Tuesday, 31 August 2010

How ears compliment eyes.

I feel like going off on a bit of a tangent today. After the dentist appointment from hell (one filling, one hour, massive head ache) I treated myself to a solo trip to see Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. The film was ace but that's for another blog. However what struck me as integral to the film was the soundtrack. It is something I am extremely conscious of in the films I watch and thought I would share a few snippets of gems today. I am considering both scores for films and songs included in a movie for effect. The art of composing a series of pieces for a movie deserves huge respect, but so does compiling the perfect accompaniment to different scenes. I have often listened to a song and thought about how it would fit into a film.

Summer '78 by Yann Tiersen (from Goodbye Lenin, 2003, Ger)

For those of you who haven't seen GL it is yet another magnificent German film from the last decade looking at the impact of East German socialism on a single family. Tiersen (who also sound tracked Amelie) wrote the film's score and he pitches the music perfectly to reflect the melancholic atmosphere of the film. For a film dealing with the fall of the Berlin Wall it must have been extremely tempting to go down a very obvious route of using music from the era yet Tiersen boldly ignores such influences to create a truly original, atmospheric score.

Summer in the City by the Lovin Spoonful (Die Hard with a Veangence, 1995, US)

Michael Kamen was wisely invited to return to soundtrack the third (and finest) movie of the Die Hard series. Kamen is well-respected in Hollywood and has been rewarded with high profile gigs like Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and X-Men. Arguably his finest to date was on the small screen as he scored the majestic Band of Brothers series. However in this instance it is his choice of song that I am heralding rather than his own composition. It is quite simply the perfect song to reflect the heat and bustle of NYC. On top of that (and perhaps the director takes the credit for this) the timing of the explosion cutting in is genius. Even though I have seen the film countless times I never quite guess the exact point the song is interrupted by an almighty boom. Brilliant.

Superstar by Sonic Youth and Sea of Love by Cat Power (Juno, 2007)

Pilgrim has obviously inspired me to link back to Michael C and Juno is genuinely one of my favourite movies of the last decade. It is quite rightly lauded for its use of music and many of you probably own or have heard the soundtrack. The soundtrack is dominated by The Moldy Peaches but it is actually two other cover versions which for me are the highlights of the soundtrack. Both are used to perfection at key moments in the film to indicate the development of relationships in the film. Sonic Youth's deeply unsettling cover of The Carpenters encapsulates the differing outlooks of Mark and Juno and hint at something darker in Mark's intentions. Cat Power's fragile and beautiful cover of Phil Phillips I'm not ashamed to say moves me to tears every time in the film. I don't want to spoil a key plot in the film so will be deliberately vague but it compliments the sublime acting skills of Ellen Page to produce a truly powerful emotionally moving scene.

I genuinely would love to hear your own favourite soundtrack moments and why so please sign up and leave a comment. 

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Mangan speaking

Right only a short one today motivated by guilt over last week's drought. I'm back at work before too long (boo!) so the pace will slow somewhat although I really will update regularly so don't lose faith!

Today's review is inspired by the wonderful Fuel Friends Blog who brought this artist to my attention. I'm streaming the album from here for this review but if I like it I'll definitely be buying it. So far I've heard part of one song on Heather's blog but will now have a listen to the entire album and let you know what I think. Really excited about this!

Nice, nice, very nice by Dan Mangan

The immediate thoughts when you listening to the start of the album opener 'Road Regrets' is Springsteen. This has been an exciting feeling I've had on many occasions but so often it fails to sustain or falls into Boss parody. In fairness sometimes it really does work; Sam's Town by the Killers and Gaslight Anthem spring to mind. However in this case the Springsteen influence though continuing through the track does not overpower it and the song structure does not mimic that of Bruce which is a positive step. I wonder if Mangan is playing a game of spot the influence as the opening bars of Robots is pure Kinks yet to Mangan's credit he again keeps this influence as an undercurrent rather than an overpowering element. Robots has a really enjoyable Sea Shanty feel which as a fan of Picaresque really works for me. It is a real clap your hands and stomp your feet moment and it is unfortunate Mangan hadn't received recognition earlier as this style would have been extremely well received at this summer's festivals given the rapturous response enjoyed by Mumford & Sons. I really like how the old fashioned music marries with the lyrical content of the need to maintain feeling in our gadget ridden world. There is a striking and endearing earthy quality to Mangan's voice which provides a depth of sound whilst maintaining clear intonation allowing every lyric to be heard. As someone who enjoys uncovering the meaning of songs this is refreshing. An affectation Managan employs is disrupting or pausing the rhythm of the melody to integrate his vocal pattern. Those who enjoy Damien Rice and/or Bon Iver will be familiar with this technique. Overused this would fast become irritating but he manages to keep it just on the right side of endearing although he does push it close on the delightful Indie Queens Are Waiting. Some of these songs have that brilliant quality of feeling like you have loved them for years and I found myself happily singing along to Sold by the end of the three minutes; when you consider this is the first time I have heard the track it really speaks volumes about Mangan's ability to craft an instantly memorable song. Probably my favourite track of the album is Et Les Mots Croisés; an absolutely charming ode to the miserable tales of heartbreak beloved by singer/songwriters the world over and lapped up by the likes of me. The first verse says it all:

I don't want to be a pioneer
A singer sings a sad song when he's sad
But honey all these years I've been upset
I've slowly turned the kind of blue that keeps your jeans dry

Now I don't need to reinvent the wheel
The singer needs to feel like he's been had
It's all so sad
It's all so sad

This isn't genre bending, era defining music; it doesn't need to be. This is a collection of classically simple songs beautifully written. There is filler here as with most albums but considering the high expectations I placed on this album based on one track it has delivered on every level. Thanks so much to Heather Browne for the tip and please check out this album for yourself.

Seven and a half out of ten.

Monday, 23 August 2010

What was the space dog called?*

I know I have been neglecting my blogging duties and can only apologise. I have promised a good friend with an imminent birthday I'd review an album for him so here goes...

Astro Coast by Surfer Blood

Astro is a very exciting word. Seriously. Stick it in front of a more mundane noun and you transform it into something exciting and mysterious. No company could successfully market 'fake grass' so instead we had hoardes of New Labour money flushed headmasters eagerly shelling out for 'ASTRO TURF.' The Farm are an uncomfortable repetitive dour scouse beat combo from the early nineties, yet when you add Astro they become an animated family trying to get by running an agricultural business on an asteroid; who could ever forget ASTRO FARM? It's basically The Wire in space. Even the short lived, ill-fated 'biscuit smarties' were briefly a top seller at Lound Road garage purely because they were called Cadbury's ASTROs. All of this means I cannot help but admire the moxy of Surfer Blood before I even listen to their debut album. They have cautioned against any possible laissez-faire attitude with a simple edition of the magic word. So onto Astro Coast we go...

The album opens with Swim - a song if you didn't know who it was by you have probably heard used to make an exciting montage link on TV. It has a catchy pop hook ready made for festivals and chugs along at refreshingly merry pace. The first interesting point to note is the singer is a fan of The Shins. In fact his dream appears to be James Mercer singing covers of sadly short-lived britpop phenomenon Symposium. The vocal effect could be lifted straight off Oh Inverted World which when placed in a garage rock track should be a disaster but actually works extremely well. Despite this New Mexico vocal flavour the predominant music influence is avowedly British. I have heard this group compared to Weezer and I will no doubt address that later in this review but on first song alone they are more reminiscent of early Feeder than Rivers and co. This British influence bleeds into track two which would be at home in the background on This Life or even on the seminal indie-comp Shine Too. Floating Vibes is much more interesting than Swim and thankfully reveals a band with more depth. The melody is still rightly free of unnecessary noodling but the elements on this track are far more effectively balanced producing a richer sound which provides a platform for some really interesting realist song writing reflecting on the fragility of early success. This is a surprising topic for a band at such an early stage of their own career and shows stark self-awareness that brings to mind Alex Turner (though lacking comparable talent of lyrical composition). Take It Easy regretfully never escapes the spectre of a Vampire Weekend off-cut which blunts any impact. For me this is the first candidate to be a skipper. It is not alone - not every track on this album maintains the highest standards of quality (Neighbour Riffs - the point?) but that is to be expected on a debut album by a young band.

I have to say on balance though I'm really impressed; there are elements of a truly exciting band - the interplay of vocals particularly in the use of harmonies shows a real grasp of how to craft a song. Again unsurprisingly for a debut album the influences are worn on the sleeve including Room on Fire era Strokes (Harmonix), Wes Anderson movies (Twin Peaks) and Pavement (Catholic Pagans). The standout track of the latter half of the album - and possibly the whole album - is Slow Jabroni which though abysmally titled is a majestic slow-burner which subtley builds to a crescendo. This song must be festival gold. It is also the only track for me which warrants the Weezer golden period comparisons. The slow burning build is reminiscent of Only In Dreams and I can see how reviewers have jumped on this. However - and I mean no malice when I say it - to compare this album to Blue and Pinkerton is wholly wrong. At no point on any level does it approach the brilliance of either of those two albums. Lyrically and musically Blue and Pinkerton deserve to be considered two of the finest albums ever made. I actually think it is wholly unfair and detrimental to Surfer Blood for lazy critics to trot out the comparison. Cuomo's descent into self-parody in recent years has ignited a yearning for early Weezer and this pressure is wrongly being thrust onto raw bands like Surfer Blood who as this album shows possess huge potential.

As an album this certainly contains far more positive moments than filler. Ultimately though it fails to be truly memorable and too often sounds like songs 'in the style of'. I will definitely continue to take an interest in Surfer Blood and look forward to them developing their own sound. On this evidence they have a long road ahead but are certainly moving in the right direction.

Six and a half out of Ten.

*If you've made it this far I applaud you, the dog's name was Dinko

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Birthday Blog!

It was twenty seven years ago today that I entered the world. So much has changed in that time, in this blog I am going to describe the top 100 key events during my lifetime.

Or perhaps not as frankly that would be far too much like work (I'm a history teacher) so instead I am going to share with you three albums that in my humble opinion you really, REALLY should own.

Weezer - by Weezer (also known as the Blue album)

It saddens me to say it but I wish Rivers Cuomo had never decided to bring Weezer back together after Pinkerton. Much like the return of Family Guy after a hiatus there output since has become a more and more desperate to recapture the glorious early days with increasingly embarassing efforts to appear relevant. The new song is garbage and sticking the fat bloke from Lost as the album cover is like, so edgy, and like, hilarious! I sound far too grumpy for a man enjoying his birthday so I'll quickly return to focus on Weezer's debut. If you do not own this album I envy you, I would love to experience listening to it for the first time. The good news is everytime you listen it's like a hit of sunshine; the opening bars of My Name is Jonas never fail to give me a surge of excitement. I'm not going to do an in-depth track by track analysis as I have a limited knowledge of synonyms for brilliant. Just bloody buy it.

Three great tracks: No One Else, Say It Aint So, Surf Wax America
Like this? You may also like: The Replacements; Lemonheads; Death Cab for Cutie;
Rating: 9 1/2 out of 10

Innervisions - by Stevie Wonder

Growing up mum and dad always had Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix on so I knew of them without really considering them anything special as they were my parents' music. I can't remember exactly when or why but have a strong memory of being about 17 and for the first time really listening to Songs in the Key of Life. From that moment I was hooked, and I consider Stevie's Golden Period ('72-'80) to be just about the finest music ever created. The pick of the bunch is Innervisions. Music as social commentary is often overtly worthy and tedious, yet on this album it is nothing of the sort. Wonder has an ability like no other to create joy; if you dispute that try and listen to the opening of Sir Duke without smiling. This album is absolutely packed full of songs guaranteed to have you at the very least tapping your feet but more likely dancing around the house like an idiot (perhaps that's just me). It is in fact easy to listen to this album purely as a dance record and in this form it undoubtedly succeeds but when you actually listen to what Stevie is singing about you realise that this is nothing short of poetry. James Brown may be more closely associated with black rights yet I find his blunt approach and bellious delivery to be off-putting and even patronising. Wonder manages to weave in relevant social commentary about 1970s America into his songs with a subtletly that enriches rather than detracts from the musical joy. His music speaks to people in a way few others manage; only Dylan, Young and Springsteen have had a comparable impact.

Three great tracks: Visions, Living for the City, He's Misstra know it all
Like this? You may also like: Gil Scott-Heron; The Fugees; Mos Def;

Rating: 9 1/2 out of 10

Buena Vista Social Club - by Buena Vista Social Club

First of all I know my ignorance is staggering. Recommending this to anyone with a knowledge of Cuban music is a bit like saying 'hey have you heard Definitely Maybe by this Oasis band?' My knowledge of Cuban music is regrettably minimal so for me this album was a fantastic introduction. I took an extremely roundabout way of getting into it. The roots can probably traced to my Peru trip where I loved the music even if the panpipes were a bit overkill by the end. Shortly after having arrived back and like any self-respecting middle class Guardian reader I decided I was now 'into World Music.' A documentary came on TV about the making of this album and experiencing music for the first time visually was an unusual method but the songs really shone out for me. Ever since this album has regularly brightened up a rainy afternoon in my classroom slogging through marking. It showcases a wide variety of styles and performers but what is always consistent is the sky high standard of musicianship and infectious rhythms. If you have never listened to latin music I urge you to give it a go.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8c6u4PFKg_o (El Carretero)
Three great tracks: Chan Chan, Y Tú Qué Has Hecho?, ElCarretero
Like this? You may also like: Ibrahim Ferrer; Omara Portuondo; Rubén Gonzaléz
Rating:  81/2 out of 10

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Mr Sparkle!

As stated in my Pavement review, I suffer from considerable guilt over bands I should really be familiar with yet no little about. Sparklehorse are one of those bands. The first experience I had was of their collaboration with Danger Mouse and David Lynch (Dark Night of the Soul) which is one of my favourite albums of the last year. It seemed natural therefore to dip into the history of this band; sadly there will be no future as Mark Linkous tragically took his own life earlier this year.

Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot - by Sparklehorse

The album I chose as my introduction to Sparklehorse was there first from 1995. It is revered in American Indie circles and it was with lofty expectations that I approached listening. It was a distressing experience for me to discover the cover as I have a deep fear of clowns as a result of my caring if misguided father's decision to choose It as a family film when I was about eight. He went on to repeat the trick less than a decade later as we all sat down to American Psycho. My theory is he likes watching films on his own. Anyway I digress, the origin of Viva is an unusual one as it was recorded primarily by the band Cracker for whom Linkous was a guitar tech and occasional collaborator. From unorthodox beginnings has emerged a terrific album. I was anticipating a darker tone to the album as I didn't realise Linkous' overdose came after the release of Viva. The real strengths of this album are the way simple, quite old fashioned songs are delivered in a variety of styles; from stripped down, Wilcoesque backing on the incredibly charming love song Saturday to the rambling experimental interlude Little Bastard Choo Choo which wouldn't be out of place on the White Album. As a great lover of The Strokes I admire a band who refuse to make room for self-indulgence and the way in which songs are brought to a swift conclusion adds to the rhythm of the album. Personally the highlight of the album comes on the seventh track 'Most Beautiful Widow in Town.' The acoustic backing is minimal so as not to detract from the magnificent imagery of the tale of unrequited love which really made me sit up and take notice of why Linkous is so highly rated.

many years later
the glassy month of December
I stood with my hands in my pockets
trying to avoid
a shiny wedding portrait
hanging on that old woman's wall
'cos I knew you'd be wearing a smile
that'd be too painful to look upon

Maybe it is the theme that made me make the connection but 29 by Ryan Adams came to mind when listening. It would be wrong to identify Linkous as possessing a show-stopping or even unique voice but the delivery is tender and seems to invite the listener into his very private world meaning Linkous is a great communicator of emotion and as a result this is a great album. I look forward to discovering the rest of their back catalogue and it is a great thrill to embrace an artist who has influenced so many of those I adore. Listening to Viva is like listening to the roots of Willy Mason, Ryan Adams, Ben Gibbard and Ben Kweller and on that basis alone it could be destined to become one of my favourite albums.

8 1/2 out of 10

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Sound of The Suburbs

Hotly anticipated can be a poisoned chalice. Sometimes mass expectation can bring out the best in a band (Room on Fire springs to mind) whereas for others it can prove a dead weight disrupting the atmosphere that fostered the previous brilliance (MGMT I'm scowling in your direction). For Arcade Fire's follow up to the decade defining Funeral they really fell between two stools. Yes there were great moments but despite critical acclaim I couldn't help but underwhelmed. The infamous difficult second album can come as a blessing and I approach the third release by Arcade Fire in hope that the absence of dizzying expectations that surrounded Neon Bible will result in a finer end product.

The Suburbs - by Arcade Fire

The album opens with the track of the same name and it is immediately striking that grand drama appears to have been dispensed with in favour of a rootsier, folksier sound. If the band were intending to create a Neil Young vibe then on the evidence of the opener they have achieved it.  Ready to Start sees an increase in the urgency - the driving tempo and insistent vocals remind me of The Dears and this is much more like the Arcade Fire with which we became familiar in their early tracks. They have stuck with Markus Dravs, producer of Neon Bible, but there is a notably more stripped back approach with a more conventional structure to songs and an emphasis on a clean, clear vocal. This is crucial as lyrically this album has a lot to say. It follows a consistent theme of questioning our consumer society and the suffocation of ambition this implies. The Suburbs makes more sense as a title when you grasp this, and the album certainly seems to be addressing the creeping frustrations of twenty somethings who have become part of the furniture rather than succeeding in changing the world as they once hoped. The plethora of media and artistic opportunities have fragmented rather than emboldened a movement for change which has left a generation confused:

Maybe when you're older you will understand
Why you don't feel right
Why you can't sleep at night now
(from Modern Man)

Let's go downtown and talk to the modern kids
They will eat right out of your hand
Using great big words that they don't understand
(from Rococo)

Music divides us into tribes,
You choose your's and I'll choose mine (from Suburban War) 

This really is an album that lyrically is verging on bitterness. Butler seems uncomfortable and unhappy with his own role since he has found fame and this comes through consistently, like in the bleak 'City with No Children' where he warns:

You never trust a millionaire
Quoting the sermon on the mount
I used to think I was not like them
But I'm beginning to have my doubts

The recurring messages of self-doubt and dissatisfaction with modern living have been poetically covered before by the likes of Conor Oberst yet this album is far more direct and I can't help but feel less effective as a result. Suburban War is potentially the stand out track with a slow development of drama bringing a much needed injection of theatre to proceedings. It heralds a second wind to the album and is followed by the stomping Month of May which sounds like it has been nicked off an Eagles of Death Metal record. It really is great to hear that this band are capable of composing an old fashioned punky track and I'd love to see this indulged in the future. On the whole though the album sticks to the alternative Indie formula which sees a rich palette of influences from Radiohead to The Cure shine through at different points.

As a rule albums I immediately adore are often short lived in my affections whereas those I grow to love become personal favourites. I have a suspicion that this could well fall into the latter category. On first listen it is good but not great yet I sense there are nuances in this album that will take time for me to appreciate. This is very much a first listen rating, and it will be interesting to see whether I feel the same after several repeat listens.

7 out of 10

Rainy day, Rainy Music

God bless the British summer - it is currently throwing it down in leafy Thunder-Ridge so I thought I'd have a listen to an appropriate album.

Rainy Day Music - by The Jayhawks

The Jayhawks had brought out seven albums by the time this landed in 2003. They had made their name through jangly, acoustic melodic alt-country and this album continues in that vein. Produced by Ethan Johns and Rick Rubin it is a marriage of experienced, successful producers and a band who had honed their craft. Rubin may raise a few eyebrows given his heavy background (Metallica, Slayer, Slipknot) but there is no hint of a harder edged influence on the album. The result is a delight - the whole album is peppered with Byrds style harmonies and a lot could easily come off a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record which can't be anything but a positive in my book. Gary Louris' vocals have never sounded better and his occasionally earthy rocky delivery offers a neat contrast to the gentle harmonies I alluded to earlier. This is an album which though released in 2003 could easily have been part of the California movement of the 1970s and for some this may prove off-putting. I cannot help but sound hypocritical when I laud The Jayhawks for maintaining a classic rock style whilst deriding The Courteeners for a lack of imagination but the key difference is the quality of songwriting. The Jayhawks have earned the right to indulge their own wishes and you sense this is an album they took great pleasure in putting together. 'Save it for a rainy day' is easily the standout track for me and if you only seek out one song following this review than that is the one. 'Come to the River' is also a noteworthy track which has a rootsy, raw power not commonly found in the rest of the album. An interesting element is when drummer O'Reagan takes over lead vocal duties - on 'Don't let the world get in your way' there is more than a touch of Neil Finn to his delivery and given Johns later produced Crowded House comeback album 'Time on Earth' there is a clear cross-over of styles. Unfortunately the back end of the album fails to offer the same impact as the front six - 'Will I see you in heaven' is something of a return to form but even that track fails to counter the feeling that the album is petering out.

One criticism I would make of the Jayhawks generally is they lack their own distinct identity - as a reviewer I struggle to describe their sound without relating it directly to others and this in my view is the reason why they have not received greater recognition. An hugely enjoyable band they may be but there is no hint of revolution in their output and as a result they fail to sustain interest over the course of a long album such as this.  

6 & 1/2 out of 10

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Double whammy

So today I tried a slightly new approach to the blog, rather than being sat on my portentous behind listening and blogging in perfect harmony I decided to get on my bike and ride. As a result this pair of reviews are briefer than recent but that hopefully won't render them any less interesting.

Eels - Electro-shock Blues
Anyone who knows a bit about Eels frontman Mark Everett (E) won't be surprised to learn that this album follows some of the darkest themes possible. E should have been on cloud nine following the critical and commercial success of previous album Beautiful Freak (including one of the standout tracks of the decade and as fine an intro as you'll ever hear in Novocaine for the Soul). Tragically it proved to be a time of unquantifiable loss as he lost his mother to terminal cancer and his sister took her own life. It goes without saying therefore that these events directly influenced Electro-Shock blues. What is surprising perhaps is that it is not as difficult a listen as one might expect. Eels continue to innovate on this album showing a novel aptitude for using strings and jurassic five style beats together to compliment the laid back delivery of the vocal. This works most effectively on 'My descent into madness' - a sublime track which sees the subject coming to terms with his own incarceration:

the jacket makes me straight so I can just sit back and bake

you know I think I'm gonna stay

talking very loud but no one hears a word I say

I'm not the first to draw comparison with Odelay era Beck and though this understandably lacks the same pop hooks that pepper the work of Mr Hansen (Beck not Alan). One of my favourite tracks is Hospital Food - a jazz infusion which would not look out of place on a B-52s album. Despite these two wonderful tracks I did find that the experimental style did not always effectively compliment the lyrics. A technique Eels have used to good effect before is the haunting use of childlike instrumentation but on an already bleak affair I found this added little merit to the album. To end on a positive - so does the album. It finishes with the album's finest moment - PS. I Love You, which is a redemptive song based around the central couplet; 'Everyone is dying; and maybe it's time to live'.

In many ways this album flys in the face of normal releases, there is no agenda for commercial success - this is song writing as therapy and I applaud E for doing so. However it is perhaps a reflection on me that I felt at times like I was intruding on private grief.
6 1/2 out of 10 
The Courteeners - Falcon
I have only had two previous experiences of The Courteeners. One was on a weekend in Manchester in an Indie club where I was feeling upsettingly old as all around appeared to be yet to enter their twenties. A song came on that provoked exuberant scenes and I had no idea what it was. I was duly informed it was 'Not nineteen forever' by The Courteeners and I was impressed that a song could instigate such a response. The second experience was catching a short snippet of their T in the Park set this year on TV. Again, the crowd were relishing singing along to every word and I can honestly say I paid no attention to the actual music. This turns out to be for the best. On listening to Falcon it appears that the Courteeners have been bottled up from five years ago and let loose on the world today.  Yes there are some clever lines but whereas I imagine the writer thinks he is rivalling the Arctic Monkeys the woeful Wombats would be a more apt comparison. I hope for their sake that they have developed a sterling live reputation as on record they are desperately lacking in any sort of imagination. Musically they are completely unadventurous - settling for plodding, lifeless generic indie background that recalls the barren days where garbage like The Datsuns were considered worthy of airplay. Lyrically the trick seems to be find a rhyming couplet, repeat ad nauseum and chuck in the odd reference to something uniquely English. It is as if they heard Alex Turner use the line 'Can I buy you a tropical reef?' and decide that was why the Arctic Monkeys debut was so wonderful. Whatever people say I am... was a dazzling, exhilirating album with Turner's lyrics masterfully capturing the social context in which they had grown up. By comparison The Courteeners are tired and laboured. The message really hit home on one of the final tracks which declared 'The good times are calling...' - so why does the singer sound so unbelievably bored! Oh that's right he's read his own lyrics. The good times were calling; the album was coming to a close although not without one final sting in the tail - I got a puncture.

2 out of 10.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Alcohol provokes debate shocker

What a tremendous weekend - full to the brim it featured a wedding, a christening and barbecue. An undoubted highlight was the discussion in Leeds on Saturday night centred on choosing three songs that could be considered the best of the decade 2000-2010. Now being the type who enjoys such things I made a two CD selection reflecting the best of the decade at the turn of the year so I felt well equipped yet there is no denying that such a decision is tough. It was interesting that almost immediately two friends agreed on one inclusion. B.O.B. by Outkast is a choice that is hard to disagree with - it stills sounds as fresh and important today as on its release. It is sometimes easy to forget that Outkast have not always existed in the mainstream and this magnificent track shared an album with their major cross-over success Ms Jackson. Bob has a relentless urgency which in many ways was an apt dawn to a new age.

Of course it would be entirely remiss of me not to share my own thoughts on such a 'hot topic.' The chat took place two days ago now and I've had time to reflect but I confess to in no way having my choices set in stone. I fully expect to return to this blog in the future filled with rage at my decision - in some ways the perfect circle.

Anyway here goes:

Sigur Ros - Hoppipola

'Jumping into Puddles' as it is known in Iceland is perhaps the most offensively over-exposed piece of music in the last ten years. Only Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene can compete. Lazy television directors the world over have taken great pleasure in using it as the backing to many a tedious montage. Most disgracefully I remember it being used to commemorate Scottish Gargoyle Andy Murray edging past some poor Slovak in an early round of Wimbledon. If ever a piece of music did not reflect the context of its use it was there. The reason? This piece of music is stunningly beautiful. I will make my peace with those employed in the visual arts by applauding the use for the BBC Planet Earth series as in that case it really did tie in superbly with the subject matter it was used to promote. I've said on here before of my belief that music is about emotion and Hoppipola is a stunningly upliting work of art that is genuinely life affirming. I probably should be ashamed to say I purposefully chose to have it on my ipod when I watched the sun rise over Colca Canyon in Peru but I'm not. It is music for the soul. An area of music I gain a lot of pleasure from without having any level of knowledge about is Classical Music and Sigur Ros appear to have managed to create a moving, theatrical piece which had it been composed by Verdi or Puccini would be considered up there amongst their finest work. An honourable mention while I'm at it to Arcade Fire who I feel tread a simiar path and are very unfortunate not to make this list.

Ryan Adams - Elizabeth, You were born to play this part.

Yes I know, I'm predictable. The inclusion of a Ryan track was a given but the choice might be a little more surprising. The album 29 it comes from was not the receipient of heavy critical acclaim - in fact in some quarters it was given something of a slating. Quite incredible when you consider that it contains for my money, the finest love song of the last ten years. Elizabeth certainly isn't a conventional tale of love; the narrator does not live happy ever after, in fact he appears to live a tortured existent frozen in a state of utter love that cannot be reciprocated. The feeling of losing someone is hard enough when you still feel so deeply for them, but to know in your heart that it is irreversible is simply interminable. The song to me is about heartbreak and lost love but this doesn't necessarily mean love between two adults. Adams himself has suggested the song was inspired by close friends losing their baby. A dark, painful experience articulated described by Ben Folds in the astonishingly personal Brick . Adams communicates this hugely complex emotion so effectively I'd be lying if I didn't admit to feeling a bit tearful during more than one listen. Blue Sky blues from the same album and Shadowlands have a similar impact but it is the simplicity of Elizabeth which sets it apart. The verse is emotion laid bare, the words are not particularly clever but are searingly honest. The chorus is pure heartbreak:

Wherever you are, I hope you're happy now

I'm caught in a dream and I can't get out

I'm caught in an endless dream

And I'm not strong enough to let you go

It takes you to the brink and then offers an enchanting lilting outro. My words simply don't do it justice. Genius.
Now for a third and final choice. There are several magnificent songs that spring to mind that; Transatlanticism by DCFC takes some beating, Landlocked Blues is Conor Oberst's finest moment and Rise up with Fists by Jenny Lewis is a glorious impassioned rail against hypocrisy. However I can't help feel I'm in danger of representing a whole decade as a melancholic struggle of self-doubt when in fact it was the most fun I've ever had! So with that in mind I'll leave this blog with a song that is pure pleasure. The reaction of a good friend's normally restrained brother was testament to the power of music to turn a composed, grown man back into a 4 year old boy on a bouncy castle.
Here's the performance in question. Enjoy.

If you don't disagree in some way you are downright strange so please leave a comment and let me know your views.