Thursday, 17 December 2009

2009 Part 4: Top 50 Songs

A few points:
1) Limited to one song per artist, to prevent those whose albums I've liked most hogging the list
2) Songs from 2008 albums that have been (re)released as singles this year have been included, unless they were on the “'08 Tape” (this is because I didn't do a countdown last year) and therefore because of space, I'm having to save Vampire Weekend's 'Cousins' for potential inclusion next year (as the album is are due early 2010).
3) These are songs I've liked this year and are listed in an entirely subjective and arbitrary way, existing more for me to make a playlist than anything else. Also, it's my list and I can cheat if I want to
4) This list was really hard to narrow down and lots of really good songs didn't make it. For some reason 2009 has been a top year for weird and wonderful music coming out of everywhere...
5) But still feel free to tell me what I've missed out or got wrong
6) Most of these songs can be listened to here, in a Spotify playlist

#50) 'Shut Your Mouth' – The Von Bondies
#49) 'Around The Bend' – The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
#48) 'Empire State Of Mind' (featuring Alicia Keys) - Jay-Z
#47) 'Sweet Child O' Mine' – Taken By Trees
#46) 'Soldier On' – Richard Hawley
#45) 'Be The One' – Jack Peñate
#44) 'Moth' – Burial & Four Tet
#43) 'Death' – White Lies
#42) 'Dominoes' – The Big Pink
#41) 'Rambling Through The Avenues of Time' – Flight Of The Conchords
#40) 'Journal For Plague Lovers' – Manic Street Preachers
#39) 'Stranger' – Noah and the Whale
#38) 'Knotty Pine' – Dirty Projectors + David Byrne
#37) 'Throwing Bricks At Trains' – Future Of The Left
#36) 'So Far Around The Bend' – The National
#35) 'Inaugural Trams' – Super Furry Animals
#34) 'In For The Kill' (Skream's Let's Get Ravey Mix) – La Roux
#33) 'Papillon' – Editors
#32) 'Relentless Fours' – Grammatics
#31) 'Untouchable' – Girls Aloud
#30) 'Lisztomania'– Phoenix
#29) 'DC Comics And Chocolate Milkshake' – Art Brut
#28) 'Let's Lightning' – Pull Tiger Tail
#27) 'There Are Listed Buildings' – Los Campesinos!
#26) 'Dog Days Are Over' – Florence and the Machine
#25) 'You Should Have Called' – The Answering Machine
#24) 'Sweet Disposition' – The Temper Trap
#23) 'The Kids Are Sick Again' – Maxïmo Park
#22) 'Cradle' – The Joy Formidable
#21) 'Hysteric' – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
#20) 'Molten' – Sky Larkin
#19) 'Skeleton Boy' (7” Version) – Friendly Fires
#18) 'French Navy' – Camera Obscura
#17) 'Oblivion' – Mastodon
#16) 'So Tomorrow' – Official Secrets Act
#15) 'In The New Year' – The Walkmen
#15) 'Spaceman' – The Killers
#14) 'Billionaires' – Your Twenties
#13) 'Resistance' – Muse
#12) 'Who Can Say' – The Horrors
#11) 'Desolation Row' – My Chemical Romance
#10) 'Criminals' – Johnny Foreigner

#09) 'Arcadia' – Ash

#08) 'Crying Lightning' – Arctic Monkeys

#07) 'The '59 Sound' – The Gaslight Anthem

#06) 'Dinosaurs' – The Maccabees

#05) 'The Fear' – Lily Allen

#04) 'I Never Said I Was Deep' – Jarvis Cocker


#03) 'Remedy' – Little Boots

#02) 'Uylsses' – Franz Ferdinand

#01) 'Don't Take Me To Space (Man)' – Brakes

Monday, 14 December 2009

2009 Part 3 : Top 20 Albums

If you've just joined me then welcome to Keep Pop Loud's End of Year Lists. My introduction is here and my Top 5 Non-Studio albums of 2009 is here.

Before you get to the list of my Top 20 Albums of the Year, just bear in mind that it's completely subjective and arbitrary. It's also just Studio Albums (in the traditional sense) that're eligible. Lots of good albums didn't make my Top 20, but I really don't see any point in listing all of them.

So... this is the Top 20:

20) MJ Hibbett & The Validators - Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez
Florence & The Machine was going to be taking this spot, but after a last minute re-think the spectacle-over-substance that is Lungs has been replaced by the latest album from Peterborough's greatest musical export. As always with MJ Hibbett albums it's the songs that really matter and similarly the songs are all strong and full of heart. In Hibbett's world you may be old and tired and wanting to go home or one of the walls of your house might have metaphorically fallen in but there's still room for anecdotal humour and everything will be OK in the end. Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez is an album as an advice manual, but it's never pretentious and for that alone deserves this place over someone who already has enough End of Year List accolades to last her a lifetime.

19) Muse - The Resistance
The weakest output from Muse since their début still has a lot going for it. The problems may stem from one adventure too many into pretentious (see the second half of 'I Belong To You') or the fact that a lot of the record doesn't really sound like A Muse Album, but there's no denying the futuristic R&B grind of 'Undisclosed Desires', the stadium rock-out of 'Unnatural Selection' or all-round brilliant single-in-waiting that is the title track.

18) Jack Peñate - Everything Is New
Gone completely is the Cockney knees-up pop rock of Matinee, and in place is... well Balearic dance grooves. In a move that should have been an utter mess Peñate salvaged his career with the most appropriate album title of 2009. With some deep set bass and all manner of instruments on the high-end Everything Is New became the soundtrack to the summer, helped immensely by brilliant singles 'Tonight's Today' and 'Be The One'

17) Maxïmo Park - Quicken The Heart + Future of The Left - Travels With Myself And Another
In their own rights Quicken The Heart and Travels With Myself And Another are excellent albums, yet unfortunately for both they've followed two of the greatest albums of the past ten years and don't quite live up to the standard set. Still Maxïmo Park's taut post-punk is pulled so tight and sparse that it's always in danger of breaking completely, and that in itself lends for an exciting listen, that the lyrics document not only the tiny crevasses of life but the massive spaces between these moments only adds to its brilliance. Future Of The Left on the other hand have pulled out all of the stops and created a monster of a post-hardcore influenced rock album that manages to be both passionate and menacing.

16) Super Furry Animals - Dark Days / Light Years
When I read that this album was going to be based around grooves and riffs from jamming sessions I dreaded what would come out. Image the delight I felt when it transpired that: 1) this wasn't self-indulgent waffle, 2) songs were not only present, but actually great, 3) there's a fantastic summery, blissed-out vibe that lasts the length of the album without growing tired, 4) Super Furry Animals had recorded their best record since Phantom Power.

15) Noah And The Whale - The First Days Of Spring
I'd be lying if I said that I expected a follow-up album from Noah and the Whale so soon after their début to be really quite good. Brilliantly, this wasn't a record that was rushed in a keen attempt to capitalise on the success of '5 Years Time' it was the sound of a heart breaking and a man putting himself back together again. Slowly but surely Charlie Fink used music for the age-old use of mending a broken heart. Stunning catharsis and the most emotionally exhausting album of 2009.

14) The Horrors - Primary Colours
If the return of Noah and the Whale so quickly was a surprise, the reinvention of The Horrors nearly caused me a heart attack. How any band could go from the hilariously awful garage-goth shite of their first album to a jaw-dropping post-punk-prog-shoegaze act I will honestly never know. In today's Twitter-heavy days any mystery in music is increasingly rare and that Primary Colours sounds so mysterious, dark and actually magical is a feat in itself. Then there's the songs. Blimey!

13) Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I've been largely in the dark when it comes to the blog-hype albums of 2009, but one that couldn't help but catch my ear was Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Without a doubt it's the most sophisticated pop album of the year and the best thing to come out of France since Daft Punk were at their peak. Cliché's aside this is just a really listenable record, going from joyous instrumentals to danceable indie-pop, and all with a stylish gloss.

12) Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
It's safe to say that Humbug will appear in the annuals of rock history as one of the great under appreciated and misunderstood albums of it's times. I'd love to say that I think it's a classic album and the Monkey's first masterpiece, but I doubt that it is – for the primary reason that unlike most 'classics' I actually get it. Gone is the dancefloor fodder band of boys, present in place is some men who know how to rock out and conjure a genuinely menacing atmosphere at the same time. No mean feat, and assisted greatly by Alex Turner's finest ever lyrics. He's practically a poet now – albeit less pretentious.

11) The Answering Machine - Another City, Another Sorry
There's no gimmicks here, The Answering Machine are just good. Listening to their fast-paced guitar pop I can't help but assume that these lads and lass have grown up with many of the same reference points that I have (Franz Ferdinand, Idlewild, fidgety-ness with the hometown) and somehow have articulated them into universal songs that reach for the stars. Not amazingly original perhaps, but straightforwardness can often be a blessing. In a year where decent new guitar bands have been few and far between I've taken The Answering Machine to my heart.

10) Art Brut - Art Brut Vs Satan
Album number three from Eddie Argos and co, and there's not really a lot left to say. I love Art Brut Vs Stan for the same reasons that I love the previous Art Brut records: the songs. Eddie always manages to bring a smile to my face and a spring to my step. Weather he's geeking out ('DC Comics And Chocolate Milkshake'), demanding tea ('Alcoholics Unanimous') or talking and talking about music ('The Replacements', 'Demons Out', 'Slap Dash For No Cash') he reminds me a little bit of me.

09) Johnny Foreigner - Grace And The Bigger Picture
My favourite musical discovery of 2009 was the début album from Johnny Foreigner, and truth be told, that may have helped Grace And The Bigger Picture climb a place in this countdown. Nonetheless it's a superb album in it's own right, with fractured sections of songs sitting jammed together on the same recording, it's energetic, sugary and schizophrenic in all of the right ways. Not as good as Waited Up Til It Was Light, perhaps but in giving Kelly a slightly larger role and with the use of recurring lyrical themes and musical motifs JoFo showed us that they were in this for the long haul, and before long are probably going to be one of the best bands EVER.

08) Sky Larkin - The Golden Spike
OK, so by the time it gets to here I have to admit that a lot of my Top 10 this year lacks a little in variety. What can I say, other than when given the choice I gravitate towards little-known UK based bands who write excellent pop music. Female members helps. Sky Larkin, therefore ticking all of the boxes here, put The Golden Spike out back in February and it's been on regular rotation since. Their early demos have been expanded upon brilliantly and the new songs sit well with old. In singer Katie, we've also got my favourite new vocalist of the year.

07) GrammaticsGrammatics
Such a wonderfully complete and majestic record, it's nothing short of astounding that any group could produce such a thing, never mind doing so on their début. As a four piece (including a cellist) they're able to move between glacial a'capella and juddering rock all within perfectly realised pop songs. Needless to say, it's not the most immediate album on the countdown, but it is the most special. Multiple listens reward as the layers of the song peel away. It's utter bliss and I can only assume that Radiohead wish they sounded like this.

06) Brakes - Touchdown
Brakes know how to rock the fuck out. Brakes also know when to play a country-influenced ditty about … actually, what is 'Ancient Mysteries' about? Nonetheless, Touchdown is the best album so far from the boys, and it's one we gave a proper review to right the way back in January. So there's not really any need to go into detail again – other than to say Eamon Hamilton fell in love and wrote one of the greatest songs of the decade ('Don't Take Me To Space (Man)')

05) The Maccabees - Wall Of Arms
After Colour It In blew everyone who heard it away, a LOT was expected from The Maccabees second album. Somehow they blew all expectations out of the water, creating a beautiful and soaring soulful album that really only has competition from Arcade Fire. Guitars, bass, strings and brass wrap themselves around stunning melodies and Orlando Weeks breathtaking vocal performances. I can only assume that everyone who's put Grizzly Bear's album high in their End of Year lists hasn't heard Wall Of Arms. It may only be Number Five here, but all five are so close that this could be Number One

04) Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications
The greatest ever singer/performer/pop star's best album this decade. Skirting knowingly close to MOR, Jarvis let rip with his savage wit on a thoroughly deserving target – himself. After lusting after girls twenty years his younger he calls himself shallow and a dinosaur, before closing with eight minuets and forty five seconds of disco. Nobody but Jarvis Cocker could make this album work and certainly nobody else could make it this affecting. More please.

03) Mastodon - Crack The Skye
Yes, a prog-metal album coming in at Number Three on a End of Year countdown on a Pop Blog. If I've complimented Arctic Monkeys and Super Furry Animals for creating a lasting and distinctive enveloping feel across the album then I'm pretty much fellating Mastodon for it, but believe me when I say that Crack The Skye is easily one of the all time greatest metal records. Sure, Mastodon have been heavier, and there's legs in the argument that they've had moments that are musically superior to Crack The Skye but they have never before created such a complete, thunderous, innovative, forward thinking and emotional record. Near perfection.

02) Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand / Blood
Do I really think that Franz Ferdinand's third record is better than the Mastodon album? Well, probably not but I have enjoyed it more. Franz will always hold a special place in my heart for changing the way I thought about music and altering what I believed music could do, and as such will likely always ride high in my countdowns. Slightly more objectively though, the band have really stretched themselves here by traversing from standard Franz-pop ('No You Girls') to live dance work-outs ('Lucid Dreams') via glam-ROCK swagger ('What She Came For'). Bowie would be proud. It's a classic in my book and perfectly complemented by the (also separately released) CD of dub mixes (entitled Blood) that give further evidence that these boys take influences from far outside the general indie cannon.
01) Little BootsHands
OK, so we know objectively that Hands isn't The Best album of the year. What it is however, is my favourite and subjectivity is the order of the day. Little Boots is a fantastic Pop Star in every sense and with Hands has released an album that encapsulates that as much as is actually possible. I've found it hard this year to put into words why it actually is that I love Little Boots' music so much, and therefore haven't written about Hands on this blog in any great detail, suffice to say that all of the songs are perfectly constructed – both catchy and with multiple layers and tracks of electronics and vocals, yet they never become cloying or sickly. In producing what is pretty much, the perfect contemporary pop album Little Boots may have just beaten Girls Aloud at their own game.

So that's the list of my favourite albums 0f 2009.

The list of the Top 50 Tracks of 2009 will be up in the next week or so

Friday, 11 December 2009

2009 Part 2: Best Non-Studio Albums

Firstly, if you missed it the introduction to 2009 is here.

But more (or arguably less) importantly; today marks the first of my Keep Pop Loud End of 2009 lists. To save blowing my load at the very start I'm beginning with the less than spectacular list of the Top Five Non-Studio Albums of 2009. Eligible for this list is any CD/LP/download release that, simply wasn't an actual album - so 'best of's, live recordings and compilations basically.

Here they are

#5: War Child: Heroes
Decent collection of covers with only one real dud (supplied by Duffy). The Hold Steady continue to pretend to be The E-Street Band on a cover of Springsteen's 'Atlantic City' whilst the two greatest highlights come at the end when Yeah Yeah Yeahs rock out on Ramones 'Sheena Is A Punk Rocker' and Franz Ferdinand take Blondie's 'Call Me' through it's paces in a live environment. The presence of Scissor Sisters also reminds us that they really need to get their act together and put out a new album.

#4: (500) Days of Summer OST
(500) Days of Summer will forever live in the shadow of Juno, likewise will its soundtrack. Nonetheless every song here is pure cinematic indie gold, combining legends like Doves and The Smiths with newcomers Black Lips and The Temper Trap whilst digging up the fantastic Mumm-Ra (RIP) and Hall & Oat's 'You Make My Dreams', which although cheesy makes us want to recreate the dance scene from the film.

#3: The Cribs - Live At The Ritz
The main event may not have been much cop, but its bonus disc showed that the Wakefield three piece (plus one) are strong enough a band to weather bad records well. Nearly all of their best songs from their four album career are present and in the case of 'Hey Scenesters!' improved by the presence of a certain Johnny Marr on guitar.

#2: Blur - Midlife: A Beginners Guide To Blur
Blur are easily one of the greatest bands ever to have walked God's green Earth and in a year that's seen so many greatest hits compilations, have provided us with perhaps the only decent one. Whilst I already owned many of the tracks here on their parent albums Midlife makes this list for providing alternate takes on 'Death Of A Party' and 'Girls And Boys' whilst giving me the chance to own classic lost single 'Popscene' on CD.

#1: Dark Was The Night: A Red Hot Compliation
Just nabbing the Top Stop over Blur, this Various Artists compilation showcases the best of the US indie scene with exclusive new tracks. A lot of the groups here were unknown to me before this and I can therefore thank it for getting me to enjoy The National and Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. The many collaborations here, especially the David Byrne/Dirty Projectors duet, also mean that there's so much to investigate and explore.

Coming next: the Keep Pop Loud Top 20 Albums of 2009

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

2009 Part 1: Introduction

There's many an account of the year that has been 2009 (with relation to music) elsewhere, so it is nothing that I need to go into here; suffice to say that in my view the state of the album charts (if not the corresponding singles one) has nicely summed up the direction that music has taken in this much wrapped up decade.

The most significant aspect for me to cover here, in my view, is concepts of how my listening patterns have changed across the past twelve months and how this has affected what I have been listening to. In this case the first half of the year was unremarkable in all but the fact that I spent it unemployed and therefore listening to more music than I have done in the past, whilst conversely being able to afford to buy less. Still, thanks to Spotify I was able to source out what it was that I actually wanted to be buying and conversely what was mostly hype or that could wait a few months. This extra time also meant that I was investigating more and more records that were released in the previous year and that had appeared on many 'Best of 2008' lists, and spending less time proportionally on current releases. (As a side note: had I known them when making last years list TV On The Radio, Friendly Fires, Johnny Foreigner and The Gaslight Anthem would have all made appearances).

Come the middle of 2009, I moved into a new flat with just the missus and started working. This has meant that I have much less time to listen to music than I previously was used to (both because of working and partly because of having less personal space) whilst simultaneously placing me near many a decent charity shop where I've been able to buy a massive amount of older music. It's been a combination of all of these factors that has meant that my short-list this year of my favourite records of the past 12 months has been much smaller than it was in 2008. Still, that's not to say that it's been a Bad Year For Music, on the contrary, there's many albums that I'm currently wanting to investigate but being limited in what I can by both time and money.

Through having less time, since moving, to listen to music I decided during the summer to invest in an MP3 player that could store my entire collection (having long overfilled my beloved 20BG Creative Zen Touch). This has meant not only my buying a 160GB iPod and therefore re-evaluating my principles regarding this (and following that many other music related issues) but converting my extensive library into MP3 (from WMA) through using different media software (Media Monkey as opposed to WMP). Further changes have occurred in that I once again own a record player (a Birthday present) giving me the chance to invest in more vinyl, both from the aforementioned charity shops and new 7”s.

The fact that my mind is now more open than ever to most types of music has had consequences. Namely, the most pressing issue on my mind the past five(ish) months has been my relationship with music and how it is altering as I age. Unsurprisingly, the recession coupled with the ever shifting and unpredictable nature of the music industry means that I am not the only one grappling with this. Further and better dissections of the tumultuous dialogue between fan and material can be found here.

What is funny is that in the middle of all of this I am contemplating on writing about how happy I am that the current UK album charts are showcasing such a variety of artists from all different eras and styles whilst I'm bombarded by all of them and wondering when I'm going to get the time to listen to all that I have purchased. I currently have, sat on my shelves La Roux's début album along with R.E.M.'s classics Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, none of which have been properly listened to but all of which I'm sure I'd love given the chance. Even more amusing is that I'm fighting off the itch to buy Paramore's Riot!, and contemplating if I can really put Beyoncé's cracking single 'Sweet Dreams' in my end of year list when I've no intention of ever actually buying it legally, be it on her album or as a paid-for download.

There's no real solution to any of these conundrums, especially the question of how I'm going to find time to listen to everything I want to whilst forming close relationships with all of the records that I know deserve it. And that for me is 2009. Fraught with paradoxes and overshadowed by the fact there's just too much music out there. Therefore the following lists (which will be put up across the next couple of weeks) are anything but comprehensive, contradictory amongst themselves, and my opinion only.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire - Part 3

The Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire may be a concept that's way past tired, but as an excuse to sum up the last few gigs of the year it's one that I'm sticking with. Don't worry; this time I'll keep it brief.

Firstly, I went back to the Harley in Sheffield (25th November) to see The Answering Machine, and their supports, whose names escape me at this precise moment in time. The Answering Machine are four young 'uns from Manchester and have made one of my albums of the year. Their Harley set put a massive smile on my face, especially seeing as I'd only found out that the gig was happening two or three days before it actually happened. I'll spare you any more details here, partially because I've already written it up 'proper' for This Is Fake DIY (follow the link to the review).

The main reason for this instalment however is the gig that took place in the Doncaster Dome on December 5th. Under the banner of The Cribs, and something of a homecoming gig for them (they're from Wakefield, so it's apparently near enough) with support from Sky Larkin, Los Campesinos! and The Slits. In other words there was plenty to recommend it. However, it didn't occur without it's problems. Being a sort-of-homecoming there was something of a 'local' crowd present. Of course, there's nothing wrong with the good people of Doncaster, but the crowd was comprised partially of closed-minded 'lads' of the type who would have been more comfortable at a sports bar.

Sorry for the stereotyping, but after a short but perfect set from Sky Larkin (the makers of another Album Of The Year) Los Campesinos! took to the stage. This vocal lad segment voiced their disgust that Los Camp! would dare to make music other than four-four jangle rock, first by making faces and later by throwing cups of water at the group. My blood was boiling by this stage and it was becoming difficult to take the lead band's advice and ignore the ignorant. Nonetheless, Los Camp! played a great seven song set, closing on personal favourite of mine: 'Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks'.

Next up was post-punk legends The Slits. The aforementioned twats in the crowd had decided that they didn't like The Slits before they even played a note, and as tools are warrant to do, they booed as soon as some forty-something women with dreadlocks walked onto the stage. It escalated from there with increasing booing from (and it has to be said) only a few in the crowd, and the throwing of more cups of drink. The Slits took it all and gave back as good as they got. Being feminists, and with a deliberately confrontational agenda, it was to be expected. The reggae influence of the group was a bone of contention for this segment of the crowd who voiced their disgust loudest when the band mentioned playing a reggae-punk number. Singer Ari Up told these twits that they were chauvinistic racists and once they finished their set she mooned the crowd. Feminists 1, Sexists 0.

Thankfully The Cribs set went much better, opening with one of my favourites 'The Wrong Way To Be' and including everything that I would have wanted them to play (bar the never aired 'You Were Always The One'). Whilst on record I feel that new member Johnny Marr detracts from The Cribs dynamic, in the current live arena he brings an air of utter cool to the otherwise chaotic nature of their shows.

It's ironic that the same idiots who booed the feminist Slits were singing along to the material off the latest two Cribs record which tackled the same gender politics: 'Emasculate Me' and 'Men's Needs' being prime examples. The band didn't take their own advice thankfully and the ignorant were chastised by Gary and Ryan Jarman from the stage. The message was basically “you're not welcome at our gigs again”. Well said.

Focusing on The Cribs set now though; highlights included a riotous 'Hey Scenesters!', bouncy classic 'Mirror Kissers', oldie (but goodie) 'Another Number' and of course 'Be Safe' which gives me goosebumps EVERY TIME. In other words it was great and shows that even though The Cribs latest album was, at best, hit and miss, here's a group that can weather bad records and will be around and strong for quite a long while.

And 'quite a long while', is exactly how long it feels that I've been stretching out the KPL Tour of Yorkshire for. There was plans to go and see Grammatics at the Harley yesterday (December 6th), as a nice, quiet little conclusion to the tour, but with one thing and another that hasn't happened. As such, the tour ends on a high note and a large scale and has, over the past eight weeks enabled me to see seventeen different bands (one of them twice) across five venues in four different towns/cities across Yorkshire. It's been a tiring and expensive couple of months, although sadly I've bought a pitifully small amount of merch....

Still, come back Keep Pop Loud over the next couple of weeks to see the End of Year round up where you can see my Favourite Twenty (or so) Albums Of The Year and my Top 50 (ish) Tracks Of 2009 along with some commentary and summary on the twelve months past.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Track Of The Week #7

Taken By Trees - 'Sweet Child O' Mine'

The KPL TotW is going to be taking a break for a few weeks so that I can, as tradition in December dictates, sort out the End of Year nostalgia-fest in the form of lists. Before that though, I'm going to leave you with this little festive number to enjoy.

Taken By Trees are fronted by Victoria Bergsman, who has emerged as one of the most distinctive vocalists of the decade, (first by fronting The Concretes and more recently providing vocals for Peter Bjorn and John's mega-hit 'Young Folks') and from the sounds of this track specialise in a rather pretty blend of folk and indie.

As you can probably tell from the title, this is a cover of the Guns N Roses track and words cannot express how much better it is than the original. It's much slowed down, understated and instead of Axl Rose's parrot-like warble we've got a delicate and heartfelt vocal.

Bizarrely it's soundtracking the current John Lewis Christmas ad campaign. Not sure when or if it's going to be properly released (beyond the limited 7") but it's probably the best cover version that I've heard this year.


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Track Of The Week #6

Vampire Weekend - 'Cousins'

The self-titled debut from Vampire Weekend took me a bit by surprise to be perfectly honest. Buying the album because of the infectious 'A-Punk' I didn't expect to actually love it. But lo-and-behold it made last years end of year list, just for being great.

Now they're back. Album #2 Contra is due out in the new year and following on from free download 'Horchata' is the record's first proper single 'Cousins'. Like an 'A-Punk' meets 'It's The End of the World as We Know It...' it's fast furious and sure to cause a lot of damage to VWs snares. The download is apparently available now, and a nice looking 10" is due to come on December 15th, which is something that I'll be ordering.

Is the last great single of the decade the precursor to the first great album of the next?

Possibly, and it's got a great video!

If you want some freebies then head over to This is Fake DIY where there's new tracks by The Futurheads, Blood Red Shoes and Hot Hot Heat up for grabs.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire - Part 2

The somewhat grandiosely named Keep Pop Loud Tour Of Yorkshire began again in earnest on 11th November and once again saw our fearless adventurer (that'd be me) venture outside of his adopted home-town of Sheffield and head for the wilds of Rotherham.

OK, so it's not that far and the quick car journey preceded us quickly finding the venue, that up until we actually saw it, had doubts over it's existence. Not that we didn't trust Ash, of course, it was simply because none of us found very much information about The Vault on the internet. Anyway: Ash. My fourth time seeing the band, and it was certainly the smallest venue yet (the biggest being when they supported The Darkness at Wembley Arena in '04), to the extent that the centre of what passed for a stage had a beam hanging so low that not one member of Ash could stand there. Furthermore, the central part of the room was divided down the middle by a ruddy wall, giving a somewhat unconventional gig set up.

If you've ever seen Ash at any point across their fifteen-year-plus then you'll know that they're a phenomenal force live and thankfully, since last seeing them they've ditched the backing sampler, for most of the set – which had been providing backing vocals, string sections, extra guitar bits and keyboards – and powered through a veritable greatest hits set as a three piece rock group. Having had such a tremendous career it's pretty difficult to play a set that doesn't miss out massive chunks, and although some great moments didn't make that Wednesday's setlist what did make it was very much the cream of the bands career.

They opened with the opener to their classic album, 1977, 'Lose Control' and followed it with 'A Life Less Ordinary' and 'Meltdown'. Now, there's a couple of reasons why I'm not going to recount their setlist, song for song (memory being one) but highlights did include 'Angel Interceptor', 'Orpheus', 'Oh Yeah', 'Starcrossed' and of course the Big Three: 'Girl From Mars', 'Burn Baby Burn' and 'Shining Light'. Four songs from the current A-Z Series were also aired, these being the first three ('True Love 1980', 'Joy Kicks Darkness' and 'Arcadia') and the forthcoming 'Space Shot', all of which sounded excellent.

Being such an intimate venue for a band that have sold a more than respectable amount of records across their time, the atmosphere was a little electric and the crowd varied. There's few bands today that seem to draw a crowd that varies from young teenagers to much older fans and includes such a high proportion of women. Also present, according to my eagle eyes (and double checked on twitter) was Subways bassist and all round indie goddess Charlotte Cooper. Phwar! Lastly, in case anyone is intersted; support at the gig came from Panama Kings who were definitely on the better side of average.

Although the KPL ToY was to take a break, it came to my attention that a certain Victoria Hesketh was to be participating in the turning on of the Sheffield Christmas Lights (22nd November). Now, I'm a Scrooge as much as the next guy, but if there's one thing that I cannot turn down, it's a Little Boots performance. Therefore imagine my delight when it also transpires that Alphabeat are due to be present too. It was poptastic goodness that even the bitter freezing cold couldn't scare me away from.

Before we got to the good stuff however we stood enduring local radio 'DJs', from the station that was putting on the switch-on as well as some less than brilliant performances. Mini Viva's generic disco-pop was inoffensive enough and preceded a partialy-mimed (as to be expected from this type of event) performance from a member-missing Alphabeat. The 'beat treated us to three tracks which were the underwhelming recent single 'The Spell', decent sounding newbie 'Hole In My Heart' and the chart slaying joy of 'Fascination', all of which featured live vocals and the epiphany that Anders SG is basically Michael Cera with a tambourine.

Finally, after standing though Beverly Knight (she sampled Orange Juice, apparently) and the token festive-ness (not a fan, on both accounts) we got our Little Boots, who as always was a complete star. Even though the lady was singing karaoke style to a backing track on a windy stage in front of City Hall, quite clearly not wanting to be there; she gave it her all. I've said before that Victoria Hesketh is a proper star and I stand by that after said performance. 'New In Town', 'Earthquake' and 'Remedy' are some of the greatest pieces of pop brilliance from the decade and they went some way to warming up a freezing cold Sheffield. It may have been worth standing in the cold for, but the cup of tea that was demanded upon arrival home was never more welcome.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Track Of The Week #5

The Gaslight Anthem - 'The '59 Sound'

I've talked before about how my relationship with music is changing, and for me the most alarming shift has been away from me forming close bonds with artists and records and more towards me listening to lots of music, a few times; ever expanding my tastes and collection. I've been searching for a way to rectify this, or to at least balance the two, and having come across some really good pieces of journalism recently happened upon one.

Over at Juggernaut Brew new ways of listening to music are being discussed and the solution offered is one that I've decided to try. You can read the entire article here, and it's advised that you do so, but in short this week I've decided to an extent to ration myself and let one album be the predominant soundtrack to most of my life, knowing full well at the start of this that it would be an album that I had every chance of really loving.

Therefore I've had The Gaslight Anthem's album from last year, The '59 Sound on repeat. And although I had already had a cursory listen to it when it first appeared in the missuses CD collection a couple of months back, since the weekend it's album that I've truly come to love. There's plenty of fantastic songs on there, all of them with a hefty Springsteen-via-punk vibe but my favourite, and this weeks TotW is the title track. It's highly emotive and managing to talk about death in an affecting and personal, yet universal way. Thanks to a re-issue earlier in the year this song is also in the running for this year's the End of Year list.


Thursday, 12 November 2009

Track Of The Week #4

Ash - 'Arcadia'

Another week another chance to see a band that I've loved for years.

Now, you may or may not be aware of what Ash are up to these days. For those out of the loop; they're releasing a new single every fortnight for a year, with these being themed on the alphabet and therefore being titled 'The A-Z Series'. As of Monday they've reached the letter C and put out the strongest single in the series yet; 'Arcadia'.

Sounding very much like Ash, 'Arcadia' also manages to pack in an understated electric piano and plenty of 'ooh ooh's into the backing vocals whilst the lyrics seem to tell the tale of The Odyssey with all of the usual rock n roll meets sci-fi imagery that Tim Wheeler excels at. Needless to say, it sounded very good in the confines of Rotherham's tiny venue TheVault (so small that bassist Mark was unable to stand anywhere near the middle of the stage, due to height reasons) last night.

'Arcadia' is easily one of the tracks of the year and if you've not subscribed to The A-Z Series then this should persuade you to part with thirteen of your hard earned pounds in order to get the whopping twenty six downloads. There's no video for this track yet however.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire - Part 1

It's that time of year once again: the leaves have browned and fallen, the only records that are being released are Christmas-ready greatest hits and reissues, meanwhile every band in the world is on tour somewhere, with most of them going through Yorkshire. This of course means that I've had very little time to sit down and listen to/write about music recently and more importantly it means that I'm very poor.

The Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire began a little under a month ago (October 12th) with a little warm-up in in Sheffield's The Harley to see Brummie fight-poppers Johnny Foreigner. Despite being based in Sheffield, The Harley was one of very few stops on the Tour of Yorkshire that is housed within the city. This gig would also be the third time that I've ventured out to see Johnny Foreigner this year, the reason being that since seeing them at Fuzz Club back in May I've very much fallen head over heels for them. Support at The Harley came from Mairead And The Voodoo Drive-Through, Japanese Voyeurs and Tellison who ranged from being quite rubbish (Japanese Voyeurs) to really rather good (Tellison) and got us all ready for Johnny Foreigner.

Being prior to the release of JoFo's second record, the outstanding Grace And The Bigger Picture, a decent amount of the songs played were ones that I was at the time unfamiliar with. Still we got 'Sometimes, In The Bullring', 'Eyes Wide Terrified' and personal favourite 'Salt, Peppa And Spinderella' from Waited Up Til It Was Light (an album which had I known, like I do now, this time last year would have topped my end of year list) along with the singles from Grace... 'Criminals' and 'Feels Like Summer'. The band were around afterwards and I would have liked to have talked to them but with having work the next morning and with Kelly, Alexei and Junior all looking really sweaty and tired immediately after the set finished I felt that they'd rather be left alone.

The next stop on the KPL Tour of Yorkshire involved us adventuring a bit further out, all the way to Leeds to see Los Campesinos! at The Cockpit (October 30th). The Cockpit is, as it turns out a decent sized and quite nice venue. Sparky Deathcap opened proceedings with some lo-fi acoustic music that gradually incorporated various members of Los Camp! into the performance, as they are apparently rather big fans of his (Gareth would later go on to sing his praises). Overall he was pretty decent, but completely blown off stage by Copy Haho who bought some frantic Hot Club de Paris style guitar work to a busy and quick indie beat. These guys pleased so much that I picked up their EP (Bred For Skills And Magic) from the merch stand afterwards, and can say that it's very much worth a listen if you get the chance.

Similarly to JoFo, Los Camp! were previewing material from their forthcoming album and also similarly they combined said material with all of the classics that you'd rightly expect from a Campesinos! Gig. As it was quite a while ago I can not remember the setlist as clearly as I'd like but 'Death To Los Campesinos!', the opening trilogy from second album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and of course 'You! Me! Dancing!' were given airings which the crowd enjoyed massively. The latter of course got the best reception, as to be expected from the group's most famous single. On a personal note, 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' was a highlight, being my favourite song from their catalogue thus far. The other major point of interest from camp Los Camp! (aside from how the new material is sounding – VERY GOOD) is that new member Kim Campesinos! seems to have gelled in the band really well, and despite suffering from Swine Flu at the time of the show fitted seamlessly into the group's set up and harmonising really well with brother Gareth.

Having to make the way back from Leeds after the show was a rather tiring affair and I barely had the time to get my breath back before it was time to head out to the next gig. Muse at Sheffield Arena (November 4th). Now, as I'm certain you can tell from the names of both group and venue, this was on a slightly different scale from the previous stops on the KPL Tour, and as I'm certain you can also deduce, was rather amazing. The Big Pink supported and were pretty good, performing in thick smoke and at the base of some towers draped to look like buildings. The post-apocalyptic vibe was furthered through the best lighting display that I've ever seen for a support band and the distorted electo-rock of the band themselves. The highlight from The Big Pink was arguably 'Dominoes', although a friend of mine would disagree due to the song being pretty much all chorus. Still, when you've got a chorus that good then you might as well use it.

There's only so much that I can really say about Muse that hasn't been said before, so here I'm going to have to resort to cliché and inform you that yes, Muse are the greatest live band on the planet. The aforementioned towers that towered above The Big Pink through their set were revealed at the beginning of the main show to be platforms that propelled the three members of the band skywards and it was on said platforms that the band made their entrance. 'Uprising' came fist and works brilliantly as an opener , it was followed quickly by the latest record's title track 'The Resistance' both of which were somewhat arousing. Throughout the set the towers containing the band moved up and down allowing Chris and Matt to move about the stage, at one point towards the end of the set giving Chris the time to get on drummer Dom's riser and perform an instrumental Drums and Bass jam whist said platform rose and span underneath them.

Another highlight from the set came when a piano was hoisted discreetly onto where Matt's platform was retracted in order for the band to perform 'United States of Eurasia' and 'Feeling Good' up high in the arena. Epic, it most certainly was.

All of the songs that one would expect from a Muse performance were played and the crowd was as electric as they should be for such a show. Pits were open for 'Hysteria', 'Plug In Baby' and traditional closer (and personal favourite) 'Knights of Cydonia' and a strange keytar was bought out for the R&B tinged 'Undisclosed Desires'. The only negative side to the show was in the length of time that it took to get the tram back into the centre of Sheffield afterwards. In other words, Muse turned out to be certainly the gig of the year!

And so concludes the first part of the Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire and the entirety of the Sheffield leg. The next stops will be in Rotherham and Doncaster and will be bought to you in due course.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Track Of The Week #3

Muse – Hysteria (Live)

Long-time brilliant three-piece Muse kicked off the UK leg of their Resistance Tour in Sheffield last night, and as you might expect/be aware, yours truly was in attendance. My second time seeing the band (the first was in the same venue about three years ago) was an infinitely pleasurable experience, with a flawless setlist and fantastic stage show that managed to involve more lighting and laser fixtures than should really be possible, even for a venue the size of an arena, as well as a stage that contained three moving sections propelling the members of the band skyward.

Muse is not the only fantastic show that I've witnessed in the past week (last Friday saw a trip to Leeds to see Los Campesinos!, but there's more to come on that) but is Track of the Week for the sheer scale of the event and band. The set included many highlights which could gladly appear as TotW but I've gone for 'Hysteria' for prompting the formation of a pit very early on in the set. The freshness of the audience was apparent due to the ferocity, and the lighting display was similarly energetic.

If you've not been lucky enough to catch Muse on this tour then it's very much possible that you've missed the live event of the year and here's a video that someone took of 'Hysteria' last night at Sheffield, just to make you jealous.

It doesn't do it justice really

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Guilty pleasures and paradoxes

I've never been a fan of the concept of a 'guilty pleasure'. There's nothing in my music library that I'm ashamed of, although this is probably borne of being a rather big fan of Girls Aloud despite otherwise 'credible' tastes. Recently however the concept of a 'guilty pleasure' is coming to the fore thanks to my discovering that given the chance I'm able to enjoy a much wider range of music that I'd like to.

This has come to a head recently after reading some of what Drowned in Sound Editor, Sean Adams, has had to say regarding pop-punkers Paramore. Looking upon his list of songs from the decade (as an alternative to the Pitchfork 500) I was a little surprised to see their song 'Crushcrushcrush' present amongst more KPL friendly fair, and later came across some writing of his elsewhere on the concept of music listening habits and identity formation, singing the praises of the band. Being as easily susceptible as I am I decided to look more into Paramore (ignoring Twilight song 'Decode' which I've long found boring) and I'm pretty ashamed to say that I don't actually mind them.

There, I said it: “I'm pretty ashamed”. So much for the concept of a guilty pleasure.

Although, it must be said: Paramore appear to be a highly paradoxical band. On the one hand we've got their obvious 'emo' styling, yet on the other the lyrical content of their songs veer towards the 'kiss off'. Tracks such as the infuriatingly catchy 'That's What You Get' emphasise this, and combined with Hayley Williams tomboyish yet attractive persona and delivery it's not hard to see how they're appealing to lustful younger lads and providing a strong role model for girls at the same time. Yet a further paradox comes in their staunch Christian beliefs, which is completely contradictory with the usual emo faux-bisexuality, which acts targeting this demographic usually aim for.

As horrifically shallow as it seems, I'm sure it's Paramore's emo-ness and tween fanbase that makes me ashamed to be admitting to enjoying their music. Although, when saying this I'm not making any claim that Paramore are in any way 'good'. Objectively, there's a same-ness to their songs which do all follow standard pop-punk templates with predictable drum patterns and guitars that chug in an non-threatening radio-friendly way.

If my refusal to accept that they are possibly 'good' is the product of some indie snobbery then so be it. But surely it's more important to actually enjoy the music than any of the surrounding factors that I've mentioned in justification; and if this is the case then I'll continue to wrestle with my inner demons in the same way that I'm having to with the prospect that I actually quite like some Beatles songs now. So much for identity formation through listening habits. Or maybe I'm just growing old...

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Track Of The Week #2

Pulp - 'Disco 2000' (7" Mix)

It's been more difficult picking a Track Of The Week this week, because although some pretty decent songs have caught my ear, there's really been nothing that's completely jumped out at me screaming and shouting “MAKE ME TRACK OF THE WEEK, YOU LITTLE FUKCER”. A couple of the aforementioned 'pretty decent' ones are 'Scorpieau' by Chickenhawk who are a bunch of noisemongers featured on the latest Dance To The Radio vinyl (reviewed here) and a solo track from Guillemots' Fyfe Dangerfield who has a solo album due out in January. Said Fyfe song, entitled 'Walk In The Room', is available as a free download here.

Instead, this week's Track Of The Week is 'Disco 2000' (7" Mix) by Pulp. An oldie, sure, but one hell of a goodie. Of course it's TOTW thanks to all of those 'quote twisting' reunion rumours that have been circulating, stating that Jarvis is reforming the band to play Glastonbury next year. As a massive Pulp fan and as someone who's going to Glasto 2010 it's easy for me to state that this would be an awesome thing. At this point you're asked to put aside your snide comments about reunions being contrived and just remember the brilliance of the band.

'Disco 2000' remains one of Pulp's strongest tracks, thanks to the excellent, emotive narrative and the underpinning disco beat, combined with that guitar riff. When watching the Pulp DVD Hits I came across this version that I was previously unaware of. Hearing the 7" Mix reminded me of hearing the track when it was released, as slightly different takes are warrant to, however, it's the brief spoken word segment towards the end which means that this has to be one of the greatest 'alternate takes' of all time.


Thursday, 22 October 2009

R.I.P. The Rakes

Today, after half a decade together The Rakes announced their split. I'm not one to write massive eulogies, but throughout their five years The Rakes soundtracked many a time in my life that it would be impossible no to mark their passing here.

My first encounter with The Rakes was through the singles released prior to their début album. 'Strasbourg', 'Retreat' and '22 Grand Job' were tremendous, attention grabbing shots of post-punk guitars and adrenaline. 'Ausland Mission' also stands as one of the greatest b-sides of the decade. Thanks to the British music press they had an awful amount of hype to live up to and thankfully, in 2005 released the brilliant Capture/Release. As you'd expect it was very warmly received by most critics, blowing the rest of the London rock scene out of the water. Tight instrumentation backed lyrics that detailed the claustrophobia and monotony of everyday lower middle class life in the big city. Closing statement from the record 'Work, Work, Work, (Pub, Club, Sleep)' remains one of the great pop manifestos of 21st Century 'indie' music.

Following Capture/Release the band released a brand new single 'All Too Human', which took the bands sound in a new direction, streamlining it further down a sleek angular route. It was around this time also that I first saw the group at The Leadmill in Sheffield. The place was thankfully packed out, in a way that few gigs these days seem to be and they put on a great performance. The sort that you only see when a great rock band are at their peak.

That's not to say that what followed was irrelevant. Second album Ten New Messages took up where 'All Too Human' left off, and was criticed in some circles for losing the energy that characterised the first album so well. Nonetheless it was a great record with many high points, not least single 'We Danced Together', and 'Suspicious Eyes' which encapsulated the paranoia and tension of post-terrorist attack London whilst introducing us to Laura Marling, as a guest vocalist.

Things went quiet for a while as they recorded their third album in Berlin, hoping to lose their London tag. In the meantime, singer Alan Donohoe managed to make both Groove Armada and Madonna look good by collaborating with the former on a cover of the latter's 'Crazy For You' for a Radio One covers compilation. Said, third (and final record) came out this year, and was entitled Klang. Easily their weakest it's still a charming and scuzzy little rock record, that shows that the group were forging their own path through lo-fi Cold War gutter punk. Seeing as the record sold badly it's no real surprise to see that the band decided to call it quits, claiming that they no longer felt that they were able to give it their all in the live arena in which they excelled.

The Rakes encapsulated their times in more ways than simply their lyrical dissections of their surroundings. A victim of the hype machine and the build-up/knock-down culture, they rose at a time when guitar music was at the peak of it's popularity and followed its decent into obscurity. As this decade closes, and a new one is due to open we leave The Rakes and hope to hear from their various members somewhere later down the line.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Track Of The Week #1

The Hot Rats - 'Damaged Goods'

It's new feature time at Keep Pop Loud, and seeing as all of the other 'regular' features thus far have been dropped due to either having nothing to talk about or my simply not getting around to writing ideas up I've decided to do something that I can keep an eye on. Therefore it's time for the first ever Keep Pop Loud Track Of The Week'(or KPLTOTW if you're heavily into acronyms).

A quick side note: the songs aren't necessarily ones that are new or due out around the time that they're posted, just songs that are currently in my head or soundtracking something relevant.

I'll try and get the post done for Thursdays, but this may occasionally change.

For the first ever Track Of The Week here's The Hot Rats' cover of Gang of Four's 'Damaged Goods'. As a huuuge fan of Supergrass, this side project from half of the band (singer/guitarist Gaz and drummer Danny) has come as a welcome pre-Christmas treat. There's a full review of the song (and it's b-side) here, at This is Fake DIY, and below there's the video for the song.

For a soundbite: it sounds like Supergrass covering Gang of Four.


Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #01

I've teased it out long enough and so today bring to you the album that I believe is the most underrated album of the past ten years. In doing so it also brings to a close the Keep Pop Loud marking of the passing of a decade. To anyone I've spoken to much on the matter this album may not come as much of a surprise as it's an album that I think has not only been criminally overlooked and underrated but is also one of very few albums that come to mind when I'm asked what my favourite album is.

Maxïmo Park – Our Earthly Pleasures

Our Earthly Pleasures, unlike most of the albums on this list was a big commercial success. It reached number 2 in the UK album chart (kept off the top spot only by Kings of Leon's third album) and on top of this it berthed four singles (three of which made the UK top forty and one the top ten), established the band as top in their class and ensured their long term survival. Despite this, and the fact that the album is beyond brilliant (think somewhere in the region of 12/10), it's fairly difficult to find that much actual love for it.

As usual NME were the worst culprits, saying of Our Earthly Pleasures “a big part of Maxïmo’s sense of mischief has also been stifled: entirely likable songs are slowed down to mid-pace and have had, you sense, had a lot of their more obtuse angles smoothed over”, which to these ears makes completely no sense. Rather, instead of travelling down the same path as peers Franz Ferdinand and taking a poppeir edge with a sohpmore album Maxïmo Park took a subtler and more edgy route, incorporating elements from various areas of credible art-pop to create a full, thrilling headphones album.

Where A Certain Trigger delighted in throwing the listener completely off balance with intellectual word play, jagged angular guitars and the completely unexpected 'Acrobat', OEP uses it's full range to ensure that it's the small changes that count: 'Our Velocity' is so tight it turns on a five pence piece going full throttle into the chorus; 'Russian Literature' pulls out a piano, marries it to Sonic Youth style guitars and plunges the whole song into a wormhole of frantic emotion; the string section in 'Sandblasted And Set Free' carries the songs but is easily put to the back of the mind from the strength of the vocal delivery; meanwhile 'The Unshockable' and 'Books From Boxes' stand out as being two of the greatest art-pop songs of all time, with the latter containing some of the LPs best lyrics: “Night falls and towns become circuit boards / We can beat the sun as long as we keep moving / We rarely see the warning signs in the air we breathe / Right now I feel each and every fragment”.

It's indicative of the British music press that a second album from a band is less well received. And yes, Our Earthly Pleasures may not be the sucker-punch of angular guitars and post-punk rhythms from the dark that it's predecessor was, but the craftsmanship evident, the song-smithery and musicianship means that anything, anywhere similar in vain, has a lot to live up to if it wants to be considered in my eyes close to Our Earthly Pleasures.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #02

Dogs Die In Hot Cars – Please Describe Yourself

It may not have gone unnoticed that I've made you wait for the final two in the series chronicling what I believe to be the most underrated albums of the past ten years, and instead of putting it down to my being busy if we could collectively reason that the gap has been for artistic reasons. To build a palpable sense of tension before discussing what is no less than a tragedy: that Dogs Die In Hot Cars one and only album has been all but forgotten by music critics and list compliers.

At the time reviews for Please Describe Yourself were lukewarm. None seemed to want to slate the record (aside from one NME writer who in a review of single 'Lounger' “hilariously” branded the record “dogshite”), yet at the same time most had their minds elsewhere. This was 2004, and as such it is understandable that attention was drawn to Franz Ferdinand and early rumblings of Bloc Party, and the underground being temporarily forgotten (the brilliant Ikara Colt released their fantastic second record around the same time and split soon after). Yet, Dogs Die In Hot Cars were managing to make a small commercial splash. Granted, at this time scoring a UK Top 40 Hit wasn't as impossible for bands as it now is, but this doesn't change the fact that DDIHC and their singles such as 'I Love You 'Cause I Have To' and 'Godhopping' for a brief time intruded on the national consciousness.

Oddly it now seems difficult to find people who remember Dogs Die In Hot Cars, yet those who do have always appeared rather fond of them and of Please Describe Yourself. At KPL towers this is a pleasing fact for the record is ten songs short and with each having a distinctive style and subject matter. Coming at a time before the term 'quarter-life crisis' was being widely used across the internet, Craig Macintosh's lyrics spoke of loneliness, insecurity of ambitions and achievements, of inadequacy and of an attempt to find identity and closeness. 'Glimpse Of The Good Life' is the epitome of this, a semi-sarcastic take on how we're 'supposed' to live, a snarl at those that practice feng-shui that depresses the deep set feeling that actually, we might be wrong after all.

Of course, if the album were all paranoia and insecurity this would be all but untenable. No, Please Describe Yourself sets this to a XTC new-wave bounce and Belle and Sebastian-like acoustic indie shuffles. To call it “satisfying” or “complete” would be accurate but resorting to cliché on my part. Nonetheless not a moment, nor a not or lyric is wasted and the record is essential for anyone who has grown up in the UK in the wake of the “war on terror” and increasing stipulations from up-high detailing what our successes, failures and lives should be measured by. That no follow up came is one of the worst musical happenings of the 2000's.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #03

stellastarr* - Harmonies for the Haunted

Of all of the music press' sales tactics that have been prominently seen through the past decade, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the hyping up of bands, only to knock them down again has got to be the worst. There's been too many brilliant bands who have fallen victim to this for me to name them all but it has to be said that stellastarr* have suffered most.

Their self-titled first record was warmly received, not least by the NME. Rightly so, as far as I'm concerned and on the back of it's release they managed to bag a support slot with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and make something of a name for themselves. Their second album, which we now concern ourselves with, was released in America a few months before we got it over on these shores and as I was going through a period of enjoying stellastarr* at the time I imported Harmonies For The Haunted. Having lived with the album for a few gloomy winter months I was horrified by the slating that NME gave it when it hit the UK in March.

OK, in honesty it may not be as good as the second Interpol record, which was released only a couple of months before hand and probably suffered thusly. Still, the record buzzed with a excellently executed take on gloom-rock, bassist Amanda's angelic backing vocals giving it a unique slant and the songs proving the title correct. Harmonies For The Haunted not only had a plethora of great songs but provided the basis for many a band that NME would later go on to champion (Editors, White Lies).

Since then stellastarr* have all but disappeared. Their third album seems to be out in the US but there's been no fanfare over it and seemingly no plans to release it in the UK. The real tragedy here however is that on this album there's some fantastic songs, namely single 'Sweet Troubled Soul' and my favourite 'Love And Longing', that simply haven't been heard by anywhere near enough people.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #04

Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip – Angles

In trying to put the (music) world to rights this one's a little easier. On release people either 'got' Angles, or they didn't. Those that got it made note of spokes-person Scroobius Pip's wordplay, even if they criticised le Sac's lo-fi, scratchy, electronics. Those that failed to 'get' this album slated Pip's skills as a rapper and in some cases bemoaned the fact that he was white.

Where most go wrong with Angles is approaching this as a rap album. It's not. It's really not. (Un)spoken word, is what Mr. Pip calls it, but spoken word is probably better. I can understand why it might get mistaken for rap – some of the narration is sped up and is backed by what can loosely be described as beats, but although it's nearest contemporary is The Streets this is something else completely.

If I'm honest, said 'beats' – le Sac's backing – aren't that great. But like Art Brut in their early stages, that's not important, what is important is what's being said. Thankfully what's being said on Angles is poetic, affecting and occasionally hilarious. Housing a hit single ('Thou Shalt Always Kill') could have been a burden for Angles, but there is much more here to carry it past that. One listen to fractured love song 'Look For The Woman', the goosebump-inducing title song, cinematic 'Waiting For The Beat To Kick In...' or 'Tommy C' - a documentation of beauty - should convince anyone with a soul that this album is worth it's time and weight in gold.

As far as pop music goes, Angles is solid gold. Just please, give it a listen.