Monday, 20 December 2010

Albums of 2010

Well I'm watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation so it must be almost Christmas. As is the spirit it seems only right I give you my ten albums of the year two thousand and ten. You can enjoy a selection of tracks from these albums on the following Spotify playlist Albums of 2010 ( You can also download a selection of tracks from this list, and other standouts from 2010, using the following link Here goes...

10. The Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green

Check out if you enjoy: Prince, Michael Jackson, Outkast

Good because: A welcome slice of funk in a year heavy on melancholy.

Even better if: If this was limited to the best ten tracks it could've been a real contender for #1 spot.

Stand out track: Bright Lights Bigger City

9. Interpretting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates by The Bird and The Bee

Check out if you enjoy: Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, Rilo Kiley
Good because: Impossible to keep still to, rightly places pop melody at the core of dance music.
Even better if: Some tracks seem to end a little weakly with a rushed fade out so greater attention to closing the deal would be well received.
Stand out track: Heard It On The Radio

8. If Shacking Up Is All You Want To Do by The Roadside Graves 

Check out if you enjoy: Ray Lamontagne, Gomez, Bruce Springsteen
Good because: Simple, rootsy whisky soaked tales of America. The Dude would like this.
Even better if: It was five tracks shorter, quantity over quality leaves the album a little bloated.
Stand out track: The History of Lilies

7. Nice, Nice, Very Nice by Dan Mangan

Check out if you enjoy: Willy Mason, Ray Lamontagne,
Good because: shows a tremendous flair for infectious choruses.
Even better if: Showed a little more variation, follows a similar template throughout
Stand out track: Sold

6. God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise by Ray Lamontagne and The Pariah Dogs

Check out if you enjoy: Otis Redding, Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival

Good because: Strikes a nice balance between the majesty of Ray's voice on slower numbers and rootsy, uptempo stomps.

Even better if: It may well be that some tracks are slow burners but there does feel like a trio of fillers lurk on this record.
Stand out track: Are we really through?

5. Tiger Suit by KT Tunstall

Check out if you enjoy: Kings of Leon, Beck, Willy Mason

Good because: Shows a progression on previous albums with a willingness to experiment whilst still delivering classic songwriting.

Even better if: A predictable result of an experimental approach is that the album doesn't hold together.
Stand out track: Golden Frames

4. High Violet by The National

Check out if you enjoy: Wilco, Interpol, Editors

Good because: A vocal seemingly born to haunt the foreboding, paranoid tone of this album gives Berninger the chance to provide his finest performance to date.

Even better if: The first half of the album (opener apart) is lacking in pace and results in an already slow burning album taking far too long to ignite.

Stand out track: Bloodbuzz Ohio

3. Broken Bells by Broken Bells

Check out if you enjoy: The Shins, Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz

Good because: An unlikely collaboration between two of the most innovative interesting characters around could easily fall a little flat under weight of expectation - this doesn't.

Even better if: In a way it is so consistently good it can wash over you, it lacks a stand out track which hooks in your consciousness. A very harsh criticism admittedly.
Stand out track: The Mall and The Misery (hard to choose - see above)

2. I Speak Because I Can by Laura Marling

Check out if you enjoy: Johnny Flynn, Mumford and Sons, Joni Mitchell
Good because: Proves immune to trends and contextual influence, could have been written in any era.
Even better if: Hard to criticise anything but would hope for some variation on future releases.
Stand out track: Darkness Descends

1. The Head and The Heart by The Head and The Heart

Check out if you enjoy: Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes, Laura Marling

Good because: Beautiful heartfelt collection of classic song writing. Incredibly simple but utterly magical.

Even better if: It was longer! It goes against everything I believe in but leaves me demanding more!

Stand out track: Down in the Valley

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Mr Pattison goes to London

The story of sir staying out on a school night:

A fairly surreal spectacle unfolded on Monday morning as a frozen man paced around the foot of Big Ben singing manically to himself. Fear not, I have not entered that place but was manfully battling bracing cold to round up shuffling sixth formers ahead of an A level politics conference. Attempts to distract myself from the cold brought mixed results; 1) spending the best part of two quid on a flavourless tea at Cafe Nero was an error although is did Quantum Leap style view of what my life could have been had I become a commuter, 2) Jiggling on the spot with hands firmly tucked into pockets in between greeting youngsters is the kind of behaviour that raises suspicions that a man in my profession can ill afford, but 3) Listening to every single song by The National on my ipod managed to successfully transport my thoughts away from the numbness overwhelming my limbs and onto the exciting fact I was seeing the premier purveyors of North American indie that very night.

Fast forward through a stimulating conference and a delightful couple of hours devouring the brilliant Jonathon Wilson's 'Inverting the Pyramid' (essential reading on the history of tactics for the football geek) and I was enjoying the atmosphere at Brixton academy alongside my fellow mustachioed chum and blogger Mr Craig Armer (the taches were for charity for those losing respect for me). As it happens sporting a ridiculous middle-aged 80s business tache seems to be the norm in 'trendy London' anyway as people who live in the capital appear unable to resist the overwhelming desire to dress as a Shoreditch Dickhead.

The support was a band I had never heard of but Craig was very keen to see. As with most things in life; Craig was annoyingly one step ahead of me in coolness as what followed was comfortably one of the better support bands I have seen. Full credit to The National who resisted the usual label urge to promote some raw label mates and instead chose a band with three albums behind them who have yet to make waves over this side of the Atlantic. Menomena made an immediate impression with the full band lined up on the stage. No single member was given special prominence and the reason for this became clear - Karl Marx would adore this band - everyone plays their part. Every member takes on vocal duties at some point boasting an exciting range of styles from a Kings of Leon howl to a wistful tone reminiscent of Guy Garvey (Elbow). The eclectic nature doesn't stop there as the whole gamut of instruments are on show including saxophone and maracas as drum sticks. This could very easily descend into a muso-friendly smugfest yet each quirk is integral to the song and the band rightly resist the urge to show off. In my experience bands with vast instrumental talent often fall into proggy noodling much to the apparent delight of their worshippers, yet Menomena adopt a clean, almost clinical approach which delivers flair through the variety of components as opposed to a showy stage presence. As commendable as this might sound it would all be wholly redundant if the music was rubbish but the opposite was true. The highlight of this whole night for me was actually discovering Menomena and spotify has been well used as I greedily imbibe all they have to offer. Enjoy the videos below and I urge you to investigate this band.

The mixture of anticipation and impatience before a band come on is one of life's most frustrating experiences. Thankfully The National didn't force us to wait too long after the support and what followed was a quite brilliant performance. I'm not going to indulge in a detailed post-match analysis - I'm sure you will be able to find hundreds of gig reviews which will tell you all you need to know about the band's unexpectedly strong stage presence. Personally I was far more impressed than I expected - as stated earlier on this blog I have grown to really love the band but whereas some bands on record demand to be seen live I have never felt that about The National. The way that I was invited by Craig rather than pursue the tickets myself is testament to that fact. As things turned out the band were far more exciting live than presumed and the songs possessed more energy, passion and at times outright hostility than on record. The perfect example being the primal cry of the chorus on Squalor Victoria. Brixton Academy is perhaps London's finest venue for atmosphere and there was a tremendous sense that the people in the room would each be able to share a story related to how and why they fell in love with the band. I felt a triumphant sense of collective joy as England was sung with verve and defiance. The sense of community was further emboldened by Berninger's quite insane wander through the whole crowd whilst singing Mr November. My heart went out to the poor roadie/security bloke who's job was to follow him and hold up the implausibly long microphone lead. It was a hugely impressive performance, neatly capped off with an acapella performance of Vanderly Crybaby Geeks at the end of the encore.

By the time of the encore I was making ready for my dash to the door as the minutes ticked by ahead of my train home. Craig and I embarked on an exciting mission through the streets of London, guided by an i-phone sat nav which appeared to be on satellite delay a few dead ends were negotiated and the heart was racing. Thankfully by demonstrating the street smarts and courage that only Men of Kendal can conjure we made it to the station on time and the night had ended in triumph.

A good music week was further enriched by sneakily having a listen to the new release III/IV from Ryan Adams- a double album of previously unreleased stuff with The Cardinals which is as fantastic as expected. One thing I would say though is I am kind of glad they have parted ways as I feel far more connection with his solo work. Further to this delight my spiritual guide in the ways of music Ben passed on a fantastic collection from Bon Iver's label Jagjaguwar which neatly showcased a lot of artists I was previously unaware of but warrant further investigation.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Football related: So what did we learn?

Here's a preview of a Manchester United blog post I've written which should hopefully be appearing on before long.

So what did we learn?
Last weekend I made the trek up to Manchester to watch the home game against Wigan. In many ways the performance and result encapsulated our season so far. We won comfortably but it felt somehow hollow. It was a game that once upon a time would have potential for a cricket score yet the players on the pitch seemed uneasy at the prospect of facing nine men and were it not for the excellent Rafael and introduction of Scholes a one goal victory would have been all we had to show. The dominant feeling through much of this season has been that too many of our players have been playing within themselves and taking the easy option. The number of times we declined crossing opportunities to cut back inside and play in front of Wigan was alarming and in the absence of Scholes we laboured in possession - Nani in particular being guilty of slowing down opportunities to counter attack and Michael Carrick seemingly relapsing to the form that led me to question his future just a couple of weeks ago. It would be grossly unfair to overly criticise a team shorn of the craft of Berbatov, Scholes and Rooney (for the most part) but it had become a worryingly familiar pattern.

Then came yesterday - if I were Dannii Minogue I would do that annoying standing up and waving my hands at the audience thing about now. Manchester United showed up and for the first time in a long while our swagger was back. As the chant joyously celebrates we were Manchester United and we were doing what we want. Gone was the fretting over formation shapes, and even personnel, instead it was a relentless red tide of exhilrating football which completely blew Blackburn away. In light of the scoreline comparisons were understandably made to the destruction of Roma and the style with which players interchanged, sharing the ball like it was a precious gift and seeking out space to unleash yet more damage was certainly reminiscent of that famous night.

So what have we learned?

1 It was only Blackburn - The Guardian match report chose to focus on the inadequacies of Rovers much to my chagrin yesterday, yet it is important to bear in mind that they were poor and in the case of Chimbonda remarkably generous. An eerie sense of de ja vu took over as Michel Salgado produced a superb impression of Gary Neville at Stoke. No attacking threat of any sort was offered and the ease with which players were lured out of position brought back memories of Silvestre at his worst. However you can only beat the team in front of you. Could we have played that way against Chelsea, Arsenal or City? Perhaps not, but after listening to endless odes to Chelsea's ruthlessness against weaker opposition it was glorious to see us hand out a beating ourselves. I actually feel comfortable in our ability to hold a firm shape and retain posession against the bigger sides but what has been missing was the feeling that we can move up a gear and play pure attacking football. Each of Ferguson's great teams, whether featuring Kanchelskis, Yorke or Ronaldo have shown this quality and yesterday was a timely indication that the current incarnation can do the same.

2 We need Wayne Rooney
- He will never win back my affection and will forever be sullied as just like all the other money obsessed modern mercenaries but bloody hell can he play football. The signs he showed midweek blossomed here and his contribution to the performance yesterday should not be overlooked. A hugely underrated quality of Rooney - and the main reason I have often called for his deployment in the traditional Scholes role - is his awareness of when to hold possession and slow the tempo and when to pop off passes quickly or drive at the opposition. As we contemplate a future without the Ginger Prince I feel happier knowing that in his absence we can rely on at least one other player to recognise the importance of moving the ball quickly to exploit space. The best outcome of this is it influences other players - witness Park and even Nani keenly looking to move the ball into good areas at the first opportunity.

3 Berbatov is a luxury we can afford
- We may have to wait another six weeks to witness anything significant from the deft Bulgarian but can any Red really want to see a player of such mercurial talent sold in favour of a more functional alternative? I am not suggesting he be awarded the keys to Old Trafford and picked for every game - like many I have found it hard to defend him at times - yet in two games this season he has brought untold pleasure and quite simply plays the game in a way which epitomises what Manchester United should be about. He is the polar opposite to that tw*t from Argentina and I hope he stays at the club for years to come.

4 Rafael is the real deal
- Call off the search for the right back, what we all hoped has come to pass. Many of us have called for Rafael to be given a run of games and it is amazing the rapid progress he has made when given just that. Like all young players he has and will continue to make mistakes but what has impressed has been how he learns from them. The temptation to fly in on the contemptible El Hadji Diouf is something few could resist. Diouf always wears the expression of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man when under attack from the Ghostbusters and goes out of his way to bait players. Yet Rafael maintained his composure, continued to build the growing understanding with Nani and put the imbecile back in his box whenever the situation called for it. I feel the decision to sustain Neville's inclusion in the playing squad can be justified by his role in the development of the young Brazilian.

5 The curse of South Africa has lifted
- As poor as Rooney had been upon his return from the World Cup a far less high profile but equally damaging slump was afflicting Patrice Evra. It is no conincidence that in the early games of the season with Evra subdued and O'Shea or Neville on the other flank we looked weak both going forward and defensively. Over the last few games Evra has emphatically reminded us of just how vital he is to our style of play - the value of having such a talented natural footballer in the full back position was underlined by his contribution to the sublime Berbatov third which was the finest at Old Trafford for some time.

6 It's not all good news - I was delighted to see Ferguson make the decision to grant our imperious leader a well earned rest and offer a chance for Evans to feature in a great team performance in front of a crowd amongst whom several have doubted his appointment as the heir to Rio and Vida. This should have been a great opportunity yet the ease with which the admittedly monstrous Chris Samba handed off the Irishman before planting a consolation header was more fuel for the view that he lacks the presence to dominate the penalty box. I personally still feel Evans deserves time and hope to see this obvious flaw to his game eradicated over the next couple of seasons but the nagging fear remains that this is a quality that can't be coached into him.

7 What the hell happened in three days?
- The chubby, man boobed substitute that looked to be blowing out of his arse merely from the jog onto Ibrox morphed into a totally different animal by Saturday afternoon. Anderson put in the performance we have been craving since his early promise and it was a tantalising glimpse of what he could become. 94 out of 99 passes completed and a leading role in no less than three of the goals - the stats don't lie. Had this been the statistical report of a Paul Scholes performance you can bet your life Greedy Alan and the Preston Irishman would have eulogised the display on the Match of the Day sofa. As it was he garnered not a word of recognition but those who saw the game genuinely wondered whether he might be a more deserving recipient of man of the match than Dimitar 'Five Goals' Berbatov. That tells you everything you need to know about this display. Doron Solomon posted an excellent and timely blog yesterday morning on the issue of the frustrating Brazilian and let's hope this was the first step on the road to becoming the player we want him to be.

Well a magnificent seven seems an apt place to finish. Please comment and criticise to your heart's content.

and it's LIVE!

Tomorrow I am going to see the brilliant band The National at Brixton Academy. What is especially exciting about the gig is at the time of being offered the ticket I liked rather than loved The National, yet as I've listened to them loads since I have fallen head over heels for them. It promises to be a terrific gig and I might even grace the blog with a review. I have been lucky enough over the years to see countless gigs - the prime time being whilst studying at University in Leeds. I thought it might be apt if I add to the Five series with five artists who are fantastic live. These were certainly not my favourite artists at the time of viewing - in most cases far from it - yet they each massively impressed me and fast became essential parts of my collection.

Picture the scene. Leeds Festival 2006. If I'm honest I wasn't that fussed about many of the bands on show and was kicking my heels waiting for The Raconteurs. By mid afternoon I was feeling the effects of the previous night/morning as the brief adrenalin rush of laughing at the lead singer of The Hair's ridiculous expressions had worn off. So for reasons of not being arsed to move more than anything I hung around to watch Feeder. Now I used to really like Feeder - Comfort in Sound being a hugely underrated album - but had moved on and upon seeing them a few years ago in a support role I had been far from impressed. Enter the band, who reeled off hit after fantastic hit, playing with supreme enthusiasm that infected the whole crowd and awoke everyone from their slumber. By the finale of Just a Day as you looked around the crowd previously weary and tired faces were a sea of beaming smiles and bouncing. A notoriously difficult slot became a triumph.

A grainy video of that very song...

The Dears
No Cities Left was for me the finest album of 2003. So it was with great anticipation and excitement that the Canadian band came to my Uni city of Leeds to play the humble Cockpit. By the time I saw The Dears in February 2005 I had already seen many, many gigs at The Cockpit of varying quality. Quite frankly though I have a great deal of affection for it, as a venue it is pretty rubbish. The acoustics have never been good and clarity of sound is often lost. You can appreciate therefore that although excited I was not expecting much of a show - how wrong I was. The Dears made most of the previous bands I had seen at the venue appear unimaginative and lazy as they transformed a mediocre venue into an atmospheric wall of sound and vision. The light show, smoke and compelling stage presence of all members of the band brought a new quality to the music and it stands alone as the most impressive gig I saw in Leeds during my time there.

The Killers
One of the great melancholic experiences of life is connecting with an artist only for the rest of the population to steal them away from you. It leads to the nauseating 'I liked them before they went commercial' attitude of which I confess to having lapsed into at times in my younger days. Massive success of a band can at times mean you lose that emotional bond you once shared - Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon are recent examples. Like a reluctant mother they fly the nest and never seem the same. On the flip side, it can be tremendously thrilling to see a band you first saw show raw potential climb the ladder to gain huge success without compromising their style. Pleasingly the latter scenario describes my experience of The Killers. I dragged my best mate along to see this band who I had heard a single track from late night on Radio 1 and we witnessed an exhilarating performance in a small venue. We both suspected this band were going places and so it turned out when just a year later we saw them steal the audience away from home favourites Franz Ferdinand at T in the Park in 2004. The coup de grace though was to see them just two years after seeing them in a small venue in Leeds play second on the bill with a triumphant set at Glastonbury. It was spectacular to see such a rise yet still feel that same electricity that I felt when I saw them for the first time. On a side note, this was also the last song at my wedding so it ranks pretty highly on the nostalgia scale. Enjoy!

Stevie Wonder

Guns N Roses
My final choice is a classic example of how anticipation and atmosphere can actually contribute to a performance. It would be ridiculous to claim that Guns N Roses of 2002 were anything close to the heady days of Slash in the late eighties. However for a group of lads from Kendal to actually see Axel Rose performing Guns N Roses songs live was something we never, ever expected. Even on the day itself the expectation was that they wouldn't show and as we waited over an hour after The Prodigy it seemed that we would be disappointed. Even when the shady intro video came up still a further twenty minutes passed with nothing happening and spirits fell. The moment captured below when the intro to Welcome to the Jungle comes on and Axel emerges is the single most exciting moment I have ever experienced at a gig. The release of pure, unbridled joy as the realisation dawned that we were actually seeing Axel Rose singing Appetite for Destruction was almost too much to believe. On reflection they were most likely nowhere near their peak musically but it certainly didn't matter that wet night in a field in Leeds.

That's your lot. I'd love to know your own memories of great live moments.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Football Moonlighting

If you follow me on twitter @TomPattison you'll already ne aware that football and especially Manchester United dominates a lot of my primitive thinking. I wrote for an excellent Manchester United blog today so if you feel the urge please have a look

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Melancholy Extra

Good news, you can put your prayer mats away, I am officially now feeling better. To celebrate here are some videos of great melancholic tracks in the spirit of yesterday's blog:

Brick by Ben Folds (live with orchestra)

The River by Bruce Springsteen (on a street in Copenhagen!)

Billy Davey's Daughter by Stereophonics (Live solo acoustic performance by Kelly Jones)

Never Again by Justin Timberlake (yes seriously, great song)

No Distance Left to Run by Blur (live in Paris)

Live It Up by Willy Mason (Live in Brighton Record shop)

Not Dark Yet by Eric Clapton (Live cover of Bob Dylan)

Send in the Clowns by Frank Sinatra (live)

Friday, 12 November 2010

Thoughtful sadness

So without boring you with the details I have had a bit of a crappy run of luck over the last couple of weeks culminating in being laid low with a virus today. Dark times, which in turn leads me on to thinking about that type of song which feeds into this mindset. I confess it to be one of my favourite themes so the five songs are a selection I recommend rather than hailing them as the greatest of their kind;


Wedding Bells by Hank Williams
As somebody younger and cooler than me would say, let's take it old school (actually they would probably drop the apostrophe but I can't bring myself to commit grammatical larceny). This was a track that I only found a couple of years back as I began to explore the roots of country and it stands out in the way Williams expresses the utter devastation of realising something you felt would happen is never going to. The contrast between the jubilation of the wedding guests and the emptiness of the defeated suitor is stark. The saddest aspect is how the fight has completely left the protagonist who can only lament what might have been.

I planned a little cottage in the valley
I even bought a little band of gold
I thought some day I'd place it on your finger
But now the future looks so dark and cold

The issue of lost love is a well covered topic and it would be remiss of me not to mention 'She's out of my life' which I consider to be Michael Jackson's most underrated song.

River Man by Nick Drake
Melancholy can be communicated in several different ways. Hank Williams shows us the most common and direct route - narrative. A more difficult yet no less effective method is to create the atmosphere of melancholy through the music and vocal delivery. Drake is the master of this and I could have chosen several other of his tracks but Riverman stood out for me. It appears to be a sad reality that artists capable of producing the finest melancholy must be afflicted by mental torment and Drake was no exception to this rule. Eliot Smith and Jeff Buckley are other wonderful, creative talents who were unable to reconcile their problems. For examples of their brilliance click their names.

Golden Age by Beck
I simply had to include something from the outstanding Sea Change album from 2002. It is common when an artist takes a dramatic change from what they have been known for - in Beck's case innovative, sample laden, pop-funk - for the results to be less than impressive. Sea Change saw Beck adopt a far more simplistic, stripped down approach as he wrote an entire album about the collapse of his relationship with a long-term girlfriend. Golden Age opens the album and I feel beautifully articulates that borderline moment where you hope the worst might be behind you. It is far from an optimistic song as uncertainty of the future permeates the lyrics.

It's a treacherous road
With a desolated view
There's distant lights
But here they're far and few

Yet the acknowledgement that a dark time has been endured suggests that things might just be looking up.

Not the Girl you think you are by Crowded House
'Weather with you' is both a great song and a curse. Great because it is undoubtedly a wonderful pop song that is loved by millions. Curse because it seems to have led millions more to dismiss Crowded House as 'fun and quirky.' It might make me sound like Alan Partridge but I genuinely consider Neil Finn to be one of the greatest song-writers of the last thirteen years and this song is a great example of that. The lyrics at first may appear positive yet the dark heart of this song is the dream boyfriend is a fiction to cover up the girl's feeling of inadequacy. My Dad has always said this sounds like a great lost Lennon and McCartney song and I'm inclined to agree.

Shadowlands by Ryan Adams
This won't come as any surprise and I will try and set aside the hero worship and focus on the song in question. It comes from the album 'Love is Hell' which as you might guess is a collection of songs very firmly in the melancholy category. There are several I could have chosen from this album and in fact many of Ryan's others but this has a highly personal resonance for me. At the risk of sounding like a therapy session this song essentially soundtracked a very difficult time for my family. In the Summer of 2004 we lost my Uncle. I was not yet 21 and found the whole experience hugely difficult never having gone through bereavement before. I listened to the album a hell of a lot and this song in particular. As a way to try and deal with it as much as anything I decided to accompany my Dad down to the South to help sort out the funeral arrangements. We have a shared love of Ryan so it was natural that it wasn't long into the journey down that Love is Hell was on the stereo. It was then my Dad revealed that when at the hospital waiting for the inevitable to be confirmed he sat in the car park, in the pissing down rain, and listened to Shadowlands. It seemed oddly fitting that when dealing with such a loss both Dad and I turned to the same song. As fate should have it, we saw Ryan later that year perform in Manchester and I don't need to tell you the opening track. Suffice to say that the Pattison men had something in both their eyes for a few minutes that night. Apologies if a twee little story like that is pretty self indulgent but I guess writing a blog means I'm already guilty of that charge of intellectual vanity. Anyway, enjoy and absolutely timeless song.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Come worship at the Church of Dylan.

I could blog about the great Robert Zimmerman all day but I don't have all day so instead have a few choice versions of his songs. Enjoy.

Marianne Faithfull covers Visions of Johanna

Magnet and Gemma Hayes cover Lay Lady Lay

The Roots cover Masters of War

Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) covers Simple Twist of Fate

Jimi Hendrix covers Please Come Crawl Out Your Window

Adele covers Make You Feel My Love

Monsters of Folk cover Girl from the North Country

Norah Jones covers I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

George Harrison covers If Not For You

KT Tunstall covers Tangled Up in Blue

Beck covers Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat

The White Stripes cover One More Cup of Coffee

Antony and The Johnsons cover Knocking on Heaven's Door

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Middle class white boy discusses music from da streetz

First blog in a little while and I'm going to keep on with the Five choices format. Today's choice reveals me as a massive cliché but so be it.

Hip Hop

I'm well aware that arguments continue to rage over whether a distinction exists between rap music and hip hop music. For the purposes of this blog there isn't - as you will notice from my choice I am far from a purist in this area and will happily embrace the mainstream when the results are good. I won't divert to a tangent but quite honestly I haven't heard a genuinely exciting mainstream hiphop album for as long as I can remember. Not even the return of Jay-Z has challenged my view that the genre is in a rut as despite good moments even the 'greatest of all time' has failed to recapture the brilliance of times gone by. In light of this my choices may appear a little dated and undoubtedly reflect a time when hip hop was far more prominent in my musical consciousness than it has been in recent years.

Fu Gee La by The Fugees
This is where it all began for me. A football mad, Oasis obsessed early teen sat down to watch a basketball show and was blown away when NBA 24/7 spent five minutes focusing on a trio of rappers who were making waves in the states. The track they focussed on was Fu Gee La and I was immediately hooked. I remember chatting excitedly at school to my good friend Joe who had long since embraced the hip hop/basketball culture and was good enough to humour me as I rambled on about my 'discovery.' Everything about this song is exciting - the subdued intro crashed into by Wyclef demanding attention, the simple yet hypnotic hook, the complimentary yet dramatically different lyrical delivery and of course THAT chorus which once in the brain never lets go. The crucial element of any rap song is the lyrics and it was the subject matter that most excited this thirteen year old British white boy from a northern backwater. It is safe to say that Brit pop tales of Mancunia or Essex surburbia never included lyrics like 'Stevie Wonder sees crack babies becoming enemies of their own families.' The confirmation that this discovery was going to have a huge impact on musical palette was my Dad's furious reaction when I put The Score on in his car. I am proud to have inherited my Dad's musical taste and was fortunate to have a musical upbringing of Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Despite this though every teenager is keen to find their own identity and distinguish themselves from their parents - Lauren, Pras and Wyclef had shown me the way.

Brenda's got a Baby by Tupac Shakur
As any self respecting teen rap fan it was natural to gravitate towards the big two - Biggie and Tupac. Many a dull technology lesson was spent debating the conspiracy theories that 2pac was definitely alive and I even pathetically dismissed Biggie for many years due to my allegiance to the West side. I'm sure it was of great comfort to Suge Knight locked up in prison to know that the Kendal mafia had his back. It might be frowned upon today but I have great affection for Tupac and feel that unlike many of his contemporaries he was a true superstar. The brilliance of Tupac was how comfortable he was in producing party jams like California Love whilst at the same time writing personal, socially reflective odes like Dear Mama. My choice is one from the latter group, a brilliantly composed narrative tale of a young girl's struggle which is genuinely reminiscent of the masterful Village Ghetto Land by Stevie Wonder.

Break Ups 2 Make Ups by Method Man feat. D'Angelo
I've got a bit of a confession - I've never been that big a fan of Wu Tang. Don't get me wrong I still listen to Enter the Wu and when on form they could be magnificent but I always tended to find their solo projects to be more interesting. Arguably the most commercially successful has been Method Man and although far from the greatest lyricist I have always been an admirer of his flow. He has a delivery which never fails to make a connection with the subject he is focusing on. It is no surprise he is often in demand for guest raps as he has lifted many an otherwise forgettable track (Got My Mind Made Up with 2pac springs to mind). The track I've chosen is a laid back collaboration with D'Angelo which really shows off his talents. Enjoy.

Oh No by Mos Def feat. Pharoah Monche and Nate Dogg
Three of my favourite artists collaborating on one track was always going to end well and this is a classic slice of Rawkus records at their finest. This was featured on the second volume of Lyricists Lounge and was the pick of a very fine bunch. Special plaudits have to go to Pharaoh Monche who lifts a good track to greatness with a quite brilliant verse. So much of rap is polluted with lame verses about how great the rapper is but when PM takes this approach so sharp is his flow and lyrical composition that you can't argue with his claims that he's untouchable.

What more can I say? by Jay-Z/The Beatles produced by Danger Mouse
If you are unfamiliar with The Grey Album by Danger Mouse I urge you to do something about it. In a way this album is a fitting example of how my love of hip hop has developed as a few years ago the idea of splicing Jay-Z with Lennon & McCartney would inspire outrage and cries of sacrilege. I am an unashamed admirer of Danger Mouse and he doesn't disappoint as his love and respect for both artists shines through. I'd go as far as to say this is one of the finest albums of the last decade and I've chosen this track as it beautifully uses one of my favourite ever Beatles songs to make Shaun Carter sound better than I thought possible.

That's your lot, please comment whether praise or criticism.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Happy John Peel Day!

Six years on from John's death. I won't pretend to have listened to him religiously - I think he would've been more essential listening had I been around a decade earlier - but I can think of few others with such immense passion for music. In many ways he's the forefather of the myriad of bloggers all over the internet who have no time for marketing and financial reward, instead relishing the pure joy of music. For that reason, John I salute you. Here are a few of my favourite sessions:

Dancing in the Moonlight by Thin Lizzy (1974)

A Forest by The Cure (1980)

Drain You by Nirvana (1991)

Come out 2nite by Kenickie (1996)

Downs are feminine balloons by Mercury Rev (1993)

There goes my gun by The Pixies (1988)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Satan's comin' round the bend.

I was planning on taking a detour from the FIVE series and doing an old fashioned album review but the Lord of Blogs Turner requested Heavy Metal so I am obliged to oblige him. As you will be familiar with from my previous desperate efforts to save face my choices come with a large caveat; Heavy Metal is extremely vague. I think Hard Rock is generally a better category but less exciting sounding. The reason for my caution is that Heavy Metal as a genre is extremely hard to define. Does there need to be a certain percentage of satanism for bands to qualify? Surely Alice Cooper is HM or is he more glam? Thin Lizzy are loud enough but does Phil Lynott's flair for small town lyricism exile them from the grandiose paganism of Osbourne et al? Can Guns N Roses be pigeon holed as metal when they seem the anti-thesis of so much of its early proponents? I don't have an answer to these questions but I simply propose that the very fact I have raised them be enough for you to forgive any controversy my selections raise.

Heavy Metal

Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden
I certainly feel my opening track to be at home in the genre and quite frankly there are few better at show-casing the uncontrollable adrenalin rush that make this style of music so appealing. As a History teacher I even admire the shamefully hyperbolic interpretation of the consequences of wide-scale population migration in the American West. I would suspect that much of the global sympathy for the Sioux Indians originates from sweaty, long haired metallers. Historical contribution aside, the simple drum beat that starts the track is guaranteed to inspire palpable excitement amongst groups of men all over the planet. When the guitar comes in and Bruce begins any plans you had for the next four minutes can be put on hold.

Child in Time by Deep Purple
An unusual choice perhaps as in terms of volume Deep Purple's finest hour is muted for the majority of the track. It is an extremely measured exercise in control - both in terms of the haunting, mesmerising vocal from Ian Gillan and equally the uncharacteristic restraint of Ritchie Blackmore's guitar accompaniment. I won't go into the gory details of the number of fantastic howling renditions of this song I've participated in after a heavy night but I'd be lying if I denied a smoke machine being involved. Whatever your views on the track - and several of you may find it utterly preposterous and hilarious - you have to admire the composition of simple elements to create such a powerful effect.

Enter Sandman by Metallica
I spent several of my formative years involuntarily listening to Metallica. I never liked them, still don't, and would find it a struggle to listen to the entirety of a Metallica without losing interest around the halfway point. What this song demonstrates is that metal, like all genres, is magnificent one off songs by artists who are otherwise uniformly dire. What Sandman also showcases is how production can still have a phenomenal influence over a style of music fundamentally entrenched in live performance. Bob Rock's production has gone down in history, believed by some to have either saved or killed metal depending on your point of view. I personally think on this track he is responsible for a masterpiece - the intensity of the percussion married to the triple layering of the rhythm guitar creates a gigantic yet taut sound. I will always associate it with the unusual setting of Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Safari park as our 'enigmatic' guide decided to stick it on full blast shortly after passing an elephant crossing a road. Now that's rock n roll. The video I've chosen is a live performance despite what I've just discussed as the reaction of hundreds of thousands of Russians is too good not to include!

Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin
It'd be wholly wrong to focus on metal without including an offering from the great Led Zeppelin. Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones are so widely revered that they are less and less often referred to as Heavy Metal. I think it is part of the accepted derogation of the genre that such a band are seemed too good to be termed as such. It's massively unfair, Led Zep are a prime example of everything that is good about Heavy Metal and wholeheartedly fulfill the mantra of Heavy Metal as 'the sensory equivalent of war.' I could have chosen any of twenty incredible songs such is there back catalogue but I've opted for Dazed and Confused as for me it most effectively exhibits the peerless base of John Paul Jones. If you haven't heard any of his recent stuff with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme I recommend you seek out 'Them Crooked Vultures.' That's not to say they come anywhere near the brilliance of this track but only a select few ever have.

Woman by Wolfmother
Heavy Metal as a description has now widely fallen out of favour in terms of industry marketing. It is rare that a new act - despite fulfilling all the seeming requirements of metal -are described as such. The genre seems to have been the victim of Thatcher-esque diengagment as speed, thrash, dark, black and even the loathesome nu have taken turns in rebranding and distancing metal from its heavy roots. Wolfmother are a classic example of this, for me their style is unquestionably Heavy Metal yet even their wiki entry describes them ludicrously as 'stoner rock' before admitting the term Heavy Metal could be applied. I see no reason to be ashamed.

Friday, 15 October 2010

A browser and a rich black lady

I'm talking OPERA of course! Well I thought it was clever but I never profess to be great wit. Anyhow, seamless link over I'm doing another five to check out but after the bright lights and pounding beats of Dance I've gone in a very different direction for this one. I'm no more knowledgeable about this one either so frankly as a blogger I'm failing but hopefully my hokey charm will save me. So here goes, five Opera songs I absolutely love...

Barcarole by Offenbach (from The Tales of Hoffman)
Unsurprisingly my adoration of this piece originates from it being used to stunning effect in a wonderful film. If you have seen La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) - and I'm sure you have - you will recognise it from that. I was actually lucky enough to visit the town where the film was made Arezzo in Tuscany on my honeymoon but that's a needless tangent. The music is utterly enchanting, like being swept along in a dream and it perfectly encapsulates that feeling of being utterly in love in someone. Enjoy.

Un bel di vedremo by Puccini (from Madame Butterfly)

If Barcarolle is all about the enchanting feeling of being in love, Un bel di vedremo is all about the pain that love brings. I can honestly say I have never heard a more utterly heartbreaking yet at the same time completely compelling female vocal than Maria Callas performing this track from Puccini's opera. I especially love the brevity of the track - it is short yet fuelled with emotion and sticks in the mind long after it has finished. A side note which some of you might like to know is that Pinkerton by Weezer is said to be loosely based on the story of Madama Butterfly. The album is named after B.F. Pinkerton and is based around similar themes of lost love and sexual longing with a heavy Japanese influence. River Cuomo and Puccini - who knew?

Una furtiva Lagrima by Donizetti (from L'elisir d'amore)

One thing about Opera that I have always quite liked is quite frankly I often massively misread the message of the song due to the language issues. This is a classic example - for me the tenor appears defiant yet forlorn when in fact he has apparently just found out his 'love potion' works. This might be treason but the story in Opera is usually an absolute load of bollocks but despite massive flaws a narrative is vital to effectively tie the collection of songs together. Let's face it if a naff story about borderline date rape inspired Donizetti to write this then fair play to it. I've included a first for the blog - a vocal which is over a hundred years old. According to those who know about these things i.e. not I, Enrico Caruso is the greatest tenor of all time and based on this performance it is hard to disagree. Masterful.

va, Pensiero by Verdi (from Nabucco)
Stirring can't begin to cover this hypnotically powerful patriotic ode. This song has such power to move the emotions that the myth was long perpetuated that a defiant encore of va, Pensiero was the trigger for the final unification of Italy. This differs from my other choice so far as it does not focus upon a single vocal instead showcasing the majesty of orchestra and choir working in perfect harmony.

Nessun Dorma by Puccini (from Turandot)
I'll be honest - I was sceptical of including this. I feared it had become the Hey Jude or Bohemian Rhapsody of Opera; loved by the masses yet loathed by the purists. Then I listened to it and realised I would be a pretentious dick not to include what is arguably the greatest vocal ever created by man. One listen immediately transported me back to special night at the Arena di Verona where as our honeymoon came to a close my wife and I sat in the cheap seats (well steps) and experienced the wonderful theatre of a live Opera. Expectations could not be higher as I knew the big number was approaching. This tends to be the cue for a let down but not one bit of it - for around four minutes it felt as if the world stood still as an entire amphitheatre was captivated. No matter how many times I hear it I can't help but feel moved and if that makes me an Opera chav than so be it. Over to the big fella...

Let me know your thoughts and I'd love some suggestions of other genres to get the five treatment.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Dance, dance, dance the night away

Swift blog today as much to be doing but I thought I'd kick off a mini-series of five great tracks from a chosen genre. I'm conscious that my love of North American Indie could come to dominate this blog if I'm not careful and as there are other bloggers who do it far better 'everybody cares, everybody understands' and 'I am fuel, you are friends' are two great examples.

So genre one, and it's not one I am especially knowledgeable of so apologies if my choices are highly offensive:


I love a good dance. I have very little rhythm but what I lack in technique I make up for in enthusiasm. All kinds of music can be great for dancing - Motown and Northern Soul being the best - so I've always taken issue with the label of dance but I'll stick with it for this.

Heads will Roll by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

I accept that YYYs are far from a dance act and perhaps suggest I am immediately cheating but for me this is a straight down the line dance music and is all the better for it. There is something exciting about a band exploring a new genre but so often it falls flat and frankly embarassing (yes I mean you Bloc Party). However Karen O and friends manage to produce a relentless, pounding track which is humanly impossible not to at the very least tap your foot to.

U Don't  Know Me by Armand van Helden

This is a slice of unashamed commercial dance which topped the charts at the top of the charts when dance was king. 99% of commercial dance at this time was garbage and forgettable - Wamdu project, Toca's Miracle, blah, blah. This however had a hook which sticks in your head without getting incredibly annoyingly. I think the trick is to follow quite a conventional song structure in terms of verse and chorus thus avoiding the hook becoming repetitive. Analysis aside, it is a brilliant track that livened up many a Kendalian night out.

Aerodynamic by Daft Punk

It would be quite wrong of me not to include a Daft Punk track in the five and I plumped for Aerodynamic for a reason. Discovery was the first 'dance' album I ever fell in love with. As only a cliched 18year old could I played the mini-disc (!) the moment I crossed the border into France when inter-railing and along with Air it formed the soundtrack to my enlightenment which is so often tread by guitar loving indie kids. Aerodynamic stand out because it begins with an unintentional homage to ACDC and boasts one of the finest guitar riffs of any song. Magnifique.

Setting Sun by The Chemical Brothers (feat. Noel Gallagher)

'Noel Gallagher on a dance record? Oasis' Noel Gallagher? My beloved Oasis' Noel Gallagher on a *spits* dance record?' It is fair to say that as a frankly obnoxious fourteen year old the prospect of the man who made me learn guitar and want to be in a band teaming up with some drug addled ravey types was not a happy one. My immaturity was exposed yet again as the result was a track which sits happily alongside any of Gallagher's other output and most pleasing of all may have contributed to Oasis' bold decision to experiment with loops on Fucking in the Bushes to great effect. Setting Sun has an apocalyptic sense of desperation with Noel's vocals placed cleverly low enough in the mix to create the feeling of an all encompassing storm led by the driving drum loop. The two artists would collaborate again on the enjoyable but less exciting Let Forever Be and not to be outdone Liam lent a terrific guest vocal to Death in Vegas' Scorpio Rising. Death in Vegas were even recruited to produce Don't Believe the Truth which promised a dramatic change of direction but proved a step too far and the sessions are now confined to online rarities.

Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles

I know doubters still exist but they are ignorant fools, The Beatles are actually underrated to the extent that trash like Hey Jude is considered by the majority to be their peak yet their innovation and pushing of musical boundaries is appreciated by comparitively few. It has been said before that you can chart a person's musical awakening by which Beatles songs they enjoy. Like most I grew up loving the perfect guitar pop of Hard Days Night, etc but it is only when you delve into the delights of the Eastern infused tracks and experimentation of the White Album and Revolver that you recognise their true majesty. One accolade that is rarely bestowed upon The Beatles is their invention of dance music as we know it but Tomorrow Never Knows is exactly that. If you don't believe me listen again to Setting Sun and tell me there isn't a nod to The Beatles in the use of loops. It is something of a quirk that even when stepping out of his comfort zone Noel still managed to supply a hefty nod to the Fab Four.

I'd love to know your favourite dance tracks or critical slating of my choices so if you read, please leave a message. After all, just like Chrissy the Witch says, I'm you.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Ladies' Night

Friday night:

I'm sat here after a long week, enjoying the absolutely fantastic KT Tunstall album 'Tiger Suit'.

This is my third listen to the new album and the highest praise I can give it is it just made ironing shirts actually bearable. In all seriousness this is a far better album than I was expecting - Tunstall is established as a talented song-writer but what truly surprises on this album is her confidence to use this as a base for experimentation. I have read the album described as taking a dance-oriented direction; 'nature techno' apparently. At times undoubtedly there is a hint of Pet Shop Boys (Lost) but it is misleading and frankly unfair to dismiss Tiger Suit as some kind of pet dance project. I found myself making links to Kings of Leon and even INXS on occasion yet the country, acoustic staple of Tunstall still has plenty of input. A huge amount of credit must go to Jim Abbiss the producer (of Arctic Monkeys and Editors debut album fame) who matches Tunstall's ambition and delivers a glorious, fuller sound that raises the bar. It is honestly one of the best albums I have heard this year and urge you all to buy it.

Eight out of Ten.

Saturday morning

So given my eulogising over KT it seems only right that I look to sort of meet Turner's request for a focus on the greatest female singer-songwriter. I say sort-of because quite frankly I don't feel able or particularly inclined to make that decision. It would lead me down a well trodden path of mining history and most likely ending up in a face off between Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell. Instead I'm going to pick out a handful of female artists I rate highly, tell you why and let you see/hear a bit of them in action:


Probably my favourite of the lot, an artist guaranteed to divide opinion. I liked Bjork right from the first time I saw her as a young whippersnapper finding her incredibly interesting and unconventionally highly attractive. I accept that physical appearance shouldn't come into views on a musical artist but as a hormone driven teenager it was a major factor. I even bought Echobelly and Elastica albums in the futile hope that in some way this might push me closer to my britpop dream romance. Anyway I digress; the majesty of Bjork is that she has always sought to challenge the conventional without ever losing sight of the fundamentals of crafting a song. Her greatest asset of course is her voice and this never more evident than on her interpretations of classic Icelandic folk music like the gorgeous Gling-Glo. Her finest work for me has to be Hyperballad - the way the ominous music builds the tension and perfectly matches the imagery of the lyrics before unleasing a hit of pure emotion is simply glorious. Bjork also bears similarity with Ryan Adams and Gnarls Barkley in her flat refusal to simply reproduce the album mix in live performance, instead experimenting with new approaches often infusing different cultures.

Jenny Lewis

Unlike Bjork, Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley has yet really to become more well known as a solo artist as in her work with a band. However I genuinely think it is only a matter of time. I really like Rilo Kiley but since the fantastic More Adventurous the solo projects of Lewis have been far more interesting and memorable than anything produced as a band. The most notable, and in my view most enjoyable, off shoot has been her gospel tinged collaboration with The Watson Twins. The style of music really suited Lewis' songwriting style as it laid bare her vocal and gave her lyrics a new clarity which highlighted her gift for story-telling. Although dramatically different in musical direction her writing style reminds me of Richmond Fontaine in the way she creates a scenario that feels too real to be fiction.  Her other solo work includes the lively Americana 'Acid tongue' of which Elvis Costello was a contributor. For me undoubtedly her finest moment is the majestic 'Rise up with fists' which is one of the finest songs of the last decade.

Cathy Davey

You would be forgiven for thinking 'who?' Back in the days of being a carefree student going to gigs on my Leeds doorstep I went to see 'Thirteen Senses' and Davey was the support act. Talk about hitting the jackpot - she was absolutely mesmeric as she effortless switched between sultry and veangeful showing off a repertoire of songs which made a mockery of only having released one EP at that point. She has since produced three albums - the best of which in my view being her debut Something Ilk. The pounding drums which open the barnstorming Come Over are an unmistakeable declaration of intent and would be a worthy pick of the bunch were it not for the brilliant 'Cold Man's Nightmare' which is the closest anyone has come to explaining the infuriating case of lovely girl being treated like shit yet staying around. Davey's voice is remarkable without being overpowering and this is beautifully showcased in the clip I found of her covering Arthur Hamilton's Cry Me a River. It is criminal she hasn't received the levels of press that the equally brilliant Laura Marling has enjoyed.

I could happily go on with this all day but alas duties call. I could for example have waxed lyrical about the unexpected excellence of the debut album of Natalie Imbruglia (seriously!), the sensual brilliance of Melody Gardot, or the brash anarchic joy of MIA. However I will leave you with three performances from three magnificent, enduring female performers:

And this one is specifically for Mr Turner...