Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Fight

This is not a review, technically, its far too short and mostly scatterbrain. It’s also being written while I listen to the album, which some would consider a bad idea. This is just a reminder to people (and to myself, perhaps), that this is a damn good album. I fear that Frightened Rabbit have come around a decade and a bit too late, they would have fit in perfectly in the mid 90s, providing a compliment to the more swaggering BritPop that had emerged. Their music is softer and gentler, but it is more interesting and their lyrics subtly complex. Perhaps then they would get a little bit more of the recognition they deserve.

This particular album, their second, which was released in 2007, has enough variety to sustain the length, and although it seems to come alongside the current wave of indie-rock it seems to hark back to a simpler time. I am almost tempted to call the album timeless, as there on a certain level they engage in what the Coen brothers may refer to as “old-timey material”. The band seem to recognise this on the rhythmic “Old Old Fashioned”, where they call for “that soft, soft static with a human voice underneath”.

The self-deprecation shown on this album befits standard indie, but Frightened Rabbit are happy to throw a curveball now and again, the plodding lament “My Backwards Walk” suddenly breaks off into a quick-fire repeating off the line “you’re the shit and I’m knee-deep in it” just at the point it is least expected. The bitter lyrics are reminiscent of “Final Straw”-era Snow Patrol, as are the tortured Celtic vocals. Lead man Scott Hutchinson seems much happier than most of his rivals, however, to express self-disgust, referring to himself as a “cripple” and a “modern leper on his last legs” before the gorgeous opening track, “The Modern Leper”, has even finsihed.

Often I prefer albums which are sporadically excellent as opposed to those that are consistently pleasant, but I would call this an exception, it is refereshing that average tracks (in the context of the album) do not cause the album to lag or feel excessively long, and instead of putting filler songs near the end of the album, there are instead a number of minute-long interludes dotted around which are moodily interesting but do not ruin the flow of the album, and they are welcome.

So overall, this really is a very good album, and I almost feel like re-writing my Top 42 Albums list that I posted earlier in the week to reflect this. They really do a lot right and if you’re into a form of meloncholy but uplifting pop that provides both smart poetry and consistent quality you really should get this.

I’m changing all my strings I’m gonna write another travelling song

One arm rests awkwardly on the narrow ledge that chunkily surrounds the window. The other lies somewhere to one side, uncomfortable with lack of support and chrushed slightly in an attempt to avoid contact with the person in the next seat. The eyes look hazily out into the middle distance, vaguely trying to determine patterns within the passing blur of concrete interspersed with brief flashes of green. The legs doze lazily. The back hangs and sags, avoiding posture as if it were a common street mime.

But the ears, and the mind. They are busy. Whilst all other parts of the body are engaged in a haze of confusion as they undergo the effects of relativistic movement, the ears are converting waves propogating from a pair of dodgy cheap headphones into something else. The mind picks up this something else, and wills it to life, causes it to become an experience beyond its function. Suddenly, the sounds are special.

Travel seems to bring out my wistful side. Especially when good music is involved. I can escape from the world, cacooned as I am in a steel pod of motion. At the same time I can watch the world passing me by, and allowing me just a microsecond of judgement on each of the things that it contains. I combine this with the right sort of music and suddenly metaphors become inescapable.

So what constitues good music for travel? It has to be stimulating, to start off with. There are many tracks that work well in relation to their surrounding tracks, but often albums are difficult to enjoy whilst travelling. So we have to look at what individual tracks do, and those individual tracks must have an impact on their own. An ideal travel track must feel like an event, like a culmination of something. Intensity is important, and if some parts of the song feel climactic that is a bonus. There has to be something special in the air.

This is why closing tracks of records are often good for listening to on a train. “Wash The Day” from TV On The Radio’s Return To Cookie Mountain is a prime example, the clever instrumentation maintaining a mood best described as epic, and keeping the glorious experience up by eight minutes. It sums up what has come before it with grand, broad statements. Watching the world sweep past is not about small talk or inconsequential fleeting emotions.

I have tried to compile CD 1 (or playlist 1 if you’re all “Eww… CDs, go home Grandpa”) out of songs that are applicable to this sense of a large-scale event, so that while listening to it you will get a constant stream of intensity. The order is irrelevant, because the mood is by definition the same on all these tracks. Although seeing as it’s a compilation, there will be odd messed-up changes between tracks (although there won’t, because there is only one genre of music I listen to).

CD1:

Muse – Take A Bow

The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony

Blur – The Universal

Andrew Bird – Fake Palindromes

Neutral Milk Hotel – Two Headed Boy

Broken Social Scene – Lover’s Spit

The Decembrists – The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid

Arcade Fire – Wake Up

The National – Lucky You

TV On The Radio – Wash The Day

Modest Mouse – 3rd Planet

Mumford & Sons – Thistle & Weeds

Laura Marling – Your Only Doll

LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends

Pink Floyd – Eclipse

I have set up this “album” (which I shouldnt call it since it’s actually over 80 minutes long…) as a playlist on my last.fm account, so if you want to listen to it, all the songs should be at:

http://www.last.fm/user/TheCapu/library/playlists/3hv2h_transport_music_1 .

The other playlist I have relates to songs that are about travel, or at least have a title that allowes me to tenously connect them to a blog about travel for the sake of filler. Travel is often used as a metaphor in music, whether it refers to a spiritual journey as referred to in R.E.M.’s “Electrolite” with its cries to fly to Mulholland Drive to escape the previous century, or to a journey where some great event will occur such as Bright Eyes’ “Train Under Water”. It allows for the songwriter to tell a story, as it can track the middle between a defined start and end point.

Travel is also good as it allows music to express a desire for escape, Grizzly Bear’s “Southern Point” having a particularly luscious call for isolation away from the common problems of the world. Music needs to be able to offer some element of escapism, and without a metaphorical journey to take, how could one ever escape?

Even the vehicle itself can be used as a metaphor for grand themes. Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” closes with “In the Backseat”, where a car is figuratively referred to as a family tree, and as the leaves fall off, the people riding along in the backseat suddenly have to take over and do the job of their elders steering the car out of harm’s way. The beautiful song is ruined somewhat by an exasperatingly long outtro, but it still sincerely conveys how this journey of life and our travel through it is fundamental to our experiences, thus justifying this blog. Cheers, Arcade Fire!

CD2:

Grizzly Bear – Southern Point

The Guillemots – Trains To Brazil

R.E.M. – Electrolite

Bright Eyes – Train Under Water

TV On The Radio – Halfway Home

The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road

Bob Dylan – I Was Young When I Left Home

Radiohead – Airbag

Feist & Ben Gibbard – Train Song

U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name

Arcade Fire – In The Backseat

Tenacious D – The Road

Vampire Weekend – Walcott

Radiohead – Killer Cars

Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone

The playlist for this one is also on my Last.fm account, at:

http://www.last.fm/user/TheCapu/library/playlists/3hv7e_transport_music_2 .

So yes, next time you have a long journey and your mp3 player, why not give some of these tracks a try? They’re damn good after all. I think that was the point of this exercise.

Enjoy your journey, people. Because after all, it’s just a ride.

Top 42 Albums Of The Decade (42 – 26)

Well I was originally going to just do a top 25, each of which would include short reviews. But after doing so I kept adding albums and in the end I had something approaching fifty, which I then cut down to forty. The I increased it to 42 because… well… if you don’t know why, that’s your business. I won’t do short reviews of those outside my top 25, but here are the fifteen albums that didn’t quite make it.

Let me just point out this is my personal list, based on my personal feelings towards the albums and are completely unrelated to their influence, their general reception, and their following and preceding albums by the artist. So it’s more the 42 individual albums I enjoy the most that happened to be released since Januray 1 2000.

42. Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

41. My Brightest Diamond – Bring Me The Workhorse

40. Thom Yorke – The Eraser

39. Muse – Origin Of Symmetry

38. The White Stripes – Icky Thump

37. Kings Of Leon – Because Of The Times

36. Radiohead – Amnesiac

35. UNKLE – War Stories

34. Wolf Parade – Apologies To The Queen Mary

33. Damien Rice – O

32. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

31. Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Love Bad News

30. Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene

29. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

28. TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain

27. Andrew Bird – Mysterious Production Of Eggs

26. Elbow – Leaders Of The Free World

Oh… I’m sorry. I didn’t realise you weren’t interested in the albums placed 42 to 26 in my top albums of the decade list. I do apologise. Here, have some audience participation.

I’m compiling a record of “train music”, made up of songs that are either very good for long journeys, (specifically trains, as that is how I perform all my long journeys), or have the word “train” somewhere in their title/lyrics. I am welcome to suggestions for songs such as these that could be included on the album, which I plan on making a double CD, 15 tracks each. Next time I blog I will post the tracklist of said album, in the hope that you to will take it with you as a playlist for long journeys.

‘Til then, enjoy insulting my list

Shattered windows and the sound of drums

So I’m not normally one for paying overdue attention to the percussion. Or at least I, traditionally, never was. Guitar riffs and blaring tone, convoluted melodies and stonkin’ bass, these things always seemed to interest me more. More of a guitar hero than a drummer, and a mildly competent bassist more than either. Sitting on a tiny stool, back arched, hitting the same ol’ thing never really connected with me to the extent that running around a room playing the bassline to Paranoid Android did.

However, I cannot deny my appreciation of a particularly beaty song. There are some rhythms that do manage to over-ride my brain’s natural desire for riffs, and these particular percussive tracks I feel I must praise. So I have made a tiny list of a few of my favourite drummers, along with their key track.

Recall, I am not a man skilled in knowing about drumming, so this probably won’t turn out too well. Eh.

Band: Radiohead

Drummer: Phil Selway

Key Track: 15 Step

In Rainbows I like to refer to as Phil’s album. 15 Step is a rhythm I find impossible to ignore, the 5/4 overlapping of electronic and acoustic drumming plus the syncopated clapping will suddenly appear in my head at random moments and I have to start tapping a table just to get my fill. Radiohead’s dreary, melancholy image omits the skill of Selway’s drumming, and his ability to get a crowd really pumped if need be, and that’s a damn shame. I could name a few more tracks on top of 15 Step, the drumming on The National Anthem is particularly amazing at being subliminally dance-worthy, whilst There There exquisitely combines layers of forceful toms over the top of Selway’s snare-heavy beats. But I think 15 Step does an incredible job of putting the drumming at the forefront, and really giving the listener a rhythm to fixate on as opposed to the ordinary guitar lines.

Band: Portishead

Drummer: Computers/Clive Deamer

Key Track: Machine Gun

The whole genre that Portishead helped to cultivate, trip hop, would be nothing without harsh, sampled drums. Portishead in particular were at the moodier, darker end of the spectrum, and the drumming had to allow for Beth Gibbons’ tortured vocals while still maintaining a groove. It does so incredibly well, the drum tracks being addictive, but never overwhelming the other instruments or the overall mood (the likes of Mysterons particularly showcasing the talents of the multi-instrumentalists on board). But the key track is Machine Gun, partly because as the lead-off single from Third it had to showcase their new direction, mostly, however, because it’s just so bloody abrasive. It jarrs and catches, like rusty gears turning. It insults and degrades the listener and the music around it and it sums up both the title of the track it is on, but also the whole mood of the album, as it guns down all in its path. This is not your Father’s Portishead. And all the better for it, in my opinion.

Band: The National

Drummer: Bryan Devendorf

Key Track: Brainy

Go to YouTube. Type in “The National Brainy”. Click the first result. On 0:09 the durms come in. Punchy, complex, ever-changing, shaping and somehow improving the simple guitar and dull keyboards that back it.  By 0:24, when the vocals arrive, you are hooked. Or at least, you are if you’re me, which I’m going to assume you aren’t (dismissing temporarily the fact that I’m gonna read this back later). Devendorf’s drumming keeps the head nodding, keeps the audiophilic mind interested no matter what is going on around it. It dictates like good drumming should, determing when a song shold be urgent and restless, or when a track should be light and soothing. It needs to be experienced in good quality, so you can feel every effort that has been put into the pace of the beat. Apartment Story and Abel are also worth a listen to give an idea of how a reptitive drum line can inventively keep a song going.

Band: Bloc Party

Durmmer: Matt Tong

Key Track: Helicopter

It’s always good for a band who choose to seep themself in politically-charged music to really sound passionate. To sound as though every note is a rage against, well, whatever they choose to rage against. The anger of Helicopter would not be what it is without Tong’s insistent, quick-fire drumming. Nor would many of their songs be quite as skilled in relaying the principles of classic British rock without his two poweful guiding hands. Probably the main reason I put him here, away from the pounding scale of Banquet and the majestic sweep of The Prayer, is that during a gig in Atlanta in 2006, he put in a performance so energetic that he suffered a collapsed lung. That is the kind of rock drummer we need, one who gives so much of himself he puts vital organs at risk.

The drummers I have missed out (for there are surely many), well, they’re probably better, more skillful, have more enduring songs and rhythms, but I didn’t think of them first, so what of it? Nick Mason pounding through Money’s 7/4 dystopia, Dominic Howard telling us how to really showcase an epic album opener on Take A Bow, Dave Grohl feeling and feeding the angst of the surrounding instruments on In Bloom. You all deserve to be here. But sorry, I didn’t think of you first.

You must be a masochist to love a modern leper on his last legs

So I guess I should explain. I was going to give a detailed analysis of the purpose and importance of the opening track of a record. I then planned on giving my personal 20 favourite opening tracks. I did the latter, and not the former.

Also, only one per artist. Man it was difficult picking between Airbag and 15 Step.

Enjoy.

20. Kasabian – Club Foot

19. The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony

18. R.E.M. – Radio Free Europe

17. Damien Rice – Delicate

16. Frightened Rabbit – The Modern Leper

15. The Beatles – Help!

14. Jeff Buckley – Mojo Pin

13. Wilco – I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

12. Blur – Beetlebum

11. The National – Secret Meeting

10. TV On The Radio – The Wrong Way

9. Modest Mouse – 3rd Planet

8. Bon Iver – Flume

7. Grizzly Bear – Southern Point

6. Bright Eyes – At The Bottom Of Everything

5. Portishead – Mysterons

4. Radiohead – Airbag

3. Arcade Fire – Tunnels

2. Pink Floyd – Shine On You Crazy Diamond (pts. 1-5)

1. The Beta Band – Dry The Rain

I was gonna include links, but eh. You can find them on youtube, you’re computer literate.

But look at that top 10. Look at it! Ahh if it didn’t go against the whole “opening track” ethic I would totally make a compilation album from that.

Albums I “discovered” in the last month

Here is just an overview of my recent listening habits, in the guise of a few rushed opinions on some of the albums I have obtained in legal-honestly-completely-100%-legal ways. Firstly this is because at the moment I don’t feel completely sure of where this blog is going, and also because I’ve got into some pretty good albums in the last few weeks, so maybe I could do with sharing them. This might be a regular thing. If so, watch out for 14th November, where I will update y’all on what will then be the previous month, but is at the moment the coming month.

*Temporal-Grammatics fail*

I warn you these following views are very much hurried and probably will evolve into new views with further listens but I’m writing this post now, and I’ll post my current judgement, rather than an anticipation of future judgements.

Frightened Rabbit – Midnight Organ Fight

Frightened Rabbit are a new band to me, all I knew is that they were Scottish and critically well-regarded. They craft alternately merry and lovelorn music is coupled with the sort of intelligent, realistic wording that seem talior-made to compel me. The singer, who sounds like The Proclaimers if they lapsed into adolescent self-loathing. Its all very standard, basic indie-pop, but it comes together impressively and entertainingly. Somehow it sounds simultaneously like a lot of other bands, but better than these bands. It doesn’t actually draw on folk, but fans of folk would no doubt enjoy it, maybe because of the joyfully playful self-deprecation of the vocals as they contradict the rising instrumentation. The opening track “The Modern Leper” is a great place to start, compressing all that follows it into a single 4 minute lament of beautiful disgust.

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

I already knew that The Flaming Lips were somehow too distant from me for me to enjoy them. In a sense I am proud of my linear, blinkered taste (certain people like certain styles, what’s so wrong with that?) but I don’t like to completely ignore styles just because I didn’t enjoy whatever limited material of that style I’ve heard. And yet somehow this album gives me nothing. Yes, there are certain interesting hooks and there’s intelligence in the structuring of both the whole album and individual tracks, however, they don’t interest me enough to re-listen to them nor to be able to properly describe their quality. It’s a jumble of ideas that doesn’t connect with me, and it seems to be self-willingly removed from the listener. There’s a story in there somewhere, but it’s too hidden to matter.

Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

Highly anticipated (by at least one person) debut folk album which manages to work both on the basis of single tracks and as a whole. I am already certain that I will give many repeat listens to the bleak and brooding “Thistle and Weeds” and the highly-charged “Little Lion Man”. You could easily call it part of the wave of post-Fleet Foxes bands that deal in seasonal moods and harmonial bluegrass, but I really think this album is more intelligent, borrows from more complex sources, and in many ways is imbued with far more emotion than the average record of this style. The music is very crisp and doesn’t at all get repetitive, the vocals are passionate throughout and the songs are disimilar enough to keep the album interesting all the way through to the end.

The Avalanches – Since I Left You

Yes, I have already reviews this, kind of, in a previous post, but here it is again. Interesting ideas, just not enough of them, and to often a single piece of material is extended beyond its capacity, extended outtros blend into not just the next track, but all the way through it and into the next track, single static styles are held for too long. But the moods are sustained well, the techincal achievements are impossible to ignore and certain tracks, “Frontier Psychiatrist” especially, and just too damn addictive and inventive to ignore. The over-reliance on beats is noticeable, but the skill at applying them into the surrounding layers of music is admirable, and improves the album as a whole.

Modest Mouse – The Moon & Antractica

For me, this is something of a “wow” record. The album takes in a lot of grand themes, by the end of “3rd Planet”, the stunning, shimmering opening track, the Earth has been born and then destroyed. The album contains a lot of overly cerebral rock that defines all my favourite virtues in the genre I so callously refer to as “indie”. The guitars are there in a way that has an impact without them ever being particularly forceful on the mind. Lots of ideas are thrown around, fast tracks and slow tracks intermingle, rise and fall, and the album goes on the sort of evolving journey that would befit a concept album, but avoids the limitations that the plot of one would create. So many aspects work, the short folksy interlude of “Wild Packs Of Family Dogs”, the jovial repitition in “I Came As A Rat”, the dirty, pulp anger that vibrates throughout “Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes”. There is skill and deftness in quantity, and applied in exactly the way I want from music.

Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People

Yes, another album I’ve already sort of mentioned before. “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl” is a soothing, slowly-expanding glory, “Lover’s Spit” has melancholy scrawled over it in thick black ink but the sincerity of the words and the accompanying melodies create a mood that worms its way around the listeners brain way after the song itself has finished. Tracks are constructed by slowly adding layers around a singly droning hook and rising to clever climaxes. The drumming is dominant and yet do not dullen the impact of the light, soothing strings. The instrumentation is balanced impeccably to maintain a gorgeously soft and colourful sound.

Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

The closest to pop Wilco have been, the instruments do not lie in the forefront, and the tracks do not rely on interludes as much, but the vocals are competent enough to keep the album interesting. More listens probably necessary, as the songs on their own are far too light and uncomplicated (not necessarily a bad thing) to get too excited about.

I think I might go back to making lists. I really do prefer noting the quality of albums by ranks as opposed to words, even though I do have a love for words. I guess all the good words and phrases have already been used up, and I’m just trying to replicate the best writers in the sort of beautifully derivative way that has become so standard amongst amateur-music lovers that I am now, in fact, derivative of them*.

I’ll be back next time with my favourite opening tracks of all time. These will not come with descirptions or reviews, but instead with links to their last.fm page because, dammit, I refuse to stop advertising that excellent site.

*This clearly makes me meta-derivitive, or, for those of you skilled in maths, I = d2x/dt2, where I is equal to me, t is equal to time and x is equal to original writing.

Nothing can touch us my love

This is nothing like it was in my room

In my best clothes

Trying to think of you

This is nothing like it was in my room

In my best clothes

The English are waiting

And I don’t know what to do

In my best clothes

This is when I need you

The English are waiting

And I don’t know what to do

In my best clothes

I’m the new blue blood

I’m the great white hope

I’m the new blue blood

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over

I wish that I believed in fate

I wish I didn’t sleep so late

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I’m the new blue blood

I’m the great white hope

I’m the new blue blood

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over

I wish that I believed in fate

I wish I didn’t sleep so late

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I’m the new blue blood

I’m the great white hope

I’m the new blue blood

I won’t fuck us over

I’m Mr. November

I’m Mr. November

I won’t fuck us over