Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

#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 ( 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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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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Albums of the Year

December 19th, 2011

It’s the time of year where I habitually start making a list of my favourite albums of the year. Closely followed by other random lists, because everything is better when it is in a list.

I started thinking about this list a few months ago and had come to the conclusion that I probably wouldn’t be able to get together a list of 10 albums that I would really recommend to other people. I’m not quite sure why I’d come to that conclusion as looking back this year has been yet another really good one for music.

I think I end up saying this every year but I think we are living through a bit of a golden age for music. Social networks allow us much greater opportunities to have things recommended to us and bands can get much more direct access to an audience. I know this year places like Bandcamp have had a big impact on the way I buy music. Actually this is the year where I reckon about 80% of my music has been purchased electronically so that says something. Mainly that I don’t have to increase shelves at the same rate.

One thing that has popped out at me is that I’ve been listening to much more folk music. This might be an unavoidable consequence of aging or it might be an improvement in folk music. I have a feeling it is likely to the former.

So here we go. My top 10 albums of the year. [edit] I should have mentioned that they are in some sort of order and count down from 10 to 1. I could have just edited this and added numbers but….[/edit]

John Grant – Queen of Denmark
The best way to find out about an album is someone texting you out of the blue and telling you about it. Though this only works if the album is good. If it isn’t we just all agree to not talk about it. This one is very good. The best way to sum it up is it sounds a bit like Midlake. I really like Midlake because they sound a bit like Fleetwood Mac. Weirdly I don’t really like Fleetwood Mac, I have no idea how this works.

Dissolved – Snowy Psychoplasmics
Through a deal I don’t want to talk about I’ve had access to all of the Daddy Tank Records releases over the last year or so. When I was given this I was explicitly told I wouldn’t like it. I haven’t added this to my list just to be awkward though I have a feeling that not many people would be surprised if I did. I’ve added this because I stopped listening to electronic music years ago and this changed my mind.

tUne-yArDs – Who Kills
What I still don’t quite understand how someone could sit down and think that any element of this album would work. In my mind “world music” has a really bad reputation. When people say world music it conjours up images of earnest yet insincere harmonies and irritating drumming. This album has nothing to do with world music but I always have niggling feeling that it could veer in that directions at any moment, it doesn’t. This the most inventive thing I have heard in many many years.

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
I do make a habit of going through the Pitchfork reviews as more often than not they make me buy something that I’m really grateful for. This is an excellent example. I know nothing about them other than the fact that they’re not scared to throw in a guitar solo every now and then.

The King Blues – Punk & Poetry
Do you remember when the country was on fire and everyone wanted to listen to anarcho punk poetry with a hint of ukulele? Well I do. That sounds like the most atrocious combination of music that has ever been conceived but it isn’t. As far as I’m concerned no other band summed up the sentiment of the summer like The King Blues did. They are also really really angry, this is best demonstrated in their song We Are Fucking Angry.

St Vincent – Strange Mercy
Another Pitchfork recommendation. I initially bought it gave it a listen and thought I wouldn’t bother again. Then on a train journey I noticed it and decided to give it another go. This album is great. This would be what Goldfrapp were like if they were good. I don’t have anything in particular against Goldfrapp but their peculiar brand of bland means nobody has much more than a passing interest in them.

Many of the songs on this album sound very much of the Goldfrapp mould but then go offf in a crazy direction, I love them just for that.

Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
I’ve been reliably told that Iron and Wine are proper folk music. They don’t sound like it to me. They sound about as far from folk music as it is safe to be. This is a great album and I have no idea who to compare it to.

Battles – Gloss Drop
I love Battles. I loved Battles before I even knew who they were. They did the music to one of the levels on Little Big Planet and I’d always wondered who they were. It was @shymmetry mentioning them in Twitter that made me speculatively buy their fist album and discover it was a band I had been looking for. This new album isn’t that much of a departure from the first but  is a departure from everything else you’ve ever heard before. Unless you listened to King Crimson in the 80s. They do sound quite a bit like King Crimson but that’s not a bad thing is it?

This is also the band I most regret not getting to see this year.

Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs
I’ve been properly playing the ukulele now for nearly two years with Moselele. It’s strange that something that started off as an attempt to do ironic covers on an unusual(ish) instrument has now become and interest. Having said that it is the ukulele that made me aware of this album but it’s the quality of the songs that have made me listen to it as much as I have. I don’t really know Pearl Jam and wouldn’t say I’m great fan of them but this does give some insight into how some of their songs are written. Strangely I’m too lazy to bother to find out whether the songs on here are actual Pearl Jam songs or are just for the this album. At a guess, I reckon it’s a mixture.

This album does sound folky, well it would, it’s a man strumming a long on a tiny guitar.

White Denim – D
White Denim seem to have been round for a while and unusually I bought this based on hearing them on 6 Music. I haven’t really listened to 6 Music a lot recently so tend to get less stuff recommended to me through them. White Denim have definitely got a modern Lynyrd Skynyrd about them, yes I do realise that will put pretty well everyone off listening to them.

They differ from Lynyrd Skynyrd in that:-

1) They’re not dead
2) They are very musically diverse
3) They sound nothing like Lynyrd Skynyrd

So there you go. Not a hell of a lot between any of them.

If you want a taste from most of them then here is YouTube playlist with one song from all except Dissolved.



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Home of Metal

September 12th, 2011

I thought it might be an idea to write something on here that wasn’t based on my simplistic 6th Form analysis of recent political events.So instead I’m going to write about Heavy Metal, which is much more sensible.

Yesterday I went to visit the Home of Metal exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I’m not a great museum visitor, they tend to bore me, but an exhibition devoted to Heavy Metal seemed like something I should do. Though it has been on since July and I only got round to it a week before it finished.

I think I should start this with stating that it is a great exhibition, it’s well made and does a good job of holding your hand through a very different bit of Birmingham’s history. I also recognise that Capsule, who put it together, have done a vast amount for music in Birmingham over the last decade, they’ve let me see Lightning Bolt and Shellac for a start.

With that caveat I have to say I left the Home of Metal feeling at a bit of a loss.

One thing I’ve learnt in the 20 years I’ve been living in Birmingham is that it has always been seeking an identity to distinguish itself from other cities. It’s constantly fighting to define itself as the second city of the UK, when I say fighting I’m not really sure that Manchester is aware that there is a fight going on nor is actually that bothered about how UK cities are prioritised.

Birmingham is jealous that other UK cities appear to have a more defined musical heritage. I don’t think other cities have a greater heritage of music but they do seem to be able to bundle things together. Liverpool had Mersey Beat and Manchester had the MADchester thing of the early 90s. Birmingham hasn’t had anything equivalent. Birmingham has had international fame with ELO, Duran Duran and of course Black Sabbath but there hasn’t been a unifying marketing ploy behind them.

These themes, or close groups of bands, are nothing more than a device by record companies to promote bands that otherwise wouldn’t get anywhere. As such I don’t think Birmingham has really missed out.

This lack of a Birmingham “sound” now seems to have been addressed by the attempt to claim the genre of Heavy Metal as being a product of Birmingham (and the Black Country to an extent).

Heavy Metal is a really difficult type of music to define. It is incredibly subjective to distinguish where hard rock stops and heavy metal begins. Essentially it is a semantic difference but one that still seems to be a pre-occupation for some people. It is also a semantic difference that seems to be at the heart of Birmingham’s claim on musical history.

Whilst growing up in Eastbourne (the home of The Mobiles and Top Loader) I listened to a lot of Heavy Metal, I’m not proud of it but it is a fact. In the 80s we were probably past the first blossom of Metal as a genre and just at the beginning of what I’ve been repeatedly been told was a new wave of British Metal (the NWOBHM).

I missed the early 70s on account of not being born so am on delicate grounds to refute Birmingham’s claims to have invented a musical genre. Whilst I was aware that Black Sabbath existed I couldn’t have told you they came from Birmingham and I would have struggled to explain to you why they were more important historically than Thin Lizzy, Rainbow or any number of other bands.

Before I started writing this I did spend a bit of time looking at Wikipedia, it was useful to try and get a sense of what happened before I was born. I have many albums from before I was born but little knowledge of when they came out and no real understanding of their impact or relative sales. I was struck that Black Sabbath do indeed seem to be considered as some sort of originator of this type of music.

This confuses me quite a lot. I am at a complete loss to figure out what is that different about Black Sabbath (the album) and Deep Purple’s In Rock, or King Crimson’s In The Court of the Crimson King? All dabbled with occult(ish) references, all relied on riff based songs and all came out at roughly the same time (King Crimson the year before and Deep Purple a few months later). Certainly sales don’t seem to distinguish Black Sabbath from the others. This is before you consider Born to be Wild which came out two years before Black Sabbath and mentions Heavy Metal in the lyrics of the title song.

Obviously one band doesn’t mean the birth of a movement (I know Heavy Metal cannot be defined as a movement). The Home of Metal appear to emphasise this by devoting a fair amount of space to Judas Priest who are from Walsall (a bit). I don’t know what to make of Judas Priest. As I grew up I had always assumed they were a joke band, apparently they’re not a joke band. They didn’t seem to innovate anymore than any other band around and when their first album came out in 1974 they were considerably behind bands such as Kiss and Aerosmith in terms of world wide profile.

Which leads on to the main point that is only hinted at in the Home of Metal. Of the time when Black Sabbath came to prominence the biggest band in the world, after The Beatles, were Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin II predated Black Sabbath and much of it seems to be a template for Metal/Hard Rock through the last four decades. The problem with Led Zeppelin is that their Birmingham/Black Country roots are shakey. Yes Robert Plant grew up in West Bromwich and John Bonham was born in Redditch but the other two were born and bred southerners. Can Sidcup claim to be the home of rock because John Paul Jones was born there and Keith Richards went to college there? No, that would be tenuous.

The second part of Home of Metal relates to Birmingham’s role in the 90s with Napalm Death. I’ve always had a soft spot for Napalm Death but it is really hard to say they set the world on fire. They defined a new type of metal (Grindcore) but were relatively unknown outside of Birmingham, except to a core group of fans (and are massive in Mexico). Were they more influential than Anthrax, Metallica or Slayer? It would be difficult to claim they were.

The reality of the early 90s was that Heavy Metal was largely defined in LA through cocaine fuelled hair bands like Guns N’ Roses and Motely Crue. It wasn’t pretty but was strangely popular. It also, almost managed to kill the concept of Metal for a generation.

My point, and it has taken me a while to get to it, is that Birmingham did play an important role in the creation of Heavy Metal, but so did Hertford (Deep Purple), Sheffield (Def Leppard), London (UFO, Iron Maiden, Uriah Heep, Motorhead, and even Barnsley (Saxon).

It is no more the Home of Metal than any of these cities.

Birmingham does have a really disparate history of bands and it would be better off celebrating the difference in these rather than attempting to a create an artificial construct after the fact.

I know this comes across as quite sniffy about something that was created through a lot of hard work and with only the best of intentions. On the plus side it did provoke me to think about this in considerably more depth than is probably sensible, so on that level it worked very well.


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