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  • Be Negative About Your Top 10

    20 oct. 2007, 9h08m

    This idea was stolen from squigglycircle’s journal.

    1 Radiohead
    They pretend to think that “Creep” is crap so that they appear more high-brow or something, when it was a perfectly good song. They criticize Coldplay too much – Coldplay don’t claim to be an adventurous, artsy band, and no one is under any illusions that they’re anything other than a relatively boring soft-rock band with a few good songs.

    2 The Mountain Goats
    Get Lonely was maybe a little too mopey and subtle, but I dunno. I definitely think they should go back to their older style. Also, their sound hasn’t changed that much in an awfully long time – there have been some great experiments, such as “Dilaudid”, but they’ve been few and far between. Plus I guess it’s kinda pretentious to call the band The Mountain Goats when really it’s just one guy 95% of the time.

    3 Neutral Milk Hotel
    C’mon Jeff, make a new album already! What’s this indefinite hiatus all about?!

    4 Mogwai
    Although I am a fan of Mr Beast, and I was one of the few who thought it was refreshing that they were trying a different style, I do think that they compromised their usual style a bit TOO much, for the sake of accessibility. Young Team was a damn-near perfect album. I don’t want them to clone their masterpiece, but (unless they were lying on the DVD that came with my copy of Mr Beast) some of the band members think Mr Beast is better than Young Team.

    5 Sufjan Stevens
    He focuses too much on quantity and not enough on quality. I know he’s capable of perfection (“Chicago”, “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti”, “The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”), so why does he bother to churn out the mediocrity of his Christmas albums?! Also, he stated his intention of making an album for every US state several years ago now! Where is the third installment?!

    6 Bright Eyes
    The opening track of Lifted (an immense album) is just plain unlistenable! What’s up with that? Also, I’m gonna make the clichéd criticism that some of his music is just too emo.

    7 Sigur Rós
    Some of their stuff is a little samey, if I’m being honest. Also, Takk… has a lot of filler.

    8 Arcade Fire
    They don’t give Régine enough lead parts, in my humble opinion. Also, the fact that they don’t care whether you call them “Arcade Fire” or “The Arcade Fire” bothers me immensely. For the record, I prefer without the definite article.

    9 The Flaming Lips
    I swear I don’t listen to them enough for them to be in my top 10. I think some little elf logs into my computer at night and listens to The Soft Bulletin on repeat. I actually don’t like that album that much, I hugely prefer Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I think a lot of the stuff on The Soft Bulletin gets annoying on multiple listens.

    10 Bloc Party
    I have three main criticisms of this band. Firstly, the fact that every song on Silent Alarm follows pretty much exactly the same formula. Secondly, the fact that they’re so damn good despite this. Thirdly, the fact that I don’t own A Weekend In The City.
  • 2006 end-of-year review

    7 jan. 2007, 18h26m

    I sat down to write introduction on December 28. Last year I wrote my entire end-of-year summary in one sitting, but this year I’m starting my introduction before having actually finalized my choice of the top ten albums of the year. This year was not the greatest year for new releases, in my opinion. But in the absence of an excess of new albums for me to buy, I have managed to fill some shocking gaps in my music collection. I bought The Flaming LipsThe Soft Bulletin, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, Sigur RósAgætis byrjun, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A – to name but a few old classics that I finally got round to purchasing. Unlike this time last year, there are not many albums that have been released that I wish I had before compiling this list. However, 2006 has by no means been void of great new releases, as my top 10 albums will show!

    Firstly I would like to revise my top five albums of 2005, as I have got a few 2005-released albums since making the list in January, and my opinion on some of the albums has changed. So, here is my revised list (with the album’s previous position in square brackets):

    1 Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [1]
    This album’s still just as great as the first time I heard it.

    2 The Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree [4]
    This album has grown on me immensely: whereas last year my favourites were the accessible, catchy numbers such as “This Year” and “Dance Music”, now my favourite song is probably the chilling “Pale Green Things”. Though, of course, anthems such as “This Year” and “Dance Music” are timeless!

    3 Wolf Parade: Apologies To The Queen Mary [n/a]
    At the time of writing last year’s list, I was awaiting this album’s arrival in the post. Despite the fact that it was supposed to arrive within a week of ordering, I had to wait a good couple of months (last time I use Virgin Megastores online store!). But it was well worth the wait: these crazy Canadian kids make some of the best indie rock around. Highlights of the album include the emotive anthems “This Heart’s On Fire”, “I’ll Believe In Anything” and “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” (the line “Now we'll say it's in God's hands / But God doesn't always have the best goddamn plans, does he?” is delivered with particularly intense conviction).

    4 Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning [2]
    This album is also just as good now as it was when I first heard it.

    5 The Decemberists: Picaresque [n/a]
    Pretty much every track on this album is pure gold: from the heartfelt folk of “Eli, The Barrow Boy” to the crazy swashbuckling epic that is “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”, Colin Meloy is a master song-writer and The Decemberists are a fittingly grand and versatile band. Though some of the songs (such as “From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea)” and “The Infanta”) sometimes wear a little thin, the magnificence of songs like the ardent mini-epic “The Bagman’s Gambit” more than makes up for it. All the songs tell stories (except the short closing love song, “Of Angels and Angles”), and in most of them I really feel for the unique and charming characters.

    So, now to look in detail at the releases of 2006.

    1 TV on the Radio: Return To Cookie Mountain
    To an extent, I think I had already decided that I would love this album before it had even arrived on my doorstep. There has been so much hype, but to me it didn’t sound like the usual hype that surrounds the blogosphere’s favourite of the moment. I couldn’t resist but order. And I am not disappointed. This is an album of epic proportions. To me it echoes Radiohead’s OK Computer – not in sound but in sheer magnificence and diversity. From the attention-grabbing first line (“I was a lover before this war”) of opening track “I Was A Lover”, along with its dark beat and unsettling chords, right through to the rumbling drone that ends the album, I was gripped. This album seems to skilfully blend the catchy, the experimental and the emotive to create a masterpiece. Somehow TVotR manage to incorporate countless influences and styles, but still have all the songs feel like they belong on the album. Every single element of every one of the multi-layered songs is near-perfect. And I have to mention that both singers, Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, have fantastic voices. And although the song-writing and musical structure is phenomenal, it wouldn’t be the same without such talented singers.
    In conclusion, this is easily the best album of the year. It’s an album that successfully avoids pigeonholing and categorization, and greatly challenges anyone trying to describe it. Basically, you have to listen to it yourself.

    2 The Mountain Goats: Get Lonely
    Despite the fact that a lot of people seemed disappointed with this album, dismissing it as “too mellow”, “not easy to enjoy” and, ultimately, “not as good as The Sunset Tree”, I decided to buy this album. This decision was made largely as a result of my love for the only song I’d heard off of the album, “Woke Up New”, a touchingly realistic tale of post-break-up blues. I’m really glad that I did go ahead and get this album; although this album probably isn’t as good as The Sunset Tree or Tallahassee, it is sufficiently different that it’s hard to directly compare. This album lacks any hard-hitting numbers like Tallahassee’s “See America Right” and “No Children” or The Sunset Tree’s “Lion’s Teeth” and “Dilaudid”, but instead uses The Mountain Goats’ recently-acquired full-band resources to a much different end. Apart from the revelation that is “If You See Light”, which sees john accompanied by piano, brass, bass and drums, the songs on Get Lonely are simply John’s gentle strumming and soft falsetto accompanied by lush strings. This record is definitely mellower than any of John’s previous output (that I’ve heard); but this is by no means a bad thing; it allows his fantastic songwriting to shine in all its glory, and puts his raw emotion out there for everyone to see. Admittedly, this record lacks the emotional diversity of his past albums, but on this album John truly masters the mood that he is going for.

    3 Boris: Pink
    I got this album back at the start of 2006, which seems an awfully long time ago right now. When I first got it, I pretty much ceaselessly listened to it. Maybe one of its main appeals to me is that it is much more of a frenzied assault on the ears than anything else I listen to. Aside from the shoegazing opener (which is in itself fantastic), this is an album of crazy noise-punk. The frantic Japanese lyrics taking the backseat, behind the screaming guitars and aggressive drumming. The closest I usually get to this is Death from Above 1979; and while Pink isn’t as catchy a record as DFA1979’s You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, it is no less enjoyable. Everything about this album is fantastic – and, unlike their art-metal peers such as SUNN O)), Boris’ appeal is broad. Although this album is certainly left-of-centre, it doesn’t forget how to just plain rock.

    4 Thom Yorke: The Eraser
    At the end of 2005 I was eagerly anticipating the new Radiohead release. I’m still waiting. However, The Eraser appeased my appetite for a while. The album was completely different to any of Radiohead’s releases: although I am sure plenty of people will have compared it to Kid A as they’re both electronic records, the similarity is somewhat superficial. The Eraser is an album that focuses primarily on Thom’s lyricism, which is perfectly complimented by the exquisite, intricate and complex beats laid beneath his familiar, eerie, falsetto. Although the album is no OK Computer, it’s not trying to be.

    5 Mogwai: Mr Beast
    Mogwai is a band for whom I have a great love. They are one of my three favourite “post-rock” bands, alongside Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. However, Mr Beast is, in my opinion, hard to call a post-rock album. The longest track (closer “We’re No Here”) clocks in at a scant 5minutes 39seconds, compared to the longest track on Young Team, the 16minute 19second-long “Mogwai Fear Satan”. And, while many of the album’s songs (such as the monstrous “Glasgow Mega-Snake”) are loud and noisy, in a similar vein to Mogwai’s Young Team-era work, the songs to not build up to crescendos in traditional post-rock manner. So, I think this is a rock album rather than a post-rock album. And when viewed as a rock album, while still nowhere near as good as Young Team, it is an excellent album in its own right.

    So, as I said before, 2006 was not the greatest year for music. The Thom Yorke, Sonic Youth, Xiu Xiu and Mogwai albums were not as awesome as they could have been (though they were all enjoyable), the promised Radiohead album never arrived, and there weren’t as many good debuts as I would have liked. However, some bands that did make particularly good debuts in 2006 are Beirut (who makes some great Eastern European-influenced music, slightly reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel) and Plan B (a London rapper). Artists such as those are showing great promise, and I hope that 2007 is a better year for music than 2006 was. The new Radiohead songs that have been previewed live sound really good, so I hope they get their act together and release an album.
  • Sufjan Stevens - The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts

    26 juin 2006, 21h15m

    Sufjan Stevens is a folk singer; a singer-songwriter. He plays acoustic guitar, and banjo, and sings gently in that lovely, soft voice of his. His fans listen to Iron & Wine and other such acoustic folksters. He is the archetypal example of the typical acoustic singer-songwriters that have been enjoying a revival of popularity as of late. Just listen to For the Widows in Paradise, John Wayne Gacy, Jr or Size Too Small and you’ll know that he is a wonderful folksy singer-songwriter, with a quaint love of the archaic instrument that is the banjo.
    Listen to The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts and you’ll know otherwise.
    This song really sums up why I love Sufjan so much. And I think it probably sums up why a lot of other people love him too. The song starts with the Sufjan counting in – “one two three four, two two three four” – an intro like this can either lead to a cheesy, disappointing, failure of a song, or to a truly epic masterpiece. A thumping drum beat enters, along with a distinctly rock electric guitar riff – the drums and guitar build up, before disappearing, leaving only the finger-picking of an acoustic guitar and soft voices sighing. Then comes Sufjan’s familiar voice, emotional and pure; with light, pretty music providing a picturesque backdrop to his characteristically poetic lyrics. Then comes the choral chorus, backed by a triumphant brass part – though it does not seem immediately catchy, I often find myself singing this chorus to myself after listening through Illinois. But not only is this chorus catchy, it’s epic as well, and emotive. It feels real when the voices sing in harmony, telling me that they celebrate their sense of each other, and that they have a lot to give one another.
    The chorus swiftly departs, only to be replaced by Sufjan’s lonesome voice – a contrast to the warm feeling of togetherness so strong in the choruses. Then comes the rocking again, this time with the choir singing the chorus over it. This is epic. This is powerful. Another dimension is added to the song. I really feel part of the “we” now. Then the chorus cuts away again, along with the rock instruments. This time we are left with a lonesome brass solo, playing the same melody that Sufjan was singing earlier in the song. Now when Sufjan’s solo singing comes back again, the effect is really strong. Lonesome and mournful, yet hopeful. Nostalgic.
    The chorus comes twice again; first without the rocking, but then with it. Then, the electric guitar descends into free improvised craziness, with the choir putting all their hearts into singing beautiful “la la la”s. The effect is tremendous. Then, after the last of the now-melody-free guitar noises vanish, there is a peaceful moment of reflection; with soft, legato instruments, before the “la la la”s restart, this time with far softer accompaniment than the electric guitar.

    The thing is, this song isn’t leaps and bounds ahead of all Sufjan’s other songs, in fact this isn’t even necessarily my favourite song off of Illinois. The thing is, Sufjan’s capable of making such high-quality music consistently. I just chose to write about this song because it probably best captures all the different aspects of Sufjan’s music that I love so much: a mix of happy and sad emotions, use of multiple instruments, masterful composition, beautiful harmony vocals, and just plain rocking.
  • 2005 Ends, And So 2006 Begins

    7 jan. 2006, 10h37m

    2005 has been a great year in music for me. At the start of the year I was mostly listening to rubbish I wouldn't go anywhere near now, I have discovered countless new bands, artists and styles, and my music tastes have matured a lot. I have gone through fascinations with rap, nu-metal, progressive, folk, post-rock and indie-pop throughout the year, as well as various other styles of music – for a short period I was even interested in emo. I like to think I listen to a little bit of all styles of music now, but at the moment my interests do focus primarily on indie-pop, folk and post-rock. And of course, there is plenty left out there for me to discover and get into - who knows what 2006 will bring?

    So first, my 5 favourite albums of 2005:

    1 Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
    This album got a lot of hype, and still is getting a lot of praise through various other "best of 2005" lists. When I bought it I knew I was either going to get a truly incredible album or I was going to get a large disappointment. It was the former. This album is just outstanding. Sufjan not only does what singer-songwriters such as Elliott Smith, Nick Drake and Iron & Wine have been doing have been doing well for years - soft, emotional songs featuring wonderful singing over delicate acoustic instruments - but he also does something more than any other singer-songwriter I know, he arranges beautiful string sections, brass sections and choirs, making this record as epic as any prog rock concept album, just in a different vein. This, I think, makes for a truly magnificent album. He manages to perfectly blend the uplifting and the sorrowful, the loud and the soft. He manages to use a wide array of instruments, musicians and choirs, but still keep the music very personal. It's hard for me to pick out highlight songs, but "John Wayne Gacy, Jr" is definitely a standout track. This album is possibly the best that I have heard since Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.

    2 Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
    I have liked Bright Eyes a lot for quite a while, but this is the first album I got, and I only got it back in November. I don't know why it took me so long to get round to getting a Bright Eyes album, but I have no regrets about this purchase. This album is really great, in my opinion underrated - I have seen it on far lest "best of 2005" lists than it deserves. Conor Oberst excels equally at woeful, acoustic ballads such as "First Day Of My Life" and "Landlocked Blues" as he does at rockier songs like "Another Travellin' Song" and the album's climax and closing track, "Road To Joy". Every track on this album is gold.

    3 Sigur Rós: Takk...
    This album got mixed reviews, some hailing it as Sigur Rós' masterpiece, others saying it was a disappointment, nowhere near as good as Agaetis Byrjun or the peculiarly titled ( ). I, thankfully, had the good-fortune of not owning any other Sigur Rós albums, and thus having nothing to compare it to like that. What I can say for sure is that, no matter how it compares to their previous efforts, Takk is a masterpiece in its own right. The sonic soundscapes and otherworldly vocals of Sigur Rós in many ways transcend the term "post-rock". There may be a little of what sounds like Radiohead, Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Mogwai influence in places, but I think Sigur Rós is something completely new. Taking music into strange, uncharted territory. The start of a new style of music altogether? Who knows?

    4 The Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree
    John Darnielle's folk-rock project The Mountain Goats is one of my favourite bands, and this is a damn great album. The Mountain Goats' music is always of a consistent quality, and a consistent style, never departing much from their standard sound. But this I do not see as a problem, Darnielle doesn't need to experiment or evolve his sound, as his music is great just the way it is - folkier than Neutral Milk Hotel or Okkervil River, but rockier than Sufjan Stevens. This album is great all the way through, with highlights being "This Year", "Dilaudid", "Dance Music" and "Magpie".

    5 The Double: Loose In The Air
    This is probably the least well-known album in my Top Five Of 2005. The Double is an experimental indie-pop band from New York. Their music is definitely reminiscent of Xiu Xiu, with a little Radiohead, Beatles and Deerhoof in there too. Their music is a little abrasive to start with, but you get used to it. Most of this album is made up of fun, up-beat indie-pop with noise rock elements, but there is also the truly haunting song "On Our Way", which is a bit of a change, and one of my favourite tracks on the album. This band definitely needs exposure, they’re easily as good as any of the more well-known indie-pop bands, as long as you like a little experimentalism, noisiness and abrasiveness.

    An important note is that I deliberately omitted The Arcade Fire: Funeral which was released in the UK this year, but the US and Canada last year. If I had included it, I would have put it at number 3, above Takk and below Wide Awake It’s Morning. Also, Wolf Parade’s Apologies To The Queen Mary is on its way to me, in the post, as I write.

    Next is a list of 2005-released albums that I don’t own but are by bands/artists that I like, and so I would like to get them (listed in alphabetical order):
    65daysofstatic: One Time For All Time
    Andrew Bird: The Mysterious Production Of Eggs
    Animal Collective: Feels
    Architecture in Helsinki: In Case We Die
    Bright Eyes: Digital Ash In A Digital Urn
    Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene
    Courtney Pine: Resistance
    The Decemberists: Picaresque
    Deerhoof: The Runners Four
    Devendra Banhart: Cripple Crow
    John Vanderslice: Pixel Revolt
    Kanye West: Late Registration
    M83: Before The Dawn Heals Us
    of Montreal: The Sunlandic Twins
    Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy
    Opeth: Ghost Reveries
    Pelican: The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw

    I thought that The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute deserved a mention here, too. This album seems to be mentioned in everyone’s reviews of 2005, TMV seems to appeal equally to indie, prog rock, emo and experimental audiences. Everyone seems to think this is either the best, or the worst album of the year. Now I think it is a good album at the core, if you look past the layers of strange noises, over-experimentalism and self-indulgence. It's neither too gripping nor too easy to listen to, but at the best points in the album it is still awesome.

    The most disappointing album of 2005, for me, was Audioslave: Out Of Exile. Though Morello’s guitar solos on this album were still pretty good, it was generally a boring record. It lacked energy, power, innovation or anything really special. Any album where the highlight track is a live acoustic version of a song from their last album can’t be very good. Though the album was alright, it wasn’t as good as Audioslave’s self-titled debut, and it was nowhere near as good as Rage Against The Machine. I hope either Audioslave has some massive creative surge and makes a masterpiece, or it disbands and Morello can go and make some good music.

    And now I look on to the year ahead, it looks to be a great year, with a new Radiohead album scheduled, which has got everyone excited. Thom hinted that it’ll be something entirely knew, completely different to their other works. I hope they keep in an experimental vein rather than returning to the more basic indie rock approach of their early stuff. They’ve explored electronic and jazz, so maybe their new release will be full-on post-rock, but I can’t really see that happening. Maybe they’ll take some reggae influence, but I really can’t see that happening either. Who knows? I’m also looking forward to the new Mogwai album, which I know has already been leaked on the internet, but I want to wait until it’s released and then buy it. They say it’s the going to be the best album of its kind since My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. I am also hoping for new albums by Bright Eyes and The Mountain Goats, and maybe something by The Mars Volta to be released. And the Arctic Monkeys album should be interesting. On a more immediate note, my first concert of the year will be Courtney Pine (an amazing jazz saxophonist) in February. Pine is the only jazz I listen to, other than Jaga Jazzist. Apart from them the closest I get to jazz is some jazz-influenced Radiohead, Do Make Say Think, Broken Social Scene or Andrew Bird.

    So yes, 2005 has been a good year for music, and 2006 looks promising too. Though mainstream music may be in a terrible state, there is still more than enough excellent music being made by excellent bands and artists.