Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Song of the Week #19: "Pastimes & Lifestyles" by Dogs Die In Hot Cars

It's fair to say bands with stupid names have to try that little bit harder to make any impression on me. In the case of Dogs Die In Hot Cars, the turning point came with hearing a fantastic song called Somewhat off The Way on a compilation CD. Sure enough, further investigation into the band's debut album Please Describe Yourself showed a pop band very much in touch with early-80s new-wavers like XTC, best shown on tunes like the brilliant Pastimes & Lifestyles. They seemingly vanished soon after, but better to leave one brilliant album as a legacy than slowly fade, right?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Song of the Week #18: "A Darkness Now Is Coming" by Hope & Social

It seems like only five minutes ago Hope & Social released Architect Of This Church, but they're back with another album already. I could swear there was no mention of it when I interviewed them at the start of the year. As with Architect, April can be downloaded for whatever you want to pay, and while not as strong as its predecessor, if you've liked any of their previous work either under the name Hope & Social or Four Day Hombre, there'll be something here of interest.

My pick of the bunch is the folky A Darkness Now Is Coming. At the recent Cuckoo's Fest (from where I took the above pic), for this song the band members scattered themselves around the crowd to play an unplugged version to great effect.

Head over to their website and chuck some money their way!

MP3: Hope & Social - A Darkness Now Is Coming

Monday, 26 April 2010

Song of the Week #17: "Keep Your Eyes On The Road" by Lone Wolf

Some records have more expectations attached to them than others, and this year so far hasn't particularly been full of consistently good releases. I was hugely looking forward to the latest Josh Rouse and Rufus Wainwright albums, and while each has its moments, they're not albums that are finding themselves on the stereo too often. The really big one for me will be the new Crowded House album in June - Neil Finn hasn't let me down yet so I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

One other album I now have high hopes for is the debut from Lone Wolf, which is due in May. There's a couple of great songs on his Myspace page, one of which being the thoroughly brilliant Keep Your Eyes On The Road. It's rare that such a great song would have such a great video to match, but everything about this is genius:

Monday, 19 April 2010

Song of the Week #16: "Word Of Mouth Parade" by Gus

Last weekend's Record Store Day reminded me of numerous trips to Minus Zero in London (which I read in the Guardian might sadly be on its last legs). A fantastic little shop, aside from an incredible selection of records and CDs, its key success lay with incredible knowledgeable staff. Reeling off a list of favoured artists to the guy behind the counter, he'd usually come back with a recommendation that turned out to be a winner.

Even in these early days of Spotify, the idea of taking a chance on something unheard and splashing out a tenner on something seems like a very archaic way of doing things. A shame, as the thrill of the risk was quite intoxicating.

One such trip to the shop ended up with me buying a copy of Word Of Mouth Parade by Gus (whose subsequent records came out under the name Gus Black). A lot of the album is standard singer/songwriter fare, but there are some absolute crackers scattered in there too, not least the mesmerising title track.

MP3: Gus - Word Of Mouth Parade

Buy Word Of Mouth Parade @ Amazon

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Song of the Week #15: "Nature Of Love" by Waterfront

There can't be too many songs from the 80s I had on vinyl that I haven't managed to track down on MP3. Once in a while though I'm reminded of something I'd completely forgotten about, and the rush of nostalgia is a powerful thing. Waterfront were quite a forgettable late-80s pop duo who traded in the same kind of stuff as Johnny Hates Jazz. I remember the excitement of finding a 7" box set of their Broken Arrow single (complete with postcards and badge, naturally) at a car boot sale when I was about 12 or 13. Nature Of Love was the big one though, a cracking tune that still sounds fantastic even though the production has, obviously, aged badly.

I probably wouldn't have given Waterfront another thought if the song hadn't been posted over at the excellent Popdose a couple of weeks back, so thankyou Popdose for the memories!

MP3: Waterfront - Nature Of Love

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Song of the Week #14: "Run With Us" by Lisa Lougheed

If you recognise the guy above, you probably grew up in the 80s. The Raccoons was almost certainly the greatest cartoon of the decade, although not one that seems to get much retro love nowadays. But aside from being a great show, it had a theme tune that continually pops up on any 80s compilations I put together. Not an obvious kids' cartoon theme tune ("Come with us / I see passion in your eyes"???), Run With Us by Lisa Lougheed is a power-pop masterpiece.

MP3: Lisa Lougheed - Run With Us

Monday, 29 March 2010

Song of the Week #13: "Still Be There" by Alondra Bentley

I went to see Josh Rouse play in Manchester last week, a fantastic gig despite his new stuff still taking its time to sink in. A healthy selection of classics helped, especially the encore of Sparrows Over Birmingham, 1972 and It's The Nighttime.

An extra bonus was a fantastic choice of support act. Alondra Bentley is based in Spain, but sings in English, with a speaking voice recalling Bjork and a singing voice somewhere between Charlotte Gainsbourg and Nerina Pallot. Sharing band members with Josh Rouse, she gave a great performance, cute and quirky in equal measure.

Then there are the songs - the gorgeous folky melodies on new album Ashfield Avenue really are a treat, Some Things Of My Own and Still Be There sounding incredibly familiar after just a couple of listens.

Couldn't seem to find a physical copy of the album, so ended up buying it from 7digital. Highly recommended!

Video: Some Things Of My Own:

MP3: Alondra Bentley - Still Be There

Listen to Ashfield Avenue on Spotify

Monday, 22 March 2010

Song of the Week #12: "Blues Run The Game" by Simon & Garfunkel

Inspired by Laura Barton's glowing comments on the new Laura Marling album, I had a listen, thinking it'd be very much up my street. Turns out it's not, and it got me wondering whether I *think* I like folk music more than I actually do. Or is it just that, with the exception of one or two songs, the album on the whole just doesn't appeal to me melodically? I don't have a lot of folk music in my music collection, although I was recently sent some Fairport Convention which I've been enjoying a lot. Certainly can't think of much modern folk that's left any impression (apart from maybe Damien Rice's first album, and that's a few years old now).

I do however have a big soft spot for Simon & Garfunkel. Their Old Friends boxset covers pretty much all bases, and favourites change all the time. Right now I'm in the midst of a mild obsession with Blues Run The Game. One guitar and two voices - does it get much simpler (or better) than this?

MP3: Simon & Garfunkel - Blues Run The Game

More of Simon & Garfunkel's greatest hits on Spotify

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Song of the Week #11: "Violent" by Stellar

Haven't got too much to say about Stellar, although listening to anything off their fantastic debut Mix takes me right back to my Uni days. It was a result of one of those convoluted connections that I'd probably never take a chance on now. As a big Crowded House fan, I'd seek out any spurious link that might deliver something along similar lines. I chanced upon a single by Bic Runga that CH bassist Nick Seymour might have had something to do with. Quickly becoming enamoured with Bic's debut album Drive, I then moved onto... her sister. In hindsight that's not an obvious connection, but fortunately her sister Boh also knows her way around a tune, although the Garbage-alike electro-rock music she made with Stellar is quite a trek from Bic's gentle pop. Anyway, Violent was the opening track and still sounds gloriously spiky.

MP3: Stellar - Violent

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Song of the Week #10: "Feeling No Pain" by Jason Falkner

I was introduced to the work of Jason Falkner around 2002, and his first two albums completely blew me away. 1999's Can You Still Feel in particular is a genuine pop classic. For whatever reason, he remained pretty much under the radar for most of the last decade, his third full-length record getting a Japanese release in 2007 (and only just getting a US release around now). That record, I'm OK You're OK, is patchy at best - a huge shame, given the long wait.

Saying that though, in 2004 he put out an absolutely sublime 5-song EP, the aptly-titled Bliss Descending, which contained some of his finest work to date. Power-pop at its best, songs like Lost Myself and Feeling No Pain are almost certainly getting constant radio airplay in a more pop-friendly parallel universe.

MP3: Jason Falkner - Feeling No Pain

Spotify: A limited selection of back catalogue


Wednesday, 3 March 2010

I'm in hope, I know...

If you're in or around Leeds, the new issue of the free music mag Vibrations is now out (in music shops, pubs, and various other locations). Among other things, it has my feature on Hope & Social.

If you know of the band at all, it'll more than likely be from their previous incarnation, Four Day Hombre, who released an album a few years ago in a blaze of next-big-thing press, but which ultimately failed to make much of a splash. A change in outlook later and they reappeared as Hope & Social, with new album Architect Of This Church available from their website for whatever you want to pay.

The article will appear on the Vibrations website at some point soon if you can't get hold of the physical mag.

MP3: Hope & Social - In Need
MP3: Four Day Hombre - Resolve

Monday, 1 March 2010

Song of the Week #9: "Faces" by Nik Kershaw

I went to see Nik Kershaw play a solo acoustic show in Holmfirth a week or so back, and was reminded yet again of what a brilliant songwriter he is. There were evidently people there who only wanted to hear the classic hits, proceeding to talk through everything else. For me, his most consistent work emerged with his comeback in 1999 with the 15 Minutes album, but I guess that one passed most people by. The show was a nice mix of old and more recent, the biggest surprises of the night being the inclusion of Faces and Human Racing from his debut album way back in 1984. Always a couple of my favourite Nik tunes, it was a genuine thrill to hear him play them live. Following the show, I dug into my MP3 folder to hear the originals - Faces in particular always impressed me with its cold, clinical paranoia somehow perfectly matched by the almost nursery-rhyme chorus.

The Idiot's Guide To Nik Kershaw I wrote for Jefitoblog a few years ago disappeared when that site crashed and burned, so I might dig it out and repost it here at some point.

MP3: Nik Kershaw - Faces

Spotify: Nik Kershaw

Buy Nik's new acoustic album No Frills

Monday, 22 February 2010

Song of the Week #8: "Someday" by Embrace

Embrace's first album was a big player in soundtracking my first year of Uni, bombastic, epic songs like Come Back To What You Know making their mark in those years straight after Britpop. The couple of albums that followed got slowly weaker, to the point that when they returned in 2004 with Out Of Nothing, hopes weren't high. Fortunately it turned out to be a career peak, full of big guitars and immense tunes, of which Someday is a fine example.
Spotify: Embrace

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Song of the Week #7: "Tinsel & Ivy" by Montage

A little bit of obscure long-out-of-print, super-fey 60s baroque pop this week, with Tinsel & Ivy from the self-titled 1969 album by Left Banke off-shoot Montage. I randomly found this in a record shop on Bleecker Street in New York, which was a nice surprise (never having seen anything Left Banke-related in any shop ever). By no means the most macho song in existence, but what a tune!

MP3: Montage - Tinsel & Ivy

Wikipedia: The Left Banke

Monday, 8 February 2010

Song of the Week #6: "Hide Behind The Sun" by Natalie Imbruglia

Listening to Civil Twilight's 'Human' put me in the mood for further piano balladry, which I've stretched out into a very tasty compilation CD for the car, full of (mostly morose) piano/voice songs (with a little extra accompaniment here and there). Songs with this arrangement have always been hugely appealing to me - not sure why, just something about a well-played piano being a suitable setting for 4 minutes of maudlin beauty. Good examples? How about Number Crunch by Mike Viola, My Blue Manhattan by Ryan Adams, Only In The Movies by David Mead, NY by Frida Hyvonen, Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid) by Sufjan Stevens and Untitled by Tom McRae.

And there's also Hide Behind The Sun by Natalie Imbruglia. Around the time of her first album in '97, a string of singles gave way to a set of cracking b-sides, of which I *think* this was one (I question that statement as I can't remember owning it on CD, but it's sat very nicely for many a year in my Natalie Imbruglia B-sides folder in iTunes). Anyway, this is a real beauty, stark and

"Tonight... everything but me /
Taken out to sea /

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

It's all the things you can't explain...

Gotta say, I'm a sucker for a bit of melancholy, particularly when it's done by the likes of Leaves or Coldplay. In that vein, some of the stuff on the new album by Civil Twilight has really hit home. My pick would be Human, an utterly gorgeous piano ballad with a keening vocal that, while a more cynical soul might suggest it's been designed by committee to soundtrack death scenes in Grey's Anatomy, has more than enough emotional weight to stand on its own two feet. Other tunes on the album, like the single Letters From The Sky, have studied the Coldplay template maybe a bit too closely (which I guess is only a slur if you think Coldplay are unemotional and overblown), but if a touch of maudlin indie-rock is called for, this record is a good punt.

MP3: Civil Twilight - Human
Web: civiltwilightband.com

Monday, 1 February 2010

Song of the Week #5: "Love Made A Fool Of Me" by the Carolines

It's fair to say my knowledge of 60s girl pop acts hasn't previously stretched much further than the usual Motown suspects and a healthy selection of work by the late and very great Dusty Springfield. Hurrah then for the Eclipse label's 'The Girls Are At It Again: UK Beat Girls 1964-1969', which lays out 20 joyous pop obscurities on one disc.

Some of the names are familiar (Diana Dors, Kiki Dee), but mostly these are presumably one- or indeed no-hit-wonders. Pick of the bunch is Love Made A Fool Of Me by the Carolines. It's a cracking tune, and even though the subject matter has been done to death before and since, the anguish in that chorus vocal is still guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine:

"Love made a fool of me /
What can I do now I've lost you? /
It's over now, leave it that way"

MP3: Carolines - Love Made A Fool Of Me

Buy: Amazon

Monday, 25 January 2010

Song of the Week #4: "Say That Again" by Crowded House

Neil Finn is a deity of the highest order, so any decision he makes is likely to be a good one. Like, reforming Crowded House after a decade apart. In the meantime, he'd put out a couple of fantastic solo albums and an even better one with brother Tim, so creatively speaking it's not as though he needed to kickstart the old band. But he did, and 2007's Time On Earth was a masterpiece. My personal favourite track isn't one that got a lot of love in reviews, and it's not one you often hear even hardcore fans discussing, but to me, Say That Again is one of his finest moments yet. It's taut, it's claustrophobic, god only knows what it's about, but it sounds utterly amazing.

I think one reason why musically it works for me is that the chugging guitars remind me of a childhood favourite, Icehouse's 'Great Southern Land'. Now that's a tune and a half.

Fingers crossed Neil will come up with the goods again in the near future, as the new Crowded House album nears release.

MP3: Crowded House - Say That Again

Website: http://www.crowdedhouse.com/s_home/index.php
Spotify: Time On Earth

Monday, 18 January 2010

Song of the Week #3: "Maybe After He's Gone" by The Zombies

Obviously, phrases like 'lost classic' and 'underrated masterpiece' are batted around like confetti nowadays (and I guiltily hold my hand up as quickly as anyone), but the fact that the Zombies' Odessey & Oracle isn't as revered as work by contemporaries like the Beatles really is baffling. The story behind its recording and release is a good one (the wikipedia account is well worth reading) and points to reasons why it wasn't the success it might have been, but to me, it might have something to do with the fact the record is so, well, odd. Not musically of course - musically it's of its time while still being hugely inventive, and the melodies flow like they've been beamed in from another planet. But lyrically, it's something else. You have to admire any band who start an album off with a song where the guy is writing to his girl who's in jail, writing pleasantries that we assume probably don't go down too well:

"Saved you the room you used to stay in every Sunday /
The one that is warmed by sunshine every day /
And we'll get to know each other for a second time /
And then you can tell me about your prison stay."

It's such a perky song on the surface, but hugely unsettling if you dig a bit deeper.

Then you've got the sombre organ-led Butcher's Tale, a tale of front-line combat nestled snugly next to Friends Of Mine, an ode to couples in loving relationships: "It feels so good to know two people so in love, so in love!"

In amongst the odd lyrical concerns and baroque beauty is this week's chosen selection, the magnificent Maybe After He's Gone. But even that diverts from any kind of male bravado - "Maybe after he's gone, she'll come back and love me again." You reckon? Typical British restraint and all that, but come on! Then again, this level of coyness makes its appearance elsewhere in their catalogue; Goin' Out Of My Head, which appears as a bonus track on some versions of the album, includes the killer line: "There's no reason why my being shy should keep us apart." Hmmm... Wishful thinking perhaps.

The Zombies then - masculinity issues, but fortunately able to set them against devastatingly wonderful songs.

MP3: The Zombies - Maybe After He's Gone

Website: http://www.thezombies.net
Spotify: Odessey & Oracle

Monday, 11 January 2010

Song of the Week #2 - "1972" by Josh Rouse

If I had to pick one artist who stood head and shoulders above everyone else in the last decade, it would probably be Josh Rouse. Not only did he release a heck of a lot of records (by my reckoning there were 6 albums and a handful of EPs), but at least four of those were truly magnificent. The four in question are the run started by 2003's epic '1972', through 'Nashville', 'Subtitulo' and 'Country Mouse City House'. Each of those contains life-affirming pop songs, but '1972' edges it. In fact, if I were making a list of my absolutely favourite albums of the decade, it would probably be right up there at number 1. I bought it on a whim, having read a good review (possibly in Q) and having liked what I'd heard of his previous record, Under Cold Blue Stars. 1972 is very different from its predecessor, from the warmth of the production to the 70s singer/songwriter stylings and arrangements. What really sets it apart though is the tunes, and while Come Back is the perfect pop song, my pick for this week is the title track. So sad and with such longing, but musically so uplifting:

"Spanish girl with a tattoo
Working nights at the drive-through
And she asks herself, could this be all?
Screwing in a motel room
Watching news on channel two
Victoria tell me, where is your dream?

We're going through some changes
Hoping for replacement
Until we find a way out of this hole"

MP3: Josh Rouse - 1972

Here's a live version from Germany:

Website: www.joshrouse.com
Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/album/5SxkCsVQLLCt5edqjNvssO

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Song of the Week #1: "Painkillers" by Candy Butchers

Okay, so I'm going to make a valiant attempt to blog more regularly (although I've said that on various occasions previously and failed miserably to keep to it). Decided to start a Song of the Week series, writing a few words about something that's had some impact on me. Not a revolutionary concept by any means, but hopefully other people can find something new or interesting from some of these posts...

So, first up is a key track from one of my absolute favourite albums from the last decade, if not ever. Painkillers is a beautiful but harrowing track that appears halfway through the Candy Butchers album Hang On Mike, and tells the real-life story of singer/songwriter Mike Viola's grief over his wife's death from cancer, and how his new partner was helping him come to terms with it. Summarising it as simply as that feels wrong though, and you really need to hear the song for the full effect (and if you have any soul, you can't help but be affected by it):

MP3: Candy Butchers - Painkillers

"To wake up with Kim again
She's as beautiful as I remember
Spying on me through her long brown hair
Walking beside me without a wheelchair
Somehow I think she returns
To show there's nothing to fear any more..."

I get a lump in my throat listening to it even now, after playing the song hundreds of times since its release at the start of 2004.

The parent album is, quite frankly, a masterpiece. Essentially an autobiographical song-cycle, it takes us through Mike's life from his time as a child prodigy up to the mind-numbing mundanities of touring in a rock band, stopping along the way to discuss names for potential children and an ode to his mother. Again, putting it like that doesn't do the album justice, and it really needs to be heard to be believed.

Website: www.mikeviola.com
Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hang-Mike-Candy-Butchers/dp/B00016XO5Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1262778893&sr=1-1