Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Tune of the Year - 2008

Everyone has the standard charts at this time of the year, and I'm no exception. It gives me something to post about at any rate. 12 months ago, I picked some random criteria to decide who was going to be "Tune of the Year". I decided to limit the list to TOTWs. However, in the interests of fairness, I did add the 'last chance' option this year in case anything 'just missed out' on being TOTW. But, 52 weeks x 2 tunes per week + 12 last changers = A lot of music (116 if you're struggling on the maths). So, the other criteria are the same as last year:

Memorability This is a handicap for songs earlier in the year. However, it's a simple test - can I sing the melody without listening to it again? If I can't, it can't have been that good. So, farewell to Band of Horses (TOTW6) and Gnarls Barkley (TOTW9) amongst others - which is a bit of a shame, because listening to them again they are proper songs.

Artist Profile This is quite a big one - which artists have come round time and time again? No surprise that Adele and Duffy have both had 4 TOTWs, similarly little surprise that MGMT, The Last Shadow Puppets, and Guillemots have had 3 - although Gabriella Cilmi and the Feeling also joining that group surprised me a bit.

Chart Position I suppose I should see what everyone else thinks about the said tracks. At the start of the year, quite a few selections were also No 1 in the UK Singles Chart - Mercy, American Boy, That's Not My Name, Dance Wiv Me, and Viva la Vida. Unfortunately, there's not been anything since August. I blame X-Factor winners taking up 7 weeks since then...

Musicality Looking at the more formal nature of things and if they're good songs musically, or just cheezy pop that gets stuck in your head.

Likability A very simple test, and perhaps the ultimate determining factor - do I like it? Those I like the most will end up at the top - fairly obviously.

I could quite easily have generated a fairly long list of "top songs", but that would make a long boring post and difficult to list. So, once again, I'll stick to a sensible top 5.

5. Mystery Jets - Young Love

TOTW13 - Released 10 March - Top Chart position #34

On a few occasions I've referred to the "Laura Marling effect", which makes good songs brilliant. As well as Young Love, see Noah & the Whale (TOTW31) 5 Years Time being in consideration for the final list too.

OK, it didn't do that well in the charts, but it was the song that introduced me to the band and I've bought the album since. It's quite different to some of their other songs - probably due to William Rees singing instead of Blaine Harrison, but in anything but a bad way. Catchy, innovative, what's not to like?

4. Radiohead - Nude

TOTW11 - Released 31 March - Top Chart position #21

When I first talked about this song, I was expecting it to be the TOTY without contest. I can still listen to it and be transported into a dreamlike state with the enchanting wailing. It's chart position really didn't reflect the quality of the song.

However, the reason the song isn't higher up is quite simple - I'd almost forgotten about it. Only when rechecking the "long list" of TOTW2008 did I remember how much I liked the song, only on a fresh listen did I realise how much I loved it. The rest of the songs were always an option to be TOTY, and always in my mind. Perhaps it's because I was transported away when listening to it.

3. Last Shadow Puppets - Standing next to me

TOTW25 - Released 7 July - Top Chart position #30

Probably the shortest TOTW all year, but that makes it all the more endearing. Featuring one LSP track or another was inevitable, but I went for this because it was my favourite of the year. The nostalgic qualities of the entire album show real creative talent, and this is proof that it is possible to write a good 2 minute pop song and it still be the right length.

2. Elbow - One Day like this

TOTW21 - Released 2 June - Top Chart position #35

What can be said about Elbow that hasn't been said already? Seldom Seen Kid is not only Mercury Prize Winning, but now critics choice winning. I know I said I'd refer to chart position in considering the ranking of the songs - and yet this is the lowest of all 5. It never wasn't going to feature though. Powerful, emotive, unique. Brilliance.

1. Duffy - Mercy

TOTW4 - Released 25 February - Top Chart position #1

If I was asked, without any thought, if I preferred Mercy or One Day like this, I'd almost certainly go for Elbow every time. But, there's more to TOTY than that. Duffy featured in TOTW so many time with so many great songs, I couldn't ignore her talents. Mercy was certainly the song for the start of the year, and immensely popular throughout. It's a classic style with a twist, and immediately recognisable. The most important thing, in many ways, is that I'm sure it'll be popular for years and years to come. As soon as the bass starts with those 5 distinctive notes, people will sit up and take notice. Duffy was new this year, but I'm sure we won't have seen the last of her.

That's it for me from 2008, but TOTW2008 will start once again, in the usual format, in just a few days time. Which leads me to a nice opportunity to say that if you're interested in writing for the blog - maybe a New Year resolution to get involved in blogging - just drop me an e-mail (link on the right).

And with the best wishes for 2009 and tonight's festivities, I leave you with a live version Asp Bites' Tune of the Year - 2008.

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Killers - Day & Age

Being the stingy Northerner that I am, I don't generally buy an album before it's been around for a while, and I've heard a number of the tracks that will feature on it.

It's also the case that there's very few artists I have every album for (save for those that have only released one).

But the latter appears to negate the former, as when I knew that the Killers were bringing out a new album, it was a case of when I bought the new album, and not if.

OK, I wasn't queuing up in the shop on the day of release - blame the credit crunch and lack of Student discount nowadays.

Surprisingly, first impressions of the album weren't that good. OK, we already knew I like Human, but save for Spaceman (which I still think is the best track on the album) there didn't seem to be any classic sing-out tracks in the style of Mr Brightside and the others we all know and love.

But, they've definitely grown on me. The disco-funk of Joy Ride, the enchanting I can't stay, and the semi-futuristic The World We Live In being particular highlights. What's particularly good about the album is that no tracks are the same. Each tune is distinctly different, there's no sense of repetition at all. It's the mark of a good album, with time put into every performance.

I don't think it's quite got to the stage where I could happily listen to it on repeat ad-infinitum. And it's not my album of the year. But it's still very good. Taking a punt on it as a partial unknown quality was well worth it.

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Saturday, 27 December 2008

From a Christmas Mix

TOTW 2008 - #52

It's difficult at this time of year to pick TOTW. I still listen to the radio, but inbetween all the Christmas songs the current "hits" are in comparatively short supply. Thankfully, there were two tracks which have been of particular attention, so I'm able to have the standard number of TOTWs. I'm not thinking that they're brilliant tunes, unfortunately, but they've certainly been the sing-a-long songs of the the past few days

The Feeling - Feels Like Christmas

Also, with no other nominated tracks, I don't feel too bad about picking December's last chance quite early on. Although, there is an important reason for this - for it to go into the longlist for the Tune of the Year selection, which I'll probably post at somepoint around New Year. That's the look forward to (well, maybe) - here's a very catchy tune, Titus Andronicus by, erm, Titus Andronicus

Friday, 26 December 2008

Sound of 2009

Time for an Unsung "special" everyone, just for Christmas. Recently, the BBC announced the long list for their "Sound of 2009". It's quite an influential list, and a good judge of what's going to be popular. If you're not entirely sure, here's the 2008 top 10. I don't really need to explain where they are now.

1. Adele; 2. Duffy; 3. The Ting Tings; 4. Glasvegas ; 5. Foals; 6. Vampire Weekend ; 7. Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong; 8. Black Kids ; 9. MGMT; 10. Santogold

The winner will be announced in early January. But I'm going to get in early and check out all the acts now.

I am calling this an "unsung" special, but - as you'll see - it's not strictly true. Unsung normally features unsigned acts, all of these acts are now ready to head out into the world. The test is who's going to be the biggest breakthrough act over the next 12 months. But, I imagine that a lot of readers won't have heard of the most of them, so in that respect it's unsung. Anyway, on we go, and further comments are very welcome.

The Big Pink

There's a lot of talent behind this duo. And the output is very different - even between the tunes. Too young to love is catchy, energetic; Dominos is almost anthemic. Personally, I think that the output is a bit too different to become that popular. And I too only like it in small doses - I can't imagine me ever going out to buy the album. They're good - but they're not going to be the Sound of 2009. (Asp)

Florence and the Machine

The mighty Flo. What can I say about her that I've not said before, when she featured in the very first "Unsung" in March; or the TOTW mentions since then. Well, I can say that - after hearing more and more recorded tracks - she's not a raw as she once was. Sometimes, this can be a bad thing - losing the passion and power. But this hasn't happened with Florence and her powerful Machine. Even on the smooth tracks like Girl with 1 eye the tone of the vocals matches the tone of the lyrics - brutally harsh. Exceptional lyrics, and a definite talent. Maybe it would be more accurate to show her as a Sound of 2008 - of maybe 2009 will bring her to widespread acclaim instead of the slight niche she occupies now. We'll see... (Asp)

Post-Script: Since writing this paragraph, it's been announced that Flo is the winner of the 2009 Critic's Choice BRIT award. The one that Adele won this year. Proof of her talent, I hope

Little Boots

Comes complete with a free download "mixtape" starting with a Goldfrapp remix. But enough, how's her own music? Well, a missmatch is the best way to describe her I think - there's a hint of Madonna, but mixed up with unusual institutionalisation and catchy melodies. Like everything I'm liking in this list - different, and in a neat sub-genre of her own. Clearly talented, and with the influence of Hot Chip's Joe Goddard behind her, that synth-pop should go far. (Asp)

The Temper Trap

The Temper Trap hail from down under with their leading track, Sweet Disposition.  The distinctive lead singer appears to be the love child of Elliot from Hollyoaks and Moss from the IT Crowd, but I won't let that affect my judgement.
Sweet Disposition is an interesting record.  A combination of haunting falsetto vocals, Edge-esque guitar riffs dripping in delay and a persistant shuffle on the drums creates a subtle but immersive, moving sound.  The apparent influences are abundant: Bloc Party, The Killers and Sigur Ros amongst many others.
My initial criticism upon hearing the record was that it sounded a little uncomplex and ingenuous, however I soon realised that this contributed to its charm.  In a time when most of the afore-mentioned bands are sacrificing the grace of their music for over-produced dance floor movers, it is refreshing to return to a more naive sound.  Although I struggle to get excited by Sweet Disposition, the aussie quartet have succeeded in creating a tune which is sweet, enjoyable and danceable.
All in all The Temper Trap are likely to be a memorable band of 2009, and with producer Jim Abbiss on their side success on some scale is virtually guaranteed.  However I await their album with some anticipation - it is not immediately obvious whether Sweet Disposition fully reflects the depth of their music, or whether it is a loss-leader to sell an album with more interesting, intelligent tunes.  Hopefully, it will be the latter. (Wrecks)

Asp's note - quick listen myself, someone was listening to U2 before they wrote that song, weren't they?

Mumford & Sons

The name rung a definitely bell before listening to them, but I couldn't place where. Then I just read their bio - they're Laura Marling's backing group! And it doesn't take much listening for you to spot to common link. It's that simple folk music with that just slightly modern twist that's about now with Noah and the Whale and Marling herself (spotting a common link here?) It's mild and inoffensive - so I like it. More please. (Asp)


Another name that's actually about at the minute. I watch the video for 3 Little Words though, I keep thinking I'm watching the latest from Scandavian-Sprightly Pop-Combo Alphabeat. With the exception of the attractive women, obviously. And the music isn't that far removed either.

He is more of a DJ, and has done plenty of remixes for plenty of big names. See the Keane remix on his myspace. But he can clearly write as well - with that fast dance beat meaning that they're great pop records, just like Alphabeat in a really strange sort of way. Plenty of vim and vigour - and a sure fire pick for the music to be popular in the clubs in 2009. (Asp)

La Roux

Catchy one this isn't it? La Roux [apparently French for "The Redhead"], also known as Elly Jackson, and Ben Langmaid, are new on the block only turning up late in 2008. And with their new electro funky beat sound too. As happens with lots of new pop music, Radio 1 picked it up with Sarah Cox playing it solidly for a whole week, resulting in it now circulating at great velocity around my head. It's very catchy, but not similar to anything else at the same time. I might not get the slightly odd Video, but I do like the music... Why not give it a listen?  (The Stig)

Empire of the Sun

An Australian MGMT. The vocal tones are almost identical, and the music is very similar. So, whilst I like MGMT, and thus have no objections to this music - I've heard it all before. There's nothing revolutionary to really wow the crowds, and the net result is "good background music". Not enough to make it big. (Asp)

Kid Cudi

You hear the name, and you think you know what's coming. You read the blurb on the beeb's website, and think you know what's coming. Now very worried you click through to the myspace and wait for the music start. And this strange childlike non-singing appears. And then someone else starts swearing.

It's well documented that I don't like hip-hop. I can't find the tune most of the time, and I don't see the point of some of the lyrics. So, I'm probably the worst person to review Kid Cudi. He could become big - supporting Kanye West is a good start, and I've heard of West. But, even if he did, I wouldn't notice. And, I'd rather he didn't in any event. (Asp)

Passion Pit

I thought I was going to be saying similar to Empire of the Sun when I reading the BBC blurb. But, I'm not. And I really like it. There is that warped electronica - but it sounds good. Different. Sleepyhead is particularly bewildering - and that infantile background singing could be the hook required to let them make it big. (Asp)

White Lies

A few contributors were prepared to stick something together for these set of London Rockers - they're already notable. To Lose My Life and Unfinished Business in particular are getting a fair bit of airplay. Death even featured on TOTW. I like all the songs as well, which is good - in the same way that I like Editors. Which is the problem, they're very similar - and they could so easily be interchangeable. I'm sure that they're going to go from strength to strength in the new year, they're already on their way there. But, I can see themselves falling short of being "the" act of 2009, as we've been there and heard it before. (Asp)

VV Brown

I didn't recognise the name, but as soon as I heard Crying Blood the memory kicked into overdrive and I was able to recall the "Later..." session. Unfortunately, the myspace is one of these without full tracks (save for a few remixes) to base an opinion on, so I'm really left to the one track. Thankfully, it's a great one - funky, retro, yet with a modern beat to mean it still appeals. I can only hope that the rest are similar! (Asp)

Lady GaGa

Disco-funk, and I'm afraid not really my cup of tea. It's got a decent beat, and I'm sure I'd find myself dancing to it on those rare occasions I drink enough to end up in a club. And on that basis, could make it well in '09. Unfortunately though, I won't be the one out buying the records. (Asp)

Master Shortie

"British Hip-Hop". Another one where I've made-up my mind before the record turns. Especially after seeing the myspace page - weird. I can say some good things about young Theo though - I wasn't completely driven from the room. Dead End is particularly a less shouty record than many. I really can't comment much on Hip-Hop, so can't predict if Shortie is going to be a hit or a miss. But, I am minded to say that he's better than most - which probably counts to something. (Asp)

Dan Black

Another name that's been making it popular already with this year with Yours, that I've even mentioned on TOTW. If you ask Adelle, I'm sure she'll say that starting to make an impact just before the New Year helps your chances of being "the" act for the forthcoming 12 months. However, you should never judge an act on a solitary song, but I'm pleased to report that the entire myspace set is the same futuristic mysterious tones. It took a few listens for me to start enjoying Yours, but now I've got used to what to expect, it's good stuff. So, I think Dan Black does need tempering with the disclaimer that if you don't like him first time round, try again for a few times before you immediately dismiss him. (Asp)

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Pies and Pudding

I didn't quite time it so perfectly to have an S for Santa on Christmas eve, but I'm sure that P can stand for Pie (as in mince pie) or Pudding (as in Christmas) to tie in with the festivities.

Here's the playlist for P anyway.

Please note the "same title, different song" which shows how different they can be. Although, I intentionally missed Jennifer Rush from the playlist...

Choosing the BBC charity version of Perfect Day was intentional, unforunately I couldn't find a Beatles version of Penny Lane (or Paperback writer for that matter) - but I hope David Bowie makes amens.

The letter P

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Still pics for Christmas

TOTW 2008 - #51

Wow, the year is nearly done. This is the penultimate TOTW, and it doesn't seem that long ago things started.

Of course, tomorrow is when we're going to find out who's going to be Christmas No2. So, I think I better mention the inevitable number 1.

I have mentioned in the past that I don't think it's possible to record a bad version of Hallelujah. Not that long ago, there was a nice documentary on the song on Radio2 with Guy Garvey. With my inherent fear of X-Factor winners, I didn't want to test my theory on Alexandra Burke.

However, it was played when I was getting changed in swimming pool this week, therefore couldn't really run out screaming. And, the theory has been proved - it's not a bad song. It starts properly. Strong singer, simplistic harmony. Then it builds - good effect, and I think the song deserves it.

Then, just after 2 minutes, something happens. It twists after a random instrumental. And she starts warbling. And I don't like it.

She doesn't destroy the song. And, as I've just proved by finding the youtube so I can write about it, I can listen to it again. But, it's not the ultimate version (as considered by many, myself included). Which still stands an outside chance of getting the Christmas top spot. Therefore, I'm going to make it a TOTW. Because I can...

Talking about talent show winners, Geraldine's back. With money going to the NSPCC, Peter Kay is telling us all about Once upon a Christmas Song. I am a big fan of Peter Kay, and I like the lyrics commenting on the songs of Christmas past - and that every year we (come on, admit in) sing All I want for Christmas whilst drunk at the office party. And, it's a bouncy little catchy tune. But, musically, it is a bit cack. And I'm afraid it doesn't inspire me to rush out and give money to charity. Pity that.

And, people are still releasing Christmas songs. I mentioned a few last week - but surprisingly haven't heard of them this week to refer to them again. Instead, I'm mentioned one that I've seen on an advert. Not that that limits it....

With those brass tunes, you're left wondering if Mark Ronson had a hand in the production values, but Warm This Winter by Gabriella Cilmi would be a good tune regardless of the time of the year. I particularly love the effect generated by the a capella "Wa-a-arm". It's got a bit of kick with it, without being killed by a complete excess of sleigh bells as many "Christmas" songs are. Christmas tunes are never number 1 any more - but this is probably the best of the set out this year.

PS> Since writing the above, I've heard another alternative version of Hallelujah - which I find someone has already uploaded onto youtube. Mitch Benn, a regular favourite of mine, hits the nail completely on the head as ever - so I think three video are required this week, even though this one in itself won't be charting.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

An Artist's fear - Broken strings?

It got quite a glowing comment last week, even if not the full TOTW. So, here it is again:

Broken Strings is just an excellent duet. It builds up in the right places, and settles down at the right time too. The lyrics fit, and vocals match. I wouldn't expect to be liking it as much as I am. But I am.

It's the season of goodwill, and there's lots of Christmas songs about. Some of which are worth a mention.

Those Wombats are back again, with Is This Christmas? (15 Dec). It's basically the same as everyone other Wombats song, just with some sleigh bells thrown in. So, whilst I'm far from anti-Wombats (the RSPCA would probably get annoyed if I was), there's just nothing particularly special there to get me in the Christmas mood.

So, I google Feels like Christmas, and come up with the Muppets Christmas Carol. What I was actually looking for though was the latest from The Feeling. It's certainly more of a Christmas song that the Wombats, and is properly Christmas. Not tacky at all, and quite serene.

The Killers often normally release a Christmas song. So, releasing this years with Elton John and Neil Tenant out of off of the Pet Shop Boys - a prefect match, right? Well, not according to some. I've discussed it with regular contributor Hazard, and we both agree - it's good. The video for Joseph, better you than me is pretty crap, fair dos, but it's a simple Christmas song. And, it goes to the true spirit of Christmas - remember what that is? Just with a slightly different take on it. Maybe it needs to be a bit of quiet. But I like it.

Everytime Keane release a single from their Perfect Symmetry album, I keep saying that they're moving closer back to their old roots. And with the title track (29 Dec), I'm left saying it again. Still, there's still nothing I don't like. It's catchy, it's got a good tune - so what's not to like?

But with a video with lots of wrapped boxes, baloons, and everyone dancing around - it must be a Christmassy sugar-gum pop record, right?

Well, maybe not then. Lily Allen hasn't been around for a bit - too busy presenting some so called chat show probably - but she's back, and The Fear is the lead single from "It's not me, It's You" which is the album out on Feb 9th. It's got the traditionally bouncy tune that's easily sing along - even if the lyrics suggest something totally different. Nothing wrong with it at all - and this is from the same woman who found the rhyme between tesco and alfresco, so she can still do no wrong in my eyes!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

In concert: The Zutons


Unfortunately, no-one has been able to assist with my mystery regarding this gig - who were the support act? Similarly unfortunately, Thursdays much anticipated first-gig-as-paying-punter-for-ages was cancelled - although personally this actually worked out well as I was feeling so ill I wasn't going to be able to make it in any event.

Therefore, as there was going to be a gig review this weekend anyway, I might as well post the one that's been sat in "drafts" for ages awaiting an answer.

The Zutons - Carlisle Sands Centre, 27 November 2008

They've - somehow inadvertently - become a 'Bites favourite. Might be a bit co-incidental that they've often been gigging near me as I too have been parading round the counties. But, after seeing them in a forest, at a park (in a festival), and not forgetting Dark Sprout seeing them on an island (in a festival); seeing them in an inside venue was inevitable at some point.

It's the first time I've been to The Sands Centre for a gig - so wasn't entirely sure what I should be expecting. The sports hall does convert quite nicely into a music venue all said and done, with a nice large area for standing plus a gallery. I would say though that it's still inescapably a sports hall - the painted lines on the floor giving that away. Also, the very high roof means it loses a bit of the intimacy you'd hope from for a venue with not a huge capacity.

Still, it does mean that The Zutons - being such a loud band - have someone to lose the sound in; without much of an echo, with is good. Mind you, I was in the pit throughout, so my hearing was distorted to say the least!

With the performance then, I'm not sure what can be said that can't be said before. The set list was pretty much the same as at Delamere - with all the favourites in there. What I haven't noticed before was the careful planning to have the gentle swaying sometime acoustic bit in the middle of the 1hr45 minute set. Songs like Pressure Point and of course Sitting on the Dock of the Bay Confusion to change to move just at the right moment.

Balance that with getting the crowd going with Valerie and You Will you Won't was exactly what I expected - but in a good way. It proved that they are a good live band, and have enough well known tracks to ensure that everyone has a good time.

One thing that is worth particular comment was their ultimate finale in the encore, featuring what can only be described as a three-minute three-drum solo. Normally such a phrase would strike fear into all - but it was really good. Sean Payne - with assistance on either side - managed to produce something that had to be unique (drum solos always are) and powerful. I'm surprisingly myself by saying I liked it so much.

Even though The Zutons are not a band I would rush out to by an album for, I have enjoyed their gigs enough so that if we meet again I'm sure I'll make an effort to visit. Which is a good sign for sure.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Oh Dear

Yes, it's time for the letter O.

There were quite a few options, "O ...", "Oh ...", "One ....", "Only...." - but I'm sticking to a fairly short list.

What's interesting is a case of "Same title, Different Song". Have a listen anyway...

The letter O

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Doing nothing....

TOTW08 - Last Chance (November)

A man with two left feet? John Sergeant gets everywhere now...

Alesha Dixon - The Boy does nothing

Dreaming Deleriums

TOTW 2008 - #49

I've been liking Neon Neon a bit recently. Gruff Rhys has to be one of the hardest working blokes in music, with his various projects, and Dream Cars (8 Dec) is from the mould I'm growing to love. It's very reliant on the Welshman's lyricism, but Boom Bip's electronica is still very present. It's a difficult balancing act I imagine, and this track is perhaps an example of how definitely to do it.

Ladyhawke is another artist who has been mentioned from time to time. Not that traditional, but still a good musician. My delerium (8 Dec) is a bit strange in that the music and the lyrics don't exactly match. It's a "go get 'em" fast paced tune - but the words are a bit aggressive if anything. Waiting around for something that clearly isn't happening.

Talking about things that are a bit depressing, how about a chorus with the line "Your life is over". Taking a name from a Shakespearean play is an interesting approach, especially when it applies to both the band and the single - Steve Lamacq's single of the week no less. Titus Andronicus is fast paced, powerful, and as the traditional hallmark of a good tune - a non-stop sing-a-long anthemic chorus. The key change is a bit Eurovision though...

From the "duets that you don't think will work, but actually sound pretty good" category - here's some Broken Strings (8 Dec). No, James, you can't play on broken strings - but the contrasting tones of James Morrison and Nelly Furtado does really work well, so you can sing with them. Steve Perkins describes it as being "like all the best bits of an '80s power ballad without all the permed hair". And he's got a point, duets like this are straight out of the 80s. However, this isn't pure cheeze, it's just a good effective song. Promising.

Going back even further from the 80s, guitar rich indie has been around for ages. There's a definite problem with The Gaslight Anthem - and that's that they also sound like The Killers. The voice in Old White Lincoln (1 Dec) could so easily be Brandon Flowers. But, I really couldn't give a monkeys. It's a catchy tune. It's well sung. And I like it. That's always more than enough for me.

Honourable mentions:

Dan Black - Yours (1 Dec)

Glasvegas - Please come back home (1 Dec)

Hold Steady - Stay Positive (22 Dec)

Keane - Perfect Symmetry (29 Dec)

La Roux - Quicksand (8 Dec)

Noisettes - Wild Young Hearts (29 Dec)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Unsung - with a purpose

Last week, I got an e-mail from a management company. Whilst in all other respects, I can't stand unsolicited mail, people introducing me to new bands does get my attention. Particularly when it's personalised and from the band's manager. So, I did as I was bid, and headed over to the myspace of The Mission District.

The band have just finished on a short UK tour - and I honestly mean it when I say that it was unfortunate that the short notice meant I was unable to make any of the dates. The last Canadian band to really come to my attention were The Arcade Fire - so it's a good sign - and The Mission District have continued that form.

That Late of the Pier style electronica that I'm really into, and is becoming more and more prevalent, is immediately evident from the first track on their myspace, So Over You. However, they're not sticking purely to that genre. The Best of you and Me is much more "pop", yet still with that addictive toe-tapping beat.

I'm reliably informed that they'll have an album out next year - and from what I've heard so far, I'm definitely going to keep my eye out for it.

Whilst I didn't make a gig for The Mission District, I will be out gigging next week. Which is quite unusual - it must have been ages since I've been to a gig as a punter. The band that's encouraged me out is The Bees - whilst they're not a band I'd rush out to an album for, Chicken Payback was my favourite tune in 2006, and being so far up in the sticks it's not that often a decent band is local, so it's important to take the opportunities when they appear.

However, this is Unsung, so I'm not going to talk about The Bees, but I'm going to talk about their 2 support acts - because I've never heard of either, so have to listen to them before getting to see what to expect.

Starting off with local(ish) band Seven Seals. Reading about them, they're far from totally unheard of me - and if I'd have been at Kendal Calling (as I hope to be in 2009) I'd have already heard of them.

I think, that overall, they're a bit too 'heavy' for me. However, there's sections of tracks that I definitely like. And entire tracks, like Black Drop - it's got the basic indie hallmarks - guitars, repetitive chorus - but then it's got some highly unusual instrumentation. Would be great to see live. Quit bugging me is wonderfully surreal and out of character with the other tracks, but having that 'different' thing on the album is great to get the ears pricking up instead of settling into the same old, same old. And for some reason, I'm taken by Cake Guiding Hand - but it's probably the title, as we all know that cake can do no wrong.

The Lucid Dream are an even more local band, and describing themselves on myspace as "psychedelic / indie", I'm hoping for good things. And, they've been on Tom Robinson's Introducing list, which is also encouraging. Sadly though, I've got a hint of trepidation about how they'll sound live. Some of their music is definitely more psychedelic than indie. Coming Down does the job as the nice slow one, and Love in my Veins has definite potential - classic guitar based sound. However, whilst I think that I Got the Devil is a good song, it's nice as music to listen to whilst doing something else. I'm not sure I could cope with listening to it in a venue - it might just be too much.

I'm reserving the right on Seven Seals and Lucid Dream until I've heard them live - it's often completely different impression you get in the different atmosphere. I'd say I like them both, but wouldn't rush out to buy any albums based on current listens. Things do change though. And, with a hint of irony, I can close this post with the classic line.

To be continued...

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid

Cover I'm often left feeling guilty about Elbow.

I came away from their Delamere gig feeling slightly disappointed. Whilst they were clearly on form, and all the songs were of high quality, I said at the time:

"Most (if not all) of Elbow's songs are quite heavy. There's nothing with vigor, nothing with "get up and go". Whilst I still say that every single song was very impressive, 90 minutes of it (including encore) did end up being a bit too much. Short bursts are brilliant, such a long set I'm not too sure."

Their fourth album was released back in March, and yet it wasn't until after they won the Mercury Prize that I ventured out and bought it. And now it's taken 6 weeks to actually put finger to keyboard to write a review of it.

But, I think there's something extra here. Perhaps I just wasn't in an Elbow "mood" back in June. Because, after hearing more and more tracks from the album, there was only one group I wanted to win the Mercury. And the reason it's taken so long to review the album is because it's been in the CD player in my car for most of that period.

Elbow's music is heavy. It's powerful. And this makes in brilliant. The Seldom Seen Kid just proves this. And, after listening to it again and again - a truly worthy winner of the Mercury

It takes less than a minute for the album to state it's intent, with the powerful chord in Starling. It makes you sit up and listen. Listen to the brilliant lyrics.

We made the moon our mirrorball. The streets an empty stage. The city sirens violins. Everything has changed. (Mirrorball)

A modern take on romanticism. There's haunting melodies (Weather to Fly), tuneful duets (The Fix), and true brilliance in what is still a strong contender for Tune of the Year (One Day Like This).

Not one bad track. In one way, I ended up being surprised by how much I like it. But, I think deep down, I should have expected it. And it's a very worthwhile purchase even if, like me, it's taken you a while a figure it out.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Bruised by a pirate

TOTW 2008 - #48

So, as we rush headlong towards the final month of year, hints of the Christmas record market are appearing.

However, enough of Terry Wogan and Aled Jones (which I'm sure most people will agree is much better than whoever wins the X-Factor), so here's Pete and the Pirates. No Somalian reference required.

OK, so it's not a video, or even a full clip - but Lammo's band of the moment are back on form with Jennifer (15 Dec). Catchy chorus, sing along melody - it's guitary indie stuff, but different enough. It stands no chance of being number 1 on the 25th - but so what? I love it too.

In the past, I've been dismissive of Jools Holland. He's got a new album out, and once again it's him playing Honky Tonk with people trying to sing over the top of him. But, I still like The Informer with Ruby Turner. It's meant to be a jazzy tune - so the Rhythm and Blues orchestra are right at home. The album's out now - and I'm sure for some it's a definite stocking filler.

Another honourable mentions is due to The Futureheads - I Wouldn't Be Like This if you were here (7 Dec) finally getting into my subconcious, with an almost punk take on the tune.

But, as I need a new mp3 player (thinking of combining it with a new phone - suggestions welcome), I'm drawn back to this:

Whilst I don't want an ipod, the tunes on the adverts are always pretty good. It's bouncy, yet mellow. It's unusual, yet simple. It's a strange crossmatch when you think about it, there's not much too it - but it's really enjoyable. Which is all we really need.

Bit of a mystery

This is why I'm not a proper music journo.

I went to see the Zutons on Thursday, and sat down this morning to write a proper review of them and their support act.

Unfortunately, I've hit a major stumbling block in that I don't know who the support act were. Which is a shame, as they were pretty good.

The thing is, it wasn't on any pre-gig literature I found; they probably announced it during the gig, but I can never hear what they say during a gig by virtue of the volume from the speaker stacks; and I can't find any clue despite much googling today.

So, I'll draft the Zutons part of it - but do want to know who the support band were so I can talk about them properly.

If you know, post a comment or e-mail me. Particularly if you are the band yourself!!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Never say Never again

OK, so this Alphabetising is a week late - but never mind, I'll have to reset it to run fortnightly from now. It'll be over 53 weeks instead of 52 - no major problem.

More unfortunately, it's not quite as detailed as normal, because I've not yet finished tidying up the music I had backed up, so can't immediately look at my library in alphabetical order for ideas. You see, without looking at a list it's very easy to forget tracks.

I'm thinking "Never" is an obvious choice. Unfortunately, it does produce quite a pathetic Bond track - it's not even from a proper Bond movie! And other tracks.

Maybe there's some "new" things instead. And also New York - which thankfully yields some better results. And I can also consider the night.

I'm sure there's many better suggestions - but, at the end of the day, it's just nice stuff.

The Letter N

Saturday, 22 November 2008

A Change from the chaos. Perhaps.

Before I go on, many thanks to Kev for filling the forced void last week. Unfortunately, it's also meant I'm behind on Alphabetising, and I've lost the Unsung I was in the process of writing on the old laptop. However, normal service should now be resumed (unless I break the replacement replacement laptop). Again.

TOTW 2008 - #47

Howling Bells - Into the Chaos - is a tune I'm not sure whilst I like it. It's just different I think

So, I don't like covers that often. But, once in a while...

That's Seal, with A Change is Gonna Come. You must recongise it, the opening line is just sensational. Orignally by Sam Cooke, this version looses nothing from the original. Class is actually a fair description.

Honourable mentions:
Kaiser Chiefs - Good Days, Bad Days Another catchy tune. Not much more to say about it though really...

Boyzone - Better. I know, it's wrong, and video is far too politically correct. Still, that might be why it's got a mention - so I can rant about the video. The idea of Boyzone having a video featuring a gay-love interest in their heyday is unimaginable. Now though, I suppose their fans are more accepting (ie. older). It's back to classic Boyzone ballads, and in that respect, it's a decent song when you've got the Mrs round - but that's as complimentary as I think I can get.

Alesha Dixon - The Boy does nothing. Delayed comment on this one, out since 10th November, funky, souly, great beat - what's not to love?

Ones to watch:
A new category, because I've heard glimpses of Glasvegas - Please come back home (1st Dec) on RadMac, and Pete and The Pirates - Jennifer (15 Dec -Digital) on RoundTable. Both are definitely prospective future TOTWs - but only prospective so far. Subject to airplay, expect future mentions before too long...

Monday, 17 November 2008

TOTW 17/11/08 : Chillout with the Kings of Leon and Friends.

You were expecting someone else? Our beloved snake like lawyer has suffered a bit of a problem in the technical area - his Laptop has packed up. So I gets a worried Text asking me if I can write this week's TOTW. Not I might add at the greatest moment, I've just finished 3 videos for a certain motorsport forum shot at a press do for the WRC, and none of them involved this music, so bear with me.

Lets start off with Asp's definate choice for TOTW, and I agree with him because this is fantastic. The Kings of Leon are on a roll at the moment with the release of their latest album, and "Use Somebody" has been unavoidable. It's a cracking track and definately deserves it's place at the top of the tree this week.

As usual he's given me the usual shortlist for the rest of them. so I'm only choosing the second place. Not that that's a problem since I would have chosen Leon for the first spot ... STOP WAFFLING STIGGY.

There is a distinctly acoustic feel to the rest of these, so better get on with it. Firstly, I've never heard of Shortwave Set, but I liked what I heard with "Glitches 'n' bugs". They do sound rather familiar though, can't think who I'm thinking of mind. Definately worth a listen if you want something not as full on as the Kings, but not too relaxing.

That honour goes to "The Leisure Society" who live up to their name beautifully with "The Last of the Melting Snow". It's a lovely laid back music just perfect to relax to. Sunlounger maybe, Ibiza definately not. It's just the sort of thing I'd have on my iPod for those sleepless nights...

Speaking of iPods...

That's the bizzarely named "Chairlift" and "Bruises". Which is actually a pretty good listen if you're after a bit of chillout with a beat. Although her voice does go a bit odd on the high notes, which is interesting.

So, one left, and it's the one I like the least; "School of Seven Bells" - " Half asleep". Whilst it's not actually that bad [reminds me of Ladyhawke from a few weeks back for some reason] I have to say that I'm not overly keen on it [just typed the band name there twice, I'm going mad] and so, your second place for the honours this week is...

Just relax with the interesting pictures... Enjoy!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Surprised to be liking them

TOTW2008 - #45

Come backs are a strange thing. Grace Jones - definitely not my favourite artist of all time. OK, she has had some good hits - but she's a bit of weirdo though. That all said, William's Blood (10 Nov) is really catchy.

I'm also very surprised that I'm still liking Coldplay. Lost! (10 Nov) makes it two songs in a row (I think). I think it's the drum beat, makes it really toe-tapping. I don't think there's much to it, but that makes it somewhat anthemic.

Honourable mentions:

Kings of Leon - Use somebody (12 Dec)

Santogold - Say Aha (24 Nov)

Airborne Toxic Event - Gasoline (17 Nov)

Howling Bells - Into the Chaos (17 Nov)

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Mr & Mrs

Plenty of classic tunes beginning with the letter "M". Comment really isn't required for the most of them - so here you go. The letter M

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Kids of Today

An interesting side affect of now wokring for a living is the fewer "honourable mentions" per week.
Which, obviously, means a smaller 'shortlist' for the last chance - particularly as some mentions later become TOTW. This is what's left:

Late of the Pier - Bathroom Gurgle
Friendly Fires - Paris
White/Keys - Another way to die
MGMT - Kids
Boyzone - Love you anyway
MIA - Paper Planes
Sia - Soon we'll be found
Sugarbabes - Girls

Looking at that list, I'm still surprised that one in particular didn't make it as a TOTW at any point. After all, I love the band, have their album, and often listen to it. I think it just didn't get the airplay when I was listening to the radio. And, there's no official video, which couldn't have helped. Kids of today eh, no effort...

(Here's an unofficial one)

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A bit of a theme

TOTW2008 - #44

I'm sure I've done this before. Selecting as TOTW two female artists. Two particular female artists to be exact. I know they've both been TOTWs on more than one occasion each.

Both are of that new soul that I'm always on about, both are very powerful singers, and I like both of these new songs. Quite different - as you'll see from the video (sorry, only one I could find that was embeddable), the first could be a Bond theme - dramatic, orchestral. The second, however, is a Bob Dylan cover - with singer, piano, and solo violin. Just beautiful.

Duffy - Rain on your parade (Nov 17th)

Adele - Make me feel my love (Oct 27th)

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Killer creatures come with talons

No surprises:

There's only a select number of artists for whom I own every album (not counting those who've only released 1 album, that doesn't really count). One of them is The Killers.

So, I was always going to be looking forward to 'Day and Age' (and will be heading towards a suitable record shop on release). And, from the first listen, I liked Human. It's had a few poor reviews, and a bit of bad press. I've heard it compared to Chris de Burgh even, which is problematic. Personally, I actually think the opening bars are a bit Daft Punk esque. Either way, I like it, and it's a very worthy TOTW.

I also like Talons (20th Oct). When I first touched on it a few weeks back, I said how I much preferred it that song about liquid metal. This has got much more of a tune, with the dramatic tones we've come to expect from the band. More faithful to their original output? Probably, but that's what I like. What's strangest of all is that it's not an album track. It was recorded at the same time, and was so good they decided to release it as a single. I, for one, am glad.

2 Honourable mentions this week, surprisingly similar in more ways that one. Bathroom Gurgle (Late of the Pier - 27th Oct), was first released on 10th September 2007 on the Moshi Moshi label. Paris (Friendly Fires - 6th Oct), was first released on 10th December 2007 on the Moshi Moshi label.

Both bands have since changed label (to Parlaphone and XLRecordings respectively), and both bands are of that modern electronica genre that's now appearing. Unfortunately, as they're both re-releases, they lose some brownie points - but it doesn't stop them being good songs.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Let Life Love

Three key words start with the letter "L", and are often used in song titles. So, no shock that they form the basis of this week's alphabetising. And I was definitely spoilt for choice.

Plenty of other suggestions could have been made - but I particularly wanted to throw in Life in a Northern Town for obvious reasons, and The Living Years because it's one of the emotional songs I know of. Love is all around is also worth a mention - everyone knows the 15-week-at-number-1 Wet Wet Wet version, so it's easy to forget that Reg Presley wrote it for The Troggs back in 1967. Could it be the most successful cover ever?

Other "L"s added in include, perhaps with a bit of surprise, Lord Anthony. I am not shameful to say that I'm a huge Belle & Sebastian fan, and I think this song is one of their best - which is going some. Again, really emotional.

To counteract all the emotion though, finish with a bit of comedy. Enjoy the playlist.

The Letter L

Sunday, 19 October 2008

From the Island

I'm beginning to struggle more and more with finding TOTWs now I'm doing the 9-5. I used to be able to listen to various radio stations on an almost 9-5 basis. However now, I'm limited to the evenings when I'm in; or in the car on the way back from somewhere. I don't even listen to the radio on the way to work, as I walk.

For instance, I've not heard Another Way to Die on the radio yet. The new Bond theme is on the playlist, I've just never caught it. Which isn't a bad thing, because on the few listens from the internet I've indulged in, I've not been impressed. It might make an impact in due course, but not yet.

That's the other thing - one play during the week won't really make something a TOTW. It needs that extra longevity to appeal for an entire week. That's why MGMT Kids and Killers Human still aren't selected this week. Still, they're still in there for a Last Change if nothing else.

That leaves me, strangely, with two tracks from the same label - Island Records.

I think I've only heard Wendy by Attic Lights on RadMac. As such, I'm a bit behind with it - the CD was released on 6th October. It's a nice anthemic tune, easy to imagine a huge crowd at a festival singing along with the chorus. Which is probably why it's made enough of an impact to become a TOTW. Official video can't be embedded, so here's an acoustic version:

Keane are definitely one of the big names on the label, and I've previously talked about their 'new sound' with "Perfect Symmetry". Lovers are Losing, released tomorrow, is their second single from the album - and as Chart Blog states, it's nearer familiar territory. However, I'm definitely going to settle for 'nearer'. It's not a horrible mish-mash of "trying to be different yet the same" - it's still a very enjoyable song. It's understandable that the band need to ensure their loyal fans aren't driven away, so they can't be blamed for more traditional output. It's often a very fine balancing act - and I think they've just about managed it. (Again, official video is protected, so here's a Fan-made recording of a live performance at the Q Awards)

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Local Radio

Being the first 'unsung' since I've moved away from my home county, I thought the opportunity was present to look at some new talent from Lancashire thanks to BBC Introducing.

Somewhat surprisingly, the bands featuring on the website are not Houghton Weavers wannabes, as you'd expect on Radio Lancashire. Here are some of my favourites:

The Ragamuffins are definitely a local band for me, and their "kitchen-sink-drama jangly indie-pop songs" really appeal to me. Together with their addiction for cups of tea, close to my heart. It's different enough to fit into the generically popular 'indie' category that's overwhelmed nowadays, but reasurringly similar. Fingernails and Fairytales has hints of Guillemots (the title too I suppose), where perhaps Halfway Between Prada and Primark is more mainstream (Kooks maybe?). It's very difficult to even try and pigeon hole the band. Yes, songs have familiar tones, but overall, they're very much on their own. Which is brilliant.

In fact, reading what they list of their influences, I shouldn't be surprised that I've immediately warmed to their charms:

Musically we take inspiration from jangly pop of groups like The Beach
Boys, The Byrds, The Beatles, The La's, but also the Northern Soul rhythms and
energy that Lancashire made famous in the 60's and 70's. Lyrically we like
witty, dark, poetry the likes of which groups like The Smiths, Belle &
Sebastian, The Kinks and others use to paint pictures about characters they've
seen in their day to day lives.

-BBC Lancashire

I don't often say this, quite possibly because it's often not possible. But, when I'm home in Blackburn, it shouldn't take a huge effort to see this band of ragamuffins perform. So, I will make that effort to see if our dates meet-up.

Triphazard may unfortunately fall into the description of "generic indie rock". But, as I've often said, providing it's done well, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Based near the Merseyside border, they've got the Liverpool music scene to encourage their activites, and they've not made a bad job of it at all.
Sadly, the only two songs I could listen to in full were and Smothered and Fake Up from their Introducing page, but they were definitely the sort of music I like listening to. Maybe not "rush out and buy album" greatness, but enjoyable all the same.

We are most likely to be classed as Indie-Rock but we are unique and don't really have a direct blueprint. Our influences include The Stone Roses, The Doors, The Who, The Charlatans, Radiohead, The Cure, New Order, Joy Division, etc.
It's a bit of a cliché, but for The Substance I'd probably say it's not far off being true. They're definitely not pure indie, maybe more raw indie. It's guitar led, but with different styles of song featuring on their myspace. If I had to say anything, I'd link back to the some of the 90s Brit Pop, but with Oasis having a revival too, it's coming back. A hint of Radiohead too perhaps - listen to Tormented Mind and you'll see what I mean.

It's great to see that there's some good musical talent not far from when I grew up. You'd never consider it a musical hotbed, and it's been a very long time since a 'big' talent came from East Lancashire in particular. But, the talent is there. Just needs a bit of discovery...