Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Best Albums of 2016

December 13th, 2016

Well that was a year wasn’t it? A proper shit show as far as small minded politics and the fragile mortality of light entertainers goes. But a good year for albums, a very good year for albums. I’ve bought 125 albums that were released this year, more than any year I can remember. I’ve kept a track of the ones available via Spotify on my 2016 playlist, it’s a nice eight and a half hour trip through 2016.

Besides the albums this year’s been a personal musical odyssey through playing the ukulele at proper gigs and festivals with Moselele, to playing the banjo in public with We Ain’t from Alabama and releasing an album of my own stuff. My album didn’t make it into my top ten.

I managed to fairly easily filter 125 albums down to a top ten. So here you go, my favourite albums of 2016 in reverse order (Including links where available).

10) The Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood – It’s difficult to write anything about The Lemon Twigs without having to mention how young they are or that they sound like a cross between The Beach Boys and The Beatles. It’s a shame, neither of these things really make a difference to how good this album is. I’d say this album owes more to Foxygen than many of the bands from the 70s that spring to mind. The Foxygen link isn’t such a leap as the album is produced by Jonathan Rado. One day The Lemon Twigs will have their quirkiness produced out of them and they’ll become a massive band for it, listen to this now while you can.

09) Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger – There’s no Spotify link to this album, Ty Segall seems to specialise in making his albums really hard to buy. You can probably find it on iTunes if you do that sort of thing. I’ve grown to love Ty Segall, his first few albums came across as a shambolic version of Hawkwind when they were a bit folky. That’s fine but I couldn’t be bothered to listen to them. This album has followed on from Manipulator, sounding very much like Marc Bolan. An angry Marc Bolan who hasn’t got time for songs about wizards and swans. I’ve seen this album described as “garage punk” and it does have a feel of something that they only had a day to make it and weren’t too bothered about how clean it sounds.

08) Black Peaches –  Get Down You Dirty Rascals – Black Peaches were formed by Rob Smoughton, the drummer from Hot Chip and Scritti Politti. I mention that because it makes it all the more surprising that this is a guitar album all the way through. Epic guitar solos over swirling electronic pianos and no fear of a seven minute song. There is a hint of the Allman Brothers in there. This is something that came up through Spotify’s Discover Weekly, thanks Spotify. Anyway, it sounds nothing like either Hot Chip or Scritti Politti.

07) The  Avalanches – Wildflower – It’s an album that everyone waited sixteen years for. Based on the hype I’d decided I wasn’t going to like it. I was wrong, it’s a great album. Unmistakably The Avalanches and, surprisingly, that still works.

06)  Venetian Snares – Traditional Synthesizer Music – I thought I’d put electronic music behind me at the turn of the Century. Apparently I haven’t. As I’ve spent a lot of the year mucking about with synthesisers I’ve noticed I’ve started listening to more stuff made with synthesisers. I’m probably looking for stuff to steal. This is Venetian Snares’ twenty third album and the first one I’ve listened to. Crazy time signatures and improvised analogue synths, this is sometimes hard to listen to I can’t stop going back to it. I’d try and nick something like this but every time I listen to it I’ve not got a clue what is going on.

05)  Anna Meredith – Varmints – Anna Meredith is apparently the composer in residence for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and this album won the Scottish Album of the year award for 2016 (thanks Wikipedia). I’d go along with that, it’s easily the best Scottish album I’ve heard this year. What is the line between being a classical composer and programming stuff on synths? There’s probably a proper answer to that but this sounds like electronica to me. Especially as it uses that bass sound that goes wub wub wub.

04)  The Comet is Coming – Channel the Spirits – This album should have one the Mercury prize this year. It’s got everything from Sun Ra, to the Orb, to Fela Kuti in there. It makes no sense that this is just three people. There should be ten of them. I have listened to more jazz this year than ever before (and I used to listen to a lot of jazz). The Comet is Coming seems to be part of a trend to incorporate Afrobeat and electronic stuff together. I like that as a trend.

03)  Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” – Through out 2016 Donald Glover seems to have always been there doing things. Atlanta was easily the stand out TV series of the year but he still found time to make one of the best albums of the year. If George Clinton were dead then this album would be channelling him. As he’s not I think it’s a safe bet that Donald Glover really likes Parliament/Funkadelic, and so do I. It’s not a straight rip off, there are elements of early N.E.R.D in there. It’s just a great album and a real surprise having only been released a few weeks ago.

02)  Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus – I know nothing about Yussef Kamaal other than just looking them up. Two blokes from London, apparently, who play piano and programme drums. It’s another one where I don’t really know if it’s jazz or not. I want to say it is but there is so much of it that sounds like dance music. Usually when I have that sort of difficulty (pigeon holing things into genre) I play it someone that doesn’t like jazz and they tell me quite firmly that it is jazz. As I’ve been writing these I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped listening to things with words in.

01)  King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity – So, my album of 2016 is Nonagon Infinity. I knew this from the first time I listened to it. There seems to have been a resurgence of prog rock this year. At least I’ve bought a lot more of it than I was expecting, though this is the only obvious prog rock album that has stood out. This is basically one really really long song that is utterly relentless. Relentless to the point that if you listen to it on a loop it seamlessly goes from the last song back into the first. You can listen to it forever. This was also my standout gig of the year. When I first listened to this I thought there was no chance this could ever be recreated live, as it turns out it can. It can also be recreated live in a small pub down the road from me. Go and see them if they ever come back to the UK or, at the very least, listen to this album.

That’s my top ten albums of 2016.

There was one other album that I would have included but I think deserves to stand on its own. David Bowie’s Blackstar was easily one of the best albums of the year. Not just because it was an epitaph to his career, it stood up on it’s own as a great album for the few days we got to listen to it before we knew he died. It’s not often that someone gets to sum their career up so concisely and it’s not often that someone can make an album that sets the theme of many of the albums that I listen to for a year. Blackstar seamlessly incorporated jazz into typical Bowie songs and the crossover of jazz into other music has been the thing of 2016. This is a great thing.

As usual this is the point where I start to find out the hundreds of albums that I’ve missed this year.

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How Do You Buy Music?

January 22nd, 2016

supportI don’t think I’m carrying out a survey which means I might only have a passing interest in how you buy music. This is more of a rant about how buying music is becoming increasingly difficult and I’m not really sure who this benefits.

I like to buy music as I want something that I know I own and I want to see artists that I like being obviously rewarded. Having said that my preferred way of listening to music is Spotify. The app has all the functions I need and it’s much quicker to find things than sorting through my file structure. Even though I tend to stream most things I still like to buy albums so I’ve got an electronic copy of them. I don’t buy CDs any more after noticing they turned up, I ripped them to MP3 and then they sat on a shelf. That’s a waste of precious plastic.

My difficulty is that the majority of big sellers for MP3s are increasingly hiding behind Apps that I have no interest in and pose a barrier to buying things. I don’t use iTunes because all I want to do is download files. I don’t need anything to manage my files, I don’t need anything to listen to stuff on. The alternative for a while has been Amazon. They have a big library and are quick and easy to buy things from.

They used to provide a handy download client and when you bought stuff it would help you choose where you wanted to put files and then leave you alone. Now Amazon insist that you use their player to manage the music you buy. The player insists that it needs to sync with your music. I’ve been there before, syncing over 600gb of files can take around a week. I don’t understand why Amazon needs to know what I already own before I can buy anything off them.

Having compelled you to use their App they also impose a limit on how many devices it can work on. If like me, you forget to deauthorise old phones, in a couple of years you can find that you hit the limit of 10 devices. This happened to me this week when I was told by Amazon that if I wanted to set up their App on a new PC, and download an album I’d just bought, I needed to wait for 30 days. This is a limit imposed by rights holders. Note I don’t want to use their App, it’s a clunky mess, I just want the stuff I’ve bought.

Google Music similarly insists that you use an App. It does provide you an option to download things you’ve bought twice but it really wants you to have the App. But Google Music has some massive gaps in albums you can buy. It’s not that practical.

The only system that works is Bandcamp. They understand that downloading the things you’ve bought is most important and then provide an App to stream purchases as a bonus. I’d buy everything on Bandcamp but not everyone puts their stuff on there.

This means that more and more I’m being pushed into just using Spotify and not buying the back up copies of albums. If you want to create a sustainable market don’t make buying things massively more complicated than streaming, or even just stealing.

You can tell me how you buy music if you want but I think I just wanted to rant.

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2015 – Albums of the Year

December 21st, 2015

bop_englishAfter dabbling with bending the format last year with 12 albums, this year I’m back to the conventional decimal format with 10 albums. It’s taken me quite along time to try and figure out what 10 I’d go for this year as I’ve been making more of an effort to pay attention to everything I’ve bought. I’ve been keeping Spotify playlist of everything I’ve bought (one song from almost every album) just so I’ve got a record.

Though forgetting I’ve bought an album surely must be a sign that it wasn’t all that good.

It’s been another great year for albums, notably with a much more diverse range of music. These ten are only a small section of the things I’ve spent the year listening to, but these are the best bits.

So in reverse order (including Spotify links to albums), because you need an element of suspense.

10) Grimes – Art Angels – I didn’t really get Grimes first album, I liked listening to it but it wasn’t something that I went back to more than seven or eight times. I’d also heard that this new album was less accessible than the first. I really don’t understand that description. This is a great pop album, really nice accessible pop. Featuring Janelle Monáe it was always likely to win me over and it did. This is probably the most “pop” album I’ve loved this year.

09) BC Camplight – How To Die In The North – This was one of the first albums I bought in 2015 and I think I spent most of the year thinking “It’s all right”. But it really grew on me. I was looking forward to seeing him play at the Hare and Hounds in February but because of our stupid immigration laws he wasn’t allowed into the country. I’m not sure I ever got a refund for tickets. Oh well. There are some classic songs on here that you’ll hum forever.

08) Deafheaven – New Bermuda – I’d never heard of Deafheaven before this year, I’m still not really sure who they are. If you love ridiculously well made 10 minute black metal songs (I’m not even sure this is a real thing) then you’ll love this.  This is probably some sort of concept album, I’ve no idea, I can’t understand a word he sings, but don’t underestimate how epic this sounds.

07) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly – One of the main things I can’t explain about this album is why I’ve only made it number seven. Every time I listen to it I’m surprised quite how good it is. It’s actually a bit draining getting all the way through it. Kendrick Lamar is 28, I can’t really fathom how good his albums are going to be in the future.

06) Leon Bridges – Coming Home – I love Leon Bridges story. After being heard by Austin Jenkins, from White Denim, they helped him make an album. And it’s a great album. He sounds like all of the classic 60s soul singers all rolled into one, but still sort of unique. It doesn’t sound like an album from 2015 but there is a freshness that means it doesn’t sound like the 60s either.

05) Holy Holy – When the Storms Would Come – I heard You Cannot Call for Love Like a Dog early in the year and instantly bought an advanced copy of their album. It’s everything I thought it was going to be. Clashing guitar solos and well made songs. It’s got a bit of Midlake about it and that’s no bad thing.

04) John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – John Grant just keeps making albums that get better each time. Nobody else makes songs that are this melodic yet make you laugh. It’s not a weird comedy thing, it’s a real album. Definitely a step up from Pale Green Ghosts and that’s one of my favourite albums ever.

03) East India Youth – Culture of Volume – East India Youth’s first album was good, I still listen to it every now and then, but I don’t think I ever seriously considered putting it on my 2013 list. This album is amazing. I sort of knew that this was one bloke making it up as he goes along but it was only when he was on the BBC Glastonbury coverage that I realised he could make really intricate songs happen all by himself. There are quite a few of my favourite songs of the year are on this album. I genuinely think that there isn’t anyone that won’t love this.

02) Kamasi Washington – The Epic – One of the things that fell out of Kendrick Lamar’s album was discovering Kamasi Washington, who had done much of the musical arrangement for To Pimp A Butterfly. I’m not sure how true it is that record companies suddenly became interested in him and then he “remembered” that he had The Epic sitting around ready to release. I doubt anyone forgets they have a triple album of jazz on a par with Giant Steps sitting about unreleased. I don’t think the John Coltrane analogy is over the top, this is the most amazing jazz album I’ve heard in years. Certainly the most amazing jazz album that I’ve heard that’s been released in my lifetime.

01) Bop English – Constant Bop – The first time I heard this I knew it was going to be my album of the year. Ten months later and it still is my album of the year. It’s another spin off from White Denim. I suppose that the fact my top ten albums have two White Denim linked albums in it shows how much I really want another White Denim album. This album has a little bit more psychedelia in it than I had expected but it works. I was also lucky enough to see them playing in my local pub, making my best gig of the year and my best album of the year nicely linked.

So that’s 2015. Another amazing year for albums.

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#Harkive: My day in music 21st July 2015

July 22nd, 2015

Excellent, it’s Harkive day, or at least it was yesterday. For those that don’t know (how could you have missed last year’s thrilling update?), Harkive is a day where people are asked to make a record of the music they listen to and how they listen to it. Everyone’s listening habits are collated and create a picture of music across the world.

Now there are loads of different ways to submit your listening but I’ve stuck with an old school blog post. Mainly as it gives me something to write but also this is turning into the only place to find a comprehensive record of car stereos I have owned.

car_stereoYesterday started off with a meeting in town so I was listening to Six Music in the car at 9:30. I was pleased to find out Shaun Keaveny was on holiday. I’ve no idea what they were playing as I was utterly shocked to find out Craig Charles was not only out of bed but on the radio at that time on the morning. I think he played something by the Wedding Present.

After my meeting I was back in the car listening to Lauren Laverne, also on Six Music, playing Sympathy for the Devil. It seems that if schools aren’t open you can easily get from the centre of Birmingham to Moseley in just over a full version of Sympathy for the Devil. I used to be completely incapable of listening to Lauren Laverne but I’ve noticed recently I seem to have changed. I even buy albums she tells me to.

media_monkeyBack at home I needed to send some emails so listened to Wilco’s Star Wars album through Media Monkey. Media Monkey reads everything that we’ve got on our server and as Wilco were kind enough to give me this album last week I needed to make sure I’d put it in the right place. I hadn’t got round to listening to it before but it’s alright, not a classic but still worth a listen. Go and give it a go, it’s free.

Whilst I was doing that I decided to buy an Unknown Mortal Orchestra album (Multi Love) because Emma had told me that she’d heard them on the radio and they sounded like Prince.  Surprisingly that isn’t the most spurious reason I’ve ever had for buying an album. I bought it through the Amazon PC app. This is one of the worst bits of software ever written. Every button you click has a 30 second lag to it and if you buy an album you need to shut the whole thing down and restart before you can download it. I miss just downloading things from a website. I miss the days when we didn’t need apps.

pioneerOne of the benefits of self employment is being able to work in the conservatory, so after buying Multi Love I sat in our conservatory and listened to it through Spotify. Yep, I bought an album then went downstairs and listened to it on Spotify. There is no reason or sense in doing this.

Just about everything I listen to is through Spotify these days. This is entirely down to Spotify Connect. Connect allows you to open an album in the Spotify app and then send it to any device on the same network that is Connect enabled. We now have Connect enabled devices in just about every room so you can just move about the house listening to the same thing.

So I listened to:-

Unknown Moral Orchestra – Multi Love
Trembling Bells – The Sovereign Self
Tame Impala – Currents
Tame Impala – Live Versions

That was July the 21st. Other than that I played quite a bit of Destiny on the PS4 but that’s probably more relevant to a completely different archiving project.

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Top 12 Albums of 2014 (yes 12)

December 11th, 2014

Sun-Kil-Moon-Benji-608x540The one thing that is certain with this blog is that I will knock out a list of albums at the end of the year. This year I decided to mix up the format a bit and go for 12 albums. You might think that would mean one album for each month, you’d be wrong. I just couldn’t get my list down to ten, and let’s face it ten is entirely arbitrary.

It’s traditional that I start this off saying what a great year  for albums it’s been. I think I’m beginning to notice that every year is a great year for albums so let’s take that as a given. I’ve actually been able to put a bit more time into new music this year so you be reassured this is all quality stuff. After completing listening to 1001 Albums to Listen to Before You Die I really appreciated the opportunity to finally get back to things I wanted to listen to.

A few things to say about this list. There are very few new bands on there, possibly four. I’m not sure if this is because I’m just missing new bands, I’m sure that isn’t the case as I’ve got a lot more albums this year. As always, tell me about the albums I’ve missed.

In a bit of a reverse order (I haven’t really thought that through properly) including Spotify links where available or you can listen to them all in one go here.

Temples – Sun Structures – At the end of 2013 everyone was going on about Temples but  I didn’t really know who they were. I missed a chance to see them at the Hare and Hounds mainly because I didn’t really understand what I was being asked. I did get to see them earlier this year at the Institute. That was an odd gig. A 50/50 split of painfully young kids and uncomfortable middle aged men with beards (I was in the latter). There’s a lot of Marc Bolan in this with a bit of the Byrds thrown in and you might be forgiven if you thought someone had resurrected Kula Shaker. That isn’t to say it’s derivative, it is original. The world might not have asked for psychedelic pop to come back, but it has, so we  better make the best of it.

Royal Blood – Royal Blood – This is an album I’d been waiting for ever since seeing Royal Blood on the Glastonbury coverage. The drums and bass combo thing is more than adequately covered by Lightning Bolt but Royal Blood seem to carry it off equally well. I’m never sure whether being limited to just drums and bass is a statement of some sort or just because that’s all they’ve got. Either way it works. I have to say that this does get a bit samey, which at 32 minutes long is a bit worrying.

Moodoid – Le Monde Moo – Do you remember when we all got excited about Air because they were French and Moon Safari wasn’t shit? Moodoid are very French as well and this album has got some fantastically weird bits to it which also aren’t shit. I’ve no idea where I came across this but over the year I’ve gone back to it loads of times. I don’t speak French but I’d love to think this is a cow based concept album.

Motorpsycho – Behind the Sun – It seems absolutely ridiculous that Motorpsycho have been knocking out albums for over 25 years now. I will have to take Wikipedia’s word for  that as I’d never heard of them until a couple of years ago. But in the last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time listening to both them and the amazing collaborations they’ve done. This is all about Scandinavian progressive rock and I don’t think that is anything to be embarrassed about. Yeah, there are some weak songs in there but they’re more than compensated for glorious epicness.

tUnE-yArDs – nikki nack – Just an awesome album. Whokills was one of my albums of 2011 and this is as good. There aren’t many bands that just ooze originality and there aren’t many (any) that sound like tUnE-yArDs. There also aren’t many bands that make it such a pain in the arse to type their name.

Metronomy  – Love Letters – I had a real problem with Metronomy’s first album, The English Riviera. It came out at about the same time as Menomena’s Mines. I developed this weird mental block where I couldn’t tell the difference between the two, even though they sound nothing like each other. Love Letters has solved this problem for me because I can now remember that Metronomy sound a bit like Steely Dan. Sounding like Steely  Dan is a good thing. If I was going to have a guitar solo of the year it would be the one from The Upsetter.

St Vincent – St Vincent – An excellent follow up to Strange Mercy (I choose to ignore the album she did with David Byrne). Also one of those albums that on first listen I had no interest in whatsoever (just like Strange Mercy) but over the year it easily made it onto this list as one of the best albums of the year.

Ariel Pink – Pom Pom – I’ll never be able to comprehend how Ariel Pink goes about writing songs. If you were in his band and he explained the basic concept you’d obviously think it was ridiculous and leave the room. If you did leave the room you’d miss out on songs that just work. There is a lot of Zappa in here, but more tuneful.

Ty Segall – Manipulator (No Spotify link) – I’ve bought a few Ty Segall ablums over the years and none of them quite worked for me until Manipulator came out.  I’ve seen it described as Glam Rock but can’t really see it myself. It has a lot of Hawkwind about it.

Arc Iris – Arc Iris – I came across this on the radio whilst driving home from a bluegrass rehearsal. There was something a little bit weird about it, so I bought it and I’d say this is probably my most listened to album of the year. I liked the Low Anthem (Jocie Adam’s other/former band) but they were always a little bit too conventional for me to make much effort to listen to. I got to see Arc Iris at this year’s Moseley Folk Festival and they were an easy highlight of a weekend with a lot of highlights.

GoGo Penguin –  v2.0 – At last some jazz. I quite liked Fanfares but there wasn’t a great deal to differentiate it from a number of piano based trios (that’s actually quite harsh). v2.0 is just a massive step up in originality. Parts of it are up there with the best of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio but with elements of electronica in there as well. They fully deserved to win the Mercury Prize this year and in some way demonstrate that jazz will never win it.

Sun Kil Moon – Benji – So this is my album of the year. The first time you listen to this album you will wonder if it has been released by mistake. Every song on it is deeply deeply personal and reveals things about Mark Kozelek’s life that you wonder whether or not you’re supposed to know. To the point of the prospect of seeing any of this live would just be awkward. Starting with the horrible story of his second cousin who burned to death in a rubbish fire and then going through revelations that make you realise that rubbish fire deaths seem to be a bit of a thing in the Kozelek family. It sounds grim, and some of it is, but it’s a great album.

There you go. 2014.

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1045 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

August 12th, 2014

1001_AlbumsI should make clear that nothing about this advocates on any level that there are any number of albums you should hear before you die. The numerical consumption of popular culture in no way signifies a successfully completed life.

Last year I had a bit of time on my hands and in February I noticed someone I knew had started to work through Robert Dimmery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. My first thought was that my record collection is epic in range and size so it would be odds on that I’d be more than familiar with every album on the list. A quick scan of the list and I was convinced that I knew virtually all of them. Still I like a good list and sort of enjoyed working through Empire Magazines List of 500 Films. Looking more closely at the list it became obvious that there was a certain amount of confirmation bias in my first reading. It turned out that I owned, or knew well, somewhere between 300 and 400 albums. That persuaded me that I should give it a go and work my own way through them.

Did you know 1001 is really big number? I didn’t. 19 months later I’m very aware that 1001 is a very big number.

I decided to listen to each album in order and didn’t really bother writing down what I thought of each one. Some days I listened to four or five in a day and it didn’t seem fair to inflict abstract  reviews on people. I should explain the title of this post. It seems that over the years as new editions of the book have come out, taking the final year from 2006 to 2012, some albums have been removed to make room for new ones. Over the years 44 albums have been removed. I decided to listen to them as well.

As  I’ve banged on endlessly about doing this for over a year the one question people have asked me is “what’s been your favourite album?”. That’s really difficult to answer, I know hundreds of the albums on this list really well, I’ve not come across any new ones that have become my new favourite and many of my favourite albums aren’t included. But if one stood out then I’d have to say  Arctic Monkeys  – Whatever People Say, That’s What I’m Not. This really surprised me, I’ve liked this album a lot since it came out but I didn’t realise how much I liked it.

Many people have asked me how good the list is and whether it really is or ever can be definitive.  I’d say,  no it isn’t and no, nobody could create a definitive one. It’s subjective and both suffers and benefits from that. There is a very broad range of stuff in there (I was particularly pleased to see African Jazz so well represented) including obviously populist and deliberately obscure. It does a good job and has given me access to loads of music that I’d never heard of or wilfully refused to listen to (who knew I liked Christina Aguilera? I  didn’t). It’s also helped validate my smugness. I knew Travis and Coldplay were terrible, now I’ve sat down and listened to them I know I was right.

More importantly have I learnt anything? The most important thing I’ve learn’t is a proper chronology of music. Seeing how individual bands evolved over time and how bands influenced each other has been really good. Recognising how each year influenced the following year has given me a sense of how much music has just got better. Leaving aside the 50s where popular music was essentially jazz and just brilliant in its own right, every decade has been better than the preceding one. People tend to fixate on their safe decade and mythologise it as a perfect period of music. This isn’t true, the 60s weren’t as good as the 70s. The  70s weren’t as good as the 80s…… you get the idea. Equally the period since 2000 has by far the best selection of albums but is horribly under represented. The people who make the book seem to have got a bit bored at the turn of the century so, for example, 2003 has six albums whereas 1973 has twenty eight. 1973 was an awful year for music. Whenever a new update of the book has come out they seem to have instinctively removed post 2000 albums and replaced them with slightly later post 2000 albums. This has just slanted the whole thing further to older decades. Overall this was the most disappointing thing about putting this much time in.

Other areas where the list seems ridiculously biased is a seeming obsession with Morrissey and the Wu-Tang Clan. Both need to be in there but not everything linked to them. Most of Morrissey’s solo albums sound the same and every spin off solo Wu-Tang album is excessive.

Some other things I learned:-

1) If you’re making an album and don’t get Brian Eno to produce it you’re an idiot. Everything he touches turns to gold.

2) Kanye West has had a surprisingly musical influence on hip hop. You can tell anything he’s produced because it is musically more challenging

3) Some of the best albums have been removed from the book

4) There isn’t any real relationship between how good something is and how many people bought it.
My lasting lesson has been that it probably isn’t worth putting in 19 months just to find out that the music that is coming out today is better than the majority of the music from the past. It was fun but an ultimately draining experience.

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#Harkive: My day in music 15th July 2014

July 16th, 2014

I have a feeling that my two annual updates to this blog are likely to be my contribution to Harkive and my yearly list of music I like. That’s probably enough  for most people to take in. If you’ve not heard of Harkive it’s an annual day where people record what  they’ve listened to and how they’ve listened to it.

Last year I took part and posted this little snapshot of my listening habits, I had thought about just using the hash tag (#harkive) on Twitter but thought people might not be enthralled with a stream of my listening habits so here’s to long form narrative.  This year is set to be wholly more exciting (actually surprisingly similar) to last year.

It was my first day back at work yesterday so that meant emails. I work from home these days so there is no limit to what I can listen to nor how loud it can be. spotify

Last year I mentioned that I was working my way through 1001: Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, a year and a week later and I’m still bloody doing it. I have threatened to write about this experience and have a vague plan to do that when I finish, I have no idea when that might be. This week has been an important point with the end of the 90s and the beginning of 2000 (this means the end is in sight). My first bit of listening was via Spotify  and it was Doves  – Lost Souls. Although I have all the 1001 Albums sitting on my server for some reason, while I’m working, I just find it easier to listen to Spotify, it doesn’t make much sense but I think I’m just nosey and like to see the stream of things that other people are listening to on the side of the window.

I’ve always liked Doves but never listened to Lost Souls before, it’s good, and will go down on my much smaller list of Albums to Listen to Twice Before I Die.

car_stereo_2I had to nip out to buy some Mayonnaise and Brie for lunch (Mmmmm, that sounds healthy) and got to listen to First Aid Kit’s – Stay Gold in the car. Not entirely intentionally, my car plays music off of a USB stick full of albums (64gb of albums) and to be honest can’t deal with it very well. As the car wanted to listen to First Aid Kit I was happy enough to go along with it. It turns out there was going to be a Country theme to the day AND THIS WAS THE FIRST CLUE.

One of the bonuses of working from home is that you don’t have to sit in front of a desk all day so I thought I could just as effectively work from our conservatory, it was sunny and I don’t play by the rules. Much of the afternoon was a stream of different 1001 Albums starting with Air’s The Virgin Suicides. I’ve always  thought The Virgin Suicides was a  sadly overlooked album. Everyone got excited about Air when Moon Safari came out but excessive listening did make them come across as a weird parody of French music. The Virgin Suicides is an excellent companion to Sofia Coppola’s excellent film often a bit depressing but a really coherent set of different songs.

After Air it was onto Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, whenever I’m faced with the prospect of listening to Ryan Adams I’m disappointed it isn’t Bryan Adams. I really don’t like Bryan Adams so that gives you a very real hint on how I feel about Ryan Adams. It turns out Heartbreaker wasn’t as bad as I was expecting but I will never listen to it again.

On a roll now I fired up Bebel Gilberto’s Tanto Tempo, her Dad, João Gilberto had made an appearance some time ago and it was a nice day to pretend to be Brazilian. My only reservation with it was it desperately wanted to slip into the Girl From Ipanema at every opportunity.

MJ Cole’s Sincere turned out to be an album too far. I can’t remember anything about it other than it being late 90s dance music. I managed to avoid it the first time around and will never listen to it again.

Often Tuesday’s mean that our little Blue Grass band gets together to rehearse. This is my once a month opportunity to learn how to play the banjo. Unfortunately I seem to have a developed a reputation for not knowing any of the songs we play nor ever practising. Yesterday I decided to make an effort and practice. I tried listening to  Will The Circle Be Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dity Band and Bruce Springsteen’s version of Jesse James on Spotify and quickly realised they sound nothing like our versions. I managed to dig out some old practices on Soundcloud and definitely pretended to practice. I also found a YouTube video of a bloke playing Will The Circle Be Unbroken and tried to learn that. It sort of worked.

Before dinner I managed to sneak in a quick Emmy Lou Harris album – Red Dirt Girl, I don’t really know Emmy Lou Harris but I did like this (can you see the Country theme?). Another album that I will make the effort to listen to again.

I found a post on Facebook that Table Scraps had made their new single available on Soundcloud, I gave it a listen on my phone, you should too, it only takes ninety seconds.

On the way to our Blue Grass practice my car decided very randomly to play the soundtrack to DJ Hero 2, I think it had got bored of  First Aid Kit.

Much Blue Grass was played but I’ve no idea how live music fits within the context of Harkive. Also I think there is more than enough to be going on with here. Until next year (or December if you want to know my favourite albums this year).

 

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2013- It’s All About Albums

January 1st, 2014

It  doesn’t seem like THREE blog posts since I last did my annual list of albums, but it is. As  many as three completely different people asked me if I was going to do a list this year, I admit I prompted two of them into asking me. With that sort  of readership I felt compelled to sit down and think through the many albums I’ve bought this  year.

Overall this year  has been a bit different as most of my listening hasn’t really been focussed on new music. I’ve been working my way through Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, it’s turned out to be considerably more of a commitment than I thought it would be. It’s also something that deserves some sort of blog  post  on its own, something that I planned to do at 500 albums but then forgot. I’m at 576  at the  moment so there’s probably an imminent milestone in there somewhere.

Back to this year, there have been some great albums in 2013. It’s helped that as I sink into middle age I’ll pretty well listen to anything though that shouldn’t undermine my list, there is some sort of quality threshold. My list this year seems to have less new bands on than previous years, again probably indicative of latent conservatism.

So, in reverse order:-

White Lies – Big TV – This  is White Lies third album, I’ve always quite liked them, usually giving their albums a few listens, but this is the first that I’ve really liked. They are a band that owe a lot to the stream of post 2000 bands that sound a bit like Joy Division, Editors being the best example. Whilst Editors pretty well stagnated after their first album (though are brilliant live), White Lies seem to have gone from strength to strength. There are a few songs that seem to wing it on a shouty chorus but I’ll let them off as it’s their most complete collection of songs so far.

Public Service Broadcasting – Inform, Educate, Entertain – I’m still not sure about including this as it’s an album I only came to late in 2013 after hearing it on 6 Music in their albums of the year list. Though I have heard Spitfire a lot, as it’s become a staple of BBC filler music. They seem to be a band that pull together old film clips and make songs around them, very much of the  like  Lemon Jelly or The Avalanches, except much less electronic. One of the big selling points for me is they’re not scared to throw a bit of banjo in there, banjo boldness, whether appropriate or not should be rewarded with recognition.

Foals – Holy Fire – Isn’t there supposed to be a thing about difficult third albums? Again, I’ve bought all of Foals’ previous albums and quite liked them but this was the first that made me go straight back and listen to it again. The stand out thing about this album is the best guitar sound I’ve heard in years, in parts just  like a steel drum. You’d have to listen to it yourself, that’s rubbish description.

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – It would be hard to avoid the hype of Random Access Memories, a perfect storm of Niles Rodgers coming to tour the UK and Daft Punk making their catchiest song in years, all coming together to make a pretty well unstoppable media event. It seems to have split the people I know who like Daft Punk, into most of them that don’t like it and a few of us that do. It’s a classic pop album that churns out songs perfectly designed to hook people in. I like that Daft Punk have tried to redesign themselves with each album and I think Random Access Memories will be one of those albums that will still be being played in ten years time.

Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady – I didn’t have any idea who Janelle Monae was, I completely missed ArchAndroid from 2010. But a concept album about lesbian androids featuring Prince? I would be stupid not listen to that. I love this album, again a perfect pop album but with brilliantly well put together songs that at no point take themselves  too seriously. I went back and bought ArchAndroid that would have definitely made it onto my 2010 list if I’d known.

David Bowie – The Next Day – And another album that came in on a wave of hype. Hype that I dismissed out of hand expecting a  limp attempt to cash in one last time. I’d even go as far as to say when I first heard Where Are We Now I hated it. When the album  did get round to to being released it turned out it was a bit of a classic, it is reminiscent of Low but that’s not a bad thing. Well done David, you could have done so much worse.

These New Puritans – Field of Reeds – I listened to this after reading something about how some bands are completely redefining the structure of music, that turned out to be self indulgent nonsense but it is one of the best albums of the year. Hauntingly nice to listen to with quite jarring parts that shouldn’t work, but do. It doesn’t redefine music but it’s one of my favourite albums.

Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic – Unusually, for  these lists, this is the first of my favourite albums that I bought based on a Pitchfork Review. I don’t seem to read as many reviews on Pitchfork as I used to, mainly because their website is a nightmare to use these days. I bought this based on their recommendation, listened to it once, hated it, didn’t bother again. Then I found it on my phone a few months later and thought it was worth giving one more go and absolutely loved it. It’s Lo Fi stuff and sounds quite a bit like Bob Dylan in places. Almost every song seems to have two parts to it that incongruously work. It’s also got a great title. They seem to be the sort of band that will collapse in irreconcilable musical difference, but worth listening to before they do.

John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts – I included John Grant’s first album, Queen of Denmark, on my list a few years ago. This album is massively better than that one. Whilst the first owed quite a bit to the folky rock connection with Midlake, this album is much more electronic and cleaner. It’s a funny album, and I like to think, painfully autobiographical. I know nothing about John Grant so can’t say if it is or not. This is a must buy album of 2013.

White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade – There wasn’t really any competition for my album of the year. White Denim’s 6th album is epic. Though I think I’ve reached the point in liking them that almost anything they do would be on the top of some sort of list. I still think of them as being the natural evolution of the Allman Brothers which does them a great disservice  as I don’t really like the Allman Brothers. Probably not to everyone’s taste but easily my album of the year.

There were a few albums that deserve a mention, British Sea Power’s From the Land to the Sea Beyond almost made it in, mainly because I’ve unintentionally seen them twice this year and they are really good live. 

Also a special mention to The Weeks, unexpectedly my favourite gig of the year, they had been supporting Kings of Leon and did a gig at the Hare and Hounds. There weren’t many people there but it was a stunning gig. They were touring on their new album, Dear Bo Jackson, I was a bit disappointed in the album but as they’re each only 15 I think they’ve got a quite a few albums left in them. If they come back to the UK go and see them.

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Harkive: My day in music 9th July 2013

July 11th, 2013

I really liked the Harkive idea of trying to catalogue how people listen to music these days. You can, of course, click on the link but for the lazy; they asked people all over the world to submit a whole days worth of music listening stories. It looks like people have contributed in many different ways. I decided to write it all down here.

This is less about what I’ve been listening to and more about how I listen to things and, more importantly, how I seem to be able to keep a really accurate record of what I listen to with no effort.

One of the things I noticed on thinking about the 9th was trying to make a really conscious effort to not listen to things I wouldn’t ordinarily listen to,  that turned out to be quite hard.

I also noticed that other people have made an effort to keep a record of extraneous music they listened to; I haven’t done that, I’ve kept to stuff that I sort of chose  to listen to.

pureSo starting the day I ended up listening to Sean Keaveny on 6 Music whilst I was having a shower. We’ve got a little Pure Oneflow  radio in the bathroom which I bought fairly recently. I bought it because it has a DAB radio but it also accesses our network via wifi so I can stream all music off of our server. As it turns out it’s a bit rubbish and it only just about functions as a DAB radio, I bought two of these before I noticed that they’re a bit rubbish.

Sean played me Dirty Water by the Standells and Dark and Stormy by Hot Chip. Neither really left a lasting impression, I’ve never heard of The Standells and I actively dislike Hot Chip. You can claim to have invented an indie rock/dance music hybrid  all you like but if  you can’t do either particularly well then just try and concentrate on one of them and practice. The only point of note here is how I know I listened to both of these.

Fortunately I managed to find a web site (http://nowplaying.jameswragg.com/) that’s keeping a track of everything that’s playing on 6 Music. I used to use the what’s playing on 6 Music twitter account but that seemed to stop on the 15th April.

I would like people to note that Sean talked a fair bit so I did have a fairly reasonable length shower.

I was made redundant recently so have had a fair amount of time to listen to music and that will also explain why I wasn’t at work on a Tuesday. I’ve also been trying to work my way through 1001 Albums to Listen to Before You Die. As of Tuesday I was utterly in the middle of 1975 (actually as I write this I’m still utterly  in the middle of 1975) so much of what I listened to was fairly dictated to me. The whole album listening thing was going to be a series of blog posts but I haven’t got round to it yet.

Just about everything I listen to sits on our Synology Server, every device in the house can access the server and every device records everything I listen to on my Last FM profile. It does mean it’s a fairly easy to go back and look at what I listened to, and when I listened to it.

conservatoryMuch of my music listening these days seems to be  through the stereo in our conservatory, it’s stupidly hot and it’s just  like sitting in the garden. We moved quite recently and I found an old Cambridge Audio amp and some Eltax speakers in the loft of our old house. They still seem to work and I’ve added a Denon Media Streamer to be able to access the network and Last FM.

Part of listening to albums from a book is you get a bit of a surprise when something you weren’t expecting (and something you know very well) turns up. My first album of the day was Led  Zeppelin’s – Physical Graffiti, a true giant of an album and one I’m sure I haven’t listened to in years.

After getting that out of the way I went over to Harborne to meet someone I used to work with. That meant getting in my nuclear heated car.

When listening to music in the car I stream it straight off my phone. I’m probably alone in this but I think the A2DP Bluetoooth profile is one of the pinnacles of human ingenuity. For me it means that whenever I get in the car, my stereo detects my phone is close and automatically resumes playing music off of it.  At the beginning of the week  I tend to set up a really lengthy queue of music and just work my way through it as I travel about.

powerampI use Poweramp to listen to music on my phone. It’s the only App I’ve found that works with A2DP properly and it has a really good pre-amp built into it.

Going over to Harborne I got  to listen to the end of Vampire Weekend’s new album, I bought it based on recommendation and seeing a bit of the gig they did at Glastonbury. They’re a band that I’ve never really understood and on listening to this album I’d say I still don’t. That was followed by Frank Turner’s Tape Deck Heart. I bought this months ago and just never got round to listening to it before. I wish I had, it’s great. I’m still not quite sure  why I own it, I imagine it was an Amazon £4.00 deal on the day it was released and I just took a chance on it. To be honest I’m not sure I even know who Frank Turner is either.

A trip to Harborne and back doesn’t quite cover two albums but I got through a fair bit of Frank Turner.

Having devoted a fair amount of time to listening to 1001 Albums I’ve realised that it is really rare that you get to listen to something truly amazing that you’ve never heard before. Surprisingly I got home to get just that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Keith Jarrett before (on reading about him I realise I must have heard him many times on Miles Davis records) and I’d certainly not listened to the 1975 Koln Concert before. An hour of improvised jazz that, in parts is astounding.

At the beginning of the 1001 Albums chronology it was almost all jazz (it starts in the ’50s) but as I’ve hit the ’70s there has been less and less, it was nice to get some back.

Over the next week Moseley will be hosting its annual festival (one of three festivals, we really like festivals) and I had agreed to post programmes through doors. This was a really stupid thing to volunteer for as the temperature and my level of fitness are not conducive to carrying and walking.

It did give me an opportunity to listen to more stuff that’s queued on my phone. I have a pair of Sennheiser headphones that also use A2DP, so when I turn them on they instantly find my phone and resuming playing where the car left off. I love these headphones and can’t stress to you enough that you should get some.

Whilst walking about I listened to the end of Frank Turner and Snarky Puppy album GroundUP that  I bought at the weekend. I’d never heard of them until Sunday, but they played at the Mostly Jazz festival and were one of my highlights of the weekend. An almost perfect blend of jazz and funk, GroundUP is a great example and you should buy that as well.

Another band I’d heard of, but wasn’t that familiar with was the The Haggis Horns but I got their Keep On Movin’s album and listened to it. Again, really good.

My trip delivering stuff was slightly more jazz funk than I was expecting but that’s not dangerous, is it?

Getting back to 1001 Albums was another album I hadn’t listened to in years, Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic. They’re not a band I’d really consider listening to these days but Toy in the Attic is about their best. Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion are why they still get away with it. It doesn’t seem right that it came out 38 years ago.

My last musical contribution of the day was David Bowie’s Young Americans, a much underrated album with a  truly horrendous cover of Across the Universe on it.

There you go, my day. It was more interesting listening to all that  than it probably was reading about me listening to it

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2012 – My Year in Albums

December 20th, 2012

My consistent obsession with imposing a decimal format on my annual music buying is, as it turns out, a good opportunity to gauge my commitment to keeping this blog updated. A quick glance at the dashboard shows that, since my Albums of the Year 2011 post I’ve only managed to write seven updates, and none since July.

That obviously has nothing to do with what I’ve been listening to.

I always say this, but 2012 has once again been a great a year for music. It’s also been the year that I’ve moved to almost exclusively digital purchases. I must have bought about 6 or 7 CDs this year and I think my shelves thank me for the restraint.

I seem to have adopted a format for this now so here are my top 10 albums of the year, counting down to number one. It’s exciting isn’t it?

Grizzly Bear – Shields – I liked a Veckatimest a bit when it came out. I think I was always a little bit wary that I’d never be able to say it out loud so I’ve always avoided discussing Grizzly Bear in public. Shields is really easy to say and its been a excellent addition to my ever growing collection slightly glum American Lo-Fi.

Animal Collective – Centipede HZ – I think all Animal Collective albums seem to sound like nothing else but also all the same.  This isn’t that different to Merriweather Post Pavilion but I really liked that as well. My nod to electronic music this year.

Band of Horses – Mirage Rock – I’ve  always quite liked Band of Horses, I’ve worked my way through all of their albums and thought all of them were “not bad”. Mirage Rock surprised me, it’s rare that a band suddenly produce something very very good after having already made quite a few albums. It’s also odd that it isn’t that different to what they’ve done before, they just seem to have perfected it. It has all the spirit of the 70s Laurel Canyon stuff but doesn’t sound like a dodgy 21st century Eagles.

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar – As I like to make clear every time I do one of these lists, I hate folk music. Every year it is getting more difficult to make this claim. This is obviously folk, or country folk or even just country, though I didn’t notice what it was the first few time I listened to it. I didn’t even notice it was two women either. I didn’t notice much about this other than it has nothing to do with lions.

Jack White – Blunderbuss – Jack White is consistent in making albums that I really like. I preferred his incarnations in the Ractonteurs and the Dead Weather to the White Stripes and I think his solo album is most like the Dead Weather. It’s one of those things that just grew on me over the year and was an easy addition to this list. He also gave me the second best gig I saw this year, an exceptional tour through pretty well everything he’s ever done. It would have been the best gig of the year but I saw Funkadelic in the park over the road from my house and there isn’t really a great deal of competition to that.

Django Django – Django Django –  There was much of the year where I was convinced that this would be my album of the year. You see I did start thinking about  this months ago rather than scratching my head in December trying  to remember what came out. It’s an album that weirdly has got a lot of publicity from the claim that nobody had heard it. As far as I could work everybody had heard it so I’ve no idea where that came from.

Cody Chesnutt – Landed on a Hundred – I loved Cody Chesnutt’s random The Headphone Masterpiece from 2002. It was an exercise in throwing any old nonsense onto a CD, of 36 tracks only about 20 really worked, but that’s still 20. Ten years later I was really looking forward to the sequel and it is great. Much more polished (clearly not made in his bedroom) and a real throwback to traditional soul (can soul be traditional? Who’s tradition?). A real mainstream contribution and hopefully one that makes him the money that I think he needs if he is going to stick to a once a decade release schedule.

Godspeed You Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! – This is just an exceptional album. It was always going to be a thing of note to see Godspeed You Black Emperor reform but I didn’t think they would be able to make something that is a substantial step better than their previous albums.
Chromatics – Kill For Love  – I was intrigued by this album as Pitchfork seemed really enthusiastic about it (not that unusual) and I couldn’t seem to buy it anywhere. I ended up getting it imported and it took weeks to turn up. I listened to it and then didn’t really like it much. I liked the Neil Young cover at the beginning but the rest of it was quite dull. Though I did stick with it and looking back it has just grown on me to the point that I know this is an album that in ten years time I will be listening to just as much as I do now.

Field Music – Plumb – Progressive rock from Sunderland. I’d like to just leave that there but I’m not sure it does justice to my favourite album of the year. I think this does single my acceptance that all those types of music that I grew up with, and tried to run away from are the things I still love most. I suppose that isn’t a great surprise but it is frank personal admission that I’m in my 40s and my musical highlight of the year is progressive rock. I don’t really need to say much about at as between the Mercury Awards and Six Music they have had more coverage than any band deserves in a year.

 

So there you go, my favourite albums of 2013. Interestingly no jazz this year. I’ve bought a lot of jazz and liked a lot of jazz but none of it quite as much as the stuff above.

Also looking back on the list I can tell my taste is becoming ever more conservative, there are no particular surprises on there and everything is eminently listenable.

So until next year when I fully expect I will once again be massively surprised at how good music is.

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