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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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Home Taping

June 20th, 2012

If you’re as old as me then you probably remember when all the music died. Not Don McLean’s rambling nonsense about…. I have no idea what American Pie is actually about. I mean the 80s when home taping killed music.  Do you remember when there used to be music, but then it all stopped because everyone just nicked it and it wasn’t worth it any more so people didn’t play guitars, they just worked in shops?

I exaggerate.

Music didn’t die. Someone invented CDs and we were all forced to buy all the music that we previously owned on a different format thus massively increasing the income of both artists and record labels. It was a close run thing though. I understand at one point it looked like Sting might not be able to afford his tea.

As I do remember this it is with some amusement that I greet the protestations that the music industry is about to suffer a similar fate to that it suffered in the 80s, simply because, once again, all the music is being stolen.

I should probably clarify that I see a fundamental distinction between the music industry and musicians. I hate the way this entire debate is framed from a capitalist point of view, that defines success and quality of music to be entirely correlated against its ability to generate a return in cash.

I do have some sympathy that the free exchange of digital music is undermining some musicians earning potential. Equally the freedom of digital distribution and production has given many more artists the potential to earn an income where they otherwise wouldn’t.

My personal perspective from the 80s and 90s is that the free exchange of music massively increased the range of music I like and consequently increased the range of musicians that now get money off me.  I now spend much money on music than at any point in my life. This is because it is so easy to access. If I hear something on the radio I can download it to my phone (and pay for it in seconds).

I also give much more money directly to artist through things like Bandcamp and Pledge Music.

I have to say that of the 45,ooo (give or take) songs that sit on our home server I didn’t buy all of them. I have bought the vast majority and the shelves of CDs that never leave their case is a testament to that.

So that is a convoluted way of trying to justify my interest in writing this.

This morning I got to read David Lowery’s open letter to Emily White. This letter was in response to a post that Emily posted on the NPR Music Blog. Emily’s post is a quite reasonable explanation of how she believes her generation (which I assume is younger than me) is moving away from traditional, tangible music media such as CDs. David decided to wilfully misunderstand this and launched into a long old letter about how Emily owes musicians about $2000 for all the stuff she nicked.

This seems to me to be completely symbolic of how the music industry wilfully misunderstands the changing environment  they now live in. David might have a point about streaming platforms, such as Spotify, undermine artists. To my mind that is a failure of collective bargaining rather than yet another stick to beat the youth of today with.

For a different perspective on being a musician in todays world it is well worth following Steve Lawson on Twitter. I thought it would be useful to add a link to his blog as well as it is often interesting, though just searching for the link I noticed he has already written about this today. As I’ve already got this far I didn’t really have the motivation to delete it all.

I just don’t believe there will ever be a point where young people stop picking up guitars and stop trying and make music. That’s because the rewards that people expect from music are not purely economic. Music is also about confidence, wellbeing and credibility. BitTorrent will never take these from people.

We might live in a time where musicians are no longer able to buy islands but is that so bad? Do we want to continue to perpetuate a world where Bono has influence because his set over ran at Live Aid in 1985?

People aren’t advocating that we live in a world where all culture is free (even Emily, if you read what she actually said), we are living in a world where we are redefining how people will benefit from artistic production and hopefully stop the horrendous commodification of music.



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Living in a city

March 10th, 2009

barcelonaI went to Barcelona the other day. It’s very nice. I know it is ridiculous to compare one of the premier cities of Europe with Birmingham but I have a feeling I’m going to do it anyway.

The most immediate difference I noticed is the fantastic use of public space. This is public space in the true sense of the word. Areas that have been put aside for people to congregate in and do things together. This is most obviously emphasised by the large amount of Children’s play areas. They are everywhere and seem to be really well used.

These play areas seem to be complemented by similar areas for table tennis and that crazy European version of bowls obviously aimed at adults. The odd thing about these areas is that people were using them. People of all ages were coming together outside and doing things.

This community activity is something that I couldn’t really conceive of happening in Birmingham. When we create a public space we seem to have some strange fear of putting stuff in it that people might find useful.

The vast majority of development is entirely focussed on retail rather than improving the quality of life. In Birmingham, we have had a debate about a park in the City Centre but that has rambled on for many years now with little evidence of anything tangible appearing.

My theory on why there is a different attitude to space comes down to the British obsession with houses. The status attached to owning your house and having a garden is different to other countries. In the UK there has previously been a perception of living in a flat as being associated with poverty. The stigma of tower blocks has seemingly removed the voice of flat dwellers from urban planning.

In countries where living in an apartment (posh flat) is the norm the expectation is that public space will fulfil the absence of a garden. This attitude is possibly changing with the development of city centre living but such change seems slow. City Centre developments in the UK are solely focussed on the ideal of young professionals rather than fostering community.

Another striking difference about Barcelona is the massive amount of graffiti. It is absolutely everywhere. The odd thing about it is that it doesn’t seem to have brought about the breakdown of society or even really made the place look untidy. Though I’m sure that if you ask people who live there about it they probably get quite pissed off about it.

I think it underlines that small minded politics of urban decay that we are fed in this country. Rather than politicians focussing on the more macro drivers of change that affect all of a community they obsess on the micro affects. If a phone box has a graffiti tag on it makes very little difference to people if they have little in the way of recreation facilities or all their local shops are shutting down.

I’d say my criticisms of Birmingham are not specific to this city. I’m sure they are applicable to all urban environments in the UK. That turned into more of rant than the description of what I did on my holiday that I’d planned.


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February 27th, 2009

Clearly the reported mutiny of Bangladeshi border guards is not really something to laugh about but the story seems to include some humourous points.

The Guardian reports how the insurrection occurred :-

“The rebels wore red bandanas and sprayed bullets into the unit’s officer corps at an annual “durbar”, a meeting where the rank and file can bring their grievances to the officer corps.”

It would seem this model of allowing heavily armed people to air their grievances  has a rather big flaw.

It apparently occurred because border guards are annoyed that they don’t get to go on peacekeeping operations for the UN. I would think that if you’re trying to make a case for being allowed to maintain peace agreements then you first need to demonstrate that you won’t execute your commanding officers.

A very strange story.


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Otter man tragic chariot death

October 22nd, 2008

When writing a news story there are certain ingredients that through fate occasionally come together to create something truly odd.

If only you could combine:-

Oh great, someone has already done it.


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Only 3 days to go

October 17th, 2008

There is literally only 3 days to go before Ringo Starr will implement his threat to stop signing “things”.

I’d sort of forgotten Ringo Starr even existed. Which does make me wonder what sort of person has things that they think will be better things if they’ve been signed by Ringo Starr.

In fact the whole thing has raised a number of questions in my mind:-

  1. What sort of “things” are people sending him?
  2. Why the 20th October? It seems a bit arbitrary.
  3. What is he too busy doing now that he wasn’t doing before?
  4. Is he drunk or mental? His video certainly doesn’t seem to be that coherent.
  5. Does he appreciate the irony of being portrayed in the Simpsons as the Beatle that always replied to every letter?

Having just read that last question back to myself I think there might be some sort of line of causality there. Though that episode of the Simpsons was shown 17 years ago so it’s taken him some time to reach this level of frustration.

Oh well, if you have anything that you want him to sign I’d get it in the post today.


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Aces High

September 16th, 2008

Every now and then you see a story that just could have been taken straight out of Viz. Yesterday was just such a day, or Sunday, dependant on whether you want to be really pedantic.

Of course I don’t mean the fantastic story of the woman who bought a bunny thats ears weren’t floppy enough. That was a great story and I’ve thought at length about what I would do in her situation. The only conclusion I’ve come to so far is that it was a clear case of criminal deceit and calling the police is the only rational course of action. Otherwise people will think they can palm off erect rabbits with absolutely no come back.

Clearly that wouldn’t have got into Viz as there is no substantial double entendre in the whole story. Having said that the one I’m thinking of hasn’t really got any sexual content either so my entire theory is in danger of being rubbish.

The most outstanding story of the last couple of days has to be the humanitarianism of Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson single handedly mounting a Berlin style airlift to rescue stranded holiday makers.

It is a fantastic example of how when events go truly tits up we can only really rely on celebrities to make everything better.

I love the idea that Bruce works a few days a week as an airline pilot just because he can. I have no idea how much money the bloke has got but as The Maiden have been pretty well constant for well over 20 years he must have a few quid in the bank.

In their seminal single Aces High, Iron Maiden demonstrated a truly in-depth knowledge or air to air combat. I imagine that this has come in really handy in the last couple of days as he skirted Israeli air space with a boot full of tourists from Egypt.

I doubt it happens but I’d love to believe that every time he takes off, Aces High blasts over the PA.


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