Seven Great New Records of 2010

OK, so here goes, the only porpoise-based end of year lists that matter:

Seven Records of 2010 You Should Probably Buy (although I didn’t bother):

 

  • Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens
  • The Courage of Others – Midlake
  • Swim – Caribou
  • The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
  • Before Today – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
  • Have One on Me – Joanna Newsome
  • Oh and the Kanya record , I suppose (can’t be bothered to look up what it’s called)

(Actually, I did buy the Caribou record – it was hugely disappointing, and made me wonder if any of the magazine pundits who put it in their Best Of lists had actually heard The Milk of Human Kindness…)

Seven Great Nearly New Releases of 2010 that I bought instead:

 

  • Gather, Form and Fly – Megafaun
  • The Evangelist – Robert Forster
  • Everything is Possible: The Best of Os Mutantes
  • Champion in the Arena – Jackie Mittoo
  • Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors
  • Alice – Tom Waits
  • Lyre of Orpheus – Nick Cave

(Alice, in particular, continues to haunt me after a good six months of listening; and I wish I’d been cool enough to pick up on Bitte Orca last year when it came out…)

Seven Great New Releases of 2010:

 

Unofficially, I think this really was my favourite record of the year. Brim full of breathless insecurity and glistening guitar work from the tongue and fingers of Avi Zahner-Isenberg, it’s a particularly intense record. You get the feeling that he’s no respecter of personal space. Was fortunate enough to see his fantastic set at Green Man in the summer.

Highpoint:

The Truth Sets In

Favourite lyric:

“What’s another time to say, Witches speak in my head all day, Witchcraft seems to unload and say, You don’t love me anymore”

Highly polished psychedelia that reminded me a lot of the Nazz when I first heard it (and still does). It’s full of great fuzzy guitar riffs that work every time and will be one of those records people will always have trouble placing in time.

Highpoint:

Solitude is Bliss

Favourite Lyric:

“There’s a party going on in my head and no one is invited, You will never come close to how I feel”

Simple and gorgeous bitter-sweet folk songs that stay long in the mind after they’ve passed. Not withstanding a lack-lustre performance at Green Man, I’d love to see the album performed in the intimate surroundings it deserves.

Highlight:

Letters

Favourite lyric:

“She lead me down the garden path and bled me dry. She did her make up in the reflection of my glassy, glazed eyes. She buried me in the churchyard where she wed me long ago. My father saw red and said ‘you couldn’t even pronounce the poor boy’s name!’”

Possessed of one of today’s most recognisable voices, Kurt Wagner really knows how to sigh and pause as he uses it. Combining with Cortney Tidwell, he has produced a great country record for today (and yesterday, I guess), which again people will have trouble placing in a few years time. You gotta love a bit of C&W when it’s as good as this…

Highlight:

Incredibly Lonely

Favourite lyric:

“I’m blue as a bluebird with no song to sing, I’m like a little bitty tear lost in the falling rain.”

There’s little-bitty-teardrop-gloominess, then there’s the nameless, formless sense of unremitting gloom that James Blake somehow builds into his …er… songs (trying not to use the word “soundscapes”, here). If Avi Buffalo is all pushy, face in yours intensity, James Blake gives you so much space that you wonder if he’s wandered off at one point. Incredibly, moody, gothic pieces that make you stop what you’re doing…

Highpoint

Klavierwerke

Favourite lyric:

No lyrics, just muffled voices offstage, and an incredibly atmospheric 25-second period of silence punctuated by the occasional stifled groan. Talk about spooky…

A terrifically, atmospheric record that would be a great soundtrack for a Heart of Darkness- type story, with the viewer witnessing Kurtz’ last moments, disturbed and uncomprehending. Lots of effects draped exotically over deceptively simple surf-guitar or organ hooks. Another very creepy record.

Highlight:

Miarches

Favourite lyric:

“The horror! The horror!” (not really…)

Only recently realised this record is actually from this eyar. Completely unaware of Field Music’s output until they rolled up at the Guildhall this summer and martin gave me all their records as homework. As such I didn’t appreciate that Field Music (Measure) was the newest release. It’s a funky, awkward and dazzling record that showcases further the prodigious talents of the Brewis brothers. Surely these men are deserving of some sort of grant?

Highpoint:

Clear Water

Favourite lyric:

“Feeling the weight on us, I’d like to help you but I don’t know where to push, So much fight and no remission”

(Actually, it’s been a really good year for releases and I could easily have expanded the list to ten or fifteen, but rules is rules… Other terrific new releases that I loved for parts of the year included records by Dreamend, Mount Kimbie, the Cloud Nothings, Grass Widow, the Radar Brothers, Julian Lynch and Women. Close, but no tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco…)

Seven Great Live Sets of 2010

So, here begins my end of year review thingy, and I thought I’d kick off with live music.

The highlight of the year was once again (a rather soggy) Green Man and I could easily have picked a whole line-up of GM sets. Apart from that, however, I didn’t get along to see as much music as I’d have liked (nor as much as last year). But nonetheless there were some really special live performances from 2010:

(Some of the vids are mine, some are the closest I could get…)


  • Avi Buffalo, Green Man

Trooping onstage looking like three bewildered teens, Avi Buffalo swooped and dived through most of their wonderful , shimmering record with a confidence and accomplishment that you wondered if they were going to have at the beginning. Giving the impression of genuinely enjoying their set as they played, they made faces at each other between songs and generally looked like they couldn’t believe their luck. I think we all felt the same.

  • Beirut, The Winter Gardens, Eastbourne

Saw them on the main stage in the rain at Green Man as well, but I always felt they would be better under a roof, where everything could all get a bit emotional. The Winter Gardens is a lovely old fashioned venue that I hope to get along to another time, and which really added to a brassy, sweaty evening. Took The Boy along with me as part of his A level celebrations and I like to think he was well rewarded for his travails.

  • LCD Soundsystem, The Academy, Bristol

Talking of sweaty, Bristol Academy in the summer, wedged in towards the front of a jostling, jarring mass at an LCD Soundsystem gig is a pretty fine place to be. Hadn’t been a massive fan until that evening, but really enjoyed an evening of Byrne-inspired jiggy-ness and spent the rest of the summer catching up on the records. Get innocuous!

  • Lee Perry, Colston Hall, Bristol

Bizarrely, the day before LCD Soundsystem, I’d been to see The Upsetter himself around the corner at Colston Hall. A real surfeit. Unable to persuade anyone else to join me, I was also unable to pass up an opportunity to see the great man himself. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but Perry didn’t disappoint and well into his seventies showed himself to be just as wonky and funky as you’d hope he would be.

  • Field Music, Guildhall, Gloucester

Also saw, Sunderland’s finest at Green Man, where they played a fine set, but I have to say their quieter, more intimate gig at the dear old Guildhall was even better and all the more satisfying for being one of barely fifty Gloucester folk who turned out. Self-effacing, charming and dizzyingly talented, Field Music may well be “The Best Band in Britain” (© M Cole).

  • Gotan Project, Colston Hall, Bristol

Another gig at Colston hall, and this time with my good lady, we enjoyed a lengthy, intoxicating dose of dubby, Latin trip hop, the memory of which will see us nicely into our dotage. Augmented by an imaginative projector show behind them, and a bone-shivering top class sound system, Gotan Project went through most of their new record and touched a lot of their older stuff too. One of only a few gigs I went to where I managed to get a really decent recording, which we are still playing in the car. Rich stuff.

  • John Grant, Green Man

As I said I could have picked a good few sets from Green Man, but John Grant’s particularly impressed me, because I hadn’t really got on with his very-highly regarded (nay, lauded) record. His stage presence and personality won me over pretty quickly, and it stuck out as one of the sets of the weekend. Still not a huge fan of the record, but the man himself was pretty striking.

Honourable Mention:

Not a set as such, but another highlight of Green Man was the first public appearance from Andy Kershaw since his time inside. Looking very nervous, and (he said later) unsure whether anyone would turn up to hear him, Kershaw, once settled, was quickly recognisable as the energetic, plain-speaking enthusiast of a few years ago. Full of stories and working on his book, his appearance was both funny and genuinely moving.

#lpgroup: Unknown Pleasures – some background

I’ll get onto the end of year lists malarkey soon, but before that, I thought I’d post about a rather jolly diversion I’ve got involved with called #lpgroup.

#lpgroup is a catchy little idea from my friend Martin, dreamt up with the help of Twitter. The basic premise is that a group of like-minded souls will all listen to an agreed classic and chat about it simultaneously via Twitter.

Each of us suggested two records for a shortlist (“The Band” and “Underwater Moonlight”, were my unsuccessful nominations) and a not-so-close vote turned up Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. The date and time are Sunday Jan 2nd, 9:00. (BTW, anyone is welcome, the more the merrier, search #lpgroup on Twitter and join in the fun.)

Unknown Pleasures is a record I felt I knew well at one stage, but have not listened to it for a very long time (probably 25 years!), and I’ve deliberately avoided doing any catch-up listening. I thought a bit of context might be useful, though, so I’ve put together a few pointers to remind myself where it all came from.

It’s turned out to be much longer than I meant and is mostly Wikipedia-style research – I’m not pretending it’s definitive.

Apologies if this is

a) too long

b) bleedin’ obvious

or c) wrong – I’d be grateful for any extra info or corrections to any glaring errors…

Unknown Pleasures

  • Joy Division had been formed in 1976 in the aftermath of the Sex Pistols’ appearance at the Manchester Free Trade hall, and were initially known as Warsaw. As such they had a pretty standard punk sound, which was captured on an initial record by Warsaw but was scrapped before release. Unknown Pleasures was the first LP released by Joy Division, after the “Ideal for Living” EP.
  • Produced by Martin Hannett, the record was considered by the band to be not representative of their on-stage still punky sound – they were allegedly quite unhappy at first – but his production on it is now considered to have ushered in a whole new style and sound. His approach emphasised space in the songs and made the most of it with studio effects, unfamiliar to the band at the time. Hannett himself said “There was a lot of space in [Joy Division’s] sound. They were a gift to a producer, because they didn’t have a clue. They didn’t argue.”
  • Recorded in April ’79, it was released in June on Tony Wilson’s Manchester based Factory Records, and played a large part in the establishment of Factory as a force in the coming years.
  • The distinctive cover was designed by Peter Saville, based on an image
    picked up by drummer Stephen Morris of the first radio pulsar ever discovered. (It was briefly considered at the time to suggest the existence of extra-terrestrial life).
  • The record originally had no track listing, and the labels referred to an “outside” (side 1) and an “inside”(side 2).
  • All the songs were written by the now-iconic troubled Ian Curtis.Curtis was the singer and occasional guitarist, who suffered from well-documented bouts of depression and had just been diagnosed as suffering from epilepsy. He had experienced fits on stage and had developed a distinctive jerking dance style which seemed to exploit this, but which he explained differently – “Instead of just singing about something you could show it as well, put it over in the way that it is, if you were totally involved in what you were doing”.
  • Curtis’ health was a source of concern for the band and gigs were cancelled, tours delayed and occasionally alternative singers used on stage.
  • As well as depression and deep shame about his condition, Curtis was also struggling with his failing marriage to Deborah, who had recently filed for divorce after his affair with a Belgian journalist. The couple’s daughter, Natalie, had been born as Unknown Pleasures was being recorded.
  • The original “joy division” was a term for the women used as sex slaves in the German concentration camps of Europe, during WW2. The band were often criticized for an apparent flirtation with Nazi imagery in their releases, although I don’t remember there being any direct suggestions of the band having any racist sympathies.
  • In May ’79, Mrs Thatcher came to power, leading the Conservatives to victory at the general election after five years of Labour government. Jim Callaghan, the previous Prime Minster had been toppled after he lost a vote of no-confidence by one vote.
  • The last months of the beleaguered Labour government were embodied by the so-called Winter of Discontent, with damaging strikes by British Rail and public service workers. Trains ground to a halt, rubbish lay in the streets and schools were closed.
  • In the news, the IRA murdered the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, in March and the INLA killed Conservative MP Airey Neave with a bomb in the House of Commons car park. Later in the year, the IRA went on to murder a member of the Royal Family, Lord Mountbatten, in a bomb blast on his yacht.
  • In April and September, the 11th and 12th victims of the Yorkshire Ripper were discovered.
  • Also in April, Blair Peach an Anti Nazi League demonstrator died in the back of a Special Patrol Group van in Southall at a demonstration against the National Front.
  • In February, Sid Vicious was found dead in an apartment in New York. He had died of a heroin overdose and had been released from prison on bail, having been charged with death of his then girlfriend Nancy Spungeon.
  • The Football League had just been won by Liverpool, with Nottingham Forest in second and Ron Atkinson’s WBA in third. Birmingham and Chelsea were relegated. Other Division One teams included Leeds, QPR, Bristol City and both East Anglian teams.
  • In May Arsenal beat Manchester United in the “Six-Minute Cup Final”. Forest won the European Cup, with a goal from the Trevor Francis, the man Brian Clough had recently made Britain’s first Million Pound Footballer.
  • When Unknown Pleasures was released, Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” had just replaced “Sunday Girl” by Blondie at Number One in the charts. Other Number Ones included “Are Friends Electric?”; “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Bright Eyes”.
  • Amongst the top selling albums of the year were Breakfast in America (Supertramp), Parallel Lines (Blondie) and War of the Worlds (Jeff Wayne).
  • The Eurovision Song Contest was won by Israel, with “Hallelujah” by Milk and Honey. Black Lace came 7th for the UK.
  • On TV, people were watching Blankety Blank; Antiques Roadshow and Roots for the first time. Established classics included Are You being Served, Last of the Summer Wine and (my favourite) Superstars.
  • People were also watching stuff like this:

Put the Lights on the Tree (put them on the tree)

Have a good one, y’all…

The Twang’s the Thang

It’s that time of year again and as I type, I am looking at a dog-eared piece of paper that contains the names of twenty or so records from 2010 that may or may not make my Best of lists. It shall remain secret for a while longer as I finalise the order (although such is the mess of scribbles, red underlines and green asterisks that I suspect a wiki-leaks-style illicit release to the press would leave you all  none the wiser).  Instead, here’s a new album that has, alas, probably arrived a little late to be considered…

Y Niwl

Y Niwl are four lads from North Wales who play surf instrumentals, and supplement them with a few Joe Meek-style pieces that have their roots in the very early pre-Beatles sixties. The twang’s the thang (Duane Eddy, I think) and I’ve always had a soft spot for the guileless tones of Surf music, so it’s lovely to hear it being reproduced with some affection once again.

I remember there being a time in the eighties on the back of the Cramps and the Meteors when there was some love for the Surfaris and the Trashmen; but since then very little. Actually, Y Niwl are mining a different, less self-consciously lunatic seam than any of the Psychobilly bands ever did. Their creditors are bands like the Ventures, the Deltones and the Chantays, playing a stiller, more melancholic version, which I reckon is more true to the original spirit of the times anyway. All the Surf tricks are there – trebly, duelling guitars, heavily reverbed chords, rimshots and even the wonderful sound of the Farfisa organ. I love it.

My extensive Welsh language research informs me that “y niwl” is “the mist”, which fits rather neatly with the wilfully anonymous nature of the record itself – there’s very little to tell about the band themselves by the album itself. This being Surf music, there are no lyrics but even if there had been I suspect they’d have been in Welsh, as all of the song titles are Welsh. Having said that, the titles translate into numbers anyway – track one, “undegpump” translates as “fifteen”, I think, track number three is “two”, and track number four, “pedwar”, is… “four”. I guess I’ll never understand these kids…

(Actually, a quick rifle around the Internet does yield a few details, and there are the ubiquitous links to Gruff Rhys and Euros Childs’ projects, but now I’m used to it, I rather like a little mystery in my life. I choose not to go any further …)

There’s loads of video of Y Niwl on YouTube, including a bunch from this year’s Green Man… (Damn! Again…)

 

Came up on a tornado, sunlight in the sky

world seems a little straighter…

I looked at the stars and said, I said “Don’t go away”

As we swing towards Christmas, I find myself beginning to look forward to the bread and butter task of the Blogger of compiling his end of year lists. You may remember that last year, after having not been arsed previously, I found myself getting a bit of a taste for these things once I started. I shall endeavour to get stuck in again this year…

Dreamend

And here’s a candidate for the hotly contested Best Records of the Year list, a rather quirky, gruesome outing, called So I Ate Myself Bite by Bite by Dreamend.

Dreamend is the nom de plume of one Ryan Graveface, who is actually one of the members of (possibly defunct?) Black Moth Super Rainbow and proprietor of his own Graveface Records. I bought the Dandelion Gum record by BMSR, and quite liked it at the time, but for the life of me I would never have linked it with this new record by Dreamend.

Whereas Dandelion Gum is all sweeping, electronic goofiness in the style of Air or Goldfrapp, this record has a much rootsier sound, centring on the insistent probings of Graveface’s banjo. As well as that, there are proper drummers, assorted whistle-blowers and all manner of stringed beasties.

The words come from a different, darker place too. Gone are the spacey, electronically obscured (and presumably obscure) vocals of BMSR, and in their place are lucid, open and in places rather unpleasant lyrics, sung urgently and with an uncomfortable clarity. The songs form a progression, following a rather needy and intense individual who kills his lover and embraces the guilt and regret his actions lead to. Love, obsession, murder, guilt – it’s all very Dostoevsky… But in spite of that, the whole record breezes along with a deceptive lightness that I rather enjoyed.

You can snag four tracks by Dreamend here, but here’s “Magnesium Light from the record:

Graveface have also done a bit of job on the vinyl release of the album, not only producing a picture disc, but also including in the packaging some sort of zoetrope device to allow you to sample the early Victorian experience (?). Actually, it’s rather cool in a geeky sort of way, as you can see by watching this: