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.

Bus Of Blonde Girls

Music can pop into your head thanks to all sorts of funny reasons. The other day, taking a bus from Sloane Square – posho blonde girl capital of London – toward Putney, when the Tube was bejiggered, I wandered onto the top deck to find that it was half-full of slightly baffled looking blonde girls. They definitely had the look of people who’d seen these big red things going up and down the road, but had previously eschewed actually travelling on one, instead going for the relative safety of the Tube.

And the song “Yard Of Blonde Girls” from Jeff Buckley’s posthumous LP, Sketches For My Sweetheart, The Drunk. Now, I am a huge Jeff Buckley fan, but even I recognise that most of Sketches… really isn’t that good. Whatever magic he’d captured on Grace and Sin-e, and innumerable live recordings, was sorely lacking in Sketches. And then he died before being able to write something better. So it goes.

I don’t have much more to say about Jeff, or this song (a cover), other than it’s not bad. And certainly welcome on the number 22 after a long day’s work. Sometimes it pays not to look into things too much.

MP3: Yard Of Blonde Girls by Jeff Buckley

Note to self: Don’t post titles that sound like something smutty. I can only imagine the stuff I’m going to get Tweeted now.

Buy “Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk”

The Telecaster Hits 60

This year the Fender Telecaster, as the Guardian has half-heartedly told us, has reached the venerable age of 60. Except that it hasn’t, really; the first examples were made in 1949, although the first production guitars surfaced in March 1950, under the “Broadcaster” name. Pickiness aside, the Tele was the first proper solid-body electric guitar, and has been in continual production ever since its introduction.

Everyone from Steve Cropper to Frank Black, Bruce Springsteen to Jeff Buckley, Radiohead to the Rolling Stones played one. Famous for its no-nonsense appeal, consisting of a plank of wood and some metal, without even a nice contoured back to make it comfortable; anyone who wants a reliable workhorse that can sound like it’s being played by a heavenly host of angels, or the devil’s own guitar, depending on who’s grasping it.

The Original And Best

Yeah, the Strat might be more elegant, the Les Paul might be more RAWK, and the PRS might be more bling, but the Tele strips everything down to be just you, some planks, and some wire. There’s no hiding place with a Tele, which partly explains why good guitarists love it so much.

My favourite example of this ability to show a guitarist’s true talents comes during Jeff Buckley’s “Live At Sin-é”. Recorded in a small New York cafe, Jeff plays a borrowed Tele (an early ’90’s Butterscotch Blonde American Standard with a maple neck, I believe), with an amp, a microphone, and some reverb. The results are frankly mind-boggling. Tracks from Grace take on a whole new identity when played solo, and some of the covers are a shining example of how to take a song and make it your own.

Lookin' Moody There, Jeffy Boy

None of which quite prepares you for his cover of Edith Piaf’s “Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin”. Never been convinced of his vocals, even after hearing the likes of “Hallelujah” or “Mojo Pin”? This song will send your heart soaring upward to heaven. Always thought he wasn’t a great guitarist? Only a genius would be able to seemingly play three guitars at once, as he does here, and make it sound so gorgeous. Whilst singing.

This is a song I’d like played at my funeral. Just some wood and metal, but in the right hands, it becomes something transcendent. I don’t think Leo Fender ever thought his baby could sound like this. Happy birthday, Tele.

MP3: Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin by Jeff Buckley

Buy “Complete Live At Sine [2CD + DVD]”

Fender Tele Stuff at Amazon

Or check out the Fender site here.

Note: here’s some video of the Sin-e shows. Not ideal, but this was back in the pre-cheap CCD days.