September 20, 2009

Sky Larkin – The Golden Spike

Sky Larkin - The Golden SpikeThis review is most likely to be fairly short and snappy, partly like the band itself, but more because I’m already halfway through the month of another set of cracking albums to write about… so let’s get started and have a little dance shall we?

Sky Larkin race out of the blocks in almost every single song, recalling that great raucous indie rock bounce of 100 Broken Windows-era Idlewild, but fronted by a wild woman in Katie Harkin. She seems to share the same passion for the absurdist lyric as Roddy Woomble, belting out seemingly unrelated rhymes purely for the sound of their syllables than any sort of connection to a coherent meaning. Check out Antibodies, with its choral line – ‘Sentiments stretched over sediment and soil / Throw it overarm… / Throw it…’. Delightfully delivered in the same way Bjork might spit out an oddly lost-in-translation line whilst meaning not a jot.

It matters just as little though, as the band racket through the riffs, arranged around that godly trio of guitar, bass and drums with the occasional keyboard peeking in, but hammered on with similar gusto. The longest song here One Of Two, is actually the only one that outstays its welcome, not much benefit arising from its repetitive chorus, with the following Matador faring much better, its Spanish inflected beat allowing much more room for manoeuvres. It’s a simple formula that’s blitzed through the twelve songs, some riffs naturally larger than others, but all offering some opportunity to rock out.

For that reason, I can listen to this straight through, grinning madly at the sheer exuberance on display, devoid of any pretense, and sing along blindly to the nonsense, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t too.

Start with: Fossil, I
Spotify stream | Buy at Amazon

September 19, 2009

Meursault – Pissing on Bonfires / Kissing with Tongues

Meursault - Pissing on Bonfires / Kissing with TonguesI spend a lot of time reading about music (duh) but whereas in the past I did buy and consume music magazines with some sort of religious fervour, these days my efforts are focused on the online realm – as seems to be the natural modern course of events. You have the behemoths of the online music critic world in Pitchfork, who like anything popular, have their set of disciples as well as their avid detractors, but then you can also reach down to the minnows of the same world in the many music blogs out there through aggregators like Basically what I’m trying to get at is this is probably one of the few albums (maybe even only) that I’ve bought off the strength of a single blog (Song, by Toad – link below), and one which I think is absolutely fantastic yet have not seen hit hard anywhere else.

Meursault are a band from Edinburgh that peddle (or even meddle) in that weird space between folk and electronica, that people have given ridiculous names to, but while I’ll hope not to stoop so low (although I practically already have), what I can say is that they really make and take the best from both libraries of sound, nailing an exciting dynamic throughout this set of tracks.

Seriously, listen to any one of these eleven tracks (okay, make it nine without the two connecting passages) and tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. Opener Salt Pt. 1 kicks off a minute into its gentle intro with an Idioteque beat – only taken out of the Ice Age to warmer corners – whereupon singer Neil Pennycook appears to belt out the first verse over this sparse backdrop, and lets out a strangled whoop, before a fuzzed-out keyboard line rips it up like the Postal Service would if they actually had any balls between them. And that’s probably an apt comparison, because whereas that ‘band’ (pair? duo? couple?) had a sampled sound that felt remarkably cold and impeccably delivered, you can hear here every loose yell, every bit of fuzzy feedback from the home recordings, the clicks and whirrs as new elements are brought in and out. Maybe it’s out of necessity rather than a calculated decision, but it works so well bringing a warmness and reality to the usually harsh electronic tones.

The band have a remarkably good sense of when to let all these elements run loose, like in the delightfully messy the Furnace, replete with ukelele, Spectrum feedback and a thumping backbeat, or when a song can be allowed to rise and fall as gently as you please with no electronics to sully it, just waves of acoustic recordings (see Salt Pt. 2, A Small Stretch of Land). The standout for me for their dynamic talent however is A Few Kind Words. A simple rising melody line, chords chiming out, with the storm supplied by that returning industrial beat, a barked out lyric, when suddenly the elements cut out halfway to a 1-2-3-4 alarm bleep signalling the explosion of the song into noise and complete brilliance no matter how many times I’ve returned to it.

Neil’s voice could prove a mite too much for some folk, frequently turning to a wail to break through some of the tougher parts of the melody, but it’s hard to criticise the emotion and passion that backs up the delivery in all of the songs here (and check out some of the videos in the link below as proof of the live equivalent), especially where it rides front and centre.

It’s an album I could walk through song by song to highlight all the moments that give me goosebumps but I won’t bore you silly here. All you need to know is that there are highs that are low, lows that are loud, yells and clicks and beeps and strums and plucks and that, importantly, every track here is worth your time to listen to and, most importantly, buy.

Start with: A Few Kind Words (free download at link below)
Buy from Song by Toad Records | Song by Toad blog

September 10, 2009

Roisin Murphy – Ruby Blue

Roisin Murphy - Ruby Blue

“Could there be such a thing as beautifully flawed?” Roisin sings on Through Time, one of the highlights of Ruby Blue, and you could say by the evidence of this record, she’s right…

Everyone obviously knows the impenetrable sheen of Moloko’s classic single Sing It Back, but on the band’s break-up, Roisin turned to the experimental producer extrordinaire, Matthew Herbert to produce this, her debut solo album. I’d never heard much of her previous output besides the obvious, but was drawn in by Herbert’s presence, having been a fan of Scale, an album that took his experimental pazz-jop to create a song for every major key.

The results are surprisingly effective and, less surprisingly, quite diverse, knowing Herbert’s past using everything from Bodily Functions to things Around the House to obtain his samples. The album’s truly great section begins with the voodoo midnight jazz rattle Night of the Dancing Flame, the aforementioned low-key (all soft pads, muted jazz organ and shuffling beat) ballad Through Time, to the absolute dancefloor stunner Sow Into You. I’m actually surprised I’d never heard this as a single anywhere, because it’s so perfectly formed for the album, mixing the brass and pad elements heard before dancing around that classic ‘snare-bass-snare-bass’ beat to a chorus that subtly grows every time it approaches, to the curveball of a bridge and back again through scores of Roisin in each speaker ripped and sampled till it breaks down to singular final angelic rise.

And as you’d hopefully expect, the vocal performances are definitely of note, with a great range offered by Roisin here, from the pop diva as we know her, to the caberet closer, to a sometimes (I can’t think of another way to describe it) Missy Elliott aping pout (just listen to the chorus of the title track – “You neva…get too cleva…”). And it’s not just the lead, the backing vocal, that at times winds around itself, haunting choruses or general harmonies or those previously mentioned slight vocal tics glitching up the beat or as a simple sharp hollaback to the main character (Dear Diary).

There are a few times when the experimental line to unlistenable is crossed though, Off On It serves little purpose apart from making it take longer to get to the closer, and Ramalama (bang bang) almost rescues itself with the rest of the arrangement but the detuned ‘bang bang’ of the title grates along with nary a nod to the rest of the album’s pop nous.

Knowing that though, Roisin rather aptly follows the opening quote with, “We all make mistakes and then / life is the art of / learning to live with it…” So yeah, I can live with this, a great album here in a genre I wouldn’t normally visit and a lot of joy to be held to your ears in that opening half.

Start with: Night of the Dancing Flame -> Sow Into You
Stream from | Amazon Link

(Slightly geeky note: Listen to the intro to ‘Through Time’ and you know, I can’t help but be reminded not of Stevie Wonder, which I’ve read elsewhere, but of the music you hear at the World’s Largest Ball of Twine from the LucasArts adventure game, Sam ‘n Max Hit The Road… look it up…and then play it.)

August 25, 2009

Wot I Bought : July (part 2)

One thing that Emusic seems to be alright at, is stocking those little filler EP’s and singles that seem to get lost and never listened to when you’re wandering through your CD collection. I managed to gather a few, and all these bands have been featured on this blog sometime before I’m sure…

The National – Wasp Nest

The National - Cherry Tree

At the same time as grabbing this, I picked up the self-titled debut, but that, understandably, felt a little unfocused. By contrast, this stop-gap EP between the sophomore LP Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and the breakthrough Alligator is happily a more succinct distillation of what the band are all about. It features a song each from both those albums (in my opinion, the best ones – a live version of Murder Me Rachael and All The Wine) along with five non-LP originals.

At worst, these do feel like outtakes from the albums, and keep a rather stately pace compared to the featured two, but The National have always been about these understated buildups. Matt Berninger’s deep distinct vocal wrapped around cycling guitar and piano figures or sometimes also a battering rhythmic section (see the end of Cherry Tree or Murder Me Rachael), cementing the identity the band have built up over the course of their career. Rinse, lather, soak, if you’re feeling better… repeat. While it’s no means the best place to start (I’d say the latest, Boxer), if you don’t have the time to delve into the back catalogue, this allows you to dip in at your leisure.

Start with: All The Wine
Spotify Band Page | Buy at Amazon
Unfortunately, it’s not on Spotify, but ‘All The Wine’, ‘Murder Me Rachael’ and ‘Wasp Nest’ are…

Spoon – 30 Gallon Tank EP

I love Spoon, so I was a little gutted that the Emusic catalogue could only muster up this EP as an offering. The titular single was taken from their sophomore album Series of Sneaks (back in ‘98!), and has the guitar squall of debut Telephono and the more careful arrangement and production approach that would come to the fore with next album Girls Can Tell. That said, unless you really like the band I can’t recommend this record alone, the ‘remix’ of Car Radio (subtitled ‘Different’) is pretty much unlistenable, and the other two tracks pretty much define the term ‘B-side’.

However! Don’t let it put you off the idea of getting into Spoon… they are great! Honest!

Start with: something else in the catalogue…
Spotify Band Link | Band Website
As with The National, not on Spotify, but its got the two most recent albums… listen to them!

The Clientele – That Night, A Forest Grew EP

The Clientele - That Night, A Forest Grew

I have posted about the last two Clientele albums on this blog and this EP acts as a compass pointing towards the next one, Bonfires on the Heath, arriving anytime soon. That forthcoming album will feature one of the tracks here, Share the Night, that shows a blissed out, dare I say, funky side to the Clientele.

All the tracks here share a similar ‘bounce’, an energy that expounds upon the previous effort’s glimmers of sunshine. However, Alistair still sounds as resigned as ever (“Somehow in this dream I’m getting tired” he laments in jaunty opener Retiro Park) yet the Zombies guitar freakouts that poked their head out from the haze on Impossible and Garden at Night make a return with more purpose and more vigour.

A great EP from these guys (and gal), making the wait for the new album, if not unbearable in anticipation, at least somewhat bearable with four fun pop songs to stick on repeat while we do…

Start With: Share The Night
Spotify Band Link | Buy at Amazon
No EP on Spotify, but you can download the new track ‘I Wonder Who We Are’ for free here

Okkervil River – The President’s Dead

Okkervil River - The President's Dead

I’m going to see the band up in Glasgow in a few weeks, and in a moment of momentary madness I grabbed this single, even though you can download the track for free here and listen to the B-side The Room I’m Hiding In on Spotify.

That said, I love the song, it’s by no means their best, but a great stream of consciousness opening with a simple four chord turnaround before eventually bursting (literally) into a glorious one-line title-repeating chorus with that keyboard line that sounds like it’s breaking the speakers it’s being played through. These things don’t have to be complicated… just good. The B-side is less good, but who cares? This is goooood.

Spotify link

The Long Blondes – (various B-sides)

Just a couple left here from the now (very sadly) broken up Sheffield five-piece, so I’ll make it easy for you. B-sides are generally composites of other ideas or experiments… aren’t they?

Five Ways To End It = A Knife For The Girls x “Couples” more dance-y direction
Fulwood Babylon = Giddy StratospheresGiddy + (backing vocals x (chorus + reverb)) + a groove to kill for…

In layman’s terms, yeah, pretty good actually…

Spotify Link

Next up: rather predictably… August! In another predictable move I’m going to change the format again! And do single albums again, because I tend to write more, and more clearly… I think.

August 11, 2009

Wot I Bought : July (part 1)

Here we go, I realised I got a few more albums than I thought, so I’m splitting it up in more manageable chunks…

St. Vincent – Marry Me

St Vincent - Marry Me

Having missed two opportunities to see her gig at both Bristol and Manchester, I was lucky to catch her set at Nice’n’Sleazy in Glasgow and it was pretty fantastic. Almost apologetic when stood at the mic, quietly purring over the buzzing keyboards and (controlled, admittedly) chaos going on around her, it was an impressive display. I’d caught a few songs early on and passed them on, but when Actor came out recently, it just seemed to click, so I revisted this album to see whether I wasn’t giving it enough time…

True enough, first impressions are scattershot, Now Now, Your Lips Are Red and Paris Is Burning, the album’s strongest (and possibly loudest) songs, seemingly head off on different tangents at a whim, childlike backing vocals mixing in with squawking guitar solos mixing in with tracked strings. Its offputting to begin with; I recall an early blog trying to compare her to Regina Spektor, which also threw me on what to expect as this is completely different, the quirks here lie in the more lavish arrangements rather than the vocal delivery. Which is great, you know, because this makes Marry Me fresh to listen to, regardless of its difficulties of staying consistently good throughout.

So get Actor first, which I can’t say enough good things about, but don’t rule this out…

Start with… Jesus Saves, I Spend
Spotify stream | Buy at Amazon

White Denim – Fits

White Denim - Fits

On missing the St. Vincent gig in Bristol, I also noted White Denim were playing the day after, which I duly managed to miss as well. So I thought I’d make up by getting this and turning it up really loud.

And to be honest… it didn’t hit me the same way Exposion or Workout Holiday (whatever side of the great divide you are on) did. There’s no Shake Shake Shake, no great thumping classic garage rock beats like in Let’s Talk About It, no stand out quirky folk/pop track like Sitting.

Fair enough, the band cover a lot of new ground here, touching on more psychedelic themes, classic rock, soul, some Eastern influences, and so soon after getting hold of the debut, its great to hear that happen. And towards the end of the album, I found myself enjoying this material more. Maybe it needs a while to get used to the new rhythmic turns. After all, it probably took me more than a few listens to get my head around tracks like Darksided Computer Mouth and even Shake Shake Shake.

Start with… Regina Holding Hands
Spotify stream | Buy at Amazon

Friendly Fires – s/t

Friendly Fires - s/t

I’m being completely honest here, but I’d never heard of this band until May this year, when I heard Jump in the Pool on the radio, and thought “this sounds a bit naff, they sound like their trying to emulate the Talking Heads and the singer’s really trying too hard”. Something, luckily, later perked my curiosity about the record, and it must’ve been the poor compression, or space radiation hitting my brain in the wrong spot, because that aforementioned opener absolutely kills here.

What follows can’t really live up to it, but it has a damn good try. Alongside last year’s In Ghost Colours from Cut Copy, this puts up some competition in the dance party stakes, tracks like White Diamonds showcasing that gorgeous deep pulse every hipshaker should have. So yeah, seems a bit late, but they deserve that Mercury nomination if not your money…

Start with… Jump In The Pool
Spotify stream | Buy at Amazon

Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer

Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

Spencer Krug is an odd one. I couldn’t get my head around Random Spirit Lover and only Stadiums and Shrines II really caught me from the previous releases, so I was really surprised when this came out, and after picking up Idiot Heart, completely lost myself in the entire album.

Each track has at some point poked at me to press the ‘repeat’ button, each one presenting its own mini universe of lyrical pointers, rhythmic crescendos and breakdowns. And some great solos too, the one thing about Stadium... I loved was that spiralling guitar line, and there’s plenty of contenders here for stealing its riffing crown.

As a whole, it can feel a bit of a slog if you’re not in the mood (or tend to be at odd with Krug’s yelp), but with individual songs this extravagant and full of vigour and colour, I’d be a fool to say you’re not getting your money’s worth.

Start with… Idiot Heart
Spotify stream | Buy at Amazon

The Veils – Sun Gangs

The Veils - Sun Gangs

One of the first albums purely picked from the lists of ‘Recommendations’ or ‘Related Artists’ tags at random, I was quite apprehensive at what to expect. With a voice reminiscent of Ed Harcourt and a similar doomed romantic troubadour outlook from frontman Finn Andrews, it sounded right up my alley. And sure enough, Sit Down By The Fire opens up the album on a strong note, one-off bombastic production (as always) from Bernard Butler fitting in perfectly.

From the shoegaze chorus of The Letter sounding like Machina-era Pumpkins (although don’t let that put you off) to the dirty scuzz of Killed By The Boom to the piano-led pop of The House She Lived In, the uptempo songs have a lot to draw from. It’s just unfortunate that when sat alongside them, the slower more contemplative songs drag the length out and skew the album’s focus slightly.

They get it right with the title track on the album, but tracks like It Hits Deep (the wailed line “I’ve been down so long…” kinda frames what to expect here) and the final three are so at odds with their counterparts they seem to belong to a different band. Maybe Finn’s trying to fight between being the solo artist or being the band here and neither side has won. Still, an interesting listen, and definitely a worthy MySpace tag of “Melodramatic Popular Song” if ever I heard one (except The Dears, of course)

Start with… Sit Down By The Fire
Spotify stream | Buy at Amazon

Next up… EP’s and oldies from bands you’ve seen here before…

August 07, 2009

I Will Write Again

Writing about web page

Good afternoon.

After realising I spend a serious amount of time sitting and just listening to music instead of doing anything productive whilst listening to music. I’d thought I’d return to writing here by following my sojourn into the world of legitimate mp3 downloading…

Now, I’ve gone with the unavoidable eMusic for reasons completely selfish in that they gave me 50 free downloads.

So each month I will deign to post about my wonderful expanding collection of old/new/borrowed/blue tunes. It’s not the most comprehesive catalogue, missing out many major artists, but I’ve been surprised with it’s selection of lesser known bands… I’ll start with last month with some catching up to do… but as a preview here’s what to expect:

July: St. Vincent, Friendly Fires, Sunset Rubdown, The Veils, The Clientele, White Denim, The Bluetones

August: Meursault, The Wave Pictures, Department of Eagles, Roisin Murphy, Sky Larkin, Delorean

Let’s get cracking!

EDIT: I need a name for this feature… any ideas?

July 22, 2009

Clint Mansell, Union Chapel 20th July 2009

First off, this is going to be the lamest review ever. So don’t get your hopes up. I have never been able to write about modern music the way I can write about games, films or literature. I shy from stylistic parallels (because I don’t hear them) and if there’s a standard vocabulary pack for music journos then I certainly don’t have it installed. I rely on phrases such as ‘‘They’re a fun band. I don’t know much more about them than that’’, and ‘‘Death Cab For Cutie are extremely worth listening to, I promise’’.


A week ago, a friend updated his Facebook status thus: “Arfie Mansfield¹ has a spare ticket for Clint Mansell at the Union Chapel on Monday, if anyone would care to join me.” I think of Clint Mansell as a Big. Name. for reasons entirely attributable to the fact that I also think of Darren Aronofsky as a Big. Name..

And sure enough, Aronofsky introduced the concert. I can’t really remember what he said, but he was hanging about beforehand and Andan Danndendund² approached him for an autograph and – I assume – a “I love your work” fan-ey squirt.

I kept drifting in and out of sleep during the concert, but it was the right music to do that to. Dramatic strings juxtaposed with sudden bursts of drums and techno, overlayed over overexposed American home-movie-style 60s (70s?) videos (projected with performers, providing the perfect packdrop) gave the discomfort of squashing my entirely normal-sized frame into a pew (a gig in a Church? Whatever next?) enough musical morphine to make up in some way for the inexplicable two hours of sleep I was attending on.

I’ve said almost nothing about the music.

Hello I am Clint Mansell. Skibbee dooby doo ba baahh!

There was a string quartet, a pianist, an invisible drummer, and the man himself, sitting at a laptop and mic in the middle with right+left hand men (guitarists).

They stopped and he talked about what they were going to play sometimes.

He justified the laptop thing. “I write in 1s and 0s”.

The other members were introduced.

Clint Mansell is a scouser.

The Cellist was a babe.

It was like a poetry reading. Stopping and starting with explanations and insights thrown into the mix.

We arrived at 7:30 and had to wait until 8:45 before it started, but we didn’t care.

There was a patronising standing ovation.

The strings were called Sonus Quartet.

All the old favourites were played, reminding us once again that Mansell must earn about £1million annually from royalties on The Apprentice alone.

And that’s your lot.

By Jim Miles³

¹Name not changed.
²Name changed.
³Name not changed.

January 10, 2009

My Revised Album of 2008, and my track of 2008

Come with me if you want to die.

So I’ve gone about listening to some of the recommendations from my previous post and I’m going to have to go back on my previous decision and go with Santogold as my album of 2008. I can’t be arsed to go into much more detail: the listening to at with on from of it pleases me greatly and that’s the bottom line. If you’ve not heard it, give it a go.

Going through a few playlists from last year, I came across a track that I listened to a lot and still find fantastic (usually I go off songs if I listen to them a lot). The track is “Death” by White Lies. It builds so satisfyingly, and I think that, in the absence of any obvious alternatives, I’m going to go ahead and say that’s my track of 2008.

There are videos on youtube but I haven’t watched any of them because – I’ve got a post planned where I really go off on one about this, but I don’t want to go on about it here – I find that music videos usually subtract more than they add.

I haven’t gone and uploaded an MP3, or linked to one, and I’ve basically just told you not to watch the music video – even though I haven’t1 – so I guess if you want to hear this song you’ll have to go find it yourself.

It’s spiffing, anyway.

This post was brought to you by the word “go”.

[1] “[watched the music video myself]” or “[just told you not to watch the music video]” or both; you decide.

December 15, 2008

Christmas Number One

Please, for the love of God, buy Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah instead of that X-Factor tosh, because it really is much better.

Buy from Amazon MP3

Your Album of 2008

As is usual at this time of year

I find my face smacking into the reality of my having allowed the past twelve months’ albums, films, games, books, and giant cream cakes to pass me by with nary the emotional attachment of rogue Pritt Stick on a cardigan, betraying the wrapping of yuletide presents by the and I don’t know where this imagery is going so I’m ending the sentence!

Ahahah you are weak I win

As is also usual at this time of year

I have the Christmas holidays coming up (indeed we all do I MEAN DUH), and this is always a convenient time to pick out the very best of the last 12 (or more) months and enjoy it, leaving behind all the transitory ephemeral bobbins from – oh I don’t know – May-June-July, that people were high about at the time but now wouldn’t wee on to start a flood.

That’s where you come in. Post your album of the year.

I guess I’ll either listen to it, or sneer to myself while posting a polite lie in the comments to the effect of vague gratitude and a promise I have no intention of seeing through that I will “give it a listen”.

These are my actual headphones I am a Fisher Price smarty boy


And if you feel like making it two simples less simple, you can give reasons for your choice and gush your little mouth off as to the genius of whatever you’ve gone for.

I’ll start us off. Mine’s The Killers’ Day and Age.

I only really started caring about The Killers this time last year when I bought Guitar Hero III and rocked the bottom out of “When You Were Young”, then downloaded all their previous albums, loved them, heard “Human” and “Spaceman” from the 2008 album, loved them too, downloaded the full album and am – you guessed it – hating loving that as well. And if you want to tut-tut me for liking The Killers so much then, er, fair enough? I don’t know the etiquette there. So for me it’s Day and Age.

Santa Claus exists and he likes Guitar Hero, kids!

Oh I just realised that

MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular and Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut both came out in 2008 so I guess either of those would beat Day and Age for me because I listened to them until the binary near wore off the discs, so greatly did I like the music contained therein.

Your more considered and better articulated opinion goes below. DO IT.

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