Challengers

My love for this song is becoming obsessive. Fortunately Neko Case’s new album is getting near. I can’t wait – in spite of its very questionable artwork!

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Album of the Month – January 2009

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

Andrew Bird’s albums are usually of the type that steadily grow in strength for me. A slow burner if you will. They always have a couple of tracks that are immediately likable and the rest hover about patiently as you process the melody amidst all the whistling and frantic violin playing. Noble Beast hasn’t changed from this formula. What has changed somewhat is the type of songs that are presented here. Compared to his last two albums the songs here are grander and less…quirky.

The lyrics however remain as playful and fun as ever. Take the following from Oh No and try to say it three times as fast as you can.

“in the salsify mains of what was thought but unsaid
all the calcified arhythmitists were doing the math”  

Overall Noble Beast is as strong as you would expect from Mr Bird, just somewhat calmer than some of his other work. The harmonies in Effigy alone would warm the heart of any music lover. A wonderful start to the new music year.

Favourite Songs 2008

Now that I’ve calmed down from the stress of compiling my favourite albums I’ve moved on to look at individual tracks that have impressed me over the last twelve months. It’s a very different list from the favourite albums one although the 80’s flair continues somewhat at times. In my opinion it was a truly wonderful year for pop. The songwriter finally rising in importance again after the shameful dominance of the pretty-looking record label puppets of the past decade. In fact, pop largely dominates this list. Santogold, Ladyhawke and The Ting Tings all producing quality pop singles that any self-respecting music lover could loudly and proudly play. 

My number 1 is so placed for many reasons. Firstly I think it  is a wonderful pop track with the perfect coupling of Estelle and Kanye West raising it far about other similar sounding tracks. I first heard it in March when I was in New York and it has followed me about ever since. I have requested it more than any other track in my life on nights out and danced to it more times than one would ever think possible. And it has a Wok Wobbler in it for heaven’s sake! Above all, and this is a very personal reason it has made me feel so incredibly happy, so often, that I couldn’t not award it with the number 1 spot. Plus I love it when Conorland and the real music world collide – popular enough for clubs to play and good enough for me to want to hear it.

Numbers 2 and 3 share a similar vision in their grand musical dramatic swell. Dying is fine is like a lost Smiths’ anthem while The Age of the Understatement leans more towards Scott Walker. I loved both from the very first time I heard them. Incredible songs.

One other notable point about 2008 and music for me is that I have had the incredible good fortune to have a great friend (My occasionally Dutch teaching friend) who, not only has a wonderful taste in music, but who regularly introduces me to new songs and artists. His recommendations are, without fail, top quality and pretty much always end up in my favourites folder. Almost half of the songs on this list I discovered through him. It would have been a much poorer year for me music-wise had it not been for him.

So here they are from 20 to 1. It’s time to swap that wok wobbler for a glass of something bubbly to celebrate.

20. That’s Not My Name – The Ting Tings

19. Heartbeat – Late of the Pier

18. Get over it – Guillemots

17. In this City – Iglu & Hartly

16. Everyday I work on the road – Voicst

15. Time to Pretend – MGMT

14. Lights and Music – Cut Copy

13. Hallelujah – The Helio Sequence

12. The Great Beyond – Aimee Mann

11. Sabali – Amadou & Mariam

10. Oh No – Andrew Bird

9. One Day Like This – Elbow

8. Kriss Kross – Guillemots

7. Paper Planes – M.I.A.

6. Paris is Burning – Ladyhawke

5. Great DJ – The Ting Tings

4. L.E.S. Artistes – Santogold

3. Dying is Fine – Ra Ra Riot

2. The Age of the understatement – Last Shadow Puppets

1. American Boy – Estelle ft Kanye West

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Previous Winners:

2007 – Andrew Bird – Imitosis

2006 – BellX1 – Rocky took a lover

2005 – Patty Griffin – Top of the World

2004 – The Postal Service – Such Great Heights

2003 – Autamata – Out of This

Favourites Albums 2008

What a satisfying feeling to be able to say in mid-December, It’s been a great year for music. The only problem with so much great music is trying to pick your favourites. It’s been a very, very tough task but I’ve finally finished. From 15 to 1 I’ve compiled my favourites. It is utterly thrilling to be so confident that most of these are albums I will love forever. So raise your glass to 2008, it’s been mighty fine.

15. Neon Neon – Stainless Style

The eighties never sounded so great. Honestly, this is surely what it should have sounded like. With some extra talent this is how it could have sounded. A great spunky album thick with lively pop songs that sink their hooks into your head for weeks. This is the best possible quality pop music. Hard to work out if they are serious or just having fun. Whatever the intention these are wonderfully crafted tunes that I keep coming back to. Also they were runner up in the Title of the year award.

I saw her on Alderaan, Dream Cars and Belfast all had me searching for a pair of funky leg warmers.

14. Cut Copy – In Gost Colours

This is an album packed with energy and fun. Served with a confident slice of the 80’s and laced with endless dancing possibilities. Having been courted by Lights & Music it was a pleasant and great surprise to discover that there were lots more where that came from. This album was one of the most original of the year.  I wouldn’t know who else to compare them to. Electronic meets indie rock meets disco? Who knows? It’s just a bunch of great songs which is why I love it so much.

Lights & Music , Unforgettable Season and Hearts on Fire will have you wondering why they’re not constantly on the radio and MTV. Actually, maybe they are I never listen to such things.

13. Bowerbirds – Hymns for a Dark Horse

Friends and musical chums of the much lauded Bon Iver, the Bowerbirds did not enjoy the media love-in that he did but this is much more my cup of tea. This album has originality, melody and a voice and instrumentation that is both satisfying and thrilling. It’s the irregular drum rhythms that make it stand out to my ears from other folk albums this year.

Bur Oak, In our Talons and My Oldest Memory enchanted me so much I went to a gig and asked them to sign my CD!

Here’s what I said about it way back when I hoping someone would give me a big drum for my birthday.

12. Martha Wainwright – I know you’re married but I’ve got feelings too

Definitely wins Album Title of the Year in Conorland. This is a sixties folk album for the noughties. Instantly likable and packed with lyrics and melodies so strong you’d never even have to mention she has a brother.

Bleeding all over you, You cheated me, and Jesus and Mary had me wishing that more people would just quit posing and make more quality music like this.

Here’s what I said about it way back when I was glad I wasn’t having an affair.

11. Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

This understated gem is a glorious series of simple songs that are deceptively good. It takes about four listens to hear beyond what is overly apparent and it’s a wonderful surprise when you realise that these are songs that are made for long-time listening rather than pleasant background music which is what one may think on first listen.

Pistachio, Ocean and a rock, and Lille had me making soft contented sighs

Here’s what I said about it way back when I was playing with my felt dice.

10. R.E.M. – Accelerate

Whether or not it was a return to form is irrelevant – it’s loud and it’s great! Each short song packs a wallop of a punch and I love to turn it up loud. It’s not an angry loud but rather a release of energy loud. And it sounds as if R.E.M. enjoyed that realease as much as I did.

Living well is the best revenge, Man-sized wreath and Horse to water had me wondering if my speakers could go even higher.

Here’s what I said when I was shrieking ‘take that everybody hurts’.

9. Mother Mother – O My Heart

Clearly influenced by Pixies these Canadians managed to avoid sounding like a tribute band and instead borrowed the best parts of Pixies; that delicious bass and the girl/boy rock harmonies and added it to their own quirky musical spice to produce a fabulous album. These songs are gloriously good with some inspired musical twists. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, and it fills part of the hole left by The Chalets. But Mother Mother are their own – don’t get me wrong, and O my heart is a gem!

Burning Pile, Ghosting and Wrecking Ball had me utterly delighted that such tasty music delights are still hiding out there waiting to be discovered.

8. The Heart Strings – Try Fly Blue Sky

Well this was an album I had to fight to get. After reading a gushing on-line review I decided to buy the album without having heard one note. All very well except this album is not available anywhere except one on-line record shop linked on their very fun website. I ordered and waited and when asked what was going on weeks later was send a replacement. This happened a total of three times until I actually finally got the CD. It was exhausting but the sounds I heard totally make up for the hassle. These songs are like a musical version of Dr Seuss’ characters. What I mean is they’re cute, quirky, inspiring and simple yet strangely substantial. I played the album non stop for weeks – I just couldn’t get enough. And when I thought I’d had enough I looked more closely at the words, and that kept me going for another good month. Very fine stuff!

Pedalo, Nina and her very long hair and Jose Fernandez had me stumped that nobody has ever heard of them. Seriously, sometimes the world makes no sense.

 Here’s what I said about it when I was looking for my pedalo

7. Santogold – Santogold

Santogold’s album sounds more like someone’s greatest hits rather than debut album. Her songs are just so strong that every one could be released as a single. This lady has one hell of a song-writing knack. She is often compared with M.I.A. which is something I don’t completely hear myself. For me Santogold has a much greater sense of melody, which is why I’m a fan. Santogold’s songs hint that she has many varying influences and she manages to make each song sound different. Interestingly the only M.I.A.esque song on this album is Creator and it’s the only one I don’t like.

Lights out, L.E.S. artistes and Say aha had me covering myself in gold glitter. 

Here’s what I said about it way back when I was trying to figuring out if you say Les Artistes or L*E*S* Artistes

6.Tegan and Sara – The Con

Rarely do I come across an album as satisfying as The Con. I find Tegan and Sara’s music difficult to describe as it is not entirely pop although has definite pop elements and not exactly folk although it often exhibits a folk melody in the midst of what is nearer to rock music. What makes it stand out for me is its quirkiness and its indefinable quality. It’s a little gritty, a little clever, exceptionally cool (whatever that means) and packed with brilliant tunes.  The Con is a truly magnificent album.

Relief next to me, Are you ten yeas ago and Like O, Like H had me wishing I had a talented lesbian twin sister.

Here’s what I said when I was thinking that they should have called it Sugar Spell it Out

5. Ane Brun –  Changing of the Seasons

When you listen to a lot of music it is all too easy not to give a full chance to some albums that fail to deliver immediate value. This is what happened with Ane Brun’s achingly beautiful Changing of the Seasons. I had decided all too quickly that these songs were not as good as her older ones. After a couple of listens I could barely remember a song or distinguish one from the other. But circumstance occurred that had me put it on once or twice a month as the year progressed –  and as the seasons changed, I fell in love. This is a delicate and wonderfuly atmospheric album. In fact in many ways it may be the most rounded collection of songs on this list. It’s just that it demands time to appreciate and that is something that people are not inclined to give.

The Treehouse Song, Gillian and The Fall had me gazing dreamily at the falling leaves.

4.Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

Just a fun bunch of catchy songs. It’s as simple as that. Nothing particularly inventive or exciting. But they’re great those songs. They are really, really great. Quite the achievement.

Oxford Comma, A-Punk and M79 had me jumping up and down and cursing with glee.

Here’s what I said when I was wishing for a Vampire Week instead of just a weekend

3. Aimee Mann – @#%&*! Smilers

An instant pop classic Mojo said at the time and I couldn’t agree more. Aimee Mann has always been a terrific song writer and with Smilers she has has managed to make an album consistently brilliant from start to finish. Having had the pleasure of seeing them performed live this year it was noticeable how well they stand up against her older classics. If only more artists could continually produce such quality as their career progressed. She is an inspiration.

Here’s what I said about it way back when I was learning to curse with symbols.

2. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

The first song I heard from this album was Bones of you and it appealed to me hugely. Later on  I listened to the album in full and discovered that Grounds for Divorce was also excellent, incidentally featuring my favourite line of the year ‘I’ve been working on a cocktail called Grounds for Divorce’. Some time later I fell for An Audience with the Pope only to be dazzled a day later by Weather to Fly. One day, on my own I listened to One Day Like This and was totally overcome by it. It has to be one of the most beautiful love songs written in a very long time. They manage to express without the tiniest bit of over-sentimentalism the happiness you feel when in love. I find it easy to put myself in that position when listening to this song and more than once the feeling is so strong it has moved me to tears. As did Bones of you when, six months after first listening to it, I read the lyrics. Describing how the notes of a song can transport you back to a time of love, a time that’s now gone. Exceptionally described;

And I dealt with this years ago

I took a hammer to every memento

But image on image like beads on a rosary

pulled through my head as the music takes hold

and the sickener hits; I can work till I break

but I love the bones of you

That, I will never escape

 This is a gentle monster of an album. One album like this a year would suit me right, for life!

Bones of you, Weather to fly and One Day Like This had me either laughing or running for a tissue.

1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

This group’s debut is an unusual cross between Simon and Garfunkel, My Morning Jacket and The Beach Boys. They have made what in my opinion is the best album of the year. A modern classic! These songs sound almost timeless. Their almost overpowering harmonies guide you through melodies that are lush and spirit-lifting. The force of this album is how unusual it sounds in today’s music landscape. An excellent ,original piece of music that will be listened to for many long years to come. Stunning!

White Winter Hymnal, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and Blue Ridge Mountains had be wondering if it really is possible to pick my favourite Fleet Foxes song.

And pipped at the post with a photo-finish for spot No. 16 are Last Shadow Puppets, Shearwater and Ra Ra Riot. Bless them.

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Previous winners:

2007 –  Cathy Davey -Tales of Silversleeve

2006 – Kila & Oki – Kila & Oki

2005 – Sufjan Stevens – Illinois

2004 – The Innocence Mission – Befriended

2003 – Autamata – My Sanctuary

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.

Andrew Bird, De Duif, Amsterdam 25 November 2008

Has there ever been a better reason to go to church than to see Andrew Bird perform tracks from his forthcoming album? And to church in Amsterdam I went last night to see the mighty man in the flesh.  It is impossible to describe what an amazing live performer he is. As soon as I heard he was playing in this little church in Amsterdam I told every music fan I know not to miss it and unfortunately not one went. It’s hard to blame them as it is so incredibly hard to describe what he does without it sounding slightly nerdish. The opposite is true though – he is by far and away one of the best live performers I have ever seen, displaying skills and talent greater than most everyone I have ever witnessed make live music. 

He is one performer I think everyone should try and see at least once – he is truly spellbinding. He builds up the enormous sounds he makes by recording live, and looping at various intervals, the sounds of him plucking violin strings (which usually makes the rhythm – sounding like a cross between a piano and a banjo), playing dizzy violin patterns, clapping, whistling and of course singing. The result is the very best one-man-band on earth. It is simply stunning to watch such beautiful music being born right in front of you till the climax is this wall of incredible music that has been created in mere minutes before your very eyes.

The new songs which will feature on his new album out in January sounded magnificent. My favourites being Fitz and the Dizzy Spells and Anonanimal. You can catch a stream of the first song Oh No from the new album on his website here.

Album of the Month October

Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

This is a deceptive album. On first listen I thought to myself that it was sweet, simple, easy listening music. Harmless. There were a couple of standout tracks and the rest sailed by unassumingly. It was only after accidentally listening to it a few more times that I realised that the worth of these songs is hidden. This is actually a really great album full of shining moments. Lille, Pistachio, Sea Song  and Ocean and a Rock are the best to my ears. Ocean and a Rock possesses some of the most beautiful lyrics for a love song I’ve come across in a long time. Do not let the simplicity fool you – this is a work of great talent indeed. There is only one song of which I would question the merits of. I don’t know would have made a fine quirky b-side but it’s lyrics grated on me before the end of the song on first listen and became annoying from the second listen onwards. That aside this subtle album has more than enough beauty to easily make up for that.  Hers is a talent that surely can only grow.

Pistachio

 

You can buy it here for next to nothing. So worth it!