Monday, December 26, 2011

What do you look forward to? 2012 is coming and it just might rock...

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

Rino's favourite tracks of 2011

A little while ago I put a call out for anyone who wanted to post their favourite music of 2011 on the blog (see sidebar for details - it's not too late). Fortunately, Rino answered the call with a hectic and eclectic list of old and new. Rino is an excellent writer who evades Skynet bots by publishing a blog composed on a typewriter and has released a brilliant book of music criticism called Song Logic which can be bought here. I'll let Rino explain the rest:

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
(except the Moby Grape cut – that’s here:



Got a list, submit that shit to (at) gmail (dot) com

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The top 10 albums of 2011

Before I start my top ten, let's just have a quick discussion about some of the honourable mentions and disappointments of the year.

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

The top 20 songs of 2011 Part 2: 10-1

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

The top 20 songs of 2011 Part 1: 20-11

So here is the first part of my top twenty songs of 2011. As an introduction, these songs are chosen purely because I liked them and listened to them a lot – nothing more, nothing less. Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m terribly out of step with fashion so you’ll find no Bon Iver, St Vincent or any of that guff here. Sorry, it’s not to be contrary but because that music doesn’t move me. Whatever, here’s the first ten:

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

Probably the funniest thing I've seen today...

I'm proud to say this photo was taken in an Australian record store (taken from this website which is disturbing in so many ways...).


Monday, December 12, 2011

Best cover songs of 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

The National - I need my girl and Rylan

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

Trent Reznor and Karen O - Immigrant Song

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

Mark Lanegan: The Gravedigger's Song review

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

Twitter's top five most talked about topics of the year in music

In order of most tweeted:

Rebecca Black and Friday

Nate Dogg


Gerry Rafferty

Gil Scott-Heron

One Britney album, three rock star deaths and one death of civilization as we know it. Awesome...


Monday, December 5, 2011

The Black Keys - El Camino short review

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

OK - absolutely the last U2 post ever: 5 things U2 should do to not suck

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

True conversations of music nerds: Achtung blowjob

SC: Have you seen that deluxe Achtung Baby box set? It's ridiculous, it costs $495.

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

Award ceremonies... groan part 2... Grammy nominations

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.