December 22, 2009

Wowzino, this was really tough. This list is constantly changing, and I’ll probably end up being mightily embarrassed about it in a few years/months/days time.

I’ve decided to choose not only the records that I’ve listened to the most, but also the records which had the ‘Wow’ factor from the very first listen; things that blew me away when I first heard them, but that I didn’t necessarily go back to constantly.

It’s not a particularly groundbreaking list looking at it now. But can or should lists ever be groundbreaking? It’s a personal list, definitely, and I take comfort in the fact that only four or five people will ever read this anyway.

10 Friend Opportunity Deerhoof (2007)

I found myself giving every song on this album 5 stars on iTunes (apart from ‘Kidz Are So Small’ which is admittedly pretty irritating).

9 Blacklisted Neko Case (2002)

So, despite what I said in my last post, this is the Neko album of the decade for me, if we’re going by the criteria I outlined above. I can still remember how awe-inspiring it was to hear her voice for the first time.

8 Bitte Orca Dirty Projectors (2009)

Controversial choice! This only came out this year, obviously. But the first time I heard it I was completely blown away: the album sounded so familiar and yet so unprecedented. I can really only remember having that completely transformative kind of listening experience a few times before (hearing ‘Strangers’ by Portishead would be one of those moments actually, but that was the 90s!). Whatever, awesome band.

7 Ease Down The Road Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (2001)

Will Oldham’s best album of the decade (although I have a lot of time for The Letting Go too).

6 How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci (2001)

My all time favourite band! Love this record, listened to it constantly while I was doing my Finals. Euros and John on Adam and Joe!

5 Medúlla Björk (2004)

When this album came out, I had never heard anything quite like it before. While I don’t listen to it a lot now, I will never forget how staggered/terrified I was by it on first listen!

Vespertine is also a beautiful record, and ‘Earth Intruders’ from Volta might just be my song of the decade.

4 Ys Joanna Newsom (2006)

Perhaps this is the choice that’s most likely to date, and it was interesting to note how this album was absent from a lot of end of decade lists. I can imagine Newsom is probably suffering a critical backlash in whatever corner of the internet these things are decided upon. And maybe we will look back on this album with the same kind of shudder that we look back at the more flowery offerings from 70s prog rock. Perhaps it’s this decade’s Six Wives of Henry VIII! But for me, right now, this album is just an incredible achievement which surprises me with every listen. Jim O’Rourke, who mixed the record, had no less than this to say about it:

At one moment during the mixing of this record, I said to Joanna, ‘I’ve got an idea for the ad for this record, just a picture of you, and above it says “Music” and below it says “is back”.’ And I really meant it, this record not only recalls, but is part of, why I loved music in the first place. Someone’s vision seen all the way through, sweat lost, brain racked, soul searched, and fingers calloused. I doubt we’ll hear anything as brilliant in a long, long time.

3 Time (The Revelator) Gillian Welch (2001)

Awesome. I can always spare 15 minutes to listen to ‘I Dream A Highway’.

2 April Sun Kil Moon (2008)

1 Ghosts of the Great Highway Sun Kil Moon (2003)

Kozelek steals the top two spots! I kind of have nothing to say about these albums except that they’ve enriched my life considerably. An amazing songwriter writing amazing songs.

Just as a kind of footnote I noticed that when Pitchfork listed their top 500 songs of the decade Sun Kil Moon’s ‘Carry Me Ohio’ came in at 462. That’s below ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay at 263. In what universe if ‘Yellow’ a better song than ‘Carry Me Ohio’? If anything highlights the complete preposterousness of lists that would be it.

I guess the reasoning behind it is that ‘Yellow’ has more ‘cultural significance’ in some way, and you can see that this kind of thinking is behind a lot of these end of decade write-ups. For example, the Guardian chose the Streets debut as their album of the decade because, ‘The two most important criteria for any self-respecting album-of-the-decade contender to meet are that it could not conceivably have been made in any other 10-year period, and that it should be impossible to imagine how that decade might have sounded without it.’ Which is all well and good, but why not choose an album because, I don’t know, it contains what you feel to be the best music of the decade on it? But then, I guess, if you go too far the other way you end up becoming Q magazine or something.

Anyway, what was my point? Ah yes, lists are stupid.

And I hope you enjoyed my list! See you in the 10s!


December 17, 2009

Hoorah! My annually updated blog is back!

I was originally going to write a post about this decade being defined not by music but by music’s online reception. But this was too hard, and it was getting way too pretentious. I started using phrases like ‘contextual negotiations’ before deciding to just give up.

So, away we go with my albums of the year, each accompanied by a video and, in some cases, a pithy comment!

10 Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear

9 Fever Ray, Fever Ray

This album has given me terrible nightmares.

8 The Glass Bead Game, James Blackshaw

Blackshaw makes it three in a row for my end of year lists! He also played on Current 93’s record this year.

7 Tarot Sport, Fuck Buttons

6 Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, Broadcast & The Focus Group

This album has also given me terrible nightmares.

5 Merriweather Post Pavillion, Animal Collective

Don’t care what no one says. The EP was also really good.

4 Crack The Skye, Mastodon

Has anyone else called this album a prog-metal In The Aeroplane Over The Sea? No? Bloody good job too.

3 Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, Bill Callahan

Hey, I was at this gig! My favourite show of the year.

2 Middle Cyclone, Neko Case

Her best album. My favourite artist of the decade.

1 Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors

A complete revelation. ‘Two Doves’ in particular.

Albums of the decade coming soon!


December 22, 2008

I’ve just been reading back through my previous posts, and their associated comments. One post was a criticism of the excesses of music journalism, another was meant to be a kind of expression of general exasperation at the futility of online discussion of music. (Another was about an insane person talking nonsense about Da Vinci and electric drills.)

I really liked Mike’s comments about my ILM post; he was right to point out my hypocrisy re. Crystle Castles (to use an old Alan Partridge get out clause, ‘I was making a point about something else!’). I hope that this blog doesn’t come across like I’ve ‘solved’ any of the issues I discuss; I really am aware that I’m merely adding to the general noise, in my own small way.

It’s funny, earlier this year someone I know mentioned that she’d seen MGMT recently. My reaction was, ‘Aren’t they unbelievably shit?’ I actually hadn’t heard a note of their music, and, when I heard ‘Time to Pretend’ a few days later, I thought it was one of the best pop songs of the year! The lesson is: I’m really a bit of a pompous asshole when it comes to music, aren’t I? Sometimes it’s good to try and keep on top of trends and opinions. Sometimes it’s better to just enjoy yourself and talk nonsense about electric drills.

If you know what I mean.

And in that spirit (give or take the odd reference to Yeats), here are my favourite albums of the year!

10 Small Vessel, SJ Esau

9 Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, David Byrne & Brian Eno

I couldn’t find any decent quality videos from this great album, but here’s a great one about David Byrne’s bike racks in New York:

And Playing the Building.

8 Dear Science, TV on the Radio

7 Offend Maggie, Deerhoof

6 Water Curses, Animal Collective

I know this is just an EP, but this is one of the greatest songs of the year:

Album of 2009?

5 O Soundtrack My Heart, Pivot

A great bunch of guys!

4 All is Well, Sam Amidon

3 Litany of Echoes, James Blackshaw

One of the gigs of the year was seeing Blackshaw at Redland Park United Reform Church. I couldn’t find a video of ‘Past Has Not Passed’, my favourite track on this album, but this one’s pretty great. Classic YouTube comment underneath as well: ‘That’s easy I can do that. He just makes it look hard because he’s so stoic. ‘ You comic.

2 The Mandé Variations, Toumani Diabaté

Have a read of W. B. Yeats’ introduction to Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. Tagore’s poetry, ‘stirred my blood as nothing has for years […] I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me’. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, and I was reminded of it the first time I heard Toumani Diabaté. I saw the brilliant, strange, contemplatative ‘Elyne Road’ (somewhat incongruously based on a UB40 song) being performed on the BBC’s coverage of the Cambridge Folk Festival, and, well, it stirred my blood as nothing has for years if you want to know the truth of it.

1 April, Sun Kil Moon

A beautiful album. Have a read of this amazingly revealing conversation between Ben Gibbard and Mark Kozelek.

Other songs of the year


Ida Maria’s a synesthesiac, apparently:

Good clean fun:

YouTube video of the year

Well that’s it from me, have a great Christmas and New Year. Please enjoy this cover of Al Green singing ‘Jingle Bells’ responsibly.

P.S. Head on over to James from Olo Worms blog too when you have moment. His ‘Man of the Year’ award is particularly funny as he votes some guy who his friend works with as number one. You need to read it. ‘Cheeky!’

Electric drill?

December 14, 2008

I was in the Cornubia the other night when an old man told me the maddest story I’ve ever heard. He saw that I was reading an article about X Factor in the paper. He commented that television dominates our lives to an Orwellian degree. I agreed! He said that even tribes in Africa have satellite TV. I nodded; yes, in some cases, that might be true. I simply couldn’t agree with what he said next though. I’ll try and get it down as accurately as possible:

Hundreds of years ago Leonardo Da Vinci would have been lying on his straw bed. And do you know what he’d have been thinking? Two things. One: when will some fucker hurry up and invent the electric drill. And I don’t know what the second thing would be.

Interpretations welcome.

My end of year list coming up soon! If you can’t beat ’em etc.

On end of year lists

December 4, 2008

I’ve just been reading a few threads about the best albums of 2008 on ILM. I haven’t contributed or looked at this forum for a while, and I think I can remember why I abandoned it.

One thread, which was started in July (naturally), has the following post:

I thought maybe all the good stuff from 08 had been hiding from me, but nothing on these lists interests me at all. Maybe it’s just a horrible year for music.

Someone on another thread has this to say about Mojo’s round-up:

literally the only thing on that Mojo list that I don’t hate is Fuck Buttons

There are clearly some very intelligent, well-informed people on this forum, but I think threads such as these suffer from an over-proliferation of opinion. Sure, it’s great to hear a variety of voices, but as Charlie Brooker has pointed out do these voices ever actually solve anything?

There’s no point debating anything online. You might as well hurl shoes in the air to knock clouds from the sky.

And amidst all the clamour the tone that seems to come through again and again is this horrible, aloof, world-weary cynicism. Let’s take a random sample of some of my favourite artists and see what people on ILM have to say.

Well, here’s one on the front page, Animal Collective:

i didn’t think any album title/cover combo could ever turn me off more than the last one. this is truly the most obnoxiously stupid album title ive ever seen. they’re just completely fucking with everybody

Joanna Newsom:

let’s face it she is a freak and people only go to see her as people go to see elephant man.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci:

the worst band in the world.

I have a friend from university who used to use the line, ‘Your opinions are incorrect’ whenever we’d have an argument about music. Reading this forum is like being stuck with this voice for eternity. You come away from it feeling afraid to so much as make a cup of tea in case a little comment appears under your mug saying,

Really, you’re using Yorkshire Tea? I liked its early stuff, but the cover art on the new box is retarded.

Clearly, ILM doesn’t suffer from quite the same level of derangement as YouTube. My favourite YouTube comment appeared on this video, and it was so strange and clueless that I almost warmed to whoever wrote it:

How do you edit a video

I really liked what Max Tundra had to say about the internet in a recent interview:

What bugs me are parodies — they’re never as special as the original thing. Like “Chocolate Rain” — it’s not as special when Jack Black takes the piss out of it. The guy was doing something sweet and innocent and off-handedly funny. The internet becomes too arch. The clip is uploaded and reuploaded endlessly with banner headlines and crappy 3-D graphics. Stuff rots in this supposedly clinical space.

This interview with Dave Berman is also worth a read (and, yes, I do read websites other than Pitchfork; I also read the Guardian):

It’s like a reason why my whole life I wanted to do the Artforum Top Ten, and this week I had a deadline on Monday to do it. And I thought so hard about it. All I had to do was pick these ten people, artists that I really care about, and write 20 to 100 words on each of them. And I did it, and I sent it in and, the next day, I couldn’t sleep all night the next day because I was so repulsed by my own writing. Not because of the substance of my writing. It took me forever to write, and it was the most difficult thing. I realized it was something I didn’t want to do, and I shouldn’t have submitted it. It has something to do with me, right now, being unable to use 100 words or less to praise a piece of culture because I constantly read 100 word or less descriptions of art.

The record reviews and the restaurant reviews in my newspaper cover the same amount of ground– sometimes they’re of art and sometimes they’re of pizza. I don’t believe anything I read in that form. My own voice sounds so phony just because of the form, and I couldn’t find a way just to get this icky feeling out of me. I guess it has be something to do with blogs, the icky feeling I get from whatever the length of a blog message, and the icky feeling I get from team-making and undeserved praise. I just don’t want to be involved in it. It’s something that I have to find a way to do because I want to continue to be able to praise people, but the whole existence of the top 10 list culture has made it impossible to the point where I have to turn down pristine writing assignments like, “A page in The Believer: Do whatever you want.” I can’t do those things right now because I can’t stand it. I can’t stand the consensus. You know what I’m saying? It’s like a cliché that’s really just coercive. It’s empty. It’s just a signal. That’s what I feel like top ten lists are. They’re not what they say they are. Its function has been completely superceded by meaning in the case of these top ten lists.

Anyway, I thought I’d share all this with you in a blog post.


November 16, 2008

I recently read a review of the new Deerhunter record(s) on Pitchfork.

Now that’s a pretty intriguing review: apparently Deerhunter have absorbed Radiohead’s outlook of using ‘a stunning assortment of shrewd instrumental ideas to express contemporary anxiety and alienation, all in the form of pop songs, on albums conceived to be more than the sum of their parts.’ I got hold of the album and discovered that it sounded a little bit like Pavement.

Which is fine. I quite like Pavement. But why didn’t I feel my contemporary anxiety and alienation being expressed? Had I ceased being able to read and decipher the (apparently) infinite variations and codes of indie rock? Or am I just getting old?

Clearly, the problem isn’t with Deerhunter, or with me (I hope), it’s with the review. The media’s tendency towards hyperbole is nothing new, but it’s something which I find particularly irritating in music journalism.

This parody from the Britpop era is still relevant in today’s musical climate. Since then, guitar-based pop has gone on to become simply ‘pop’, but the artists filling NME’s pages today are no less formulaic. I’ve not heard their most recent infatuation, Crystal Castles, but I’m prepared to bet that they have a few disco beats flying around and some shrieky vocals.

Oh look, they do.

Journalistic prose has become increasingly purple since the rise of the blogosphere. This for example. Easily one of the most absurd pieces of writing on music I have ever read. I like Girls Aloud as much as the next man, but Racine? Oscar Wilde? Several thousand words of pompous eulogy? Read at your peril.

However, my favourite example of hyperbolising is Pitchfork’s review of Friend Opportunity by Deerhoof, which came out last year. I take issue with the following in particular:

Snatches of story-like lyrics – the stage-setting of ‘The Perfect Me’, the flashes of conflict, warnings that ‘It’s a trap’ – imply a narrative arc, with a detour for a new character on ‘Cast Off Crown’, drummer Greg Saunier’s sole vocal performance and a mini-epic that crams introduction, exposition, and resolution into three minutes.

Does the line ‘It’s a trap’ really ‘imply a narrative arc’ or did our journalist just want to find a way to cram the phrase ‘narrative arc’ into his review?

Of course it’s not just journalists who are prone to pretension. Read Van Morrison’s lyrics to ‘Summertime in England’.

Did you ever hear about
William Blake
T. S. Eliot
In the summer
In the countryside
They were smokin’…

Yeats and Lady Gregory corresponded
And James Joyce wrote streams of consciousness books
T.S. Eliot chose England
T.S. Eliot joined the ministry
Did you ever hear about
Wordsworth and Coleridge?
Smokin’ up in Kendal
They were smokin’ by the lakeside

Is Van engaging with any of these writers? Is he referencing their great works? Is this literary criticism in the form of popular music? No, he’s just saying the names of a few authors to sound clever.

Bad song lyrics is a whole other post in itself, so I think I’ll leave it there. But it’s good to be back; I promise to update more regularly!


May 5, 2008

Hi guys, sorry for the abrupt end to the tour diary, but we very unfortunately had to cancel the last few shows due to illness. However, tomorrow is the first date of our UK tour, so watch this space!

Further Dresden news

April 23, 2008

Just finished soundcheck at the Pushkin. Very pleasing! Had some trouble with the sound last night in Nurnberg. First, I thought it would be a good idea to have the keyboard at the side of the stage, to keep it out of the way. Once it was taped down and soundchecked I realised that my back was to the band, and the audience, and I was facing a brick wall. It was an interesting live experience, although I felt a little out of the loop.

Also, I had a problem with my bass. Whenever I ask a sound guy to turn up my bass in the monitor I always assume that he doesn’t actually do anything except wait for me to give a confused thumbs up. In the industry this is apparently called adjusting the ‘ghost fader’. So this happened a few times last night until the sound guy started laughing hysterically, at which point I thought it best to just carry on to the best of my ability.

We had a great crowd last night: one obsessive fan who sang along to every song (often louder than Nick), and one drunken waiter from the cafe next door who appeared to request a song but, when pushed, merely shouted out, ‘1, 2, 3, 4!’

Some more pictures… Nice shot of the venue in Gent:


Dave looks out of a window, also in Gent:


And the crowd:


Here’s the smashing crowd last night in Nurnberg:


And here’s Martin’s excellent marketing skills in full effect (please note that the T-Shirts have always cost 15 Euros). As Martin might say, that’s really pulling the hat out of the bag!


While we wait for our curry, I thought I might regale you with some ideas for pub names we came up with in the van:

  • Conan the Ball Bearing
  • The Horse and Victim
  • The King’s Mind
  • The King’s Memory
  • The Dog’s Arms


April 23, 2008

In the dressing room of Pushkin, the venue we’re playing at tonight in Dresden.

Last couple of days have been tiring but good fun. I had a good look around Gent on Sunday before the gig:



For some reason there were lots of people dressed as Smurfs:


The great thing about walking around a city you don’t know is you can turn a corner and find a castle (or more Smurfs):


Will write more later, gots to go and set up.


April 20, 2008


Apologies for the lack of updates recently: I blame a combination of exhaustion and an absence of wifi. The drives on this tour have been very long so there hasn’t been much time to take stock. The pattern of most days is to drive all day long, turn up for the venue just in time for load-in and soundcheck, finish the soundcheck just in time for tea, finish tea just in time to play, and then load out hopefully in time for an early night. By this time next week we’ll be so tired that we’ll probably end up soundchecking our food, eating on stage, and playing while asleep.

Our day off in Paris was extremely enjoyable, if not exactly relaxing. We were lucky enough to be invited round to tea with Yann Tiersen. As you can probably tell from this picture, we drank too much red wine.


Certainly enough red wine to make me dance like this to an album that Yann introduced to us called The Inner Mystique by The Chocolate Watchband:


More than enough red wine for Yann to invite Alex and I to jam in his studio. It’s getting late!


That’s a £20, 000 pound guitar!


The ‘session’, which, featured me ‘playing’ drums, was recorded, but I am doubtful as to whether these recordings will see the light of day. For a start, Alex kept falling asleep, waking occasionally to turn on every effects pedal in view.

But a brilliant night all round, and thanks so much to Yann and Gwen for their hospitality. There was a funny moment over dinner where our tour manager Martin was trying to explain that he could tell the difference between North, South, East and West London accents. ‘So, what’s South like?’ ‘Sarf!’ ‘And North?’ ‘Norf!’ To my ears he was just saying the words in the same accent…

We were fortunate enough to have a lie in the next day before driving to Lille. The gig was fairly quiet but enjoyable.

The venue was really great; I think it’s a converted brewery, and had this really interesting installation out in the yard:



Here’s the crowd!


And yesterday we played in Lyon, on a boat called The Marquis. Its resemblance to the Thekla in Bristol was striking. They even appeared to have the same DJ playing afterwards. I forgot my camera, so no crowd pic! It was a good gig though, although I broke a string early on so couldn’t really relax into it as much as I’d have liked. It was a perfectly sized stage though in that it was probably around the same size as our practice room (i.e. on the small side), so we could all hear each other well and the playing felt very natural.

So today is Saturday and we’re driving to Gent, where we’re playing tomorrow. Things I’ve enjoying in the van.

  • Lucky Jim, particularly the passage in which Dixon considers the article he has recently submitted to the TLS: The Economic Influence of the Development in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485.

It was a perfect title, in that it crystalised the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. ‘In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool.

  • ‘Hung Up On Dream’ by The Zombies.
  • The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. I just noticed the play on words (jam/preserve) in the title song of this brilliant album: ‘God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties / Preserving the old ways from being abused’…
  • Joanna Newsom’s Ys (for the hundredth time); I also only just noticed the wonderful couplet in ‘Monkey and Bear’: ‘Bear would sway on her hind legs, / The organ would grind dregs / of song’. This is such an interesting song (if you can get over the fact that it’s about a monkey and a bear, as some people seem unable to). The monkey and bear escape from a circus, only for the bear to be exploited by the devious monkey who makes her dance for money. I think on some level this song is about Newsom’s own feelings about her role as a performer. But what makes the song really remarkable is the coda, where the bear seems to transcend his earthly bonds, and the song itself seems to shift away from its earlier fable-like narrative style, and become something altogether stranger. The last line in particular is wonderfully unfathomable: ‘Sooner or later you’ll bury your teeth’ (which itself plays on the punning earlier line, ‘Sooner or later you’ll bare your teeth’). Here’s the coda in full:

Deep in the night
Shone a weak and miserly light
Where the monkey shouldered his lamp

Someone had told him
The bear had been wandering
A fair piece away from where they were camped

Someone had told him
The bear’d been sneaking away
To the seaside caverns, to bathe

And the thought troubled the monkey
For he was afraid of spelunking down in those caves

Also afraid what the village people would say
If they saw the bear in that state;

Lolling and splashing obscenely
Well, it seemed irrational, really; washing that face

Washing that matted and flea-bit pelt
In some sea-spit-shine, old kelp dripping with brine

But monkey just laughed, and he muttered;
When she comes back, Ursala will be bursting with pride

Till I jump up!
Saying: you’ve been rolling in muck!
Saying: you smell of garbage and grime!

But far out
Far out
By now
By now
Far out, by now, Bear ploughed
‘Cause she would not drown:

First the outside-legs of the bear
Up and fell down, in the water, like knobby garters

Then the outside-arms of the bear
Fell off, as easy as if sloughed from boiled tomatoes

Low’red in a genteel curtsy
Bear shed the mantle of her diluvian shoulders;

And, with a sigh,
She allowed the burden of belly to drop like an apron full of boulders

If you could hold up her threadbare
Coat to the light where it’s worn translucent in places

You’d see spots where
Almost every night of the year Bear had been mending suspending that baseness

Now her coat drags through the water
Bagging, with a life’s-worth of hunger, limitless minnows;

In the magnetic embrace
Balletic and glacial of Bear’s insatiable shadow;

Left there!
Left there!
When Bear left Bear
Left there!
Left there!
When Bear stepped clear of Bear

Sooner or later you’ll bury your teeth

Submarine designers. Why not put any water pipes on the outside of the sub? That way if they burst, there is no harm done.

20/4/08 11.45am

Got into Gent late last night, and luckily have a day off here. Although there seems to be a lot of pissed up Brits on stag-dos here. Last night after tea, Dave and I bumped into a big group of them. Large, lairy ‘geezer’: ‘Do you guys like the old…[makes throwing rugby ball gesture]?’ Me: ‘What, football?’ Hoho.

Right, it’s lovely and sunny here and I’m in the hotel room on the internet! I’m out of here.