Friday, 7 December 2007

The 50 Must Hear Tracks Of 2007

Greetings and end of year cheer from the blog that has been taking it easy in 2007. Prior commitments and chronic laziness have limited Chewy’s Matters Of Music significantly in 2007, but between you and me, it’s perfect for indulging in endless, yearly round-up lists that no editor in their right mind would dare to commission to one writer! So without further ado, I bring to you…

The 50 Must-Hear Tracks Of 2007 (in no particular order)

1. Laura Marling - Night Terror
Broody and haunting folk from this remarkably gifted seventeen-year-old. Shepherds Bush Green is referenced in the song and it surely won’t be long before Marling is looking out upon the site from the nearby Empire after a headline gig.

2. The Heavy - That Kind Of Man
Pure ‘Superfly‘-era Curtis Mayfield from the enormous ‘Freddie’s Dead’-style funk riff to the singer’s measured falsetto. Who says stealing is a bad thing?

3. The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations
Shading the excellent ‘Chips Ahoy!’, this is the best example of The Hold Steady’s inspired collision of big, dumb, crashing guitars and literate sensibilities. Blue collar bar-rock rarely sounded so good.

4. Common Ft. D’Angelo - So Far To Go
Of the raft of J-Dilla tracks to surface in the aftermath of the producer’s tragic death last year this was one of the finest. D’Angelo’s unmatchable vocals sound as good as ever and promise much for the nu-soul originator’s long-awaited comeback.

5. Mr Hudson & The Library - Too Late, Too Late
Outsider pop from the man who claims to be equally au-fait with Dr Dre and Dean Martin. Here he takes a roots reggae stance on the finest track from his debut album.

6. Leon Jean-Marie - Scratch
Hugely promising Londoner who wowed The Roots’ crowd at their Somerset House gig in the summer. ‘Scratch’ adds futuro-dancefloor noise to his classy, funk-heavy R&B.

7. The National - Pretty In Pink
Newest album ‘Boxer’ had its fair share of great moments but The National’s most affecting achievement in 2007 was this subtle cover, available through the Daytrotter radio sessions website.

8. Panacea - The Scenic Route
Glorious daisy age hip-hop from the resurgent Rawkus label. An MC/DJ team in the mould of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Panacea’s smooth style also has echoes of Souls Of Mischief’s classic ‘93 Til Infinity’. High praise indeed.

9. Flying Lotus - Tea Leaf Dancers
From the Warp beatsmith’s excellent ‘Reset’ EP, ‘Tea Leaf Dancers’ suggested the gothic melancholy of Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ filtered through the moody dubstep of Burial.

10. Architecture In Helsinki - Heart It Races
“Kids on skittles” pop from the hyperactive, multi-instrumentalist Aussies. The carnival vibe of ‘Heart It Races’ is compounded by its judicious use of steel drums.

11. M.I.A. - Paper Planes
Taken from the most adventurous and thrilling pop album of the year, ‘Kala’. Its biggest achievement is this potentially sacrilegious overhaul of The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’, the chorus consisting of rhythmic bursts of gunfire and the sound of till drawers popping open.

12. El-P - Up All Night
Picking highlights from the Def Jux supremo’s tour-de-force ‘I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead’ would be as simple as writing out the track list. That said, ‘Up All Night’ is possibly the best example to date of his vicious intellect and thunderous, dystopian soundscapes.

13. Bright Eyes - Four Winds
One reviewer noted ‘Four Wind’s similarity to “a honky-tonk version of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’”. Conor Oberst clearly wasn’t in the Christmas spirit however, decreeing “The Bible’s blind, the Torah’s deaf and the Qu’ran is mute. If you burn them all together you’ll get close to the truth”.

14. Los Mozambiques - Viva Tirado
Taken from Soundway’s masterful Panama retrospective, ‘Viva Tirado’ is a searing 1970 Latin soul version of El Chicano’s hit.

15. Amon Tobin - Esthers
‘The Foley Room’ was Ninja Tune mainstay Tobin’s most ambitious work to date, a collage of ’found’ sounds knitted together with unerring vision. ’Esthers’ features a brutal beat which bludgeons its way into the listener’s consciousness.

16. Broken Family Band - Leaps
New territory for these loyal UK Americana stalwarts. As jaunty as The Magic Numbers, ’Leaps’ is as fine a pop song as any released in 2007.

17. Modest Mouse - Dashboard
Johnny Marr’s defection to US indie stars Modest Mouse yielded this lithe and funky first single from their excellent full-length. Old dogs can learn new tricks, evidently.

18. Dizzee Rascal - Sirens
Dizzee’s finest single since ’Fix Up, Look Sharp’ was a staggering evocation of 21st century urban Britain, complete with squealing metal loop and his trademark scattershot vocals.

19. Lightspeed Champion - Galaxy Of the Lost
Former Test Icicle Dev Hynes moved away from his previous band’s template with this emo-informed slice of acoustic pop with a conscience, book-ended with a dreamy vocal harmony most bands would base a song around, suggesting the man has ideas to burn.

20. Devon Sproule - Keep Your Silver Shined
Whimsical folk with a delicate jazzy air from this young hopeful, blessed with an excellent turn of phrase and ear for melody.

21. Arcade Fire - Antichrist Television Blues
The stand-out track from the Canadians’ stellar second album ‘Neon Bible’. Davids Byrne and Bowie were previously their most identifiable influences but this track is pure Springsteen from the building pace of the narrative to the religious reverence of Win Butler’s voice.

22. Bruce Springsteen - Radio Nowhere
Speaking of The Boss, he returned strongly this year with ‘Magic’, arguably the strongest of his post 2000 albums. Many of the tracks flirted with pop but ‘Radio Nowhere’ saw Springsteen in glorious anthem mode. It’s no ‘Born to Run’ or ‘Promised Land’ but then, what is?

23. Willy Mason - We Can Be Strong
The best thing KT Tunstall has been involved with since her early days with King Creosote. Anyone who’s been unsure of life’s road will identify with the (still) young prodigy Mason’s lyric of hope and assurance that you are not alone.

24. LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends
James Murphy’s Nike-commissioned ‘45:33’ can’t really be described as a ‘track’ but this remarkable highlight from ‘Sound Of Silver’ will do nicely. The mesmerising keyboard riff evokes comparison with Steve Reich while the vocals recall ‘70s soft-rock. An unlikely yet winning combination that confounded any one-trick pony accusations that still existed.

25. Battles - Leyendecker
Just edging out glam-stomper ‘Atlas’ by virtue of a wonderfully tampered-with vocal. Precision and repetition are the qualities which saw Battles tagged as ‘math-rock’, but there’s nothing dreary about their lessons.

26. Bamboos - My Baby’s Cheating
With label-mate Quantic pursuing a more Latin-orientated sound, it was left to Bamboos to supply the raw funk that Tru Thoughts do best. The Dap Kings may get the plaudits but these guys are the real deal.

27. Culture - Two Sevens Clash
This Marcus Garvey-inspired, harmony-riddled reggae classic’s apocalyptic prophecy (from the reissued album of the same name) was enough to shut down Kingston, Jamaica for a whole day and inspire arguably Britain’s greatest ever punk band.

28. Two Gallants - Linger On
Taken from the ’Scenery Of Farewell’ EP which preceded the San Franciscan duo’s self-titled third album this year, ’Linger On’ grabs hold of the heart strings and positively yanks at them. Country-blues never sounded as poetic or stirring.

29. Future Of The Left - Small Bones, Small Bodies
Ex-McLusky and Jarcrew members conspired to release this snarling, playground bully of a tune. Frontman Andy Malkous describes it as “our ’Eye Of The Tiger’” quite feasibly with tongue-in-cheek.

30. Shape Of Broad Minds - Let’s Go
Jneiro Jarel’s spacey groove was aided by a typically lyrically-nimble guest turn from hip-hop’s man in the iron mask, MF Doom.

31. Murder By Death - Sometimes The Line Walks You
Gripping outlaw narratives perpetuated MBD’s sensational ’In Bocca Al Lupo’ album, but ’Sometimes The Line Walks You’ was the best. The story of a murderous man’s prison break played out with gusto and unswerving realism.

32. Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip - Thou Shalt Always Kill
A prime example of the power of Youtube, this track’s video propelled the duo to a Top 40 hit. Le Sac’s elecro-heavy beats and Scroobius’ witty stream-of-consciousness flows would have found success one way or another, regardless.

33. Aesop Rock - None Shall Pass
Another hyper-intelligent Def Jux rhyme-merchant, benefiting from the production input of long-time collaborator Blockhead. The title track from Aesop’s most recent album has a hypnotic loop and vocoder-led chorus which lend this otherwise resolutely underground specimen notable crossover potential.

34. Justice - Phantom Pt. 1
Descendants of Daft Punk’s school of mutant disco, this young duo led the resurgence of house hybrids in 2007, this hook-led dance floor monster easily among their best.

35. Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid - The Sun Never Sets
Jazz drummer Reid hooked up with Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) for the second instalment of their collaboration on Domino in 2007. Skewed electronica with an organic, beating heart.

36. Pete & The Pirates - Knots
A definite band to look out for in 2008, and possibly the only pirates in Reading. ’Knots’ was their earliest statement of intent, layered vocals meshing with insistent guitar lines to instantly memorable effect.

37. Annuals - Brother
Pitched somewhere between Arcade Fire and TV On The Radio’s boundary-pushing sound, Annuals used a simple, looped string part to add a quasi-classical edge to this quiet-loud epic of a single which sparks into life very noticeably half way through.

38. Young Knives - Terra Firma
Irresistible pre-second album single from Ashby-De-La-Zouche’s finest. The idiosyncratic chorus and dancefloor-baiting grooves of ’Terra Firma’ made it almost as essential as ’She’s Attracted To’.

39. Lethal Bizzle - Babylon’s Burning The Ghetto (Burn The Gallows Mix)
Grime chancer Lethal Bizzle’s smartest move to date has been hooking up with like-minded punks Gallows. Here Bizzle’s simplistic anti-politician rant gets significantly beefed-up by Frank Carter barking out the chorus from The Ruts’ classic, a formula the pair repeated for ’Staring At The Rude Bois’.

40. Bjorn - Innocence
Bjork’s feted hook-up with Timbaland behind the production boards bore impressive fruit with this sparse, left-field dancefloor triumph. Still setting the standards for innovation in pop.

41. Susheela Raman - Yoo Do Right
This Anglo-Indian vocalist recorded an album of covers from the obvious (’Like A Rolling Stone’) to the unusual, such as this Can classic and tracks by Joy Division and Throbbing Gristle. Inventive and affecting.

42. Bonde Do Role - Office Boy
Like CSS’s even naughtier cousins, this Brazilian troupe combine cyclical guitar riffs and electro beats to winning effect. Throw in some Birkin-esque panting at the end and you’ve got a winner.

43. Iron & Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth
Sam Beam’s stripped-down acoustic folk got a slight makeover this year with his ’The Shepherd’s Dog’ album bulking out his arrangements substantially. This beautiful lullaby rounded out the album in epic, moving fashion.

44. Radiohead - Bodysnatchers
A return to rock-band mode for Radiohead, as all five members play their part here. Amongst ’In Rainbow’s now-familiar electronic diversions the discordant guitar here stood out a mile.

45. DJ Kentaro Ft. Spank Rock - Free
Their Fabric Live set aside it was quite a quiet year for Baltimore filthsters Spank Rock, save for this scene-stealing guest role on the album by Ninja Tunes’ DJ Kentaro.

46. Pendulum - Granite
Chuck the first Pendulum album into a blender and serve. ’Granite’ encapsulated all the elements that made these drum ’n bass super-producers such an appealing prospect in the first place - enormous drops, vocal manipulation and crunching beats.

47. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife 3
Wistful, melancholy Americana with a pop sensibility from these rightly revered new traditionalists.

48. Bloc Party - A Song For Clay (Disappear Here)
Muscular return from Kele Okereke and co, with a weighty lyrical concept to boot, deriding their shallow, wealthy, thrill-obsessed cotemporaries living “like the ’80s never happened”.

49. Goblin - Profundo Rosso
Best known for their soundtrack work for the Italian master of stylised horror, Dario Argento, this is the title track from his film, a highlight of Cherry Red’s recent retrospective on the band.

50. The Bees - Got To Let Go
Hammond and trumpet-bolstered retro pop from these Isle Of Wight ’60s aficionados, who borrow liberally from all sources and gleefully inhabit the good time vibes they create.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Considering its circumstances of conception - death, loss, tragedy, existential woe etc. - Arcade Fire’s slow-burning-to-phenomenally successful debut was a joyous revelation. Far from the mournful, moribund affair it had every right to be, 'Funeral' gleefully danced around the grave in an explosion of instrumentation and ideas. The question which must inevitably act as a prefix to any assessment of their new opus is, without the catalyst of deep suffering, can Montreal’s finest repeat the trick?
The quick answer to that is no. 'Funeral' was a true one-off, the sort of beautiful alignment of time, circumstance and inspiration that cannot possibly be repeated. In any case, a cursory listen to 'Neon Bible' reveals a very different beast to its predecessor, marked by subtle yet effective changes in the seven-strong band’s sound and vision.
The skulking, pessimistic 'Black Mirror' opens the album, revealing itself to be a mightily impressive piece of (bad) mood music. It’s also an early clue to the lyrical direction adopted by much of the album - namely the dangers posed by the big, bad outside world, characterised here by Orwellian security cameras and falling bombs. While first single 'Keep The Car Running' sees a partial return to the jaunty rhythms and exuberance of 'Funeral', scraping below the perky exterior reveals fear for the onset of some Biblically-proportioned disaster, presumably the car is set for the wilderness of Alaska - with all those band-members and instruments let’s hope it’s one of those roomy station-wagons.
So far, so good but the dirge-like title track spoils this early upsurge in momentum, strategically placed as it is between two of the most up-beat tracks on the album. Presumably this is a deliberate ploy to re-assure the listener that this is not going to be an easy ride, although initially it comes across as just plain dull. A brief listen to the crazed fervour of 'Intervention' confirms the dullness of the previous track as a masterstroke. It combines all the elements of a great drama - God, death, love, money and war - complimented brilliantly by the chiming Church organ, backing choir and Win Butler’s impassioned, preachy delivery - in fact it might just as well be delivered from a pulpit as a stage.
The gallic flourishes of accordion which peppered 'Funeral' have largely been sidelined, the French-Canadian influence restricted to Regine Chassagne’s occasional forays to the front of the group, particularly in 'Black Wave/Bad Vibrations' which is interrupted halfway through by Butler’s typically grandiose imagery-led style of lyrics such as “Nothing lasts forever that’s the way it’s gotta be, there’s a great black wave in the middle of the sea for me”.
One of the most notable examples of musical flair surfaces in the exquisite tempo change and introduction of aching brass towards the climax of 'Ocean Of Noise'. Elsewhere the swooning strings show once again the arch importance of collaborator Owen Pallett of the neo-baroque Final Fantasy.
While the influence of David’s Byrne and Bowie were easily recognisable, particularly in the vocal style exhibited throughout 'Funeral', the shadow of Bruce Springsteen lurked in the progressively muscular tempo and reminiscent story-telling of 'Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)'. This time around Butler takes this notable influence to its logical progression through 'Antichrist Television Blues', in which he apes both the vocal delivery, and mood of the 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town'-era Boss. The closing few tracks see Arcade Fire really hit their stride, with 'Windowsill' serving as the best example of the creeping paranoia which pervades much of the album. It uses the simple image of a recluse holed up inside, viewing the outside as a rising sea of malcontent, its waves lapping against his window. 'No Cars Go', reinvented from the 'Arcade Fire EP' is the penultimate song, and belies its pre-dating of the other tracks with bursts of accordion, and a driving pulse which builds to a climactic ending and would make a perfect conclusion to any other Arcade Fire album but this one. Again taking a musical and thematic u-turn, 'My Body Is A Cage' rounds off the album, its spiritual yearning again abetted by chilling Church organ. It’s a curious ending, but again shows the band grappling with their sound, their direction and their audience. Much like the rest of this brilliantly-realised album it will stand the test of repeated listens, confuse new converts and establish Arcade Fire as contenders for a stage much bigger than the darlings of the thriving Canuck indie scene.


Tuesday, 27 February 2007

The Importance Of Diaries

I've never been a great user of my diary. This may explain why I arrived into work today at 8 o'clock, put in a good hour's work and then realised that it was my day off. Sheepishly grabbing my coat to howls of derision from my workmates I headed back, aware that the double shot of coffee an hour earlier would prevent any plan of climbing back into bed. A rather infuriating start to the day perhaps, but the freedom of an unexpected day off in a rather dismal and soggy London town has provided me with the opportunity to work on this online 'diary'. Every cloud etc...
Two months into the year, with crisp Spring just days away, it's a good time to reflect on the best (not much worst, it's a grim enough day as it is!) of the year so far in the world of music.
Following the post-Christmas music industry hangover, the release of the year's anticipated albums has started to pick up speed. The year's worth of hype surrounding the Klaxons resulted in a number one album, one which toyed with and then completely discarded the scene ('nu-rave') which apparently spawned them. The likes of 'Two Receivers' and the ubiquitous 'Golden Skans' showed that the London tykes are in reality an accomplished pop group in Day-Glo disguise.
The Hold Steady's literate Springsteen-esque tales of booze and broken dreams continue to thrill, the dumbed-down Thin Lizzy riffs which roar along underneath 'Boys And Girls In America' making the gutter glamour all the more alluring.
Bloc Party's reinvention as the Shoreditch Street Preachers shows all the self-regard and righteous anger required to make 'A Weekend In The City' the alluring pop protest it is.
Long term fans have been waiting like rabid wolfhounds for Lucinda Williams' latest, and 'West' the alt-country queen's new album proves her finest work since the Grammy-winning 'Car Wheels On A Gravel Road', released more than a decade ago.
Opinions on Patrick Wolf vary from 'new Bowie' (the gist of the NME review of 'The Magic Position') to 'stop mucking about with orchestras and home-made drum machines and write some real songs' (the gist of The Observer's review). The reality is that he's a prodigious home-grown talent (in need of reining in, perhaps) aiming for the stars, and what's wrong with that?
Proggy noise-mongers Explosions In The Sky have a newie out, filling that Mogwai/Sigur Ros gap for the time being. For those with slightly shorter attention spans, The Horrors will shortly be releasing 'Strange House', full of scary organ-led garage rock blasts, Screaming Lord Sutch covers and probably some indechipherable ranting (let's face it, he's not gonna be singing Eva Cassidy covers on X-Factor anytime soon) by Faris Rotter.

Now for a few that appeared on my radar too late to make the poll of 2006's best albums, but are well worth checking out (if you like the sound of what's in the brackets).

Beirut - Gulag Orkestar (Fragile, lo-fi songs hijacked by mad Eastern-European brass band)

The Gossip - Standing In The Way Of Control (Taut, disco-punk hijacked by obese, lesbian diva possessed by Aretha Franklin)

Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury (The Neptunes' best productions in years hijacked by maniacal miscreants in a blizzard of cocaine - take that Bloc Party!)

Forthcoming albums of note:

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (5th March)

Bright Eyes' new one (late April)

The National - Boxer (21st May)

We end on a positive note for Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe and any other misguided actors silly enough to launch music careers - Jared Leto has trumped them all with his new project 30 Seconds To Mars. Can emo still be a counter-cultural force when embraced by thirty-something Hollywood actors?

Have a great March.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Acoustic Ladyland/Xerox Teens/Situationists live at White Heat, Madame JoJo's, Tuesday February 6

A real scoop this one for the folks down at White Heat and the public squeezed into Soho’s Madame JoJo’s (Radio 1’s uber-muso Steve Lamacq among them) as no-wave jazz-punkers Acoustic Ladyland are making quite a reputation for themselves, two albums since they started out playing jazz covers of Hendrix and Strokes’ songs.
Unfortunately, openers The Situationists hadn’t been informed that The Futureheads aren’t due their own tribute act yet. Not that there was anything offensive, or even unaccomplished, in their ragged harmonies and rehashed 1981 guitar lines, they just arrived three years late for their own party. From the three-pronged front-of-stage line-up right down to the quirky cover version (step up Daft Punk’s ‘Digital Love’), when the 'Hounds Of Love’ crew become globe-conquering megastars The Situationists could mount a decent career at weddings and bar mitzvahs. A few fringe music press publications and people in the know have fallen hard for the next act recently. The first thing to notice about Xerox Teens is their unusual stage set-up, focusing all attention to the centre and the relentless drummer.
The second is that they make quite a groovy garage rock racket, almost like some sort of mutant genetic splicing between The Fall, Dr Feelgood and The Muppets’ house band. Also, it must be mentioned that the singer has clearly been studying Mark E Smith and Lou Reed a little too hard for his too-cool-for-school exterior to ring true.
A discernible buzz of expectation greets the on-stage arrival of Acoustic Ladyland drummer Seb Rochford to set-up, preceded some thirty seconds earlier by his Biblically-proportioned mane of hair. Flanked by two studious-looking Toms (Cawley and Herbert, keyboards and bass respectively) front-man, saxophonist and sometime vocalist Pete Wareham arrives a few minutes later. Perhaps pushing the crossover potential AL possess, he’s decked out in skinny black jeans and studded belt, looking every bit the self-conscious indie teen, until you remember that he’s a jazz musician in his thirties.
Sensibly they choose to open with 'Road Of Bones’, the riotous fusion of sleek jazz and filthy riffage that opens their most recent album ‘Skinny Grin’. Much of the set consists of tracks from this new opus, an uncompromising rebuke to their critics within jazz circles which moves them even further away from their contemporaries in the modern British scene. Wareham plays his saxophone with unfettered intensity, at times looking as though every blood vessel in his face is about to explode, particularly noticeable on ‘Last Night’. For those not au-fait with the protocol of the jazz gig, there are welcome forays into vocal tracks, with mic duties handled by Alice Grant, Anne Booty and Wareham himself. ‘Red Sky’ is an early highlight, with the contrast between icy keyboard and melodious sax line broken up by the barely-restrained violence of the bass-playing.
The packed crowd nod along in bemused fashion to Rochford’s effortlessly extraordinary drum patterns, while the fluidity between the other members is evident throughout. Towards the end, Coco Electrik’s Anne Booty comes out to add the sultry vocals to ’Cuts And Lies’, the infectious new single, which could propel the group to reach a wider audience than the periphery of scenes they currently occupy. It’s clear from tonight’s performance that when more acclaim is afforded Acoustic Ladyland, they will be more than able to back it up in the live arena.


Sunday, 11 February 2007

Fear And Loathing For The Weekend

Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City

Something is rotten at the heart of the nation’s capital. A thronged mass of automatons swarm to bars and clubs every weekend, hell bent on hedonism and escaping the futile ache of modern life. Their tools are an endless stream of booze, cocaine, “sleeping pills and Marlboro Reds”. Politics are never approached in conversation, for fear of bringing down the uplifting euphoria of the chemical high.
Relationships are fleeting and unloving. Monday morning looks bleak, the future’s not even worth thinking about. Bloc Party’s second LP is a state of the nation address, approached via the microcosm of a weekend spent partaking and observing of this madness in East London’s trendy locale Shoreditch.
A band as earnest and sometimes self-regarding as Bloc Party are bound to polarise opinion. Many of pop’s best cultural commentators (think Ray Davies or Jarvis Cocker) disguise their intentions with liberal helpings of satire and irony, the first few seconds of ‘A Weekend In The City’ assure that is not be to the case here. ‘Song For Clay (Disappear Here)’ begins with Kele Okereke announcing “I’m trying to be heroic in an age of modernity”, carefully enunciating each syllable. Written in reference to Brett Easton-Ellis’ novel ‘Less Than Zero’, where LA socialite Clay becomes gradually more aware that his life cycle of casual sex and structured drug taking is morally repugnant, the opener is the album’s key track. The drums pound harder and Russell Lissack’s guitar roars louder than on any of debut 'Silent Alarm’, while Okereke lambasts his peers and himself for living “like the ’80’s never happened”.
One of the album’s oldest tracks 'Hunting For Witches’ details the climate of fear and anger following the 7/7 attacks on London’s transport system in 2005. Predictably the Daily Mail is held as the paragon of the following moral panic, although the band’s musical progression is perhaps more important to this track than the band‘s stance, which is apparent just from the title. Expanding on 'Silent Alarm’s jerky rhythms and widescreen guitars, ’A Weekend In The City’ shows an appreciation of New Order, electro and first single 'The Prayer’ seems to be taking its inspiration from pounding hip-hop sub-genre crunk.
Both 'The Prayer’ and 'On’ deal transparently with cocaine use, which is a key theme and catalyst throughout the set. In Okereke’s defence, he does detail the plus points as well as the face-numbing indifference it permeates, but he also labours the point somewhat.
The most impressive issue-based track is ‘Where Is Home?’ which confronts the alienation felt by UK immigrants with an undertow of intellectual violence, while ‘I Still Remember’ with its swirling guitar provides this album’s equivalent to the gorgeous ‘So Here We Are’ from their debut.
‘A Weekend In The City’ winds down with the sentimental hangover ode ‘Sunday’ and 'SRXT’s afterthought of poetry before Monday morning’s return to the corporate grind. An accomplished, thought-provoking and expansive work by one of our most talented bands, the bottom line is that this will fail to win over any new converts. Worthy as the points they raise may be, it is unlikely that Bloc Party’s manifesto will convince the nation’s hedonistic armies to change their ways any more than Easton-Ellis’ novel, but this doesn’t lessen the importance of making these observations. Whether you see them as a beacon of truth in an industry which more readily sells tales of ’Living For The Weekend’ or looking good on dance floors, or as po-faced party poopers, ’A Weekend In The City’ confirms that they’re not going away anytime soon.


Thursday, 1 February 2007

Metric live at Dingwalls, Lock 17, Tuesday January 30

Though lacking in the sort of critical salivating which accompanied Arcade Fire’s most recent London shows, fellow flag-bearers of the Canadian invasion Metric warmed up for their upcoming support slots for Bloc Party by packing out this multi-tiered (though admittedly small) venue. The task of wowing the capital was made all the more tricky by the mesmerising support act Fields. Yet to release debut album ‘Everything Last Winter‘, this Anglo-Icelandic five-piece roared through a half-hour set, showcasing their knack for both languid, harmonised melodies and intense, full-throttle freak-outs. Subtle use of slide guitar and continuously ferocious drumming stood out amidst the enveloping, full-bodied sound. The real star, however, was the angelic, honey-voiced Thorunn Antonia, who flitted between keyboards and accordion, effortlessly capturing the audience‘s attention throughout.
Metric’s last album ‘Live It Out’ shifted focus from the Ladytron-like electronica that characterised their debut, giving more exposure to Emily Haines’ guileful songwriting - which surfaces early in their set via the melancholy ’Poster Of A Girl’. Haines then assumes centre stage for the more raucous new-wave of ‘Patriarch On A Vesper’, her enigmatic presence reminiscent of Debbie Harry, as her band at times recall early Blondie. After an impressive start, the performance begins to lose momentum in the mid-section and the subtleties of Haines’ songs are often lost in the electro squall surrounding them - her drawn out, cliché-ridden asides also begin to wear the patience of the crowd.
The band’s biggest hit to date, ‘Monster Hospital’ - with its huge, Clash-aping chorus (“I fought the war, but the war won”) - should have been Metric‘s saving grace. However, even this fails to provide the requisite momentum to get the set back on track, save for the frantic reaction of a few energetic die-hards pressed up close to the stage.
Finishing up with the bass-driven highlight of their first album ’Dead Disco’, Metric regain some of the excitement lacking earlier. Unfortunately it is too little too late for this performance, hopefully their upcoming support slots will lessen the expectation and allow them the opportunity to upstage their illustrious headliners.


Tuesday, 26 December 2006

2006: The Year That Was

The festive season might be to good music what John Prescott is to diplomacy, but it serves as the perfect time to look back on all the grand achievements of the past twelve months. 2006 had its low points; we lost Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, J Dilla and James Brown. It was also the year the world's biggest boy band reformed. Cliff and Tony Bennett grew older disgracefully with Christmas cash-in albums. 2006 may well be remembered as the year of the comeback; it's not every year we see Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Prince, Van Morrison and countless others all supplying new material. After a fairly slow start, it also became a great year for the quality of albums released. Below are this writer's choice of twenty of the very best, in descending order:

20. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale

Streets ahead of his once-mighty Wu-Tang cohorts, Ghostface displayed cinematic vision and gripping narratives on his latest solo album. Excursions into straightforward battle rap and wittily candid childhood reminiscences only served to highlight the breadth and intelligence lacking in a relatively poor year for hip-hop.

19. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly - Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager

Southend-reared Sam Duckworth’s debut was an endearing blend of earnest lyrics, acoustic guitar and playful, laptop-spawned electronica. Stand-out 'Call Me Ishmael' came complete with cornet solo and an inspired change of pace, revealing pop nous which will stand Duckworth in good stead for the tricky second album.

18. Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere

Buoyed by 'Crazy's summer ubiquity, 'St. Elsewhere' was a meeting of (off-kilter) minds between producer de-rigeur Dangermouse and former Goodie Mob rapper and general voice-for-hire Cee-Lo Green. Exploring a loose theme of mental instability, the album mixed dusty psychedelia, stuttering beats and Cee-Lo’s incomparable gospel-reared voice to great effect.

17. Ed Harcourt - The Beautiful Lie

With 'The Beautiful Lie', the prolific and prodigiously gifted Ed Harcourt finally shook off the albatross of his Mercury-nominated debut 'Here Be Monsters'. Resolutely romantic and free of fads, Harcourt’s torch songs were a flashlight through the crowded, darkened tunnels of the modern singer-songwriter.

16. Graham Coxon - Love Travels At Illegal Speeds

While Damon Albarn spent the year resurrecting the supergroup with Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen, former Blur band-mate Graham Coxon simply continued crafting his own inimitable brand of lovelorn punk-pop. Packed full of punchy gems such as 'I Can’t Look At Your Skin', 'Love Travels…' was an assured and excellent performance from an indie institution.

15. Acoustic Ladyland - Skinny Grin

Not so much a melting pot, rather a face-melting combination of sludgey metal riffs and cacophonous virtuoso jazz. Traces of Coltrane resonate through Peter Wareham's sax, but the most potent weapon AL possess is Polar Bear's Seb Rochford on drums. Opener 'Road Of Bones' and Scott Walker's nightmarish mix of 'Salt Water' are the best examples of the band's drastic new vision for British jazz.

14. Kasabian - Empire

Building on the template of 2004’s self-titled debut, Leicester lads Kasabian beefed up their swaggering dance-rock hybrid with a notable nod to ’70s glam, particularly in stomping single 'Shoot The Runner'. Despite the continuing presence of forefathers Primal Scream and Oasis, Empire stood out as the year’s most irresistible hook-led guitar album (by a band formed outside of Sheffield).

13. Cat Power - The Greatest

Chan ‘Cat Power’ Marshall recruited a host of Memphis musicians to flesh out her damaged, lo-fi songwriting for 'The Greatest'. The result was a heady soul brew, the wistful confessionals of 'Where Is My Love' and 'Lived In Bars' made all the more poignant by Marshall’s recent battles with depression and alcoholism.

12. The Beatles - Love

Created for Cirque Du Soleil, this trawl through The Beatles’ back catalogue allowed George and Giles Martin to re-imagine some of the Fab Four’s finest moments. The mash-up style popularised by Soulwax’s '2 Many DJ’s album is used to stunning effect as 'Tomorrow Never Knows' is juxtaposed with 'Within You Without You', a highlight of a project handled lovingly and with no little flair by its curators.

11. The Roots - Game Theory

Taking a step back from previous album 'The Tipping Point's overt commerciality, 'Game Theory' was a dark and claustrophobic affair, the Philadelphia hip-hop veterans preoccupied with war zones at home and abroad. Dynamic, unhinged contributions from former members Dice Raw and Malik B offered a counterpoint to lead emcee Black Thought’s technical flow, while ringleader ?uestlove’s musical vision remained undimmed fifteen years since the band’s formation.

10. Rodrigo Y Gabriela - Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Renowned for their astounding live performances, Mexican duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela translated their on-stage energy onto record with a little help from production maestro John Leckie. Indebted to flamenco masters such as Paco De Lucia, but equally the fervent, devotional energy of hard rock, it was telling that they chose to cover Led Zeppelin and Metallica on this outstanding set.

9. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

While debates still rage about whether they are the greatest band since The Smiths, (or perhaps more realistically, the best band from Sheffield since Pulp) the Arctic Monkeys debut album stands as a timely and timeless continuation of the British art of storytelling. Whether berating ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ or extolling the joys of late night cabs, Alex Turner’s wit and the Monkeys’ winning tunes struck a chord with the nation.

8. Neil Young - Living With War

Initially available as an internet-only download, Neil Young’s rush-recorded 'Living With War' was a timely example of the emotive power music can have in the political arena. Backed by rugged guitars and a 100-strong choir, Young tears into the Bush administration furiously and unreservedly on 'Lookin’ For A Leader' and 'Let’s Impeach The President'. 'Living With War' struck a victory for both its venerable creator and the unabated spirit of protest writing.

7. Old Crow Medicine Show - Big Iron World

Championed by Americana icon Gillian Welch - who appeared here on drum duties - this five piece channelled youthful vigour and age-old songs into a vibrant and remarkably cohesive album. Rollicking fiddle-led standards such as 'Cocaine Habit' rubbed shoulders with the boys’ own accomplished compositions such as 'James River Blues' and 'My Good Girl'. Country album of the year by a country mile.

6. Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics

Proving the commercial breakthrough of 2002’s 'Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots' was no fluke, Wayne Coyne’s enigmatic Oklahomans resurfaced stronger than ever in 2006. Dalliances with funk ('Free Radicals') and prog-rock ('Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung') broadened the group’s creative palette, while naysayers and warmongers bore the brunt of Coyne’s lyrical broadsides.

5. Bob Dylan - Modern Times

Completing a trio of late-career triumphs, the ironically-titled 'Modern Times' shunned contemporary techniques in favour of old-time blues, ballads and boogie-woogie. Dylan’s unmatchable lyrics provided ammunition for accusers of literary plagiarism, hours of fun for train-spotters and his first US number one since 1976’s 'Desire'.

4. Guillemots - Through The Windowpane

This oddly-named troupe of eccentric popsters provided two of 2006’s most inventive pop singles in 'Trains To Brazil' and 'Made Up Love Song #43'. The accompanying full-length lived up to the promise of these earlier offerings, equally showcasing leader Fyfe Dangerfield’s penchant for tender love songs and kitchen-sink approach to arrangements.

3. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black

Moving even further from the jazzy lounge of Melua and Jones, in 2006 London chanteuse Amy Winehouse created that rarest of artefacts, a top-notch UK soul album. Helped by producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, 'Back To Black's searing songs were honest and heartfelt odes to love, loss, addiction and “fuckery”.

2. Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYo

Thrillingly futuristic dance floor action abounded on this debut by filthy, electro-informed hip-hoppers Spank Rock. Traces of Timbaland’s sonic invention and swathes of 2 Live Crew’s misogyny perpetuated 'YoYoYoYoYo', but it was naïve electronics and mind-boggling lyrical verve which carried the likes of 'Top Billin’ From Far Left' and 'Tell Me What It Look Like' from the Baltimore underground to the critical consciousness.

And finally...

1. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain

For all the experimental gusto of Brooklyn art-rockers TV On The Radio’s follow-up to 2004’s 'Desperate Youth Blood-Thirsty Babes', there was a definite pop heart behind the enveloping soundscapes. Opener 'I Was A Lover' mixed looped strings and a stuttering hip-hop beat with inflective lyricism, while the majestic 'A Method' cranked up the barbershop harmonies behind front-man Tunde Adebimpe’s lead. Celebrity support came in the guise of David Bowie’s guest vocals on 'Province', although true to form they were hidden within the foggy midst of the track. While they stopped short of repeating the snowballing success of fellow Bowie faves Arcade Fire’s 'Funeral', this was an equally moving, memorable and masterful set of songs.

R.I.P. James Brown
Happy birthday Shane MacGowan (for yesterday)