Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Desert Island, All-Time, Top 3 Reasons 2008 Should Be Remembered Twenty Years From Now

1. Let's get the obvious, important, ridiculously brilliant one out of the way first, shall we? Obama. Let's not forget, this time last year we didn't even know who the candidate would be, let alone the president. And now we have Obama. Excellent. That said, I still reckon too much is made of the man's race. Is America ready for a black president? Well, no, clearly not all of them are. But who cares about those folk? Race doesn't have a thing to do with leading a country. Obama's win was important for showing the world America aren't rascists, yes. But for me, more important is the new voice America has here - the youth are involved, and the old ways are getting a right royal screwing up the... well, yes. Though I'm still a little suspicious of a politician who seems to be an all round nice person. It's just not right.

2. The world didn't end. Far more interesting than the Large Hadron Collider itself was the apocolyptic furore surrounding its big switch on. Genuine concern in workplaces worldwide, hour-long documentries telling us we're not buggered, and Stephen Hawkings allegedly betting $100 that the Higgs Boson won't be found. The end of days are far more enjoyable taken with a pinch of salt.

3. Elbow finally got the recognition they deserved. Seven years since their first album, and about fourteen since they formed, and Elbow finally get some public recognition. Let's hope now that it doesn't take long for the new fans to realise that The Seldom Seen Kid isn't even their best album. I'm waiting for Asleep At The Back to get a special ten-year reissue two years early, or Leaders Of The Free World to jump up the iTunes charts. Cast Of Thousands played in full on BBC Radio 6? Here's hoping.

Happy New Year, guys. 2009's the Year Of Stephen (and regular updates). I swear.

Like my old man always used to say...

"Meryl Streep deserves an Oscar for how she sang 'The Winner Takes It All' in 'Mamma Mia'."

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Ten Logical Reasons Why I Haven't Yet Watched Transformers

1. Did you see the logo?

2. Michael Bay, the cinema god behind Pearl Harbour and Armageddon.

3. Shia the Beef. I refuse, by the way, to refer to anyone by their real name when it essentially refers purely to a meat product. Especially when they are one of the least worthwhile things to come to Hollywood since Nicholas Cage.

4. It features robots. That transform.

5. It's a remake of a Japanese cartoon series. That was turned into a TV series.

6. At least Iron Man had Robert Downey Jr. in it.

7. I'm for substance over visual pap.

8. Those robots? That transform? They're at war.

9. I mean, seriously...

10. Why?

And of course, the one overruling reason that explains why I'm watching it right now:
I'm bored, and it was either this or Employee Of The Month.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A Few Of My Favourite Things: Sexy People

No, I genuinely don't think that the girl above is sexy. Honestly. That'd be wrong in so many ways. No. Hell no. Rather, 'Sexy People' is an excellent little blog posting frankly horrific professional portraits. Young boys in dungarees and huge glasses. Full families straight out of 1970s mail-order catalogues. Teenage lads who quite possibly helped found Microsoft. Young girls from a little house on the prarie with teeth straight from your darkest nightmares, and mullets straight from your dad's worst memories.

Sure as hell makes me feel better about myself, at least.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Best Of '08: Songs Of The Year

I never even managed to get round to this list last year. I wasted my time on cover version lists and frivolities like that. Not this year. Not this year. Here lies my Top 60 Tracks of 2008, in ascending order.

60. 'Lord, I'm Discouraged' - The Hold Steady
59. 'Sax Rohmer
#1' - The Mountain Goats
58. 'Stay Positive' - The Hold Steady
57. '5 Years Time' - Noah and the Whale
56. 'I Thought I Saw Your Face Today' - She & Him
55. 'Low' - Flo Rida feat. T-Pain
54. 'Dance Wiv Me' - Dizzee Rascal feat. Calvin Harris and Chromeo
53. 'Kiss With A Fist' - Florence and the Machine
52. 'American Boy' - Estelle feat. Kanye West
51. 'Atom' - British Sea Power
50. 'Amylase' - Cajun Dance Party
49. 'Fantastic 6' - Alphabeat
48. 'Violet Hill' - Coldplay
47. 'Divine' - Sebastian Tellier
46. 'Old Enough' - The Raconteurs feat. Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
45. 'Change Is Hard' - She & Him
44. 'Victoria's Secret' - Quiet Village
43. 'Human' - The Killers
42. 'Monster Love' - Goldfrapp
41. 'Up' - The Saturdays
40. 'Another Way To Die' - Jack White and Alicia Keys
39. 'Ain't No Rest For The Wicked' - Cage The Elephant
38. 'Sweet Darlin'' - She & Him
37. 'A&E' - Goldfrapp
36. 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' - She & Him
35. 'Gray Or Blue' - Jaymay
34. 'Keep Her' - The Saturdays
33. 'Some People' - Goldfrapp
32. 'Digital Love' - Alphabeat, Frank Musik and Leon Jean Marie
31. 'Rich Kid Blues' - The Raconteurs
30. 'Beat Control' - Tilly and the Wall
29. 'Stop, Rip and Roll' - J Roddy Walston and the Business
28. 'Grounds For Divorce' - Elbow
27. 'The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)' - Flight Of The Conchords
26. 'Spiralling' - Keane
25. 'Lies' - The Saturdays
24. 'Touch Me' - Alphabeat
23. 'I Woke Up Today' - Port O'Brien
22. 'Clowns' - Goldfrapp
21. 'Kids' - MGMT

20. 'Girls' - Sugababes
I've always thought of Sugababes as a lesser competitor to Girls Aloud. Well, not always - Sugababes have been around longer. But still, in recent years no matter how good their singles were, Girls Aloud's were better. This seems to have been the year to change that - 'Girls', heavily sampling Ernie K-Doe's 'Here Come The Girls' is the closest Britain has got this year to the 'Umbrella's, '1Thing's and 'Crazy's of those previous.

19. 'Oliver James' - Fleet Foxes
A band described with words so repetitive one could be excused for thinking that 'ethereal' is an alias of theirs, Fleet Foxes stirred up a hell of a lot of interest this year. Their album hit number five on my chart, though I secretly wish all the albums above weren't released yet, such is my need to put them at the top. This is the closer off of said album - as perfect closer as ever there was one - equal parts stark, beautiful vocals and subtle, elegant music, this song managed sometime around August to gain fifty plays in about ten days on my media player of choice.

18. 'Ghosts' - Laura Marling
Laura Marling is younger than me, prettier than me, more talented than me, and with a better voice. I'm not a horrible person though, and so rather than hate her for it, I in fact love her deeply for it. Though her album was, in all honesty, a bit average as a whole, this track stands out as Beyond Brilliant. I'm a-reckoning for some good things in Ms. Marling's future - especially if she should happen to meet me anytime soon.

17. 'Letter From God To Man' - Dan Le Sac & Scroobius Pip
Technically - techinically - the artist name here should be Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, but I'm not going to let them get away with that. The two artists work so well together, and so smartly - each bringing out the other's best quality constantly - that there is no 'vs' about it. This particular offering is a stunning effort, and also wins my coveted Best Sample Of The Year Award. Oooo.

16. 'Seattle' - The BPA feat. Emmy the Great
Until Emmy finally gets round to releasing her debut album early 2009, this track will have to tide over those of us wanting to hear her supported by full studio production. Norman Cook's latest project, The Brighton Port Authority, have already produced some great tracks featuring a fair miscellany of unexpected collaborators, but it's this track with England's finest-singer-songwriter-not-to-have-an-album-out-yet that takes the biscuit.

15. 'Handsfree' - Sonny J
The video helps, I'll admit that much. By itself, this explosive piece of soul-sampling dance is a fantastically fun track, but when you factor in the promo video - a fair mix of Tarantino, My Name Is Earl and the Thriller video - Sonny J's best single yet becomes a minor masterpiece in its own right. Shame the rest of the album was so average.

14. 'Carolina Drama' - The Raconteurs
Jack White has never been finer than on The Raconteurs second album, as three entries on the Top Twenty will testify to. Were it not for Fleet Foxes' excellent 'Oliver James', 'Carolina Drama' would be closer of the year. But whilst in the context of final tracks Fleet Foxes win out, when it comes to the song itself 'Carolina Drama' is a hop, skip and a jump ahead. A soulful story told with deep rock roots by the master of modern Americana.

13. 'Salute Your Solution' - The Raconteurs
And oh, look, here the boys are again - this time with a winning urgency that seeps down to the very depths of your being. You know a song is good when you mute the jazz channel on Grand Theft Auto 4 so you can listen to it whilst you drive down the railway tracks in an ice cream truck.

12. 'What Is Happening' - Alphabeat
The four-hundredth single released from Alphabeat's debut album is also the best - starting slow and building into a gloriously fast ending. The peak in quality, however, happens about halfway between the two, and is joyous enough to make you join whatever cult made these Danes so damned happy.

11. 'Two Doors Down' - Mystery Jets
The achingly cheerful 'Two Doors Down' was a far cry from the mood of Mystery Jets' first (and highly overrated) album. Here they leapt into an Eighties-inspired call of unrequited love, with a chorus so catchy you could sing it to your dad even while he played an Abba track at the same time. And nothing's catchier than Abba. Still, if only it had Laura Marling too...

10. 'Many Shades Of Black' - The Raconteurs/Adele with The Raconteurs
And in at number ten... one song, two versions. When 'Consolers Of The Lonely' was rushed out earlier this year the first track that settled itself into my subconscious was this excellent little song - as full of soul as it is with rock, it just leant itself to the deep, luscious voice of Adele - a 60's soul singer, forty years too late. Released recently on the extended edition of her debut album '19', Adele's collaboration with White and co. is quite possibly the best thing she's done yet.

9. 'Starlings' - Elbow
Fanfares are the sort of thing that on the one hand aren't used enough in pop, but on the other hand should barely be used at all. You never want to overdo your fanfare. Elbow heralded in their fourth album with the fanfare-tastic 'Starlings', though, and from the first blast of trumpet it was clear that their time in the shadows was soon to be over. Also features my Lyric Of The Year: 'you are the only thing in any room you're ever in'. One friend of mine has this on a poster in her bedroom - it's the sort of message I'd love to wake up to everyday, too.

8. 'Sentimental Heart' - She & Him
Achingly opening her debut album with M. Ward, Miss Zooey Deschanel breaks a legion of sentimental hearts herself with just the first few words. This is a song of longing, the sort of song that you can curl up to under a quilt, whilst nursing a warm mug of tea and a broken pride.

7. 'March Of The Dawn' - The Mummers
Bold, triumphant and not unlike Bjork singing a Rufus Wainwright track, 'March Of The Dawn' is the grandest way I've found to start a day this year. It blasts around whole-heartedly, stomping back and forth like a child playing soldiers. I always loved to play soldiers.

6. 'Issues' - The Saturdays
Arguably the best pop ballad since the era of B*Witched - or, at the very least, since S Club 7's 'Never Had A Dream Come True'. The whole of The Saturdays album sounds like the best bits of a billion other artist's songs - 'Issues' is a Rihanna ballad sung softly by the talented members of Sugababes with the sexiest members of Girls Aloud.

5. 'Weather To Fly' - Elbow
A high whisper from Guy Garvey opens one of his band's most heartfelt songs - a great feat for a group as open as Elbow. Once more the lyrics win over the listener, Garvey unfurling words like a man inspired. He is, I suppose, and he always has been.

4. 'Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?' - She & Him
By the time the second track finishes on 'Volume One', you know for sure whether or not you should bother with the rest of the album - jaunty and fun, 'Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?' is a far jump from 'Sentimental Heart'. It marks an album that could change direction at any moment (though, it turns out it doesn't tend to overall - and is all the better for that). Best bit? Zooey Deschanel's cheerful 'do-doo-do-do-doo's at the end.

3. 'One Day Like This' - Elbow
As glorious as anything else on 'The Seldom Seen Kid', the penultimate track is perhaps just a wee bit more commercial. That isn't by any means the reason for its high entry, however - that honour comes with thanks to the band's marvellous performance at Glastonbury this year. Closing with 'One Day Like This', the band (and their rushed-together string orchestra) left the stage, only for the song to continue without them. In fact, once the band had gone, the crowd kept on singing until they'd doubled the length of the original track. It was one of the most exciting moments of my musical life, and I was left tired with joy once it was over.

2. 'Young Love' - Mystery Jets feat. Laura Marling
If we were to take just the first half of this song, there'd be a fair chance that it wouldn't even make the top twenty on this list. The second half stirs things up a little, though - the delightful Laura Marling kicks in, all sultry and sexular, very listenable, very enjoyable and damn near perfect.

1. 'Sleepyhead' - Passion Pit
Entirely forgettable the first time I listened to it, Sleepyhead somehow slipped into my subconscious over a period of several months. I've used the phrase several times since, but in a recent issue of The Mic magazine I claimed this song to be both 'timely and timeless', and that remains exactly the case right up to this moment. 'Sleepyhead' is the opening track to the film of Passion Pit's lives - when you hear this song, you know it is the start of something special, something grand, a band who have the ability to own 2009, should they wish. A truly perfect song.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


Too often these days the studio is the artist's biggest downfall. When a band is live, or recording out of the second cousin's bedroom, then the music is raw, alive and energetic. They perform live, they gather a few hundred fans, they record their EP in their auntie's nephew's garage and they give it out free at gigs - then they get a record deal, and they get to the studio, and they have all this expensive musical equipment they've never heard of before, and they get all excited, and the next thing you know, the album is out and it's all over-produced and a far cry from the grated demos of a few months before. When I first heard Arctic Monkeys whenever it was, 2005 perhaps, I had fifty odd demos and love recordings of them that I've since, regrettably lost. It's regrettable on two fronts - first, they were all lively, energetic affairs that were each worthy of their own record deal (which, of course, they got). Second, each and every track was far better than the album equivalent. It was a huge disappointment, even if I did still adore the album for a good month or two after it came out.

Today I found the studio version of one of my favourite tracks of 2008 - the excellent 'We've Got Obsessions' by Marina and the Diamonds. I'm glad to say that whilst it has indeed gained much production value, it has lost nothing more than the 'We've Got' of the title. It's still an excellent track, and whilst it's going to take some getting used to, it's not quite the same as changing 'Scummy Man' to 'When The Sun Goes Down' - this song is still as good, of not better than, the original.

mp3: 'We've Got Our Obsessions' - Marina and the Diamonds
mp3: 'Obsessions' - Marina and the Diamonds

Glen Hansard tackles the great pop saga of our generation.

A while ago - a fair while ago, as it happens - Ireland's greatest non-female export covered a couple of rather okay modern pop songs, thus making them rather marvellous. Everyone knows the rumoured story - Cry Me A River is about Britney, Everytime is her (superior) reply. But screw that. The best thing about these tracks is the smarmy violin at the end of the Britney cover. Name that tune, so they say.

mp3: 'Cry Me A River' - Glen Hansard
mp3: 'Everytime' - Glen Hansard

Friday, 12 December 2008

'Blonde on Blonde', translated from English to Japanese and then back to English again.

Woman #12 of day of rain and 35
Pledge of my time
The range of vision of Johanna
Our one has known necessity without fail, (sooner or later)
I think that we want,
It is for the second time attached in movable device the Memphis blue having been attached
Hat of pill box of [hiyou] skin
Exactly, like the woman
Perhaps, your method it goes, I go my ones
The achilles corp way temporary
Absolutely sweet Marie
4th time
Clearly 5 believers
The woman who Of Lowlands is sad and is observed

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A Few Of My Favourite Things: Unexpected Collaborations

There are few treats in the world sweeter than an unexpected musical collaboration that really, truly works. Of course, by this law David Bowie and Mick Jagger certainly are no treat - though Bowie and Queen are a perfect example. It's all about grabbing the opportunity, and being willing to shake things up a little.

Recently I've stumbled across two excellent tracks by The Raconteurs - both are originally off their fantastic 'Consolers Of The Lonely' album - my second favourite of the year, as you can see below. But more importantly, both are reimagined with the help of musicians of completely different musical worlds. The first is Adele - a wonderful singer who zealously covers Many Shades Of Black with all the emotion and soul of any great Motown diva. And then there is Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe, who add their piece to Old Enough, expanding it into a beautiful bluegrass piece that, frankly, outdoes the original with ease.

mp3: 'Many Shades Of Black' - Adele with The Raconteurs
mp3: 'Old Enough (with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe)' - The Raconteurs

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Best Of '08: Top Ten Albums

The best year for albums so far this decade? It seems likely - when I first heard Alphabeat's debut late last year I thought that when it was released mid-spring 2008 it would be by far the best pop record in my end-of-year charts. When I first heard Goldfrapp's album three months before it's February release I reckoned it would easily top the Best Album category. That now, a mere eight months after the latest of those two releases, neither make my top five speaks volumes about the quality in album releases for 2008. So, without any further ado, my Top Ten:

10: 'Stay Positive' - The Hold Steady
There's no doubt in my mind that The Hold Steady are the best live band in the world today. On top of that, Boys And Girls Of America still maintains my number two spot for Album Of The Decade (or, as the calendar allows, Century). But whilst Stay Positive in an excellent listening experience it lacked the perfect flow that made its predecessor so excellent an album - the tracks were all there, but they didn't always work together.
Key track: 'Lord, I'm Discouraged'

9: 'Silent Movie' - Quiet Village
Don't underestimate for a second the power of an instrumental album - there are two on this list alone. Quiet Village came through as this year's Air, a band who knew how to manufacture a perfect afternoon in musical form. 'Silent Movie' could well be the soundtrack to your summer, as long as your summer only lasted one hour and the most activity you got up to was a gentle game of frisbee.
Key track: 'Victoria's Secret'

8: 'Seventh Tree' - Goldfrapp
Once a competitor for album of the year, Goldfrapp's excellent re-invention as folk-queen defined the Spring on many an mp3 player. The album was a luscious environment of aural swoons and swirls, and there wasn't a weak track from beginning to end. I reckon it was their set at Glastonbury that marked the peak in my love for 'Seventh Tree' - from that moment on I knew the album would never top itself.
Key track: 'Clowns'

7: 'Knee-Deep In The North Sea' - Portico Quartet
Introduced to me by its nomination in this year's Mercury Prize, this album technically was released at the end of 2007. Still, it received the acknowledgement it deserved during the summer of '08, and thus finds a place on my list. Jazz has never been so accessible to the everyday layman, and 'Knee-Deep...' also has the honour of being my 'Best Album To Walk To' award winner.
Key track: 'News From Verona'

6: 'This Is Alphabeat' - Alphabeat
Once a high-runner for album of the year Alphabeat have perhaps suffered from excessive airplay in recent months - that said, the album is still a necessary purchase for anyone wanting a full overview of the year. It taught the English people to have fun again, something we've not really been doing since The Spice Girls first started. Thank you, Denmark.
Key track: 'What Is Happening?'

5. 'Fleet Foxes' - Fleet Foxes
A surprise entry high up on many magazines' lists, Fleet Foxes deserve every compliment they receive - their self-titled album is arguably the best debut folk album of the last twenty years. Mixing harmonies, stunning music and magnificent facial hair, I only wish there was room for them higher on the list. Fleet Foxes are the band that I am most excited about with regard to their future prospects.
Key track: 'Oliver James'

4. 'Chasing Lights' - The Saturdays
I feel a little guilty having such a shamelessly manufactured pop band in my top five - but ultimately this just goes to prove my much-stated opinion that British girl bands are creating the best pop music in the world today. The Saturdays may not write their own songs, but whoever does write them should be lined up for some sort of Pop-based OBE. Just wait til my Songs of the Year lists - you'll see what I mean. By far the biggest surprise of the year, musically.
Key track: 'Issues'

3. 'The Seldom Seen Kid' - Elbow
2008, above all else, will be remembered by me as the year Elbow finally got what was coming to them. And that is a well deserved public following. After aeons of standing in the shadows whilst far inferior bands rocketed past them (Snow Patrol, I'm looking at you...), Elbow's Mercury win set them up for life. And the biggest irony? It's not even their best album! Still, 'The Seldom Seen Kid' is another excellent effort by the Mancunian Sigur Ros - there's not only not a dud track on the album, but better than that, every track is terrific!
Key track: 'One Day Like This'

2. 'Consolers Of The Lonely' - The Raconteurs
A shock release, 'Consolers' took the world by surprise - not only that it's possible to just release an album at will in this day and age, but also that Jack White still had untold amounts of original ideas to play with. The album is ridiculously long, almost twice the length of their debut - and quite possibly twice as good. Every track seeps blues, rock and the sweat and blood of every band member, and it's nigh impossible to choose a single best track - I could have chosen epic-closer 'Carolina Drama', or the unbelievable riffs of 'Rich Kid Blues'. 'Salute Your Solution' got a look in, but in the end I had to settle on the track they recently re-recorded with Adele for her extended album release.
Key track (mp3): 'Many Shades Of Black'

1. 'Volume One' - She & Him
Not necessarily the hardest-hitting album of the year, or the one that most strikes you as excellent on first listen, but M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel's debut collaboration is a slow-burning jazz-vocal classic. When I look up at the list above, 'Volume One' is the album I can most see myself playing on a regular basis ten, twenty years from now. It is effortlessly both timeless and timely, and like all the best albums I cannot possibly recommend one single track, in lieu of recommending the album as a whole, as an experience, as the best album of 2008.
Key track (mp3): 'Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?'

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A Few Of My Favourite Things: Hand Drawn Map Association

I can't tell you how I first discovered the Hand Drawn Map Association - I simply do not remember. But now I have found it, HDMA is a vital part of my internet life. The premise is simple - readers of the site send in maps of their own, or someone else's, creation - all the map has to be is created by human hand. No computer generation here. Most of the maps are simple line drawings, but occasionally the map will be an exquisite piece of art in its most functional form, such as the one above, Map 113. Like many of the other maps on the site, Map 113 captures a moment, has a story to tell. In this case, the site states the following:

Marcin, a historical cartographer from Poland, sent us this amazing map he made as a child (around 12-14 years old). It's a fantasy composition with non existent places. Marcin describes the shape of the country as similar to the southern Chile coast or the coast of Norway. The place names are all imaginary (a'la French) and the descriptions are written in Polish.

This is why HDMA is so lovely - it captures a moment and shares it with you and everyone else. Check out the site, especially Maps 111, 64 and 52.

The Good, The Bad and the Cinematic: Changeling

Angelina Jolie is far from my favourite actress - she seems, generally, to pick roles based upon how well they'll financially support her ever-growing family rather than how good they actually are. Wanted was one of the worst films of the year. I didn't even realise she was in Kung-Fu Panda til the credits ran. Sometimes I think Jolie should just become a stay-at-home mother whilst Brad goes out and does all the hard work on his generally fantastic films.

And then comes Changeling - a film that can remind why Jolie is in the business; Jolie plays a devastated mother, well, devastatingly. She her son goes missing whilst she works late one Saturday, and when the LAPD retrieve a boy for her she tells them firmly that the boy is not hers. It's all very grim, and things only get worse once her 'son' has been returned. But Eastwood is a master, and much like his other films of recent years Changeling is relentlessly watchable.

I could wax lyrical about this film - the acting (no less than four of the cast deserve Oscar nominations), the directing (another nomination certainly in order, arguably a win), the cinematography and so much more. Not necessarily the greatest film of the year, but certainly a front-runner.