Tag Archives: woodpigeon

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!

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Top 50 albums of 2009

In last month’s Q magazine, I read with some surprise and not a little disappointment, their (rather early) list of the top 50 albums of 2009. Although these lists are by their very nature incredibly subjective, I found myself taking issue with the vast majority of their choices. Lily Allen at number 7? Kasabian at number 1? The Decemberists skulking around just outside the 50? All quite laughable.

But at least it prompted me to start thinking about my own choices, and encouraged me to compile my list. At the outset, I will explain that it contains several albums that were not released this year – in fact, in at least one case, not even this century. However, they are all albums that are new to me this year, that I had not previously heard until 2009. In the interests of fairness I did try to keep the older ones out of the top 20, and in fact only one managed to sneak in.

I will present the list in full, without comment, and maybe revisit that decision and add a brief note to each one when I have more time.

I’d be more than happy to receive your thoughts on my choices, and your suggestions of glaring omissions.

In the interests of suspense, I will present them in ascending order of merit, from 50 to 1.

50)  Staff Benda Bililli – Tres, Tres Fort

A group of paraplegic street musicians who live in the grounds of Kinshasa Zoo in Kenya, including a 17 year-old performing incredible guitar-like solos on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can. What’s not to love?

49)  Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

My introduction to the wonders of Wilco – the American Radiohead, according to some.

48)  Vetiver – Tight Knit

One of many new bands I discovered this year, and a pleasant record, but probably not their best. Enjoyed their set in the Big Top at the End of The Road Festival in September.

47)  The Low Anthem – Oh My God Charlie Darwin

If more of the songs were as good as the title track, this could have been a top 20 contender. An odd mix of lo-fi nu-folk (a la Fleet Foxes) and growly mad stomping blues (like Tom Waits let loose in a potting shed).

46)  The Broken Family Band – Welcome Home, Loser

One of three of theirs in the 50, and full of very fine songs with the trademark BFB witty lyrics and a fab cover photo and title to boot.

45)  Florence and The Machine – Lungs

I resisted this until late November, as all the hype surrounding Florence, La Roux, Little Boots et al and their electro-pop revolution had made we want to give them all a wide berth. However, Florence doesn’t really fit that mould, is clearly the pick of the bunch and this is quite a fabulous album. Great pair of lungs too.

44)  Taylor Swift – Fearless

Stands out from the rest in this list as rather poppy and young, but Ms Swift does write a fine tune and lyric. Although this was purchased for Mrs Cook’s birthday the sheer catchy-ness of these songs has infected me too.

43)  Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

Undoubtedly the best album title in the list, and packed with some fantastic songs. As ever with Yo La Tengo, they manage to sound like at least five different bands over the course of the same record. Never a dull moment.

42)  Cat Power – The Greatest

Spurred on by her great version of ‘Amazing Grace’ on the ‘Dark Was The Night’ compilation, I got this for a half price itunes bargain and was not in the least disappointed. Great voice, great piano, and a number of fine songs.

41)  Great Lake Swimmers – Great Lake Swimmers

Haven’t had time to listen to this one as much as the other two in the list by this fine Canadian band, but their debut showed signs of the huge promise that has been fulfilled on the subsequent records. Folky acoustic songs of the highest order.

40)  Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara

This one had me from the opening seconds of the opening song ‘Your Rocky Spine’, discovered on Spotify on my birthday using my new laptop speakers. Was enthralled by this album for most of that afternoon. Sounded even better with the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies that inspired it on our trip in June.

39)  Woodpigeon – Songbook

Another Canadian band, and one of my first Spotify discoveries. ‘Death by Ninja (a Love Story)’, ‘A Sad Country Ballad For A Tired Superhero’ and ‘A Hymn For 2 Walks In Different Cities’ are all quite brilliant songs, in very different ways. Fast becoming a favourite band of mine.

38)  The Broken Family Band – Please And Thank You

Their most recent, and sadly their last album as they split up in October. The usual reliably great tunes, combined with the occasional barbed lyric, this would have been higher but for the fact I haven’t listened to it as much as my favourite of theirs, ‘Balls’, that appears further up the list.

37)  Band Of Horses – Cease To Begin

So much fuss is made of the Fleet Foxes, but I actually much prefer their Sub Pop label-mates BOH: there is more to the music, the instrumentation is better and the songs are a bit more interesting than the Foxes pastoral by numbers. For me, not as immediately satisfying as their debut, which appears higher up, but definitely worth a listen or several.

36)  John Martyn – Solid Air (Remastered)

Sadly I’d never heard any of John Martyn’s music until after he died earlier this year – this remastered version of one of his most popular records was a great starting point. ‘May You Never’, ‘Over The Hill’ and ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’ are all stand-out tracks and I love his distinctive guitar playing style.

35)  The Acorn – Glory Hope Mountain

Checked this out after a very good set they played at the End Of The Road Festival: intriguing acoustic rock – a bit of a grower.

34)  Cage The Elephant – Cage The Elephant

Brash, noisy, full of energy and highly enjoyable.

33)  Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

Love the cover, love the title, love his voice, adore ‘Rococo Zephyr’ and this would have been higher except one or two tracks are a bit too weird for my taste.

32)  Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Think I need to give this more time, especially as many people have raved about it, but it is a step up from her debut and contains some great moments.

31)  She Keeps Bees – Nests

Another itunes bargain following a sterling closing set at the EOTR Festival, this is well worth checking out. A band to watch out for.

30)  The Decemberists – The Crane Wife

My ultimate discovery of the past year, as regular readers will know, Portland, Oregon’s finest are very much my favourite band these days. This was the first album of theirs I heard and there are a number of outstanding tracks here, such as ‘Crane Wife 3’, ‘The Shankhill Butchers’, ‘O Valencia’ and ‘Yankee Bayonet’. A good starting point for new listeners, but not my favourite, as will become apparent.

29)  The Duke & The King – Nothing Gold Can Stay

Would have been much further up the top 30 if every track had been as good as ‘If You Ever Get Famous’, one of my favourite songs of the year. Sadly, only one or two other tracks come close to matching it, although I suspect this record’s a grower and I need to give it more time. They were fantastic live at the End Of The Road Festival in September when they added a lot more punch and panache to these stripped-down songs.

28)  Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – Outer South

Any record featuring Conor Oberst’s distinctive vocals and trademark lyrical dexterity is always going to get in my top 30. This year he manages it twice with two different, new bands. Haven’t given this one as much of a listen as The Monsters Of Folk, but a good set of songs as ever.

27)  Regina Spektor – Far

As with so many of the albums in this list, this one started as a speculative Spotify selection, and over the course of several listens to this captivating set of songs and Spektor’s quirkily endearing vocals, I grew too fond of it to only have access to it via my computer. Well worth a listen if you’ve never heard of her before, and not only for her dolphin impression on ‘Folding Chair’ and beat box ending on ‘Eet’.

26)  The Broken family Band – Balls

I discovered this album in the middle of the Summer and just couldn’t stop listening to it. Some of the most acerbic and barbed but hilarious lyrics I’ve ever heard are matched to some of the most beautiful, perky and downright hummable tunes. ‘It’s All Over’ and ‘Alone in the Make-Out Room’ are absolute solid-gold standouts but there really isn’t a bad track here. If you’ve never heard this record, Spotify it immediately!

25)  First Aid Kit – Drunken Trees

OK, so strictly speaking this is an EP, but with 8 tracks and 3 bonus videos on the download version, I think it merits inclusion. One of the acts I’m sad to have missed at The End Of The Road Festival, these Swedish sisters have a great way with harmony, are talented instrumentalists and write their own interesting songs. Having said that, the best track here is their stunning cover of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’.

24)  Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Many high profile musicians claim Grizzly Bear as their favourite band, which always makes me a bit skeptical. Having tried and failed to get my ears around their previous album ‘Yellow House’ on Spotify I held out for a while on this, their latest, despite reading many rave reviews. When my resistance was eventually worn down by a very good track included on one of the free CDs from ‘The Word’ magazine and a Spotify test drive I started to see what the fuss was all about. A bit like ‘Bitte Orca’ by Dirty Projectors higher up this list, this is a record that challenges the listener and broadens your musical perspective as a reward.

23)  Band Of Horses – Everything All The Time

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m indebted to one of my brother’s friends for recommending Band Of Horses, and they turned out to be one of my favourite discoveries of the year. This is their first album, and my favourite of the two so far. Lots of great songs to choose from here, but the guitar riffs in ‘Weed Party’ are sufficient on their own to make me want to learn how to play that elusive instrument despite my complete lack of musical skill.

22)  The Decemberists – Picaresque

Of all the albums in this list you’re unlikely to find one with a better or more flamboyant opening track than Picaresque’s ‘The Infanta’. From the initial rumbling jungle sounds, to the tenor warbling at the grand finale this song is a master-class in showing-off.

21)  The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event

20)  Joyce, Nana Vasoncelos & Mauricio Maestro – Visions Of Dawn

19)  Monsters Of Folk – Monsters Of Folk

18)  Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

17)  Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels

16)  Woodpigeon – Treasury Library Canada

15)  Muse – The Resistance

14)  Slow Club – Yeah So

13)  Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

12)  Wilco – Wilco The Album

11)  The Leisure Society – Sleeper

10)  Emmy The Great – First Love

9)  Joe Gideon & The Shark – Harum Scarum

8)  Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

7)  Loney Dear – Dear John

6)  Various Artists – Dark Was The Night

5)  Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

4)  The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy

3)  Loney Dear – Loney, Noir

2)  Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

1)  The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

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Spotify: the ultimate jukebox?

ipod killer?

The future of music?

I have tasted the future. And it’s not garlic bread.

It’s Spotify.

Those clever Swedes – first they revolutionise furniture with the blessing or curse of ikea (depending on how you like to spend your weekends) and now they’re set to change the way we listen to music. Instead of encouraging us to ‘chuck out our chintz!’, they will soon be ‘incapacitating our ipods.’

Why?

Because a group of Swedish boffins have only gone and invented what could prove to be the ultimate digital jukebox, and unleashed it on a largely unaware but soon to be very grateful British public.

What is it?

Spotify is a digital music streaming program that you download to your computer, and then use to listen to any music you choose on demand via your Internet connection, without the need to store terabytes of MP3 files on your computer. It’s a bit like itunes, but even better in some ways.

For starters, it has a much larger library. They are currently adding around 10,000 tracks per day, and seem to have pretty much every song in existence. And of course, unlike itunes you get to listen to the whole song for free, rather than around 20 seconds worth.

Free?

Oh, yes. Did I mention that it’s free? The beta system is currently available throughout Europe, but for those of us living in the UK, since 10 February we have been able to join for free. For once, it pays to be living here rather than elsewhere in Europe! ‘What’s the catch?’ I hear you cry? Well, to listen for free you have to be prepared to listen to an advert every 10 songs or so. Big woop. They last about 5-10 seconds. And they’re not like the cringeworthy ones you get on local radio that make you want to disembowel yourself with a teaspoon. They are quite inoffensive and you hardly even notice them.If you are completely ad averse you can subscribe to the absolutely ad-free version for £9.99 a month, but that seems a bit of a waste of cash to me.

The only other downside is that you can’t transfer the tracks to your ipod or any other device. On the face of it that may seem a fairly big flaw, but to be honest it isn’t. So long as you’re near your computer and connected to the Internet you can play whatever you want, whenever you want. For no money!

Save money!

In these credit crunch crazy times, here is a great way to listen to new music without paying for it, or at the very least the opportunity to try before you buy. Whilst writing this I have been very happily listening to my first Spotify playlist made up of ‘Picaresque’ by The Decemberists and ‘Songbook’ by Woodpigeon, two albums I intend to purchase (or at least request for my birthday). I searched for the two albums, then literally dragged and dropped the songs into a playlist, hit the shuffle button and I was away (with the fairies, in the case of The Decemberists). I can listen to those albums as often as I like now, and I might even decide not to buy them after all. Although I think I’d find it hard not to have Woodpigeon’s ‘Death by Ninja (A Love Song)’ on my ipod.

It’s easy!

The more technically challenged amongst you might be thinking that there’s a large hurdle between you and this Promised Land of Digital Delights: downloading the software. Don’t worry for a second, it’s a cinch! Go to the website, choose the free option, follow the very easy steps and with a decent Broadband connection you’ll be up and running in about 5 minutes or less.

Be your own DJ

Spotify also allows you to share music with your friends. You can create playlists and send them to anyone else you know who uses it, which gives you plenty of incentive to encourage your mates to join up (apart from those who might inflict dodgy tunes on you of course). A clever twist is that you or they can change any playlist while they’re being played, so you can collaborate with like-minded friends and hold your own virtual festival.

The end for the ipod?

I’ve heard and read it suggested that Spotify could kill off the ipod: tales of people who’ve left their little black (white or garish-coloured) box of tricks untouched for days at a time in favour of the unrivalled variety on offer from the Swedish streaming sensation. I doubt it myself, mainly because there are so many situations where an mp3 player is so more versatile than lugging a laptop around with you. However, if the clever folk at Spotify ever find a way of making this thing mobile and providing truly portable access to their infinite playlist, it could be a whole different story.

In the meantime, I’m like a kid in a sweetshop of sounds, totally mesmerised by the vast array of treasures to be sampled.

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