Seven Great Records of 2011

Started thinking about this a few weeks ago and I realised it’s been a really strong year for new releases – I could’ve named twenty albums very easily. On top of that I’ve recently picked up on a couple of records from this year in the last couple of weeks – the Wilco and Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – ones both of which I’m pretty sure would’ve been on this list if I knew them a little better…

So …

Seven Great Records of 2011

Bad As Me – Tom Waits

Had a real binge on Tom Waits last year and consequently hadn’t spent a lot of time on him this year until this came out. A real stormer in the Real Gone tradition rather than Alice – lots of rough and ready, Beefheartian rumbles and a motor that still runs pretty well after all these years.

High Points:Chicago; Bad as Me; Raised Right Men

It’s bravest to stay,

Even braver to go,

Wherever she goes, I go.

Everything will be better in Chicago

Slave Ambient – War on Drugs

This is an interesting record in that it’s got a number of immediate first appearances that I’m not keen on (not a huge fan of Dylan, not a huge fan of Springsteen) and yet I can’t leave it alone. Some beautiful melodies, some surging synth atmospherics and some wonderful Byrds-y guitar work. Above all it’s a record characterised by some really engaging lyrics that drift, unhurried, through the songs as they unfold. Lovely rich stuff.


High Points
: Your Love is Calling My Name; Best Night; Brothers; I Was There

I was there catching air
Thought I had him by the hand
Only had him by the glove

D – White Denim

I come from a generation for whom the word “virtuosity” was considered a bit of a slap in the face, not something you aspired to, or at the very least concealed with some care. Although hardly new, it’s still pretty refreshing to find a band wearing their technical expertise proudly on their sleeve, not to say flaunting it a lot of the time. These fellers can all play, not just the guitars but the bass and drums are all interesting listens. Bracing, stimulating, invigorating – all in large dollops!


High Points
: Burnished/Back at the Farm; Street Joy; Anvil Everything

Crossed an ocean,

Faced a fear…

Gentle Spirit – Jonathan Wilson

I’ve already used “unhurried”, haven’t I, I’ll go for “leisurely”, then, as my go-to word for Gentle Spirit. I don’t get the impression Jonathon Wilson does any hurrying, and a quick scurry to Wikipedia to discover that this gorgeous folk gem took four years to put together doesn’t really surprise me at all. A beautiful, sun-blistered collection of leisurely, folky songs from another age. Not come across anyone unmoved by it…

High Points: Desert Raven; Can We Really Party today?; Valley of the Silver Moon

When my word’s come out

It’s like oil and water,

Separation, no reaction

Writing you now from the valley of the silver moon

Last of the Country Gentlemen – Josh T Pearson

A record that I bought before I went to Green Man, but which I didn’t really get into at the time. The last few weeks though, it’s really grabbed me by the throat. A huge contrast to the Jonathon Wilson record, unremittingly miserable and bitter (but in a good way) and really (really) intense. His deft guitar playing lightens the mood a little and is occasionally supplemented with heart-breaking violin. I love the way the songs are shapeless explorations (“ramblings” you could say, four of them running past the 10 minute mark) that come to a natural conclusion in their own sweet time. Phew!

High Points: Country Dumb; Woman When I’ve Raised Hell; Thou Art Loosed

Don’t make me rule this home with the back of my hand
Just let me sit alone in this chair, my own make believe little throne

 

The King is Dead – The Decemberists

I think I said last night, that I’ve rediscovered Colin Melloy and the Decemberists, courtesy of this record and the evening at the Academy. Really didn’t like The Hazards of Love (sounded like Queen to me), but the new record is a strong, strong come back from there. It’s a return to simpler songs and more understated canvases on which to tell his stories. I reckon the difference between this album and some of the earlier (great) ones is that the rest of the Decemberists have (been allowed to) come of age here and make tangible, intelligent contributions to what is a rich, quality record.

High Points: This Is Why We Fight; Rise to Me; Rox in the Box

And when we die,

We will die,

With our arms unbound

Zeroes QC – Suuns

I realise that I love this record beyond reasoned argument and get the feeling that it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the other records here in anyone else’s ears. Maybe one day, when the brouhaha has all died down, I’ll give this a listen and wonder what the fever was all about. But now, right now, from the first dull thud of the drum and the stylophone meanderings that introduce Armed for Peace, to the last heady drones and squeaks that complete Organ Blues, I just love this record. Damnit, why am I so bloody old!

High Points: Pie IX; Up Past the Nursery; PVC; Arena

Do you want to?

Do you want to?

Do you want to?

Seven Great Gigs of 2011


I’m a little apprehensive about writing this post about best gigs of the year, partly because I think I’ve seen less this year than many others but mainly because I seem to know a few people who seem to go to a mindboggling number of gigs. I know of a couple of people who are nearly into three figures for the year.

Think about it, pretty much two gigs a week… {prostrates himself on the floor}

But, anyhoo, for what’s its worth here are seven cracking live experiences from this year.  In no particular order…

Seven Great Gigs of 2011

The Decemberists – Bristol Academy, March

I’ve tended to remember this gig for some of the sillier things that the ever-adlibbing Colin Melloy and friends got up to, but a quick listen back to the recordings remind me that it was actually a great evening. I loved the new songs (and went out soon after and bought The King is Dead on the strength of the evening) but also found myself enjoying the Hazards Of Love songs, previously not a record I’d warmed to at all.  Exhilarating, boisterous stuff, and they also played Grace Cathedral Hill, my favourite Decemberists song of all.  A lovely evening.

Laura Cantrell – St Bonaventura’s, May

A delightful get-together, in the unpretentious, intimate surroundings of St Bonaventura’s, itself a support player in a great evening. Laura Cantrell (can I call her Laura? Ms Cantrell?) still has a pure, ringing voice and an uncluttered delivery style which shines the spotlight full on her dazzling songs. Lots of Kitty Wells Dresses, but also a good few from the another favourite Not the Tremblin’ Kind. Engaging between-song chat and the always pleasing sight of a true star selling her own merchandise after the show.

Toots & the Maytals –BristolAcademy, September

I don’t think I actually wrote about this evening at all – I was sulking a little at another recording comprehensively buggered up by clumsiness and circumstance, I suspect. I’ve just referred to Laura Cantrell as a true star, so what is Toots Hibbert? I went through a phase in my early twenties of trying to see various old timers perform before they were gone forever, and I’m still a sucker for a bit of nostalgia. Great versions of 54-46 and Pressure Drop, and a whole lot off the Funky Kingston record, including a lung-busting, belting version of the title track. The sort of evening that the Academy does well…

Suuns – Green Man, August

I’ve banged on about this lot so much in the last months that there’s not a lot more to say, other than that for me this performance – in the Big Tent, mid evening, with enough smoke, distortion and swagger to suggest everything else should be called off afterwards – is the sort of stuff Suuns should be building their legacy upon. Belligerent, funky, inarticulate, and really very loud.

Phosphorescent – Thekla, May

One of those, for me classic, occasions when I turned up not entirely convinced of a band’s worth, but left having totally got it. The Here’s To Taking It Easy album sounded entirely different afterwards and throughout the following weeks, I couldn’t listen to Hard to be Humble without seeing the foppish Matthew Houk waving his finger in my face. Another of my favourite songs of my year, Mermaid Parade, got its definitive performance this evening.

Gruff Rhys / Y Niwl – St George’s, February

Saw both artists again later on in the year at Green Man, but neither sets were as good as the twin performances in the robust, muscular surroundings ofSt George’s. Again, some of the magic of the evening was lost for me as soon as I realised I’d not managed to record it properly, but that’s all wrong, really. It was a terrific evening, the Y Niwl boys banging out their surf sounds with infectious eagerness, before joining Gruff onstage as he ran through most of the Hotel Shampoo offering in his own inimitable, shambling style. Guest appearances from Cate le Bon and Sweet Baboo as well…

Wild Beasts – Guildhall, May

Yet another performance for which I have no recording, but which will survive in my memory for a good while. Lots from the two recent, breakthrough albums, neither of which I’m terribly familiar with, still (inexplicably); but also a good few of their older more awkward songs, their galumphing, shuffling rhythms still on show for all to see. Really enjoyed their combination of craft and enthusiasm, and they went down well in the old hall.

So, another year gone, another few tickets, pinned to the board, wink lasciviously at me and it all starts again…

Tomorrow I’ll think about my best of the year releases.

Lucky Seven – Live and Unreleased!

Got to thinking about a couple of the self-deprecating comments I made in the last post, and thought “I’ll put a couple of them right at least…”

So here’s the first Lucky Seven for a good while, and it’s made up of some of the recordings I made during 2011, which are currently languishing unattended on my hard-drive.

Summer Holiday – Wild Nothing

Chinatown– Destroyer

Undegpedwar – Y Niwl

BatteryKinzie – Fleet Foxes

Queen of Eyes – Robyn Hitchcock

Don’t Want Love – Antlers

Since We’ve Fallen Out – Burns Unit

Now I come to look at it, these were all part of the mess of Green Man recordings that I still have, so I’ve added a bonus recording to the package, made at End of the Road, by my good friend Marcus – I’ll leave you to find out what it is…

Lucky Seven – Live and Unreleased

Have a good ‘un!

2011 – A Few (non-music) Lists

2011 – Seven WooHoos!

Gloucester winning the Anglo-Welsh Cup – hugely devalued since its heyday in the Seventies, but silverware, goldarnit!

Mad Men – a Christmas boxset from The Boy that I’ve ambled through in fits and starts all year. Stylish, complex and occasionally perverse. Gosh, those folk can smoke!

Lionel Messi – 209 goals in 7½ seasons (including 100 in the last two seasons alone), three Champions League winner’s medals and five La Liga medals, all before his 25th birthday. Looking like the best ever…

Sara Lund – We love the Killing in our house, enjoying immensely her dogged resolve, social awkwardness and flexible attitude to her family. The jumpers are just a bonus really…

Twenty Twelve – The fly on the wall spoof documentary, that is.

“Can you do it for Friday?”

“Yeah, no problem…….. What, this Friday?”

Twitter / LPGroup – still enjoying the virtual company of like-minded folk, and meeting more of them for real, like, in the flesh (and finding them to be top notch ladies and gents). LPGroup continues to be fun as well and is open to all-comers. All those bores denigrating Twitter need to get less of a life and start tweeting.

Serie A – Forget all the stuff about catenaccio, match-fixing and  nil-nil being the perfect result, Italian football is currently exciting, skilful and, in contrast to most European Leagues, a genuine competition these days. God bless ESPN!

2011 – Seven Dohs!

Missing End of the Road – Green Man was great, but the line up was nowhere near as strong, and there were a few acts I would have loved to have seen. I shall be playing hard to get with my £130 next year.

Not having a season ticket for the rugby this year – no protest or anything, just tightening the belt after packing my job in. Still got to a good few games, but missed standing in the Shed.

Recordings – far too many lost recordings this year – Gruff Rhys / Y Niwl atSt George’s, Wild Beasts at the Guildhall, Toots & the Maytals atBristolAcademy, joined the ranks of LCD Soundsystem, Lee Perry andAntony and theJohnstons in the file marked Recordings that Never Were. Also a good few recordings that I made and am still to investigate, including a load that a friend made for me at End of the Road.

The retirement of an old friend – linked to the one above really. My old iRiver H120 was eventually dumped for a younger more attractive gadget that really understands me. Don’t think I feel good about it. It’s not you, it’s me…

8-2 – Disgraceful, shameful. (Thankfully all in the past)

Breaking my elbow – falling off a child’s chair, fifteen minutes before class started. A source of amusement to some…

X Factor; Britain’s Got Talent; Strictly I’m a Celeb etc – Take a good long look at yourself eh?

Seven Overused Words on the Blog

– not making any extravagant promises but…

Ethiopiques

Cack-handed

Suuns

Green Man

Feller

Emusic

Ho-hum

Seven Underused Words in 2011

– will try to rectify some of these

Interview

Lucky Seven

Wilco

End of the Road

Calmer / Slak /GloucesterGuildhall

Exclusive

Bieber


Seven Records I’m Proud to Have Bought in 2011

Here’s to Taking It Easy – Phosphorescent

Pride saw arch finger-pointer Matthew Hauk and pals sound a bit Bon Iver-y, which was OK but 2010’s follow up was a much more ballsy, countrified affair, with brass, slide guitars and riffs all over the shop –terrific value. I think I’ve already posted a video of my favourite track ( “God damn, Amanda, God damn it all”), so here’s the opener – Bah bah badda ba badda bah!

 

 

Swinging Addis – Ethiopiques Series

Or to be honest, any of the Ethiopiques series of which I bought, I think, eleven volumes during the course of the year. Amazing stuff which I’ve gone on about before. The video here is of Tlahoun “The Voice” Gessesse, and I love it…

 

 

Last Days of Summer – White Denim

I say bought …

It seems incredible now but for a good while this record was being chucked away free at the band’s web site, before being given an “official” release this year. It’s probably not quite as strong and self confident as D, but still full of bristle and brawn, and with trademark catchiness all over. Lots of play in the car…

 

 

I Often Dream of Trains – Robyn Hitchcock

Listened to quite a lot of Hitchcock this year, partly because of an ongoing Soft Boys thing but also as preparation for seeing him at Green Man, where he was great and did a surprise extra set comprised only of insect songs. Title track is a highpoint, but the version of “Great When You’re Dead” on Later is a treat. Have grown to love this record with something like devotion.

 

 

Mighty Baby – Mighty Baby

A charming record that I was tipped off about as a result of the LPGroup 1967 session. I’d be banging on about Rolled Gold, and was told to get hold of this record, Might Baby being the band the Action melded into towards the end of the sixties. Hugely embarrassed to have missed this for so long – it’s a belter! No real footage, I’m afraid…

 

 

Pigeons – Here We Go Magic

Really eclectic, interesting and above all smart collection of pop songs on Secretly Canadian. Bought it at the same time as I was grimly trying to get into Merriweather Post Pavilion and consequently is bound up with that record in my mind. The acceptable face being “clever”…

 

 

Jun Ray Song Chang – Asa Chang & Jun Ray

I love Twitter! One of my virtual chums mentioned this in passing and reacquainted me with a record I’d loved when it came out but had ab-so-lutely forgotten about. The whole record is a challenging but rewarding listen. Beautiful, compelling, contrary…

 


Dear Santa…

 

It’s that time!

Time to eat, drink, be merry and write some lists!

If you’ve been following the Blog for a while, you’ll have noticed that I approach the whole list-compiling thing with some trepidation but as the days move on, I get in to the spirit, and by the end, well…

So, here goes:

 

Seven Records I Should Own

(and am a bit embarrassed that I don’t)

(yet…)

In the past I think I’ve used this list to give a cursory mention to records that everyone else has been salivating over but which I couldn’t be arsed with. This year, though, this is a genuine Dear Santa letter of a list, with records on it that I am genuinely arsed about and am hoping to get (one way or another) over the Christmas period.

As ever, the list is in no particular order and I can’t say much about any of them, so there’s a video of something from each one.

West – Wooden Shjips

Only just catching up on Ripley Johnston and band’s records and have been really enjoying the Moon Duo stuff, but I’m told this is their first studio album proper, and is even better than their other releases.

Lazy Bones

 

Apocalypse – Bill Callahan

I’ve been a Smog fan for a good while now, but somehow the dropping of the name, plus a pretty dull live set at Green Man one year meant that Bill Callahan has drifted from my radar in recent years. I gather this record is a bit of a return to form for the man. Looking forward to hearing it…

Riding for the Feeling

 

Days – Real Estate

Another band who have suffered from my butterfly approach to record buying. Bought their debut album and enjoyed it immensely, but again when this their second release appeared, I was nowhere to be found… Gah!

It’s Real (lovely guitar sound…)

 

Ashes and Fire – Ryan Adams

And another artist I’ve sadly neglected until recent weeks. I loved Heartbreaker and Gold when they came out, and have lately played both records a lot (and benefited from the latest LPGroup session on the former). I’m ready for the new record now…

Lucky You

 

The Whole Love – Wilco

Oh God here’s another one! What have I been doing all year? This is even worse – I actually turned my nose up at the chance to see them inBristol, because I was too tight. C’mon Andrew, get it together!

Born Alone

 

Parallax – Atlas Sound

Really enjoyed Bradford Cox’s first two records, and quite liked the Deerhunter stuff too. This record is getting a lot of love across all the end of year lists…

Parallax

 

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Missed this guy’s voice something terrible…

Holocene

 

Let England Shake – PJ Harvey

This one’s a bit different in that it’s been voted top of list after list, and even more prestigious than that it’s been voted record of 2011 by the members of LPGroup, who’ll be spinning and discussing it 1st Sunday in January (all welcome). Better go and buy it I guess…

The Glorious Land

 

That was eight wasn’t it?

I feel the walls closing in on me…

Not sure of it’s the credits from Emusic, the proliferation of end of year lists to peruse, or maybe just the season, but I have a load of great records buzzing around in my earphones just now…

Moon Duo

(Actually, “buzzing” really is the word for this lot. They like a fuzztone for sure. )

I was going to apply my generally haphazard levels of research (ie none) to this article but at the last minute had a quick look online, which is probably a good job. I’d been all set to make a series of clever-clever Wooden Shjips analogies, but it turns out that Moon Duo are in fact a bona-fide WS side project, having been formed in 2009 by WS guitarist Ripley Johnson and partner Sanae Yamada. Apparently, having lost his job around then he found himself with rather more time than previously and two years and two records later, he’s grizzled example to us all.

The more I listen to the new record, Mazes, the more I like it, although it’s hardly a complicated appeal – fuzzed up, recurring guitar riffs, coloured by distorted organ sounds and droning rhythm instruments.

I’ve seen names like Suicide, the Doors and Can being throw around, but I’ll also chuck Lee Perry’s name in there, and not just to be perverse – there’s a fair amount of dubby playing-around-with-the-cans action going on here too. Probably should also mention that you certainly get your money’s worth – for a, well, duo, playing songs based around minimalist and repetitive riffs, they’re not afraid to stretch it out to a full (and full-sounding) six or seven minutes.

I’ve heard Johnson make comments about slower, repetitive styles suiting his Buddhist beliefs and meditative practices. Can’t say I know much about all that but the record’s charm is certainly not a lyrical one – it’s all about the noise. I imagine they’re great fun to see.

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