Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Kiss Me, I've Quit Smoking Festive Fifty!

Shitting crikey, it's...

THE KISS ME, I'VE QUIT SMOKING FESTIVE FIFTY!

This has been a pretty good year for music, all told, and given that I'm the neurotic, compulsive-listmaker type, what better way to see it out than to attempt to channel all of that good music into a handy top 50. The rules are simple - no more than one song per band, singles from 2007 albums are alright, but nothing from reissues.

As for how long it took to get everything into order...well...iTunes helped remind me just how much good stuff came out this year, then it just took a bit of rearranging ("Well I know I don't like that song more than that one..."), so it's worryingly accurate. There are a few things that would have made the final cut, had I had enough time with them (I'm looking at you, Kanye West and Parts & Labor and Chinese Democracy...), but I'd call this a pretty representative...er...representation of my 2008 via the medium of pop music.

Oh, and I really wanted to put "49:00" by Paul Westerberg in there, but it's like...one 45-minute track made up of bits of shorter songs (a bit like a one-track version of Alien Lanes), so it doesn't really fit in here. Suffice to say it's one of the best things I've heard all year, and you'd just be depriving yourself if you don't track it down.

So...yeah, here goes nothing...and if you want a zip file of this nothing, click here. (They aren't going to be in order in the zip file, mind)

1. Los Campesinos! "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed"
2. British Sea Power "No Lucifer"
3. Deerhunter "Nothing Ever Happened"
4. Frank Turner "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous"
5. The Lodger "The Good Old Days"
6. The Hold Steady "Constructive Summer"
7. Weezer "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)"
8. Elbow "Grounds for Divorce"
9. Johnny Foreigner "DJs Get Doubts"
10. The Wave Pictures "Strange Fruit for David"
11. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "We Call Upon the Author"
12. Frightened Rabbit "Old Old Fashioned"
13. The Long Blondes "The Couples"
14. R.E.M. "Living Well is the Best Revenge"
15. She & Him "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"
16. Silver Jews "Strange Victory, Strange Defeat"
17. The Mountain Goats "Lovecraft in Brooklyn"
18. Fosca "Confused and Proud"
19. Juliana Hatfield "The Fact Remains"
20. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart "Everything With You"
21. Marnie Stern "Ruler"
22. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks "Out of Reaches"
23. Amanda Palmer "The Point of it All"
24. of Montreal "Nonpareil of Favor"
25. Ben Folds "You Don't Know Me (featuring Regina Spektor)"
26. M83 "Graveyard Girl"
27. Ten City Nation "Everyone's a Tourist"
28. Laura Hocking "Loves of a Girl Wrestler"
29. Be Your Own Pet "Becky"
30. Why? "Fatalist Palmistry"
31. Black Mountain "Stay Free"
32. Future of the Left "The Hope That House Built"
33. Hercules and Love Affair "Blind"
34. Wild Beats "The Devil's Crayon"
35. Duffy "Warwick Avenue"
36. Times New Viking "(My Head)"
37. Robert Forster "Pandanus"
38. Dexy "Dying Breed"
39. The Understudies "Flicknives"
40. The Magnetic Fields "California Girls"
41. Kristoffer Ragnstam "Swing That Tambourine"
42. Spiritualized "Death Take Your Fiddle"
43. Girls "Lust for Life"
44. Goldfrapp "A&E"
45. Mark Kozelek "Celebrated Summer"
46. Alphabeat "Fantastic Six"
47. Glasvegas "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry"
48. Islands "Creeper"
49. Ballboy "Songs for Kylie"
50. Headless Heroes "See My Love"

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Los Campesinos! "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" - the KMIQS review!

LOS CAMPESINOS! "WE ARE BEAUTIFUL, WE ARE DOOMED" [Wichita Records -released October 13th]



"...having been touring the album constantly since its release in February, maybe the band are just getting tired of playing its songs"

Boy is my face red. Call it fate, but within a week of me posting that blog, the news was out that everyone-bar-Steven-Wells' favourite indiepopstars Los Campesinos! were releasing "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed", their second album of 2008. Given the aforementioned lack of new songs in their recent sets, the evolution displayed here is somewhat of a shock. For an album released only six months after their debut, We Are Beautiful... shows an astonishing amount of development - our little Campesinos! are growing up.

The album springs out of the gate with "Ways to Make it Through the Wall", a typically exuberant opener to rival the sonic sugar-rush of "Death to Los Campesinos!" - call and response synths and guitars ping across the speakers, while Ollie's drums rampage through the mix. It seems as if it's just another sunny day in Campesinos!-land. But wait a second, let's just check out those all-important opening lyrics, shall we?

"I think it's fair to say that I chose hopelessness/And inflicted it on the rest of us/But at least I've come to terms with my own mortality."

"You! Me! Dancing!" this is not.

"Ways..." perfectly showcases LC! 2.0 - the sugar content of their songs remains the same, but there's a caustic wit ("The guy singing all the sad songs died - oh well, I guess he was right!") that was absent from their debut. Likewise, the musical arrangements have a welcome sense of complexity - time and key signatures dart around - and it's a lot harder to tell when a chorus is going to come, making it all the more effective when the song's many refrains do kick in. Likewise, the lyrics of the stuttering-yet-swaggering "Miserabilia" bemoan post-relationship sentimentality - in much the same way "My Year in Lists" did - and sees Gareth "down on [his] knees next to urinals in garish Mexican restaurants", before jumping up to sneer contemptfully at the listener - "SHOUT AT THE WORLD BECAUSE THE WORLD DOESN'T LOVE YOU!"*

The last song written for Hold On Now, Youngster... was apparently "This Is How You Spell "HAHAHA We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics"", and its driving rhythm and slower pace inform the new album's best songs. Prefaced by the ambient instrumental "Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky", "You'll Need Those Fingers for Crossing" is the closest the band have ever come to a ballad - Gareth treats his glockenspiel with more care than it was ever given on the first album, and there's even an tenderly-strummed acoustic guitar propping up the mix - and even when the song steps up a gear three and a half minutes in, it's still more subdued than anything that came before. Lyrically, the track compares a break-up to "a soft-porn version of the end of the world", having pleaded with his sweetheart to "dump me side of the road if I'm too annoying", and by the time the track comes to its close, with the same delayed guitar sounds it started with, you can't help but take pity on poor Gareth. It's the most genuinely affecting moment in the LC! catalogue to date, and will hopefully be a direction they pursue in the future.

"Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1", meanwhile, comes across like a missing track from the most recent WHY? album (the wonderful Alopecia) - the song's groove (yes, really - an LC! song has a groove!) is like a laid-back version of "This Is How You Spell...", while Gareth and Aleks's vocals veer closer to Yoni Wolf's pseudo-hip-hop cadences, confronting an offensive ex with the classic question - "Do you kiss your mummy's lips with that mouth?"

That said, the album's true highlight is its title track, which takes what you might call the Los Campesinos! formula and refines it to the point of perfection. It's here that most of the album's most repeatable lines come - "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, fondness makes the absence longer", "We kid ourselves there's future in the fucking, but there is no fucking future" - but these six looooong months on from the debut, it's easy to tell how much better the band are as musicans; rather than giving it their all in every second of every song, everyone seems to know when to hold back and when to break out the party poppers and yell "SURPRISE!". Likewise, Gareth's lyrics have been honed down - gone are the slightly immature and self-conscious references to "a final, fatal LiveJournal entry" or dancing to Bis - with an added sense of world-weariness that comes with touring the globe, tempering even the song's more tongue-in-cheek lines. "I cannot emphasise enough that my body is a badly-designed, poorly-put-together vessel harbouring these diminished, so-called 'vital' organs", he complains, with increasing rage, before letting loose an almost-blood-curdling scream: "I HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST! I HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST!" I'm sorry, what was that? Final, fatal what?

Admittedly, a couple of tracks border on self-parody - with its almost-obligatory references to punctuation and crap novellas, it sounds like the band were barely trying when they wrote "The End of the Asterisk", while "Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time" is a two-minute, two-part 'epic' which is a bold and admirable experiment in theory, albeit one that doesn't quite come together in practise - but the album coheres surprisingly well, especially given it's brief gestation period. We Are Beautiful... is a short and sweet stereo attack; compared with Hold On Now, Youngster's final track proper "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks", which finished with the kind of crowd-pleasing chant that left you almost too satisfied with the way it ended, the frenetic "All Your Kayfabe Friends" finishes so abruptly that you'll think your copy of the CD is faulty, meaning that all you want to do is put it on again and see what you missed the last time around.

If Hold On Now, Youngster... flirted with classic status - not only did it top my year-end list after the first time I heard it, but it already made its way to my all-time chart - We Are Beautiful... laughs in the face of the sophomore slump, simply by arriving before speculation about what they'd do next could take place. Admittedly, it's a less instantly accessible collection than its predecessor, but this is no bad thing whatsoever; its ten tracks reveal themselves better over repeated listens - something I never thought I'd be able to say about Los Campesinos! As I said, not all the songs quite stand up, but the ones that do show an impressive step forward for a band who are even more restless than their songs suggest.

7.5/10

*OK, maybe I was exaggerating about the quotability of the lyrics, but the majority of the best lyrics here don't owe themselves to being condensed into simple five-word phrases. My current favourite lyrics from the album have to be from "It's Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song for the Other Kurt)", a track which begins with Gareth "kissing a girl for class war" and culminates in this scenario: "I walked into the room to see my ex-girlfriend - who by the way I'm still in love with - sucking the face of some pretty boy, with my favourite band's most popular song in the background. This situation then compels him to ask the ultimate hipster pay-off - "Is it wrong that I can't decide which bothers me most?"

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...obviously I'm not going to upload any of the tracks at this early point in time, so here's what you might call a "rarity" - their version of Black Flag's "Police Story", from the International Tweexcore Underground EP. Suffice to say, none of the new album sounds anything like this.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Next time, I think I'm gonna take a train - Kiss Me, I've Quit Smoking does Indietracks 2008! (Part 2)

INDIETRACKS FESTIVAL, 26th-27th July 2008, Midlands Railway Butterley (Part Two - Sunday!)



Sunday brought with it the meat and bones of the festival, with incredible acts spilling out from every stage...at least once the technical difficulties on the outdoor stage were fixed. Indeed these technical difficulties ended up improving the festival no end; set times were rearranged, and almost every band I actually wanted to see was relocated to the superior outdoor stage. The first band I caught that day were Brontosaurus Chorus, who graced the main stage with their mix of delicate strings and horns with punishing distortion and sugar-coated melodies. Italy's A Classic Education demonstrated why they deserved to win the competition to play the festival, playing a set of propulsive janglepop, akin to the vastly underrated Shout Out Louds. Strawberry Story, allegedly playing their last gig ever, were the only true mis-step of the festival; formed at the tail end of the C86-scene proper, the band's enthusiasm didn't carry across to the subdued Sunday afternoon crowd, who didn't take kindly to the barrage of noise, drum machines and out of tune wailing they were subjected to. Back on the main stage, KateGoes brought their carefree, themed gigs to Indietracks - this time, Kate Goes Stoneage,
so the band donned leopardskin robes and performed a set of shambolically melodic pop music, toy instruments and all.



From then, Indietracks delivered everything it promised; Darren Hayman (backed by The Wave Pictures, more on whom later) played a fantastic, if slightly tipsily abridged, set in the tea tent, for those who didn't make it for his set in the Church the previous night. His set was cut short to make way for The Smittens (above - photo courtesy of jayen_aitch from the Anorak forum) on the back of the Outdoor truck stage. The Vermont quintet were one of the most hotly-anticipated acts of the festival, but I found it strangely difficult to make my mind up about them; their boundless enthusiasm and optimism seemed almost unnatural (or at least a bit forced), but the songs themselves - the majority of which come from their latest album The Coolest Thing About Love - were so irresistibly catchy and fun, that I made a U-turn of opinion with each song. Rocking out where on record they shimmer - a change especially noticeable in the normally-restrained "Sapphire", which became the highlight of the set - the band gained new fans with every song, and by the time of the finale, the band's self-proclaimed theme song "Gentlefication Now! (The La La La Song)" (which was presonally requested by festival curator Stuart), the entire crowd was screaming the refrain back at the band, who looked frankly stunned at the newly-adoring mob in front of them.



Up next were The Wave Pictures (above - picture courtesy of sweepingthenation), and if you don't know my stance on them by now, then quite frankly, I'm shocked and appalled. They turned in a stunning set, opening with a frenetic take on the relatively obscure "I Shall Be a Ditchdigger" (from one of their early CD-R albums), and diving headlong into a set full of hits - though fan favourite "Now You Are Pregnant" was notable in its absence. The only real problem with the live Wave Pictures experience is the number of solos - while each member of the band is an extremely proficient musician (especially guitarist David Tattersall), there's no need to demonstrate it during every song. There's nothing worse than hearing a band say "We've got time for one more song" and thinking how much more time there would have been had each member of the band not pretended to be Neil Young. Still, when that last song is "Long Island", and features a guest appearance from Darren Hayman, it is admittedly somewhat harder to complain.



Piling onto the stage amid an assortment of bells, glocks, samplers and sometimes cramped up two to a keyboard, local heroes The Deirdres were another of the unrivalled highlights of the festival. With madcap songs about Michael Aspel - they once blagged their way onto an episode of Antiques Roadshow - cutesy declarations of love (they could barely get through "Ball in a Cup"'s tongue in cheek lyric "I think he is Batman, I'd like to be his Robin/When I'm his sewing machine, he is my bobbin" without cracking up) and sexual freedom (the almost Los Campesinos!-aping new single "Milk is Politics"), they immediately won the crowd over, as singer Russell indulged in some proper frontman stage antics, much to the rest of the band's amusement. The ramshackle riot show that is The Deirdres is best epitomised by their debut single "Claire, Are We Safe to Be On Our Own?", which came out last year on Cloudberry Records.

From the Truck I made a bee-line for the Church, pulling up a pew just in time to catch Dirty Fingernails; made up of two snarling Scandinavian synthpop siblings...and a drummer named Charlie, the band played a selection of tracks from their debut album, the absolutely boss (geddit?) "Greetings from Finsbury Park, N4" that had slightly more edge than the majority of bands on the bill. Definitely ones to watch out for. After that, it was back to the loco-shed-main-stage to see indiepunkpopstars Milky Wimpshake, another band who don't see stages nearly as much as they should do. The set was chock full of what you might call hits...or at least, crowd pleasers, including the cheaters' anthem "Dialing Tone" and my one-time mixtape staple "Noam Chomsky versus the Ramones", a song about the dichotomy of enjoying political theory and punk rock...at the same time. Hell, every song was a winner, and by the time of the final manic singalong to "Blow Out at 80 Miles per Hour" (all together now - "BLOW OUT!"), the crowd was a sweaty mass of three-chord love.

Ducking out of the main stage sauna for the cool evening air of the truck stage, I was greeted by the most impressive crowd I'd seen all weekend. It could only mean one thing - Ballboy. Sauntering onto the stage quietly, they then launched into the atmospheric tom-tom and synth attack of "Public Park", the only song I can think of that turns the phrase "pooper scooper" into poetry. From there, it was crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser, from the bungled bank-robbery caper of "I Don't Have Time to Stand Here With You Fighting About the Size of My Dick" (the purpetrator had been dumped seconds before he was leaving for the hold-up, y'see...) to the heartbreaking could-have-been-a-contender ballad "Songs for Kylie" - inspired by Calvin Harris, no less - every song hit the mark, as the sun went down in the Derbyshire sky. The band were also responsible for one of the most unlikely anthems of the weekend - "Avant Garde Music", an ode to being on the receiving end of music snobbery, which managed to somehow become the cue for the entire crowd to merge into one sweating mass of bodies. Maybe it was an excuse for a bunch of lonely hearts to collectively slag off "the girl who works in the record store", or maybe it was just the right band at the right time, but with Ballboy's set, Indietracks hit its peak.

All of which obviously augured somewhat ill for Los Campesinos!;
when once they radiated giddy teenage excitement with every note they played, LC! now seem to simply be going through the motions. Speaking as someone who isn't ashamed to admit to spending the best part of twelve months worshipping them for bringing unmitigated joy and meaning to my life, it really saddened me to see them having to go on after Ballboy - catching the occasional glimpse of LC!'s singer Gareth looking on during their set, it was hard not to imagine him trying to work out how to follow a performance like that. There's no denying that the band (especially Gareth) was happy to be there - his exciteable banter ("I got to shake the hand of Mister David Gedge last night!") made that abundantly clear; it nonetheless seemed like this was Just Another Gig for the band, in spite of their obviously being genuinely humbled to be playing the festival. A large proportion of the crowd also didn't seem to accept how they fit in to the ethos of Indietracks - the only festival in the world that could be headlined by Sarah Records elder-statesmen The Orchids, as it was last year. It's just a hypothesis, but perhaps the old guard felt like the band were too much of a flash in the pan to convincingly pull off playing above the bands who had worked hard to achieve their cult status. Consequently, they would have had to put on quite a performance to overshadow such expectations and doubts.

Well, maybe it's the fact that I've personally played the album to death, but there really did seem to be something lacking in their headline performance. You could, as with the Wedding Present the previous night, chalk it down to the terrible sound on the main stage (as opposed to the outdoor stage where, Strawberry Story aside, everyone sounded incredible), or maybe it was the fact that I was just unhappy at not winning anything in the raffle, which had been drawn just before the band came on. Then again, having been touring the album constantly since its release in February, maybe the band are just getting tired of playing its songs. Aside from the occasional small change in arrangement, there's nothing particularly different from the album, and even the die-hard fans in the crowd started flagging after a few songs. The obligatory universal insanity unleashed during "You! Me! Dancing!" by all sections of the crowd, both old and young, seemed to be a blip in an otherwise disappointing set, sadly bringing a slightly anticlimactic end to what had otherwise been an utterly brilliant and unique festival.

As the midnight train took the last of the punters away from the festival site into the warm Butterley summer night, everyone seemed to be reflecting on the festival happily; chances are they were the lucky ones who managed to get into the shows on the trains, or witnessed the odd surprise show on the platform, but everyone I've spoken to about the festival has had nothing but good things to say. Admittedly, two years in, there's still the odd teething problem (someone really ought to do something about moving the main stage outdoors or something), but all in all, Indietracks is a welcome addition to the festival calendar, and one that has already ammassed its fair share of regulars.
Roll on 2009.

Next time, I think I'm gonna take a train - Kiss Me, I've Quit Smoking does Indietracks 2008!

INDIETRACKS FESTIVAL, 26th-27th July 2008, Midlands Railway Butterley (Part One - Saturday!)


This weekend saw the return of the happiest, most polka-dotted and pudding-bowled festival in the entire world - Indietracks. Located in rural Derbyshire, the festival played host to a hundred indiepop bands from across the globe, with punters going to and from the site in an antique steam-train. The site itself was hardly built for masses of people, but the organisers managed to adapt the facilities extremely impressively; that said, the acoustics of the locomotive shed - used as the location of the main stage (and merchandise area) - left a lot to be desired, much to the detriment of the majority of the bands playing.

On a somewhat unprofessional note (given that I'm attempting to review the thing), the first day of Indietracks, for me at least, was effectively a write-off; I didn't actually arrive on-site until about 4pm, and the majority of the first couple of hours was spent attempting to scope the place out (eg: locate burger vans,
toilets. Commit to memory.). I did, however, manage to catch a glimpse of a couple of acts who I'd not previously encountered; The Parallelograms ticked all the C86 boxes - stand-up drummer and all - and played a great set, complete with Hello Kitty guitar. Definitely worth looking out for. Meanwhile, a rather lovely Australian singer-songwriter named Darren Hanlon graced the outdoor stage; his hose charming songs about literally bumping shoulders with the stars had echoes of Spearmint and the Lucksmiths.



Compared with most of the festival-goers, who flocked to the main stage in droves to see indiepop godfathers Comet Gain, my main attraction of the day were The Lodger (above - photo courtesy of Underexposed); always a great live band, the Leeds trio (as ever bolstered by an additional guitarist) really outdid themselves playing on the makeshift outdoor stage - the back of a truck! The whole set was a highlight from start to finish; tracks like "My Finest Hour" and the almost unbearably bitter "Many Thanks for Your Honest Opinion" shone as bright as the blistering Derby sun, while last single "The Good Old Days" deserved to be one of the festival's biggest anthems. The closing cover of Orange Juice's "I Can't Help Myself" was an unexpected nod to the festival's roots, and had even the most cynical popkid at least tapping their feet.

Headlining the main stage that night were the undisputed kings of the genre, The Wedding Present - a band in whom my interests have never really peaked above curious. The set was solid; the classics mixed seamlessly together with new material from their current LP El Rey, with tracks like "Santa Ana Winds" and "Model, Actress, Whatever..." wowing the crowd. Unfortunately, as the all-too-frequently spotted t-shirts proclaimed "The Wedding Present: All the Songs Sound the Same"; it was hard to tell if it was the songs themselves, or the less than stellar sound in the loco shed, but every song ended up sounding like "Brassneck" - and even when they played it, it was somewhat hard to discern. A shame, that. The night finished with an indiepop disco, courtesy of the Helen Love Bubblegum Killers, who played some hits (your standard Pulp, Belle and Sebastian etc fare), some misses (maybe I just wasn't in the mood to dance to "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love In My Tummy"...), and some unexpected treats - anyone who saw me dancing to McCarthy's "We Are All Bourgeois Now" can attest to the joy I felt during that five minutes. A fantastic end to the first day's festivities, though the best was very much yet to come...

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

I'm gonna leave this town, gonna leave it like I found it...

Blake Babies "Out There" [taken from the album Sunburn - Hollywood Records, 1990]



Sometimes, a pop song just hits you in the right place at the right time. I'd never heard anything by Juliana Hatfield, save from a glimpse of a video on an episode of Beavis & Butthead, outside of her enchanting work as Evan Dando's foil (and muse) in the Lemonheads. It took a chance encounter in the Union Bookshop at my university for her songs to fall into my lap; the music playing in the shop, while I was idly waiting for my housemate to finish browsing the drama section, sounded like sunshine - shimmering shards of jangling guitars, a girlish coo, and the distant hum of Evan Dando in the background. I later found out it was by Ms. Hatfield's group from her days prior to being a Lemonhead - albeit songs from their comeback album, God Bless the Blake Babies (2001).

Consequently, I rooted around the internet for anything I could find, and came up with an album entitled Sunburn - often cited as their best. After two songs I was smitten, and I found myself stuck on 'Out There', a track which sounds like waking up to the first day of summer; the Peter Buck-esque guitars chime like the sun pouring in through the curtains, while Hatfield purrs and growls her way out of the speakers, leaving the listener (or at least, me) instantly enchanted. Like a less heartbroken cousin of Lisa Loeb's "Stay (I Missed You)", the song has early 90s written all over it in the best possible way; it's painful to admit, but they just don't write 'em like this anymore...

Thursday, 5 June 2008

I think I was overcome by a spontaneous emotion...

Weezer "Miss Sweeney" [taken from the deluxe edition of Weezer (aka: the Red album) - Geffen, 2008]



It's no secret that I think Weezer are one of the best bands in the entire world; yes, their output since 1996 has been patchy, but each album has had its charms. 2001's Weezer (aka: the Green album) was allegedly an attempt to write ten perfect pop songs, none longer than three and a half minutes, all following the same structure. Maladroit, which landed the following year, was less considered, but did feature 'Keep Fishin'', the freshest sounding Weez single since the nineties. The only real dud in their catalogue was the clunky Make Believe, which replaced Rivers Cuomo's idiosyncratic observations and witticisms with catch-all platitudes which, when coupled with Rick Rubin's bland, shiny production, fell flat on its arse.

The band's newest album, another self-titled effort, ranks comfortably with their best; throwing any rules out the window (aside from the catty singles 'Pork & Beans' and 'Troublemaker', written on demand to keep the label happy), there are power-pop sonatas ('Dreamin''), multi-part epics ('The Greatest Man That Ever Lived', as I very briefly blogged about for Young Turks here) and even tracks by other members of the band, the highlight being drummer Pat Wilson's piledriving 'Automatic'.

Miss Sweeney' crops up on the deluxe edition of the album, which contains four extra songs, all of which have some of the most interesting lyrics in the Weezer canon. The song starts off as a minor-key "rap" (in the style of R. Kelly's era-defining Trapped in the Closet), before diving headlong into a classic, crunchy and, above all, cuntstruck Weezer chorus. A paean to unrequited office romance - the boss slipping the secretary declarations of love in between memos - it happens to be the best of any of the tracks released for Weezer. Lord knows why this was left off the album - apparently at the insistence of every member of the band aside from guitarist Brian Bell (who always was the coolest member of the band...).

The abundance of extra tracks scattered across various formats of the record will no doubt have Weezer obsessives creating their own ideal ten-song running orders, but 'Miss Sweeney' is almost certainly one that fans will unite over.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

I was your other, that's what you said...

The Lodger "A Year Since Last Summer" [taken from the album Life is Sweet - Bad Sneakers Records, 2008]



Everyone knows the best pop songs are the short ones; Life Is Sweet, the wonderful second album by Leeds indiepop heroes The Lodger, is an understated 35 minute flurry of handclaps and heartbreak. One of its highlights, 'A Year Since Last Summer', rushes by in a brief two minutes - still, that seems to be all it needs. Its lyrics are similarly brief, but perfectly express the melancholy of a love gone wrong ("The photograph is fading now, a year since last summer..."), belied by the short, sharp and irrepressibly jangly guitar attack that surrounds it, which barely allows you time to catch your breath between verses. While there are catchier tracks on the album - namely 'The Good Old Days', a pretty strong contender for single of the summer, if not the year - there are few as addictive.

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As ever, I apologise profusely for not updating this thing in ages; exam season somewhat put the kibosh on my urge to write anything whatsoever. Thankfully, that's all over now, and with a long hot summer ahead, expect plenty more gems in store.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

I've got a taste for human blood - I'm gonna tear your bones apart...

Ten City Nation - Exhibition Time Again
Ten City Nation - Everyone's a Tourist [both taken from the 2008 album Ten City Nation - download it for absolutely free right here!]



Formed from the ashes of undeservedly forgotten agitpopstars Miss Black America, Ten City Nation have just released their blinding debut album for free on their website. Seven years on from the first album this lot ever put out as MBA (the underrated God Bless Miss Black America), they sound hungrier, more passionate and...just damn louder than ever before. Ten City Nation is truly a thing of beauty - tracks like 'Positive Sickness' show that singer Seymour Patrick's rage is alive and well, while 'The Air is on Fire' rocks out with a dusty atmosphere that makes it sound like a recording of a gunfight in some distant desert. That's a good thing, by the way.

'Exhibition Time Again' kicks the album off with speaker-blowing intensity, as hundering Queens of the Stone Age style drums jostle with detuned riffs played by sandpaper-raw guitars not heard since the last Shellac record. Meanwhile, 'Everyone's a Tourist' centres around a spiralling riff which tumbles into the most unashamedly anthemic chorus on the entire album, perfectly capturing the energy and vitriol that fuel their live shows. Both tracks should, in some parallel universe, but absolutely massive hits, but that would probably ruin it for anyone who hears them.

It's teen rock for grown-ups - there's shades of early Idlewild (or should that be iDLEWiLD?), Fugazi, mclusky, and even traces of Blur (try the beautifully discordant opening riff of 'Skeletons') - and, by all rights, deserves to change at least one lonely bedroom-bound teenager's life for the better. It's loud, melodic, passionate and everything that most bands these days aren't; Ten City Nation (both the band and the album) demands to be heard, and you'd be a fool to ignore it...and for the price you're paying for it, there's no excuse. As a wise man once said, "What happened to your urge to destroy?"

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Your list of top ten songs to self-destroy to is a decoy, too...

Fosca "Confused and Proud" [taken from the 2008 album The Painted Side of the Rocket on But Is It Art? Records - order the album here!]



Sorry I've been just as lax with updating this thing as ever. Still, to make up for it here's a review of a rather splended new album by Fosca, which you should all check out. Like...right now.

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There's a school of literary criticism which claims that a work of art is best interpreted without taking into account any biographical or canonical information whatsoever about its creator. This school of criticism has obviously never encountered Dickon Edwards. A self-confesed "dysfunctional dandy", his resum̩ since 1995 includes a brief stint in indiepop legends Spearmint, Romo pioneers Orlando (whose album Passive Soul remains an essential, if slightly embarrassing, addition to any Britpop fan's collection...if you can seek it out), as well as the official title of The First Blogger On The Internet Ever. Impressive stuff. His latest album with current band Fosca Рtheir third in eight years Рsees the band moving in far more openly pop territory than ever before, while Edwards continues to prove himself as someone for whom "being himself" is less a state of mind than a career path.

The album kicks off with the misanthropic Howard Devoto-isms of 'I’ve Agreed To Something I Shouldn’t Have', previously released on How Does It Feel To Be Loved's superlative The Kids at the Club compilation, and immediately shows off Fosca's unique brand of hyper-literate fop pop. 'It Only Matters to Those to Whom it Matters' ups the cutesy ante somewhat, with a singsong melody, barbed lyrics – "You always carry a book – not as something to read, but somewhere else to look..." – and the inevitable handclaps, that make it one of the catchiest cuts on the record. Still, that’s nothing compared with 'We See the World as Our Stunt Doubles', one of the best things Edwards has ever written; it sounds like Mansun rewriting a Bond theme – all sinister strings, chiming guitars and ringing glockenspiel – and ends with one of the greatest lines Morrissey never put his name to ("Why bother, why bother when life is elsewhere?").

The Painted Side of the Rocket is rife with extremely quotable bon mots, the best of which come from 'Kim', a curious tale of an obsessive pop fan who goes in search of his heroes, only to be confronted by "a churlish chap...who fronted some band in the mid 1990s" (a dig at Edwards' former Orlando cohort Tim Chipping, perhaps? - EDIT: apparently not.) and a journalist who claims to be a virgin "if alcoholic sex doesn’t count". It's the most relaxed cut on the album, and certainly one of the most lyrically interesting things in the already-erudite Fosca oeuvre.

The album's highlight comes with the dreamy 'Confused And Proud', a reworked version of a track originally released eight years ago as the b-side to the band's first single; an open letter to those unsure of their sexual identity ("If we held a protest demonstration," Edwards croons, "we’d all march off in different directions"), it sounds like Pet Shop Boys rewriting Pavement’s "Here"; Indeed, that song's opening lines – "I was dressed for success/But success, it never comes/And I'm the only one who laughs..." – seem as good a summary of Edwards' career as any. Far more ethereal than the original, its constant state of sonic flux perfectly suits the uncertainty of its subject matter, while its lyrics remain some of the most affecting and heartfelt that Edwards ever penned. The track is a masterpiece of bedroom balladry, the likes of which have been unheard since The Field Mice, and five of the finest minutes of music you’re likely to hear all year.

A couple of tracks seem to take the Fosca template somewhat by numbers , while Rachel Stevenson's sole lead vocal on the album, on the Kate Dornan-penned 'Evening Dress at 3pm' provides a little bit of light relief (especially following 'Confused...'), much like Hilarie Sidney's tracks with The Apples in Stereo. Still, by the end of 'Come Down From the Cross (Someone Else Needs the Wood)' – what a title! – you're left with few urges greater than to press play again and reemerse yourself into the psyche of one of England's greatest eccentrics, who just happens to have written one of the best pop albums of 2008. No need to be confused anymore, Dickon. Just proud. (8.5/10)

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So yes, if you know what's good for you, order this album quick march!

Thursday, 21 February 2008

I used to be down with the faithful, man - now I'm hanging with the doubting Thomases...

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds "Accidents Will Happen" [b-side from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! single]


Yet another Nick Cave-related post, I'm afraid. Thanks to the uni paper, I've recently acquired a copy of the man and his Seeds' new album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! I'm terrified witless by all the blurb on the back of the sleeve of the promo (words to the effect of "You must not lend a copy of this album to anyone, you must not play this album to anyone named Frances, you must not play this album on Guy Fawkes' night or listen to it while wearing a beefeater's hat, and YOU DEFINITELY MUST NOT PUT IT ONTO THE INTERNET"), so rather than make Mute Records hate me, I'm going to upload the b-side to Mr Cave's latest single for your listening pleasure instead. It could well be another showcase for his limited guitar skills, and the whole track's a pretty light-hearted affair, bordering on the countryish. Still, it would have found a rather loving home on the album, but who am I to argue with a 'tache like that?

Anyway, to tide you all over until the album itself drops (March 5th, UK-dwellers), here's my review of the LP, written (as I said previously) for the Leeds Student paper with a pretty compact limit of 500 words...

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NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" (Mute)

In 1989, the NME gathered three great elder statesmen of what was then called indie – The Fall's Mark E Smith, Shane MacGowan and Nick Cave – for a drink or twenty. Nearly as many years on, Smith continues to be "always different, always the same", while MacGowan is tragically wheeled out every Christmas like a ramshackle pantomime horse on its last legs. Only Nick Cave has, since then, written almost all of his best work, continuing to at least try to forge out a new path with each album with absolutely no regard to relevance to the world around him. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is his fourteenth album with the ever-faithful Bad Seeds behind him, and his first since last year's brutal Grinderman project, and finds him sounding far more bloodthirsty than his fifty years should allow.

The title track shows The Horrors exactly how it's done, welding a Nuggets-style organ riff to shards of visceral guitar noise, while Cave waxes lyrical about what would happen if Lazarus was reborn in New York City in the 70s. As you do. Conversely, tracks like "Hold On To Yourself" and the droning "Night of the Lotus Eaters" see the band at their atmospheric best, evoking the deserts of their native Australia for the first time in years. Meanwhile, "Lie Down Here (and Be My Girl)" and "Albert Goes West" show off the kind of noisy pop that Cave has perfected over his thirty(!) years in the game.

"We Call Upon the Author" is a self-mocking ode to those who look to literature for the answers to life, the universe and everything. Clearly the epitome of the album's quest for "the haemorrhaging of words and ideas", Cave words are practically epileptic here, referencing writers left, right and centre ("Bukowski was a jerk! Berryman was best!"), and even stopping the song dead in its tracks to welcome some guy named Doug to the festivities. No, really. Meanwhile, if The Bad Seeds sounded hungry anywhere else on the album, they sound fucking ravenous here; inexplicable noises appear at every turn, while the tongue in cheek backing vocals only add to the gruesome fun. Potential career highlight, much?

"More News From Nowhere" brings the album to a serene close, drifting through a beautiful chord progression, with more disembodied backing vocals from the Bad Seeds. while seemingly surveying Cave's entire career through a series of spooky characters, from the ghosts of Deanna and the Cyclops to a thinly-veiled reference to one-time beau PJ Harvey. In the album's press release, Nick Cave states that "I want to make as many records as I possibly can", but it does seem like "More News..." could have been an ideal place to stop. Still, as a whole, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is far from perfect (taxi for "Moonland"), and comes across more like a signpost towards yet another phase of his ever-evolving career; if that does indeed turn out to be the case, bring on album number fifteen. Keep digging, Nick. Keep digging.

7/10

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Hope you enjoyed that, and look out for more frequent posts over the coming months. Honest, guv.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Johnny Cash died today, and you say "It's not like Elvis though, is it?"...

The Wave Pictures "Now You Are Pregnant"


I first heard about The Wave Pictures when I saw Darren Hayman play upstairs at a pub in Leeds late last year. Unlike the majority of those who hear them for the first time, I wasn't overly taken, and went downstairs to get a drink and some fresh air. If I'd stayed, I would have been subjected to the kind of jangly indiepop that I hold so dear, with a lyrical flair that tends to have me swooning by the PA system after the first witty couplet. Bully for me then, really.

Still, I couldn't shake the feeling like I needed to seek them out further, and picked up their debut Moshi Moshi 7" (their previous releases - and there are many - were mostly self-released affairs) on my last day back home in London. "We Dress Up Like Snowmen", billed as the main feature, most likely because it's a faster one, was a nice enough Modern Lovers-esque chugger, with some wonderfully nasal vocals and the odd funny line here and there ("I went to the movies...FOR THREE YEARS"). It was alright; passable stuff, but it didn't really encourage me to flip the vinyl over the examine the delights on the other side...

I'm glad I did though - "Now You Are Pregnant" is one of the most heartbreaking songs I missed out on last year. A countrified waltz-time ballad, it comes over like one of the best songs Hefner never wrote, with some exquisite wordplay thrown in for good measure ("Stacks and stacks of slacks and black platform shoes" in particular just rolls off the tongue), sung by a nasal, tone deaf Morrissey (and I mean that in the best possible way). There's a great deal of girl-based angst to be found here, but it falls on just the right side of the emo divide, and the whole thing ends with an extremely satisfying singalong that will irritate Johnny Cash fans the world over. In short, it's just plain gorgeous; a lush pop gem not to be missed.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The bell tower is ringing, and the moon, it is high...

Shane MacGowan - Lucy
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Lucy


Not content with coming up with instant classics of his own, Nick Cave, as proven by his superlative 1986 album Kicking Against The Pricks, is a master interpreter of songs. Shane MacGowan is similarly an extremely talented singer when it comes to other peoples' songs (witness "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" from the Rum, Sodomy & The Lash album), as well as his own. Get the two together for a single, and you've got one of the more interesting releases in either man's catalogue.

Rather than the a-side, the pair's fantastically kitsch cover of What A Wonderful World or Cave's competent rendition of the Pogues' classic "Rainy Night In Soho", my highlight has to be Shane's solo contribution, seemingly tucked away as an afterthought - a cover of "Lucy", another forgotten gem in the Nick Cave repertoire. MacGowan, a man who Amy Winehouse aspires to drink like, infuses any song he sings with a broken-hearted, whiskey-soaked charm that few singers can match. True, he doesn't hit all the notes (this cover in particular, from 1990, was recorded at the start of an extreme decline in his health and general well-being) but it's more the emotion he brings to the song than the technical acumen with which he sings it that impresses. Propped up (most likely in more ways than one) by the Bad Seeds, this may well be one of the last great performances MacGowan ever committed to wax.

By contrast, the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' version shows Cave in full crooner mode - much in the same way he sings "Rainy Night In Soho". "Lucy" was the final track on The Good Son, Cave's first album written and recorded entirely clean from heroin, which led to a glimpse at the more reflective side of Nick Cave that we know today. Not as widely regarded as established classics like "The Ship Song", the original version is more striking for its etherial bluesy outro, noticeably absent from MacGowan's cover (most likely because it was taken from a live recording, and unable to be reproduced quite so effectively). In that context, neither version could be called the definitive cut, but it's still interesting to compare the differences in performances between (as it were) the Songwriter and the Drunk.

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Lucy can be found on The Good Son (Mute Records, 1990).
Shane MacGowan - Lucy can be found on Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds' B-Sides And Rarities (2006)

Friday, 4 January 2008

All you ever wanna do is drink and watch TV...

The Weakerthans - Plea From A Cat Named Virtute


First off, apologies for not being as prolific with this blog as I would have hoped - returning to uni, and having to cope with revision and exams seems, at this point in time, slightly more important than telling people what to listen to. However, this is a track I've been meaning to thrust in peoples' general direction for some time, so best to get this done now, and then service will resume as normal sometime in the next week or so, hopefully.

To be honest, my knowledge of The Weakerthans is somewhat limited, other than the fact that they're Canadian, signed to Burning Heart (a subsidiary of Epitaph, the legendary punk label), and their lyricist, one John K Samson, is a genius. The band's 2003 album Reconstruction Site is a loose song cycle about a dying hospital patient, with some off-topic interludes inserted along the way. 'Plea from a Cat Named Virtute' is one such interlude; it's sung from the perspective of a cat belonging to a manic depressive. When I first heard the track, I was astounded by just how spot on it is - the track has Virtute looking at the way his owner leads his life. While the cat doesn't fully understand his owner's motives for his actions, he still gives him advice on how to get out of the rut he's in, including "opening up the house" and "inviting the tabby two doors down". Because quite frankly, we all know that even if cats could help out their owners, they'd still put priority on getting their leg over too.

Other than that, there's little else to say about the song, other than that there's a sequel to it on the band's latest album, last year's Reunion Tour, which sees Virtute explaining why he buggered off. It features the word "loamy", and quite frankly, that's reason enough to seek it out. If you're a fan of The Hold Steady or any other literate indie rock, with emphasis on the ROCK, The Weakerthans are definitely a band worth seeking out.