Wednesday, December 31, 2008

At The End Of The Year, Music Is Still My Boyfriend

As the year comes to a close I received some music gifts from overseas. The first was a requested and much desired 'Music is my Boyfriend' Hidden Cameras T-shirt. I had hoped when they played Manchester (here) they would have some on sale. They didn't. So thank you to the N. American branch of the family for visiting Kill The 8 (me neither) website and spending their Xmas dollars wisely.

The other gift, from Australia, was an eight song CD from Melbourne-based ska band The Ska Vendors.

The Ska Vendors are an 8 piece Melbourne based band. We have been skanking it up since 2004 playing a mix of Ska, Rocksteady and Jamaican R&B. We have shared the stage with The Specials, The Beat, Strange Tenants and many other great Melbourne bands. We provided backing for Carlos 'Bonanza Ska' Malcolm and recently had the pleasure of playing with The Caribs, Australian pioneers of Jamaican R&B. We tip our hats to the myriad of great Melbourne Ska bands that have preceded us (The Strange Tenants, Loin Groin, Area 7 et al) as well as 2-Tone and the Jamaican pioneers that have influenced our sound. This is Melbourne Ska!

Get this their first EP here.

The Hidden Cameras

The Ska Vendors
The Ska Vendors [BUY]

I have no interest in writing (here) about anything else than music. Whatever else this year has brought, I've managed to have a great time listening to new music and (re-) discovering old music, going to gigs (29 this year. Whilst remaining married and sane. Shame about the overdraft though.) and posting random thoughts here. And after two and a half years of trying, I think (*think*) I've managed to get my head why I am writing this blog.

It was a shame then in October and November that someone decided to issue DCMA notices to Blogger leading to three of my posts being taken down with no notice (my rant here). And for a blog that is read by only three people (thank you all for your support by the way) this felt out of all proportion. If I was technically more proficient I'd be migrating to Wordpress... but as it is, I'll just hang around here a bit longer.

Final thought for the year: It is good to see some attitudes in the music business changing. David Thomas of Pere Ubu (my fav band) has been a long-standing critic of downloads, sharing, live recordings without permission etc. See here. He spent a lot of time in 2006 and 2007 getting Pere Ubu videos removed from You Tube (in the style of Prince etc. but without the high profile coverage. I wonder why). Now I respect this from a musician and artist who is trying to protect their own copyright - it's the 'business' execs complaining I hate.

But what happened this year? Well this year started with a new web service from the band which: exists to sell soul. It's not merchandise. It's not content. It's called music. We offer downloads of recordings for which a commercial release is not deemed practical, as well as rarities, live recordings, limited releases, and anything else of note by Pere Ubu and bands related to Pere Ubu or Ubu Projex.

And then a video extract of the semi-theatrical show Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi (premiered at the South Bank Centre in April this year) is posted on - of all places - You Tube plus on Revver (here) And now is offering a free mp3 download of 'March of Greed' too. Not to everyone's taste maybe but worth checking out here.

Because to me this is what this [blog/gig-going/record-buying/life] is about - trying something new and passing it on. Here's to more of the same in 2009.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Can't Believe What I'm Hearing.....

Having seen Matt Eaton play live here and here, I was expecting the album to be similar: simple, unadorned folksy songs, just voice and acoustic guitar. The opening seconds to first song 'Can't Believe What I'm Hearing' show just how wrong I was: harp, cymbals and a orchestral flourish accompany ethereal female vocals - it's like the Tony Hatch Orchestra fired into outer space by Joe Meek - before dropping to silence and then Matt's world-weary monotone comes in. Accompanied by strings and piano and occasional trumpet. It is a shockingly good opening to a little gem of an album.

Matt's previous band Actress Hands were by all accounts noisy alt-rockers in a Dinosaur Jr vein. Difficult to credit when hearing this album. Matt categorises his music on his Myspace page as 'Healing & Easy Listening / Country / Showtunes' and cites Richard Harris's 60s and 70s recordings as inspiration. And this is a good guide to what you hear: warm, lush orchestral pop lovingly recorded as though from a bygone era but feeling utterly fresh. The prosaic kitchen-sink title really does not do justice to the ten track album.

So I'd urge you to add this to your collection. And if you need a further incentive see the above from the Drift Records newsletter:
As a thank you for supporting us these past 40 odd months we’ve dropped prices at the Drift Shop until the New Year. Enter the code ‘DRIFTMAS’ at the Drift shop and we’ll give you a very festive 50% off!!!
Go here now and do the right thing.

Matt Eaton
Finish Your Chips [BUY]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

TOMORROW IN MANCHESTER: Christmas Knees Up Gigs Galore!

Galore? Well a three way fight for your festive gig entrance money between Red Deer Club, Little Red Rabbit and Akoustik Anarkhy this last Friday before Christmas Day.

All gigs only a fiver each and have great line-ups with at least two bands plus DJs on each bill. The first includes a free mix CD if you book in advance; the second you can't book in advance; and the third (as well as having a poster with the wrong date on) is the last ever UK performance from Autokat. Au revoir to them and seasons greetings to you all!

Red Deer Club presents Christmas Knees Up [BUY TICKETS]

Sophie's Pigeons
Say Play Sway EP [BUY]

Little Red Rabbit & Ruby Lounge present Last Harbour and Former Bullies [BUY TICKETS]

Last Harbour
Hold Fast, Pioneer [BUY]

Akoustik Anarkhy present The ChristmaAs PaArty 2008 [BUY TICKETS]

Autokat [BUY]

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Well as warned - and only one day late - here's my selection of the Ten Best Albums of the Year in reverse order.

Dependable doesn't mean dull. As venomously sarcastic as ever and with the tunes to boot. Nigel Blackwell should be the new Poet Laurate and 'National Shite Day' should be the country's national anthem.

9. THE ACORN Glory Hope Mountain [BUY]
A concept album based on the life of the songwriter's mother's life from growing up in Honduras to moving to Canada. Sounds terrible on paper. On record it is sweet, joyous and rewarding. And much better than your average Mother's Day card. Think this will gain the full attention it deserves during 2009.

8. LAURA MARLING Alas I Cannot Swim [BUY]
One of the shortlisted albums for the Nationwide Mercury Music Award, much has been made of Laura's age but the real story is the quality of the song-writing and the delivery. If this is what 'popular' sounds like I might shift my avowedly anti-mainstream stance.

7. RADAR BROS. Auditorium [BUY]
I'd lost touch with Radar Bros. over the last couple of albums. This was like discovering an old friend and realising how much you missed them. Making slow-motion songs about watching cows cross rivers or warm air rising and making them so affecting and engaging, is truly an art.

As the follow-up to 2007 'The Stage Names' this could simply have been the left-overs and also-rans. But it's far stronger than that - an outstanding set of literate indie-rock, telling the tales of damaged characters and fading artists with real heart and soul.

5. CLINIC Do It! [BUY]
Another 'dependable doesn't mean dull' selection. On the one hand Clinic's template (distorted garage-punk stomp) suggests a straitjacket; but they constantly can stretch and innovate within these narrow confines. Breathtakingly good. Again.

4. THE WAVE PICTURES Instant Coffee Baby [BUY]
Lo-fi production and presentation but bags of charm. This harks back to earlier eras (C86, Jonathan Richman) but is totally fresh. If last year's songs from the double A-Side (We Dress Up Like Snowmen/Now We Are Pregnant) had been on this, it probably would have been a contender for the number one position.

3. ADRIAN CROWLEY Long Distance Swimmer [BUY]
Unexpected discovery of the year for me (but also for Mr MM and for others too I know). Wrote briefly about this here. Adrian takes a sparse folk-blues and turns it into something utterly beguiling. Buy this now.
2. BRITISH SEA POWER Do You Like Rock Music? [BUY]
January releases rarely do well in end of year polls. But for me this record has been a constant presence this year. Despite the Nationwide Mercury Music prize nomination and playing on (some) bigger festival stages this year, I don't think BSP will ever cross-over to mass acceptance. They have too many eccentricities and a singularlity of vision that doesn't sit well with popular appeal. But if they continue to produce music this good (epic in sound and ambition, peculiarly English) who cares? Let's just hope they continue ...
1. FRIGHTENED RABBIT The Midnight Organ Fight [BUY]
And from England to Scotland. I was bowled over by how good this record was from the first listen and never lost that sense of wonder all year. It has a top-notch production job done on it but this to me enhances the songs rather than smooth the edges. Self-deprecating indie-folk-rock mixed with sexual jealously, disgust and rancour never sounded so appealing. And as well as my album of the year, Frightened Rabbit have the song of the year too in 'The Modern Leper'.

And bubbling under a whole host of records including in alphabetical order (because trying just to ten in preferential order was difficult enough):
Ballboy I Worked On The Ships / Bon Iver For Emma / Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Dig! Lazarus! Dig! / Los Campesinos Hold On Now Youngster / Neil Diamond Home Before Dark / Matt Eaton Finish Your Chips / Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes / Robert Forster The Evangelist / Giant Sand *proVISIONS* / Herman Dune Next Year in Zion / Eugene McGuinness Eugene McGuinness / Micah P Hinson & The Red Empire Orchestra / Conor Oberst Conor Oberst / Pete & The Pirates Little Death / Silver Jews Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea / Thomas Function Celebration! / TV On The Radio Dear Science / Willard Grant Conspiracy Pilgrim Road / Woodpigeon Songbook / James Yorkston When The Haar Rolls In

Given the time I have taken to put this post together (the links! Have you seen all the links!?) I'm not going to risk it's appearance to some trigger-happy, DCMA-wielding irritant by adding mp3 downloads. But if you want to sample any of the above albums here is a mixtape of songs.

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

Normal service will be resumed soon. Sometime before New Year I will post a compilation of favourite tracks from the year. As well as working on the compilation itself, I'm also considering the title (to be drawn from the lyrics of one of the songs) carefully. Not all these songs might make the final cut but titles under consideration include: Fat Cops Make Bigger Targets; Pedestrian Etiquette; Stockard Channing Held Sway; My Blushing Bride, the Figurehead; On His Last Leg; Towards The See-Saw. Any favourites?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Year In Lists

It's that time of year again. Yes it's time for End of Year lists; a time you either devour avidly or will want to run to the hills to avoid. Guess where I sit on this one?
There are two I always look out for. The first is the Piccadilly Records Top 20 Albums of The Year booklet. That's right a booklet - in these digital-only days it's refreshing to have something tangible and lasting. Especially since this year is the 30th anniversary of the record shop.

So in addition to the Top 20 of the Year (actually they list their whole 100) you get the history of the shop across its three locations plus staff and friends picks of the Top 20 albums from the last 30 years. And it's free. The list only is here.

The other list is the Rough Trade Top 50 Albums (here) - again another record shop which feels like it is run by fans for fans. I don't always agree with either of these two lists but they are never less than interesting and frequently inspiring. And both stores are offering various discounts and selections from their lists (here and here). You can also vote for your top three on the Rough Trade list with Drowned In Sound here - and so stand the chance of winning all fifty albums. for the first year is showing aggregated results of the song, album and artist of the year with Top Tens for each based on number of listens (here, here and here). You may find the results depressing or obvious ...

Some of you and others out there like Catbirdseat (here) ponder the point of End of Year lists. And I have to admit as much as I love 'em, I spend plenty of time railing at the stupidity/obviousness/pointlessness of many (mainly the mainstream print media).

But putting aside all reservations OF COURSE I am compiling my own Top Ten (to be posted here on 12 December) and will be submitting it to the DEFINITIVE blog site for year-end best-of lists: Large Hearted Boy (already well under way here).

Now this is where you can really lose yourself. Or be inspired. Or have you already run to those hills?

Hold On Now, Youngster [BUY]