Archive for the ‘Currently Listening’ Category

Currently listening, Jan 2013

Posted 27 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

1. Matthew E White – Big Inner LP
The Guardian haven’t stopped praising Matthew E White since his debut record came out, and tempting though it is to be dismissive of such hype, it’s a really brilliant LP – a soulful and immaculate record with incredible arrangements and a near uncategorisable spectrum of influnces, from country, jazz, folk, gospel and soul to glimpses (if I’m right) of acid house. A genuine marvel.

2. Sexy Fi – Nunca Te Vi De Boa
I shan’t try too hard to categorise Sexy Fi either; weird, tropical, funky, jangly, noisy pop music from Brazil. No idea who they are but really like this record! Here it is on Spotify.

3. Traams – Peggy
Easily the best new band I saw last year, their live sets are dominated by long, heavy, teutonic jams – like Big Black channeling Neu. This song proves they can do short songs with brilliant ‘ooh-ooh’ choruses, too.

4. Yo La Tengo – Fade LP
I’ve never listened to any Yo La Tengo records. I’ve no idea why or how I’ve managed this. This is their new one. It suggests I’ve rather missed out – beautifully realised, fuzzy indie rock.

5/6. Kimbra – Vows LP / Dawn Richard – Goldenheart LP
Two records I discovered, again, through positive Guardian album reviews. Kimbra specialises in joyful electronic pop and Dawn Richard in stylish but unshowy r’n'b. Both are great.

7. Masta Killah – All Natural
Like most Wu-afilliated records these days, Masta Killah’s latest is a mixed bag, but it boasts a couple of decent songs – the best by far is this, which finds the rapper deconstructing his vegetarianism. Brilliant.

8. Gerry Read – Jummy LP
I’m always looking for house music which endures across a full LP, and Gerry Read’s subtle, shifting, four-to-the-floor house music is the closest I’ve found to what I like in a long time.

9. Viv Albertine – The Vermilion Border LP
If I’d have listened to this a lot more in 2012 it would have featured quite highly in my records of the year list; it’s fucking brilliant – a smart, sassy, sexy LP from the former Slits guitarist. This should percolate far and wide, if there’s any justice.

10. Keel Her – You Would Be So Grossed Out If I Did That
Still not many official releases from the unbelievably prolific, and now Brighton-based, Keel Her (she releases new tracks online all the time); but her recent single ‘Riot Grrrl’ is her best release yet. A proper recording of this slightly wonky acoustic song is the (terrific) b-side.

11. Stealing Sheep – Into the Diamond Sun LP
I saw Stealing Sheep live loads in 2010 and 2011, and once last year, and while they were terrific every time, their sets seemed pretty similar, meaning that by the time their debut LP came out last year, I thought I had figured them out, and didn’t get round to buy a copy. Consequently, I didn’t spot how bloody great it is – much more joyful, tuneful and poppy than I remember them being live, and a really great summer record. Really glad I finally figured that out.

‘Where are we now?’; The return of David Bowie

Posted 08 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music, Reviews

I’m a massive Bowie fan, so, transparently, today has been a ridiculously good day for me.

If you missed it – ten years after his last record and seven years after he last performed in public – this morning, entirely without fanfare or forewarning, David Bowie released a brand new song and announced a forthcoming LP. This is, in the world of pop, massive news, and judging by the fact that I heard about it on the Today programme on Radio 4, it’s presumably big news elsewhere too. The Guardian practically devoted their entire Arts team to covering it today (yielding good pieces from Michael Hann and Alexis Petridis), and my twitter feed was a pretty relentless stream of enthusiasm.

I’ve been in a good mood all day.

And amidst all the excitement, there’s a song, and you should listen to it.

It’s far too early for me to pass any real critical judgement, to declare it better than his 90s work or worse than the stuff on ‘Heathen’, and I’m too biased to be truly objective regardless – but the song matters to me because I find it thrilling to think that Bowie still digs making music (I thought he’d retired) and the song itself, regardless of its place in his canon, makes me happy – by chance it recalls much of Bowie’s music that I like best; the sombre, elegiac Bowie of the late ’70s, whose years in Berlin still seem to speak to him more powerfully than any others. To hear him singing in his own distinct, somewhat tremulous voice is, for all that it is aged, a great privilege.

He’s written so many wonderful wonderful songs, but there’s a category that I hold particularly close to my heart, and that’s the smallish number of songs where it sounds like Bowie is singing from deep within his true self – not channeling Anthony Newley, or Lou, or Iggy, or Dylan, or even James Brown (I love it when he channels James Brown). The best example is, I think, ‘Wild Is The Wind‘, which Bowie himself has described as his finest vocal performance. There are shades of that song here – or shades of the truthfulness it evinces. And something very vulnerable too.

What a joy it is to hear, and to have him back.

If you like it too – or, failing that, like David generally – then we can be friends.

Most listened, 2012

Posted 06 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

Another year, another last.fm list of the songs I listened to most this year (here’s the one I posted a year ago). As always, it’s very unrepresentative as it doesn’t track vinyl listens, or times when I have scrobble turned off. But it’s still a nice little list. Slightly disappointed that Taylor Swift didn’t make it to the number one slot.

Albums of the Year 2012

Posted 02 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

Here we go!

10. Foxes – Foxes
The indie-pop contingent in this year’s list gets the nod courtesy of being fractionally more fun than the other bands who might have made the list (Allo Darlin’, The Twerps, Exlovers), and their debut LP is bursting with offbeat, tongue-in-cheek moments, combined with moments of piercing fragility. A really lovely record full of winning melodies, lines and ideas.

9. Matthew Dear – Beams
Matthew Dear’s ‘Black City’ was one of my favourite records of 2010 so it’s not really a surprise that I loved this too – if anything it’s a more organic, coherent work, a lovely, Bowie/Eno/Byrne indebted collage of techno and art-pop. ‘Beams’ is the first record that Dear has recorded since he moved to the countryside, but it still resonates with the sounds of the big, sinister city. Great stuff.

8. Soko – I Wish I Was An Alien
Listened to this a lot this year, puzzling over Soko’s fragile lack of self-esteem and her storytelling ability. I’m not quite sure if she’s really as unhappy as she makes out on this record, but it leads to some great, underworked, bruised French pop-folk. It’s become a bit of a joke in our house; ‘how’s Soko feeling today?’. ‘It’s not good, I’m afraid’.

7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
Far far better than it has the right to be after a few years of interesting but not exactly vital records; this new effort – a double LP of straight, Crazy Horse riffing – genuinely sounds like Neil is back to his best. Only the first song, which finds him whinging about mp3s, disappoints, with the rest a wonderful, winding celebration of rock and roll.

6. Darren Hayman & The Long Parliament – The Violence
The best record of Darren’s career by some distance, this marvellous LP feels somehow like his most heartfelt despite it being a meditation on the seventeenth century Essex witch trials. Magnificently arranged and full of lovely, if sometimes disturbing imagery, this is a display of artistic ambition realised.

5. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
The music of Leonard Cohen is very important to me, as his records were played constantly at home when I was a child, and I actually went some time ignoring this new record, fearing that I’d be let down by what I assumed was inevitable disappointment. It wasn’t until I saw Cohen play in Berlin in the late summer that I realised how superb his songwriting continues to be, leaving me doing some rather shame-faced catching up. This may arrive very late in Leonard’s career, but it’s a hugely important part of his body of work. And hopefully not his last LP.

4. Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny – Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose
Delighted by this one, not least because I watched Beth do a series of gigs throughout 2009, 10 and 11 where she somehow seemed to be enjoying each show less and less and sounding more and more tired of the songs she’d been playing for a few years. In fact, much of ‘Yours Truly…’ had been long recorded by that stage, but somehow its release galvanised the band and they’ve been better and better every time I’ve seen them since. And this record is far far better than any debut LP has the right to be – confident, intelligent, daring and gloriously canorous. Beth’s recording the follow up in LA at the moment and I think it’ll be even better.

3. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
This one, from early 2012, feels like it came out aaages ago, but it still sounds incredibly fresh when I put it on; a lovely slice of warm Americana by two Swedes who allowed their obsession with Emmylou, June, Gram and Johnny to shine through on every song. A lovely listen every time.

2. Tim Burgess – Oh No I Love You
Easily the biggest surprise of the year for me was the depth and quality of Tim Burgess’s second solo LP. The words were written by Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and the record produced in his Nashville studio (meaning the luxuriant country-soul sound of Wagner’s band is present throughout), but much of the joy is found in Burgess’s clean, pretty songwriting (he penned the tunes) and in his delightful voice, which is often as boyish as ever it was and yet sometimes a cracked, deep whisper. His switch to falsetto in ‘The Economy’ is one of my favourite musical moments of 2012.

1. Field Music – Plumb
I couldn’t quite get my head around Field Music’s 2009 double LP ‘Measure’, which was a real surprise after having often claimed that their ‘Tones of Town’, from four years earlier, is my favourite record of the 21st Century so far. ‘Plumb’, happily, fixes all of the problems I had with its predecessor, coming in at a gloriously concise 35 minutes but crammed with more twists, turns and segues than you could shake a stick at. Like much of Field Music’s best work, there’s a kind of symphonic consistency and coherence to the album which makes me think of it in terms of movements rather than the songs. Allowing me that, the final movement, comprising the last five songs, is the sound of 2012 for me.

Honorable mentions:
Allo Darlin’, Oddisee, The Wave Pictures, Kimbra, Viv Albertine, The Twerps, Damon Albarn, Brother Ali, Cabaret Scene, Actress, Moritz Von Oswald, Blu & Exile, Taylor Swift, Mac Demarco, Friends, La Sera, Parquet Courts, Josephine Foster, Quakers, John Cale, Ab-Soul, Brian Eno, Milk Music.

Last year’s Top 10.
1. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
3. Destroyer – Kaputt
4. Stricken City – Losing Colour
5. Veronica Falls – s/t
6. Nick Lowe – The Old Magic
7. Gorillaz – The Fall
8. Real Estate – Days
9. Little Dragon – Ritual Union
10. The Fall – Ersatz GB

Most listened, 2011

Posted 08 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

This list is not, I think, desperately representative, as I don’t always have scrobble turned on and listen to vinyl half the time – but here, according to Last.fm, are the songs I listened to most in 2011.

currently listening

Posted 26 Jul 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening

Somewhat untypically, I’ve listened to a fair bit of heavy metal this week. I think the last time I could say that truthfully was – and I’m not kidding – 1998, when I briefly became obsessed with AC/DC and Iron Maiden. The hideousness of Guns ‘n Roses put me off Metal for ever, and I’ve studiously avoided it ever since. I even at the height of my grunge phase refused to listen to Soundgarden because I considered them too metal.

The first sign of my softening in this respect came a few years ago when, on the way to the End of The Road festival, my friend Ant took perverse pleasure in playing Iron Maiden in the car. I remember thinking then – ooh, I kind of still like this, but I was soon at the festival and witnessed my first ever performance by The Wave Pictures. My ever so brief metal revival was forgotten.

‘Til this week. How great was that documentary on BBC4 – Heavy Metal Britannia? Very brilliant, is the answer, and while I stubbornly maintain that much heavy rock and metal (Led Zep, G’nR, Metallica, everything sung in a ridiculous growl post-Napalm Death) is unlistenable shit, I have to admit to having dug into Spotify and found plenty to admire in early Maiden, Judas Priest, the awesome Motorhead, and even the first couple of Slayer LPs.

It is, let’s face it, exciting music – even if it’s unintentionally hilarious half the time. A few clips. I’ll be back into folk music and 60s psych by the end of the weak, but this is a pleasingly loud diversion.

Iron Maiden

Judas Priest

Motorhead

AC/DC

Late! Albums of the year 2010

Posted 28 Mar 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

This post is so ridiculously out of date that it’s only real purpose is posterity – every year I’ve done this blog I’ve posted my ten albums of the year, but in 2010 I only got as far as deciding my list; I didn’t write about it.

So I put off posting the top ten until I had written something thoughtful about it and then, having not reached that stage… well, then it felt a bit too late. Now it’s late March and there have been a slew of fine records out in 2011, but for the sake of completeness, here’s my carefully considered – but very late – list of the best LPs of 2010, according to Assistant Blog.

1. Caitlin Rose – Our Side Now LP
- the simplest of country records, in the best way. This is country music which doesn’t yearn to be Americana. Just beautiful, unaffected songs about love going bad, drinking and smoking. And Caitlin Rose is a marvel – young, brassy, wistful and massively talented. Easily my most played record of 2011, which is why it’s number one.

2. Katell Keineg – At The Mermaid Parade LP
- Honest Jons records continues to be the best record label in the world, as far as I’m concerned, knocking out release after release spanning African calypso, micro-house and folk music. This – like the Simone White record a year ago – is one of their most conventional released. Katell Keineg is a Breton-Welsh singer-songwriter in her mid-40s, about whom comparitively little is documented. She releases quiet, thrilling folk records from time to time. This is her latest.

2. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach LP
- Probably this was the record I expected to be topping the list this year, and it nearly did, except for the fact that this year it was playing live that Gorillaz most blew me away, and once I’d seen that the record paled a little, as studio-based records often do after they’ve been realised live. Of course, it’s marvellous – possibly under-realised, arguably lacking the punch that producers like Dan The Automator and Danger Mouse have brought to the table previously…. but it’s scope is unbelievable and Damon continues to knock out simply stunning, memorable tunes year after year. ‘Stylo’ is surely amongst his best songs ever.

4. Matthew Dear – Black City
- The last of the four records that could easily have topped the list. This is amazing, amorphous, micro-composed dance music. Somewhere between Berlin techno, Lodger era Bowie and Talking Heads, ‘Black City’ is a dark, sexy, complex record. Terrific stuff.

5. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy LP
- were it not for the album’s masterpiece, ‘The Mermaid Parade’, this LP might be written off as an inferior record to the last Phosphorescent long-player, ‘Pride’, but that song, and the wonderful, Neil Young-esque closer of ‘Los Angeles’ lift this beautiful, bruised collection of sun-kissed country rock in amongst the year’s best releases.

6. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can LP
- Here because it would be ludicrous to omit it. There’s certainly been few more lyrically precise, perfectly realised LPs in the last few years, and Marling’s rate of progress is staggering. Part of me wondered if she’d lost a bit of the youthful wonder evident on her debut – but the move towards more mature songwriting is balanced by real insightfulness in her words.

8. Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids
- It always looks tokenistic when, inevitably, I include one rap LP in my yearly list, but the truth is that every year there is just tons of amazing hip hop which I could include if, somehow, it wasn’t all slung in among weak album tracks and filler. There have been beautiful, vital tracks by Little Brother, Murs & 9th Wonder, Nottz, Reflection Eternal, Statik Selektah & Term, The Left and The Roots – but rarely does a rap artist create a coherent, consistent LP. Except, of course, Ghostface does, every time, and so it proves again. Apollo Kids isn’t his best – no Ironman or Fishscale – but it’s still stunning.

7. Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here LP
- What an unexpected treat. Gil Scott Heron could have released a decent comeback record and, given his status and history, he’d have had it hailed as a classic. But that he conjured up an extraordinary return is one of the great minor miracles of our time, and it’s not hyperbole to rank this as amongst his finest. Listen to his voice on the title track.

9. Wave Pictures – Susan Rode The Cyclone
- I adore the Wave Pictures for their work ethic and productivity, but there’s little doubt that this was their weakest effort yet. It’s not bad by any stretch, but it lacks the punch of Instant Coffee Baby or the depth of If You Leave It Alone. But so long as David Tattersall continues to be the best lyricist in UK pop and delivers occasional guitar solos like the one he unleashes in ‘Kittens’, I’ll love them unconditionally.

10. Actress – Splazsh
- A second entry courtesy of Honest Jons, Actress’s ‘Splazsh’ was a dazzling combination of techno and dubstep; one of the most rich and satisfying records I’ve heard all year. A stuttering, shimmering, bass-heavy collision of bleeps and rhythms. At times it reaches ‘Incunabula’-like levels of loveliness.

Honourable mentions:
Some other great LPs were released in 2010 – notably by The Fall, Edwyn Collins, Field Music, Gangrene, Liars, Kort, MGMT, Own Pallett, Male Bonding, Pantha Du Prince, Paul Weller, The American Shakes, Peggy Sue, Robert Plant and These New Puritans. Plus a bunch I’ve probably forgotten about.

Currently listening, Jan 2011

Posted 23 Jan 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening

1. British Sea Power: Valhalla Dancehall LP (Still pretty much of the opinion that this is their finest, most fully realised LP yet. Some classic BSP stompers, and the best songs yet by the increasingly influential Hamilton).
2. Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues LP (absolutely stunning live in Brighton last week, I prefer Justin’s music stripped down rather than fleshed out – but his stuff is brilliant; the key being the way he sings about the modern world in a way that recalls tradition).
3. Broadcast – Winter Now (Well, everyone is saying how much they miss Trish Keenan right now. I was never a huge Broadcast fan, but they’re undeniably lovely and of course, her death is a huge loss).

4. PJ Harvey – The Words That Makest Murder (she’s back – exciting)
5. Lykke Li – I Follow Rivers (she’s back – doubly exciting. I have really really high hopes for the new album; got a feeling it’ll be one of the best of the year).

6. Seth Nehil – Knives LP (agreeably discordant waves of sound and musique concrete; uneasy listening).
7. Clint Mansell – Swan Lake OST LP (Reliably brilliant stuff by Mansell, who scored Duncan Jones’ ‘Moon’ so successfully. Here Tchaikovsky’s original music is led down dark alleys and basements – serene one minute, chilling the next).
8. Colorama – Box (saw this lot live at the Hedgerow Society in Brighton this week and really enjoyed their fine tuned psych pop. This track is the lead song from their new LP. Video below; sorry about the gratuitous leg-shot).

Albums of the year, 2004-2009

Posted 29 Nov 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening

In a remarkable act of staying power, I find that I’ve been keeping album of the year lists since 2004. For the most part the lists are a fairly predictable affair, with multiple entries for certain artists (and a few dodgy calls which I wouldn’t include if I redid the lists now) but all in all it’s pretty decent, if indie-centric stuff. Am sure I missed lots of wonderful records from these top tens. Anyway – I’ll be doing an albums of the year list for 2010 too, of course, but in the meantime, here’s a catchup:

Albums of the Year 2009
1. Wave Pictures – If you Leave It Alone
2. Blue Roses – s/t
3. Brakes – Touchdown
4. Darren Hayman – Pram Town
5. Emmy The Great – First Love
6. Graham Coxon – The Spinning Top
7. Clint Mansell – Moon (Soundtrack)
8. Simone White – Yakiimo
9. St Vincent – Actor
10. Noah and The Whale -The First Days of Spring

Albums of the year 2008
1. THE WAVE PICTURES – Instant Coffee Baby
2. LAURA MARLING – Alas I Cannot Swim
3. LYKKE LI – Youth Novels
4. THOMAS TANTRUM – s/t
5. STEPHEN MALKMUS – Real Emotional Trash
6. FRIGHTENED RABBIT – The Midnight Organ Flight
7. PEGGY SUE – The Body Parts / The First Aid
8. VAMPIRE WEEKEND – s/t
9. NEIL HALSTEAD – Oh, Mighty Engine
10. CARL CRAIG – Sessions

Albums of the year 2007
1. Field Music – Tones of Town
2. The Good, the Bad and the Queen – s/t
3. Scout Niblett – This Fool Can Die Now
4. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
5. Jeff Lewis – 12 Crass Songs
6. Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls
7. Burial – Untrue
8. Seabear – The Ghost That Carried Me Away
9. Dinosaur Jr – Beyond
10. Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whateve

Albums of the Year 2006
1. K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher
2. Cat Power – The Greatest
3. The Lemonheads – The Lemonheads
4. Ghostface – Fishscale
5. The Young Knives – Voices of Animals and Men
6. Hot Chip – The Warning
7. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther
8. Lily Allen – Alright, Still
9. Graham Coxon – Love Travels At Illegal Speeds
10. The Hot Puppies – Under The Crooked Moon

Albums of the year 2005
1. Field Music – Field Music
2. Gorillaz – Demon Days
3. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
4. Electrelane – Axes
5. Annie – Anniemal
6. Stephen Malkmus – Face The Truth
7. Silver Jews – Tanglewood Numbers
8. LCD Soundsystem – s/t
9. Brakes – Give Blood
10. Maximo Park – A Certain Trigger

Albums of the Year 2004
1. Wiley – Treddin’ On Thin Ice
2. Bjork – Medulla:
3. Electrelane – The Power Out
4. The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free.
5. Futureheads – Futureheads.
6. Junior Boys – Last Exit:
7. Dizzee Rascal – Showtime
8. Infinite Livez – Bush Meat:
9. Wu Tang Clan – Disciples of the 36 Chambers:
10. !!! – Louden Up Now

Currently listening

Posted 07 Mar 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

1. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach LP (obviously)
2. Tristram – Someone Told me a Poem Last Night EP
3. Raekwon – The Gihad (and everything else from ‘Only Built For Cuban Linx Vol 2’, especially if Ghostface is on it)
4. ‘Open Strings’ LP – still loving this compilation of Middle Eastern string music from the 1920s.
5. Sparrow – Standon Road Green (from their ace ‘Sparrow’ LP)
6. Tindersticks – Falling Down a Mountain LP
7. Wu-Tang Vs The Beatles – Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers LP (Deb at work was complaining about how horrid the word ‘mashup’ is. She’s right. This is a great example of one, though).
8. Archie Bronson Quartet – Coconut LP (loud).

currently listening

Posted 15 Jan 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

My listening habits for the first couple of weeks of this new decade are, frankly, more 1975 than 2010, but never mind. Here’s what I’ve been listening to recently.

1. Townes Van Zandt, Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas LP. Van Zandt may have been, in his doctor’s words, “an acute manic-depressive who has made minimal adjustments to life”, but it’s the conventionality of his music that I love rather than its idiosyncrasy. On the face of it, he’s an orthodox singer-songwriter in the country-folk mould. But his records have a wonderful mixture of gravity and humour. Wildly unappreciated, but I think this recording of a live set from 1977 is his very best record, and worth treasuring.
2. Big Star, ‘The India Song’. As an Andy Hummel contribution, this is probably one of the least lauded Big Star numbers, but I think it’s beautiful – Big Star were ace.
2. Gillian Welch, ‘Elvis Presley Blues’ (from her Time (The Revelator) LP). This is the song that launched me on this week’s retro direction – a lovely, idiosyncratic bit of Americana I first heard on Jarvis Cocker’s new 6 Music show.
4. Bobbie Gentry, Touch ‘Em With Love LP. I was inspired to dig back to this late 70s country/soul hybrid courtesy of the lovely Beth Jeans Houghton, whose inspired folk reminds me much more of this than anything made in the 2000s.
5. Mary Hampton, ‘Honey’ (from her My Mother’s Children LP). Creepy, quiet, Brighton folk. I saw Mary live a couple of months ago and she played a song to the percussive sound of the audience rattling their housekeys. Awesome.
6. The Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses LP . Apparently this lot were part of LA’s ‘Paisley Underground’ in the early 80s. That sounds awful, but the song is lovely, prefiguring the notion that one day Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Buck would hitch up and work together.
7. The Mantles, The Mantles LP – this is great stuff, just really simple, reverb-drenched indie, garage-formed psych. Good stuff.
8. Pérotin, Beata Viscera – caught a snippet of this amazing Gregorian choral music in Terence Davies’ marvellous ‘Of Time and The City‘ and had to seek it out. Beguiling stuff.
9. Lucinda Williams, ‘Maria’ (from the Happy Woman Blues LP). I know, more country-rock. But listen to it; it’s gorgeous – “damn the pain and damn those restless days”.
10. Younghusband, ‘Younghusband Says Relax’. Still can’t stop listening to this wonderful, post Lemonheads/Teenage Fanclub indie. My favourite single from 2009, by miles. A real slacker anthem, too – “Don’t feel sad / I do / and I’m guilty of an anxiety relax”.

OK, and I’m going to try to do Spotify playlists when I do this in future. Here we go then. Click to open:
Spotify playlist for my current listening, Jan 15th 2010
.

I promise next week I’ll listen to some hip hop or something.

last.fm yearly roundup

Posted 02 Jan 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening

Last.fm monitors most of my listening habits, being plugged in as it is to my ipod, my iphone, to iTunes and to Spotify, so it only falls down when it has a hissy fit or else I’m listening to the radio or to vinyl. Like a lot of these services which track your habits, it’s faintly dispiriting when you use it to look back at your tastes. The following list is my most listened to artists of 2009 – some are surprising, some are blindingly obvious. Can’t help wishing the list was a bit more esoteric or interesting, but there you are.

1. Blur, 307 plays
2. Emmy the Great, 195 plays
3. The Wave Pictures, 153 plays
4. Field Music, 127 plays
5. Noah and the Whale, 126 plays
6. Bat for Lashes, 114 plays
7. Blue Roses, 112 plays
8. Edward Williams, 103 plays
9. Simone White, 84 plays
10. Graham Coxon, 81 plays
11. Pavement, 79 plays
12. Peggy Sue, 75 plays
13. The Zombies, 74 plays
14. Julie Doiron, 72 plays
15. Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny, 68 plays.

the lists descend

Posted 08 Dec 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

What with it being both the end of the year and the end of decade, it’s LISTMANIA on the internet, obviously. I’ve been reading lots of lists and, so far, disagreeing with lots of them. It seems to me that lots of very good albums are being overlooked in favour of a lot of pretty average ones (I’m looking at you, The Low Anthem, you, The Big Pink, and you, The Mountain Goats). But until I unveil my own list, I shan’t moan too much – and I readily admit I look forward to the gnashing of teeth.

The Music Fix list isn’t one I was looking out for, and sure enough it mixes the sublime (Darren Hayman’s Pram Town) with a bunch of records I’d cross the road to avoid (The Airborne Toxic Event, Biffy Clyro, that surprisingly bad Florence & The Machine LP).

Anyway – one happy consequence of their list is that they’ve scrambled a set of mini-interviews with some of the winners, which provokes some interesting thoughts from the couple of artists on the list I’m interested in…

Luke Haines

Dear Music Fix, My heart brims with joy and seasonal good will on my inclusion in your list thingy. My heart brims with joy and seasonal good will anyway. You lot deserve my salutations because frankly I don’t know how you found 40 albums of the year. Man, I can just about think of 40 albums from the last 40 years that get the old five star treatment. By the way is my ‘record’ in the Sounds best of the year list? Melody Maker? Who cares, I’m more of a Zig Zag man. BTW, what number am I? Actually it doesn’t matter because I operate under a different numerical system to you lot. Anyway; to lists and my inclusion in them. Thank you.

For Xmas I would like a chisel.

Next year I intend to commence work on my replica scale model of the world.

Darren Hayman

Lists are infuriating, especially when you’re not in them. But that’s what they are there for, to encourage debate, to make people disagree. I’m not used to flattery. People say very nice things about my records and I know some people like them a lot but I don’t usually find myself in end of year lists.

But I’ll take a compliment! It’s been a strange couple of years, the Hefner re-issues and related shows have made me aware how much my old band means to people but the honest truth is that I think I’m currently writing the best songs of my life. I tried hard to make Pram Town unusual, beautiful and intelligent. I hope I half succeeded.

I have no idea of how good I am compared to my contemporaries. I guess if you had to push me on it I would say I’m better then the guy out of Snow Patrol but not as good as Emmy the Great. If you say I wrote one of the 40 best albums of the year I’ll think you’re taking the piss.

But it does make me very happy.

I’m hoping for the Big Star box set in my Xmas stocking. I think I have dropped enough hints to my wife. I think I have a reasonable chance.

It looks like Pram Town may be part of a loose trilogy of albums about Essex. The second Essex Arms is another folk opera about love in the lawless countryside. We hope to have it out by the summer. There is talk of a Hefner Peel Sessions album.

Both Luke and Darren will be pleased to hear, I’m sure, that both are in the running for my top ten.

currently listening

Posted 13 Oct 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music, Video

Not sure what has prompted it, but been listening to lots of lush 60s garage and psychedelia since I’ve been in Budapest. Here’s a Budapest playlist, via Youtube.

1. The Apple – Bufallo Billycan

2. The Zombies – Care of Cell 44

3. The Idle Race – The Imposters of Life’s Magazine

4. The Kinks – Some Mother’s Son

currently listening

Posted 18 Aug 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Daft

1. Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue LP
2. Delorean – Ayrton Senna EP
3. The Antlers – Hospice LP
4. Yacht – See Mystery Lights LP
5. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca LP

Ah, not really. The above are all hip albums I’ve read about on the web in the last week or two. Out of a vague sense of duty, I downloaded ‘em. But I can’t really be bothered to listen to any of them. Here’s what I’m really listening to.

1. Blur
2. Old mp3s of the Adam & Joe show.
3. The new Noah and the Whale LP
4. Music from John Hughes films
5. …er. Radio 4?

I realise that this feature works better when I’m motivated to listen to music. Having a dry patch at the moment, clearly.

currently listening

Posted 29 Apr 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

I’m absolutely loving this year for record releases so far. Some brilliant albums. And I’ve been playing them at the expense of pretty much everything in my record collection, so this week’s ‘Currently Listening’ is kind of a round up of this year’s best records so far.

1. The Wave Pictures – If You Leave It Alone LP
2. Emmy The Great – First Love
3. The Horrors – Primary Colours
4. Blue Roses – Blue Roses LP
5. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns LP
6. Graham Coxon – The Spinning Top LP
7. Julie Doiron – I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day LP
8. It Hugs Back – Inside Your Guitar LP
9. Hatcham Social – You Dig The Tunnel, I’ll Hide The Soil LP
10. Darren Hayman – Pram Town LP

currently listening

Posted 25 Feb 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

I’ve just had a reminder from Lyndsey about just how slack I’ve been with blogging lately, and she’s absolutely right – I’ve had various fallow periods over the years but I seem to be going through a particularly sticky patch at the moment. It’s to do with time management and procrastination, rather than not having anything to write about, so I’m apparently going to have to re-learn the art of blogging, or rather find a way of getting back into the habit of it. Blogging works brilliantly as a habit, OK as a hobby, and terribly as a chore. So will try to reclimatise.

To get back under-way, here’s a breakdown of current listening, complete with ropey youtube links where possible. Proper bloggin’ to follow.

1. Peggy Sue – Alice In The Kitchen
2. Frida Hyvonen – Dirty Dancing
3. Stricken City – Lost Art (Tin Can Telephone mix)
4. Tom Tom Club – Genius Of Love
5. Diane Cluck – My Teacher Died
6. The Nextdoor Neighbors – The Werefolf Song
7. Jeff Lewis – North Korea: A Complete History of Communism pt 5
8. Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson LP

also rans part two

Posted 15 Jan 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening

Okay, so I’ve already done one quick round-up of the first bunch of records which fell just outside of my top ten of 2008, so here’s a quick follow up concerning the second set.

The year started with the release of an album which pretty much everyone seemed to be excited about: British Sea Power‘s Do Your Like Rock Music. It seemed to have everything going for it; great lyrics, an interesting concept, and a big, full sound which recalled The Arcade Fire. It also contained a set of songs that everyone could imagine sounding great at the summer festivals. I’m not sure that in the end BSP fully lived up to these high expectations, but it was a pleasure watching them get some deserved attention (and an appearance on Countryfile!). DYLRM was a good – if not great – album, and it contained three superb songs: ‘Canvey Island’, ‘No Need To Cry’ and ‘Open The Door’, heartbreakingly lovely all.

It’s maybe not surprising that the songs I’ve highlighted above were rather quiet compared to the album’s more bombastic tracks, for that follows a trend I can’t escape in 2008. Another band that impressed me, Desolation Wilderness, made a lovely, sun-kissed record, White Light Strobing, which was drenched in echo and sounded like a cross between a quiet My Bloody Valentine and Galaxie 500. It was the perfect definition of a grower, a slow, precise album that got better and better as the winter drew in. Sometimes records don’t need to blow you away to win a place in your heart; I’ve no doubt that the Deerhunter record was better (and it was really lovely) but I preferred this.

I liked the Shearwater record too. They made an very natural, elegant contribution with their ornithologically-minded Rook, a mature, piano-led album made notable by Jonathan Meiburg’s clean, pure, almost operatic tenor voice. It was a very pastoral, wistful and beautiful art-rock record – like Radiohead covering Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. And Brighton MA made another record that might have escaped me if I hadn’t for some reason come back for subsequent listens after initially being unimpressed. Their Amateur Lovers does nothing more than run with the spirit of Bob Dylan, Wilco and REM, but it does so in a quietly transfixing way, making for a sturdy, world-weary yet enigmatic album.

This year seems to be the year that the indie fraternity really fell for folk, surrendering to a series of young, serious and often gorgeous singer-songwriters, many of whom seemed capable of playing broadly traditional music, imbued with delicacy and vulnerability, without sounding old-fashioned. Contributions from Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes have been much lauded (and deservedly so) but they didn’t top my listening; I was rather more taken with records by Brian Borcherdt, who is otherwise best known for being a member of Holy Fuck, and whose Coyotes was a very tender, quiet and beautiful album, The Dodos, whose Visiter combined wistful Americana with unpredictable melodies reminiscent of the wonderful XTC, and Noah And The Whale, who made a tasteful, enthusiastic anti-folk album, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down; the only flaw of which was a propensity towards a transatlantic accent on the part of Charlie Fink, and a bit of youthful precocity that made them sound overly serious. Iceland’s Hjaltalin and Sin Fang Bous both turned in sweet, tuneful indie-folk LPs that are well worth a listen, too.

Best of all the non-top ten folk stuff, was an album by an artist I discovered by accident: Talons. Released on the small Bark and Hiss label, Songs for Babes is made up of 12 lo-fi, bedroom-recorded paeans to girls, and is beautifully packaged into a delightfully presented record complete with sleeve notes which provide delicate graphical representations of each track’s arrangements. It’s a deeply personal record – although my favourite moment occurs halfway through ‘Juice’, when the song pauses for a brief, celebratory run through the chorus of Steely Dan’s ‘Deacon Blues’. Songs for Babes is the record that fell just outside my top ten, and comes highly recommended. You can pick up a copy here.

Finally, a mention for two more stunning, stately grown-up records. 2008 was the year I finally admitted that Elbow are a great band, and their Mercury Prize win was richly deserved. The Seldom Seen Kid is a terrific record, full of sadness and joy, memorable melodies and beautiful lyrics. And I’ve been wrong all these years. So there you go. On the other hand, I’ve been right all along about the Go-Betweens, so it was no surprise to find Robert Forster turning in another immaculate album, although it somehow felt more important than usual that he did so this year, following the early, tragic death of Grant McLennan. The Evangelist is in some ways a sorrowful record as a consequence, but Forster remains a peerless songwriter – dry, ironic, detached, and yet also deeply moving.

Right, This series of posts has dragged on far too long. Tomorrow I’ll post my top ten of the year, and we can move on.

albums from 2007

Posted 28 Nov 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

Here at Assistant Blog Towers I’m beginning to think about my records of the year so that I can indulge in a bit of list-making, and it occurred to me – in particular after hearing the Wave Picture’s Dave Tattersal talking about his intuition that we wrongly favour what is new over what is special – to look back and see how many records from last year’s list I still rate really highly.

And then I discovered that I never posted a 2007 list, despite a clear memory of writing it. So a trawl through my huge drafts folder located this unpublished list, compiled in January of 2008, of my favourite albums of 2007. What’s interesting is that firstly I had remembered ’07 as a particularly bad year for albums, and yet I was surprised how many great records I singled out. Equally, there are a few there that quickly lost their sheen. So here’s the list, as written, with the exception that I’ve put any records I still listen to frequently in bold. There’s nothing on there I’d disown, but the paucity of bolded items indicates that it’s interesting what insights a bit of distance and perspective can bring.

1. Field Music – Tones of Town
2. The Good, the Bad and the Queen – s/t
3. Scout Niblett – This Fool Can Die Now
4. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
5. Jeff Lewis – 12 Crass Songs
6. Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls
7. Burial – Untrue
8. Seabear – The Ghost That Carried Me Away
9. Dinosaur Jr – Beyond
10. Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever
11. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
12. Thurston Moore – Trees Outside The Academy
13. Von SudenfedTromatic Reflexxxions
14. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
15. Prinzhorn Dance School – s/t
16. Deerhunter – Cryptograms
17. Mountain Goats – Sunset Tree
18. M.I.A – Kala
19. Robert Wyatt – Comicopera
20. Horrors – Strange House
21. Prodigy (Mobb Deep) – Return Of The Mac
22. Shocking Pinks – s/t
23. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
24. Twilight Sad – 14 Autumns and 15 Winters
25. Holy Fuck – s/t

2008 list to come quite soon, when I’m finished arguing with myself.

currently listening to…

Posted 20 Nov 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music
1. It Hugs BackWork Day 7″; over a clutch of singles, It Hugs Back are slowly burrowing the thought that they might be the most promising band in the UK right now into my head. Like Field Music – another band who grew and grew on me, until at last I loved them unconditionally – they are devising a sound of quiet genius. This latest single is lovely.
2. DeerhunterMicrocastles/Weird Era Cont… LPs; two blissful albums from one band, released on the same day. You can’t argue with that. But which is better? I really can’t decide.
3. Brighton MAAmateur Lovers LP; another massive grower – at first I dismissed this as Dylan-lite, Midwestern indie rock, but I was quite wrong. Beautifully arranged and heavy with feeling, this is a dour cracker.
4. Emmy The GreatWe Almost Had a Baby 7″; We’re finally at the countdown stage of the long, long, long wait for Emmy’s album. Thank goodness. The A-side you should know already. The b-side, ‘Short Country Song’, is spellbinding.
5. Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigbys/t LP; totally unexpected return from the marvellous Eric – this is a bright, funny, loopy return; some lovely, lovelorn and frazzled songs that could sit next to Robyn Hitchcock or Kevin Ayers in any record collection.
6. Don CavalliCryland LP; an amazing, technicolour, love-it-or-hate-it effort from this Parisian loner; a twisted combination of delta blues, psychedelic rock, Beefheart and Devo.

7. Francois VirotYes or No LP; An interesting, simple collage of acoustic guitar and handclaps which somehow recalls Animal Collective and XTC. Odd, intriguing, good.

8. WallpaperOn The Chewing Gum Ground LP; Three-piece power pop from Washington State; this is a patchy but occasionally great combination of Make Up, The Jam and, er, The Merton Parkas.

9. Stricken CityLost Art 7″; not quite as great as their super debut, ‘Tak o Tak’, but a great pop song nonetheless, and the band evidently possess, in Rebekah Rah, a bit of a star in the making.

10. CaUSE Co-MOTION - It’s Time LP; this one’s only at the bottom of the list cause I’ve had it for a while; it’s terrific, energetic stuff, imbued with the spirit of The Pastels and their kindred spirits The Vivian Girls. Infuriating band-name capitalization thing notwithstanding.