David Bowie Returns

David Bowie (http://www.billboard.com/news/david-bowie-releases-first-single-in-a-decade-1008075182.story#/news/david-bowie-releases-first-single-in-a-decade-1008075182.story)

David’s back and this time it’s personel (Picture from Billboard)

What a way to celebrate your 66th birthday… by surprising the entire world. No rumours, no press release, no blog chat, no previews, just appearing out of the blue, what a complete and utter legend. Happy Birthday David Bowie.

Here is the video to his new song, “Where Are We Now” which has thrilled the world in just one day.  The song delights in its personel and thoughtful reflection of his own humanity and memories of his life, especially his time in Berlin.  With an album due in March, (“The Next Day”, his first since 2003’s “Reality”), the whole world holds its breath to the prospect of a tour.

Whatever happens, the song is a testament to an artist who has always known how to retain that sense of majesty and grace.


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The Best of 2012 (Part Two)

Happy New Year folks. Dramatic Internet issues in late 2012/early 2013 has delayed this somewhat, so sorry about that. I thought I would embed the entire album for each of the top 10.  How about that then?  Also see the footnote below, regarding some of the other albums that didn’t make the top 20, but have still made very good listening this year. So here we are:  numbers 10-1.

 10: Alabama Shakes – “Boys and Girls”.  Having closely monitored this band, since August 2011, I am thrilled to buttons that the release of their debut album has made such an impact this year.  Not that they have produced a new innovate sound, but that there vintage country rock soul blues knees up hootenanny sound about partying, loving, fucking and fighting has a tremendous energy and grit with Brittany Howard’s drawl and prowess to croon and snarl with the greatest ease.  “Hold on”, “Heartbreaker” “You Ain’t Alone” “Hang Loose” and “Boys and Girls” will give you a sense of what this lot are all about for starters. Not to be missed, and the next stage is to try and catch these cats live, where the party will undoubtedly come to life even more. So get down and sweaty at your nearest barn dance, grab a beer, and your partner and enjoy this, boys and girls.

 “Oh why can’t you see/that I’m not trying to be/No kind of bother/I’m just trying to save what was left between you and me”

9: Paul Banks – “Banks”.  Having set aside his Julian Plenti moniker, the release of Paul Bank’s new solo album under his own name hears a fresh selection of sound and influences.  With one of the most interesting voices in music, it’s impossible not to associate the Interpol front man with… Interpol, surprisingly.  Just as well I love Interpol then.  Yet “Banks” cements Banks as a solo artist of his own accord, with an awakening of swelling guitar lines and beautiful arrangements. He sings about the passing of time and missed opportunities (“Over My Shoulder” and “Young Again”) but also interspersed with hope and optimism (“Arise, Awake” and “Summertime is Coming”). As well as an insanely intense instrumental “Lisbon”, the album boasts “The Base”, one of the best tracks I’ve heard this year.  The guitar hook alone, will make you melt, but the four plus layers to this song with bass, violins and keys blending beautifully together as Banks hypnotic tones sets fire to this delightful solo effort.

“Now and then I can see the truth above the lies/Now and then, oh I feel, you’re truly anesthetised”

8:  Bat for Lashes – “The Haunted Man”.  Natasha Khan’s highly anticipated third outing draws on a variety of influences.  The connections to Bjork have been abundant since the release of “Fur and Gold”, but the spirits of Bush, Harvey, Smith, Joplin, Goldfrapp and Merchant shine through in this LP. Khan, while wearing these icons on one sleeve demonstrates her most compelling music to date up the other. Naked album sleeve aside, the tracks are striking in themselves, each offering a different sound and energy.  “All Your Gold” – an angry and relentless tribal drum backed with spooky synth and an increasingly powerful set of Khaaaaaaaaaan lungs. Compare this with the stripped back (naked almost) “Laura”: one piano, one voice (and a few horns here and there) – heart wrenching and beautiful, it remains a simple but no less startling single.  “Winter Fields” hears her sing fondly of her roots on the Sussex Coast, filled with a complex arrangement by contrast, with pipes, violins and some mega bass drum action, while “Marilyn” and “Rest Your Head” (the latter is very Kate Bush) are both awesome examples of Khan’s abilities to deliver some seriously intense rhythmic synth pop. The Haunted Man” is a slick and rich return to the fray for Bat For Lashes.

“Drape your arms around me and softly say/Can we dance upon the tables again?”

7:  The xx – “Coexist”.  It was always going to be difficult for any band, let alone The xx, to top their masterful debut, and let’s be clear, while “Coexist” certainly is not an improvement, it delicately demonstrates a quiet and subtle evolution.  Lyrically, the subject of love loss and separation is evident, sung to breathtaking perfection by Romy Madly Croft and the increasingly prominent and confident Oliver Sim.  Working tirelessly in the background, Jamie Smith offers, at times, less minimal and more BPM on tracks like “Ficton” and “Sunset”, just one glimmer of the band’s tantalising progression.  The electrifying signature suspense of their sonic soundscaping (too much) remain with “Missing” and “Unfold” offering us “oh classic xx darling, classic”, not to mention that xx guitar sound which cannot and must not be replicated elsewhere on “Angels” and “Reunion” (the latter featuring a fetching set of steel drums, no less).  Aesthetically pleasing on the ears, and rich in atmosphere, The xx are going to keep on doing this, you know that right?

“I always thought it was sad/The way we act like strangers/After all that we had/We act like we had never met”

6: Richard Hawley – “Standing at the Sky’s Edge”. Holy hell, Richard.  A storm. A beautiful, dark shimmering storm thou hath released.   Hawley embarks on a dramatic departure from the likes of “Trueloves Gutter” with an explosion of euphoric noise, psychedelic reverb and wavy Eastern strings and drones.  This album has to be played extremely loud.  Sky’s Edge hears a tremendous release of energy with Hawley breaking out some serious amps and mega power chords. The anger on tracks such as “Down in the Woods” seems removed from the soft crooning seductions we know and love.  The psychedelic “She Brings the Sunlight” is a wonderful opener, that slowly builds and builds, and a strong indication of the album’s direction, but Hawelites will be pleased that a couple of familiar sounding tracks exist on “Seek It” and “Before”.  Interestingly, “Don’t Stare At The Sun” bridges the gap between the two styles very well, containing one of the sweetest melodies you’ll hear this year (and the guitar line at 4.30 is just epic).  The title track as with most of the album also proves once again that Hawley can tell a good story. In that familiar, comforting, rich baritone, Hawley offers us ominous tales of love, loss, redemption, anger, hatred and outer body experiences, making it a certain highlight this year.

“He was standing at the sky’s edge/And out there who knows what he’s thinking/He was sliding down the razor’s edge/And watched his life slowly sinking”

5: We Are Augustines – “Rise Ye Sunken Ships”.  Nothing has come close to capturing such a euphoric sadness than the debut offering from Brooklyn’s We Are Augustines.  It’s proper heart on sleeve music, as Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson channel their similar traumatic family upbringings, with the main subjects surrounding McCarthy’s schizophrenic and institutionalised brother, James (who killed himself during recording) and alcoholic mother (who died in a homeless shelter when McCarthy was nineteen).  He also never met his father, so one can see that life hasn’t been too kind on McCarthy. Unlike albums, which centre around heartbreak, and remain focussed on the tragedy itself, “Rise Ye Sunken Shapes” is more exultant and seeks redemption, and focuses on hope through lively guitar lines, propulsive drums and strained, howled vocals.   “Book Of James” is heart-wrenching account of a moment between Billy and James, while “Headlong into the Abyss” sounds like the car journey Billy drives to rescue his brother, his voice hoarse as if about to, or having just cried his eyes out.  All songs conclude with a sense of light at the end of a murky tunnel, even “The Instrumental” which tales off the album.  This will really have a go at your heart, and has done so to mine throughout the year (Note: the UK release was 2012, despite it coming out in the US in 2011).

“Well call the police, go ahead call your shrink/Call whoever you want but I won’t stop the car/Well call the police, go ahead call your priest/Call whoever you want, call in the National Guard”    

4: Grizzly Bear – “Shields”.  Oh sweet hells yeah.  The triumphant return of Grizzly Bear was joyful this year.  The General Managers’ of Expectations, the album is a chaotic departure from “Veckatimest” and utterly enthralling. Flourishes of the word of the year (or so it would seem for these past two posts) psychedelica and distortion, stamped with classic Bear manoeuvres like Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste’s melting falsetto harmonies, as well as the inventive fusion of folk and pop. “A Simple Answer” is delightful, marching and upbeat, while “Yet Again” is about as pop as the band will go, and stands out as one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, from start to end, this is quite special.  “Gun Shy” is awesome and demonstrates an inventive variety of instruments and shimmers along a hallucinogenic trip, while the concluding songs “Half-Gate” and “Sun In Your Eyes” are both wonderfully expansive and comforting. “Shields”, demonstrates the band’s relentless energy and craft, combining familiarity with new directions. “And I can’t help myself” sings Rossen on the swirly soundscape of opener “Sleeping Ute”.   It’s a powerful return to the fore, as I wrote here.

“The sky keeps staring at me/Frozen in my tracks/Nothing else to see/And when I move my face left/You’re always standing there/A shadow I can’t see/And even then I can’t trace/You’re walking away”

3:  Django Django – “Django Django”.  Trendy trippy time-warped avant-garde robot psychedelic (!) rattle and roll science fiction cowboy pop – in sum. From intense harmonies, tickly guitar, glitches, blips, synth and tribal drumming, this fine debut offers much. “Default” will seal the deal with a choppy guitar line that goes straight into your eardrums. In fact the whole album is toe-tapping and infectious, full of irresistible and rhythm centric melodies. “Waveforms” captures the essence of the band’s creativity, a whirlpool of sound and inventiveness exploding from one’s speakers, but the menacing opening to “WOR” – the first song I heard way back in September 2011 gripped me into a Django death grip. “Firewater” and “Love’s Dart”, provide further proof of a band pushing boundaries with this confident and heady eponymous debut, and well worthy as one of the innovators of 2012.

“Take one for the team/You’re a cog in the machine/It’s like a default”

2: Alt-J – “An Awesome Wave”.  What a fitting name for an album.  Alt-J have taken over this year, with a debut to savour.  Worthy winners of a strong shortlist of Mercury nominees, the band from Leeds and or Cambridge have demonstrated an endless cascading creativity and a sign of change (literally: ∆).  Intelligent, sophisticated lyrics are matched with an exciting variety of sounds, samples and instruments. The music is an exciting concoction, which often builds from a quiet intensity to an explosion of electricity and passion.  There is a lot going on, but rather than overwhelming, it is absorbing.   You can dance to this; you can sit on a beanbag; wake up or fall asleep to the likes of “Tessellate” or “Matilda”.  The energetic “Fitzpleasure” or “Breezeblocks” cemented their name on blogs, and began the hype, and rightly so, but the brilliance of the ‘folkstep’ “Dissolve Me” and “Taro” must be experienced.  Each song offers something different, maintaining the album’s elegance.  References to life experiences abound from childhood (special mention must be made to “Where the Wild Things Are” on “Fitzpleasure), escapism, love, passion and loss.  Alt-J have successful produced one of the most rewarding sounds of recent times, and we can only wait for more.

“She bruises, coughs, she splutters pistol shots/ But hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks/She’s morphine, queen of my vaccine, my love, my love, love, love”

1: Beach House – “Bloom”.  Every now and then, you need to remain loyal to those you love.  Despite Django Django and Alt-J, producing two innovative sounds in 2012, my soul became entombed to the sounds of Beach House and their fourth album “Bloom”.  It is impossible for me to not to love this album, and while you may think that I’m not looking at this objectively, and I’ve not given the nineteen who preceded any justice because of bias or blind loyalty, you’re probably right.  The album remains fixed in its dreamy ways, but delightfully sees an added texture, not previously heard in Beach House records.  The husky vocals and epic lungs attached to Victoria Legrand are matched with a spine-tingling combination of synth and shimmering guitar from Alex Scally.  Yet closer inspection reveals more surface and layers to their music, including some seriously heartfelt lyrics, an aspect often overlooked on dream-pop as a genre.  From opener and soothing “Myth”:  “You can’t keep hanging on, to all that’s dead and gone” to “Troublemaker” both discloses a fading relationship: “In the night we stick together/the walls are shaking in their skin” while “Wild” takes your breath aware, with surprisingly brazen guitar from Scally and lyrics such as: “Our father won’t come home/Because he’s seeing double”.  Each song contains flickerings of utter beauty, and is difficult to isolate individual songs which make the album complete and oh so charming.  The songs are tightly woven to work off or through each other, and indeed the ways in which each song could probably tumble on forever, is certainly no coincidence.  Filled with an atmosphere suitable for all occasions, Legrand and Scally have produced their most complete albums to date.  You could spend an eternity listening to it, and it might feel like time has suspended itself on your behalf.  There is something entirely comforting about a band who continue to do what they do, so very well and as closer “Irene” suggests, Beach House selflessly create a “strange paradise” for us all.

“All I wanted, comes in colours/Vanish everyday/I keep these promises, these promises/ Stranger things will come before you/Always out of the way/We keep these promises, these promises”

And that’s the year that was.  I’ve already heard some forum murmurings about the sort of comebacks, which may be gracing us for 2013, as well as some breakthrough artists to enjoy, so I confidently look forward to what the year holds in store.  Well done, 2012, you did me proud. Be sure to check out Radio Juan shortly for more on the top 10 albums.

Footnote: Those who didn’t, but deserve mention:

Jesse Ware – “Devotion”

The Black Keys – “El Camino”

Best Coast – “The Only Place”

Friends – “Mainfest!”

Dogtanion – “Japan”

First Aid Kit – “The Lion’s Roar”

Tame Impala – “Lonerism”

The Maccabees – “Given to The Wild”

Beth Jean Houghton And The Hooves of Destiny – “Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose”

Paul Weller – “Sonik Kicks”

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The Best of 2012 (Part One)

As I casually toasted 2012 in last year’s digest, I could not have forseen the quite brilliant variety of sounds, styles, comebacks and arrivals this year has provided.  Here are 20 albums which defined my year through good times and bad, though in the interest of time, there have been so many more, which I will happily write in a lengthy footnote on request. Also, in the interest of suspense and amazement, I’ve chosen to break it down into two, mainly because the top ten will be featured on Radio Juan across two shows in late 2012/early 2013.  Sorry for a lack of action since August.

20: The Mystery Jets – “Radlands”.  Maybe I’m just a sentimental old fool, but Blaine and the boys have squeezed into the final list because of consistently producing music, which I cherish without much thought.  Ever since “Making Dens”, The Mystery Jets have been a consistent player in my music collection, and while the trip to America on their fourth outing is by no means their best album, it demonstrates a progression, which I feel I have been a part of.  People will remember the clever lyrics of “Greatest Hits”, and the slightly marmitey lead single “Someone Purer” but spare a moment for the sheer brilliance of “The Nothing”, the vocal harmonies of “Take me Where the Roses Grow” and the Pixies inspired “Lost in Austin”.  The American influences are there for all to hear, but stamped with that striking London poetry I have always admired.

“I never said I was a fallen angel/with a halo and a broken wing/but I’m not like all the other people/ with their skinny coffees and their Nurofen”

19:  Of Monsters and Men – “My Head is an Animal”.   HEY! WOAH!  We all like a bit of boy/girl singing, a bit of brass and a good old chorus, which rouses you from your beds in the morning.  Step forward the Icelandic six-piece Of Monsters and Men.  Having made it pretty big in Scandinavia and most of Europe, it seems the Brits have arrived late in the day, but my how we have embraced the feel good euphoric mountain sounds.  Even the most hardened pessimistic pretentious music junky will be tempted to turn this album up when feeling blue, with tracks such as the bouncy “Mountain Sound”, “Little Talks” or “Six Weeks” complimenting the slightly softer numbers such as “Lakehouse” or “Yellow Lights”.  Even the more atmospheric ballads, while mega cheesy like “Slow and Steady” have its appeal. Cuddly, whimsical and filling up the feel-good feeling in summer and beyond, Of Monsters and Men have already got to you, you just need to acknowledge it so.

“There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back, Well tell her that I miss our little talks/ Soon it will be over and buried with our past/We used to play outside when we were young/ And full of life and full of love”


18:  Yeasayer – “Fragrant World”.  Be patient, and you will slowly succumb to the sound of Brookyln’s Yeasayer, with their third album “Fragrant World”.  Though creeping forward with slightly new sounds, which sadly feel incomplete and insecure at times, they retain their famous electronica experimentations.  Unlike the euphoric “Odd Blood”, this offering is dark and twisted, with chaotic bursts of synth and drum beats overlapping fraught and tense vocals from Chris Teating.  Surprisingly the references to historical figures such as Henrietta Lacks or Ronald Reagan on “Henrietta” and “Reagan’s Skeleton” respectively, are actually the best tracks on the album, but the signs are there for new directions with “Blue Paper” and “No Bones”.  Yeasayer need to make the brave leap for their next LP, and not be afraid of the consequences.

“You’re making them rich, they throw you away/The magic is gone, but you’re here to stay”


17: Stumbeline – “Spiderwebbed”. Some late night radio tuning, gave the greatest pleasure of stumbling upon this Bristol based producer, responsible for some of the most dreamy electronic sounds this year.  Syncopating beats, which glide alongside distorted guitar lines, delicate synth and soulful vocals, this album has proven itself as an appeasement and accompaniment to train travel in particular: with chaos on the Northern Line and a sweet lullaby to long train journeys gazing at the West Country respectively.  Particular highlights include “Capulet”, the Mazy Star cover “Fade Into You” and the insanely wonderful “Catherine Wheel”.

“Fade into you/I think it’s strange you never knew”

16: Two Wounded Birds – “Two Wounded Birds”.  Wax that surf-board, and head down to…Margate beach?  Yep.  The quartet from Kent made waves (eugh) this year with an fast-paced cheery, yet also slightly broody surf pop sound, which is smeared with nostalgic memories of growing up, being in love and being alone. While The Lively Ones (of “Pulp Fiction” fame) were probably catching waves in shorts off sunny California, drinking ice cold bottled beer, the kids from Margate were probably body boarding with wetsuits on a shingled beach, huddling around a six-pack of Tesco lager and a disposable barbecue.  It’s that contrast between fresh US West coast sounds against a backdrop of gloomy British East coast, which appeals. They channel that 50s do-wop, Spector inspired R&B vibe very well, but should also be congratulated for breathing some fresh life into a well-worn sound, which in itself makes it timeless.  Look out for the upbeat “Together Forever” and the peculiarly titled “Daddy’s Junk” but don’t be put off by those tinged with darkness, from “My Lonesome” to “If Only We Remain”.

Alone, Aloooooooone/All alone, with nobody at home/Because I’m on my lonesome, tonight”

15: Echo Lake – “Wild Peace”. Prepare to get numb, as this amazing LP washes over you.  Marred in tragedy, following the untimely death of their drummer, Pete Hayes, the album is a wonderful long exhale of shoe-gazing dream pop, which echoes everything from Beach House to My Bloody Valentine.  Thom Hill and Linda Jarvis give us the beautiful, the calm and the euphoric and eases your head against a soft wave of sound. Apart from a fitting tribute to the memory of Hayes, songs such as “Another Day”, “Last Song of The Year” and “Just Kids” puts one in a comatose like state of tranquillity as the tumultuous year draws to a close. Echo Lake have tremendous potential to be a truly mesmerising force, and one can only hope that tragedy does not tear this band apart.

14: Field Music – “Plumb”. This is one of those “heard the name, but didn’t really know, until they made the Mercury shortlist” kind of entries.  Having since partaken in an enormous backcataslog, their fourth album, “Plumb”, makes clear both a band who fully deserved to be shortlisted for the coveted prize, but one who has worked hard on progressing their sound, with each LP.  On first listen, you may struggle to piece together 15 songs in 35 minutes. It is a very complex, but no less impressive art-rock prog-pop album full of tempo shifts, glitches, orchestras, synth, tireless bass lines that flourishes everything from 80s electronica, funk to psychedelica – plenty to whet one’s musical pallet. With each listen, I both dismay and rejoice at choosing a new highlight each time and right now, it’s “Sorry Again, Mate” but don’t for a second think about not checking out “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing”, “Who’ll Pay the Bills” or the marvellous “A New Town”.

“I was counting the days/ and I was counting the reasons/ I was satisfied everything was fine/But you should’ve never come”.


13: Peter and Kerry – “La Trimouille”.  A delightful pair of London-based storytellers, who stole my heart this summer, with delightful little ditties which evoke 80’s bands such as The Human League and The Pet Shop Boys, full of synth, beats and guitar and a enchanting understanding and connection between the duo.  The debut from London’s Peter and Kerry offers much from upbeat electro pop (the delightful “I Don’t Know”) to emotive and heartfelt such as the glitch, static infused and all so defiant “Cirque”, and the mesmerising  tale with a beautiful guitar line of “Connecticut” – all  demonstrating an effortless ability to transcend time, space and genres with their sound. Read a little more here.

“Its been about five weeks, I’ve just about given up/ I walk the same route, but I can barely stand up/The things  see around me, that I seem to recognise/Are what keep me connected, and let me know that I won’t forget”

12: Jack White – “Blunderbus”.  The review I wrote for Jack back in May summed up my feelings. As I wrote them, I have absolutely no qualms in using them again. What I will add, is that I think he is a wonderful, talented and entirely eccentric man, who deserves a musical knighthood equivalent. Filled with hard riffs, loopy lyrics, corrupted organs, no Meg, and interestingly a release of tremendous energy and “real emotions”. His recent divorce has slightly crept into his music and many have labelled this as Jack’s “Blood on the Tracks”.  All the famous eccentricities come out in songs like “Freedom at 21”, the “Trash Tongue Talker” while “Sixteen Saltines” and the Little Willie John cover “I’m Shakin’” are wonderfully gritty: “I’m noivouss” says Jack, just like that.  The plunk of the pianee (there’s a difference from piano) makes a welcome intrusion with the brilliantly titled “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and “Weep Themselves to Sleep”, which drowns out Jack’s usually prominent guitar. More than anything Blunderbuss demonstrates a more grounded album, closer to reality than all of my favourite White Stripes albums put together (which is all of them). This new-found source of material certainly cements Jack the innovator, confirms Jack the genius, and offers us Jack the human being. Maybe he should get divorced more often?

“Well I get into the game, but it’s always the same/I’m the man with the name, Hip Eponymous Poor Boy (poor boy)”


11:  Grimes – “Visions”. Intense.  Relentless. Fascinating.  Claire Boucher’s third album in two years as Grimes is a glorious exploration of sound with her haunting falsetto, being accompanied by a warehouse of influences from techno, dubstep to mainstream pop and euphoric dance.  Any of the tracks on “Visions”, needs to be listened to initially in a dark room, with some seriously good headphones.  Only then, can one hear the many layers which makes up Boucher’s compositions, none more so than the breath-taking “Circumambient” But hold your breath during the likes of  “Genesis”, “Nightmusic” and the unnerving “Colour of Moonlight” – all amazing. These and the entire album demonstrate serious hard work and imagination, and despite a slightly unhinged sound, remains one of the most fresh and innovative works this year.

“Oh baby I can’t say/that everything is okay/cause I have a problem/and I don’t know where to start from”


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A short selection of some of the eardrum seducers this week:

Nothing Nothing” by Young Husband:  A little bit of psychedelic indie lo-fi to start things off with the London based band.  Rediscovered this on the often ill-fated shuffle button this week and have thoroughly enjoyed kicking back Young Husband style. Something something

“Flights To The Sea (Lovely Rain”) by Graham Coxon:  Being part of one of the best (and one of my favourite) British bands that ever took on London, its difficult to remember that Coxon has also had a reasonably successful solo career. A+E (album number eight) came out this year, but I’ve been enjoying 2006’s “Love Travels at Illegal Speeds”.  A lot of Coxon’s work  contains  that gritty garage rock, featuring some of those hard Blur-esque guitar lines.  However this particular song is a lovely little ditty; smooth, slow and calming acoustic guitar, floating piano keys and drums all accompanied by Coxon’s soothing tones.  Lovely Gra-in.

“People Chat A Lot” by Hairy Hands:  I’m very excited by this guy. James Bright, AKA Mr. James Bright AKA Hairy Hands is a Winchester based beat maker creating an exciting fusion of electronica, folk and acoustic sounds.   Absorbing and interesting listening, Hairy Hands, with an album and a recent series entitled “Hairy Hands Vs:” already circulating online, is an artist who deserves plenty of attention, displaying a huge range and diversity in his music.  Try out lead single, “People Chat A Lot” for starters.  Hands down.

“After the Gold Rush” by Patti Smith:  Patti Smith returned with her 11th studio album this year.  “Banga” rolls back the years with Smith doing what she does best.  One of the picks has been a cover of the Neil Young classic. And it’s rather sublime.  Golden

“They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!” by Sufjan Stevens:  The name and indeed length of the title itself makes it worth listening to.  Quite a startling composition off an equally astonishing concept album, Come On Feel The Illinoise! Sufjan Stevens should go down as one of the most innovative artists of his generation. Don’t get mad, get Stevens

Sufjan reacts to the news that strangefascinations is a big fan of Illonoise

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Sitandupandlisten#10 (Before I Fade Away: The Rolling Stones immortalised in a list)

“Successful Darts Team in Career Change Shocker” – The Stones… still at it at 50.

The Rolling Stones have been performing for fifty years.  Having had the privilege of seeing them live, its no secret why they continue to hit the road.  Apart from their inability to be crippled by time, drugs or coconut trees, they have quite a breathtaking back-catalogue of songs, spanning decades and styles. It seems the whole world is trying to unearth the best Stones songs ever at the moment.  So here goes.  A top thirty list is ludicrous, and I hope it isn’t too off putting.  It’s a testament to them, that this list took me a fairly long time to organise, and there are so many brilliant songs, which were expelled from this mega list (probably should have done 50… Duh. Embedding is hard work).  See if you agree.  I didn’t feel like any additional explanation was needed other than song, album, year.  Otherwise it’s going to be a blog post of endless superlatives.

My most loved Stones Albums (and proved by the list) are Let It Bleed, Beggars and Exile.  But while you here, don’t skimp out on the likes of Sticky Fingers, Flowers, Between the Buttons, Aftermath, Out of Their Heads… and on and on and on.

*Note: Some of the songs chosen may have appeared on different albums in the US, but since they will always be one of the finest bands that ever existed from the UK, the album details are therefore strictly British. Sorry to disappoint the American readership. Also, as we are celebrating 50 years of the Stones as a gigging outfit, most of the song clips are live performances. Big love to all who provide the videos; for without you, I’m nothing.

 1: Gimme Shelter

(Let It Bleed 1969)

2: Play With Fire

(B-Side 1965)

3: Paint It Black

(Aftermath, 1966)


4: Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Single 1968

 5: Midnight Rambler

Let It Bleed, 1969

6: Let’s Spend the Night Together

Flowers, 1967

7: Get Off Of My Cloud

December’s Children (And Everybody’s) 1965

8: Wild Horses

Sticky Fingers, 1971

9: Stray Cat Blues

Beggars Banquet, 1968

10: Rocks Off

Exile On Main Street, 1972

11: Street Fighting Man

Beggars Banquet, 1968

12: Sway

Sticky Fingers, 1971

13: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Single, 1965

14:You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Let It Bleed, 1969

15: Salt Of The Earth

Beggars Banquet, 1968

16: The Last Time

Out of Our Heads,1965


17: Brown Sugar

Sticky Fingers, 1971

18: Under My Thumb

Aftermath, 1966

19: Torn & Frayed

Exile On Main Street, 1972

20: Sympathy For The Devil

Beggars Banquet, 1968

21: Rip This Joint

Exile On Main Street, 1972

22: Ruby Tuesday

Flowers, 1967

23: Sister Morphine

Sticky Fingers, 1971

24: Happy

Exile On Main Street, 1972

25: Complicated

Between The Buttons, 1967

26: Let it Bleed

Let It Bleed, 1969

27: Jigsaw Puzzle

Beggars Banquet, 1968

28: Time Is On My Side

The Rolling Stones, No. 2, 1965

29: Tumbling Dice

Exile On Main Street, 1972

30: My Obsession

Between The Buttons, 1967

“It’s a gas, gas gas”

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You really had something there: “but, I don’t want you to go”

There is something else: the rather tragic instance when a band, for whatever reason, just when things are starting to kick off, decides to pack it in.  Those bands who, upon hearing the news of the split, catapult you into five stages of grief:  

1) Denial:

“pffff , stupid internet forum rumours”

2) Over the top realisation and reaction: 

[Sobbing] but I don’t want you to go, I, I, I love you and your vision.  Oh curse you, foul music industry temptress! A pox, a pox on your houses! I’m building a shrine in my kitchen”.  I need a lyric for my MySpace profile NOW”

3) Backcataslog © – Loud and Proud:

“What do you mean ‘turn it down’? Haven’t you heard the news?  Show some respect for their bootleg EP I downloaded and debut album I was given at a free concert”.

4) Philosophically facing the truth:

[Smoking a pipe, gazing out of the window, holding a photo of said band in-between your thumb and forefinger] I truly wonder how far they might have gone.  This is a sad loss to the industry”.

5) Moving on: 

Well these things weren’t meant to be.  Let’s see what else is out there…”

*Google searches ‘hot new indie bands’*

Luke took the news of N’ Sync’s breakup very badly; getting his newly found father to cut his hand off, then chucked himself down an air shaft.

Of course, over time, short-lived bands have made quite an short, sharp and oh so meaningful impact: Buddy Holly and The Crickets; Cream; The Jimi Hendrix Experience; Joy Division; Nirvana, amongst others, and of course, the band which quite probably defined my youth: the whirlwind adventures sailing on the Good Ship Albion with my boys in the band, The Libertines, sadly sunk after drugs and break-ins replaced the music I cherished. We all know about that little episode, so here for you, are three other bands I loved and lost too quickly, also brought to you by the letter “L”.

Les Incompétents

Around the same time as I was listening to the Libs, acing my A-levels and kissing girls for the first time, I was heavily immersed in the chaotic sound of London’s six piece, Les Incompétents.  The sound in question was bawdy, raucous, full of intellectual drunken ramblings from a bunch of guys who at the best of times were comically dressed and pissed on stage.  And I sucked it all in.  Around the time when nights out began to mean something to me, Les Incompétents were a welcome inclusion into this world I had just discovered.  Their debut single, the swirly, boozy “Reunion” gave terrific insight into the kind of ramshackle outfit London had on its hands, a cross between The Pogues, Adam and The Ants, Tenpole Tudor and The Coral having a session.  And not the right kind of session.

“How It All Went Wrong” remains fondest in my memories, with lead singers Billy Leeson and Fred Macpherson stumbling through a night out, and coming to blows with Andy (?) the disco queen (“drinking Braaandy”).  It’s a wonderfully unruly song, one that I had the pleasure of seeing live at a venue I can’t remember the name of, possibly in Camden, maybe at the Camden Crawl.  It was my first stage invasion and the first time I had my hair washed with cheap lager, made friends with the guy who pulled me from the heaving crowd, and walked away with ripped clothing and bruises on my body.  Riotous would have been an understatement, as they injected a heck of a lot of life into London’s live music scene.  I also saw them support Babyshambles in a comparatively placid set.

And so where did it all go wrong?  Well foremost, lead singer Billy Leeson was disturbingly assaulted and put into a coma for several weeks, after an altercation on a bus. It also became clear, that members of the band were having the classic “creative differences”.  After Leeson had recovered from his attack, Les Inc played their farewell gig at the 100 Club off Oxford Street, and that was that.  A posthumous release of their only album, “End of an Error” featuring everything they had ever recorded was followed by Leeson heading Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man, while Macpherson later went on to form one of my new favourite bands, Spector.  Short, but happy whirlwind times had by all with London’s Les Inc. *see comment regarding the formation of Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man – Thanks for this, Neil Martin.

London’s Les Inc outfit appreciates St. Pauls Cathedral (whilst probably drinking Braaaannnnndddy)

Larrikin Love 

What first attracted me to Larrikin Love was the sheer amount of energy poured into their music.  The fusion of Irish romantic gypsy folk calypso punk ska sea shanty reggae bluesgrass was so refreshing and exciting, and something, which we might never hear again.  I had heard a series of rough demos and drooled over the prospect of a polished studio version, yet also felt the rough sound of the demos suited their style of music and deportment.  Songs such as “Edwould”, “Meet Me By The Getaway Car”, “On Sussex Downs”, and the brilliant “Downing Street Kindling” – a vitriolic rant at Tony Blair (of all people) were perfect examples of what the band were doing.  The language from Ed Larrikin remains beautiful; poetic and heartfelt, covering a variety of areas from identity, love, politics, to child abduction, all complemented with incredible melodies and such a wide array of instruments and rhythms.

Seeing them live at Reading Festival in 2006 was completely awesome, losing myself in the sheer passion and liveliness the band created in a flash of a fiddle, or puff of a pipe.  A month later, they released “The Freedom Spark” and it met all my expectations.  Featuring assistance from the likes of Patrick Wolf and Jamie T, the album made it’s way to the top of my pile. Presenting itself like prose, with a story like shift between emotions, the record was a mesmerising adventure captivating you even further.  Destined for greatness, they surely were.

Not long after this, sadly, the band announced out of the blue, they were going their separate ways.  It was a bitter blow, considering I had monitored their progress carefully, and moved with the hype and expectation chronologically from demo, lives performance to debut release.  Each went off to explore new musical outings including Ed Larrkin pursuing his new band, Pan I Am.  Sorely missed.

“Yes? May we help you with something?” Larrikin Love and their short lived Irish romantic gypsy folk calypso punk ska sea shanty reggae bluesgrass sound.

The Long Blondes

It’s easy to get upset about a break-up of a band, especially when you are utterly and unashamedly besotted with the lead singer.  Kate Jackson of The Long Blondes was, and most likely still is, cool, feisty, chic and dresses extremely well – a sort of sexy librarian, if you could imagine. Her charisma on stage was matched by a cracking voice and a group of similarly cool looking cats, who most likely owned vintage fashion shops or were part time teachers or art students, or models.  Dorian Cox, the hardworking, broody, unruffled lead guitarist and co-singer/songwriter, Rennie Hollis and Emma Chaplin often stood there glamorously playing synth, bass or rhythm guitar, while the drummer Screech Louder (real name Mark Turvey!) completed the outfit.   The Sheffield quintet caught my attention early 2006 with a glamorous art indie pop dance sound, crammed full with clever and sophisticated literary and pop culture references, everything from Alfred Hitchcock, Edie Sedgwick to Bobby George and Scott Walker. The debut “Someone To Drive You Home” dealt with everything from jealousy, seduction, useless loveless relationships, suspicion, faded glamour, aspirations and looks. Plenty of feedback, pulsating rhythms and all the hallmarks of an eighties tinged disco pop band, a Blondie, Human League, Roxy music fusion.   Puuuufffeeect.  “Lust In The Movies” summed this up well, as well as “Giddy Stratospheres”, the popular “Weekend Without Makeup” and the fantastic “You Could Have Both” with a delicious and bold spoken word section towards the end. It was a fearless and relentless debut, an album for misfits across the country.

Seeing them live was a lot of fun. I saw them in a small tent in Reading, a big stage in Glastonbury, in Leeds and in a small converted church in Brighton, in which during the set, she bent down to the crowd, singled me out, looked into my eyes and STROKED MY FACE.  Just goes to show, it pays to turn up super early to get the best spot in the crowd. Needless to say, it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.  No matter where they played, they had an enthralled, suave following, they commanded the stage and always a set to match.   The follow up, “Couples” (the use of the quotation marks in the title was a tribute to Bowie’s “Heroes” = instant win) toed the line and provided a similar energy, containing a bit more synth aesthetic (Erol Alkan produced it), rather than Cox’s guitar.  It still had that quirky fantasy pop tinge to it, with songs like “The Couples”, or the seductive “Too Clever By Half” There was a hint of new direction with the minimalist stripped back “Round The Hairpin”. With two neat little albums plus a host of unreleased demos later put out on “Singles”, (“Christmas Is Cancelled” was one of the first song Long Blondes songs I heard, and is brilliant) and a Phillip Hall Radar Award from the 2006 NME awards, previously won by Franz Ferdinand and The Kaiser Chiefs, the band were set to continue their success, and develop their cult following, in like, the coolest way possible.  Before Rough Trade snapped them up they were probably the greatest unsigned band of the time (post-Monkeys watershed).

But guess what?  It wasn’t to be.  Dorian Cox unfortunately suffered a stroke, which led to a series of cancelled gigs.  The band felt they could not go on, as Cox underwent physiotherapy to learn how to play guitar again.  The band went off in different directions, forming new projects.  Jackson is working on her new solo album, which I know will be awesome and Cox is, I believe, recovering well and performing in his new band, Milkteeth.  But the audacity in their approach to their music, outlook and generally being utterly absorbing and interesting without, it seems, a great deal of effort makes the legacy of The Long Blondes something that British music itself should miss dreadfully, as well as me.

“I’m sorry. The library is closed. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave”.


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You really had something there: from “wow” to “wasters”

We all want to make it. Secretly. Even if you possess no real music talent, you want to be a rock and roll star. Why? Why the heck not? What an incredible lifestyle. We all become slightly jealous of all your favourite scenester bands that are increasingly becoming the same age as you, went to your school, met on your campus, played their first gig at your union bar, went out with your best mate’s ex-girlfriend for three and a half months, wrote their debut single’s lyrics on the back of a napkin in your favourite bar in Shoreditch. What a life: hype, mini tour, radio sessions, viral YouTube sensations, debut release, larger tour, festivals, new material recording in a chateau in the Dordogne, 2nd album, 3rd album, greatest hits and so on. But as much as they can be embraced by the warm bosom of the music world and above all it’s critics, the loyal fans, at the bat of an extended fake trendy eyelash, they can also get chewed up and spat out quite as easily:

“Wow [insert band name] what an incredible debut album. So fresh and new and exciting. I am totally [insert relevant and current adjective] for the follow up. I’m not even going to read anything about it. I’m going to [preferred music outlet] blindly and will purchase this album, safe in the knowledge that it will rock my summer of [insert appropriate year]. Here we go… Oh… well… it’s good…I think. I like the first song. I just need to listen to it some more… Oh. My. God. This [insert relevant and current adjective]. I don’t like it very much. Lazy. They’re not even trying. I’m so despondent. You were the voice of my generation. Now you’re just wasters”.

Evil cruel mistress, thy name is music industry. From “wow” to “wasters” in the space of 18 months, why is it that so many bands seem to fail to follow up some incredible early success? Is the industry moving so fast, that when a new sound is sprawled across the radio waves, people simply aren’t impressed by a few months later? Or is it a case of the musicians not being creatively capable of bettering or even matching their first outing? OR IS IT JUST ME?

Growing up, I’ve been hurt in a non-emo way, by a lot of bands that simply couldn’t do it again. Do we exist in a conveyor belt industry, where everything has to sound amazingly new and fresh? That by the time Bloc Party released A Weekend in the City” every band had bought a synth and pedal effect sound sampler 3000. Are we in a culture of masterful debuts, followed by flat difficult second albums, followed by anonymous third and new direction fourths? Not entirely.

An enormous plethora of bands I love, continue to impress and improve in little tiny ways or even produce similar sounding material, which nonetheless take your breath away. From Arcade Fire, Beach House, Arctic Monkeys, to Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Mystery Jets, The National and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I don’t think if you like a band that much, and are loyal from the outset, that it’s possible to find fault in their follow ups. There are many people, for example who will punch you if you suggest that The Stone Roses’ Second Coming was a five year miserable anti-climatic pile of manure, while I will happily claim that there’s no such thing as a bad David Bowie album (in fact, if anything, his “best material” starts at “Hunky Dory” – album number four), and I will challenge you to knives at dawn anyone who badmouths “Icky Thump”. Flaws there may be, but I don’t want to know. The White Stripes were always there for me, and I will defend them to the hilt. So what, you ask was the point of that stream of consciousness?

OK. I know what happened here. The other day I was listening to what I can only describe as my ‘growing up music’. These were the tender years 2000 – 2006, where music was like, my identity, you know? I looked for heroes, and proudly displayed them on my wall or on my chest, and crouched for warmth in some dingy ally-way outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for a glimpse of said heroes at the grave risk of missing the last northbound train and gaining hyperthermia. Maybe apart from the abovementioned, a lot of the featured in the expansive playlist just seemed to fall into a murky decline.

Bloc Party. The 2005 debut “Silent Alarm” full of ‘conversational’ guitar and some furious percussion, with some intense poetic lyrics, followed by a disappointing sink into synth and electronica on “A Weekend in the City” and “Intimacy”, and those stand alone singles “Flux” and “One More Chance” all drowning out the qualities which made the band so powerful and captivating. Here’s hoping that this year’s comeback; the fourth album entitled “Fourth” (sigh) will drag back to the glory days. Similarly Maximo Park with the wonderful art-rock debut “A Certain Trigger, may have finally come full circle again with the release of The National Health this year. The Strokes released probably one of the most important albums of my generation in 2001 with Is This It, an energetic powerhouse of a record, dipping into the glamorous and wild New York scene, somehow beautifully crammed into forty odd minutes. It’s funny, its touching, its brilliantly written, its how we all felt in those tender years; restless and energetic. If that was “it” I certainly felt like my life was complete. Tragically, the band dubbed “the greatest rock and roll band since The Rolling Stones” went on a catastrophic decline, churning out disheartening follows up over an eight-year period, and not even looking capable of revisiting the glorious summer of 2001, in which I actually visited New York!!!!! PLEASE sort it out, guys.

Elsewhere, you look at the debut offerings from bands such as Johnny Borrell’s Razorlight, the city lyefffff of The Rakes, The “fun-time” Futureheads, the echo-reverb shoe-gazers, The Music and my lovable Liverpudlians, The Zutons and see what happened next chokes me up. Even The Ordinary Boys. Yes, judge the young buck that I was, I really enjoyed Over the Counter Culture”, with it’s combination of cheeky lyrics about the everyday, brass and joyful guitar was smashing (my choice of word for summer 2004). Even listening to it now, it ain’t that bad. Yet the follow up Brass Bound – awful, just awful, and the latest one, I don’t even know, and quite frankly, I don’t want to know, not to mention the figure of Simon Amstell ridicule fodder that lead singer Preston has become. Finally, three bands who boast a respectable longevity, and two, maybe three, maybe even four quality opening albums, but who have slipped into states of almost self-parody: step forward The Killers*, Muse, and Kings of Leon.

* I happen to think that the second Killers album Sam’s Town is better than their debut Hot Fuss”. Just saying.

This might sound a wee bit harsh and a classic blogger’s rant. After all, who am I to sit here and demand continued perfection from every band who has the honour of gracing my eardrums? And this is of course, is an insight into my own music taste, which is obviously not gospel and therefore cannot possibly reflect music as a whole. There are also, of course a multitude of factors, which affect the quality of an album, from timing of release, to the handling and management of record companies. Yet it’s something I’ve noticed with these bands, and obviously something that’s worth sharing with you lucky people.

Maybe I did expect too much. Maybe I love too much. Bands can’t go on forever. And the important thing is that at some point, they made a significant impact on someone’s music taste, even if the follow up failed to live up to my expectations anyway. Then again, if you were a staunch defender of the realm of Bloc Party, you would argue, like I would with The White Stripes, that all the material is awesome. What kind of a conclusion is this really? Rant, rant, rant followed by “oh but it all comes down to the music taste of the individual and spare a thought for the pressured lifestyles these musicians have in a highly demanding industry”. I’m going round in circles. Lets end it with this:

“Wow [insert band name]. I really liked your first album. But your new stuff really does [insert relevant and current adjective]. Yet somehow, I feel I have a permanent soft spot for you. Maybe it’s because I was discovering who I was when I first heard you. I owe a lot to you. And I can’t really hold (what I see as) your sad decline against you, because you brought me so much [insert relevant and current adjective] early on. I love you. I’m going to listen to you right now, and make an awesome playlist called [insert awesome name here] in which you feature heavily”.

Part two coming up shortly.


“Guys, I think he died from disappointment”

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