Articles

  • Top 10 albums of 2008

    2 jan. 2009, 11h20m

    I'm cross-posting this from my blog for the hell of it:

    1. Bon IverFor Emma, Forever Ago

    The album that just blew me away this year. Number one easily. Nothing else I heard really came close to the beauty and emotion of this one. (Also, although some people left it off their lists as it was originally released in 2007, it wasn’t released in the UK until this year, so I’m including it).

    2. Amanda PalmerWho Killed Amanda Palmer?

    I’m a big fan of Amanda (I even played football with her this year) so this is a bit of a no-brainer. So many great songs, such a range of stuff and such good production to show it all off (courtesy of Mr Ben Folds – shame his own album this year wasn’t produced as well as this). I have no idea why Roadrunner have declared this album as uncommercial and pulled all promotion. They must be idiots.

    3. The Mountain GoatsHeretic Pride

    OK, another no-brainer for me as I love The Mountain Goats but one that’s well worth its place. As ever there’s John Darnielle’s brilliant lyrics to admire, but more than ever it’s backed up by brilliant instrumentation (the strings on San Bernadino do something special to that song), with some guest appearances including Annie Clark (aka St Vincent) who also turns up on Amanda Palmer’s album. It’s a small world.

    4. ShearwaterRook

    Along with Bon Iver, one of the most beautiful albums I heard all year. Jonathon Meiburg’s voice has never sounded better and the rest of the band produces the perfect sound to entwine with that. They supported Coldplay this year, so hopefully that helped them sell a lot more copies.

    5. Okkervil RiverThe Stand Ins

    This album took me a long time to get into. The first few listens left me a bit cold but then somewhere along the line it all clicked into place. I think Lost Coastlines is a heavy contender for my song of the year and Singer-Songwriter and Pop Lie are other big highlights.

    6. Laura MarlingAlas I Cannot Swim

    My friend Nikki pointed me in her direction (which is a good recommendation, as she introduced me to the Mountain Goats and Elliott Smith). I’m very glad she did. Lyrically this album is excellent, Laura tells brilliant stories, and musically there’s plenty of room for the songs to breathe, with just enough instrumentation to keep it from being too samey.

    7. Thao with the Get Down, Stay DownWe Brave Bee Stings and All

    This album came out of nowhere early in the year and just etched itself in my brain, so much so that it’s made my end of year list. It’s joyous, exuberant and catchy as hell. Go listen to it and try not to smile. I dare you.

    8. The RaconteursConsolers of the Lonely

    My response to The Raconteurs first album, Broken Boy Soldiers, was a lit lukewarm - it felt to me like they were still finding their feet as a band and that it was their second album that we should look out for. Hurray for being right. Released with almost no advance publicity (it was a very refreshing “We’ve finished it, here you go”) it’s the album I hoped that Jack and Brendan would make when I first they were going to collaborate.

    9. The Hold SteadyStay Positive

    A very late entry in my list. I bought this album at the same time as ‘Boys and Girls in America’ and so it languished mostly unlistened to for a long time. Finally I dug it out and gave it a proper listen or three (mainly as I was going to see them live) and realised what a great album it is. Good light and shade, anthemic choruses, and brilliant lyrics.

    10. Dawn LandesFireproof

    I don’t really expect to find this one on anyone else’s best of list, but it’s an album that I’ve listened to more consistently throughout the year than pretty much anything else. There’s a quirkiness about it that I really like, even if it’s maybe not the most groundbreaking album of the year. Also, her version of Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’ (which is the hidden track on the album) is my favourite cover of the year.

    Honorable mentions:

    Other stuff that I liked but didn’t quite make it into my top 10 included:

    * Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit - A Larum
    * Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords
    * The Magnetic Fields - Distortion
    * Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
    * Islands - Arm’s Way
    * Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
    * Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
  • Andrew Bird - Gig review

    27 avr. 2008, 19h14m

    Sat 26 Apr – Andrew Bird, Loney, Dear, Cass McCombs

    Lack of Jubilee Line trains made the audience's trip out to the Indig02 to see Andrew Bird somewhat difficult last night. Hopefully, the vast majority of the crowd, like me, thought it was worth it.

    Support was from the excellent Loney, dear. Andrew Bird is obviously a big fan as he's played with them for his last couple of London shows, and on this evidence it's easy to see why. They got an extended support slot of an hour, which gave them a little more time to chat to the audience (about such diverse topics as why the English were to blame for the rise of the Mafia, and how they were improving their English using their sat-nav system). Highlights of their set were Le Fever and the energetic The City, The Airport.

    By Andrew Bird's own admission it was not a normal gig - he's in the middle of writing and recording a new album, so he played several new songs in various states of completion - the best of the new songs were Oh No (about his frustration that he can't throw a tantrum and get away with it the way small children can) and Confessions (which is a very old song that he's reworked in the style of Loney, Dear). He also played Sectionate City, Nomenclature and The Water Jet Cilice.

    Alongside this, he played a lot of older or lesser-known songs, with only one song from The Mysterious Production of Eggs (The Naming of Things) and two from Armchair Apocrypha (Plasticities and Cataracts). A few other live staples were brought out - Why? and Dr Stringz. So, very much a fan's gig.

    Probably the set-list was a little too skewed towards songs that a lot of people wouldn't necessarily have heard, with too many of the catchier, more immediate tracks missing, but Mr Bird was in good form, so it still made for a very entertaining evening. Hyperactive and as full of mannerisms as ever, he was more talkative than I've seen him before, chatting about his new album and how he'd hoped the gig would be like him sitting in his front room, trying out some stuff, only with a thousand people there.

    It was very exciting to hear the new songs (which I'm guessing must be one of the first times he's played them live), even if they're apparently all going to sound completely different in a year's time. I did miss Andrew's band, though, as I think they really add something to his performance.
  • Gig review - Okkervil River

    11 fév. 2008, 22h47m

    So I thought I'd better get round to writing a review of last week's Okkervil River gig (Tue 5 Feb – Okkervil River).

    My cunning knowledge of the venue, ensured an excellent view, mainly through the tactic of turning up early and staking out a good place before the crowds descended (it always seems to be completely packed in the Scala).

    Support was from the traditional folk singer Rachel Unthank and band (who my friend was pleasantly surprised to see, having bought her album as a Christmas present for his parents), and Jay Jay Pistolet. Both very good to listen to, but maybe not quite enough for me to go out and buy some of their stuff.

    There was an interesting interlude while waiting for the band to appear - some guy hopped out of the audience onto stage and started to sing into the microphone (mercifully not yet turned on). Cue massive security guard, entering stage left. Surprisingly he didn't throw the guy out, just told him to get back into the audience. Nice to see some slightly more relaxed venue security.

    I was hoping for a changed setlist from the last time I saw the band, so I was pleased to hear them starting off with The President's Dead, which they'd left out last time. It made for an excellent start, jumping into Black and the A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene.

    The band were on great form - lots of energy. One of the things I most like about them is that they seem to be having so much fun being up there playing. Will Sheff always jumps around so much that he's constantly in danger of trashing the whole stage, and the drummer, Travis Nelsen, not only has proper drummer hair (perfect for headbanging) but often sings along to the songs for the sheer hell of it (he doesn't get a microphone, so I can only assume that he's not a great singer).

    Last time I saw the band Will managed to break one guitar string, but he topped that at the Scala, snapping two at once. A victim of his own enthusiasm I think, he was able to borrow Jay Jay Pistolet's and everything was alright.

    The band left the stage at 11pm (which was the curfew) and so we thought 'oh no maybe we won't get much of an encore, if any'. However, Will and the boys managed to push this as far as possible, coming back on and playing for 20 minutes more until a member of the venue staff started crouching by the stage giving them all the evil eye. I honestly think they'd still be playing now, guitar strings permitting.

    Highlights for me were Will's banter (including his banter about how he can't do banter), a nice dig into the archives for Okkervil River Song, Will imploring the crowd to clap along to Unless It's Kicks ("this is a song about a whole bunch of people clapping together!"), conducting the audience to sing "evil don't look like anything" during the end of Westfall, and the brilliant Last Love Song For Now going on and on past the curfew.

    Set list:

    The Presidents Dead
    Black
    A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene
    The Latest Toughs
    A Girl in Port
    A King And A Queen
    Okkervil River Song
    So Come Back, I Am Waiting
    John Allyn Smith Sails
    Unless It's Kicks
    Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
    For Real
    Westfall

    Encore:
    A Stone
    Plus Ones
    Missing Children
    Last Love Song For Now

    Still No Key, No Plan though. One day I'll see them play that live.
  • Gig review - Okkervil River

    12 déc. 2007, 20h42m

    On Sunday I was most excited to be going to see the mighty Okkervil River, a gig I'd been looking forward to for ages (Sun 9 Dec – Okkervil River). Not wanting to have to cue up in the rain, I turned up about 20 minutes after the doors opened, and so was very surprised that I was able to get a spot front and centre, so close I could have reached out and touched Will Sheff at any point during the set.

    Two lots of very good support: AA Bondy was up first. I was really looking forward to checking him out as I'd heard lots of good things about his album. I was suitably impressed. He's very Dylan-esque, singing well-crafted songs and playing acoustic guitar and various harmonicas. He's also quite funny and regaled us with tales of his and his girlfriends weird dreams. I went out and downloaded his album the next day and I've been enjoying that very much.

    Second up was a New York singer-songwriter called Jaymay. NY seems to have a conveyor belt of very talented musicians like this and she played several very beautiful songs. Somebody else I will be keeping an eye on in the future. Also, dressed like a pirate, which is always good.

    I was also impressed by the organisation of The Luminaire - 15 to 20 mins between each artist is the right amount of time I think, rather than the 30 mins you usually get, which drags (especially when you're at the gig on your own, as I was). So, not long to wait for the appearance of Okkervil River.

    It was a really good setlist - plenty of tracks from The Stage Names and Black Sheep Boy with a few earlier songs thrown in for good measure. Despite Will Sheff professing that the band were very tired at the end of a long tour, the energy on stage never dropped. In fact I think Will was in danger of trashing the stage at several points as he jumped and whirled about. Also, the band seemed to be really enjoying themselves up their. The drummer, despite not having a mike, was enthusiastically singing along at various points, seemingly just for the sheer enjoyment of it, much as a fan would. It's nice to see when a band are clearly not just going through the motions.

    The crowd was suitably appreciative, with a lot of singing along, most notably to For Real and the final encore, Westfall. Also, one guy was so determined to try and get The President's Dead played that he started singing it from the back during a lull on stage (all he got from Will was a promise to play it the next night, though).

    It's hard to pick out highlights as the whole show was consistently brilliant. But I loved Lady Liberty, Plus Ones (during which I sang a little too enthusiastically), Unless It's Kicks, and the two brilliant encores: A Stone with just acoustic guitar and steel pedal (Will coped manfully with breaking a string during that) and my favourite, Westfall. The only slight disappointment was that it looked like we might have got a longer encore were it not for the curfew .

    Set list:

    The War Criminal Rises and Speaks
    Lady Liberty
    A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene
    Black
    A Girl in Port
    A King And A Queen
    The Latest Toughs
    Plus Ones
    Unless It's Kicks
    So Come Back, I Am Waiting
    Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
    For Real
    John Allyn Smith Sails
    ----------------------------
    A Stone
    Westfall

    Now I'm really looking forward to seeing them again in February. Hopefully they'll play a few of my favourite tracks that weren't in their set this time, like No Key, No Plan.
  • Gig review - the Mountain Goats et al

    9 déc. 2007, 14h31m

    So last night I wen to Sat 8 Dec – Pineapple Folk Yuletide Gathering. I was there pretty much exclusively to see The Mountain Goats, so this review is more than a little lopsided in that direction.

    It was my first Mountain Goats show and I thought it was pretty amazing. John seemed to be having a really good time - he was very appreciative of all the love he was getting from the crowd and at one point dragged Eddie Argos from Art Brut up on stage to join him for The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton.

    Of the four bands that were playing at the show, tMG were the only ones to get a standing ovation and do an encore, despite the fact that they didn't have top billing. The one new song they played, Heretic Pride, has already endeared the new album to me. I now need to exercise even greater self control to stop me from downloading it early.

    Other things I remembered that were great:

    - In Maybe Sprout Wings John sang part of it away from his mike, just at the front of the stage - everyone was really quiet and the sound carried very well, so it sounded quiet and beautiful and dramatic (which is perfect for that song).

    - John started to tell the story about Tulsa Imperative before realising that it wasn't the next song on the setlist, and Peter then demanding to know the story behind the song they were going to play, Heretic Pride.

    - They tried to play Abide With Me but John got stuck after the first line, so they gave up and launched into Jenny instead.

    - John slapping himself in the face during You or Your Memory - I have no idea why but it kind of added to the drama.

    Setlist

    Wild Sage
    Tollund Man
    The Recognition Scene
    You or Your Memory
    Cobscook Bay
    Love Love Love
    Heretic Pride
    Tulsa Imperative
    Abide With Me (aborted attempt)
    Jenny
    Dance Music
    Maybe Sprout Wings
    This Year
    The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton (with Eddie Argos from Art Brut)

    Encore:
    Houseguest (Nothing Painted Blue cover)

    As for the other acts - Emmy the Great sounded really good but unfortunately I only got to here her final song as I was queuing to get in for most of her set. Alasdair Roberts was pretty good - more traditionally folk than I usually go for but quite enjoyable nonetheless (although my more musically talented friend pointed out that his guitar playing wasn't quite as precise as is required for that type of music).

    Micah P. Hinson, the nominal headliner (in that he was on last) was a bit of a disappointment to me. I picked up his album Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress and quite enjoyed it. He's obviously a talented individual but his performance was a bit one-note - he really only does one type of slow, thoughtful song and so the set lacked for variety. He did kind of top any encore thing, though - to finish his set he got his girlfriend up on stage and proposed to her! She said yes, btw.
  • Gig Review - Andrew Bird

    12 nov. 2007, 19h56m

    Last Friday night, I had the immense pleasure to see the wonderful Andrew Bird on absolutely top form at Koko in Camden (Fri 9 Nov – Andrew Bird, Loney, Dear).

    Sadly, I arrived too late to here more than the last few bars from the support act, Loney, dear, so I can't make much of a comment on them. My arrival, however, was well-timed enough to allow me to get a drink, find a good vantage point, and have a quick chat before Mr Bird took to the stage.

    Following a quick musical introduction, he kicked off both his shoes and proceeded to spend all of the gig bouncing round the stage in some very colourful stripy socks. From there he jumped right into a brilliant rendition of Fiery Crash and the night only got better from there. The set list was pretty heavily taken from Armchair Apocrypha, but with enough older songs to keep the die hard fans happy, I think.

    Earlier this year I saw Andrew Bird at the Scala and I thought that was a pretty special gig, but he completely surpassed that on Friday. He had more energy, was chattier with the crowd, and even took a request to slip in a quick version of Dr Stringz. It was obvious he was really enjoying himself, the crowd were extremely appreciative, and his performance was pretty much note perfect.

    He has a great ability to embellish his songs live, to subtly alter the rhythm, to add extended intros or outros, so that you really feel the show is giving you something extra. And then there's the whistling. I don't think I've ever heard anyone who can whistle quite like he does. My friend was astounded that he was able to produce it all without the use of any effects, just whistling through the same microphone he sings through.

    The best bit for me came towards the end of the gig. As he was finishing his main set, I was just thinking, 'Oh, it's a shame he hasn't played Dark Matter or Scythian Empires, as they're probably my favourite two songs that he didn't play the other time I saw him. At which point, he launched into Dark Matter to finish the set, and then finished the encore with Scythian Empires. I was grinning from ear to ear.

    Approximate set list:

    Intro
    Fiery Crash
    A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left
    Opposite Day
    Why?
    Spare-Ohs
    Lull
    Plasticities
    Heretics
    Simple X
    Imitosis
    Armchairs
    Dr Stringz (by request)
    Dark Matter

    Encore:
    Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning
    Scythian Empires
  • Regina Spektor - Gig review

    15 sept. 2007, 16h11m

    A bit belated, but I thought I'd write up a quick review of the Regina Spektor gig I went to just over a week ago (Fri 7 Sep – Regina Spektor, Eugene McGuinness).

    Ignoring the support (I'd seen him a couple of weeks before with Rilo Kiley and was decidedly unimpressed), we took our seats a couple of minutes before Regina Spektor took to the stage. The newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall looks very nice inside and out and the acoustics are excellent (as they should be really). I'm really looking forward to my next trip there to see The Decemberists.

    Looking at the stage set-up I was pleased to see that it was just going to be Regina solo with no backing band - the only time I'd seen her before she'd been assisted by a backing band of drums, bass and guitar, who appeared completely superfluous to proceedings. They weren't missed (although I'm sure Regina will benefit from some accompaniment at times, they need to be utilised a bit better so that they're actually adding something to the performance).

    On her own, Regina was on great form. Her voice is both extremely powerful and very beautiful - she started off with a captivating acapella rendition of Ain't No Cover before heading to the grand piano centre stage, where she spent most of the night (save for a minor detour to the electric guitar for a quick rendition of Bobbing for Apples and That Time).

    Not much more to say other than that Regina is an amazing performer - she's a great singer & pianist and coordinates singing and playing (and percussion at times, most notably when playing the chair on Poor Little Rich Boy) perfectly. Live there's always the added bonus of the tracks that have never been put on a recording, like the Baby Jesus song, and Bobbing for Apples. Plus it was the perfect venue for her.

    One minor thing - I would like it if she conversed with the audience more. A lot of people find the shyness endearing, and I do up to a point, but from what I've seen of her, she's very sweet and funny when she wants to be, and I think it would enhance the performance if she could bring this to some between-song chatter (not too much, but a funny story or two, or some words about
    the previous/next song wouldn't go amiss).

    Disordered setlist:

    Ain't No Cover
    Prisoners
    Ghost of Corporate Future
    Poor Little Rich Boy
    Sailor Song
    Us
    The Flowers
    On the Radio
    Fidelity
    Better
    Samson
    Field Below
    Apres Moi
    20 Years of Snow
    Summer in the City
    That Time
    Bobbing for Apples
    Blue Lips
    Human of the Year
    Baby Jesus
    Man of a Thousand Faces
    One More Time With Feeling
    Music Box
    Real Love (John Lennon cover)
  • Gig review - Rilo Kiley

    22 août 2007, 19h31m

    Mon 20 Aug – Rilo Kiley, Eugene McGuinness

    Rilo Kiley Monday night, which was great. The band were on top form and seemed to be really enjoying playing together again after a break (according to them it was the first show back that they'd really hit their stride). The crowd was great, completely packed out and very appreciative. They played pretty much all of the new album, 4 tracks off More Adventurous, 2 from The Execution of All Things, and just the one from Take Offs and Landings (but it was Wires and Waves, so that was cool, as it's my favourite). Oh, and a rockier version of one of Jenny's tracks from Rabbit Fur Coat (Rise Up With Fists). The new album sounds cool, even if it does seem to be channeling some 70s disco.

    I was very near the front, although I did let a couple of girls stand in front of me so they could see despite their shortness (I'm such a nice person). The best part was one of them going mental when they played Wires and Waves, which mirrored how I felt inside. And Ripchord on the ukulele with Mandolin accompaniment was excellent too.

    It was pretty awesome, although i am slightly in love with Jenny Lewis now. I also love the new album. Must go out and buy it immediately.
  • Amanda Palmer - Gig review

    4 août 2007, 14h56m

    Fri 3 Aug – Amanda Palmer, Christian Silva

    OK, so last night I went to see Amanda Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls) do a solo show. It was pretty awesome. Amanda started the show by wandering through the crowd wearing a tutu and playing Radiohead's Creep on the ukulele. So at one point Amanda is basically standing right next to me playing and singing this. I was more than a little excited.

    The set proper kicked off with Ampersand and mostly consisted of Amanda's solo stuff, including a couple of new songs like Leeds United (which includes the immortal line "who needs love when there's Dukes of Hazard"), and a couple of Dolls songs, Colorblind and Half Jack, as well as a great cover of Material Girl, accompanied by The Rohan Theatre Band (which is in fact one man) on violin (he also played a couple of his songs before Amanda came on - Nobody Buried The Undertaker and Big Shot).

    During Another Year, some people at the front were blowing bubbles, which made for a really pretty effect, but Amanda had to tell them to stop as they were distracting her from playing - she was too interested in watching the bubbles.

    For the encore Amanda moved on to the Boston Steinway piano at the back of the room to play Me & The Minibar and her awesome cover of I Will Follow You Into The Dark (I was extremely happy to hear this as Amanda's version is brilliant).

    Also, the support was from a guy called Christian Silva, who was really good too.

    I don't have a full setlist right now (hopefully someone will post one somewhere), so here's a vague approximation of the songs that were played (not in the right order):

    Creep
    Ampersand
    Leeds United
    Blake Says
    Another Year
    Strength Through Music
    Guitar Hero
    Astronaut
    Colorblind (w/ The Rohan Theatre Band on violin)
    Material Girl, accompanied by (w/ The Rohan Theatre Band on violin)
    Half Jack (w/ The Rohan Theatre Band on violin)

    Encore:
    Me & The Minibar
    I Will Follow You Into The Dark
  • Gig review - Aimee Mann

    29 jui. 2007, 16h10m

    So, Friday night I went to see Aimee Mann (Fri 27 Jul – Aimee Mann, Jenny Owen Youngs).

    I was interested to see what the venue, the indigO2 (part of the new development at the Dome) was like. I was pretty impressed. Comfy seats with plenty of space, large bar, good lines of sight, decent acoustics (pretty much as the blurb suggested). The seats even had cupholders in the armrests (genius, if you ask me). My only complaint was that there was a VIP area at the front of the seats, so even if you were at the front of the standard seating (as I was), you were still quite a long way back, with a big barrier separating the VIP area off.

    Also, for some reason about halfway through the gig the staff brought round free bottles of water for everyone. I'm not quite sure why, I think maybe their air conditioning wasn't working properly. But it was basically a bit warmer than ideal, so it was a bit strange, especially as most venues tend to be pretty sweaty places.

    The gig got off to a slow start as Aimee didn't say much to begin with and the first few songs were downbeat. However, once she took off her jacket and started chatting with the crowd she seemed to find her stride. Aimee is really quite funny and endearing at gigs and she has a lightness which juxtaposes with the downbeat nature of a lot of her songs, which is what makes the gig. Highlights included her thanking us for the gift of Posh and Becks (apparently she didn't realise Posh was an ironic nickname) and her forgetting the words to Momentum (when she got them right finally she got a huge cheer).

    The setlist was a pretty good mix of songs from across all of her albums (although I'd have preferred a couple more tracks from Lost in Space and not so much from the Magnolia Soundtrack) and she took several requests from the crowd. She also played a couple of new songs (from her forthcoming new album), Freeway and 31 Today, which both sounded good, especially Freeway, which was one of my highlights of the evening.

    All in all, I enjoyed the gig, although I felt it didn't quite catch fire, meaning that it was entertaining without being totally compelling. But I think this was at least partially down to me as I was so tired after a long week.

    Setlist:

    Little Bombs
    You Could Make A Killing
    One
    Video
    Freeway
    Going Through the Motions
    Save Me
    Amateur
    Driving Sideways
    You Do
    Momentum
    31 Today
    How Am I Different
    She Really Wants You
    Today's the Day
    Humpty Dumpty
    Way Back When

    Encore:
    The Other End (Of The Telescope)
    4th Of July
    Wise Up
    Superball