Thursday, 30 July 2009

Music Chart 2009 - July

Four brilliant albums this month to spice up the year: The Tragically Hip (one of my all time favourite bands back with a second try with producer Bob Rock, The Dead Weather (Jack White's and Alison Mosshart's new band), Moby (back with a downbeat, subtle and dark new album) and Slow Club (excellent stuff from the Sheffield duo) and one disappointment: the new collaboration from Jónsi Birgisson from Sigur Rós, Riceboy Sleeps.
  1. Horehound - The Dead Weather
  2. To Lose My Life - White Lies
  3. Wait For Me - Moby
  4. Yeah So - Slow Club
  5. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
  6. We Are The Same - The Tragically Hip
  7. Scream - Chris Cornell
  8. Battle For The Sun - Placebo
  9. Hands - Little Boots
  10. Dark Was The Night - Various
  11. Alpinisms - The School Of Seven Bells
  12. Welcome To The Night Sky - Wintersleep
  13. Sea Sew - Lisa Hannigan
  14. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
  15. The High End Of Low - Marilyn Manson
  16. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
  17. Fork In The Road - Neil Young
  18. Not Without A Fight - New Found Glory
  19. Riceboy Sleeps - Jónsi and Alex
  20. Fortress 'Round My Heart - Ida Maria
  21. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  22. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian
  23. Lovethief - Lunic
  24. Hey Everyone - Dananananaykroyd
  25. The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
  26. Rockwell - Anni Rossi

Monday, 27 July 2009

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir Update (July 2009)

So last week I signed up to Angels In The Abattoir, the new music project from Thea Gilmore. I wait in anticipation for my hand-written lyrics of God Knows from Avalanche but I have it on good authority that writer’s cramp is a serious and possible risk so I will wait. Patiently. Patience is, after all, a virtue.

This month, I got an email. It was titled: I Am Breaking My Promise. This is my first email after signing up and immediately my heart sank. It could not have fallen at the first hurdle? Surely not…

But I needn’t have worried. Of course it was a little joke, a jape, a ruse, if you will. In Thea’s own words: I am not sending you a new unreleased track. I am sending you two!!!

On hearing this glorious news I actually got up out of my office chair and did ‘the happy dance’ (I’ll spare you the details). Two songs!!! Two songs never heard before. I resisted the temptation to download and waited until I got home so I could listen uninterrupted and in the comfort of my own cerebral contentment.

Anyway, here are my reviews:

Think Of Me

“I played it live, as you hear it, at Orchard, a small studio just down the road from where I live. Hearing it back I figured there was no need whatsoever for adornment, production, whatever. The story is told, the song is what it is. Hope you like it.”

The live performance of Think Of Me is truly wonderful. A great vocal with such a simple arrangement of guitar and unhinged sadness.

Oh Come On

“Anyone ever heard Steve Earle's "Christmas In Washington" where he tries to invoke the ghosts of Woody Guthrie and Joe Hill, and wonders how those folk singers and activists would react to the icy apathy of today’s political manoeuvres? Well I was watching Question Time and wondering the very same thing. And I reached for the guitar and this song appeared. It kind of arrived almost in the style of the old talking blues style, and I saw no reason to fight it.”

This is much more upbeat. Thea writes songs in two distinct styles and this definitely fits into the slightly kooky, ballsy, pseudo-country confrontational piece with political overtones. It’s not quite in the same league as say Have You Heard or When I Get Back To Shore but it is more than just a bit of throw away fun.

Good stuff. Can't wait for next month.

More here.

Underwurld on

I' :)

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Jónsi and Alex - Riceboy Sleeps Album Review (2009)

Jónsi and Alex, AKA Jónsi Birgisson from Sigur Rós and boyfriend Alex Somers, have taken the ethereal other-worldly approach of Sigur Rós and turned it into the mainly instrumental string-overdose Riceboy Sleeps, an hour-long demonstration of control, elegance and ambience. Fans of Sigur Rós may expect something more than lots of empty spaces, swathes of orchestral arrangements, and a few flashes of Jónsi’s trademark vocals. But that is what they get.

Happiness, the opening song, first appeared on the wonderful compilation Dark Was The Night, introducing the world to the duo. It is nine minutes of subtlety and softness which takes nearly half the time for the strings to get into full-flow. Within this is grinding machinery in slow motion and the distant sounds of a busy world, ending in delicate piano.

The rest of Riceboy Sleeps unfolds in the same way, with a few surprises. Boy 1904, one of only two songs under seven minutes, is filled with gorgeous choral vocals, slowly disintegrating into faded voices and the crackles of dying fire. The eight minutes of Howl is layers of astonishing strings and animal noises, like a modern reworking of Jean Michel Jarre’s Zoolook. Before this Daníell In The Sea is more choir with added breathless steam engine. Atlas Song is the closest we get to Jónsi’s vocals after a build-up of piano and more crackling electronics.

There are no great surprises elsewhere. Indian Summer and the short All The Big Trees fall foul of sounding like the orchestra tuning up before a show. At least the former shows a flash of vocals for the last three minutes. Stokkseyri is wonderful looped piano interrupted by annoying clicks finally resorting to the comfortable strings to finish. This lack of new ideas is a constant distraction.

Riceboy Sleeps in a interesting project. It is the backing track and antidote to a frantic world. It is pure escapism. But there is a limit to what you can do with an approach which relies too much on doing a lot with very little. At times the album is underwhelmingly majestic, but for the most part this just fills the time between the more complete works of Sigur Rós.
-- CS

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Lisa Hannigan - Mercury Music Prize 2009 Nomination Response

Lisa Hannigan is probably best known for her association with fellow Irish musician Damien Rice, but her debut solo album Sea Sew has proved that she has what it takes to make it on her own. The album is by no means perfect but Hannigan’s ambition and determination shines through with a number of brilliant songs. Opener Ocean And A Rock, the dark Keep It All and the best song I Don’t Know lead the way with the more aggressive Venn Diagram completing the highlights. The rest of the album drifts along, either light and whimsical or flat and listless, leaving you begging for more brilliance at every turn.

Hannigan has learned much from the seven years working with Rice. The same dark thread runs through her work, lifted by a lighter edge - in many ways like Laura Marling. Vyvienne Long and Tom Osander followed Hannigan in her solo pursuits with the talent not ending there. Cathy Davey provides excellent backing vocals on Sea Sew which proves that gathering together proficient musicians is as important as writing good songs.

2009 has been a great year (so far) for female artists. La Roux, Florence And The Machine, Bat For Lashes and Speech Debelle all feature on the shortlist. Most noticeable in her absence is Little Boots and the lack of Slow Club is a real surprise (Rebecca Taylor is magnificent on Yeah So). Does Lisa Hannigan join this elite group? Against the women who are nominated this year, the answer is a resounding yes. Most would place her higher than Florence and La Roux with only Natasha Khan the real outstanding act of the group. Even against Kasabian and The Horrors, it is a strong presence from the fairer sex.

The inclusion of Hannigan on the Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize 2009 shortlist is a bit of a surprise, but (as obvious as it sounds) not entirely unexpected. The label of ‘token folky’ is horribly patronising, not to mention incorrect. Most of Sea Sew is borderline folk and definitely not in the traditional sense. With the rise of such artists as Kate Rusby, Seth Lakeman and Eliza Carthy pushing the boundaries, Sea Sew is nothing more than a singer/songwriter acoustic album with gorgeous string arrangements and earthy vocals. It is no more ‘folk’ than Regina Spektor or Conor Oberst.

So does Sea Sew stand a chance of scooping the Mercury this year? It is in the top five at least. The smart money is on Glasvegas, Bat For Lashes or Friendly Fires for talent but who knows? It is such a weird shortlist this year that anything could happen. And you never know, in a final twist, the token ‘folky’, with her insatiable charm and mild manner, could steal it…

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Moby - Wait For Me Album Review (2009)

Moby follows up the ambitious electronic dance-floor inspired concept album Last Night with a complete different animal. Recorded in a small studio, Wait For Me is much more intimate, full of tiny epics, soaring orchestral arrangements by miniature orchestras (the mix is by Ken Thomas who works with Sigur Rós) and a clearly personal touch. The album has been promoted with a downbeat instrumental and ‘hand drawn’ video directed by David Lynch, an inspiration for the project.

The big problem with Last Night is ambition makes way for detachment. An attempt to create a soulful celebration of dance music created a lonely journey through the empty clubs and bars in search for fulfilment. The listener, like the central character of the album, finds only desperation and frustration, an intended conclusion perhaps but not expected, based on the promise of a great night out. A vibrant scene is vehemently deconstructed in fifteen tracks.

But Moby has always been an outcast and his music reflects this constant disassociation with the real world. This ideology is at its most striking with the glorious Hotel, blatantly dismissed by Pitchfork (the review predictably and inanely uses the word ’bald’ in the first line - yeah we know) and many other music magazines as vacuous attention seeking and an attempt to revisit Play and 18, arguably Moby’s most critically acclaimed albums. But even though Wait For Me feels more like going over old ground, it is in a good way.

The core of Wait For Me is four solid songs: the deep south crooning and alien shimmer of Walk With Me featuring Leela James on vocals, upbeat electro-guitar pop Mistake (the only time Moby sings), and the gorgeous Jltf (preceded oddly by the shorter Jltf-1) with vocals by Melody Zimmer. Last is the title track, all piano loop, sad strings and the excellent Kelli Scarr doing a passable impression of Sinéad O’Connor on Massive Attack’s 100th Window. The contributions from ’guest’ vocalists is superb throughout with only the subtle arrangements of Hope Is Gone spoiled by the overpowering Hilary Gardner.

Within this is a wealth of wonderful instrumentals, from the Mogwai-esque Shot In The Back Of The Head (video by the aforementioned David Lynch) to the piano and string duel of closer Isolate. Only the tiny Stock Radio is a pointless minute of buzzing nothingness. A Seated Night is part choir, part church organ, and opener Division is a great intro of simple strings. Slow Light is also impressive; building after a steady start and then filling out to form part of a dreamy conclusion.

Wait For Me proves that Moby still has much to offer. Look past the man and you will find a soul still trying things, old and new. The album is a bit of both, doing what has worked before just as well, and doing what usually doesn’t much better. The low-fi approach contradicts the huge aspirations which threatens to drag down the atmosphere but Wait For Me is not just a diluted Play. It is exactly what critics of Moby least expected - a collection of songs free of pretension, arrogant self-promotion and introversion. A beautiful example of an expert at work.

The 2009 Mercury Prize shortlist

The 2009 Mercury Prize shortlist has been announced. And it's a shocker.

La Roux - La Roux
Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Florence And The Machine - Lungs
Friendly Fires
Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
Glasvegas - Glasvegas
The Horrors - Primary Colours
Lisa Hannigan - Sea Sew
The Invisible
Led Bib - Sensible Shoes
Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Twice Born Men
Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy

Given the reviews of Lungs, I am surprised to see Florence And The Machine who are tipped to win this year, on the shortlist. Before the it was announced, and in a BBC 6music interview, Kasabian proved their aggogance over charm yet again by tipping themselves and saying "What else is there?". Given the quality and consistency of West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum just about anything else is worth a shout. In particular I would have placed Little Boots, White Lies and Doves who were all left out this year. And Lisa Hannigan's Sea Sew is a gorgous piece of work but horribly inconsistent.

The only saveing grace for Mercury is Bat For Lashes and Glasvegas. Both albums are brimming with quality and effort.

It is a shocking list.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Muse 'reveal' new song...

Muse, everyone's favourite Radiohead/Queen hybrid space-aged prog-rock pioneers, has launched a new gimmick to give fans an exclusive preview of a new song from new album The Resistance.

Access a new microsite for United States Of Eurasia for more information. From what I can tell, fans have to retrieve USB memory sticks from 'agents' in cities around the world, finding clues and solving puzzles to unlock parts of an mp3. So far, sticks have been found in Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Dubai and Tokyo leaving only the Hong Kong part to be found.

It is gloriously mad idea and it seems to have fans talking on the forums.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Dead Weather - Horehound Album Review (2009)

Jack White has many fingers in many pies but you know that when he forms a new band the results will be outstanding. Leaving The White Stripes and The Raconteurs behind for now, White teams up with The Kills Alison Mosshart, guitarist Dean Fertita from Queens Of The Stone Age and Raconteurs teamster Jack Lawrence to form The Dead Weather. The band’s debut album is Horehound and is as expected a Stripes-esque dirty blues guitar record with added sultry overtones from the wonderful Mosshart.

For the most part Horehound is like PJ Harvey fronting The Black Keys. Kicking off in style with the stuttering fragile blues of 60 Feet Tall, Mosshart is sounding superb, as is the blistering guitar solo. Hang You From The Heavens is another great Fertita/Mosshart collaboration. The only track on the album exclusively provided by White is the intense organ grind of I Cut Like A Buffalo complete with Nick Cave arrangement and weird edges.

So Far From Your Weapon builds from vocal interplay to crashing drums. Again Mosshart is on brilliant form, down and dirty and delivering a powerful chorus. Treat Me Like Your Mother is familiar Stripes territory with added guitars and electronica and everyone playing their part - astonishing guitar work but the tin-pot drums could use a finer mix. Mosshart is joined by White for vocals and the last minute descends into RATM. The duel vocals continue with Rocking Horse with an old west horror-movie groove leading from one horse to another in the form of Dylan’s New Pony, and more great backing vocals.

The huge electronics and distortion of Bone House leads into the bass-driven dub instrumental 3 Birds. Veering off into Spanish guitars briefly, the song steers a steady course before the big finale. No Hassle Night is deep and dark, if a little dull but the closer Will There Be Enough Water? is truly compelling; menacing and brooding, all atmospheric guitars.

Horehound, and the formation of The Dead Weather is further proof that Jack White is a driving force. Mosshart has never sounded better - she really needs to get back to Jamie Hince and put this much energy and contribution into the next Kills record. White and Fertita provide excellent guitar work, produced but raw and edgy, like the vocals throughout. And Lawrence is a magnificent bassist, ever-present but never over-present. He and White deliver some neat drums to complete the ensemble. But it is Fertita who shines with the addition of piano and synths - changing the mood constantly.

The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather? Who cares, as long as Jack White is making music and getting this much out of his fellow musicians.

-- CS (for TMM)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

New Tragicaly Hip album

The Tragically Hip has released a new album, the second with producer Bob Rock. After the musical sidestep World Container this is a similar approach, going from a soft sublime rework of one of the most distinctive bands, to finally inject the edginess that we all know and love (well, some of us at least).

Like other great Hip albums, this takes a few listens. The great In Violet Light unfolds in the same way and the genius is never immediate. But the band has never sounded better musically. Ok at times it veers into cheesy 70's soft rock with guitar solos and strings but We Are The Same is packed with ideas and directions. The epic Depression Suite is three great songs in one and forms a nine minute odyssey at the centre.

This album has fans divided again. Ironically titled and written (largely) at the last minute, this is less a reaction and more a self-realisation of a band's position in the musical world.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Jim Bob

Ever wondered what Jim Bob from Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine is doing these days? Probably not if you are a fan and continued to follow his career...but anyway, he is still making music and you can get his new (rather good) single Our Heroes from his website.

Thanks to Andrew Collins for this...

Friday, 3 July 2009

Music Chart 2009 - June

A great new album from Placebo to join the chart as well as the very disappointing third offering from Kasabian. I finally got the new Little Boots which is marvelous. I have been getting more into the Wintersleep album too...
  1. To Lose My Life - White Lies
  2. Hands - Little Boots
  3. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
  4. Scream - Chris Cornell
  5. Battle For The Sun - Placebo
  6. Dark Was The Night - Various
  7. Alpinisms - The School Of Seven Bells
  8. Welcome To The Night Sky - Wintersleep
  9. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
  10. The High End Of Low - Marilyn Manson
  11. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
  12. Fork In The Road - Neil Young
  13. Not Without A Fight - New Found Glory
  14. Fortress 'Round My Heart - Ida Maria
  15. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  16. Sea Sew - Lisa Hannigan
  17. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian
  18. Lovethief - Lunic
  19. Hey Everyone - Dananananaykroyd
  20. The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
  21. Rockwell - Anni Rossi