Thursday, 30 September 2010

2010 Music Chart - September

Just the one new album this month: Flamingo by Brandon Flowers, which proves that the Killers front man has a lot more to offer when he branches out.
  1. I Speak Because I Can by Laura Marling
  2. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
  3. Brothers by The Black Keys
  4. High Violet by The National
  5. This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem
  6. Special Moves by Mogwai
  7. The Betrayed by LostProphets
  8. Hawk by Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
  9. The Winter of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit
  10. Flamingo by Brandon Flowers
  11. Murphy's Heart by Thea Gilmore
  12. The Place We Ran From by Tired Pony
  13. Acolyte by Delphic
  14. The Courage Of Others by Midlake
  15. Close-Up Volume 1: Love Songs by Suzanne Vega
  16. July Flame by Laura Veirs
  17. Further by The Chemical Brothers
  18. Sea Of Cowards by The Dead Weather
  19. Year Of The Black Rainbow by Coheed & Cambria
  20. How To Destroy Angels EP by How To Destroy Angels
  21. Sky At Night by I Am Kloot
  22. The Quickening by Kathryn Williams
  23. Hearts & Minds by Seth Lakeman
  24. Immersion by Pendulum
  25. Handmade Life by Chris Wood
  26. End Times by Eels
  27. When Colours Flow by Ambeson
  28. Crystal Castles (II) by Crystal Castles
  29. When This Was The Future by Lisa O Piu
  30. Fire Like This by Blood Red Shoes
  31. Graceful Bow (EP) by Jason Ward
  32. Rotten Pear by Andrew Vincent
  33. Renegades by Feeder

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir Update (September 2010)

A new song from Thea for all us lucky Angels this month is Carousel Queen, a slow purposeful waltz that Thea describes as 'a combination of enjoying the ride and being nicely worn in. So I guess a song about growing up really'. Lyrically the song is interesting as the metaphor begins and quickly turns into something else: 'the louder you scream, the faster I go', and the sinister nature and usual spikiness is great but it lacks a decent chorus (Thea is too high). Musically it tries a pseudo-roots vibe but constantly feels like a fragment or a Murphy's Heart out-take. We can't hope for the quality of songs such as God's Got Nothing On You and You're The Radio but it would be nice once in a while...

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network Free 5 track EP

The soundtrack to David Fincher's new film The Social Network by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross is out soon. But until then you can get a free 5 track EP featuring music from the soundtrack.

Check it out here.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The 2010 Q Awards have been announced. Here they are in full:

Breakthrough Artist Presented By Red Stripe
Ellie Goulding
Laura Marling
Plan B

Best New Act
Mumford & Sons
The Drums
The xx
Two Door Cinema Club
Wild Beasts

Best Video
Arcade Fire - We Used To Wait
Biffy Clyro - The Captain
Chase & Status - End Credits (ft. Plan B)
Gorillaz - Stylo
Vampire Weekend - Giving Up The Gun

Best Live Act
Green Day
Lady Gaga

Best Album Presented by Ravenswood Wine
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Paul Weller - Wake Up The Nation
Plan B - The Defamation Of Strickland Banks
The National - High Violet

Best Track Presented By Barclaycard Unwind

Biffy Clyro - The Captain
Florence And The Machine - You've Got The Love
Mumford & Sons - The Cave
Owl City - Fireflies
The xx - VCR

Best Female Artist (New for 2010)
Corinne Bailey Rae
Ellie Goulding
Florence And The Machine
Lady Gaga
Laura Marling

Best Male Artist (New for 2010)
Brandon Flowers
Dizzee Rascal
Paolo Nutini
Paul Weller
Plan B

Best Act In The World Today Presented By RSV

Arcade Fire
Green Day
Kings Of Leon

It's not usually like Q Magazine to be behind the times but can anyone tell me how and why Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons are nominated in Breakthrough Artist and Best New Act respectively? They have not just appeared from nowhere. Arcade Fire and The National get my votes for best album in a short list of awards that has Arcade Fire also listed (rightly) in the Best Act In The World category. Laughably so have Kasabian and Kings Of Leon. As always, great work Q and keep up the irony.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The xx win the Mercury Music Prize with debut album

On the quality and depth of music it was a surprise that this year's prize went to The xx and not Mumford & Sons or Laura Marling. That said, I thought it would be Paul Weller's year but I would have not been dismayed if Dizzee Rascal took top spot. But the judges went with a new band and a début album.

The short list was:

Biffy Clyro 'Only Revolutions'
Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'
Corinne Bailey Rae 'The Sea'
Mumford & Sons ‘Sigh No More’
Paul Weller 'Wake Up The Nation'
Wild Beasts 'Two Dancers'
Kit Downes Trio ‘Golden’
Laura Marling 'I Speak Because I Can'
Dizzee Rascal 'Tongue N’ Cheek'
Foals 'Total Life Forever'
I Am Kloot 'Sky At Night'
The xx 'xx'

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Mogwai - Special Moves (CD version) Album Review (2010)

A ‘live’ album is always a tricky thing. Fans have been waiting for Scotland’s Mogwai to release a live recording for years and now it has arrived in the form of Special Moves, the band’s first collection of live performances taken from their US tour in 2009. The issue here is if the band are able to translate the carefully choreographed music not only onto the live stage but into a live package. This is a review of the CD/digital version of the album.

The set list for Special Moves is eleven songs with three over nine minutes. So with space and time limited, the band has picked the chosen few from the entire back catalogue. There are two from début album Mogwai Young Team, one from Come On Die Young, two from Rock Action, two from Happy Songs for Happy People, two from Mr Beast and two from The Hawk Is Howling. So no room for the mighty Auto Rock, no room for the wonderful Kids Will Be Skeletons, no Stanley Kubrick or Ratts Of The Capital and no Kings Meadow. Given the quality of Mogwai’s last three albums, this could have been a four hour 3 CD box set but credit is due for making this an aural account of three gigs across three consecutive gigs in Brooklyn and not a mash-up of six or seven to create a huge lumbering behemoth. Likewise it is not just stacked with ‘recent’ songs. Yes, Mogwai’s last two albums have been their best but many of their most arresting songs were conceived earlier. So the noticeably absent New Paths To Helicon Part I, Batcat and Scotland’s Shame are included as part of Burning, the eight track film DVD included with the physical album.

Special Moves opens with the delicate piano intro of I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead and slowly builds to a multi-layered swathe of guitars, more entwined than the original and swamping the piano in a buzzing electronic swarm. The precise arrangement is now replaced with a free-flowing louder liberated and feedback-infused sound. The majestic Friend Of The Night is given a kinder treatment, as the piano is allowed to breathe within the murky sea of crashing cymbals and guitars. Without this, the song’s important central core would be lost. The sound mix is perfect. Hunted By A Freak is excellently delivered, complete with vocoder vocals that breathe and flow through the spine of the song.

At nearly twelve minutes, Mogwai Fear Satan is the longest song on Special Moves. The two minute introduction shimmers with subtle ambience before drums kick in and the guitars build for what is the high point of the first half of the album. At three minutes the sound is complete and the arrangement swirls like an open sea before a storm. Into minute five and the sound steadies and calms, drifting quietly away. Those who know the song are waiting for it to return and as expected, it does, after what seems like an eternity, for a final three minute blast of noise. The guitars squeal and strain through the relentless pounding drums then gradually subside. An exhilarating performance.
Cody, the only song in the set with ‘proper’ vocals (a rarity in the Mogwai repertoire) works to a point as the words add context to the sad guitar arrangement. But it’s not a great rendition and would benefit from a smoother softer production. You Don’t Know Jesus follows the more typical Mogwai formula: start quietly and deliberately then build over two minutes into a crescendo of guitars, a central riff piercing the surrounding chaotic soundscape. The song predictably slows and quietens again only to return for a second defiant last stand. It is almost the ‘complete’ Mogwai song and is executed expertly within the now familiar ‘live’ style. And this brings the album to the only song that doesn’t work when the creative forces of the stage invade the original intention of a song. I Know You Are But What Am I? is over a minute shorter than the studio version and is given a space-aged feedback guitar treatment during the ordinarily melodic sections. And the whole song feels uneasy and rushed.

Thankfully this is not the signs of wheels coming off and the whole thing descending into and exercise in self-indulgence as I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School is near-perfection. With a louder introduction leading to the menacing build-up, this is an example of focus and control throughout the eight minutes as one of the best tracks from The Hawk Is Howling becomes a standout song on Special Moves. Every note and arrangement is given an extra burst of energy, an extra notch on the volume control. After the second build-up and with just over a minute to go when the explosive (pun intended) ending arrives, the barrage of noise is spectacular.

The quality continues into the final three songs. 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong, an early favourite and second song to use vocoder vocals, quickly becomes the most mellow chilled-out song on the album. This is Mogwai at their most pleasant and their most pleasing, even if things do start to break up towards the end. The second ‘epic’ Like Herod is another huge master class of noise control; the song is soft and delicate one minute and explosively unpredictable the next as it fuses stabbing guitars and feedback. This is the big brother of Mogwai Fear Satan, taking a similar path from loud into spine-tingling ambience only to return suddenly, more ferocious than before. The final three minutes is a torrential downpour of sound. Excellent. Mogwai end Special Moves with Glasgow Megasnake which is an odd choice that leads to a relentless charge to the finish instead of a subtle sign-off. That said, it is a perfect execution.

Special Moves is a fantastic snapshot of a band performing a wide ranging collection of songs with precision and skill. Mogwai’s music is intricate and complex and the band show this through their live performances of songs that build to rousing finales or burst into explosive torrents of guitars and drums. There is delicacy and poise within the layers of sound. Mogwai are not the most vocal of bands (as in their music) when performing live and there is very little atmosphere between the songs - a simple introduction to namedrop Glasgow and a few thanks to the (mostly) respectful crowd. But no signoff or extended applause which is a shame. You don’t always feel like you are part of the experience which is a point of a live album. This is minor discretion as the music more than makes up for it. Special Moves is an excellent addition to the Mogwai catalogue.

- CS

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Thea Gilmore - Murphy’s Heart Album Review (2010)

Thea Gilmore has been making music for twelve years in a career that now includes eleven albums. Thea is very much an album maker, having only released nine singles in the same time, and chooses to promote her music through gigs, festivals and radio performances rather than embracing the usual tedious channels as is the nature of popular culture. In 2009 Thea embarked on an ambitious, although not entirely original, venture to further promote and fund her art, entitled Angels In The Abattoir. This is designed to provide fans, in exchange for a yearly subscription, direct and exclusive access to new music (mostly low-key simply produced and more intimate recordings), signed lyric sheets, demos, videos, Q&A etc. But within all this have been two new commercially released albums: last year’s seasonally themed Strange Communion (which works as an alternative leftfield Christmas album) and now Murphy’s Heart.

The first thing to note about Murphy’s Heart is the musicianship involved. Unlike recent albums, Thea has includes thirteen other ‘band members’ including, of course, Thea’s partner and stalwart producer/player Nigel Stonier, playing a plethora of instruments - including bizarrely table tops and flight cases, as is the folk tradition. The effect is a much bigger pop-folk sound giving the music a lighter easier feel. Not that Thea doesn’t include the occasional moody waltz - something she does so well - but Murphy’s Heart veers away from this ‘safe’ territory to take risks, most of which pay off. Importantly the album contains two of the best songs Thea has made. Early on is the gorgeous God’s Got Nothing On You, re-exploring a favourite theme of religion but masking a deep dark secret and juxtaposing the obvious with images of power, corruption and fame. Couple this with a beautiful swirling arrangement and a superb vocal chorus and you have an instant slice of perfection. The second obvious standout song is the overtly poppy commercially friendly You’re The Radio - a blatant attempt to create a big hit with all the boxes ticked. A brilliant guitar-led arrangement around Thea’s bittersweet delivery: ‘I’m the heart and you’re the soul, I’m the part and you’re the whole, I am stronger than you think, the spike that turned up in your drink’ is clever and edgy. The song even gets a cliché pop fade.

But around these obvious moments are other more subtle gems of genius. Love’s The Greatest Instrument Of Rage is right on the button and has distinct echoes of teenage rebel Thea banging out her pain and frustrations. Proof that there is an old fighting political spirit inside the new: ‘Oh I don’t know its name baby but it keeps me up at night’ and the wonderfully direct: ‘It’s taken 30 years, and a little pill to learn…’. Opener This Town, kicking off the album with the line ‘well hello my little train wreck’ before laying on the grim reaper treatment, is a warning sign for getting trapped not only physically but also mentally: ‘and soon you’ll be a memory of a shadow of a lie…’. This is more darkness within the light. The flip side of these is a different approach entirely. Automatic Blue and How The Love Gets In are both gorgeous ballads, the latter providing a lift in what turns out to be a weak ending to an otherwise strong album (with the exception of the dark frantic brilliance of Not Alone). There are only a few moments of unsteadiness: the overtly ridiculous cabaret of Jazz Hands and the uncharacteristic uncomfortably sultry Teach Me To Be Bad which suffers from a drawn-out nursery rhyme chorus and kitchen-sink production. With risk comes reward but also the inevitable misgiving.

Motherhood and companionship has certainly changed Thea. One would expect nothing else. Gloomy naysayer and wide-eyed dreamer has been replaced with grounded-realist and a calmer more measured approach. She is certainly loving where she is and those around her and has new inspiration to take care of and inject into her music. Those expecting another Avalanche or a Burning Dorothy (or ideally a hybrid of the two) will be disappointed but Thea’s music can still pack a punch, and Murphy’s Heart continues to mix sharp lyrics with cutting arrangements to keep things unique and characteristic, as Thea continues to tackle serious themes, weave important metaphors and make good music.
-- CS