Big Big Train – Folklore

10 06 2016

Big Big Train - FolkloreFolklore is the ninth album from the English progressive band Big Big Train. I first heard the band quite late in their development, around the time of album number 6, The Underfall Yard, but I really started to take notice with the two English Electric albums from 2012 and 2013.

One of the most interesting aspects of Big Big Train for me is the lyrics. They are often incredibly nostalgic, and tell unique stories – of times long gone and landscapes no longer seen. Drawing on art, literature, landscapes and history,  Big Big Train deliver stories of master forgers, mining communities, shipbuilders and curators of butterflies, with music that matches the imagination and variety of the words.

So onto Folklore, the new Big Big Train album. I’ve been living with the album for nearly two weeks now, and its already one of my favourite albums of the year. Make no mistake, this is a classic album, from beginning to end.

Opening with the title track, strings and brass (real, not synthesizer) usher in one of the albums most powerful tracks. Driven by a mesmerising drum groove and shaft-like guitar line, its a real statement of intent. The breakdown towards the end of Folklore is so moving, real hairs on the back of the neck stuff.

“Sometimes truth hides behind the lines,
grist to the mill, fuel to our fire.”

London Plane is a gentler piece, with wonderful layered harmonies, and a long, very proggy instrumental section.  Reviews of Big Big Train often mention the band’s Englishness. I’m not going to get into a Brexit / stay or leave referendum argument in this review, don’t worry, but certain bands really evoke where they are from, or where they draw their influences. You can hear New Jersey in early Springsteen as much as Big Big Train have the English countryside and Northern cities dripping from every organ solo or acoustic flourish.

Along The Ridgeway has some great guitar from former XTC mainstay Dave Gregory, and a key feature on this album, some fine brass arrangements. The track seques into Salisbury Giant, an organ and violin driven piece that builds on the melodies from the previous track.

The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun is my favourite track on the album. Opening with a brass arrangement that owes as much to Peter Skellern as it does to Genesis or Peter Gabriel, the song takes many twists and turns on its journey. Vocalist David Longdon delivers his best performance on this track and the mid-section chanting that gives way to delicious harmonies has to be heard to be believed. Its a stunning track.

“Here be dragons taking flight..”

Wassail reminds me of mid-80s Peter Gabriel, and is the most immediate of the songs of the album, with a blazing hammond solo halfway through the song.

Songwriting duties on Folklore are split between vocalist David Longdon and founding member, bassist Greg Spawton, yet there is a real feel of consistency throughout the album.

The subject matter for Winkie is based on a true story – read more in this BBC news piece. This is the most progressive track on the album, with some Chris Squire like bass from Greg Spawton.

Brooklands is the album’s longest track, with lyrics from the point of view of a racing driver reminiscing about racing at the long closed Brooklands racing track in Surrey. As much a song about the passage of time as it is about a specific racing driver, the music compliments the lyrics well, giving a real feel of speed and movement.

“Just give me one more run…”

The album closes with the pastoral Telling The Bees. The song has a real early 70s vibe to it – on first listen I almost expected Rod Stewart to start singing! If you don’t find yourself swaying and nodding your head to this song, you need to check your pulse.

Telling The Bees is the perfect ending to a wonderful album that I can’t recommend enough.

Buy Folklore from Amazon

Buy Folklore vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy English Electric Full Power from Amazon





The Opium Cartel – Ardor

6 11 2013

"Ardor" by The Opium CartelArdor is the second album from The Opium Cartel, an outlet for the more pop orientated music of songwriter/producer Jacob Holm-Lupo from Norway’s art-rock band White Willow.

Ardor is inspired by the 80s pop of The Blue Nile, Thomas Dolby, Japan, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, as well as drawing on more modern electronic music by the likes of M83 and Air.

Fans of 80s music will also recognise the warm synth sounds of the Prophet 5, Fairlight, Oberheim OB8, and the PPG Wave, that are scattered throughout the album’s 9 tracks.

Album opener Kissing Moon features Venke Knutson and Rhys Marsh on vocals, and features some wonderful, frenetic percussion and the first appearance of those lovely warm synths!

When We Dream (stream the remixed single version below) has shades of Icehouse and a-ha in the vocal performance from Norwegian singer Alexander Stenerud. The most commercial track on the album, with a very anthemic chorus, and an addictive guitar riff. When We Dream bleed’s pure unadulterated nostalgia.

Silence Instead is an early album highlight, co-written by and featuring  vocals from no-man’s Tim Bowness. A slow-burning song, with some delicious guitar work, and a synth sound that reminds me of my favourite Thomas Dolby track, Screen Kiss. Tim is a regular collaborator of  Jacob’s, featuring on the debut album by The Opium Cartel as well as White Willow’s progressive masterpiece, Terminal Twilight.

“The snowdrifts are real but the mountains are fake”

If you miss a-ha (who split in 2011), you will love Northern Rains, which sounds like a long-lost 1980s ballad from Morten Harket & co, underpinned by the Peter Gabriel rhythm section from 1980.

Sorry about all the 80s references in this review, but it’s fun playing spot the influence, and it helps that the 80s homage in the music is not ironic or cheesey, but playful and pays respect to the creativity and exploration of a much maligned decade.

Watch the Ardor album trailer

Revenant features the only vocals on the album from Jacob Holm-Lupo, and is one of the albums more progressive tracks. I don’t know if it is inspired by the recent French TV series “The Returned / Les Revenants” but there are certainly some nods to the excellent Mogwai soundtrack in the instrumentation.

White Wolf was the first song written for the album, and heralds a change in the album’s direction from this point in, with each track getting steadily more progressive. The middle section is very moving, and veers off into Yes-inspired territory towards the end, with a Chris Squire-like strong, melodic bassline.

The Waiting Ground has the classic synths still present, and features a great performance from Henry Fool (and current no-man live band) keyboard player Stephen Bennett.

“If I run, where do I run to?”

Then Came the Last Days of May is Ardor‘s only non-original track, a haunting cover of a classic rock ballad from Blue Öyster Cult’s debut album from 1972. This is one for fans of Opeth’s Damnation album, and a perfect way to set-up the album finale.

Mariner, Come In is the epic that completes the album. A rare vocal outing for Henry Fool’s Stephen Bennett, this track is more in keeping with recent White Willow, and the latter section of the track is most definitely jazz-rock and proud of it! A wild saxophone solo from Harald Lassen on top of layered synths is reminiscent of parts of the recent Steven Wilson album, and after 11 minutes, the track and the album itself, slowly fades to a close.

Ardor is a very different beast to the first Opium Cartel album, and feels more consistent (even though it has a wider variety of vocalists). It should appeal to a wide audience – from the more mainstream fans of modern electronic / pop to lovers of modern progressive music. Oh, and fans of 80s music!

Buy Ardor on Amazon UK 

Buy Night Blooms  on Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight on Amazon UK





Slow Electric

29 10 2011

Slow ElectricSlow Electric is a new collaboration between Tim Bowness (no-man), Peter Chilvers (Bowness/ChilversBrian Eno) and the Estonian group UMA (Aleksei Saks and Robert Jürjendal).  The album features Tony Levin (King Crimson / Peter Gabriel) on two tracks.

This album came together when the four musicians played at a festival in Estonia in late 2010. The basis of this album comes from live recordings of the 2010 shows, with re-recorded vocals and added keyboards, plus the contributions from Tony Levin on Towards the Shore & Days Turn into Years.

Towards The Shore / Towards an Ending is a strong opener. Towards The Shore dates back to a previous Bowness band, Plenty and was written in 1986. The 2011 version is beatless and driven by stately piano, atmospheric trumpet and scratched, percussive guitar playing, over the reflective Bowness vocal:

“Too frightened of your feelings
Too frightened of the light
You stripped away the meanings
gave in without a fight… You never moved away”

Listen to the video edit of Towards The Shore below:



iPhone / iPad version

Criminal Caught In The Crime was originally written to be part of the follow-up to the Bowness/Chilvers California, Norfolk album.  One of the few tracks driven by any sort of percussion, the glitchy beats contrast the smooth electronics of the song, and the vocal is bookended by atypical Bowness backing vocals.

Days Turn Into Years was one of the standout tracks on the 2002 Bowness/Chilvers album California, Norfolk.  This version by Slow Electric is the definitive take on the song. The bedsit drama is given a much more elegant treatment that matches the sadness and decay of the lyrics.  At times, sounding like something from David Sylvian‘s Secrets of the Beehive before veering off into a more freeform structure, with vocal loops cascading over the beats, Days Turn Into Years is the highlight of the album for me, and a wonderful reinvention of one of my favourite songs of the past 10 years.

Slow Electric

Slow Electric Hum / Also Out Of Air moves from it’s ethereal instrumental opening into a This Mortal Coil referencing song, with rich, reverb heavy keys, and haunting, heavily treated trumpet.

Another Winter will be known to no-man fans as the first part of truenorth from their 2008 schoolyard ghosts album. It works well as part of this album, and features some lovely trumpet in the second part of the song that reminds me of the emotive playing of Jon Hassell on Sylvian’s Brilliant Trees.

Listen to Warm Winter below:



iPhone / iPad version

Between The Silent Worlds ends the album on a very ambient note.  No piano or beats on this track, just layers of textured guitar and looped trumpet. Evoking snow-covered landscapes, the aching atmospherics suit the reflective lyrics.

“Words become notes become words.”

As proof that the best music is not always instant, on first hearing the album several months ago, I thought this track was the weakest on the album. Several months later, and it has become one of the albums highlights, and is a perfect closer. One of those wonderful late-night soundtracks that when it hits you, hits you hard.

I hope this album from Slow Electric is not a one-off release, and I would like to hear an album of completely new songs written specifically for this project, as there are plenty of possible routes for the musicians to take.

This set of 21st century torch-songs is perfectly suited to soundtrack the change in seasons as the winter nights draw in, and should appeal to fans of David Sylvian, Robert Fripp, as well as those who are moved by the songs of Bowness/Chilvers & no-man.

Watch the Towards The Shore video below:

Video filmed, Edited and Directed by Dion Johnson

Towards The Shore / Towards An Ending (7.23)
Criminal Caught In The Crime (7.43)
Days Turn Into Years (9.35)
Slow Electric Hum / Also Out Of Air (5.24)
Another Winter (5.04)
Between The Silent Worlds (6.37)

Buy Slow Electric from The Burning Shed
Buy Slow Electric at Amazon UK
Buy Slow Electric at Amazon US

Slow Electric website





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






2009 Music Review

29 12 2009

Ok, its that time of year….  Here are some of my favourites from 2009.

Airbag


I’m not sure how I stumbled across this Norwegian band, but I’m glad I did.  A classic rock fans dream, blending the guitar style of David Gilmour / Pink Floyd with early Porcupine Tree, and throwing in a little a-ha for good measure!

According to the wonderful stats provided by Last.FM, Airbag’s debut album Identity has been my most played album in 2009.

Recommended track: No Escape

Airbag website

Buy the Identity mp3 album from Amazon
Buy the Identity CD album from The Burning Shed

Blue Roses

Already mentioned in more depth elsewhere in my blog, 2009 saw the release of a wonderful debut album from Laura Groves aka Blue Roses.  An act I’m hoping to see live again in 2010 (I saw a woefully short Blue Roses show live at an Apple Store event in London during the Summer).

First Frost Night from the recent Does Anyone Love Me Now? Digital EP shows a real progressive feel seeping into their music.

Look, I didn’t mention Kate Bush!

Recommended track: I Wish I…

Blue Roses website

Buy the Does Anyone Love Me Now? Digital EP from Amazon

Buy the Blue Roses album from Amazon

Shearwater

Released in 2008, but only noticed by me in 2009, so included here, the album Rook from Texan band Shearwater is a delicate collection of songs driven by rich strings and piano mixed with acoustic guitars and lots of references to birds (band member Jonathan Meiburg is a graduate student in ornithology).

Singer Meiburg definitely has a hint of Mark Hollis in his vocal style, so a band that fans of later period Talk Talk will probably appreciate.

Recommended track: Leviathan, Bound

Buy Rook at Amazon

Butch Walker

Again, a 2008 release, but one I stumbled across in 2009 thanks to the wonders of Youtube.  I was aware of Butch Walker’s previous band, Marvellous 3, due to the power-pop anthem from 1999, Freak of the Week (a fair-sized hit in the US that I heard when on holiday in Florida).

I found clips of Walker performing songs from his solo albums, often alone with just acoustic guitar or piano, sometimes with a full band, but always entertaining. What sold it for me was solo version of Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought Of You from 2008’s Sycamore Meadows album.

From reading reviews, Butch Walker is not critically acclaimed in his native USA, but when did that ever matter?  Yes, his songs are often very sentimental, but again, when did that ever matter?  I’ve quickly snapped up his entire back-catalogue (at least the ones that I’ve managed to get from the US, I’m a couple of EP’s and a live DVD short of a full collection), and there are some real gems to be found. Mixtape from 2004’s Letters album is a career highlight, and one of the best rock songs about unrequited love.

You gave me the best mixtape I have
Even all the bad songs ain’t so bad
I just wish there was so much more than that
About me and you

Walker is a very traditional performer, which, again, is not a criticism, and he seems aware of rock history whilst knowing how to knock out a great song, so expect nods to some of his idols in live performances.  Either solo or with a full band, Walker seems to put 150% into every live performance (he reminds me of a mid-period Springsteen in this regard).

One of my most played artists of 2009, and someone I hope to see live for the first time in 2010, if he heads over to the UK to tour his next album.

Recommended track:  ATL from Sycamore Meadows

Some become lovers because of the sex
And some, you know, they just become friends
In our case, we just became bad at it all
And never got good at it again

Buy Letters at Amazon

Buy Sycamore Meadows at Amazon

Butch Walker website

Miike Snow

The part Swedish, part US band Miike Snow have released one album to date, and a clutch of classic singles.  For the fact-fiends reading this blog, the Swedish contingent in the band were responsible for the Grammy winning Toxic by Britney Spears.

I was lucky to be able to see one of the bands first live performances when they played at the iTunes festival in the summer of 2009 at London’s Roundhouse.  The recent single Silvia was a highlight of the live show, and is also a centre-piece on the studio album.

Maybe I’m a little odd, but if a group like 10CC formed today, I think they would sound like Miike Snow.  Too much modern dance music has disposable lyrics, with songs that are little more than icing sprinkled on a beat, but Miike Snow songs would work just as well in an acoustic environment, as they are strong enough to survive without the studio trappings.

Recommended track:  Burial

At your own burial, don’t forget to cry
At your own burial
Looking at my 81st birthday, everyday this body goes to waste
Remembering how I would raise an army when we went back to your place

Buy Miike Snow at Amazon

Miike Snow website

Others on the Kinski radar in 2009

Marina and the Diamonds

One of my favourite songs in 2009 was the perfect pop of  I Am Not a Robot.

With a debut album, Family Jewels, on the horizon, one to watch in 2010.

Marina & the Diamonds website

Buy Marina & the Diamonds at Amazon

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James Grant


Former
Love & Money singer James Grant released the album Strange Flowers in 2009, unfortunately to little fanfare. It’s an amazing album, full of finely crafted songs, the highlight for me being the 9 minute plus bluesy My Father’s Coat.

In a stall in the marketsquare
I saw his old threadbare mohair
And I choked out the oath in my throat
Stood staring at my father’s coat

Buy Strange Flowers at Amazon

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Wild Beasts


Cumbrian band
Wild Beasts second album, Two Dancers, includes When I’m Sleepy… , which evokes the spirit of the late, great Billy Mackenzie.

Watch the Hooting & Howling video.

Buy Two Dancers at Amazon.

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Rickie Lee Jones

The latest Rickie Lee Jones album, Balm In Gilead, was released late in 2009. Opening track Wild Girl is a personal favourite, and has a lovely Steely Dan feel to the arrangement.

Wild girl in a red dress
Come on, speak up, say yes
This thing that makes you beautiful
Never comes out of a jar

Soundtrack King Jon Brion appears with Rickie on the track Bonfires.

Buy Balm In Gilead at Amazon.

McAlmont and Nyman

The Glare is the first (and hopefully not the last) collaboration between former Bernard Butler cohort David McAlmont and composer Michael Nyman.

Apparently a musical match made via Facebook (how 21st Century) the album is made up of Michael Nyman compositions turned into songs (and with lyrics added) by David McAlmont, all dealing with “The Glare” of being in the media spotlight.

So from Berlusconi, assisted suicide (the extremely moving Friendly Fire) to ‘drug mules’ In Laos, its a wonderful concept that sends you rushing over to Google to research the stories that inspired the non-judgemental lyrics.

I had a second, a single chance
To let the cameras see my face.
I hoped then I would make the news
And I prayed that you’d be tuned in

The Glare Dossier – The stories that inspired the songs.

Buy The Glare at Amazon.

Releases I’m looking forward to in 2010

Memories Of Machines – Warm Winter

The forthcoming collaboration between no-man’s Tim Bowness and Nosound’s Giancarlo Erra.  Highlights included the slow-burning At the Centre of it All and the perfect-pop of Before We Fall.  Memories of Machines website

Delphic – Acolyte

A band that I first came across as support to Bloc Party in 2009.

Sounding like a 21st Century New Order,  forthcoming single Doubt is the song that should give the Manchester band their first hit in 2010.

Delphic Myspace

Buy
Acolyte at Amazon.

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Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back

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The next Peter Gabriel album is released in February of 2010, and will consist of twelve cover versions of songs by artists such as David Bowie, Elbow, Bon Iver, Radiohead, Paul Simon, Talking Heads and The Magnetic Fields, recorded using just orchestra and voice.

Buy Scratch My Back at Amazon

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Hazel Mills

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The next EP from Bristol’s Hazel Mills should be released in 2010.

Butterfly, the first Hazel Mills EP, was released more than two years ago now, so new music is long overdue.

Hazel Mills website.

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Stars

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A new album from Canada’s Stars, titled The Five Ghosts is due in June 2010.

The last Stars release was the Sad Robot EP in late 2008.

Stars Myspace

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Favourite songs of 2009

Catherine A.D. Carry Your Heart

And as I fall from hope to here with your heart on my back
How did we get here? With your heart on my back…
And with your blood still on my tongue and words that can’t be undone
How do we get to carry our hearts?

Miike SnowBurial

Marina and the DiamondsI Am Not a Robot

James GrantMy Father’s Coat

The DecemberistsAnnan Water

GrammaticsInkjet Lakes

Blue Roses I Wish I…








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