Sunday, December 27, 2009

Song for Sunday

Portishead – Chase the Tear

Fantastic new track from Portishead, being sold to raise funds for Amnesty International, but can you buy it in Australia? No chance. Oh well, at least the video works anywhere ...

And as special Christmas bonus here is the trailer for the new Tindersticks' album Falling Down a Mountain:

Band/artist of the week: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Song of the week: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Hysteric

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

1 Little Birdy – Confetti
I stumbled across the song Brother about mid-way through the year, but it took me a few months to realise how fantastic it was. Then pootly1 kept asking – who sings that who's going to love you now baaaaybeee song? Then offspring1 started telling us that it was his favourite song and could we play it again? Eventually I did a bit of research and found out that not only were they an Australian band, but they were currently based in our home city and that the backing vocals were Australian living legend Paul Kelly.

The album was only purchased about three weeks ago, but already it has carved a secure place into our hearts as one of those albums that you can't really imagine living without. Opening with Brother the album moves through the pure pop of Summarize past the sublime Stay Wild through to finish with the raw and ragged title track. All the while Katy Steele's magnificent voice soars over a wonderfully timeless but contemporary backing. Whatever sorts of music you think you like, buy this. I guarantee you'll love it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Album of the year?

So, there you have it, numbers ten to two. Almost over now. But what is going to win the Geography of Hope Best Album of 2009? Anyone that guesses correctly gets a copy of their choice from the top ten. Just put your guess in the comments below before 9pm (Australian Eastern Summer time) tomorrow night and you might be in line for an extra Christmas present ...

Top 10 Albums of 2009

2 The XX – XX
Lots of reviews have mentioned the word minimalist, but I would argue it's perfectly formed with nothing superfluous – a bit like the musical equivalent of one of these. Minimalist always seems to imply that the band are cold or stand-offish and that the music is unemotional, but that isn't the case here. The music is slinky and sly, with emotions running high even if they aren't always overt. For a bunch of youngsters (and they are young – average age is 20, hence the XX) let loose in the studio for the first time it is remarkably restrained, however I think it is the sort of restraint that comes from unrequited or uncertain feelings.

It is a late night sound, that has only recently been matched by the genius that is fellow Londoner Burial. Not the sound of pubs and clubs, but loners and couples walking the streets, sitting on park benches and looking out from the back of buses.

The interplay between the voices of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim is amazing and it sounds like there's plenty of history behind their tales of love and desire. It all adds up to one of those albums that sounds unique and timeless, an immediate classic that sounds like nothing else around.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

3 Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight
I thought The Modern Leper was rubbish when I first heard it. I still can't really be arsed with it, but once you get past it the album gradually picks up. And by the time you get to the fourth track – Fast Blood – I defy anyone not to be tapping their foot, nodding their head or more likely doing some kind of awkward indie-kid shuffle around the floor. It starts out fantastic:
Good night/ Its Showtime/ Lets get paralysed/ Down both sides/ Snake Hips ...
and then just gets better. By the time you get to Heads Roll Off:
Jesus/ Is just a Spanish boys name ...
you will be convinced that the Midnight Organ Fight is one of the most original and thrilling records in recent years and that they all deserve to be bigger stars than Robbie Williams. I do anyway.

Song for Sunday

Saint Etienne – I Was Born on Christmas Day

Band/artist of the week: The Very Best
Song of the week: The XX – Islands

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

4 Fulton Lights – Healing Waters EP
We ran the numbers/ and checked it all twice/ gathered all the experts/ and took all their advice/ we had it/ we had the technology/ and the science was flawless/ we had the wise men and world leaders and religions behind it/ we had it/ we thought we had it/ let's just admit it/ let's just call it what it is/ we built a monster ...
Only six songs, but for me this record captures the end of the noughties zeitgeist better than anything else.

According to Fulton Lights is a Brooklyn-based* musician Andrew Spencer Goldman accompanied by an eclectic variety of musicians – among them players who have worked with the Walkmen, Wilco, Dälek, Ida, the Beauty Pill, and Grenadine. I have heard of Ida and Wilco, but none of the others and I am not sure that it would make much difference if I had.

Healing Waters is ghostly and sparse, with distant beats and slabs of distorted guitars. Sort of like listening to My Bloody Valentine on your iPod while walking past Girls Aloud playing a concert in an empty church. Like on Loveless there are moments of tender beauty and catchy hooks amongst the glorious racket, but on a first listen this sounds more raw and ragged than the My Bloody Valentine's classic. It is only later, when you listen closely, that you can hear how precisely and artfully it has been put together.

*UPDATE: Apparently he doesn't live in Brooklyn anymore – according to the A.V. Club he moved back to Washington D.C. a few months ago to go to law school!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Xmas party

Day off from the top 10 albums of 2009. Work Christmas party this evening, so you will have to wait another day to find out who made number 4 in the list ...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

5 Girls – Album
'Who is this miserable git?', Pootly1 asked first time I played Hellhole Ratrace in the car. And, although I hadn't really thought about it before then, he does sound like a bit of a sad case. Then there is the name: calling themselves Girls and calling the album Album should automatically mean that all the songs are rubbish, but in actual fact it's total genius.

At times it sounds like early Jesus and Mary Chain jamming with the Kinks and one (the catchy one) of the Beach Boys. Other times it reminds me of Pavement and Blur having a bust-up in the pub. And occasionally he sounds like Jarvis Cocker out on the pull. As you may have gathered it's not the easiest album to describe, however, trust me, people are going to be talking about this record for a long time and I would suggest that you get a copy soon so that you can look smug in about six months time when everyone starts asking – 'Have you heard the Girls? He's a bit of a miserable git, but they are going to be huge!'

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

6 The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa
Three guys: one Swedish, one French and one Malawian by way of a junk shop in Clapton, East London. Globalisation can be good for something after all.

Esau Mwamwaya is the Malawian part of the equation and it is his voice that infuses these songs with a wonderful sense of fun and energy. The other two are responsible for the music, and already have a bit of name and following as the DJ duo Radioclit. The title Warm Heart of Africa captures perfectly the happy, poppy sound and you would have be half-dead for this not to put a smile on your face.

The title track is insanely catchy and you'll be singing along to the half intelligible lyrics and wondering if that really is cow bell after about thirty seconds. From the cheesy synth pop intro of Chalo to the beautiful slow-building Yalira this album just makes you happy to forget about everything else for forty-five minutes and lose yourself in its visceral thrills.

They are also responsible for the best version of M.I.A.s Paper Planes that I've heard. I'd recommend that you find a download of their mix-tape (which is still knocking around the interweb for free) and it is disguised as track number three – Tengazako.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

7 Emiliana Torrini – Me and Armini
I enjoyed Emilíana's first album Love in the Time of Science, but thought it was a bit bland in places. Her second – Fisherman's Wife – was too twee and so I wasn't expecting too much from Me and Armini.

How wrong could I be? It's totally brilliant. From the dub groove of the title track to the sprightly acoustic pop of Big Jumps to the trip-hoppy Dead Duck to the PJ Harvey-esque Gun to the sublime Birds it's inventive and interesting without feeling like it's all over the place. I can't be sure, but I think a lot of it is down to her producer, Mr Dan (Dan Carey), who seems to have been responsible for most of the instrumentation. If I remember correctly he also worked with Dot Allison on the excellent Mo' Pop 12" and in a weird six-degrees-of-separation thing I have friends who know both Ms Allison and Mr Carey. Spooky or what?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

8 Fennesz – Black Sea
The distant sound of seagulls, is soon replaced by squelching electronic thumps and interference which takes some minutes to resolve into a beautiful chiming guitar line that ebbs and flows, almost fading to nothing at times.

Over the years I had read a bit about Christian Fennesz and heard lots of people rave about Endless Summer, but I never got around to listening to it and, before I did, I started to hear similar things about a new album – Black Sea. I guess this would be called an ambient album, but to me it feels like a soundtrack to some unmade, dark sci-fi dystopia and mostly the scene that keeps popping into my head is the bit at the end of Blade Runner with Harrison Ford in the pouring rain. I thought it would be good inoffensive background music for listening to on the crappy speakers I have at work, but in actual fact you really need to listen to it on the headphones late at night when everyone else in the house has gone to sleep and nothing else can distract you ...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

9 Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu – Gurrumul
Gurrumul is mostly just Geoffrey and his acoustic guitar. Left-handed he plays a right-handed guitar Jimmy Hendrix style. Almost all the lyrics are sung in Gälpu, Gumatj or Djambarrpuyŋu (languages of the Indigenous people of north-east Arnhemland which are part of the Yolŋu Matha group of languages) with occasional fragments in English. Born into the Gumatj clan on Elcho Island, and blind since birth he is renowned for being intensely shy.

I can't remember exactly where, but I first heard him sing on a TV show sometime in late 2008. He seemed utterly out of place in the phony atmosphere of a day-time TV studio, but his remarkable voice cut through everything around him and you had the feeling that everyone was holding their breath as he sang. It sounds ridiculous, but it is one of those voices that sounds completely outwith normal time and space, ancient and modern, as if all his ancestors, family and history have manifested themselves in the vocal chords of this one diminutive, unassuming body. Listening to him sing never fails to calm and lift my spirits, inspirational music in its true sense.

Song for Sunday

Airborne Toxic Event – Sometime Around Midnight

Band/artist of the week: The Very Best
Song of the week: Efterklang – Modern Drift

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

So, like a sadly anti-climactic advent calender that only runs for ten days instead of the requisite twenty-four here is the first of my top 10 albums of 2009:

10 The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event
Number 10 was going to be Idlewild's Post Electric Blues, but in a late change of heart they dropped off and these guys snuck-in. I almost dismissed them without listening, due to the terrible name, and initially I had them pegged as competent indie-pop magpies (Papillon is Arcade Fire-lite, Does This Mean You're Moving On? could be an outtake from Is This It and the arch Happiness is Overrated could almost be My Life Story or The Divine Comedy).

But after a few listens I found myself untroubled by their blatant plagiarism and increasingly charmed by the energy, enthusiasm and sheer fun of it all. Sure it is polished, professional and a bit portentous in places (like well-made American TV drama – West Wing and ER I am looking at you), but you can't deny that its great for what it is. If only the White Lies album had been half as good as this. The nine songs flash by in just over thirty minutes and I guarantee that you will find it hard not just to go straight back to the beginning before the bouncy Missy has completely faded out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A golf course is not green

There isn't much cycling, or a lot about bikes, in David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries, but luckily the places he and his bike visit provide plenty of other opportunities for rambling on about stuff that he finds interesting and entertaining.

If you are interested in the same sort of stuff – music, art, food and urban living – then this will be a pleasant, thought-provoking few hours in the company of an erudite and genial guide to early twenty-first century life. If you aren't you will probably think that he is a pretentious, self-important wanker who only gets his witterings published between hardcovers because he once sang Psychokiller.

I thought it was mostly great, but then again I would probably also score quite highly on the pretentious wanker index.

He starts out with a quick and fairly simplistic history lesson about American cities and how many developed into inhuman car-centric, planning disasters with desolate centres and soulless, endless tracts of suburbia. As he acknowledges though, not all American cities are like this and many may still be rescued, helped by the recent economic downturn, peak oil and climate change:
Cities as a rule use less energy per capita than do suburban communities where people are living spread out [Thanks for explaining that David!], so as the cost of energy spirals up, those grimy urban streets start to look like they might have possibilities. The economy has tanked, the United States can lose its place as number one world power, but that doesn't mean that many of these cities can't still become more livable. Life can still be good – not only good, it can be better than most of us can imagine. A working class neighborhood can be full of life. A neighborhood that has many different kinds of people and business in it is usually a good place to live. If there were some legislation that ensured a mixed-use and mixed-income neighborhood would emerge when developers move in, it would be wise, because those are the liveliest and healthiest kinds of communities.
Then he heads off round the world to demonstrate what he means. Berlin – Istanbul – Buenos Aries – Manila – Sydney – London – San Francisco and back to his hometown New York. Although he seems to forget what it was that he set out to do and gets distracted by all the interesting people, music and art that he meets on the way. Which is fine, and I suspect makes for a much less dull book than if he had spent all his time trying to force his experiences to prove the point.

And to be fair he does get back to the point in the epilogue, The Future of Getting Around, which talks about how we can make our cities more attractive, livable and safer places. He highlights the work and thoughts of the wonderful Enrique Peñalosa, who was mayor of Bogotá from 1998 to 2001. During his tenure as mayor he created an efficient and inexpensive public transport network, closed streets to cars at weekends and made many streets pedestrian (and bike) only. Although initially met with resistance, his ideas have gradually been accepted in Bogotá and put into practice in other cities around the world. Not only has the city become a more pleasant place to live, but many other indicators like crime rates, school attendance and health have improved.

As Peñalosa himself explains:
When I got to city hall, I was a handed a transportation study that said the most important thing the city could do was to build an elevated highway at a cost of $600 million. Instead, we installed a bus system that carries 700,000 people a day at a cost of $300 million. We created hundreds of pedestrian-only streets, parks, plazas, and bike paths, planted trees, and got rid of cluttering commercial signs. We constructed the longest pedestrian-only street in the world. It may seem crazy, because this street goes through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Bogotá, and many of the surrounding streets aren't even paved. But we chose not to improve the streets for the sake of cars, but instead to have wonderful spaces for pedestrians. All this pedestrian infrastructure shows respect for human dignity. We're telling people, 'You are important--not because you're rich or because you have a Ph.D., but because you are human.' If people are treated as special, as sacred even, they behave that way. This creates a different kind of society.
Now, if only Robert Doyle and all the anti-clearway numpties would start thinking seriously about ideas like these, and how they could be used to improve Melbourne, then maybe we really would have a chance to live up to our billing as one of the world's most livable cities ...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Song for Sunday

And so this week in honour of winning Geography of Hope's album of the decade ...

The National – Apartment Story

Band/artist of the week: Little Birdy
Song of the week: Little Birdy – Stay Wild