Albums, Songs, Gigs 2011 – Part Three

Here’s the third (and final, you’ll be pleased to hear) round up of the year’s music. Or at least the year’s music that I could give a toss about. Parts One and Two here and here.

The Albums You Wish The Artist Would Re-Record As A Solo Acoustic Album

Ron Sexsmith – Long Player Late Bloomer

When I saw Ron Sexsmith perform “Get In Line” on Later…. I was smitten. Not with his looks, of course (he’s hardly Feist, is he?), but with such beautiful tunesmithery sung in such wonderfully world-weary tones. Unfortunately the record from which it stems has been MOR’d to within an inch of its life. If Ron wouldn’t mind re-recording it with just him and an acoustic, I’d be a happy man. Or a slightly less unhappy one.

MP3: Get in Line by Ron Sexsmith

Iron And Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog was a pretty good record, and an extremely good one in demo acoustic form. I’d love to see what he could do with Kiss Each Other Clean without all the bumpf, because, as it stands, it’s a bit of an overblown mess.

The Nirvana Unplugged Award for an Acoustic Album/EP From A Band You Wouldn’t Expect It From

The Twilight Sad – Acoustic EP

A study in demonstrating that you aren’t just angry noise-merchants. Both “I Became A Prostitute” and “Interrupted” are probably better than their original, noisy incarnations.

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

New (non-album) Songs Of The Year

Battles – Ice Cream

Along with its fantastically mucky/arty video, a real odd-pop treat. Makes you think of horribly trendy young people in Barcelona. Damn them.

MP3: Ice Cream by Battles

Errr….that’s it. Sorry. It’s been all about the albums and the old songs this year. Which brings me onto:

Old Songs Of The Year

Bizarrely, this year three of my favourite non-album songs have been ones that have sat on iPod/iPhone/iWhatever for many, many years, yet for some reason haven’t registered with my brain until this year.

The Clientele – We Could Walk Together

I’ve listened to this song more than any other this year. One on hand, I can easily tell you why; the song is beguiling, with three verses, an instrumental chorus (if such a thing exists), and some wonderfully opaque lyrics (“Like a silver ring thrown into the flood of my heart”, a line apparently stolen from an Italian poet). On the other, I can’t explain why it’s caught hold of my heart after ten or so years of being sat in my collection, being occasionally played. Sometimes you just have to be ready for a song, I suppose.

MP3: We Could Walk Together by The Clientele

Low – Laser Beam

See later in this article, but in short, hearing a song live can sometimes take it from its source album and shine a whole new light on it.

Yo La Tengo – Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House

Unlike “Laser Beam”, I didn’t get to hear this live, which was a shame. I did shout out for it though. As I’ve mentioned before, the manifest charms of Yo La Tengo somehow passed me by for many years, and despite owning “And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out” since its release, I’d never picked up on how great this song was. Until now. Oh, and it’s the best ever song inspired by a Troy McClure line.

Best Gigs

Bill Callahanfor staring at us during “Baby’s Breath”. My wife was heavily pregnant at the time. We were hugely disconcerted.

M Ward – for making everyone just stare and go “How, but how, are you doing that?”

Low – one the finest live moments of a long gigging career was hearing the wonderful “Laser Beam” as the final encore. Thousands of people left utterly silent and speechless by this pure, simple song. The cheering at the end was almost as spine-tingling as the song itself. Watch this video of a live performance and notice firstly how the audience go from irritatingly noisy to raptly silent within about five seconds, and secondly, just how astonishing Mimi Parker’s voice is.

The rest of the gig was superb; even from our vantage point up in the rafters I loved every moment. Next time, I’m at the front, suckers.


That’s it for 2011. A year with some highlights, sure, but also some horrendous lows that I hope to not experience for a very, very long time. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and hope to see you in 2012.

Albums 2011 – Part Two

Here’s Part Two of my list of my favourite things from 2011. And by things, I mean albums, songs, and gigs, as opposed to huge steaming piles of crystal meth.

(Disclaimer: I do not have anything to do with huge steaming piles of crystal meth. It’s all meow meow round here, you know)

Part One is over here.

The Others

Elbow – Build A Rocket, Boys!

The Seldom Seen Kid was always going to be a hard act to follow. Instead of trying to copy it, or repeat it, they retreated into themselves and made a lovely, personal record, that I originally though wasn’t quite as compelling. Until I listened to it again a few more times before writing this, and realising that, you know what, it’s excellent.

Feist – Metals

Not content with earworming us into submission with the likes of “1,2,3,4”, Feist took some time away and wrote this gorgeous paean to loneliness. A far more complete album than anything she’s made so far; musically fascinating, lyrically enthralling, she’s a talent far above her peers. Her next record is eagerly awaited, and I hope her head is in a better place for it.

Wye Oak – Civilian

A band sadly ignored by most, this duo continue to write some damned fine songs, and Civilian is their strongest record by far. The title track positively roars in its melancholy fervour, and the rest of the record ain’t bad either. Miss them at your peril.

MP3: Civilian by Wye Oak

Antlers – Burst Apart

A record that drove into view in the slipstream of the (far inferior) Wild Beasts, Antlers do that whole windswept, broken-hearted earnest indie-rock that comes close to The National in terms of latching itself into the sadder parts of your heart with silver fishhooks, and refuses to leave. Perfect for your inner teenager.

The Scottish Duo Duo

Bill Wells and Aiden Moffat – Everything’s Getting Older

An album seeped in both the usual grimness of Aiden Moffett’s subject matter of death and f***ing, mixed with Bill Well’s beautifully understated music. “The Copper Top” is the album’s majestic highlight; anyone who has ever been to the funeral of a loved one will nod wryly and blink back the tears, but this isn’t the only highlight. “Glasgow Jubilee”’s circular, poetic tale of a series of sex-obsessed Glaswegians will simultaneously make you smile as well as disgust you. “Dinner Time” is utterly creepy up until the song’s final payoff line. Perfect for your inner miserable sex-obsessed loner.

MP3: The Copper Top (Radio Edit) by Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

Lyrically poles apart from Wells/Moffat but sonically a cousin, this is a much gentler listen. Apparently recorded in a Scottish tea-room, this pastoral gem takes a little while to settle in, but once it does, becomes the perfect go-to music for those nights when anything more dramatic might just send you teetering over the edge.

Wilco – The Whole Love

(Note: I forgot to paste this in on the first draft, so apologies to anyone who gets the email. Sorry!)

Being around for the best part of twenty years can mean that it’s hard to keep things fresh. Wilco, then, did superbly with The Whole Love, their strongest for years, if not quite at the heights of their best. I even wrote a review, you know.


That’s Part Two done with then. Part Three is over here.

Albums 2011 – Part One

Well, it’s been one of those years. For one reason or another, my record searching out ability, and time or inclination to sit down and write something about records, has been seriously curtailed this year. And so it seems appropriate that the first two records in my list weren’t even released this year. So it goes.

The Obligatory Album From Last Year That I Only Heard This Year

Cotton Jones – Tall Hours In The Glowstream

Tipped off by the marvellous Song, By Toad, this was my go-to album for the first few, dreadful months of the year. I almost wish I hadn’t listened to it so much as it’s now extricably linked to a horrible period of mine (and my friends) lives, but sod it. A great record and one I wish many more people would buy.

MP3: Sail Of The Silver Morning by Cotton Jones

The Obligatory Album From A Few Years Ago That I Only Heard This Year

Sam Amidon – All Is Well

Seeing Laura Viers live was a pleasure enough, but not as much of a pleasure as seeing support act Sam Amidon and going “Whoa! Dude! This rocks!”. Ok, I didn’t say that. But as I texted my wife (who was late) with a “The support act is brilliant” and rushing her through the Union Chapel to our seat at the front, I realised I’d found a new hero. Sam Amidon takes old, old songs and plays them with that wonderful ability of making something complicated sound simple. I dare you, go and try and play “Wedding Dress”; not as easy as it sounds.

MP3: Wedding Dress by Sam Amidon

Career Highlight Albums From Artists With Long Enough Careers Already

This year, three bands/artists have made unexpectedly great records that stand up in comparison, or even outshine, anything they’ve done before. In no particular order:

Low – C’mon

Call me strange if you like, but I’d say that this is Low’s best actual album, as in, a record you want to listen to all the way through, again and again. Yes, “Secret Name” and “Things We Lost In The Fire” may be slowcore’s finest moments, but when did you last listen all the way through, eh?

MP3: Try To Sleep by Low

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Again, other albums may have better individual moments, but this was Mogwai making a record that felt more complete than anything before. And “George Square Thatcher Death Party” is song title of the year, no question. Excellent performed live, too (

MP3: Rano Pano by Mogwai

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Already won the Mercury Prize and likely to top most writer’s lists, and deservedly so. There’s no-one else out there making records like this.

MP3: The Words That Maketh Murder by PJ Harvey

The Obligatory Nod To Bill Callahan and Will Oldham

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

With every Bill Callahan album, once you get over the inital obsession, you find two or three superb songs in amongst a bunch of other good songs. Those songs may well vary by listener, but you can be assured they’ll stand up against anything he’s done before. Show me someone still doing that.

With Apocalypse it’s “Baby’s Breath” and “Riding For The Feeling”. The former is plain creepy, the latter one of the finest evocations of a travelling artist you could ever hope to hear. Even now, 50-odd listens on, I’m still gobsmacked at just how beautifully composed it is. Not his best album, but it’s sure as hell better than what most other artists can produce.

MP3: Riding For The Feeling by Bill Callahan

Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Wolfroy Goes to Town

After a number of disappointing records, Mr Funky Beard himself has toned things down again and made his best record of recent years. Like Apocalypse, it recalls his greatest years but doesn’t repeat them, but unlike Apocalypse it doesn’t really stand up to the comparison. But then, this has the definite feel of a grower to it, so maybe next year I’ll be raving about it.

MP3: Quail And Dumplings by Bonnie Prince Billy

The Obligatory Instrumental Post-Metal Album

Psychic Paramount – II

Fantastic. Noisy. Absolutely f**ing barmy. The moment during DDB where the mad post-Krautrock intro suddenly, without any warning, thunders into a churning, destructive noise, is possibly my musical highlight of the year. I suspect that is what a train crash sounds like. And you know those bands who have an opener called “Intro”, and make it a nice, easy introduction to an album? II’s “Intro” lets you know exactly what the record will be like. Barmy, like I said.

Honorable mentions: Russian Circles with Empros and Mastodon with The Hunter, neither of which I’ve listened to enough yet (and yes, I know that Mastodon aren’t instrumental, but I can’t be arsed to do a separate thing)

The Obligatory Acoustic Instrumental Troubadour

Michael Chapman – Trainsong

Fantastic. Not noisy at all. And not barmy either; just utterly beautiful. What this man can do with a single guitar at the age of 70 is beyond 99.99999999% of the world’s guitarists, and yet his supreme technical skills never get in the way of a damn fine tune.

MP3: The Last Polish Breakfast by Michael Chapman

The Obligatory Paul Thomas Saunders Mention

Paul Thomas Saunders – Lilac And Wisteria EP

How, or why, this man is not a household name yet is beyond me. “Appointment In Samarra” is the most beautiful, melancholy piece of music I have heard all year. I just wish he’d pull his horrendously talented finger out and write a full CD of songs.

Well, that’s Part One out of the way. Part Two, in all its slightly shorter glory, is over here.

None More….errrr…Flowery

Mark Lanegan’s back. Back with his first solo record since 2003, if you can believe that, given how astonishingly prolific he’s been in the last ten years, what with QOTSA, Soulsavers, Gutter Twins, that Isobel Campbell business, and more guest spots than you can shake a stick at. Through all that he’s maintained a grumpy integrity and devotion to the cause of growling ominously that is second to none. Seriously, could anyone else these days release a record called “Blues Funeral” and have the lead song titled “The Gravedigger’s Song” and still expect people to keep a straight face?

With lyrics like “Love is a medicine, girl, like a crow flying eight miles high over wire and wood”, you know you’re in for a treat. Album’s out early next year, folks.

Now, I’ve no idea if this little widgetty thing is going to work, as WordPress appears to be frigging it to schninty. So if it doesn’t, just follow the link here to 4AD and listen to it on the player there.