Friday, 30 July 2010

Sharing the love

I have come fairly late to the party when it comes to blogs - only really discovering them after prompting from my wonderful friend Mr Ruddles.

It's early days and I intend to expand this selection as and when I find new sources of interest but here are a few of my current favourites that you may wish to check out.

I am Fuel / You are Friends - Heather Brown's blog is a must for true music fans looking for a gateway to interesting stuff old and new. Her mixtapes are outstanding, particularly her latest Summer mix but the real value is her superb ear which has picked up gems like The Mynabirds who I desperately hope are destined for big things.

It's Been a Long Time, General -  Peter Turner's blog offers genuine insight and discussion on a wide range of varied films. His is in fact the blog that inspired my own. The premise is as simple as it gets - Pete watches films, Pete writes about them. The selection are not what you would expect, and at times you may strongly disagree with his views, but the passion, knowledge and above all quality of writing can't be ignored. This review of the Burton/Depp combination in two lesser known films is one of my favourite.

Luther Burger - How to categorise Luther Burger? Hmm pop culture maybe? It is basically an articulate account of the likes and dislikes of a twenty something living in London and indulging his loves - chiefly food, music and movies. This might not sound like the most inspiring way to spend your valuable reading time but there is an undoubted charm and intelligence about the writing. The gig reviews offer a truly honest appraisal and avoid the fanboy platitudes so prevalent in online blogs. The food focus though is absolutely fascinating from someone who works in the indsutry and has been known to worship at the church of Takeaway. He is a little obsessed with Michael Cera though - you have been warned!

Zonal Marking -  A dip into my love of the football. This site has saved me considerable time as I no longer have to bother with the transfer gossip packed bullshit of the majority of football sites. This guy has Jonathon Wilson levels of knowledge and offer tactical analysis of key games along with articles about the development of the game. This might sound like it would put you to sleep (and for those of you who dislike footy it will) but give it a try. It will certainly give you a new perspective on some aspects of the game and as a long time football obsessive it has made me re-evaluate my beliefs on how the game should be played. Most importantly Alan Green and Jamie Redknapp are nowhere to be seen.

Ok that's your lot for now, I will post periodic links and hints.

I'll leave you with a Goat showing Usher how it's done:

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Nostalgia calling

Pop Punk. Two words that when fused together describe one of music's most derided genres. The case for the prosecution is a strong one - remember Good Charlotte? All American Rejects? Horrific. However the description could also be used appropriately for some truly excellent bands - Blink 182, The Ataris and the criminally under-rated Lit spring to mind. Another band who could join this list was chosen through the medium of a shuffle for me to review. For a certain generation this choice will likely inspire some good and embarrassing memories.

Right first of all let's get the embarrassing memory out of the way. As a naive 18 year old I visited some mates at the university I would later attend. They were going to a Sum-41 concert whilst I enjoyed a few pints of red wine. This was a terrible idea and the end result involved vomit and buses. I would therefore be entitled to associate Sum-41 with negative memories but I really don't. I genuinely think this is a fantastic album which although unable to back up it's bolshy title comes pretty damn close. 'Crazy Amanda Bunkface', 'Summer' and 'Heart Attack' are harmless but forgettable tracks which certainly warrant the description of Filler but they are more than outweighed by some true brilliance. The album is produced by the late Jerry Finn who made his name producing other successful punk acts like Offspring, Rancid and most successfully Blink-182. Finn knew how to transfer somewhat chaotic live performances effectively into the studio so he was a perfect choice for this album. Fat Lip has long been considered a classic and arguably the finest example of the genre (although in my view My Own Worst Enemy deserves that accolade). The beauty of these songs is there really is no waste - Fat Lip clocks in at just shy of three minutes and delivers a perfectly judged punch of youthful exuberance. Sum 41 have been likened to the Beastie Boys and though they never reach the lofty lyrical heights of Licence to Ill that same spirit of reckless abandon is undoubtedly present in Fat Lip. All the songs do follow the same blue print which is a little tiresome but taken as joyous nuggets of pop punk gold Motivation, Nothing on my Back and In Too Deep really do take some beating. An unexpected highlight to the album is 'Pain For Pleasure' - a witty homage to Maiden/ACDC which hints at the influence of metal which becomes more prominent in Sum 41s later (and lesser) albums.
Many of you might find it an odd departure from my two previous reviews to be so effusive in my praise of what is essentially a pop record. I believe music to be about evoking emotion and whereas Whiskeytown may be capable of articulating heartbreak, and Pavement able to transmit introspection and longing, neither come close to Sum41 in terms of the ability to provoke mindless joy.

Freddie's prize...

Ok so the Mercury list was announced recently. 'Who gives a shit?' I hear you cry. Admittedly like all subjective industry awards it is a creative veneer for a basic sales push but I don't mind that - in fact I celebrate it. It is something of a paradox that with so much music available on the internet and blogs aplenty for many people their contact with interesting, rich music is minimal. For many their main channels of musical exploration amount to national radio and video music channels. Thank christ for 6 music but that's a blog for another time. The Mercury list is rightly considered a selection of creative, quality music produced by real artists as opposed to brands. The real value of the contest is not the contest itself but the fact that many people who otherwise would not come into contact with artists such as I Am Kloot will seek them out for a listen as a result of the Mercury list. Last year's choice of Speech Debelle was widely criticised for being too clever, yet the real problem with the choice was it simply wasn't very good.

So who do I think should win? Well having already established that the contest itself isn't important I feel freed from the burden of significance. The early favourites are The XX and Dizzee Rascal. I have listened to both albums on a number of occasions and I fail to see the excitement in either. The XX is perfectly good background music but they are doing nothing that Stars for example don't already do much more creatively. I'm a long term admirer of Dizzee and unlike some applaud his mainstream success yet no way can Tongue 'N Cheek be regarded as his best work. It lacks the lyrical imagination and social commentary of Boy in Da Corner and though an above average pop album it shouldn't win this award (a Brit is probably a dead cert). Any winner from four would for me be a fine reflection on the year's music - Laura Marling, Wild Beasts, Mumford and Sons and Paul Weller. There is much to applaud about each of these artists. Wild Beasts are of course from the mighty Kendal and as a result are already winners in life. Two Dancers showed clear improvement on their first album Limbo Panto and they have a great talent for crafting interesting, challenging yet accessible songs. Mumford and Sons have rightly received huge acclaim on both sides of the atlantic, particularly for their mesmeric live performances. They seem to have come along at the right time with the door recently opened by Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses. These songs seem to have real soul and make a connection with the audience. If you like M&S I urge you to seek out Fanfarlo who I suspect will similarly cheer your heart. Weller has frustratingly not produced a great solo album with the possible exception of Stanley Road. How brilliant then that such a talent has put together a wonderfully coherent album of timeless songs. I'm not sure how much Wake Up The Nation is a document of our times but it is a fantastic album. Which brings me to my choice, Laura Marling 'I speak because I can.' Her first album was one of my favourites and I had high expectations for her follow up. Those expectations have been blown out of the water; the song writing has gone up a notch but the true masterstroke was enlisting Ethan Johns to produce who brings his unparalleled talent for bringing out the personality of the person behind the music. If you don't already own this album what the hell are you doing?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Nothing to do with George W or sodding vampires

Confession time: I have in the past pretended to know about Pavement long before I actually listened to them. I blame Damon Albarn - when Blur's excellent self-titled album came out the standard critic response was 'rips off/inspired by' Pavement (depending on the view). For an albeit brief period lo-fi was king as even the biggest band in the world at the time (fuck off Bono) REM experimented with the genre. So blink and you'll miss it, Stephen Maulkmus was an acclaimed rock star and his final album as Pavement was 'Terror Twilight.' So named after the most dangerous period for traffic, which is nice.
The album has been described as having something of a Radiohead feel thanks to Nigel Godrich's production and the harmonica hollywood cameos of Johnny Greenwood. Make no loose aspersions though - this is unmistakeably Pavement. The bold move to kick off with Spit on a Stranger may have been record company influenced being the most instantly commercial effort on show but it certainly proves a worthy welcomes to Maulkmus' message. If you aren't familiar with Pavement's previous albums then I highly recommend you seek them out. Those who have will understand what I mean when I say everything sounds fuller and more precise on this album than before. Pavement are in a good place and the confidence shows in the willingness to show off musicianship and vocal abilities whilst erring on the right side of self-indulgence. The famed fuzzy-sonic sound and experimental approach to melody still remains - as brilliantly evident on You Are A Light. Not all of the album is happiness and rainbows as the rage comes to the fore in brilliant yet repugnant ode to the damage women can do 'Cream of Gold':

So much for destiny,
A pin prick on my knee,
The frost you paint
across our dead affair.
I sensed the toxic aura
from the second we touched,
You were stitched up venom
and I was the cursed from the Vedic.

The repetition of beige throughout the lyrics creates the image of a departing lover having taken all the singer's passion. All in all this makes for a striking contrast to the song that follows; Major Leagues is the lilting lament of a man dealing with lost youth and the reality of growing up. This may sound depressing subject matter yet the combination of honey vocals and beautifully intwined guitar makes for an uplifting experience. However this certainly falls short of being the perfect album; Maulkmus' style is on such a knife edge that any drop in form stands out a mile and Ann Don't You Cry certainly falls short alongside many of the other tracks. It just goes to show that even bands of this standard are susceptible to the odd filler track. Similarly (and this might well lead to some abuse) Billie just doesn't work for me. One tangent too many is followed which undoubtedly detracts from the overall impact of the song. There is a swift return to form though as Speak. See. Remember. succeeds precisely where Billie fails showing the fine margins that this style of music operates under. I'm surely not the first to draw comparisons between Maulkmus and Beck and nowhere is it more apt than on this track which wouldn't be out of place on Modern Guilt. I think Godrich deserves credit here as like on the rest of the album he resists the temptation to meddle and keeps the production refreshing clean which as I said earlier provides an opportunity to appreciate the musicianship in a way earlier albums simply didn't offer. The Hexx is a fine example of this - it is tragic that this was the final album Pavement made as it really documents a band in the form of their life. Maybe Maulkmus knew this as he finishes with the absolutely triumphant Carrot Rope. It quite simply is the most brilliant song ever to involve a wicket keeper!

Pavement fully deserve the description as the Velvet Underground for the 90s. This is a fine album with minimal filler and will stand the test of time as the legacy of a quite brilliant band.


Spit On a Stranger live
Cream of Gold live
Buy from Amazon

A fitting start

Okay cards on the table, Ryan Adams is a God to me. As a result I felt slightly guilty when Houses on the Hill came up on the ipod as it is from an album by none other than Ryan. However rather than his solo work which I listen to more than any other it comes from Strangers Almanac by Whiskeytown - his now defunct band who became alt-country royalty.

I really haven't listened to this in full more than once before and the immediate thing that strikes me is how crisp the production is. There could certainly be an argument that it is overproduced as the harmonies, violin and acoustic picking all sound clean as a whistle. I very much doubt this holds up as a criticism but it is a marked contrast to the at times rugged and highly personal feel of Adams' solo output. It's interesting to note that the lead producer was Jim Scott who is most closely associated with Wilco and has also worked with Crowded House, Tom Petty and Radiohead. This is a man with formidable credentials and experience of producing large bands which perhaps is an explanation for the polished end product. These songs sound perfect for middle of the road US radio stations in the Mid-West. Inn Town is a frankly sedate opening which is forgotten within moments of a new song beginning. Not that things become noticeably remarkable until 16 Days appears four tracks in. A gorgeous story telling song which hints at what was to follow in Adams' solo career - there is a hint of Springsteen here although the writing is very basic by comparison. The improvement continues as Everything I Do follows straight away. This is the stand-out track for me with Wilco style understated instrumentation supporting a raw, open-hearted vocal delivery from Adams. The lyrics encapsulate the frustration of a young girl growing up - hardly what you'd expect from a band of twenty something blokes. I still can't help but feel an opportunity is missed to explore the emotional state as room seems to be made to allow for a needless bit of guitar noodling but I guess being in a band is about compromise. The hammond organ plays a key role in this song. Then I'm afraid the album goes into drift - Houses on the Hill are plodding at best, Turn Around is a half-hearted attempt at The Cure, and the other tracks fail to catch fire. Interest picks up again with Avenues which is a short but poignant lament of a man who can't accept his love has moved on. The album closer Not Home Anymore is a sense of what could have been as it brims with brooding menace of a relationship gone bad. It is a real shame that it is one of only three or four songs where the band as a whole gel together. There are too many fillers here which so often are the product of compromise between members. It is no surprise that touring this album saw numerous line-up changes in no small part as a result of Adams' volatile character. I guess some people just aren't meant to be part of a team.

Enjoyable enough but too often forgettable given the talent on show.


16 days live
Buy it from amazon:

The big oidea...

Right massively inspired by the great Peter T and his magnificent movie critique I'm going to do the same sort of thing except with albums, and less well written obviously.

My aim is to avoid the scrum for reviewing new releases and instead listen to music I have acquired at any point. I have over 13,000 songs on my iPod so the reality is most I have rarely listened to and some I probably never have. The range varies from alt-country to Opera to African Hip-hop so hopefully we'll get a good flavour.

The initial plan is to simply shuffle songs and the THIRD song chosen I will instead listen to the album it belongs to in its entirety and post my thoughts on here.