Category Archives: music

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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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.

Favourite Songs #8 – Annie Let’s Not Wait

Guillemots – Annie, Let’s not wait

Put as simple as I can I think the melody to this song is glorious. The chorus alone gives me goose pimples. Add to that the charming lyric and the wonderfully addictive change in rhythm towards the end and you have the reasons this song has grown to be one of the most loved in my collection. On a completely irrelevant note I thought for ages that he sang ‘We could sit for years, staring at our feet’. It was of course:

we could sit for years
staring at our fears
oh they’re such pretty things
they’re so cute
but in the end they’re just a suit

Personally I like both interpretations 🙂 In terms of concept it is a straight-forward love song with an underlying idea that time creates an urgency when it comes to love. My favourite line in the song being

oh Annie let’s not wait
time’s not on our side
well it never was
you know that deep inside

The Guillemots have many great songs but for me this one is the one that shines the brightest, by far.

Favourite Songs #7 – A Change is Gonna Come

Sam Cooke – A change is gonna come

Did this song ever sound as sweet as it does today after Barack Obama’s victory? I love this song for it’s positivity in the face of despicable oppression and injustice. It’s a protest song, in support of the civil rights movement, which he was inspired to write after hearing Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind. Amazed that a white man had written such a song he was determined to also have a go at the topic so close to his heart. Obviously his own experiences lend the song extra gravity and the heart-breaking strings throughout the track remind the listener of the seriousness and difficulties expressed in the song.

The following extract from Wikipedia explains a little more of the background to the song;

The song, very much a departure for Cooke, reflected two major incidents in his life. The first was the death of Cooke’s eighteen-month-old son, Vincent, who died of an accidental drowning in June of that year. The second major incident came on October 8, 1963, when Cooke and his band tried to register at a “whites only” motel in Shreveport, Louisiana and were summarily arrested for disturbing the peace. Both incidents are represented in the weary tone and lyrics of the piece, especially the final verse: “there have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long/but now I think I’m able to carry on/It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.”

At times it’s hard not to have watery eyes listening to this song. At least today, finally, they can be tears of joy.

Sam Cooke – A Change is gonna come

Pretty Persuasion

As a thank you to my Occasionally Irish Friend for making me a ‘How to Love Radiohead’ compilation I have returned the favour with an R.E.M. one. I’d be happy if it’s half as successful as hers was. I am still grieving over what I had to leave off the cd (like Country Feedback and These Days) but still the ones that made it are all R.EM. classics.

  1. Begin the begin (Lifes Rich Pageant – 1986)

Answer me a question I can’t itemize
I can’t think clear, you look to me for reason
It’s not there, I can’t even rhyme here in the begin

 

An obvious place to start perhaps. This is the opening track on what is probably my favourite R.E.M. album. Frantically sung and no doubt a breath of fresh air in the mid 80’s.

 

  1. So fast, so numb (New Adventures in Hi-Fi – 1996)

I’ve played this round, I’ve played your lover.
I’ve played it out and to the hilt.
You’re coming onto something so fast, so numb
That you can’t even feel.

 

A fairly straight forward rock song R.E.M. style. There is something about this track that has always appealed to me. It’s got an endearing frantic calm to it.

 

     3.   Walk unafraid (Up – 1998)

I’m prepared to look you in the eye
Look me in the eye
And if you see familiarity
Then celebrate the contradiction
Help me when I fall to

 

Another rocky song in a similar style to So fast, so numb but this time with a slight dance beat at it’s edges bringing it a more serious feel.

 

    4.    Man-sized wreath (Accelerate – 2008)

Turning on the TV and what do I see?
A pageantry of empty gestures all lined up for me – wow!

 

The best melody on Accelerate in my opinion. This is a classic rock song with a sweet pop core. An irrisistable combination. I loved this on first listen and still do after having heard it hundreds of times.

 

 

     5.     Electron Blue (Around the Sun – 2004)

adventure has laid its claim on you
it’s all you want to do

 

One of the most straight forwardly (it’s a word!) beautiful songs on ATS. A typical R.E.M. melody line which is the very reason why I love them so much.

 

6.              E-Bow the letter (New Adventures in Hi-Fi – 1996)

cuts and dents, they catch the light

 

This has probably become my all time favourite R.E.M. track (along with Country Feedback and These Days). The female vocal is by Patti Smith. It’s apparently a stream of consciousness letter written while travelling on a bus.

 

7.              The Ascent of Man (Around the Sun – 2004)

I’m a cactus trying to be a canoe

 

The drawn out ‘yeahs’ in this song are its golden hook. This song is adorable for many reasons not least of which is the Popeye reference (I yam what I yam).

 

8.              The Great Beyond (Man on the Moon OST – 1999)

Why can’t we pantomime, just close our eyes and sleep sweet dreams
Me and you with wings on our feet

 

The second song about Andy Kaufman by the group, the first being Man on the Moon. Strangely enough this was their highest charting hit ever in the UK (no.3).

 

 

9.              World Leader Pretend (Green -1988)

This is my mistake, let me make it good

 

Straight forward and easy to understand World Leader packs a serious punch in the midst of the jollier tunes on Green. Reminds me slightly of The Smiths.

 

10.          Untitled (hidden track) (Green -1988)

I made a list of things to say

But all I want to say, All I really want to say is Hold Her

 

This (badly) hidden track off Green is about Stipe being away from home and missing his parents. It’s an extremely touching song in its honesty.

 

11.       Fall on Me (Lifes Rich Pageant – 1986)

There’s a problem, feathers, iron
Bargain buildings, weights and pulleys
Feathers hit the ground
Before the weight can leave the air

 

Another Conorland favourite and fan staple and one which Stipe often amusingly forgets the words of. Raise your arms up when he sings ‘Lift your arms up to the sky’ go on, you know you want to. Basically it’s a fun, sweet pop song possibly about environmental concerns.

 

12.       I believe (Lifes Rich Pageant – 1986)         
I believe my shirt is wearing thin and change is what I believe in

           

            A list of beliefs which leave the listener satisfied but rather puzzled. Yet another gem from LRP.

 

13.       Electrolite (New Adventures in Hi-Fi – 1996)

Hollywood is under me
I’m Martin Sheen
I’m Steve McQueen
I’m Jimmy Dean

 

Stipe described this as a farewell song to the 20th century. The strenght is allowing its simplicity. Wonderfully sung it was a gorgeous closing track for NAIHF.

 

14.       Let me in (live) (Fan Club Single – 2001)

all those stars drip down like butter
And promises are sweet
We hold out our pans with our hands to catch them
We eat them up, drink them up, up, up, up

               

This is a much more touching version than the original which appeared on Monster. The current live version tops even this but it’s not available as a listenable mp3 yet. The song was written for Kurt Cobain who was a good friend of Stipe’s before his death.

 

15.       Me in Honey (Out of Time – 1991)

Knocked silly, knocked flat, sideways down
These things they pick you up and they turn you around

 

A flashy, happy, colourful pop song with Kate Pierson (from the B-52’s on backing vocals). Michael says about this song: ‘It’s a male perspective on pregnancy, which I don’t think has been dealt with. There’s a real push-me-pull-me issue, saying, “I had nothing to do with it,” yet on the other hand saying, “Wait, I have feelings about this.”

 

16.       So. Central Rain (Reckoning – 1984)

            These rivers of suggestion are driving me away

 

Here Stipe sings about an extremely bad flood resulting in the band being stranded and uneven able to call and say they were okay. The closing bars of this track are probably the best ending of any R.E.M. track.

 

17. At my most beautiful (Up – 1998)

I save your messages
just to hear your voice

 

The very obvious Beach Boys sound is deliberate. ‘I found a way to make you Smile’ being a direct reference to Brian Wilson’s album Smile. It is surely the band’s greatest love song.

 

18. Why not smile (Up – 1998)

       I feel like a cartoon brick wall

 

I have a big soft spot in my heart for this track. If you have ever had a friend who was very down you can surely identify with the lyrics. The easily understood text is strenghtened by the compassionate and sincere vocals.

 

19. Perfect Circle (Murmur – 1983)

Pull your dress on and stay real close
Who might leave you where I left off
A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends
Drink another, coin a phrase

 

Taken from their wonderful debut album Stipe’s lower than normal vocals anchor the melody to the glorious piano notes that drift in and around it making it one of the sweetest in their catalogue.

 

20. Leave (New Adventures in Hi-Fi – 1996)

I suffer the dreams of a world gone mad
I like it like that and I know it
I know it well, ugly and sweet,
I temper madness with an even extreme

 

I am amazed the band never released this as a single and it’s still waiting for a great remix. This is the closest that R.E.M. have ever come to techno music. The relentless alarm siren and beat bring an exciting drama to a gloriously mournful melody.

Talk about the passion

Imaging deciding to write about every song in R.E.M.’s enormous back catalogue – it’s a truly daunting task but Matthew Perpetua did just that. And as the grand finalé Michael Stipe agreed to answer questions about the songs and lyrics. Now as much and all as I love R.E.M. the lyrics have never meant that much to me. Most of the songs tend to have very little coherent meaning. What I do very much admire however is the sounds of the words Michael chooses with lots of internal rhyming and word play.

I decided to send in a question not about the meaning of lyrics but rather about something that has plagued R.E.M. in recent years. Obviously everyone and their llama sent in questions so mine never got asked but it is still something I think about.  Here it is…

Accelerate is brilliant but then REM have consistently been brilliant in many different ways which is why I admire the band so much (if you are interested I wrote about it here ) What I understand is that the band are unhappy with how some of the songs ended up sounding on Around the Sun rather than having a problem aith the songs themselves. Would you ever consider releasing an album of re-recorded tracks?  Some ATS tracks might happily benefit and some other songs might be interesting to hear in alternative versions too. The holiday single version of Let me in is exquisite as is the recent live version. The rockier version of Drive was similarly impressive. Leave was a super single that never happened, it’s crying out for a remix release. An album of parallel REM tracks. I’d certainly love to hear such a thing. Thanks for considering my question.

Funnily enough the last question he answered was as follows;

“Michael,
 
Are there any songs you wish you could go back and re-record in the studio after performing them live?

 

most of them, yes.  Like 95% of them.  So it goes  ”

That frustrated me an enormous amount cause it is a yes/no question and begs the follow on question, why not do it then?

A bird in the hand

Be still my beating heart and all that. I have just seen the fabulous news that Andrew Bird will have a new album out in January. That’s only two full months to wait (if you are generous counting). I can’t wait. Time for a little reminder of why I love this man then.

Skin is, my – Andrew Bird