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Albums of the Year 2012

Friday December 28, 2012 in music |

My favourite albums of 2012.

  1. Norah Jones: Little Broken Hearts

    Listen to: Miriam

  2. Tracey Thorn: Tinsel and LightsTracey Thorn: Tinsel and Lights

    Listen to: Sister Winter

  3. The Cribs: In the Belly of the Brazen BeastThe Cribs: In the Belly of the Brazen Beast

    Listen to: Anna

  4. Bat for Lashes: The Haunted ManBat for Lashes: The Haunted Man

    Listen to: Laura

  5. alt-J: An Awesome Wavealt-J: An Awesome Wave

    Listen to: Matilda

  6. Sufjan Stevens: Silver and GoldSufjan Stevens: Silver and Gold

    Listen to: Coventry Carol

  7. The Shins: Port of MorrowThe Shins: Port of Morrow

    Listen to: Simple Song

  8. Dexys: One Day I'm Going to SoarDexys: One Day I’m Going to Soar

    Listen to: Nowhere is Home

  9. Neil Young: Psychedelic PillNeil Young: Psychedelic Pill

    Listen to: She’s Always Dancing

  10. Bob Dylan: TempestBob Dylan: Tempest

    Listen to: Pay in Blood


Albums of the Year 2011

Wednesday December 28, 2011 in music |

My favourite albums of 2011.

  1. Noel Gallagher's High Flying BirdsNoel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

    Listen to: AKA … What a Life!

  2. Arctic Monkeys: Suck it and SeeArctic Monkeys: Suck it and See

    Listen to: The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala.

  3. Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi: RomeDanger Mouse and Daniele Luppi: Rome

    One of two appearances by the great Brian Burton in this list.

    Listen to: Season’s Trees.

  4. Low: C'MonLow: C’Mon

    Listen to: Especially Me.

  5. Fleet Foxes: Helplessness BluesFleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

    Listen to: The Plains/Bitter Dancer.

    One of my best dicoveries of the year and well worth checking out, along with their eponymous debut.

  6. Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys!Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys!

    Listen to: Jesus was a Rochdale Girl.

  7. Kate Bush: 50 Words for SnowKate Bush: Director’s Cut/50 Words for Snow

    With two Kate Bush albums the world went mad in 2011.

    Listen to: This Woman’s Work/Snowed in at Wheeler Street.

  8. The Black Keys: El CaminoThe Black Keys: El Camino

    Another new discovery of 2011 and produced by Danger Mouse.

    Listen to: Mind Eraser.

  9. Bon IverBon Iver: Bon Iver

    Listen to: Calgary.

  10. P.J. Harvey: Let England ShakeP.J Harvey: Let England Shake

    Listen to: The Words that Maketh Murder.

  11. The Horrors: SkyingThe Horrors: Skying

    All other end of the year lists put Ms Harvey at the number one spot, although I’m going for The Horrors. Maybe not the most original offering from 2011, but an undeniably enjoyable one.

    Listen to: Moving Further Away.

And this Year’s Christmas playlist

  • A Very She and Him ChristmasFree Christmas by Johnny Marr and the Healers.
  • Sweet Little Baby Boy from James Brown’s Funky Christmas album.
  • Thanks for Christmas by XTC.
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen.
  • Christmas Wish from the excellent A Very She and Him Christmas.

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Albums of the Year 2010

Wednesday December 29, 2010 in music |

My favourite albums of 2010. This year I’ve struggled to find anything much to say about my choices other than to recommend them all highly. At the very least please follow up my listen to recommendations. And there is a joint number 10.

  1. The Klaxons: Surfing the VoidThe Klaxons: Surfing the Void

    Listen to: Venusia.

    Oh, and best album cover of the year too.

  2. Paul Weller: Wake up the NationPaul Weller: Wake up the Nation

    Listen to: Fast Car, Slow Traffic where Weller reunites with Bruce Foxton.

  3. Laura Manning: I Speak Beacause I CanLaura Manning: I Speak Because I Can

    Listen to: Rambling Man. I bought I Speak Because I Can on the strength of a review in the Sunday Times. She’s one of my best discoveries of the last year.

  4. Robert Plant: Band of JoyRobert Plant: Band of Joy

    Listen to: Plant’s version of Low’s Monkey.

  5. Goldfrapp: Head FirstGoldfrapp: Head First

    Listen to: Head First.

  6. The XxThe Xx

    Listen to: Heart Skipped a Beat.

  7. Arcade Fire: The SuburbsArcade Fire: The Suburbs

    Listen to: Modern Man.

  8. Take That: ProgressTake That: Progress

    Listen to: Pretty Things.

  9. John Grant: Queen of DenmarkJohn Grant: Queen of Denmark

    Listen to: Sigourney Weaver.

    John Grant is my other great discovery of 2010. This is a brilliant album. Only hearing it for the first time in December, I’m still listening to it intently to gauge just how good it is.

  10. Gorillaz: Plastic BeachGorillaz: Plastic Beach

    Listen to: Some Kind of Nature featuring Lou Reed. Forget the rather odd appearance at Glastonbury this year and you’ll enjoy it more.

    Plastic Beach is a great album, but far more interesting is the late 2010 Gorillaz offering. The Fall was recorded on their US tour in October using an iPad and is well worth investigating.

  11. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse: Dark Night of the SoulDanger Mouse and Sparklehorse: Dark Night of the Soul

    My favourite album of 2010 and one of the year’s most bizarre offerings. Held up for some time following the untimely death of Mark Linkous, Dark Night of the Soul features collaborations with The Flaming Lips, Julian Casablancas, David Lynch, Suzanne Vega and Vic Chestnut.

    Listen to: all of it! Although the standout track is perhaps Daddy’s Gone featuring Linkous and Nina Persson.


Christmas Playlist 2010

Saturday December 18, 2010 in music |

For this year’s Christmas playlist I’m going to concentrate on just four new releases.

Owl City: Peppermint Winter

An interesting little festive pop song, and one that’s sadly been overlooked this season. A joyous little ditty.

Reason you should purchase: somehow this will remind you of your youth.

The Priests and Shane MacGowan: Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth

Like a drunken old uncle gatecrashing your posh Christmas concert, this track is slightly embarrassing whilst at the same time you’ve got to look up all starry eyed to old Shane. And following on from last year’s bizarre Dylan interpretation of the song, Little Drummer Boy just gets odder and odder.

Reason you should purchase: it should be made law that we all hail Shane MacGowan at Christmas.

Coldplay: Christmas Lights

At first this sounds like Chris Martin has had one sherry over the limit and is making this song up as he goes along. But after a few listens this proves to be a wonderful Christmas tune that will haunt the NOW collections for years to come.

Reason you should purchase: for a commercial “rock” band they’re not too band. And U2 are to up themselves to make a Christmas record.

Ellie Golding: Your Song

Not a Christmas song, but now tied into this time of year thanks to the John Lewis advert. But Golding’s interpretation of this is wonderful, and takes it into another dimension. Whilst I always thought that the Elton John version was paving the way for future bad karaokes only now has Your Song fallen into the hands of an artist who can bring out its innate genius.

Reason you should purchase: it’s just flippin’ great.

And that’s it for this year. In these austere times I can’t even provide images of the record sleeves of these songs. I’m saving the effort to pour myself a generous glass of port instead. Good cheer and Merry downloading!


Life as We Know it

Thursday November 11, 2010 in books read 2010 | music

What a drag it is getting old.
The Rolling Stones, Mother’s Little Helper

In the mid 1980s, Keith Richards saw the Rolling Stones as doomed. Mick Jagger was entertaining a solo career and turning his back on the band, whilst Richards himself indulged in touring with other musicians – his own band The X-pensive Winos and also appearing with Chuck Berry. Maybe age had caught up on them, and as Jagger and Richards entered their 40s there was a possibility that the Stones’ days were over. But of course it was far from the end, Jagger and Richards resolved their differences and the Rolling Stones pulled together again in 1989 for the first of their mega-tours. As Richards writes in his biography Life, they had another two decades of playing live ahead of them. At least.

Keith Richards

Life is one of the most entertaining rock bios I’ve read in a long time. Now 66, Richards still doesn’t want to stop – he’ll play on until he drops. And whilst there are some signs of mellowing with age, he writes with some clarity about the years of hell raising. The heroin and the cold turkey, the endless rounds of getting clean to go on tour only to fall back into the old ways again, and the countless scrapes – drug busts, flashed knives and firearms, fistfights (usually with other band members) and his fractious relationship with Anita Pallenberg. Richards puts his surprising longevity down to pacing himself through the madness and sticking to the purest of drugs – no low quality smack, or Mexican shoe scrapings as he calls it. He doesn’t exactly advocate drugs, but asks us to accept that it was a way of life for him – and one that in some ways appears to have aided his talent (who else would stay up for days and nights at the mixing desk where others fell around him?) But some of it is far from impressive, such as the time he took his seven year son on tour with him when he was at the lowest point of his drug taking. Crazed and sleeping with a loaded gun under his pillow, young Marlon was the only person trusted to wake Richards. It isn’t really funny.

Better, Richards talks at length about the musical influences that shaped his talent, beginning with his upbringing in Dartford. Life portrays the immediate postwar England with great charm and insight, especially with a vivid picture of Kent in the 40s and 50s with the local lunatic asylums and nearby woods full of madmen and army deserts. An only child raised in a matriarchal family, he was bullied at school (his subsequent toughness in the book vividly contrasting with this picture of the weedy pre Stone). Expulsion from Secondary Modern led to art school, an obvious career path for a budding musician in the late 50s, which put him in the right circle for forming the Rolling Stones. As for the band, Keith’s view of Mick Jagger has become the talking point of Life, mainly in how he charts their various long running disputes and checkered partnership, although there isn’t really enough here to stop the pair talking for ever. At the most we can assume that Jagger is somewhat possessive of Richards position in his life, and was also frustrated when Richards cleaned up at the end of the 70s and the position of power changed in the band. Oh, and you may have heard that Keith refers to Mick’s rather small, er, member. Jagger is no doubt smarting at this revelation, but probably not as much as over the vitriol Richards pours on his trilogy of laughable solo albums in the late 80s.

Apart from the love/hate relationship with Jagger, Richards also has a high regard for Charlie Watts, whilst Bill Wyman hardly gets a mention (mostly he finds Wyman’s celebrated womanising laughable) and background band members, such as the keyboard player Ian Stewart receive greater prominence than Bill in the Stones story. Brian Jones is viewed as nothing more than a dead weight, a talented musician subsequently relegated to the sidelines when Mick and Keith are elected by Andrew Loog Oldham as the band’s songwriters. His early death receives less than half a page in this lengthy memoir. Mick Taylor, the guitarist who bridged the gap between Jones and Ronnie Wood, is respected as a musician but found too introverted. Wood himself is acknowledged as a worthy addition to the band, although his own problems with addiction at times put Richards’ own into perspective. Richards also has a high disregard for two of the film makers associated with the Stones, Donald Cammell (who made Performance starring Jagger and Pallenberg) and Jean Luc Godard (responsible for the weird Sympathy for the Devil film). Of his 60s contemporaries, Richards has a high regard for only a few, amongst them John Lennon who, joining in with the indulgences, only ever left his house horizontal.

Co-writer James Fox does a fine job in holding it all together, although things begin to become fragmented slightly towards the end. Keith goes into his recipe for sausages at length but barely mentions his Pirates of the Caribbean acting role. However he does prove that’s he’s still no stranger to the headlines, recounting both his near fatal head injury of recent years and the tabloid sensation that he snorted his father’s ashes.

Settling the score on gossip aside, readers interested mostly in the Stones back catalogue will find that the most discussed album here by far is the celebrated Exile on Main Street. Lesser known albums, such as 1967’s Between the Buttons, receive no mention at all, whilst Richards dismisses Their Satanic Majesties Request as weak. Life gives some insight into the effort that went into their better albums, and the less musically inclined reader will, like me, become lost with the lengthy account of how Richards re tuned his guitar to achieve a distinct sound. But listening to some of the albums afresh, including Beggar’s Banquet, Let in Bleed and Exile, I’m convinced by his greatness as a musician far more than I’ve ever been before. And even though I don’t know the technical ins and outs, I certainly do know a track such like Satisfaction is unbeatable.

So to wind up, here’s a rundown of the Rolling Stones at their best:

  • Under my Thumb (Aftermath 1966)
  • Sympathy for the Devil (Beggars Banquet 1968)
  • Jig-Saw Puzzle (Beggars Banquet 1968)
  • Street Fighting Man (Beggars Banquet 1968)
  • Gimme Shelter (Let it Bleed 1969)
  • You Can’t Always Get What you Want (Let it Bleed 1969)
  • Rocks Off (Exile on Main Street 1972)
  • Tumbling Dice (Exile on Main Street 1972)
  • Happy (Exile on Main Street 1972)
  • Shine a Light (Exile on Main Street 1972)

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