Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012 according to

This year, my once perfect relationship with has been rocky - it stopped adding my iPod plays to my music charts, and I moved out and forgot about it for a while, so my page doesn't really represent my music listening these days. Still, here's what it says were my top albums in 2012.

At the top is Portishead, reflecting the grim few months I had listening to Dummy. It's a great album, but if you're listening to it without drugs, you're probably not in a great mood.

Then, of course, coming in next is Paralytic Stalks, of Montreal's second-to-last release - a mind-blowingly good album. The first song I heard from it, 'Spiteful Intervention', arrived in my life at the perfect time, but even without that, I think I would have fallen in love with it. Wildly experimental, the whole album sounds like a man vomiting out his soul, gradually, starting with the bilious complaint of 'Gelid Ascent' and gradually spewing up every negative and unsustainable emotion he's ever felt towards a lover, ending with the bitter after-spasms of 'Authentic Pyrric Remission'. Thanks to Paralytic Stalks, I went and found False Priest and Skeletal Lamping, both awesomely crazy albums, but Stalks remains my favourite. There's a depth of darkness there which takes the absurdity out of the sound effects; the earlier albums lack that, and so they're emotionally tiring. Still worth a listen though. And a dance.

Then there's the project of Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, One of my Kind, the new album. I wrote about it recently on here but it deserves another plug. Oberst said in an interview once that his Bright Eyes material was usually made mostly in the studio, messing with sounds, whereas the Mystic Valley Band run through with much more of a live focus, recording together, and so you get a different listening experience from the two projects. I like the Mystic Valley Band's output - it may be less analysable than Bright Eyes' music, but it's very listenable.

Lee Ranaldo and The Cribs are, of course, also in amongst my most-listened - both albums are atmospheric, though for different reasons - Between the Times and the Tides is rich with Ranaldo's warm guitar and vocals, whereas In the Belly of the Brazen Bull is violent, raw, unhappy, but provides an escape from reality in much the same way, though into a greyer, more desolate realm.

I've also been listened to the old favourites - Reuben, Bright Eyes, Mother Mother and Belle and Sebastian appear (I can't stop listening to Tigermilk for some reason) and a couple of artists I hadn't given much attention before - most notably No Doubt and Joan Armatrading.

I recommend all of the above, and say to anyone who reads this - Happy New Year, and have a safe journey into the post-apocalyptic world of 2013.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Best underdog love song I've heard today.
Happy Christmas, mélomen!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Some more samplers

So! I'm finally back from university - I was not as distracted from music as I expected (in fact, music distracted me from the prolonged suffering of essay-writing) but I've not really had the chance to blog it much, so here goes. I've been listening to:

1) Belle and Sebastian

I finally got round to buying The Boy with the Arab Strap, an album which was conspicuously missing from my B&S collection, and yes, it does deserve the acclaim. It's as subtle as Tigermilk but the songs are possibly a bit catchier. 'Simple Things' is the song that really stands out for me for now - it's a disappointingly short track, but for its grand 1 minute 46, it's dreamy. The simple melody can pass you by on first listen, but there's an undercurrent (or overtone, haven't worked out which) of incredible melancholy, hinted at in the slightly off-kilter strum at exactly 0:56 on the video below, and in the lines

If you want me, I'll be there

A boy to deal with all your problems,

But part of the deal

Is for you to feel something.

The way the melody and timing hit that 'feel something' suggests a bitterness, a darkness below the sweet melody that Belle and Sebastian are so perfect at capturing. I've loved this song, along with the album's title track, for weeks, and as I expected, the whole album hasn't stopped improving, even though it wasn't as invigorating as The Life Pursuit on first play.

2) PJ Harvey

Another icon that I've found late in the game. A few years ago, I borrowed White Chalk from a library, which I still revive sometimes when I'm a little sad or tired, but I'd never happened across her slightly harder rock before. I found Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea in HMV for £3, almost as much of a success as finding Conor Oberst's new release in the same sale. It's a great album, if you haven't found it yet. Highlights for me are 'Big Exit', the opener (on which Harvey sometimes sounds so like Kim Gordon that I forget who I'm listening to), 'This Wicked Tongue' and the atmospheric 'Beautiful Feeling'. The opening line of 'Beautiful Feeling' and Thom Yorke's ghostly moans kept me company on a late-night train ride - "sometimes I can see for miles" - chasing me into a lovely warm feeling of significance. Occasionally her lyrics let her down, in my opinion - 'This is Love' would be great, for instance, if it weren't for the stilted "I can't believe life's so complex, when I just wanna sit here and watch you undress!" that begins it, which really isn't powerful enough to be yell-sung the way it is. Still, I know you wanna see her doing her best Rolling Stones strut.

3) Mother Mother

Why? You're asking. Why do you only give us music we've heard before? Well, I'm sorry. I write this as I find things, not as they come out. I always think it's really disappointing that most blogs and sites are always about new music, or old classics - it leaves gems buried, where they don't deserve to be, and airs all today's decaying carbon. However, sometimes, I do post about something new - and this is one band around at the moment that I love. Mother Mother have a new album out this year, their fourth studio production, and it is a natural progression from the last, Eureka!, one of the two albums I ever gave 9/10 on The 405. Whilst it hasn't quite grabbed me like Eureka! did, The Sticks is still great - I just had sky-high expectations. It's still rock-pop, still less insightful than anything self-proclaimed 'artists' would like to put out, but it's also catchy and stylish, perfectly constructed to get you dancing and grinning. If you don't like the song below, I encourage you to listen to 'Dread in my Heart', which is very different, a lot less pop-rocky, but also characteristic Mother Mother. 'The Sticks' is a good example of their darker tracks, more along the lines of 'Oleander' or 'Born in a Flash' on their last album. I hope they tour in the UK at some point.

4) Rodrigo y Gabriela

And now for something completely different! My lovely partner sent me some albums in the post from Aberdeen, one of which was a gorgeous recent record by Rodrigo y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. - it's a stunningly-played album on which the virtuoso musicians try their hand at a ridiculous range of genres. Semi-Latin piece 'Logos' is goddamn beautiful, but for a more intense listen, try album-opener 'Santo Domingo' with its crazy catch-me-if-you-can guitar. For a taste of the Cuban in C.U.B.A., however, I'm going to post wonderful 'Juan Loco', which sounds like some magical clash between James Bond and the PC game 'Tropico'.

That's all for now, folks. Keep tuned in though. This year's been great for music, for me and for the wider world.

Friday, 26 October 2012

More Conor Oberst

Just an update - I am now writing for the music section of the Oxford Student newspaper, so if you ever manage to get your hands on a copy, or fancy clicking here, you can see me in 'print'! It's almost certainly irrelevant to you because you've probably happened across this page by unfortunate accident... however, the topic's quite fun: are music awards still relevant? Do music awards have any legitimate gravity in the indie and rock world? Hear me thrash my editor at the link above. Plug over.

I didn't only start this post purely to link you to more of me - I intended only to post this awesome video. I found this album for £3 in the HMV sale in Oxford today. Pretty cool.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Desaparecidos are back!

10 years ago, Conor Oberst and pals formed a band called Desaparecidos for one passionate, political album. They then gracefully retired into their respective projects, Oberst having said all he had to say at the time about the ridiculousness of fashion, destructive 'progress', materialism and the lie of the American dream. Oberst has always been fairly political, standing up for the rights of Mexicans in the southern states recently, and publicly supporting Obama in the last election.

Now, the band affectionately termed Desa are back, because let's face it, things haven't got much better. New track 'MariKKKopa' was inspired by the comments of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who recently said it was 'an honour' to be compared to the KKK because it 'means you're doing something'. I have to say, if anything were to inspire me to get a political band together, ridiculous comments like that in my home nation would definitely help. The song, below, is a return to form - straight back in with the angry vocals, speaking through the voice of an all-American racist.

They've also released another track, 'Backsell', which has more ambiguous lyrics but seems to be about the shallowness and cruelty of the fame industries in the US. It's a great reinvigoration - good political music is quite difficult to find at the moment; there's been no great political musical movement in a while. Indie folk mostly wants to tell us about itself, pop wants to tell us about its lovers, rap wants to tell us about its sex life, emo and post-punk want to tell us about their break-ups and kick-ass parties, and screamo... who the Hell knows what that wants to tell us? Hearing new and revived bands making a stand will always be heart-warming to anyone with a revolutionary bone in them.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Lee Ranaldo Free Downloads and Streaming

A while ago, I think I posted the video for 'Off the Wall', Lee Ranaldo's new single. The former Sonic Youth 'super-cool' guitarist has released a show on good quality MP3 files, recorded live from New York recently. I downloaded it speculatively and after a couple of listens, immediately went out and bought the album - though in retrospect, while both are insanely good, the live show has captured the atmosphere perfectly, and so some of the tracks (particularly 'Hammer Blows') are enriched by the gig feel, and are possibly even better than the album versions. Have a look, it's free!

Download the MP3s here

Friday, 20 July 2012

Glitters Like Gold

Ah, The Cribs. Anyone who's ever been a few pages back on this blog knows of my obsession with the Wakefield punk rockers, and I have to say, unlike some of my other musical passions, my love for this band has remained constant for years. The Cribs are brothers who've been playing under that name since 2001 - their 11-year career has spawned 5 albums so far, each different to the one before, but all sharing the common features that their cult following loves - an underlying punk ethos, idiosyncratic guitars and the edgy, slightly off-key vocals of the twin Jarmans, Ryan and Gary.

The Cribs haven't made many concessions to the modern music industry. There have been no American accents, no fashion labels giving out lanyards at gigs, no abandonment of the bands they professed to love in their teens. Thanks to The Libertines and The Strokes, the early noughties was a good time for The Cribs to launch, as that wave of indie was decidedly in vogue - but they rejected the scene that had adopted them, denouncing the sexism in the lad-rock around them and writing the cutting tracks 'Hey Scenesters' and 'Mirror Kissers' to slate the very people that shouted their lyrics at gigs.

The slightly derisive edge didn't seem to hurt the fans' feelings though - the hipsters probably didn't regard themselves as such anyway. The Cribs were gathering momentum just as that indie scene melted away in around 2008 to make way for singer-songwriters and electro-indie of the sort peddled by Friendly Fires, White Lies and their compatriots. The Cribs released what was probably their most well-known album, Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever during the final throes of this scene, making an unexpected splash with the track 'Men's Needs', an enigmatic attack on misogyny. They'd signed to a bigger label and got Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos in to do the production, but their third album still didn't concede much to pop - the uncompromisingly angry 'Our Bovine Public' is as seething as anything on The New Fellas, and the musicianship was getting increasingly adept, Ryan's lead guitar in particular (though it had been incredibly raw in the first two albums, admittedly).

After this success, The Cribs took on another member - Johnny Marr of The Smiths, one of their principal influences. I still think this was a match made in heaven, though they got some inevitable stick from some of the fans; I saw them live for the first, second and third time during Marr's tours with the band, and enjoyed every performance - he fit right in. I felt that the addition of a second guitar enriched the atmosphere of Ignore the Ignorant too. Though the anti-Marr feeling was oddly strong, I think they came through it unscathed. Tracks like 'We Share the Same Skies', 'Emasculate Me' and 'Save Your Secrets' are as worth listening to as anything of theirs, and much more skilful than early tracks like 'The Watch Trick', which have a certain raw appeal but sound like a load of teenagers messing about with a 4-track by comparison. That's almost certainly what they were.

In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, their newest album, is the one they always wanted to make - through the thick feedback and fuzziness, you can hear Comet Gain, Sonic Youth, The Smiths - all those bands they've loved throughout their career. It may have a Smithsy touch, but Marr departed from the band this year, because - well, who knows? Marr's a musical nomad at the moment anyway, probably scared of commitment after his embittered marriage to Morrissey. The Cribs are a trio once more, and album number five gives two fingers to expectation, in that it's managed to keep the ground-roots style, but it's also got technique and cryptic but profound lyrics, and it still made it into the top ten, even without Marr.

Here's a video of them performing 'Glitters Like Gold', their new single, for Radio 1. I like this version because the vocals are more pronounced than on the recording, and it's organic - they were made to be a live band.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Beautiful Voices

So far this summer, it's been all about beautiful voices. Beautiful for different reasons, but beautiful all the same. I happened across the tunes I am about to recommend for different reasons - the first at several clubs, the second during an iconic romcom I am too ashamed to name, not being a romcom girl, and the third by random chance in the HMV sale.

Arctic Monkeys

There's something compellingly naughty about Arctic Monkeys, even when they're not talking about little books of sex tips - something disobedient and free, even when they're being musically tame. It's got something to do with Alex Turner's voice. The richness of it against the unrelentingly Northern dialect is appealing - he can play with how much of his accent goes into his vocal line, and unlike most indie artists of the same sort, he has the technical skill to mess with the melody. 'R U Mine', Arctic Monkeys' most recent single, is a return to form for the lads. At clubs, it stands out as miles ahead of most other new tracks in that it balances simplicity with perfect production and well-judged instrumentation; it has the raw energy of their first album, but they've grown into a wilder beast since then. The video is laddish but entertaining - they're still arrogant teenagers at heart, and I suppose that's how people love them.

Marvin Gaye

He's quite a jump from Alex Turner, but variety is the spice of life - Marvin Gaye has also been making many an appearance on my iPod playlists recently. Alright, I'll tell you, it was Bridget Jones - the placement of 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' in that film is epic, in spite of the... y'know, the rest of that film. Gaye's voice alongside that of Tammy Terrell is perfect; it's a real summer song, empowering and perfected by their lovely, smooth vocals. The video for this always cheers me up - they look so content, so relaxed. Voices like these don't need fancy footage to rack up 21,000,000 views.

On the widget below, I've also added 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' - the Slits cover is brilliant in its own way, but this surpasses it - and 'Sunny', a song my mum used to listen to when I was a child. I heard it again at a cinema, in the pre-show music, and it was so eerily familiar that I had to look it up. Turns out it's a great upbeat song.

Joan Armatrading

The last of my artists is Joan Armatrading - the wonderful 20th century star whose CD I happened upon by chance in HMV the other day. I knew of her so I thought I'd give it a try, and I struck gold. She has moments of brilliance, dipping in and out of genres. The first on the widget below is 'Opportunity', my current favourite, a bluesy number about underhanded dealing. A lot faster and funkier is 'Show Some Emotion', with which Armatrading had a hit a few decades ago. 'Like Fire' showcases some of her raw talent on the guitar - she plays with rhythmic techniques and still manages to sing over the top. As a struggling beginner, I have respect for anyone that can do that. Finally, I've put one of her slower numbers on, 'Tall in the Saddle', mostly for its first lines, and how insanely gorgeous they are against their syrupy backdrop. It breaks down a bit when she starts singing "We had fun fun fun fun", I always think the word 'fun' makes things more S Club than jazz club, but hey, she didn't know about the 90s when she wrote that line.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

No Doubt

At the risk of invoking a feminist-induced roll-eyes (as goes with the anti-feminist stance so popular in our modern media), I'm not comfortable with most music videos because of the women in them. There isn't a genre which releases singles which is above the sexualisation of women in their videos. Before you stop reading, just consider the last time you turned on music TV, or have a try now - sit there for a half hour, or flick through the channels, and record how many of the videos feature these things:

• Women dancing, wearing bikinis, or crop-tops and little shorts, or just underwear

• Numerous women dancing around or in front of a singular male, or a small group of males

• At least one woman with less clothes on than would be deemed 'normal' or 'not slutty' in public

• Close-ups of women's bodies, usually bums, boobs, legs and stomachs.

You may come across a couple of videos without these things, but my own personal (admittedly confirmational) scan through the channels suggests it's rare, even in genres not usually reknowned for their sexism. And of course, videos differ in the level to which they use the depersonalised female body - but it's there alright, most of the time.

Anyway, I initially went on for another 4 paragraphs about why this is a bad thing, but I don't think it'd win any converts - you either get what I mean or you think it's all harmless, a bit of fun. I'm a killjoy, a jealous bitch even. I've heard it before. They're two fundamentally different stances, sure, and I'll grant that on a good day, I can sit through one of those videos emotionlessly and know that plenty of people do the same, desensitised to the images they're presented with. But I am a great believer in the idea that things seep into our psyche; we don't always see that what's 'normal' to us is not actually the only path, the only way the world could be. Music videos show a world of ideals, but those are NOT biological ideals. They are cultural ideals, and therefore, they could easily be re-shaped. They're only showing 80%-naked girls and half-dressed guys because they're perpetuating our media's images, and our media's images are there because being thin, tanned, made-up, well-dressed down to the underwear, shaven, perfumed and bejewelled is the most expensive way to live, and our media is based on advertising. Simple as that. (Well, almost...)

All this has, tangentially enough, been leading up to a discussion of No Doubt. I always used to see Gwen Stefani as another sugar-pop princess, with slightly better music, because I saw her having an interview on Channel 4 a long time ago and she appeared pretty vacuous. It was definitely a cruel assessment, I know that now, but the pretty costumes, blonde bombshell haircut and heavy make-up don't do her music justice, really. I was too used to pop producing mindless music by women who were just a front, lip-syncing, taking pin-up girl photos and grinding the camera in videos. Therefore, when I watched 'Just A Girl', it was a very pleasant surprise. The lyrics mean srsbsns, and she's got a srsbsns voice to go with them.

"'Cause I'm just a girl, little 'ol me Don't let me out of your sight I'm just a girl, all pretty and petite So don't let me have any rights."

I hope no-one missed the sarcasm. I think it's pretty blatant but it was released in America. (No offence, Americans, but your Bible Belt makes us all lol over here in the UK.)

"I'm just a girl, Take a good look at me Just your typical prototype...

I'm just a girl in the world... That's all that you'll let me be!"

Sunday, 6 May 2012


I've probably mentioned Tropicalia before, but if I haven't, now's as good a time as any. I was working today and I stuck my iPod on, and decided it was time for some 'random world music', as my boss put it. Tropicalia was a great movement of the cultural revolution - in Brazil. Unfortunately, the regime at the time wasn't up for a cultural revolution, so the history of Tropicalia is incredibly political, littered with attempts at oppression. It's freedom music, combining traditional South American instrumentation, language and rhythms with decidedly beat-pop-esque songs, 60s guitars and harmonies. Not only that, it also manages to have an intro that sounds like Duffy, yet pre-dates her by several decades. Have some glorious start-of-summer listening!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Where is our music?

I just watched a BBC documentary on reggae because my parents lived through that era - they were at the heart of it, the 1970s in Handsworth, the reggae capital of Britain. Handsworth is an area of inner city Birmingham. Back in the 70s and to this day, it has been a centre for immigration, a place where the white students and working class were thrown together with black and Asian second generation kids, where police racism found its counter-pole in mixed-race bands and gangs, one of the episodes in history where the oppressive state managed to unite potential enemies in the complicity of rebellion. The programme followed reggae from its roots to its later commercialisation - from Bob Marley and Steel Pulse to UB40.

It is obviously in the nature of a retrospective documentary to simplify a complex era, make everything seem black and white as such. The forces of conservatism and liberalism are the perpetual intertwined threads, and documentaries make it their aim to show the two clear sides of the argument - in this case, the anti-reggae mainstream and the pioneering young groups of the time, the former the voice of the past, and the latter progression. For this reason, it's easy to come to the conclusion that those grainy videos and dancing 80s teenagers with dreadlocks were not actually representative of the time - they're just one movement in a much wider social context, and the opposition were not united against them: what most programmes like that miss is the general sense of apathy felt by the majority. I doubt many housewives or farmers in 1981 really cared about Bob Marley's death.

Even then, the videos and the ideas do seem momentous: the 1980s Handworth riots happened, they represented genuine social unrest, and the music was a by-product of sentiments in the communities.

Where is our music? That's what I want to know. Where is this millenium's movement? We have social unrest - but what were the student protesters listening to? Was it really Radio 1? Where has the niche gone?

My first idea is that it's all just me. There are lots of niches that will be remembered and turned into documentaries in 20 years' time, it's just that I'm either ignorant of them or apathetic towards them. I don't care about mockney rapping or dubstep so I'm out of the loop when it comes to what will be defined as the sound of the early 21st century. Others would claim the 'scene' to be our niche, but it's pretty much one of the two mainstream options these days: as a teen, you either watch the X Factor or you dye your hair black and listen to My Chemical Romance. 'Emo' and 'scene' are as popular as many other genres.

So, I could just be blind to the decent niche that I fit into. To solve my ego-centric question of why I have to go looking abroad or into the past for music I like, I tried to think of what people of my 'sort' listen to - my age, my gender, my peergroup. I'm usually underwhelmed - it's a mixture, often, of the mainstream. Not necessarily lacking in talent, but certainly not a musical 'movement', carrying political affiliations or messages or diverging from what's gone before. For example, what Beyoncé offers isn't bad, but it isn't a way of life, it's good pop. And in my view, pop is a slowly drifting ship tied to the commercial docks, with niche genres the rowboats that sometimes find themselves on the open sea. The thrills don't come from being on board the cruise liner; that's a smooth, dull ride.

Another thought: maybe the internet is killing that kind of niche movement. Perhaps by being able to find what's going on in Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, my generation is breaking the mould; we no longer have to swarm around one genre at a time, we can stick our proboscises into all sorts across the world, and use the net to contact other lovers of our favourite genres, which is a kind of musical blood letting - it loses its charge and intensity at a particular moment because its communities are so geographically unconcentrated, and have no need to seek out peers in vivo; they have them in vitro, online.

Also, of course, there is the issue of illegal downloading: our new global method of music transmission doesn't get noticed because niche music loved by tech-literate young people is more likely to be siphoned into our Music folders from than bought legitimately, so it doesn't make the charts or the bands don't sell enough to get promotion. We are killing our future documentaries, people. Do you want to be on TV or not? Stop it!

But yes. The whole thrust of today's post is this: I reckon my socio-cultural segment of this generation are the first middle-class young adults in a long time not to have a united front, musically. I have no idea if my peers are listening, en masse, to anything that the population isn't. That's at the core of it: is there any music unique to the group that I call 'us', or is it all being universalised by capitalism? We want to be original in at least a superficial way, find ourselves united as a collective (but an exclusive one, and one that listens to music we like personally). A more personal question - does that 'we' even exist? Is society losing its sharp edges, its social definition? Do I have a peer group, or am I just me?

The larger the audience, the more music has to cater for everyone to keep its fans, and so often becomes bland and the lyrics vague. I'd like to discover some music that isn't bland, something that's happening in my country, with lyrics which I can relate to, like reggae and two-tone spoke to my parents and their friends - like beat music or punk spoke to others.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Of Montreal vs Marmaduke Duke

If you've read this for a while, you'll know that my music taste fluctuates seasonally - in winter, I ply you with my Seasonal Affective Disorder and am generally a miserable sod, until the springtime when I find sunshine bands and am generally a miserable sod with manic patches. About three years ago, I loved Biffy Clyro (winter) and then Simon Neil went and made an album with Marmaduke Duke (summer). This year, I've gone from Portishead to of Montreal. I sense distinct similarities between the style of song which heralds my sunshine. Compare (and note how the music taste has improved).

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Songs In My Head

These are some songs I've had stuck in my head over the last few days:
1) Tears for Fears - 'Head over Heels'
Like a proper little fashionista, I only heard this song after watching Donnie Darko, but to be honest, if you find anything as blatantly 1980s as Tears for Fears through your own volition, that's more a cause for shame than jumping on the band-wagon. One of my colleagues at work has this on their iPod and it came on on Saturday, and I've had it in my head since, because it always reminds me of the awesomeness that is Donnie Darko.

2) Bright Eyes - 'Take It Easy (Love Nothing)'
I'm using this song's lyrics as an example of poetry within music to highlight the elistism of the literary canon (yeah, lame, I know), so I've had the opening lyrics of his stuck in my head for weeks. Helps that it's catchy for an Oberst song too.

3) Billy Talent - 'Surrender'
Billy Talent were a lways a bit of a damp squib for me after I found out that their chosen recording technique was to record a chorus, for example, once through, and then just sample and repeat it whenever it was necessary. To me, that shows a real lack of dedication to a good track; if the artists don't even want to play it a few times, what does that say about the song? But I've never been able to escape the loveliness of the riff in 'Surrender', even if the song is Billy-Talent-polished. The chorus gets stuck in my head, because it has a cold, tender edge to it.

4) The Animals - 'I Believe to My Soul'
I think perhaps The Animals are a little overrated, even by me, as a lot of their songs are covers, and despite Eric Burdon's breathily powerful voice, he often misses notes live, and sometimes even on record. This track is nice, though, some really bitter blues for dark late nights.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Cribs New Interview

Ryan Jarman has been interviewed recently, and it's been written up at length on, and after reading it, I thought it was worth blogging about. The one thing I notice running through the interview is Ryan's determination, but it's almost defensive; some of his word choices really make you feel, as a reader, like there's been some bad shit happening behind the scenes and it's all change, but they're holding on tight to their punk roots to hold themselves steady.

"That’s why we went in the studio with David Fridmann and Steve Albini and just all these people that we’d wanted to work with, you never know what’s going to happen, you never know if it could all end tomorrow or what."

That was the first bit of darkness that I noticed, but I suppose that could just be colloquial fatalism. But then twice, he mentions their health problems, and talks about songs that were recorded during a "dark time" in their recent history. And he's moved back to Wakefield (he moved to London to live with Kate Nash a few years back), so whatever that indicates about his personal life, only he knows. He also mentions an ex whose memory had been "torturing" him for 10 years. Also, of course, he half-heartedly tries to explain away the departure of Johnny Marr, which seems amicable, and yet is never discussed without a hint of sadness. All in all, it's quite a heavy interview.

My (merely conjectural) explanations for this are as follows - 1) he was having a bad day. We all have them, and the Jarmans have a bit of a reputation for malaise. (Gary's very unprofessional Wikipedia page contains the uncited "In the past he has been prone to melancholy.") 2) The interviewer plied Ryan Jarman with barbiturates and then told him his dog had died before launching into the questions. 3) They've had some srsbsns dark times over the last few months, so much so that it's creeping into their public interviews too. This is the least preferable of the three options. (Well, #2 is a bit sinister, but at least it doesn't indicate any real fractiousness.)

Anyway, luckily, the interview picks up with some nice Cribs politics, reinforcing their very clear attitude on sexism (good, good people) and reinstating their desire never to be part of a scene. Ryan also seems quite optimistic about the future, however many black undertones attempt to take the bite out of the happiness.

Click here for the interview in full. It's nice to hear them out there again, and I can't wait to see them live/meet them again. They were always primarily a live band, which is clear in that interview - Ryan is glad they've recorded this new album without too much producer-knob-fiddling, because first and foremost they're a punk trio with punk recording ethics, and punk is best live. Aside from that, they're a band I'd really like to go out for a drink with. I should imagine, in their thick Wakefield accents, they'd be drily hilarious and not even realise it, like in this fantastically hesitant clip. As one of the commenters put it:

"They are the most entertaining people in the world. I would take microwave oven repair classes if they lectured, I would."

Friday, 17 February 2012

of Montreal

A few years back, my friend Nita showed me a band who were a little bit like Belle and Sebastian (in the contrast between their upbeat music and insanely downbeat and bitter lyrics), a little bit like Franz Ferdinand (in the rhythms), and as I found out later, a little bit like Mother Mother (in the tight production and smooth, versatile vocals). All of these are things that made me open to listening to them, using my past loves to strengthen connections, give me the springboard from which I could plunge into the joys of this new band. I downloaded a track, listened a bit, thought it was a bit cool, then left them alone.

of Montreal didn't really reappear until today. Depression got to the point last night where I didn't even want to listen to Bright Eyes, Reuben, Portishead, any of those... I didn't want to write, I didn't want to hear myself talk. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn't sleep. I finally went to bed and woke up unrelieved, and Nita had posted this song onto my Facebook page.

Spiteful Intervention by of Montreal on Grooveshark

It was unforgiving. "Nothing happens for a reason, there's no point even pretending, you know the sad truth as well as I." Unforgiving. Angrily snarled. A cacophony of ambient sounds, drumbeats, vocal harmonies like bad 60s acid spilling over a manuscript. Could music like this really have been released this year? I had been plagued and haunted by "I got the moves like Jagger" and bad Bob Dylan covers, and "wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah". No-one now seems to be saying anything, and bad pop is as bad as ever, converging in my perception into a relentless barrage of banal sexism, boring dancefloor rhythms and almost scientific replicability. Yet I heard that song and it felt like everything inside me had been thrown up and made into music by someone living and breathing right now. So next, I went and listened to this.

We Will Commit Wolf Murder by of Montreal on Grooveshark

He drawls "now I'm considered ugly from every angle - you're the only beauty I don't want to strangle"; the maligned and the marginalised making music, at last bubbling to the surface, bubbling through the dross which dominates my consciousness. Music in the charts is all about loving someone forever, or wanting to have meaningless sex in a club, or eyeing people up with intent, or losing someone and feeling a bit sad, or dancing. The lyrics are generic, that's part of why it's popular. The words mean nothing. If a decorator left paint one layer thick, you'd say it was a bad job. You can identify endlessly with generic lyrics, or not identify at all - the art of vagueness and stereotype is well mastered by the lyricists, who have been told to write a hit, not something with any kind of analytical quality.

Not that "I want to get all fucked up and tell you how I really feel" could be considered poetry, pre-Bukowski. But it's being sung by the person who wrote it, over a cacophony of music he also wrote. It's powerful because from its core, the moment in which that line was born as a feeling, to its release as a record, it carried its base honesty and never let it go.

Who's the pop-queen of the moment? Adele. Yet at any point, anyone could feel they wanted to be with "someone like you"; it gives the listener freedom to input a name, a person, a set of qualities. In fact, all the line says is that there is someone that someone likes. By contrast -

"Lately I'm rotted in the filth of
self-offered agonies that really should
fill me with shame,
but all I have is this manic energy."

That quotation from 'Spiteful Intervention' is very specific. Shame, mania, filth, agony - they're not emotions akin to the platitudes of pop. They're not Kevin Barnes' alone, however. That's why it's so wonderful: it's shared, at any moment in time, by an exclusive class of miserable, angry and self-pitying people, and it taps into a mood of division and exclusion.

I love it today, and I don't care if I'll love it tomorrow. This blog is getting rawer, probably since my partner expressed the fact he doesn't care about my writing, so I know he won't bother with reading it. I hope whoever reads this is enjoying the good music, and to a lesser extent, the commentary. of Montreal's new album, Paralytic Stalks, is definitely worth exploring, in my opinion.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Lee Ranaldo New Release

I have already professed an adoration for Sonic Youth on this blog, probably extensively, and I remember a post which showed particular love for Lee Ranaldo. During the SY years, he was always given a song or two over which to drawl his dark lyrics like a marijuana-softened beat poet. Next month, he's releasing his next solo EP, Between the Times and the Tides, and SY are plugging his next single on their Facebook page. I like it enough to repost it here - it's atmospheric, blending laid-back, possibly too chilled-out rock with the discordant jingling indie guitars that Ranaldo pretty much invented in the 80s. Have a listen.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


I probably don't value lyrics enough on this blog. I love good lyrics - they're poetry with the additional feature of having melody, harmony and rhythm to make them carry extra weight and meaning. I like a lot of instrumental music too, but there's something about a good lyric set to a fitting melody that adds an emotional charge; I don't think lyrics are valued enough generally, in fact.

First, something sombre which I keep returning to.

"I thought that I was full of such hope and light, and such love.
But all my words - I wrote them for you,
and all my songs - I sang them for you.
Photos of me, they all show
a staring man I don't know.

You know that I've been through... all this nonsense with you.
And all my words - I broke them for you,
and all my plans - I snapped them in two.

I could create like it was stealing
I'd love to sing how I was feeling
I had a soul that burned for beauty
but who gives a shit? I must admit,

I've lost it a little bit."

That's the first half of the song. If you've just read those and feel incredulous, I urge you to listen to the song to see how perfect the words are to describe his feeling. Those first lines - "I thought that I was full of such hope and light, and such love" are perfected by their phrasing: he pauses after I, and of, and light, and love - you find yourself thinking of this man, this man the singer thought he was, an optimistic and 'light' man, light so heavy with positive connotations, love the garnish on this wonderful image. But then the 'but' comes. And at first it doesn't make sense. Why does writing his words and singing his songs jeopardise his great character?

The best thing about the song is that he doesn't tell you why. There's just this 'you', this person he broke promises for, abandoned plans for, but we never find out why. I assume total sacrifice, an image barely between the lines, and rejection, but it's left to you to pull your own experience into it, interpret the ambiguities.

My favourite words though are these:

"I could create like it was stealing
I'd love to sing how I was feeling
I had a soul that burned for beauty
but who gives a shit? I must admit,
I've lost it a little bit."

They cut through me every time, partly because the song builds up here, starts to take you into serious emotion with the dynamics and Jamie Lenman's unforgettable voice. This man that the singer describes was someone who could 'create like it was stealing' (great concept anyway), making art so easily, the epitome of youth, who had a 'soul that burned for beauty'. The word 'soul' always means a lot - sometimes it's clichéd - but here I know what he means. That feeling you get when you see something awe-inspiring - when you wake up in a top-floor flat and realise the whole world's out there, when you see someone you love waiting for you before they see you, then catch the recognition in their smile - that's a soul burning for beauty. It desires it, it is damaged and brought to life by it. And this fucker has taken that away from him. The line 'who gives a shit?' makes me hurt every time, because it's so nonchalant, yet so angry. And it doesn't rhyme, so as Lit teachers would say, your attention is drawn to it - he doesn't even care about making the lines flow.

But then it all softens up. "I can't breathe this atmosphere; can't wait till I get out of here." It's over. There's misery, not anger, and then that builds into a climax of perfectly played post-hardcore, ended with 'Cause I have wasted year after year, and smile I may, but it's insincere, my dear', ended with an endearment which is both acerbic and loving. Every breath and yell is conflicted, and the music echoes that and reinforces it perfectly. Good lyrics are like good poetry, but expressive even without analysis, because of the juxtaposition between each word and its backing, or the primal support the music gives to its meaning.

Some of the best lyrics in my music collection are Conor Oberst's, but he's a thirty-year old singer from Omaha, Nebraska who grew up Catholic and then gravitated into mysticism, so the level on which I connect to the sentiments in his tracks is often not the same as with Reuben. I recognise the sentiments and think they're beautifully expressed, but I don't necessarily feel them. (He also goes heavy on the sympathy-inducing stuff, which my British restraint finds slightly uncomfortable.)Still, I smile every time I hear -

"Now every dream gets whittled down just like every fool gets wise;
You will never reap of any seed deprived of sunlight."

and the lyrics to 'Arienette' or 'From a Balance Beam'. In fact, the songs with good lyrics in his back catalogue are hard to choose, because they'd all be revelatory for someone, however navel-gazing they are.

So what makes good lyrics? Well, I think they're less subjective than good music as a whole; when Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys does his tongue-twisting and Dylan comes in with a nice bit of bathos, I think it's hard to deny some mastery even if you don't like it. And when Client sing:

"It's everywhere
In everything
Every day I'm not promising
We don't have to be good
Or play by the rules
'Cos we're the same in the things that we do
And I love it in the morning
And I love it in the evening"

I think it'd be hard to deny those lyrics are pretty horrific. Then again, like with poetry, you have to relate to them. For me, I think what primarily makes a good lyric is its observational astuteness (when you think, "Christ that's a real feeling" or "That highlights something I can understand/have experienced") and originality, at least of expression, and how the words are set to the music. That's why I think I like lo-fi so much, because they haven't tampered with the raw emotion of the voice too much. It's also why I dislike it when people never write their own songs - how can they profess to have made an album if they're singing someone else's sentiments? And often those same groups' music was written by someone trying to pen a hit, so there aren't even feelings there initially. What little is contained in the song gets lost in the mix.

When Adele sang 'Make You Feel My Love' and it got all famous a few months ago, I didn't know what to feel. I felt she did well with it, emotionally - it was a powerful rendition, and that's not something I often say about pop. But she'd missed the lyrics' nuances, or else ignored them. Dylan was an angry man. Adele sings sweetly, but inherent in that title is aggression. The verb 'make' should not be sung so softly in that context; it moves from being interpretation into what appears to be ignorance. He is suggesting he will force himself on this woman, make her love him, whatever you want to get from that - it's about as much a love song as Police's 'Every Breath You Take' is a love song. It illustrates how lyrics given music can take on a new character - and also, I suppose, not be as good standing alone.

Anyway, this has been a very long post, so I'll stop writing now. It's been a long and painful evening, not that this is one of those miserable self-examining emo blogs; this post, apologies for the length if you've got here, has served to distract me from myself.