Tuesday, 31 May 2011

2011 Music Chart - May

Three amazing albums this month in what is shaping up to be a great first half of the year. Thea Gilmore's version of Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding is a complete joy. Any year that brings a new album (Codes and Keys) from Death Cab For Cutie is cause for celebration and Fleet Foxes return with a magnificent follow-up to their début, Helplessness Blues. Also this month is Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the new album from Beastie Boys. Not their best but great to hear them still going strong.
  1. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
  2. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will by Mogwai
  3. Last Night On Earth by Noah And The Whale
  4. Codes and Keys by Death Cab For Cutie
  5. Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.
  6. Belong by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
  7. The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable
  8. John Wesley Harding by Thea Gilmore
  9. Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow
  10. Ritual by White Lies
  11. Fishin' For Woos by Bowling For Soup
  12. The Fool by Warpaint
  13. Wasting Light by Foo Fighters
  14. The King Of Limbs by Radiohead
  15. Buffalo by The Phoenix Foundation

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (May 2011)

This month's song from Thea Gilmore to all her lovely Angels is just a bit special. A live recording of I'll Remember You taken from the Bob Dylan birthday show at Union Chapel on May 24th. This coincides with the release of her new album: Dylan's John Wesley Harding.

Here's what Thea said about the show...

"The Dylan show worked a treat at Union Chapel... it was a really atmospheric night.. appropriate churchy-ness and gothic lighting. A great band and a fabulous crowd.. so for all those of you who were there, thankyou for making it so special."

Thea dedicates the song to a dear departed Angel; a lovely gesture.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Album Review 2011)

This is the 500th post for the current incarnation of my music blog. Fitting that it is a review of a great new album. Enjoy...

Originally from Seattle but now based in Portland, American six-piece Fleet Foxes have risen to prominence since 2008. The band is unique among their contemporaries in promoting vocals as much as music as part of their multi-layered intricate folk sound. The band’s eponymous début shows this to its full potential but now the follow-up, Helplessness Blues, moves the band and their music up a notch – the songcraft, the depth of production and the vocals all feel so much more powerful. And it is a joy from start to finish.

The immediate highlights of Helplessness Blues are the albums three longest songs. The Plains/Bitter Dancer has a slow-burning choral build-up before adding guitars, the dark brooding atmosphere enhanced by a flute arrangement. The combination of vocals and instrumentation is amongst the best on the album. This is followed by the title track with another great vocal melody fuelled by powerful guitar-work. A song, at the centre of the running theme, sums up the feelings of being overwhelmed by the world and wanting to fit in, while understanding it and almost being comfortable about the situation. With two minutes to go it transforms, adding rare electric guitars to lament about a more simple life and gorgeous song writing. The third of these songs is the eight-minute odyssey The Shrine/An Argument.  The opening lyrics: “I went down among the dust and pollen; to the old stone fountain in the morning after dawn” immediately set the scene in what is a vocal tour-de-force for front man Robin Pecknold. The line “Sunlight over me no matter what I do…” is sung with such power and control – a feat not heard anywhere else on the album. Again, as the double-named title suggests, a transformation brings in crashing drums, guitars and more stunning vocals. Halfway and the song quietens into ambience and more talk of orchards and apples before a beautiful interlude is replaced by a manic squealing horn-section. An odd yet beguiling progression through a wonderful story.

Elsewhere, Helplessness Blues is filled with more quality. Sim Sala Bim is more vivid imagery and superb vocals followed by astonishing guitar-work to end. Battery Kinzie is a great pop single with echoes of Simon & Garfunkel recalling a strange dream. Likewise Lorelai is a jolly upbeat guitar-led love song brimming with lyrical brilliance: “I was old news to you then…” and “I still see your face when I try to sleep”. Only the scientifically incorrect whimsical musings of Blue Spotted Tail is a low point but even this has an engaging naïve charm. And closer Grown Ocean combines Phil Spector production with Sigur Ros ‘vocals as instruments’ perfection to create a final masterpiece. The last forty seconds of a cappella is a fitting end to a wonderful album.

Fleet Foxes consistently pull the listener further into their own unique world that, while on the surface sounds alien and grounded in folklore, is more than relevant and modern. In this ever-changing technological world, Helplessness Blues manages to remain organic and real. As a progression from the band’s début, this second album manages to take all the elements of their original, captivating sound and inject a new creative edge. And the effect is an astonishing leap forward thanks to a greater depth of song writing, engaging storytelling and superbly crafted composition. By no means flawless, this is an album of beguiling charm and intimacy that reaches near-perfection.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Ivor Novello Awards 2011

The 2011 Ivor Novello Awards winners have been announced. For the first time in years I don't agree with any of the winners. I would put so many more great musicians and many more great songs ahead of Plan B, Tinie Tempah, Paul Rodgers and Muse this year. Even Becoming A Jackal by Villagers, winner of Best Song, Musically and Lyrically, lacks coherent melody and structure.

The full list of winners is:

PRS for Music Most Performed Work
Song: She Said
Written by: Eric Appapoulay/Richard Cassell/Benjamin Drew/Tom Wright-Goss
Performed by: Plan B
Published in the UK by: Sony/ATV Music Publishing/Universal Music Publishing

Best Original Video Game Score
Game: Napoleon: Total War
Composed by: Richard Beddow/Richard Birdsall/Ian Livingstone
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Published in the UK by: SEGA

Best Contemporary Song
Song: Pass Out
Written by: Timothy McKenzie/Patrick Okogwu/Marc Williams
Performed by: Tinie Tempah
Published in the UK by: EMI Music Publishing/Stellar Songs Ltd

Best Television Soundtrack
Broadcast: Any Human Heart
Composed by: Dan Jones
Published in the UK by: Faber Music Ltd/Universal Music Publishing

The Ivors Inspiration Award
Dizzee Rascal

The Ivors Classical Music Award
Michael Nyman

Album Award
Album: The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Written by: Benjamin Drew
Performed by: Plan B
Published in the UK by: Universal Music Publishing

Best Original Film Score
Film: How To Train Your Dragon
Composed by: John Powell
Published in the UK by: BMG Chrysalis

PRS for Music Outstanding Contribution to British Music
Paul Rodgers

Best Song Musically & Lyrically
Song: Becoming a Jackal
Written by: Conor O'Brien
Performed by: Villagers
Published in the UK by: Domino Publishing Company

International Achievement
Matthew Bellamy, Dominic Howard & Christopher Wolstenholme aka Muse

Outstanding Song Collection
Steve Winwood

Songwriter of the Year
Benjamin Drew aka Plan B

PRS for Music Special International Award
Stephen Sondheim

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong (Album Review 2011)

Every so often you buy an album based on the strength of one song and quickly discover there is more to the band than you first thought. It happens a lot if you take risks with music. Belong by New York’s The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart is that album and Belong is that song. With a sound very reminiscent of early Smashing Pumpkins on the title track, the diverse album as a whole is more aligned with California surf-pop than Chicago alt-rock and East Coast punk. Driven by the light breezy vocals and Kip Berman and Peggy Wang, Belong is the album that opens the door for The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

Belong kicks off with the title track, a vibrant combination of delicious guitars, and Berman’s androgynous vocals. A soaring chorus highlights the hardships of achieving success: ‘…we struggle on…’. In what is a great opening trilogy, Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now is made in the same mould but with a lighter arrangement and a hook/chorus combination that brings the whole thing to life. Mesmerising guitar-work. One of the highlights of Belong is the gorgeous love-song Heart In Your Heartbreak, filled with wonderful lines like ‘she was the promise that you never swore…’. The central music break is a sublime interlude before Berman is back with more of the same. Wang’s keyboards shine and add depth in the second half right to the close.

The Body opens with more 80’s electronica in a reworking of Ian Curtis guesting at an Erasure gig. Anne With An E sounds like a horrible drug reference and recalls a romance, the slow arrangement echoing the intoxicated subject matter. Just when the album is in danger of stagnating, the brilliant Even In Dreams gets things back on track. Another excellent pop-song, perfectly crafted and delivering the best chorus on the album. “You’re not the only one…you’re just my only one” is elegant in its simplicity. In a song that could have ended at just over three minutes, the band come back for a final minute – showing that a bit of self-indulgence doesn’t do any harm.

Continuing the standard, the drug metaphors (‘What did you take? Coz that’s what I take…and I can’t take it without you’) and more wonderful guitars, My Terrible Friend is another immediate high point. Filled with energy and brimming with exuberance, it takes Belong to a whole new level. Contrary to this, the Jesus And Mary Chain inspired Girl Of 1,000 Dreams, easily the weakest song on the album, sounds very flat and tired. Borrowing just a bit of Radiohead for the melody, Too Tough is another slower delicate track that builds into a respectable shoe-gazer – all control and poise with Berman’s vocals washed to the point of saturation.  And the up-lifting closer Strange continues this theme: ‘Our dreams are coming true…’ sings Berman in what becomes one huge shimmering guitar and drum finale into a massive fade of keyboards.

Belong is a wonderfully likeable and immediate album – in no small part to the involvement of Flood and Alan Moulder. They have guided the band’s evolving sound from an intrepid yet convoluted début (in spite of comparisons to The Jesus And Mary Chain and Joy Division) to a complete package, lifting the guitars and keyboards to add depth to what could have been a very flat production. And when you add much improved song writing to the mix, you have The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and a band with everything to offer and a promising future ahead of them.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Moby - Destroyed full album stream and 'world' website

You can listen to the album and browse the notes/photos from around the world here.