Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Adult Contemporary Essentials 27.12.09

Julian Casablancas
Rough Trade
It is hard to deny that The Strokes were one of the bands that defined the sound of the noughts, and part of that definition, alongside Albert Hammond Jnr's guitar, was the voice of Julian Casablancas. In his first solo departure, that voice remains the constant, but the musical palette grows to include 80s synths (think Human League), 70s prog and some Strokes-like tunes (and a strange country departure). At only 8
songs, this is a short album, full of what must have seemed like guilty pleasures within the band framework. Among those 8 songs, there are two absolute crackers in opener Out Of The Blue, and Glass. Had the rest of the album emerged fully fledged from a new artist, this would have been hailed as a remarkably diverse and excellent set, but it is impossible not to judge it with a Strokes mindset. Phrazes For The Young would attract a different audience than The Strokes, and it is to its credit that it would be attractive to that audience.
ACE rating 9/10

Grant-Lee Phillips
Yep Roc
Grant-Lee Phillips has been the same kind of stalwart of adult alternative US music as now-label-mates Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock and John Doe - turning out wonderful records without ever setting the world on fire. Little Moon sees him become a clearly happy father, moving him away from previously more brooding material. His rich baritone voice can still soar - on songs like Good Morning Happiness (a song that could so easily have tipped into schmaltz) and It Ain't The Same Old Cold War Harry, the bouncy horns compliment the mood perfectly. Elsewhere the optimism does provide a strong uplift, and the music is at the more Wallflowers end of the Grant-Lee Phillips spectrum. Little Moon is a strong addition to the canon, and as good an entry point as any. There will be many who will fall deeply in love with Grant-Lee Phillips on the strength of albums just like this one.

ACE rating 8/10

Various Artists
Never Give Up On Your Hallucinations
Alive/ Redeye
Alive Records is one of the coolest labels on the planet, and its artists, including The Black Keys, Outrageous Cherry and Buffalo Killers, keep the sludgy dirty rock feel of early 70s hard rock, add a dash of blues and then stop caring exactly what you think and just make a noise. That vibe is illustrated perfectly on this sampler album by a band like Radio Moscow who take the blues standard I Just Want To Make Love To You and turn it into some kind of hip hop rock/ Santana fest that would make a dead man dance. Elsewhere, Brimstone Howl, Black Diamond Heavies, Trainwreck Riders, Left Lane Cruiser and The Black Keys add tracks that suggest that Alive may never make a big pile of money, but someone is going to have an awful lot of fun (and Jack Daniels) along the way. Not a trace of subtlety or an ounce of reserve in this excellent album.

ACE rating 8/10

Monday, 21 December 2009

2009 in Music

If there is one thing that music criticism teaches, it is that listening to 300 albums a year is only to scratch the surface of what is out there. Every year gets better, and the talent deeper, so any suggestion that this list is the ‘best’ of 2009 would be an overclaim – it is simply a list of the albums that kept coming back to the top of this reviewer’s playlist, improving with each listen. In no particular order, then...

Manchester Orchestra
Mean Everything To Nothing
Insanely great. When critics talk about ‘a band to watch’ and ‘a band laden with promise’, this right here is the album they always hoped would come out. A band who could make a 60-year old classical music fan headbang and mosh, while keeping the kind of sophistication that comes from writing songs that work wonderfully when acoustic (a la Dave Grohl). If there is competition for Manchester Orchestra, it might be the Foo Fighters (maybe, at a stretch, Biffy Clyro), although that would underplay the honesty Andy Hull is capable of in his lyrics. Manchester Orchestra are the best new rock band to leave America in 10 years.

Monsters of Folk
Monsters of Folk
Rough Trade
In what could easily have been another Traveling Wilburys-like release, Monsters of Folk, a collection of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Mike Mogis and M Ward (and on the tour, Will Johnson of Centro-matic) banded together to not be a supergroup. The seriousness which can occasionally be pervasive in their individual releases is largely absent here – they seem to be having some loose limbed fun. Some games have been upped, though – Oberst sounds right up for this one, with focus and drive that he has missed a little recently.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Rodrigo y Gabriela have become cult favourites for their intriguing blend of classical and flamenco guitar with a rock sensibility. Way more than polite dinner party music, the passion, grace and fire of their interplay is always entertaining. That palette has been expanded on 11:11, with leanings towards Al Di Meola-like jazz, the inclusion of rock guitarist Alex Skolnick, and another duo in Strunz and Farah. It is a wonderful addition, elevating the album from more-of-the-same (no matter how great) to ‘wow’. This album has dynamics, it has soul, it has rock and jazz, and it catches some of the heat of their live work perfectly .

She Keeps Bees
With a cast iron edge to the guitar, and a voice like Cat Power's Chan Marshall sung by Janis Joplin and a Patti Smith attitude, Jessica Larrabee leads this two piece wonderfully. The songs come across like thicker, edgier, bluesier White Stripes songs - deliciously sexy, confessional, naked and edgy. When Jennifer Trynin released her amazing debut album back in the 90s, it sounded just like this - all stunning power, control and sparse instrumentation. It is hard to avoid the Cat Power comparisons, but Nests stands those comparisons well by coming out on top.

These United States
Everything Touches Everything
United Interests
These United States are probably the best band in the US that you’ve not started to listen to yet. Combining Big Pink-era Band style with Shins-y rock and a Rolling Stones funky vibe, Jesse Elliot and band offer up complexity, humour and a driven wit that proceeds past the listener like great rolling countryside past a high speed train. Elliot is a lyricist like few others – capable of pure poetry in his lyrics without overweaning English Lit references, he tells stories elegantly and maturely. Everything Touches Everything rocks up the sound a little, ending up around Jayhawks/ Deadstring Brothers space. It is a great sound, relaxed, but with urgency – the kind of music that Conor Oberst has headed towards but not quite landed the past few years.

Low Anthem
Oh My God Charlie Darwin
Bella Union
It kind of sucks you in to believing it is another Fleet Foxes album, this one, sharing a label with that band, and then throwing in the first two songs, Charlie Darwin, and To Ohio, both lushly, gently sweet. But then, Ticket Taker sounds like Tom Waits took over Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions Band, as the (essentially 3-piece) band take a rowdier stomp into a bar for a couple of songs. A brave second disc, full of the kind of songs that the band wanted to make, rather than written to a formula. The Felice Brothers, Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes have not provided as wholesome an album as this so far.

Dinosaur Jr
Goodness knows how someone can do what Jay Mascis does in Dinosaur Jr for so long and stay so fresh. Starting with songs that Nirvana would have been happy with, then layering over insanely great fuzzed up lead guitar in a kind of Zappa-esque frenzy, it shouldn’t work as anything other than an ego-fest, but it does, wonderfully. Farm is a fantastically resolved album, better than pretty much any of the 8 preceding. Farm is tight, urgent and remarkably whole. If everyone who likes the way Neil Young does what he does when he rocks out would only give this one listen, they’d be converted.

Dan Auerbach
Keep It Hid
Dan Auerbach is known as half of The Black Keys – the singer/ guitarist half. Keep It Hid is a significantly looser affair than any of the previous albums, with country, jazzy blues and psychedelia working their way in. Recording at home has given this album a more organic sound – Keep It Hid takes its own time, and is absolutely never rushed. Auerbach is a better guitarist than he was allowed to be in the Black Keys format, and Keep It Hid, in opposition to its title, brings that to light.

Clem Snide
Hungry Bird
There is something so addictive about simple music when it is done so perfectly. When Clem Snide are on form, and oh, they are here, the music they make is soul food. Touchingly tender, wry, witty and ironic – poetry so carefully and cleverly observed and stories delivered with the gentlest of musical touches. The songs are a grown-up’s treat – like an uber-Snow Patrol before they made it big. A song like Beard of Bees is told as much as it is sung, Barzelay’s weary vocals providing the wry edge that tip it into beauty. With amazing mastery of melody, the 12 songs become like personal friends. As indie-rock bands go, there are few that do a better job for anyone over the age of 30 than Clem Snide.

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Dead Oceans
Full of subtlety, layered acoustic perfection, it is as if Beck had suddenly both rediscovered his musical genius and mixed it with Elbow’s more anthemic moments. Having spent 20 minutes pressing ‘repeat’ on Krill, you may well go back to Radiohead-like opener Giving Away The Bride, or the acoustic-Nirvana-like Polish Girls. All My Friends is the band’s sixth ‘song-based’ album, and it is, by some margin their best – topping even the underrated Roots and Crowns. It has more songs, more individual songs that could be taken out of the album and still work as single gems. It may seem overblown to describe an album as ‘art’ these days, but this is an album where time only deepens the nuances and the attractiveness.

Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures is the latest supergroup to involve Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and Dave Grohl (of, well, everything…), and rather remarkably adds in the Led Zeppelin quiet man, John Paul Jones. An album that rather neatly updates the Cream idea, riff heavy, and full of the bluesy thick rock that would make any fan of Clapton’s supergroup shed a tear of reminiscence. The format clearly suits each of the musicians, with the kind of punch we expect from QoTSA enhanced by some Led Zeppelin basslines. There’s nothing modern in any one of these 13 tracks, and that is perhaps the album’s greatest highlight – it presumes that great rock will always be great rock, without any need for frippery.

Molina and Johnson
Molina and Johnson
Secretly Canadian
This collaboration has been a long time in the making, and has been well worth the wait. The two singers complement each other perfectly. Johnson’s grittier voice blending with Molina’s higher plaintive. The album feels like a Will Johnson album with additional beauty, added harmony, elevated poetry, which makes it just about perfect. This album defines what is best about Americana - the openness, the sense of space, relaxed reverie, landscape and travel. When Johnson says ‘our record was made in the late February sun’, that feels just so right.

Friday, 18 December 2009

2010's biggest new artist

Love the first video from Medical Records' Karl Phillips and the Midnight Ramblers.

(Parental Advisory and sensitive type advisory lyrics.)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Adult Contemporary Essentials 13.12.09

Divide & Conquer
Death By Polka
You’ll like the voice of Vandaveer. It is a burnished mahogany thing, warm to the touch and comforting – aged like the finest whisky, but with a youthful tone. Vandaveer is Kentucky singer-songwriter Mark Charles Heidinger, the son of (to quote his bio) a preacher whose father was a gambler whose father was both judge and US congressman. Those fathers are important to the band name – Vandaveer was the name inscribed on a pocket watch handed down the generations. Vandaveer’s first, Grace and Speed, was full of songs that seemed instantly familiar. Divide and Conquer is a better album – genuinely affecting timeless folk-y indie. Think Johnny Cash’s later American series, run through a young wood filter, or think about this being the best thing that Ryan Adams has done these past 10 years. The songs manage the same trick of seeming like old friends on first listen – essentially simple, but actually tastefully crafted from the finest ingredients. The voice is augmented by incredibly powerful male-female duets with Rose Guerin, which adds a lovely tone to this lovely album.
ACE rating 9/10

Grand Theft Bus
Made Upwards
Forward Music Group
Seems everywhere you look now, there is an outstanding band. Grand Theft Bus, who hail from Canada, are like a non-pretentious Shins, a modern Steely Dan – the music is intelligent, and so naturally laid back that it draws you in for a closer listen. Automatic is a hypnotic piece, with a wonderful melody, and some elegantly great musicianship. Grand Theft Bus have been described as a jam band for indie fans – there is something to that. The band aren’t all about attitude, and posing. Instead, the music seems to flow, take its own directions and a somewhat natural course. Winning awards in Canada is one thing, but this isn’t distinctly Canadian music. Any fan of Minus The Bear, Hey Mercedes or even The Police would find a lot to like in this third album. It improves on its predecessors by focusing in on the songs a lot more, tightening up the ideas and nailing the dynamics perfectly. Lovely.

ACE rating 8/10

White Rabbits
It’s Frightening
White Rabbits are a Brooklyn-based band (Bushwick, New York City), and they play a new, not-easy-to-pigeonhole indie music that draws from bands like Cold War Kids, The Walkmen, The Strokes, maybe even Spoon. This is a band that revels in its rhythmic sense (two drummers...), spiky sound and a great collective noise. All of that comes into the opener, Percussion Gun, which is one of 2009’s great singles. This is a band whose music is as addictive as nicotine - it's fun, melodic, a little anarchic. They're The Walkmen with a sense of humour. On the release of its predecessor, Fort Nightly, it was written that there was every chance that its successor would be outstanding. ‘Outstanding’ may be a step too far, but Its Frightening stands out in many places. Get that lead single for all the evidence you need.

ACE rating 8/10

Adult Contemporary Essentials rating
9-10 Essential purchase
7-8 Good, definite buy if you've liked this artist in the past
5-6 OK only, don't say I didn't warn you
3-4 Poor, even for this artist
1-2 Awful

Friday, 11 December 2009

Vandaveer redux

Had the huge pleasure to catch Vandaveer's set at Union Hall in Brooklyn on Wednesday. Seriously, anyone who used to look to Ryan Adams for the good stuff should start listening in to Mark Charles Heidinger. Alongside the phenomenal Rose Guerin, the music was wholly transcendent.

No apologies for reposting a couple of videos from the session he did for us, and a great opportunity to highlight the video from the latest album (which I believe is to get a proper UK release in March, on Seasick Steve's label...).

Adult Contemporary Essentials 06.12.09

Steve Morse Band
Out Standing In Their Field
Steve Morse is widely regarded by other guitarists as the best of the rock guitarists, and for many years won the Guitar Player magazine award. Not as flash as the Satrianis and Vais, although he can do that, Morse plays with taste, and a passion for baroque music – he can do classical as happily as rock, country as happily as jazz. It is that variety that makes an instrumental album not induce yawns after 5 minutes, and hopefully have an appeal beyond
other guitarists. Morse’s career includes work with Deep Purple now, as well as several albums with the Dixie Dregs and the Steve Morse Band. With an immense support from bass player Dave LaRue and drummer Van Romaine, this is a tight, perfect collaboration. It will never appeal to a Lady Gaga fan, but to any aficionado of the guitar, it is hard to match. Morse refrains from singing, which is a real plus in his peer group, and the songs are wholly original, raining down Zeppelin grooves and bluegrass along with a lovely Baroque N Dreams (he does seem to love poor to medium puns). If you know a guitar player, this would be a perfect Christmas present.

ACE rating 8/10

Built To Spill
There Is No Enemy
Built To Spill are perhaps the best US band you haven’t heard of. If you took Band of Horses and rocked them up with hypnotically excellent lead guitar and propulsive drumming, you’d be in the right place. In the 1990s, Built To Spill sanitised some of the dirtier indie that was around, and by doing so never achieved the critical acclaim of bands like Pavement. But, their work wonderfully defined how great indie rock could be. Lead man Doug Martsch apparently lived in the studio to make this record, and it is a fantastic addition to their canon. It isn’t the pinnacle of the Built To Spill album collection, but that is no disappointment. The previous album, You In Reverse, had some outstanding moments, but There Is No Enemy is more cohesive – it is more elegant in its attack. Still rangey and jam-like, the guitar is still the predominant instrument, although the lyrics this time around are more direct and open too. If you’re an indie rock fan, you should have a Built To Spill album, and There Is No Enemy is a great place to dive in.

ACE rating 8/10

Bob Dylan
Christmas In The Heart
The kerfuffle that accompanied the release of Dylan’s 47th album focused more on the comedy element of Dylan doing his thing on some Christmas standards. Unfortunately, voice apart (and on most songs, it could easily be an impersonator), there is no other piece of Dylan in here. It might seem a little bah-humbug to criticise an album whose royalties are going to be donated to Feeding America, a charity that does so much at Christmas time. But really, seen as a piece of work, this is a knock-off, a karaoke-standard Christmas song backing track with Bob putting in an hour’s shift in the studio. No more than that. The charity could have benefited so much more had Dylan even attempted to interpret the songs his way, rather than just starting with a Val Doonican-standard backing. That way, Dylan fans might have been able to put aside their reverence and actually enjoy it.

ACE rating 5/10

Monday, 30 November 2009

Adult Contemporary Essentials 29.11.09

Cymbals Eat Guitars
Why There Are Mountains
Memphis Industries
Only one question you need to ask about yourself before dipping in here – do you like the kind of sloppy, loose, indie that spends no time at all explaining itself? The genre was defined by Pavement, and picked up more recently by Modest Mouse, and has always had a core, small audience – people who hate, absolutely hate, the idea of polish and single-minded songs. Why There Are Mountains can be abrasive on first listen, as the ideas come ten to the pound, like some 90s indie band retro-find.

However, there are times, when you’ve dipped in, when you can’t imagine pulling away – when Cold Spring starts, you’re there for the duration. The imagination and pure joy expressed in the massed instrumentation and lo fi recording are wonderful. Similarly, with Wind Phoenix, it is hard to avoid the feeling that a band that could really play this with polish would ineffably spoil the experience – the amateurish delivery adds immeasurably to the charm – when it comes in all excited and buzzing, you believe every word, hang on every guitar thrash and go with the song’s many mood changes. There’s nothing really ‘good’ about anything on this album except the fact that it exists, and is full of great songs.

ACE rating 8/10

Benjy Ferree
Come Back To The Five And Dime, Bobby Dee Bobby Dee
On the intellectually-stimulating Ferree’s second album, he takes inspiration from Bobby Driscoll, the child star who portrayed Peter Pan in the 1953 Disney film, who was then fired as puberty and a bad case of acne hit. Bobby Dee struggled to find work and fell into a life-long
battle with drugs until ultimately dying homeless and broke in a Manhattan tenement at the age of 31. With police unable to identify his body, the one-time Academy Award winner ended up in an unmarked mass grave on New York’s Hart Island. “Heavy weighs the burden of Brother Dee,” Ferree sings on the album’s opening track, Tired Of Being Good. Musically, Ferree mixes rock and roll and Americana like a hopped up Ryan Adams, or a more soaring Richard Swift. With country, passionate blues pounding, Marc Bolan, Freddie Mercury and the balladry of Nick Cave all in there, Come Back To The Five And Dime is a riot of styles and inspiration. Denying genres is paying off for Ferree.

ACE rating 8/10

Keep Calm And Carry On
Stereophonics’ sprint from any hint of alternative or indie has coincided with their increasing popularity, so it is perhaps no surprise that their seventh album, Keep Calm And Carry On, sounds like a ‘Robbie Williams does 80s rock’ pastiche. There is a good song on here that might stand next to their best work from the first two (three at a push) albums: 100MPH. Elsewhere, drum machines, McFly-style poppiness and sterile emoting are the order of the day, carrying on from the insipid sixth album, Pull The Pin. While fans of the band are claiming this is a return to form, it is not the form that made the band. Instead, it is simply better vanilla than the cheap vanilla of its predecessor, and it is hard to avoid the feeling of contractual obligation being the driving force behind this recording, rather than any intense desire to have these songs see the light of day. It is hard to see Keep Calm garnering new fans for the band, but the existing fans keep them coming back with more.

ACE rating 6/10

Adult Contemporary Essentials rating
9-10 Essential purchase
7-8 Good, definite buy if you've liked this artist in the past
5-6 OK only, don't say I didn't warn you
3-4 Poor, even for this artist
1-2 Awful

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

These United States video

Fantastic to receive a note from a new friend (any friend of TUS is a friend of mine) whose videos of These United States show just how cool this band is live... The Important Thing, and First Sight recorded live in Iowa City, 2009...

(And, go here for lossless audio, which is lovely... Here )

Adult Contemporary Essentials 22.11.09

Not Even In July
Let’s face it – even the hardest critic of hippy folk would find a lot to like in Fleet Foxes. Well, those same parts make up most of what makes Not Even In July special. Jesse Marchant, an actor turned singer-songwriter, who goes under his initials, sings in a sweet, gentle voice over relaxed lovely melody. A Canadian by birth, Not Even In July was recorded in a church studio, whose atmospherics add a gorgeous ambience to the lazily swelling dynamics and the echoes. Like fellow Canadians Great Lake Swimmers, Marchant’s music has an intimacy that reminds the listener of early Neil Young, Jackson Browne or Rickie Lee Jones. With material covering subjects such as the perfect July On The Sound, written for a dying friend, Marchant is a match for our own Stephen Fretwell – a band is used to fill out the songs without ruining their delicacy and elegance. As a first album, this is an immense small effort.

ACE rating 9/10

The Swell Season
Strict Joy
Think about the word ‘fine’. Fine is when it doesn’t rain, but it’s not a lovely day, when the food you just ate was passable, but not great, when the watercolours in the gallery are competent but not going to attract a bid. Fine is for background music, not something that could become
the object of your affection. Well, The Swell Season are fine. That hasn’t stopped them being lauded for their fine music, but it does mean that Strict Joy is only for those who like their food unchallenging and digestible. The Swell Season are at their core a duo, Glen Hansard, from Irish band The Frames, and Marketa Irglova, a Czech classical musician and singer. There’s half a sense of security when the first track kicks in, Low Rising – except it doesn’t go anywhere, like a Hallmark sentiment rather than a meaningful emotion. And then the album carries on for a bit and then it stops. There are lots of people around who rather liked The Frames, and who do like The Swell Season. That’s fine.

ACE rating 6/10

Live At The Olympia
Warner Bros
REM have been on the wrong end of a lot of criticism about their more recent new material, and a sense that there was more contractual obligation than anything more passionate in there. This release restores your faith in the band, as it offers up a series of recordings from shows in Dublin in 2007, featuring songs that would end up on Accelerate and a lot of pre-Warners album songs. Although the experiments for Accelerate are a good fan
treasure trove, it is the live versions of the older songs (Reconstruction, Life’s Rich Pageant, Murmur) that add so much interest – there is spitting flame running through some of these tracks, so intense is the delivery. Given their head more than 20 years later, these songs and these versions prove that REM are still one of the best indie bands on the planet – this album captures effortlessly everything that made REM great. It is an essential REM album for any fan, and a perfect introduction for anyone who’s not yet become one.

ACE rating 8/10

Adult Contemporary Essentials rating
9-10 Essential purchase
7-8 Good, definite buy if you've liked this artist in the past
5-6 OK only, don't say I didn't warn you
3-4 Poor, even for this artist
1-2 Awful

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Adult Contemporary Essentials 02.11.09

Weezer seemed so set for legendary status – their oh-so-knowing wit, melody and crunching rock were the perfect pop punk mixture, and they even managed in their earliest days
to amass an indie cred. They progressively frittered all of those things away in more recent years with a collection of so-so records that would only be simple retreads of their earlier, better work. Raditude continues that slide, with a collection of songs that would sound about right from McFly. The music, unfortunately, aims at teen angst, and sounds plain weird from a bunch of middle aged men. The ti
ght Weezer sound underpins every song, but there is nothing in Raditude that isn’t bettered by the superior OK Go. Raditude does manage to achieve cringe, though, in Love Is The Answer, which is as awful a song as you will ever hear. Raditude is best avoided. Listen instead to the Blue album, Pinkerton or the Green album and remember them the way they used to be.

ACE rating 4/10

Molina and Johnson
Molina and Johnson
Secretly Canadian
Jason Molina is a cult indie folk/ blues singer known for his bands Magnolia Electric Co, and Songs Ohia; Will Johnson is the remarkable front man for Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, as well as a solo artist (and currently part of the Monsters of Folk). This collaboration has been a long time in the making, and has been well worth the wait.
The two singers complement each other perfectly – Johnson’s grittier voice blending with Molina’s higher plaintive vocals (and on one amazing piece, Sarah Jaffe duets with Johnson on a track that should be in the next Coen Brothers film). The album feels like a Will Johnson album with additional beauty, added harmony, elevated poetry, which makes it just about perfect. This album defines what is best about Americana – the openness, the sense of space, relaxed reverie, land
scape and travel. When Johnson says ‘our record was made in the late February sun’, that feels just so right.

ACE rating 9/10

Foo Fighters
Greatest Hits
Whisper it, but Foo Fighters are really a singles band – when they’re great, they’re a phenomenal rock band, but the albums can come across as main show plus filler. That’s not true here, of course, in a Greatest Hits collection that does a p
retty good job of pulling out the obvious singles (the ones with the great videos). It does declare its interest – it’s a Greatest Hits as opposed to a Best Of – right up front on the cover. The Deluxe edition combines a DVD with the videos (and a few tracks which rightly should have been on the single CD version, such as DOA). As such, it isn’t a record for real fans, despite the three new tracks. What it is is a fantastic introduction to a remarkable band for a casual Foos listener. The assault presented by this band’s most listenable songs will turn any rock fan’s head. And, with the Foo Fighters, there is no real worry about your indie cred going out of the window – they have retained their cool way longer than most bands have a right to.

ACE rating 8/10

Adult Contemporary Essentials rating
9-10 Essential purchase
7-8 Good, definite buy if you've liked this artist in the past
5-6 OK only, don't say I didn't warn you
3-4 Poor, even for this artist
1-2 Awful

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Walkmen - splurge

We like this band so much that the idea of collecting a whole bunch of session videos in one place had some appeal... Hope you think so too...

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Adult Contemporary Essentials 25.10.09

Steve Earle
New West

Fifteen songs by Steve Earle’s inspiration, friend and mentor, Townes Van Zandt, self-recorded and produced, may sound like a labour of love that could go lots of different ways. While every song is handled respectfully, and none diverges too far from its original (bar perhaps Lungs, where Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello guests), Earle reveals that he is a great interpreter too. The album varies from Train A Comin’ indie folk to The Mountain bluegrass to classic Earle. As a whole, the album is not his strongest, but it does arrest the slight decline shown in his last two studio albums, where easy politics have replaced songwriting. Not a single song sounds out of place in 2009, and there is a strong sense that Earle’s own path to this record echoes Townes Van Zandt’s own personal journey – Townes isn’t the sound of hollow retread, but of some kind of spiritual renewal.

ACE rating 8/10

Here Anonymous
LA-based band Eulogies make the kind of music that isn’t immediately apparently great. On this second album, there are two perfect songs – This Fine Progression (like Grizzly Bear but
better) and Two Can Play (with Nikki from Silversun Pickups) – that are both improved when
played live and acoustic. Elsewhere, the songs progress nicely enough, but without stirring either passion or interest. However, there is the slightly uncomfortable thought that this is because you’re not listening well enough. If all you had heard was those two songs, you might have been of the view that the best new band of the year had arrived – the voice is vulnerably lovely, the playing tightly right and the feel is comfortably laid back. Unfortunately for the
album, it pads them out. If Peter Walker can manage to write more great tunes, you should keep tabs on Eulogies.

ACE rating 6/10

Port O’Brien
City Slang
Port O’Brien’s All We Could Do Was Sing was a lovely, sea shanty-ish piece of hippy folk that celebrated something, some spiritual thing… Here, on Threadbare, the a
lbum has two parts – a continuation of that celebratory something, and a deeply sombre part, affected by the death of a loved one. There is a lot of spiritual vocal music around in folk these days, and we have, in musicians Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin, two proper, authentic folkies – he works on his father’s salmon boat every summer, and she works in a cannery, and then they get back together to make sea-inspired music. Where it works really well, such as on Sour Milk/ Salt Water, Love Me Through, or single My Will Is Good,
Threadbare is a lovely way to spend time – like a folkier Delta Spirit. Where it gets more downbeat, you’ll either need more patience or access to the Skip button.

ACE rating 7/10

Adult Contemporary Essentials rating
9-10 Essential purchase
7-8 Good, definite buy if you've liked this artist in the past
5-6 OK only, don't say I didn't warn you
3-4 Poor, even for this artist
1-2 Awful

Monday, 12 October 2009


Hard to describe how elemental my reaction to Califone's new album, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, has been... The first album this year to get a 10, in my book...

Califone describe themselves as experimental, which can be a byword for ‘pass on by’ to the listener. However, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is one of the most perfect ‘albums’ I have heard in an age. Full of subtlety, layered acoustic perfection, it is as if Beck had suddenly both rediscovered his musical genius and mixed it with Elbow’s more anthemic moments. Having spent 20 minutes pressing ‘repeat’ on Krill, you may well go back to Radiohead-like opener Giving Away The Bride, or the acoustic-Nirvana-like Polish Girls. All My Friends is the band’s sixth ‘song-based’ album, and it is, by some margin their best – topping even the underrated Roots and Crowns. It has more songs, more individual songs that could be taken out of the album and still work as single gems. It may seem overblown to describe an album as ‘art’ these days, but this is an album where time only deepens the nuances and the attractiveness – lead man Tim Rutili is an artist and this is his greatest work - a deserved 10...

ACE rating 10/10

Sunday, 27 September 2009

She Keeps Bees

Awesome show last night by She Keeps Bees, in MK. Crap venue (MK's SnoBar is truly a crap venue for live music), but that didn't matter as Jess Larrabee delivered a set that combined Black Keys-like rock with a voice that Cat Power's Chan Marshall wished she possessed...

And, real bonus, Jess and Andy were just great people...

Seriously, if you ever get the chance to catch She Keeps Bees, do it.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Eulogies - free EP

I love the sound of Eulogies...
They have released a fantastic EP for free download

Get it, fall in love with them the way I did, buy more stuff... That's the way it's gonna work these days...

Friday, 13 March 2009

The Thermals

I love this band. They can make an old man jump up and down like a teenager...

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Southeast Engine

Looking forward to catching these guys on an enforced NYC weekend stay... A video from their fantastic new album, premiered at Stereogum:

Friday, 27 February 2009

J Tillman - video for First Born

Fell in love with this video for First Born... Something so beautiful...

Saturday, 7 February 2009

New Sufjan...

MP3 flood

They're coming quick and fast...

More Jason Isbell: Good

Saturday, 31 January 2009

More Walkmen...

A great idea... Acoustic sessions recorded in the back of a van... Blogotheque extends its cool run...

New mp3s...

Some great releases coming up, and with mp3s being the new radio play, some great free downloads for your iPod...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

J Tillman

I gave J Tillman 9/10 at ACE, recently... Here's the review:
How many men with guitars does the world need? Well, the world seems to want more and more of them, if the success of albums by Bon Iver and James Morrison, among others, are anything to go by. J Tillman tends towards the former, in that lovely space occupied by artists such as Chris Bathgate, Will Johnson, Damien Jurado, Nick Drake, and maybe even Ryan Adams, where gently beautifully sad portraiture is the order of the day. Vacilando Territory Blues is a rather gorgeous take from someone attempting something more modern than rehash old blues forms - the stories come from the same place they always did, but Tillman gives them space to breathe and a non-pastiche treatment. His warm, affecting voice is like one of the acoustic instruments, with a lovely catch and gentle burr. Songs like Firstborn would fit happily on any of Ryan Adams' better albums - in an ideal world, J. Tillman would be held in the same reverence that the more variable Adams is today. If you need more reason, Tillman joined Fleet Foxes to help out just as they broke through in 2008...
And here are a couple of mp3s from the record...
He's playing Bush Hall, London on 5th March... Hoping to be there...

Friday, 23 January 2009

Royal Bangs on Daytrotter

Four free songs from one of the most energetic, and exciting new bands (on The Black Keys' Pat Carney's label) at Daytrotter...
royal bangs by johnnie

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

New Springsteen album

There's a pre-release audit stream of Bruce Springsteen's new album, Working On a Dream at NPR. Can't say I'm impressed yet (which pains me to say...) - let's hope that Brendan O'Brien ends his run with Bruce soon...

Friday, 16 January 2009

Will Johnson and Christian Kiefer release Obama supplement to 43 Presidents project

An interesting project just got a whole load more interesting... Christian Kiefer is the songwriter behind a project, Of Great and Mortal Men, which had brought together guest musicians (including These United States).
Before the election of Barack Obama, a group of musicians recorded and released a collection of 43 original songs, one for each of the U.S. presidencies. Titled Of Great and Mortal Men, the three-CD set ended with George W. Bush. Now, just in time for the inauguration, the creators have completed their 44th song.
Rather delightfully, Kiefer chose Will Johnson, of Centro-matic, to head up this one... It is also available for free download from NPR...

New Southeast Engine song

There's a new Southeast Engine song for download, from the new album From the Forest to the Sea: Black Gold

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

New Bon Iver EP

Bon Iver's new EP, Blood Bank is out next week. Here is the title track...

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Don't Be A Stranger

Found this wonderful Swedish band by accident on emusic... This isn't the best song on their oddly-titled Frutti Di Mare, but it is the one that has a video...

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Walkmen

So, so good... From Juan's Basement:



 (Fierce Panda Records)

www.myspace.com/thewalkmen | www.fiercepanda.co.uk



The Walkmen are from New York City. They consist of Hamilton Leithauser (vocals/guitar), Paul Maroon (guitar/piano), Walter Martin (organ/bass), Matt Barrick (drums) and Peter Bauer (bass/organ).


In September 2008 they released the frankly terrific 'You & Me' album on Fierce Panda which featured 51 minutes of fearsomely inventive classic alt.rock noises, scowled at the dark end of the street and garnered hearty plaudits across the board including four stars in Q and a whopping five stars from The Guardian.


Indeed, many other sage listeners joined drownedinsound.com in believing it to be "the best thing they've ever done". And as if proffering more evidence that they were a band reborn since parting company with Warner Brothers, to follow up the launch of 'You & Me' The Walkmen played a splendid sold out show at ULU on a beautifully snowy winter’s eve in London Town. Unsurprisingly they have unveiled plans to make a swift return to these shores


'In The New Year' is the second single to be lifted from 'You & Me', following the smouldering success of 'The Blue Route' and will be available on limited edition 7” and download on February 23rd. Like much of the rest of the album 'In The New Year' is a meticulously constructed whirl of The Walkmen's trademark clanging guitars and otherworldly keyboards which sounds like nothing else out there, and sounds all the better for it.


To celebrate the single's release The Walkmen will be back on UK shores for a 3-date tour in mid-February – including a London date headlining Fierce Panda’s 15th birthday show at The Scala.


The Walkmen on Tour:




18th Birmingham Barfly

19th Brighton Concorde 2

20th London Kings Cross Scala (Fierce Panda's fifteenth birthday party w/Hatcham Social + The Molotovs)

The New Year - The New Year

Somewhat appropriately, a new video for the New Year, by growers The New Year...