Day 8 – Perfectly closes an album

The natural companion to yesterday’s song, closing an album is important firstly so that a lasting impression of the album is left in the listener’s mind after it has reached its conclusion, and also to give a sense of finality that lazy bands who think the second half of an album is for filler and filler alone cannot hope to acheive. It has a very important role to play, and as an opening track is the birth of an album, so the last track is the death. And death is so much more exciting than birth, don’t you think?

Bon Iver – Re: Stacks

Moby called this the best song of the 00s. This is all the reason you need for my selection.

The Wednesday Countdown: Anti-Valentine’s Day

As you have presumably noticed, the annual government-approved, socially-acceptable day to celebrate an invented emotion designed to provide a suitable excuse for the carnal desires of a supposedly advanced species occured on Sunday. And now, more than ever, the Anti-Valentine’s Day brigade is in full force to oppose this. Maybe in my younger years I would have jumped on this growing bandwagon, but right now it seems fruitless. For a start it smacks of jealousy, which I am not averse to, of course, but mostly it just seems to be another recepticle for the over-reaction of a group of people to anything that they deem as slightly wrong. God forbid your personal opinion is not properly represented in the angriest and least productive way possible!

Anyway, my point is, the best way to spend a proper Anti-Valentine’s Day is not to get in the way of your coupled friends, nor to join Facebook groups pronouncing your hatred of 14th February. Instead, the time should be spent wallowing in the best that the music world has to offer in anti-love, rejection, romanticized pain, etc. One song per artist, of course, these are my favourite sentimentality-deviod love tracks. Some of them aren’t even depressing!

Top 10 Anti-Love Songs:

10. Bright Eyes – Lua

9. Muse – Falling Away With You

8. Frightened Rabbit – My Backwards Walk

7. REM – The One I Love

6. Thom Yorke – Skip Divided

5. Blur – Beetlebum

4. Damien Rice – The Blower’s Daughter

3. The National – Available

2. Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees

1. Bon Iver – Skinny Love

Disclaimer: All these choices are anti-love songs IN MY OPINION. You may consider these songs to be truly sentimental and beautiful, but I often take the completely wrong meaning from songs based on my own experiences, and I plan on continuing to do so for many years to come. So don’t try and stop me.

(This will be the last post I make for some time, I imagine. I am taking a hiatus from using this blog, partly because I am aware it comprises almost entirely of lists, partly because I wanted an opportunity to use the word “hiatus”. I promise I will at least try and write a review of the Mumford & Sons gig which I am seeing on 12th March, but it seems unlikely that I will be doing much on here between now and then. Maybe posting a video bin or two. I don’t want to give up completely on this blog but I have accepted that I’m starting to run on empty.)

The Wednesday Countdown: Post-Millennial Post-Party

The end of the end. A final track is always important, it can define whether an album starts well but falls into mediocrity, or whether it is consistent throughout. It also assists stepping an album up from being merely good to being great. The best closing tracks will offer a climax that makes the whole feel like an event, as well as working within their own right. They have to properly end the album, so as to make it the cohesive, accomplished whole many artists crave to create. A closing track that encourages the listener to go back to the start for another listen is always welcome.

My criteria here is that the song is a combination of three things, a good song in its own right, a track that sufficiently closes the album (thus the final 30 seconds are key) but it most also appear to raise the level of the rest of the album that has preceded it. I’ve decided that for starters I will make a list just of songs from 00s albums, and will maybe work my way backwards in the coming weeks. And, as ever, only one track per artist.

Top 10 Album Closers Of The 00’s

10. Fleet Foxes – Oliver James

9. My Morning Jacket – Dondante

8. My Brightest Diamond – Workhorse

7. Thom Yorke – Cymbal Rush

6. LCD Soundsystem – New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

5. Laura Marling – Your Only Doll (Dora)

4. Radiohead – A Wolf At The Door

3. The National – Mr. November

2. Bon Iver – RE: Stacks

1. Portishead – Threads

The Video Bin

So yes, here be the first post I’ve made in 2010, and I promise you that from here on in, now that we have rid ourselves of the chains of end-of-decade lists, there will be more album reviews, more musical discussion and less faffing about with numbers. That, I think, is my New Year resolution.

For now, however, I am dropping some all-new videos into The Video Bin for your consumption. After the excesses of Christmas and the New Year, consider this treat to be the wafer-thin mint that finally finishes you off. Enjoy.

Things I have managed to conclude this morning:

  • Slightly undercooked sweet potato is surprisingly delicious.
  • C++ is not for the faint-hearted.
  • The Predator-Prey Model is actually quite interesting, given that it displays yet another way in which maths is intrinsically built into nature.
  • Re: Stacks is the best song on “For Emma, Forever Ago”, and Moby’s seemingly crazy claim that it is the track of the decade is starting to look awfully prescient.
  • I am in a playful mood.

Videos:

Was the Daytrotter session I posted a while back not good enough for you? Then after going to the doctor to fix your chronically high standards, check out this superb video where you can see Justin Vernon’s passion as well as hear it. Still waiting on news about the 2nd album, Mr. Vernon.

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Not the best quality recording for this one, but it does still show off Yeasayer at their best, seamlessly combining addictive pop with interesting, creative  sounds. The cry of “stick up for yourself, son” is still bouncing round my head, the sort of hook that multi-platinum pop super-producers wish they had. And I want that fretless bass. I want it more than I’ve ever wanted anything else in my life.

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I love Matt Berninger’s voice, but I will admit he doesn’t get many opportunities to show it off. Generally he is required to be two-tone, switching between a flatline baritone and a screaming breakdown where the instrumentation demands. But here, on one of my favourite songs by The National, he is immense. Backed by a single guitar he carries every syllable effortlessly. He also looks like David Thewlis.

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Not sure why I love Neil Young. But I do. So here he is.

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A sign of things to come? We sure hope so. A lament for the unseen beauty of England, even with just an acoustic guitar for accompaniment, you can hear the rising mood, the snow becoming a snowstorm. A song for all seasons, but one that crystallises to perfection when listened to during the coldest one. Not sure about the hair though.

Daytrotter, daytrotter, yeah

The Internet is an amazing place. I can safely say I’ve spent far too much of the last couple of years on music websites, listening to or downloading random songs. And somehow, in all that time, the Internet still has a few tricks up its sleeves. I stumbled this morning upon Daytrotter.com , which happily confesses to being “a recording studio with a website.” They regularly invite up-and-coming artists to record there, and then put the results for free download on the website,  a new band every day. Just in the last few weeks live songs have appeared on Daytrotter from the likes of Frightened Rabbit, The Antlers, Gary Jules, Kris Kristofferson, Wavves and Neon Indian, as well as music from more unheard musicians that are hoping to get a little more recognition.

Immediately I have to applaud both the concept and the motive of the website. Clearly they are working for the fans, which should in itself be admirable in overly-commerical times, and it seems that everybody benefits from the set-up, listeners are treated to live performances from their favourite bands, bands get a platform for their music and Daytrotter themselves get to show off how good they are at recording live bands, which they are very good at, it should be pointed out.

Daytrotter earn their indie stars by championing a pre-Yellow House Grizzly Bear and showcasing Fleet Foxes in between their EP and album release. They use this well to attract the likes of Andrew Bird, Spoon and The National. Perhaps my favourite set is by Bon Iver (the four songs and article can be found here ), and it perfectly illustrates the many good points of Daytrotter. As well as providing amazing music by talented artists, and inviting the listener to find out more, it also gives a very nice medium between the artist and their fans. Each track has a short paragraph written by the performer, just to give them that small extra bit of information that no super-fan can do without. Alongside the occasional interview and the user comments section, this website really seems to be able to provide everything. And its left me wishing Bon Iver would do a UK tour soon (his voice is just heavenly live. I have no idea how he keeps up the falsetto all the way through RE: Stacks, but it is incredible).

So yes, I may be late to discovering this site, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to make the same mistake as I. Go check it out!

Top 42 Albums Of The Decade (10 – 6)

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10.

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver - For Emma Forever Ago

Length: 37 minutes

Key Tracks: Skinny Love, Flume, Re: Stacks

Lyrical Quality: 4.5 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.6 / 5

Track Quality: 4.1/ 5

Album Quality: 4.3 / 5

Total: 17.5 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days

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9.

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Length: 51 minutes

Key Tracks: Jesus Etc., I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Radio Cure

Lyrical Quality: 4.5 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.4 / 5

Track Quality: 4.2/ 5

Album Quality: 4.7 / 5

Total: 17.8 / 20

Recommended Albums:

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

Pavement – Slanted & Enchanted

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8.

Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

Bright Eyes - Im Wide Awake Its Morning

Length: 45 minutes

Key Tracks: Lua, At The Bottom Of Everything, First Day Of My Life

Lyrical Quality: 4.6 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.5 / 5

Track Quality: 4.4/ 5

Album Quality: 4.4 / 5

Total: 17.9 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Elliot Smith – Either/Or

Monsters Of Folk – Monsters Of Folk

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7.

TV On The Radio – Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes

TV On The Radio - Desperate Youth Bloodthirsty Babe

 

Length: 47 minutes

Key Tracks: Ambulance, The Wrong Way, Dreams

Lyrical Quality: 4.6 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.7 / 5

Track Quality: 4.6/ 5

Album Quality: 4.1 / 5

Total: 18.0 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

Dirty Projectors – Rise Above

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6.

The National – Boxer

Th National - Boxer

Length: 43 minutes

Key Tracks: Brainy, Apartment Story, Fake Empire

Lyrical Quality: 4.8 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.4 / 5

Track Quality: 4.6/ 5

Album Quality: 4.4 / 5

Total: 18.2 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy

Manic Street Preachers – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours

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Top 5 tomorrow, and after that I shall be forced to return to band profiles, condensed album reviews, music-based ranting and less comprehensive lists. Also, my “albums I recently discovered (Mid Oct – Mid Nov)” arrives next Saturday.

I’m building a still to slow down the time

Recently I purchased Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank EP” from my local Independent Compact Disc store. The title track is a charming lullaby, with Justin Vernon’s typical harmonious vocals rising above the soft instrumentation. The rest of the disc doesnt live up to this highlight, offering up moody, ambient folk with indeterminable lyrics. The words imprinted on the inside of the album case are necessary for the ethereal, vocoder-tinged “Woods”, which rises and falls nicely but without much effect. It has a sensuous feel to it, and a lot of ingenity when it comes to the use of the vocals. But compared to “For Emma, Forever Ago”, the EP’s companion album which it stylistically it is much similar to, it is weaker, and seems to lack any purpose.

After the 16-minute, 4 song collection had finished, I began to ponder not the quality of “Blood Bank”, which is undeniable, but the point. Is the EP a valid way of releasing music? Is it necessary to have something that sits on the fence between an album and a single? An EP is made up, presumably, from songs cut from the main album, in this case from “For Emma, Forever Ago”. I understand the purpose of an EP when used by unsigned bands to attract attention and hopefully finance a full-length equivalent, but “Blood Bank” was released a good eight months after the album. Why would any tracks that had fallen out of favour during the album sessions be used on a mid-length record, when they would make perfectly acceptable B-sides to any singles, or even saved for the next album.

I put on the Fleet Foxes EP, “Sun Giant”, to see if that would enlighten me any further. It does much the same job as “Blood Bank”, it accompanies an album, but without providing much reason as to its existence. I appreciated the quality, but in comparison to the album, the EP did not seem a worthwhile venture.

I quickly realised that this was what had prevented me seeing the purpose behind EP releases. I made needless comparisons with whatever album had been released in sync with it, and presumed that the EP should serve the same purpose as the album. I shifted my perpective, seeing EPs not as half-hearted attempts to create a microcosm of their accompanying record, but instead as a bonus, a reward offered to loyal fans. The audience benefits because every new piece of material they can find on their favoured artist is worth investing in, no matter what manner it is released in.

Of course, at this stage, you may think that excess material should be added to singles, which still benefits the fans whie at the same time being a more widespread release than an EP. However, if you look at the current trend of downloads, singles are starting to become just that, a single track. So perhaps the best way for an artist to release material safe in the knowledge it will get listened to is through an EP. Another argument would be that it can simply be attached to the end of an album, as a bonus track or hidden on the depths of a song. This leads to excessive, overlong albums, or sometimes albums which have inconsistant rhythm. To showcase music without upsetting an album’s mood it cannot crudely be pasted into the middle of an album.

So in terms of length and purpose, EPs deserve their existence, in principle at least. But do they justify it in practice? For definitive proof that the answer is a wholesome “Yes!”, I refer to The National’s “Cherry Tree EP”. Released a few months after their second album, “Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers”, it contained six new tracks and a live version of one from Sad Songs. Another song from it, “All The Wine”, was eventually placed on their next album after good fan reception. This successful experiment would on its own validate the release of the EP (“All The Wine” truly is a beautiful ode to the feeling of immortality that is bestowed upon the severely inebriated), but it has so much more to offer than just that. The opener “Wasp Nest” is melancholy, with The Nationals trademark baritone vocals and slight, arpeggiated guitars framing subtle lovelorn lyrics. The title track is paranoia-laced, filled with droning guitars and slowly rising percussion. The live track, “Murder Me Racheal”, is a stunning frenzy of anger and ill-treated violins. It even has a minor form of experimentation, with the final track being nothing like what is commonly thought of as The National material, elegantly moving as it does at a zimmerframe pace, multiple strained vocal lines sluggishly crawling along parallel to loose guitar strumming, never seeming to go anywhere, but never really needing to. There is so much enjoyable material coming from this that would have been missed had The National decided that they were above EP releases.

Anyway, I’m not sure if I exactly proved the case for EPs as short as “Blood Bank”, but when I listen to “Cherry Tree” I know for sure that EPs are a very strong method for artists to not only getting extra music out to fans without spoiling albums, but also to test out new styles and to make points that could not be made on an album or as a lone B side.

(Obligatory Pitchfork-list update: Portishead’s Third came in at No. 71. I am agape).

(Obligatory My-list update: I have a list of my top 34 albums of the decade, alongside a list of 10 albums I need to listen/re-listen to. These 44 albums must be properly evaluated, cut down to 25, and reviews written of them all. Thus far I have managed to write four of said reviews. I may still be a while, but at least I should come out at the end with a list that I am proud of).