Tuesday, 30 November 2010

2010 Music Chart - November

Only one release in November but it's a beauty...in every sense of the word. Kate Rusby's Make The Light - a new album of all original compositions. It is a definite contender for album of the year and straight into the top five. Also added Infinite Arms by Band of Horses - an album that came out earlier in the year but I've only just caught up with. And it's a bit special too.
  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. Make The Light by Kate Rusby
  6. This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem
  7. Special Moves by Mogwai
  8. Hawk by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
  9. The Winter of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit
  10. Infinite Arms by Band Of Horses
  11. Flamingo by Brandon Flowers
  12. Murphy's Heart by Thea Gilmore
  13. The Place We Ran From by Tired Pony
  14. The Betrayed by Lostprophets
  15. Acolyte by Delphic
  16. The Courage Of Others by Midlake
  17. Close-Up Volume 1: Love Songs by Suzanne Vega
  18. Close-Up Volume 2: People & Places by Suzanne Vega
  19. July Flame by Laura Veirs
  20. Further by The Chemical Brothers
  21. Sea Of Cowards by The Dead Weather
  22. Year Of The Black Rainbow by Coheed & Cambria
  23. How To Destroy Angels EP by How To Destroy Angels
  24. Sky At Night by I Am Kloot
  25. The Quickening by Kathryn Williams
  26. Hearts & Minds by Seth Lakeman
  27. Immersion by Pendulum
  28. Handmade Life by Chris Wood
  29. End Times by Eels
  30. When Colours Flow by Ambeson
  31. Crystal Castles (II) by Crystal Castles
  32. When This Was The Future by Lisa O Piu
  33. Fire Like This by Blood Red Shoes
  34. Graceful Bow (EP) by Jason Ward
  35. Rotten Pear by Andrew Vincent
  36. Renegades by Feeder

Monday, 29 November 2010

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (November 2010)

November's new tune from Thea Gilmore for all Angels In The Abattoir fans is something very special. Thea describes Lovers as a song about relationships, decline and longing but also adds that she hopes it has 'life beyond her' which is an odd thing to say but makes perfect sense. I think every singer wants their music to continue through others, not ripped-off and used as an easy option but given new breath from new blood.

As for the song, Lovers is a beautiful ballad with a sweet premise and wonderful melody. Again Nigel Stonier provides the co-write and as a duo they are making great music. This could easily be a track from Murphy's Heart and I would have put in place of one or two of the others that actually made it. But I'm glad she didn't. This is a song worthy of her fans and the way they are contributing to Thea's vibrant and energised career.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Close-Up Vol. 2, People & Places by Suzanne Vega Album Review (2010)

American musician Suzanne Vega continues her self-examining rerecording of her own songs with volume two of four Close-Up albums, subtitled People & Places. Like volume one, the songs are taken from four albums: two are chosen from the eponymous debut, four from Solitude Standing, four from 99.9F°, three from recent album Beauty & Crime, and one song not featured on any of her studio albums. These means nothing again from Vega's third record Days Of Open Hand. And Nine Objects of Desire and Songs In Red and Gray are not used at all, but given that Close-Up Vol. 1, Love Songs focuses on these albums, this is no big surprise. As with volume one this reinterpretation is not just an 'acoustic' album – the instrumentation is retained as needed and stripped down to let the words tell the stories.

The two songs most associated with Suzanne Vega feature on this album. Her biggest hit, Tom's Diner, was only so because of music producers DNA who used the original a cappella version set to Soul II Soul. Instead of suing, Vega bought the version and her record company released it. Here, it would have been easy for Vega to ignore this and attempt some mash-up of the original vocal and the horrible instrumental 'reprise' that closes Solitude Standing. Instead the People & Places take is closer to the DNA version, with barely audible backing on the verses and strings to accompany the wordless chorus. More than just a compromise, this is a definitive version. The subtle arrangement ensures the song remains as powerful as ever: the line '...when I'm feeling someone watching me, and so I raise my head...' still creates one of the most amazing spine-tingling images. The only odd move here is the change in musical accompaniment for one of the verses. The second of these songs is the brilliant Luka. Here this is a faultless version stripped of the huge '80s' guitar arrangement while retaining the core melody and message. And Vega injects more personality into key lines to stress the power of the song, most notably '...If you ask that's what I'll say. It's not your business anyway'. Incredible song writing and a flawless performance.

The two songs from Vega's debut highlight how far she has come. The Queen And The Soldier is wonderful poetry but vocally clumsy. Credit is due for not updating the lyrics and changing the soul of the original as it is still supreme storytelling. The second early song Neighborhood Girls is more on the money, the outdated guitar sound now replaced with a crisp acoustic one. Vega handles to torrent of lyrics that shape this story with ease, the vocals styled more like a echo of the production used for some of 99.9F°. Moving to that album, two more songs continue the high standard. Rock In This Pocket (Song of David) is an often forgotten gem, taking the Biblical tale of triumph through smart thinking in the face of adversity and weaving in menace and retribution. Again, the essence of the music and production is retained while given more breathing space for the vocals. Of the other three songs from the same album, In Liverpool also stands out. This is very close to the original simply because it has to be. Anything else would not work. The swinging waltz chorus is the best Vega has produced. The only difference is one that is now evident on this and the previous collection: the balance between music and vocals is equalised to great effect.

Another brilliant moment is the playful cabaret of Fat Man And Dancing Girl. Gone are the silly bird samples and clunky kitchen sink production in favour of keeping the glorious collection of sounds and textures. Way too short at just over two minutes. But not all the songs stand out. One of the earliest, Calypso, suffers from wayward vocals and a rambling arrangement. From Beauty & Crime, only Zephyr & I impresses as the punchy backing percussion and choral backing vocals are softened to release the song. Conversely New York Is A Woman suffers from the opposite effect and likewise Angel's Doorway takes away from the interesting original and offers nothing new in return. The oddball song here, Man Who Played God, co-written for the Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse album Dark Night Of The Soul, is just that. Vega never sounds comfortable vocally and it is out of place.

With Close-Up Vol. 2, People & Places the compositions centre around two albums: her most commercially successful release Solitude Standing and the wonderfully textured and adventurous 99.9F°. This adds a lot more room for expansion and even though Vega is never one to outdo herself, you get the impression on People & Places that this is a chance to rework as much as revisit. Arguably many of the songs here are better than the originals due to careful re-treatment, but there are also some stumbling blocks that make People & Places more inconsistent than Close-Up Vol. 1, Love Songs. That said, the great moments more than make up for the discretions. The Close-Up series is proving to be an absorbing experiment and an engaging listen.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

New P J Harvey album announced

PJ Harvey has a new album out in February 2011 entitled Let England Shake.

Read about it on Pitchfork here.

The National reissue High Violet with 2 new tracks

If you don't have it already, check out the new expanded version of High Violet by The National.

News by Pigeons & Planes here.
Spotify link. The National – High Violet (Expanded Edition)

REM - Collapse Into Now tracklisting

The track list for the new REM album entitled Collapse Into Now has been confirmed.

It is...
  1. Discoverer
  2. All The Best
  3. Uberlin
  4. It Happened Today
  5. Every Day Is Yours To Win
  6. Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter
  7. Walk It Back
  8. Mine Smell Like Honey
  9. That Someone Is You
  10. Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I
  11. Blue
The album is set to be more like Automatic For The People than last release Accelerate, and features vocals from Patti Smith (who also features on New Adventures in Hi-Fi) and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam.

Read the Mike Mills interview in Rolling Stone here.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Hawk by Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (Album Review 2010)

Hawk is the third collaborative album from ex-Belle & Sebastian cellist/pianist Isobel Campbell and ex-Screaming Trees front man Mark Lanegan. During a turbulent life, both musically and personally, including five years with Queens Of The Stone Age, Lanegan has made six solo albums. The last and best of these is the wonderful Bubblegum, released in 2004 and coinciding with the start of this, the fourth chapter of his career. Where Bubblegum is Lanegan's finest hour as an individual (albeit with help), the trio of albums combining his exquisite baritone rasp and the delicacy of Campbell's celestial tones outclasses most of the material produced with John Homme and Mark Pickerel. Like the two albums before, Campbell brings out the best of her musical spouse with her songs, each the perfect muse, in what is another brilliant collection.

Hawk opens with the excellent We Die And See Beauty Reign, a dark folk duet with a simple guitar loop forming the third vocal. Lanegan adds bass and depth to the lightness of Campbell in what is a great introduction to the album. You Won't Let Me Down Again could not be more different. Lanegan is in control of this heavier bluesy stomp but within is an incredible breathy vocal from Campbell, like a cool wind blowing through a harsh unforgiving desert. Complete with a central guitar solo and an excellent addition of Smashing Pumpkins' James Iha, the menacing lament continues and if anything is way too short. Snake Song is the first of two songs written by veteran American country musician Townes Van Zandt (both songs are taken from Zandt's album Flyin' Shoes) and given a modern take. Slightly faster than the original, Lanegan and Campbell give Zandt a lot of respect vocally – not imitating but always on the same course. Likewise the whole arrangement retains the core guitar work but drops the obvious rattlesnake percussion. Wonderful.

Come Undone again changes the mood and is more jazz-induced easy listening than country. As sultry as it is spiky, Lanegan's rough words unfold like gravel over the smooth Campbell delivery to create a unique mesmerising fusion. All this framed with a superb string arrangement. No Place To Fall – the second Townes Van Zandt song is a bit out of place thanks to a guest spot from Willy Mason. More delicious backing vocals from Campbell but the whole thing does not feel right with a different vocal mix. No doubt though it is an excellent love song given a new life. Completing a trio of sings that prove how diverse and interesting a record Hawk is, Get Behind Me is honky-tonk rock n roll. A bit cheesy but the sheer brilliance of the guitar-work shines through – especially the jolly instrumental finale. Vocally Lanegan is dominating but Campbell adds the sleek shine.

Time Of The Season is another gem. Like the opener, roles are reversed and Campbell leads the vocals in what is revealed to be a Winter love song: 'In your embrace I found my place...outside it's freezing'. The duo recall a cold meeting in London, name dropping Kings Cross, then off to Zanzibar and Amsterdam, weaving wonderful lyrics into the story as they go. The title track throws the album right back into turmoil and a truly unexpected move: a two and half minute squealing guitar, brass and drums blues instrumental. The ending is a complete hapless, fantastic shambles.

The first of two songs that feature only Campbell's vocals is the breathy Sunrise. This adds a deeply personal touch to a tale of longing and loss. 'Too much pain, too much pressure. And why must I have to wait so long', she sings, adding 'For the one that I treasure; tomorrow that's when I'll be gone'. To Hell and Back Again has a just a touch of Mazzy Star with Campbell doing a very passable impression of Hope Sandoval. The dense sultry production mixing sharp guitars, echoing percussion and the distant whimsical vocals is an irresistible combination.

Into the final trio, Cool Water is the second guest vocal from Willy Mason with very little production, gimmicks or tricks. This sounds like it was recorded in the back of a tour bus or a motel room at the end of a long day and there is a real honest connection between the two singers. 'Lovers swim; jump right in. You're my favourite clown. On demand; my right hand. And we're chained and bound. Feels so good; like it should. Let me bring you round...'. It's such a shame that this intimacy isn't shared with Lanegan. Eyes Of Green is a short blast of unashamed folk formed from a short introduction and a neat kitchen-sink solo. But to finish, Lately is an excellent Dylan-esque ending, with Lanegan on solo duty for the first and only time – albeit with female gospel choir for the choruses. More excellent song writing and observations from Campbell: 'It will come clean in the wash, no that much is true. You cannot foresee this would happen to you. Best to sit and wait until the sun's breaking through...'. This is a soundtrack to Lanegan's life with lines like 'You can wish your whole life through; be a sleepy John. Choose your favourite poison on your way to get gone. If it's what you're thinking then I got to move on...'. Campbell gives Lanegan the final poignant words.

With few exceptions, Lanegan and Campbell sing Hawk as a duo and instead of letting one voice dominate one song they form a single dual vocal, one voice creating two distinct sounds. The compliment is beguiling and wonderful – add in the dependable guitar work of Jim McCulloch and one great turn from Willy Mason and it is the perfect combination. Hawk rarely falters and has enough controlled twists and turns to keep momentum and ideas flowing. The raging seas of a man with a past are continually calmed and his spirit and inner demons consistently provide and promote her inspiration. She makes him happy and he gives her purpose. Long may it continue.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie sings the US national anthem

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie sings the US national anthem before Game 3 of the NLCS at AT&T Park.

Watch it here.

The Beatles go digital.

Albums from The Beatles are available in digital form on iTunes for the first time.

Read about it here.