There are times when, listening to a song, another band pops into your head. And it’s inappropriate. You couldn’t imagine going up to the the songwriter and saying “Hey, you know that song you wrote, about the death of your parents in a tragic mud-wrestling accident, it really reminds me of “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”!). Just not the done thing.

The other day I was stuck for what to listen to in the morning, and I decided on Volcano Choir. I got this when it first came out some months back but never really listened to it that much, so giving it another try seemed like the fair thing to do. Being the side project of legendary miseryguts Justin Vernon (“My missus dumped me so I’m off to a shack in the woods to kill deer!”), I thought it would be a bit of a sorry listen. But it’s nice; the record is quite pleasant. And about halfway through “Islands, IS” I thought to myself “This sounds like Coldplay!”.

Coldplay, I ask you. But listen again:

That bit at the start where he goes “To The Sky”, is just pure Chris Martin, singing on Faultline’s great “Where Is My Boy”. This is, as the phrase goes, A Good Thing. Both are lovely, rich songs chock full of lovely textures with singing just the right side of lazily mournful. Perfect for a Sunday morning, I think you’ll agree. I’m just not 100% sure Justin Vernon would want the comparison. Ah, who cares. If he didn’t agree with me, he’d get upset and trot off to the polar icecap for a while to subsist on seal blubber. Then make a record about it.

MP3: Island, IS by Volcano Choir

MP3: Where Is My Boy by Faultline (feat. Chris Martin)

Buy Volcano Choir’s “Unmap” (CD/MP3)

Buy Faultline’s “Your Love Means Everything” (CD/MP3)

Imperialous – Metric at Shepherds Bush Empire

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to believe that the real brains behind Broken Social Scene isn’t Kevin Drew and the beardy one, but Leslie Feist and Emily Haines. Just check the evidence. Before they came along, BSS were a couple of guys bumming around Toronto. Next thing, they hook up (not in that way1) with these talented ladies, and some other folks, and the next thing any of us know they’ve produced the shiny disk of utter fabiousness that is “You Forgot It In People“. Then Feist and Emily go back to their day jobs bands, only sporadically helping out, and the result? “Broken Social Scene” and “Forgiveness Rock Record“. Come on, you know as well as I do that either record isn’t fit to lick YFIIP’s white leather thigh boots.

What, you want more evidence? Ok, go and see either of them live. Trust me, that’s no hardship. Feist is a fantastic musician, utterly in control of her music, and a fine performer to boot. And on last night’s performance at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Emily’s up there with her.

Haring through pretty much all of “Fantasies”, plus some older stuff thrown in (which I, dear reader, haven’t got a clue what the track names are), Emily and co demonstrate that they aren’t just another bunch of indie-rock chancers. The glistening shininess of their last record is all present and correct – amazing, given the ability of the sound man to not realise there’s a woman on stage with a microphone that we might want to hear singing. That, and the fact that Jimmy Shaw looks like my mate Idriss after a crash diet. The two Sleeperblokes are damn good at the whole drumming and bassing bit, too.

The songs, well, you know, they are pretty damn fine songs, so hearing them live was always going to be a pleasure. The loonie ending to opener “Twilight Galaxy” certainly made us wake up. “Sick Muse” was frantic, “Gimme Sympathy” was power-pop heaven, and “Collect Call” utterly lovely.

It’s all about Emily though. Emily spends her time away from the keyboards bouncing, pointing at the balcony grinning, bouncing some more, gurning, posing, then doing little shy coquettish smiles. She’s quite the character. There aren’t that many frontwomen (or frontmen, for that matter) with her kind of charisma. She’s the kind of singer you just can’t keep your eyes off, wondering what she’s going to get up to next. She’s dancing like a crazy robot! She’s headbanging at the keyboards! She’s flirting with the bassist! She’s posing for photos! During “Help I’m Alive” she leaned back and pumped her fist in the air like a ballerina on PCP.

Of course, the fact that she can safely be said to be easy on the eye helps. With the kind of angular, slightly gawky beauty that she shares with Feist, there’s not a moment where some lovelorn indieboy (or indiegirl) isn’t lifting up their cameraphones like antennas to heaven, hoping to catch that one shot to safely see them through their long nights at sea. This was, as you’d expect, somewhat irritating, but in life you have to take the rough with the smooth.

And it has to be said, she seems to be really enjoying herself up there; and in fairness, the rest of the band did too. Jimmy Shaw had a massive grin on his face the entire time. At the end of the gig, Emily put out a heartfelt plea about wanting to make things different (maybe they should help out The Pop Cop), the main gist of which was how they loved being on an indie label. Well, we love it too; seeing a band winning awards (oh, ok, some Juno awards) without major label backing is wonderful.

Metric area band I’d love to see hit the bigtime. They’ve got energy, great songs, and a frontwoman who could charm the toughest of crowds. Like Mew, this lot should be supporting U2 or Coldplay or Muse or someone on some enormous stadium tour. Ending with “Stadium Love”, of course.

MP3: Stadium Love by Metric

MP3: Gold Guns Girls (Acoustic) by Metric (Courtesy of the marvellous Tsururadio)

1 Though they have, you know. I’m sure you don’t need me to spread gossip.

Amazon’s Metric Page

Can We Please Move On From The Month Of May

I can’t say it’s been a great month so far. We’ve had some properly crap stuff happen round here that has got me concentrating on anything other than listening to music. Plus, the music industry seems set upon going to war with music bloggers that threatens to stop this being a worthwhile exercise. The whole idea of music blogging, where someone can say “Hey, I’ve heard this song, here’s what I think about it, try it yourself” and help spread good music is rapidly turning into “Here’s the only track the record company want you to hear, this Internet’s things a lark, isn’t it?”. We’re just all becoming record company shills. This upsets me, partly because it’s a model that is doomed to failure (if you want to download pirated music, it’s so simple it’s not even worth explaining), and partly because it’s hurting the very people who are trying to promote your music for free.

A little example – I would love to write about a song on Band Of Horses new CD, but I can’t, because if I try and post it, I’ll get shut down (again). So there you go, Band Of Horses Record Label, you don’t get any free publicity. Sure, I might only get a few hundred readers a day (a couple of thousand on a big day), but if 100 people go out and buy a record because of something I’ve said, that’s $1000 for the record label. And if, out of those 100, 20 like it so much they go and see the band with a friend, that’s another $800. Throw in some merchandising, that’s, say, $2000 thanks to me talking about it. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not much, but multiply this out for all the 10,000 plus bloggers on the big aggregators, and that’s a pretty decent sum. And I am very, very small fry in relation to some of the big hitters on Hype Machine and Elbows.

Arcade Fire are probably the biggest band that became famous almost solely due to the blogging world, leading the way for all sorts of bands like Arctic Monkeys through to Vampire Weekend and *insert new trendy band clogging up Hype Machine here*. So it’s not a huge shock to see that, with a new single on the way, they’ve found an interesting new way of drawing attention to it without all that dodgy downloading stuff. Of course, the whole point of mp3’s is that you should be able to download it and listen to it on the Tube, out jogging, lying around in the park drinking cheap cider, or wherever you so choose. Still, it’s a nice idea; go and have fun playing with the little vinyl record. Ooh, takes me back. Right, sunny and warm, off to get turned an alarming shade of red.

A. The Suburbs

AA. Month of May

MP3: Wake Up by The Arcade Fire

Amazon’s Arcade Fire Store

The Besnard Lakes Are The Subject Of This Post

This year’s been a bit of a funny one for music so far. Some old stalwarts, Broken Social Scene and The Hold Steady, have produced eagerly awaited albums that can be summed up with the word “Meh”. Joanna Newsom and The National have produced albums that can be summed up by saying “Well, not as good as the last one but still ok”. As for Band Of Horses, well they don’t deserve any more comment given the way they are treating their fans (and the album? “Meh”). There’s not many bands I can think of that have improved on their previous records.

One that has, and in properly great style, are The Besnard Lakes. “The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night” follows on from 2007’s “The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse”, and frankly, it’s a beaut. Filled with epic psychedelic rock of the kind that can only be made by listening to far much Led Zeppelin whilst in a suggestible frame of mind, “…The Roaring Night” is a huge leap onward from “…The Dark Horse”, which fell over itself trying to be too dark and lonesome.

In contrast, “…The Roaring Night” is a far more open beast, and a much more welcoming listen. Fairly roaring through the speakers (or your headphones), the record is filled with drama and walls of cascading guitars. I love it. It’s not an everyday record by any means – you need to focus on it, rather than let it drift by, but when you’re in the right mood, this record will fill your brain in a most pleasant way. As a taster, here’s lead single “Albatross”.

And yes, I know this came out a few months ago. It’s a grower, ok? And you don’t come here for new records, do you?

MP3: Albatross by The Besnard Lakes

Amazon’s Besnard Lakes Store

Clinging to the Radio (Dept)

Some albums are lovely to just have around, playing in the background whilst you’re doing the washing up, or playing on your headphones on a crowded Tube trying to read. Last year it was Bibio’s “Ambivalence Avenue”, this year it’s shaping up to be The Radio Dept’s “Clinging To A Scheme”.

I first wrote about these gentle Swedes back in February, and since then the album has been a regular on my torrid journeys to and from the barren, corporate wasteland that is Canary Wharf. And funnily enough, just today I was thinking “Ooh, I really ought to post something about them again so people might go and buy the record because it’s damn fine”. Serendipity being the thing it is, tonight I get the news that they’re releasing “Never Follow Suit” as a single soon. For a song that is, frankly, reggae-lite, it’s quite remarkably pleasant. And even more remarkably, it’s nowhere near the best song on the album.

Cheer Up, You're Not In The Twilight Sad You Know

The single is out on Labrador Records on June 16th, backed with two exclusive b-sides, and the band are busy touring Europe (including two dates in London, which I am sad to say, I can’t be at. Bah!). What on earth are they putting in the water in Sweden these days, anyway?

MP3: Never Follow Suit by The Radio Dept

Buy “Clinging to a Scheme” (CD/MP3)

The Dylanest Man On Earth

Ah, these crazy Swedes. When they aren’t making cars based on jet fighters, building hot sweaty rooms from pine, or drinking themselves into oblivion in a more chirpy way than Finns, they write music. Lots of it, too.

So Tall He Can't Even Get In The Frame

Latest Swede to hit these shores armed with a guitar and a way with a jaunty tune is The Tallest Man On Earth. Bad news first. He sounds a lot like Dylan. Good news is, he carries it really rather well. Opener to his new album “The Wild Hunt”, cunningly entitled, “The Wild Hunt”, is as good a place to start as any. Some lovely guitar, a catchy tune, some idiosyncratic singing, what more can you ask for?

The album’s a good ‘un too, and has been getting great reviews all over the place. Give it a try, I say.

MP3: The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man On Earth

Buy “The Wild Hunt” (CD)

Live – Joanna Newsom, Royal Festival Hall

Joanna newsom is a genius. There, I said it. The G word. A proper, certified, unambiguous genius. There is no-one, but no-one out there (except perhaps Sufjan Stevens) who writes music so perplexing, so full of unexpected twists and turns, with lyrics so poetic and mysterious. She’s something of an enigma. After all, she’s also certifiably beautiful, graceful, whimsical, and more than a little bonkers. Comparisons with Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell are easy to make, but only tell about a hundreth of the story. This woman is once-in-a-decade special, and always a massive pleasure to watch live.

What’s even more pleasurable is, having seen her play only her second London show, back in 2004, developing into such a stunning artist. First time, in the Conway Hall, she was shy and self-effacing, just her and her harp. Now, she’s bantering with band and audience alike, demanding that we ask questions of the band whilst she tunes her harp (standout question – “What’s your opinion of the pedestrianisation of Norwich High Street”; this met with huge applause from the crowd and an exasperated “We’re sitting ducks up here!” from the drummer Neal). Her music has developed exponentially too; from the relative simplicity of “The Milk-Eyed Mender” through the stunning “Ys”, to this year’s baffling, astounding, and undoubtedly soon-to-reach-modern-classic-status-once-we’ve-all-listened-to-it-100-times “Have One On Me”.

Given that the new one has 18 tracks, some of which are about an hour long, it’s no shock that tonight’s set is taken mainly from it. This does pose something of a problem, in that this is an album that clearly needs about a year of solid listening to make sense, but this isn’t stopping our old Joanna. The easier tracks, like, er, “Easy” and “Good Intentions Paving Company” (if that’s not song title of the year I want to know what is) are more easily digestible, and met with rapturous applause. Some of the tougher songs still get the crowd going, but you can tell that we’re all still a bit confused.


Earlier songs are given a tasteful wash and brush up. “The Book Of Right-On” maintains its air of tentative flirtatiousness, with the band adding beautiful touches here and there. And “Inflammatory Writ” has become much more delicate, and a far better song as a result; I’d love to have that on another “Ys Street Band” EP. The work she has done with the band has worked wonders for the show; she is blazingly confident, and with good reason.

Sadly, there’s no space for easy-going crowd favourites “Emily” or “Bridges And Balloons” (as if a nine-minute long song, and one about bleedin’ Narnia, can be classified as “easy-going”), both of which were yelled out by crowd members as the band returned for the single encore. “Excellent choices”, Joanna replied, “But we kind of have our own plan”. Spoken without a hint of apology, there’s a determination in the subtones of her voice that show you exactly what a fiercly ambitious and hugely intelligent musician she is.

For she truly is a special talent. How the hell does she memorise all these songs, let alone remember the lyrics? Whilst I know I’ve gone on about Mew or Russian Circles in the past, but Joanna really is in a different league in the challenging yet accessible music stakes. She even got a London crowd – normally filled with morons yapping to each other about a scarf they had seen in a boutique in Hoxton – to shut up. Now that’s genius.

MP3: Kingfisher by Joanna Newsom

(Note: MP3 originally posted on Drag City website)

Buy “Have One on Me” (CD/MP3)

Note: Apologies for the somewhat slapdash post. Normal over-verbose service will be resumed once Real Life buggers off to its hole.


My word, I feel rotten today. The combination of a late night and about 2 bottles of white wine at a friend’s 40th, ending in a minicab ride through central London discussing the politics of the Bangladeshi immigrant community with the driver (as you do), has resulted in me feeling a little tender.

Given that I’ve got a football match to attend to later, followed by beer and curry, I may as well just write off any possibility of being in a fit and proper state to do anything tomorrow.

Oi! Wake Up!

To get me through this, I have been listening to those dream-pop evangelists School Of Seven Bells. New album’s out July 13th and it’s called Disconnect From Desire. Their lysergic wooziness is just what I need on days like today.

So here, for your pleasure, is the first track from the new record, “Babelonia”, plus a cut from the Deluxe version of “Alpinisms”, rather more chilled out and calming to my frayed nerves.

MP3: Babelonia by School Of Seven Bells

MP3: For Kalaja Mari (Drum Outtake Mix) by School Of Seven Bells

Amazon’s School Of Seven Bells Shop

Wolfie! Here, Wolfie!

Wolf Parade are one of those funny old bands that, on first listen, you think “Oh yeah, angular, post-punk rockers with some arty bloke yelping on top”. But something grabs you, some little catchy tune, a drum roll here, a guitar lick there, and before long you’re humming along to it on the Tube even though you’ve not got your iPod with you that day, much to the consternation of your fellow travellers.

Wolf Among Wolves

What I’m trying to say is that they are Quite Good. And they’ve got a new album coming out next month, titled “Expo 86“. If it’s half as good as “Apologies to the Queen Mary” then I’ll be a happy man.

MP3: What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way) by Wolf Parade

MP3: Shine A Light by Wolf Parade

Out on Jun 29th on Sub Pop!

Buy “Apologies to the Queen Mary” (CD)

Squalor Victoria and Albert

The National are the American Elbow (or, for the Americans amongst you, Elbow are the English The National1). Purveyors of heartfelt, grandiose music, with a touch of prog in amongst the melancholy. And then there’s the history of both bands; both struggled for years before slowly, painstakingly building a loyal and suprisingly large fan base; both bands elevate themselves above the fray by releasing increasingly confident, ambitious albums whilst never turning away from what made them special in the first place.

The National’s core sound – guitars just on the edge of distortion, military drums, Matt Berninger’s charismatic baritone vocals – suits the Albert Hall, which normally struggles with rock bands. Although opener “Mistaken for Strangers” sounded a bit claggy, things soon righted themselves. With a healthy mix of mostly rapturously received new songs, and even more rapturously received older numbers, the band deftly worked their way through an enviably strong set.

This was one of those gigs where you could see the band playing their new material with an attitude of utter confidence. Mostly bands plying their great fabby shiny new release do so with a slight air of embarrassment; not this lot. “Afraid Of Everyone” was tumultuous, “Conversation 16” left everyone wondering if he really is singing “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains”2, and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, reeled out as an encore, was a touch rough around the edges, but judging from the audience reaction is fast becoming a fan favourite before the record has even been released.

Older songs – hailing from Alligator and Boxer – remind us just what a band we’re dealing with here. “Slow Show” was marvellous; a slow burning wonder. “Squalor Victoria” is all drums and thunder. “Mr November” sees Matt Berninger go for an extended walkabout through the crowd like a more lovable, and somewhat more drunken Bono. And “Apartment Story” was a delicate, touching paean to a generation that wouldn’t, or didn’t understand how to, protest against the Bush administration: “Stay inside ’til somebody finds us\Do whatever the TV tells us\Stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz”.

But the standout track tonight was “Blood Buzz Ohio”, one of their best songs, old or new. I’ve no idea what it’s about, but the lovely rhythm of the chorus – “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe\I never thought about love when I thought about home” – carries you along, no matter what the meaning of the song is. The backing from the two-man horn section is just perfect too. Stupid grin on face time.

This is one of the magical things about The National. When the songs make sense, they drill into your brain and refuse to leave thanks to their marvellous lyricism (“Another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults”) and the stunning musicality of the Dessner brothers, and in particular the astonishing drumming of Bryan Devendorf. He even got his own moment in the spotlight at the start of “Squalor Victoria”, where he looked like drumming like that is the easiest thing on earth. And even when they don’t quite make sense, the music pulls you along, capturing you until you’ve unlocked the secrets of what on earth he’s on about.

Like Elbow, The National aren’t so much a feel good band, as a feel good about feeling bad band. Last year, Elbow played their largest London show yet; this was The National’s largest show in London. It seems like the world might finally be waking up to what a special group this is, in the way that it did to Elbow in 2008; whether “High Violet” will be the breakthrough record it could so easily be, only time will tell. They’d certainly deserve it.

High Violet is out Monday

MP3: Afraid of Everyone by The National

(Track removed as apparently the Web Sheriff has been doing the rounds again. Bad Web Sheriff! Bad!)

1 Speaking of which, on my way to work this morning, feeling avuncular after doing my democratic duty, I saw a lady on the Tube listening to Elbow. I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and say “Listen to this”, before passing over my pre-release “High Violet”. She’d like it. Mind you, it’s not really the done thing, no matter what all those warm and fuzzy ads tell you.

2 He is, you know.