Friday, 30 September 2011

2011 Music Chart - September

A very busy month with great new albums from Laura Marling, Kasabian, The War On Drugs and The Duke Spirit. Also new material from Slow Club and the wonderful Lanterns On The Lake. Fleet Foxes still hold the number one spot, but only just as an impressive top ten for the year is taking shape.
  1. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
  2. A Creature I Don't Know by Laura Marling
  3. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will by Mogwai
  4. Last Night On Earth by Noah And The Whale
  5. Codes and Keys by Death Cab For Cutie
  6. Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.
  7. Belong by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
  8. Slave Ambient by The War On Drugs
  9. Sky Full Of Holes by Fountains Of Wayne
  10. Virtue by Emmy The Great
  11. The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable
  12. Blood Pressures by The Kills
  13. Velociraptor! by Kasabian
  14. Diamond Mine by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins
  15. Destroyed by Moby
  16. John Wesley Harding by Thea Gilmore
  17. Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow
  18. Gracious Tide Take Me Home by Lanterns On The Lake
  19. Bruiser by The Duke Spirit
  20. The King Of Limbs by Radiohead 
  21. Silesia by Jeniferever
  22. Ritual by White Lies
  23. Paradise by Slow Club
  24. Fishin' For Woos by Bowling For Soup
  25. The Fool by Warpaint
  26. Buffalo by The Phoenix Foundation
  27. Young Pilgrim by Charlie Simpson
  28. Wasting Light by Foo Fighters

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (September 2011)

This month Thea has provided her lovely Angels with five (yes five!) demos from her 2000 album The Lipstick Conspiracies. This is not my favourite Thea Gilmore record; her début Burning Dorothy and follow-up Rules For Jokers are both excellent in comparison. Anyway, the five demos are:
  • Lidocaine Baby
  • Exit Route
  • Forgotten
  • Generation Y
  • Night Driving
Thea says about the demos: "These come with a proviso though.... the next time I see you all, you must must promise not to laugh in my face about the silly Minnie Mouse American accent I'm using on them. I was young, foolish, listening to far too much Joni. Aaaargh.. maybe I've been too hasty! Enjoy the giggle!"

As you might expect these songs are very stripped-down complete with scratchy guitar and raw vocals. In spite of Thea's critical assessment, she sounds fantastic. Young and filled with energy and angst. Forgotten (probably the best song) is complete with a cheesy drum machine. The frantic Generation Y needs a lot of work and it shows greatly the benefits of these early takes to see how the finished articles evolved. Night Driving is not far from the final version.

Some new songs next month please!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Muppet Show theme (rare extended version) - for Jim Henson

New Noel Gallagher single - AKA What A Life.

Excellent new song from Noel Gallagher (and his High Flying Birds).

R.E.M. 1980-2011

Back in March I wrote a preview article about the new R.E.M. album Collapse Into Now. Enthused after a first listen of new material that is both vibrant and energetic, two important ingredients missing in recent years, I recalled the days when I first discovered the band. The lead track Discoverer is all too aptly named. Compelled and indeed obligated, the article, and subsequent full album review, is filled with optimism for the future and regained love of the past.

I did not grow up with R.E.M. I wish I had. It would have helped me through my formative years and got me interested in those things that fascinate me now as a man on the brink of his fifth decade: literature, art, politics – all frequent subjects of the band’s music, ethos and direction. But what was great about getting into a band ‘in the middle’ was going back as well as forward. Discovering a back catalogue is as wonderful as the anticipation of new albums. Fitting, now and then, that the first R.E.M. album I bought was Out Of Time.

I did not know it then but I was writing about the last R.E.M. album. This week the band announced on their website that they are no more and feel it is time to ‘call it a day’. So was Collapse Into Now, a title that now seems very appropriate and slightly ironic, just a last great hurrah? Michael Stipe spoke earlier in the year about the album making process and said that each record takes everything out of him, every time, to the point of truly not knowing if he (and the band) can ever do it again.

But they have, time after time, through the IRS years; finding form on Life’s Rich Pageant, then Document, into major label success (musically) with Green and (commercially) on Out Of Time and Automatic For The People. Since then it has been a lesson in limits and limitlessness. Monster was just that and saw the band disintegrate, the departure of Bill Berry (‘the heart of the band’) and the music falter. Moments of brilliance on New Adventures In Hi-Fi and Up lead to huge disappointments on Reveal and Around The Sun – the ups and downs of a band ‘learning to run on three legs’.

But there have always been reasons to be an R.E.M. fan. Every album, every song, every note – has something special. A good friend of mine once said, ‘Even a crap R.E.M. album is a good album’. Crass, yes, but you can’t say that about many bands. There are always smart lyrics, neat musical touches and affecting arrangements. Making music this good consistently for fifteen albums takes a life-force to which mere mortals can never aspire.

So R.E.M. is no more. Once the inevitable ‘greatest hits’ box set is released and Buck, Mills and Stipe have had time to sit back and reflect on their achievements and work, what will happen then? A solo career for Michael looks the most likely. Or a career in politics maybe? Likewise Mike and Peter could be the ones to form new bands. I hope they continue to make music in some form, either together or apart. A comeback World Tour in ten years to trawl back through the archives sounds, on the face of it, a ghastly prospect. On the other hand I don’t want them to just ‘fade away’. I have only seen R.E.M. live twice, once at Glastonbury and again at Live 8. I would love to seem them perform again.

Before this article veers into the realms of elevating a band to God-like status and portrays the author as some pathetic doting fan-boy, I will conclude by putting things into perspective. I love music. I love writing about music (even though most of the time I’m not very good at it). And I admire and revere bands that make music that affects me. If I had to pick one band that has had the most impact, and has been such a big part of my life for over two decades, it is R.E.M.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

R.E.M. Break Up and "Call It A Day"

From R.E.M.HQ...

"To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening." R.E.M.

In their own words: The guys share their thoughts on why now.


"During our last tour, and while making Collapse Into Now and putting together this greatest hits retrospective, we started asking ourselves, 'what next'? Working through our music and memories from over three decades was a hell of a journey. We realized that these songs seemed to draw a natural line under the last 31 years of our working together.

"We have always been a band in the truest sense of the word. Brothers who truly love, and respect, each other. We feel kind of like pioneers in this--there's no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off. We've made this decision together, amicably and with each other's best interests at heart. The time just feels right."


"A wise man once said--'the skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave.' We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we're going to walk away from it.

"I hope our fans realize this wasn't an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way.

"We have to thank all the people who helped us be R.E.M. for these 31 years; our deepest gratitude to those who allowed us to do this. It's been amazing."


"One of the things that was always so great about being in R.E.M. was the fact that the records and the songs we wrote meant as much to our fans as they did to us. It was, and still is, important to us to do right by you. Being a part of your lives has been an unbelievable gift. Thank you.

"Mike, Michael, Bill, Bertis, and I walk away as great friends. I know I will be seeing them in the future, just as I know I will be seeing everyone who has followed us and supported us through the years. Even if it's only in the vinyl aisle of your local record store, or standing at the back of the club: watching a group of 19 year olds trying to change the world."

Kasabian - Velociraptor! (Album Review 2011)

Back in June 2009 I wrote a review of Kasabian’s last album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It wasn’t kind. Since then I have listened to the album a few more times and the times have not been kind. It is still a massive disappointing mess in spite of winning best album at the Q and NME awards. In conclusion, I asked for Kasabian to stop going through the motions and do something different, while at the same time, to not stop being Kasabian. Bring back the attitude, the energy, and the (deep breath – and I quote) what-the-hell-are-you-looking-at bravado with a jaunty smile. After a great debut, the band I thought had huge promise and would inevitably fill the gaping hole left by Oasis and The Verve, came off the rails; the songs were non-existent and the dream fell flat. I felt it was an honest and open review written about a band that I truly wanted to be the best in the world but, in fact, were not.

Through all this, I kept the faith. Kasabian were still a great live band and make the best of the songs they have. Tom Meighan is a great frontman, brimming with swagger and self-belief, the eponymous debut is still good, Empire is an excellent follow-up and the band continues to talk and walk the talk and the walk. So with fourth album Velociraptor! the potential for another mess is looming. Thankfully faith is restored and Kasabian return with an album that is not only varied and interesting but packed with equal measures of attitude and, above all, great tunes.

An early highlight is single Days Are Forgotten with its glorious guitar-twang, drum stomp and mad-eyed falsetto choral chanting. Bring in Meighan’s vocals and the blend is complete. An injection of melody arrives with the chorus, adding a smooth sheen over the sharp confrontation of the verses. Lyrically this is nothing more than you would expect (rhyming silhouette with forget is neat) but the whole package works and the energy drives it forward right into the maw of madness and garbled vocals. Excellent.

Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter From The Storm) is a magnificent six minutes of Eastern rhythms, bass that would be well at home on the new Tool album and deliciously evocative vocals. All this after the frantic title track belts through its three minutes. “There’s nothing to it. There’s nothing to it…man”, is the message. The pace is relentless and exhausting. Man Of Simple Pleasures is another high point, with unashamed Gallagher/Ashcroft/Turner lad-rock taking centre stage. This is followed by the electro madness of Switchblade Smiles, a tornado of start-stop swirling vocals, stuttering drums and grinding guitars.

Kasabian are just as effective when the band embrace their own sense of absurdity. Not that they are absurd but a keen ironic eye watches from the safe shadows and often ventures out into the fray to see what is going on. A great example of this is La Fee Verte (The Green Fairy), a Beatles-esque psychedelic trip through a weird life. I Hear Voices has the most elegant 70s synth backdrop as Meighan declares “My soul? You can have it coz it don’t mean shit” before “I’d sell it to the devil for another hit…I wish that you were here”. A simple idea, well executed with just enough retro-kitsch.

Velociraptor! has plenty of surprises. Goodbye Kiss is a pleasant Artic Monkeys ballad filled with intimate observations and heart-warming honesty. This is not what you would expect from Kasabian but it works. Opener Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To adds a bit much into the mix but manages to pull it off. And Neon Noon is a perfectly good closer, gliding through five minutes in ambient controlled style. The only weak spot on Velociraptor! is the woeful Re-wired that fails on many levels. It is one of the only moments of style over substance with all the right ingredients making a huge mess due to under-cooking.

Velociraptor! is not a masterpiece. It is not the best album this year. Nor is it the best Kasabian album. It is (as Meighan puts it) a wonderful jukebox of ideas. In spite of the variation, what makes Velociraptor! work is the consistent focus and control, proof that Kasabian are diverse and eager to challenge themselves from song to song. Great production and a solid mix bring together the ideas. This is, at last, a full-blooded approach that pays off. Melody and stomp happen in equal measure, sound is strong and dense, and what was once one-dimensional now spirals out in many directions. This is an often brilliant and interesting ride.
-- CS

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know (Album Review 2011)

Laura Marling, once of Noah and The Whale and one time Mystery Jets guest, is riding high on a brace of recent awards: Best British Female at the Brits and Best Solo Artist from The NME. Deservedly so, as last year’s I Speak Because I Can is an outstanding and mesmerising follow-up to Marling’s promising, yet one-dimensional, début. The two years between the first two albums have lifted Marling as a songwriter and a musician, strengthened the relationship with producer Ethan Johns, and helped find that perfect sound. Writing during her tour, Marling rejected many early songs, and delayed the release of third album A Creature I Don’t Know in favour of new and reworked material. The album compliments the previous release wonderfully, with similar themes, ideas and passion.

A Creature I Don’t Know starts with The Muse, a song that proves Marling is not scared of a challenge. This brings together funk guitar and jazz piano to startling effect, with smart vibrant lyrics; at its centre is the line: “Keep those thoughts from sight; follow me into the night; and you can call on me when you need… the light”. It’s not just the words, but what Marling does with her voice, to form a new unique instrument. I Was Just A Card continues the same style, in spite of quiet moments and an auspicious start. More great vocals with Marling showing her range. Don’t Ask Me builds beautifully as the prelude to the mighty Salinas, the latter inspired by the work of John Steinbeck and immediately conjuring vivid images: “My mother was a saviour; of six foot of bad behaviour...”. Like the prelude, this builds slowly to a magnificent vocal climax before starting again in more determined mood, like a completely different song, and concluding with an angelic choir.

The Beast (a recurring character/theme/mood through the album) is one of the best songs Marling has made. Again build-up is the key to this mesmerising fusion of Marling’s vocals and distorted Mogwai-esque electric guitar with a demonic character all of its own, devouring everything else. This is captivating stuff that just keeps building and driving forward to a sudden indeterminate, somewhat unresolved, end. Night After Night blends classical guitar with delicate vocals into a heart-breaking love song about relationship, decay and infidelity. It takes skill and control to sustain this level of focus and engagement over the five minutes duration. The line: “He screams in the night, I scream in the day. We weep in the evening and lie naked and pray” is brilliantly direct. 

The first half of My Friends is probably the weakest point on the album but the second comes alive with Mumford-style guitars and energised strings. Rest In The Bed borrows the vocal melody from Hope In The Air before taking a shape of its own. The coldness in both music and voice is astonishing. A late highlight is the excellent Sophia – another example of control and poise. This quickly becomes about eight songs in one, Marling not settling on any one thought or idea. The gorgeous choral arrangement at the core is just exquisite before a massive transformation into rampant country-rock complete with multi-layered guitars and a liberated vocal delivery. The closer, All My Rage is a great song around a single simple idea to finish the album in great mood and spirit.

A Creature I Don’t Know is the sound of Laura Marling challenging herself, her identity and womanhood. These themes: love, sexuality, religion, strength and anger are represented in every note, every line and every song. She weaves stories and characters around such wonderful musical arrangements and the vocals impishly jump from sultry and reflective to dark and menacing. This is an artist right in the moment, understanding her own talent and skill, making the some of the best music of her life. Marling has taken the essence of Alas I Cannot Swim – the poetry, the intricacy and the intimacy, and fused it with the power, the darkness and the beauty of I Speak Because I Can. This is another work of art.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

P J Harvey wins Mercury Prize for the second time

Congratulations to Polly Jean Harvey for winning the Mercury Prize for the second time, the only artist to do so. Harvey won for her album Let England Shake, a wonderfully conceived and elegantly controlled tribute to a nation and its armed forces. 10 years after her first win and deeply affected by the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, Harvey has created a deeply involved album that burns slowly but lacks cohesive and direct execution. It dances around delicately, almost lacklustre in its approach and delivery, with hard-hitting graphic lyrics intertwined with softened distanced vocals and music. But in creating a channel for silenced voices and lost lives, you can't argue with the sentiment.