By jove, do I love Grizzly Bear. Their first proper album as a band, Yellow House, was one of my favourite albums of the Naughties1. I’ve probably posted about them more than anyone else I can think of. And as I’ve posted before, they’ve a new album, named “Shields”, out on September 17th. And are going on tour.

And as is the way with these things, they’ve released a second track, named “Yet Again”, and as is the way with these things, I’m about a week late. It’s very good. The track, that is, rather than being late.

I particularly like the production makes your brain all confused – why do the vocals sound all pristine but the drums and guitars sound like they are in a dirty cave? How did they get those guitars sound so spiky and crunchy? What the hell are they singing about? What’s given them this huge burst of energy?

For once, I’m not even going to listen to this too much, lest I spoil the enjoyment of unwrapping the new album.

1 Will someone ever come up with a better name for that decade?

Pre-order Shields here.

I Can’t Hear Myself

Woke up this morning, got an email from Songkick, that email tell me that Grizzly Bear are comin’ to town
Oh yeah, Grizzly Bear comin’ to town
That great big bear must have some new tunes, I’m a guessing
So I hightail it off to their website, that big bear website
And sho’ nuff there’s an album, a brand new album, hailin’ in the month of September
And there’s a song, a brand new song

Woke up this morning to a brand new song
An’ it has guitars, big guitars, and that high-voiced singing, and those guitars
Man those guitars, they sing like an angry choir, and that man Rossen
Boy oh boy, does that man Rossen play the guitar
And the song, the brand new bear song
The brand new bear song with the guitars and the singing
The song’s a-called Sleeping Ute

An’ I been playin’ it so loud
That I can’t hear myself sing my praises to the Lord
I can’t hear myself

Amazon’s Grizzly Bear Store

While We’re Hungover

One of the tracks I’ve been meaning to post for the best part of a month now is from the new Department of Eagles archive CD that’s out on Monday (on the wonderful Bella Union in the UK). As if you didn’t already now, Department of Eagles is Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear‘s other band, formed with college friend Fred Nicolaus back in the day. The archive compilation, cunningly entitled “Archive 2003 – 2006”, features demos, outtakes, sketches, and the like, showing the development of their sound from bedroom mucking about to the baroque-pop symphonies they now specialise in.

And here it is: “While We’re Young”. It’s good. I’ve got a hangover and I don’t think I can really write anything more sensible now. Is complaining about a hangover at 8pm a clever thing to be doing? Then again, is drinking six pints of Old Bastard’s Happiness Facilitator a clever thing to be doing?

MP3: While We’re Young by Department Of Eagles

Buy “Archive: 2003-2006” (CD)

Albums of 2009

After many months of deliberation here at L&L Towers (ok, it’s just me sitting there looking out of the window trying to remember what on earth I’d done all year), I’ve put together my top albums of the year. Like the Albums of the Decade (starting here), the idea was to only choose albums which I happily listen to all the way through, and had listened to a whole bunch of times. This time, rather than the album art, I’ve gone for YouTube videos. Enjoy!

The Top 5, not in any kind of order, except the first one.

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Horrifyingly predictable for anyone who’s spent any time reading this blog. Whilst it’s not quite up there with Yellow House, still more detailed, more melodic, more emotional and more surprising than pretty much anything else that came out this year. Returning to it after a few weeks absence has got me playing “All We Ask” many times a day. A thing of sheer, dark beauty which slowly unravels itself into your brain, like some odd robotic monster.

(Is this the oddest video of the year, or what?)

MP3: Cheerleader (Live) by Grizzly Bear

Buy “Veckatimest: Special Edition” (CD)

The Xx – Xx

Came out of nowhere, made by teenagers, and wonderfully quiet. The bastard child of Low and Burial. Talked about at some length here.

MP3: Crystalised by The Xx

Buy “XX” (CD/MP3)

Metric – Fantasies

Many people found this too shiny and strident. For me, it was the soundtrack of the first part of the year – deep in job-hunting mode, wandering around the City in jeans listening to Emily Haines’s metallic majestic marvel. A proper album too; well-paced, with a proper start and even more proper fists-pumping-in-the-air finale.

MP3 – Sick Muse by Metric

Buy “Fantasies” (CD/MP3)

Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue

Again, came out of nowhere, and picked it up as a recommendation from another blog (the marvellous Fat Roland). Whilst other people have mixed folk and electronica (“Folktronica”, one of the worst genre names in history), to my mind Bibio have done it the best so far. For whatever reason, I never posted anything about this before, but it’s been happily playing away in my kitchen and in the car many times this year.

MP3: Lovers’ Carvings by Bibio

Buy “Ambivalence Avenue” (CD/MP3)

Mew – No More Stories….

Also horribly predictable. This album didn’t really make much sense to me until I saw them live, then it all started to click and fit together properly – ironic, given the complexity of their music. If you like your music a touch more unusual than the norm, but don’t feel warmed by the “Look at us, we’re clever, like”-isms of Animal Collective et al, this could be for you.

(Actual music starts about 2:20)

MP3: Introducing Palace Players by Mew

Buy “No More Stories” (CD)

Not quite the best, but still good

I couldn’t do an end-of-year list without mentioning Bill Callahan, Jason Lytle or Kingsbury Manx. All had albums out this year, and all had some highlights that were amongst their best songs, but the albums as a whole don’t quite make the top list. Still worth it though.

And Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is good too, but the chirpy popness doesn’t quite last the whole album, causing me to lose interest about half-way through.

Albums I need to listen to more, that would probably have made the list if only I had some more time to listen to them properly

Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport

Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor

Mark Eitzel – Klamath

Mastodon – Crack The Skye

I’ve listened to these albums a few times and they are starting to settle in nicely, but not enough for me to hand-on-heart call them albums of the year. Maybe they will appear on my list of albums I have loved in 2010 that were actually released in 2009 but I didn’t hear them then.

Albums I have loved in 2009 that were actually released in 2008 but I didn’t hear them then.

Frightened Rabbit – Midnight Organ Fight

This’d be up in the top 5 above if they’d released this in 2009. A great record by Grumpy Scots, and I suspect they’ve got more to come in 2010.

MP3: I Feel Better by Frightened Rabbit

Buy “Midnight Organ Fight” (CD/MP3)

Wye Oak – If Children…

When I first started this blog, in the depths of January, I rooted around a bunch of sites looking for some new music. And I stumbled across Wye Oak, and after listening to a selection of tunes far too many times, I went out and spent a bit of my redundancy money on the album. Very fine it is too.

MP3: Warning by Wye Oak

Buy “If Children” (CD)

Albums by bands I love that I really should get round to listening to at some point

Twilight Sad – Forget The Night Ahead

Flaming Lips – Embryonic

Yes, I know. Love both these bands but there just isn’t the time, you know?

The “People Tell Me I Should Love These Albums But I Just Don’t Get It” Award (sponsored by Kissing In Kansas)


Fever Ray – Fever Ray

Animal Collective – Merriwether Post Pavillion

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

And the winner is Animal Collective. People keep telling me to give it time, but as I’ve not even listened to the Twilight Sad or Flaming Lips yet, that’s pushing it. But you know, 2010 and all that.

(I still don’t get it, but have a listen and see what you think)

MP3: My Girls by Animal Collective

Buy “Merriweather Post Pavilion” (CD/MP3)

So that’s me albums done. Join me in a few days for the tracks. Some blinders in there, you know…

Albums Of The Decade (Part Four)

First off, let me say, oh balls, I missed something…

My Photoshop Crashed And Did This

Devendra Banhart – Rejoicing In The Hands (2004)

Pretty much kicked off the whole freak folk movement. Not quite as mind-boggling as his first album, but a far more listenable and loveable record.

MP3: Will Is My Friend by Devendra Banhart

Buy “Rejoicing In The Hands (Of The Golden Empress)” (CD/MP3)

Right, back to the list. Here’s my own take on the albums of the decade. My criteria? Do I really, really, really love them and can I listen to them happily all the way through?

Parts One, Two, and Three. Enjoy!

Like Kandinsky, Only Less So

Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)

A yowling, yelping, thundering record packed full of ideas, vim and vigour. Came out of nowhere, and kept me awake during those early days of being a new father.

MP3: Grounds For Divorce by Wolf Parade

Buy “Apologies to the Queen Mary” (CD)

Great Cloud

Low – The Great Destroyer (2005)

Low turn their amps up past 2, and make a great album. Again, I’d forgotten how good this was until listening to it recently. “Low go pop” is probably pushing it, but they showed that they can engage with the outside world at something approaching the outside world’s pace, rather than their own glacial stride. I’d say it was their best album.

MP3: California by Low

Buy “The Great Destroyer” (CD/MP3)

The Recording Studio

Grizzly Bear – Yellow House (2006)

The most atmospheric album of the decade. And the most baffling, mysterious, ominous, lovely, chilling and gorgeous one too. I caught onto this late (in 2008) and it’s still a wondrous thing.

MP3: Easier by Grizzly Bear

Buy “Yellow House” (CD/MP3)

My Photoshop Crashed Etc

Russian Circles – Enter (2006)

Post-rock meets metal to stunning effect. Doesn’t quite sound like anything else out there, and shows you only need three people to make a Godspeed! style racket.

Micah by Russian Circles

Buy “Enter” (CD)

Boys And Girls On An Album Cover

The Hold Steady – Girls and Boys In America (2006)

When I first heard the line “She was a really cool kisser and she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian” I knew I was in safe hands. Still a high-water mark in making rock and roll transcendant. No-one’s done it this well since Bruce Springsteen back in the ’70’s.

MP3: Hot Soft Light by The Hold Steady

Buy “Boys and Girls in America” (CD/MP3)

Albums Of The Decade (Part One)

Albums Of The Decade (Part Two)

Albums Of The Decade (Part Three)

Albums Of The Decade (Part Five)

Albums Of The Decade (Part Six)

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London Grizzly Orchestra

The concept of a band playing their material with a full orchestra has a long and not necessarily glorious history. When the band has songs that make the most of a full orchestra, it can work rather nicely. Think of Elbow’s show this year with the BBC Concert Orchestra, or Tindersticks playing at the Bloomsbury Theatre. But just bunging strings on top of basic meat and potatoes rock just doesn’t cut it, as many bands during the Britpop era discovered, to their (and our) cost.

Grizzly Bear are about as far from meat and potatoes rock as you can get. Now, as I’ve posted about them about 100 times this year, I don’t really need to go into describing their extraordinary music again. So, dear reader, on with the review without any more guff from me.

Concrete (and grass) jungle

First things first. Isn’t the Barbican a freaky old place? It’s like a strange concrete oasis sat in the weird bit of London between The City and the West End. At first sight it looks like some nightmarish sink estate in Bradford or Loughborough, but then you sneak a look in an estate agents window and see that a one-bedroom flat goes for £500,000. Half a million! Sheesh. Then you notice the lack of litter and graffiti, and the nice little signs directing you along the raised walkways. Indeed, after a while you start to think it’s like running round a level of Quake 3 but without the monsters shooting at you.

Look, No Graffiti!

And the actual Barbican centre itself is really quite nice. I like venues where you can have a sandwich, a slice of cake, and a nice sit down.

Sorry, enough with the guff.

So, what do Grizzly Bear sound like with the LSO? Well, let me put it this way. Every time I go to see a band, there’s a little, totally unscientific test I carry out. It’s pretty simple and there really isn’t a way I can easily replicate it. But it works and frankly I can’t think of anything better.

It’s this. At what point during the show does the hair on my arms stand up? Music is a visceral thing that affects people in all sorts of ways, on an emotional level that no other artform can match. I got it about thirty seconds into the opener “Easier”, which says a great deal about how beautiful those opening moments were. “Cheerleader” was simply stunning, a much softer proposition than at Koko, with Daniel Rossen’s guitar stabs toned down to suit the occasion. Hairs still raised, then.

Then came “Southern Point”, and the drawbacks of playing with an orchestra come to the fore. The complexity of the song, mixed with a presumable lack of rehersal time, made the song a bit too cluttered and ineffective. It doesn’t help that Daniel Rossen’s guitar has been moved further down the mix, removing the brutal dynamic of his playing.

Normal service was resumed during “Central and Remote”, with the orchestra again providing beautiful backing to one of the band’s more dynamic numbers. Better still, the jamjar lights surrounding the bands started circling, matching the rhythm of the song, to hypnotic effect. They made me think of fireflies lighting up a tropical night. The coda to “All We Ask” was astonishing, with a subtle backing to the band’s vocal harmonies.

But the highlight came with “Knife”, and on their best known song the band and their new friends pull out all the stops. Whether it’s because the song is so well known, or whether it just suits the orchestral treatment, “Knife” was an absolute triumph (dahling). From gently plucked strings echoing the staccato guitar line near the start, to a soft swell of violins building behind and above Chris Taylor’s beautifully treated vocals, the song was a glorious demonstration of everything that this band can do with an orchestra.

Both “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait For The Others” were played sans orchestra, presumably to give them a bit of a rest. They spent their time smoking cigarettes, playing poker, and scratching their names into their chairs. Oh ok, they sat back and enjoyed the songs (especially the conductor, who looked like he was having a whale of a time).

The set came to an end with the trio of “He Hit Me” (Ed Droste in wonderful form), “I Live With You” (really quite pleasantly noisy), ending with a wonderfully understated “Foreground”. A standing ovation ensued, with the band returning with a decent version of “Colorado”, which, as it isn’t exactly my favourite song, I was glad to enjoy more than I expected.

So, was it a success? By and large, yes. Some songs, like “Knife” worked so well they totally overshadowed the songs that didn’t, like “Dory”. And the song selection was a bit odd too; the aforementioned “Dory” isn’t one of their best songs in any way, shape or form, yet a song like “Marla”, which would have worked beautifully with a full orchestra, was bafflingly left off the set list. But as the band themselves said, this opportunity doesn’t come along very often, and I’m so very glad that the hairs on my arms stood up. You can’t hide an emotional response like that, and you can’t hide from the fact that Grizzly Bear are one of the finest bands this decade – with violin-toting buddies or without.

On another note, isn’t the Twilight New Moon soundtrack looking interesting?

MP3: Two Weeks (Live) by Grizzly Bear

MP3: Slow Life by Grizzly Bear (featuring Victoria Legrand)

Buy “The Twilight Saga : New Moon Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (CD/MP3)

Buy “Veckatimest: Special Edition” (CD/MP3)

Note: live photos courtesy of various posters at Songkick.

Grizzly Bear, Live

Koko is a lovely venue. Opened originally in 1900, the spirit of old-style music hall is alive and well with the ornate balconies and the rich red paint; the new bar at the back works wonderfully with the period detail. The bar staff are friendly, the loos aren’t completely horrific, and there’s one of the best Japanese restaurants in London on its doorstep.

But whoever writes the bumpf on their website needs shooting. “Grizzly Bear have gone massive really quickly, the jury is out as to whether they are merely Animal Collective copyists or are ploughing their own field” I could just see them writing in the 60’s: “the jury is out as to whether The Rolling Stones are merely The Beatles copyists or are ploughing their own field”. And “gone massive really quickly”? Sure, no-one noticed them back in 2006 when they released what was widely regarded as one of the best albums of the year1. As the current vernacular states, seriously, dude, wtf?

Ranting aside, there is something about Grizzly Bear’s meticulously constructed Beach Boys chamber-noise pop stylings that really suits the venue. The sound really helps; pretty much clear as a bell all night, even during the furious wig-out at the end of “I Live With You” and “Fine For Now”. That latter song was one of the highlights of the night – on the album it’s maybe too constrained, too mannered, but live it bursts into life. Daniel Rossen’s guitar onslaught was beautifully controlled, just the right side of outright noise.

Lovely Lights, A Bad Camera

Lovely Lights, A Bad Camera

“Ready, Able”, with its baroque stylings, was a perfect example of what makes Grizzly Bear so great, and yet so discombobulating. Starting off with edgy drum rhythms and Daniel Rossen’s discordant guitar stabs, it suddenly switches to a beautiful Cocteau Twins-esque chamber-pop section, before changing yet again to reach ever more gorgeous heights. On record it’s beautiful enough, seeing the transformation happen live is almost transcendant.

And I wasn’t prepared for quite how much was involved in making their songs. Chris Taylor played bass, some kind of glockenspiel thing, a flute, a bass saxophone, and possibly a clarinet (my view was somewhat obstructed). During “Lullabye”, drummer Christopher Bear seemed to do some mucking about with an electric drum pad that involved a bass so heavy it made my trousers shake in a way they haven’t done since the Notting Hill Carnival in 2004. As for the singing; any of these guys could happily be the lead singer in any band you care to mention. Their harmonies put the likes of Fleet Foxes to shame. Chris Taylor’s heavily altered singing during “Knife” was stunning.

This lot are seriously talented. I have a recurring image of them in lab coats, cackling like mad scientists, whilst they write songs. There’s some very odd things going on musically, such as the odd guitar tunings to create lots of diminished sevenths and the like (ok, I don’t know, I’m making it up – if you know, feel free to comment!). I have no idea what tunings Daniel uses, but whatever he’s doing he’s obviously not doing it to make his fretting any simpler.

Grizzly Set List

Grizzly Set List

Sadly, there was no “Marla” (the creepiest song since Smog’s “I Was A Stranger”) or “Deep Blue Sea”, but you can’t ask for everything. The night ended with their cover of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”, another song that works far better live than on record. A quick rushed goodbye, and they were gone. I can’t wait for the Barbican show, with a full orchestra and everything. If it’s half as good as the Koko gig, we’re all in for a treat.

One last thing. What is it with London gigs and people talking? Seriously, can people not shut up for 90 minutes? You’re not at home watching it on TV, you are surrounded by people who have waited months to see a band live, and they did not pay good money to hear you shout at your friend. Seriously, shut it. Funnily enough, after the gig, in the lift at Mornington Crescent tube, someone went “SHHH!” to everyone talking. At least it’s not just me.

On the way home, we saw this:

Another Bear

Another Bear

As one friend said, “That advert is a hundred times better than the actual place”.

MP3: He Hit Me by Grizzly Bear

MP3: Fine For Now by Grizzly Bear

1 As previously noted, I did of course miss them. Look, I was tired, ok?

Buy “Veckatimest” (CD/MP3)

Buy “Friend EP” (CD/MP3)

Review – Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear

There was a joke doing the rounds in the Eighties. Thatcher meets Reagan to talk about the American’s nuclear policy. When she warns Reagan that the route he’s taking could precipitate another world war, he responds “Goddamn it, we were late for the first two, we’re gonna make goddamn sure we’re on time for the third!”. I’m like that with Grizzly Bear albums. I completely missed their first album, “Horn Of Plenty”, and when “Yellow House” became a huge underground hit in 2006, I was so busy looking after our new baby that the only thing I really desired was sleep, sweet, sweet sleep. At some point last year I came across “Knife” and one quick purchase later, “Yellow House” became my album of 2008. Like the Americans in WWII, it’s better to get there eventually than not get there at all.

So when “Veckatimest” was announced back in February, just as I was starting this blog, I thought – “Right, going to be on time for this one”. I’ve found live versions of songs, sniffed out tracks like “Cheerleader” as they got drip-fed to us, and steadfastly ignored the dodgy quality leak that surfaced a couple of months back. Now, with my dirty hands on a proper, legit copy, I can finally listen to the work of art that those lovely chaps crafted for a couple of years. Is it any good? Is it a contender for Album of the Year? Is it as good as “Yellow House”? Will Ed Droste get RSI from Tweeting so much? To which the answers are, yes, probably, possibly, and most definitely.

A Veckatimest, Yesterday

A Veckatimest, Yesterday

Of course, once a band has a big, classic breakthrough album, whatever follows is always going to be in danger of being a disappointment. Look at Broken Social Scene, whose “BSS (Windsurfing Nation)” is in no way a match for “You Forgot It In Others” (7/4 Shoreline excepted, of course). But then look at Tindersticks, whose Second Album was a distillation of everything that was great about their First Album 1 into one even better package of misery and pain. Thankfully, Grizzly Bear have worked hard on diversifying their sound so if you’re expecting Yellow House v2, you might be slightly confounded.

Take the opener, “Southern Point”. Starting off with an intricate guitar pattern, like a baroque Radiohead, it suddenly bursts violently into life at the chorus with thumping drums, flutes, a choir, and lord knows what else. Stunning way to start an album, chaps. Or “Two Weeks” with Ed Droste showing off his polished-up baritone (and doesn’t it sound great?). Check out the freaky Patrick Daughters video here2:

“All We Ask” returns to the Grizzly Bear Template, and is almost disappointing for that, until a remarkable coda, during which the whole band go barbershop-quartet-on-Prozac, singing “I can’t/Get Out/Of What I’m Into/With You”. Meditation on doomed love? Metaphor for band life? Who knows? Who cares, when it sounds so good?

From there, we’ve got the wonders of “Cheerleader”, which you really must have heard by now, and freaked out when you realise he’s singing “I’m shooting them myself/I should’ve made it matter”. The stunning “Ready, Able” takes the chamber-pop template of “Southern Point” and runs with it to gorgeous new places, invoking the spirit of Cocteau Twins on the way.

“About Face”, with its tricky rhythm, has strange keyboard (or possibly guitar) stabs that bring back the memory of mid-80’s Wire. “While You Wait For The Others”, another well-previewed song that hasn’t lost any power through its familiarity, leads the album towards its close.

What strikes me, after the first, ooh, fifteen listens, is the amount of diversity in their sound. You’d forgive them for repeating some of the unusual tricks they showed in older tracks like “Knife” or “Little Brother (Electric)”, or even out and out copying the big hitters, as a lesser band would do. But by and large, they’ve built on what made their last album so fantastic. There’s an adventurousness with the sound that makes comparisons with other bands rather tough. Beach Boys? Check. Radiohead? Check. Anyone else? Didn’t think so.

The only problem is, a few days of listening just isn’t enough. I’m still uncovering bits of “Cheerleader” months after my first listen, just like I was with “Marla” or “On A Neck, On A Spit”. So the question of what I’ll feel about this album by the end of the year is a tough one to answer, and not one I can even hope to answer properly a week after release.

All I can say right now is, it’s worth listening to the hype. Sometimes it’s right.

1 Yes, that’s what they are called. Imagination is a wonderful thing.

2 Member of the fantastic Directors Bureau, whose website is well worth half an hour of your time.

MP3: Ready, Able by Grizzly Bear

MP3: Cheerleader (Live) by Grizzly Bear

Buy “Veckatimest” Here (CD/MP3)

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Music – Cocteau Twins and Grizzly Bear

A very good Bank Holiday to you.

First off, a little birdie tells me that Grizzly Bear will be appearing on BBC2’s Later on Tuesday night, with the full programme on Friday night. When I say, a little birdie, I do mean my TV’s EPG. Not a birdie. Anyway, I suspect I’ll be missing it as I’ll be busy watching Arsenal beat Man U 3-1 in the Champion’s League Semi-Final at Ashburton Grove. I tell you now, Arsenal will be leading 2-0 until the 87th minute, when Ryan Giggs will annoyingly score, with Walcott scoring a heroic goal after running the length of the pitch in the 94th minute. You heard it here first.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Grizzly Bear. On TV. Playing stuff from Veckitawoowoo. Tuesday night. Don’t miss it (like me).

Edit: Just reading an interesting article in the New Yorker about our Grizzly friends.

After listening to the next installment of the Pitchfork 500, I needed to cleanse my head of a particularly egregious example of hideous MOR, and what better than the lovely Cocteau Twins? Here’s Donimo. No, I don’t know either; I suspect it’s their famous sense of humour again.

And what a lovely song it is too – it’s got that quiet-loud dynamic of their classic period, with the slight Hispanic inflections later explored more fully on “Echoes In A Shallow Bay”. Funnily enough, whilst listening to this, I opened up a Sunday Times Culture section from a few weeks ago, and there was a photo of Liz Fraser, in an article about how Shoegazing Is Back!. Not a bad read for a Sunday afternoon.

So here’s Donimo, and what a fine, fine song it is too.

MP3: Donimo by Cocteau Twins

Buy Cocteau Twins “Treasure” (CD/MP3)

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New and Old Music – Warp and Bill Callahan

Warp Records have a special place in my life. When I was getting into dance music, they released a bunch of LP’s under the banner “Artificial Intelligence”. Featuring the likes of Black Dog Productions, Autechre, Aphex Twin (as Polygon Window), B12 and others, they made odd electronic tunes with little or no relevance to any dancefloor you might wander onto. Ranging from strange clanky noise (Mr Twin), melodic tunefulness (B12), ominous rumblings (Autechre), to frankly deranged alien-jazz glitchiness (Black Dog)1, it was an explosion of invention when most people were panting over the dreadful retro-ness of Stone Roses and bloody Primal Scream.

So, taking their oddness fully to my heart, I listened to those albums again and again and again. Great driving music (I used to regularly drive 300 miles in a Morris Minor so you need something to distract you from the fact that the wheels are going to come off if you go above 90), great comedown music, and quite good fun to scare friends, family and neighbours with. After the label’s electronic start, they diversified into everything from Grizzly Bear to Jamie Liddell. As important a label to music as Rough Trade, or 4AD, or Factory, or SST, they are the work of pure genius.

Amazingly, it’s their 20th anniversary this year, and they’ve done gone and set up a little vote for us to go and choose our favourite tracks. The top 20 will be released on a compilation later this year. So go on, register, and vote. I’m loftandlost by the way.

Any excuse to post this:

Rather different to Intelligent Techno is the work of Bill Callahan (Smog). A longtime favourite of mine, he’s made some truly jaw-dropping music over the last fifteen years or so. Listening to “Teenage Spaceship” whilst driving through the Taunus mountains near Frankfurt one summers evening as dusk drew in, is one of my happiest moments on this sweet earth. Strange what makes some people happy, isn’t it?

Look, a horsie!

Look, a horsie!

Ol’ Bill has moved to Austin, Texas (lovely place) and has recorded a new album which is out on April 14th. “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle” is his thirteenth album, and he’s brought back the horns and violins for this one. Whilst not quite as unexpected as on “Red Apple Falls”, they add some welcome colour to the songs. Of which I have one here, the oddly titled “Eid Ma Clack Shaw”. In it, he tells a tale of dreaming the “perfect song”, only when he wakes, and scribbles down the words, they read “Eid Ma Clack Shaw”. All the keystone Callahan-isms are there, from his sardonic baritone, to the dry, black humour in his lyrics. Bodes well for the album. Let’s hope it’s better than M Ward’s or Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s latest, eh?

1 I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Timbaland totally nicked Black Dog’s ideas, toned them down a bit, then chucked some rappers over the top. Not to belittle him one bit – he’s fantastic – but it would be great for the originators of that clicky, glitchy sound to get some recognition.

MP3: Caz by Black Dog Productions

MP3: Eid Ma Clack Shaw by Bill Callahan

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