The Morning Kills Us All

Cheery miserablists The Twilight Sad have been one of the high points of the musical world in the last few years. Unlike friends and compatriots Frightened Rabbit they aren’t for everyone – in that, if someone tells you they don’t like Frightened Rabbit you know for a fact they are cloth-eared buffoons, whereas you can understand that James Graham’s catharsis overlain by the kind of noise that would make even mid-80’s Swans band members go “Steady on there, chaps” isn’t for everyone. But when you are in the mood, the likes of “I Became A Prostitute” and “Cold Days From The Birdhouse” scratch an itch that few other bands can reach.

They’ve just announced that a third album called “No-One Can Ever Know” is coming in February 2012, and to celebrate this, they’ve released a free taster named “Kill It In The Morning”. First impressions are that they clearly haven’t cheered up one little bit, and that they’ve been playing with the keyboards a tad. A bit of variation in their sound is definitely welcome, as the last thing you want to happen to this lot is that they get stuck in a feedbacky rut. Saying that, I’d love to hear a bit more of the acoustic side they showcased on their Acoustic EP. Variety is the spice of life and all that. Or at least, that’s what I tell the mi[REDACTED]

Head over to http://www.thetwilightsad.com for more information, and go and buy their albums if you haven’t already done so. You’re missing out if you haven’t, trust me.

Oh, and see them live too.

MP3: Kill It In The Morning by The Twilight Sad (Low bitrate. If you want the proper, 320kbps version, go and sign up on their website)

Feed Them To The Dogs Again

There’s been talk of a Twilight Sad acoustic EP for some time now. Assorted videos have popped up (on Drowned In Sound and elsewhere), and originally “The Wrong Car” EP was to feature a bunch of acoustic songs, but didn’t. Now, thankfully, the band have released a free EP, cunningly entitled “Acoustic EP”, which is yours for nothing. Nada. Zilch. Nichts. Nowt. Ok, your email address. Just pop over to their relaunched blog here and sign up. Do it! Do it!

For the Acoustic EP is, frankly, superb. You’d think that their songs are by and large exercises in being loud and quite grumpy and that the underlying songs possibly aren’t up to much, but you’d be wrong. Some songs – “I Became A Prostitute” and “Interrupted”, for example – are better done this way than with the waves of noise. Stripping them right down shows exactly how great these songs are. And if you’ve not heard their stuff before either way, just go and sign up and get a marvellous free gift.

I love it when bands do this. Stars, they are, stars.

MP3: That Birthday Present (Acoustic) by The Twilight Sad

Buy “Forget The Night Ahead” (CD/MP3)

Mogwai and The Twilight Sad Live

A man of my rapidly advancing years will, on his fourth consecutive night out (following on from, in order, Laura Veirs, football, stupid beer drinking), find himself feeling somewhat jaded. What better way of keeping awake than going to watch two of the finest purveyors of awfully loud Scottish post-indie-rock, Mogwai and The Twilight Sad? A more appropriate pairing of main act and support it would be harder to find; The Twilight Sad can safely be called “Mogwai Meets The Proclaimers”1, and have namechecked Mogwai in interviews and CD sleeves as not only a major influence, but as being friends, valued mentors, and general allround good buddies. Mogwai, in turn, seem to have been refreshed these last couple of years by having some younger bucks around.

After a frankly astonishing pizza at Franco Manca (the best pizza in London, fact and pizza fans), we wandered through the streets of Brixton to the Academy. I’ve fond memories of this place, with a personal gigging history going back 20 years (see? I don’t say “rapidly advancing years” as an idle threat). QOTSA, The Pixies reformation gig, the Elbow concert when we all – band included – realised this was the last time you’d easily be able to see them in a venue this size. Oh, happy memories.

Scottish Flyer

Long-term readers of this blog – all one of them (including me) – will recall me seeing The Twilight Sad a couple of years back and being mightily impressed. As well as deafened. So I was as happy to come and see them as Mogwai; probably a little more. Would they pay back this confidence? Damn, yes.

Because on this second time of seeing them, I’ve decided that they are one of those bands you just have to see live. Not so much because the songs work better live than on record; they don’t, not really. What makes them special is singer James Graham. Now I have a pretty low tolerance for the woe-is-me frontman, or spoilt-kid histrionics, but James is the kind of singer you just have to watch. Whether he’s staring up at the roof, jittering around the stage Ian Curtis-style, or shouting passionately, if soundlessly, off-mic, you feel that you can’t take your eyes off him. What’s more, he’s clearly nervous as hell. On one between-song section, he tries thanking Mogwai for letting them tour together, and nearly cracks, muttering “Calm down, calm down”. About half the women in the sizable crowd go “Ahh, sweet!”. Bet he wasn’t expecting that.

The songs themselves have also been tightened up. Last time, the wall of sound was overpowering and ended up drowning the songs. This time, guitarist Andy McFarlane has toned back the noise (a bit) and thanks to this newfound delicacy, they shine through. And thanks to this, you could hear James’s singing more clearly, and even (shock horror!) pick up some words. It’s all about the words. Few bands in recent years have written such finely honed elegies to broken teenage years. Songs like “Last Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy” nail that horrendous unloved feeling. Live, they are clearly some kind of catharsis for James, what with the yelling and all.

“I Became A Prostitute” (yeah, I know), swiftly followed by “Last Summer….” are noisy and hugely impressive, the former’s early Cocteaus churning, twisting guitar cutting through the squalls of sound, and the latter’s early explosion contrasting with the almost-gently sung lyrics. “Cold Days From The Birdhouse” starts with James singing solo until another explosion. This time, however, I was standing there thinking “Gosh, that guitar probably isn’t loud enough”. Bet that’s never happened at a Twilight Sad gig before. Closing with “And She Would Darken The Memory”, with its rabbit death lyrics, the band left the stage to a huge cheer. You can’t imagine that anyone here to see Mogwai could do anything other than love The Twilight Sad as well. Let’s hope so.

Mogwai released their first album in 1997. 1997! That’s pretty much a lifetime for some of the people here tonight. Accusations that they haven’t moved on much in those years fall wide of the mark when you listen to, say, Come On Die Young back to back with this year’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. They could be made by totally different bands. Sure, not quite as big a difference as Ok Computer to The King Of Limbs, but I know which record I’d rather listen to2. They’ve risen far above being the Scottish Slint that they were in the ‘90’s to something more interesting, and more listenable. They rely far less on that quiet quiet LOUD dynamic, focussing instead on Krautrock-influenced grooves and, you know, tunes. Now this has its drawbacks as well as its benefits live. An early airing of “San Pedro” is slower than on record and as a result, loses that irresistible impetus of the original. It just didn’t have that stunning brutality of a juggernaut driving off a cliff. “Rano Pano”, by contrast, was simply awesome. A single riff, repeated on three guitars, with varying levels of dirty fucked-up noise, looping through octaves to the climax, works so much better live that you wonder what happened in the studio to rob the song of its undoubted power. If you ever wanted to hear Black Sabbath covering Tortoise, it’s “Rano Pano” live.

Other tracks off Hardcore worked pretty well too. Opener “White Noise” built gradually, layer upon layer of texture slowly whilst the impressive visuals showed a vector-space sphere slowly coalescing before, inevitably drifting apart. I can imagine that was what Greg Egan’s dreams look like. “How to be a Werewolf”, a more gentle-than-usual Mogwai number, again used stunning visuals to give us something to look at (no offence, lads, but you’re not exactly visually enthralling); this time, a lovely video of James Bowthorpe3 cycling round fjords.

This whole music-as-movement metaphor struck me repeatedly throughout the set; how Mogwai’s music is near-perfect driving music, songs that drift into your head, gelling together your neurons as you speed through any given landscape. Like the video during “Friend Of The Night”, in which a camera seemed to fly through the architectural plans of an impossible building, Mogwai’s music propels you to places of rare beauty. “You’re Lionel Richie” featured a video of the traffic intersection off the cover of Hardcore, speeding up and slowing down as various dusk to dawn cycles passed over. Lovely.

Earlier songs come off well too; Young Team’s “Christmas Steps” made a welcome, bass-heavy appearance; as for the closing pair of “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Batcat” took anyone who thought Mogwai might be getting too melodic and threw them down the stairs, before picking them up, dusting them off, then giving them a kicking. Some lads next to me started a moshpit, before both a bouncer and Stuart Braithwaite himself came over to tell them to pack it in. Kids these days, eh? It was during the quiet middle section of “Mogwai Fear Satan” that the band turned to one another and started grinning, knowing the forces of hell (or rather, very, very loud guitars) were about to be unleashed. Lovely to see a band still enjoying their work after 14 long years.

But there’s a flaw to Mogwai’s music. Not a fatal flaw, as such, but after nearly two hours you start to miss the human connection that Twilight Sad are so good at building. That’s the difference between the two – the emotional touch. Even if you can’t hear largely what is being sung, you are left with no doubts that James is giving his all and probably using the stage as a theatre for catharsis. Mogwai, on the other hand, are lacking that bond. The music they make is frequently stunning, but doesn’t leave you feeling like you have seen something extraordinary.

When it comes down to it, the image that stuck with me on the ride home was of James Graham yelling at the distant ceiling. That, and traffic endlessly moving through a North American dusk. Both great bands, and great images, but I’d choose Twilight Sad over Mogwai any day. Still, both are great. Go see.

Oh, and a hello to the lovely teenagers who I’d last met at Godspeed. London really is a small place.

1 Wouldn’t say this to their faces though, as they’d probably kick my head in.

2 Contrarian Alert! Contrarian Alert!

3 Who cycled round the world, mad bastard that he is.

MP3: Cold Days From The Birdhouse by The Twilight Sad

MP3: San Pedro by Mogwai

Amazon’s Mogwai Store

Amazon’s Twilight Sad Store

Review Of 2010 – Albums, Two

So, following on from yesterday’s first part, featuring all the records I was disappointed or just a bit meh-d with, here’s my list of ones I liked. Like I said yesterday, no absolute favourites, but some of the songs on these albums will live with me until my brain finally dissolves through alcohol abuse and Alzheimers.

(Part three is here)

The Best Album Of The Year By A Band Half My Age Making Music For People Half My Age

Contenders:

Wavves
Avi Buffalo
Beach House

Winner:

Avi Buffalo – s/t

Now this one came as a surprise. On the first couple of listens, Avi Buffalo seemed to be one of those records that had a couple of good songs and one absolutely great one (“Truth Sets In”). The rest was, frankly, a bit annoying, from the stupid song titles to Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg’s annoying yelp. But with more time, the record slowly unravelled to show itself as being a work of a rare talent. A great example being “Remember Last Time”, a seven minute long track that feels far too short, growing and swelling and suddenly shrinking again, before one final, two minute long cascade of guitar solos and general wigging out. It’s clear to me that Avi is a brilliant guitarist with a huge talent; if he can produce a more focussed record next time, and gives his bandmates more time on the mic, he could produce something very special indeed.

MP3: What’s It In For by Avi Buffalo

Buy “Avi Buffalo” (CD)

The Best Album By Kerazy Kanadians

The Besnard Lakes – Are The Roaring Night

2010 the year of The Return Of Half-Decent Shoegaze, and this record was more than half-decent. I wasn’t expecting great things after “…Are The Dark Horse”, but my word, did this lot deliver. “Albatross” demands to be played loud, loud, loud, and the rest of the album follows suit. Superb stuff.

MP3: Albatross by The Besnard Lakes

Buy “The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night” (CD/MP3)

The Best Albums by Previously Unknown Bands

Bullets in Madison – We Became Your Family When You Died

Came across this lot whilst just browsing some good music blogs. Lovely, and a brilliant example of how you can find music in the most random of ways. The way “Animals” slowly coalesces into lovely, glorious dream-pop is still wonderful, nearly a year after I first heard it.

MP3: Animals by Bullets In Madison

Buy “We Became Your Family When You Died” here.

The Best EP by a Previously Unknown Band

Bright Spark Destroyer – Holy Yell EP

Previously Unknown, because this is their debut. And what a debut. Thrilling, evocative, exciting, with just the right amount of that The Bends-era Radiohead stadium bombast to make them a dangerously promising tip for the future. If they aren’t on everyone’s 2011 end of year lists, I’ll eat my hat1.

MP3: A Feeling of Health by Bright Spark Destroyer

Buy “Holy Yell” EP here.

The Best Scandinavian Album (combined with the Nice Dinner Party Album award)

Contenders:

The Tallest Man On Earth
The Radio Dept
The Kissaway Trail

Winner:

The Radio Dept – Clinging To A Scheme

Lovely. This year’s Bibio. Saying that a record is great to have when you’re doing the washing up is a major compliment, by the way.

MP3: Heaven’s On Fire by The Radio Dept

Buy “Clinging to a Scheme” here (CD/MP3)

The Best Indie-Pop Album Unfairly Maligned By The Meedja

Freelance Whales – Weathervanes

Soundtrack to the first few months of the year, I was convinced this lot were going to hit the big time, Arcade Fire style. But no. Some harsh reviews, some intimations of lack of imagination, and their fate, if not quite sealed, was made far harder. Shame, as this really is a charming and beguiling record that deserved a far, far larger audience.

MP3: Hannah by Freelance Whales

Buy “Weathervanes” Here

The Best Female Singer-Songwriter With An Obsession With The Natural World

Laura Veirs – July Flame

Just had to be, didn’t it? This one nearly slipped me by and I’m glad it didn’t. Perfect at gazing out of a window at drizzle whilst a roaring fire roars away in the background, as your loved one roasts a chicken.

MP3: I Can See Your Tracks by Laura Veirs

Buy “July Flame” (CD/MP3) Here

Albums From 2009 That I Identified In Last Years End Of Year Review As Might Be Good And Were

Twilight Sad – Forget The Night Ahead

Ok, so it’s only half a good album. But its heights – “I Became A Prostitute”, “Interrupted” and “Reflection of the Television” are as good as anything on their debut. Well, almost.

MP3: I Became a Prostitute by The Twilight Sad

Buy “Forget The Night Ahead” (CD/MP3)

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

Identified last year as something I’d listen to this year, and nice to see I was right. Great album, this, and it’s got me to search back into their catalogue and find all those gems that have passed me by. And thanks to all the readers with suggestions of which albums I should try next!

MP3: Avalon Or Someone Very Similar by Yo La Tengo

Buy “Popular Songs” (CD/MP3)

The Yo La Tengo Award For A Band I’d Previously Discounted As Twee Nonsense Before Realising Belatedly That They Were, Like, Great

Belle And Sebastian – Write About Love

Just had to be, didn’t it? The first thaw in the huge icy wall around my heart came with Stuart Murdoch’s “Another Saturday” on 2009’s Dark Is The Night compilation. Realising that a man that could write something of such gentle, enormous beauty must be quite the talented sort, I gave Write About Love a go. Doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Another Saturday”, but now I’ve melted that iceberg of disdain I’m going to enjoy running through their back catalogue.

MP3: I Want The World To Stop by Belle And Sebastian

Buy “Write About Love” (CD/MP3)

That’s it for this post. Join me tomorrow for songs, gigs, and other gubbins.

1 Hat may be made of cake.

The Wrong Beer

Maybe, when I was first thinking up a name for this blog, I should have just gone for “Look, I’ve Been Busy, Ok?”. This week has been a combination of football, laughing about the football, drinking, feeling horrendously hungover from drinking, laughing about feeling horrendously hungover from drinking, and then trying to sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep.

Which is in no way a good preparation for sitting down and writing1. Sure, I did put together 300 words on How Metallica Are A Bunch Of Whining Pussies on Wednesday night whilst under the influence of Old McSouse’s Fizzy Seven-Percent Temporary Inhibition Reducer, but I haven’t dared to go back to see what I wrote. Back in the day, I was a bit of a Ranter, and though I’ve tried to curb that side of my personality, it does sweep back into view after a few.

So anyway, I’m going to try and get some posts out this week. I have an inbox filled with suggestions, and some of them are damn fine too.

First off, The Twilight Sad have been a favourite of mine since their debut “Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters”. Follow-up “Forget The Night Ahead” hasn’t quite been a success (despite my initial positive thoughts), and whilst some of the standout tracks are superb, the record as a whole is distinctly sludgy and doesn’t have that clarity of rage that made “Fourteen Autumns” such a standout.

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Seems like the band themselves haven’t been too happy with it either. They’ve lost their bassist, and on their recent tour have only been playing a handful of tracks from it. Now they have a new EP out, named “The Wrong Car”, and thankfully this looks backward as much as forward. Opener “The Wrong Car” is unmistakeably The Sad (as only I call them); all churning rage and burning ferocity and noise, thwacking great balls of noise that roll down the mountainside and thump you upside your skull. “Throw Yourself In The Water Again” takes up the “Scottish Bands Using Water As A Metaphor For Being A Bit Narked Off” meme which has been mined so effectively by Frightened Rabbit over the past few years, gives it a good kicking and then takes it drinking to make up for it.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/15198465

The Twilight Sad – I Became a Prostitute (Acoustic) from FatCat Records on Vimeo.

The acoustic versions doing the rounds are pretty decent too, so get the MP3 version of the EP if you want to give them a try. In any case, it’s good to see they’ve got lots more tracks in the bag and are working on a third LP. Whilst the last one may have been a slight mis-step, “The Wrong Car” shows they are firing on all cylinders, that they are in top gear, and they’re going in the right direction. Boom, boom.

Wonder what they’d be like if they cheered up a bit?

Buy The Wrong Car here (CD/MP3).

1 Anyone who says “Never did Hemingway and Hunter S Thompson any harm, did it?” can do one, and do one right now.

MP3: The Wrong Car by The Twilight Sad

MP3: I Became a Prostitute by The Twilight Sad

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