Thursday, 31 March 2011

2011 Music Chart - March

Two fantastic albums this month from R.E.M. and Elbow. Collapse Into Now is the best R.E.M. have sounded in a decade: energised, vibrant, youthful, loving music and above all, soulful. Elbow return with Build A Rocket Boys!, an autobiographical recount of the band's childhood. Again, music flows through their veins and even though this is not as consistent as previous album The Seldom Seen Kid, these are songs worthy of the Elbow name.
  1. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will by Mogwai
  2. Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.
  3. The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable
  4. Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow 
  5. Ritual by White Lies
  6. The Fool by Warpaint
  7. The King Of Limbs by Radiohead
  8. Buffalo by The Phoenix Foundation

Monday, 28 March 2011

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (March 2011)

Nearly the end of another month and the exclusive track for all us Angels Of The Abattoir is a song that was left off probably my favourite Thea Gilmore album, Avalanche. First off it doesn't sound like anything else on Avalanche, which is why it was rejected. Maybe the mix was/is all wrong: here is what Thea says about the song:

"One of the nice things about clearing out your house is that you find all manner of curiosities, and I found a disc with monitor mixes for Avalanche (for those of you who don't know the jargon, a monitor mix is a very rough reference mix of what's been recorded before the real mixing begins) and It had on it a song that never made it onto the album.. so I thought I'd send it to you because I always liked it and regretted not finishing it".

One thing I love about Avalanche is how 'space-aged' it sounds and I can't imagine this song with that sort of production. It is a solid, tuneful, stripped-down acoustic piece but one wonders what it would have sounded like given a bit more time and different arrangement. Guess we will never know. Oh it also features Robbie McIntosh (from Paul McCartneys band, Pretenders et al) and backing vocals by Dave Hull-Denholm who used to be in Lindisfarne.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

New song from Thurston Moore - Benediction stream from NPR

Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore is releasing a new solo album entitled Demolished Thoughts. It is out in May 2011.

Produced by Beck, a preview track Benediction is available as a stream from NPR. A slow-building guitar ballad with a wonderfully random solo. Great stuff.

Check it out here.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Eddie Vedder releases solo album and concert DVD: Ukulele Songs!

Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder is releasing a solo album of 16 ukulele songs, a mix of covers and original material. Also released will be a live concert DVD entitled Water On The Road.

This sounds like an interesting project from a musician who has been making great music for well over twenty years.

 Ukulele Songs:

01. Can’t Keep
02. Sleeping by Myself
03. Without You
04. More Than You Know
05. Goodbye
06. Broken Heart
07. Satellite
08. Longing to Belong
09. Hey Fahkah
10. You’re True
11. Light Today
12. Sleepless Nights (feat. Glen Hansard)
13. Once in Awhile
14. Waving Palms
15. Tonight You Belong to Me (feat. Cat Power)
16. Dream a Little Dream

Water On The Road:

01. The Canyon
02. Sometimes
03. Trouble
04. Around the Bend
05. Girl From the North Country
06. Guaranteed
07. Setting Forth
08. Far Behind
09. No Ceiling
10. Rise
11. Golden State
12. Society
13. Forever Young
14. Ed Piano (Instrumental)
15. I’m Open
16. Man of the Hour
17. Driftin’
18. No More
19. You’re True
20. Ukulele Interlude (Instrumental)
21. Unthought Known
22. Arc
23. Hard Sun
24. The Canyon (reprise)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys! (Album Review 2011)

After winning the Mercury Music Prize it was inevitable that Elbow would fade into obscurity never to be heard from again. Or not. But the aforementioned music award has always been viewed as something of a poisoned chalice: remember Gomez? M People? Ms Dynamite? It has also been responsible for stifling the musical creativity of acts such as Pulp, Franz Ferdinand and PJ Harvey. Not so for Bury’s Elbow. It has taken the band, led by singer and now BBC 6music presenter Guy Garvey, four great albums to get the recognition they deserve after début release Asleep In The Back; still one of the best of its generation. In 2008 The Seldom Seen Kid gave Elbow the exposure they needed boasting mighty singles such as Grounds For Divorce, The Bones Of You and One Day Like This (of which the album version should have been released as a single instead of the horrible ‘cut-down’ radio-friendly version). It has taken three years for the follow-up Build A Rocket Boys! to emerge, and like its predecessor it is a record of rare beauty, careful crafting and elegant execution.

From the rattling beginnings of huge opener The Birds, with its distinctive Garvey-led vocal melody and persistent guitars (reminiscent of R.E.M’s Leave – turned down a notch), to the earnest heartfelt lyrics and swirling instrumentation of closer Dear Friends, Build A Rocket Boys! is a plethora of intricate arrangements, vocal harmonies (credit goes to the Halle Youth Choir) and unique composition. The former transforms at three and half minutes through spiky electronica to bring in to chorus: “what are we going to do with you? Same tale every time… Looking back is for the birds…”. At minute six, the explosion of sounds brings in the last act and a layered vocal outro before an odd last thirty seconds. Following this the early highlight, and core track, Lippy Kids is a joyous celebration of disillusioned youth, of hanging around on street corners, smoking and drinking. Lyrically superb, this is possibly the best song writing from Garvey since the band’s glorious début: “I never perfected that simian stroll” is genius. Precise and controlled.

The heartstrings are pulled with the poetic ballad Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl with Garvey’s raw vulnerable vocal delivering a lament to his ‘first love’. The odd bontempi-esque organ provides the contrast against the simple guitars and more great lyrics: “…a single switch to flick…but a thousand boxes yet to tick…’. Wonderful. Likewise, and with all the melody of grinding machinery, High Ideals provides the best piano on the album and yet more fascinating lyrics (tales of family history and military antiques). Hard edges and ambitious arrangements prove that Elbow never take the easy option – with spectacular results.

Build A Rocket Boys! rarely falters. The short interlude The River is nothing more than a respite before the overtly stadium-bound Open Arms – a well-intentioned song of longing for someone dear to return that loses itself within the production. The obvious chorus just about gets away with it and the guitars in the second half lift the song from Coldplay-like banality. And With Love is a constant vocal stretch; a neat idea and wonderful simple chorus gliding from distracting to hypnotic. Minor misgivings from a band that can deliver the hardness of Neat Little Rows and the stirring balladry of The Night Will Always Win in the space of ten minutes.

Build A Rocket Boys! is at times a wonderfully subtle album, taking all the composure and quiet revelations of Asleep In The Back and combining the anthemic qualities of The Seldom Seen Kid. Appeasing long-term fans and new admirers alike, Garvey et al hit the middle ground running, fuelled by nostalgia, memories and the tried and tested ‘writing on the road’. This is the perfect follow-up to the huge success afforded three years ago and Garvey remains one of the best songwriters making music today. There are no obvious radio singles with most of the best music weighing in around five minutes, proving that Elbow do not have to pander to commerciality to make an impact. Not this time. Further reassurance that sometimes there is life after Mercury.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now (Album Review 2011)

There was a time when the names Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe rang out through hallowed halls and sacred spaces as legendary musical bastions with god-like gifts for composition and song writing. But the last decade has not been kind to R.E.M. It would be too easy to say that the so-called demise of the band coincided with the departure of Bill Berry. This led Michael Stipe to utter his most infamous phrase: ‘A three-legged dog is still a dog. It just has to learn to run differently’. Much of this depressive response (rightfully so) came from the band, then to be fuelled by the venomous press. The conclusion is that Berry is to blame. Not to underestimate his contributions, which were substantial, of course, he is not. In 1995 the band had its most difficult year both commercially and personally. Monster, released a year earlier is an ill-fated attempt to inject energy into a band coming down from the euphoria of their most successful period musically. The result is the worst R.E.M. album in a long and lustrous career. In comparison, the follow-up New Adventures In Hi-Fi is a triumph – dark, moody, textured and tuneful. Everything since has failed to keep up. The signs have been there with gems littering Reveal, Around The Sun and then Accelerate and you could easily create one great record from the three. But the consistency, the focus and the energy have not combined successfully for what seems like a very long time. Thankfully, album number fifteen Collapse Into Now is the studio album R.E.M. have been building up to for a decade.

At the centre of Collapse Into Now are the best seven consecutive songs on any R.E.M. album. Only Green gets close to this (the eight-song odyssey Pop Song 89 to Turn You Inside-Out). After an unassuming start, Überlin starts this run. Stipe begins with the tale of 9-5 drudgery as Buck’s gorgeous guitar work provides the melody. Quickly into the chorus of hope and optimistic yearnings, and as the song takes shape, Mills adds excellent backing vocals. A quick mid-section, devoid of a guitar solo, and more of the same brings the song to a close. ‘The kids have a new take. A new take on faith’, Stipe croons in the opening of Oh My Heart, the best song R.E.M. have written in their last five albums. Overtly political folk and referencing recent catastrophic US events: ‘I came home to a city half erased… I came home to face what we faced…’ – this is a hard-hitting and wonderful three-minutes, the powerful vocal-driven chorus at its core. This is the best Stipe has sounded in a decade, coupled with Peter Buck who was born to play the mandolin; a perfect balance of earnest dark memories and uplifting spiritualism.

Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder provides backing vocals on the magnificent It Happened Today. ‘This is not a parable, this is a terrible’ is not Stipe’s finest hour lyrically but musically it echoes one of R.E.M’s forgotten masterpieces, Try Not To Breathe. Taking a minute and a half for the wordlessness to begin as a soaring choir of voices, guitars, trumpet and sousaphone. Vedder has the final non-word in a stirring finale. R.E.M. owes much to Eels for the melody and vocal production of the beautiful Every Day Is Yours To Win. ‘I cannot tell a lie, it’s not all cherry-pie… but it’s all there waiting for you’ following up with cynical ‘If you buy that… I’ve got a bridge for you’. Superb song writing and more great vocals from Mills. Then an echo of early exuberance with the brilliant punk-pop of Mine Smell Like Honey which could easily be an out-take from Life’s Rich Pageant. Stipe again delivers a driving chorus. Another change of pace brings in the piano-led Walk It Back and another arrangement to take your breath away. Stipe is (again) magnificent. And completing the impressive septet is the absurdly catchy and inane Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter, another torrent of guitars and guest vocalist Peaches injecting her unique character.

The delicious centre aside, Collapse Into Now has its ‘moments’, opening strongly with the rambling, shambolic, anthemic Discoverer only to reverse the momentum with the stretched All The Best. That Someone Is You is the only obvious weak point – the band deliver a very bad impression of Fountains Of Wayne for, thankfully, just under two minutes. Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I is a pleasant wistful ballad before the astonishingly ‘prog’ Blue, fusing the guitars of Country Feedback with the vocals of Belong (and Stipe providing some of his best lyrics in a very long time) to again merge with the wonderful Patti Smith before going full-circle back into an alternative opening of Discoverer. Ambitious to the extreme but like Coldplay’s Life In Technicolor becoming the monstrous vocalised ‘single’, the outro is a step too far.

Collapse Into Now was never going to be that new perfect R.E.M. album. And even though it would be naïve to elevate the album to the echelons of the early 1990s, when the band seemed untouchable, you cannot ignore and dismiss this on the basis of misty-eyed overreaction. It’s been a while since R.E.M. sounded this energised, this youthful, this interesting, this relevant, and this good. With Collapse Into Now, they have pulled together past experience, the iconic sounds that filled Green, Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, and the spirit of adventure and exuberance that got them into a fourth decade. At last it looks as if R.E.M. has learned to run differently.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Phil Collins retires from the music business

Firstly this is not the usual typical piss-take 'ah about time' dig at Phil Collins. I am genuinely sorry to hear that he has retired from music. The reasons (to spend time with his family and kids) is entirely justified but he leaves behind a musically legacy that is never given the justice it deserves. In The Air Tonight is one of my favourite songs. As is 'I Can't Dance'.

As a key member of Genesis and an accomplished solo artist, Phil Collins has written some great songs and his voice is one of those voices that becomes an instrument in its own right - it has tone, melody and an engaging quality that many can never achieve.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

R.E.M. Collapse Into Now album preview

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I fell in love with R.E.M. It is one of those moments that I can genuinely look back on and thank someone else for introducing me to a whole new world of music. Pearl Jam, R.E.M and The Tragically Hip. The big three. I was in a bar in a bowling alley in Bournemouth and a friend found Out Of Time on the jukebox. He didn’t put on Losing My Religion. He didn’t choose Shiny Happy People. He had one song. He played Country Feedback. My world changed. Forever.

A week later I spent ten pounds on the album (tape, Our Price Music, circa 1991). It was a fortune for me at the time as a struggling grant-less student but I listened to it until it fell to pieces. I still have it. A year later and a different friend loaned me a copy of Automatic For The People. He recorded it from the original CD but for some reason it was on random shuffle. By the end of the year I knew the opening bars of the next songs before the current ones had finished – all in the wrong order. For years later, now owning the album (vinyl of course), when Everybody Hurts came to a close I would already be on to Find The River. I still can’t get through Man On The Moon without starting on Drive. You get the idea.

From these humble beginnings I went back to rediscover the band, first to Green (still one of my favourite albums of all time – it captures a great band on the verge of even more greatness), then to the charming Life’s Rich Pageant. Then I picked up a second hand copy of Murmur, Fables Of The Reconstruction and then Reckoning. With the band’s chronology gaining a new shape all of its own, I completed the first eight records with Document. It is important to note that in 1991, with R.E.M. in their commercial prime, I sidestepped their ‘best of’ collection in favour of the earlier Eponymous and b-sides release Dead Letter Office. I even found a copy of Chronic Town, the band’s first EP, which I still adore.

So now in 2011, 20 years on and now a three-piece (albeit with plenty of help from Scott McCaughey, Bill Rieflin and Jacknife Lee, amongst others including Eddie Vedder, Peaches and Patti Smith), R.E.M. release their fifteenth studio album Collapse Into Now. Since the brilliant New Adventures In Hi-Fi, which followed up the disastrous Monster so well, musically R.E.M. had lost their way. Great songs have been few and far between in the last decade with only glimpses of consistency appearing with previous album Accelerate that is, to pardon the pun, rushed. On first listen Collapse Into Now is mesmerising, packed with energy and enthusiasm and sounds very much like a band now enjoying making music again.

Friday, 4 March 2011

New Bowling For Soup album Fishing For Woos.

Bowling For Soup release Fishing For Woos on April 26!!!

The tracklist is:

01 Let's Pretend We're Not In Love
02 Girls In America
03 S-S-S-Saturday
04 What About Us
05 Here's Your Freakin' Song
06 This Ain't My Day
07 Smiley Face (It's All Good)
08 Turbulence
09 I've Never Done Anything Like This
10 Friends Chicks Guitars
11 Guard My Heart (2010)
12 Graduation Trip

Arctic Monkeys - New song Brick by Brick

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (February 2011)

The end of February brings another Angels' offering from Thea Gilmore. This month is a heartfelt, emotional, and slightly wistful ballad The Learning Curve.

Thea says, of the song: "It's a bit of a musing on growing up really, the ideas and dreams you have as a child that don't quite bloom in the way you think they will. But they are replaced by a quieter kind of magic. And we all know that quiet magic is the good stuff. So here it is.. My learning curve.. I hope you like it."

This is another cracking vocal from one of the best British singers in the business and I'm glad to be part of its 'magic'. Yes this lacks the polish and production of anything on an album but it is this intimacy and connection that can only occur between an artist and her fans. Excellence yet again.