Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Brightest Diamond @ The Luminaire, 24 September 2007

Monday night, and an evening of mixed blessings. It seemed too good to be true at first. My Brightest Diamond (one of my highlights of the recent End of the Road Festival) supported by The Young Republic (another) and The Luminaire (one of London's best small venues, even though it is one of the furthest from my house). It was too good to be true. Some necessary domestic/baby duties (on my part) and an earlier-than-expected support slot (on the Young Republic's part) meant I missed Julian Saporiti and his band of merry men and women completely, which was especially annoying since this was the last chance I'll get to see them before they head back the their American homes for the winter. But I have my End of the Road memories to sustain me till they get themselves back over here - hopefully before too long.

But I did get to see My Brightest Diamond again, and that was never going to disappoint. Shara Worden and co. fairly blew me away back in Dorset and although this gig may not have had the shock of the new that seeing her nine days previously did, it still packed a heck of a punch. The first thing that hits you is the voice. Although Shara was very good as an Illinoisemaker, ultimately she was wasted as just Sufjan Stevens' backing singer. She needed to get out there and let her pipes be heard on her own terms. But a good voice alone does not a fine artist make. Thankfully Worden has the songs for her vocal skills to live and breathe in. Wonderfully. And she rocks too. For someone some slight of frame and stature, she sure has a commanding stage presence, as she dashes around, stopping for a riff here, rushing back to the mic to belt out the next line there. She's in here element, and seems to be enjoying it as much as we all are.

Most of the songs from the excellent debut album Bring Me the Workhorse are aired, all nicely augmenteed by a few choice covers. Roy Orbison's It's Over, a Edith Piaf tune, and the best of all the encore of a French song, sung by Shara alone on the piano. Even though she kicks up a decent racket with the band, there was something about just that voice unadorned save for some choice keys that was just so spine-tinglingy good. The perfect end then, and for an evening that started with a measure of disappointment, a triumphant close.

Download: My Brightest Diamond - L'Hymne à L'Amour
Download: My Brightest Diamond - Feeling Good

I've been posting a few tracks ftom Bring Me The Workhorse lately, so maybe I shouldn't post any more. You should really buy the album if you like it. Look - I bought one at the gig, even though I already had a (legit) download copy. Call me old-fashioned, but it's just unsatisfying only having an electronic copy of an album you love. Now I have a nice vinyl copy, so I'm happy. But I digress. Here are a couple of live covers from a MDB Planet Claire session from last year. You'll know what one of them is. The other is a medley of Edith Piaf songs, the last of which was the one she played at this gig. It's lovely. Now I just need a copy of that encore song.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

End of the Road Festival – Saturday

Saturday dawned bright and clear, with the prospect of a sunny day ahead for the Baby Growl's festival debut. The word was that the ‘special guest’ in the Big Top at 12:15 might be Gruff Rhys. We thought we might make it to the festival site in time for this, but with baby and all her related stuff to organise, it was never going to happen. In any case, there was no special guest.

One of the things that you can’t really do with a small baby and her baggage is to dart from stage to stage to cram in as many bands as possible. So we had to forget about Slow Club in the Bimble Inn, and head straight to the Garden Stage where Loney, Dear was starting off, get settled down and have some lunch and enjoy the Swede’s set from a distance (that's them on stage in the picture above). He seemed to play most of the recent Loney, Noir album. And good, we didn’t miss Saturday Waits, his most lovely song.

Download: Loney, Dear – Saturday Waits

Then disaster! Or at least an annoying omission from the baby’s gear. Ear defenders! As super-paranoid parents we did the cheesy thing and bought the Apple Martin-style ear defenders to protect the tiny ears. In the middle of nowhere it’s possible to play it pretty loud without disturbing anyone, and even bands which I previously thought were quiet strummers seemed just a bit too noisy. So I had to drive the eight miles to the cottage and back to get the luminous muffs, and miss I’m From Barcelona’s set. Oh well. Since they seem to be guaranteed a slot at this festival, maybe next year Isobel will enjoy their balloons and primary-coloured music.

Next, the Big Top and the first chance to test out the ear defenders as Shara Worden hit the high notes in My Brightest Diamond’s magnificent set. She’s quite brilliant. She can sure rock, but it’s really all about the amazing voice. The epic arrangements of her Bring Me the Workhorse album translate impeccably into the live setting, with the odd cover thrown in (Edith Piaf springs to mind). A real highlight. But did the ear defenders work? Hard to tell, since the girl slept throughout.

Download: My Brightest Diamond – Magic Rabbit

The Swedish lounge with its pleasingly ramshackle furnishings, animal mask decorations and records being played at the wrong speed proved a convenient place for a quick baby feed. Then a stroll around the field found The Young Republic taking way too long to start their first set of the festival in the Bimble Inn (there were two more to come), and back at the main stage, Joan as Police Woman just finishing off her performance in her bright red tights as we settled into a new spot on the lawn. People laugh at the ear defenders. I would too if I were them.

Next up is King Creosote and his Fence Collective allstars band (Pip Dylan on electric guitar, OnTheFly on drums and Uncle Beesly on bass) playing largely from his new album Bombshell. It’s an album that’s still new to me, and that I’ve still to fully warm to. I love Kenny’s voice, so lovelorn and so well suited to the stripped down melancholy of his sparser tunes. The new album finds him in more guitar pop territory, and live it’s all pretty noisy indie rock, which is all very well, but there are plenty of people out there doing noisy indie rock, and it pains me to hear (or maybe not hear) Kenny’s wonderful voice obscured by so much rocking out. It’s only on the quiter songs where I think he fully comes into his element. And I’m not sure the Baby Growl likes this new direction either. Either that or the ear defenders were uncomfortable. Or this infernal racket was stopping her sleeping. In any case, full attention was not given to the King and the Fence boys this time around.

Download: King Creosote – Not One Bit Ashamed

Feeding ourselves and the baby meant that a good chunk of the Danielson Big Top set was missed unfortunately, but what I did get to see was just thrilling. I guessed that the crowd in attendance in the larger-this-year tent would be a pretty select one, because Danielson, and in particular Daniel Smith’s high-pitched yelp, is an acquired taste (some of my friends left after a few songs, but I understand). But once you acquire it, you’re hooked. I just love them, and have spent enough time immersed in their music over the past year to consider them as nothing other than a pop band. Others may beg to differ, but watching them is a glorious thing indeed. And family travels meant that they could have Elin with them this time as well for even more of the family flavour. As they finished with Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up (“and that’s what we think of you” Daniel tells us twice) I’m so happy that missing anything of this set becomes my biggest regret of the weekend. I have other priorities now, I keep telling myself. And I do.

Download: Danielson – Time That Bald Sexton

After hearing some of Brakes and The Bees from the car park as we ate our lip-smacklingly good Pieminister pies, we headed back to the Garden Stage with a fed and sleeping baby for Super Furry Animals’ headline set. It was much anticipated, as Gruff Rhys and co are one of Mrs Growl’s and my oldest favourite bands. We bonded over a mutual love for the Welsh wizards back in the late 90s and have since been to more of their gigs than we care to remember. Plus the new album is becoming a firm favourite. So what better for a family outing? They played a load of the hits, then a few from Hey Venus! Some complained later about a lack of energy, but from back where we were it all seemed pretty fine to us, and they even delved into some of the more obscure parts of their back catalogue as they played songs off every one of their albums. So something for everyone then: hits for the casual observer, new tunes for the Johnny-come-latelies and hidden gems for the crusty old fans. A quintessential festival set then? We were happy anyway. And the baby? Again slept through most of it, apart from waking to the noise and having to be coaxed back to sleep by a walk through the magical fairy-lit trees.

Download: Super Furry Animals – Ice Hockey Hair

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

End of the Road Festival – Friday

Taking a baby to a festival isn’t easy. We had an inkling of this when we decided to head back to the End of the Road Festival, back when it was announced at the start of the year. We thought that since The Baby Growl would be three months, she might be old enough (or maybe that we would be used to being parents enough) to take her to a festival, but also that she would be too young to take camping. So we booked tickets and a cottage nearby to act as a substitute tent. When we saw just how full the car was when we left London, we were sure that the decision not to camp was a good one.

This being the first holiday with Isobel, we underestimated just how long it would take to get all the stuff together (babies need a lot of stuff), and get down to Dorset. The festival started at around 2pm, and although we knew we couldn’t get into the cottage until 4pm, we expected to be on the site at tea-time. Fine chance. After finally rolling up at our temporary home at 6pm, then having to get some essential provisions and eat, it was just getting too late. Mrs Growl decided to stay in with the baby, leaving me to reach Larmer Tree Gardens at about 10pm, in time to miss a heap of acts I wanted to see, but crucially in time to see Yo La Tengo’s headline set. I’m so glad I made the effort.

It was a storming performance from Ira, Georgia and James, playing old favourites through to tracks from their latest album. Ira proved that getting older doesn’t mean you can’t rock out, and Georgia and James kept the rhythm pounding to superb effect. From the fuzzed out pleasures of Sugarcube, to sprightly disco-pop (I never knew James could pack such an impressive falsetto), to the all-shredding, apocalyptic noise of the closing song which just kept better and better. It was topped off beautifully by an encore of their cover of Sun Ra’s Nuclear War and their version of Sandy Denny's By The Time it Gets Dark, to send the crowds off happy, though no doubt still in search of other festival pleasures.

One of these was surely Eugene McGuinness in the Bimble Inn, playing a late set to a packed tent. So packed that I couldn’t progress past the front bar area where the noisy chatter of the drinkers stopped me hearing the subtle charms of Eugene’s songs. If I didn’t already know the tunes from his impressive debut album, I wouldn’t have picked up much. But if you can’t beat them, join them, which brings me to the other big pleasure of the evening – meeting fellow blogger Matthew of Song, by Toad fame. We did our intros, chatted and managed to convince one particularly wasted punter that I was in a band, as Eugene finished his show (accompanied by Emmy the Great), and resolved to meet again over the course of the weekend. We would of course.

Download: Yo La Tengo – Nuclear War
Download: Yo La Tengo - Sugarcube
Download: Eugene Mc Guinness – Vela

And speaking of Mr Toad, you can get By the Time it Gets Dark from his blog here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

End of the Road Festival

I’m back from the End of the Road Festival! The eagle-eyed among you may spot that I’ve taken my time since the festival actually finished last Sunday, so what kept me? Don’t worry, the festival didn’t turn into a week-long acid trip. It was just that I extended my sojourn in Dorset for a few days longer. I’m now glad to have returned to the city. I mean, the countryside’s a nice place to be, but I sure as heck couldn’t live there. For starters although undoubtedly lovely there isn’t a lot to do. That’s fine for a week to relax and recharge batteries, but then I’d get itchy feet. Then there’s the people. On a visit to Blandford Forum (a place which surely lives up to the first syllable of its name), there was the casual racist remark extended towards Mrs Growl. Sure, it might have just been a kid, but these attitudes must come from somewhere. So with that in mind, I’m glad to be back in civilisation.

But the festival? It was a brilliant weekend again, living up to expectations. Full marks for another year to Simon, Sofia and the crew for putting on a top-notch event. The line-up was even better than last year, and shows both impeccable taste on their part and an impressive resolve to get all these amazing bands and artists together.

I’ll be going through each day again and giving a full review, but there will be a bit of a difference to previous Daily Growl festival reviews. That’s because my life this year is a bit different. So as well as describing the bands and the music, my posts will be as much about what it’s like to take a three-month old baby to a music festival. It’s not that easy y’know. At least not as easy as we had envisaged. None of the running between stages of old, to catch all the artists we wanted to see. Not when you’ve got a pram and armfuls of unwieldy baby baggage. And none of this down-the-front lark either. We were mostly positioned at a strategic distance to avoid crowd entanglement and the full force of the sound system. I’ve never been that concerned about how loud music is at gigs, but now that there are tiny ears to worry about, I definitely am.

Anyway, I’ll stop going on here and save the rest for upcoming posts. I’ve posted some non-band-related photos of the festival, and now here are some non-band-specific highlights.

The location. I said it last year, I’ll say it again. It’s such a beautiful place for a festival. My friends who were making their EOTR debuts were struck by how lovely it was. Almost too lovely for a festival. For those of you wondering exactly where it is, check it out here.

The sound. Surely the best sound at a festival I can remember, and I’ve been to a few. It was excellent last year, and they’ve kept up the standards this year. Just goes to show that it can’t be that hard to get it right. So why do so many venues and festivals consistently get it so wrong?

The food. Again, an impressive selection of gastronomic delights, none more popular than Pieminister, purveyors of fantastic pies, mash and mushy peas to the hungry festival masses. They had totally sold out by Sunday lunchtime, just when pies were required!

The Bimble Inn. Again, this tent-cum-bar-cum-stage was a big hit. I didn’t spend as much time there as last year (it just wasn’t logistically possible), but it was still a fine place to be, as my friends testified.

The programme. None of your rip-off, charging inflated sums for a glorified timetable here. No, a modest £2 got you a decent mini-magazine, which as well as the necessary stage times also had a load of decent features and interviews with select artists, all expertly put together by the people at Plan B magazine. Plus a CD sampler and a badge. Bargain!

And just the general vibe of the place. Laidback and friendly with a high count of people who were there for the music, and a low (pretty much non-existent) count of idiots. It’s also a pleasure to be at a festival where there are no corporate sponsors trying to sell you stuff. And the weather, for the most part, was perfect.

That’ll do for now. For a sneak preview, my musical highlights were Yo La Tengo, My Brightest Diamond, The Young Republic and David Thomas Broughton. More on them (and more) soon. To end this post I’ve got some music from the aforementioned nice little CD sampler – from Boy Scout Recordings. There will be more about this label on The Daily Growl in the future, for sure, but for now here are a couple of tracks.

Download: Turner Cody - Hey Jim
Download: Dawn Landes - Picture Show

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Going right to the End of the Road

There’s been a bit of a flurry of posts today, mainly because I’m getting things out of the way before heading off, so this will be the last post for the best part of two weeks. I’m going on holiday to Dorset, the first part of which will be spent at the second End of the Road Festival.

Festival attendances this year have been non-existent for me, due to the arrival of the Baby Growl in June, but now she’s just about old enough to appreciate her first festival (I think) and anyway if I had to pick only one festival to go to this year, it would have been this one. The line-up is almost perfect for me. I can’t wait!

A full review will be up when I get back to London and get it written, but before then no doubt, there will be some sort of reviews by fellow-bloggers Song, By Toad and Sweeping the Nation, who I hope to see there.

So all that remains now is to post a selection of tunes from my EOTR playlist. Enjoy!

Download: Seasick Steve – Fallen Off a Rock
Download: My Brightest Diamond – Something of an End
Download: Euros Childs – Bore Da
Download: Lambchop – Something’s Going On
Download: Danielson – A No No
Download: Yo La Tengo – Stockholm Syndrome
Download: The Broken Family Band – Walking Back to Jesus (Part 2)
Download: Herman Dune – When the Water Gets Cold and Freezes on the Lake

See you on the other side!

New Adele - at last!

It’s been a long time in coming, but it’s almost with us now. What I’m referring to is an actual official release from Adele. I’ve been a fan of the young London singer-songwriter’s lovely acoustic soul music since being introduced to her by Music Like Dirt almost a year ago now. Her track Daydreamer in particular is an absolute cracker, and has been doing the rounds of discerning blogs ever since.

She signed to XL at the back end of last year, but her first single (on 7 inch and free download) isn’t coming out on that label. Instead she’s being released on her mate Jamie T’s Pacemaker Records. Maybe XL are holding on for the big push with Daydreamer, which should by rights be a massive hit, but the gorgeous piano ballad that is Hometown Glory – a paean to London of course – will more than do for now.

Download: Adele – Hometown Glory

Gang Gang Dance

I’m getting a bit tiring in this refrain I know, but here’s another group who have come at me sideways lately, confounding my expectations. Given that Gang Gang Dance had gigs put on by Upset! The Rhythm recently, I was expecting something a bit more leftfield and abstract. But instead, on their new EP Rawwar (released yesterday – 9/11 no less), the lead track Nicoman sounds like it wouldn’t have been out of place on the new MIA album, with its chanting and tribal grooves. I say that particularly as I first listened to it right in between bouts of listening to Kala. The transition was seamless.

Oxygen Demo Riddim is more of a straightforward noodly dance tune, whereas the 11 minute-long third track The Eathquake That Frees Prisoners is a bit more out there, with cries, random beats and other odd synthy and sampling goings on. Maybe this is a bit more what I expected. All in though, a good introduction to the band, who have been around for a few years and have released three albums already, and I’m already on my way to check out more.

Download: Gang Gang Dance – Nicoman

Order the Rawwar EP.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pony Up

Where are all the girl groups these days? Sure, there are plenty of singer-songwriters and girls in bands (particularly lead singers), but all-girl bands? I can’t think of that many. With the mighty Sleater-Kinney gone, it seems to be left to Electrelane to fly the flag for female-only bands that really kick ass. I may have missed some obvious ones, so let me know, but there just seems to be a general lack.

Which brings me nicely to Pony Up from Montreal. There are four of them and they’re all women. But are they any good? The answer’s yes. Not amazing mind, but decent. They’re about to release their debut album Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes on Laughing Outlaw Records. It’s full of likeable indie-guitar pop tunes, which even if they lack a bit of the killer touch, are certainly worth recommending. There’s nothing remotely difficult about this album, in fact it’s got a bit of a pop sheen which could mean some commercial success if they weren’t on a small indie label. This really is the sort of thing that major record labels should be signing, instead of chasing after carbon copies of already-successful acts. The amount of crap that’s come my way from some majors lately testifies to that – look, we don’t even need one Fratellis, nevermind two. And one band from Dundee is quite enough, especially if they sound like The View. Just look around you. Bands like Pony Up would definitely be the acceptable face of chart indie in a more sensible world.

Download: Pony Up – The Truth About Cats and Dogs (Is That They Die)
Download: Pony Up – The First Waltz

Order Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes.

Monday, September 10, 2007

In praise of the Omnichord

Last week at work I was having a conversation with my colleagues about the Omnichord (that sort of thing happens – it’s fun to work there sometimes), which has led in a roundabout way to this post. For those who don’t know the Omnichord, it’s a hand-held electronic instrument, which has buttons for chords and a touch plate which is strummed with a rubber plectrum to make a sort of electronic harp sound (more photos here if you’re interested). I remember my friend’s parents having one back in the 80s, and us sitting in his lounge playing the Omnichord. We had a limited repertoire, but it was fun.

The Omnichord Wikipedia page has a list of the instrument’s contribution to pop music, and it’s not inconsiderable. There are a number of bands and artists listed, though there’s not much info on what songs they used the Omnichord on – what use it that? Most notable of those which have more specific info is You Are What You Love by Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins from last year’s excellent Rabbit Fur Coat album. Listening to it again, the sweet sounds of the Omnichord are unmistakable.

More substantially, The High Fidelity (a band led by former Soup Dragon Sean Dickson) actually recorded a whole album using the Omnichord in 2001, and unsurprisingly called it The Omnichord Album. It’s pretty impossible to find this online though, so I’m going with the next best thing which is a 5-track EP on the fine instrument by northern electro-indie oddball Pagan Wanderer Lu (more on him very soon)*. Two tracks here, but more available from the well-endowed downloads section of his website.

Then there’s Asthmatic Kitty artiste, and part-time member of the extended Danielson Familie, John Ringhoffer, who under his Half-Handed Cloud alias has recorded a number of leftfield delights. His latest album Halos and Lassos features the Omnichord prominently, so it would be rude not to include him too.

Finally, the Wikipedia page lists Arcade Fire’s Ocean of Noise. I’ve listened to it again, and maybe there’s something wrong with my hearing, but I can’t hear no Omnichord there. But I’ll post it anyway because it’s a great song, and maybe you can point it out to me.

Download: Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – You Are What You Love
Download: Pagan Wanderer Lu – kk44 Omni
Download: Pagan Wanderer Lu – Winter Gardens
Download: Half-Handed Cloud – Feed Your Sheep a Burning Lamp
Download: Arcade Fire – Ocean of Noise

*given that I’m off on holiday in the next few days, ‘very soon’ most probably means in a couple of weeks’ time.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Still Devastating

I’ve had quite a few pleasant surprises lately listening to albums I wasn’t expecting much from, but no more so than this one. Back in April I saw Devastations play on a quiet Sunday night at The Spitz and was distinctly underwhelmed. I was expecting a hearty dose of the grand melancholic sweep of their second album Coal, but instead I witnessed and tense and cold set of unfamiliar songs, which I found very hard to like. So very low expectations for new album Yes, U then.

But again a pleasant surprise. Not because the album isn’t different. It is – that much is clear from the electronic beats that open the lead track Black Ice. The strings are absent, as are guitars on a lot of the songs, replaced by keyboards, synths and programmed beats. There’s also a gloominess to the album, which isn’t quite the same thing as melancholy. But there’s something about Yes, U which is admirable and even enjoyable.

It’s probably because the band’s touch for lovely melodies is still very much there, and they're still plentifully evident on this record, even if at first they seem less accessible. Devastations can certainly create an atmoshphere, and a lot of the new songs are densely textured affairs which you might have to be in the right mood for, but if you are, boy they’re good! Rosa, with its sparse then incessant drumming, Sonic Youth-style guitar workouts and simple melodic line is a particular highlight and the synth and beats-driven As Sparks Fly Upwards and An Avalanche of Stars are a bit special too.

The Devastations of old isn’t that far away though, and it’s hard not to appreciate the likes of The Face of Love, where the band employ piano and sha-la-las to great effect, and the aching ballad The Saddest Sound. It’s a well rounded, substantial album that doesn’t even take a long time to get into. It’s much more accessible than you might think, even if, like me, it’s not what you were expecting.

Download: Devastations – Rosa
Download: Devastations – The Face of Love

Pre-order Yes, U (out September 17).

Thursday, September 06, 2007

St Vincent / Fireworks Night @ The Slaughtered Lamb, 5 September 2007

So last night The Baby Growl allowed me out for a rare (these days) gig appearance. But which one? So much choice! Emmy the Great and Eugene McGuinness at The Borderline, Richard Hawley at the Roundhouse, A Hawk and a Hacksaw at the Luminaire and The Early Years and a heap of others at 229, to name but a few. But I went for St Vincent and Fireworks Night at The Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell. I saw Annie Clark supporting Sufjan (and playing in his band) at the Barbican last year, but back then I’d never heard of her. Now I’ve got the benefit of a love for her debut album Marry Me to spur me on.

First up though were a band which I’ve been trying to see for a long time but various circumstances have conspired to thwart me. But I finally got to see them and I’m glad I did. I’ve been a fan of their As Fools We Are album for a while, and their delicate brand of noir-ish folk-pop was a real treat live. I’ve got to mention the venue as well, as it’s the first time I’d been there. Basically it’s like having a gig in someone’s living room, complete with sofas and standard lamp, with the band playing in the corner. This intimate setting was the perfect place for Fireworks Night’s music, and the respectful hush from everyone in the room was a pleasant change from the incessant chatterers at London gigs. I definitely aim see them again – let’s hope the crowd’s as good as last night’s.

Download: Fireworks Night – When We Fell Through The Ice

For the main attraction, the lights were dimmed to the point where Annie was almost playing in the dark, save for a couple of dim coloured lights and the occasional camera flash (a few of them mine). Given that Marry Me is an intricately and wonderfully orchestrated record, a St Vincent solo show was always going to be a bit different. But that was why it was so good. Don’t you just hate gigs where the band plays note-perfect rendition of their songs? You may as well have stayed at home and listened to the CD. What we discovered was that all Annie needed was an electric guitar, a couple of mics, some effects pedals and the occasional backing track to magically rework her songs to formidable effect.

The darkness in the room only served to make the cacophonous riffing at the end of Now Now and the start of My Lips Are Red seem almost terrifying. Unreleased track Bang Bang was a joy. And her closing song, a cover of Jackson Browne’s These Days was the perfect end to a brilliant show. She’s back in town in November. She may or may not have a band with her, but in any case, I’m so there.

Download: St Vincent – These Days
Download: St Vincent – Bang Bang (live)

Buy Marry Me and As Fools We Are

Credits: These Days from anyone's guess and Bang Bang from blogs are for dogs.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Best of August

Several days too late I know, but August was such a good month, that I couldn’t let it pass. Here goes.

Album of the Month

St Vincent – Marry Me

What to choose? It’s been a pretty blinding month for album releases. We’ve had Richard Hawley, MIA, New Pornograhers, Super Furry Animals and Eugene McGuinness for starters. It’s been a hard ‘un but I’m going with Annie Clark’s debut album, just because it’s a brilliant, genre-spanning thing of beauty which just sounds better with every listen. Plus I’m getting out for a rare gig tonight to see her play. I’ll report back as usual.

Download: St Vincent – Marry Me

Buy Marry Me.

Songs of the month

Richard Hawley – Valentine

There are so many highlights from the Lady’s Bridge album, but I’m going with this one, the lead track. He really is the finest indie-crooner out there, and this tune is a rich and velvety treat. And is he a pop star now he’s had a top 10 album. I saw Lady’s Bridge on sale in Waitrose the other day. I guess that means he’s finally hit the mainstream.

MIA – Paper Planes [click back to previous post for mp3]

My current fave from the amazing Kala album. Unlike Richard Hawley, Kala struggled into the lower reaches of the top 40. Why is this not in the top 10? Maybe she doesn’t really have a 'target market', or more likely, the people that like her most are those who’ll either download it free or get a promo copy. Urm, maybe I’m one of those responsible for her lack of hits then…

Emmy the Great – Easter Parade

So this is the second time this song has been in my songs of the month recently. Last time it was a fresh demo, and I didn’t know it was going to be released. This time it has been, as part of the wonderful My Bad EP. It’s only Emmy’s second proper record release, and here’s hoping for another on quickly.

Foals – Mathletics

Everyone knows there are just too many boys in bands playing spiky post-punk stuff these days. But then the odd group comes along who seem to have that something that elevates them above the rest of the indistinguishable mess out there. Foals are one of these bands and this is a top tune.

Super Furry Animals – Neo Consumer

There’s just so much to enjoy about the new Super Furry Animals album Hey Venus! Not least this hugely enjoyable track which is essentially an update of God! Show Me Magic for 2007. And what a fine idea that was.

Mercury meh

So it’s Klaxons then. This year has succeeded in being one of the most underwhelming yet, not just in the choices of shortlisted albums, but in the eventual winners being the most uninspired verdict in years. Honestly, of all the potential winners, the only ones I’d have liked less to see winning were The View. Oh, well, at least Amy turned up.

The point of this post, as well as to whinge, is to do something that I meant to do when the shortlist was announced a couple of months back. Here are my 12-album preferences of British artists over the last Mercury year.

Jeremy Warmsley – The Art of Fiction
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Barbarossa – Chemical Campfires
James Yorkston – Year of the Leopard
Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls
Alastair Roberts – The Amber Gatherers
Various Production – The World is Gone
The Early Years – The Early Years
The Aliens – Astronomy for Dogs
Fireworks Night – As Fools We Are
Lucky Soul – The Great Unwanted
Jarvis – Jarvis

And the winner in my panel of one? A toss-up between Warmsley and Winehouse, I think…

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The New Pornographers challenge my prejudice

Here’s something else unexpectedly great. I’ve never really given Canadian supergroup (I believe they hate that tern) The New Pornographers much listening time. I mean, I know some of their stuff (everyone loves Mass Romantic, right?) but whole albums have eluded me until now and their recently released Challengers LP. I left it untouched for a while – that weird cover doesn’t really help – and my expectations weren’t very high. But what fool me!

The reality is that it’s a glorious piece of widescreen Americana, with a strong pop sensibility, ace riffs, breezy tunes and huge hooks. The songwriting credits this time around are mainly AC Newman’s, with three tunes by Dan Bejar, including stand-out Myriad Harbour. Neko Case may not be writing the songs, but her vocal contribution is always a welcome treat. Why did I miss this for so long? It’s one of the most joyous records I’ve heard for a while.

Download: The New Pornographers – Myriad Harbour
Download: The New Pornographers – Adventures in Solitude

Buy Challengers.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Emma Pollock: Watch the Fireworks

I’m starting the new week with the return of an old favourite. I’ve spent a bit of time over the weekend, cooking in my kitchen and listening to the new album by Emma Pollock, formerly of The Delgados. It’s very good.

I know that there was a lot of disappointment when Pollock’s former band split two years ago, after releasing five consistently good albums, in particular the Mercury-nominated The Great Eastern, which I think is one of the most under-appreciated great albums of the past 10 years. But I’m sure that there will be a big interest in what Emma’s doing now amongst old Delgados fans.

Despite the title, there’s not much within Watch the Fireworks to get the pulses racing with excitement at something unexpectedly new and innovative, but that’s not really the point. What you will find is an album to warm the soul, and which will bring fresh understated pleasure with every listen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it sounds a lot like Emma’s former band, as you might expect with her husband and former Delgados’ drummer Paul Savage on drums, percussion and some of the recording duties. To continue the whole homespun thing, it was also recorded in the band’s own studios in Blantyre, Lanarkshire. But having such a familiar sound is no bad thing in my book, particularly when it’s a sound that I’m so fond of. Here Comes the Heartbreak and If Silence Means That Much to You are particular highlights in this vein. That said, when Emma takes up an acoustic guitar for quieter songs like Limbs, The Optimist and The Rope’s Getting Tighter, the results are equally impressive. There’s simply a high quality of songwriting, which means that there’s not a duff track on the album. I’d like to think that there is a market for this record beyond the ranks of Delgados-nostalgists. I really hope so, because anyone with a love for warm, melodic indie rock, with decent lyrics and a bit of soul will be missing out by ignoring this.

Download: Emma Pollock – The Optimist
Download: Emma Pollock – Here Comes the Heartbreak

Pre-order Watch the Fireworks.

There’s an interview with Emma from yesterday’s Times, which is worth a wee look.