The Video Bin 6: A Fahrenheit 55 Special

For my first Video Bin since the prolonged hiatus, I have decided to dip into a particularly limited pool of videos, artists whom I have seen live at Guildford’s Fahrenheit 55. I thought this would make a nice celebration/appreciation of the Wednesday acoustic night that is run there, and a note of the quality of act that plays. Alas, they have yet to book The National for an intimate performance, but I am convinced that it won’t be long until they play the hallowed Strangers On A Train night.

If you’re in Guildford on a Wednesday don’t you dare miss it. And get yourself 3 for 2 on cocktails while you’re at it. Fahrenheit 55.

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Mark Aaron James – Goths Of Summer

To kick things off, here is the first artist I saw headline at Fahrenheit, Mark Aaron James, aka The American With The Permanent Smile. You would think that his desire to dip into unusual subjects to fuel his lyrics (see Kleptomaniac Girlfriend, Aquaman’s Lament) would grate, but it never does. MAJ is too joyous and constantly surprising with his choice of subject matter for it to seem gimmicky. Alas, much of his time is spent in America, so Guildford does not host him too often, but when they do it is always a special night. Happy to perform an acoustic cover of “Don’t Stop Believing”, no matter how drunkenly it is requested.

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Kid Adrift – Oxytocin (Chemical Soup)

So admittedly it is only keyboardist Becky Woolls that has appeared at Fahrenheit, armed with the kind of keyboard skills, unhinged vocals and unique lyrical content that bares comparison to Joanna Newsom, but I would feel badly about myself if I didn’t share this particular tune. Having just headlined the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury, Kid Adrift very much have upward momentum at the moment, their spectacular mixture of estranged electronics and angered vocals can be found on the Oxytocin EP, released July 12th. For now, just enjoy the title track from that EP, and try not to get as addicted to it as I am.

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Byron Johnston – Mia Rumba

Aside from being perhaps the most skilled guitarist I have ever seen, Byron Johnston also helps out as sound engineer at Fahrenheit, even offering to fill half-hour gaps if people have dropped out at the last moment. His skill is mesmerising, moving fluidly between pop covers, flamenco and world music, and slide blues as and when appropriate. He recently, for the first time, played the headline at Fahrenheit, along with the astounding vocals of Randolph Matthews (see below). This is the only video I have of an artist actually playing at Fahrenheit, and it’s a truly astounding performance, as always.

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Randolph Matthews

An album between Randolph Matthews and Byron Johnston is in the works, purpotedly coming out “soon” (see, never say I don’t bring you exculsives). Their collabaration, which unfortunately there seem to be no videos of, is perhaps my favourite set I’ve seen at Fahrenheit. The day a hard copy of their song “Light The Flame” becomes available will be the day I am truly happy. Here I’ve decided to put an intervie which contains clips of Matthews’ music, because it’s rare for me to find a video where an artist is so welcome to give an insight into their music.

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Love.Stop.Repeat – Pillow

Bringing a special aura to Fahrenheit, Love.Stop.Repeat’s magical performances must surely be put down to the amazing Lindsay West, whose vocals could best be described as a soothing combination of Feist and Beth Gibbons.

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I have to, finally, give a massive thanks to Andy “Panpipe” Vale, who as far as I’m aware makes the majority of this possible. If you told me there’s a harder working guy with a better taste in music than Andy in Guildford, I wouldn’t believe you, because there isn’t. Check out the website, check out the Facebook Group, and if you’re in Guildford on a Wednesday night and don’t go, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to the consider the possibility that you fail at life.

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The Wednesday Countdown: 2010 Update

A nice relaxed return to my Wednesday Countdowns, this is my favourite twenty songs from albums released in 2010. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a very important and noble endeavour. No limitations on number of tracks per artist/album, so expect a tad of High Violet appearing around the nether regions of this list (or, y’know, the top 12 tracks being High Violet. Whatever).

Tracks of 2010 (as of June):

20. LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean

19. Joanna Newsom – Easy

18. The Tallest Man On Earth – Love Is All

17. Beach House – Zebra

16. The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio

15. Owen Pallett – Midnight Directives

14. Frightened Rabbit – The Loneliness And The Scream

13. Yeasayer – Ambling Alp

12. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

11. Broken Social Scene – Forced To Love

10. The Tallest Man On Earth – King Of Spain

9. Broken Bells – October

8. The National – Afraid Of Everyone

7. Beach House – Silver Soul

6. Laura Marling – Goodbye England

5. Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

4. Massive Attack – Atlas Air

3. LCD Soundsystem – All I Want

2. The National – Runaway

1. Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Co.

2010: A Year In Music Awesomeness: Update 2

There have been a number of events that have prevented me from posting recently. On top of the work leading to more work leading to exams, there’s been a number of personal troubles put to rest, and events attended. It’s important to note that this blog occurs because I want to be productive in times when I have nothing else to do. The lack of writing in the past 4 months is simply a sign that I have forced myself into doing more with my life, both social and educational, which has led to large cuts in my available time for musical writing. This is a good thing. Now that the academic year is over, however, I can turn my attentions to some of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time, and writing about music is one of them.

I’ve missed out something important. There’s another, more relevant, reason why I have not been writing about music recently. It’s because I’ve been too busy listening to the stuff. My God, this year has been good. In early February I was already pretty impressed with the year’s output, but since then it’s just kept coming. The volume of excellent albums grows by the week, both by established artists like The National and Joanna Newsom but also left-field, unanticipated acts such as The Tallest Man On Earth and Broken Bells. As with previous 2010 updates, I’ll try to keep this to a simple list of albums that have come out, with short reviews of each, followed by news on future album releases.

The National – High Violet

I would never be able to overstate my expectations for this album. Coming off the back of “Alligator” and “Boxer”, and with the likes of a QTV performance of “Runaway” and a Jimmy Fallon appearance (where they played opening track “Terrible Love”) to whet the appetite, it seemed The National could not fail.

And, of course, they didn’t. Another solemn set of indie-rock gems, Matt Berninger’s obliquely mesmerizing lyrics, (who else could mumble “I had a hole in the middle where the lightning went through, I told my friends not to worry” with such purpose?) and the reassuring pace provided by Bryan Devendorf’s drums are more than enough to carry this album into best of the year territory.

High Violet contains enough variety to keep interest throughout, unlike, some may argue, its predecessor Boxer, and it is also more consistent than Alligator, despite a noticeably weaker opening third. Where the album really hits its stride is in a run of songs from “Terrible Love” to the aforementioned “Runaway”, where The National open themselves up, delicately showcasing the emotions that connect them to their fanatic audience. Paranoia blending into fright as financial doom approaches (“I still owe money to the money to the money I owe”) almost as often as romantic troubles. Although don’t for a second think that Berninger has forgotten about the so-called Dirty Lovers, self-loathing was never expressed quite so effectively as on “Conversation 16”, again, you begin to wonder who else could get away with lines such as “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, because I’m evil”?

In all, a worthy addition to The National’s back catalogue, consistently powerful rock with overflowing with smarts. Essentially, everything you want from a new record by The National.

The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt

News that Justin Vernon will probably step out of the solo game and return to playing as part of a proper band mean that a solo guitarist with harsh tales of love and mournfully unique vocals need to take his place in the hearts of nu-folksters. Kristian Matsson, who goes under the name “The Tallest Man On Earth” despite being of merely average height, stakes a claim to be that person on this, his second album.

A fantastically consistent folk album, almost solely Matsson and his guitar, The Wild Hunt has a feel of classic Dylan, but also bares comparison to contemporaries such as Sam Beam and Devendra Banhart. There is a definite vigour to his strumming, he attacks the chords and the words he cries equally, and it’s hard not to align with his passion. Especially on the fearsome “King of Spain” and “Love is All”, which features lovelorn wails that not many folk singers would dare to put to record.

Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

On first listen, I was worried that 20 year old folk singer/songwriter Laura Marling had become too hung up on all the allusions made to her age after the success of her debut release. It seemed that the result of that was an album desperately trying to sound mature, lost in a middle-aged malaise that did not fit well with a voice as youthful as this. No doubt the songs are good, the title track, which also closed the album, features a vicious self-assessment (“never rode my bike down to the sea, never figured out what I believed”) and a haunting piano to accompany the normal guitar, whist Hope In The Air is another bleak piece of cleverly-worded down-tempo folk. However it seemed that the enjoyment was missing, an attempt at maturity had sacrificed some of the charm and informality of Marling’s first record.

Luckily, repeat listens revealed that it was still there, downplayed but nevertheless available on tracks such as the catchy Darkness Descends. It’s a consistent album, that offers a new side to the singer, which is welcome, but I still prefer Alas I Cannot Swim, a record which offered a better balance between playful and ennui.

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

It’s hard to write a mini-review about Have One On Me. It’s hard to do a mini-anything on this 3 disc, 120 minute goliath. Despite the length, it is less dense than previous Joanna Newsom work, and it is even possible to dip into single tracks, a thing that would have you accused of blasphemy and burned at the stake were you to try it with Ys.

The best way to summarise this album would be to say it contains a number of pop/folk songs, except seven minutes long, containing no discernible verses or choruses, and with harp being prominent. And with a skilled yet unique classical vocalist. So nothing like pop/folk, really.

Maybe the most important thing to take from this is that this album contains one of most unique love songs of recent years in Good Intentions Paving Company, and has been helpfully split into three separate discs that will not have to be listened to all in one go to be enjoyed. Other than that, all that can be said is listen to the damn thing. Only then will you understand why it’s so difficult to talk about.

Massive Attack – Heligoland

It’s tempting on parts of Massive Attack’s new album to ignore the music and play a game of “Which Special Guest Vocalist Is This?” This is as much a testament to the quality of vocalists on board for this album, Guy Garvey, Damon Albarn and Tunde Adebimpe, as well as repeat-offender Martina Topley-Bird, as it is to the music, which is something of an archetype of Massive Attack. What do you think of when you think of this band? More likely than not, what you have just thought is almost exactly what Heligoland sounds like. Not a bad thing, of course, but it does feel like the band are in third gear, churning out good songs that fit in with what is expected of them but without offering anything special to put this record in the leagues of Blue Lines and Mezzanine.

The only real exceptions are the Egyptian-mythology inspired “Psyche”, Martina Topley-Bird lullabying tales of an “old teal sea” as “the sun set a bigger me, and I was set to fall in” amongst competing guitars, and the closer “Atlas Air”, which is a conundrum, as it represents everything right and wrong about this album. Wrong in the sense that it is nothing we have not heard before from Massive Attack, all deep vocals and bass-heavy attack, but right in the sense that it is just so good.

I must reiterate at this point that there have been simply too many albums released to be contained in a single blog. I just wanted to make this note of all my favourite albums thus far (taking out Owen Pallett’s Heartland and Beach House’s Teen Dream for a second, I’d call those five albums my top five of 2010), and an Update 3 will be arriving post-haste offering my particular brand of bias on a number of other releases that did not hold my attention in quite the way that those listed above did.

News:

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (August 2)

A couple of weeks ago, amongst much fanfare, Arcade Fire announced the follow-up to Neon Bible, entitled The Suburbs (a play on the Neighbourhood theme that adorned funeral, perhaps?). They were even so kind as to offer snippets of two tracks from it. Eight second snippets, admittedly, but eight seconds that launched a thousand internet discussions.

Thankfully, Arcade Fire have filled us in a little more on their third record since then, tracks “The Suburbs” and “Month of May” were given a vinyl release, and two further tracks entitled “Ready To Start” and “We Used To Wait” were played by Zane Lowe just a couple of days ago. They have been warmly received, showing a refreshing variety and addictiveness lacking on Neon Bible, although at the moment few are expecting a classic in the mould of Funeral.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86 (June 28)

Not long until this is released, although a couple of months ago it seemed to be hearsay that it existed at all. Mount Zoomer was a step away from the universally lauded debut Apologies To The Queen Mary, in terms of both style and critical reception, and it is hoped that Spencer Krug will keep the theatrics to one side (ie Krug’s side-project Sunset Rubdown) on Wolf Parade’s third album, and return to writing the kind of emotional indie rock that personified their first release.

So hopefully this is the start of my return to writing about music. I certainly enjoy it, and this year’s albums seem to warrant it. If I can’t enjoy music in this golden period, when can I? Anyway, expect my return to the Wednesday Countdown fold this evening, as well as a 2010 in Music third update to contemplate albums from the likes of Broken Bells, Frightened Rabbit, Johnny Flynn, LCD Soundsystem and Broken Social Scene.