Monday, February 04, 2008

A look back at January

Before February progresses any further I’d like to take a quick look back over January. Unlike my usual monthly round-ups of old, I’m going to try to make this a bit more than just a listing of songs. Maybe I don’t even need to do this sort of thing at all, but I’m going to give it a couple of months and see.

Anyway, January was a good month for music. Maybe it’s record companies trying to capitalise on what’s normally a quieter record-buying month to gain easy hits, but there does seem to have been an abnormally high number of decent releases in the 31 days just gone. Some of them have been written about on here. Others haven’t. With such a strong field, it’s been hard to choose an album of the month. Just after New Year I was sure it was going to be Black Mountain. Just over a week ago that changed to Vampire Weekend. But over the last week it’s changed again, and the award is going to an album that I’ve owned for less than a week, but has already charmed me enough to play it more than anything else for ages.

It's Thao's We Brave Bee Stings and All, and it’s got more than a little to do with seeing the artist herself play live last Sunday night; but I was well warmed up with her excellent Daytrotter session from 2006, her debut album from 2005 which I bought at the gig, so Bee Stings is merely the icing on the cake. It’s really good. After the more stripped down Daytrotter session and live performance (just acoustic guitar and drums) I feared that the album would sound over-produced by comparison, but no such fear. Thao came good by sending her debut Like the Linen to Laura Veirs who hooked her up with long-time Veirs producer Tucker Martine. He certainly can’t be accused of over-production, rather the extra instruments and arrangements only serve to add further depth and substance to already great songs. So much so that I’m hoping she comes back to the UK with her band The Get Down Stay Down before too long. Crucially, this album contains Feet Asleep, a song I’ve been mildly obsessed with ever since hearing it on the aforementioned Daytrotter session a few weeks ago. It was my highlight of the gig and the album version, if anything, is even better.

Download: Thao – Feet Asleep
Download: Thao – Bag of Hammers

So what else has there been? Well, the full fruits of Dev Hynes' country rock reinvention as Lightspeed Champion were revealed. The album is much better than I anticipated, and even though it’s no classic, it does have Tell Me What It’s Worth which I think will still be one of the years’ finest indie pop nuggets come December. It's the other song I've been slightly obsessed with this month.

Download: Lightspeed Champion – Tell Me What It’s Worth

The White Stripes started the year by releasing another single from Icky Thump. So far, so what? Does anyone really care once a band has got past their second single off any album? But they’ve keep interest levels up, for me at least, with their ‘Acoustic Mariachi Version’ of Conquest, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Hardly groundbreaking, but still a lot of fun. The only thing that could have improved this is getting Calexico to do it instead. After all, they’ve got good form in this area.

Download: The White Stripes – Conquest (Acoustic Mariachi Version)

I’ve already covered Cat Power, Vampire Weekend and Black Mountain about as much as I want to right now, so what else? One discovery for me was LA band The Mae Shi who seem to have played a dozen or so gigs in London over the past couple of weeks. Some have companied that they still haven’t made it out of East London, but I live there and I’ve still not been able to get to see them. The band come from the same burgeoning LA music scene that brought you No Age, Health, Mika Miko and others, though they’re probably more pop than any of their peers. If the Single Run to Your Grave is anything to go by, we’re in for an experimental power-pop treat when their latest album HLLLYH is released on Moshi Moshi later in the month.

Download: The Mae Shi – Run to Your Grave

Well, that will be about all for now. I’d like to say more about Dawn Landes album Fireproof, but I’ve leave that for an upcoming post. Ditto for the lovely Ghosts single by Laura Marling – her album Alas, I Cannot Swim is out next week, and I’ll be reviewing it for sure. And Adele? Well, everyone else is talking about her right now, so I won’t add to the clamour just yet.


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