Posts Tagged ‘end of year lists’

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.

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.

spoon plaudits

Posted 19 Feb 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music

According to the Guardian, today, Metacritic have trawled through all of their data (they collate reviews of music, films, games etc) and have identified Spoon as the most critically acclaimed band of the 2000s. I’m not really surprised by that – it was always going to be them, Wilco or Radiohead; consistent, worthy bands who are all loved by critics, who take adventurous steps without alienating their fanbase. And, y’know, you can’t argue they’re a good band. There must be songwriters, though – like Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, or Mark Everett of Eels – who look on at Britt Daniel and think, um, yeah, but I’m better. Still.

What this does mean, of course, is we have an opportunity to appreciate once again the brilliance that is Adam Buxton’s video to Spoon’s ‘Don’t Make Me a Target’. Wonderful.

top ten films of 2009

Posted 07 Feb 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Observant readers will notice that I never got round to posting my 2009 lists – records of the year etc. Not quite sure why – I spent ages working out my top tens and exhausted my interest, I think. I’ll dig the music list out and post it this week. In the meantime, a bit late, here are my top ten films of 2009. Thoughts in the comments box, please.

Best Films of 2009, in order.
1. An Education (UK)
Utterly charmed by this – everything from the sensitive adaptation to the casting to the period detail was exquisitely done – Carey Mulligan in the lead role acted with incredible subtlety and charm. A beautiful, fascinating film.
2. Fish Tank (UK)
Very unfortunate not to be first in the list, I thought this was terrific, too – another beautifully realised film with a captivating central performance. Here’s a link to my more detailed review.
3. Let The Right One In (Sweden)
The thought of the US remake of this perfect film fills me with, well, horror – I just can’t understand the decision to remake a film which is so beautiful, accessible and chilling. An unexpected, complex reworking of the Vampire myth. One of only two films in the list I’ve seen twice, and it impressed even further on the second view. I’d happily watch it a third time.
4. Moon (UK)
A film that really stayed with me – Sam Rockwell is perfect in the central role(s) and this is a brilliantly realised bit of unsettling science fiction. And yet another promising new director in Duncan Jones. Upsetting and brilliant. Here’s my review – I got told off for including spoilers, so read with caution.
5. A Prophet (France)
Pretty much as good as everyone says it is – where this film really impressed me was in its dual portrayal of toughness and sensitivity. It has the weight of the great gangster films, with a thoughtful metaphysical component.
6. Thirst (S. Korea)
What with True Blood, Let the Right One in and the wonderful Being Human on the BBC, as well as the many other vampire franchises in operation, one would be forgiven for taking a pass on yet another film about people who bite people. But Thirst was brilliant. Totally repositioning the Priest’s role in the Vampire story, this was great stuff.
7. In The Loop (UK)
Do you know, I was a touch underwhelmed by this the first time I saw it, finding it a bit less funny than I was expecting and mostly concentrating on the furious final third. But I’ve seen it since and thought it much better on a second viewing. A case of it’s funny ‘cos it’s true, perhaps.
8. Star Trek (US)
So much better than it had any right to be. Mystifying middle section apart, this was awesome fun.
9. Down Terrace (UK)
Not sure if this has had a general release yet, but this very dark, low-key comedy is a gangster flick set in Brighton. Somewhere between Mike Leigh and The Sopranos, it was quite brilliant, and genuinely shocking in places.
10. Helen (UK)
Not sure if I actually enjoyed this, but I admired it for its simplicity and purity – a strange, unsatisfying meditation on identity – it’s well worth a look.

Obviously there’s a bunch I didn’t see (Avatar, The White Ribbon, The Antichrist, 35 Shots of Rum) that might have made the list, but as I didn’t see ‘em…

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.

predictable nme

Posted 17 Nov 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music

The NME has published its 50 Greatest Albums of the 2000s. It’s such a boring, predictable list. Would any of my readers care to better it? I might give this some thought over the next few days. To make things easier, shall we say Top Ten, rather than 50, in the comments box below? Alright then.

Here’s the NME list
1. The Strokes – Is This It
2. The Libertines – Up The Bracket
3. Primal Scream – xtrmntr
4. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever To Tell
6. PJ Harvey – Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
7. Arcade Fire – Funeral
8. Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
9. The Streets – Original Pirate Material
10. Radiohead – In Rainbows
11. At The Drive In – Relationship Of Command
12. LCD Soundsystem – The Sound Of Silver
13. The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
14. Radiohead – Kid A
15. Queens Of The Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf
16. The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free
17. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
18. The White Stripes – Elephant
19. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells
20. Blur – Think Tank
21. The Coral – The Coral
22. Jay-Z – The Blueprint
23. Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future
24. The Libertines – The Libertines
25. Rapture – Echoes
26. Dizzee Rascal – Boy in Da Corner
27. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
28. Johnny Cash – Man Comes Around
29. Super Furry Animals – Rings Around The World
30. Elbow – Asleep In The Back
31. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
32. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
33. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
34. Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump
35. Babyshambles – Down In Albion
36. Spirtualized – Let it Come Down
37. The Knife – Silent Shout
38. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
39. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
40. Ryan Adams – Gold
41. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
42. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
43. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
44. Outkast – Loveboxxx/The Love Below
45. Avalanches – Since I Left You
46. Delgados – The Great Eastern
47. Brendan Benson – Lapalco
48. Walkmen – Bows and Arrows
49. Muse – Absolution
50. MIA – Arular

assistant blog top ten records of 2008

Posted 06 Feb 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music

It’s taken me SO long to do this. Ben’s just posted his top ten records of the year over on his Silent Words Speak Loudest blog, and I’m pleased he has because he’s shamed me into finally posting mine.

Here you go – the ten best records of 2008, according to me. Buy them all.

10. CARL CRAIG – Sessions
It often looks tokenistic to include a hip hop or techno record in a list which is inevitably going to be dominated by indie rock acts, but there’s no sense of Carl Craig’s momentous collection of recent mixes being undeserving of a place in my top ten albums of the year. The sheer versatility, complexity and perfection of his mixes made this a delight – every song a slow-unfolding, spellbinding micro-symphony. And custom-built for dancing.

9. NEIL HALSTEAD – Oh, Mighty Engine
Funny that nearly twenty years ago I used to swoon to Halstead’s lush guitar work with his first band, Slowdive, then lost track of him altogether – I wasn’t a fan of Mojave 3 – before rediscovering him in 2008. Oh, Mighty Engine is an album I would have hated when I sixteen; it’s a collection of lazy, quiet folk songs about surfing and wearing a beard. Summoning up echoes of Nick Drake and Syd Barrett, this album was my summer record of 2008.

8. VAMPIRE WEEKEND – s/t
No, I didn’t escape this album eiher, and nor did I want to. In many ways there’s something off-putting about how perfectly – and apparently effortlessly – Vampire Weekend composed this set of songs, but there’s no denying that Oxford Comma, A Punk, Mansard Roof, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance were breezy mini-classics, focusing the tight songwriting of the early Strokes with the melodic ear of, er, Paul Simon. In the end, like pretty much everyone else, I simply couldn’t resist.

7. PEGGY SUE – The Body Parts / The First Aid
Bit of a cheat this, as Brighton’s Peggy Sue didn’t release an album this year; but they did bring out two gorgeously packaged EPs for Broken Sound, which combined added up to nine new songs which stitched a gorgeous tapestry of sounds. Much of Peggy Sue’s charm derives from the slapdash nature of their instrumentation and relaxed stage demeanour, but their recordings are surprisingly adept and considered, and the vocal interplay between Rosa Rex and Katy Klaw is deeply impressive. I saw them live a lot this year, and was teased by all of my friends for being transparently in love with them. Their confident, irreverent anti-folk is stripped down and raw, made sparkling by lyrical complexity and a lot of style.

6. FRIGHTENED RABBIT – The Midnight Organ Flight
Yet another slow-burner, I mistakenly identified Frightened Rabbit’s second album as a tuneful, post-Elbow rock record on first listen, and filed it away unimpressed. Months later, I’m amazed I didn’t hear the undercurrent of fury and passion that sweeps through this bitter, brilliant album. The loose, bass-less indie-rock still has fleeting moments of Elbow’s majesty, but filtered through a vivid layer of noise and some amazing lyrics; better comparisons are perhaps Lou Barlow’s battered, bruised Sebadoh and fellow Scots The Twilight Sad. Ace record.

5. STEPHEN MALKMUS – Real Emotional Trash
Pig Lib is still my favourite solo Malkmus record, but the critical consensus on Real Emotional Trash is impossible to dispute; Steve has made his most rounded, consistent album in over a decade. This glorious LP contains a heap of beautiful songs – notably ‘Gardenia’, as lovely as anything he’s ever written – but it’s really a collection of set pieces constructed for Malkmus to let loose his guitar on. Fans of his lackadaisical playing back in the day might on first listen be disappointed by the rounded, progressive licks he unleashes, but it’s impossible not to admire his skill. Most importantly, however, the tunes shine through. For the first time in many years, Malkmus is not looking awkward or disaffected, but rather deeply comfortable in his own skin. So this is easily a top-five record, and I’m rapidly talking myself into placing it higher.

4. THOMAS TANTRUM – s/t
What an enthusiastic, colourful and unexpected contribution Thomas Tantrum made to 2008. Their debut album was a marvellously fizzy affair, powered by Megan Thomas’s love-it-or-hate-it squeals, a host of tempo changes, and a bunch of buzzy, brilliant art rock songs which sounded like an explosion of Blondie, Sonic Youth and Blur. Lead single ‘Shake It Shake It’ sounded brilliant all year long, but ‘Pshandy’ and ‘Why The English Are Rubbish’ were the biggest treats.

3. LYKKE LI – Youth Novels
I seem, almost every year, to become interested in another Scandinavian singer who makes electro-pop, and yet no record of that ilk (except Bjork’s Vespertine) ever stayed with me as long as this one. I first saw Lykke on Jools Holland, playing a mesmerising, stripped down take on ‘Little Bit’, but was put off buying her album as I imagined it diluted by layers of orchestration. When I eventually picked it up, I was delighted to find it not only full of brilliant, dark and sexy songs, but brilliantly, sparingly constructed – it contains swathes of juddering bass, periods of near silence and spare clicks, bells, off-screen sounds. The constant is Lykke Li’s childlike, beguiling voice and her mesmeric self-belief. For the last two months of the year, I found it practically impossible to listen to anything but this fantastic collection of songs; it is a haunting, incredibly rewarding debut album. Really looking forward to hearing what she does next.

2. LAURA MARLING – Alas I Cannot Swim
I’d determined myself that I wouldn’t use this space to wax on about Laura’s age and how startlingly mature her first album is, but it’s impossible to do it justice without noting with wonder the contrast between the youthfulness of its creator and the incredible depth of the songs which populate it. Credit must go to Charlie Fink, whose production is deeply lovely, but it’s Marling’s record – as complex, romantic and grown-up record as one could possibly desire, and simply chock-a-block full of wondrous songs. Marling’s musical ear is superb, her ability to create soaring melodic hooks set against simple, evocative playing, and her lyrics are excellent. If I could only keep one song from every album released this year, it would be ‘Your Only Doll’, the best song on this terrific, super-consistent record.

1. THE WAVE PICTURES – Instant Coffee Baby
Easily my favourite record of the year. It took me ages to work out the order of the other albums in the top ten (and beyond) but this album’s placing was apparent from the day I bought Instant Coffee Baby – it’s easily the best record of the year. Given that the Wave Pics have been distributing their music on CD-r for years, it’s perhaps a bit much to wax lyrical about how this is a ‘debut album’, but the fact remains that it came pretty much out of nowhere and contains a chastening lesson in the art of writing vibrant, heart-felt left-field pop. The musical reference points are perfectly straightforward – Hefner, Jonathan Richman and early Dire Straits – but Dave Tattersal’s lyrics are what really set the album apart; he’s a charming, playful, inventive lyricist, always taking gambles and playing with words, focusing on small events, observations and ideas. He brings the same good-humoured creativity to his lyric-writing as he does to his guitar solos; they’re high-spirited, deeply intelligent and terrific fun.

Wave Pictures are my band of the year, and this is the best record of 2008.

Bands who released records that nearly made the list:
Brian Borchedt, Claro Intelecto, Color Cassette, Deerhunter, Desolation Wilderness, Dodos, Elbow, Grouper, High Places, Idle Tigers, Kail, Les Amazones De Guinee, M83, Max Tundra, Portishead, Robert Forster, Roots Manuva, School of Language, Shearwater, Talons, The Week That Was, Tony Allen, Toumani Diabate, Vivian Girls,

Bands who released records that I liked a lot:
The Acorn, Anni Rossi, Black Spade, Bon Iver, Breeders, Brighton MA, British Sea Power, Cause Co-Motion, Don Cavalli, Fleet Foxes, Frokost, Gable, Hercules & Love Affair, Hjaltalin, Hush Arbors, Let’s Wrestle, Monkey, Mt Eerie, No Age, Noah & The Whale, Paavaharju, Port O’Brien, Seagull, Stanley Brinks, Walter Becker, Windsurf.

My Top ten of 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, Whatever

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.

also rans part one

Posted 05 Jan 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Like a lot of bloggers, I’ve been beavering away trying to put together my list of the best records of 2008, and now that I’ve done so I’m immediately struck by how safe my choices are, so I thought a post or two might be needed to discuss some of the other brilliant and sometimes unpredictable records I’ve fallen a bit in love with over the last 12 months.

A lot of stuff this year seems to have been heavily influenced by the less fashionable bits of British music in the 1980s – the stuff that until now people have left well alone. Although I don’t like many of the influences, it seems to have worked out nicely, whether it’s Vampire Weekend channeling Paul Simon, The Wave Pics recalling the minor-chord riffs of early Dire Straits, or the two bands that sprung out of 2007′s best band, Field Music.

2008 saw two wonderful albums by both of them. ‘Sea From Shore’ by David Brewis’s School of Language added distortion and collage to the perfect prog-pop of his former band, while the self-titled album by his brother’sThe Week That Was took the ultra-melodic instincts of Field Music even further, and channelled almost to saturation point the big drums and gleaming production of mid-80s MOR pop, recalling Peter Gabriel and Genesis along the way. An odd set of influences, but a remarkable couple of albums.


School of Language – Rockist (above)
The Week That Was – Scratch The Surface (below)

A trio of impressive electronic records, meanwhile, seemed to be driven by similar impulses: the Windsurf album, ‘Coastlines’, recalled Tangerine Dream or Steely Dan via a Parisian nightclub, making for a sometimes cheesy and frequently moving concoction of synthesised driving music, which seemed perfect for listening to while pootling around Brighton in the drizzle.

M83’s excellent ‘Saturdays = Youth’ also built on 80s sounds to create a warm, if retro, dance record which bears repeated listens – it’s denser and more fashionable, but still an odd record, full of delightful moments.

Oddest of them all was Max Tundra’s near-bewildering ‘Parallax Error Beheads You’, which was a cacophony of intricate synth pop, electronic beeps, double-speed bursts of melody and autotuned vocals that seemed to reference everything from 1970s TV theme tunes, the art-rock of XTC, the heavily ironic Momus, the pure tones of Scritti Politti and the insanity of Squarepusher. Most detectable, once again, was the note-perfect, deeply unfashionable jazz-rock of Steely Dan – but just weird, weird, weird. I hated it on first listen, and am fast falling in love with it.

I fear I’ll never understand it.

Staying with electronic stuff, I didn’t listen to a lot – but I loved Claro Intellecto’s chilly Ambient techno, which reminded me of early Autechre, and 2562’s lovely ‘Aerial’ stood out as the only dubstep album (apart from the ‘Soundboy Punishment’ comps) which didn’t disappoint me; much-lauded albums by The Bug and Benga did nothing for me in 2008. A lot more fun was Zomby’s terrific ‘Where Were U in ‘92’ which took the joyful spirit of rave and distilled everything that was good about it. It was not a serious record – and all the more serious for it.

Elsewhere, I was as impressed as ever by the latest genius offering from Roots Manuva, whose albums get better and better, as well as Kail’s brilliant, explicit, hilarious hip hop concept album, ‘True Hollywood Squares’, which is not for the easily offended but is superbly original. Black Spade’s ‘To Serve With Love’ was another good rap record, soulful, intelligent and understated.


Roots Manuva – Again and Again (above)
Black Spade – She’s The One (below)

Lastly, a real winner and a late discovery in 2008 was Color Cassette’s short, lovely album of laptop blips, folk and post-Penguin Café mini-orchestration. If you’ve not heard it, it’s a charming, gentle work of art perfect for lulling one into waves of daydreams. I’m dimly aware that the fact that this was closer to a place in my top ten than Portishead’s genuinely thrilling, astounding ‘Third’ is a grave injustice, but the fact is that I listened to it more. Perhaps you should buy both.

OK, that’s part one of the also-rans. The rest to follow shortly, followed by my top ten of the year. Thanks for staying with me this far.

dan’s albums of 2008

Posted 23 Dec 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music

This blog has been stupidly quiet recently, for which apologies; I shall try to remedy the situation over the New Year period. In the meantime I am readying a host of posts about my favourite records, books and TV programmes of the year – but first here is an excellent and intriguing Albums of 2008 list by Dan. Quite a few things to explore if you don’t know the records already:

1. BowerbirdsHymms for a Dark Horse. This is my favourite album of the year by quite a way actually. Very honest recording, very beautiful songs. Tracks sound like they have been sung and recorded in the open and the instrumentation is basic but used to great effect. Saw this band at End of the Road twice, once on their own and also backing up their pal Bon Iver (more of him later). Watch this video of ‘My Oldest Memory’ to get a flavour of their rustic charm:

2. Laura MarlingAlas, I Cannot Swim. Ah, lovely Laura. She’s from the Reading area y’know? This album has been a revelation and I don’t know anyone who does’nt like it and who has’nt fallen under its spell. I stalked her this year at End of the Road Festival, this is what I saw.

3. Anni RossiAfton EP. Ok this is just an EP but I like her. She sounds a bit like Scout Niblet and quite a lot like Joanna Newsom. However she trumps the two of them – in my opinion. Looking forward to an album next year.

4. Bon IverFor Emma, Forever Ago. Alright, what end of the year list would be complete without this? I like it a lot, though maybe a little tired of it now. Who is Emma? Does she mind? Anyway, as forced as this sounds at times its still really really good. How much we’ll want to pick it up next year remains to be seen however.

5. HauschkaFerndoff. This is a great comtemporary classical album. I really like it, it self destructs in places but is underpinned by beauty all the way through. A little like the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Goldmund which I also really liked this year.

6. Daniel Martin MooreStray Age. Superior singer song writer stuff in which you discover more reasons to like with each listen. I think Stray Age was his first album and it sounds a little like Sufjan Stevens circa Seven Swans.

7. Max Richter - 24 Postcards in Full Colour. It’s been a busy time for Max Richter. This year he has released this album as well as the soundtrack to the excellent film Waltz With Bashir. Each song here cuts off just as you imagine how they might turn out. It too is soundtrack stuff in a way but you are left to imagine the film for yourself.

8. Krulle Bol - This is the Kit. Second only to Laura Marling this year in my book for solo female song writing prowess. A little known album, but look up the track ‘She Does’.

9. Noah and The WhalePeaceful The World Lays Me Down. Grown a little tired of this now but that is only due to the amount of listens I’ve given it over the year. The kids are ok – excellent album.

10. Sea WolfLeaves In the River. Cheesy in places, not as good as past ‘Sea’ named bands eg Seabear or Seagull. However there are enough beards in this band to make their sound authentic and there are three or four strong songs here. Their lead singer looks like Michael J Fox I reckon – check them out.


Thanks Dan!

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.

overdue: books in 2007

Posted 31 Jan 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews

The best read of the year was, for me, the excellent ‘In The Country of Men’ by Hisham Matar, a brilliant fictional insight into the world of Gaddafi’s Libya; it was tender, direct and raw. Back in March I called it a “humane work of genius”.

Also impressive this year was ‘Exit Wounds’, a beautifully rendered and moving graphic novel by Rutu Modan (reviewed by me here), Indra Sinha’s massively lively ‘Animal’s People’, and ‘The Lay of The Land’, an elegiac Richard Ford novel.

I loved dipping in to Nicola Barker’s huge ‘Darklands’ (but didn’t finish it) and Peter Ackroyd’s even-huger ‘Thames: Sacred River’.

I read a bunch of books on the Middle East and Islam in 2007, and the best were Ed Husain’s excellent ‘The Islamist’ and ‘Desperately Seeking Paradise’ by the brilliant Zia Sardar.

Of the other Booker novels, Anne Enright’s ‘The Gathering’ was good, as was Lloyd Jones’s ‘Mister Pip’. ‘On Chesil Beach’, a slight, clunky and much-praised novel by Ian McEwan, wasn’t.

Worst read of the year was Chuck Palahniuk’s awful ‘Rant’.

December lists, 2006

Posted 18 Dec 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

Okay, here’s this year’s entry in the “I’m hipper than thou” awards…

Assistant Blog Top Ten Albums of The Year
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

Feel free to leave comments / abuse below….

Awesome Stuff Which Didn’t Make It
1. CSS – Cansie De Ser Sexy
2. The Futureheads – News and Tributes
3. The Rapture – Pieces of The People We Love
4. Tony Allen – Lagos No Shaking
5. Brakes – Beatific Visions
6. The Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home
7. Joanna Newsom – Vs
8. Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block
9. Bonnie Prince Billy – The Letting Go
10. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Decent Stuff Worth A Mention
1. TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
2. Tapes ‘N Tapes – S/T
3. Thom Yorke – The Erasor
4. Tiga – Sexor
5. Victorian English Gentleman’s Club – S/T

Stuff I Didn’t Take To At All:
1. The Walkmen – A Hundred Miles Off
2. Secret Machines – Ten Silver Drops
3. The Gossip – Standing In The Way Of Control
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Shake Your Bones
5. Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
6. The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
7. The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth
8. The Flaming Lips – At War With The Mystics

Best band in the world this year: bit of a cheat, seeing as they broke up, but a final endorsement for the peerless Sleater Kinney.
And worst band of the year: no question this time round: Kasabian.

Lots more lists of the year, here…