My favourite radio station, BBC 6 Music is 10 years old, and has released the 100 best tunes since its birth: listening to the playlist I stumbled across this by the one-time saviours of music to-be, The Libertines. It still sounds great, but far older than just 10 years (it came out a decade ago this month). But this line will never get old (even if I disagree with the sentiment):
There are fewer more distressing sights than that
Of an Englishman in a baseball cap
6 Music are asking people to vote for their favourite of the 100 songs; a few years ago, I reckon Time For Heroes would have had a good chance. Now, I reckon my vote (All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem) is probably a pretty good bet for the top spot.
(Assumed) Englishman in a baseball cap by Kelbv on flickr
So, a new year, another attempt to get more out of my blog. A while back I went for playing shuffle on the iPod. This time I’m taking my direction from start-up This Is My Jam which, though a service I like, I don’t really click with totally.
You’re only meant took use it once a week and it creates yet another social profile (see the unofficial title of this blog). Anyway, that’s why I’m going to try to post a jam, or marmalade, every day. Probably without much commentary, to make it likelier that I actually do it.
To start, Suede b-side My Dark Star; I’m having one of my frequent 90s indie nostalgia sessions at the moment.
Photo by iglooo101 on flickr
I was out last night and saw a chap wearing a Senseless Things t-shirt, which made me think about a band I haven’t listened to, or even thought about, for years. And so, courtesy of our friends at YouTube, I found myself watching this clip of them playing Easy To Smile which was probably their biggest (or only?) hit. I’m pretty saw it when it was first broadcast too.
Easy To Smile was a lovely little slice of power-pop of a type that was pretty common-place in the early 90s; like many of their records, it featured a Jamie Hewlitt illustration mon the cover, pre-dating Gorillaz by a fair few years. Easy To Smile is similar to the sort of thing that also used to be put out by Mega City Four, another band I had a soft-spot for at the time. They looked like they’d not showered for years but their singer had the voice of an angel and their harmonies were to die for. I think I can feel an iTunes binge coming on.
Well, music’s a funny old game, as Jimmy Grieves might have said.
Last year I wrote that Coldplay hadn’t done anything decent since their second album. I also wrote that I thought the Odd Gang Future Wolf Gang Kill Them Alll collective were a horrible shower of idiotic nihilists whom I had no intention of listening to again. Hmmm.
So, due to the fact that it featured in just about every single one of The Guardian’s 2011 Top 10 lists, I decided to give the free mixtape Nostalgia Ultra by Frank Ocean (of OFWGKTA) a try. And I’m glad I did – it’s a beautiful concept album, full of retor touches such as tape playters clicking on and off, and basically consists of Ocean singing wry, down-beat but not misogynistic lyrics over tracks such as Hotel California and Strawberry String by Coldplay.
He doesn’t even sample them, he just sings over the backing tracks. And it works. Wonderfully. So much so that I really should have put Nostalgia Ultra in my own best albums of 2011 list.
It also made me realise that Strawberry Swing by Coldplay is just a lovely song. They still shouldn’t have headlined Glastonbury though.
Strawberry by Marc Falardeau on flickr
Well, that’s 2011 more or less wrapped up.
Where the bloody hell it went, I have no idea, but, as I do most years, I thought I’d finish it by wrapping up my favourite albums of the year. Now, I should probably add at this point that, because I’m no longer a teenager who buys NME every week, or even a 20-something buying a monthly music magazine, I don’t hear as much new music as I’d like. So, whilst many of these albums were released in 2011, some are actually older but were new to me in 2011.
Anyway, here we go, in no particular order:
- Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two: I’ve never actually been a massive Beastie Boys fan, and have always liked the idea of them, more than the reality. But Hot Sauce Committee Part Two was an absolute belter from first to last, was utterly life affirming, probably because one of the Beasties was recovering from cancer during its recording, highlighted how small-minded the OFWGKTA clique are, and it’s promo film was ****ing genius.
- The Streets – Computers And Blues: The Streets, or Mike Skinner as he’s known to his friends, is, I think, a perfectly English genius. This was his last album under The Streets moniker, and is, I think, a very fitting obituary. It mixes his trademark engagingly everyman raps with some lovely beats, and includes much of the (slightly cod) philosophy from his (amazingly under-rated) last album. I’ll be sorry to see The Streets go, but his new outfit The D.O.T. sound like they might be quite good, if their first track is anything to go by. It’s called Trouble and features a young man called Ghostpoet.
- Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam: His taste for bad puns reminds me slightly of Carter USM, but don’t let that put you off. He’s signed to Gilles Peterson’s excellent Brownswood label, his album is a brilliantly captured time-capsule of Britain in 2011 and it’s a crime that he didn’t win the Mercury.
- Lee Fields & The Expressions – My World: Released in 2009, but to be honest it doesn’t matter as it sounds like it was released in 1969, this is an amazing piece of pure R&B soul delivered by a true soul survivor, and one that I discovered through the marvelous Hunch FM. Honeydove is possibly my favourite track of the year.
- DJ 2 Tone Jones – Shaolin Jazz: This is brilliant – a bunch of tracks by the Wu-Tang Clan, and is constituent members, with the backing tracks replaced with samples from classic jazz. Seriously. It’s what the wannabe hipsters would call amaze-balls. And his similar re-imagining of classic Gil Scott-Heron tracks is not to be missed either.
- Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues: Nothing particularly different from their first album, but when you have a début as beautiful as the Fleet Foxes did, why would you want to change that? Music to get lost in.
- The National – High Violet: I know, this was released in 2010. But I’m getting old, I’m not as up to date as I was, and this is simply too amazing not to put in a Best of list. Also, there might be people who are like I was – ignorant of the splendour of The National: possibly better than Arcade Fire.
- Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys: A couple of the tracks sounded like attempts to replicate One Day Like This, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a truly beautiful record. Build a rocket boys indeed.
- SBTRKT – SBTRKT: Soulful house music made by a man wearing a massive African tribal mask – what’s not to love? Listening to this today it occurred to me that it bears a lot of similarities to the all-time classic All Systems Gone by Presence which, if you don’t own, you really should.
- Gilles Peterson – Masterpiece: Part of a series of mix albums released by Ministry of Sound, this 3 part epic shows why Radio 1 are fools to have let him go: like a 20th Century John Peel, he touches everything from techno to jazz and just about everything in between. Worth the price for just one of the three free extra mixes alone.
Facebook’ made a big push into music last night, but I still tend to head to YouTube when I’m looking for a bit of serendipitous discovery/reminiscing. And today it didn’t disappoint.
There are a lot of great things celebrating 20th anniversaries this year: Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, Nirvana’s Nevermind, my GCSE results. And Saint Etienne’s first ever single, a house-tinged cover of Neil Young’s beautiful Only Love Can Break Your Heart: I know this because of the nifty timeline that YouTube have introduced for bands & artists.
Saint Etienne’s take on Only Love Can Break Your Heart takes a downbeat, acoustic little ditty and turns it into a dirty, great skanking club monster. It might be twenty years old, but it still sounds fresh enough to take your nose off. Or something. It’s taken from their début album Foxbase Alpha, which was an interesting and eclectic take on post SUmmer of Love London, but is, ultimately slightly frustrating (like much of Saint Etienne’s work if you ask me). But this single is a stone cold classic.
Lego album cover by hazymemory on flickr
It seems that along with talking about the weather, and wondering when the British man will get knocked out of Wimbledon, discussing the headliners for Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage has become an annual summer tradition. A few years ago Jay Z really got the ball rolling, before knocking it out of the park, making the Eavis family look like geniuses, and Noel Gallagher look very silly. This year all the fuss was about U2′s slot, but I think the shouters should have been complaining about Coldplay.
U2 may have a rather hypocritical relationship with tax collecters considering the fact that their lead singer constantly hectors governments to give more in aid (I wonder where he thinks they get the money that becomes aid?), but they defined rock music for the better part of a decade, and have maintained a pretty consistent level of output ever since, as well as defining just how far stadium rock can go, in terms of spectacle.
One is pretty much the new Imagine now, in terms of its ubiquity, even though its not their best slow track, whilst their light-show and sheer chutzpah when it comes to what they pull off at their own gigs has left millions breathless (me included, and I’d never put myself as a serious fan of theirs). And, of course, they had never headlined the show – it was an omission as glaring as the one that saw Paul McCartney bring the house down a few years back.
Coldplay on the other hand haven’t released a new album since 2008 (U2′s was 2009), and the quality of their output has been on the wane since their debut: my friend Mark Hadfield once drew a lovely little diagram* showing how quality of output often drops off as a band’s success increases – think Oasis from Definitely Maybe to Be Here Now, or, obviously, Coldplay from Parachutes to Viva La Vida. Coldplay haven’t defined anything for years, other than a trend for overblown, piano-led indie-lite, that saw a rash of shit coat-tail bands blighting the mid-noughties. If Hallmark made music…
On top of that, they’ve already headlined twice before, and if memory serves, the last one was a bit of a damp-squib, as they tried to force new tracks on an audience that just wanted to sing Yellow & The Scientist. Now, by all accounts, last night’s show was a storming success, possibly more successful than U2 (if anything U2 should have piled the spectacle on more – whilst the message from the space station, with a subtle David Bowie lyric, brought a tear to my eye, it couldn’t compete with Coldplay’s pulsating pyramid).
And many people would undoubtedly say that 100,000 people can’t be wrong, though the circulation figures of many daily papers highlight how false that assumption is. But there were two other bands how gave rabble-rousing sets last night, and either would have been more worthy headliners.
Elbow are a band who have worked their way up. Besides Jay Z, they stole the show in 2008, went on to win the Mercury, and have since (recently, unlike Coldplay) released another amazing record. They are a true Glastonbury band; warm, infectious and utterly without pretence. Putting them as headliners on the Pyramid would have been a lovely nod to what they’ve achieved, rather than just making it look like Chris Martin only has to ring the Eavis household to get another booking.
Equally Pulp would have been a nice touch. They showed back in 1995, when they took the headline slot a disbanded Stone Roses couldn’t fill, that you don’t have to be the biggest band in the world/Britain™ to steal a show. They have a back-catalogue that millions would recognise, and in Jarvis Cocker, one of the best frontmen of the last 20 years. Both Elbow and Pulp did play last night, and played very well, but neither in the slot that could, and really should, have belonged to one of them.
But so what right? Tonight it’s Beyoncé and she’s bound to blow the roof off? Well, by my calculations, she has about 5 or 6 decent solo songs (i.e. ones the audience will know, that won’t send them to sleep) as well as a handful from Destiny’s Child days – the rest is pretty much standard R&B schmaltz. If the organisers wanted to take a risk, like they used to when they booked the likes of Orbital, or indeed Jay Z, they could have gone for the artist that Beyonce must wish she could be, Janelle Monae. Her performance last night was nigh-on incredible, something I hope, but doubt, Beyoncé’s will be.
*I’m not for a second suggesting Coldplay ever did drugs, unlike Oasis, but the inverse relationship of their music quality to their fame, is the same.
Wrong is right by Joel Bez on flickr
I know that I’m hardly breaking new ground by posting this, but I’ve been listening to the new album by Elbow on rotation for about a week now, and simply can’t get the refrain from Lippy Kids, which gives the album its name, out of my head. It’s as plaintively beautiful as Oasis’ classic D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?
It’s not radical, nor outrageous, nor genre-defining, nor anything that you wouldn’t expect from Elbow. It’s just totally, and utterly, fantastically lovely.
Build a rocket boys, build a rocket boys!
Rocket garden by Milan Boers on flickr