Category Archives: Music

Album of the Year for 2014

Swans: To Be Kind (2014) – Muse/Young God

Well, to say that 2014 has not been a good year for music would be a complete understatement, as my listening has dropped to embarrassing proportions, in part due to my time at work, but also because of my playing several of my older albums and playlists.

However, one album has really stood out and, on repeated listens, dared to suggest its superiority over the other releases of the year. I was pretty shocked that this is actually Swans’ third album and have decided to check out earlier releases, early in the new year.

I love the noise, the intensity, the fact that an experimental album can also sound so cohesive, and at two hours long, that is some achievement.

Give it a listen, in fact give it more than one, as it demands attention and if you don’t give it what it deserves, you’ll be sorry (and listening to The War on Drugs, or Cloud Nothings).

What was your album of the year?


Walking and Listening

Today I’m having one of those days, mainly due to the fact that I had a very restless night last night. I am aware of having at least two nightmares, both of which involved me not looking out for my children and both of which had me reacting angrily to myself after the event.

I put it down to the fact that I am subconsciously dwelling on this ‘life’ question, although I’m not entirely sure why I am dwelling on it or to what end. I have always had an interest in the topic but never really thought about it as much as I’m doing at the moment.

I blame Douglas Adams in part. This, due to the fact that I am re-reading his ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ “trilogy”, as a consequence of turning 42 next month and the relationship to that number and the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

I also blame Wax Tailor and Archive for their wonderful albums ‘Dusty Rainbow from the Dark’ and ‘With Us Until You’re Dead’, which have both focused on the meaning of life and our roles in the great scheme of things in different ways.

Dusty Rainbow from the Dark

I had three lessons today and was a little apprehensive before all of them, not for any other reason than my lack of sleep last night, certainly not anything to do with lesson planning or the groups themselves, just that something felt “off”, out of place, displaced, disjointed.

Lack of sleep can do that.

Last night I continued my walking and listening sessions with a trip to one of biggest supermarkets in town, not the most scenic route but a productive one. The walk there was much easier, due to the fact that I had a rucksack filled with about 30 kilos of shopping on the way back (maybe not 30 but quite a bit).

My music choice was a bit of a mix: some EL-P, some Lecrae, some Wax Tailor (see above) before finishing of with Museum. A nice mix and a nice walk.

Today should be floorball (innebandy) but I just don’t feel like it, my energy levels are so low. Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that it’s not the right day/time.

I think tonight I just want to spend time with the kids before trying to get myself an early night.


What he hears in the dark

Twice today I managed to force myself on my new(ish) health program – the magic of walking. I suppose it is power walking of a sort, as I get my running gear on, pick an album to pop on the MP3 player (just now my mobile phone) and set off, walking as fast as a can for as long as I feel like (around an hour).

Tonight was a walk around one of our areas of scenic beauty in Norrköping, Strömmen (translated directly it’s the stream but it’s a bit bigger than that) in the dark. I realised, once I’d left the lit area, that I was getting a little nervous. It reminded me the stark contrast to when I walked through the park home in Burnley in my early teens, totally oblivious to the real dangers in the area (preferring to worry about witches and the like). In years since I have read about abuse, murder, rape and the like in the stretch between Burnley’s town centre and my family home.

And I’m back on the life is short, life is fleeting, what’s it all mean pondering. I mean, when I started planning my ‘meaning of life’ party this year (as I turn 42), I wasn’t aware just how much of a mid-life crisis I’d put myself through. I suppose at least that means that I’ll live to 84 now instead of 70 (seeing as I had a mid-life crisis party 2005.)

But the walking feels more my thing at the moment, being as the music really inspires me and I also realised today I can walk pretty rapid when I feel like it (especially when it’s dark…).

The album of choice today was Archive and With Us Until You’re Dead and it’s already a classic – I leave you with the first single from the album: Violently


The Year’s Best Songs of 2011 – Now available for your edification!

Enter at Your Own Risk – 2011

First up we have the lovely cover: the photo was taken by Karin Strand and the manipulation done by yours truly,

And now I present the tracks that feature on the CD this year. Please note that this year the original list of 18 songs was too long for the CD and so I kept that as a download version, removing two of the tracks for the CD. This is why there are two versions. Feel free to download the one that you prefer.

If you are a user of Spotify, I also have the playlist there. I try to make life as easy as possible but if you have other ideas for the best way to spread the word, let me know.

Enjoy!

Enter at Your Own Risk – 2011

  1. Shattering Sea – Tori Amos
  2. Perth – Bon Iver
  3. Several Shades of Why – J Mascis
  4. High Low Middle – My Brightest Diamond
  5. Crystalline – Björk
  6. Lotus Flower – Radiohead
  7. Shuffle – Bombay Bicycle Club
  8. You Can Do It (Tee’s Inhouse Mix) – Todd Terry (Only available on the full version)
  9. Cthulhu Sleeps – Deadmau5 (Only available on the full version)
  10. Thru and Thru – Gang Gang Dance
  11. Companions – The Dodos
  12. Hell Broke Luce – Tom Waits
  13. Wait – M83
  14. Streetlight – John Maus
  15. Marked – EMA
  16. The Days – Patrick Wolf
  17. Dear Friends – Elbow
  18. End Come too Soon – Wild Beasts

Links:

Full version (all 18 tracks)

Edited version (16 tracks)

Spotify playlist (all 18 tracks)


Album of the Year, 2011 – Number Two

02. Björk – Biophilia (One Little Indian)

It's the insane one!

And it’s time to bring in ‘mad as a hatter on mind-bending drugs’ Björk and her latest, crazy offering in the year’s best of. Incidentally, this is also Björk’s highest outing since I started the charts (her previous best was third in 2001).

I distinctly remember commenting on an update by that man, Steve Duffy, when he mentioned listening to this and I said I was struggling with it. I was still struggling a few weeks later and this album has climbed, albeit slowly, from way down in the low 70s (the bottom end of the top 30) up to number two. I’m not sure she ever had enough in her to take the top spot but this album is a prime example of the importance of properly listening to music. And yes, whilst getting on my own high horse I am also aware I am guilty of this too (Tom Waits would have never won in 2002 had I given Lambchop and Is a Woman, the listens it deserved, the latter being one of my top five albums of all time).

But hey, Björk is a character, equally adept at providing us with masterpieces as well as utter tosh and listening to this album just reminded me of my students’ adverse reaction to her at the summer camp I was teaching at, showing she doesn’t appeal to the youf of today.

She’s been influential, provocative, naive, mental, aggressive and downright complicated over these last 25 years or so (yes, her first release was in 1977) and I’ve been bemused, entranced, and downright nonplussed by her in that time.

Tell you what though, she’s never dull!

[editor’s note – Maddoc thinks she’s terrible and Audrey loves her]


Album of the Year, 2011 – Number Three

03. My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind (Asthmatic Kitty)

The mighty Sara Worden!

Shara Worden strikes again and anyone who knew she had released an album this year should really have been expecting her rather high up in the list. My Brightest Diamond is one of my most played artists since I started my whole Last.fm scrobbling saga (number six in the total played) and she’s had rather an impact on me, for her style, voice and wonderful, quirky lyrics. I’m quite sure a few of you have heard her but I’m also quite sure that many of you haven’t and it’s about time you did (you get a track here but also another on the best of for 2011).

Shara has that delectable mix of jazz, classical and pop/indie that I love and even though I said that Wild Beasts and Other Lives could have been in this position, to be honest this is where it belongs, it’s not good enough for either of the top two positions but holds its own against the aforementioned two.

So enjoy My Brightest Diamond and get ready for number two, coming soon!


Album of the Year, 2011 – Number Four

04. Wild Beasts – Smother (Domino)

A week ago it was number two in the chart and looking solid for that postion. The race intensified, the listening likewise and down it dropped. As with Other Lives, I could just as well imagine this as number three but I went with my gut hoping that my guts don’t have ‘shit for brains’.

Been reading today that this has been commented on by several reviewers as a likely candidate for album of 2011 and obviously I can see where they are coming from. This was one of Ian Stackhouse’s biggest follies, having them much lower than they deserved and I put that down to a possibility that he was not listening to them as much as he should. The album is arguably the most exciting and inspirational of 2011, and much as I try and convince myself that one of the lead singers’ voice is irritating I just keep on listening, keep on getting impressed.

This one will remain a classic for many years – get out and buy it people!

Number three is announced tomorrow and begins an unprecedented final three…


Album of the Year, 2011 – Number Five

05. Other Lives – Tamer Animals (TBD Records)

The first time I have had the privilege of listening to this band (it being their second release) and I was very quickly blown away by the sheer quality and majesty of it. I have already heard favourable comparisons with Fleet Foxes, which, although I can understand, I struggle to agree with. I have had a hard time getting my head around what is so good about the Foxes but not so these guys.

There’s a Floyd influence at work, which I love, (even picked up on by the wife) and although the album is only forty minutes long, it’s a very worthwhile and engaging forty, covering all the usual suspects with aplomb.

Tamer Animals, could have easily finished the year at number three, such was the difficulty in choosing between this and the next two up. Time will tell if I made the right decision, yet a decision had to be made.

Coming soon, number four…


Album of the Year 2011 – 10-06…The End is Nigh

And now we take it up a notch, with pretty much the hardest decision I usually have to make. This being which five albums make it through to the top five and which leave the race now. This year has been exceptionally difficult, as even though getting twenty albums together for the year’s best was difficult, the ten in here of a top class. But, as mentioned before, decisions have to be made and I’ve made mine here:

10. The Dodos – No Color (Frenchkiss)

One that will no doubt surprise Per Ericsson, as it’s one of his type of bands (American High School Music) and one that I don’t need to introduce to Ian Stackhouse, rather knock him around a little for having it much lower in his twenty of the year, yet for the rest of you these may well be new to you all.

The first time in a chart of mine and punchy drum beats got me from the off. If the album would have maintained the quality found in the last two tracks this one could have made it all the way to the top five. As it stands it is in a very lofty position at ten, much higher than it has been in any of the best ofs I’ve read so far. Maybe I’ve got a soft spot for this one, maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to it on and off since February this year, or maybe it’s just a top-notch album.

Have a listen and see what you think.

09. Radiohead – King of Limbs (XL Recordings/Playground)

Time for the first of a few of my traditionals in the top ten, showing another year of mixing between the old and the new, showing my loyalty to bands that are already established in my music spheres, whilst also listening to the new kids on the block (no reference to Marky Mark intended there).

Early contender for album of the year, with me getting it in March, before noticing a few cracks, not enough to keep it out of the top ten but enough to nudge it out of the top five. High points are that Radiohead are always engaging, always interesting, always hard to ignore. The album has several of their ‘classic’ tunes in Morning Mr. Magpie, Lotus Flower and Codex, but struggles a little for me with its shortness (I know they like their short albums) and staying power of one or two tracks.

Still it’s Radiohead and those who know me know how much respect I have for the band.

08. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti)

A couple of twitterings have already predicted Tom at number one for me and I have to be honest and say there was never any danger of that happening. Tom is my hero and everything he does is a masterwork (well almost everything) but he appears to be suffering from a lack of inspiration in that pretty much every track on this album can be traced back to one on one of his last three studio albums.

The man is a genius but even I have to admit that genius may well be waning. Number eight may well be Tom’s lowest position since I started the album of the year in 1996 further strengthening that idea.

07. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys! (Fiction/Polydor)

Extremely disappointed with this one when I first heard and for another ten listens it didn’t get any better. Yet, like any other Elbow album, you have to give it a worthy listen before judging it too harshly. As the number of listens increased, so did the score and it kept on climbing until hitting its biggest position today at number seven.

It’s an interesting Elbow album but yet has much to give and is easily better than their less impressive albums. It’s not up to the dizzy heights of their masterpieces but sits very solidly in the discography as a stand out album.

06. Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix (Island)

This album dropped out of the top five for the first time today, due to me giving really solid listens to two others in contention and finding them stronger albums. That this one was in the top three for most of the year is testament to how highly I respect this band and what they are up to. They are a class act and mixing the quality songs with that classic indie pop sound is no mean feat and these guys achieve it with aplomb!

Look out tomorrow for number five of 2011.


And then there were ten…Albums 15-11

I decided to take the first five of the fifteen in one go and will be naming numbers ten to six on Boxing Day too, before giving you the top five, day by day, finishing with the best album of 2011 on New Year’s Eve.

Although it ‘s hard to say goodbye to these five already, decisions have to be made and better albums have to take their place in the higher spots. I give you albums 15-11.

15. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Punchy and harsh, this one, a very interesting album from a very interesting lady. I found it quite difficult in the beginning but it is a grower and several tracks are real classics.

14. John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (Upset the Rhythm)

This is one of those albums that just jumps out at you. A little reminiscent of the Martin Grech début a few years ago it’s got a style that forces you to listen and make sense of the chaos it delivers. Needs listening to when you have the time to appreciate it.

13. J Mascis – Several Shades of Why (Sub Pop)

Of course those familiar with Dinosaur Jr, know that their former lead singer, J Mascis, has a cracking voice. However, like me, they may not have been expecting such a wonderful acoustic album. This one’s a keeper!

12. Deadmau5 – 4×4=12 (Ultra Music)

Definitely not my usual fare and I surprised myself by placing it so high. It’s a powerhouse of an album with block rockin’ beats and some cool electronica to boot. I’m impressed it made it this high, whilst Maddoc will be gutted to find that his number one album of the year ranks so low for me…

11. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

I was expecting a great album, as I’ve been impressed with the earlier releases but I’m not so sure I was expecting it to be this high in the ranking, just missing out on the top ten…

M83’s albums are like soundtracks for dreams and this one went one stage further and gave us the dreams in the concept and title. Nice one that man!

Have a lovely Christmas and look out for the next instalment on Boxing Day!