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 2010 – Albums, Two

    So, following on from yesterday’s first part, featuring all the records I was disappointed or just a bit meh-d with, here’s my list of ones I liked. Like I said yesterday, no absolute favourites, but some of the songs on these albums will live with me until my brain finally dissolves through alcohol abuse and Alzheimers.

    (Part three is here)

    The Best Album Of The Year By A Band Half My Age Making Music For People Half My Age


    Avi Buffalo
    Beach House


    Avi Buffalo – s/t

    Now this one came as a surprise. On the first couple of listens, Avi Buffalo seemed to be one of those records that had a couple of good songs and one absolutely great one (“Truth Sets In”). The rest was, frankly, a bit annoying, from the stupid song titles to Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg’s annoying yelp. But with more time, the record slowly unravelled to show itself as being a work of a rare talent. A great example being “Remember Last Time”, a seven minute long track that feels far too short, growing and swelling and suddenly shrinking again, before one final, two minute long cascade of guitar solos and general wigging out. It’s clear to me that Avi is a brilliant guitarist with a huge talent; if he can produce a more focussed record next time, and gives his bandmates more time on the mic, he could produce something very special indeed.

    MP3: What’s It In For by Avi Buffalo

    Buy “Avi Buffalo” (CD)

    The Best Album By Kerazy Kanadians

    The Besnard Lakes – Are The Roaring Night

    2010 the year of The Return Of Half-Decent Shoegaze, and this record was more than half-decent. I wasn’t expecting great things after “…Are The Dark Horse”, but my word, did this lot deliver. “Albatross” demands to be played loud, loud, loud, and the rest of the album follows suit. Superb stuff.

    MP3: Albatross by The Besnard Lakes

    Buy “The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night” (CD/MP3)

    The Best Albums by Previously Unknown Bands

    Bullets in Madison – We Became Your Family When You Died

    Came across this lot whilst just browsing some good music blogs. Lovely, and a brilliant example of how you can find music in the most random of ways. The way “Animals” slowly coalesces into lovely, glorious dream-pop is still wonderful, nearly a year after I first heard it.

    MP3: Animals by Bullets In Madison

    Buy “We Became Your Family When You Died” here.

    The Best EP by a Previously Unknown Band

    Bright Spark Destroyer – Holy Yell EP

    Previously Unknown, because this is their debut. And what a debut. Thrilling, evocative, exciting, with just the right amount of that The Bends-era Radiohead stadium bombast to make them a dangerously promising tip for the future. If they aren’t on everyone’s 2011 end of year lists, I’ll eat my hat1.

    MP3: A Feeling of Health by Bright Spark Destroyer

    Buy “Holy Yell” EP here.

    The Best Scandinavian Album (combined with the Nice Dinner Party Album award)


    The Tallest Man On Earth
    The Radio Dept
    The Kissaway Trail


    The Radio Dept – Clinging To A Scheme

    Lovely. This year’s Bibio. Saying that a record is great to have when you’re doing the washing up is a major compliment, by the way.

    MP3: Heaven’s On Fire by The Radio Dept

    Buy “Clinging to a Scheme” here (CD/MP3)

    The Best Indie-Pop Album Unfairly Maligned By The Meedja

    Freelance Whales – Weathervanes

    Soundtrack to the first few months of the year, I was convinced this lot were going to hit the big time, Arcade Fire style. But no. Some harsh reviews, some intimations of lack of imagination, and their fate, if not quite sealed, was made far harder. Shame, as this really is a charming and beguiling record that deserved a far, far larger audience.

    MP3: Hannah by Freelance Whales

    Buy “Weathervanes” Here

    The Best Female Singer-Songwriter With An Obsession With The Natural World

    Laura Veirs – July Flame

    Just had to be, didn’t it? This one nearly slipped me by and I’m glad it didn’t. Perfect at gazing out of a window at drizzle whilst a roaring fire roars away in the background, as your loved one roasts a chicken.

    MP3: I Can See Your Tracks by Laura Veirs

    Buy “July Flame” (CD/MP3) Here

    Albums From 2009 That I Identified In Last Years End Of Year Review As Might Be Good And Were

    Twilight Sad – Forget The Night Ahead

    Ok, so it’s only half a good album. But its heights – “I Became A Prostitute”, “Interrupted” and “Reflection of the Television” are as good as anything on their debut. Well, almost.

    MP3: I Became a Prostitute by The Twilight Sad

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

    Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

    Identified last year as something I’d listen to this year, and nice to see I was right. Great album, this, and it’s got me to search back into their catalogue and find all those gems that have passed me by. And thanks to all the readers with suggestions of which albums I should try next!

    MP3: Avalon Or Someone Very Similar by Yo La Tengo

    Buy “Popular Songs” (CD/MP3)

    The Yo La Tengo Award For A Band I’d Previously Discounted As Twee Nonsense Before Realising Belatedly That They Were, Like, Great

    Belle And Sebastian – Write About Love

    Just had to be, didn’t it? The first thaw in the huge icy wall around my heart came with Stuart Murdoch’s “Another Saturday” on 2009’s Dark Is The Night compilation. Realising that a man that could write something of such gentle, enormous beauty must be quite the talented sort, I gave Write About Love a go. Doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Another Saturday”, but now I’ve melted that iceberg of disdain I’m going to enjoy running through their back catalogue.

    MP3: I Want The World To Stop by Belle And Sebastian

    Buy “Write About Love” (CD/MP3)

    That’s it for this post. Join me tomorrow for songs, gigs, and other gubbins.

    1 Hat may be made of cake.

    Rock School!

    So this is a very quick post just to remind you all of one of the finest music videos ever: Yo La Tengo’s “Sugarcube”:

    How brilliant is that, eh?

    And yes, I finally got round to buying “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One”. Thanks, Gordon and Nosila!

    MP3: Sugarcube by Yo La Tengo

    Buy “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One” (CD/MP3)

    Popular Songs, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Yo La Tengo

    Yo La Tengo are one of those bands that have always made me feel suspicious. That famous Onion story from some years ago1 “37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead In Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster” absolutely nailed it for me. There’s the whole indie schmindie aesthetic that made me want to run away screaming “Hair clips! Ribbons! Aaaargh!”. I did once venture out into Tengoland and got “And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out”, but “You Can Have It All” aside, it didn’t really make much of an impression.

    The Annual Spot The Drummer Contest Was Not A Success

    But last year, I thought I’d give “Popular Songs” a try. It’d had good reviews, some stating that this was probably their most complete album ever, and the omens were good. And you know what? It’s really good. Didn’t manage to listen to it enough to be able to call it an album of the year, but I’m listening to it more and more and finding new depths. The sheer variety – from Sonic Youth-esque 12 minute guitar freakouts to dream-pop to bossa-nova to indie-schmindie Belle And Sebastian songs (but done exquisitely well) – makes for a great album.

    And this morning, after listening to the new Yeasayer album (see tomorrow’s post, if you’re a time traveller), I needed something a bit more pleasant to listen to. What came up? Yo La Tengo. So there you go; if a newish band comes squawking out of New York with music they hope is new and shiny (but ends up coming across as plain irritating – you can see where I’m going to with this), then listen to an old New York1 band to salve the pain. I can safely say I’m through my Tengophobia.

    I’m now going to start going back through their catalogue, starting with the aforementioned “And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out”, freshly copied to my new iPhone. Any suggestions?

    1 Ok, Hoboken. You can see New York from there.

    MP3: Avalon Or Someone Very Similar by Yo La Tengo

    Buy “Popular Songs” (CD/MP3)

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