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.