Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who? What? Wow!

Ok before we begin, here's some writings of mine if you're interested. Firstly my fawning over the new Mars Volta album, and a review of Sufjan's gig last January and of Rivers Cuomo of Weezer's demo collective ...and break.

Once Upon A Time i could have honestly said "hey have you heard of this lil' band called Interpol?" and once i played a cover of 'Yellow' in a band just a few years shy of Coldplay's domination of the world. At risk of sounding arrogant, selfish or worst of all over-hyped - i've always wanted to be the person who champions great new music, or at least the guy with great taste.
And as inevitably as great bands find their audience and become huge (hey you should check these guys, lil' Montreal band called The Arcade Fire), there will be much great music that whatever reason just doesn't get there.

My latest list will focus on the bands, albums and music that has slipped under the radar.

as usual a few quid pro quos before the list begins.

  • i realise that the title is presumptious and that some of you WILL have heard of these selections before. After all, my readership is made up of my friends, but before you grill me or show me up respect that "Obscure Bands That You May Or May Not Have Had Foisted Upon You In One Of My CD Compilations" just isn't as catchy
  • This isn't some attempt to get indie street cred in citing rare EP's or willfully obscure music (although that isn't to say that some of this stuff won't be difficult to track down), but these are artists and music that i think is genuinely worth the time and effort it takes in locating them. They deserve better attention.
  • as usual, where available i'll provide clips so you can hear what i'm writing about and thanks in advance to the websites that provide links, and if you want it taken down just e-mail me at

10. V.A.S.T. - V.A.S.T. (1998)
There was a time, circa the late 90's, when V.A.S.T. were touted as the next big thing. Years of record label battles, tired writing and yes, even some attempt at recreating past glories meant that V.A.S.T. - which early on was really a moniker for multi-instrumentalist Jon Crosby - fell by the wayside. They are still around and comfortably releasing music through their website, but back in 1998 their self-titled debut was something special.
Although you wouldn't know it from some of the bad marketing, promo stickers at the time featured a quote from Lars Ulrich (drummer for Metallica): "it's like Enya crossed with The Prodigy" and i have to admit that "Dirty Hole" now sounds like Moby's evil brother, but there's no denying the coolness in sampling monks chanting and gregorian choirs mixed with industrial rock. It shouldn't work (Prodigy and Enya!?) but it does. This album has its quieter, and undeniably beatuiful, moments too such as the Cello-led ballad "Flames" and one of my favourite love songs of all time: the album closer "You."
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: You ever watched Angel, your name is M. Millikan or J. Davies
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you want a more organic Nine Inch Nails, you like your brooding goth rock to be heartfelt
some videos here

There aren't many rock journos who would put their money where there mouth is, Cliff Jones did. The former journalist for music rags The Face and Mojo magazine formed the riddick-ulously named Gay Dad back in 1994 working towards the band's debut of 1999, then had the chutzpah to announce the band's split on the eve of their second album, 2001's Transmission.
While it's the debut, Leisure Noise, that gets all the press i feel its their second album that does things better, a bizarre place where Britpop and American grunge meet under agreeable circumstances.
The yearning moments sounded like Smashing Pumpkins, while the krautrock of "Nightclub" and Suede-alike "Dinosaur" meant that they fitted snugly alongside the fallout of the 90's UK scene.
It may be harsh, but it's little surprise that Cliff Jones hasn't been heard from again, last heard he was working on a solo album and "a few projects" but that was nearly seven years ago. Still i'd still take the time to check out anything new he might have up his sleeve, and still make the time to listen to his old band's work.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: You were a writer for Mojo or The Face, you googled strange band names
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: if you like strange music to match the strange name, you like Britpop and Grunge equally
listen here and check out their myspace

8. GLOBAL COMMUNICATION - 76:14 (1994)
I picked this up at the CD stall at my old high school's annual fair one year and have since used its ambient charms as way of getting to sleep. In fact i can honestly say i can only really recall the first half of the album because it's always managed to lull me into a deep snooze, so potent is it's effect.
The title of the album, and subsequently each track, is named after its length. Hinting at the straightfoward ambience of the album, soothing synths and warm beats mixed into a hypnotic groove. Best exhibited by second track "14:31" that takes the ticking of a clock as its beat and builds a heady swath of colours and sounds upon it.
The fact that its been re-released a number of times in the 15 years since its inception goes to show how much the music has remained relevant, it doesn't ever really sound dated.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you bought it from that same CD stall, you stumbled upon any of the re-releases
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you like a soundtrack to your bedtime, you enjoy the elite of ambient electronica
Some clips here

7. CAVE-IN - ANTENNA (2003)
I can't remember how i discovered Cave-In but the fact that they were handpicked to tour in support of Foo Fighters and Muse not long after this album was released ensures they were on my musical wavelength.
"Antenna" was their first album for new label RCA and considering their hardcore roots at Alt-Metal label Hyrda Head Records, its no surprise that their fourth album was a more polished affair, even mixed by Rich Costey (soon becoming ubiquitous thanks to his duties with Muse, Mars Volta and other bands i love).
What we have is straight up rock with a creative bent, "Inspire" unwittingly takes the "squealing little piggy" riff from Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" and creates an entirely different sounding beast while "Joy Opposites" and "Penny Racer" were radio-ready rockers.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: You lived in America and were a follower of the Alt-Metal scene
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: the above sentence makes you skeptical, You like any of the bands Rich Costey has mixed (Muse, Bloc Party, Mars Volta, Interpol, Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World... the man's a god)
Some mp3s here: Inspire, Joy Opposites,Lost In The Air

If record sales were based on sheer weirdness, Lift To Experience would be high on the charts. Their one and only release is a two disc concept album about a Texas band who are requested by God to fulfill a prophecy concerning a Noah-like apocalypse, in return they become the biggest band in the world.
The reality however, is much harsher, despite raving cult acclaim the band have disintegrated leaving behind only this most unique and beautiful of albums.
A fitting epitaph, and the best description of their music, comes from their record label page: "Lift To Experience couldn’t be making music anywhere but Denton, Texas. But, like all the best rock’n’roll, their sound is both steeped in their immediate surroundings, their everyday lives, and utterly out of time."
Only a three-piece they craft huge swells of guitar and vocal harmonies reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. Like Buckley too, their music isn't soaking with religious sentiment yet contains a spiritual edge.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you read any rave reviews comparing them to My Bloody Valentine, Nick Cave and yes... Jeff Buckley
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you think Christianity is a widely-accepted mythology, not a religion, or if you like concept albums that AREN'T about aliens or fantasy.
mp3s ahoy: Just As Was Told, Falling From Cloud 9

Andy first introduced me to these guys, and the first thing that strikes you about Canadian group Pilate is their singer, Todd Clark. I've always had a theory that the best singers are not necessarily the most technical, but the most emotive. Clark however manages to stride both categories, managing booth cooing falsetto (see "Collide") and ravaged anger (on "Fall Down").
Their sound is made up of the usual rock band components, guitar, bass, drums and the occasional piano, and they manage to evoke (while not strictly sound like) Coldplay and Damien Rice. Possibly because their music and lyrics are engaging without shortchanging their musical enjoyability.
Their second album was a much angrier, chaotic affair; and strangely due to legal concerns they had to change the title from "Sell Control For Life's Speed" to "Into The West." Not only that but also their band name to Pilot Speed, which along with the new artwork makes them look like a Creed/Nickelback band. But be fooled not, their first album (and to a lesser extent their second) is a beautiful thing... something about a rose by any other name?
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: your mates with Hallam, you caught them as 'Pilot Speed' on The OC
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you admire incredibly soulful emotive frontmen, you're the kind of person that sings along as loud as you can in your car
mp3s Here: Into Your Hideout, Mercy

Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes. Don't recognise the names? I'll give you a clue, they toured with The Dissociatives. Still stumped? Ok, they're better known as The Presets... but did you know that before that they were a keyboard and marimba player respectively in this breakthrough album. Small world eh?
Leaning into jazz and electronica but with melodies very much derived from xylophones vibraphone and the aforementioned marimba, Prop don't really sound like anyone else and quite a few leagues away from what was to become The Presets brand of dance-party music.
Measured, without vocals, progressive. It's a real shame that the Sydney five piece (Jeremy Barnett, Dave Symes and Jared Underwood make up the rest of the ensemble) never made another album. There was an okayish remix album featuring some cool acts such as Stereolab, Paul Mac and yes... even The Presets. But i can't help but think what Prop could have been, at least they left behind a near perfect album of cool instrumental music.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you've lapped up everything Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes have done, you're a vibraphone maniac
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you like late-night music to drive/cook/make love to, you haven't yet lapped up everything by Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes
really hard to get music of these guys, but go here then click enter site, then today and the link to Prop to hear 'Portal'

I've been meaning to do something on these guys for a while, a review, spotlight of a track, something, and while i realise they've been getting a bit of airplay, i still think that enough of you won't have heard of them yet to give them the attention they deserve.
Admittedly i bought this album after only hearing a few clips on their MySpace site and thought it'd be a simple stop-gap before the next Mars Volta album. I'm glad i was proven wrong.
They're definitely a progressive rock band, the title of opening track Bildungsroman Number Two lets the cat out of the bag before you even hear its steadily building wash of chanting and noise rock. But the album is lent an organic and folky edge thanks to the abundance of piano and acoustic guitar. Ocassionally the heady mix of instruments and vocals can become a bit muddy, but considering this is an independent label release without the aid of a big budget record label its easily forgivable, its easier to admire the band's sheer ambition.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you're a regular listener of Triple J or RRR, you enjoyed Fallopian Tube or Zero Point Defect
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: You're a fan of prog rock or Australian heavy music in any way shape or form
here be clips at MySpace and Last.Fm

Charlotte Gainsbourg is the daughter of French lothario Serge Gainsbourg (of Je t'aime... moi non plus fame) and her second album, 5:55, is filled with artists that you've heard of but probably didn't even realise. Where to start, well all the string arrangements are done by Beck's dad David Campbell, some of the lyrics are co-written with Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, all the music is performed by French duo Air and to top it all off, the whole thing is produced and mixed by Nigel Godrich, Radiohead's unofficial sixth member. Whoo, did you get all that?
If all that name-dropping isn't enough to get you excited, how about a concise album of pop gems, wryly written observational pieces, piano epics and late-night poems sound? Here is an album that lives up to the weight of its contributers, and Gainsbourg herself still manages to steal the limelight with her breathy vocals and charming personality. She's an actress too, talented thing.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you saw her in The Science Of Sleep or I'm Not There and became obsessed, or if you're a fan of any of the people i mentioned
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you're a fan of any of the people i mentioned, you like intelligent female singer-songwriters
Songs here: The Songs That We Sing, The Operation, 5:55

1. THE BLUE NILE - HATS (1989)
This Scottish three piece have always had a low profile, maybe it has something to do with the fact that they have released only four albums, with a minimum of five and a maximum of eight years between them. Safe to say however, that most people who discover their gently crafted mix of pop and romance become fans for life. Their second album 'Hats' exemplifies everything that's best about the band.
Maybe its in Paul Buchanan's leisurely Scottish croon, or in the simple electronic instruments they employ that ensure it never comes over 'too 80's sounding.' Maybe it's the scope of love and loss that broadens further than the mere seven tracks on offer. Or a repeated lyric like "How do i know you feel it?" that combined with music, equates to you knowing exactly what he's feeling.
I can't really express why or how much i love this album only to say that it comforts me when i'm feeling low, helps me sleep when i'm restless, soothes me when i'm agitated, breaks my heart when i want it too and then makes me fall in love with it all over again.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you followed British pop closely in the late 80's, you were lucky
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you want to hear a great album you've never heard before.
discover them here with Downtown Lights & Let's Go Out Tonight

Right that brings another entry to a close, but there's plenty more where that came from. Anyone for Part 2?
let me know with your comments.

Till next time, keep searching for great music, you'll find it.

The Valentine's Grinch

Hello everyone, loved all your responses to my last post - but time for something a little more timely.
It's Valentine's Day this thursday and i decided to mix things up with an Anti-Valentine's playlist. A quick google shows that what i thought was an entirely original idea is far from it... oh well, hopefully my choices are unique.

Now why an anti-valentines list? well cause as much as i'm a sucker for Xmas and Halloween, i've never understood Valentines, why should you only be expressing your love on a particular day? The old adagio that it's a holiday created by florists and card makers seems to ring true with me, so here's a mixtape of sad songs, breakup tunes and acerbic hate. ENJOY!

(P.S. again links where available, and thanks to the respective blogs who provide them, if you want them down please e-mail me at


Perfectly sets the tone for our mix, a break up that highlights the farce that is St. Valentine's Day.
sample Lyric: I hate you so much right now/ARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!
watch it here

The classic break up song, and a brilliant cover to boot.
sample Lyric: once i ran to you/now i run from you/this tainted love you've given/i give you all a boy could give you
Download here

Strange opener to Andre 3000's solo half, The Love Below, there's also the excellent Valentine's Day from the same album, but this tone sits better
sample lyric: love hater/hater of love
get it here

What Anti-Valentine's playlist would be complete without asking for your money back, and don't forget the black t-shirt.
sample lyric: So you wanted to take a break/Slow it down some and have some space/Well fuck you too
Listen now

Most of Kate Nash's songs deal with grubby, stupid boys. Errr cooties, but this one just takes the cake.
sample lyric: Thirty five People couldn't count/
On two hands the amount of times you made me stop/
Stop and think why are you being such a dickhead for
listen here

A cheeky lil' debate between the descriptions of both, with some great boy/girl vocal work
sample lyric: but my mind and body fail me now/and my shining armor's rusted now
available now

So achingly beautiful it almost hurts, this really captures the mood for anyone whose had to smile when they really don't wanna
sample lyric: i'm not sorry i met you/ i'm not sorry it's over/i'm not sorry there's nothing to say
acquaint yourself

An eight minute workout that manages to say more with its music than its words
sample lyric: i hope when you hear this you'll want to sue
watch here

You have to include a band whose name refers to piercing your heart now don't you? from the classic break up album 'Darkest Days"
sample lyric: i won't become the thing i hate/ i won't become you
Watch a Riddick Street Fighter Video Version

Quirky and Inventive, this still manages to tug at the heartstrings and crap all over the shiny image of Valentine card sentimentality
sample lyric: this is not a joke so please stop smiling/what was i thinking when i said it didn't hurt?
weep here

U2 - ONE
Ironically this is a favourite at weddings, people obviously haven't listend to the lyrics enough.
sample lyric: We're One/But we're not the same/ we hurt each other/then we do it again
reassess here

Just such a great, laidback approach. Particularly singer Guy Garvey's throwaway vocal.
sample lyric: grow a fucking heart love
YouTube it here

J.E.W's ouvre could fill an entire album's worth of anti-valentines, but this is the jewel in the crown
sample lyric: your attention is still attention/it doesn't matter if it's fake or real/i'll take it if i get it
watch a fan video

I'm relying on the majesty of Benjamin Gibbard and co. to take me out with a lil' bit of hope. No matter how bad things get, time heals all wounds. Or is it wounds all heals?
sample lyric: The memories of me/will seem more like bad dreams/just a series of blurs/like i never occurred
listen now

Once again, feel free to contribute with your thoughts, i'd love to hear them.
And hope you have a grouchy Valentine's Day.

C'est La Vie,

Guitar Heroics

I'm going to try something a lil' different for this edition of Al's Music Rant. I'm blending two of my passions together, music and videogames, for this special post.

Now if you haven't played a Guitar Hero game yet, go out and do yourself a favour... you're back. Good. If you're still cheating maybe this will enlighten you.

Long before Guitar Hero III saw the light of day, and definitely before track details were available. I made a compilation of a friend of songs i'd like to see on there, as it turns out i predicted several bands correctly - and even three specific songs (Smashing Pumpkins Cherub Rock, Slayer's Reign In Blood and unbelievably Dragonforce's Through The Fire And The Flames). That information, along with the fact that i've played the game for an unhealthy amount of time throughout its incarnations, should be put me in good stead to provide you with...

Du Du Duh Duh:

Now before we begin the list, i should note a few stipulations
1. There will be no AC/DC or Led Zeppelin - simply because the rights are next to impossible and any song by either of these bands would, of course, be absolutely AMAZING.
2. I am aware of the impending Rock Band, and beyond excited (weezer's Say It Ain't So? The entirety of Nevermind!!?) but the focus of this list is the same of the Guitar Hero games. Focus on guitar wank fantasy fulfillment
3. As much as i'd love to, i won't be including any songs for bands who have already featured in the games. That means no Metallica, no Muse, no more Iron Maiden. From here on in any bands already featured are banned from this list
4. As in previous posts, where possibly i have provided links so you can here the songs - some are videos, some are clips, while not perfect its all designed to give you a listen to what i'm actually talking about.
So without further ado:

Jazz has never featured in Guitar Hero games, and for good reason. They are all about the excess of specifically Rock N Roll dreams. Despite that, Pat Metheny is undisputably a Guitar Hero - and despite his jazz background he has always had the propensity for an accessible guitar approach, including fx pedals. That and this track also features the greatest bass player ever: Jaco Pastorious, which would make for some incredible co-operative mode action.
Check out a clip here

Considering the game's inherent humour, its surprising that The Darkness' mix of Queen and Kiss has never made an appearance. Perhaps there appearance in Sony's SingStar series means the rights are tied up. Cartoonish without skimping on riffage, talented without being tongue-in-cheek. This would be a perfect addition to any Guitar Hero setlist.
Listen here

Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and The Strokes have all featured in a Guitar Hero game at some point, so why no Monkeys? Criminal!?!
What better way to induct them with this blasting number, the fake ending too would throw first-timers just as it did with Cult of Personality in Guitar Hero III.
Download here

Roots punk has always taken up a corner of any Guitar Hero. Think of Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys in Guitar Hero III and you'll know what i mean. Green Day would be a perfect fit in this regard and none better than their American Idiot opus, its like the best of Green Day in nine minutes.
watch it here

At 10 minutes in length, this would be a test of stamina more than tricky notes. But its rhythmic chords make for excellent note streaking opportunities and the guitar harmonies provide excellent fodder for both co-op and battle modes.
Chiming and beautiful, this would be an excellent track and a great encore song.
Download here

Its always good to have a female vocal in a guitar hero song, if only because that dread-locked blondie appears on the mic. Featuring a blistering riff from Nick Zinner this would make a great early song. Short but very addictive.
Live @ The Wireless version here

I can understand why Tool have never featured in a Guitar Hero game. Their sound is more about an overall band mood and rhythmic sensibility than the guitar alone. That and Adam Jones is as far from the poster boy guitar wanker as you can imagine, that being said the Talk Box solo here is as close as we'll get. The tricky rhythm of the main riff would ensure more than a few trips to practice mode too.
Live version here

Ever since Kansas appeared as an encore song in Guitar Hero II, there's been hope for poodle soft rock lovers everywhere. While Journey's power ballad isn't as heavy on the soloing it still contains that uplifting mood that would ensure you get the most of your wireless guitar pulling all those cheesy rock moves.
Relive it here

Ok, Ok so i know i said i'd banned any bands that had already appeared in the game series, but 'You Really Got Me' was a Kinks cover. Besides this is the epitome of guitar meltdown. And even at around a minute, i could still picture swearing blind at its impossible difficulty on Expert mode.
Pleasure your ears now

When you can't get Stairway To Heaven, what's the next best thing? This is the kind of slow-build majesty that typifies the final encore of the Guitar Hero games, just like Metallica's One and Lynrd Skynrd's Freebird. It contains a simple enough reggae like rhythm before launching into a crazy guitar duel. Lighter in the air, plastic peripheral in hand, this HAS to be in the next Guitar Hero game.

So there we have it, so feel free to write me with your thoughts, disagreements, agreements, new additions etc.
I'd love to hear them

also a bit of shameless self-promotion. I've recently started a Podcast with some friends called Gamez4Lyphe, a videogame cast with a bit of humour and casual approach to our beloved past-time, so if you enjoyed this edition of AMR you can find similar fare at:

it's still in its early days, but we will persevere to bring you an informed, enjoyable and interesting podcast each week

Till next time, get your ears ready for 2008
back soon - Al

The Good, The Bad & The James Blunt

Firstly, thanks for everyone who provided feedback on the best albums of '07 list, its great to know that people are reading and *gasp* enjoying it; and if that was my serious attempt at music journalism (albeit bloated) - then this is where i let off a little steam.

2007 was a brilliant year for music, and even though industry professionals are stressing about CD sales dropping, and pop music continues to worsen, it was still a year to celebrate. Not just for albums either, great concerts, great music news, great new bands. So here's my last rant about 07 and its music in a list-a-licious format of silly awards.

Matching the eclectic sounds was a stunning sleeve of zany cartoon work, reminiscent of Mad Magazine, in a colourful, creative sleeve. If only all artists took this much care in their presentation.
Check it out at here

BEST (AND WORST) CD TITLE: SOFTLIGHTES - Say No! To Being Cool, Say Yes! To Being Happy
Following the recent trend of dogmatic phrases for album titles (arguably set by Arctic Monkeys). Here is a CD title that gives a sense of attitude, in a way that demands to be said out loud. While it breaks rules of grammar(!) it's the kind of dogma fans can cling to.
Check out the artwork here

Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's solo project was intended to be tongue-in-cheek and relaxed, and if you didn't get the joke from the album title - you were never going to enjoy the music therein.
The joke continued with the CD artwork, which parodied an in-flight safety pamphlet (think Fight Club and you're half-way there).
Read more about it here

Light The Stars gets an honourable mention for the best albums of 2007, but it didn't really shake the Wainwright boat. Song about self-doubt in a grandiose arrangement? Check, aka Do I Disappoint You. Mature song having a dig at American Culture? Check, aka Going To A Town. Flamboyantly celebrating cheeky sex? Check, aka Between My Legs.
Oh, and in case you didn't know - Rufus is Gay with a capital G. In case you weren't sure he recreated his idol, Judy Garland's, headline show at Carnegie Hall song for song... in drag. Thank the heavens there's still people like Rufus in the biz.
check him out at his website

OK so i'm sure that Justice are sick of the comparisons by now, French DJs who mine rock structures in order to get the feet moving without sacrificing creativity. D.A.N.C.E. was arguably the best party track (and music video) of the year, while Waters of Nazareth was the best way to try out that new sub woofer. Well at least they don't wear robot costumes...
Check out D.A.N.C.E. here

BEST SOUNDTRACK: ONCE OST - feat. Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova
One of the best films of the year, a low-budget yet full-hearted tale of a street busker and a Czech immigrant and the power of music. It was like Damien Rice: The Musical.
The soundtrack was equally emotive, hearing these tunes you can't help but think of the corresponding scenes in the film. If you hadn't heard of The Frames before (star Glen Hansard is the lead singer-songwriter), you certainly have no excuse anymore.
Check out some marketing here

Ok so winning an EP is really no big deal, its usually a pretty stark field, but Nil Reccuring is truly brilliant. Its basically the tracks that were left off PT's Fear of a Blank Planet, and it cleverly re-introduces some musical sections and lyrics - some even consider it better than the album proper. If the thought of a full prog-rock concept album scares you, try this taster instead - you won't be disappointed.
Check out the lead track here

No surprise considering the band took home a handful of live act awards during the year. The British trio also take the gong thanks to their hardworking approach to world touring, they visited our shores no less than three times this year, giving heroic performances (nearly) every time.
Sci-Fi lighting, fireworks, guitar histrionics, rock moves - Muse provide the ultimate arena rock show without ever being cliche
check out my review of their Rod Laver gig here

In the liner notes, music journalist Craig Mathieson takes the words out of everyone's mouths when he states "I have the same complaint as you: my favourite Something for Kate song isn't to be found on these two discs."
...and yet it's impossible to fault.
Spanning from 1996-2007 it does a good job of mixing the old and the new, as well as the obscure, but the strength of the band is such that there could be a whole new selection and it'd still be one of the best catalogues any band could amass. Still officially Australia's best band, compiled at the peak of their stride.
Check them out here

The stylistic gulf between the Las Vegas quartet's debut and its chest-beating sequel, Sam's Town, was such that it irked a glut of critics and fans alike. The missing pieces, as well as some interesting new material, can all be found here.
Doing the fans some service, it includes nearly all the B-sides, soundtrack contributions and covers on one handy disc.
Getting their influences and past out in the open may mean they decide to try a new direction... yet again.
Check out my review here

Anyone who caught the band at the Never Never Land shows knows why this album wins hand down. A flawless, perfectly calculated mix of sound and vision - this set may lop off the latter but thanks to the band's brand of mash-up style greatest hits, it remains electric.
Check out the Robot Rock here

A DVD that finally captured the Icelandic group's life changing live show was always in demand, but one that did it in such a unique way while doubly capturing the ubiquitous beauty of their native country? Unthinkable.
Heima manages to re-invent the rockumentary while being as un-rock 'n' roll as possible.
Prepare to lose your shit here

BEST RE-ISSUE: NIRVANA - MTV Unplugged Live In New York
Highly anticipated re-release of the era-defining acoustic set. Trumping every other CD release for its historical importance more than anything else, its great to finally get a high quality (and region free) version of this concert. If you haven't heard it by now, Nirvana fan or not, you really should.
Get a preview here

At risk of making this list a Daft Punk love-in, its impossible not to mention 2007 without mentioning Mr. West's sampling of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. It was all over the radio, and all over Video Hits. It's the kind of track you can imagine seeing on future retro compilations entitled "Remember the Oughties?" or "The Number 1 hits of 07" complete with shiny artwork.
Re-live the shiny video here

And with that we bid adieu to 2007, there's plenty more i could have waffled on about - such as the tabloid fixation with Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears; albums i despised without hearing, such as James Blunt or Matchbox Twenty, i could have talked about all the indie bands that are supposedly going to save the world, i could have devoted some space to the best lyrics of the year, or a little band called Radiohead and their industry-changing In Rainbows... oh, wait...
But i think it only speaks to the strength of Music in 2007. So here's looking to 2008 to top it. Best of luck.

Peace all,

James Blunt - NOT the best artist in the world today

Top 15 Albums of 2007... The Rest.

Right, no time to waste if you're going to survive this epic entry, here's the rest of the list.

7. WilcoSky Blue Sky
It is never possible to predict what course Wilco will take, especially considering the dramatic leaps of faith – not to mention line-up changes – they’ve made over the years. The only predication is that they will change.
Sky Blue Sky evolved out of Wilco’s live show, and you can hear it in the cohesion and balance of the compositions. Where previous opuses such as “Hotel Yankee Foxtrot” and predecessor “A Ghost Is Born” capitalised on the studio setting, their latest feels, if not merely mellower, then more organic and accessible; particularly in the guitars. The addition of jazz luminary Nels Cline to the line up is showcased from the outset. His warm, melodic yet clearly virtuosic solo on “Either Way” sets the stage for the guitar histrionics on the rest of the album, peaking with the six-stringed harmonies of “Impossible Germany.”
As much as these songs have been thoroughly road tested on extensive tours and in rehearsal, some feel born straight out of frontman Jeff Tweedy’s bedroom, demonstrated in the lo-fi intimacy of “Please Be Patient With Me” and “Leave Me (Like You Found Me).” However, the focus is clearly on the energy and synergy of the band setting, you can almost hear the jubilation in “Side With The Seeds” or when “Walken” skyrockets off into its heady rock-out climax.
Once again, Wilco prove themselves to be one of America’s finest musical exports. The front image of the album sees a single bird, lone in the sky, facing a thick, blurred flock of smaller fowl. It may be an easy and obvious analogy to make, but Wilco are that lone bird - soaring effortlessly and elegantly in the face of mainstream music with startling ubiquity and commitment.
KEY TRACKS: Impossible Germany, Sky Blue Sky, Please Be Patient With Me, Walken
6. Bat For LashesFur and Gold
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke described a track this year that was so good that it “made me feel like a wolf.” He was describing the brisk auto-harp and wailing falsetto of the equestrian ballad “Horse & I” – the opening track from Bat For Lashes’ debut album. Yorke, like most who first hear this track, was sold.
The track’s progenitor is English/Pakistan born Natasha Khan, leader of the female Brighton based four piece Bat For Lashes. Sounding as much the kook as she looked it, Khan (and co.) emerged from 2007’s musical landscape from seemingly nowhere, fully formed and provocative.
In image and sound, Bat For Lashes borrow more than a few pages from the books of Bjork, Tori Amos, Kate Bush & PJ Harvey, but even If Bat For Lashes’ influences are written blatantly on their sleeve, then at least they live up to that weighty heritage. For once, here is a band whose songs are as good as their mystic image.
It’s as if Khan and company are inviting us for the first time into their own fully realised world; a magical, mysterious place of wizards, bats and wolves - but where the poignant anchors of reality still apply. At heart these are still songs of love and loss. “Sad Eyes”, “Prescilla” and “What’s a girl to do” are a testament to that writing: spacious without feeling airy, dark yet funky, and honest without sacrificing quirkiness.
To put it simply, Fur And Gold contains 11 good reasons to introduce yourself to the band’s feminine fantasy and wild whimsy.
KEY TRACKS: Horse And I, Tahiti, Sad Eyes, Prescilla

5. Sigur RosHvarf/Heim
Applied to nearly any other musical act, Hvarf/Heim’s formula would seem like a mere stop gap - six acoustic recordings of older tracks and five new(ish) studio recordings of live rarities. What sounds like two EPs turns out to actually be an extension of the Icelandic group’s unique style. It’s at once a tribute to long term fans as well as an intriguing proposition for those yet to induct themselves into Sigur Ros’ world.
Touted as an accompaniment to their tour documentary, “Heima,” this two disc set is not the best soundtrack of the year, but instead an aural extension of the film’s varied performances. New track “I Gaer” was recorded in an abandoned fishing factory featured in the movie, while the acoustic version of “Samskeyti” is the same that runs behind the film’s credits.
Even without the epic landscapes of Iceland to accompany them, the Hvarf disc’s electric soundscapes easily conjure sweeping vistas. In particular “I Gaer” sounding like the soundtrack to a Tim Burton film before launching into a spacey masterpiece. Meanwhile “Hljomalind” is as close to a three-chord pop song as the group are going to get. Meanwhile Heim’s low-key acoustic approach proves that at their heart of their lush arrangements lie very solid foundations. The homely approach to “Staraflur” and “Vaka” reveal a new fragility to their sound.
I’ve already heralded “Heima” as the music doco/live performance of the year, so it should only make sense that this “stop gap” should receive the same acclaim.
KEY TRACKS: Hljomalind, I Gaer, Hafsol, Staraflur, Agaetis Byrjun.
4. Arctic MonkeysYour Favourite Worst Nightmare
An early contender for album of the year considering its February release, the Sheffield quartet’s sophomore album could have been forgiven if it was over taken during the course of the next few months. Instead it proved its vitality, a tough set of songs sounding just as punchy and engaging on their 100th play through as their first. For all the harsher takes on the Monkeys’ debut style – namely choppy guitars, stop start dynamics and the occasional shouty chorus – it proved the writing was as strong as the riffs. Messrs. Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Matt Helders and new bassist Nick O’Malley fit more into the three minute pop format than most groups achieve in a whole album.
Brianstorm” manages to flesh out a character portrait of a suave know it all in under three minutes, while “D is for Dangerous” breathlessly rhymes its arrival and departure in just two minutes fifteen seconds. The record never feels rushed though; it’s just that the ideas span the breadth and depth of a newly mature approach concerning frontman Turner’s lyrics.
Where debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” could at times sound like the small-town ramblings of a man yearning for something bigger than the hype; “Your Favourite Worst Nightmare” finds Turner having broken free to the world at large with the added confidence to rail against this same hype and the media that generate it. As “Teddy Picker” wryly questions, “Do you reckon that they make them take an oath?/That says that ‘we are defenders/ of any poser or professional pretender around.’” To hear the way this line wraps rhythmically around the music is a far different experience to reading it and a microcosm for the Monkeys’ overall appeal.
Gone is the band that had to overcome scepticism regarding their internet fad origins, in place is a band – despite their youth – ready to take the bigger world stage by their own means. They make it look easy really… witty, observational lyrics, smart structure and great tunes.
KEY TRACKS: Brianstorm, Fluorescent Adolescent, If You Were There, Beware, 505

3. Porcupine TreeFear of A Blank Planet
Porcupine Tree deserve global stardom, a band every bit as excellent as their name is horrible. With a healthy career spanning nearly two decades they have remained (intentional or otherwise) on the cusp of international success. Despite their origins in Pink Floyd mimicry and progressive metal, upon hearing their music it is difficult to argue why they don’t deserve the greater musical acclaim that eludes them.
Much like Pain of Salvation earlier in the list, indie darlings and top forty pop fans will cringe at the thought of Porcupine Tree’s credentials, but again the band deserve much better than first impressions. Make no mistake; “Fear Of A Blank Planet” is every bit that prog rock essential - the concept album - but the concept is one that taps so well into the zeitgeist that it never sounds like the 70’s timepiece that its moniker denotes.
The album deals with themes of lamentable youth culture, the influence of technology and drugs, boredom, apathy and despondence. It’s all in there in the opening title track, “X Box is a god to me/a finger on the switch/my mother is a bitch/my father gave up every trying to talk to me.” As these lyrics demonstrate too, frontman Steven Wilson never sounds crotchety or whining about “the kids of today” precisely because he takes the point of view of his subjects. “In school I don’t concentrate/and sex is kinda fun/but just another one/ of all the empty ways of using up my day.”
Matching the drama and seriousness punch for punch is the music. Effortlessly produced and mixed by, yes, Steven Wilson, it alternatively thunders along with jagged guitars and pounding rhythms such as on the title track and “Sleep Together”, or providing ambient introspection such as on “My Ashes” and “Sentimental.” In structure and style – this is a band who sounds like they’ve been playing together for over fifteen years – if not more.
If you need any more proof of Porcupine Tree’s genius, there is the album centrepiece “Anesthetize.” An epic 18 minute suite that shifts from sonorous ambience to brooding heavy metal and back again while managing to indulge Rush’s Alex Lifeson with a guitar solo. It has to be heard to be believed.
Fear Of A Blank Planet” is a great record from a band who have had many and evidence that fantastic music can still be found, and indeed thrive, outside of the mainstream.
KEY TRACKS: Fear Of A Blank Planet, Anesthetize, Sentimental
2. Bloc PartyA Weekend In The City
If nothing else, Bloc Party are in the number two slot because they are probably one of the hardest working bands in music today. They may not have done the most touring of all acts in the last year, though they have toured extensively; they may not have proffered any major political or welfare cause, though they’ve dipped in with contributions here and there – and they may not have pleased fans and critics with their new musical direction, though they have won many more and the respect of still more. No, Bloc Party is here because of all these things as well as their prolific musical output.
To put it in context: on the eve of “A Weekend In The City” the band had not only opted for a new trajectory for their style and sound, but had provided enough studio material for a whole another album’s worth of B sides, and as if that wasn’t enough, managed to record a brand new single, Flux, and re-release “A Weekend In The City” (for a third time) with it included in the tracklist before the year’s end. The words ‘ruthless’ and ‘ambition’ come to mind.
All this forgets the actual music, which never lacked in quality, both “A Weekend In The City” and its plethora of B sides are filled with invention and polish. Some complaints certainly find validation, such as Jackknife Lee’s sleek production or Kele Okereke’s occasionally tongue garbling lyrics (At Les Trois Garcons/we meet at precisely/ 9 o’clock/I order the foie gras/and I eat it/with complete disdain) – but at the end of the day, the stylistic shift in both musical and lyrical tone kept things fresh.
In other words, this is a brave album. The album’s opening line of “I am trying to be heroic in an age of modernity” is the mission statement. A band brave enough to criticise youth culture on “Uniform,” only to turn around on the following track “On” and celebrate the joys of cocaine. An album daring enough to provide voice for second generation immigrants in the UK (“Where is Home?”) and a subtle gay anthem (“I Still Remember”). To have the guts to question England’s politics on “Hunting For Witches” and respond in kind with the rough dance abandon of “The Prayer.”
On its musical merits alone, “A Weekend In The City” was always going to rank highly with its contemporary mixture of club beats and indie guitar grafted to lyrics that critique the state of today’s youth and obsessive pop culture; but “A Weekend In The City” is merely a part of the overall phenomenon, representing how a band should be doing things in the rapidly changing music industry.
While the music industry may be in a state of flux (pun intended), Bloc Party continue to represent the exciting hybridisations and cultural musings that can spring from it. And the best part? New single “Flux” marks the end of the group’s adventures in 2007 but also towards a vast resource of untapped potential.
KEY TRACKS: Song For Clay (Disappear Here), Uniform, The Prayer, Flux

1 – RadioheadIn Rainbows.
It was a no-brainer really, a new Radiohead album is always big news. But a new Radiohead album that is possibly their best since the epoch-making Ok Computer and a new album that stirred the music industry with its controversial release only added to its importance.
Certainly, releasing music over the internet direct to the fans wasn’t an industry first; but asking punters to establish their own price tag was. Their gamble paid off, with initial calculations estimating the band’s earnings at around 5 million pounds. Never had cutting out the middleman been so lucrative.
While it’s still too early to tell whether the release of In Rainbows is the beginning of some bigger, longer lasting changes to the music industry, it was still the most thrilling event in music news for 2007.
Even if it was delivered by more conventional means, In Rainbows’ sheer quality would have ensured its rank as the best album of the year. You probably don’t need me of all people to tell you how good it is (if you do just check my older post, one of the millions on the internet concerning the album).
The arrival of the deluxe ‘diskbox’ was the best Christmas present ever, lush packaging featuring artwork, copies of the album on vinyl, lyrics and best of all, a second disc of tracks that while obviously were left off the tracklist to ensure its concise brevity and style, are no less life-changing.
The controlled menace of “Up On The Ladder”, the vulnerability of “Last Flowers” and the unadultered beauty of “4 Minute Warning.” Here are songs that compliment the initial tracklisting – and now that its available in cd stores it means both the rarity of this second disc and that the album proper will be heard by an even wider audience. There really is no excuse not to hear Radiohead’s latest. It ensures, as does every year the band release new material, that they are the greatest band in the world. No surprises.

...that list in full.

Top 15 Albums of 2007

Well its well and truly the end of another year, i hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and i wish you a safe and happy New Years, and in looking back i have to say that this has been one of the best years for music in a while (sounds redundant i know...), but with the return of a number of high profile acts, some brilliant live shows and some exciting debuts - 2007 was one to remember and to celebrate. I've compiled my Top 15 Albums of the year.

After the success of 2005’s Black Sheep Boy, it seemed doubtful if not impossible to meet the expectations that had galvanised in the two years since its last release. To put it simply, The Stage Names had big shoes to fill.
What followed was an album equally ambitious in scope and sound, yet managing to distance itself from its predecessor. Where Black Sheep Boy mined folk Americana and its darker aspects, The Stage Names resonates with a whole lot more jubilance, unafraid to just rock out or celebrate with musical references.
Witness as the closing track passes with a jam on the Beach Boys’ ‘Sloop John B’. While “Unless It’s Kicks” and “You Can’t Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man” in particular have a swagger reminiscent of classic British rock. That’s not to say the album is devoid of its gentler moments, “Savannah Smiles” is lead hand in hand by a xylophone melody and “A Girl In Port” uses warm brass to induce its hazy stupor.
Lyrically, frontman Will Sheff is on top form - a complex weave of character portraits in a vague narrative tapestry concerning the degradation of the famous and the lures of decadence.
Basically, Okkervil River have tread a very fine line between maintaining status quo and allowing breadth into their sound and style without losing fans.
KEY TRACKS: Our Life IS Not A Movie Or Maybe, Unless It’s Kicks, Plus Ones, You Can’t Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man

The Birmingham based collective have always been cast off as derivatives of the gloomy post-punk scene, and while their sophomore album received very mixed reviews from the press, An End Has A Start, is nothing if not ambitious.
It is an album that is, dare I say it, better than Interpol’s latest – their musical forebears. Where the American group sounded deadlocked between new directions and older requirements, Editors know what they want to sound like, and with ruthless determination.
Album opener “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors” spearheads the meeting point between the gloomy aesthetics of their previous work with the stadium rock accessibility of Coldplay or U2.
Chiming guitars, singalong choruses and big drums don’t so much pepper the album as dominate it. So while its influences and style are, yes, derivative’ it is still an uplifting and energising experience. Editors aren’t out to reinvent the wheel by any means, but when the wheel is as thrilling, enjoyable and functional as this – does it really matter?
KEY TRACKS: Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors, And End Has A Start, The Racing Rats, Escape The Nest

The Icelandic songstress’ ninth studio album was widely regarded as a ‘return to form’ by the mainstream press. This is totally misleading.
Following on from the vocal only album Medulla and her soundtrack to Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9, it was never Bjork’s form or quality that was in question; it is just that with Volta she has returned to the familiar sounding territory of her mid 90’s albums. Excited drum loops, breathy vocals and loosened artistic pretense.
While it’s true that a number of electronica based compositions mark the album, Volta is closer in spirit, and a natural successor, to its ‘experimental’ predecessors. It features a number of vocal and instrumental collaborators from all walks of life. From the much hyped Timbaland beats of “Earth Intruders” and “Innocence” to a duet with Antony “And The Johnsons” Hegarty on “The Dull Flame of Desire” along with a myriad of globe-trotting musicians.
To reiterate, Volta continues to prove that Bjork hasn’t so much carved a creative niche in the music industry, as hollowed out a cavernous ecology of musical freedom, expression and innovation.
Regardless of its heritage, the result is an album that will be lapped up by her long-term fans and perhaps even for those who often disregard Bjork will enjoy it. I’ll wager that when Bjork has finished belting out her headlining set for the Big Day Out, she’ll have more than a few new fans.
KEY TRACKS: Earth Intruders, Wanderlust, Innocence, Declare Independence.

Upon release, I was deceived into thinking that this was a Foo Fighters album by numbers. While it was certainly better than the double album flab of In Your Honour, it has only been with time that its charms have truly captured me.
Lead single ‘The Pretender’ was just the entrée, its splendid mix of surging dynamics and muscular chorus was just the beginning. As the album flows, with excellent pacing, from track to track it is clear that it is their strongest set of songs in nearly a decade.
The album presents a mellower tone too, but rather than force a facile split between anything as simplified as acoustic and electric, it provides a balance between the two; sometimes within just the one song such as “Let It Die” and its brutal juxtapositions.
While the group have more than proven themselves as adept writers and patrons of rock music, the closing tracks of the album display hidden depths and maturity. In particular, the entrance of piano into the Foo Fighters palette represents Grohl as aging statesmen of the rock world. He’s earned it.
KEY TRACKS: The Pretender, Come Alive, Stranger Things Have Happened, Statues

Hailing from Fullerton, California – an area close to the vibrant Long Beach ska/punk scene - it’s amusing to imagine Cold War Kids fostering their musical individuality in such an environment. Even their band name and Mid-Western American influences are at immediate odds with the sunshine image of California.
On the other hand it is probably this opposition that engendered the strong character of the band, and their first album – easily one of the best debuts this year.
Bolstered by their eccentric live shows, the band has become one of the big buzz names of 2007.
The best way to summarise Robbers & Cowards’ unique appeal is to reprint what I wrote of their Hi-Fi Bar gig back in May,

“forthright with spare arrangements and narrative driven songs about kleptomania and working class despondence, as front man Nathan Willett confirmed on-stage, “most of our songs are stories.” Theirs is a strange style to pigeon-hole, but their appeal lies in the way they defy conventions in both song structure and lyrical temperament. ”

Willett’s voice is an important part of their sound, his wailing, bluesy voice gives an earthy dimension to their strange songs and arrangements. As he swoops to the upper registers of his voice on “Hang Me Up To Dry” “Hair Down” and “Passing The Hat” you can hear the lived-experience in his tone, real or imagined.
Cold War Kids are bound for big things if they can maintain their indie credentials and more importantly their individuality. But as their origins exhibit - if they managed to survive Fullerton, California, they can survive anything.
KEY TRACKS: We Used To Vacation, Hang Me Up To Dry, Hair Down, Hospital Beds

I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t see this album on any end of year lists except for mine. Does that speak to my musical quality? No, it speaks to the fashions of the times. This album deserves its spot, and earlier in the year would have ranked much higher.
If the name didn’t give it away, Pain of Salvation is a prog-metal band. One that, upon first inspection, ticks all the boxes headed ‘cliché. Hailing from Sweden, the album is (of course) the second concept album in a trilogy and visually the band is all long hair, tattoos and correspondingly bleak artwork. The group have it where it matters most though – the music.
From the burbling bass intro of the title track to the epic closure of “Enter Rain,” Scarsick is a powerful and engaging journey. Full of melody and ingenious arrangements it quickly washes away any preconceived notions of distorted guitar, double kick drums and guttural shouting. “Spitfall” digs at hip hop superstars and bling culture with its own equally mocking and ironic rap, “Disco Queen” contains the musical leanings of its title and “America” slyly parrots the very same Sondheim classic from West Side Story. Hardly your usual metal fare is it?
The variety showcased is thanks largely to the talents of one Daniel Gildenlow, something of a musical prodigy and the writer of the majority of the album’s lyrics and music.
Pain of Salvation don’t make concessions though, they don’t pander to the listener with appeals for liking their style and heritage, but for those who aren’t so musically narrow-minded and willing to explore and experience a voyage - they have just the ticket.
KEY TRACKS: Scarsick, Spitfall, America, Enter Rain

Jenny Wilson and the Rilo Kileys…
It doesn’t quite have the same ring, let alone temperament, but as a spiritual successor to her solo album of last year, Rabbit Fur Coat - that’s what “Under The Blacklight” can sometimes sound like.
For some it is this feature that is the album’s greatest weakness, the proverbial ‘selling out’ as Jenny Wilson overtakes her long-time collaborator Blake Sennett, and moves into the spotlight. The move to a major label probably added to the chorus of diehards who complained about the album’s new focus, but their gripes may perhaps be the band’s gain.
Lewis, and the sun-blissed guitar pop that recalls Blondie and Fleetwood Mac at their finest, acting as the bait to a rewarding back catalogue as well as a bright, record-label-secure, future.
Whatever your opinion, the album sits humbly within the top ten because of its sexy, funky, summery set while containing a sinister darkness to its borders. For example, “Breakin’ Up” is every bit the saddened break up song lyrically speaking, but couches it in a sing-a-long chorus of back up singers and hummable guitar. Essentially the record manages to have it both ways, fun and easygoing on “The Moneymaker” and “Smoke Detector” without sacrificing the earnestness of “Dreamworld” and “Give A Little Love.”
Whether bandmates Blake Sennett, Pierre de Reeder and Jason Boesol have really been sidelined to Jenny Lewis, or whether they have only just clicked into the potential of promoting such a confident, likeable singer for their image is debatable. What isn’t debatable is the sheer enjoyability of Under The Blacklight to the ear. That is just fact.
Key Tracks: The Moneymaker, Breakin’ Up, Dejalo, Give A Little Love

Of the two stylistic paths that Conor Oberst and his musical collective followed with 2005’s twin albums, Digital Ash In A Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. It was clear that it was the latter’s stripped back, country tinged acoustics that better suited the band’s intentions. While the former’s heavy electronic bent attempted to match Conor Oberst’s vast lyrical and musical ambitions; it was IWAIM that justified them.
Cassadaga follows on from that album’s template but does everything bigger, lusher and more expansive. The best analogy is that if IWAIM was Oberst’s ‘New York City’ album, then Cassadaga is his ‘United States of America’ album. A state of the nation address, with a musical palette of breadth and depth to match Oberst’s lyrics concerning the “measure of man.” Despite the rich contributions from various collaborators – make no mistake, this is Oberst’s album.
The lyrics grasp heady concepts such as religion, balance and belonging in a series of insightful character portraits and ruminations. World weary and wisened, it’s as if Bright Eyes are entering their renaissance years – and Oberst is only the ripe old age of 27!
The opening sounds of sampled telephone conversations with members of a spiritual commune, coupled with an orchestra tuning up, set the tone for the journey ahead, and what a journey. Its wordy bulk feels much longer than its 60 minutes length, and its impacting seriousness ensure an emotionally engaging, if draining, experience.
But when “Soul Singer In A Session Band” rallies towards its final chorus, or when “No One Would Riot For Less” flourishes into an orchestral coda – the tingle at the base of your spine lets you know you’re listening to something special.
KEY TRACKS: Four Winds, Soul Singer In A Session Band, No One Would Riot For Less, Lime Tree

WHAT!? 'Where are the rest?' i hear you wail, fear not i've broken up my list into two sections to save you all from falling asleep at your keyboards, so tune in next time for Part 2.

Till then,
Stay Classy
The List So Far...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

...It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

ok, so it's been a while since my last post - but what better timing to follow up a holiday themed mixtape with another holiday themed mixtape! Genius!
Since its the season to be jolly and giving, I'm playing Santa early and giving the gift of music in the form of musical recommendations.

So here we have (drum roll please little drummer boy):

I've been slaving over this for some time trying to create a good mix of songs that celebrate the season without being (too) cliched or derivative. Basically music that you could enjoy even when you aren't wrapping presents, seeing the family or putting up mistletoe. In the end i couldn't cull much further than two cds, so feel free to just pick and mix.
It's amazing some of the trends i've picked up on too in making this mix, a lot of artists either go the hokey cover (eg. Frank Sinatra, The Cocteau Twins, Bing Crosby), indie lads giving old tunes blueish makeovers (take a bow Pedro The Lion, Bright Eyes and Death Cab For Cutie) while others just highlight the BS that surrounds our yuletide (Rufus Wainwright and Weezer).
Also if you're wondering why there's only isn't more Sufjan Stevens, then just go listen to his Christmas EP's this is a mix - not a primer.
Like the Halloween list, i've used pre-existing links so you can experience what i'm raving about, in your travels too you'll probably find other christmas goodies - think of these as the lollies at the bottom of your stocking - but i've provided a strict listing of my own accord. A big non-commital thank you to all the unwitting blogs who are providing the mp3s also.

Anyhoo so let's get down to it, oh and get in quick with the links - i can't guarantee they'll work for long.

Ol' Blue Eyes proves its not just girls that wanna have fun, a strange pairing but a pretty fun one, especially the juxtaposition between their voices.

Most of you, like me, may only be familiar with this because of the Will Ferrell skit on SNL, either way it still brings a stupid grin to my face.

Perhaps the most famous Christmas song of all - and therefore very hard to find an enjoyable version of, luckily Mr. Green Onions provides the goods

Oh this is glorious. Videogame music + Christmas Carols = giddy joy.

The arrival of Slade's shouty aesthetic brings us to the British phase of the Christmas mix - songs that are inexplicably big with UK students and Q magazine

Some swear that this is the greatest Christmas song of all time - i've never quite agreed but its still a beautiful track. Especially the whole sloshed vocal by Shane McGowan - bit too much eggnog mate?

It's funny that this song contains a range of artists that in retrospect have either faded into obscurity (Paul Young, Glenn Gregory) and music legends (Sting, Bowie) and who can forget Bono's yearning line?

A group normally known for their blissed out ambience gets all festive, sleigh bells and all

You can always rely on the grand surveyors of Beatles pop to provide some cheery saccharine

A shining example of how bands use the Christmas theme as an outlet to just have fun

Like the Sinatra/Lauper pairing, this is one of music's most surreal moments. No on could have predicted the strange teaming of a 1930's crooner with a modern day androgynous alien over a snow-tinted windowpane for a tv special.

There's a lot of good versions out there, but this one trumped it for me because of THAT voice. Even with the mooshy backing singers Cash's voice still sounds as weathered as the hills themselves.

Actually lead singer David Bazan giving a scrathcy yet modest version of the hymn. Introspective.

Oh Joni, how i love your vulnerability, adding a poignant edge to the ending of another year

A great stripped back version of Crosby's classic, and with a band name like that what else would you expect?

Time for some indie melancholy, don't fret thought the requisite sleigh bells are still in the mix

"Don't touch her there/She's blindfolded" ummm ok, so i have no idea what the lyrics have to do with presents, turkey and good will but its still a great tune.

Let's not forget it's the J Man's Bday too, Josh Rouse didn't. (Note: Not Religious)

Even Johannsen wraps up this old ditty in shiny new sampled wrapping goodness

Lest we forget that the Godfather of Soul passed away on Christmas Day last year, remember him this way, R.I.P.

Prepare thyself, this is truly awful - but in the so bad its good vein. Honestly just check it out.

A genuinely brilliant cover of Wham!'s paean to lost love in the cold winter and a great way to start our second half.

Mr. Martin alone at the piano for KROQ Radio, again another version with a few winners (sorry Bright Eyes) but the stripped back quality is the golden touch

From their xmas webcast a few years back, its blatantly obvious the band are tooling about - but it doesn't stop them from providing a few minutes of beauty

DCFC give Darlene Love's original a run for its money thanks to Gibbard's yearning vocal and the slowbuild structure.

The first song i heard from the over-abundant Christmas album, and still possibly the best, particularly the joyous shift from sombre mood to jubilant chorus of "to wish you a Happy Christmas"

I only discovered this recently and i still find it suprising that Billy Corgan, he of bald head, gothic demeanour and leather dresses, would get into the Christmas spirit.

The Welsh trio come over all Slade wit their free Xmas download, after having a dig at Radiohead for their In Rainbows maneuvuer - hypocritical?

Of all the songs on this list, i think this manages to cram the most Christmas referencing lyrics into just the one song

A really silly and vaguely sadistic take on the holiday season, and for those paying attention - perhaps a warped precursor to 'Brick'?

Hopefully this rocking song will liven up the family dinner, if not try and get hold of the live version.

The Lips have done a few Xmas songs over the years, but this, their latest is indicative of their jubilant appraisal of rock music.

Wainwright embodies all the ghosts of Christmas past on this one as he has a dig at the fallacy of holiday commerce.

I couldn't find a working link for this one, but its one of my faves so its going in anyway. Who doesn't enjoy a bit of Ba-Humbug at this time of the year?

The Scrooge theme continues as Rivers yelps about preferring Mace to Eggnog and his overweight family driving him up the wall. We can all relate.

Conor Oberst, like Sufjan, did an album of Christmas standards too. This is one of the highlights

The sombre mood continues with the first of two mini-epics. Jenny Wilson waxes poignant at another passing year... and then the choir kicks in.

This song manages to capture the mixture of melancholy and nostalgia that older people tend to feel around Kris Kringle. Touching and festive without any of the cliches.

Leave it to a Beatle to write the greatest Christmas song ever (in my opinion). Turn it up sing along, and give peace a chance!

...PHEW so there you go.

Have A Merry Christmas Everyone.

Feel free to add your comments about your fave xmas songs, and stay tuned for my best of 2007 list.