Review – The Xx

Kids today, eh? Dressing up in black, being all miserable, recording in dank studios underneath railway arches, wasn’t like that in my day. Oh hold on, yes it bloody was. Maybe that’s why, when I first heard The Xx, I got one of those weird chills. The fact that they were half my age and lived round the corner from me made it doubly weird.

Because, unlike pretty much everyone else making music today on either side of the Atlantic, The Xx like space. Lots and lots of it. I haven’t heard a band make so much from silence since the glory days of Low (and before them, the gaps between the pummelling method of Swans). There’s gaps between the mordant drums and the guitar stabs that you could safely park a truck in. The delay settings on the guitarist’s pedals are set to “Yeah, repeat what I’ve played in about half an hour”. No Edge-style 96ms delay for this lot, I can tell you1.

"You Want What On The Cover?"

But what gives me the chills the most is that this record sounds totally familiar, picking up influences from everyone from Young Marble Giants to New Order through to urban music like Grime and Dubstep, and sounds utterly, utterly unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.

“Infinity” sounds like Chris Isaak2 got kidnapped by Burial and started getting Stockholm Syndrome. “Heart Skipped A Beat” features a doleful Peter Hook style bassline, like something from “Unknown Pleasures” or “Power, Corruption and Lies”. Other parts sound like some weird pirate radio staffed entirely by lonesome indie kids with an R&B fascination.

The lyrics, as you’d expect from a bunch of folk just out of their teens, are concerned with love. And not just any love, oh no – the desperate yearning of youth, all unspoken desire and thwarted emotions and the sheer heartache of being horribly, wonderfully in love. It takes me back to those days, long ago3 when a single word from the object of your desire could turn you into a quivering wreck. When you spent the whole day waiting for the phone to ring, or the whole night waiting for the touch of her hand to make everything ok. When every single cell of your body felt nothing other than the pangs of yearning. The whole record is shot through with the fug of pheromones. Kids, eh?

In case I’m not making this absolutely clear, the album is great. For a band to come out with something as different, as shot through with that pure teenage combination of total confidence and heart-stopping loneliness as you can imagine, on their first attempt, is stunning. I only hope that the success of this album doesn’t go to their heads. Maybe I’ll pop down the road and lock them in their studio so they can’t get out and hear all the nice things people are saying about them. Success will only cheer them up, and that just won’t do.

One more thing. What is it about the Elliott School in Putney that’s produced some of the most forward-looking music in Britain today? Utterly bizarre. Bless the English Comprehensive system and its lackadaisical attitude towards education.

1 Sorry, guitar geek talk. Carry on.

2 Speaking of which, quite a few reviews have pointed out the similarity, and generally done it in a negative way. All I can say is, get over yourselves – “Wicked Game” is a marvellous song.

3 So very, very long ago. Sniff.

MP3: Heart Skipped A Beat by The Xx

MP3: Do You Mind by The Xx

Buy “XX” (CD/MP3)

Like my blog? Please help spread the word: Add To FacebookAdd To DiggAdd To RedditAdd To DeliciousAdd To TechnoratiAdd To StumbleUpon

It’s That Bad Lieutenant Again

So, last week I posted the new single by Barney Sumner’s new band, Bad Lieutenant. And thanks to the mysteries of the Interwebs, it didn’t show up on Hype Machine. So it goes, and thanks to those lovely people on the Elbows forum, I now know a whole load more about how this kind of stuff works. Thanks folks!

In any case, Mark Reeder has done some rather nice remixes of the single “Sink Or Swim”, and the band have just released the video, so here’s both in all their glory:

Gosh, it’s good to have Barney (and Steven Morris) back.

MP3: Sink Or Swim (Sos Radio Soft Kick Mix) by Bad Lieutenant

MP3: Sink Or Swim by Bad Lieutenant

Pre-Order “Never Cry Another Tear”

Happy New Year!

Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. Sitting in the Synagogue for the family service, and reading the story of Abraham, I was struck by the brutality of the tale. God tells some bloke to kill his son, and then lets him off at the last minute, just as Abraham is about to plunge the knife in? That’s harsh. Innumerable scholars, writers, artists and atheists wandering into Synagogues on High Holy days have thought long and hard about what the tale has to tell.

Me, I thought about Sufjan Stevens. And Dan Simmons too, who, in the fantastic SF book “Hyperion” wrote about a character obsessed with the tale. But with Sufjan, it’s all about his track “Abraham”, from his album “Seven Swans”.

Might as well jump

Might as well jump

Now, most of you may know Sufjan from songs like “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!” and “All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!”; huge, baroque masterpieces with guitar, drums, piano, bongos, string sections, trombones, clarinets, bassinets, ocelots, trombones, cowbells, cows, banjos, mandolins, and possibly a harpsichord too, all in a jaunty 13/5 time signature. But “Seven Swans” is entirely different; many songs just feature his plaintive, emotional singing and simple acoustic guitar1. It shows yet another face of one of the most talented musicians to come along in the last decade.

“Abraham” is one of the simplest tracks; two verses, telling simply the tale of Abraham’s terrible predicament and its resolution (Spoiler: The ram gets it). It’s sparse, and spare, and utterly beautiful; it also got stuck in my head so much that I had to play it as soon as I got in the car. And again on the Tube on the way to the match. And again on the way back. You get the idea.

Like The Cap

Like The Cap

A few tracks on comes another overtly religious number, “He Woke Me Up Again”. More lively than the earlier songs, featuring an organ and drums, it tells of his religious re-awakening. Now, I’m not a religious man by any means (thirteen years of Catholic schools will do that to a man), and many religious songs can be tedious in the extreme, but this is wonderful. It makes me want to run off to the nearest Church and repent all my sins. Ok, maybe not.

He shows that you can be an openly religious musician, and not suck. See, Bono? Creed? Stryper?2 Two marvellous songs from an album you really should check out. Shana Tova!

1 Simple, that is, until you try to play it. He really is a rather talented chap. If you ever get a chance to see him doing a solo acoustic show, beg, borrow or steal a ticket, it’s a great night out. And his in-between song banter is utterly charming.

2 Ok, I know there are plenty of soul and country musicians who are openly religious; for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to get in the way of being damned fine musicians. But it seems to be much harder in the pop and rock world.

MP3: Abraham by Sufjan Stevens

MP3: He Woke Me Up Again by Sufjan Stevens

Buy “Seven Swans” (CD/MP3)

Like my blog? Please help spread the word: Add To FacebookAdd To DiggAdd To RedditAdd To DeliciousAdd To TechnoratiAdd To StumbleUpon

It’ll Get You As The Party Ends

The human brain is a funny thing. You can be doing the washing up, walking the dog, pruning the roses, putting out the bins, or any of the other million and one little chores that make up your daily life, when suddenly a thought comes from nowhere and knocks you for six. I get that with songs (as I suspect pretty much everyone does). And, with a heavy dose of irony, the song that did this the other day was a song about unwelcome thoughts coming when you’re doing the washing up, walking the dog, pruning the roses…you get the idea.

Or as the song opens:

It’ll get you on the last bus home
Get you at the discount bend
It’ll get you on the old dance floor
Get you as the party ends

The song is Cherry Ghost’s wonderful “4am”, a charming little country-pop number from their 2007 debut album “Thirst For Romance”. As far as I can tell (what am I,, it’s about lost love and how your brain has a habit of reminding you about it at just the wrong time. And then spells it out at the chorus:

Oh 4am, was the time that you were mine
Frozen in deepest sleep, for only I to keep
Now there ain’t no hiding place on earth
That loneliness ain’t been first

That chorus makes my heart break into tiny little pieces. Seriously, it’s an earworm that has managed to creep up from nowhere and lodge in my brain for the past two days. By the way, the rest of the album is well worth a listen – especially the title track and the fantastic “Mathematics”, even if there is a slightly uncomfortable aroma of Radio 2. Great live band, too.

And I’ve now set up email subscription using Feedburner. Click on the link here to sign up, so you can get your twice-weekly portion of Loft and Lost straight to your Inbox! Modern technology, eh?

MP3: 4 A.M. by Cherry Ghost

Buy Cherry Ghost’s “Thirst for Romance” (CD/MP3)

Bad Lieutenant! Naughty Lieutenant! In Your Bed!

Barney Sumner has been writing songs for more than thirty years. Isn’t that a scary thought? From the early days of Warsaw, through the glorious Joy Division and New Order years, to Electronic then back to New Order again (slightly less gloriously), and now to Bad Lieutenant.

Barney's Changed

Barney's Changed

Teaming up with ex-Marion (remember them?) members Phil Cunningham and Jake Evans, Barney is back making the kind of effortlessly wonderful music that everyone from Broken Social Scene to Smashing Pumpkins have tried, with varying degrees of success, to replicate over the years. It’s great to have him back. I’ll write more about the new album “Never Cry Another Tear” once I’ve had a good listen, but if it’s anything like “Sink Or Swim”, we’re in for a right old treat.

As is usual in these things, there’s a Website, a Facebook bit, a Twitter and a MySpace page.

Have a look at the (unofficial) video above and a listen to the (official) single, “Sink Or Swim”, below. It’s nice to have him back.

On another note, today marks the one-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers death. Let’s all raise a glass to a company at which I spent eight years, and had a great time at. Happy times, and best of luck to everyone who’s still trying to get back on their feet.

MP3: Sink Or Swim by Bad Lieutenant

Power Pop Goodness With Brendan Benson

By jove, that Brendan Benson’s got a way with a tune. You get it with the first minute of the first song off his new album. Starts off a bit like something off a Raconteurs record, then it’s as though Brendan suddenly goes “Hold on, I don’t need to do dreary mid-tempo rock with that red and white muppet any more! Let’s get pop!”1, and the shackles of the last few years come flying off with an explosion of pure delight. Featuring about three different choruses, some nicely contradictory lyrics (“I feel a whole lot better when you’re not around” to “I feel a whole lot better when you come around”), and the confusion of love: “I fell in love with you, and out of love with you, and back in love with you, all in the same day”.

You can’t help but love it. It’s up there with “Tiny Spark” and “Spit It Out”, the openers from his last two albums. And it shows just what we’ve been missing whilst he’s been fannying about with The Raconteurs. He sure knows how to make some great power-pop, does young Brendan, and he really should do it more often. I’ve not had enough time with the new album to write more about it yet, but if you’re lucky/unlucky enough (delete as appropriate), I’ll put up a review at some point.

Anyway, off to watch the Formula 1 from Monza. I do like Monza – it’s one of the very few circuits that still have some of the old magic (Spa and Suzuka being the others). I forsee a 26-car pile-up going into the first chicane.

1 I really quite like Jack White, you know. It’s just that the Raconteurs were far less than the sum of their parts. Shame, really.

MP3: A Whole Lot Better by Brendan Benson

MP3: Tiny Spark by Brendan Benson

Buy Brendan Benson’s “My Old, Familiar Friend” (CD)

Buy Brendan Benson’s “Lapalco” (CD/MP3)

Like my blog? Please help spread the word: Add To FacebookAdd To DiggAdd To RedditAdd To DeliciousAdd To TechnoratiAdd To StumbleUpon

The Pitchfork 500 Missing List Part Two

For all the great songs on the Pitchfork 500 list, there are some right duffers. And there’s some great, well-known, hugely loved songs missing. Following on from Part One, this covers the years 1980 to 1982. These are, of course, my own personal choice. If you can think of a band that the Pitchfork writers have missed, let me know by commenting or emailing me.

Willie Nelson – On The Road Again (1980)
The Stranglers – Golden Brown (1981)

Of all the mainstream genres in the Pitchfork 500, country is probably the worst served (we’ll leave the whole World music argument for another day). Yes, there’s a few cursory nods in the direction of alt-country – Bonnie “Prince” Billy/Palace Music, Low and Wilco, and even those last two are pushing the definition somewhat – but there’s no out-and-out country music on here at all. For a self proclaimed list of the “Best 500 songs from 1976 to 2006”, that’s a pretty big miss, especially when there’s everything else from thrash metal (Napalm Death) to MOR (Fleetwood Bloody Mac). No Johnny Cash, no Loretta Lynn or kd lang, and no Willie Nelson.

It’s even stranger that a great tune like Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” is missing. This is a song that’s beloved by all and sundry, from Bonnie “Prince” Billy himself (who plays it at live shows) to Hannah Montana (who named an episode of her show after the song) It isn’t in the list when horrible AOR dross like Hall & Oates “I Can’t Go For That” and Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” are. If you don’t know it, watch this:

Brilliant, isn’t it? A rollicking love song about the joys of the road, being with your friends, seeing new places, and being so utterly lucky to be able to make a living doing the things you love, it should be played to every single rubbish band that complain about having to tour. This is one of the purest songs out there about being a musician and the sheer fun it brings. The fact that it’s also a massive earworm helps too, as well as not having an inch of fat on it. Wonderful song and a baffling omission.

The Stranglers were a pub-rock band, who found punk rock and reinvented themselves. Notorious for their violence, both on- and off-stage – threatening journalists was one of their favourite activites – they released “Golden Brown” in 1981. About as far from their earlier punk numbers as was possible, it was a harpsichord-driven song in 13/4 time, sung in a terribly posh voice by Hugh Cornwell1. Now, that’s the way to get rid of your old fans.

I remember as a 10-year old, still young enough to be scared by punks, so it was weird to love this strange turn by one of the biggest punk bands of the day. The Englishmen abroad video merely added to the mystery of the song: Naive me (and many other people, in fairness) thought it was about a laydee of the foreign extraction. But of course, the lyrics are deliberately ambiguous, with one clear stand-out line “Through the ages she’s heading west” spelling out reality.

Yep, of course, it’s about drucks. That most feted, most dangerous, most revered and hated of all drugs, Vicks Vapour Rub heroin. It’s a bit bloody obvious when you listen to the first verse again:

Golden brown texture like sun
Lays me down with my mind she runs
Throughout the night
No need to fight
Never a frown with golden brown

See? I mean, why would a laydee be running with your mind? Why would you need to fight with a purdy laydee? So yes, drucks it is. And it’s a fantastic record – and tons better than, say, “Happy Birthday” by bloody Altered Images.

Two top songs, which would have quite happily sat in the list. Next time, we’re back with the list proper, and the flowerings of some serious hip-hop.

1 Surely the only punk rock vocalist to have a BA in Biochemistry.

The whole list is available here.

MP3: On The Road Again by Willie Nelson

MP3: Golden Brown by The Stranglers

Buy Willie Nelson’s “One Hell of a Ride” (CD Box Set)

Buy The Stranglers “Greatest Hits 1977-1990” (CD/MP3)

Like my blog? Please help spread the word: Add To FacebookAdd To DiggAdd To RedditAdd To DeliciousAdd To TechnoratiAdd To StumbleUpon

The Pitchfork 500 Goes Goth – Echo to the Banshees

Goths! Black. Patchouli oil. Hair crimpers. More black. Dry ice. Being miserable. Yet more black. Ah, it was fun being a goth.

Echo and the Bunnymen – The Killing Moon
The Cure – Close to Me
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Cities in Dust

I was a teenage goth, you know. Well, more like a half-goth. A demi-goth. A part-time goth. I was far too much into The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire and New Order to ever really go down the road of become a full Balaam and the Angel fan – but there was a definite gothic tendency in my mid-80’s listening. Yes, I had a Bauhaus record. And Sisters of Mercy too. More than one, in fact.



Anyway, this bit of the Pitchfork 500 veers from the jangly alt-rock, the goodtime rock, the hardcore-gone-catchy of the last bunch of songs. Whilst the US indie scene vied for a combination of reality and harping back to a mystical past, UK music veered off into strange new places.

First off, Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon”. 25-odd years after first hearing this, I still find it inestimably creepy. There’s a weird oppressive atmosphere over the whole thing, from Ian McCulloch’s just on the edge of hysteria singing to Will Sargeant’s Television-on-bad-acid guitar. It’s also, after 25-odd years, utterly fantastic.

“The Killing Moon” is a desperate wail of a song, underpinned by a sharp sense of drama and a cracking tune. And there’s not many pop songs that go on about the battle between fate and free will, though I’m hoping that The Saturdays will soon release a song about Cartesian duality to even up the mix a bit. Goes on for about a minute too long though, no matter what it says in the book.

Next up, it’s The Cure with “Close to Me”. Again, like Echo, there’s an odd atmosphere, but this time it’s more like the warm fug of a student bedsit with the windows shut against the cold, gas fire on full. The video is also one of the best suited to the song in history:

Isn’t that just great?

Robert Smith always had a way of writing a catchy pop tune which harboured dark, nasty thoughts underneath, and this is no exception. “I’ve waited hours for this/I’ve made myself so sick” isn’t exactly an ideal opening couplet for a sweet and gentle love song really, is it? Whilst I find The Cure’s records more than faintly embarrassing in the cold light of not being a teenager, there’s no denying this song’s haunting catchiness.

Finally, along comes Siouxsie Sioux wailing along with her Banshees. You know what, I don’t think I’ve willingly chosen to listen to a Banshees song for about 20 years. But you know what else? I really quite like “Cities In Dust”. I’d forgotten how modern and shiny the mid-80’s Banshees sounded (you can see exactly where Garbage got all their ideas from), and how striking a singer Siouxsie was.

There aren’t many rocks songs about the destruction of Pompeii in AD79, you know. Being inspired by a visit there, and no doubt with the fear of imminent nuclear destruction1 in the back of her mind, Siouxsie sings portentously about “Hot and burning in your nostrils/
Pouring down your gaping mouth”

Ok, so the video hasn’t aged quite as well as The Cure’s, but few videos from the early-80’s have, frankly. Still, Siouxsie is on imperious form and the video doesn’t leave you in any doubt about the subject matter. Which is nice.

So there we go, three songs from the UK Goth Explosion. Well, a bunch of black-clad miserablists couldn’t ever really cause an explosion, and Echo and the Bunnymen aren’t exactly goths, but you know what I mean. For songs that are, on the surface, really a bit miserable, I’ve rather enjoyed listening to all of them again. I wasn’t expecting that, I can tell you.

Back over the Atlantic for the next Pitchfork, to see what’s been happening in the strange and exciting world of hip-hop and rap.

MP3: The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen

MP3: Close to Me by The Cure

MP3: Cities In Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees

1 You really had to be there, you know. The early ’80’s were great fun for nuclear paranoia. Honestly, you kids these days with your dirty bombs and bio-weapons; we had 10,000 Russian warheads pointing in our general direction, and an ex-B movie actor in the White House. Much more fearsome, frankly.

The whole Pitchfork 500 series of articles can be found here.

Buy “Killing Moon: the Best of Echo & the Bunnymen” (CD)

Buy The Cure’s “Greatest Hits” (CD)

Buy Siouxsie and the Banshees “The Best Of” (CD/MP3)

Like my blog? Please help spread the word: Add To FacebookAdd To DiggAdd To RedditAdd To DeliciousAdd To TechnoratiAdd To StumbleUpon

Holiday Songs, Part 3 – Iron and Wine

I went away with good intentions of playing all those Word CD’s I hadn’t got round to listening to yet, plus those Husker Du, Replacements and Minutemen CD’s I’d bought as a result of the Pitchfork 500 list. Instead, my brain went “You know, you really haven’t listened to Iron and Wine or Feist recently, even though you’ve listened to them tons in the past and you’ve got a whole load of exciting new music to listen to”.

So, on the flight over, and since, it’s been Iron and Wine’s “The Shepherd’s Dog”. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you’ll know I’m generally hopeless at keeping even vaguely up to date, but I did manage to find the acoustic versions of two of my favourite songs – “Lovesong Of The Buzzard” and “Resurrection Fern”. I’ll gloss over the fact that these have been posted on Sam Beam’s website for a good, ooh, four months now, and that there’s a full set of eight acoustic versions to download. But you probably have them already.


Great songs from a man I really need to go and see live.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for my holiday. Should be back in the UK tomorrow, and I’ve even finally got a Pitchfork 500 post done. It’s about Goths, you know.

MP3: Lovesong Of The Buzzard (Acoustic) by Iron and Wine

MP3: Resurrection Fern (Acoustic) by Iron and Wine

Buy “The Shepherd’s Dog” (CD/MP3)

Holiday Songs, Part 2 – Ybor Rocks

So now I know what Craig Finn of The Hold Steady is on about when he sings about Ybor City. After a lovely day at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, we headed on down to the original Columbia Restaurant in Tampa. It’s situated in the old Hispanic Quarter, now tarted up and brushed up, ready for a late-30’s rock singer from the mid-West to rhapsodise about over the best bar-room rock you’ve heard since the E-Street band tumbled out of Noo Joisey.

And I can see exactly why the various protagonists of Finn’s songs come to Ybor City to drink. The place is filled with bars, clubs, the occasional tattoo parlour and everything else the discerning 20-something needs to have a really messed-up time.

Ok, so we didn’t quite get so drunk that Ybor City almost killed us (again). It’s tough to do that with a 3 year old. At five-thirty in the afternoon. More like a couple of bottles of Modelo Negro (mmm dark beer), some great food and a charming waiter who told us all about his German Shepherd/Rottweiler puppy. That’s trouble brewing, I can tell you.

We drove away playing The Hold Steady’s “Slapped Actress”, with me singing along, badly, backed by my son asking for Feist’s “1,2,3,4”. Ybor City – not just for the hugely drunken moments in life.

Slapped Actress by The Hold Steady

Buy “Stay Positive (Limited Edition Special Package)” (CD)