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.

Iron and Wine, Union Chapel

Some people are just ludicrously talented. They could come out with a ukelele and a kazoo and subject us to a rendition of Incey Wincey Spider and it would sound amazing. Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam is one of those people. Strolling out onto the stage of London’s wonderful Union Chapel, beard respendant, he began his acoustic set with an acapella rendition of “Flightless Bird, American Mouth”. The only sound from the crowd was that of about 800 jaws hitting the ground simultaneously.

To start with a song that requires the full use of his fine, pure falsetto, with no guitar (there is the possibility that the sound man had fallen asleep), would be a dreadful mistake in some other people’s hands. Not our Sam. Magical doesn’t quite cover it. To then follow it up with a rendition of “The Trapeze Swinger” – all nine minutes of it – just goes to show the confidence this man has.

After this, he was joined by his multi-instrumentalist friend, whose name I think may have been Rob. Or Rich. What do you want, for me to take notes? This gentleman showed he knew his way round a piano, and his medieval Rick Wakeman impersonation, playing piano and harmonium simultaneously, was a sight to behold.

The setlist was garnered mainly from The Shepherds Dog, with a few tracks from predecessor Our Endless Numbered Days, a couple of new tracks from the forthcoming album, plus some odds and sods. Songs from The Shepherds Dog stand out the most; as even the album’s simpler tracks like “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” feature banjos, glockenspiel, a flute, a sybarytic dwarf playing an ocelot and other such alt-Folk fancies, hearing stripped-down versions brings out the underlying strength of the songs.

Of course, for those of us who are bigger fans of the stripped-down, acoustic versions1, this wasn’t a surprise, though the lack of shock value didn’t detract from the sheer thrill of seeing naked versions of the songs performed live (not played naked, thankfully). The only disappointment was not hearing crowd-pleasers like “Lovesong of the Buzzard” played alongside “Peace Beneath The City” and “Naked As We Came”.

Sam The Man

Sam himself is full of Southern gentility and humility. The rapt adoration shown to him by the crowd in the packed out Union Chapel couldn’t be destroyed if he came out wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with “I HATE LONDON” (with “LDN GAY 4 DUBYA” on the back) and proceeded to urinate on the front couple of rows. He clearly loves being onstage and tries hard to make sure we’re happy too – and believe me, not all musicians are like this. Closing with a cover of “Johnny Too Bad”, featuring support act The Low Anthem crooning beautifully in the background, and the single encore leaving us baying for more, before we all trotted off into the rain.

So, a fine evening at a great venue watching a superb musician doing his stuff. What a venue. What a guy.

1 Discussed at length here.

MP3: Naked As We Came by Iron And Wine

MP3: Flightless Bird, American Mouth (Acoustic) by Iron and Wine

Buy “The Shepherd’s Dog” (CD/MP3)

Holiday Songs, Part 3 – Iron and Wine

I went away with good intentions of playing all those Word CD’s I hadn’t got round to listening to yet, plus those Husker Du, Replacements and Minutemen CD’s I’d bought as a result of the Pitchfork 500 list. Instead, my brain went “You know, you really haven’t listened to Iron and Wine or Feist recently, even though you’ve listened to them tons in the past and you’ve got a whole load of exciting new music to listen to”.

So, on the flight over, and since, it’s been Iron and Wine’s “The Shepherd’s Dog”. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you’ll know I’m generally hopeless at keeping even vaguely up to date, but I did manage to find the acoustic versions of two of my favourite songs – “Lovesong Of The Buzzard” and “Resurrection Fern”. I’ll gloss over the fact that these have been posted on Sam Beam’s website for a good, ooh, four months now, and that there’s a full set of eight acoustic versions to download. But you probably have them already.


Great songs from a man I really need to go and see live.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for my holiday. Should be back in the UK tomorrow, and I’ve even finally got a Pitchfork 500 post done. It’s about Goths, you know.

MP3: Lovesong Of The Buzzard (Acoustic) by Iron and Wine

MP3: Resurrection Fern (Acoustic) by Iron and Wine

Buy “The Shepherd’s Dog” (CD/MP3)