Day 5 – From your favourite ever band

Imagine if one band was removed from existence. One catalogue of music and following influences wiped out. Which artists couldn’t you live without? For me, there is only one, straight away I knew that was how to determine my favourite ever band. The only band that I simply couldn’t imagine not existing, and not making the albums they need, and not creating the subsequent influence.

Radiohead – There There

Didn’t discover this band until about five years ago, after the urging of friends and Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Albums, but I quickly worked my way through their records, followed by EPs, B-sides, demos, live versions… probably the only band whom I can conceivably made a top 100 favourite tracks about, and still love number 100. They are constantly inventive and not afraid to change their sound and they have dictated the mainstream for over a decade. Claims that they are the only band to have dominated two decades are fair enough, they would be no complaints if they were named both band of the 90s and band of the 00s. The only reason I would not put them as favourite current band is that they have not put out a really good record in seven years (a contentious opinion, I understand), and because what I have heard of material for their eigth album is not particularly promising. But nevertheless, the sheer volume of interesting music that this band have created is more than enough to warrant their position as my favourite band of all time.

The Wednesday Countdown: A Spineless Laugh

Oh dear. Two Wednesday Countdowns in two posts means only one thing. I have gone a whole week without writing anything, which is a shame, because I seem to have been enjoying more music recently than for a long while. Unfortunately, it has coincided with exams, so I don’t write while I listen. But there are many plans in my mind for future posts, starting with reviews of the new Owen Pallett, Beach House and Vampire Weekend albums, leading into my next Great Year In Music (2005) and culminating in a post observing how well the anticipated releases in 2010 have been received, with updates on news for future releases.

For now, however, I have a list designed to unnerve, to be spine-chilling. My top 20 most unsettling songs ever, maximum one per artist (its worth noting that clearly I enjoy this music particularly, as I have managed to get 20 as opposed to the usual 10). These are not the best songs that happen to carry the air of tension necessary for inclusion, but the songs that do that particular job the best. Emotion is always important in music, and a track that can, on its own, create an atmosphere of unease, is probably one of the most challenging types of song to create.

Not all of the songs I have selected are necessarily based on the tone of the music, they do not all carry the same eeriness that an “unsettling song” might infer. It may be down to the lyrics, or just a personal attachment to the song. In one case, it is not the song itself, but the connection between the song and the death of its writer that creates the necessary shivers. In another, there is no music, but the spectral arpeggiated backing vocals and the heart-breaking lyrics make up for it totally.

Anyway, the point is, this list is personal, and therefore you cannot argue with it. But please leave your own favourite unsettling songs in the comment box below.

Top 20 Unsettling Songs:

20. Frightened Rabbit – My Backwards Walk

19. Massive Attack – Inertia Creeps

18. The Smiths – How Soon Is Now?

17. REM – Daysleeper

16. My Morning Jacket – Dondante

15. Mumford & Sons – Thistle & Weeds

14. Blur – No Distance Left To Run

13. Bright Eyes – Lua

12. Broken Social Scene – Lover’s Spit

11. Modest Mouse – 3rd Planet

10. Grizzly Bear – Knife

9. Jeff Buckley – Mojo Pin

8. Neutral Milk Hotel – Two Headed Boy

7. Hope Of The States – Me Ves Y Sufres

6. The National – Lucky You

5. Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

4. Pink Floyd – Brain Damage

3. TV On The Radio – Ambulance

2. Portishead – Threads

1. Radiohead – Exit Music (For A Film)

If you know me, then you probably could have guessed the number 1. I was a wafer away from handing the same son two Wednesday Countdowns in a row, but, inevitably, the beautifully melodramatic lyrics coupled with a near-silence slowly builds into a cacophony of hatred, directed at the unknown “You” won the day in the end. The point where the fuzz bass first hits in still gives me the creeps (pun intended), but Radiohead could easily have made up a top 20 unsettling songs list all on their own. Placing Exit Music above How To Disappear Completely was a tough choice for me, but although HTDC is better, it remains too beautiful, a pearly apparition. Climbing Up The Walls, Street Spirit (Fade Out), Fog and 4 Minute Warning are all worthy of note in this category, but somehow it is possible for me to overlook their unnerving effect by appreciating their quality. With Exit Music I can’t even go a whole listen through without shivering at the sentiment.

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

Great Years In Music – 1997

I sometimes feel bad that I lived through the release and evolution in the public and critical eye of certain albums, but never felt this impact myself due to young age. This feeling is most acute for the year 1997, it’s a feeling of emptiness, where nostalgia should be, there is lack of knowledge. My experiences of the time period must be felt second-hand.

Inspired by this, I will now commence with the first of what I hope will be a long and fruitful series of Great Years In Music.

Let’s get the obvious out the way. In June of 1997, Radiohead, who had already earned a decent reputation as one of the worlds most interesting alternative bands, unleashed “OK Computer”. Following the more genteel, palatable “The Bends”, it was the King of commercial curveballs, and was not de-throned from this position until Radiohead saw fit to release Kid A. That it topped so many end-of-year lists (as well as end-of-decade and end-of-eternity lists), it seemed the only place to start.

OK Computer formed a centrepiece of premillennial tension, giving a shout-out to adolescent confusion amidst Douglas Adams references and thinly veiled attacks on New Labour. The desire to suffocate under “a handshake of carbon monoxide” was the inspiration for much music to come. But putting aside the sheer influence OK Computer had on the music scene, the songs, taken simply as pieces of music, are still to this day immensely powerful and skilfully tender. 12 1/2 years is maybe not quite enough time to judge the timelessness of a record, but still, it’s a stretch to imagine the record not being as highly lauded in a decades time as it is now.

Critically and historically, OK Computer takes up a large chunk of 1997. But there is a wealth of genuinely classic releases to back up the Big Daddy. Britpop, though in its decline by now, went through a bit of a re-invention during 1997. Two of the biggest names from that movement, Blur and The Verve, brought out albums that defined their career. Firstly in February, Blur released a self-titled record which immediately dispensed with the usual swaggering recipe for Britpop and introduced a sense of fun, earnest at times, and with an unusual (at the time) penchant for lo-fi. Within seven glorious minutes (the opening two tracks are “Beetlebum” and “Song 2”) Blur had torn up what it was to be a Britpop band, and they were all the better for doing so. After the two stomping openers, the rest of the album can get forgotten about, but the strangely sweet ode to escaping loneliness “On Your Own” and the surprisingly bleak “Essex Dogs”, which showcases Damon Albarn’s capabilities at delivering razor-sharp spoken word wit should not be overlooked.

Later in the year, Britpop as an entity was yet again re-aligned by the release of “Urban Hymns”, The Verve getting the sort of commercial and cultural break that “A Storm In Heaven”, their debut, perhaps warranted more. The main noting point for the record is probably “Bittersweet Symphony”, which seemed to capture a shift in mood for the British public, or at least the music-listening public. The furore surrounding its use of Rolling Stones riffs did its image more good than one might have thought. More tender singles, such as “The Drugs Don’t Work”, written by Richard Ashcroft at his dying father’s bedside, and “Lucky Man” showed that British rock was turning over a new leaf from the stifling swagger of yesteryear.

And from the ashes of the dying Britpop phoenix came smarter genres, working against the established grain and getting recognition for it. Trip-hops flagship band Portishead followed up their debut “Dummy” with a more consistent and gloomy eponymous offering. Mogwai followed in the post-rock footsteps of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (whose influential second record “F#A#∞” was first released in August 1997) by putting out their debut, “Young Team” in October. My love of Portishead is well-documented, and Mogwai have put on consistently interesting albums for the past decade and a bit. It is fair to say that their efforts in ’97 brought them much reward.

The other side of the Atlantic had much to shout about also, most notably Foo Fighters bringing out what I consider to be their best album, “The Colour And The Shape”. It confirmed that the band would not be a post-Nirvana cool-down for Dave Grohl, and established the band as world-leaders in simple but effective rock. To this day the likes of “Everlong”, “Monkey Wrench” and “Hero” are to be found in guitar-rock collections, and there is more to be found on the album that just the well-known singles. Another side of American rock, more cerebral and willing to employ more diverse influences, was also having a surge in 1997. Modest Mouse caught the critics eye with “The Lonesome Crowded West”, whilst Yo La Tengo crafted their most lauded album of their impressive career, the stirring “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One”. Built To Spill were also busy carving a similar message into musical history, with their self-knowingly prescient “Perfect From Now On”. These three albums together paved the way for much of 00’s American indie-rock, a genre which probably counts for near half of my favourite albums of the decade.

1997 saw the release of Bjork’s “Homogenic”, Elliot Smith’s “Either/Or” and Pavement’s “Brighten The Colours”, as well as the posthumous release of two Bill Hicks albums, “Rant in E-Minor” and “Arizona Bay”. But I thought the album I would leave you with would be one that accompanied the unrivalled cultural height of 1997. I am, of course, referring to the release of Final Fantasy 7, and more relevantly, the 4-disc soundtrack that was diligently engineered by Nobuo Uematsu. It was revolutionary not necessarily in its method (tonally unimpressive MIDI), but in its scope and ultimately its impact. Suddenly game music was real music, not just a single repeated and eventually annoying series of bleeps. The character motifs were beautifully constructed symbols of the characters plight, yet the music could be taken both in and out of context. It forced game developers to focus on music’s importance on the gaming experience. And gamers and music-lovers alike will forever be grateful (and will forever be humming “One Winged Angel” too).

What more could you possibly need from a year? Here’s to 1997, my greatest year in music history.

The Wednesday Countdown: Epic Win

In my mind I’m well aware of the definition of epic-rock. I can put on a song and be pretty sure whether or not it counts as epic-rock. But I cannot really explain it. So today’s list, best ever epic-rock songs, will be satisfying for me alone, as you will probably not understand the criteria for selection. I did decide, however, that an epic rock song needs to be over six minutes. And it needs to have at least one stomping riff, this can be a consistent, pace-keeping drone or a solo. But there needs to be that. And also… no, it is inexplicable. The criteria for inclusion is entirely in my mind.

However, that should not stop you from giving your own examples of epic-rock in the comments, or just help me to define exactly what sets these songs apart, apart from mere length. I could also do with some help with ideas for further Wednesday Countdowns. I ran out of material way earlier than I anticipated.

Top 10 Epic-Rock Songs:

10. Secret Machines – First Wave Intact
9. of Montreal – The Past Is A Grotesque Animal
8. Wilco – Spiders (Kidsmoke)
7. Muse – Citizen Erased
6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Chile
5. Led Zeppelin – Kashmir
4. Yo La Tengo – Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind
3. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
2. The Beta Band – She’s The One
1. Radiohead – Paranoid Android

Stomping riff? Check

Awesome solos? Check

Funky 7/8 interlude complete with insanely tasty bass? Check

I think I have successfully defined epic-rock. It’s the feeling you get in your gut at 2:49 on the video when Ed comes in with the first stab of Paranoid Android’s epic central riff. Thats epic-rock.

The Wednesday Countdown: The Beat Goes Round And Round

The year is coming to an end, and what that means to the people that matter, is that the popular Radiohead fan forum, Mortigi Tempo, are about to run the 5th of their annual polls to find the top 100 Radiohead songs of all time. This weeks Wednesday Countdown is dedicated to “Test Tones” Sam, who has gone through the great struggle of compiling all the lists from users on the forum and turning them into neat tables and graphs, and who we all hope will repeat these exertions this year. Here are my top 20 Radiohead songs, in order, with absolutely no shocks involved for anybody who knows me. Feel free to post your anger below. Oh, and make a note that for the title I used a lyric from a song that isn’t even on my list. I’m crazy, me!

20. The Amazing Sounds Of Orgy (Amnesiac B-Side)
19. No Surprises (OK Computer)
18. Bodysnatchers (In Rainbows)
17. True Love Waits (I Might Be Wrong Live)
16. Just (The Bends)
15. A Wolf At The Door (Hail To The Thief)
14. 2 + 2 = 5 (Hail To The Thief)
13. You And Whose Army? (Amnesiac)
12. Bangers & Mash (In Rainbows Disc 2)
11. Fake Plastic Trees (The Bends)
10. 15 Step (In Rainbows)
9. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (In Rainbows)
8. Cuttooth (Amnesiac B-Side)
7. Airbag (OK Computer)
6. Idioteque (Kid A)
5. The National Anthem (Kid A)
4. Paranoid Android (OK Computer)
3. How To Disappear Completely (Kid A)
2. There There (Hail To The Thief)
1. Subterranean Homesick Alien (OK Computer)

This is the 42nd post I have made to this blog, interestingly. OK, it wasn’t that interesting. Anyway, leave angry comments below, and take a little time, if you will, to ponder the fact that there are more Amnesiac B-Sides on this list than actual Amnesiac tracks.

2010: A Year In Music Awesomeness

I’m going to admit it straight away, I’ve spent a lot of time looking back at the decade that has just passed. I’ve pulled up lists of my favourite songs and albums of the decade, and hunted through the indie scenes’ most loved bands of the 00s for my inspiration. I think I may be beginning to feel the effects of noughties-overdose so, as a remedy to this malignant condition, I bring you a look into the future. Some of the following albums are confirmed, others merely rumoured, but if they do all pop up during the earliest 10% of the brave new decade we are about to encounter, then be thankful. Because it will mean 2010 will surely be an awesome time for good music.

Release Date Confirmed:

Vampire Weekend – Contra (January 12)

The self-titled debut goes down as a guilty pleasure for me. I had a bit of a garage-rock phase, Kings Of Leon and The Strokes and The White Stripes, which I like to think I have sort of got over. The elitist in me scoffs at my youthful folly, but I can’t help but enjoy Vampire Weekend’s energy and hooks, which makes their second album of particular interest to me. By the sounds of the first couple of released tracks, “Horchata” and “Cousins”, Contra will be more of the same, slight but memorable guitar-rock, but whether it will contain a hit the size of “A-Punk” is another matter.

Anticipation Factor: 7/10

Yeasayer – Odd Blood (February 9)

Though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Yeasayer’s debut, All Hour Cymbals, there were one or two tracks that successfully combined the catchiness of pop with eccentric instruments and surreal moods. It is with a mixture of hope and trepidation that I listened to their new offering, Ambling Alp, and it seems that the signs are good for the new album. Provided that Odd Blood shows some consistency, this second record could show Yeasayer step up a league in quality.

Anticipation Factor: 6/10

Massive Attack – Heligoland (February 9)

I should try and stop my brain from considering this to be Massive Attack’s Third. There are similarities, the long gap between albums, the cinematic side-projects, but unlike Portishead, Massive Attack have not had a particularly good pre-release build-up. Splitting The Atom EP was lethargic and mediocre, but the fact is it’s an EP and the material on it was clearly not considered good enough for the album. The odds are high that Massive Attack have a large amount of material stashed away, some of it is bound to be quality. And the cameo list alone (Damon Albarn, Tunde Adebimpe, Martina Topley-Bird, Guy Garvey) is worthy of note.

Anticipation Factor: 7/10

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks (March 1)

The step up from Sing The Greys to The Midnight Organ Fight was notable, if they could pull off another such leap this could be one of the biggest albums of the year. I’m expecting something on a par with Organ Fight myself, a few more basic bittersweet odes which seem to be their comfort zone. It is interesting to note that the band have hired a fifth member, whose purpose is to provide “various instruments”, which hints at a fuller, more layered sound. This is also backed up by a single, “Swim until You Can’t See Land”, which is a soft, slightly ethereal affair, driven by the sly couplet “are you a man or are you a bag of sand?”

Anticipation Factor: 8/10

Release Date TBA:

The National – Untitled

In an interview with Pitchfork, Bryce Dessner stated that “The album will definitely come out in 2010. It could be early. It’ll be some time between January and May, I think”. If they stick to that then we’re a maximum six months away from a new album by The National. Now I prefer Alligator to Boxer, so in terms of career trajectory they’re actually on a downward slope at the moment in my mind (only by a miniscule amount, of course), but still, if this is on a par with their back catalogue thus far, I would still happily shell out a stupid amount of money to get it the first day. A couple of videos of new tracks being played have surfaced around YouTube (search QTV Runaway for one particularly spellbinding track), and the material seems as strong as ever, although nothing that screams “first single”, which is the sort of track they need if they’re going to get the exposure they deserve. Either way, this is still the album that raises my pulse more than any other pencilled in for 2010.

Anticipation Factor: 10/10

LCD Soundsystem – Untitled

A recent release of “Bye Bye Bayou”, a cover of an Alan Vega track, did little to whet the general appetite for new LCD Soundsystem records, but leaving sensationally understated messages such as “back in nyc. in the studio. making record” on his (legitimate) Facebook page certainly did. No idea which direction it will be going in, what the tracks will sound like, or whether it’ll be more than just 50 minutes of silence. Still, there won’t be long to wait, as it is scheduled for sometime in March, but until then James Murphy will be keeping his filthy electro-rock cards close to his chest.

Anticipation factor: 9/10

Broken Social Scene – Untitled

BSS were in the studio back in May, and as a full band too, rather than the many side projects and split ends that seem to occupy most of Kevin Drew and co’s time. Even they have said it is too early to define the direction of their sound, or whether it is in fact staying in the same place, but the chance are this will be out before May. Not a lot of details on this, and not much new live material to go on, as the band members have been busy being other bands’ band members. Still, this album is worthy of note as Broken Social Scene are finally once again coming together as one entity to record.

Anticipation Factor: 8/10

Rumoured Releases:

Radiohead, Arcade Fire, My Bloody Valentine, Portishead, Wolf Parade, The Strokes

That is a hell of a list. A whole lot of music-lovers would give away prized possessions to see those bands pull out an album from the top of their creative drawers this year. Most of these bands have confirmed that they’re working on new albums, and are aiming for 2010 releases, so we could be seeing these albums popping up around a year from now.

Radiohead are, of course, a law unto themselves, so any attempt to predict their movements seems as futile as predicting the outcome of the LHC. What was “These Are My Twisted Words” anyway, a sign? A red herring? An experiment? A whole new branch of cryptography could be opened up trying to determine Thom Yorke’s methods of madness. In that particular field, I am but an amateur.

Arcade Fire have spent the time since making Neon Bible fairly wisely, writing part of the score for Richard Kelly’s “The Box”, indulging in side-projects and touring, which I hope means they will be able to pull out something less mediocre and tiresome come album three. A return to delicacy over fist-pumping politicking would be a good place to start. Nothing confirmed on album status, but rumour has it they have just spent three weeks recording in the Magic Shop studio. Which is news indeed.

Portishead have confirmed that they plan to release their new album in 2010, although this is of course open to delay, unfortunately. No new material has been released, and it is more likely that the album will not reach us until 2011, but I’d happily wait another 11 years if the end product is as good as Third. If they can build on the darkness and lush agony displayed on their last release then the new album may well be my early contender for best album of the decade 2010s, though.

News on the other three bands there seems to involve less strong words and more hushed whispers. A new My Bloody Valentine record would certainly be an event to make any critic and audiophile alike take a sharp intake of breath. A third Wolf Parade album would hopefully right the wrongs that Second Album Syndrome caused “Mount Zoomer”, and The Strokes IV (as hysterical NME kids dubbed it) would give Casablancas and co.  the opportunity to prove they can go beyond one-trick pony status.

All in all, and even ignoring the inevitable debut stunners of the ilk of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, 2010 will be amazing. There will be failures and successes amongst these albums, but the failures will at least be interesting ones, while we, the listeners, will watch over the evolution of some of the current decades best bands into the new decade with perhaps more anticipation than ever before.

EDIT:

How could I have missed out the new Laura Marling album? No title yet, but the new tracks are great live, she seems to have matured lyrically and the full band is being used more effectively than ever. The rumoured February release is not official, but it will surely be out in the first quarter of 2010. A lot of second albums are rushed out due to demands after successful debuts, but a bit of patience never harmed an album, so lets hope theres good reason for the extra few months wait.

Anticipation Factor: Sorry for forgetting you/10