Friday, 21 December 2007

The End of Year Awards!

Ok, so it’s been another barren month in terms of blogging. Sorry! But it’s not like I’ve not been super busy preparing my end of year charts of your consideration.

2007 hasn’t been a particularly vintage year for releases, in fact, it’s been rather tiresome at points. However, in spite of this, it’s still been a right old challenge settling on a top 10 albums for the year. You man disagree, you may fist-pump the air in total joy at the inclusion of a personal favourite or you might just be swelling in apathy towards the tedium of another lazy list. If you’re the latter, please look away now:

Albums of the Year

10. Yeasayer – “All Our Cymbals”

Not so much a concept record as a concept band, Brooklyn’s Yeasayer have produced a delicate record labeled in the “Middle Eastern-psych-pop-snap-gospel" genre (popular one, that) that throbs with a gentle passion, a intriguing instrumentation. However, it’s the glossed lo-fi production of the record that makes it so alluring, giving it a charm not dissimilar to a latter David Gedge experiment.

9. Patrick Wolf – “The Magic Position”

The 3rd effort from the flame-haired troubadour is by far and away his best effort. The follow up the not entirely convincing “Wind in the Wires” sees Patrick experiment further than before with his amazing vocal range and manipulates all the key check-points for a good song. “Bluebells” is a perfect slight of melancholic pop whilst “Accident and Emergency” sees a darker, yet more playful side of Wolf. With contributions from as far a field as Marianne Faithful and Larrikin Love, it was always going to be an eclectic aural journey and Wolf acts as a most capable Sherpa.

8. Low – “Drums and Guns”

If you’d have come to me and said “What’s your take on Low?” I’d have said that they’re pretty damn perfect, they just lack that immediate tug of accessibility. Then along comes “Drums and Guns” and there it was. Without a doubt, this is the easiest body Low’s work to just pick up and play. Whilst always maintaining a somber grace, “Drums and Guns” finds an almost child-like quality, best illustrated by “Hatchet”. A fine record.

7. Stars of the Lid – “Stars of the Lid and their Refinement of the Decline”

Multifaceted space rock from the most talented duo on the Kranky label’s roster, “…Decline” is a more focused driven affair when compared to 2001 “Tired Sounds”. Well worked tracks, with a detailed structure using a complex array for strings, synths and guitars to produce an undeniably unique sound. Six years in the making, “…Decline” is the mass total of great understanding of ambient music, which overwhelms the senses and numbs both space and time, it is in my opinion their most consistent and accomplished record since 1999’s “Avec Laudenum”, possibly even more so.

6. Iron and Wine – “The Shepherd’s Dog”

Sam Beam’s third album under the Iron and Wine moniker is much like the first, very very good. Whilst lacking the catchiness of “Our Endless Numbered Days”, this record still pounds the old route using a plethora of folk-wrangled melodies and powerful lyrics. Beam’s imagery is flawless as he paints scenic vistas with his gentle, yet determined voice. It’s only downfall which is all that costs him a spot in the top-5 is a missing big track like a “Radio War” or a “Sodom, South Georgia”.

5. Arcade Fire – “Neon Bible”

A semi-concept album with a focus on the injustice of war and use of religion as a weapon to be wielded against our enemies, Neon Bible might lack the instant grab of “Funeral” but is no less poetic, in many ways it shows a great lyrical growth. “Antichrist Television Blues” is a breathless monologue about desperate parental expectation whilst “Windowsill” acts as the obvious protest song. The heavy instrumentation takes a bit of a listen but remains short of overwhelming and “No Cars Go” sees this demonstrated perfectly together with a rousing chorus of voices. It’s a top record and whilst I’m attempting to treat all albums on their individual merits, I can’t help but think that should “Neon Bible not have been the follow-up to what I truly consider to be the finest record of the Millennium to date, it would probably have been higher up the list.

4. Battles – “Mirrored”

“People won’t be people when they hear this sound” wails the effects-ridden voice of Tyondai Braxton on the album’s standout track “Atlas”. Too fucking right! Love ‘em or hate ‘em, everyone’s got an opinion. I took my time making my mind up and have finally joined those in favour of the New York outfit.

The record is a highly accomplished series of dots and loops mixed with mighty fine production. As individual track, the albums loses coherency (apart, of course, for “Atlas”) but as a single body of work, it’s a truly outstanding, a massive headfuck of a record.

3. Radiohead – “In Rainbows”

A fine, fine record. Number 7 from a band who have failed to deliver a decent album since 2000’s “Kid A”. Many felt their day was over, but “In Rainbows” show a definite growth and real innovation but there is also a ream of good, old fashioned tunes. Lyrically, Yorke’s normally dark style has embarked on a much more open less metaphoric journey which makes for a refreshing change. The album shows a touch of class missing from a number of 2007’s releases and seems almost effortlessly eclectic: the hauntingly beautiful and deeply soulful “All I Need” and “Videotape” counterbalances an almost adolescent “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Bodysnatchers” and it is this almost irreverent manner of writing, recording and performing an album which gives Radiohead this freshness and a Top 3 Album in the EGNTS countdown.

2. The Maccabees – “Colour It In”

Arguably the finest of the new scenesters, The Maccabees arrived with a debut record which, whilst being hotly anticipated wasn’t massively hyped. Every thought to yourself “I wonder what the Futureheads would sound like if they ever wrote a song as significant as “The Hounds of Love” themselves”? Well, this is that record. Early critical doubts soon wavered as 12 delightfully pop songs hit ears with gushing force. The slow start to the record in the form of the opening verses of “X-Ray” sharpen one’s senses and when the killer cord structure kicks in, your hooked! The singles jump off this record like a thousand fleas, of which “Latchmere” is still a personal favorite. Futureheads comparisons are lazy, if not a tad obvious, this record is so much more; a self-proclaimed love of the Libertines shines throughout the record, however, “Colour it in” dominates anything Barat et al have ever committed to record. This album is great fun, but the sharpness of the lyrics is clear for all to see. It’s a playful record but there’s a somber, professional clarity to it, this album hasn’t been thrown together at the drop of a hat and it is this which makes it likely to be one of the few records out of this scene which might have the most unusual (and unfashionable!) of qualities: longevity.

1. The Twilight Sad – “Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters”

Being Scottish, The use of broad regional accents is highly encouraged providing it’s not put on and exaggerated in an Arctic Monkeys style. Glasgow’s Twilight Sad use vocals as an extra instrument more so than anything I’ve heard in a long time. This Hotly angst ridden, emotive deftly skilled music enflames the sense and produces a harmonic, yet distorted slice of Scotland. From the opening bars of “Cold Days in the Birdhouse”, the record’s majestic ephemeral nature fleets throughout the prolonged reverberating guitars and hard hitting drums resonate for the best part of 45 minutes. Whilst many tracks shimmer with discontent over extended periods, it is the albums shortest track which steals the show and is a perfect example of why this is the 2007 EGNTS album of the year.

Well, congrats if you’ve lasted through all that. I feel a special mention has to go to those who were ruthlessly denied a berth in the top ten. They include: Frightened Rabbit, Bloc Party, Maps, Jens Lekman and Stars.

The speedy part of the awards are next…

Track of the year:

1. Cold War Kids – “Hang Me Up to Dry”
2. Battles – “Atlas”
3. Lonely, Dear – “I am John”
4. Bloc Party – “Hunting for Witches”
5. The Whitest Boy Alive – “Burning”

EGNTS Gigs of the Year:

1. Arcade Fire (Brixton Academy)
2. Joanna Newsom (Royal Albert Hall)
3. White Stripes (Rivoli Ballroom)
4. Idlewild (Dundee Fat Sam’s)
5. Bruce Springsteen (The o2)

Well, that’s your lot! Hope you all have an amazing Christmas and I’ll be on here soon with some hot tips for 2008…almost certainly the kiss of death!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Weepop! Records

Since I was a young lad stuck in my room listening to Lamacq whilst studying for my exams, I have had a favourite record label. This is unashamedly the mark of an indie geek/snob. Over the years, Fantastic Plastic, Jeepster, Fence and Matador have all found themselves in my good books. Now a new label has come and dethroned them all. That label is the magical, WeePop! Records.

It seems like a long long time since I’ve seen a more committed little label run with the sole intention of adding a little sunshine in our otherwise weary world but WeePop! do it was a grace and charm only seen in small DIY labels. Since their first release in June, the team has amassed a fine group of bands and artists. Most excitingly are Scottish popsters The Just Joans, Pocketbooks side project, Sunny Intervals and Desmond Reed, a young and overtly talented troubadour from Massachusetts. His Guinea Pigs EP is released via WeePop! and like all of their releases is strictly limited and produced on a micro 3” CD. I advise you to grab hold of it ASAP. It’s a charming collection of laid-back pop songs, which sounds like a down-tempo Apples in Stereo crossed with a less jangly Teenage Fanclub all performed by a prozac happy Ryan Adams. It’s a musically and lyrically accomplished body of work from a guy who is clearly intent on making very classy tunes. A full album release is hopefully not too far away and if this is anything to go by, it should be an absolute beast!

Desmond Reed - Neat

Monday, 5 November 2007

I Love Erlend Oye

This is no lie. I LOVE Erlend Oye.

Here's a man who has made nothing but world class music since as long as I can remember. The Kings of Convenience records are some of the finest tentative Nordic folk ever committed to record, "Versus" is some of the most proficient remixes made (granted, Erlend can little less credit for this) but it's still worth gushing over. Then we come to the poorly handled DJ-Kicks release which slipped out a few years back. I must admit to only picking this up in a Virgin (now Zavvi?!?!) sale for £3, well after listening to it I felt like I should have gone back and given them an extra £20. It's that ruddy good!

So it was with child-like eagerness that I listened to the Whitest Boy Alive record. Did it disappoint? Did it chuff! What a fabulous collection of tunes. From a multi-national outfit originally founded to make dirty industrial dance music. They did a crap job because the spawn is a heavenly slice of chart friendly indie-pop and is void of anything slightly programmed or dance-like. It's so damn good that it starts putting Peter John and Bjorn to shame "impossible" you cry? Well dear Blogger, hear for yourself:

Whitest Boy Alive - Burning

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Holy Hell!

Radiohead have made a decent record!

Like many others, I sat in a virtual queue awaiting the arrival of "In Rainbows". Unlike most, I failed, gave up and waited a few days and got it off a friend of mine (don't worry, I've got the disc box on order as well).

Well to my amazed dazzlement, it's a ruddy good record. Properly defined tracks, an acoustic guitar, it's almost as good as "the Bends", well, not quite. However, it's certainly the most accomplished album since Kid A, frankly, as a massive Radiohead fan, Amnesiac and Hail to the Theif bored me to tears. God knows, what the "I like that one about Karma and the police and that one about the surprises" crowd, although I suspect that deep down, that was the plan.

"In Rainbows" has restored all but the tiniest fragment of my belief that right now, Radiohead are the most important band still recording on the planet. One has to question who else could covertly record/release an album in that manner and create the levels of fan hysteria or media interest and for the end product to be a refined and credible fills me with a warmness much as apple pie and custard on a rainy Saturday teatime does. "Today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen" croons Yorke at the end of "Videotape" which acts as a perfect epilogue to the album. Sentiments shared by many fans upon 1st listening of this.

Radiohead - Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Sex Pistols, who cares?

Rant time, my blogging chums.

Who the hell cares about the "Get the Sex Pistols to Number 1" campaign??

OK, so it seems odd that only 30 years ago the British crown was so weary about a band upsetting the Queen's Silver Jubilee, but it's hardly worth all the fuss. If you visit this blog there's a pretty high chance you also get your kicks from, in which case you'll be aware of their non-stop stories about so-and-so loving the hell out of Rotten, Vicious and co. Yup, pretty much anyone with anything to promote has jumped on the bandwagon; The Cribs, Kate Nash, Dave Grohl, Ian Brown, Razorlight and even good old Slash has rattled on about how amazing this would be. Really? A bunch of denial-ridden heroin addicts who can't play their instruments, can't sing and can't write a half-decent lyric and now can't afford to pay the bills are actually being encouraged to come out of the wilderness (or Reality T.V.)? Talk about looking backwards for no reason. OK, the Pistols had their time and begrudgingly, I'll admit they may have influenced the way this country has developed musically, after all we'd have no Babyshambles without them (OH NO!), but enough is enough. Plus, the self-congratulatory shite we'll have to put up with from the New Musical Express will be worse than if England win the Rugby next weekend.

I'm so against this campaign that as a mark of sheer fuckofficity, I'm providing a non official, 100% illegal download for you all. Enjoy, or preferably, dont.

Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Joanna Newsom at the Royal Albert Hall

Words cannot describe how it must feel for a musician to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. It is surely the pinnacle of any artist’s career however, of the lucky handful contemporary artists that do get to enjoy the grand old hall’s buzz, few show the overwhelmed gratitude and gratefulness that California ’s anti-folk heroine, Joanna Newsom exuded on Friday.

A special night was afoot and despite the best efforts of irrelevant 60s crusty folker Roy Harper to dampen proceedings by running through his self-indulgent, mind-numbing 1969 album “Stormcock” (which was closer to “Cock Storm” if truth be told).

Newsom herself seems to have chosen Harper specifically and refers to seeing him live ad-nauseum as being on e of the greatest moments of her life. Little does she know that a crowd of nearly 8000 people are thinking the same thing about seeing her.

On this night, Joanna Newsom is transcendent, her elfin figure perched daintily behind her harp as she regales us with allegorical tales riddled with simple lyricism and timely grace. In an industry so dominated by perfection, it is the little (and they are little) imperfections in Newsom’s show which makes her so endearing.

The performance tonight was spell-binding: Following the exemplary “Ys”, any live performance is going to be difficult and although her full orchestra shows earlier in the year were celebrated, it is the low-key (re)arrangement of this evening’s show which I find so delicate. Turning a Van Dyke Parks opus into a stripped down composition is near impossible, but Joanna and band do extremely well. Yet it is “Inflammatory Writ” from excellent debut “The Milk Eyed Mender” which strays furthest from the beaten path of the original converting a piano driven ditty into a harp and banjo propelled folk classic.

The populists in the audience will have left the show slightly irked by the lack of “Sadie” and that one from the advert “This Side of The Blue”. However, the rest of us go home thinking we’ve seen something truly special. Words cannot fairly put justice to this show. So in my best efforts, let me just comment that following this, all other music seems somewhat futile. On 28th September 2007, live music achieved perfection.

In case your appetite needs further whetting:

Joanna Newsom - Inflammatory Writ

Monday, 24 September 2007

This Town Need Guns

Don't worry reader, I'm not suddenly taking a Charlton Heston role. To be honest, South London has enough ruddy weapons as it is.

No, instead I talk of Oxford based post-rock merchants. This Town Needs Guns are a fine little outfit who are pushing forward with vocal laden post-rock to aplomb. Off the back of support slots with Cats and Cats and Cats (who, despite hype are really pretty average) and more impressively, The Young Knives, whom they supported on Saturday and whom EGNTS missed at the Drowned in Sound free gig early that afternoon due mostly to Soccer Saturday and laziness.

The band, who find salvation with Meet Me In St Louis and others on Big Scary Monsters (1st home of Get Cape Wear Cape Fly) have just released a split EP/album with Cats x3 are on top of the world, shaming the Cats x3 effort with punchy instrumentation and cleverly engineered vocals. It's somewhere between Wheat, Aereogramme and something I can't quite put my finger on, maybe it's a touch punky?? Dunno. It's certainly some of the best recorded DIY stuff I've heard for a while. Well done lads!


This Town Needs Guns - "26 Is Dancier Than 4"