Gavin Castleton – It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

12 10 2014

It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of TimesPortland’s Gavin Castleton has released a new 5 song EP via his BandCamp page. The EP is a collection of songs about unconditional love and loss, but with a twist. If you’ve followed Gavin’s music over the years, you will know who he is singing about, and I won’t need to explain.

If the language of love is universal, then the same thing can be said about loss, it crosses borders and species and it always cuts deep.

Underestimate Me is a piano (and 1950’s sounding guitar) ballad that sets the scene – welcoming the subject of the EP, and the playfulness of youth and the promise of the future is echoed in the instrumentation during the middle section, before the final two lines hit home, signalling that this is an EP reflecting on memories tainted by loss.

“So I’ll just remember how you made me forget the world all around me
while the world still reminds me of you.”

gavin2

Watering the Soil is a beautiful song, with the sounds of night-time crickets providing the rhythm to the saddest of sad songs.

“I put you in the ground tonight
out beside the house
by the window light”

Where is the Fire? is the darkest lyric on the EP, riddled with regret and wishing you could go back and re-live some of the better times.  I love the subtle reverb on Gavin’s vocals on this track.

Expensive Love is a much fuller arrangement than the live take in the video below, but the EP version makes it clear that this is simply one of the best songs Gavin has written.

Rhodes and a nagging beat drive the song, which has some wonderful Venus as A Boy recalling strings underpinning the later verses.

“But then you got much worse when I took the job –
I had to leave work late and get up at ungodly hours to get out of all the debts I owed.
Maybe you couldn’t see the man for the brand new clothes…”

If you have ever experienced deep loss – whether it was the loss of a parent, a relationship, or a close companion or friend, this song will surely resonate. There are no cliches in Expensive Love – no trite “I’m missing you” – the song serves up some of the raw truths of the cost of love, which can be paid in an emotional and a physical sense.

“I knew you had to go but didn’t know how much it’d cost me”

Image by Carrie Vonkiel

The EP ends on an uplifting song in Team Love – with it’s multi-layered vocals and hand-clap beats.

“I’ll be fixing up my inputs and my outputs
I will learn to love and be loved from any direction”

The change in mood at the end of the EP might suggest that if you are going through the worst of times now,  hang in there because you never know, the best of times could be just around the corner.

Gavin Castleton – It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Timesbuy the EP on Bandcamp

Visit Gavin Castleton’s website.

If you’ve not heard Gavin’s music before, take a listen to his cover of Frank Ocean‘s Swim Good (mixed with the sublime Roads by Portishead).

I also recommend the Home (a zombie love story or is it?) and For the Love of Pete albums as good starting points in your journey. You will become hooked, trust me!





Gabriel Kahane – Where Are the Arms

12 04 2012

I had never heard of Gabriel Kahane, until I saw mention of his song Charming Disease by one of my favourite singer-songwriters, the mighty Gavin Castleton. And what a track this it turned out to be!

Lyrically, it’s a sad tale of fighting alcoholism, set to music containing delicious aching strings, guitar and piano, and reminding me a little of Leeds artist Lone Wolf.

Listen to a stream of Charming Disease from the Gabriel Kahane bandcamp page below.

“You were sneaking out with little lies, in the morning by the market, for a good time
You tried to hide it by the lemon trees, I took you home and took away your keys.”

Merritt Pkwy is the tale of a chance meeting and a relationship that ends as quickly as it starts. The song could well be a continuation of the story from the previous track.  The tracks are even linked by a string section that could be acting as a bridge between the two lyrics.

“And I say now what I said then 
please let me forget you 
In some hot one gas station town 
please let me forget you”

There are shades of Sufjan Stevens and Rufus Wainwright in Kahane’s music, and although he comes from a classical background, this album is a mixture of pop and indie. It’s true there are shifting time signatures, string sections and theatrical touches, but the album will appeal to those who like intelligent pop music. Nothing is throwaway, every note is carefully considered and exists for a reason.

The track LA opens with a picked guitar refrain, typical of many signer-songwriters, but is uniquely under-pinned by a baroque piano-part.

“LA
The selfish city wins again.”

Watch the video for LA below

Last Dance is a heart-wrenching song of loss and regret. Regret for the words that were not spoken, the final experiences that could not be shared, and the aching desire to share a lover’s touch one last time.

“all I want is a face to hold
and love and light and sex
and cigarettes”

Icebox name-checks New York land-marks that don’t quite resonate with a South-east London boy like me, but the imagery paints a picture of travelling through cities and people watching that is universal.

Winter Song has some wonderful double-bass and electric piano in the middle section of the song, recalling early 70’s John Martyn, and is topped off by a lovely flute arrangement.

“scratching out a past
we don’t remember much
words come apart like
tendon shattered bone”

Where Are The Arms is an ambitious album, covering several genres, often within individual songs, and stands up to repeated listening. Each song is a portrait, with common themes such as regret, isolation and missed connections (Merritt Pkwy is a prime example).

Watch the Charming Disease video

Buy Where Are The Arms from Amazon





End of Year Favourites

28 12 2011

It’s that time of year again, and here are some of my favourites from 2011 as it draws to its close.

I’ve tried to include audio or video clips where they are available, but I will not upload unofficial media.  If you like what you hear or see, don’t steal the music, support the artists and buy their albums or films.

Gavin Castleton

It’s been a quiet year from Gavin – sadly no new album in 2011 but a couple of free downloads appeared on Gavin’s SoundCloud account, including one of my favourite tracks of the year, Swim Good.  

Swim Good is a track from Frank Ocean‘s Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape release.  Gavin takes the song to another level, underpinning Ocean’s song with my favourite Portishead track, Roads from 1994’s Dummy album.

Listen to Gavin Castleton‘s version of Swim Good below

Listen to Swim Good on iPhone or iPad.

More Gavin Castleton music on cdbaby or iTunes

The National – High Violet

The album that soundtracked my summer.  And yes, I’m a bit late with this album, as it was released in 2010.  If you don’t already have the album, I’d suggest picking up the expanded version which has 7 extra tracks. Lemonworld is my favourite track on the album:

“I was a comfortable kid
But I don’t think about it much anymore
Lay me on the table, put flowers in my mouth”

Runaway is another highlight, sounding like a song that could have come from any era from the 1950’s onwards. Lovely strings (and a rarity in alternative rock, trumpet) on this track.

Watch a live version of Anyone’s Ghost below.

Buy The National – High Violet (expanded edition) or regular CD on Amazon

Wild Beasts – Smother

Deeper (with its Blue Nile Tinseltown In The Rain sounding drums) and Loop the Loop were the tracks I played most from this 2011 album from Cumbrian band Wild Beasts.

There are echoes of the late, great Billy MacKenzie in the vocals at times, and a lovely warm production on this album that makes Smother a more rounded album than 2009’s Mercury Prize nominated Two Dancers.

Watch the band perform Lion’s Share from Smother on Later With Jools Holland

Buy Smother on Amazon

Niki & the Dove

Swedish electronic duo Niki & the Dove releasedthe 7 track  The Drummer EP in 2011. Sounding at times like Stevie Nicks backed by Prince, I wonder if the duo’s name is some sort of Prince homage (Darling Nikki / When Doves Cry?).

Mother Protect starts off like a Siouxsie & the Banshees track from Ju Ju before turning into a wonderful electronic anthem, with a monumental key-change rounding off the song. Pop music is alive and well in Sweden, it seems.

Listen to Mother Protect from the Niki & the Dove Soundcloud site

Watch the video for The Drummer

Buy The Drummer EP on Amazon

Yes – Fly From Here

My favourite Yes album is Drama from 1980, when Trevor Horn & Geoff Downes of The Buggles were in the band (the Yeggles lineup), so its no surprise that I enjoyed Fly From Here, which has Geoff Downes back in the band, and Trevor Horn back behind the mixing desk.

New vocalist Benoît David sits comfortably in the mix, and the album is built round a track that was written by Downes / Horn prior to joining the band in 1980. The Buggles connection continues with Life on a Film Set, which is based on Riding a Tide from The Buggles second, and final album, Adventures in Modern Recording.

Watch the Fly From Here video below

Buy Yes – Fly From Here on Amazon

Pink Floyd remasters

Some of my favourite Floyd albums were re-released this year, in remastered form, with Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall sounding better than ever.

Granted they sounded pretty good in the beginning, but the 2011 re-masters avoid the common trick of brickwall mastering, when there is no space for the music to breathe or hit peaks and lows, and the end result is a terribly clipped mix.

Watch the Pink Floyd remasters TV advert below (full 2 minute ad)

Buy Dark Side of the Moon double CD
Buy Wish You Were Here double CD
Buy Animals CD
Buy The Wall double CD or pre-order the 3 CD box-set

And some albums I reviewed earlier this year…

White Willow – Terminal Twlight

Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow

Thomas Dolby – A Map Of The Floating City

Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning

Memories of Machines – Warm Winter

Slow Electric – Slow Electric

Releases I’m looking forward to in 2011

    • A new album from Lone Wolf (the follow-up to 2010’s The Devil & I)
    • a duets album from David Sylvian and Joan as Policewoman
    • InGladAloneness the final release from Dalis Car (the late Mick Karn & vocalist Peter Murphy from Bauhaus)
    • Hugh Cornwell‘s Totem & Taboo – which is being produced by Steve Albini in Chicago.  Live version (audience recording) of In the Dead of Night from the album below

Film

The majority of films I’ve wanted to see this year – such as Melancholia, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, I didn’t get round to seeing at the cinema, so I’m looking forward to their release on DVD / Blu-ray in early 2012. Hopefully I’ll review them soon.

Watch The Tree of Life trailer below.

TV

Boardwalk Empire

The quality of the writing, directing and the sets did not let-up for the second season. But in the final episode of the series, they killed off my favourite character.  I won’t give away the identity, but it was a shocker. Oh Nucky, how could you?

Buy Boardwalk Empire Season 1 on DVD or Blu-ray

Watch the Season 2 trailer

The Fades

The Fades is a British supernatural drama, about a teenager who can see spirits of the dead (the Fades). Some of the dead have not managed to make their way to heaven and so remain on earth, and become vengeful towards humans.

The battle between those who can see the dead (Angelics) and the Fades plays out over six episodes, and although the the special effects were not Hollywood quality, it really does not matter as the story was so well written. I’m hoping it pulled in enough viewers to warrant a second series, and a larger audience.

Watch The Fades trailer below

Buy The Fades DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon

Outcasts

Another BBC series was a personal highlight of 2011. Outcasts, a sci-fi drama set in the year 2060, has all the hallmarks of a future television cult classic.

The series is set around survivors from a dying Earth colonizing the planet Carpathia, and the developing conflict between the humans and the Advanced Cultivars (ACs) a group of artificially created humans. Good scripts, strong acting and powerful cinematography (Outcasts was filmed in an alien looking South African landscape), was not enough, and the series finished on a cliff-hanger ending, with no second series.

Watch the Outcasts trailer

Buy Outcasts on DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon





2010 Review

30 12 2010

Blimey, it’s that time of year already.  2010 flew by….

Here are my thoughts on my favourite music , film and TV from 2010.

Music

Francis and the Lights

My most played artist of 2010 (last.fm stats are so useful!) was Francis and the Lights.  I first came across the band, who are led by the enigmatic, and wonderfully named, Francis Farewell Starlite, in the Summer of 2010.

It was one of those chance discoveries, where I saw the name mentioned in a magazine, headed over to Youtube and saw (and fell in love with) the video for Darling, It’s Alright.

Francis and the Lights first full length album, It’ll Be Better was not out in the UK at the time, so I ordered a copy from the States.

The album highlight is the closing track, Get In The Car.

“You gotta be careful
These guys will eat you alive
You gotta believe me
You’re gonna want me by your side”

I don’t want to spoil the story, but it’s certainly no love song.

Sounding, vocally, like a cross between Randy Edelman and Peter Gabriel, and musically (at times) like early 80’s Prince, It’ll Be Better flows well as apparently the songs were recorded using the same instruments throughout, to give a feeling of cohesiveness.  So scattered amongst the 80’s synth sounds, are barely processed guitars and piano and a symmetry that makes sure the songs hit you immediately.

Tap the Phone is one of the more modern sounding songs on the album, and one of those rare songs that doesn’t waste a single note.

“I should tap the phone, take a taxi home
Write a song for the radio, then I could hear you
When you’re on the phone
And you could hear me on the radio”

For Days has programmed drums that sound as if they were lifted from Prince’s Parade album, but with a buzzsaw synth line, a supremely funky guitar and haunting piano.  Pure pop magic.

“If there was just an air strike or a natural disaster, You coulda been mine.”

Also recommended, from the A Modern Promise EP (2008), is the song Night Watchman – a lovely pop song about voyeurism.

Buy It’ll Be Better from Amazon UK

Buy A Modern Promise from Amazon UK

Everything Everything

Another new band, this time from the UK.  Their Man Alive album was released in late August, and follows a string of single releases dating back to 2008.  The songs are varied, with lovely layered harmony vocals, inventive guitar and nods to bands such as Talking Heads, Yes, XTC and even The Associates.

With many time signature changes (often within the same song) and quirky vocal tics, there is plenty to keep you listening throughout the 50 minutes of this charming album.

The production duties were handled by David Kosten (Bat for Lashes / Joseph Arthur and sometime no-man collaborator), and I hope he stays on board for the next album, as he added so much to the mix.

“If all the boys say you did it, and all the girls say you did it,
and if all the boys say you did it, and all the girls say you did it
Then man, you’re as guilty as the ones that came before, you sleepwalked over here, the drawbridge creaks ignored.”
Leave The Engine Room lyrics

If you don’t jump out of your chair and dance round the room like a dervish during Photoshop Handsome, you are already dead.

“Airbrush! What have you done with my landscape?
Flooding the fields with this clone shape?
Where is the country you died for?
And what is the century?
And Ah-Ah-Ah! Who did your Photoshop handsome?
You ready for reincarnation?
Gotta come back as something less frantic
You gotta banish that army of panic
Gotta come back as something organic.”

Schoolin’ has become my favourite from the album over time, mainly because of the middle 8 that sounds like it’s fallen straight off no-man’s Lighthouse.

Buy Everything Everything from Amazon UK.

Gavin Castleton

Portland, Oregon’s Gavin Castleton is a singer/songwriter I came across late in 2009, via someone’s end of year list on Facebook.  See, sometimes these lists are worthwhile!  Gavin’s music varies between progressive jazz-tinged pop, through to electronica and even rap, with traditional song arrangements and looping experiments.

My first purchase was the wonderful album called Home.  An album about a relationship breakdown, with the added complication of a zombie attack.  Yep, you read that correctly. It’s an intriguing idea, and surprisingly it works.

Home is a schizophrenic album, with twists and turns, and many genre changes, but like a good film, stick with it, and after repeated listening’s, its beauty will surely charm you.

“I might’ve survived if it weren’t for her eyes
that were eating mine up
She wanted a job so I brought her the forms
with my eyes held shut”
Coffeelocks from Home

Gavin is incredibly prolific, and hugely independent (through circumstances, not necessarily choice), and 2010 brought another new album, Won Over Frequency, which was released without record company backing late in 2010.

Stand out tracks include the slow-burning Why Is It So Hard? and the country-tinged I Only Haunt.

“I don’t love, I only haunt”.

My favourite Gavin Castleton album is For the Love of Pete, which was released in 2007.  It’s the most traditional (for the want of a better word) album from Gavin.

The beatbox driven Good Manbaby, and deep bass powered Tiny Triggers are current favourites.

Gavin does not have the support of a record label, so every purchase of his music is poured back into his next project, so have a listen to his music from the links below, but please don’t download his music for free, if you like it, buy it.

Listen to Gavin’s music on Soundcloud or via his official website.

Stream The Human Torch from the album Home

Buy Gavin Castleton music on cdbaby or iTunes

View Gavin Castleton videos, including the looping cover of Sledgehammer and the wonderful cover of Eyes in the back of my Head.

Lone Wolf

The Devil and I is the debut release from Lone Wolf aka Paul Marshall.  Leeds musician Paul Marshall released an album called Vultures in 2007, but his first release under the Lone Wolf moniker is a very different beast.  Losing the folk influences, and drawing from a wider instrumental palette, the Devil and I is as lyrically rich as it is musically.

I was drawn into the album by the single Keep Your Eyes On The Road, and its Sledgehammer inspired video.

Opener This Is War is the story of a nightmare relationship.

“I used my chemistry skills to bake her every pill she could swallow.
She prayed to god and she called me a sinner, science isn’t the way to win her.
She gave me every disease under the sun before she ran for another town.
My body reacts to her.
How bodies react to her.”

We Could Use Your Blood is my favourite song on the album, with a wonderful use of haunting trumpet and bells to lift the final chorus.

“I’m tired of the mutes in my life.
And I’m tired of this glass body.
It’s only transparent from the outside.
And my bee-stung lips have sank a fair few ships,
While they continue to flap like hummingbird’s wings deep into the night. “

15 Letters is a murder ballad, sung from the perspective of the deceased.

“My name will remain an unclimbable mountain in life.”

A wonderful album, and one that seeps into your soul after repeated listenings.  Here’s hoping for more from Lone Wolf in 2010.

Buy The Devil and I from Amazon UK
LoneWolf blog

John Grant

Queen of Denmark was a must buy for me, because of the Midlake connection (the band back Grant on the album).  Sounding very much like an album from the mid-70’s, with lush backing vocals and not sounding out-of-place in the company of Bread or Fleetwood Mac, Queen of Denmark reveals more when you dig deeper.  Silver Platter Club even sounds like Carole Bayer Sager meets Gilbert O’Sullivan, but in a good way, I kid you not!

John Grant was the singer in the US band The Czars, and this debut solo release apparently comes from the viewpoint of a gay man struggling for survival in a small town in America, and some of the songs touch on Grant’s struggles with addiction (pretty graphically, on the album’s title track, very uneasy listening).

Marz is a shopping list of all the treats available in a long-gone sweet store from Grant’s childhood.  Another standout track on the album is TC and Honeybear, an affectionate tale of a former love.

“For Tc and his Honeybear, the world will not stop moving
For rendezvous and longing stares and hearts that won’t stop burning”

There is humour, nostalgia and warmth displayed throughout the songs, held together by Grant’s effortless, rich baritone vocals.

My favourite song is actually one of the tracks from the limited edition bonus version, the simple piano, strings and vocals arrangement of Fireflies really highlights the beauty and sorrow in the song.

“I can smell the flowers,
they died long ago.
How I long for you.”

Buy The Queen of Denmark on Amazon UK
John Grant Myspace site

Arcade Fire

The Suburbs is summed up perfectly by its cover artwork, hinting at a time and a world long since disappeared.

Probably their most cohesive album, and one that should really be listened to as one complete piece.  The Suburbs is another of this year’s albums that references a bygone era, in this case taking cues from late 70’s Springsteen, the lean new wave pop of The Cars and The Psychedelic Furs.

Rococo is a ClockWork Orange-esque take on Mall-life, whereas Sprawl I (Flatland) is a slow-burning anthem, managing to be both menacing and nostalgic at the same time.

“Took a drive into the sprawl
To find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me but I’m still far away”

Buy The Suburbs on Amazon UK

Bruce Springsteen

2010 was the year I rediscovered Bruce Springsteen. My favourite Bruce albums were always The RiverThe Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and especially Darkness on the Edge of Town.  I went along to the UK premiere of the film The Promise In November, which was attended by the Boss himself.  The documentary looks at the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and some of the songs that failed to make the final cut.  It was a fascinating look at this landmark album, and I treated myself to the box-set that contained a DVD of the documntary, a remastered version of Darkness on the Edge of Town and a double disc of The Promise, songs from the Darkness sessions.

Darkness on the Edge of Town sounds amazing in this remastered version, it’s like hearing a new album.  I’m still blown away by Candy’s Room, Badlands, Racing in the Street and Prove it all Night.  I find it hard to believe that I first heard these songs 32 years ago.

The Promise is not an album of fillers or countless versions of the same songs, virtually all these tracks could, and perhaps should, have been released back in the late 70’s.  Some of the songs were hits – Because the Night for Patti Smith, and Fire for The Pointer Sisters. The versions by the original writer do not disappoint. Save my Love has that signature E-Street band piano sound, and The Promise should have been on Darkness on the Edge of Town, it could easily have closed the album.

Buy The Promise on Amazon UK
Buy The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3CD+3DVD) on Amazon UK
Buy The Promise: Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (3CD/3Blu-ray) on Amazon UK

Film

Into The Wild

Ok, not a new film, but one I’ve just seen.  Directed by Sean Penn, and starring Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless who leaves a life of comfort and safety to find a different way of life in the wild, open spaces of the US.

It’s an often bleak story, but lit up along the way with the now renamed Alexander Supertramp and his interaction with those he comes across as he heads to his destination, Alaska.  So sad, but so moving.

Buy Into The Wild on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

Let the Right One In

As above, one bought on blu-ray this year, and a horror classic. In my eyes, the film deserves to be talked of in the same way that The Shining, Omen or The Exorcist are described as genre-defining movies.

Forget the obvious gore and dumbed down modern horror that films such as Saw serve up. Let the Right One In is restrained in what it shows you, but the darkness is in the way in which this story was filmed. It looks absolutely stunning, and the effects are simple yet effective.

The film was remade in 2010 as Let Me In, but I’m sticking with the cold beauty of the original Swedish version.

Buy Let The Right One In on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

Television

Any Human Heart

A four-part Channel 4 adaptation of the book by William Boyd.  Telling the story of Logan Mountstuart from pre-Second World War up to the early 90’s, and his life, his loves, and his painful losses that haunt him to the end.

Memories are triggered by long-forgotten pictures, letters, notes and drawings. A powerful and moving adaptation, and easily my favourite TV event of the year.

Buy Any Human Heart on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

The Pacific

From the same team that put together Band of Brothers a few years ago, whilst not as satisfying (the character building throughout the series is not as strong as Band of Brothers) but offering a much more accurate portrayal of the devastation and sheer brutality of war.

Buy The Pacific on DVD or blu-ray on Amazon UK

Buy Band of Brothers on DVD or blu-ray

Buy The Pacific / Band of Brothers DVD gift-set









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