tracks of the year #3

January 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

I know, I know, it’s now 2011 so this is late. But I wanted to tie off my first two posts about my favourite tracks of the year with one last list of songs that I liked. Here are some more songs that I enjoyed from the year just gone, but by no means all of them. Shout at me about those I missed in the comments.

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Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union (buy album here)

I need to listen to their new album properly – but I’ve listened to this one over and over again. The video’s great, which is why I’ve embeded it, but if you’ve not heard the full seven minutes nine seconds of this that’s on the album then you need to search the full version down (it’s on spotify here). It’s beautiful, uses spoken word samples with purpose, and writes New Jersey as somewhere to be escaped from; at times it sounds like he believes New Jersey needs to change, but really it’s clear that the need for escape is something primal, irrational within the narrator. He wants a ‘cruel New England winter’, yet eventually he wants ‘to realize too late I never should have left New Jersey’. He is stuck inside himself, but he knows this now.

The song’s also full of references to the American Civil War, which I’m not going to pretend to know anything about. Just listen to it.

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Johnny Foreigner – Tru Punx (buy single here)

This is probably my favourite of the millions of songs that Johnny Foreigner released this year (I’m not kidding – their wikipedia lists three EPs, there seems to be even more at their bandcamp, and they released a split 7 inch with Stagecoach, which this song is taken from). It’s short, melancholy, and full of references to a song that  was on their debut EP, ‘Champagne Girls I Have Known’; this kind of continuity and reference to what has come before won’t seem alienating if this is the first song by them that you’ve ever heard, but for me… it’s important, it’s almost heartbreaking. In this song, Johnny Foreigner make me want to write their lyrics across my pillowcases/pencil cases/eyelids/fingers/kneecaps. Or just shout them out, loud. Other Johnny Foreigner sings released this year include the amazingly titled ‘Who Needs Comment Boxes When You’ve Got Knives’ and ‘Elegy for Post-Teenage Living’, both on the (take a deep breath) ‘You Thought You Saw a Shooting Star but Yr Eyes Were Blurred With Tears and That Lighthouse Can Be Pretty Deceiving With the Sky So Clear and Sea So Calm’ EP.

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The Indelicates – Jerusalem (buy here)

Yeah, I hate the tories too.

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PS I Love You – Starfield (buy here)

I’m not sure why they chose this name. It’s a pretty great song, though. And the vocalist’s voice is all weird and thin and jerky, like all the best voices are.

2010 miscellany

December 30, 2010 § 1 Comment

I don’t feel up to writing a handful more song reviews now, but I still want to make a post as part of my year-in-review before I vanish off to Gloucestershire, as 2010 is almost over and I want to cram in as much fun as I can. So this is a miscellany – the things I liked this year that I can’t construct a list out of. In the next couple of weeks I hope to finish my year in review postings – I want to write a few more track reviews and make you all a mix on 8tracks, and I also want to write about my favourite books of the year (which is why I haven’t included those here). I hoped to finish it all before the year was out, but it doesn’t seem like that’s possible. Ah well. 2011’s going to be terrifying for me (my final exams, hopefully I’ll get a degree, hopefully I’ll move somewhere else and get a job and other things)… I may as well start it by looking backwards.

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main regret

(photo by bobaliciouslondon)

Not going on any of the student protests.

I supported them, but didn’t go on any because I got too nervous at the idea – I figured I would have been no fun, one extra person wouldn’t have made much difference since it was clear that lots of people were already going, I hate being in a big crowd of people that I can’t escape from… the actual conditions of the protests themselves sound like the kind of thing that would have just made me cry from some kind of overpowering fear of nothing in particular (although obviously the violence from the police means that protesters did have something to fear, and they went anyway, because they had to).

Basically, protests are not for me, but. You know. They were important. They are important. And I feel that I should have gone.

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radio shows I love:

Lauren Laverne’s show (on 6music),

Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (on 6music),

All Songs Considered (on NPR),

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (on NPR),

Just A Minute (on Radio 4),

Shaun Keaveny’s breakfast show (on 6music),

Huw Stephens (on Radio 1),

Tom Robinson’s shows (on 6music).

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favourite new magazine

issue 1!

Oh Comely. I got given a copy of this at a garden party run by the women’s campaign at my university this summer (the event itself was wonderful, with nice food and a school sports day-style “olympics”), and have bought each issue since (although I’m still searching the most recent one out). It’s beautifully designed, and the articles in it are interesting, well-written, and not just about fashion or celebrities or anything else. They review toasters, they did a long piece in the second issue about which unlikely things will make it through the post and which will not (basically, unwrapped porn), they interviewed Emmy the Great, had a piece about homebrewing from a kit, a feature over a few pages about a handful of writers’ ex-best friends, and they profile illustrators and artists… It’s not a massively taxing read, and sometimes I wish the articles were a bit longer, but that’s all. I just want more of it.

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tv shows I watched and loved, to varying degrees


How I Met Your Mother (okay, season five was shit, but I’m enjoying the new one so far),

True Blood,

Man vs. Food,

The QI Christmas Special (although QI is VERY variable),

The Trip,

You Have Been Watching (pretty much just most things with Charlie Brooker, really),

Horrible Histories (the video above is a song from it. I think it’s the BBC’s best sketch show).

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favourite clothes wot I bought

I know, right. Clothes. But just look at these trousers! I got them in Zara, and they cost slightly more than I’d usually spend on trousers – but it was worth it. I wear them almost all the time (and when I’m not wearing them, I’m wearing some blue cords that are cut in a similar way). They’re comfortable and they’re more interesting than skinny jeans, while being almost as versatile and less likely to make my legs feel horrible and squeezed. Also, when I wear them with a comfy jumper I feel like I’m dressed as an old man. Yay.

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favourite photo that I took

I liked a lot of the photos I took in Rotterdam, too (more on that below), but I like this photograph of a streetlamp on New College Lane. Largely for the lighting, but the lamp itself is nice too. Especially when you walk past it on wintery evenings, and it beams through strange heavy fog. Click here to see it bigger.

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favourite foods I had never eaten before

Hot and sour soup
Ohhh, it’s so good. Especially when you have something less hot after having the soup as a starter, and your mouth slowly cools down through the meal. It just tastes so good.

Lamb
Well, I’d always hated it before. Then I had some slightly minted skewers done on a barbecue down by the river, and they were wonderful. When it’s done right – minted, well cooked – it’s just so good. Maybe I’ll try some seafood soon and realise that I love it. Who knows.

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favourite stately home visit

I’m so sorry. I’m now of the age where I like visiting big old houses (YES, I even belong to the National Trust now), and Snowshill Manor is a particularly strange one. It’s kind of like the Pitt Rivers Museum, if it was all just crammed into one dark house that was really meant to be lived in. It had cabinets that I could barely see into, machines that I didn’t understand, toys, whole suits of samurai armour, bicycles, musical instruments… It was brilliant.

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favourite holiday

hello tom

My boyfriend and I went to Rotterdam by ferry – I suggested the trip, booked it, got out guidebooks and mostly decided where we went. I’d been to Holland a few times before, but always when I was much younger, or on a school trip. I could probably have been more adventurous with our itinerary – on the last day we meant to go to the tax museum (!) but ended up just playing chess in the communal area of the hostel we’d stayed in, but by that point we were tired and kind of aware of the march of time. But while we were there we got to go to the Boijmans museum in Rotterdam (it’s my favourite art museum, it’s so great), we visited the sex museum in Amsterdam (definitely less fun, it was hideous), we ate in the same Moroccan restaurant two days running because it was so delicious, and we found a Waterstone’s in the middle of a foreign city, just selling English language books.

We got to just wander by canals. We got stupidly lost in a strange bit of Amsterdam while it was raining. We didn’t get to visit the cat museum, so I have a reason to go back one day. It was just fairly exciting having to sort everything out – although at times (like when trying to buy a train ticket from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, jesus christ they’re expensive) I did kind of wish somebody else would just tell us what to do. But you know, it was our first holiday by ourselves. We had fun. At some points Tom just stopped still and said “We’re in Rotterdam!”

I even enjoyed the ferry.

tracks of the year, #2

December 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here’s the second part of my list (in no particular order!) of my favourite tracks of 2010. The posting of these might slow up for a while, since I’m off to Gloucestershire for a week on Thursday (if the trains are working) and probably won’t pack my laptop, but I’ll try my best to get as many of these done before the new year rings in as I can, anyway. Leave a comment if you agree/disagree/want to share anything with me!

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Janelle Monae – Oh Maker (buy album here, or the track here)

I could easily have picked other songs from The ArchAndroid to write about, but there’s already been a lot of attention paid to Tightrope and Cold War (especially its video, which I love), and this is my other favourite, although it’s more understated than the others – at first, anyway.

At the start, Monae sings over an acoustic guitar, and it feels almost out of place on her album, like she’s suddenly made a retreat to something safer, less interesting. But what starts off quiet and slightly droning – like the rainy day that it describes – suddenly becomes loud, showier than it was at first, and the images that she uses are unexpected and expansive without being jarring or pointless. She asks if the addressee knew that ‘this love would burn so yellow / becoming orange and in its time / explode from grey to black then bloody wine’. The lyrics don’t show off – but they also avoid sounding like anything staid, like any other pop songs.

I know that The ArchAndroid is meant to be part of a wider science fiction narrative that Monae has constructed, and it’s often been referred to as a concept album, but this track, and the other great songs on here, stands alone; the story of love and destruction that it tells unfolds, restrained and sad, amid quietly changing styles of production and instrumentation.

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Metric/The Clash at Demonhead – Black Sheep (buy Scott Pilgrim soundtrack here, although it’s got the Metric version on. As far as I can tell, you can’t buy the version with Brie Larson singing anywhere. Boo!)

I prefer the version of this that’s used in the Scott Pilgrim film (which is where the video clip above is taken from, although it’s an extended version of the scene), with Brie Larson singing, over the version that’s just done by Metric, although both are good – it’s slightly less produced (although obviously it still doesn’t sound much like a live performance), and I possibly prefer Larson’s voice. I’m not even sure when Metric put this out, but the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack came out this summer, so I feel justified including it here. Every time I listen to it, I just think, how could I not?

It’s got such a great opening – in the film it works really well having Envy start it with “hello again, friend of a friend”, considering what you’re about find out about Ramona and Todd on bass’s relationship – but, just thinking about the song by itself, I love the way that the vocals sound kind of staccato, almost spoken. It sounds like a challenge. Not sure quite what the lyrics mean, if I’m honest (and neither do the people over at songmeanings.net, but then they never do), but when I hear her sing, it’s clearer. It is a challenge.

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The Hold Steady – We Can Get Together (buy album here, or buy the song here)

Surely the year’s most surprising namecheck has to be in this song, when Craig Finn sings about 90s indiepop heroes Heavenly. But it doesn’t feel like he’s just referencing them for the sake of it – part of their story gets woven into the song, and they become a way of remembering somebody else, somewhere else, something that they are a reminder of.

I don’t think this is thought of as one of The Hold Steady’s best albums – I certainly haven’t got through it much – but I keep returning to this song. I think it’s the opening – there’s something about the repetition of ‘heaven’ in it that tugs at me. Most pop songs seem to rhyme, and so does this one – but when words, or parts of words, are deftly repeated, it helps something paint itself inside my head. These are the two lines that open the song:

She played “Heaven Isn’t Happening”, she played “Heaven Is a Truck”
She said Heavenly was cool, I think they were from Oxford…

It shows a kind of sideways thought process, a way of remembering different things that ‘she’ liked through word-association, rather than by thinking about all of the songs by one band that she liked, or the music that she used to listen to the most. It doesn’t feel like wordplay, but the repetition still helps it become memorable, still works like internal rhyme. The backing vocals (on the studio version) that go ‘baa-baa-baa’ are beautiful, and fade out at the end after the rest of the song has finished – they’re never overpowering or too insistent, which makes a lot of difference in a song, like this, that is not a big dumb pop anthem; it’s too clever for that. Not that there’s anything wrong with those songs; but this one talks about other bands and their myths of origin, about growing up and old, about imagining what you can’t really remember. It’s about listening to music, without being self-congratulatory, nostalgic without being shit.

I listened to it so many times this summer that I’ve created a whole kind of internal life around it; when I hear it I just imagine being in Oxford, sitting on Headington Hill, listening to it on repeat, even though that never even happened.

tracks of the year, #1

December 27, 2010 § 2 Comments

I spent a few days thinking about how best to present a review of the music that’s been released this year; I had to compose a personal top ten as part of a staff poll at the student paper I sometimes write for, but I’m not very happy with it and don’t necessarily want to write about each of them. I do really get into a small number of albums, but the only one that’s really grabbed me this year is Los Campesinos!’s Romance is Boring (it’s only a fiver at the moment!), and writing about ten albums as if I know them and have considered them intimately when I like a handful of songs from each would be dishonest and probably kind of boring. Instead, I’m going to write a series of track reviews, in no particular order, followed by a simple list of a top fifteen or so once they’re done. Here are the first few reviews – I hope you like them. As always, leave me a comment if you agree/disagree, or want to discuss anything further. More reviews will follow over the coming week – I’m not sure how many track reviews I’ll write in all, I’ll probably keep writing them until my spotify ‘best of 2010’ playlist dries up (or I do).

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Meursault – Crank Resolutions (buy the album here, and there’s a free download of the track too)

I saw Meursault at Truck festival this summer (which was, for the most part, a dreadful experience). I saw a lot of bands there, but I think their set – early in the day, shorter than I wanted – was my favourite. They can repeat one phrase over and over again, and make me feel like I’m being punched in the stomach. This song is a good example; it’s emotional and upsetting, as he sings, slightly broken, ‘as they carry you away’, but it’s not histrionic or overblown. Meursault are never sentimental, but they’re sincere, in a lovely, sad way. The instrumentation is sparing; this makes it all the more moving when the electronics are there, when another member of the band doe sstart playing. It all matters. When he sings “I broke down – on New Year’s Day – and I mixed my drinks – and I lost my way”, and when he yells out after the line ‘they carried you away’ repeats, it makes me ache.

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Darren Hanlon – Scenes From A Separation (buy album here, and the song here)

This isn’t the single from Hanlon’s latest album; that’s All These Things, and there’s a charming video for it that’s worth watching. But I think this is the better song; while the other one is a duet (although Hanlon sings more), this is just him, singing about a relationship breaking up. It’s a break-up song, but it feels quiet, not overpowered with grief; the song starts with the lines ‘we earmarked our August vacation / as a fine place to fall apart / then heard that a trial separation / was a quaint idea for a new start’, and it almost starts to feel safe, as if everything was planned, as if no emotions were involved. But as the song develops, it becomes clear that this isn’t the case; towards the end, Hanlon sings the lines ‘I wouldn’t trade one heartbroken minute / for a year’s worth of dull happiness’. He can see the relationship and its end for what it was; he and his partner did fall apart, he was heartbroken – but it was still worth it, for what he felt and experienced. It also allows him to sing, at the very end of the song, that although, he’s moving on, he knows that the person he addresses is ‘worth mourning for’. He can see the good and the bad in what has passed; this is why no one emotion overpowers him. But there’s still a quiet pain in the song, even as he sings about what he has learned. It takes time.

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Kanye West, feat. (a fuckload of other artists but mostly) Nicki Minaj – Monster (get the album here, and get the song free here)

This song contains possibly some of the most ridiculous lyrics of the year, and not in a good way – who can forget Jay-Z saying “everybody want to know what my achilles heel is / LOOOVE, I don’t get enough of it…”, or Kanye West’s ‘put the pussy in a sarcophagus’? But Nicki Minaj just makes this song. Listen to it all the way through once – the rest is still competent, and quite funny in places, although Bon Iver grates – but then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself going back to 3:35 over and over again in order to hear Minaj start her onslaught. She changes her voice’s tone, pitch, accent from line to line, she’s sweetly sarcastic, then she shouts, and then she screams.

Her writing and timing make her untouchable. She addresses an unnamed adversary, incredulously: ‘so, let me get this straight, wait, I’m the rookie / but my features and my shows ten times your pay / fifty K for a verse, no album out? / yeah, my money’s so tall that my barbie’s gonna climb it / hotter than a middle eastern climate’, turning masculine chart-rap’s lyrical obsession with money as a shorthand for status and dominance on its head. But apart from all of this; she’s gloriously fun. She raps about cheesecake and barbie dolls, she shouts that she wears ‘gold teeth and fangs / ‘CAUSE THAT’S WHAT A MOTHERFUCKING MONSTER DO’, and she blithely spells out ‘f-u-c-k’ in a way that had me just repeating it in my head, mindlessly. You’ll want to hear it again. She packs so much in as she steamrolls over what is ostensibly Kanye’s song; it’s instantly catchy, and dense enough to reward twenty, thirty, forty rewindings.

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