Thursday, 31 December 2009

Songs of 2009

Behold! The top 50 songs of the year, taken from albums featuring on Underwurld Music, in order of greatness.
  1. Daniel - Bat For Lashes
  2. Little Lion Man - Mumford & Sons
  3. Cornerstone - Arctic Monkeys
  4. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  5. Death - White Lies
  6. Treat Me Like Your Mother - The Dead Weather
  7. Amongst The Waves - Pearl Jam
  8. United States of Eurasia - Muse
  9. Sugarcoat - Jason Ward
  10. Our Most Brilliant Friends - Slow Club
  11. New Fang - Them Crooked Vultures
  12. Hysteric - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  13. Weighty Ghost - Wintersleep
  14. Keep It All - Lisa Hannigan
  15. Meddle - Little Boots
  16. I Gotchoo - Bowling For Soup
  17. You Are The Blood - Sufjan Stevens
  18. Turn It Off - Paramore
  19. Lua - Conor Oberst & Gillian Welch
  20. Know Your Enemy - Green Day
  21. I Don’t Know - Lisa Hannigan
  22. The Depression Suite - The Tragically Hip
  23. The Dark House - Lunic
  24. It’ll Be Dark - Grassmarket
  25. I Cut Like a Buffalo - The Dead Weather
  26. Sweet Heart Of The Rodeo - Dawn Landes
  27. The Lou Reed Song - David Cronenburg’s Wife
  28. Scream - Chris Cornell & Timbaland
  29. Love Is A First - The Tragically Hip
  30. Thea Gilmore’s Midwinter Toast - Thea Gilmore
  31. Unfinished Business - White Lies
  32. For What It’s Worth - Placebo
  33. Gunman - Them Crooked Vultures
  34. Atman - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
  35. Unthought Known - Pearl Jam
  36. MK Ultra - Muse
  37. Wait For Me - Moby
  38. A Looking In View - Alice In Chains
  39. Country Day - The Tragically Hip
  40. We’re From America - Marilyn Manson
  41. Idle Blood - Katatonia
  42. Happiness - Jonsi & Alex
  43. Oh My God - Ida Maria
  44. Already Done - Blind Boris
  45. Your Decision - Alice In Chains
  46. London Girl - The Invisible
  47. Ocean And A Rock - Lisa Hannigan
  48. Remedy - Little Boots
  49. Underdog - Kasabian
  50. VCR - The XX

2009 Music Chart - December

A couple of new albums this month but not enough to get to the round 50. I blame some slacking in the last few months (me not the music!). So good albums from The XX and The Invisible.

So Them Crooked Vultures and The Dead Weather hold the top 2 spots. Two albums from two 'supergroups'. And congratulations to Jet for holding the wooden spoon since the day the album was released.
  1. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
  2. Horehound - The Dead Weather
  3. Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons
  4. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
  5. To Lose My Life - White Lies
  6. Welcome To The Night Sky - Wintersleep
  7. Backspacer - Pearl Jam
  8. 11:11 - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
  9. The Resistance - Muse
  10. Wait For Me - Moby
  11. We Are The Same - The Tragically Hip
  12. Black Gives Way To Blue - Alice In Chains
  13. Yeah So - Slow Club
  14. Strange Communion - Thea Gilmore
  15. Almighty Row - Jason Ward
  16. Sorry For Partyin' - Bowling For Soup
  17. Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn Landes
  18. Port City - Grassmarket
  19. Scream - Chris Cornell
  20. Humbug - Arctic Monkeys
  21. Sea Sew - Lisa Hannigan
  22. XX - The XX
  23. Blind Boris - Blind Boris
  24. Battle For The Sun - Placebo
  25. Brand New Eyes - Paramore
  26. Hands - Little Boots
  27. Crazy Love - Michael Bublé
  28. Dark Was The Night - Various
  29. Alpinisms - The School Of Seven Bells
  30. It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  31. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
  32. The Invisible - The Invisible
  33. The High End Of Low - Marilyn Manson
  34. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
  35. Fork In The Road - Neil Young
  36. Not Without A Fight - New Found Glory
  37. Night Is The New Day - Katatonia
  38. Hypnagogues - David Cronenburg's Wife
  39. Riceboy Sleeps - Jónsi and Alex
  40. Fortress 'Round My Heart - Ida Maria
  41. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  42. We're All In This Together - Gabby Young And Other Animals
  43. A Fool In Love - Florence Rawlings
  44. Out Of Ashes - Dead By Sunrise
  45. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian
  46. Lovethief - Lunic
  47. Hey Everyone - Dananananaykroyd
  48. The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
  49. Rockwell - Anni Rossi
  50. Shaka Rock - Jet

Monday, 28 December 2009

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

Another Christmas song this month (well it is December!) called St. Wenceslas, or possibly Dancing With St. Wenceslas - Thea hasn't decided yet.

The song is a reflective quiet acoustic number which would have fitted into Strange Communion alongside the more serious songs. "Everybody wants to burn their heart out in the back of a car. Everybody wants to punch the stars out. I just want to punch too far...", sings Thea before the glorious falsetto chorus.

This is one of the best songs from Thea this year and I'm not sure why it wasn't on Strange Communion. SC has been a real injection of creativity. Long may it continue.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Vic Chesnutt RIP

So sad to hear about the death of Vic Chesnutt. The Jacksonville born singer became an important part of the Athens, Georgia music scene and a huge inspiration for Michael Stipe who produced Vic's first two solo albums.

I must admit I was never a huge Vic Chesnutt fan. But I discovered him through my love of REM and quickly got the albums About To Choke and Is The Actor Happy? and I was instantly hooked by Vic's unique fragile delivery, beautiful and dark songwriting and his strength of character. Later it was Silver Lake and the wonderful Ghetto Bells.

People talk all the time about 'facing adversity' but after a car crash at 18 left him wheelchair bound, just as his career was starting, he fought on. An amazing man. Sadly an overdose left him in a coma from which he did not wake.

Kristin Hersh is leading the tributes. Read her moving reaction here.

RIP Vic.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Thea Gilmore - Strange Communion Album Review (2009)

The dreaded Christmas album. Always risky. Never cool. Even the best barely get away with it once or never try it at all. But there is much to admire for musicians who celebrate the Christmas season, however flimsily veiled it may be as a collection of ‘winter’ songs or just a bit of ironic fun. There is a third option, however. Religion is a tricky subject but not when it’s Christmas; usually an excuse for blatant faith-driven rock and spiritual crooning. It’s accepted. And it’s even better with a slightly sceptical slant; questioning not embracing, pointing a finger at revelry with excess and without thought. There is even more to admire when someone puts pen to paper, gathers inspiration, and actually makes some new Christmas music. The genre is so saturated with cover versions that most simply recycle, very rarely creating anything new and interesting. Not so here. Seven out of the ten songs are original compositions.

Strange Communion is a well-judged juxtaposition of old and new, traditional and modern. There is light and dark (as you would expect from a Thea Gilmore album there is a little more darkness than light), serious when it needs to be and soaked in irony when the mood changes. Throughout the ten song duration, Gilmore asks more questions than gives us answers which always adds to the beguiling and compelling nature of her music. Certainly Strange Communion grabs your attention from the start. Sol Invictus (meaning ‘unconquered sun’ and referring to the Roman God whose festival is tied to the date of December 25th) is a cappella choral poetry aided superbly by the Sense of Sound Choir delivering mystical vocals. It is an atmospheric, beautiful and subdued start.

Thea Gilmore's Midwinter Toast is several songs in one. Exquisite song writing and delicate guitars centred around the lyrics: "It's been a crazy year, But through all the damage done, I have turned and I have learned, To make next year a better one". Gilmore could be speaking personally, metaphorically or about the world in general. After a poignant instrumental break, she goes on to say: "This won't be hearts and flowers, More like tears and sweat and blood. And I could bend these words for hours, Til they sound the way they should, And some will lose and some will win, That's the way it's always been…". This has overtones of conflict and injustice on a massive scale, a very clever protest song about politicians misleading the country and creating war where it doesn’t exist. Jona Lewie would be so proud. When joined by the strings, the song becomes a gorgeous airy arrangement filled with harmonies.

That’ll Be Christmas has all the makings of a great Christmas song. Name-dropping the aforementioned Jona Lewie in the first line, this is a light-hearted tale of spending time with the family, meeting up in the pub, predictable telly and sad memories. “So I’ll join the others in the bar by ten, Peace and Goodwill to men, Me missing you again…” is a great up then down chorus. Gilmore shows her skill at changing the mood in a way only Mark Everett can match: “Hot wine and a Christmas tree, The Sound Of Music and family, Faith hope and gluttony” is another killer line, summing up the uncomfortable hypocrisy of it all. Musically it fuses obvious clichés into a new originality.

The best song writing on the album arrives with Drunken Angel, open honest and heartfelt, it never hides beneath metaphor and subterfuge. This is another end-of-year song, reflective and brimming with nostalgia; and the culmination of all things alcoholic - a constant running theme across the album in which toasts are offered, glasses are raised and wine and whisky flows. The final line: “Baby sometimes the beauty in this world comes from just not knowing, feeling instead” proves yet again that Gilmore is a superb lyricist. This is quickly followed by the best of the two covers: The St Stephens Day Murders, written by Elvis Costello and featuring the vocal talents of Mark Radcliffe, is an immediate injection of energy from the piercing strings, through to the Shane MacGowen delivery. It feels like an attempt to revisit the superb Fairytale Of New York and works thanks to Radcliffe’s enthusiasm, even if his voice is not the best. Completing a strong trio, December In New York is stern, serious and deliberate. The cold piano and icicle strings compliment Gilmore’s voice perfectly. This would not be out of place on Burning Dorothy.

This solid core of songs is complimented by some interesting interludes. Cold Coming is dark, with an underlying brooding menace. This is the unofficial title track. The combination of cello, violin and viola is superb. The Yoko Ono cover Listen, The Snow Is Falling is faithful to the original with thin breathy vocals, and a brave key at times for Gilmore’s lower voice. The problem is the laboured arrangement. Likewise Book of Christmas is an odd choice; a reading from Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice that would work much better as a simple naked monologue. Instead there is a strange musical accompaniment that gives the whole piece a quirky tongue-in-cheek slant. This takes away from what is an otherwise clever, if cynical, take on the subject. The final song Old December closes the album as subtly as it began, simple guitars revealing a vocal melody and open spaces for instrumentation including the much underused recorder.

Strange Communion is not going to shake up the world of Christmas music. And it was never going to be another Avalanche. But Thea Gilmore could have opted for the easy way. Root out some obscure and much neglected Christmas songs, include a few twists on some modern day classics and wrap the whole thing up in a folky pop sound. A kind of Loft Music for Christmas. The fact that this hasn’t happened is praise enough. It is clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into making Strange Communion something unique and personal and not just a soulless collection of reworked covers. Great input as always from Nigel Stonier and a host of other talented musicians ensure that this is another album worthy of the name Thea Gilmore.

Merry Christmas.
-- CS

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BBC Sound of 2010 Longlist

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I haven't heard of a single artist on the BBC 'Sound of' longlist. That's probably not good. I will endeavour to find out more about them.

See the list here.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Rage Against The Machine campaign for Christmas No. 1?

Has it come to this? Seriously?

A RATM Facebook group is urging fans to buy the band's Killing In The Name on the day the X-Factor winner's single is available.

Honest attempt by fans to bedunk the Cowell corporate machine? Or just trying to get a radio-unfriendly song to number one for Christmas?

It seems like the band are not behind this but they will profit from download sales. RATM certainly wouldn't agree with this fight fire with fire approach.

Read all about it on the NME website.