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

    Come And Have Tea In My Woodpile House

    Frightened Rabbit are a band who do all the modern things very well. The band emails and diaries are funny, endearing, informational, and generally make them come across as a nice bunch of lads genuinely bemused by the success they have stumbled upon. They do small gigs in small London venues for their fans, then sell out the big venues too. They use Soundcloud well, they’ve got good PR people, and even though they have signed to a major label they don’t seem to be doing the whole heavy-handed lawyer Mugabe blog shutdown behaviour that’s so plagued US counterparts Band Of Horses.

    Which is all very nice. But of course, the main thing is the music, and again they’ve come up trumps with most recent album Pedestrian Verse1, and now EP “The Woodpile”, from which new track “Radio Silence” stems:

    The EP can be pre-ordered here. Which is nice. And there’s a rapidly selling out tour too, which is nice, too.

    MP3: Swim Until You Can’t See Land by Frightened Rabbit (any excuse to post this)

    1 Ok, so it’s no Midnight Organ Fight, but you can’t imagine that lightning would have struck twice there.

    A Mite Caledonian

    It all got a bit Scottish there for a bit. Driving back from some random pigeon shelter in Sarf Lahndan I thought I’d give Twilight Sad’s last album a bit more of a try; being something of an unsuitable record to listen to on earbuds due to the noise! the noise! and the ringing of the ears and all that. And then on my Certified Mobile Communication Device Named After A Fruit appeared a note from those charming fellas at Frightened Rabbit saying they had a new record out:

    And what a gloriously sobby thing it is too. Nice to see both bands have taken their success and used it to be even more sodding miserable. Can’t you all try go-karting or something? Life’s not that bad you know. Mind you, both the new FR track “State Hospital” and much of “No-One Will Ever Know” are quite elegaic in their being cobbed off, so maybe we shouldn’t complain.

    Anyway, Frightened Rabbit. I love them. Buy their records. And the new one too, out September 24th.

    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.

    The Work Keeps Working

    So, I’ve been b….there’s not really any point in saying it, is there? Joining me in returning from The Land Of The Otherwise Engaged are Frightened Rabbit, who have returned from their 2 year long World Tour and have punted us, dear listeners, free EP. You have to sign up to the mailing list but as their emails are some of the funniest, wittiest and genuinely pleasant promotional emails you could wish for, this is in no way a hardship.

    The songs themselves seem to have been largely written on the bus, but this is apparently no bad thing. “Scottish Winds” sounds like the kind of song that would build up in your head as you’re touring some warm, sunny country filled with happy people and a complete absence of cold, biting rain. “Fuck This Place” is a charming duet (seriously), and “The Work” reminds me of their much earlier work, and features some old feller. Called Archie. I really ought to research this a bit more, but, you know.

    Oh, just sign up and download it, will you?

    MP3: The Work by Frightened Rabbit

    Buy Frightened Rabbit Stuff Here

    The Morning Kills Us All

    Cheery miserablists The Twilight Sad have been one of the high points of the musical world in the last few years. Unlike friends and compatriots Frightened Rabbit they aren’t for everyone – in that, if someone tells you they don’t like Frightened Rabbit you know for a fact they are cloth-eared buffoons, whereas you can understand that James Graham’s catharsis overlain by the kind of noise that would make even mid-80’s Swans band members go “Steady on there, chaps” isn’t for everyone. But when you are in the mood, the likes of “I Became A Prostitute” and “Cold Days From The Birdhouse” scratch an itch that few other bands can reach.

    They’ve just announced that a third album called “No-One Can Ever Know” is coming in February 2012, and to celebrate this, they’ve released a free taster named “Kill It In The Morning”. First impressions are that they clearly haven’t cheered up one little bit, and that they’ve been playing with the keyboards a tad. A bit of variation in their sound is definitely welcome, as the last thing you want to happen to this lot is that they get stuck in a feedbacky rut. Saying that, I’d love to hear a bit more of the acoustic side they showcased on their Acoustic EP. Variety is the spice of life and all that. Or at least, that’s what I tell the mi[REDACTED]

    Head over to for more information, and go and buy their albums if you haven’t already done so. You’re missing out if you haven’t, trust me.

    Oh, and see them live too.

    MP3: Kill It In The Morning by The Twilight Sad (Low bitrate. If you want the proper, 320kbps version, go and sign up on their website)

    Everything’s Getting Older

    Ah, Aidan Moffat. He’s not just there for the miserable parts of life. Oh ok, yes he is. His dry, laconic, sodding miserable style has the perverse effect of making you feel quite perky. No idea why. What do you want from me, insight?

    He’s back with Bill Wells, with a charming new record called “Everything’s Getting Older”. It is, as you’d expect, all solemn piano and vaguely uplifting strings and just general drollery, which is bracingly, refreshingly cleansing. Single “The Copper Top”, with its funeral director video, gives you a pretty good idea of their oeuvre:

    As the saying goes, if you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing you’ll like. After the year I’ve had, and on a day like today, will you begrudge me this?

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

    Buy Everything’s Getting Older here or here.

    Feed Them To The Dogs Again

    There’s been talk of a Twilight Sad acoustic EP for some time now. Assorted videos have popped up (on Drowned In Sound and elsewhere), and originally “The Wrong Car” EP was to feature a bunch of acoustic songs, but didn’t. Now, thankfully, the band have released a free EP, cunningly entitled “Acoustic EP”, which is yours for nothing. Nada. Zilch. Nichts. Nowt. Ok, your email address. Just pop over to their relaunched blog here and sign up. Do it! Do it!

    For the Acoustic EP is, frankly, superb. You’d think that their songs are by and large exercises in being loud and quite grumpy and that the underlying songs possibly aren’t up to much, but you’d be wrong. Some songs – “I Became A Prostitute” and “Interrupted”, for example – are better done this way than with the waves of noise. Stripping them right down shows exactly how great these songs are. And if you’ve not heard their stuff before either way, just go and sign up and get a marvellous free gift.

    I love it when bands do this. Stars, they are, stars.

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

    Buy “Forget The Night Ahead” (CD/MP3)

    Swim x63

    Dropping my kid off at school the other day, I decided on the drive home to treat myself to Frightened Rabbit’s “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”. Now, it’d been a while since I last listened to this song, which had comfortably been my favourite song of 2009. Indeed, looking back, even then I was trying to stop myself listening to it too much, worried that I’d wear the poor thing out.

    And so, listening again after many months, the hairs on my arms stood to attention and that familiar shiver passed through me. You want to know what a truly good song is? One that still gives you the chills after you’ve heard it 63 times (thanks, iTunes). The song starts with a lovely, slightly Big Country1 guitar line, Scott Hutchison’s lovely Scottish burr at the edge of the North Sea, slowly unravelling a tale of a failed love and swimming in the sea, deciding whether to end it all or not.

    As things progress, he’s joined firstly by a massed choir of voices, then swelling strings, then a horn section that would do a Philly Soul band proud. One of the great things about the song is how these fripperies don’t feel thrown on at the end, like something from a bad Verve song (or a normal Primal Scream one). They add to it immeasurably, the strings providing a perfect counter to the guitar lines, without clogging it into an indigestible mess. Saying that, even played alone on an acoustic, it still sounds great:

    I won’t even go into how finely honed the lyrics are, other than to point out how beautifully judged the opening lines build into that initial “…and swim/I swim/Oh, swim”. And then the song drives toward the first chorus, before building and building further through telling lines such as “She’s there on the shoreline throwing stones at my back” until most of the band drops out leaving Scott to sing “All I am is a body adrift in water, salt and sky”. See? I can’t stop myself.

    You can only imagine that only reason this song wasn’t a massive global Snow Patrol-style hit was thanks to the somewhat gloomy outlook on life. Not many hit songs have the refrain “Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?”, after all. But I really don’t care whether a million people have bought this, or ten. All I care about is the effect it has on me, and that is to listen to it again, and again, and again, and annoy everyone around me by asking them “Have you listened to it? Isn’t it great? Yes, I know it’s about topping yourself. I don’t care. It’s great, isn’t it? Why are you looking at me like that?”.

    Because it’s great. Truly, epically, decade-best-of-list great. If you don’t like this, you don’t like music. Why are you looking at me like that?

    1 Don’t knock ’em.

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

    (Oh, and as a quick note to anyone who sends me MP3’s. I know about this thanks to a marvellous PR person. People who write blogs do listen, they are just often rather rubbish at it, and I’m probably the worst)

    Buy “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” (CD/MP3)