Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: End of Year Last Minute Panic Best Of Extravaganza

Hello dear reader.

Sam and Richard and I finally woke up from the Sugar and Noise Office/Bunker Christmas Party and we realised it was almost 07. We all have parties to be getting to so this will not be In Depth or particularly Extensive. Pull up a chair, open a bottle of your favourite non-alcoholic beverage, throw on that Pitchfork's Top 50 mix you downloaded and see which of your favourite releases of the year we've cruelly ignored. And be sure to Right Click and Save As on those mp3 links.

Miles' Top 5 Albums of the Year

Ok, I did not buy very many records that were actually released this year but here are the best five of those that I did. If that makes sense. Sorry everyone who's albums I did not buy!

5. Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
Oh yes I did. Yes it's "more of the same" and yes they are just out takes and alternate versions but who cares when they're this good? Also: Three versions of Chicago, one of my favourite songs ever? SOLD.

4. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
Divine god-bothering alt-country indie-pop (I love hyphens) from everyone's favourite indie songwriting godess. Harmonies tighter than your younger emo brother's jeans and lyrics sharper than his razor blade collection. New Rilo Kiley record in 07? Hell yes.

3. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Oh yes I did AGAIN. Look, bloggers/critics - I don't care that it doesn't sound like If You're Feeling Sinister. Are you still doing exactly the same thing as you were ten years ago? I hope not. It's fun, it's summery, it's floaty-light and Dress Up In You is some of Mr Murdoch's finest writing yet. If you've spent most of the year telling everyone how good The Drift is, cheer the hell up, throw this on and let the good times roll.

2. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
"The Crane Wife at two? TWO?!" Yes, I hear you. Believe me it was an extremely close call between this and the first place. The Crane Wife is in places a masterpiece. A few of the songs on it are so good that it gets to be the second best album of the year whilst still having songs I don't really like that much on it. The Crane Wife Parts 1+2 and 3, O Valenica, Sons and Daughters, The Landlord's Daughter, Yankee Bayonet... Just absolutely fantastic. Epic, moving, warm, hyper-intelligent, unmissable.

1. The Long Winters - Putting the Days to Bed
Catchier than SARS and much, much more fun this is my favourite album of the year. Every song is a little bundle of melancholy power pop perfection. The horns on Teaspoon, the guitar riff of It's a Departure and the lyrics... The lyrics are brilliant throughout ("You should've been a Rich Wife") on what may be John Roderick's best record to date. I dare you to listen to this all the way through and not fall madly in love with it. To hook you in, here's the opening song "Pushover"

(Honourable Mention: Harvey Danger - Little by Little... whilst initially released last year it was reissued by Kill Rock Stars in 06 and were it that this were it's initial release, it'd be number 1. You can still get it free at but go and buy the thing unless you hate Good Music in which case go die in a hole. And take your Justin Timberlake/Nelly Furtado/Sam's Town CDs with you)

Sam's Top 5 Films He Actually Saw This Year
1.The Departed
2.Brick (Miles nods vigorously)
4.The Proposition
5.Miami Vice (Miles looks aghast)

Miles' Top 2 Live Music Experiences of the Year
1. Death Cab for Cutie at Leeds
2. Summer Sundae (Espescially: Belle and Sebastian, The Boy Least Likely To, Calexico)

Sam's Top 5 Films He Really Should Have Seen This Year
1. Pan's Labyrinth (Miles will be seeing this in the next few weeks)
2. Marie Antoinette
3. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
4. The Death of Mr.Lazazrescu
5. A Cock and Bull Story (Miles says it's absolutely freaking brilliant)

Miles' Most Overrated Bands of the Year
The Killers - The Arctic Monkeys - Kasabian - The Kooks - The Fratellis

And now, over to Richard

1) The Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home

A giddy blast of pure glamour, akin being sprayed in the eyes with Chanel. Despite losing out on the NME’s cool list to superblimp Beth Ditto, Kate Jackson and the Long Blondes are one of the coolest bands to emerge for a long time. Marrying rich, varied vocals to some killer post-punk guitar lines and witty lyrics that cross gender boundaries, this debut brings Blondie into the 21st century and sticks them at the back of a Sheffield dole queue. Responsible for more than just scarf trends, the Long Blondes are a truly great new band and in the slightly out-of-character words of [an S+N staff member]: "NME's Under the Radar award? I'd get under HER radar" What more needs to be said?
(Miles Note: Hell yes!)

2) The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America.

Shouty Kerouac-rock about drugs and drinking, and occasionally fucking, but mainly just the drugs. His voice shouldn’t work but it does, and once you get hold of the lyrics there’s no going back. I took a while to warm to it, but one full concentrated listen/read of ‘Chillout Tent’ and there’s no going back. Long live ‘America’s best bar band’.

(Miles Note: Amen!)

3) My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade

I didn’t want to like this record. I don’t like the band and I don’t like their fans, so I thought I didn’t like their music. The Black Parade bitch-slapped my prejudice away. MCR have been carried by such a wave of eyeliner and hype, that it’s easy to miss just how much their songwriting has developed. The album abounds with an odd amalgam of speedy punk, brass instruments, Brian May-style guitar heroics, Britpoppish la-la-las, and silly concept lyrics about cancer. But I have to admit: it’s really good. Nearly all the songs have memorable hooks, and an appealing dark drama. And one more thing: it’s not emo. Listen to this compared with something like Hawthorn Heights, and you’ll see what I mean. A closer take would be Queen-punk, which is blatantly rubbish, but there’s nothing I can say about this record that it doesn’t say for itself. Fuck the haters, and fuck the identikit fans – much to my surprise, MCR have truly impressed me.

(Miles Note: No, it's not emo. It's mall punk. Which is far worse.)

4) Taking Back Sunday – Louder Now

A pretty accurate title, by all accounts. Lazzara and co returned with ‘What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost’, a taut riffathon imbued with powerful melody – which pretty much describes the whole album. Having been hyped enough by the major rock rags, you’ve probably already heard what I have to say about this: ‘muscular’, ‘confident’ etc. And to flog the dead donkey just a little more, it raises them above the scene and right onto the stages of the stadiums. ‘Nuff said.

5) The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely

In some ways I feel guilty about putting this in, having previously dissed it enough as ‘not their best’ and ‘a bad starting point’ etc. However, John Darnielle is still God, and even when he’s whispering over the gentlest of guitars, so softly that you don’t realise how good his writing still is, it eventually reveals its own particular treasure. Basically a concept album about lost love, it’s not fast and angry but that’s a conscious choice, not a design fault. And the Babylon Springs EP, to be mentioned later, shows that the Goats have still lost none of their fire.

6) Dirty Pretty Things – Waterloo To Anywhere

So two years after the end of The Libertines, what have we learned? Essentially that Pete is a better lyricist than Carl, but as a result of not spending most of 2006 on crack, Carl is musically a lot more consistent. This album contains sucker-punch after sucker-punch of martially-tight guitars and general indie-punk cool. It’s not The Libertines, but it has its own merits, and as the NME has probably said already, Carl’s done a good job of rescuing his own legacy from the mess of blood and drugs surrounding Pete. (Who is still fantastic, when sober…)

7) Larrikin Love – The Freedom Spark

Taking the Libs format and running with it, picking up influences from ska and Irish folk along the way, Larrikin Love are among the best of the post-Bracket bunch. This debut album focuses their sound and beefs it up, while retaining a good deal of their whimsically weird charm. Edward Larrikin’s gasping camp is still an obvious focal point, but the album has more to it than a strange pale man twatting around with a cowbell. Top tunes.

8) Morrissey – Ringleader Of The Tormentors.

Twenty years after ‘The Queen Is Dead’, the Pope of Mope is still cranking out flawlessly gloomy anthems of love, loss and despair. Morrissey is a singular performer, and while his backing band may not be the Smiths, it’s clear they understand him enough to make the music a perfect fit to his rampantly idiosyncratic lyrics. Featuring a riff or two from glam-rock, the usual jangly guitars, and just a smidgen of ‘minaret music’, the musical palate is diverse, but the voice is the same. I’m not going to analyse this record; suffice to say Moz has a certain job to do, and he’s still doing it well. Yo, Attenborough – go fuck a dolphin.

9) Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Though in constant danger of being devoured by their own hype, the Internet’s most famous creation haven’t made too bad a job of it. Like Pulp without the dancey bits, there’s a dismally funny working-class core to the Monkeys sound, and whether you think they’re gifted with lyrical madness or just a bunch of scruffy oiks with bad grammar who look like fat mechanics, you’re unlikely to be able to escape them any time soon. If I were Miles are this point, I might chip in ‘people say they’re good. Hey, the title works!’ But I’m not. So pretend that sentence never happened.

(Miles Note: They're alright, really. I like them as people (I was converted by a particularly entertaining Q interview) but musically they don't interest me)

10) The Killers – Sam’s Town

Another polarising record. Maybe I’m just blinded by the Vegas glitz, but I think The Killers have cemented their reputation as one of the best pop bands around today. Moving from thumping indie-dance to Springsteen impersonation, Brandon Flowers and crew tick all the cliché boxes: highways, hurricanes, Grandma Dixie. But although it’s pretty stupid, it’s enjoyable. There’s some lyrical deficiencies, but the music is big enough to flatten the odd note of dissent, and garrote it with the Stars and Stripes. This is the sound of The Killers reclaiming America, for better or worse. As the album is named after a casino, the most apt advice is to simply hang up your brain with your hat and coat at the door, and submit to the showmanship of Sam’s Town.

... MCR? Sam's Town? Richard, you're fired.

S+N's Songs of the Year
The following have all been in heavy rotation on the office stereo. Dig it:
The Long Blondes - Lust in the Movies
-M: MUCH better than Once and Never Again. EDIE SEDGEWICK! etc.
Guillemots - Trains to Brazil
Flaming Lips - The Yeah yeah Yeah Song
- M: I really liked At War with the Mystics and this is a gloriously silly highlight.
Regina Spektor - On the Radio
Pipettes - Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me
-M: Actually just that little bit better than "Pull Shapes"
Calexico - All Systems Red
-M: Epic, majestic, heartbreaking
Mates of State - Fraud in the 80s
The Divine Comedy - To Die a Virgin
Thom Yorke - Harrowdown Hill
The Starlight Mints - Inside of Me
Muse - Starlight
-M: You're humming the piano line right now. I can hear you.
Viva Voce - We Do Not F*** Around
The Polyphonic Spree - Lithium
-M: Best Nirvana Cover EVER.
Bound Stems- Andover
Ben Kweller - Penny on the Train Track
Cold War Kids - Hospital Beds
Chin Up Chin Up - This Harness Can Ride Anything
Beck - Cellphone's Dead
Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy
The Mountain Goats - Woke Up New
Jarvis - Black Magic
-M: Most of the Jarvis album really. But it's this one that I just can't stop playing.
Snow Patrol - Hands Open
Gnarls Barkley - Smiley Faces
-M: Actually quite a lot better than Crazy.
Bishop Allen - Flight 180
-M: Possibly the best song of 06, from their April EP. If you do not go to and get every free mp3 they have going then you are Missing Out.
Sparks - (Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country?
The Divine Comedy - Lady of a Certain Age
Oxford Collapse - Please Visit Your National Parks
The Thermals - A Pillar of Salt
-M: Impassioned, witty indie-punk goodness.

So there you have it. That was 2006.

Next Year Miles is Looking Forward to: Radiohead, The Shins, Bloc Party, Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright, Arcade Fire, Rilo Kiley, The Good The Bad and The Queen, Of Montreal, Modest Mouse, The Pixies, Air, Interpol, The Cure, Nick Cave's Grinderman and on the off chance: BLUR, THE POSTAL SERVICE. PLEASE?

Next Year Richard is Looking Forward to: Radiohead.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On The Wire Magazine and Wolf Eyes

It's 1am, a few days after Christmas.
I'm listening to a SubPop sampler
which has got passed all the good songs on to the "noise" tracks near the end. At the same time I am reading The Wire's review of the year. They love "noise and also "dubstep" and "improv". They don't so much dislike mainstream music as completely disavow any knowledge of it. They say that Scott Walker's The Drift is his finest release. I seem to recall most people giving it middling reviews.
Scanning the various writers and musicians little Year in Review pieces, I occasionally see an artist or band I know mentioned but by and large they are in the "Bad/Cons" sections. Oh except Joanna Newsom. And the one guy who praised the Jarvis Cocker record. God bless you sir.
Halfway through reading the "This Year in: Noise" page, Wolf Eyes begins playing. Nice instrumental stuf so far, creepy and weird and with cool drums. Apparently the noise community has seen Wolf Eyes putting out records on SubPop as "selling out".
Oh, The Wire. They think of "song" as a genre .
Wolf Eyes are now screaming at me and not in any kind of pleasant melodic way.

"Forget that" I think, and put on The Best of Blondie.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Few Things

1. I really want one of these despite my having no guitar ability whatsoever

2. I envy Pitchfork writers, I really do. If they paid me then I really could write nonsensical/pretentious concept reviews of albums nobody will ever hear as well!

On the other hand I could NOT join in with their current trend of liking Justin Timberlake. Just NO guys. No. But thanks for those Best of the Year mp3s.

3. I will try my damndest to get a Best of the Year done before the end of the year

4. I am sitting in bed typing this and there are two fresh new Nada Surf posters above my head. Barsuk didn't send one of the badges I ordered from them (along with a bunch of other stuff I'll be getting for Christmas) so I e-mailed them and they sent me the badge plus two posters and a big shiny Nada Surf sticker. Barsuk, we salute you.

5. Lists are fun!

Who loves Jarvis?

We love Jarvis.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Really Good Christmas Songs III

What does everyone do at Christmas?

Play in the snow? ...Nah. It never snows.

Rejoice in the coming of Christ? ...More of an acquired taste.

Get drunk and argue with your immediate family? ...Hell, yeah!

And that's exactly why 'Fairytale of New York' by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl is the best Christmas song ever.
Shane 'Black-tooth' MacGowan is Irish and proud, which means he gets to growl, slur his words and introduce fiddles into punk rock. Although this is a ballad, it's none of your sappy shit; his voice is still rough as hell, and he was almost certainly two-thirds gone in this recording judging by the sound of it.
The song starts in the form of a piano-led, lonely plod through snowy streets, or so it feels, before the immortally drunk line 'so Happy Christmas, I laaaaave ya boooooooybeeeeeeee' and those fiddles kick in, along with Kirsty.
From then on it's prime vocal sparring: 'you were handsome, [you were pretty, Queen of New York City]' leading to a chorus about 'the NYPD choir', which may or may not exist.
Perhaps the most memorable exchange in the song is the infamous
'You scumbag, you maggot,
You cheap lousy faggot,
Merry Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last'.
But somehow despite this, by the end MacGowan has turned the disintegration of their relationship into something truly romantic, about shared dreams and bells ringing out, delivered in a fine whisky-sodden snarl. And here come the violins.
I can't offer you a direct link like Miles, but here's my MySpace, which features the track: CLICK IT
So joy to the world (you cheap lousy faggots) and welcome to Christmas, O'Brien style.

Irish Blood, English Heart

Sir David Attenborough vs. Morrissey vs. Sir Paul McCartney. No, it’s not a WWE Triple Threat Match, although that would be a fine way to settle the score; it’s the top 3 finalists in a poll held by The Culture Show to determine the Greatest Living British Icon. After weeks of voting by the general public, the plethora of talents most beloved by the British public was whittled down to a final ten, and now only three remain. By the time this is published, the winner will have been announced, and maybe we’ll all laugh at this with the benefit of hindsight – but for the moment, let’s compare our choices. Two knights of the realm versus a man who once threatened to ‘drop [his] trousers to the Queen’. It’s quite a bizarre match, not least for the generational difference.

Personally, I’d imagine there were more devoted Smiths fans among the main audience of The Culture Show than Beatles obsessives or nature enthusiasts, but maybe that’s just judging on the viewers I know. I predict a Morrissey victory, and for what it’s worth he has my vote.

McCartney has always irritated me on some implacable level, most likely for outliving John Lennon – although Heather Mills is still an evil, money-grabbing witch. Least favourite Beatle or not, he’s still been around a lot longer than she has, and displayed a considerable amount more talent, hence earning the dinero that she’s now pursuing. But when it comes to song-writing, there are definitely far more Morrissey than McCartney compositions on my own playlist – I’d go so far as to say I consider The Smiths more influential than The Beatles. (Feel free to abuse me in the street).

Attenborough is an entirely different kettle of fish. The comparison is therefore completely different. In his own field, Sir David is clearly the master; there’s no one in broadcasting to rival his experience or pedigree. Some of his advocates on the show have even said that he is saving the world. This wild claim, like the one that Morrissey’s lyrics save people’s lives, should probably be put aside, but it’s a good selling point nonetheless. Attenborough is a hero to many, and deservedly a very respected man. But is he iconic? Is he the symbol of a whole culture, or even a generation? He can lay claim to many acheivements, but I feel he is more saint than icon – working good works for the good of planet Earth, but not embodying a mindset, a genuine uniqueness.

Whereas Attenborough is essentially a naturalist, albeit a very good one, to many people McCartney – but more specifically Morrissey – are most than just singers. The Smiths, as one review put it, carved out ‘a world not defined by standard rock iconography’; and there’s that word again. His lyrics are synonymous with unrequited love, teenage depression, and poetic nostalgia. The Beatles changed the world of pop, but Morrissey is thought by many to have challenged its foundations. He is seen as a prophet for those whose awkward, vivid feelings were never before so truly, eloquently expressed. For all these reasons and more, it seems to me that Morrissey has had a more direct effect on the minds of people across Britain than either of the other two contenders. Perhaps he has sold less records than McCartney, and is less popular than Attenborough, but as a lyricist and spokesman he is inspirational to millions; truly British, and truly iconic.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Really Good Christmas Songs I

Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas (Sometimes) by Harvey Danger

Mid tempo seasonal indie rock in which Sean Nelson weaves a tale of working in a repertory movie house on Christmas day. Lonliness and the commercialisation of Christmas and a trippy reversed guitar solo and sleigh bells.

What more could you possibly want?

Video here

Download here

Both couresty of the brilliant Harvey Danger fansite Hardly Dangerous. More unrleased tracks and videos there