Pretty Good Year

Having moaned at my general disinterest at the state of music in 2009 it’s now time to talk about what I did like. Choosing my favourite songs is always a lot of fun – in a way it’s more satisfying than albums and not only because there are more to choose from. It’s also because the sheer number of listens brings a certain familiarity with individual songs that can be so great they really become an integral part of your life. This year even as I was left cold by the vast amount of new music and new hypes I still had no problem finding a bunch of songs to keep myself warm and contented. And here are they are – in an order that is likely to change daily;

25. Papillon – Editors

A pure excitable burst of song!

24. 1901 – Phoenix

A little happy indie pop rock electronic gem!

23. Mowgli’s Road – Marina & the Diamonds

A perfect single from the endless talent that is Marina & the Diamonds.

22.I am not a robot – Marina & the Diamonds

Better to be hated than loved for what you’re not. Way too much to love about this lady to even entertain the word hate.

21. Gone too Far – Dragonette

One of the many addictive songs from Fixin’ to Thrill. This one featuring Cotton Eyed Joe like banjo – I kid you not!

20. Winter’s Carol – Tori Amos

A return to form from her surprisingly wonderful Winter album

19. Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool – Editors

Not only one of the most bizarre titles songs it also displays one of the most brilliant rhythms of the year. A feast for the ears.

18. People Got a Lotta Nerve – Neko Case

We know, They call them killer whales
But you seem surprised
When it pinned you down to the bottom of the tank
Where you can’t turn around
It took half your leg, and both your lungs
And I craved I ate hearts of sharks

A little like The Decemberists below this is a surprisingly catchy tune and one wich proved to be a fine introduction to her exceptional album.

17. My Boys – Taken by Trees

In my opinion far more interesting than the Animal Collective original.

16. Horchata – Vampire Weekend

Every bit as delicious as anything on their debut.

15. Lisztomania  – Phoenix

A prefect indie pop song – never gets old even after countless plays!

14. Can you Give it – Maccabees

One of a handful of gems from this year’s album. Boy can they give it!

13. The Great Detector – Bell X1

Impossible not to love – why? Because it’s so catchy? Maybe. Because it’s the best Talking Heads song of the year? Possibly. Or could it be the line ‘You’re the chocolate at the end of my cornetto‘? That’s got to be it 🙂

12. Effigy – Andrew Bird

From his wonderfully understated album this is my top pick, mainly due to the sublime harmonies. Simon & Garfunkel eat your heart out.

11. Heavy Cross – The Gossip

It is always comforting when a good song is popular enough to get air play on commercial stations. It happens so rarely. But here is a song that is almost impossible not to love – whoever you are or what your musical leanings might be. A faultless, rocking, kick into the blandness of pop radio. We need more, please!

10. Crystalised – The XX

Probably the most atmospheric song I’ve heard this year. I love the dark and moody feeling it broods.  It exudes late night moments of discovery. The almost nonchalant vocals slowly guide you around the melody that hooks you in and declares this a definite classic from 2009.

9. Fixin’ to Thrill – Dragonette

The most intriguing voice in pop. Dragonette have the crossover appeal of the Ting Tings but then with a truck load more grit. Fixin to Thrill was indeed one of the most satisfying pop singles of the year. They deserve to take over the world but they’ll settle on thrilling you.

8. This Tornado Loves you  – Neko Case

Neko Case’s charm is exceedingly hard to explain. The closest I could ever come to showing someone why I love her music would be to draw their attention towards the end of this song – specifically the first time she sings “This tornado loves you – what will make you believe me’. That voice, that phrase – what a way to close the opening track of her perfect album. Is it Americana, alt country, folk? Who cares –  it’s her voice and songs that make me believe her!

7. He Falls to Me – The Hidden Cameras

This is all about the big sound. It’s brash, bombastic and glorious. It’s also wonderfully original and refreshing. The Hidden Cameras, without doubt, made the most unique music I heard this year. Whatever their sonic experiment might have been it certainly worked and He Falls to Me could very well be the signature tune for their stunning album. It is also my signature tune for not giving up on a year when there was very little music of any decent innovation. Thank God the Hidden Cameras came along.

6. Obsessions – Marina & the Diamonds

A simple piano driven introduction with a sweet vocal brings one in mind of Tori or Feist. But don’t be fooled Marina & the Diamonds is wholly original. This is a song on the far from usual topic of trying to choose from a collection of identical crackers in the supermarket.

Cheeks are on fire; just choose something, something, something
Pressure overwhelming
Next minute I am turning out of the door, facing one week without food

Those vocals, that piano, that stunning melody all explain why Marina & the Diamonds have been my obsession of 2009.

5.  Love you Better – Maccabees

The guitar playing that introduces us to this tune is almost summoning your attention with the promise of an anthem. And it is an anthem! And a promise! !nd a damn good tune! And it certainly made me love the Maccabees better. Like all the songs on this album the whole package is perfect. Songwriting, instrumentation, production, vocals – wonderful music.

4. The Rake’s Song – The Decemberists

A thumping great song with a a crazy rhythm and an outrageously murderous lyric. How a song about killing your children can be this fun is beyond me – well I guess that’s the magic of The Decemberists. Play loud and sing along – it’s compulsory.

3. Sugar Tongue – The Indigo Girls

Simply put, this has most beautiful melody I heard this year. While The Indigo Girls have a certain amount of nostalgia for me this track is easily on par with any one of the wonderful songs they’ve made throughout their career. The musical phrasing on the lines I’ve got the blackest boots, the whitest skin, satisfy my sugar tongue again is pure magic while the harmony on we’ll teach them how to talk and whistle while they walk couldn’t be more perfect. Exquisite!

2. Alone Like That – David Kitt

Like The XX this is all about late night. And I am not talking about late night coming home from the pub or club. This is about a late hour when you are awake and for all you know you might be the only one not asleep in the world. You’re not particular down or happy but your mind is unusually sharp as your thoughts take on very specific direction influenced by the dark, the quiet or just the fact that there is nothing else to do at that time of night but think. When you wake in the morning it’s business as usual – until you play this gorgeous song. Kitt is a criminally underrated song writer as displayed by this melody, this beat and this atmosphere.

1. 5Rebeccas – The View

This would have to be my favourite track of the year, based on number of plays alone. It’s loud, it’s fast, catchy as hell and it’s about five girls called Rebecca! One of my favourite music moments of the year is that middle eight that manages to bring cool back into key change. A simple rock song that put a smile on a face countless times in 2009. Just what was needed!

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2009, What a Dull Year for Music!

I haven’t written on this blog for an age and the reason is quite sad indeed. For me this has been the dullest year for new music I can remember. Very, very little has caught my attention and kept it. There have been some good tracks but very few albums that I would consider good, let alone great. Some of the year’s most hyped acts leave me severely unimpressed;

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest  all sounds very nice but the actual songs are more than a little weak

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion  really not as good as the reviews said

Florence and the Machine – Lungs  an okay album but really nothing original or special. I would prefer Marina & the Diamonds who have MUCH better songs and manage not to sound like a rehashed Kate Bush. Can’t wait for their album to come out.

 La Roux – La Roux horribly irritating voice shrieking to be freed from the 80s!

 Some of the acts that I expected great things of were also very disappointing;

Tegan & Sara – Sainthood  doesn’t come close to the brilliance of The Con

Bat for Lashes – Two Suns  why did she forget how to write good songs?

Tori Amos – Abnormally Attracted to Sin  the word boring is an understatement

 The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love  spends too long meandering around a theme and sadly lacks strong tunes apart from the magnificent Rake Song

A Camp – Colonia  a Fairly lifeless, forgettable effort

Antony & the Johnsons – The Crying Light  I can barely remember one tune after listening to the album countless times

Patrick Watson – Wooden Arms  really quite boring apart from the one Sufjanesque song Big Bird in a Small Cage

 Bell X1 – Blue Lights on the Runway  one great song among a largely uninspiring set

 There HAS to be more original music out there than that lot! Probably the best thing I heard this year was Pixies in concert performing an album that is 20 years old! If there was an album out this year half as good as Doolittle I certainly haven’t hear it yet.

Not that I value their opinion much but Q magazine have struggled so hard to find good albums their top ten list of 2009 includes the drivel U2 produced, Lily Allen (!) and Muse. Their favourite album of the year? Kasabian. Really?

It is quite likely that the year ahead will offer me fewer opportunities to listen to new music as I embark on my year of travelling. I can only hope that when I settle down again that I will have a richer year of music to delve back into than the last twelve months has given us.

Of course there were some that I did like and I am currently reviewing what the year has offered before committing to my own list of favourites of the year. But it is seriously a struggle. As my Occasionally Pole-Dancing Friend might say, colour me unimpressed!

Not such a great welcome

Tori Amos’ new single is Welcome to England. It is taken from her forthcoming album Abnormally Attracted to Sin and to say I am underwhelmed is an understatement. I am a very very big Tori fan but this track is as dull as they come which has me very very worried. In fact, the other two songs that have leaked 500 miles and Fire to your Plain are no better. It’s horribly middle of the road and the drums and instrumentation are as offensively generic as the melodies. Hard to understand how she is happy to release this substandard material. I’m still hoping that the rest of the album will prove better but it’s increasingly looking very much like a career low. What a shame. Perhaps it is time she stopped producing her own music and invited in some fresh talent. Cutting an album to about 12 tracks each might also raise the standard, I get the feeling she’s not too hot on editing with this album having 17 tracks and the last three having 22, 18 and 19 tracks. Fingers crossed that this is just a temporary blip.

Check it for yourself here

Album of the month March 2009

middle_cyclone_album_cover

 

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

Ms Case had a lot to live up to after the magnificent Fox Confessors Brings the Flood. Expectations were extremely high – even after the questionable artwork had leaked. Rest assured Middle Cyclone is a worthy follow up and a noble progression. One thing is for certain she has never sounded so good, her voice having developed into a force of cyclonic power itself.

Aided along the way by such talents as M Ward, Sarah Harmer, her fellow New Pornographers and more she fortunately avoided the too many cooks syndrome and made a strong, amiable confidant album. The two more instantly likable songs are cover versions which indicates that Neko is not a writer of straight forward songs. That is no weakness though as a pop singer she is not.

She clearly enjoyed making this album and it very much sounds a labour of love. On the first couple of listens it put me in mind of Astral Weeks for reasons I am not entirely sure of – perhaps it’s her meandering melody lines. With only two songs reaching over the 3 minute 20 second mark and many hovering at 2 minutes it certainly hasn’t the epic nature of Astral Weeks.

Her songs tend to age well and this album is one that will be pleasurable listening for a very long time to come. It may miss some of the melodic strength that Fox Confessor had but somehow it’s of no great loss to this great collection of songs.

Motel Mozaique Rotterdam 11 April 2009

As with all music festivals you have to make your call and pick who you want to see and forget that anyone else is playing. The three choices we made were Nina Kinert, A Camp and 2 Many DJS.  With The cardigan’s Nina Persson fronting A Camp I was telling everyone I was going to see 2 Many Ninas followed by 2 Many DJs.

And sadly the night turned out to have one too many Ninas and 2 too many Djs for my liking.

Nina Kinert and her band were magnificent. Playing songs mainly from last year’s wonder album Pets & Friends she won the audience over within the first two minutes. The band were wonderfully arresting with two drummers (playing facing each other and jumping up and down), cellist and guitar. Nina herself had her piano from which she produced spectacular arrangements for her haunting melodies. The two new songs she performed were among the highlights which bodes very very well for the next album. Loving Pets & Friends as I do I had very high expectations for the gig and I was blown out of the water – she is stunning live – a strange sweetly dark performer – not to be missed. Sigh!

A Camp were next and within minutes of them beginning I began to make shopping lists in my head. Nina P is a stunning lady with a sweet voice and it surely shouldn’t take much to stand out. Unfortunately the music they made sound woefully uninspired and generic. At one point Nina walked off stage for two minutes or so while the band played an epic intro. I can honestly say that was the most boring two minutes of live music I have ever witnessed. You could sense the disinterest from the audience and at one point Nina even remarked on how quiet everyone was. There’s a reason for that I thought as I remembered to put fresh milk on my list. Both Ninas performed in The Rotterdam Schouwburg which is a surprisingly great venue for live music.

I was quite excited about 2 Many DJs being somewhat different to what I would normally go to see. I loved the CD they brought out finding it deliciously fun, quirky and funky. I was looking forward to finally seeing a DJ play good music rather than just a boring repetitive beat over naff remixes. Unfortunately there were just like the rest – a boring persistent beat that rarely changed over unoriginal dance music. Why oh why? What’s the point? I also think it’s a bit of a scam as they were just playing CDs. Really, can’t anyone do that? And why does it take two of them to do that? It couldn’t have been further from what they presented on the CD – shame really. In addition the venue was Watt which is the old Nighttown. The dance floor was way too packed and despite a 30 fee for the festival ticket they charged 1 every time you went to the toilet. How anyone can justify that is beyond me.

Album of the Month – February 2009

White Lies – Mick Flannery

mick-flannery-white-lies

 

Slightly reminiscent of Closing Time era Tom Waits, Mick Flannery has created a elegant album of rich songs that seduce the listener. A little more with every listen. It’s a mature album that endears itself easily. Initially I had reservations because I felt it was nothing that hadn’t been done before and while this is still true a few more listens have proven the quality of the songs is more than enough to rise it to an album I now love. I find myself coming back to it time and time again almost subconsciously. True there is nothing ground-breaking here but there is always room for talent and clearly Mick Flannery has it spades. It’s a collection of strong, charming and touching songs – some inspired musical phrasing and a consistently lonesome atmosphere. Gorgeous stuff!

pick it up here

Favourite Songs #9 – Such Great Heights

Such Great Heights – The Postal Service

I am thinking it’s a sign
That the freckles in our eyes
Are mirror images and when we kiss
They’re perfectly aligned

What a perfect lyric to open this love song as the melodic blips and bleeps bounce from one ear to the other like a musical ping pong. It’s a song that warms as well as thrills, makes you happy as it makes you sigh a little. And all the while that persistent beat guiding you home. Nothing short of perfect!