Category Archives: Great bands

Hold music

Sorry to keep you waiting ....

Well, it’s been a while! Over fifteen months in fact since I last posted an article here, and for that I apologise.

Those who know me well will be aware that I’ve been otherwise occupied creatively during that time, and for those who don’t, I’ve been busy writing my first novel, which I started just over a year ago.

As I have discovered only too well during that time, writing a novel is a time-consuming enterprise that doesn’t allow much time for other creative projects, particularly when you’re trying to squeeze it into the few spare moments not occupied by the day job, or life in general.

So blogging about music has had to reluctantly take a back seat, and will have to remain seated in the shadows for the foreseeable future, while I get to grips with finishing the novel in earnest in my spare time.

That doesn’t mean to say that I’ve lost my interest or passion for the subject, or the artists and bands I love to listen to. Quite the opposite in fact, and the 3-month sabbatical I took last Summer to start the novel featured a backing track provided by The National, Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom, Phosphorescent and John Grant, to name a few.

If you imagine this article as my blog’s virtual ‘Hold Music’ while you wait for further musings to appear in due course, it would have to feature the following great albums and live performances I have enjoyed during the break in transmission:

Great albums I loved listening to in 2010

  • High Violet – The National
  • Boxer – The National
  • Alligator – The National
  • I Speak Because I Can – Laura Marling
  • Queen of Denmark – John Grant
  • The Courage of Others – Midlake
  • Teen Dream – Beach House
  • And Then We Saw Land – Tunng
  • Becoming A Jackal – Villagers
  • The ArchAndroid (Suites I and II) – Janelle Monae
  • Here’s To Taking It Easy – Phosphorescent

Best gig attended in 2010

Midlake (supported by Jason Lytle and John Grant) Oxford O2 Academy

Favourite albums I’ve listened to in 2011 so far

Check them out, and enjoy.

Normal service will be resumed in due course. Thanks for your patience!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Great Band Beginning with B: Band of Horses

Who?

Band of Horses

Everything All The Time

Band of Horses were originally formed in Seattle in 1994 by Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke. Whilst opening shows in Seattle for Iron & Wine, they were spotted by the Sub Pop label and subsequently signed. Their debut album ‘Everything All The Time’ was released in March 2006. In July of that year, Mat Brooke left the band, and the band subsequently relocated to Ben Bridwell’s native South Carolina. They recorded their second album, ‘Cease to Begin’ in North Carolina and released it in October 2007 to very positive reviews.

Why do I like them?

One of the best things about writing a music blog is getting feedback. And one of the nicest types of feedback I get is recommendations from people about bands they think I might like. Band of Horses are a case in point. A month ago I’d never heard of them, to be honest. Then my brother mentioned that one of his friends who’s aware of the blog had asked if I liked BOH, and to make sure I checked them out.

I duly did so, and thanks to the wonders of Spotify listened to the two albums very frequently over the next couple of weeks. I’m very pleased to say that I was really impressed and enjoyed both immensely, and ‘Everything All The Time’ in particular.

More than anything I enjoyed the mellow mood of the songs and found them relaxing and uplifting. Easy to listen to, intelligent lyrics, great guitar playing – sometimes that’s all you need. In the midst of a stressful couple of weeks these albums provided me with a little oasis of calm which was much appreciated.

As much as I like label mates Fleet Foxes, I’d have to say that Band of Horses may just have the edge in the beardy indie folk arena, and they deserve similar success and recognition.

Best songs

  • Weed Party
  • Monsters
  • Our Swords
  • The Great Salt Lake
  • Is There A Ghost
  • No One’s Gonna Love You
  • The General Specific

You’ll probably like them if you’re partial to:

  • Fleet Foxes
  • Iron & Wine
  • Great Lake Swimmers
  • My Morning Jacket

In a nutshell:

Band of Beards creating a mellow mood in the midst of mayhem.

Band of Beards

Band of Beards

Tagged , , , ,

GBA, GAB!

Happy 4th July! God Bless America (GBA).

God Bless America!

God Bless America!

It’s Independence Day, so to celebrate and mark the occasion, today’s focus is on Great American Bands (GAB).

I’ve said before that the vast majority of my favourite bands hail from the North American Continent, and leaving the Canadian contingent aside just for today, here’s my ten of the best from the US of A.

The Decemberists

The Decemberists

The Decemberists

No surprise there if you’ve read the previous post. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, a simply brilliant band who make intelligent, beautiful music.

Finest Hour: The Hazards of Love, though Picaresque and The Crane Wife run it close

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady

Feted by many as ‘The World’s Greatest Bar Band’ and often compared to Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, this bunch originally formed in Minneapolis but are currently based in New York. I would love to see them live more than just about any other band.

Finest hour: Boys and Girls in America, but last year’s Stay Positive is also excellent.

Wilco

Wilco

Wilco

I was a bit late discovering Wilco, often described as ‘The American Radiohead’ but I’m very glad that I caught up. Am enjoying working my way through their back catalogue, and very impressed by their latest album which I’ve listened to for the past two days on Spotify and will be buying soon. As well as sounding great, the cover features a photograph of a camel in a party hat. You just don’t see that often enough.

Finest hour: Wilco [the album], their latest, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Sky Blue Sky are also very good.

Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes

Sadly no more, but singer songwriter Conor Oberst has moved on to join forces with his new Mystic Valley Band. His vocal stylings are musical Marmite, but he sure has a way with words and writes fine tunes to match.

Finest hour: Either I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning or Cassadaga – the first made a big impression on me, but the second possibly has the better songs.

Midlake

Midlake

Midlake

From Denton, Texas, this band are nowhere near as well-known or popular as their music deserves. They’ve only made two albums in almost ten years together, but the most recent of which, recorded in 2006 is a rare gem: one of those albums you play again and again and never get tired of. For me, its mellow sounds will forever be associated with happy memories of driving through the Rocky Mountain National Park in Sept 2007.

New album should be released later this year.

Finest hour: The Trials of Van Occupanther – classic album, genius cover.

Interpol

Interpol

Interpol

I first saw these New York rockers on TV, playing Glastonbury in 2005, and they really blew me away. Sometimes overshadowed by fellow NYC band The Strokes, I reckon this lot deserve much wider acclaim. I harbour a fond dream of seeing them play live in New York one day – they’ve never been touring whenever I’ve been there.

Finest hour: Antics will always be my favourite album, but Our Love To Admire is also well worth a listen.

Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon

Finally this year, people in the USA have realised what a great band these guys are. I remember excitedly showing their first album to some American friends in 2005 and asking them what they thought – they’d never heard of the band and I was really surprised. It soon became apparent that they were much better known in the UK, something they celebrated in the song ‘Fans’ on their third album ‘Because of The Times’. Thanks to the huge success of their fourth, Only By The Night, America has now caught up.

Finest hour: Youth and Young Manhood – the first and the best. Only By The Night has some great songs, but has suffered from radio overkill.

Spoon

Spoon

Spoon

Another Texan band, and another group who deserve much more acclaim and success. Six albums in, and they’re not anywhere near as well known as many of the others listed here, particularly outside the States.

Finest hour: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, album number six, released in 2007 and well worth checking out if you’ve yet to discover them.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Back to New York, and the only band in my top ten to feature a female singer. But what a singer. Karen O is quite a force of nature, particularly live, and clearly born to lead a band. Have reaped rave reviews for their latest album, and rightly so, it’s a real humdinger and one of the best this year so far.

Finest hour: It’s Blitz! But also worth checking out Fever To Tell.

Vampire Weekend

vampire weekend

Vampire Weekend

The youngest and newest band on the list, they also hail from New York, having formed whilst at Columbia University. OK, so they’ve only made one album so far, their self-titled debut in 2007, but what an album. Mixing intelligent indie rock with African musical styles, it’s a happy, upbeat celebration and was one of my favourite albums of last year.

Finest hour: Vampire Weekend

Well, that’s my ten. I’m sure you’ll have your own opinions, and be flabbergasted that I missed out whoever. Feel free to let me know via the comments facility. And if you discover just one of these great bands for the first time after reading this, I’ll be delighted.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

A great band beginning with A: The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event's self-titled album

The Airborne Toxic Event's self-titled album

The what?

Their name may sound like a politically correct description of a chemical attack by terrorists, but at least they got your attention. In fact it was a fictional chemical spill in the novel White Noise by Don Delillo that inspired the band’s name.

Why do I like them?

There are a number of reasons. For starters, the lead singer and lyricist Mikel Jollett is an aspiring novelist who founded the band after the worst week of his life. In the space of seven days his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he found out he had a life-threatening autoimmune disease and his long-term girlfriend left him. And you think you’ve had a tough week!

His response to this triple tragedy was to form a rock band – I admire his style.

As a writer I always respond well to lyrics and really appreciate songs that are well told stories set to a rollicking fine tune. Jollet displays his novelist’s skill in capturing the essence of real life events and imbuing them with intense emotional depth. Sometime about Midnight, the stand out track from their self-titled debut album, illustrates this perfectly as it depicts a scene at a bar where a guy sees his ex-lover for the first time in a while, goes through the wringer of emotions, and then sees her leave with a stranger. The story unfolds in cinematic style, and because the song is written so it addresses the listener (“then she leaves with someone you don’t know”) you find yourself completely drawn into the scene and experiencing the agony of rejection (“your blood boiling, your stomach in ropes”). Lyrically it’s a bit reminiscent of ‘Mr Brightside’ by the Killers, but if anything more poignant. Great tune too, and it was voted song of the year in 2008 by itunes in the USA.

Another reason I’m a fan of this band is the Pitchfork incident. When their debut album was released in the States last year it got absolutely slated by the influential music review website Pitchfork, getting 1.6 out of 10 and a salvo of barely disguised sneering from the reviewer. Mikel Jollet responded by publishing an open letter on the band’s website which defended the band’s reputation with remarkable good grace and dignity. I think that shows great character in the face of spectacularly unfair criticism.

The album was released in the UK on 9 February and I warmly recommend it.

Best songs

  • Sometime around Midnight
  • Wishing Well
  • The Winning Side
  • Gasoline

You’ll probably like them if you’re partial to:

  • The Strokes
  • The Killers
  • Spoon
  • Kings of Leon

In a nutshell:

Intelligent indie rock from LA – who knew?!

Other great bands beginning with A:

  • Arcade Fire
  • Arctic Monkeys
  • Air
Tagged , , , , ,

A great band beginning with ….

This is going to be one of the regular features of this blog. It was inspired by a game I started at work recently when my colleagues pleaded for some brief respite during a dull dark Monday afternoon in the office. You start with the name of a band or artist and then the next person has to name one that begins with the last letter of yours. And so on. Until you get bored, or in our case until we resumed work, almost immediately of course.

If our experience of playing it is anything to go by, you’d be advised to brush up on your bands beginning with ‘s’, ‘n’, ‘o’ and ‘y’ which tended to crop up the most often, or prove the most challenging.

The last time I played that game was at school, and we have become a lot more used to the alphabetical categorisation of music since those long gone days thanks to the ubiquitous ipod and good old fashioned OCD.

So, in honour of all those poor souls enslaved to arranging their CD or vinyl collections in strict alphabetical order I will attempt to write an article extolling the virtues of a great band beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

However, I refuse to cheat and I won’t feature a band just to make up the letters as it were. I won’t be feigning a love of XTC just because it’s got challenging. On the other hand, some letters will require more soul searching than others as I have to make a decision between an embarrassment of riches.

Heading off pedants at the pass, I’d like to emphasise that I’ll be using the same alphabetical ordering system as itunes, which means you ignore the word ‘The’ in band names, and artists are ordered by first name, not surname. It may seem confusing at first, but if you have an ipod you are probably accustomed to it now, or have just realised why you can never find the band you want to!

One other rule is I will try and include as many bands I’ve discovered recently as possible, to increase my chances of passing on a useful recommendation or endorsing some of your recent favourites too.

Tagged , , ,