and sparse instrumentation may seem alien, the record is extremely intimate and affecting as if the technology between the music and listener acts as bridge to the soul rather than a deterrent. If anything that exactly what this is, 21st century soul music.
2: PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
After the puritanism and austerity of 2007's White Chalk, PJ Harvey turns war correspondent reporting on the ills of modern England. While she speaks of the past, the record ruminates on the cultural shifts and complexities of the modern state but its focus extends beyond ol' blighty into a more universal narrative and can be easily understood outside of this context. However, it is a peculiarly British record. I returned to my childhood home in England this year and saw the disarray of country - the sense of what it is to be English in the face of cultural and social change. This is the struggle at the heart of Harvey's narrative, not just the literal war the UK is engaged in but the battle for British identity. As always, Harvey's gift as a lyricist is that she can get to the truth of any topic with raw verve and insight but here it is particularly frank and brutal:
Withered vine reaching
From the country that I love
England, you leave a taste
A bitter one
The music itself is deceptively simple but closer examination reveals layers of vocals, samples and sounds that almost seem incidental to the music itself but subtly enriching from a measured distance. To me, this is a deeply personal album that speaks to a sense of identity I share with my family and my English community but it is a candid exploration of this without sentiment or mercy. England does indeed shake and wither under Harvey's pitiless examination and the result is this exceptional album.
1. Gillian Welch - The Harrow And The Harvest
The first time I heard this record I knew it would be my favourite of the year and with each subsequent listen, this became clearer and clearer. Gillian Welch and partner David Rawlings have created a master work which has rewarded fans who have patiently waited eight (count them, EIGHT!) years since her last record. There is a pared down asceticism on this record that could have been the musical equivalent of Lars Von Trier's Dogme 95 manifesto: two voices, two instruments and simple production with no bells, whistles or artificial flourishes. In lesser hands such confined instrumentation could have been a handicap but Welch and Rawlings create whole worlds that are haunting, dangerous and gorgeous. Some of the songs sound as if they have been could have been written a hundred years ago and rediscovered on some crackling old 78 but it never feels like a hokey journey in nostalgia or simple folk or country.
The narratives here are ultimately explorations of adult issues and themes of betrayal, love, loss and change dominate the album. These are tales that come from experience, the exuberance of youth long dimmed and the weariness of life underpins each of these tracks. Welch's voice is an exquisite instrument, her phrasing and tone is flawless and is ably supported by Rawlings' sympathetic backing vocals. Rawlings guitar playing is particularly great on this record, elevating the simplest songs and almost a running counterpoint to the vocals such as on The Way it Is. At the centre of the record though is fantastic songwriting and at a brief ten songs, each one is memorable but also plays a part in the larger narrative of the album. Like any great record, I feel that your understanding of it will change as you change and there is a lifetime of enjoyment ahead of anyone who embraces this record. It is an album that is ageless but will stay with you long after you switch off your stereo.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
10: Polymers are forever - Future of the Left
This song could be about anything but I think it's mostly about how great the word polymers sounds when Andy Falkous sings it. FOTL have long peddled in the obtuse where words seem less to be about a narrative but how they sound and the intent behind them. While it starts off as a stilted grind, the song collapses into a blissed out outro featuring the mantra:
Old stones collected in plastic bags on a bloody isle
Then placed in rows on the ocean floor, your friends Polymers
Whatever that means is far beyond my comprehension but it really doesn't matter because this song is all shades of awesome.
9: The Undiscovered First - Feist
Feist's Metals album is an intense rush of joy, sorrow and heartbreak where her voice finally delivers on its promise with some real sting and pain in her delivery. Reading the lyrics to The Undiscovered First, you'd think it's about finding some new facet of love but the delivery is pure pain. It appears the undiscovered first is an until now undiscovered new low in a relationship which drives the somewhat disturbed undercurrent of the song. The song positively explodes mid way through with a chain gang thump and a guitar so woozy with distortion and rage, that it is bleeds pure emotion.
8: Pumped up kicks - Foster the people
Easily the best song about hipster genocide this year, this was an inescapable pop monster built around a bass line which is as addictive as crack. It's an easy song to fall in love with because it is undeniable - that's it - undeniable. Whether you're a three year old girl or a eighty seven year old dude in a coma, you like this song. It is undeniable - nothing more needs to be said except there is whistling and that's ok. (I've since heard this was released in 2010 - I'm a moron but can't be arsed re-writing the list so suck it up pedants).
7: The Wilheim Scream - James Blake
The strangest thing about this song is how conventional the lyrics are. Love and confusion embodied by the notion that the protagonist is falling again into another bad situation. I say this conventionality is strange because everything else about this song is far from conventional. Working on a less is more aesthetic, the music is more of a suggestion than substance while notes and sounds hang in the air like a slow motion film of a child being thrown into the air. Blake's voice rises and falls like Antony's cyborg brother but nothing else sounds as close to a broken heart than this.
6: Exile Vilify - The National
I think I've listened to this song more than any other this year just by virtue of it being one of my girlfriend's favourite songs of 2011. Thank the Buddha it's such a beautiful song that I never tire of because I've heard it about a 1000 times. Released as a single to coincide with the console game Portal 2, it is an excellent song that it stands tall next to the highs of 2010's High Violet and doesn't feel like b-grade material tossed for a quick buck (which a song for an xbox game sounds like the definition of). The National are probably the best band in the US at the moment and while this may be a questionable soundtrack for a game where you defy physics with a portal gun, there is no doubting the feeling or quality of this gorgeous tune.
5: The Magnifying Glass - The Joy Formidable
There are songs that move you, songs that make you think and then there are songs that make you just want to smash shit up. This is a blink and you'll miss it maniacal monster that riffs on your primal impulses and unleashes a visceral high. Forget the analysis and just embrace the rock.
4: Hell broke Luce - Tom Waits
Whatever Tom Waits has been drinking and smoking over the past few years has been incredibly beneficial because Bad as me is his best album since Mule Variations. If he's been smoking anything it's righteous indignation and it's never as furious or as funny than on Hell broke Luce, a primal growl of a song railing against the banality and human cost of war. An unholy clatter of drums, sideways guitars and Waits' ringside bark, this is the sound of a great artist inspired, angry and hungry for change.
3: Romance - Wild Flag
Romance is not about some people getting gooey before a shag but the romance between a listener and the music they love. Fortunately, given the subject matter, Wild Flag have managed to create a perfect song which is easy to adore in so many ways. Carrie Brownstein breaks out as the sidewoman role in Sleater Kinney to become a fully fledged rock Goddess ready to kick your head in with great tunes while the rest of the band rides the soulful groove with aplomb. Awesomeness follows...
2: Human Error - We Were Promised Jetpacks
Pathos is sometimes a hard thing to capture in music but somehow this song drips with it. The giddy rush of the guitars somehow ripples with the confusion and denial that comes with the mistakes we make and even on reflection, we just fail in the same way over and over again. The key line here repeated over and over "I'm not sure I've been here before" when it feels like a fait accompli. As the verse states:
If I was a writer, I'd write my opinions
And save them for later
Just to see how wrong I could be
The song just barrels along and as such there is no need for solos, apologies or foresight, the drama unfolds like life - quickly and without compromise.
1: Future Starts Slow - The Kills
Effortlessly cool and instantly memorable with a riff that will haunt your dreams, The Kills reach the cumulative sum of all their work in this one track. For so long there seemed to be a little bit of style over substance to their albums but Future Starts Slow has a swagger, menace and gravity that is bracing. The song itself mines the treacherous territory of co-dependent relationships and whether it's a lover, a friend or a bandmate, you can't live with or without them. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince's vocals intertwine in a sinuous and sensual way and fuck me, that guitar line is the best of the year.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
20: Run The World (Girls) - Beyoncé
I have long been a fan of any pop song that goes crazy with drums and Lose my breathe was one of my favourite Destiny's Child songs for that very reason. I'm all for any militantly pro-female song and with the snare drum scatter attack of Run the World, I find this song irresistible. I still think Beyonce should have sung "who'll run this muthafucker? GIRLS!" but that's quibbling - a great song.
19: Please Take - Wire
Any song off the excellent Red Barked Tree album could have made this list but this one just sticks in your head. It moves languidly but with purpose and if you're not singing "Fuck off out of my face" by the second chorus, you just don't like music.
18: I'll Hit You Back - Jane's Addiction
I hesitate to write Jane's Addiction as the artist because on one level it doesn't actually sound like them. Perry's vocals seem to have a case of the auto-tuned removing the rough undercurrent that makes him so unique while Navarro tunes out his usual proto-metal snarl for something much more tame. However, every time this song comes on, I find it an irresistible pop confection and start singing along. It's not classic Jane's but it is a good song.
17: Curl of the Burl - Mastodon
Somehow sounding like Trés Hombres era ZZ Top siphoned through Black Sabbath with Queens of the Stone Age-esque swing, Mastodon moves away from their crazy ass mini-rock operas to more straight forward pop. A lot of fans hate The Hunter for this very reason but they’re missing out – the poppier Mastodon is infinitely more fun and their lyrics are just as weird as ever. Haters are going to hate but say what you will, Burl makes me want to dance and seems like a natural evolution in their sound to me.
16: Rumor has it - Adele
This song single handedly converted me to the cult of Adele. Its power might have been diluted somewhat by being violated by those Glee miscreants but I still think this is a great song. Somewhere between its blues-gospel hand clap compulsion and a guitar line that which wouldn't be out of place on a Tom Waits record, Adele's voice rankles and seduces. To be honest, we could do a lot worse than mainstream music embracing the white girl soul revival of Winehouse, Duffy and Adele and this is an exemplar of that genre at its best.
15: In the End – Anthrax
Whatever you feel about classic metal, Anthrax tick all the boxes in this little gem. It’s rare in this age to hear music these days so metal yet so sincere, it’s as if they wrote this song in 1986 and only got around to releasing it this year. Filled with a lot of chug, drum fills and a solo filled break down with guitars that squeal in that way that screams “MAIDEN!”, Anthrax provide us with a late era metal classic.
14: Supercollider - Radiohead
Spoiler alert: The King of Limbs is not even remotely close to making my top 10 albums of the year which seems almost heretical at any other time (a top ten list not featuring Radiohead? WHAAAAT?!) but ahem, it really wasn't very good. I much preferred the EP which came soon after and the slow, electronic glide of Supercollider is hypnotic and diverting. Best of all, Thom Yorke's voice is divine, an instrument of such purity and grace this song highlights just how special it is. I still think this could have been the centrepiece of a rethought Limbs and made it a better album.
13: Especially Me - Low
There is much to adore on Low's C'mon record but there is something simultaneously graceful, haunting and sincere about this song that makes it undeniably moving. Part caring, part accusatory, the song's deeper meaning is carried by understated strings and a winding riff that is instantly memorable. Sure it's got that terrible line about cake and is heavy on the drama but it is somehow perfect in every way.
12: No Church in the Wild (featuring Frank Ocean) - Jay Z and Kanye West
For me, The Throne was a bit of a dud, it just sounded like a couple of rich arseholes singing about how much better their lives are than yours. I guess that's pretty common in hip hop but there was something so unrepentantly decadent about it that it verged on obscene. However, both Otis and No Church in the Wild provided some biting respite from it all by just being awesome. No Church in the Wild is a dark rumination on the dark side of the hip hop life and Jay Z and Kanye have never sounded so committed or fluid than on this track. Kanye has the edge but that's because he's letting his freak flag fly a little bit higher than Jay's.
11: Shook Down – Yuck
Yuck are unrepentant 90’s American indie rock classicists honing the best of that decade with little care for originality while undertaking the task with a bevy of good tunes. Shook Down sounds like a long lost Lemonheads classic and while it isn’t going to displace Evan Dando’s best work, it reminds us of the pure joy of that country-indie-pop sound he exemplified. Packed with the requisite dreamy lyrics and J Mascis guitar toned solo, it’s the aural equivalent of your favourite comfort food.
Part 2 soon...
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
So, the best of 2011 lists starts here. While I will be listing my twenty favourite songs of the year soon, I purposely do not include covers in that list – no matter how good. This is mainly as when I’m talking about new music, I think it should be generally written and released in the year I’m talking about. Hence, my five favourite covers of the year. To be honest, Trent Reznor and Karen O could probably have snuck in there with Immigrant Song but as I only heard that in its entirety two days ago, I’ll stick with my original list:
5. Superchunk – Where eagles dare: Superchunk have made it a Halloween tradition to cover Misfits songs and while they’re probably not better than the originals, the indie veteran’s bring an undeniable bounce to the song. It takes seconds to start singing along with the chorus “I aint a goddamn son of a bitch” and enjoying a two minute blast of punk joy has never been so easy. It can be downloaded here.
4. Adele – Lovesong: OK, so Nouvelle Vague have been pulling off jazzy covers of punk and post-punk classics for years so there’s nothing new in a soul version of a Cure song. What makes this cover transcendent is Adele’s voice calling like a siren highlighting the longing and devotion of Robert Smith’s words. Even the hardest of hearts could not love a song with a chorus that goes “However far away, I will always love you”, particularly when it is sung as gorgeously here. I predict this will be the most popular wedding dance song for the next ten years.
3. Ryan Adams – Black Sheets of Rain: Of course there would be a Bob Mould cover! Black Sheets of Rain is the title track from Bob’s difficult second album, a record which is often seen as so miserable with a heavy air of depression hanging over the songs and sandpaper dry production to accentuate the misery. However, lurking under all the pain are some excellent songs and Adam’s makes the grinding murk of the original a distant memory with this elegant re-imagining. It’s incredibly beautiful and Adam’s reminds us that he is capable of producing heartbreakingly moving performances (also check out his cover of Heartbreak a Stranger – superb also).
2. Jack White – Love is Blindness: I spoke about this song recently and I still think it’s an incredible work. While there is an underlying hurt in the original U2 version that is palpable and real, White brings an off kilter rage to the song that lights it up like a bonfire. The solo can be best described as a shrieking animal caught in a snare and White’s vocal shows a man on the edge. A great, great cover of a great, great song.
1. James Blake – Limit to your love: Already sparse in its original form, James Blake breaks down Feist’s version into a subterranean gospel lament… with bass… deep, deep bass. As with all great covers, now I’ve heard this version it has superseded the original and any time I hear the Feist version, it sounds like a clumsy imitation of Blake’s fragile masterpiece. If you’ve never understood the buzz around James Blake, listen to this. If you still don’t get it, there’s a new Nickelback record out there for you somewhere.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Where to next for the National? As a late comer to this band buoyed by the giddy excellence of High Violet, I had the joy of having an extensive back catalogue to explore. As time has passed and those records have sunken into my subconscious, High Violet seems like the natural culmination of everything that preceded it, an album refined by the past records but adhering to a template forged on the strengths of each band member. The question is where to next for a group after a record that is so universally loved and lauded.
If the band are feeling any pressure of expectation, they're certainly not showing it. The indications for the next record are good with the beautiful Exile, Vilify released earlier this year and now two new songs, I need my girl and Rylan. When I talked about Exile, Vilify earlier in the year, Matt noted that they were like an American Bad Seeds when it came to ballads and the more I think about it, the more apt that description becomes. Both bands traffic in sophisticated but understated balladry which borders on morose at times but never overwhelms the narrative of the song. For all of Nick Cave's mad preacher schtick, when he gets quieter he often tells tales that refer to character details, stories and traits like he's talking to you about an old friend. The National convey a similar sensibility - little, intimate moments that somehow hint at the larger problems at hand.
I need my girl is a familiar trope, despite the dysfunction and craziness of a relationship the desire for that person is unabated, no matter how bad it is for us. Built around a simple acoustic riff, the song gently floats beneath Berninger's lovely vocal. Better still, Rylan is a gentle character study of failure and escape built around expectation and ambition. It's a gorgeous song that slowly builds in intensity but never peaks, an understated slow burn. Both songs are excellent and while the National seem to be endlessly touring, I hope there is a new album coming soon. America's best band at the moment? A big call but I think so, I think so...
Saturday, December 10, 2011
If you're like me you probably think covering Led Zeppelin is a really bad idea. This is because the magical elements that Plant/Page/Jones/Bonham harnessed to create their sound seem almost impossible to recreate, even by the surviving members of the band. Couple with that most covers fall so, so flat. If you don't believe me, check out the tribute album from 1995 called Encomium which is outright terrible - not even the combination of Helmet featuring David Yow covering Custard Pie could make it fun (that record also features Hootie and the Blowfish as well Sheryl Crow so I guess it was always going to suck).
So colour me amazed that this cover is actually pretty great. Immigrant Song was always a visceral high in the Zep catalogue - a lurching rock monster with Plant wailing about viking conquest or some such thing. Reznor gets to the heart of the song which is the gnarled riff riding the rolling rhythm and adding some NIN-esque electronic strum and drang pleasantly updates the song without being distracted. Karen O wails appropriately and captures the aura of Plant which is to somehow sound incredibly captivating while singing some pretty stupid lyrics. The cover is for Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack and if they wanted a song that is somehow totally rocking yet evocative of Scandinavian corruption and intrigue, Reznor delivers.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Brooding Lanegan vocal? Check. Dark lyrics about lost love? Check. Menacing title? Check. Murky sonics and threatening riffs? Check. Lanegan’s BACK! Propelled by a claustrophobic throb reminiscent of Bubblegum’s Methamphetamine Blues with a hint of speed, the first track off Blues Funeral makes the new Lanegan album one of my most anticipated for 2012. Guitars snarl and snap while Lanegan brings the apocalypse as only he can. Sure, at this point, he could sing News Ltd’s Annual Report and make it sound like a sinister masterpiece but that’s beside the point, he remains one of the most consistently interesting and prolific singers in music right now producing great album after great album. Make room, shit’s about to get real Lanegan style.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Rebecca Black and Friday
One Britney album, three rock star deaths and one death of civilization as we know it. Awesome...
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
In cricket or baseball, there is usually a spot on your bat where when you can connect with the ball, you hit it out of the park. You'd usually call that the "sweet spot" and for me that's how I feel about the Black Keys, they connect with the musical sweet spot and it's a six/home run (depending on your sport of choice). There is something about their combination of riffs, melodies and blues rock crunch that resonates in your deeper musical DNA and makes perfect sense. There is nothing revelatory or miraculous about it, they just have the knack of writing songs that connect the obvious dots and because of this, even on first listen, you're fist pumping the sky. If anything this album sounds like an awesome classic rock record from the 70's that someone just rediscovered (and I don't mean classic rock in a bad way). Lonely Boy is a instant singalong hit while Little Black Submarines answers all your prayers since the White Stripes left the scene (and features the great hook "Everybody knows that a broken heart is blind"). El Camino is ultimately familiar (that bass line on Dead and Gone is a rip of something else but I can't pick it) but it moves to its own groove and kind of just rocks. And to be honest, if you just wanna rock, this the album for you. Good stuff and may be the last time I use sports analogies when writing about music.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
I don't know why I'm talking about U2 so much, I think it's just because they're everywhere at the moment but I promise this is the absolute last time I talk about them (this week). In my recent conversation with SC, a good friend who is a lifelong U2 fan as well owning a record collection that is bigger than my apartment. We talked about his incomplete U2 vinyl collection because even though he's a completist, he didn't want to be so precious about owning No Line on the Horizon when he felt there were only three good songs towards the end of it. But the most interesting thing he said is that Bono himself had opined if U2 had made two bad albums in a row, they should give it up. I hadn't heard that before but I believe they've met that quota. However, I am of the belief that they've got one good album left in them yet. This is how I would remedy the U2 situation. Gentlemen, please take note:
1. Get a muzzle for Bono: Eminently quotable and passionate, in the information age where every Bono offhand quip is broadcast worldwide within seconds, he needs to get away from the public eye and focus on his music. The consequences of every word coming through Bono's unfiltered mouth seems to put undue pressure on the band. Dude, shut the fuck up.
2. Fuck being relevant: In five years, U2 will have been around for 40 years(!) yet Bono is prattling on about staying relevant (Bono: see point 1). Any band this far into their career are lucky not to be playing a greatest hits tour at local RSL's to a handful of people watching. U2's best work has always being a product of them following their muse and essentially working a small scale. While Achtung Baby is influenced by a number of German bands, the exploration of very personal matters is what makes that record resonate so brightly. On the other hand, Pop seemed like too much focus on what was popular at the time (electronica) and they second guessed themselves. Their best work always comes from within.
3. Rock n' roll is a young man/woman's game: This is an extension of the last point, it's ok for U2 to sing about being older. We don't need them to be sexy or rocking, we need them to speak to their experience. Let the kids fight, fuck and do the drugs, U2 can be the elder statesmen of music and that's ok.
4. Get a new producer: Sure, U2 got burnt when you broke the Lanois/Eno producing stronghold on Pop but even when they got different producers for Atomic Bomb, it was the Pop guys again. Essentially, they need someone who is going to take the time to re-focus the band on their core values. My recommendation would be to Nigel Godrich, not because of Radiohead but because of Beck's Sea Change record. That record aches with beauty and insight and I think they need someone who can get that out of them in the picture. However, they shouldn't get Rick Rubin - we all love the Johnny Cash stuff but really, watch any recent making-of documentaries featuring RR. It's a bunch of studio monkeys doing all the work and Rubin comes in for a couple of hours to lie on the couch and give an opinion. U2 need someone 'present' to work with them.
5. Don't turn into Pink Floyd: As Rino pointed out the other day, all these re-issues and nostalgia is actually hurting U2. An Achtung Baby re-issue for $495? Seriously, go fuck yourselves. Elvis Costello shows you how the true punks do it - get out of the business model and get in touch with your post-punk selves. They're in there somewhere and it's ok for you to keep those core values in mind even though you're billionaires.
OK that's it. Get back to me when the new record's done...
Friday, December 2, 2011
JH: If I bought a U2 record for $495 I'd expect it to come with a blowjob from Bono.
SC: It does, it comes as a download code...
Thursday, December 1, 2011
As I said earlier this week, I will watch award shows even though I know they're kind of bullshit. So the big one, the Grammys, was announced today and there is nothing remotely interesting about the nominations apart from Mastodon getting a mention in the Best Heard Rock/Metal performance. While I loved that Arcade Fire deservedly won album of the year, this year's indie contender for a big award Bon Iver (song of the year) is ultimately less exciting to me as I consider it one of the most disappointing records of the year. Foster the People don't count either because while Pumped Up Kicks is an incredible song (it really is), their album is a bit of a dud. I imagine that Foo Fighters have got all the rock categories sewn up and Adele will win everything else. It's good to see Thom Yorke got a nomination for dancing like your embarrassing uncle after a few beers in the Lotus Flower video but overall it's a pretty uninspired field of contenders which I guess is no surprise. A full list of nominees is here - strangely I didn't recognise anyone in the best new age category.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I've been listening to Ceremonials for a while now and it seems like a very big, focussed record. Strangely, that is the biggest criticism I've heard of this record because apparently ambition and a big sound is automatically a bad thing in music journalism now (The Joy formidable received similar criticism and I wonder if this is a trend in music writing now - Billy Corgan would be fucked if he released Siamese Dream today - what do you mean he did? Again? Anyhow, I digress...) Apart from that one song that sounds like ELO (Breaking Down), the whole album is incredibly strong and Only If For A Night seems like the prototypical Florence song - big drama, big chorus, big everything. Forget the Kate Bush comparisons, they're just lazy - Florence is her own thing...
Monday, November 28, 2011
I've said this before: if there is a music awards show on, I'll watch it even if it's the 83rd Annual Pan Flute Awards. So it was last night I was watching the Australian music industry's "night of nights,"™ the ARIA awards, now in its 25th year. For a culture that can either engage in cloying parochialism or cringe inducing displays of "we're a small country making it big on the world stage," the 25th Aria awards were largely bland, probably in reaction to the disastrous ceremony last year where they tried to make it off the cuff and casual which led to a shambolic breakdown of proceedings. As with all award shows, it turns good comedians into bumbling unfunny presenters while the crowd is treated to awkward acceptance speech after acceptance speech - "I didn't really expect this so I haven't prepared anything..." Really, you were nominated, it didn't occur to you to do something just on the off chance you won...
To be honest, I'd never heard the big winners Boy and Bear before (probably because I've been overseas for the half the year) and am less than enthused by Australia's big buzz artists such as Cut Copy and Gotye. I was delighted to see Grinderman nominated, cutting a volatile edge of danger through the antiseptic proceedings even if it was the bearded presence of Jim Sclavunos looming ominously in background of the occasional camera shot or was that Noah Taylor? (all those bushman beards start to blend into one...) It also led to that little voice over throw away quoted above which would be surreal in any other context than an awards show. Another band I love dearly, The Middle East, were nominated but missed out. Usual suspects the Living End won for best rock band and burned so bright in their live performance that their was an energy and anger that seemed to be in spite of the evening itself. Kylie and the Wiggles were inducted into the ARIA hall of fame which I have no problem with - Kylie has been consistently producing above average pop songs for years while the Wiggles have been consistently acting as a babysitter for almost everyone I know with a kid forever.
You may ask yourself, why do you bother to watch these shows if they're so annoying? The reason is simple: occasionally something that is truly unexpected, moving or simply transcendent sneaks past the carefully stage managed sterility of the event. It has happened at the ARIAS before. For example, following the suicide of Crowded House drummer Paul Hester, Neil Finn came out to sing Better be home soon as tribute to his fallen comrade. The agony and confusion of one man and his guitar transforming a love song into a plea for his lost friend is incredibly moving - it's heartbreaking to see him almost stumble on the first line. Its a moment that moved beyond the event and highlighted that music can be a vehicle for emotions greater than we can convey with words. His performance is below:
The closest last night got to being amazing was when best female artist award winner Kimbra came out to duet with Gotye. I had only heard of her after seeing her on Rockwiz a few weeks ago but she is definitely a talent to watch. Sharing the physicality of PJ Harvey - a small woman with a big, big voice, she practically stole the show. Watch her performance on Rockwiz below for a taste of her sound.
Anyhow, as the ARIAs stumbled on, I eventually got sleepy and decided to go to bed. Most of the categories seemed to have predetermined winners and when I read the results this morning, things had transpired pretty much as I'd imagined (I'm still shocked to see Front End Loader had won something - one of the greatest underground bands in Australia in the 90's). Anyhow, another awards show, another wasted night - what can you do?
Sunday, November 27, 2011
On my way to the train station yesterday, I was walking behind this old guy who was singing this beautiful song in Japanese at the top of his lungs. As his voice echoed down the platform, everyone stopped to look in a curious, slightly stunned way - it was one of those rare moments where something slightly strange seeps into everyday life and somehow makes the day better. As I listened to him sing until the train pulled in, it made me think "this guy is living in his own musical... Goddamn, I hate musicals." It's true, I hate them except for the Blues Brothers and the South Park movie.
Grease? Never seen it. Moulin Rouge? Worst film I've ever seen in a cinema. Annie? Despite my girlfriend's uncanny resemblance to an adult little orphan Annie, hate it. I haven't even seen Dirty Dancing because I suspect it's a musical even though I'm assured it's not. While I love music, the combination of music and film makes me unreasonably angry and I'm not really sure why. Maybe the thought of going about your every day business only to be confronted by a big song and dance number weirds me out. However, in the context of the old Japanese man singing at the platform station, I let him finish his song before I called security...
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Bare with me because I sound like a crazy person in this review and maybe it's wrong to write a review so quickly but fuck it, whatever. While I'm loathe to talk about the Beatles - ever, when I was growing up I heard them a lot because of my parent's love of them. In particular, my Dad was really taken with John Lennon's solo work and the Shaved Fish compilation was played a lot around our house. The thing about Lennon's solo stuff is that so much of it is so weird and seemingly off the cuff, that had he lived it's hard to fathom the kind of work he would have produced as he got older. While I love Oasis (I do), their Beatles obsession was closer to idolatry than inspiration and while they got the sound down, they never really got the vibe. I don't think anyone really has until I heard Ty Segall today.
Yep, that's big statement, total hyperbole and I know it but I'm a bit gushy and lovesick after listening to this album. I'm not suggesting for a second that his music sounds like or is equal to the Beatles and there are a lot of other influences I can pinpoint (Syd Barret/T Rex etc) but what Goodbye Bread immediately reminded me of was the off kilter, rough hemmed magic of Lennon's solo work. Even though there's a little vocal similarity, Segall has his own thing going on - it's just that indefinable spirit that he shares which is so striking. From what I've read, Segall is a classic rock acolyte and maybe that's where I'm getting this impression from but this is a rough and ready album that is endlessly entertaining and endearing.
When I say endearing, look no further than Comfortable Home (A True Story), 60's-esque singalong where Segall wails "She said she wants to buy a couch/I said, why do we have to buy the couch?" This is part of the joy of the record, the songs are filled with small domestic moments and sentiments which are relatable and authentic. The love ode You Make the Sun Fry is a sunny blast which is instantly memorable while the winding and clattering pop of The Floor is one of the albums highlights. Even better still is Where Your Head Goes - a mini pysch rock out which ticks every box for late nights, booze and good music. The album veers between a scratchy garage rock sounds to more straight up pop shenanigans but it is never less than breathtaking.
Sure it's lo-fi and all the internet banter is about the similarity to Jay Reatard but forget all the comparisons (mine included) as I really think Segall has something special going on here. If this review sounds like I'm a little drunk, I must apologise - it's rare that I get such an instant connection and excitement from an artist on first listen but that in itself speaks volumes to me. This is one of those records that I missed earlier in the year but I'm hooked and will immediately hunt down all his other stuff. I suddenly have a new contender for album of the year.
*Thanks to Adam for putting me onto this.
Friday, November 25, 2011
There is a real danger in reading music reviews online (ironic much?) because it's pretty easy to dismiss a record after reading a few bad things that google spit out at you. I know this because I read a bunch of them (what's up with the Guradian music reviews these days?) about this album but they seem to be misplaced. The Drums have received largely negative reviews for this record and this criticism seems to be based on Portamento being a much more melancholy record than their debut. As I've only heard the singles from the first record that critical baggage doesn't exist for me and in it's absence, this sounds like a pretty tight and enjoyable album to me. It's not without flaws as it is probably too samey in places and a bit twee for its own good but if sad lyrics are a problem it might be a good idea to burn all your Smiths and early Cure records. Oh my lord, sad music - how we ever survive?
I purposely mention these bands because there is something of Morrissey's melancholy misxed with the wirey bass driven sounds of the first two Cure records to the Drums sound. To me, that's not a bad mix and songs like Money, I Don't Know How To Love and If He Likes It Let Him Do It exemplify what was great about 80's English indie music. That being said, it never feels like revisionism or plagiarism, the Drums have their own sound and vibe but there is something unrelentingly 'British' about them so if that's not your cup of chai, look elsewhere. This is a small record about heartbreak and betrayal but it is a good one if you're in the mood.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
This is a bit of a nothing post but if I was an independently wealthy man with a private jet, I would have flown over to see the Bob Mould tribute show which was held in LA a few days ago. The show featured Dave Grohl, Ryan Adams, No Age, Britt Daniel (Spoon), a couple of dudes from the Hold Steady, Grant Lee Phillips and Margaret Cho which is well and good but I'd really just go to see Bob play. I've been a Bob Mould fan for over twenty years and for most of that time, most people's response to my unwavering devotion is "who?" I'm that guy who buys every record in multiple formats, has posters and shirts and is probably obsessed in a way that verges on creepy. However, as a fan, it's good to see one of your heroes get some recognition and the release of his autobiography along with a high profile guest spot on a Foo Fighters song has seen a lot more press and internet chatter about him this year. I'm not sure if that translates into record sales but I hope he's had a little bump in income for his retirement nest egg.
Anyhow, most of the performances form the night are on youtube in varying levels of quality and it's nice to hear Bob run through some old songs (Ice Cold Ice - awesome!). And even if you don't care for Bob, make sure you watch Grohl cam on New Day Rising... That guy is an animal on the drums...
Oh yeah, how great is Jon Wurster from Superchunk - such a good drummer.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
This might be a terrible idea that probably won't work but bare with me. I figure if you're reading this blog you're probably passionate about music or stumbled across it on google looking for some legitimate music journalism - sorry about that. Whatever the case, as the end of the year approaches, I'm predictably starting to think about my end of year lists which will probably be the ten best albums and ten best songs of the year.
As such, I'm looking for anyone who wants to submit their own list to be published on this blog. The list can be similar to what I'll be writing or anything you want to write a list about (Best hardcore records, best hairstyles in music videos, best pop songs, ugliest bands, ten reasons why the new Nickelback album is a sign of the impending apocalypse) but the only stipulation is that whatever it is has to be related to the music year 2011 (unless you're talking re-issues which are about albums recorded in another year but re-issued in 2011 smartypants). Essentially, I want to hear your badass opinions on music in 2011.
The reason I'm doing this is because as much as I love banging on about music, I'd also love to hear what your music year has been like... and then disagree with you. Also, feel free to promote your own blog or music with a bio about yourself if you want. I have to right to veto your contribution if you're trying to sell viagra at discount prices though or you're Jim DeRogatis.
So come on, submit your list and be read by potentially tens of people. Depending on the number I receive (if any), I'll be putting them up in the final week of the December so the deadline would be 20/12/2011 (or 12/20/2011 if that's your style). Come and join the 'fun'.
To trick the spambots, the email address to submit your list to is metal.only.no.rubbish (at) gmail (dot) com. You can contact me there if you need any viagra too...
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
(AHK-toong BAY-bi) Covered (I see what you did there) highlights the joys and peril that can be found on compilation albums. This atrociously named record features some big names paying tribute to what I believe is U2's greatest album and apart from the proceeds on the sale of the album going to charity, there are at least four or five great covers here that are worth your money.
The real joy or sorrow on this record can be how attached you are to the original record. For example, Zoo Station on Achtung was a shock for U2 fans - framed by a soaring buzzsaw riff that alerted fans to the fact they were listening to a new iteration of the band. Named after the Bahnhof Zoo in Berlin, it seems that Nine Inch Nails uses the Trans Europe Express to get there as Reznor takes an icy Kraftwerk approach to the song. To be honest, it could have used a bit more of NIN's distorted grit to set it on fire and it appears to be a understated meditation rather than grand narrative changing statement it was conceived as.
This isn't to say that direct homage is necessary as the best tracks on the compilation swing between faithful renditions to total deconstructions. In the former camp, Glasvegas make a fair fist of Acrobat while the Killers come closest to actually sounding like U2 on Ultra Violet but more based on their stadium ambitions than sound. In the other camp, Depeche Mode* turn So Cruel into a subterranean hymn which resonates with the same sadness of the original. It is an elegant re-imagining which is probably born from the Mode being the closest fellow travellers to U2 on the record. I would imagine remaking Mysterious Ways would be a challenge for any band but surprisingly Snow Patrol's deconstruction and slow build approach to the track is strikingly effective. However, the best track on the record is easily Jack White's Love is Blindness. The standout song on the original record, White brings the crazy and turns it into the unfettered primal scream that it was always meant to be.
The record features some songs which are ok but I find problematic. Damien Rice's cover of One is a delicate acoustic waltz which is beautiful but let down by his decision to change the narrator's perspective. So for example, the original went:
Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Rice's version goes
Did I disappoint you
leave a bad taste in my mouth
I act like I never had love
And I want you to go without
Ultimately, this detracts from the song and makes it seem far more egocentric than the original. If you can ignore this, it is an achingly beautiful cover but what is it with sad acoustic folk singers who want to make the drama all about them? Patti Smith makes a noir vamp out of Until The End Of The World which is more interesting than enjoyable while Garbage's cover of Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses sounds exactly as you imagine it would. Gavin Friday's The Fly is a little perplexing, seemingly too much studio time and too little focus, it's all over the place.
The only two real misfires on the record are by the Fray and U2 themselves. The Fray are a pop band that try to make Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World into an FM radio ready drive time hit - it fails on every level. The Jacques Lu Cont mix of Even Better Than The Real Thing turns the original song into a thumping disco number which highlight how great Bono's original vocals were but little else. U2 have dabbled with dance remixes throughout their career but I can never remember any of them being particularly successful (and let's not mention Pop - ever).
Ultimately, this is a pretty good collection of songs but as expected none of them come close to the original record. If anything, it actually highlights how great Achtung Baby is and that in retrospect, it is a miracle that record exists after the self destructive impulses of Rattle and Hum. Again, for me, it depended on how attached I was to a notion or intent of the original as to how much I enjoyed the cover which is probably unfair but I hardly care about what's fair. More a curio for U2 fans than a satisfying record in its own right, the highlights are indeed great and worth a listen.
*I could write a thesis about why I think Depeche Mode tried and failed to have an Achtung Baby-like reinvention on Songs of Love and Devotion. However, I choose not to...
Monday, November 21, 2011
Ambient artist Tycho is a pretty talented guy as not only is he a musician, he's a designer as well. On his blog, ISO50, he regularly posts a playlist of music and my brother-in-law was playing the latest one yesterday. At a certain point, the last Gotye single came on and I'm not sure why I never heard it before but his singing voice is exactly like Sting* - almost shockingly so. I'm sure every person who has ever heard him has realised this, I'm just a bit slow. Anyhow, it made me go back and listen to his first record and yep, he sounds like Sting on that too, I just never heard it or made that connection. I'm sad to say there's no way back for for me Gotye (or Wally as his Mum calls him), all I can hear is the distant echoes of Dream of the Blue Turtles... It's funny how once you hear something like that you can never, ever get it out of your brain.
*Disclaimer: I'm talking about Sting as a solo artist here. Sting is awesome in the Police and has exactly one good solo record (The Soul Cages), but the rest is a bit shit...
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I'm not really familiar with the whole twelve step recovery program thing but I imagine this can be the explanation for this video. Surely, this is some step where you atone for past sins by singing Christmas carols while dressing like Don Draper after a four day bender. Either that or Weiland is back on something again... big time.
I think Neko Case sums up Christmas albums best...
Saturday, November 19, 2011
5. Sugar: Bob Mould has categorically ruled out any chance of a Hüsker Dü reunion and no amount of money would entice him back to play with Hart and the moustache guy again. However, I'd love to see a Sugar reunion because even though Bob drove the band, David Barbe and Malcolm Travis were more than mere sidemen ably matching Mould's intensity. A Don't Look Back concert with Sugar playing Copper Blue - I'd pay to see that...
4. The Smiths: The most famous Morrissey quote regarding a Smiths reunion is that he'd "rather eat my own testicles than reform The Smiths, and that's saying something for a vegetarian." So, I guess if Morrissey ever gets the taste for meat again we might be in with a chance.
3. Straitjacket Fits: I was saddened to hear of Straitjacket Fits bass player David Wood died a few years ago. While Shayne Carter still plays around it's be great to see a reunion of any remaining members as they were one of the best live bands I've ever seen.
2. The White Stripes: Yeah, I know they only officially announced their break up this year but I think I like Jack White in this context - just howling and scorching away on his guitar with minimal percussion behind him. Get back on that wagon Jack, that's why we love ya....
1. Ride: Hey guys, stop arsing around with Oasis or whatever it is you're doing and get your shit together...
Friday, November 18, 2011
I'm going to say something controversial so all you soft hearted Sigur Rós fans should avert your eyes. I saw Sigur Rós on their first tour of Australia and I was so, so excited. ( ) is one of my all time favourite albums and the anticipation was huge (it seemed every person I'd ever met in my life was at that show). The problem was that when Sigur Rós took the stage, within in two songs I was totally bored. While my friends were having fits of ecstasy, I was thinking "gee, my feet are sore." In the wash up, it occurred to me that standing in the second row at a concert was not the way to enjoy Sigur Rós, lying on a couch with your substance of choice is. I think back to that night and wonder if I'd had a couch to lie on and a glass of wine in my hand whether that would have been the greatest gig of my life.
So, to listen to Inni, I made myself comfortable on a couch with a glass of red and it turns out my instincts at the concert were correct - this is the perfect way to see/hear Sigur Rós live... I mean it's not like anyone is going to start a mosh or anything. As soon as the submarine pulse of Inni's first track Svefn-g-englar starts, I am immediately reminded why Sigur Rós is such a singular band: simultaneously transcendent, sublime and gorgeous, this is music that sends shivers up the spine. What is so compelling is that the band are operating as a four piece on this record but the sheer sonic density sounds like there are many more players on stage. In particular, the earlier songs, stripped to their essence sound rawer but no less elegant or epic. I must confess that I became less interested in the band around Takk as their music became more conventional but having listened to Jonsi's solo record (and excellent accompanying live album) pretty consistently for the last year, those latter day Sigur songs make more sense to me now. If anything, Inni does lean heavily on those later albums but it is a joy to hear old faves Ný batterí, E-Bow (Unititled # 6) and Popplagid (Untitled #8) in this context.
Unifying the album is Jonsi's voice which for all it's otherwordly weirdness is an incredibly strong and consistent instrument. I think your love of this band is dictated by how much you like his voice so to all the people who write it off as irritating whale music don't even bother as there are more whales on this record than a David Attenborough documentary. While this cd/dvd set acts as an interesting document (the biggest attraction for fans being the one new track Lúppulagid), ultimately I'm not sure it's a record that people will be thrashing over and over again. Sigur Rós create such perfect studio records with such considered sound, these tracks have little hope of usurping the originals. Still, with a glass of wine and a comfy spot, this is a pretty nice overview of Sigur Rós' career. If you're fan you've already bought it and I'm surprised you've read this far...
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Now I'm getting closer to forty, I often wonder what will happen to kids half my age when they form bands. When I was growing up in the 70's and 80's, my experience of mainstream music meant a lot of Wham, Billy Joel and various other miscreants - this wasn't stuff I chose to listen to, it was just always there. I always wondered what would happen to those kids who became musically aware as bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead fleetingly became the mainstream. How would the bands of people with that musical education sound? My guess is that they're sound like the Joy Formidable. Taking the unabashed epic scope and ambition of the Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead but toning down the angst and then filtering it through a modernist kaleidoscope, they sound like the logical conclusion of the 90's alternative promise. I don't think it's any mystery as to why they're supporting the Foo Fighters on their US tour right now.
Unlike my other favourite Welsh three pieces (McLusky, Future of the Left), The Joy Formidable contain no self consciousness, left field weirdness or irony, it's just big time, fun rock music. To be honest there is a wee of angst here but songs like The Magnifying Glass, Whirring, Cradle and Chapter 2 are all throw your devil horns to the sky goodness. Even better is Buoy, a slow burn and churn that is somewhere between Mogwai and the Smashing Pumpkins if such a thing could exist. As I said with the We Were Promised Jetpacks review yesterday, while I might not be playing this record a year from now, right here and now it sounds pretty damn good.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Earlier in the year I lamented the pointlessness of the Explosions in the Sky single Trembling Hands (I've probably softened on that appraisal now somewhat). It seems that whatever Explosions were drinking when they wrote that song We Were Promised Jetpacks were sculling by the pint with a Jägerbomb chaser. Their debut album was an ok collection of ragged pop songs with a pleasing Scottish lilt. For the follow up, Jetpacks have upped the testosterone and rock action which seems a million miles from their mild mannered first record. The driving rhythms and slash and burn guitars is somewhere between post-rock and shoegaze. Album standout Hard to Remember is a slow burn terror while the minimal vocals of Act on Impulse is a direct lift from the Explosions playbook. Human Error is also a great song towards the end of the record and the more I listen to it, it might be a contender for my favourite songs of the year. To be honest, I'm not sure that this new intensity carries across the entire album as the overt rockiness starts to bleed from one song to the next making them slightly similar. As such, I'm not sure how this album will stand up to repeat listens but as casual fan of the first record, the change in dynamics and sound is a shock and a delight. If that's your type of sound, worth checking out. Whatever the case, they still have a cool name...
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Listening to Seeker Lover Keeper is like being allowed access to a secret society or being able to eavesdrop on a group of close friends talk intimately. Part confessional, part love-in, SLK is an Australian super group made up of indie pop pack leader Sarah Blasko, understated folkie Holly Throsby and slightly leftfield Sally Seltmann (who used to be known as New Buffalo and happens to have co-written one of the most famous songs in the world). SLK builds on the strengths of each of these performers resulting in a beautiful and focussed record.
In feel, the album is closer to Blasko's last record As Day Follows Night than the other artists' records and it must be said that Blasko's voice dominates as she takes more of the lead vocals. Given the otherworldly quality of her voice and her ability to convey emotion through the simplest turn of phrase, that's not a bad thing but Throsby and Seltmann both get their turns to shine. Throsby steals the show with the single Even Though I'm A Woman (written by Seltmann) and We Will Know What It Is while Seltmann burns bright on the (almost) rocking Every Time and the mournful On My Own. Blasko shows why she is such a loved figure in Australian music on all her tracks especially Theme 1 and opener Bring Me Back.
The album is largely acoustic so on first listen it can sound a little bit samey. Repeated listens highlight the real joy which can be found in subtle instrumentation that underpins the songs such as the restrained electronics of Rely On Me, the messy handclaps on Light All My Lights and the unmistakable subversion of Jim White's drumming everywhere (can we have a new Dirty Three record please?). Further, with three of Australia's best singers on record together, there are some gorgeous backing vocals and harmonies. This isn't a record for everyone but if you like female singer-songwriters or ever loved any of these artists solo work, Seeker Lover Keeper could make you swoon a little bit.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Sleater Kinney's final record The Woods was a slightly schizophrenic listen as it was filled with classic sounding SK songs as well as these off kilter rock monsters - big riffs, heavy fuzz, heavy drama. Since the split and the subsequent release of a solo record by Corin Tucker and now Wild Flag which features Carrie Brownstein and drumming bohemoth Janet Weiss, it's now very evident where that divide came. Tucker's record comes off like a toned down SK record while Wild Flag have returned to the garage to rock the fuck out. Both records are great but Wild Flag has the edge.
In Wild Flag, Brownstein and Weiss are joined by Rebecca Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders) who seem dedicated to exploring nuggets era garage rock through a post punk sensibility with a bit of psychedelica thrown in for good measure. Seriously, Glass Tambourine gets all White Rabbit on you but it doesn't sound affected, ironic or out of place, it just rocks and allows Weiss embrace her inner Bonham in the freak out finale. First single Romance is less about romantic love than the romance of music and the listener, a theme that seems to run through the album. While Timony and Brownstein trade vocals, the difference is less noticeable than the SK dynamic but Brownstein seems intent on embracing the rockier side of the band. Songs like Boom and Racehorse are all rock n' roll grit and strut and Brownstein plays and sings as if her life depended on it. Given how great Portlandia is, it'd wouldn't be surprising if she didn't return to music at all but it's obvious this is where her heart lies.
For me, SK reached a creative highpoint on One Beat and the messy Woods seemed to highlight internal conflicts in the band (although it featured the phenomenal Entertain - holy shit that song is great). Wild Flag more than makes up for SK's absence which I never thought was possible. This album is a hearfelt fireball of pure rock action and worthy of your attention.