Looking down my list of the best albums of the year it seems that with the exception of Black Mountain, this year has been all about the debut album. Some fine releases from the likes of Calexico, Okkervil River and Deerhoof but it was the new boys who really stepped up. All the surprises for me came from a very healthy US underground indie/punk scene with No Age heading the lot. The highlight of the year would have to be meeting and interviewing David Berman of Silver Jews, a true artist and someone I could have talked to for hours. With the steady and inevitable decline of the Western World to look forward to next year I am hopeful that some new musical talent will rise from the ashes to guide us through it all.
Black Mountain - In The Future
We've had this so long it almost seems like last year that this rocked my world. It's had a solid road testing for 12 months and is still as mighty as it's first play. A comprehensive delivery of all that was promised on the first record.
No Age - Nouns
This record really lit a fire in me this year and started a frenzied search into the context from which it sprung. It's a furious and unbridled blend of hazy shoegaze, garage rock and dirty punk and is all delivered with remarkable ease.
White Denim - Workout Holiday
A ramshackle chaotic work of genius that treads a fine line between electrifying soul infused garage punk and utter shambles.
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
The whole conception of this debut in total isolation in deepest Wisconsin gave it a great angle to get the critics chattering but since its release earlier this year it has risen from that chatter as utterly captivating and has introduced Justin Vernon as one of the most beguiling voices of the year.
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
It's been a tough old year for everybody and this 4 piece from New York has brought nothing but warmth and cheer to it from the start. Even way back in January it was obvious that this would feature in this list.
Summer Heights High
The Wire - Season 5
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges. I really have nothing good to say about this album. I think I'm done with these guys sadly.
another decent year of pop culture for me, feels like there's been lots of good stuff to get into this year...
The Wire (FX) - season five bowed out in great form. Still the greatest.
Mad Men (BBC4) - convincing, slowburn drama, with fascinating take on early 60s life.
Breaking Bad (FX) Engrossing suburban drug-dealing tension.
Battlestar Galactica (Sky1) - trippy, political, enigmantic, moving sci-fi with some great space battles thrown in for good measure. Don't want it to end, but I do want to find out where they're going with it.
30 Rock (Five) - made even better by Tina Fey getting rid of Sarah Palin.
Summer Heights High (BBC3) - don't want to be rude, but seriously, did you miss this? That's so random.
Criminal Justice (BBC1) - five nights of proper drama.
Waltz With Bashir - brilliantly thoughtful animation, covering memory, loss and the intensity of war.
Man On Wire - beautifully simple doc about a tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. High tension line, indeed.
Gomorrah - brutal Italian mob chaos.
In Search Of A Midnight Kiss - lo-fi indie romance
TV On The Radio - Dear Science an album that sounds like it could only have been made in 2008.
Black Mountain - In The Future retro maybe, but totally heavy and pretty essential
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes great debut.
Bon Iver - For Emma - as was this.
Santogold - Santogold (and Top Ranking, the Diplo-Dub) - and this!
Black Mountain - The Scala (great just after breakfast at Glastonbury too)
Jay-Z - Glastonbury a proper big moment. His cover of Wonderwall was deft, subtle and hilarious all at the same time.
Grace Jones - Royal Festival Hall disco from another dimension. Total legend.
Justice - Somerset House huge, gut-shaking digital rock, great to see in a classic setting.
Bjork - Hammersmith Apollo - still one of the best live acts around.
Also enjoyed: Matthew Herbert Big Band - Royal Festival Hall, Radiohead - Victoria ParkRead more 5 star reviews
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago: best album of the year by far in my book. Every song is great.
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend: great songs and manages to sound like Paul Simon in a good way.
El Guincho - Alegranza!: this year's Panda Bear, nearly.
TV On The Radio - Dear Science: their sound came together spectacularly well and they managed to take their song writing up a notch.
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Is It The Sea?: does a live album count? Slipped out almost unnoticed but is unbelievably good. Bought new vigor back to past songs.
Pete Molinari - A Virtual Landslide : Chet Baker sings the Medway Blues.
Flight Of The Conchords : Very funny and surprisingly listenable.
There Will Be Blood: for the first hour the best film I ever saw. Not so sure about the ending though.
No Country For Old Men: for the haircut.
The Orphanage: old school scary.
The Dark Knight: a bit long and self important but still one of this year's best.
Smog @ St. James Church: even though they didn't play 'Dress Sexy At My Funeral'.
Jamie Liddell @ Koko: really.
Jim James @ St. James Church: hauntingly good.
Bog Log III @ 100 Club: his rendition of 'Clap Your Tits' was quite beautiful
A year without television for me.Read more 5 star reviews
Best Live Band - Zu
Sneaking in at the last minute (saw them twice in December) come Zu, an instrumental group consisting of Drums, Bass, and Baritone Sax. This, you might think, is not a recipe for success in these modern times but Zu have an unconventional approach to their sound which has to be heard to be believed. The honking Baritone is barked hard through overdrive and fuzz, the Drums played with power and true flair, while the Bass (?) seems to perform the role of just about everything else a band could need - metal guitar, brass riffs, sweeping electronics and some of the deepest low-notes known to mankind. The result is the sheer chunky heaviness of Helmet with the experimentation of Krautrock. No chance of the mix sounding empty with this trio - you just keep wondering who is doing what, and how the hell they can sound like that. Expect unusual time signatures, a party atmosphere and a monstrous sound.
Best Album - The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent
Thirty years into the turbulent history of The Fall, Mark E Smith is reunited with producer Grant Showbiz and, it would seem, the joy of making records. Imperial Wax Solvent is arguably the best Fall record ever, capturing something that was often hinted at during the previous three decades but never so consistently nailed. Thing is, MES has a great band these days and it sounds like he really digs what they can do, and this in turn produces some great vocal performances and lyrics from the main man. The titles tell you a lot:- Wolf Kidult Man, Latch Key Kid, Senior Twilight Stock Replacer, and 50 Year Old Man. One track is called Can Can Summer, and once it hits the main riff you realise why :- this is the Fall album where MES comes closest in sound to the group he has long-admired - Can. Smith's wife Eleni Poulou makes a considerable contribution to the album with way-cool squelchy analog synths and one lead vocal on the magnificent I've Been Duped (in which you'll hear her sing something about two hairy men digging up Scotland. Brilliant). But central to the proceedings is the wry old goat himself - clearly enjoying himself, sounding happy and enthusiastic, better recorded and lyrically sharp as ever. I've played this album all year long, and can't wait to hear the next one.
Best Game - Far Cry 2 - Ubisoft Montreal
The Far Cry franchise got off to a spectacular start in 2004 with the release of the original PC only game. Stunningly realistic landscaping, open fields of play and extremely smart (cunning even) AI enemies. A great start for any game series, which had console owners chomping at the bit. Sadly, the console based adaptations of the first Far Cry did not live up to expectations, with less diversity to the scenery, dumber AI, and on-rails game play. This was a big disapointment to anyone who'd played the original PC version, leaving console owners feeling rather short-changed. Far Cry 2 can be considered the first proper follow-up to the original, and it even raises the standard by several notches. Coming up to this release, Ubisoft were pretty confident about FC2's landscaping and weather modelling but it's not until you've seen the game running that you'll truly appreciate how spectacular this game looks, and how well it plays. Set in Africa, the story-line is mature and non-patronising, playing as a first person shooter with 50 square kilometers of free-roam play area. You choose your missions and when to do them, leaving you free to just roam about fighting off attacks from just about everyone you encounter. The AI is back to being cunning, the gently unravelling story is compelling, and the action is full-on. Sadly, there is one problem with this otherwise-perfect game:- many Xbox 360 owners have had their game's save files corrupted (all of them) by some mystery bug when they get to 88 percent game completion, forcing them to start all over again. That's a serious glitch and one which Ubisoft should be trying to address without delay. Luckily, I only encountered one single corrupted save file, losing only half an hour of progress. I checked my stats when I completed the game and found that I had enjoyed almost 60 hours of gameplay without ever getting bored.Read more 5 star reviews
Why? - Alopecia. Leftfield hip-hop of a high standard
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend. Song of the year: "Walcott"
Mighty Joseph - Empire State. As close as we've come to a follow up to the excellent Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes. I came to this late having enjoyed them on Later recently
Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid.
Close: Despite a few clangers My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges has been working its way back up my playlists. It also has one of the worst album covers ever.
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
Didn't go to enough
Biggest disappointment - The Dark Knight. Didn't live up to my high hopes, especially after Batman BeginsRead more 5 star reviews
When ATP announced this event six months ago, I could hardly believe my luck. I make no secret of my devotion to the Melvins and all things Ipecac (Patton's label), so this weekend festival (3 hours drive away) was like a gift from the almighty. As acts got added to the lineup the ticket value seemed to increase - especially when Butthole Surfers were added to the bill - so this was an event for which my expectations were pretty high. And whaddya know? They delivered 100 percent satisfaction, a weekend of eclectic and exciting music surrounded by like-minded people. And so, amidst the spartan tat of this windswept and freezing off-season holiday stalag, people gathered from all over the world to celebrate the left-of-centre and the truly gifted, on two main sound stages and one quadrophonic rig in a smaller venue.
(The) Melvins opened up on Friday as 'Melvins 83' - bringing original drummer Mike Dillard back to revisit their punky roots. Regular Melvins drummer Dale Crover played bass for this short set and was introduced as Matt Lukin. They were great - Mike Dillard sounded really tight - a performance that he can be justly proud of.
With so much going on, there were often choices to be made between two stages - throwing up some unexpected delights and a few minor disappointments. And so, in no particular order, a few words about some of the performances that I did see.
Best thing I've seen all year award goes to Zu - Italian noise-funk trio with the HEAVIEST sound I have EVER heard. Absolutely astounding virtuoso playing with not a hint of chin-stroking introspection. Big, noisy, intelligent party music - I cannot recommend this band highly enough. Want to see the most highly drilled weirdos in the world? Then check out The Locust - falling under the vague umbrella of Math-rock, these costumed and masked humanoids deliver precision salvos of Rhythm'n'Noise. What the drummer was doing looked inhuman. Brilliant. There were some understated and beautiful performances too - notably Martina Topley Bird who has the voice of an angel and Joe Lally (Fugazi) who has the dignity of a war veteran. At the other end of the scale (ie, dignity and restraint missing) was Squarepusher. Whilst his playing and programming are faultless, the smothering fog of his gigantic ego suffocated the fun out of the room. Thanks Tom, but we can make our own minds up about when to cheer. Audience response happens naturally when the music connects with people, and the winners in this respect were Taraf De Haidouks - the most awesome gypsy band on the planet. When they played, the room became a party, and once their time onstage was finished they just carried on outside. Makes you wonder how come our own folk music is so dull. Representing the slightly looser approach to music was the amazingly messy Butthole Surfers. Who knows how wasted Gibby Haines was, but he did punctuate one song by shouting "Three fuckin' hits of MDMA!", so that might have been a clue. Pretty damn psychedelic. Another treat was country-pickin' Junior Brown - possibly the greatest stunt-guitarist you will ever hear in your life, and with a rich barritone voice like a fine matured bourbon. There was a special performance of Stockhausen's Kontakte in the quadrophonic room - mixed from the original masters by Stockhausen's sound projectionist and complimented by a pianist and percussionist on stage. The sound system was crystal clear and the crowd remained quiet and respectfully awed by the one of the original noise-masters. By contrast, "America's funny man" Neil Hamburger was trying to achieve the goal of goading the audience towards "a crescendo of boo's" as he put it. Provocatively tasteless and badly delivered jokes about Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger coupled with general abuse of audience members. I liked it - and there was one genuinely funny joke - (What's worse than Muslim Extremism? Chinese Democracy). Mike Patton himself resisted the temptation to make appearances with multiple bands, concentrating instead on orchestrating a fine performance of The Director's Cut with his band Fantomas. They played the whole album and it sounded wonderful, with Patton clearly in an excellent mood - so much so they even gave us an encore of Al Green's Simply Beautiful which Patton dedicated to "all the laydeez in the house", prompting many female screams, whistles and a general gusset-moistening.
Booby Prizes go to the following - Big Business (hampered by a blown-up bass amp, and a subsequently muddy mix), Leila (technical problems not exactly enhancing something that seemed boring in the first place), Porn (onstage intrusion by mystery drunk guitarist [turns out it was the bloke out of Mastodon] leading to aimless collapse of order), James Blood Ulmer (great voice, but guitar playing somewhere beyond loose), and White Noise (the ledgendary David Vorhaus served up softcore euro-trance which bore no reference to his early experimental works). Didn't get to see Mastodon, Isis, The Damned, Farmer's Market or Kool Keith, so sorry about that. There was only so much a person could take in, but having said that, this was still the best music festival I have ever been to. Support ATP! They rule.Read more 5 star reviews
(dir. Clint Eastwood)
THEN: Seen as something of a resurgence for the serious western, Unforgiven tells the tale of two retired gunslingers (Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman), who are approached by a short-sighted young hopeful, after a local whorehouse puts up a bounty for two brutal cowboys. Meanwhile, hard-nosed sheriff Gene Hackman rules the town with an iron first - and runs any bounty hunters out of town.
David Webb Peoples' excellent script re-wrote the heroism, bravery and gentlemanly behaviors of the old west into a bloody, misfiring, mauling - and cast Eastwood perfectly as a bastion of days gone by. The film was something of a return to form for Eastwood, as both and actor and a director - and the Academy duly noted him for both. He moved up a notch in directing terms after this and hasn't really looked back.
NOW: Still unbelievably powerful, if anything, Unforgiven has improved with age, sitting comfortably with the films that it was made in honour of, at the western's throne. Eastwood handles the action and the direction like a master carpenter - showing a magnificent storytelling skill inherited from the likes of Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. There's no flashy camera work, just a restrained observation that never interferes with the story and serves it perfectly.
Eastwood's central performance as William Munny is so reserved and withdrawn, it's surprising you can feel anything for him at all. Few actors can remain silent in a scene while everyone talks around them - and still steal the show, but Eastwood does it, drawing heavily on much of his prior screen history to silently fill out Munny's back story. Morgan Freeman comes a close second of course and the pair of them have a great chemistry, which would be repeated masterfully in Million Dollar Baby. Brutal, engaging, vengeful and brilliant.Read more 5 star reviews
Everything All Of The Time
THEN: Let's suppose that My Morning Jacket had a younger brother, who hung around the practice sessions and was witness to their particular brand of genius. He's maybe thinking to himself, yeah that's pretty good - but those extended, distorted solos are a bit distracting, at times they get in the way of a nice, clean, imaginative pop song. I like the reverb on the vocals, I'll have that (It's possible that a couple of tracks were actually lifted straight from the outtakes of a MMJ session - Part One and I Go To The Barn Because I Like The could well be from At Dawn). The result is a charming, dreamy album with enough emotional weight to demand full attention. (Read our original review here)
NOW: WIth their popularity buoyed by a total market saturation of the radio friendly / soundtrack friendly / ad friendly awesomness of killer track The Funeral, Band of Horses have exploded - at least in Sub Pop terms. Strengthened by a series of blistering live shows, the band's identity has also matured - lifting them out of the My Morning Jacket sound-a-likes category into a place of their own. Packed full of great tracks - The First Song, Wicked Gill, Our Swords, The Great Salt Lake, Weed Party - rather than fading away, this album his matured and improved, contributing to their top five spot in the Chimpomatic "most-played" chart.
SUB POP SAYS: "Achieving musical transcendence is a tricky feat, almost definitively"
KILLER TRACK: The Funeral (mp3)Read more 5 star reviews
Damon and Naomi With Ghost
THEN: Following them demise of Galaxie 500, this was the fourth album from Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang - and to beef things up a bit they enlisted the help of psychedelic Japanese band Ghost, who added an even more dense layer of atmospherics to the album's sound.
NOW: Still the definitive Damon & Naomi record, providing everything you need to know about these guys. Cerebral, medative and moving - put this on and set your afternoon to 'snooze'. Beautiful.
SUB POP SAYS: “We never thought we would perform because there’s no rhythm section, and us being a former rhythm section, we thought there’s nothing worse than a band without a rhythm section.”
KILLER TRACK: Judah & The MaccabeesRead more 5 star reviews
It's the scale that kills you. The cliches about it being a temporary city really are true - Glastonbury is huge. The stages are all great - loved the Park Stage especially, with Santogold, Franz Ferdinand and The Duke Spirit all on rocking form - but it's the sheer size that make this festival so special. As a GlastonB virgin, it's such a different experience than spending all weekend dipping into the BBC's comprehensive coverage.
After taking a strategic decision to bail on the afternoon and make it back in time for the Euro final (and a seat on the train) it's funny seeing it on TV again. You're so close up, and you can see what the bands are actually up to, but you lose that amazing sense of being with thousands and thousands of freaks who are all up for a good time, from the weirdos in costumes (loved the cow and hotdog combo, and the banana/gorilla couple - the pig gimp mask being lead around by a prosthetic cock was a little step too far at four in the afternoon...) to the kids in cricket jumpers watching Band Of Horses, or the unannounced acts like Franz Ferdinand popping up (always thought they were a bit overhyped, but they're a v good live proposition), and the chance to see new faves like Santogold (possibly my festival highlight) as well as Chimp hits like Band Of Horses and Black Mountain (breakfast rock? you can't beat it) and then big pop acts like Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Jay-Z - who put on a full-on show - totally subtle fuck-you to Noel Gallagher and then a great set full-on of hands-in-the-air hits.
Missed Dizzee Rascal, The Ranconteurs, Hot Chip and Edwyn Collins, (and Vampire Weekend, who pulled the Jay-Z diamonds-in-the-air trick for their night time version of Oxford Comma). Heard they were all great - but did catch an impromptu jazz set from a random trio who'd somehow dragged a clarinet, sax and double bass all the way up to the stone circle for sunrise on sunday morning - had to summon the force myself to get up there, so maximum points for effort to them all lugging that all up there. The other surprise hit was wandering into Trash City (imagine a disco zone in Mad Max 3 are you're halfway there) and finding the full-on hands in the air party that Horsemeat Disco were putting on in the NYC Downlow club - brilliant trannied up mood, with a dark, sweaty murder on the dancefloor vibe. Totally entertaining, with fake taches given out as the get-you-back-in passes.
Bailed early on Sunday to get back up for the real world on Monday so caught The Verve and Neil Diamond on the BBC's catch up, but totally loved it. If you haven't been: do it.Read more 5 star reviews
It Still Moves / Acoustic Citsouca / Z / Okonokos
Following their seperation from major label backer Sony BMG, Dave Matthews' ATO records have taken the opportunity to re-release their exisiting My Morning Jacket catalogue, which not entirely by coincidence ties-in with the release of the latest MMJ record Evil Urges, due next week.
It Still Moves - 2003 - 4 Stars
It Still Moves was considered the major label debut for the band after the success of The Tennesse Fire and At Dawn. As an album it's not particulalry cohesive, but it plays out nicely as a collection of great songs - and is a logical major label sequel to the home-grown efforts of the earlier records. The record provides little evolution from those records, but it magnificently showcases everything that there is to like about the band, from the opener Magheeta, through the rolling guitars of Golden or Just One Thing to the pounding rock of Steam Engine.
While many of its charming songs have since been overshadowed by the tightly honed follow up Z, It Still Moves provides for a great listen and is home to many of MMJ's staple live songs like Run Thru and Golden - plus the epic One Big Holiday, which is nothing short of spectacular.
Acoustic Citsuoca Live! At The Startime Pavilion - 2004 - 3.5 Stars
The band bridged the gap between major releases with this 5 track 'acoustic' EP, which is actually less live than it implies - as the "Startime Pavillion" show mentioned never actually occured. The EP was recorded over three nights in Austin, but none the less provides a magical document of the bands shows - particularly Jim James' solo acoustic shows. James' haunting voice dominates the release on highlights like Golden and Bermuda Highway, but the gem here has got to be the unbeatable version of The Bear, from album The Tennessee Fire. The song has a magnificent slow-building power at the best of times, but here it showcases James' vocal talents, unquestionable power and passion as a performer, building to a spine-tingling frenzied finale.
Z - 2005 - 5 Stars
Things stepped up a gear with Z, where the band moving away from the self-produced template of their previous efforts, handing over production duties to John Leckie (The Stone Roses, The Verve, Radiohead). It's a move that paid off hugely, with Leckie tightening the band's sound to the point of breaking. The sprawl of previous releases is trimmed to perfection, while every song is well-honed and muscular, with highlights ranging from the note perfecd electronics of It Beats 4U through the long rocker Lay Low to the powerful finale of Dondante. Eclipsing much of the bands previous work, this album moved them up to another level, bringing in new sounds and ideas while retaining all of their inherant qualities. Brilliant. Read our original revew here.
Okonokos - 2006 - 3 Stars
Following the release of Z, My Morning Jacket embarked on an epic tour, which did eventually land in London - but not before this two night residency at the legendary Fillmore in San Franciso. This live record documents the tour and was released with an accompanying DVD. While live albums can often be a little disappointing, this one rounds up everything that is good about the band and serves almost as a live greatest hits - covering 8 of the 10 songs from Z as well as numerous beefed-up renditions from their extensive back catlogue. Without seeing this unmissable live band in the flesh, this is about as close to the experience as you are going to get. Read our original revew here.
Emirates Stadium, London
I've read a few reviews of the recent Springsteen shows including our very own CJ's glowing report last December and I don't really have much to add. I find no reason whatsoever for this show not to receive the same 5 star rating, as to criticize The Boss in any way for what he does on stage is gross ingratitude for the most giving and awe-inspiring performer in rock today. "So we're the first to play here huh?" asks the man as he surveys the impressive vista of The Emirates Stadium that spans out before his eyes, "well, we're gonna test its structure tonight." And that was no word of a lie as had the Gunners won anything this season their glorious stadium would not have seen adoration on such a scale as it did last night.
The set list, from what I can remember, wasn't a million miles from the O2 show, drawing at least 50% from albums of the last six years particularly the latest release Magic and The Rising but when the big tunes came they approached like giant waves and more than filled the stadium. The first of these waves came in the form of a much altered Atlantic City. Creeping in with quietly brooding subtlety this version showed the classic in all its bare bones and made every hair stand to attention.
Springsteen generously made countless jaunts into and around the face of the crowd shaking hands with as many people as was humanly possible with the composure of one greeting old friends. On several occasions, as if taken with the euphoria himself, he would fall to his knees with his back to the crowd and use their grabbing hands as a welcome support. During these crowd-outings, demanding to see the hundreds of request banners that the fans held aloft he would take his pick delivering them all to the drummers feet where from there his tremendous E Street accompaniment demonstrated their ability to turn on a dime and play whatever banner their Boss held up.
And play they did. The relentless display of energy and enthusiasm not to mention an inexhaustible back catalogue to choose from wipes every concert I've ever seen off my musical memory map. Before the crowd had time to show its gratitude and as his last note was still ringing out into the void in front of him, Bruce would race to the back of the stage to swap guitars and with a frantic "One, Two, Three, Four" the next card would be dealt. This went on in groups of about 4 or 5 songs for nearly 3 hours and this large-than-life front man showed no sign of tiring.
But the best was saved for last as an extended rendition of Badlands dovetailed unbelievably into back-to-back classics in the form of Thunder Road, Born To Run and Glory Days. It was like I was choosing the set list in my head and they were obeying me like some weird Jedi mind trick. There was many a mic-off with the impressive Miami Steve whose six-string prowess was also matched by his vocal abilities. Clarence Clemon's saxophone was tremendous and the whirling dervish antics of guitarist Nils Lofgren in the closing moments of Because The Night was something to behold. Ending with American Land from The Seeger Sessions the whole ensemble came to the front for a finale that threatened never to finish. It would be impossible for anyone with a heart still beating not to leave a Springsteen show physically exhausted but mentally buoyant from this unrivaled outpouring of energy, talent, passion and the long lost art of rock showmanship. There's no tricks, no gimmicks and no bullshit here - just a man playing like his life depended on it and judging by the smile that frequently adorned his face he's doing it as much for himself as he is for the thousands of outstretched arms before him.Read more 5 star reviews
Bubble and Scrape
A couple of year’s ago I wrote a review of Sebadoh’s Bubble and Scrape, for no other reason than I happened to listen to it for the first time in a while and wanted to give it some dues. Now, following on from other Sebadoh long-players The Freed Man and III, Bubble and Scrape is getting the re-release treatment, giving anyone who didn’t rush out and buy it after 2006’s gushing write-up another chance.
Eagle-eyed readers will note the addition of an extra star over there on the left, for which I make no apologies. I bloody love this album. Sebadoh were/are one of the most important groups in my music listening timeline - the fact that they set the bar way back in the early 90s and that bar still rarely gets challenged (even after a couple of unprecedented years of new music exposure courtesy of this site) is testament to their all-round indie rock greatness.
From album opener and possibly one of the finest songs about a relationship breaking down Soul and Fire (“Not there to soothe your soul, friend to tender friend, I think our love is coming to an end”), to the sheer abandon of closer Flood and it’s promise of a truly awesome and terrifying night: “Yeah. Alright. We’re gonna ride with the flood tonight!” It’s an album full of invention, balls, paranoia, intimacy and energy that flies around in all directions, barely held together by its basic home-recorded style production.
Previously, I name checked a few songs as album highs, how I missed Sacred Attention out of that list is inexcusable as to me it sounds like Sebadoh playing Fugazi – and if you know what I mean by that, then you know. If you don’t – then try and find out, it will be worth it. But to be honest, all the tracks stand-up – even ‘difficult’ tracks such as Elixir is Zog and No Way Out have a role to play, representing the stoned psychotic side of an album and group with several personalities.
As for additional material that comes with the re-release, it’s an assortment of odds, sods and demos including mashed-up versions of Sister, Happily Divided and Emma Get Wild that are even rawer than the originals and worth a listen. A nice, new, positive acoustic take on Soul and Fire (“There to soothe your soul, friend to tender friend, call me if you ever want to start again”.) and some obligatory sonic recording tomfoolery in the Freed Man vain. All in all 15 extra ‘tracks’ probably best categorised by the titles of two of them Visibly Wasted and Messing Around.
But it’s not really about the extras. It’s incredible to think that Bubble and Scrape was originally released 15 years ago. That it has aged so well, justifies its classic status. A lot of albums have come and gone in those years and yet it still punches its weight and holds a lofty position in my all time favourites. I look forward to the day where I can pass this to future generations and say ‘Listen. This is the music I loved as a young man’.
sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit it's goodRead more 5 star reviews
In The Future
The first great record of 2008 has arrived. From the opening monster riff of Stormy High, prepare to be taken on a power ride that few bands can seem to muster these days. Second track, Angels, has the end of album flourishes that most bands would hold back for the final number, but here it only serves to get things started. This album will kick down the door and roar through your house like a hoard of vikings.
The cover artwork might suggest hocus-pocus and a fuzzy 70's psychedelia, but this is certainly not a nostalgic wander through riffs-gone-by. Where Wolfmother's tongues seem to remain firmly in cheek, Black Mountain have no air of pastiche and treat the music with the respect it deserves.
While 2005's Black Mountain showed hints of what this band were capable of, those hints were quickly matched by a wide variety of side projects - from the looser sound of Pink Mountaintops, through Matt Camarind's Blood Meridian and most recently with Amber Webber's Lightning Dust. Stephen McBean reconvened Black Mountain to record a follow up in 2006, but their various commitments led to an abortive start. Once the schedules cleared out however, the band knuckled down for a solid stint and laid down a burst of material in a matter of weeks. Surprising, as this is a record that seems so coherent and focussed you would assume a masterpiece level build-up was involved.
Their awesome live shows recently introduced the new tracks, showing this to be an album of raw power. A huge guitar sound, monster drums (most epic on the blistering finale of Tyrants) and only a keyboard to add a few extra flourishes to tracks like Wucan. Amber Webber's back up vocals add a further dimension, regularly jostling for prime position and taking centre stage on a couple of album highlights, such as the rumbling Queens Will Play.
The album scores so highly due to it's cohesiveness as a single piece of work, that you rarely feel like breaking up. In the days of the free mp3 that in itself is a rarity, but here it adds another dimension to all the songs, as you know you're never far away from a monster rock-out. There's tension here and the great range of highs and lows add light and dark, packing out this superb album. There's barely a bum note here, from the sweeping epic ups-and-downs of Tyrants to the acoustic subtlety of Stay Free. Even noodle-free 17 minute epic Bright Lights has it's five star moments.
The record has already taken a hammering over the last few weeks, but shows no sign of tiredness and I can see this one sitting in the favourites for the long haul.
Coming to an eardrum near you: January 21st 2008
There's a limited edition available while stocks last, with a second disc of 3 bonus non-album tracks. Do it.
I was not without trepidation approaching this show. Springsteen has been top of my “most wanted gigs” list for longer than I care to remember. A bit like a kid who has been saving his pocket money for months, when it came to the crunch did I have the guts to go through with it? What if it couldn’t match my expectations?
Three tracks in and all fears had been completely dispelled. The opening chords of Radio Nowhere, from this year’s album Magic, made the hairs on 20,000 necks stand sky high. No Surrender and Night quickly followed and then he spoke for the first time. “Hello London. This is a really big building…but that’s okay…cause we’re the big building killers” And he was right. Despite the size of the show, both Springsteen and the E Street Band pulsated with the raw energy you imagine they had back in New Jersey 30 years ago. The political fervour from that era is also still there, denouncing the current US administration in the lead in to Magic “Its not Magic. It’s tricks”
It speaks volumes for an artist who has been recording and producing this long that half the show was made up of tracks written and released this side of the millennium. Magic and 2002’s The Rising produced songs that were as well received as all the classics we had come to hear.
The tempo of the night was perfect as we were taken up and down at all the right moments, never tired of rocking, or weary of some truly moving ballads. Racing in The Street was a particular highlight, with rasping vocals over Roy Bittan’s piano. The main performance closed with a rousing Badlands with the entire audience calling out the background vocal.
So to the encore, with a plethora of some of the best hits still not heard. It was Jungleland that raised the bar again. Piano leading the whole band into a mass of power and expression on stage with Clarence Clemons’s incredible saxophone. And then more, Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, and American Land. Finally, Christmas hats were thrown on stage from the audience for Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. We felt like he'd already arrived.
Radiohead - In Rainbows
The album really lived up to the hype of it's release and it's proving to be their most consistent album yet.
LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
This is a shock favorite. Probably the most played album of the year
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
They had a lot to live up to after Funeral but their second album was bigger and better. One of the few followup albums to actually expand on what made them so good to start with.
Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
This was no surprise, they just did what they always do and it wins every time.
The National - Boxer
Some of the richest music put out this year, a near perfect album and just what we wanted after Alligator.
Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
The More Shallows - Book Of Bad Breaks
Pela - Anytown Graffiti
Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls
All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem (Sound Of Silver)
Atlas - Battles (Mirrored)
Slow Show - The National (Boxer)
(Antichrist Television Blues) - Arcade Fire (Neon Bible)
John Allyn Smith Sails - Okkervil River (The Stage Names)
Flight Of The Conchords
Death Proof (This needs it's own category)
Ian Brown - The World Is Yours
Couldn't even review this as it would mean I'd have to listen to it more than once.
24 - Day Six
Thank God for the writers strike and the incarceration. Although I was pleased to see Keifer taking one for the team by opting for a Christmas sentence so he can be free for shooting next year, that's Bauer would have done.
The National - Shepherds Bush Empire
An album of the year but didn't translate well live.
Top 5 albums
1 Radiohead - In_Rainbows
Just instantly sounded better than everything I'd heard for months - and for once in our instant preview/early release/download era, an album felt like an event.
2 Devandra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
Love the 70s laid-back vibe here, traversing rock, folk and tropicalia effortlessly.
3 LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
Beyond the hipster hype, an album with something to say, and a fresh way of saying it.
4 Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Warm rock, the perfect soundtrack to a snow-bound expedition. Great solos too.
5 Kings Of Leon - Because Of The Times
They disappointed live, but any album that kicks off with a good 7 minutes of slow-burning driving music is a winner round these parts.
Justice - +
Demented production, great inventive dance/pop that felt like it could only have been released in 2007.
OK, it's a compilation of post-Tropicalia freak-outs from 70s Brazilian, but most of it was new to me this year.
Burial - Untrue
Intriguing dubstep with soul
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Bit like eating a whole chocolate cake after a while, but still great in small chunks.
Top 5 gigs
1 The Rolling Stones - A Bigger Bang - The O2 August 26
They still rule. Billed as the last-ever tour too, glad to have finally caught them.
2 Prince - 3121 - The O2, August 31
Unstoppable showmanship, amazing guitar, huge catalogue of hits to draw on.
3 Wilco - Shepherd's Bush Empire, May 20
Possibly even better live than on record.
4 Beastie Boys - Brixton Academy, September 4
Good to see the BBs again, still got the skills to pay the bills.
5 Black Mountain - Cargo, December 5
Great introduction to a band I'd only heard on one track before - might have been higher in this list if I'd been able to sing along more.
Also: Cornelius/Matmos - Royal Festival Hall
Laptops, psychedelia, rock-outs and pure pop. RFH refurb works too.
The Vitamin Trip reunion, Joyce Is Not Here, September, Hong Kong
Just about pulled it all together again after ten years.
Top 5 films
1 Inland Empire
Unhinged Lynch. Not sure there's anywhere for him to go after this, but it's hard to beat for showing the extremes of cinema possibility; great performance from Laura Dern too.
2 The Lives Of Others
Brutally sharp in its dissection of recent state madness, and the ways people surprise and disappoint.
4 Knocked Up
Great way to play both sides of the romcom gender split.
Enjoyed the tight scale and execution of this MySpace generation Rear Window.
Most Disappointing threequel - Shrek The Third
Sucked as much as the first two rocked.
Ghost Ship - Menomena
Ponytail - Panda Bear
I Got Lost - Dinosaur Jr
Tenderoni - Chromeo
Love Your Man, Love Your Woman - The Broken Family Band
Veni Vidi Vici (Diplo Mix) - Black Lips
I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance - Black Kids
Is There A Ghost? - Band Of Horses
Top 5 TV shows
1 The Wire - FX/HBO
Just gets better and better. Does it really have to be the last series next time round?
2 Heroes - Sci-Fi/BBC2/NBC
Took a while to put everything in place, but this was one of the most fun shows around this year.
3 Entourage - ITV2/HBO
Vince and the gang are on a roll.
4 Flight Of The Conchords - BBC4/HBO
Jokes? Present. Songs? Present. Something new worth quoting.
5 30 Rock, Five/NBC
Didn't think this would be as funny as it is - Alec Baldwin's timing is great.
Top 5 Gigs
1. Beastie Boys - Roundhouse, Chalk Farm
2. Melvins - Patronaat, Haarlem, NL
3. Fu Manchu (and Valient Thorr) - Underworld, Camden
4. Steely Dan - NIA, Birmingham
5. Prince - 02, Docklands
Top 5 Albums
Love's Miracle by Qui as my fave album of the year. I didn't hear it until it had been released a while so missed the boat on a review. But it's a corker...very original, complex, anguished, not an easy listen.
Beyond that, it's a hard one...not because there was so much choice, but because in real terms nothing released this year replaced older releases in my regular playlists. I must be the only music reviewer on the planet not to have heard (or attempted to hear) the Radiohead album. Not that I'm anti-Radiohead or anything, I just didn't go out of my way to hear it.
So, even the bands who released albums which I like didn't really release anything truly classic this year. I should give honourable mentions to Big Business for their album Here Comes The Waterworks (very original), and Fu Manchu for We Must Obey (not very original, but totally rocking), and Beastie Boys' The Mix-Up, which I did play more than any other new album this year.
Top 5 tracks (listened to this year, but not released this year)
1. Skull of a German - Jesus Lizard
2. Velouria - Pixies
3. The Warden - The Cows
4. Get on Down - Eddie Harris
5. Blood Witch - Melvins
Top 5 movies
Also not a good area for me. Only went to movies twice as far as I can remember. The Simpsons movie (which I thought was really poor) and Transformers, which impressed me with its humour and bludgeoning special effects. I expect I would have liked the new David Cronenberg film, and maybe even Lynch's Inland Empire, but I couldn't be arsed to go and see them. Will probably go see the new Wes Anderson next week (again, if I can be arsed). For me, the audio visual entertainment of the era is video games - hence...
Top 5 Games
1. Call of Duty 4
2. The Orange Box (half life 2 etc)
3. Guitar Hero II
5. Medal of Honour Airborne
2007 has been a great year for music. The internet is finally paying off, with dozens of bands hitting the global mainstream through grass roots word of mouth and diy publicity. But it's not just the new boys bringing out the good stuff, with most of my current favourites putting out new records.
Wilco's Sky Blue Sky was a mild disappointment next to A Ghost Is Born, but was still a great album and an even better live show - but while the Kings Of Leon's Because of the Times started the year on a high their live show cut things down to size. The Beastie Boys instrumental Mix Up was a low-key release, but they still delivered the goods live - way past expectations. Band of Horses surprise second album didn't quite hit the highs of Everything All Of The Time, but their live show was barnstorming - proving they've only just got started. Arcade Fire also followed up their debut with an outstanding second album, and Eddie Vedder went semi-solo with his soundtrack for Sean Penn's movie Into The Wild.
Radiohead's In Rainbows has to get a special mention for the world's biggest band's adoption of guerilla marketing, genuinely lighting a fire under the record industry like only a massive band 7 albums deep could do.
Led Zeppelin are the clear winner in terms of stars, but I think it's fair to say that Best Of's don't qualify, so my top five albums of 2007 are:
5. Blonde Redhead - 23
Probably the only surprise in my list - for me certainly - Blonde Redhead's 23 found the low-key indie band hitting their stride and turning in a richly rewarding album.
4. Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls
After getting their instrumental callings out of the way with Axes, Electrelane returned and surpassed the sound of The Power Out for their fourth album.
3. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Spoon's sixth album matched it's conceptual title with a mix of complex songs and catchy pop. Nice to interview them too.
2. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Daft Punk Is Playing At My House always struck me as catchy but superficial, and the lead single from LCD's second album - North American Scum - did little to change my mind. Repeat listening peeled back the layers however and Get Innocuous! or All My Friends are unbeatable. Their 45 minute megamix makes for a great bonus track too.
1. The National - Boxer
After finding their feet with third album Alligator, The National turned things up a notch with the superb Boxer. Eschewing the bombast of hits like Secret Meeting, the album is dark and rich - so layered that it takes several listens to even break open.
Some pretty good gigs this year too:
Wilco - Shepherd's Bush Empire
A long time coming. With their new squad Wilco could hardly be a better live band.
Beastie Boys - Brixton Academy
After the dismal 1999 Wembley show, the Beasties seemed destined to stay mainstream - but a self-initiated return to their roots has paid off nicely. Still got Time Time To Get Ill.
Black Mountain - Cargo
While still notably nostalgic in sound, these retro rockers blew the socks of Cargo with their forthcoming album In The Future. See next year's best-of list for more info.
Disturbia - Great modern spin on Rear Window
Bourne Ultimatum - A solid finale to the modern Bond
Knocked Up - Perfectly capturing the stupid antics of a group of friends.
Jesse James - Not up their with Mallik of Leone, but Andrew Dominick's second feature was a grand attempt.
Zodiac - Although long and flawed, David Fincher's 70's epic was an entertaining ride.
Curb Your Enthusiasm - Still cracking me up, six seasons in.
Flight Of The Conchords - Guaranteed entertainment from the Kiwi troubadors.
Entourage - Aspirational TV from Ari, Drama and the crew.
Kings of Leon live - While the 'seats' were the problem, this band seemed out of proportion for their sound and style.
Death Proof - the worst film I have possibly ever seen. Seriously.
OK, OK. I'm about to get on a plane, so here you have it:
1. Radiohead - In Rainbows
2. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
3. The National - Boxer
4. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
5. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Tough choice for third, as I actually think the Wilco album will last longer, but hey... Totally unoriginal list, but I've been out of a lot of the year. Have a great xmas.
1. Feist - The Reminder
2. Von Südenfed - Tromatic Reflexxions
4. Burial - Untrue
3. Efterklang - Parades
5. Pole - Steingarten
1. Prince - O2
2. Spank Rock - Bestival
3. Vetiver - Spitz
4. Animal Collective - Astoria 2
5. Bat for Lashes - Bestival
1. Yeasayer - Forgiveness
2. The Cinematic Orchestra - To Build A Home
3. Wilco - Impossible Germany
4. Animal Collective - For Reverend Green
5. Leona - Bleeding Heart
1. Eastern Promises
2. This Is England
3. The Lives of Others
1. 30 Rock
2. Flight Of The Conchords
3. The Street (final episode)
4. Boy A
I write this from sunny Chile. Internet connections are fairly erratic over her, but I've been keeping up to date with the important cultural news from chimpomatic when i can. Very excited about all things Indiana Jones, Batman, Iron Man and the new Malkmus album.
So - picking a top 5 is always tough, but it's made harder this time as I managed to lose my iPod on my way to Munich just before i came away. I didn't have time to fill the replacement with many tunes and my brain is now tuned into comedy latin american raggaton and shit pop...
However, my 5 for 2007 are:
Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
Writing this list it is apparent I haven't listened to enough new music this year. My preferred albums are by familiar artists not quite hitting previous heights but producing solid releases all the same. Band Of Horses, Springsteen and Radiohead fit the bill here.
The National's Boxer is the stand out this year for me, moving things on from Alligator, producing a superb album in its own right. Despite a disappointing performance in Hammersmith, Kings Of Leon's release was their best to date.
Best film - Letters From Iowa Jima
Best gig - Hopefully Springsteen at o2 on Wednesday 19th December, otherwise Rifles at Astoria
Biggest turkey - Bernard Matthews' Bird Flu outbreak
Honourable mentions to: Elvis Perkins, Love of Diagrams, Silversun Pickups, Battles...
5. The Ponys - Turn the Lights Out
4. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
3. Plate Six - Battle Hymns of the New Republic
(and these two clear by some stretch)
2. Dinosaur Jr - Beyond
1. Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
Songs (in no order):
Battles - Atlas
Two Gallants - The Deader
Elvis Perkins - While You Were Sleeping
Frightened Rabbit - The Greys
Dinosaur Jr. - Pick Me Up
Kings of Leon - Black Thumbnail
It's been a good year for Hip Hop I'd say. The head to head of two heavyweights, Kanye West and 50 Cent, was entertaining. Fiddy claimed he'd retire if West's Graduation topped his. Seeing as it smashed the pants off Curtis, keep an eye out in a charity shop near you for 50 doing volunteer work. The Beastie Boys released a curious instrumental album, but rocked Brixton like it was 1987, then just as you thought the year was over the mighty Wu-Tang do a Spice Girls and reform with awesome results. As usual though it was the underground scene (if there still is one) that really inspired.
Aesop Rock - None Shall Pass
Probably his most approachable yet, but uncompromising none the less. Album of the year.
Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams
Six years since 36 Chambers and the Clan return with a deeper, darker and superior slice of Wu wizardry.
Sage Francis - Human The Death Dance
Not quite as dazzling as some of his other work but Sage continues to pull away from the crowd of wack MC's in his wake.
Busdriver - Roadkillovercoat
This will piss off a few hardcore fans but Busdriver's slight step away from the relentless word assault has created some of his best moments here.
El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
A worthy follow up to Fantastic Damage, fast, furious and relentless.
Aesop Rock - Coffee
Jay-Z - Hello Brooklyn
Wu-Tang Clan - Unpredictable
Timbaland - Oh Timbaland
Sage Francis - Hell Of A Year
Beastie Boys - Brixton Academy
El-P - Dingwalls
Cadence Weapon - Amersham Arms
MarmotRead more 5 star reviews
The duo Qui consisting of Matt Cronk (gtr/vox) and Paul Christensen (drums/vox) have a unique sound - formed seven years ago, they've recently gained more attention with the addition of veteran vocalist David Yow, formerly of Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard. It's a great match - a perfect marriage between two already established styles, underlining the fact that this is not just Yow's "new band".
Sonically, it's right in the room with you. There's no bass player, and unlike The Pyramids the bottom end is well provided by beautifully tuned drums and Cronk's guitar which reaches down good and low. In fact, the lack of bass guitar draws your ear to the astounding guitar playing, the well recorded drum kit and the vocals from all 3 members. Musically, the influence is the California freak scene of the late 60's, with the inclusion of two cover versions (Zappa/Beefheart's Willy The Pimp and Pink Floyd's Echoes), each of which gets the spirit of the originals just right. The utterly strange New Orleans has a melody which also hints at early Mothers of Invention, but for something truly declaring itself as different, look no further than opening track Apartment:- a jagged funk with a wicked club foot, light and shade, and a melody which makes sense of the whole thing. Yow's voice has never sounded better, and it's great that such a talented lyricist and frontman gets to make fresh great records without being forced into a "Jesus Lizard II" situation, so five gold stars to Ipecac for putting this out. Oh, and great cover art, too.Read more 5 star reviews
For the un-initiated, Led Zeppelin's vast back catalogue may seem impenetrable and the newly remastered compilation Mothership may be just the place to start. Unlike many of the upstart bands knocking out "Greatest Hits" after two albums, Mothership does much more than merely collate the highlights of a band and leave the albums redundant. It provides a depth gauge for a band with such scope to their repertoire, and rather than serving as a book-end to a band's career it rather serves to suggest more clearly the album you should follow this one with, as you're still yet to discover The Lemon Song, Tangerine, Thank You, Gallow's Pole, In My Time Of Dying, In The Light.....
The pretty even cull of tracks is taken chronologically from the eight main studio albums - with only post break-up Coda missing the boat. Led Zeppelin I provides a hefty chunk to set the scene, and IV and Houses Of The Holy are also well represented. In a minor concession to mix tape etiquette, the songs from each album are not always in the sequence they originally came in (Black Dog follows Rock 'n' Roll for example), and that makes for a more cohesive listen (although in that case I'd probably have opened with Communication Breakdown). In The Evening and All My Love finish things off, hopefully turning more people on to the often overlooked final album In Through The Out Door.
While it's easy to point out how great the albums are and try and ward newcomers away from this kind of thing, it's refreshing to come back and listen to the music in this different context and remind yourself how many of these individual tracks are absolute classics. As the album plays through, track after track gets 10 out of 10, with only the occasional sub-perfect moment - mainly due to the brilliance of the track before or after. Those minor 'dips' are quickly obscured when we hit the tracks from IV. Rock 'n' Roll was always a track for getting the party started and it's no exception here, moving things up a notch from from 10 out of 10, to 11. Awesome.
Radiohead's 7th album will forever be referred to as much for its content as the method by which it greeted our hungry ears. On 10th October we were literally 'given' the first morsels from this truly unique band since 2003's Hail To The Thief, but that wasn't the only great thing about that day. As a youngster I can remember the magical feeling that came with the arrival of a long awaited album. You would count down the days until it was released trapped in a glorious, internet-free vacuum of anticipation and speculation. Then when the day finally came the first thing on your mind was getting to that shop and claiming your copy, nothing else mattered in those days.
Fast forward to the present day and things have changed considerably. You rarely need to wait for anything now - leaks or promos arrive in your iTunes like it ain't no thang, and anyway even if you are waiting for something to be released by the time you get it your head is already littered with countless 'expert' opinions that it's hard to form your own. Well, last Wednesday we were all equal. Currently label-less, Radiohead took control of their property and gave it to everyone at the same time - no leaks, no promo copies and therefore no opinions. We were all free to make up our minds, not only on how valuable it was to us but what we thought of it. I felt a twinge of that magic return last week as I downloaded my copy and it's stayed with me throughout every play of In Rainbows. I remember where I was on the release of pretty much every Radiohead album and Wednesday 10th of October was a special day indeed.
So, in the democratic spirit with which this record was released it seems fitting to apply such ideals to its scrutiny. So here are some Chimps early takes on the whole In Rainbows thing, and it ain't law it's just, like, their opinion man... - BC
People who have protested for years to me about Radiohead, have been approaching me recently saying; ‘Have you heard the new Radiohead album? It’s Great!’
It is great indeed, a popularity that has not been the result of any concessions made by the band. ‘In Rainbows’ is beautiful, challenging and yes, repeat it, uplifting. It is the end of a sometimes lonely journey that has led them through the hinterland of ‘Kid A’, ‘Amnesiac’ and the not-to-be-ignored solo project by Thom Yorke last year; ‘The Eraser’.
‘In Rainbows’ would not the subtle and lushly layered album it is without those earlier explorations, masterfully combining the art of melody (which the band claimed to forsake after ‘OK Computer) and laptop experimentation. The ten songs are underpinned by Phil Selway’s tight framework of drumming and percussion, a structure which allows us to really appreciate the wonder of Yorke’s flying voice.
I heard that Muse were ‘the new Radiohead’. That crown is still taken. Indefinitely. Enjoy the moment.
I paid 8 quid by the way. A sum arrived at after several phonecalls, a lot of deleting,
re-entering and inner moral debate.
- LG - 5 Stars
Stand out tracks are Nude and All I Need. Yorke's vocals act as such a powerful instrument. Radiohead's best moments as a band come when they achieve the perfect balance between explosion and quiet - and this album isn't quite up on the explosive stuff. With these songs having being written and recorded over time, it feels the album lacks the cohesion of their finest releases.
The band should be commended for their release strategy, as the music industry certainly needs re-modelling. Having said that, it's any easy risk to take when you're seven albums deep on the back of millions in sales. Quite how it might work for new musicians I'm not so sure.
£3 and 3.5 stars - CJ
More than any other recording artist, one feels one should react to a new Radiohead album in the same manner one might to the unveiling of a controversial piece of contemporary art. One must try to connect with what one hears on a much deeper, esoteric level.
It is unquestionably, and unequivocally, a piece of Art. Beautifully challenging, not just to the individual listening, but on a far higher plane it is pointing the gun; the finger; the stick not only at the music industry, but society as a whole. In accessing the album the conch is passed to the world and is asked: What is music worth? What is art worth?
One parted with £4, as one is tight and would have bought it in the sales. (Though one wishes one had paid one pound as that would have made for a better punch line). - Locochimpo
The release of this album was an absolute bolt from the blue. Everyone knew album seven was past due, but no-one could have predicted a release this radical. As CJ mentions, it's a no-brainer when you're 70 millions albums deep in sales - and realistically it is not a suitable model for 99% of the bands out there. Why not just forget your worries about piracy and still release a CD? The labels don't have any problems knocking very recent releases by the likes of Kasabian or Kings of Leon down to £3 in HMV, so they're obviously covering their costs.
I've never had a problem either downloading music for free or paying for it if it's good. In fact I'm a conscientious thief, often stockpiling copies of albums I've downloaded, or shelling out £30 for a shoddy live box - as compensation for someone giving me a copy of a studio release.
The bottom line these days however is that CDs are fast becoming a thing of the past. I have shelves and shelves (or boxes under the bed these days) of CDs that have literally never been played on a CD player. They arrive, get ripped to digital and then filed away. Sleeve notes might get skimmed over on the way home. Radiohead have a always put great stock in their artwork, and I have a couple of the limited editions album's with Stanley Donwood's artwork. They're under the bed too.
I'd love to get the £40 discbox, but realistically it's not what I really want - as I'm not going to hang it on the wall like some sort of pseudo art collector. I want the music, and I'd most likely shell out the extra just to get the extra tracks. I plumped down £3 for the download and will pony up for the CD when it lands (hopefully) next year some time, just for the extra music. Promise.
And what of the music? I loved Hail To The Thief and saw it as a climax to their progressive work on Kid A and Amnesiac. I'm glad Thom Yorke's diverted his tinkering to his far-from-satisfactory solo record and put a bit of welly back into this, but it does feel some what incohesive in places, sagging a bit in the middle. Minor nit-picking though. It's a new Radiohead album and it's better than 90% of what's been around recently. - CSF - 4.5 Stars
The start and finish of a Radiohead album have been a along fascination of mine. Having made some of the best music of this and the last century Radiohead have always had an annoying habit of chucking in the odd duff song towards the mid way point of an album then another at the end. OK Computer, Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief are definitely top heavy but I can't put the same claim on In Rainbows. This is one of the most consistent albums they've made.
Like Kid Amnesiac's wailing trumpets the new sound for this year is the blues guitar and its presence on 15 Steps is a great contrast to the stuttering electronics. Bodysnatchers was a stand-out powerhouse at last years live shows with the dirtiest riffs we've heard for years and Reckoner and House Of Cards have an excellent direction-less quality, maintaining the same beat and tempo throughout both songs in their own way suggest that they could go on for ever. Which leads me on to the main complaint, length. The album itself seems very short and many of the songs end way too abruptly.
But finally they get the ending right. Kid A could end so well if it wasn't for Motion Picture Soundtrack but a lot of the others start to tail off from about track 6. Jigsaw Falling Into Place is a future classic and one of the finest songs on this record but the spooked out lethargy of Videotape gives a powerful sense of finality to the album. All in all this one of the most complete pieces of work from Radiohead in years. You can hear every album they've made in this one including Pablo Honey and it still works. - BC - 4.5 Stars
The first listen of In Rainbows for me was an instant connection - it just sounded better than anything else I've heard for ages. There's an aura of confidence, of a band sitting back and enjoying playing together, the sound of people with something to say and the skills to say it.
Don't know if I've remembered this correctly, but I'm sure there was an episode of Later... once where Billy Corgan was on with Zwan (his post-Pumpkins project) and you could tell he really thought he'd changed the face of music etc again - and then you could see that vision crumbling while he watched Radiohead - who really had. (Almost as good as the time Dylan played Donovan one of his new songs.) The other thing I always remember about them was seeing them play Victoria Park in 2000, and just being amazed at how they'd managed to get so many people to listen to really out-there, avant-garde rock - and absolutely love it.
They just seem ahead of the game somehow - yes they've got record collections filled with Aphew Twin and Autechre - but it's translating that into rock and singalongable songs that makes them work so well. Love the ballads on this one - House Of Cards is as close as I think I've ever heard them get to a love song. Stormers like 15 Step and Bodysnatchers are huge. There's a real sense of them having taken the experiments of the past and learned how to incorporate them without trying so hard this time round, leaving it all feeling like complete, fully formed collection. You somehow want to inhabit this album - or maybe just hear it loud and live. Personally, I like the fact it's concise - it's one of the few albums this year where I've wanted to listen to it altogether, in order - and then go back to the beginning again.
To pull all this off, and then top it with the added "hey we know it's 2007" move of all the download/boxset options makes them feel connected to the world we've all found ourselves in. Totally agree with BC above - it does feel special to let everyone get it at the same time. As someone who grew up waiting months, sometimes a year for albums to be shipped out to the colonies from England, it's weird to click and instantly get stuff these days - does feel like this has somehow put some of the excitement and fun back into music. Would love to know how the experiment's done - real drag it's not chart eligible, but maybe that's all pointless and irrelevant now too... C71 - 4.5 Stars
Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band E.P.
Last year I incurred some major flack for rewarding Joanna Newsom a flawless 5/5 for her remarkable second album Ys. Well I still stand by that decision and am tempted to give this 3 track EP the same accolade but feel it might alienate me from my fellow chimps who are yet to discover the magic of this artist. So call it peer pressure but I will not be giving this release full marks and I am not proud of my actions because it is yet another astounding piece of work by the young harpist.
This contains one new song and two old ones. All are without the orchestra that dominated Ys and are played live with her touring band. This totally changes the songs and gives them a much more folky sound. The new song Colleen is as joyous as any Irish jig you're likely to hear and conceptually could have played quite happily on Ys. The reworking of The Milk Eyed Mender's Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie gives this song new depths by adding accompanying vocals by drummer Neil Morgan and it leads on to the stripped down version of Ys' Cosmia. This version is so impressive as it shows a drastic progression from the original sound in this short period. Using guitars and banjos this song is stripped of all it's orchestral grandeur and the result is just as moving. It has been almost doubled in length and the final half is a beautiful instrumental of harp and guitar which fades out to a whisper bringing this brief delight to a sublime close.
I See A Darkness
Will Oldham's first album under his Bonnie 'Prince' Billy moniker has proved to be his defining work. The seminal 'I See a Darkness', later covered by Johnny Cash, is here in all it's glory - but is equalled by the beautiful 'A Minor Place' and 'Nomadic Revery' amongst others. In fact there is not a dud on the entire album. A sombre masterpiece.Read more 5 star reviews
Top 5 Albums of 2006
1. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
2. Joanna Newsom - Ys
3. The Diableros - You Can't Break The Strings In Our Olympic Hearts
4. Loney Dear - Sologne
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones
Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming
TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
Howie Gelb - 'Sno Angel Like You
Grandaddy - Just Like The Fambly Cat
Clinic - Visitations
Top 5 Films
Little Miss Sunshine
Biggest Disappointments (In order of disappointment)
DJ Shadow - The Outsider
Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Top 5 Gigs
Radiohead - Hammersmith Apollo
Pearl Jam - Dublin
My Morning Jacket - Astoria
TV On The Radio - Koko
Morrissey - Alexandra Palace
Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon
Cat Power - The Greatest
Herbert - Scale
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther (prob need to check this, like for another month or so)
Yacht Rock - (special mention?)
Outkast - Idlewild
The Early Years - The Early Years
Bat For Lashes (maybe)
TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
shall we do movies too?
The Squid and the Whale
A Scanner Darkly
For me this has been one of the best years for music in a long time. A handful of new bands have emerged with debut albums that have set the tone for a promising career, and this is the first time I have struggled to narrow down the list of favourites... rather than struggle to fill it. Accomplished debuts from The Early Years and The Longcut just missed out on a place, as well as albums from returning artists like Yo La Tengo, Yeah Yeah Yeah's and M. Ward finally making it clear to me what all the fuss is about. And Pearl Jam had a new album and put on the show of a lifetime in London.
My top albums, reduced to as few as possible and in a vague ascending order:
6. Tapes 'n' Tapes - The Loon
With the awesome single leading the charge (see below) this self-released debut from the Minneapolis band has all the right ingredients, and as one inspired hack wrote "This is the record I'd want to make if I formed a band". It's certainly not perfect, and although it never lulls it doesn't quite flow in a couple of places... but for a debut album it's awesome.
5. Oxford Collapse - Remember the Night Parties
These guys were a shot from the blue and if this was a November/December list they'd probably take the gold medal. Again it's a slightly uneven start, but by the midway point I'm totally hooked. Pure garage band fun.
4. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
I've been so generally underwhelmed by The Strokes that it took a hooky copy of this mid year to even provoke me to try before I buy... but I take it all back. Far more adventurous that Room On Fire and an easy equal to Is This It?
3. Band of Horses - Everything All The Time
The ups and downs or the tone of an album has been on my mind recently and this is possibly the one album in this list that gets it right. Mellow start, build up, high point around the middle, wind down, strong finish. A definite band to watch.
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Stadium Arcadium
I was already thinking the worst when this album arrived, and the double track listing took a look to break down. It's biggest flaw is the length and pacing - as track by track there's hardly a dud on here. Easily their best album, with some absolute classic tracks. Their next one will surely get it just right...
1. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
You can argue that it's a 2005 release, but since it took off 12 months ago this infectious debut has never faltered and never lulled on rotation. You can't listen to track one - which is surely a negative - but it's like a non-stop rollercoaster ride with your friend who's one drink a way from plastered, with a finale that should never stop.
Midlake - Head Home. Great rolling vibe that is slightly lacking on the album as a whole.
Tapes 'n Tapes - Insistor. I thought it might dull, but it's still the note-perfect highlight off The Loon.
Chili Peppers - Snow (Hey Oh). For a track that momentarily sounds like it's heading into funky monk territory, this is possibly RHCP's greatest. The constant build up and the amazing final chorus are inbelievebale. Just when you can't take any more you can almost hear Frusciante plugging in an extra guitar.
Brick - a great Sundance debut
The Departed - flawed but thoroughly entertaining
Little Miss Sunshine - touching, with non-stop laughs
Awesome - awesome. Resurrecting the near zombie that is the concert movie.
Biggest Let Down:
I've got to say that my biggest revelation this year has been wondering why I didn't get into Yo La Tengo sooner. Their concert in Madrid at the start of December was one of the best I've seen for a while. Although they had a new album out this year, I still need a few more listens - besides, i'm still working through last year's Best of: Prisoners of Love.
Music (In no particular order)
The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off (Rambling Shambles)
Band of Horses - Everything All the Time (Sublime)
Constantines - Tournament of Hearts (Frontline)
Steve Turner - New Wave Punk Asshole (Comforting)
Wolfmother - Wolfmother
Swearing at Motorists - Exile on Grippe Strasse (Pure)
Hit = The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Miss = The Departed (Not a bad film, but up against Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Goodfellas which I watched around the same time - seems Scorsese tries too hard nowadays)
I'm struggling to think of ten.... but here's a few.
Tapes 'n' Tapes - The Loon
M.Ward - Post-War
Cat Power - The Greatest
Joanna Newsom - Ys
Loose Fur - Born Again In The U.S.A.
Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Letting Go
Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
Haven't got a TV.
2006 for me was a poor year in comparison to 2005.
Roots - Game Theory
Some of their best tracks to date. Innovation at no expense to entertainment.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Stadium Arcadium
Double album with few turkeys. A rare feat.
The Charlatans - Simpatico
Been around long enough to produce a reggaesque album
Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
The new MMJ
Awesome - I Fuckin Shot That
Pearl Jam - Astoria
Here's my best of 2006:
Subtle - For Hero For Fool
Cadence Weapon - Breaking Kayfabe
Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor
The Roots - Game Theory
Mr. Lif - Mo' Mega
Liars - Drums Not Dead
Dosh - The Lost Take
The ever-prolific Robert Pollard is back (again) with a new solo LP Normal Happiness. The press release explains how The Beatles or The Who might release two albums a year and that was the norm in those days, and should not be frowned upon now. They seem to be overlooking the fact that between 2005's Beneath A Compound Eye and this second official post-Guided By Voices solo album Pollard has put out another 3 side-project albums on which he is clearly the captain of the ship - The Takeovers, The Keene Brothers and Psycho And The Birds. Plus that Bubble soundtrack mini-LP.
Putting side-projects aside for a moment, this is clearly a Robert Pollard solo album and the closest thing we're going to get to a new Guided By Voices record for the foreseeable future. Where the side-projects are defined by their lack of definition, Normal Happiness is a fairly coherent record - featuring 16 concise chunks of pop-rock which barely clock in at over two minutes each. It follows the late-GBV era of Half Smiles Of The Decomposed in style, playing clever lyrics off against musical themes and concepts. As usual it's a roller-coaster of variable quality, but rather than me giving you a general consensus, let's get specific.
1. The Accidental Texas Who - Near perfect. Bob's outrageous comedy English accent at the start sets the tone for the album and makes the track seem like throw-away brilliance, effortlessly changing gear. 5 stars.
2. Whispering Whip - A moody opening starts the song well, but once that trump card is played it looses a bit of direction. 3 stars.
3. Supernatural Car Lover - A future Song Of The Day. Flawless power-pop, with a catchy underlying guitar lick powering it along. 5 stars.
4. Boxing About - Effortless and beautiful. 3.5 stars.
5. Serious Bird Women (You Turn Me On) - Megaphone vocals undermine this ballad, which stretches a bit thin. 3 stars.
6. Get A Faceful - Catchy, but slightly plodding. Like watching Carl Lewis do the 100m in 13 seconds. 2.5 stars.
7. Towers And Landslides - Starts and ends abruptly, once the mission of the song has been accomplished. 2.5 stars.
8. I Feel Gone Again - A low-key number that starts acoustically and builds into 70's sounding power pop of the Toto calibre (but about 8 minutes shorter). 3 stars
9. Gasoline Rag - Quirky stop-starting number with good production and a galloping chorus, but it's a bit thin on the lyrics. 2.5 stars.
10. Rhoda Rhoda - Average musically. M.O.R. 2.5 stars.
11. Give Up The Grape - Plodding, but nice key changes and a more lyrical drive. 3 stars.
12. Pegasus Glue Factory - Blending in musically from the previous track, the album is now coming back together. This great-title of a song could be a Genesis b-side, building up to an improv sounding jam. 3.5 stars.
13. Top Of My Game - Finger picking and lyrical. A fresh start. 3 stars.
14. Tomorrow Will Not Be Another Day - Starts in the middle, like a back-from-the-break lick on the Dukes of Hazzard. Would have liked it to be more of a Skynyrd 10 minute jam. 3 stars.
15. Join The Eagles - Contemplative and lyrical. A possible tuba on the end. 3 stars.
16. Full Sun (Dig The Slowness) - With simple lyrics recalling his own GBV songs (the carpenter's and their wives), there's little room for vocals here - giving way to a superbly building musical jam, packed with bleeping synthesizers. Back to the best. 4.5 stars.
So, there we have it. 50.5 out of a possible 80. 3 stars. Tracks 1, 3 and 16 make it into my ever expanding best-of-bob-projects playlist. The record seems to literally reference Guided By Voices themselves in several places (both musically and lyrically), bringing a nostalgic feeling to some of the records like a magic wand. As we've recently seen with GBV's lo-fi peers Sebadoh and Pavement, when is more too much? If I'm honest I'd be hard pressed to name any GBV record as a flawless classic, but the flaws are what made them classics, and this just follows that same logic.
BC's gone off piste and given Joanna Newsom 5 stars. Feel free to rip into him, or congratulate him here.
OK, you're going to have to bear with me on this review as I am breaking a strict rule of mine while writing it - and that rule is to never embark on a review until you know what the album is about. To mislead the hoards of readers we have on this site with knee-jerk opinions would be a dreadful misuse of responsibility. So from the outset I will be honest and admit that I haven't got a clue what the hell is going on on this second full length from the enigma that is Joanna Newsom. The reason I am not waiting until I do know more is that I get the impression that that day will never come, but as I have firmly made up my mind that this is a work of unrivaled genius I think that is justification enough to start the review.
Clocking in at just under an hour and boasting only 5 songs, the longest being almost 17 minutes, Ys certainly is a commitment. Starting this album is an experience akin to standing at the foot of a massive mountain. You know you want to climb it but the view from the bottom makes you question whether you have it in you and it's not until you've completed the first leg of the opening 12 minutes of Emily that you start to realise what an epic journey you have ahead of you but the view from there is so special that to reach the summit fills your heart with excitement and you push on. Those who do reach the top are rewarded in ways too profound to mention. Not only is there the sense of pride on having made it this far but the strange compulsion to go straight down to the bottom and do it all again is overwhelming.
So despite not knowing anything about the meaning of this work we have established that it's quite good and so can distract ourselves with some background facts concerning it's conception and production. It follows in the footsteps of 2004's critically acclaimed debut The Milk Eyed Mender and takes it's title from a mythical Breton city that was flooded as punishment for the decadence of its inhabitants. Newsom describes dreams she had after having written the record that the title had to have a Y and an S in it and should only be one syllable, after coming across a reference to this myth she knew that Ys, pronounced 'Ees', had to be her title. The album features a whole host of stars backstage. It is engineered by Steve Albini, produced by Jim O'Rourke and all but one song is given full orchestral arrangement by Van Dyke Parks, it also has the occasional backing vocal by boyfriend Bill 'Smog' Callahan. But it's Newsom herself that ultimately makes this record what it is. Her voice achieves a much more expansive range here going from booming depth to ear-piercing squeaks to a floating beauty that is simply heart melting. Her debut had her lumped in with the acid-folk of Devandra Banhart which in my opinion didn't do her any favors. This record will undoubtedly put an end to all that as its richness and awesome scope makes it near impossible to label. Comparisons to the work of Bjork and Kate Bush are valid only in terms of vision and shear single mindedness. As time moves on it will be impossible to guess when this album was made, it has a timeless quality and no references to modern times whatsoever. (I thought I found one on Emily when what I supposed was the lyric "The media writes just what causes the light and the media's how it's perceived," turned out to be "The meteorite's just what causes the light and the meteor's how its perceived.") You get immersed in the vivid descriptions of nature and stories that are told with such a beguiling use of language that you stop trying to follow their meaning and sit back content to let your heart dance in the warmth and ease with which these magical words tumble out. There is little point in going through the album song by song as this is a piece of work where each element has to be seen in the context of the whole. It's not just the length of the songs that makes them so daunting, they feature no standard chorus structure, there is virtually no let up in the flow of expertly pronounced poetry or free flowing harp and Park's orchestration sweeps you up and catapults you across his epic cinematic landscape and each song leaves you exhausted. But the profundity of this exhaustion comes from the honesty of the artist, none of this album seems contrived or pretentious. It's one of those rare moments of originality that is self made.
You can arm yourself with as many facts as you like about this album but none of them will help you on your journey, they will only weigh you down. Just as Luke bravely put away his mechanical means of navigation on his assault on The Death Star so must we turn off logical thought on our long trek towards the summit of Mount Newsom and let some other force guide us. To do this is the only way to reach the top and once there the view will be more spectacular than you could possibly imagine.
Hammersmith Apollo, London
OK, what you are about to read is a totally 100% biased, one-sided opinion masquerading as fact but I don't care. This was a perfect gig. All morning I have tried my hardest to pick holes in it and find some kind of fault but I'm afraid I concede, simply perfect. Whenever people ask me what was the best gig you have ever been to I get nervous because I feel my answer should be some seminal moment in music history, like "Sex Pistols at St. Martins" or the "Stone Roses at Spike Island", when all that really ever came to mind was "MC Hammer, Wembley Arena supported by the mighty Snap". But now I have an answer to be proud of.
I suppose the only slightly less-than-perfect point was that they opened with a new song Videotape that Thom Yorke plays on the piano so no one can actually see him until the second song. But that was National Anthem and the show was under way. This was followed by 2+2=5 which is when the crowd really found their legs or lost them depending on where you were standing. I had heard that this tour was going to be an opportunity for the band to air some new songs and some of the lesser played ones. This was true but they still managed to treat us to such classics as Karma Police. This is what I would refer to as 'A Platoon Moment' where I assume a Willam Defoe, hands-in-the-air-euphoric stance only this time not being gunned down by the Viet Cong. This pose was invented for this band and for this moment. It was nothing less than spectacular.
Three of the most impressive moments were the opening tracks to 3 of their best albums. Everything In It's Right Place, Airbag and best of all Planet Telex. Here the band arranged a supped up version of such magnitude that it was almost unrecognisable and sounded like something off Kid A or Amnesiac. The set list didn't seem to be set in stone either and after repeated crowd requests for OK Computer's epic Let Down they finally obliged. Maybe it isn't a song that is often played as half way through the second verse Thom seemed to forget the words and backed away from the mic looking confused. The crowd soon came to his aid and rose with a crescendo of straining voices bringing a grateful smile to the front man. What was also very evident is that we are in for a treat judging by some of the new stuff that was played. Arpeggi being a particular highlight, a slow building number that evolves into a power house finale making full use of Ed O'Brien's impressive backing vocals which are fast becoming Radiohead's secret weapon.
So two encores later and a string of classics having delighted and exhausted the worshipping crowd we are eased down from the clouds gently with Everything In It's Right Place, which saw Yorke come to the front of the crowd and dance along with us with a big smile on his face. I will end this review by apologising again for my rather over emotional sentiments but I am not of sound mind. If you want an over technical and slightly cynical opinion go read Pitchfork but as for me, if I was Sam Becket from Quantum Leap, I could definitely 'leap' now.
A Ghost Is Born
The other day during a particularly busy period at work I embarked on a best of Wilco playlist and found that every track bar one off their most recent offering had to feature. Except for the 15 minutes of amp hummmmm on track 11 this is a perfect album. The reader may have just taken a sharp intake of breath at that controversial word perfect that I just threw in there but I dont care, I stand by that word.
When I first encountered Wilco they were way out in front on the ever-expanding alt-country scene and were making simple yet great songs. This style seemed to be changing with the release of 2002s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and now with A Ghost Is Born Jeff Tweedy has taken his band into the realms of experimental rock genius. Largely due to the production, courtesy of the mighty Jim ORourke, this record sees Wilco turn a very important and difficult corner. From the outset you can see that the agenda has changed here. At Least Thats What You Said is one of the greatest and bravest ways to open an album, its soft bitter-sweet vocal intro turns in to 4 minute crunching guitar solo that leaves you breathless and exhausted and the album has only just begun. And if, during Hell Is Chrome, you found yourself relaxing into comfortable Wilco territory Spiders(Kidsmoke) soon jolts you to your feet throwing the alt-country rule book so far out the window you wonder if they ever read it, let alone wrote it. Clocking in at over 10 minutes and with a fantastic electronic beat for a backbone this song sounds more like early Roxy Music than our beloved Wilco with its occasional vocals and screeching, stabbing and totally freeform guitar solos. Then youve got Muzzle of Bees, Hummingbird, Handshake Drugs, the list goes on and on and the standard set in the first track is upheld right up to the very last note.
This is the album that convinced me to call my first born child Wilco, boy or girl. Im just glad Im not obsessed with Pink Martini.
Colston Hall - Bristol
It's not every day that a band containing Miles Davis' former guitarist treats you to the first ever public performance of a piece that was written that very afternoon. But this is exactly what happened at the stunning Shakti concert in Bristol's Colston Hall on Saturday night. The first half of the show consisted of several old favourites, all executed with the usual baffling precision and togetherness, but we got the new song shortly after the interval. (I like concerts with intervals. Why can't all acts do this?) While John McLaughlin smiled on in his usual benign way, Zakir Hussain - surely the world's greatest percussionist - introduced the piece, which he called something like 'John_@uk.com'. (For all their endless brilliance, Shakti have never been too good at coming up with titles. Still, it's a bit snappier than the old classic 'What Need Have I for This, What Need Have I For That, I Am Dancing at the Feet of my Lord, All is Bliss, All is Bliss) The band then launched into an incredibly (and typically) intricate piece ... but they played it perfectly. I'm still at a loss to describe how well these people improvise together. The band, whether in its four- or five-piece incarnation, really is like an organic creature that instinctively knows what each part of its body is about to do. The improvised four-way call-and-response section of one of the pieces in the second half was simply beyond comprehension. The only truly depressing thing about seeing John McLaughlin play live, though, is realizing just how inadequate your own guitar skills are.Read more 5 star reviews
(dir. Werner Herzog)
Could failing to get the part of Woody on Cheers really drive a man to turn his back on being human? This is one of the more bizarre questions that Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man poses in its troubled margins. The documentary tells the tale of a failed actor, Timothy Treadwell, who spent many summers living among grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness. Holed up in a worryingly basic tent, Treadwell filmed many hours of himself in his self-appointed role of guardian of the bears, and Herzog has used that footage as the foundation of his own take on events. To describe Treadwell as the guardian of the bears is, in fact, not strictly accurate, for it soon emerges that he actually saw himself as one of the bears, no longer human. There are, accordingly, some truly astonishing scenes in which he is face to face with the creatures, and some even more bewildering moments at which he even loses his temper with them and tells them to back off, which they do. From a very early point in the film, though, we know that Treadwell eventually dies in his tent, along with his girlfriend, at the hands of a bear. Even though there is an audio recording of the fatal attack (it would appear that Treadwell didn't have time to remove the lens cap), Herzog decides, in a moving scene, not to include it in his film. And this is very much a documentary that is more interested in opening than closing a case. Herzog is absolutely clear in his narration about where he disagrees with Treadwell - he says, for instance, in an unintentionally hilarious moment that, unlike Timothy, he believes that the universe is nothing but chaos and bleakness - and he poses some uncomfortable questions about Treadwell's disavowal of the human and, above all, his staged self-mythologizing. (It would seem, for instance, that some of the footage was shot deliberately to give the impression that Timothy was always alone in the wilderness, even though he was regularly accompanied.) There are also many moments at which the interviews conducted by Herzog feel curiously contrived. The coroner who reports on the aftermath of the attack, for example, delivers a dramatic monologue to camera that feels (but might not be) meticulously scripted and over-rehearsed. That's not a criticism of Herzog's film, though; it's merely one of the elements that gives Grizzly Man its claws.Read more 5 star reviews
(dir.David Lynch and others)
What's up, doc? I have just raced through all of season 1 of Twin Peaks in a couple of days. This is the first time that I've revisited it since it aired on TV in 1990. It's still great, and Cooper is still one of the greatest characters ever to appear upon our screens, but it was *very* odd to watch it in such a condensed time period. What I remember about watching it first time around is weekly mass viewings in halls of residence that took up almost all of a term. (Chimp71 might even remember the occasion on which we had to bribe people to join the Twin Peaks gang, just so that we outnumbered the people who wanted to watch something on the other channel in the TV room. And then there was the night on which we really couldn't make up the numbers, which led to far too many people piling into my room to watch the show on my ancient, unreliable B&W portable TV). Stretching the viewing experience out over a couple of months clearly made season 1 feel more epic than it actually is - I really felt this time around that it was a small, perfectly-formed, tightly-plotted gem. And my memory clearly can't be trusted: I remember lots of visits to 'the red room', but there's just *one* in the whole series. I'm assuming that the scenes I've remembered are from season 2, so we'll just have to wait for that to appear on DVD.Read more 5 star reviews
After the tragic let down (and probably the best sleep I’ve had in a long time) of the recent Bob Dylan concert I really needed Coco Rosie to restore my faith in live music. I was not disappointed. This was one of the most creative live performances I have ever seen. Sneaking on quietly amid a barrage of French rappers in tutu’s, the sisters captivated the audience from the first note. The music was totally live with classical piano and harp accompanying human beatbox, animal noises, delicate acoustic guitar and strange childlike vocals that sounded like a cross between Billie Holliday, Bjork and that freaky exorcist in Poltergeist. One of the sisters (Sierra) is a trained opera singer and it sure made for a refreshing contrast to hear such an enchantingly powerful voice booming out of a girl dressed in baseball cap and general hip hop gear, while her sister looked like she had just got out of bed and threw on her boyfriends oversized Tupac t-shirt. The stage seemed packed with lots of strangely dressed people doing their own thing around these utterly engaging sisters while a huge back projection played lo-fi images of Care Bears, Unicorns, Rainbows and all the other regulars from your average dream/nightmare scenario.
Their energy was electrifying. You really felt like you were witnessing something totally live and that anything could happen. When someone called out a request from the crowd they just said ‘OK’ and played it. During the encore people were pulled up on stage from the crowd and encouraged to join the free-for-all-sing-along finale that never seemed to end.
Despite the opinion of one guy in the crowd who shouted out ‘you’re a fucking sham’ this was a refreshing, unpretentious and totally unique display of creativity that respectfully nodded to it’s various influences but took the music and performance to places I have never seen before.
The following review of the new album Noah’s Ark on Spin.com just about sums it up: “Sierra and Bianca sound like humping unicorns spewing rainbows in a muddled watercolor field: fantastical and childlike and strangely pretty all at once.”
This was probably the first album since Radiohead that I've been actively waiting for, so right off the bat this is likely to be a one sided review. We'd been previewing a few of the tracks at chimp HQ, so I was slightly nervous that I might have blown it's chance of holding together, but straight away the official sequence of the tracks works a lot better than what I'd been listening to... as well as adding several more standout tracks.
Things start off well with Worldless Chorus, a fairly catchy opener using the keyboard sound that was apparant at the recent Jim James solo gig. Although the sound is new for the band, it's with It Beats 4U however, that things really take a more unusual turn. Using shuffling drums and a more disco sound this really does sound like a move forward for the band. Radiohead producer John Leckie (The Bends) seems to have taken their ideas and really distilled them down into a sound that is both classic and contemporary (send insults to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Into the Woods uses effects and sounds of fairgrounds to create a haunting atmosphere, which after several listens has become a standout track on the album. Anytime rocks. Knot Comes Loose is classic At Dawn era MMJ, and Dondante is a powerful, emotional finale.... working from quiet and simple up to soaring and loud, showcasing all aspects of this great band.
At 47 minutes it's relatively short and sweet, but definitely unmissable.
UPDATE: I exercised a vague note of caution with my initial 4.5 rating, but I'm now confident this is a bonifide keeper at 5.
The Enterprise, Camden
After September's DJ/My Morning Jacket/Jim James triple cancellation it was a pleasant surprise to see this re-scheduled solo gig pop up on the MMJ website, particularly as they were about to start a big US tour. Things only got weirder when the chimp contingent got to the venue - above The Enterprise pub in Camden. The room was tiny (around 100-150 max) and totally empty. Doors opened at 7 and we got seats at a Goodfellas-style table, literally right in front of the six inch high stage. The venue was totally empty for ages, and the rumour was that the record label had block booked most of the tickets - presumably for press purposes. That kind of sucked for all the people who kept coming up looking for tickets, but to be fair it did fill right up at nine on the dot, and a couple of desperate fans were invited in for free...
Jim James shuffled on with a keyboard/sample/drum machine type thing (apparantly called an Omnichord), and took off one shoe (making fists with his toes after a long haul flight?). The crowd was hushed instantly as he started off playing only the omnichord, building it up into a layered rhythm before unleashing his amazing voice. The small size of the room and the closeness of the stage meant that half the time he could be heard louder off the mic as he soared and reached all the high notes... always sounding like he should crack, but never even coming close. While the 90-odd minute set was made up of both old classics and a lot of songs from the forthcoming My Morning Jacket album Z there was never a moment when the crowd was less than mesmerised. Seeing one person create such a delicate sound, but still whip up a storming finale for tracks like The Bear, was unforgetable and the sound is still ringing through my mind several days later.
New track Dondante was a particular highlight, given extra poignancy by Jim's introductary explanation of waking from a dream with this song for a dead friend in his mind. The Bear and Bermuda Highway were awesome, as well as newer tracks like Anytime and Off The Record. Covers of Eels' 3 Speed, All The Best by John Prine and Dylan's You're A Big Girl Now finished things off.
After seeing a lot of gigs recently, this was far and a way one of the best. If you don't own any MMJ, please get some. If you do, keep an eye out for this gig as there were rumours of it being taped....