Songs Of 2014

Funny old year. As I’ve only posted 7 largely ignored screeds over the year, it’s a bit presumptuous to do a roundup of the year. But as I’ve listened to a bunch of good stuff, I might as well do something, eh?

Best Lambchop/Jeff Buckley Mashup

The Antlers – Parade

Fantastic. Written about at length here, and brings a warm smile to my face every time I listen to it.

Buy The Antlers “Familiars” Here

Best Instrumental Guitar Piece

Runner Up

James Blackshaw – Fantômas : Le Faux Magistrat Part 4

Fantômas : Le Faux Magistrat isn’t James Blackshaw’s best album, though it is certainly an interesting one. The first recorded with something approaching a full band, a live recording made to soundtrack a silent movie, the album is around 75 minutes long. But it’s this five minute section I kept coming back to (around 02:50 in the video below):

Buy “Fantomas: Le Faux Magistrat” Here


William Tyler – Whole New Dude

Boy, can this guy play guitar. I met Lambchop many years ago, and Kurt Wagner said something to me about the fresh-faced chap who’d come on tour to play guitar with them. “The kid can really play guitar. We’re really pleased he’s with us”. For years, providing atmosphere and the occasional rollocking line (such as on “National Talk Like a Pirate Day”), it wasn’t obvious exactly what he could do. On his solo albums, he’s demonstrated that he’s up there as one of the best fingerstyle guitarists currently doing the rounds. And on “Whole New Dude”, that he can play with a full band too.

Buy “Lost Colony” Here

Best Line

Perfume Genius – Queen

“No family is safe when I sashay” is this year’s “The only words I’ve said today are ‘beer’ and ‘thank you'”. As in, distilling absolutely everything there is to say about a character in one hugely memorable line. It’s the kind of line that empowers people, and it’s the only time I think I’ve ever read YouTube comments on a song and not wanted to wipe out the entirety of humanity.

Buy “Too Bright” Here

Best Random Appearance of Bonnie Prince Billy in a Videogame

So there I am, playing/listening to the wonderful Here And There Along The Echo, the most recent interlude in the Kentucky Route Zero series, when the voice on the other end of the phone starts singing about the animals he catches and eats along the Echo River. The voice sounds strangely familiar. On getting to work, I find out it’s our old friend Bonnie Prince Billy. As though it could be anyone else.

And whilst we’re at it, Too Late To Love You. Not for the song as such, but the direction. Manages to be one of my musical and gaming highlights of the year.

Best Mid-Life Crisis

Runner Up:

Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You)

One of the knock-out moments of the year. A true “What the hell is he doing?” statement, and a sign that rock music can, even in its dotage, still surprise you. Shame the rest of the album didn’t hit the same heights.

Buy Future Islands “Singles” Here


Sun Kil Moon – Ben’s My Friend

Wow, has Mark Kozalek been having a mid-life crisis. First he releases another album of low-key, slightly alarming acoustic songsmithery (the one about all the women he has slept with is rather more than just slightly alarming), topped by this brutally honest tale of a mid-life breakdown. Then he starts yelling at bands half his age at festivals, releasing songs asking them to do rude things to him, printing t-shirts calling audience members rednecks, the whole shebang. Can’t say I blame him. The youth of today are fucking annoying.

Buy Sun Kil Moon “Benji” Here

And so, my friends, this is my song of the year. Maybe it’s a sense of my own impending middle age that has struck an AmDim7, but who cares? This is a fantastic song that deserves a wide audience of paunchy men, who spend their weekdays in jobs that they have a growing sense of dislike for and their weekends cycling around Surrey on £1,000 road bikes, clad in lycra. Slowly.

And on that note, I’ll leave you for today. Tomorrow, Albums of the year. Two posts in two days? You’ll believe it when you see it.

Review of 2013 (Part Two)

So here’s the second part of my review of 2013. Part one’s here.

The Decent Album By Great American Bands Of Their Generation

Not featured – The National or Arcade Fire. For The National, buck your ideas up, chaps. You can only moan for so long, especially when you are critically acclaimed and loved internationally by legions of fans. For Arcade Fire, without meaning to sound rude, they really were a one-album wonder, weren’t they?

Runners Up

Yo La Tengo – Fade

Not a great Yo La Tengo album, but a good one.

Low – The Invisible Way

Not a great Low album, but a good one. Ok, maybe I should say a little more. I realised earlier this year that Low are up there as one of My Favourite Bands Of All Time. They’ve been part of my life, on and off, since the late ’90’s, but I never quite got fully – as in, obsessional – into them until The Great Destroyer. With that album, something clicked, and off I went scurrying into their back catalogue. C’Mon was a fantastic album as well. Problem with Low is that they’ve set themselves such a high bar, that anything that jumps gracefully but catches the bar on the way down can only be seen as a failure. Terrible metaphor, I know.

MP3: Plastic Cup by Low

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City

This lot are slowly becoming global superstars. Ok, so their debut made them stars, kind of, but this is the kind of album that cements you in that firmament. Can’t say I listen to it that often though; it’s a record that I admire more than I love.

MP3: Unbelievers by Vampire Weekend


Midlake – Antiphon

Well, blow me down with a jazz flute. I, well, no-one, expected great things from Midlake after the departure of singer/songwriter Tim Smith. And they didn’t deliver something great, but they did deliver something pretty good. Without meaning to damn them with faint praise, Antiphon was a much better record than anyone could have hoped for, and in “The Old And The Young”, showed that they had the talent left in the band to make a truly special song.

  • The Decent Album By Great American Singer/Songwriters Of Their Generation

    Runner Up

    Laura Veirs – Warp and Weft

    Made me realise just how good July Flame was, that an album as good as this pales in comparison.

  • Joint Winners

    Bill Callahan – Dream River

    In which Bill Callahan demonstrates, as if he needs to, that he’s the finest lyricist of his generation. The line “The only words I’ve said today are “Beer” and “Thank you”” paints the kind of picture that a million poets, singer-songwriters, screenwriters and novelists would give their small intestine for. Bill knocks this kind of quality out on every single record. Amazing. What’s even more, the world seems to be slowly, slowly wakening up to him. He sold out a night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 2014 so a second night was added, and Amazon happily tells me he’s the #1 seller in “Americana and Country”. There is hope in this world, my friends.

  • Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost

    After Kiss Each Other Clean, I had real worries about our ol’ bearded chum Sam Beam. The over-instrumentation, the easy rock production, the running away from everything that made his records so damned special. But on Ghost On Ghost, it all made sense. Whatever impulse he’s got to step away from beautiful, sparse acoustic records and turn to massively detailed, lush soundscapes finally came good. Just listen to “The Desert Babbler”:

  • The way his vocals rise into the chorus, man, that gets my arm-hairs rising every single time. But I’d pay good money for an acoustic set any time. Make it happen, Sam.

  • The We’re Not Metal, Honest Album

    Joint Winners

    Russian Circles – Memorial

    As ever, fucking majestic. Lighter and heavier than their last record, and just as addictive. Even features vocals, for the first time, for that early Cocteau Twins aura.

  • Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

    This should, by rights, have sounded their death knell. A series of disappointing records, serious illness, and other such malaise, made me wonder if Josh Homme’s time had finally come. But the brush with mortality, just like it did for Kurt Wagner’s Mr M album last year1, invigorated the fuck out of Mr Homme, and this is the best thing QOTSA have done in years.

  • The Album Of The Year

    Ok, ok, so I said before that I didn’t have a favourite album. But listening back through all these albums I came to realise something. Whilst 2013 hasn’t been a vintage year, there’s been some pretty fine albums. And the two that got me smiling the most are these:

    Iron and Wine – Ghost On Ghost
    Bill Callahan – Dream River

    And there you have it. Who’d have thought that my two favourite records of the year would be by two of my favourite artists? Predictable, me?

    As for gigs and the like; well, I didn’t see much this year. But two shows that I did see were Mew and Television, both at the Roundhouse. Whilst the view was terrible for the latter thanks to train trouble and the like, it was great to finally see Venus and Marquee Moon played live. And Mew were reliably superb.

    Until next year, folks. Thanks for reading, and for commenting. Hope you have a great New Year.

    1 I absolutely guarantee you I am the only person who has found a link between these two records.

    Review of 2013 (Part One)

    Funny old year. To be quite frank, there’s not been a single outstanding album of the year, just a bunch of good albums I’ve enjoyed. Nothing’s massively stood out from the pack, and it says something that much of the music I’ve listened to this year isn’t from this year.

    This is probably for three reasons. One, I’m getting older, and simply don’t have the inclination to seek out new music which, by and large, is either overhyped or just not as good as what’s come before. Two, now that Popular Music has been around for about sixty-something years (let’s not get into how old jazz and blues are; this ain’t a jazz or blues blog), pretty much anything released now has to be viewed in a sixty-year history of music. Tough to make something great that’s not been heard a billion times before. Third, I’m lazy.

    Very, very lazy.

    Here’s some albums.

    Best Album By The Miserable Scots

    Runners Up

    Mogwai – Les Revenants

    Not a great Mogwai album, but a good one.

  • Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

    Not a great Frightened Rabbit album, but a good one. You can see where this is all going, can’t you?

  • Winner

    RM Hubbert – Breaks and Bone

    In which our charming friend finds his voice, and you know what? It’s pretty damned good. Let’s hope he’s right and that he’s worked through his issues on his first three albums, and now he can go and make the superb album that’s certainly in him.

  • Best Fingerstyle Americana Instrumental Guitar Whatsit Album

    Joint Winners:

    William Tyler – Impossible Truth

    I once got drunk with William Tyler, many years ago. Lovely chap, far too modest for his own good, and it’s great seeing him step out from under the Lambchop banner to make a record of luminous beauty.

  • Glenn Jones – My Garden State

    A deeply personal record about leaving home, and returning, and what home really means. This is an instrumental album.

  • The Elliott Smith Award For Beatles-Tinged Singer-Songwritering

    Runner Up

    Josh Rouse – The Happiness Waltz

    Perfect for those darkening autumn evenings. As ever, gently soothing.


    Harper Simon – Division Street

    Meant, like many things this year, to post about this album, but never did. By rights, this should have been terrible – famous dad, hugely influenced by the joint greatest singer-songwriter of his generation1 – but turns out to be a great listen. He could really do with finding is own voice rather than just making a very good Elliott Smith pastiche though.

  • The Best Song Titles In Post-Rock-Jazz-Noise, Often Involving Jim O’Rourke

    Joint Winner

    David Grubbs – I Started To Live When My Barber Died

    Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke/Oren Ambarchi – Even That Still Here And Unwanted Can You And I Love It Just Like Us It Was Born Here Too

    Errrr, quite.

    The Mark Lanegan Growling Alcoholic Miseryguts Award For Drunken Lonesome Growling

    Runner Up

    Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood – Black Pudding

    Just too nice. There’s still a strong whiff of 3am barroom, and Lanegan is reliably growly, but this is far too pleasant to win the award. Same goes for his covers album2

  • Winner

    John Murry – The Graceless Age

    Ok, so it was originally released in 2012, but give me some leeway here. I hold no truck for grumpy sods going on about drug abuse unless it’s done exceptionally well and then I love it(see: Mark Lanegan, Elliott Smith). I come close to loving this album, and if I’d heard it in my twenties I’d have worn the record out.

  • That’s it for Part One. Please join me tomorrow for Part Two.

    1 The other being Jeff Buckley. Shame on you.

    2 Which wasn’t a patch on I’ll Take Care Of You

    Albums Of The Year – James Blackshaw

    As I idly flicked through my iPhone the other day, looking to see what I’d been listening to this year, a thought struck me. The thought was this: In this year of being unadventurous, not actively seeking out much new music, retreating into known acts releasing their umpteenth album, a record that I would choose as one of my favourites of the year would be one by a largely unknown English guitarist whose album takes its name and song titles from a somewhat obscure SF writer named James Tiptree JR. Or rather, Alice B Sheldon.

    For “Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death” is James Blackshaw stepping away from the 12-string, bringing in a vocalist for a song, and learning that sometimes, less is more. His albums have previously been marvellously technical affairs, with a guitar-playing style that borders on the obsessively, ludicrously skilled, leading them to become exercises in going “Oooh, how the hell does he do that?” rather than “Oooh, that’s a record I want to play again and again”. For all their beauty, they do not necessarily have the musical charm to keep you coming back for more. That’s not to say that they weren’t often heartbreakingly beautiful; they were, but at times they were just too much.

    But “Love…” is different. Blackshaw has moved to using a 6-string nylon guitar, simplifying his sound, and overlaying gentle piano and other keyboards. Instead of the flurry of notes, there’s more space, a breadth to the music rather than the somewhat cloying feel of some of his older records. That’s not to say he’s suddenly become simple, or easy listening. This isn’t the kind of music you can make without putting a huge number of hours in, refining and purifying each bar, each scrape of nail on string.

    The opening, title track, sets out his stall early. I first heard this driving down one of those wide, wide American roads, four lanes and about as many cars, in the twilight of a hot humid day, window down, wanting to hear what James had come up with. As the song progressed, I can still remember thinking to myself “Hold on a second here…” and realising that there was something special going on. “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” follows with delicate arpeggios falling into beautiful chordal work.

    Then comes the momentous moment, the moment all true Blackshaw fans had been dreading….the singing. And whilst I’d never knowingly pick out “And I Have Come Upon This Place By Lost Ways” to listen to all on its own, it’s better than I was expecting; it’s vaguely reminiscent of one of those Jarboe Swans songs off of “Children Of God”, which I’m assuming won’t insult either Blackshaw himself or singer Geneviève Beaulieu. “The Snows Are Melted, The Snows Are Gone” is probably Blackshaw’s finest piano piece. Normally his piano playing is far, far removed from the skill of his guitar, to the degree that with a fair wind and some practice, I could do a passable replication. On “The Snows…” he’s finally transcended his prior limitations and made a stunning piece of music. Again, it’s not the skill on show, it’s the haunting nature of the melody, the simplicity, the space between the notes.

    In all, “Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death” is Blackshaw’s finest album, an album filled with beauty, melancholy, joy, and above all, tunes. Blackshaw himself might be annoyed to read this, but you know what, great music comes down to melodies that fix in your skull and refuse to be removed. From Beethoven, through The Shangri-Las, to this, they all share that ineffable essence of greatness. By spending less time demonstrating his near-unique skills, he has finally made an album that demands to be played again, and again, and again, to become the album I played more than any other this year.

    Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death by James Blackshaw

    Buy “Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death” Here

    Albums Of The Year – An Introduction

    This year, I haven’t been listening to that much new music. Combination of things, I suppose – tinnitus, laziness, Skyrim, fecklessness – but by and large it’s been trawling through older music and the cursory listen to favourite artist’s new records.

    And so there hasn’t been much action round here, which means my normal end of year round-up would seem a bit odd, what with me going on about records that I haven’t really talked about. And there only being about four of them. So instead follows five short-ish essays about the bands who have released albums this year, that I’ve been to see live (mostly), and that I very much enjoyed. As is customary with me, this’ll go on till next year.

    But first off, two quick honorable mentions. Firstly, Daniel Rossen, of Grizzly Bear fame, took a slight detour earlier in the year and released a solo EP which was easily as good as most of “Shields”. And secondly, I had the sheer joy of going to a gig and seeing a support act that I quickly realised would be a fixture in my sporadic listening for some time to come. That act was RM Hubberd, who ticks a few of my boxes by:

    a. Being a writer of largely instrumental acoustic guitar numbers (with added guitar thwacking for good measure)
    b. Being Scottish
    c. Being simultaneously miserable and funny as fuck.

    So there you go. Seal broken. Go and buy these two records. Both will make your lives better.

    Buy “Silent Hour / Golden Mile” by Daniel Rossen here

    RM Hubbert-Car Song (featuring Aidan Moffat)

    Buy “Thirteen Lost & Found” by RM Hubbert here

    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.

    Songs Of 2009 (Part Two)

    I didn’t originally intend this to be a two-parter, but when I got to twelve songs with the distinct impression that I’d forgotten a bunch, I thought I’d be safe and do this in two sections. That way I can bung stuff in at the end that I forgot first time round. Part one is over here.

    Bonnie “Prince” Billy – I Am Goodbye

    Just about the only good song from his “Beware” album. A rollicking stompalong, with more than a touch of wit and humour, with a great video thrown in. If only the album had been half as good.

    MP3: I Am Goodbye by Bonnie “Prince” Billy

    Buy “Beware” (CD)

    Phoenix – 1901

    A friend asked me the other night: “So what do you listen to when you need cheering up?”. This was the first song that popped into my head and on reflection, I can’t think of many better.

    MP3: 1901 by Phoenix

    Buy “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (CD/MP3)

    M Ward – Hold Time

    The only song from the album from which it stems that I still listen to, filed firmly alongside Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s latest. Funny that the song from a man whose guitar playing skills are almost unparalleled, has pretty much no guitar on. Who’da thunk it?

    MP3: Hold Time by M. Ward

    Buy “Hold Time” (CD/MP3)

    Yo La Tengo – I’m On My Way

    Ok, this album just didn’t quite sneak into my albums of the year, but it probably should have. Isn’t hindsight wonderful? It was either this or “Avalon, Or Someone Very Similar”. But this just pips it by being just gorgeously laid-back.

    MP3: I’m On My Way by Yo La Tengo

    Buy “Popular Songs” (CD/MP3)

    Bloggy Tracks

    Already posted during the year, these are bands that I hope to hear much more of in 2010.

    Color Radio – Newest News

    A great song from a pretty damn good EP. Wistful Americana, in a very good way.

    MP3: Newest News by Color Radio

    Mixtapes and Cellmates – Soon

    Keeps popping into my head at inopportune moments, which is always the sign of a great record. Overwrought, dramatic Scandinavian indie-rock, and fantastic.

    MP3: Soon by Mixtapes and Cellmates

    Anyway, that’s it for this year. Thanks for visiting, reading, listening, emailing and commenting, and hope you have a fantastic 2010.

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    Songs Of 2009 (Part One)

    Or rather, great songs from good albums that came out this year. Or great songs that weren’t on an album at all. Or great songs that were on albums that I never got round to listening to.

    Oh, just great songs, alright?

    (Some of my favorite songs are actually on favorite albums, so see here for them.)

    Old Stalwarts

    Bill Callahan – Jim Cain

    “I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again”

    Bill wraps up his career, and love-life, in one line. Like so many of his songs, he uses few words to describe a complex and difficult world. And like so many of his songs, utterly startling, with a scalpel-sharp clarity of thought that separates him from the rest of the singer-songwriter crowd by more than a few miles. As close to an explanation of his breakup with Joanna Newsom that you’ll ever get.

    MP3: Jim Cain by Bill Callahan

    Buy “Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle” (CD/MP3)

    The Kingsbury Manx – Galloping Ghosts

    “Look out across a silver landscape of galloping ghosts on our heels\Racing and chasing the nightmare’s almost over now”

    It must be tough to keep writing music 10 years after your first album. Where do the ideas keep coming from? Can you still recreate that magic? Kingsbury Manx did it, wonderfully, with this song from the nearly-great “Ascenseur Ouvert!” album. It’s a song you can hardly hear anyone else making; that gentle warmth, that softness, the guitar solo just breaking through – Neil Young meets Willie Nelson and covering an old Pink Floyd song. But, in truth, it’s just the Manx, and if this song doesn’t melt your heart, you are surely not human. Song meaning? Possibly the inevitability of ones mortality, the loss of friendship, finding hope on the darkest days, who knows?

    MP3: Galloping Ghosts by The Kingsbury Manx

    Buy “Ascenseur Ouvert!” (CD/MP3)

    Jason Lytle – Rollin’ Home Alone

    “But I bought you something nice\I got you something warm\For when the weather turns\When will I ever learn?”

    Again, just like the Manx, how can Jason do it? That melancholy magic that seeps from every bar, every note, every little inflection of his voice, there is no-one else who can make this kind of tale of misplaced affection so utterly transfixing.

    MP3: Rollin’ Home Alone by Jason Lytle

    Buy “Yours Truly, The Commuter” (CD/MP3)

    Unexpected treats

    Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can’t See Land

    “Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?”

    This one got me from nowhere. An email from a publicist pointing me in the direction of the new video by a Scottish band; one quick listen later and I was utterly smitten. 42 plays later and I’m still smitten. I actually have to stop myself from listening to it now, in case I overdo it.

    MP3: Swim Until You Can’t See Land by Frightened Rabbit

    Buy “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” (Vinyl!)

    Here We Go Magic – Tunnelvision

    A heady, spaced-out thing, made by Luke Temple in a bedroom. Wonderful.

    MP3: Tunnelvision by Here We Go Magic

    Buy “Here We Go Magic” (CD/MP3)

    Anthony and Bryce Dessner – I Was Young When I Left Home

    I’ve never been an enormous fan of Anthony (of “And The Johnsons” fame). Maybe it was all the hype around him; hype which turned me off him before I’d even heard any of his songs. So this was a lovely treat; his high, frail voice dancing above tender fingerstyle guitar courtesy of The National’s Bryce Dessner. Also wonderful, but I’m not posting the MP3, because I’ve been slapped by the RIAA before for posting stuff from “Dark Is The Night”.

    MP3: Nope, sorry. But you can buy the album here.

    I’ll be doing Part Two tomorrow. See you then, hopefully.

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