Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Best songs of 2008

These probably aren't the best best songs of 2008, but they are a selection of the ones that have really moved me this year (only one from each artist...). Check them out - downloads or YouTube clips where I could... In alphabetical order only:

Cage The Elephant - In One Ear

Centro-matic - Quality Strange

Chris Bathgate - Salt Year

Eef Barzelay - Make Another Tree

Horse Feathers - Curs in the Weeds

Land of Talk - Cornerphone

The Quiet Ones - Girls and Uniforms

Royal Bangs - Brother

Snowblink - Tired Bees
one little breeze, as quiet as a hiveful of tired bees
one little word, as soft as the breast of a hummingbird
one little song, sung oft as a moth moving towards a light left on
one little tremor, as tender as a frost thawing into pond
one little word, as soft as the breast of a hummingbird

Surf City - Dickshakers' Union

These United States - We Go Down To That Corner

Tokyo Police Club - Juno
(In A Cave) Couldn't find a Juno mp3...

Uglysuit - ...And We Became Sunshine

The Walkmen - In The New Year

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Uglysuit on Decomposed

Really liked this stripping down of The Uglysuit's Chicago on Stereogum's Decomposed series:

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Free 4AD sampler

There are a lot of free music samplers from labels, and most of them aren't worth that much... However, 4AD's is worth a lot, and probably contains bands you probably will like if you give them time... Go here to find out more.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

2008 Top 10 Albums

I guess people like Top 10s... They're hard to come up with - much easier to just throw together the albums that you've liked in any one year. When I did that this year, there were around 45... So, trimming was in order. Here's where I got to:

1. Centro-matic/ South San Gabriel 
Dual Hawks
Will Johnson is the singer and songwriter for Centro-matic, a Crazy Horse-The Band style rock 4-piece and South San Gabriel, a quieter, mellower, folkier outfit. It is hard to overestimate the impact of his voice and ability to write a song - at his best, he reaches directly into your soul. Elegiac, spare melodies and aching building dynamics double up on power pop with a buzzsaw edge. Dual Hawks should ensure the bands are given the kind of accolades usually reserved for (friends) My Morning Jacket or Drive-By Truckers.

The Black Keys 
Attack and Release

A band playing primal blues that captured mass attention for the way they have made not only a man with a guitar and a drummer into some kind of modern rival for early Zeppelin, but the way that they have made elemental music popular with people under 25. Keeping their stark sound from Thickfreakness and adding in some wonderful atmospherics to a more soulful sound. Attack and Release sees the band grow into one of the best around.

Delta Spirit 
Ode To Sunshine

A five piece band from Southern California, Delta Spirit are The Cold War Kids meet the Beatles, and the Kinks, and the best folk music. It is joyful, melodic, anthemic and rootsy. Ten songs seems ten too few. When the electric guitars kick in, they mean it; when the choruses kick in, they sing with the evangelism of a Baptist preacher. There is not a weak moment, not a filler song, not a thrown away note. There is no preaching, no overreaching, no preening. It has spirit, soul and boundless energy.

Royal Bangs 
We Breed Champions
Audio Eagle

So, so good. A band that combines the best of The Clash and Dinosaur Jr unleashes a thick slug of buzz and energy alongside some great melodies. With a studio-full of instruments thrown (appropriately) into the mix, the enthusiasm is captured and remains wonderfully thrilling, dirty almost, but always deliciously more-ish. There seems to be no higher purpose than simply making great music - there are parallels with an unleashed In Rainbows Radiohead, but lead man Ryan Schaefer seems to be having a better time than Thom Yorke. 

5. The Walkmen 
You And Me

The Walkmen are an individual, and remarkably cool collective, making left-of-The-Strokes New York indie. In The New Year, I Lost You and Seven Years of Holidays are as good as any Walkmen song (including single of the noughties, The Rat). Like New York Dolls playing Tom Waits, the band's rhythms and textures and punk spirit infuse the soundscape like a tequila marinade. 

6. The Quiet Ones 
Better Walk Than Ride Like That
In Advance

An energy like The Lily's Nanny In Manhattan and a musical mix like Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, The Quiet Ones seem instantly like one of the best bands you've heard in an age. At times, a hipper Foo Fighters (All Day), at others a rockier Wilco (O Mexico), coming back around with a B-52s cheese-fun thrash (Biggest Love), this is an album unlike any other, and wholly welcome for that. 

7. Cage The Elephant 
Cage The Elephant

Like a red hot Red Hot Chili Peppers mixed with the Arctic Monkeys, this five-piece band throw a storming number of influences into the mix. It is like the 70s punk scene all over again - Sex Pistols attitude and Black Crowes songsmithery mixed with a wholly noughties attitude,. Lead singles In one Ear and Ain't No Rest For The Wicked will surely be the Chelsea Dagger of this summer's festivals, The funk underlying the tunes (listen to Lotus and try to keep your head still) adds depth and listenability to the whole album. 

8. Tokyo Police Club 
Elephant Shell
Label - Memphis Industries

So long as The Walkmen don't want to make The Rat again, this is as great a bunch of rapid-fire propulsive singles as you'll hear. Only one song comes in over three minutes, and none of the others needs to. The song ideas keep coming at you - they burst in, deliver their message breathlessly and with great melody, and get back out. With pounding backbeats, synths driving the melody, guitar adding edge and character, and a snaking punky bass under the shy boy voice, this is all the band you need.

9. These United States 
United Interests

Crimes is The Basement Tapes brought right up to date - in song quality, instrumentation and overall feel, it is hard not to believe that Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Rick Danko were in the studio for this one when Get Yourself Home or Six Fast Bullets kick in. We Go Down To That Corner is a stunning song, a modern blues parable. Crimes is a step forward and sideways for These United States - a grandiose communal statement. 

10. Eef Barzelay 
Lose Big
Label - SLG

What Barzelay does so superbly is craft quite incredible lyrics, with an ability to balance bitter, sweet and achingly beautiful, and then fit them to songs that enhance every emotion. Rolling Stone captured it succinctly when they said, "Lyrically, he can be as cool as jazz, as earnest as folk, as sorrowful as country, as goofy as pop and as ironic as indie rock, sometimes all in one song." Basically, Lose Big is a Clem Snide album, freed from the constraints of genre. It is a lovely thing, full of texture, feel and touch.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Vandaveer (Mark Charles) was a hell of a treat when he and the guys from These United States stayed over at the end of their tour of the UK - watching the Wimbledon final (THE Wimbledon final de nos jours) with them was an unexpected pleasure...

Just noticed a couple of clips up at the excellent French site Blogotheque:

and The Streets Is Full Of Creeps

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Royal Bangs

Some wonderful shows found at WOXY... These United States, Horse Feathers, and one of my favourite new bands, Royal Bangs...


Friday, 14 November 2008

Centro-matic, South San Gabriel videos

A couple of shows were filmed by ABtv in Belgium in April. Fantastic stuff:

Sunday, 12 October 2008

New Centro-matic video

Nice to see Centro-matic on video... From the Undertow site:

From album the "Dual Hawks" out now on Misra Records.
We spent a few hours in front of Dan's Silverleaf in Denton, TX on a very warm summer day. Here's the video we made. It's all one shot with no edits. We did it 16 times to get it right. Our friend Mark Ray did all the cool animations on top of the HD footage we shot. Hope you like it.

Centro-matic - Rat Patrol and DJs from Undertow on Vimeo.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

(Free) MP3s of the week

Songs don't come much more beautiful than Horse Feather's Curs In The Weeds. The rest of the album, House With No Home, is wonderful too.

These United States' album, Crimes, is also finally released. Download Get Yourself Home here... Also, the band have just done their second Daytrotter session. Four free downloads from that (excellent session) here.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Chris Bathgate's Salt Year

I have fallen deeply in love with a song. Chris Bathgate's Salt Year, on Wait, Skeleton, is so deeply beautiful - a tale of love that should have been taken, and a tune that takes your heart from deep in your stomach. It is sparse, simple and simply gorgeous.

seventeen years before 
I should have hauled off and kissed her
now I lace my wine with ginger 
just let my evenings pass
they pass

she's whistling in a candy store
and I'm just screaming in the dark here
I'm just choking down a salt year
and sugar's all I've longed for
I try again

seventeen and there she stood
a photograph in my doorway
and I felt all my light leave me
my thoughts all tumbling under

after that my days resign to static and gray hair and soft cry
like a cracked crystal second hand wine chime
just clanging for a lover
I can love
try again

I can't offer a free mp3 of the song - it's available for download from most places, but there is a YouTube clip of Chris performing the song live:

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Land of Talk

Delighted that this band are banging out another album - a fantastic combination of female lead vocals and aggressive rock, Land of Talk haven't forgotten melody or songs... The new album Some Are Lakes, if the two pre-release download tracks (Some Are Lakes, and Corner Phone) are anything to go by, will be excellent.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

MP3 of the week

Heard of this band on the KEXP Song of the Day podcast... The Quiet Ones are a Seattle-based band, and I love their lead single Girls and Uniforms. Download it from their website... The album is a pretty rich treat. I'm sure I'll be posting more soon...

Friday, 5 September 2008

The Walkmen UK tour dates

The Rat may be one of the best singles of all time (in my head), and hearing The Walkmen nail it live remains a highlight of the past few years...

Here's a video of the lead single In The New Year, recorded for Pitchfork TV...

They're back in the UK next month - you should see them:


28th London ULU

29th Manchester Academy 3

31st Leeds Cockpit



1st Glasgow Stereo

2nd Dublin Button Factory

Cotton Mather/ Future Clouds and Radar

I must admit to knowing an awful lot less about this band than I should...

Cotton Mather are a band I became aware of in the 90s - their Beatle-esque stuff is just fantastic (although they're not so fond of that reference). But they seem to exist in some kind of alternate universe - I hear little to nothing about them, apart from just how much I like them every time I hear them. 

I was re-alerted when I listened to Little Steven's Underground Garage compilation, and prompted to dig around. There is a MySpace page, but really very little else... At least there are some downloads there...

Then, a little more digging that has me inordinately excited - there's a new band - Future Clouds and Radar (listen to some new tracks here), which has a new album coming out soon. Seems lead man Robert Harrison has been ill, and this is a new direction... Watch for more soon.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Free Music... August

Best new album of the month for me (after The Walkmen...): The Uglysuit's self-titled debut. Download Chicago (not the best track, but the free-est) here .

After that, you'd be missing out if you didn't also take advantage of Richard Swift's generosity in releasing his latest EP for free here

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Walkmen - new album

Listening right now to the new Walkmen album, which seems to be a great return to Bows + Arrows form...

It is also both remarkably good value, and good for the soul. Here's the band's note:

You & Me is now available for $5 at www.amiestreet.com/thewalkmen .

For every record purchased, $5 will be donated to the  Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

I don't know how a $5 album makes $5 for a (great) cancer centre, but this is a wonderful idea. Buy a few copies!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Morning Benders - free music

The Morning Benders have made a big dent in my listening in the last few weeks - I love the loose limbed, fun, feel of their debut, Talking Through Tin Cans (see previous post). Now they've gone a step further and released, for free, an EP/ album of covers recorded in their apartment. (They call it Bedroom Covers, but don't get the impression that this is just a mirror and a hairbrush - the covers are excellent choices, their versions have depth and soul...)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Vandaveer, AdultAlternative session

Mark Charles Heidinger, AKA Vandaveer, was someone I'd missed out on. On the recent UK tour with These United States, Mark (playing bass in the photo) combines a great voice and simply great songs. He is also a genuinely warm and nice guy...

We were lucky enough to get him to sing songs from his fantastic album, Grace and Speed. As always, click on the song titles to go to YouTube to see these in higher quality video and audio.

Monday, 14 July 2008

These United States session

Rapidly becoming one of my favourite bands, These United States stopped by The Old Chapel at the end of a successful UK tour that included three performances at Glastonbury.

With an immense songcraft, and a remarkable ability to reinvent their own songs (just listen to So High So Low, from the first album reworked here), the new material previewed in the session has a nailed on Basement Tapes/ Highway 61 Revisited feel. (In a good way. It would be easy to throw that out as a comparison, based on sound alone, but the songs stand the comparison easily.)

Here's what I wrote about their first album, A Picture of The Three Of Us At the Gate To The Garden Of Eden:
With the new intelligence raging through American popular folk/ Americana/ rock, the congestion among bands that build rock into their psych-folky harmonies is hard to penetrate. However, These United States may just be strong enough to break through it all - lead man Jesse Elliott shows a Paul Simon knack for a melody and a sense of song dynamics that can leave you breathless. Songs like First Sight, or The Business, come across like early 70s classics from the bleeding edge of 2008. Elliott's voice recalls M Ward's - well, it's actually a dead ringer - but the music is a lot more varied; there's some Andrew Bird in there, surely. Led by Elliott and his friend David Strackany, These United States drafted in more than 30 Washington, DC and Midwest-based musicians, and deployed them sparely and wonderfully across the record. In places a fragile thing, in others as solid as metal, the imagination behind A Picture can seem fevered - you get to the end of it like you get to the end of a good modern art gallery - still slightly puzzled, but in no doubt that you now see things differently.

Enjoy these videos of this incarnation of These United States: main man Jesse Elliott (left), Mark Charles (of Vandaveer; middle) and J. Tom Hnatow (right). If you click on the titles, you'll go to YouTube, where you've the option to watch in higher quality (sound and video). Look for some songs from Vandaveer soon. 

Friday, 11 July 2008

Black Cab Sessions

One of the coolest sites about sees a fantastic collection of artists playing a song in the back of a black cab in London.

Have a look at this video of Stephen Fretwell, and then head to here for the full collection.


Friday, 4 July 2008

Lance Armstrong - Death Cab fan

Interested to read that Lance Armstrong is in love with this Death Cab For Cutie song, and seems to have pretty reliable taste in music to add to the other reasons to like the guy...

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

These United States

Very much looking forward to catching up with this wonderful edge-folk band when they tour the UK in the next few weeks (and hopefully to hosting an evening session at the Chapel). For now, have a listen to/ download First Sight...

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Kilto Take, live

These guys will be huge. Caught them on a BBC session last week. Go to YouTube to see it in higher definition...

Video for Fallen here: 

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Royal Bangs

Heard about this band from a recommendation on Rolling Stone - Pat Carney of The Black Keys, no less...

Really like the funky, indie, loose edge - tuneful, organic, compulsive...

Have a listen to/ download Broke Calculator, and Cat Swallow, from We Breed Champions (I don't think they're the best tracks on the album, though. Seriously, go to emusic.com and download the whole album.)

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Green Day new album

The success of American Idiot brought with it all of those mixed emotions... A band I loved, when it seemed to be against the grain, all of a sudden was filling stadia...

Green Day, themselves, however, seemed to compromise not one bit. The shows felt like small venues, even with 30,000 people. The music on American Idiot was as good as any that preceded it... (Nimrod's still my number one GD album, though.)

As further proof that they're still in it for the music, their new album is released under the Foxboro Hot Tubs name (in a poorly guarded secret). Stop Drop and Roll is fantastic 60s/70s rock and roll Green Day...

It'll absolutely do until a harder-edged Green Day is ready...

Saturday, 17 May 2008

More live session videos

Two more videos of the remarkable Katey Brooks - Soft Sleeper and True Speaker, in session at The Old Chapel. We're hoping that Katey will be back for some more demos at the Chapel in June, so watch this space...

Katey Brooks | True Speaker

Katey Brooks | Soft Sleeper

Friday, 16 May 2008

More AdultAlternative.co.uk session videos

A further song from Katey Brooks - Grateful Rain

And one from my son, playing an Andy Hull/ Manchester Orchestra son, Where Have You Been

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Katey Brooks

Katey has one of the most impressive voices I have ever heard live. Goodness knows where it comes from, but it would be impossible to hear it and not be shocked.

At the session, she debuted a new song, so new it doesn't yet have a title:

One more: Found

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Kilto Take

Kilto Take are the first band to be signed to Medical Records/ 4 The Record Management, alongside singer/ songwriter Katey Brooks. They will be, without doubt, huge...

They played their first acoustic session for a Medical Records showcase.

Wake In The Lie

Holding The Enemy


Tainted States

Friday, 9 May 2008

Morning Benders

This band make wonderfully fresh, loose-limbed music. 

Have a listen to/ download two tracks from their debut: Crosseyed, and Boarded Doors.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Centro-matic, South San Gabriel

It would be hard to overstate my liking for this band (well, these bands, if I'm being strict). Downloaded the new Dual Hawks album from iTunes this morning, and I'm revelling in some new Will Johnson music...

So nice to hear the two bands on the same album. Will post more thoughts in time...

Head here to hear I, The Kite from the Centro-matic side of the album, Trust To Lose from the SSG side, or, even better, here to go straight to iTunes to download the whole album.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Lou Barlow

I could try to be all grown-up about this, but occasionally I hear a song that I fall for in a big way...

I missed Lou Barlow's Mirror The Eye EP when it came out last year. And I deeply regret that now - it's not uniformly great, but one track, Yawning Blue Messiah, has become this month's Serpentine for me - I can't repeat it fast enough...

Monday, 3 March 2008

Colour Revolt

Really enjoying the debut by this band (and thanks to Manchester Orchestra for the tip). I'd describe it (in that 'x meets y' way that seems to upset half of everyone, and please the other half - so here we go my 'other half') as Queens of the Stone Age meets Pavement. But probably more than that...

Judge for yourself: here is the first track on the disc, Naked and Red. And A Siren...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

MP3s of the week

I still find it astonishing that there is so much great music available for free - even if you're not some pikey music thief...

My two favourite tracks of the week are both available direct from the artists:

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit's first album, Sing The Greys, was a great start. But, the track released from their follow up (Modern Leper) has me looking forward to their second immensely. Have a listen (and download)...  I love the bit where the drum starts...

Monday, 28 January 2008

Land of Talk

I still miss Jen Trynin. She's still with us and seems happy, if her site's up to date... She was an amazing female songwriter, with an incredible ability to make a song rock hard. But, she stopped recording.

So, I've missed a female-fronted band to get excited about for a while - I though Gemma Hayes was going to get there, but her record company seemed to mishandle her (or, her PR company suck... Actually, that is more likely to be true - all my dealings with them suggest that they do, indeed, suck.). Belly, Letters to Cleo, even the Cardigans (in their occasional highlight)...

That brings me to Land of Talk, whose Sea Foam on One Little Indian's sampler (from Applause Cheer Boo Hiss) was the standout track. I don't know much about them, except that they come from Montreal. This track, Speak To Me Bones, is also a great intro...

I hope to find out more.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Chris Bathgate

I listen to about 300 full albums every year and thousands of songs by new bands, so it is rare that one leaps out and commands the kind of attention that makes you immediately go find (and buy) the back catalogue. Chris Bathgate managed that with the opening track of his new album A Cork Tale Wake - Serpentine. I wish that was available as an mp3... It's not clever, it's not especially new, but it is one of the most haunting songs I've heard in an age.

As I can't offer Serpentine, I can only recommend that you go buy it.

Here's another outstanding Chris Bathgate track, however, buffalo girl, from his previous album, throatsleep.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Kevin McDermott

Kevin McDermott is a friend of mine. Let me start with that preface... I like the chap immensely, and like his music an awful lot... I hope that I'll be able to get an Adult Alternative video session with him soon... Because, well, after some long time away, he's released an excellent album of new stuff, which is really exciting.

Here's my review:

Kevin McDermott, Wise To The Fade

Kevin McDermott is, simply, Glasgow's finest singer-songwriter. Which, when you think about the competition from that fair city (Travis, Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian, Snow Patrol), Dogs Die In Hot Cars, and Teenage Fanclub to cite but a few), makes him something special - like Bob Dylan sung by Robbie Williams (but in a good way...), his songs seem at once like old eloquent storytelling friends and like the best new thing you've heard in a long time - anthemic, melodic songs that fit like your best mates after 2 pints in the local. Wise To The Fade is a return to the studio for the first time since 1997's For Those In Peril From The Sea, and a welcome return it is. This is Scotland's best singer-songwriter's best set of songs in a long while - as witty, articulate, and intensely melodic as ever, and with the unshackled feel of his second album - Bedazzled. If there's a criticism, it is perhaps that the McDermott humour dial is cranked up a touch too much. But when an album closes with songs as strong as September Songs (among his best ever – think Robbie Williams’ Angels, but cooler) and the quiet, elegiac Voices, that's a minor nitpick. If there's a precedent, it is to 1991's Bedazzled, McDermott's follow-up to his Island debut - Wise To The Fade opens the album like Hole In The Ground opens its predecessor, with a drum assault bang and a statement of intent, followed by songs that excite and affect at turns. Remarkably, Kevin McDermott's best work is done live, and this long-overdue return to the studio hopefully signals a revitalized touring schedule.

There is a BBC Radio session here. Or you could have a listen at his MySpace page. Or, you can head over to iTunes and buy it right now...