Thursday, 28 January 2010

Hey, it's another quiz... Music Quiz # 3

This one has a theme and it's "Legends of Music". See how you fare. Answers to

  1. John Fogarty was the lead singer of which Californian roots rock outfit, who enjoyed stardom at the turn of the Sixties?
  2. Wheels On Fire was the world’s first platinum selling double album, but who was it recorded by?
  3. Which influential musician and cultural icon died from melanoma in 1981 aged just 36? His last words to his son were “money can’t buy life.”
  4. Which legendary rock guitarist once had a trial with Manchester City FC? When asked why he had not been successful he said, “I was good enough for City, but they didn’t follow it up because I was probably the only player out there wearing eyeliner.”
  5. Which German singer / songwriter and model was christened Christa Päffgen and died in Ibiza in 1988 after collapsing whilst cycling her bike?
  6. Which late Texan songstress was the lead singer of Big Brother and The Holding Company?
  7. In which country were the hard rock band AC/DC formed in the 1970s?
  8. If Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are the surnames, what are the Christian names?
  9. How many studio albums did the Sex Pistols record in their first incarnation?
  10. Which miniature American icon’s most recent album, entitled Planet Earth, was released as a free cover-mount in the Daily Mail?
  11. Which trio of influential musicians passed away on February 3rd 1959 when their plane crashed in Iowa? The day was popularly tagged ‘The Day The Music Died’ by Don McLean in his hit song American Pie?
  12. Farrokh Bulsara was more commonly known by his adopted frontman persona. What was Bulsara’s pseudonym?
  13. Who was voted the Greatest Guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003?
  14. Which founder member of the Beach Boys, who died in 1983, has recently seen a rise in popularity and public awareness thanks to the reissue of his solo masterpiece Pacific Ocean Blue in 2008?
  15. Which veteran musician links The Clash with The Good, The Bad & The Queen?
  16. There’s A Riot Goin’ On was the fifth album by which American funk band, released in 1971 to critical acclaim?
  17. Which psychedelic rock band had a string of hits in the 1960s and 70s, including White Rabbit and Somebody To Love?
  18. For how many studio albums was Syd Barrett a member of Pink Floyd?
  19. What song was played as the legendary Radio One DJ John Peel’s coffin was carried from the church at his funeral in 2004?
  20. Which singer, philanthropist, actor and artist was the highest ranked musician in Channel Four’s 100 Greatest Britons in 2002, coming in eighth place?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The Postmarks - Memoirs At The End Of The World Album Review

Florida trio go cinematic on sophomore outing

Even before you reach the stately, Bond-befitting strings that dominate large parts of The Postmarks second album from the outset; prior to hearing the flamboyant horn bursts and sultry Hollywood harmonies, the front cover – a mock-up film poster – ought to give you an idea as to what lies within. Memoirs At The End Of The World is a record to soundtrack big-screen kisses, happy endings and reels of cinema’s most saccharine shots. But if every moment has its music, then every album most certainly has its time. For this one, try driving top-down, carefree along the freeway, but it might be too much to take on a freezing February morning in Govan. Each track is pleasant – some, like I’m In Deep and Go Jetsetter, are great – but over thirteen tracks, things are a little too sweet, polished and, well, Hollywood. It’s as if Camera Obscura OD-ed on Vicodin. And I don’t think anyone wants that, do we?


Written for The Skinny

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Music Quiz # 2

As before, this is one I had published previously under the rather fetching pseudonym of 'Uncle Finbarr'. If you like, send your answers to

  1. Which Sheffield punks released their debut album, Hysterics, to critical acclaim in 2008?

  2. By which moniker is Kentucky Americana singer-songwriter Will Oldham often known?

  3. Which band consists of husband and wife duo David and Cassie Berman? Originally from New York, the indie rock cum country act have released six studio albums, including American Water, Tanglewood Numbers and this year's excellent Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea?

  4. Which of the following has never won a Mercury Music Prize:



    PJ Harvey?

  5. Which two veteran rockers combined this year to release Saturnalia as The Gutter Twins?

  6. What was the title of U2's debut album?

  7. With which band was Holly Johnston lead singer and lyricist in the 1980s?

  8. Most recently seen performing under her alter-ego Taken By Trees, which indie pop band did Victoria Bergsman front from 1995-2006?

  9. Which Massachusetts rocker founded the Modern Lovers in 1970?

  10. Ingram Cecil Connor III was the birth name of which pioneering country musician, famous for his friendship with the Rolling Stones, who died in 1973?

  11. Jim Reid is the lead singer for which critically acclaimed Glasgow band?

  12. Which Scottish band provided the soundtrack for the 2007 movie Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait?

  13. Which legendary American indie band's name translates into English as "I have it!"?

  14. Now I'm A Cowboy and After Murder Park were 1990s albums by which British rock band, fronted by Luke Haines?

  15. Which Lightning Seeds song became instantly recognisable as the theme to Match Of The Day's Goal Of The Month competition?

  16. Members of the Smashing Pumpkins, Slint, Tortoise, Chavez and Perfect Circle combined in the early 2000s to form which rock supergroup?

  17. Shooting At Unarmed Men and Future Of The Left are both descendants of which Welsh rock band?

  18. No Shouts, No Calls was the last album by which all female group, who went on indefinite hiatus in 2007?

  19. Which band were on stage at Roskilde Festival, Denmark in 2000 when nine people died of suffocation?

  20. Which trilogy of legendary guitarists started their careers in blues rock band The Yardbirds in the 1960s?

Monday, 18 January 2010

Robin James - Saint Jude Album Review

OK, let’s address the elephant in the room. After half a dozen spins of Robin James’ mightily impressive debut album, I still struggled with the notion that James is a bloke. His voice, stripped of any effects, whispering over a finger-picked acoustic guitar, could easily be that of a middle aged woman. It’s unique, but it will also undoubtedly be divisive. Give Saint Jude a chance though, and you might just grow to love it. This is ostensibly a collection of memories and half told anecdotes from James’ past. He writes about religion, love and his childhood and the results are frequently captivating. Idiosyncratic vocals aside, there are stylistic nods to Nick Drake (Go To The Water) and John Martyn (Alive That’s All) over the course of eleven simple and sometimes humorous (Van Gogh challenges the Dutchman’s decision to take his own lug off) folk songs. In a saturated singer-songwriter market, James’ originality deserves to separate him from the pack.


Buy Saint Jude here

Written for The Skinny

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Mary Onettes - Islands Album Review

Few nations have embraced the indie-pop aesthetic like the Swedes. From the outlandish kitsch of Jens Lekman, to the chart-bothering efforts of Peter, Bjorn and John and the irresistible twee of the Acid House Kings, the common denominator amongst the national roster is the capacity to nail a killer hook. The Mary Onettes are no exception. Their second album, Islands, doggedly revisits the 80s, coalescing flamboyant synth riffs with vocals sodden in reverb and bittersweet lyrics, tinged equally with sentimentality and naivety. The obvious nods are in the directions of Aha, ABC and The Human League (Dare is the perfect companion to Electric Dreams), but the gauze that envelopes the record suggests something slightly more sinister, perhaps a C86-imbued JAMC. The blissful chorus of opener Puzzles and the jangly guitar-led centrepiece God Knows I Had Plans are standout moments on an album that shows the Scandanavian pop conveyor belt shows no sign of packing in just yet.


Written for The Skinny

Video: The Mary Onettes - Puzzles

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Deer Tick: The Unlikely Saviours of Live Music

Because sometimes, just sometimes, it's alright to rock out with your cock out...

Written for FUCM

Remember the good ol' days? You remember, back when Pluto was still a planet? People used to laugh, regularly. They would shout, maybe have a little drinkie and, y'know, enjoy themselves? Oh, nostalgia! And, sometimes, people would go to concerts and shows and they would have what was known as "a good time". Man, those were the days. Sometimes, even the band would join in. Maybe they'd had a tipple, too. They would play their instruments out of tune and at breakneck speeds. Occasionally, there might be harsh words exchanged... fisticuffs even. But they didn't give a fuck, and that's why we loved them, why we wanted to be them and why we wanted to be with them.

Deer Tick

Then something very bad happened. In a heinous, puritanical move designed to destroy rock and roll abandon, a witch hunt ensued. Spearheaded by a MOR music media, the "rock-star stereotype" gradually became a bad thing. The Evian sponsored falling star of flamboyant excess was soundtracked by a lead singer hell-bent on explaining how the agonizing autumnal hues really remind him of his missus slipping off with his best friend last September. Iggy Pop was stripped for parts and sold off to an insurance company and Johnny Rotten was bartered off to the jungle in exchange for his weight in butter. Even Ryan Adams was manhandled onto the wagon for long enough to make a couple of horrible records.

Okay, so I made some of that up. But y'see, until this week, live music had become about as exciting for me as discussing risk with Sting, whilst watching The English Patient. I was getting pretty much fed up of going to gigs and seeing people (not even just the bands) staring at their shoes. Maybe they'd give their toes the odd tap, give a little whistle, before politely applauding the efforts of the entertainment. But overall, the level of charisma had fallen to sub-zero levels. I mean, where had all the cowboys gone? And what the fuck ever happened to chicken wire?

Last week, in the unlikely setting of leafy Mancunian suburbia, I had a stick of dynamite inserted up my arse, courtesy of Rhode Island pseudo-hillbillies Deer Tick. I was blown away. It didn't take a genius to work out that John McCauley, lead singer, band leader, guitar virtuoso and self-appointed class clown was completely slaughtered. Nor did his Old Glory, blazing guitars adorned, threadbare t-shirt leave us in any kind of doubt as to what we were to expect... he looked like he'd just crawled up the banks of the Mississippi. He announced he'd been drinking vodka all day. We all cheered. He stuck his head in an ice box full of beer. We cheered louder. He announced he was going to take his pants off. And, well, you get the picture.

There are many reasons why Deer Tick are an excellent band. Here are mine. Firstly, they have great songs. War Elephant is a great album. The follow up, Born on Flag Day is just as strong. Alt-country is a curious genre, often misconstrued, misrepresented and misunderstood. Well, for me, this lot here's a contemporary blueprint. There's country (duh), punk, blues, folk, grunge and garage rock. Even their choice of cover versions - Replacements, Michael Hurley, John Prine, The Sex Pistols and Chuck Berry - goes a long way to pinning down their sound.

McCauley's voice is a hybrid of Kurt Cobain and Gary Louris from the Jayhawks. Sometimes he sounds like he's been gargling gravel with moonshine. He can croon, he can yelp and he can shout. He's a superb lead singer, backed by a talented, if mostly acquiescent unit. They recently recruited guitarist Ian O'Neil from New Jersey noiseniks Titus Andronicus, which allows McCauley more freedom to noodle, drink more beer, or, um, get his cock out.

They know how to play their songs live. By that, I don't mean they can robotically churn out high fidelity renditions of their records, which I am pretty sure they can. In the flesh, these guys sound completely different than they do through your speakers. It sounds like a lazy observation to make, but when Deer Tick play live, they sound live. They sound louder, rawer and more raucous than anyone who's heard their records could've thought possible. They improvise, they play requests, they invite people onto the stage, they throw balls to the wall, and it all sticks.

Here is a band awake to the raison d'etre of a live show - to entertain. Sometimes, they (see: McCauley) act like douchebags. They kick each other in the arse when performing an acapella encore. Hell, the drummer even takes off his boots so he can aim a better pot-shot at his singer's rear. When the audience ask something of them they respond, no matter how ridiculous the demand. One excited, most likely traumatized, reveller barks an order to play some Sex Pistols, in honour of his mother, who died yesterday. It raises a slightly confused smirk from McCauley, who launches into a solo take on Holidays in the Sun, barely an eyelid batted.

When the support act, Megafaun, join Deer Tick on stage for a rollicking cover of Can't Hardly Wait, McCauley proudly announces he's going to do it in "true Replacements style", which as far as I can tell, is shorthand for "sans pants." Watching him thrash about the stage with his jocks round his ankles is bizarrely refreshing. He looks like he might fall on his face, but it doesn't stop him from shuffling about, duelling guitars with O'Neil and generally acting the maggot. And this is what I've missed about live music. With Deer Tick, there was no self-consciousness, no posturing, no agenda and no bullshit. They didn't give a fuck, and I loved it.

Maybe it was partly due to the unlikely venue - the overpriced beer, the tasteful artwork, the polished finish on the bar-top - but this disgustingly ramshackle performance took me by surprise, and reminded me that not all live shows turn out to be a damp squib. The histrionic resent I felt when listening to Nirvana Live at Reading on its release a few weeks back has slowly subsided. A bunch of scrawny, drunk kids from Rhode Island have rekindled my appetite for live music. And it didn't even need the chicken wire. FB

Video: Deer Tick - Diamond Rings 2007 (Live in New York)

A New Development

I recently had my first piece published for Fresh Underground Culture Magazine which I am pretty chuffed about. They are a Melbourne based magazine, with global contributors. I will be contributing features and band pieces. The rag is an Australian based eco-political, satirical, free press publication. I will hopefully be making regular contributions. You can view my profile here and the piece in question here. I'll also stick it on the blog.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Citay - Dream Get Together Album Review

Though they're often lumped in with the freak-folk movement, there is something decidedly proggier about San Francisco’s Citay than, say, Devendra Banhart. With their third album the nebulous sextet take their cosmic noodling to another level. Before coming home to roost with an excellent, elongated take on Broadcast’s Tugboat, Dream Get Together is a trippy, riff heavy leviathan. The songs, though peppered with snippets of subtle harmonies, generally gravitate towards extended jams. Occasionally, they draw from Frisco contemporaries (see the perfectly chilled Mirror Kisses), but the balance is tilted towards the giants of 70s prog (Careful With That Hat and Hunter). Most tracks, no matter how gently they enter, don’t exit before packing in a wailing solo or two, but still there’s little self indulgence. No track outstays its welcome and the excellently deployed soft-loud dynamics help soften the progressive edges, lending Dream Get Together an accessibility not normally associated with the genre.


Written for The Skinny

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Everybody Was In The French Resistance... Now! - Fixin' The Charts, Volume One

*Disclaimer: This is album will seriously affect your mood, your mental wellbeing and your relationships with those around you. Approach with caution.

In some of the more glowing appraisals of his work with Art Brut, Eddie Argos has been compared favourably to Craig Finn, barroom bard and Hold Steady’s head honcho. But it’s impossible to envisage Finn ever putting his name to anything as awful as Fixin’ the Charts. Argos’ maiden musical venture with girlfriend Dyan Valdes of The Blood Arm is comprised of ‘response songs’. Billie’s Genes, for example, is written from the point of view of the sprog in question, who counters MJ’s claim that “the kid is not his son.” Walk Alone refutes Gerry and the Pacemakers and Coal Digger takes a pop at Kanye. The whole thing reeks of novelty. Argos’ sprechgesang delivery always has the potential to annoy, and the weakness of the musical backing – completely bereft of invention – ensures it does exactly that here. The motivation behind this record is perplexing.


Written for The Skinny

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Dirty Dozen - January 2010

From George Formby to Mariachi horns, this month's Dozen is as weird as that time Steve Coogan dated Courtney Love. Finbarr Bermingham casts a scrutinous eyeball over January's singles.

If, like us, you intend 2010 to be soundtracked by only the finest sonic arrangements, then the lower echelons of the Dirty Dozen should be avoided at all costs. London quartet Jarmean? manage to grate on levels previously unthinkable with Mind the Gap (*, 18 Jan). It sounds a bit like the One Foot in the Grave theme tune, as sung by George Formby. Jarmean? Um, no ta. Welsh emo-mongers Lostprophets fare little better. Where We Belong (*, 4 Jan) is billed as a “return to their roots”. Which is all well and good, but most of us are savvy enough to realise that their roots were steeped in pish. Downpatrick rockers Ash, on the other hand, have a much more illustrious history, but their decline has been marked. The trio's much vaunted disownment of what they did rather well – making albums – has resulted in a series of substandard singles. The Neon Neon aping Space Shot (**, 18 Jan), all laser-effects and tinny production, fails to raise the bar.

Equally, Mixtapes and Cellmates’ Soon (**, 25 Jan) offers little in the way of innovation. Sure, the singer’s got a tasty falsetto and some decent guitar work makes it mildly enjoyable, but even after five consecutive plays, it’s difficult to remember anything about it. Self-professed “online hip-hop phenomenon” Charlie Sloth fails to fulfil his own hype(rbole) with One More Drink (**, 18 Jan). A lightweight tale of drinking, girls and fighting is utter humdrum. We’re sure we’ve heard this all before, and it’s been a while since Ice Cube showed us the way. Speaking of déjà vu, that Biffy Clyro’s latest effort, Many of Horror (**, 18 Jan), complete with OTT strings and anthemic, melodramatic chorus, sounds vaguely like every other stadium rocker they’ve churned out of late. We would say “can do better” but at this stage it's uncertain whether they're of the mind to try.

Perhaps the baton can be passed to The King Hats. The Glaswegians’ debut single I Was The Riot at the Art School Last Night (***, 4 Jan) is an altogether more refreshing prospect. It pairs the vibrancy of a ‘Jetpacks track with the edge you once expected from Biffy, and helps rescue the Dozen from abomination. Paolo Nutini seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Having toyed with the idea of becoming Cat Stevens, he’s now decided he’s a seasoned reggae virtuoso. The thing is, on the entertaining 10/10 (***, 11 Jan), he’s pretty convincing. Whatever next, Paolo? A hair metal number? Doubt (***, 4 Jan) by Delphic brings an interesting, if not wholly entrancing twist to proceedings. An excellent, broken-vocal intro leads into what, but for synth overkill and an overwrought chorus, would’ve been a Hot Chip-esque electro-stomper.

Continuing the electro theme, singer-songwriter Ben Dalby’s Doctor Can (****, 18 Jan) has a deliciously 80s feel about it; the chorus wouldn’t sound out of place on a Soft Cell record. We’re not sure when the wheels will fall off that particular revival, but if they keep ‘em coming like this, we’ll keep welcoming them with open arms. Yeasayer’s return is one of the most heralded of 2010. Ambling Alp (****, 4 Jan) maintains the kitchen-sink style production of yore, but it’s more dancefloor-friendly than anything on All Hour Cymbals. Chris Keating’s vocals are higher in the mix and the chorus is positively rousing. Could this be the Brooklyn band’s first proper hit?

They are trumped, however, by the quietly unassuming musings of Woodenbox With a Fistful of Fivers, whose superb Draw a Line (****, 4 Jan) is the pick of this month’s batch. The irresistible horn section, in the ilk of Calexico, perfect harmonies and gruff vocals of Ali Downer are more akin to the dustbowls of Arizona than the damp streets of Glasgow. An inspired track.

Singles Column written for The Skinny

Video: Woodenbox With a Fistful of Fivers - Draw a Line (Live @ The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh)

Five of the Best: #9: Me

Well, I finally got around to putting this up. I have had it virtually complete for weeks, but due to various complications and wonderful distractions, haven’t been able to post it online. When I sat down to write it, I had no idea how difficult it would be, so I really appreciate all of the other writers who took the time and effort to donate their Fives. I’ve enjoyed reading all of them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing my own.

Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump (2000)

When I first heard it

I think it was in 2000, a couple of months after its release. I got Underneath the Weeping Willow on a free cd with either Q or Select and from there, went out and bought the album. I had been getting really into the Beta Band in the year previous to it, which prepared me well for this. I was 15 or 16 at the time and I was simply blown away. I loved everything about it: from the name, to the artwork and, of course, the music. I played this album almost continuously for a year and it still sounds as fresh now as it did then.

Why I love it

It’s ramshackle, beautiful, funny, happy, sad… I could go on. Jason Lytle is a country singer trapped in a skater’s body. He combines the heartstring-tugging balladry of Gram Parsons with the kaleidoscopic vision of Wayne Coyne. These are love songs written for robots, machines, household appliances, aeroplanes, dial-a-views and humanoids. I guess they must be taking the piss on some level, but the songs are so sad and beautiful, it’s impossible not to be taken in by them.

I remember there was a sticker on the cover quoting a magazine’s review: “Easily the equal of OK Computer,” and whilst most of you will think this is OTT, I have to agree. This is one of the most complete albums I’ve ever heard and almost ten years on, I still can’t make it past the first track without breaking into a broad grin. I can’t say that about Airbag.

What it reminds me of

Being a teenager, with a head full of artificial angst. This album reminds me of being grounded and stuck in my bedroom. It reminds me of taking hours over chores that really should have taken five minutes, like hovering the landing or cleaning the bathroom. When I play it really loud, I keep expecting to hear a voice coming up the stairs, telling me to turn it down. It reminds me of lying in my bedroom, leafing through back issues of Q, Select and Hot Press. I used to sprawl out on the bed with this on repeat, probably when I was supposed to be revising for GCSEs or something. I remember lending it to some school friends, who couldn’t get my enthusiasm for it. I didn’t get enthusiastic about much when I was 16, so this must be pretty special.

Standout track

For different reasons I toyed with saying Underneath the Weeping Willow, Jed the Humanoid or Broken Household Appliance, National Forest, but ultimately, I can’t look past the opening track. He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot. Quite simply, the finest opening track of an album I’ve ever heard. It’s a little synthy indie rock opera…

“How’s it goin’, 2000 Man?”

Anything else?

I love all of Grandaddy’s albums, but none come close to matching The Sophtware Slump. Lead singer Jason Lytle returned this year with a new album, Yours Truly, The Commuter, which is his best work since.

Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)

When I first heard it

I didn’t get this album when it first came out. In fact, I only bought it after I’d heard the follow up, Antics. It was during the last year of my degree in 2004. If any one album has soundtracked my decade, it’s this one. I must have averaged three listens a week since I got it. I was surrounded by people listening to The Killers and Snow Patrol. This came as a godsend.

Why I love it

Played from start to finish, this is one of the most powerful, intense albums you’ll ever hear. I rarely use this word, but it’s awesome. The unforgettable opening bars of Untitled introduce you to an utterly hypnotic world of anxiety, tension and shadows.

In a way, Interpol were the flip side to much of the hyped New York scene of the time. The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs etc, are all great bands, but Interpol offered an alternative view of their city. A dark and sinister, but also a lovely view; away from the revelry and merry-making. The musicianship here is fantastic, the songs are complex, layered and brilliant, and the vocals are delivered starkly and coldly.

I love how Paul Banks can shift his voice from composed and tranquil, to frenzied and terrifying at the drop of the hat. I love how this album is completely loaded with paradoxes. It’s confident and self-contained, yet at the same time, seems wracked with doubt, caught up in a maelstrom of confusion, like the swirling, paranoiac guitars on The New. As a singular composition, this is as close to perfect as I’ve heard.

What it reminds me of

Leaving university and moving to Scotland. When I first went to Edinburgh, my old flatmate and I would often play TOTBL from start to finish at about 7am, after parties. We’d hardly speak a word, coming down with our heads tossed back, nodding to the music. It reminds me of looking out the big bay windows of our Haymarket flat, over the rooftops of Edinburgh, the sun slowly creeping up over the chimneys. There aren’t many sights that can match that, and even the thought of it is enough to give me goosebumps to this day. Unforgettable.

Standout track

The final track Leif Erikson is the perfect conclusion; desperate and resigned, a beleaguered Banks lays down some of the best vocals of the decade.

“It’s like learning a new language…”

Anything else?

When I interviewed the guitarist Daniel Kessler, he was a real prick and sneezed all over himself.

Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

When I first heard it

I think around the time I started working in a bar job at the Caledonian Hilton Hotel in Edinburgh. I had been reading lots about Arcade Fire and hadn’t gotten around to hearing Funeral. When I did, I was completely hooked.

Why I love it

At first, I didn’t pay much attention to what this album was about. I was sold on the tunes, the melodies and the enthusiasm, which are incredible. But eventually, it’s impossible to ignore the themes. This is a devastating record, and one that anyone who has lost someone close to them can relate to. I know I can.

There are two ways you can react when something like that happens. You can wallow in self-pity… everyone does this to an extent. You can dig yourself into a little hole and brood over how shit things are, wondering how you’re going to make it through… thinking: “Why me?!”

Or you can take the Arcade Fire route. Bad things will happen. Loved ones will pass and people will move on. But rather than dwelling on losing someone, celebrate the time you had with them. If ever there was a more sparkling tribute to life than Funeral, then it must be pretty fucking spectacular.

What it reminds me of

To me, this is winter in Edinburgh. It reminds me of walking home from work at 6am and waking up and it being dark again. I don’t think I seen more than a few hours of daylight that winter and despite the fact that I was working in a shitty job, surviving hand to mouth and living on my tips, I struggle to think of a time when I had more fun.

Standout track

Neighbourhood #1: Tunnels pretty much sums up why I love this album. It encapsulates the bittersweet, happy-sad dynamic, and is a brilliant tune to dance to.

Anything else?

Arcade Fire are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. Watching them at the Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow is one of the most electrifying performances of my life. And their cover of Naïve Melody manages to give the Talking Heads a run for their money… no mean feat.

The National – Alligator (2005)

When I first heard it

I didn’t hear Alligator until I seen it popping up on a few End of Year Lists in 2005. I got it in December of that year and listened to it regularly for the next six months.

Why I love it

From the first time I listened to it, right up until now, I can be sure that if I listen to Alligator closely enough, it will reveal something new to me. Matt Berninger, the lead singer, with his gangly posterior and baritone voice, reminds me of some sort of mad professor. A tortured soul, a should-be-bedroom-bound geek, a fucking serial killer, even, who has somehow manifested himself as the whisky-sodden singer of a great rock band. I once read a review of this comparing him to House, the eponymous character of the tv series, and whilst there may be some physical similarities, I think Berninger is much more awkward… much too dark.

He’s the most unlikely of heroes; listening to him give out about his father in law, “ballerina-ing on a coffee table, cock in hand”, demanding his girlfriend to “serve him the sky with a big slice of lemon”, or claiming, in what you interpret as delusion, to be “the Great White Hope”, you can’t help but fall in love with the guy, and initially, he is why I loved Alligator. And that’s before you dissect the musical brilliance on the record. Each of the songs has a central melody, but is embossed with nuance upon nuance of excellence. The curious percussive patterns, the woodwind flourishes, the restrained guitar licks… all of these combine to create a subtle masterpiece.

What it reminds me of

This reminds me of getting the ferry back to Ireland from Stranraer to Belfast. It also reminds me of a massive fall out amongst friends a few years back, soundtracked by Alligator: the loveliest angry record ever to have graced my lugs.

Standout track

As with the others, I could have plumped for any one of half a dozen, but I always keep coming back to Daughters of the Soho Riots. It’s the first National song I play to anyone who hasn’t heard them. Mostly, they love it.

Anything else?

Seeing the band live only confirmed everything I thought about Berninger. He pranced about the stage like an eejit and owned the place. He was the absolute star of the show. It was a shame the tent was empty, but everyone that was there was nodding away with a knowing smile on their face.

Midlake – The Trials of Von Occupanther (2006)

When I first heard it?

I got a free mp3 of Roscoe from Pitchfork and fell in love with it. From there, I got into the album.

Why I love it

Midlake filled a Grandaddy-sized hole in my life. I’ve already written about the Sophtware Slump, and this album reminds me of it a lot (as does their fist album, Bamnan and Silvercork). It doesn’t sound massively like it, and thematically, they’re poles apart – as opposed to robots and gadgetry, Midlake are more preoccupied with 19th Century woodcutters.

But both albums are constructed around the nuances of a society neither band could have had any idea about. They hone in on little, seemingly inconsequential parts of these worlds and fill them with colour. Van Occupanther… has got a real warmness to it: it’s comforting. Tim Smith’s voice is like syrup over the gentle, 70s soft-rock music. The harmonies are understated, everything’s pretty simple, but it’s lovingly and expertly put together. The instrumentation (flutes, piano, violin) is lush – not in a grand, overbearing way, but I guess in the same way a forest is lush…fresh, organic even – which, I think, is exactly what they were going for. This is certainly the most serene, lovely album I’ve heard over the past ten years.

What it reminds me of

Although I’ve played this album regularly, it’s crept into my psyche subconsciously. There was never a time when I was listening to it constantly, but I guess that’s what I love about it… its subtlety. I seen them at Indian Summer in Glasgow in 2006 and Andrew Bird played violin with them. It was one of the best festival performances I’ve seen. I interviewed Andrew Bird a couple of hours later and I think he got a bit pissed off at me because I kept asking him about Midlake.

Standout track

Van Occupanther: probably the simplest song on the album, but a great one nonetheless. The lyrics are inspired.

Anything else?

I was out in a bar once and heard a surprisingly brilliant remix of Roscoe, Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve mix.

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