Monday, 24 December 2012

Green Day - ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! (Album Reviews 2012)

 
I have been a Green Day fan since I discovered Dookie in 1994 and the songs Welcome To Paradise and Basket Case. Since then, before the band discovered the concept of prog-punk, only Nimrod is consistently impressive. From here, something strange happened. Green Day made the album Cigarettes and Valentines which was never released. It was supposed to be the antidote to the disappointing Warning but never saw the light of day - someone stole the master album from the studio. So they decided to start again, with new ideas and a new philosophy. The band describe this as a 'blessing in disguise'. No official versions of the album exist and it is now lost to the mists of time. So began the new era of Green Day - the album they went on to make, American Idiot, remains the most ambitious and musically accomplished collection of songs the band has made; a furious mix of fast energy and honest reflection. After the tour of American Idiot, Green Day repeated this process to make 21st Century Breakdown.

¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! are three separate albums, a trilogy of new songs to celebrate how Green Day got to where they are. The making of these albums turned the band paradoxically from a trio to a foursome as long-time touring guitarist Jason White joined the band. The debate about the nature of these albums rumbles on but they work as a trilogy in spite of some dodgy lyrical moments and ¡Dos! running about twenty minutes too long. ¡Uno! is a spirited start to the 'project' and ¡Tré! is the best of the three in terms of individual songs, and a great album to add to the Green Day catalogue - a solid mix of formulae, ideas and musical consistency. But the trilogy is bloated, self-indulgent and narrow.  Thirty-seven songs should be about twenty-five with some 'mashed' together; as the chaos and ambition of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown has not been translated here. Many of the songs are around three to four minutes (arguably the perfect length for powerful punchy pop) and get straight to the point lyrically.

The highlights of ¡Uno! include the wonderful and ironically offensive single Kill The DJ, the fast pop-punk of Angel Blue and Rusty James - a great chorus framed by a tuneful no-nonsense delivery. Nuclear Family is a great introduction (complete with countdown ending) and another tuneful chorus is at the heart of Stay The Night. The change of pace comes with the retrospective love song Sweet 16 and the cool guitar stomp of Carpe Diem. Closer Oh Love is good but not as great as it could be; "I'm wearing my heart on a noose" is an interesting line among the stomp. But songs like Troublemaker (American Idiot's younger brother), the empty Loss of Control and the air-headed chorus and expletives of Let Yourself Go are a step backwards. But, in terms of energy and commitment, you can't fault Armstrong, Dirnt, Cool and White.


¡Dos! suffers from no consistency - leading to mixed results. See You Tonight is a great start; a fragment of Simon & Garfunkel while Lazy Bones is more of what we expect from Green Day but in between, F*** Time is a poor idea, badly executed and Stop When The Red Lights Flash is dull and lacking ideas. Stray Heart is a cracking pop song and an instant highlight. This is one of the best songs from all three albums but Ashley and Baby Eyes are annoyingly one-dimensional and Lady Cobra doesn't work at all - a shame as this is supposed to be a tribute to the album's 'guest' vocalist. This is the part of ¡Dos! that fails to engage and drags the whole album down badly. Nightlife attempts to do something different (with the aforementioned Lady Cobra) but ends up like the uneasy mix of Eels jamming with Madonna. There are a few saving graces here. Wild One is well-paced and tongue-in-cheek with "She gave up on Jesus for livin' on Venus...I'm drinking the Coolade, I've jumped on the grenade, knowing my mind's gonna blow..." a good line. And Makeout Party is messy 50s rock 'n' roll. ¡Dos! goes for the big finish. Wow! That's Loud would be good with some original melody and Amy (for the late Amy Winehouse) is hard to criticise for its open-hearted approach - vocally this is Armstrong's finest hour. 

¡Tré! has some of the best songs of the trilogy, starting with the mid-tempo cheesy ballad Brutal Love. This is Green Day striving for something different and mixing styles into their punk-pop formula. X-Kid is a great rework of Father & Son and Missing You is proper emo love-song. The guitar work on 8th Serenade is superb and the song breaks the verse-verse-chrous mould. Another song that tries to steer away from the back-to-basics Green Day template is A Little Boy Named Train - continuing the inventive, yet familiar guitars and drums, but weaving in Armstrong's nursery-rhyme prose. It's not all good news as ¡Tré! has a few faltering moments. Drama Queen is ultimately dull and lyrically uneasy and Sex, Drugs & Violence is empty-headed and obvious. Amanda suffers the same fate and Dirty Rotten Bastards is an inane mash-up - the only song to do this with varying results. The Forgotten is a solid, composed five minutes to end the album and the trilogy.

Ultimately Green Day are on top form. The creative process is alive and kicking but it feels like quantity over quality. The guitars shine with crisp punchy precision and as a quartet, the band now have depth and presence. In this digital age, it doesn't really matter if bands throw all of their ideas at fans (aside from cost of buying individual albums - if that's what some people still do) but when you can choose, this trilogy can be distilled into a single decent double-album. With ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! out of the way, maybe the band can filter their creative urges into a single, solid, consistent follow-up.
-- CS

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill (Album Review 2012)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

Some musicians stand the test of time and only come along once in a lifetime. And it's even more wonderful when you can share that lifetime with them. Canadian legend Neil Young, now well into his late sixties, is back with Crazy Horse - the brilliant Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank Sampedro, who sound like a combination seventeen-piece folk orchestra/rock skiffle group - for his thirty-fifth album. Arguably Young's best work has been his own: After The Goldrush, Harvest and more recently Prairie Wind, but his work with Crazy Horse remains the most engaging and interesting. From the début Everybody Knows This is Nowhere to the brilliant Sleeps With Angels to the audio-saga of Greendale, the collaboration is the perfect musical-marriage. After the straight-forward Americana earlier this year, Psychedelic Pill is particularly ambitious, but at the same time, as the music is built on improvisations and jam sessions, entirely obvious and expected. Consequently the album is an enormous triumphant mess.

With a running time of an hour and a half, the nine songs boast an opening song of twenty-seven minutes. Driftin' Back is part retrospective, part protest at the state of the music generation and the invasion of technology. Young treads a fine line here, trying to balance his own musical philosophy and life-vision with the inevitable rush of technological progress. Young's mournful 'improvised' verses (in which he declares his therapy is to 'write it in my book' - a reference to his recent memoirs) are exquisitely framed with swathes of trademark Crazy Horse instrumentation. As the song unfolds, Young drifts between calm alto-voiced serenity and frustrated anger - his listeners are only getting five percent of his music when they 'used to get it all'. An exaggerated, but well-made, point. The guitar-work and percussion shine as the song enters its final journey in the twenty-second minute and four minutes later Young returns with talk of getting a 'Hip-hop haircut' and paganism. Genius with a sense of humour.

If this mini-album opener wasn't enough, there are two sixteen minute songs on Psychedelic Pill. Ramada Inn is a dark tale of love and family with a superb opening four minutes. From here the guitars and Young's vocals get wilder and more unfocused, but no less engaging and effective. This is followed by a massive guitar-fuelled section before the big finish: "He loves her so, he does what he has to...She loves him so, she does what she needs to". The second epic, Walk Like A Giant is the continuation of what began in Driftin' Back, taking Psychedelic Pill full-circle (if you ignore the odd inclusion of a different version of the title track). Again this is more remonstrating on the present and yearning for the past: "We were gonna save the world, we were tryin' to make it better...but then the weather changed.." before the emotional "It breaks my heart...". There is real passion for music and life here. After more brilliant guitar-work, the song grinds to a shuddering halt for the last three minutes of industrial noise.

Within these gargantuans are more gems. Born In Ontario is a spirited tribute to Young's roots and proof he can still rock like the best of them, albeit a bit steadier these days. Likewise the heavy over-produced swirling title track is a decent pop song and For The Love Of Man is the album's only beautiful ballad - and a definitive highlight, proving that there are still two sides to Neil Young.

Psychedelic Pill is terrifically balanced between moments of intimate songwriting and huge wandering instrumental breaks. No other collaboration on Earth can do this, and do it so well.

-- CS

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Music Chart - November 2012

New albums from The Album Leaf, Philter, Chelsea Wolfe, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Andy Burrows, Steffaloo, Photek, Allah-Las, Ingrid Michaelson, Sam Russo, Crystal Castles, Green Day (again!), Kristina Train, Soundgarden, How To Destroy Angels (EP), El Perro Del Mar, Neil Young & Crazy Horse (again!!) and Deftones.
  1. Shallow Bed by Dry The River 
  2. Babel by Mumford & Sons 
  3. Jake Bugg by Jake Bugg
  4. Valtari by Sigur Ros
  5. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  6. Sugaring Season by Beth Orton
  7. Bloom by Beach House 
  8. Traces by Karine Polwart
  9. Ssss by Vcmg 
  10. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind by Ben Folds Five 
  11. The Haunted Man By Bat For Lashes 
  12. Company by Andy Burrows 
  13. Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  14. Generation Freakshow by Feeder
  15. Celebration Rock by Japandroids
  16. The 2nd Law by Muse
  17. Cut The World by Antony & The Johnsons 
  18. Oshin by Diiv 
  19. Silver Age by Bob Mould 
  20. Electric Cables by Lightships 
  21. New Wild Everywhere by Great Lake Swimmers
  22. The Ghost In Daylight by Gravenhurst 
  23. Strangeland by Keane
  24. Lost Songs by And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
  25. Sun by Cat Power
  26. An Awesome Wave by Alt-J
  27. The Blossom Chronicles by Philter 
  28. A Conversation Well Rehearsed by The Birthday Suit
  29. Battle Born by The Killers
  30. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized 
  31. Ghostory by School of Seven Bells
  32. Charmer by Aimee Mann
  33. Born And Raised by John Mayer
  34. Coexist by The xx
  35. Like Drawing Blood by Gotye 
  36. Standing At The Sky's Edge by Richard Hawley
  37. Observator by The Raveonettes
  38. Now For Plan A by The Tragically Hip 
  39. III by Crystal Castles
  40. Race The Loser by Lau
  41. Southern Air by Yellowcard 
  42. Dead End Kings by Katatonia
  43. Banga by Patti Smith
  44. Instinct by Niki And The Dove
  45. Human Again by Ingrid Michaelson
  46. Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  47. Privateering by Mark Knopfler
  48. The Unthanks with Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band by The Unthanks
  49. 20 by Kate Rusby
  50. Close Up, Vol. 4 - Songs Of Family by Suzanne Vega
  51. Even On The Worst Nights by Mixtapes 
  52. Koi No Yokan by Defones
  53. Unknown Rooms by Chelsea Wolfe
  54. Oceania by Smashing Pumpkins
  55. Blood Speaks by Smoke Fairies 
  56. Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem
  57. Do The Struggle by Franz Nicolay 
  58. Forward/Return by The Album Leaf
  59. Stardust by Lena
  60. The Light The Dead Can See by Soulsavers 
  61. Hello Hum by Wintersleep
  62. Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings
  63. Lonerism by Tame Impala 
  64. Allah-Las by Allah-Las
  65. Mutual Friends by Boy 
  66. Devotion by Jessie Ware 
  67. Would You Stay by Steffaloo
  68. Moth by Exlovers
  69. Tramp by Sharon Van Etten 
  70. KU:PALM by Photek
  71. WIXIW by Liars 
  72. My Head Is An Animal by Of Monsters And Men
  73. Young Man In America by Anais Mitchell 
  74. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  75. The Sister by Marissa Nadler
  76. Americana by Neil Young and Crazy Horse 
  77. Unearth by Grasscut
  78. Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones
  79. Gold Dust by Tori Amos and Jules Buckley 
  80. King Animal by Soundgarden
  81. Hot Cakes by The Darkness
  82. Synthetica by Metric
  83. Words And Music by Saint Etienne
  84. Wonky by Orbital 
  85. Crown And Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim 
  86. Shrines by Purity Ring
  87. Internal Logic by Grass Widow
  88. ¡Dos! by Green Day
  89. Here Come The Bombs by Gaz Coombes
  90. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  91. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
  92. New Relics by Errors 
  93. An Omen EP by How To Destroy Angels
  94. Dead In The Boot by Elbow
  95. Wild Peace by Echo Lake
  96. Dub Egg by The Young
  97. Born Villain by Marilyn Manson
  98. Let It Break by Gemma Hayes
  99. ¡Uno! by Green Day
  100. Life Is Good by Nas
  101. Living Things by Linkin Park
  102. Beacon by Two Door Cinema Club 
  103. Oh No I Love You by Tim Burgess
  104. Underwater Sunshine by Counting Crows
  105. Manifest! by Friends
  106. Clear Moon by Mount Eerie
  107. Tree Bursts In Snow by Admiral Fallow
  108. Human Don't Be Angry by Human Don't Be Angry
  109. The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
  110. Weapons by Lostprophets
  111. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  112. A Monument by Tu Fawning
  113. Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
  114. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  115. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  116. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  117. Pale Fire by El Perro Del Mar
  118. Long Live The Struggle by The King Blues
  119. Fossil Of Girl by Sarah Donner
  120. Blunderbuss by Jack White
  121. Here I Am by Oli Brown 
  122. Spirits by Plankton Wat
  123. Visions by Grimes
  124. Come Home To Mama by Martha Wainwright
  125. Tales From The Barrel House by Seth Lakeman 
  126. Dark Black by Kristina Train
  127. The Temper Trap by The Temper Trap
  128. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  129. Eighty One by Yppah
  130. Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen
  131. First Serve by De La Soul's Plug 1 and Plug 2
  132. Kin Con by Alex Winston
  133. Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage
  134. Gossamer by Passion Pit 
  135. The Afterman: Ascension by Coheed and Cambria
  136. Siberia by LIGHTS 
  137. Ocean Roar by Mount Eerie 
  138. Europe by Allo Darlin' 
  139. North by Matchbox Twenty
  140. The Something Rain by Tindersticks
  141. Something by Chairlift
  142. The House That Jack Built by Jesca Hoop 
  143. Mirage Rock by Band Of Horses 
  144. The Savage Heart by The Jim Jones Revue
  145. Who Needs Who by Dark Dark Dark
  146. Anxiety by Ladyhawke
  147. Fear Fun by Father John Misty
  148. Transcendental Youth by The Mountain Goats
  149. Fragrant World by Yeasayer 
  150. Shields by Grizzly Bear
  151. California 37 by Train
  152. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
  153. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  154. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple
  155. Through The Night by Ren Harvieu
  156. Personality by Scuba 
  157. Storm by Sam Russo
  158. America Give Up by Howler
  159. Black Light by Diagrams

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Album Reviews (Andy Burrows, Philter, Crystal Castles)

Andy Burrows - Company


After leaving Razorlight in 2009, Andy Burrows has been guest drummer with We Are Scientists and one half of the Smith & Burrows collaboration with Editors Tom Smith. His début solo album The Colour Of My Dreams, is an engaging selection of poetry set to music, made as a charity record. Burrows's second album Company is an entirely different record - much more robust and complete, filled with luscious melodies, sharp song writing and meticulous instrumentation. The undoubted highlight at the centre of Company is the stirring ballad Hometown - a song with great structure built around piano and vocals. The emotion pours into the chorus and delivers one of the best lines on the album: "...Leave the lights on when I go, so I can watch you down below" is just beautiful. And the central string arrangement is sublime. Earlier, there isn't a weak moment, from the vocal harmonies and Fleet Foxes/Midlake-esque title track, with subtle building strings, to the country-waltz Maybe You, all vocal melody and more solid lyrics: "I thought about it once; thought about disagreeing with you. But I was someone else; someone whose heart was indestructible...". Even the odd comedy brass break works to lighten the mood. And Because I Know That I Can is near perfect funk-folk with great guitar-work. The scond half breaks from the comfort zone with mixed, yet satisfying, results. On Somebody Calls Your Name, Burrows is Elliot Smith, Stars In The Sky is a soft vocal lullaby and the shimmering pop of Shaking The Colour blends strings and guitars to form the conclusion. A great album.

Philter - The Blossom Chronicles


Little is known of Norwegian musician Magnus Gangstad Jørgensen, AKA Philter. He released his début album The Beautiful Lies at the end of 2011 and the follow-up The Blossom Chronicles continues to blend stirring orchestral arrangements with electronic beats and loops. This time around, Jørgensen focuses on strings and piano, bringing in female vocalist Miriam Vaga for only four of the thirteen songs - so the Blossom Chronicles is an instrumental album at heart. This is the soundtrack for a film/game that exists only in the mind. After the dramatic Prologue, the early highlight is Adventure Time, a string-laden cinematic clockwork soundtrack with buzzing electronica. This is followed by the wonderful Spellbound In 8-Bit - a fun cool combination of 'Speak And Spell' samples and vibrant arcade-style beats. Of the vocal tracks, Mountaintops & Skyscrapers is a great blend of traditional and modern, and Vaga's best performance, with the more delicate They Call Her Blossom a close second. After a good first half, The Blossom Chronicles loses its way, especially in the closing four songs. The Seven Seas is charming enough and a neat blend of guitars and tribal percussion and Draw Your Weapon sounds like a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds remix, without Cave's vocals, but We Fought Monsters doesn't fit the mood of the album and the over-produced 'chipmunk' vocals of The Lights (Epilogue) are a constant and annoying distraction. But the problems are few and The Blossom Chronicles remains a good example of how to make dance music for geeks.

Crystal Castles - III


Ethan Kath and Alice Glass continue their quest to make dark twisted and challenging dance music. For III, the Canadian duo sought inspiration in Warsaw to make an album of oppression and alienation, throwing away the computerised sound of previous albums I and II, and trying for something more organic and more focused. From the opener Plague, it is clear that Crystal Castles haven't done anything completely radical - all the trademark sounds are here: Kath's layers of production and obfuscation, and Glass delicate and sweet then fighting to be heard through the fragmented noise. An early highlight is the superb Wrath Of God, like two songs intertwined, one forwards, one backwards, again with Glass screaming through the haze of electronic froth. Sad Eyes is about as good as it gets - a ghostly mutated pop song of driving drums, piercing keyboards and above all, melody. Violent Youth would be the album's great pop song if it had a vocal track that didn't jump around, and percussion that didn't sound like a bad Human League b-side. Obviously Crystal Castles are trying to make interesting and compelling music but Throughout III you get the impression that they are specifically sabotaging their own creations. The horrible unlistenable vocals and dull repetition of Pale Flesh, the equally disjointed and nasty Insulin, and The 'mice from Bagpuss' backing vocals and stark empty instrumentation on Kerosene, are notable examples. Affection is pleasant enough but it's like a delicate love song scoured with sandpaper and metal wool. One track that stands out, as it seems to have a solid clear subject, Transgender is clever and sharp, intricate and complex. III ends with a strong trio. The (mainly) instrumental Telepath is cool and elegant, likewise Mercenary is dark and brutal, yet hopeful and uplifting. Closer Child I Will Hurt You is a soft sweet lullaby hiding a razor-blade centre. III is the sound of Crystal Castles progressing, but not as far as everyone wanted. Moments of brilliance and individuality are shattered by mind-numbing chaos and obscure swamped vocals; if this is the oppression they were trying to find, they found it.
-- CS

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Album Reviews (Bat For Lashes, The Album Leaf and Chelsea Wolfe)

Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man





Natasha Khan has completed her glorious trilogy (following the Mercury Prize nominated Fur And Gold and Two Suns) with The Haunted Man - a more stripped down collection of songs than previous albums. Khan continues to juxtapose the intimate with the distant, drawing the listener in with personal stories and themes, and pushing them away with metaphor and wandering obscurity. The magnificent centrepiece is undoubtedly Laura (co-written with Justin Parker - a fellow Ivor Novello award winner for Lana Del Rey's Video Games); this is a stirring operatic ballad of moving beauty, gaining power and meaning on every repeat listen. The vocal production allows Khan's voice to soar with raw emotion. Equally effective is the dreamy electronic-infused Marilyn, complete with odd robotic chipmunk interlude, and second single All Your Gold is a great combination of 'old' and 'new', from uncluttered tribal opening, and borrowing heavily from Daniel, to the orchestral beats ending. While The Haunted Man is very much a solo record, Khan has gathered a swathe of talent - including producers David Kosten (Faultlines) and Dan Carey (who has worked with everyone from The Kills to Hot Chip), and drummer Rob Ellis. Bringing these musicians into her world, while keeping her vision, is the greatest success of The Haunted Man. The ideas and personnel flow on the title track - the only time The Haunted Man veers into prog-rock waters, only to weather the storm and rise triumphantly through the waves as Khan leads the choral ending. This is the end of a beautiful trilogy.
-- CS

Forward/Return by The Album Leaf





The Album Leaf, the brainchild of Jimmy LaValle, first rose to prominence in 2004 with the release of In A Safe Place - recorded with the help of Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Forward/Return (released as an EP - in spite of its 35 minute running time) is a welcome return after 2010's A Chorus Of Storytellers. Opener Stretched Home is a gorgeous blend of lazy drums, horns and delicate synths while Descent brings a more electronic produced sound. The Album Leaf always play like Mogwai in their more erudite, composed moods; like their Scottish contemporaries, crafting a complex layered composition around a central idea. Low Down brings in another great brass section - not raspy but polished and smooth, and Skylines is simply beautiful, with its stark spiky percussion and gliding strings - a subtle piano melody emerging from the depths. Under The Night, the only song on Forward/Return with vocals, is a prosaic low point which could be much better with the absence of words. That said, it builds to a satisfying, if repetitive climax. Images is a slightly chaotic, unfocused penultimate four minutes while closer Dark Becomes Light is exactly this - bleak droning 8-bit beats through the first three to four minutes to break through at the four minute point into glorious hope-filled rays to complete the transformation. Another wonderful record from a true pioneer of electronic post-rock.
-- CS

Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs by Chelsea Wolfe





Three albums in three years for Sacramento's Chelsea Wolfe has brought the gothic singer-songwriter from the ghostly, challenging (try Deep Talks), religious-imagery of The Grime And The Glow to the more impressive Apokalypsis. Now we arrive at Unknown Rooms. As the subtitle suggests this is an album of more organic, guitar and vocal based, folk songs from the singer's unreleased archives - with the Wolfe twist. But this is far removed from the usual dark melancholia and harsh musical arrangements. Lightness is everywhere. The delicate seduction of opener Flatlands comes alive in the second half for a wonderful string-laden finale, while Appalachia has a hardened-edged determination - sharp guitars and howling strings, while Wolfe is superb. The Way We Used To and Hyper Oz are a curious menagerie of vocal arrangements, the former with added military drums, the latter with spooky strings and vocals, while Spinning Centers is a simple guitar/vocal combination; all softness and light touch. Likewise, Our Work Was Good is very reminiscent of PJ Harvey's Let England Shake, with better execution. There are scattered moments of darkness: I Died With You is a short ghostly interlude before the sparse, fragmented and haunting Boyfriend (a cover by Karlos Rene Ayala and Ben Chisholm - who plays with Wolfe on the album). This is a weird, yet wonderful, addition which descends into sinister buzzing synths. Closer Sunstorm is a real surprise, a piano-led vocal duel between two halves of the same consciousness. The two bonus songs, new original compositions, are a great addition: Virginia Woolf Underwater is mesmerisingly great, as are Wolfe's vocals on Gold. Unknown Rooms is unlikely to propel Chelsea Wolfe into the big time but this is certainly her most accessible and consistent album. Ironic then that it is filled with songs that have taken this long to come (in)to light.

-- CS


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Music Chart - October 2012

Another great month for new music. Highlights include Beth Orton, The Birthday Suit, Green Day, Muse, Suzanne Vega, Lau, Wintersleep, Tori Amos, Bob Mould, Tim Burgess, Errors (again!), Taken By Trees, The Mountain Goats, Bat For Lashes, The Tragically Hip, Coheed and Cambria, Martha Wainwright, Jake Bugg, Lena, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Kate Rusby, Tame Impala and The Jim Jones Revue.
  1. Shallow Bed by Dry The River 
  2. Babel by Mumford & Sons 
  3. Jake Bugg by Jake Bugg
  4. Valtari by Sigur Ros
  5. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  6. Sugaring Season by Beth Orton
  7. Bloom by Beach House 
  8. Traces by Karine Polwart
  9. Ssss by Vcmg 
  10. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind by Ben Folds Five 
  11. The Haunted Man By Bat For Lashes
  12. Generation Freakshow by Feeder
  13. Celebration Rock by Japandroids
  14. The 2nd Law by Muse
  15. Cut The World by Antony & The Johnsons 
  16. Oshin by Diiv 
  17. Silver Age by Bob Mould 
  18. New Wild Everywhere by Great Lake Swimmers
  19. Stardust by Lena
  20. The Ghost In Daylight by Gravenhurst 
  21. Sun by Cat Power
  22. An Awesome Wave by Alt-J  
  23. Battle Born by The Killers
  24. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized
  25. Ghostory by School of Seven Bells
  26. Charmer by Aimee Mann
  27. Born And Raised by John Mayer
  28. Coexist by The xx
  29. Like Drawing Blood by Gotye 
  30. Observator by The Raveonettes
  31. Now For Plan A by The Tragically Hip
  32. Race The Loser by Lau
  33. Southern Air by Yellowcard 
  34. Dead End Kings by Katatonia
  35. Banga by Patti Smith
  36. Instinct by Niki And The Dove
  37. Electric Cables by Lightships
  38. Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  39. Privateering by Mark Knopfler 
  40. A Conversation Well Rehearsed by The Birthday Suit
  41. The Unthanks with Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band by The Unthanks
  42. 20 by Kate Rusby
  43. Close Up, Vol. 4 - Songs Of Family by Suzanne Vega
  44. Even On The Worst Nights by Mixtapes
  45. Oceania by Smashing Pumpkins
  46. Blood Speaks by Smoke Fairies 
  47. Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem
  48. Do The Struggle by Franz Nicolay 
  49. The Light The Dead Can See by Soulsavers 
  50. Hello Hum by Wintersleep
  51. Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings
  52. Lonerism by Tame Impala
  53. Mutual Friends by Boy 
  54. Devotion by Jessie Ware
  55. Moth by Exlovers
  56. Tramp by Sharon Van Etten
  57. WIXIW by Liars 
  58. My Head Is An Animal by Of Monsters And Men
  59. Young Man In America by Anais Mitchell 
  60. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  61. The Sister by Marissa Nadler
  62. Americana by Neil Young and Crazy Horse 
  63. Unearth by Grasscut
  64. Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones
  65. Gold Dust by Tori Amos and Jules Buckley
  66. Hot Cakes by The Darkness
  67. Synthetica by Metric
  68. Words And Music by Saint Etienne
  69. Wonky by Orbital 
  70. Crown And Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim 
  71. Shrines by Purity Ring
  72. Standing At The Sky's Edge by Richard Hawley
  73. Internal Logic by Grass Widow
  74. Strangeland by Keane
  75. Here Come The Bombs by Gaz Coombes
  76. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  77. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
  78. New Relics by Errors
  79. Dead In The Boot by Elbow
  80. Wild Peace by Echo Lake
  81. Dub Egg by The Young
  82. Born Villain by Marilyn Manson
  83. Let It Break by Gemma Hayes
  84. ¡Uno! by Green Day
  85. Life Is Good by Nas
  86. Living Things by Linkin Park
  87. Beacon by Two Door Cinema Club 
  88. Oh No I Love You by Tim Burgess
  89. Underwater Sunshine by Counting Crows
  90. Manifest! by Friends
  91. Clear Moon by Mount Eerie
  92. Tree Bursts In Snow by Admiral Fallow
  93. Human Don't Be Angry by Human Don't Be Angry
  94. The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
  95. Weapons by Lostprophets
  96. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  97. A Monument by Tu Fawning
  98. Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
  99. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  100. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  101. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  102. Long Live The Struggle by The King Blues
  103. Fossil Of Girl by Sarah Donner
  104. Blunderbuss by Jack White
  105. Here I Am by Oli Brown 
  106. Spirits by Plankton Wat
  107. Visions by Grimes
  108. Come Home To Mama by Martha Wainwright
  109. Tales From The Barrel House by Seth Lakeman 
  110. The Temper Trap by The Temper Trap
  111. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  112. Eighty One by Yppah
  113. Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen
  114. First Serve by De La Soul's Plug 1 and Plug 2
  115. Kin Con by Alex Winston
  116. Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage
  117. Gossamer by Passion Pit 
  118. The Afterman: Ascension by Coheed and Cambria
  119. Siberia by LIGHTS 
  120. Ocean Roar by Mount Eerie 
  121. Europe by Allo Darlin' 
  122. North by Matchbox Twenty
  123. The Something Rain by Tindersticks
  124. Something by Chairlift
  125. The House That Jack Built by Jesca Hoop 
  126. Mirage Rock by Band Of Horses 
  127. The Savage Heart by The Jim Jones Revue
  128. Who Needs Who by Dark Dark Dark
  129. Anxiety by Ladyhawke
  130. Fear Fun by Father John Misty
  131. Transcendental Youth by The Mountain Goats
  132. Fragrant World by Yeasayer 
  133. Shields by Grizzly Bear
  134. California 37 by Train
  135. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
  136. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  137. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple
  138. Through The Night by Ren Harvieu
  139. Personality by Scuba
  140. America Give Up by Howler
  141. Black Light by Diagrams

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Tragically Hip - Now For Plan A (Album Review 2012)

The Tragically Hip - Now For Plan A





Canada's best kept secret, The Tragically Hip, have not had an easy time of it in recent years. Their previous album, We Are The Same,  predictably divided fans. The title is an ironic affirmation to fans that in spite of enhanced production and a 'bigger sound', thanks to Bob Rock, The Hip are, and always will be, the same band. As for the album: it remains an example of how to bring in new ideas and still retain your soul, and The Depression Suite, the nine and a half minute opus, remains the highlight - and one of their best songs of recent times. But the band has much to prove after two disappointing albums: In Between Evolution and World Container followed In Violet Light, their most accomplished album since Trouble In The Henhouse in 1996. So now, ten years later, the band's thirteenth (studio) album is Now For Plan A.


If the big problem with The Tragically Hip in the last decade has been consistency of albums, it is now with their songs. Now For Plan A suffers from many things but the biggest frustration is it's home to some of the best songs the band has written - and some of the worst. The aggressive opener At Transformation is a great noisy, determined, start and We Want To Be It, with its persistent 'drip drip drip' is truly wonderful and mesmerising. Gorgeous guitars form the introduction to the anti-love song and singer Gordon Downie's most committed performance - and a simple premise is used to form something much more complex. Surprisingly, Streets Ahead is the nearest The Hip get to a perfect three-minute pop song; in part the younger cousin of Lionized - held together with a vibrant, upbeat and furiously delivered chorus. Continuing the good run of form, the title track, featuring Sarah Harmer on vocals to provide the 'other side of the story', is simply brilliant - this is controlled, focused and above all, tuneful. The only other song achieving the usual Hip greatness is the beautiful Done And Done, a rose between to horrible thorns.

The rest of Now For Plan A is a messy collection of ideas and misjudged arrangements. Only The Lookahead and The Modern Spirit capture any of The Hip at their best but they, and remainder, suffer the same fate. The sharp song writing, witty observations and Downie's reliable, tuneful, and creative vocals, desert the band. Man Machine Poem, Take Forever and closer Goodnight Attawapiskat are poor and About This Map is a great idea ruined by more bad execution - and a flat, dull, uninspired chorus. Now For Plan A is hopefully titled ironically as the album is far from the glory days of The Tragically Hip at their majestic, wonderful, best.
-- CS

Jack Bugg - Jake Bugg (Album Review 2012)

Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg


From time to time, a new single creates a false sense of anticipation for an album. That single is Two Fingers by Nottingham's 18 year old Jake Bugg. The renowned music expert, and man with his own two fingers on the pulse, DBA Jim (thanks JD!), put this new song my way and I was immediately and distinctly unimpressed. This is the sound of another young upstart embracing lad-culture, singing about smoking and drinking, like an early Alex Turner but without the charm. So the eponymous début album was approached with trepidation - for no good reason. Jake Bugg is a revelation. Supported by the song-writing and production talents of Iain Archer (Snow Patrol), Crispin Hunt (Longpigs) and Mike Crossey, Bugg deftly delivers a collection of wonderful stories and love songs, embodying his life, future hopes and dreams. From the vibrant guitar rockabilly of opener Lightning Bolt, and previous single Taste It, to the delicate charm of Country Song and the superb ballad Broken (Hunt's only, but vital, contribution), the first half of the album doesn't disappoint. Even the aforementioned Two Fingers (actually the fifth single from Jake Bugg), quickly followed by the tongue-in-cheek Seen It All ("One Friday night I took a pill, or maybe two..." begins the psychedelic adventure) with their over-confident, no-fear, swagger, add to the glorious mix. The second half is more sedate, kicking off with the excellent Trouble Town, immediately drawing comparisons with early Bob Dylan - all street-poet and attitude, The Ballad Of Mr Jones is a dark country-fuelled tale of misadventure, while Slide is another tearful ballad - the kind Richard Ashcroft can only dream of. Note To Self is Bugg's best vocal performance, the vibrato resonating from the world of Gerry Marsden and Gene Pitney, followed by the equally affecting Someplace. This blend of old-world production, new-world songwriting, and that fantastic voice is the key to Jake Bugg's triumphant musical introduction.
-- CS

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Muse - The 2nd Law (Album Review 2012)

Muse - The 2nd Law


Muse has grown as a band over fifteen years and six albums, a transformation starting with 2003's Absolution. The signs are all there on Origin Of Symmetry but the lack of focus, and talent to take the material and huge arrangements to the 'next level' plague the album continuously. So through Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance, Muse arrive at The 2nd Law. And what a chaotic, glorious mess of an album it is.

Opener Supremacy is a bond theme without the film to go with it, and sets the early tone - that of power and holding on to it, Madness is Queen's I Want To Break Free with a majestic choral finale, and Panic Station is a pop-funk mash-up of Thriller and Scissor Sisters. So far, so Muse. After this audacious start is The 2nd Law's key track - the one minute orchestral Prelude, which after the opening trilogy, presses a reset button and seems to be there to introduce the album 'proper'. This starts with Survival, which was the official song of the London 2012 Summer Olympics; badly-judged - over aggressive and sinister, conjuring images of a malevolent despot struggling to keep order and control over a nation. On 2nd Law it works only to enhance the sense of oppression, menace and power - pomp and overblown production aside - but still remains one of the album's weaker moments.

From here, The 2nd Law settles down into a decent rock album. Follow Me stays just the right side of camp disco - like Jeff Buckley's take on I Will Survive as remixed by a youthful Trent Reznor, interrupted by Bono. The guitar work on Animals is especially good, as is Matthew Bellamy's vocals. Explorers is also great, a bit Black Star (Radiohead) with delicious backing vocals. Bellamy is again superb on Big Freeze, even if it's not one of the album's strongest moments while Save Me is a real surprise. Lead vocals for this, and following song Liquid State (kicking off like Ministry and ending up as something completely new), are handed to bassist Chris Wolstenholme, transforming Muse into a new band and two cracking performances. And the closing title track, a two-part electro-experiment of buzzes, clicks, robotic vocals and samples, fused with gorgeous piano and strings, is also Bellamy-free. This is bizarre, downbeat and serious, yet fitting, end to The 2nd Law - an album that starts with no identity and becomes something unique and interesting.

Far from a triumph, The 2nd Law is many other things. It is a three-track EP from a band on form doing other people's songs, more in tribute than parody; then a superb rock-pop album and some of the best guitar-work and vocals from the band; then Muse being something else: a new identity, a difference; before a well-meaning eco-propaganda prog-rock finale. No other band is attempting this with such brazen confidence, the level of sophisticated musicianship, and ultimate success.
-- CS

Music Reviews (Tim Burgess, Bob Mould, Beth Orton)

Tim Burgess - Oh No I Love You


Charlatans front-man and part-time DJ Tim Burgess has released two solo albums, the first I Believe in 2003 was a warm, charming and spirited attempt to break away from the then well-established Charlatans formula. The band were an important part of the Manchester scene, with the brilliant albums Between 10th and 11th, Up To Our Hips and Tellin' Stories (to name the best three from the five great albums the band made in the 90s), and have never quite reached those heights since. So nearly ten years after his solo début, Burgess is back with Oh No I Love You. Anyone expecting a Charlatans album will be disappointed, and should be. Burgess uses his solo work as an outlet to try different things, and unlike I Believe, which is largely straight-forward and uncluttered, this second album is a mix of styles and sounds. This is mainly due to the collaboration with Lambchop's Kurt Wagner and a host of other musicians including My Morning Jacket. From the big lead single and opening break-up song White, all cool retro keyboards and brass section, to the sad, croaky, six and half minute ballad A Case For Vinyl, to the love-lost downbeat electro-pop The Great Outdoors Bitches, this is both sublime and compelling. Elsewhere the songs are comfortable. The Doors Of Then is a pleasant country waltz and Hours is a string-laden slice of easy-listening. Only the slow listless Tobacco Fields grates somewhat. But Oh No I Love You ends well, with the falsetto-driven and slick guitar work of The Economy and the second six-minute epic, mournful choral closer A Gain, with Burgess again showing his wonderful vocal range and timing, proving that the project is a worthwhile success.

Bob Mould - Silver Age


Former Husker Du and Sugar front-man Bob Mould releases his tenth solo album Silver Age. A man with a huge musical legacy, he is now an assured elder statesman, and his current 'band' featuring Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster (Superchunk and The Mountain Goats) sound as brilliant as ever. Silver Age has all the angst and guitars of Husker Du, the melodies of Sugar, and Mould's sharp spiky tuneful vocals. From furious opener Star Machine, to the wonderful shimmering pop of The Descent, to the epic guitar-fuelled psychedelia of Steam Of Hercules, there is never a dull moment. The second half of Silver Age is only marred by the trite and predictable Angels Rearrange but the blistering Fugue State and final duo of Keep Believing and First Time Joy are both excellent; the former is the perfect way to start any rock song - even if the melody flattens as the song concludes, while the latter is the vibrant hope-filled album highlight. The bands he has influenced through the years can be heard everywhere on this album, the echoes of the past sounding new and fresh. Bob Mould has not only proved his continued relevance and importance with Silver Age but found a collection of songs worthy of his tenth solo record.

Beth Orton - Sugaring Season


Beth Orton has been away for a while, to get married and start a family, but now six years after the disappointing Comfort Of Strangers, and sixteen years after her brilliant début Trailer Park, Orton releases the re-energised Sugaring Season. Thankfully Orton has discarded the 'easy-listening' style and bland middle-of-the-road balladry of her previous few albums and returned to her vibrant 'folk' roots. This has been described as a 'folk album for people who don't like folk' which is plainly ridiculous - what it means is this is a deep, atmospheric acoustic record filled with swathes of instrumentation, gorgeous vocals and compelling stories. From opener Magpie, you can tell Orton is determined and driven - like she is now giving Laura Marling something to think about. Her (now forty years young) vocals still retain a breathless quality, while gaining strength and maturity. Candles is especially surprising and wonderful - an impossibly high, yet husky, register drives the song forward through guitars and distant backing vocals: "You just found another way to cry..." is the dramatic closer to each chorus (with 'you' replaced with 'I' in the last dramatic moment). The lightness comes with Call Me The Breeze, a wonderful organ-keyboard filled, breezy-vocal country romp; while Poison Tree is a dark, menacing tale of lost love and faith. And the brilliance continues with the piano-led ballad Last Leaves Of Autumn, quickly followed by more great piano and the subtle tunefulness of State Of Grace. And closer Mystery is perfect, elegant simplicity and Orton's best vocal, not only of the album, but her life. Only the short See Through Blue, trying to break the 'seriousness', is misjudged, as Sugaring Season unfolds into a major triumph. Even though it lacks the song-craft and wide-eyed innocence of Trailer Park, Beth Orton is now, with Sugaring Season, a better musician and better song-writer.
-- CS

Suzanne Vega - Close-Up Volume 4, Songs Of Family (Album Review 2012)


Suzanne Vega has released the fourth (and final?) volume of her 'Close-up' series of reworked and re-performed songs from her own back catalogue. Close-up Volume 4, Songs of Family, as the name suggests, focuses on the people closest to Vega, and this one features previously unreleased songs - three no less, that conclude the album.

Songs are taken from Vega's previous albums with two notable exceptions. There are two songs from the much neglected Days Of Open Hand: Tired Of Sleeping and Pilgrimage, two from 99.9F degrees: Blood Sings and Bad Wisdom, two from Nine Objects Of Desire: Honeymoon Suite and World Before Columbus, two from Songs In Red And Gray: Soap And Water and Widow's Walk and (to complete the symmetry) two from Beauty & Crime: As You Are Now and Ludlow Street. No songs from her eponymous début and Solitude Standing feature (which is something of a surprise) and the opening song, Rosemary has only been released before on Vega's 1998 compilation Tried and True.

On paper, this looks like the weakest collection of songs on the four Close-up albums. That could be a good thing, giving more scope for the reworkings to shine. Only World Before Columbus, As You Are Now, Blood Sings and Soap And Water immediately stand out. But like many of Vega's albums (including these revisitations), quality is everywhere and it's easy to forget quite how good many of these songs are. Take Pilgrimage, for example. Here Vega has brought a dated and oddly-detatched song right up-to-date; gone is the big 80's production and echoing drums and the song can now escape, while retaining the original spirit. Many of the songs on Volume 4 have remained largely untouched. The difference this time is injected energy, when required, or increased poignancy to enhance the stories. After all, this is the most personal of these recordings. Soap And Water is as heartbreakingly beautiful as the original, the main difference being added guitar and the lack of strings, as is World Before Columbus. Both capture heartache and joy equally.

Big changes are few and far between. Tired Of Sleeping shows its age lyrically (now over twenty years old) but Vega makes a good attempt at undating, and uncomplicating, it - complete with a more effective big ending. That said, the original is wonderfully charming. As You Are Now is completely stripped bare of production and clutter, and Ludlow Street has all its rampant percussion removed, creating a more sedate version.

So what of the new songs? Brother Mine and The Silver Lady were written over thirty years ago but now sound completely relevant and modern. They are completely different, the former an upbeat country-pop celebration and the latter a more reflective take on the same subject. These are more obvious 'family' songs than most of the metaphor-driven work on the album. The final of the trilogy, Daddy Is White, is the newest song, and the most interesting. Revisiting the sound and approach of much of 99F degrees, this is new take on an old subject, and is a fitting finale to an album about family.

Looking at all four volumes of Close-Up, not many musicians could do what Suzanne Vega has done. This series of albums is both predictable and compelling; there are surprises and comfortable familiar arrangements aplenty but more often than not, it succeeds as a celebration and a reminder of just how good the songs of Suzanne Vega are. For past, present and future.
-- CS

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Mogwai remix album 'A Wrenched Virile Lore'

Mogwai are to release a new album on November 19th entitled A Wrenched Virile Lore containing remixes of tracks from Hardcore Will never Die, But You Will.

Track listing:

'George Square Thatcher Death Party' (Justin K Broadrick Reshape)'
'Rano Pano (Klad Hest – Mogwai is My Dick RMX)'
'White Noise (EVP Mix by Cyclob)'
'How To Be A Werewolf (Xander Harris Remix)'
'Letters To The Metro (Zombi Remix)'
'Mexican Grand Prix (Reworked by RM Hubbert)'
'Rano Pano (Tim Hecker Remix)'
'San Pedro (The Soft Moon Remix)'
'Too Raging To Cheers (Umberto Remix)'
'La Mort Blanche (Robert Hampson Remix)'

Karine Polwart - Traces (Album Review 2012)

Karine Polwart - Traces





There are many folk musicians who are ever-present yet go about their trade largely unnoticed (except maybe not to a group of hardened fans). Karine Polwart has been in and out of bands (and currently a member of The Burns Unit with Emma Pollock and King Creosote), as well as collaborating with other solo artists, including Idlewild's Roddy Woomble, but it is her own solo work which is her most engaging; none more so than her latest album Traces. Polwart's début Faultlines won her two BBC Radio 2 folk awards and unlike this, the darker follow-up Scribbled In Chalk, and the traditional Fairest Floo'er, Traces is an exquisite collection of bitter-sweet songs from the beautiful recollections of childhood to tales of relationships and family, love, loss and memories.


Through the simple acoustic delivery is an ethereal production, evident from opener Cover Your Eyes, deftly blending Polwart's Stirlingshire vocals (think Amy MacDonald sings Kate Rusby) with grand flourishes of strings and percussion to convey the feel of weather, unforgiving coastlines and a valued dune ecosystem. "Not even God himself could stop the Northerlies from blowing" is just wonderful imagery and every song on Traces immediately paints pictures in the listeners' minds at every opportunity - as great storytelling should. An early highlight is the charming and poignant Don't Worry, highlighting the plight of fighting men and women: "When the soldier comes back, with the weight of the world in his little knapsack... He's gonna need a hand to hold...to ease out the thorns from the heart of his soul" is superb songwriting and heart-breaking narrative. This is followed by the equally emotive and stirring We're All Leaving, about growing up, finding your own way and moving on. The song builds elegantly to a controlled dramatic climax.


More great moments are scattered throughout Traces like gold dust: the wordless vocals of King Of Birds, more stirring tales of family, memories and growing up with loss: Strange News ("And the mother does just what she must and the father comes undone; in the not-yet-snow we wave and shout 'hello'...to a morning sun"), complete with a gorgeous central vocal and Inge Thomson's perfect accordion, and the slow-building darkness and drama of Tears For Lot's Wife is perfectly arranged and shows the talents of the wonderful band, including Polwart's brother Steven; all excellent at every turn. The magical Tinsel Show adds more youthful nostalgia.

Into the final trilogy, Sticks 'n' Stones is a slow-burning relocation of leaving behind a treasured family home with more brilliant word-smithery: "Inch-lines on door frames, and thumb-prints on window panes...scars where the bed stood and names scored on old wood  ...and our dreams in the rafters, secrets in timbers... and hopes in the plasterboard" is interspersed with stark cold 'empty' accordion to complete the juxtaposition. Salters Road is probably the album highlight and easily Polwart's best vocal of her career, let alone the album - a simply beautiful and heart-wrenching tale of two distant lovers set to the backdrop of the atmospheric Scottish landscape. Closer Half A Mile, is a close second for album highlight, as it takes the most awful of subjects - that of abduction and murder - and with a perfectly-judged and brave delivery, turns it into a moving tribute. "You were high on being alone... You were high on being old enough to walk home...for the first time", the final part repeated twice, as the terrible tale unfolds. "And the trucks still roll by..." forms an emotional end.

Traces is Karine Polwart at her best; direct and honest folk songwriting with an added 'sheen' thanks to a brilliant supporting band and expert-touch production. This is a great modern folk album,  Polwart's voice shining with its own personality, truth and starry-eyed emotion, and the stories and characters are brought to life through the songs.
-- CS

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Peter Buck releases Solo album, Tomorrow!

Former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck has a new solo album, released on October 5th. The record features Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney and the Corin Tucker Band, Jenny Conley of The Decemberists, Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye and several other friends and musicians Buck has worked with over the years.

From the official R.E.M. HQ website:

"I know I said for years that I would never make a solo record. It was never a plan or a desire but it just kind of happened. When REM called it a day I'd spent the last 3 months on my back with a semi-crippling injury unable to play guitar. With my band gone and unable to use the fingers on my right hand, I started writing lyrics just to have something creative to do. The lyrics turned into songs and the songs turned into what felt like a possible album, so I called some of my favorite musicians, Scott, Mike, Bill, Lenny Kaye, Corin Tucker, Jenny Conlee, and booked studio time."

Buck has written most of lyrics on the album but vocal duties go elsewhere; however he still feels it is his solo record.

Buck is also quite dismissive about the project: "At this point it is a limited edition of 2,000 vinyl only. As for the future I may do some performances, but this is not a career, it is something I am doing for fun."

Will the album be available digitally? Who knows. I hope so.

“If I had wanted to make it a CD, the CD would’ve been out three months ago,” he said, “but vinyl is what I want to do for right now. It’s a record—like all records, people will have to look for it, I guess. It’s not gonna be in Walmart. We’ll see about the digital."

Ok so he's being humble about it all but he was (is) the guitarist in R.E.M. While we all appreciate his artistic integrity, he could reach a huge audience. 2000 copies? Vinyl? Come on, at least give us a digital listen, even for a limited time.



Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Music Chart - September 2012

New albums this month from the mighty Mark Knopfler, Two Door Cinema Club, Matchbox Twenty, Cat Power, The xx, Mount Eerie (again), Nas, Jessie Ware, Katatonia, Grizzly Bear, The Killers, Band of Horses, The Raveonettes, Ben Folds Five, Aimee Mann and last but not least Mumford & Sons...
  1. Shallow Bed by Dry The River 
  2. Babel by Mumford & Sons
  3. Valtari by Sigur Ros
  4. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  5. Bloom by Beach House 
  6. Traces by Karine Polwart
  7. Ssss by Vcmg 
  8. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind by Ben Folds Five
  9. Generation Freakshow by Feeder
  10. Celebration Rock by Japandroids
  11. Cut The World by Antony & The Johnsons 
  12. Oshin by Diiv
  13. The Ghost In Daylight by Gravenhurst 
  14. New Wild Everywhere by Great Lake Swimmers
  15. Sun by Cat Power
  16. An Awesome Wave by Alt-J  
  17. Battle Born by The Killers
  18. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized
  19. Ghostory by School of Seven Bells
  20. Charmer by Aimee Mann
  21. Born And Raised by John Mayer
  22. Coexist by The xx
  23. Like Drawing Blood by Gotye 
  24. Observator by The Raveonettes
  25. Southern Air by Yellowcard 
  26. Dead End Kings by Katatonia
  27. Banga by Patti Smith
  28. Instinct by Niki And The Dove
  29. Electric Cables by Lightships
  30. Privateering by Mark Knopfler
  31. The Unthanks with Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band by The Unthanks
  32. Even On The Worst Nights by Mixtapes
  33. Oceania by Smashing Pumpkins
  34. Blood Speaks by Smoke Fairies 
  35. Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem
  36. Do The Struggle by Franz Nicolay 
  37. The Light The Dead Can See by Soulsavers
  38. Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings
  39. Mutual Friends by Boy 
  40. Devotion by Jessie Ware
  41. Moth by Exlovers
  42. Tramp by Sharon Van Etten
  43. WIXIW by Liars 
  44. My Head Is An Animal by Of Monsters And Men
  45. Young Man In America by Anais Mitchell 
  46. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  47. The Sister by Marissa Nadler
  48. Americana by Neil Young and Crazy Horse 
  49. Unearth by Grasscut
  50. Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones
  51. Hot Cakes by The Darkness
  52. Synthetica by Metric
  53. Words And Music by Saint Etienne
  54. Wonky by Orbital 
  55. Crown And Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim 
  56. Shrines by Purity Ring
  57. Standing At The Sky's Edge by Richard Hawley
  58. Internal Logic by Grass Widow
  59. Strangeland by Keane
  60. Here Come The Bombs by Gaz Coombes
  61. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  62. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
  63. Dead In The Boot by Elbow
  64. Wild Peace by Echo Lake
  65. Dub Egg by The Young
  66. Born Villain by Marilyn Manson
  67. Let It Break by Gemma Hayes
  68. Life Is Good by Nas
  69. Living Things by Linkin Park
  70. Beacon by Two Door Cinema Club
  71. Underwater Sunshine by Counting Crows
  72. Manifest! by Friends
  73. Clear Moon by Mount Eerie
  74. Tree Bursts In Snow by Admiral Fallow
  75. Human Don't Be Angry by Human Don't Be Angry
  76. The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
  77. Weapons by Lostprophets
  78. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  79. A Monument by Tu Fawning
  80. Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
  81. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  82. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  83. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  84. Long Live The Struggle by The King Blues
  85. Fossil Of Girl by Sarah Donner
  86. Blunderbuss by Jack White
  87. Here I Am by Oli Brown 
  88. Spirits by Plankton Wat
  89. Visions by Grimes
  90. Tales From The Barrel House by Seth Lakeman 
  91. The Temper Trap by The Temper Trap
  92. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  93. Eighty One by Yppah
  94. Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen
  95. First Serve by De La Soul's Plug 1 and Plug 2
  96. Kin Con by Alex Winston
  97. Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage
  98. Gossamer by Passion Pit
  99. Siberia by LIGHTS 
  100. Ocean Roar by Mount Eerie 
  101. Europe by Allo Darlin' 
  102. North by Matchbox Twenty
  103. The Something Rain by Tindersticks
  104. Something by Chairlift
  105. The House That Jack Built by Jesca Hoop 
  106. Mirage Rock by Band Of Horses
  107. Anxiety by Ladyhawke
  108. Fear Fun by Father John Misty 
  109. Fragrant World by Yeasayer 
  110. Shields by Grizzly Bear
  111. California 37 by Train
  112. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
  113. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  114. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple
  115. Through The Night by Ren Harvieu
  116. Personality by Scuba
  117. America Give Up by Howler
  118. Black Light by Diagrams

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The xx - Coexist (Album Review 2012)

In 2010, the xx's début album xx won the Mercury Prize, beating Biffy Clyro, Dizzee Rascal, Foals, Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons and Paul Weller. This helped bring the band, their lo-fi sparse electronic sound, and the album, to a wider audience. Now as a three-piece of Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith, the inevitable difficult follow-up Coexist is not so much progress as continuation of a working format. The difference this time is that Croft and Sim, who share vocal duties, have brought their own personal lives and memories into the song writing, while Smith provides the light touches. This makes Coexist a collection of melancholic and beautiful love songs.

Opener Angels has Madley-Croft repeating "Being as in love with you as I am" over Smith's delicate keys while Chained is a Sim-lead duet, centred on the line "We used be closer than this". Vocally the two singers intertwine, often singing different threads of the same story, providing altering perspectives and views. Gothic guitars and stark drums are added for Sim's Fiction but the early highlight is the wonderful Try with its fragile arrangement and fragmented ideas, two-part vocal harmonies and empty spaces. The backdrop for Reunion is echoing steel-drums; a song in two movements, building in the second half and concluding the story of missed opportunity and loss.

Sunset is another fine moment, like a distant phone conversation between two storytellers, or the inner thoughts as they read each other's letters, and Missing continues this approach with added drama - a neat touch is how the roles of Sim and Madley-Croft switch to compliment each other. The vibrant, yet downbeat, Tides completes this impressive trilogy and Coexist's best ten minutes. This is followed by the album's most beautiful vocal performance, Unfold, the words framed with more great guitar work and subtle production from Smith.

At five minutes, Swept Away is a hugely ambitious attempt to break away from the strict formula, creating what becomes a late high point. Two gorgeous guitar/piano instrumentals break the song into three parts. "I'm here...and I'll always be..." is another vocal masterpiece from Madley-Croft while Sim delivers "Hide away, I hide away with you...I let the world just slip away, and I'm left with you...". At the centre of the song is more love-letter interplay between the two. Closer Our Song is the only time on Coexist when the two singers are together for the entire vocal, which seems like a fitting ending.

Coexist is unlikely to make an immediate impact; it is one of those albums that needs time and repeat listens to appreciate. The xx don't go for big arrangements and layers of guitars, riffs and epic moments, and there are no obvious 'singles' (and why should there be in a world in which this is no longer important). The power of the music is in the use of space and control and Smith handles the production with deft and imaginative precision. As vocalists, Madley-Croft in particular has grown, and together the band's timing and cohesion is improved. Everything just sounds more focused and tightly constructed, embracing the minimalism ever further. Coexist is an album of character and characters, heartbreak and hope, and more importantly, being together.
-- CS

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Album Reviews (The Killers, Mumford & Sons and The Raveonettes)

The Killers - Battle Born


After a brief hiatus following years of touring, The Killers are now continuing their quest for world domination. Fourth album Battle Born is both hugely enjoyable and massively frustrating; a real hotch-potch of ideas, styles and pace produced mainly by Brendan O'Brien and Steve Lillywhite. A few songs are co-written by Daniel Lanois (best known as the producer of U2's The Joshua Tree) and Travis's Fran Healy and as an album it all holds together with moments of brilliance everywhere. However, each song doesn't always stick to a tried and tested plan and they veer off course regularly, leading to the aforementioned frustration - opener Flesh and Bone is the best example of this. Definite highlights include the single Runaways (the only song produced by both O'Brien and Lillywhite, with Damien Taylor) pulling in bits of The Who and Springsteen - a tale of love, loss and a man fighting against the odds to keep a family together ("We used to laugh now we only fight" and "I come home after they go to sleep; like a stumbling ghost I haunt these walls..."). This is one of the redeeming parts of Battle Born - the outright honesty and intimate storytelling of everyday people, even though lyrically, this is not the band's best work. Brandon Flowers is excellent throughout, fully committed and full-blooded and only The Rising Tide is a badly judged four minutes. A Matter Of Time brings the past and the present together for another high point and more musical ideas than most albums have in their entire running time, and Miss Atomic Bomb is equally compelling, if a little too clever for its own good. Here With Me is the big open-hearted ballad with the teenage-poet chorus: "I don't want your picture on my cellphone..." and Heart Of A Girl builds to a gloriously pleasant finale. The last three songs on Battle Born form a strong finale, from the short pop-punk of From Here On Out, through the smooth electronic vibes of Be Still, to the bombastic epic closing title track. Always interesting and often baffling, Battle Born is not The Killers at their most consistent but it is certainly their most ambitious album to date.

Mumford & Sons - Babel


Mumford & Sons have proved that it doesn't have to be a 'difficult second album'. Following their superb début Sigh No More, the band release Babel, after three years of tours, television appearances and helping make Laura Marling's I Speak Because I Can a massive success. And this is now Mumford & Sons at the top of their game - building their sound while keeping its soul, and improving each and every part. The result is incredible. Arguably Sigh No More has better songs but with stand-out moments like the beautiful Holland Road, mighty stadium-epic Lover Of The Light (easily the album's finest song and destined to be a stadium centre piece) and the dark, powerful Broken Crown, this eclipses anything that has come before, simply through the musicianship and execution. Every moment is well-judged, perfectly delivered and brimming with quality. Even the delicate Below My Feet manages to do a lot with very little in five minutes, even at the three-minute mark when the music builds to a banjo/vocal climax. Delicious harmonies are added when required but it's the fantastic voice of Marcus Mumford leading the music forward. Babel's longest song Ghosts That We Knew is also perfectly arranged, slow and methodical for the most part and never resorting to a huge swathe of instrumentation. And Hopeless Wanderer proves that prog-folk is possible as it bounces from slow to fast with relentless energy. Ultimately, even though it sticks to tried-and-tested formula, Babel is a triumph and should launch Mumford & Sons further into people's hearts and minds.

The Raveonettes - Observator


Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo are one of music's odd couples. Ever since the release of début EP Whip It On, with lead track Attack Of The Ghost Riders, they have made great music - a compelling blend of 60s shimmering harmonies and Jesus And Mary Chain meets My Bloody Valentine guitars. Previous album Raven In The Grave, while inconsistent, is much more ambitious than their early work and now Observator shows that The Raveonettes have even more variation, as hinted by 2007's Lust Lust Lust. The main problem with this album is how annoyingly short it is, nine songs at just over half an hour. But this is quality over quantity and every song earns its place. The early highlight is Observations, an odd Gothic take on Gimme Shelter with dramatic piano, fuzzy guitars and Wagner's super-slick vocals. The duo recorded the album at the famous Sunset Sound in LA and the album oozes the effects of the oppressive California heat, the myriad of Venice Beach characters and the ghosts of the past. The Enemy, with Foo's delicious vocals taking the lead, is also impressive, while Sinking With The Sun is a super-fast guitar-drum duet with a cool chorus, and She Owns the Streets is brilliant storytelling. Observator ends impressively: Downtown is a great mix of distortion and pop melody, You Hit Me (I'm Down) sums up the mood of the album while turning the 'drug' theme on its head, and Till the End is a fine, if a little rushed, pop finish. More great music from the Danish duo.
-- CS

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Richard Hawley and Lisa Hannigan (Portsmouth Pyramids, 18/09/12)

I don't often write reviews of gigs, mainly because I don't go to many - something I hope to change, but this one was very special. For me it was a no-brainer; a double-header at a local 'small' venue featuring two musicians I really wanted to see live. Here it is...


Tuesday night in Southsea, Portsmouth, and the sun was setting on the harbour as an Isle Of Wight ferry made its way across the waters of this historic waterway. I arrived early and after a brief walk along the sea front, made my way into the short queue at the Pyramids for Lisa Hannigan and Richard Hawley.

I was in the venue at 7:35 and immediately appreciated the size of the place. This was my first time at the Pyramids and it felt more like being at one of the smaller stages at a festival. I had a quick wander around, walked up to the stage and checked out the guitars and amps on display. At the front you could almost touch them. Most people were flocking in the bar areas at the back and to one side and I found myself standing about six feet from the stage with only a single line of hardened fans at the front, arms resting on the barrier between floor and stage. And at 7:55, the lights dimmed and Lisa Hannigan, guitar in hand, walked alone onto the stage. She introduced herself and started her first song.

This seemed to take everyone else by surprise. But not me. It sounds corny but it was as if she was singing just for me, looking right at me, singing just for me. The ground could have swallowed me up and I wouldn't have cared. The lack of crowd around me, as I stood motionless, listening to this wonderful voice and guitar, made it feel like I was the only person in the room.

Safe to say, Hannigan's set was mesmerising. She was joined by her band (including guitarist, backing singer John Smith) for the remaining set - a short 35 minutes or so but packed with brilliance. The magnificent Knots was a highlight for me, as was the beautiful O Sleep which captivated everyone. Anyone who can rock out with a Ukulele is greatness incarnate. Thankfully the performance drew people from the bars and towards the stage - so by the time Lisa and her two male companions gave a heartfelt and honest rendition of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down in honour of the late Levon Helm (The Band), gathered together around a single microphone, everyone was captivated.


So Lisa Hannigan walked off stage to respectful applause and shouts of 'more' (not just from me) and a sense of bewilderment. A guy next to me told me when he booked tickets he had to look her up on YouTube because he hadn't heard of her. I smiled and said 'I was only here for her'. This was greeted with raised eyebrows. I went on to explain that I probably wouldn't have got a ticket if it wasn't for such a great support act. I think most people waiting for Richard Hawley and his band to take to the stage felt the same way, even if they didn't before.

I decided to stay in the same spot for the main man. After twenty minutes of watching roadies going through final sound checks, tuning and arranging a plethora of guitars, and generally rushing about, Richard Hawley and band took to the stage to rapturous applause and whooping. Dressed in jeans and a tight leather jacket, with trademark quiff, he is an instantly recognisable and distinctive 'front man'. After a 'good evening', they immediately launched into She Brings The Sunlight, the opening song from his now Mercury nominated album Standing At The Sky's Edge.


Naturally the album dominated the set list and my trepidations about how the songs would be delivered (and received) live were instantly settled. It was blistering stuff - the echoing guitars, pounding drums and Hawley's vocals shaking my soul to the core. Leave Your Body Behind You, Down In The Woods, Standing At The Sky's Edge, Before and new single Seek It were all superb. Hawley's banter with the crowd was engaging, sweary and gloriously charming. He lambasted the mp3 generation ("Anyone handing over a tenner and getting nothing needs their head looking at" - or words to that effect) and then tried - presumably in jest - to arrange an after-show party under Southsea Pier, and criticising someone for saying they would bring a Parker jacket, after someone else said "box of wine". There was a good vibe between Hawley, the audience and his band as he talked about the lead guitarist's new trousers. Back to the music, old favourite Tonight The Streets Are Ours and the more recent Open Up Your Door and Soldier On were equally well received. His genuine and respectful thanks to the crowd nearly fell flat - "Thanks for choosing to come and see us. It's tough out there", he declared which got the response: "It's Portsmouth" from one wise-cracking local. Comedy aside, his thanks were well received and it felt honest and humbling. The applause at the end of the set was the loudest I've heard.

This continued for what seemed like hours before Hawley and his band (who were superb all night) returned for one last song, appropriately The Ocean. This was a huge version ending in a massive feedback-fuelled finale of teeth-rattling guitars and bass. A great end to a great night.
- CS

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Aimee Mann - Charmer Video

Cool video and song. Great idea.

Ben Folds Five - Do It Anyway (with the cast of Fraggle Rock)

Music Reviews (Aimee Mann, Ben Folds Five, Band of Horses)

Aimee Mann - Charmer

It's been a while since Aimee Mann has set the musical world alight. Her third album Bachelor No. 2 (Or The Last Remains Of The Dodo) remains Mann's most interesting and musically astute album, followed by her wonderful début Whatever, back in the early nineteen nineties, and later the brilliant Magnolia soundtrack. The world has changed and Mann has changed with it. Gone are the folky acoustic overtones, that lead Bob Dylan to declare 4th Of July one of the best songs ever written, and in come the fuzzy pop synths and electric guitars. This is evident from the title track and opener, with Mann's distinctive vocals and favourite melodies, all washed with fuzzy punk-pop production. The album sets a direct course and starts with the best trio of songs. Labrador is a gorgeous blend of piano and soaring vocal, with an epic chorus. Mann still has a way of weaving and crafting obscure metaphor into intimate stories of characters - Gumby, Barfly and Crazytown approach this in different ways. Living A Lie breaks the formula by bringing in The Shins' James Mercer for an anti-love song duet and some great lines: "No one bares a grudge like a boy-genius, just past his prime...". Only the trite Gamma Ray and the odd country-esque closer Red Flag Diver drag the second half into mediocrity, which, after the best first half of any Aimee Mann album in a decade, is a bitter-pill.

Ben Folds Five - The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind

Since the band broke up in 2000, Ben Folds has enjoyed an excellent solo career with two great albums: Rockin' The Suburbs and Songs For Silverman, as well as work on television and film. The band, with Folds, Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee (in spite of the name, there are only three members - but Five sounded better than Three so...) reformed and The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind is a perfect example of why they got back together. The album highlights the band's glorious sense of chaos and fun, while showing their calmer, more reflective, side. Opener Erase Me is an obvious juxtaposition of styles with Folds quiet and delicate one minute and bombastically operatic the next, while the music follows his lead. The song races through its five minutes like a runaway train. Likewise Michael Praytor, Five Years Later is equally ambitious, as it the overt pop of Draw A Crowd (complete with funny-the-first-time-around, but not-so-after-a-while, chorus). The title track blends Folds' distinctive piano with Nick Horny lyrics (unused from Folds' last solo album, Lonely Avenue) and blurs the edges between genius and madness. In contrast Do It Anyway is delivered at furious speed, and almost works, in an many ways sums up the band's ethos. But it is the softer moments that bring this album to life. The Jessee penned Sky High is an undoubted highlight - staying on track and never threatening to throw noise or complication into the mix. On Being Frank is a gorgeous ballad with just the right amount of orchestral majesty and more of Folds' sublime piano, and Hold That Thought is more beautiful song writing, conjuring images at every turn. This heralds a calm serene end to an album that began in turbulence. Away When You Were Here and Thank You For Breaking My Heart form a perfect ending.

Band Of Horses - Mirage Rock

Band Of Horses are in a difficult position. Three amazing albums behind them: Everything All The Time, Cease To Begin and Infinite Arms, a distinctive sound and huge fan base. What do you do next? Instead of opting for something completely different, the band has 'updated' their sound and tried a few new things. And Mirage Rock will definitely divide critics and fans. Opener and lead single Knock Knock is a fine song, with Ben Bridwell and band on great form. This is not a massive departure from the tried-and-tested formula, mainly thanks to Bridwell's vocals, as is the mid-tempo How To Live and elegant ballad Slow Cruel Hands Of Time. A Little Biblical attempts to inject some pace and tongue-in-cheek observations, in the style of Fountains Of Wayne but with less charm. Oddly, it's the big changes that work the most on Mirage Rock. Dumpster World is a weird combination of Neil Young balladry and his own 'harder' style, while trying to highlight the folly of ignoring environmental issues. It ends a decent first half. Unfortunately the rest of Mirage Rock is inconsistent and badly judged. Electric Music feels a bit empty, Everything's Gonna Be Undone is uninspiring and prosaic, and Long Views, while beautifully executed, is revisiting the past with less material. Only the upbeat Feud tries to build some momentum but is swamped by percussion and unimaginative guitars. Closing song Heartbreak On The 101 is a strange vocal journey from deep to shallow across four minutes, but it works as an ending, with a subtle orchestral arrangement. So in an attempt to do something a bit different, Band Of Horses have ended up sounding mundane and stuck between sounds. And musically this is a huge step backwards from Infinite Arms. It is brave of them to try but when you have a good thing, why fix it?
-- CS

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Mercury Prize 2012

This year's nominations for the Mercury Prize are:
  • Alt-J - An Awesome Wave
  • Ben Howard - Every Kingdom
  • Django Django - Django Django
  • Field Music - Plumb
  • Jessie Ware - Devotion
  • Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough?
  • Maccabees - Given to the Wild
  • Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
  • Plan B - Ill Manors
  • Richard Hawley - Standing at the Sky's Edge
  • Roller Trio - Roller Trio
  • Sam Lee - Ground Of Its Own
An interesting list. Glad to see Richard Hawley and Sam Lee but the rest is very middle-of-the-road. Probably the weakest commercial line-up in years but some really interesting music, most notably Alt-J. Two very strong female singers in Jessie Ware and Lianne La Havas and the stand-out rap artist Plan B. This makes this year's Mercury difficult to predict.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Music Chart - August 2012

Top albums this month from Great Lake Swimmers, Diiv, Sharon Van Etten, The Unthanks, Grasscut, Franz Nicolay, Antony & The Johnsons, The Darkness, Yeasayer, Karine Polwart, Yellowcard, Of Monsters And Men and Elbow. This takes the Underwurld Music chart for the year past 100 great albums.
  1. Shallow Bed by Dry The River 
  2. Valtari by Sigur Ros
  3. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  4. Bloom by Beach House 
  5. Traces by Karine Polwart
  6. Ssss by Vcmg
  7. Generation Freakshow by Feeder
  8. Celebration Rock by Japandroids
  9. Cut The World by Antony & The Johnsons 
  10. Oshin by Diiv
  11. The Ghost In Daylight by Gravenhurst 
  12. An Awesome Wave by Alt-J 
  13. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized
  14. Ghostory by School of Seven Bells
  15. Born And Raised by John Mayer
  16. Like Drawing Blood by Gotye 
  17. Southern Air by Yellowcard
  18. Banga by Patti Smith
  19. Instinct by Niki And The Dove
  20. Electric Cables by Lightships
  21. New Wild Everywhere by Great Lake Swimmers
  22. The Unthanks with Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band by The Unthanks
  23. Even On The Worst Nights by Mixtapes
  24. Oceania by Smashing Pumpkins
  25. Blood Speaks by Smoke Fairies 
  26. Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem
  27. Do The Struggle by Franz Nicolay
  28. The Light The Dead Can See by Soulsavers
  29. Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings
  30. Mutual Friends by Boy
  31. Moth by Exlovers
  32. Tramp by Sharon Van Etten
  33. WIXIW by Liars 
  34. My Head Is An Animal by Of Monsters And Men
  35. Young Man In America by Anais Mitchell
  36. The Sister by Marissa Nadler
  37. Americana by Neil Young and Crazy Horse 
  38. Unearth by Grasscut
  39. Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones
  40. Hot Cakes by The Darkness
  41. Synthetica by Metric
  42. Words And Music by Saint Etienne
  43. Wonky by Orbital 
  44. Crown And Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim 
  45. Shrines by Purity Ring
  46. Standing At The Sky's Edge by Richard Hawley
  47. Internal Logic by Grass Widow
  48. Strangeland by Keane
  49. Here Come The Bombs by Gaz Coombes
  50. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  51. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
  52. Dead In The Boot by Elbow
  53. Wild Peace by Echo Lake
  54. Dub Egg by The Young
  55. Born Villain by Marilyn Manson
  56. Let It Break by Gemma Hayes
  57. Living Things by Linkin Park 
  58. Underwater Sunshine by Counting Crows
  59. Manifest! by Friends
  60. Clear Moon by Mount Eerie
  61. Tree Bursts In Snow by Admiral Fallow
  62. Human Don't Be Angry by Human Don't Be Angry
  63. The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
  64. Weapons by Lostprophets
  65. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  66. A Monument by Tu Fawning
  67. Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
  68. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  69. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  70. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  71. Long Live The Struggle by The King Blues
  72. Fossil Of Girl by Sarah Donner
  73. Blunderbuss by Jack White
  74. Here I Am by Oli Brown 
  75. Spirits by Plankton Wat
  76. Visions by Grimes
  77. Tales From The Barrel House by Seth Lakeman 
  78. The Temper Trap by The Temper Trap
  79. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  80. Eighty One by Yppah
  81. Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen
  82. First Serve by De La Soul's Plug 1 and Plug 2
  83. Kin Con by Alex Winston
  84. Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage
  85. Gossamer by Passion Pit
  86. Siberia by LIGHTS 
  87. Europe by Allo Darlin'
  88. The Something Rain by Tindersticks
  89. Something by Chairlift
  90. The House That Jack Built by Jesca Hoop
  91. Anxiety by Ladyhawke
  92. Fear Fun by Father John Misty 
  93. Fragrant World by Yeasayer
  94. California 37 by Train
  95. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
  96. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  97. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  98. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple
  99. Through The Night by Ren Harvieu
  100. Personality by Scuba
  101. America Give Up by Howler
  102. Black Light by Diagrams