Monday, January 05, 2009

There's more love in this head than these eyes can show

In the first weeks of 2009 you'll find most bloggers looking forward to the new releases and new bands of the year (see here for Sweeping The Nation's picks for 2009). Me? I'm still catching up with records from 2008 and 2007 (and watch out for a future post on an album from 1990 soon).
The two records from late last year that have been lodged on repeat in my head recently share other similarities: both are on small independent labels, both feature large('ish) collectives of players, both just about fit into the umbrella description of 'orchestral-pop' and both feature the kind of fey, fragile male vocals that I can't get enough of - but which drive Mrs A to distraction. She prefers her male singers a bit more throaty, more rawk 'n' roll.The Miserable Rich released Twelve Ways To Count at the end of November on Humble Soul. They are a four- (or is it six-?) piece from Brighton who combine the tender vocals of James De Malplaquet with gentle acoustic guitar, cello and violin to beautiful and - on this their debut -very accomplished effect. When I first heard 'Pisshead' last month I kicked myself because I had just finished my compilation of songs of the year. And this song should be on it. It is funny, poetic, moving and euphoric all at the same time; and in addition to the strings there's whistling and possibly even spoons. A winner on all counts. Intelligent and moving chamber-pop of the highest order - buy now.

The Miserable Rich
Twelve Ways To Count [BUY]

Woodpigeon played End of the Road Festival in 2007 two if not three times. And I missed them on both/all occasions. Their first album 'Songbook' was released on End of the Road Records (the same people as the festival - they liked them so much etc. etc.) in September last year; it was originally released in N America in 2006. Built around main man Mark Hamilton this Canadian collective are closer in sound and mood to Sufjan Stevens. Whereas The Miserable Rich keep it simple and sparse with string section/acoustic guitar/vocals, Woodpigeon play with a bigger box of musical toys and the songs flirt with different musical styles: 'A Sad Country Ballad for a Tired Superhero' is a march, 'Ms Stacey Watson, Stepney Green' pays homage to Belle & Sebastian for instance (they also like long song titles). If The Miserable Rich are 'chamber', then Woodpigeon are definitely 'orchestra'. This is a great record, deserving all the accolade found here. And - even better - both Woodpigeon and The Miserable Rich are touring the UK together in February for six dates only -more here.

Songbook [BUY]

And squeezing in another of last year's albums....

Now some people's whose musical opinions I trust greatly have recommended The Hold Steady to me over their last couple of albums. I keep hearing stories of epic, life-changing gigs and of rock 'n' roll with attitude harking back to The Replacements and The Grifters. But my brief dalliances have left me unconverted. Odd snippets of music has sounded more like sub-Springsteen bluster to me. But I have been giving last year's album Stay Positive more of a chance.
I still remain unconvinced. But then, but then... I hear last track 'Slapped Actress' and I think I may be starting to see what people mean. There's something about the edgy tension conveyed musically and in Craig Finn's gruff, bar-room vocals that lift this above the humdrum. Hang on - gruff, throaty rawk 'n' roll vocals?? I should be playing this to Mrs A. Immediately. And maybe I should just stick with fey and whimsical. It's worked for me so far. More from past years soon.

The Hold Steady
Stay Positive [BUY]

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