Klamath Feel The Noise

Coming home from another drubbing at the hands of a hated enemy, I was scrolling through my new iPhone, looking for something suitable to ease the pain. Midlake? Far too minor key. Hot Chip? Too cheery. Mark Eitzel? That’ll do nicely. There’s something in his tone of voice; that soft, gentle warmth that envelops you even as he’s singing about how he’s been drinking too much and he’s down on his luck and all that. Just what you need when you’re hacked off spending a grand a year watching a bunch of overpaid tossers fanny about.

The Man Himself

Speaking of pay, I read an interview with the charming Mr Eitzel toward the end of last year in which he stated that he was pretty much bankrupt; couldn’t afford to tour with a full band and was living from one month to the next. So, in honour of one of the finest singer/songwriters the US has produced, please listen to the song below and then go and buy the album from which it comes (“Klamath”). You can have it autographed and everything.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday Maaarrrrkiiiieeee, happy birthday to you.

MP3: Why I’m Bullshit by Mark Eitzel

Or buy “Klamath” from Amazon here.

New Year New Phone

Ok, I’m starting to push it with these New Year titles. This is the last one, I promise. But what a treat! For me, at least. Because I’ve finally got a new iPhone – one of the sparkly white ones – with 32Gb1. So I can put all the new music that’s coming out onto it without removing a whole bunch of old stuff2. Huzzah!

Vision Joanna Newsom

As a celebration of this momentous event, I put a live recording of Joanna Newsom from earlier this month, from those lovely folks at Fan Made Recordings. Considering it’s recorded from the audience (rather than the mixing desk), the quality is decent as can be expected. And it has to be said too, it’s not particularly easy listening to new material from an artist quite as complex as Ms Newsom, as it takes time to seep properly into your brain.

All worth a listen though. You can download the whole set from the link above, in preparation for the triple album (Triple!) out next month. Go on, have a listen. It’ll get your brain prepared for the real thing.

MP3: Have One On Me (Live) by Joanna Newsom

MP3: Soft As Chalk (Live) by Joanna Newsom

1 I was waiting to see if a new iPhone would be announced at the same time as the iSanitaryTowel, but it wasn’t. I reckon a new iPhone will be out in the summer, with that there A4 chip. And what’s all this immediate backlash about the iPad? I might get me one of those, especially if I can get a Bluetooth audio connector thing so I can play music in the kitchen from it whilst lying on the sofa surfing the web. Honestly, people these days want everything handed to them on a plate (or tablet); getting themselves so worked up about what they wanted from it that when Steve Jobs announced an iTouchOnSteroids, everyone’s upset. Seriously, get over yourselves. It’ll be nice to use. It’ll look good. It won’t crash (much). You’ll enjoy using it. The end.

2 It really hacks me off when I’m on the tube and I want to hear an old favourite – say, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, but I can’t, because I’ve taken it off to make room for Yeasayer’s new one. Which happened just the other day. And precipitated this existential crisis.

Pre-Order “Have One on Me”

New Year New Music Part Seven – Joanna Newsom

Ooh, another biggie. I’ve been an enormous fan of Joanna Newsom after seeing her support Smog at the Conway Hall in London some years back. Having never heard her before, we were all perplexed by this winsome lady in full Renaissance garb strolling onto stage and playing a harp beautifully whilst wailing in an unconventional manner.

You Rawk!

Which is lovely if you like that sort of thing. Which, unbeknownst to me beforehand, I did. Isn’t music great? Anyway, she’s got an album coming out called, perplexingly, “Have One On Me”. No, me neither. It’s a triple CD. Triple CD! I haven’t got time to listen to all the stuff I reallly like at the moment without some eccentric beauty foisting about twenty thousand new songs on us. Enough!

Sorry, rant over. The first track from it has crept out onto tha Interwebz, and jolly nice it is too. To be honest, I’ve only listened to it the twice and so far, I rather like it, but I can’t hand-on-heart say it’s the best song I’ve ever heard. ‘Tis good, though.

As for my views on the picture that come with it, well, I’m not going to comment. You’ll just have to download the track and see for yourself.

MP3: ’81 by Joanna Newsom

Hat tip to Tsururadio!

Buy “The Milk-Eyed Mender” (CD/MP3)

Pre-Order “Have One on Me”

Last Year’s Music – The Twilight Sad

In my Albums of the year post at the tail end of 2009, I mentioned that there were a bunch of records by bands I loved that I hadn’t got round to listening to yet. This week, I finally got round to listening to The Twilight Sad’s second album, “Forget The Night Ahead”. Long-term readers may recall me getting earache following their tinnitus-inducing show at the ICA. Quite frankly, it was worth it.

The Sun! It Burns!

The funny thing about hearing tracks like “Doonstairs” (ok, “Reflection Of The Television”) on record is how well I remember them. Sure, they are cleaned up of much of the huge wall of noise that is a Twilight Sad live show, but they lose little of their power in their transition to a bunch of bits. “I Became A Prostitute” is absolutely cracking and has been on near-constant rotation on my poor iPhone; there’s something of the grim, cold rainy day in their music which perfectly reflects the current weather round here. The album as a whole seems a bit more sludgy than their debut, a bit more oppressive, but dammit, fine music is fine music.

But they are miserable blighters, aren’t they?

MP3: I Became a Prostitute by The Twilight Sad

Buy “Forget The Night Ahead” (CD)

New Year New Music Part Six – Bullets In Madison

The internet is great, isn’t it? Hunting around so good blogs for more information about someone, I stumbled across Count Me Out. I hadn’t visited in a bit, but had always rather liked the site, and seeing that there were some albums he was currently listening to were my kind of thang, as you’d expect, I thought I’d click on one of the records I hadn’t heard of. The link directed me to a free download of the new album (“We Became Your Friends When You Died”) by a band called Bullets In Madison. Ah, sod it, I’ll give it a try, I thought.

Might as well start at the top with “Animals”, I subsequently thought, once it’d downloaded.

And whoo-ee, I’m glad I did. That was on Sunday, it’s now Friday and I must have listened to the album ten times (and it’s been a damned busy week at work). How can I describe it? Well, mystical Americana crossed with motorik Krautrock, haunted by the ghosts of New Order and Television, with a helping of Doves-esque majesty. In short, it’s great. Really great. Funnily enough, I didn’t realise that Brendan, writer of Count Me Out, is actually in the band, which makes the find even better.

I can’t quite believe that we’re 22 days into the new year and I’ve already heard two utterly fantastic records (the other one being by Freelance Whales, of course). What a year this could turn out to be. I shall be reviewing both in the coming days/weeks/months1.

MP3: Animals by Bullets In Madison

1 Because we all know how reliable my timings are. *cough* Pitchfork *cough*.

New Year New Music Part Five – Midlake

Here’s another biggie. Midlake‘s last album, “The Trials Of Van Occupanther”, was one of my favourite albums of the decade. I loved the old-age feel to the record, it was like The Band jamming with ELO in a theme park about the Wheeler Survey. And they are back on February 1st with “The Courage Of Others”. From what I’ve heard, it’s somewhat more minor key than “Van Occupanther”, but carries over that lovely pastoral 19th Century backwoods town feel to it. You’d expect them to turn up in an episode of Deadwood, singing about how men are doomed to their fate or somesuch.

Midlake Midwoods

Whilst digging around for more information about the new Midlake record, I came across a track by Ellie Goulding on this German blog. Covering a Midlake track is a dangerous thing, given how beautifully the band craft their songs, but with just an acoustic guitar and her voice, she makes “Roscoe” her own. Good work, highly-touted lady, and it just goes to show how good a song it is underneath all the instrumentation and multi-tracked vocals and whatnot.

MP3: Rulers, Ruling All Things by Midlake

MP3: Roscoe (Midlake Cover) by Ellie Goulding

Pre-Order “The Courage Of Others” (CD)

Buy “The Trials Of Van Occupanther” by Midlake (CD)

Pre-Order “Lights” by Ellie Goulding (CD)

Sunday Sufjan

Sufjan Stevens, he of the hugely complicated musical extravaganzas, put a secret track onto his last album, The BQE. Personally I find all this secret track thing a bit annoying; if you like the track and want it on your album, just put it on your new album. Or post it on your website for free. Or just save it up for the inevitable rare-and-unreleased compilation.

The BQE, Yesterday

Moaning aside, it’s a lovely sweet song, with all the usual baroque instrumentation, choir, slightly tricksy time signature, and that delicate tunefulness that he manages with apparent effortlessness. He’s a bit good, isn’t he? Right, Mr Stevens, can you please get on with the Great States project, as I’m waiting for Rhode Island1?

Hat tip to Knox Road. Thanks folks!

1 Yes, I know he’s admitted the whole thing was a bit of a joke that went wrong. Still, I’m holding out hope for a 3 hour long song cycle dedicated to Nebraska, all in the key of B# minor. In 15/4 time. On bassoons. Played by goats.

MP3: The Sleeping Red Wolves by Sufjan Stevens

Buy “The BQE” (CD + DVD)

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Swans Are Not Dead

Reunion fever seems to have taken over pretty much every vaguely important band of the last 20 years. Some, like Jesus Lizard, I’m not really too fussed about, but others, like Pavement, I’m well stoked about (to use the current terminology).

And on Thursday, in the Grauniad, came news that Swans were reforming. Or sort of reforming. For those of you who have never heard them, Swans made possibly the loudest, most brutal, most angry music ever. Not the loudness of AC/DC, that made you want to party. Not brutal like Einsturzende Neubaten, the brutality of machines and modernity. Not angry like Nine Inch Nails and other teenage-angst bands (or, *shudder*, Emo).

He's A Cheery Chappy

No, Swans were loud like a supernova. Brutal like death row. Angry like the vengeance of God himself. Sure, they toned down the noise and the brutality and the anger after “Children Of God”, but it was still there, always lurking, always ready to drag you down to the depths of the human soul.

And now they are reforming! Yay! LOL!!!! 😉

At the moment, it’s not entirely clear what countries they will tour, and what the live shows will actually be like, but I’m looking forward to the pummelling. It’ll hopefully be like a nasty version of the My Bloody Valentine reunion shows, bleeding eardrums and all.

In the meantime, to welcome non-believers to the wonderful and exciting world of Swans, is their song “New Mind”. With lines taken solely from real-life preacher’s speeches, this track glistens with pure anger and hatred. I love it.

MP3: New Mind by Swans

Footnote: I will one day write a much longer piece on Swans when I get to them on the Pitchfork 500 jaunt. And yes, I am still doing them, they’ve just come to a bit of a grinding halt whilst doing Albums of the Decade and all that stuff. Maybe that should have been another New Years Resolution.

Vampire Weekend – Contra

Hype, it’s a bitch for your band. At best, you’ll get lots of attention, which hopefully will bring with it legions of music lovers who will buy your records and come to your shows and give you all sorts of love, making those years of slog worthwhile. At worst, it’ll turn everyone against you, picking at you until you can take no more and you break up, disheartened and disconsolate. Most of the time, it goes for the worst. But even if things go well at the start, it’ll probably all go horribly wrong for the second album when that hype turns to backlash.

Which is where we are with Vampire Weekend. They had something of a backlash around the release of their debut, and now more blogs have turned against them, calling “Contra” the worst record of the new decade; plus all sorts of other sleights, mainly that they are posh. Being posh has a long history in pop music. I’ve wittered on about authenticity before, and the case of Vampire Weekend is an interesting one. Most bands from well-to-do backgrounds do their best to hide it; from Mick Jagger (a nice middle class kid who graduated from the LSE)1 to Joe Strummer (the son of a diplomat). Contrariwise, one of the most foppish pop stars in history, Brian Ferry, was the son of a Geordie miner.

Some Posh Blokes

With this in mind, the bile and vitriol piled upon self-professed posh kids Vampire Weekend was extraordinary. How dare these Yale-educated fops actually admit they were well-educated and came from affluent backgrounds? There was more than a hint of self-preservation in this hatred; as, by and large, there are more than a few people in the music industry with similar backgrounds who have built up their persona to hide the reality of their upbringing. Not me, I hasten to add, I’m a middle-class son of penniless immigrants2.

As for the other charge levelled against them, that of stealing the music of genuine, hardworking African bands like the Bhundu Boys…the answer is, get over yourselves. Seriously. People have been influenced by music for as long as music has been around. No-one owns a style, no-one is the ultimate arbiter of taste; if some rich kids from the Ivy League get turned on by jit, and want to copy it in their own style, then isn’t that a great thing for music? Maybe it’ll stop the hopeless, hapless apeing of The Beatles/Neil Young/Velvet Underground/Bob Dylan and inject some life into a moribund and tedious industry.

Hyped, rich, backlashed. Vampire Weekend are doomed with their second album “Contra” before they even start. Is it any good then?

To which the answer is, if you like to hear something not quite run of the mill that sticks in your brain, and isn’t a feeble reheated attempt at making a style of music that you last heard twenty years ago, is, well, yes. But maybe starting the album with the couplet “In December, drinking Horchata\I’d look psychotic in a balaclava” is akin to singing “You know what, I know I’m crap at these lyrics, and everyone’s going to be having a go at us anyway, so here’s the worst I’ve got to offer, now let’s all get on with enjoying the rest of the album, eh?”. The song itself is a charming bit of California pop with a bunch of chanting and tribal drumbeats over the top, like something from a BA World advert, and you’re probably all sick of the sound of it by now.

“White Sky” spells out the differences between this and the debut more clearly. There’s the same afro-beat influences, but this time over a jittery sequencer rather than jittery guitar; more adventurousness from an already adventurous band. Touched again by the ghost of Paul Simon, but kinda in a good way. “Holiday”, in some ways a retrograde step, makes up for it by being relentlessly chirpy. Then comes one of the tracks that has generated quite some ire.

“California English” starts with a bonkers bit of Kanye-gone-yodelling Autotuned nuttery. At first, I thought, what the hell? But after a few listens I grew to rather like it. It’s busy jittering away like a busy little earworm as I type this. “Taxi Cab” and “Run” follow, two more strong songs, before the listener is thrown into the fantastic MacCarthy-esque “Cousins”.

Then it all starts going a little bit wrong. “Giving Up The Gun” sounds like a particularly weak Electronic song and “Diplomat’s Son” appears to have been knocked off in about five minutes using Garageband. Thankfully, they raise their game again for the closer “I Think Ur A Contra”; a sweet almost-acoustic almost-ballad, reminiscent of Broken Social Scene’s “I’m Still Your Fag”.

For old gits like me, hype is a massive turn-off. As soon as a new band gets hyped my bullshit sensors go into overdrive and I roundly ignore whatever the proposition is (hello, Lady Gaga/La Roux/Little Boots etc). But I think I’ve listened to this album more in the past few days than I ever listened to the debut (all the way through, at least. “Vampire Weekend” got dull about halfway through as they ran out of tricks). I keep coming back to it, and I’m liking it more and more each time I listen. It makes me smile. Even the auto-tuned bits. They’re a hyped, rich band who’ve made a pretty good album; it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

It’s not as good as the Freelance Whales album though.

MP3: Cousins by Vampire Weekend

Note to the RIAA; please let me know if you don’t want me posting “Cousins”. I hear through the grapevine that you went after a whole load of blogs for posting it last year, and if you still don’t like it, just contact me via the Contact or MP3 pages. I’ll be more than happy to remove it.

MP3: White Sky (Live) by Vampire Weekend

Buy “Contra” (CD/MP3)

1 It’s been said by a number of people that if Mick Jagger hadn’t succeeded as a rock star, he’d have become a pretty fearsome Captain of Industry.

2 And I went to a Comp, you know. I’m still a right snob though. Middle-class and proud, that’s me.

New Year New Music Part Four – Freelance Whales

Animals are everywhere in music these days. Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Department of Eagles, Animal Collective, Frightened Rabbit, Startled Ocelot and Disgruntled Goat1 have all made their mark in recent years. If you are from Brooklyn (or Stirling) and need to give a funky, trendy name to your band, you’d better make sure you name it after wildlife.

Which is the route taken by Queens (eg nearly Brooklyn) band Freelance Whales. When my old chum Andrew contacted me to tell me about this great new band he’d come across, I thought he was taking the piss, as is his wont. But no. Freelance Whales are indeed a real band, and a quite startlingly good one they are too.

Now, I’m one of those people who constantly compares new things to bands/films/books/dogs I already know about. Yes, I know that in Music Journalism 101 they teach you to not do this kind of thing, but what the hell, this is my blog and I’ll do what I like. Here’s my take on Freelance Whales. They are Fleet Foxes meets Justin Timberlake.

“You what?” I hear you exclaim. Hear me out. The reason why I say this is that they like:

a. Banjos

b. Autotune

See? It’s easy, this music journalism lark. But, facetiousness aside, they combine some of the folky pastoral vibe of recidivists like Fleet Foxes and Devendra Banhart with the rather more modern autotuned sounds of Timberlake and Kanye West. Sure, that sounds very odd indeed, but it does work superbly, making a mixture that seems incongruous on paper quite delightful in reality. There’s all sorts of other influences in there, from Mew to Super Furry Animals to Neil Young.

Their album “Weathervanes” is out in March, with previews of much of the album available here. Better still, you can pre-order the album on their website here and get a free MP3 download immediately, well before the March 16th release date. I suggest you do as it’s excellent.

And enjoy the MP3 below, the song “Generator ^ 1st Floor”, which elegantly builds up the Deliverance-style banjo to Arcade Fire style heights:

MP3: Generator 1st floor by Freelance Whales

Ah, new music. Can’t beat it, can you?

1 Not all of these are real.

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