Friday, 30 December 2011

A Year in Music - Best of 2011

I don't think it has been a classic year but at least with all these have been released in 2011 so I guess for once the title isn't too far off. So here are my best what are yours?

Just missing out - John Foxx with a gloriously 80s sounding comeback lp, the wonderfully named Brad Pitt Orchestra, Elbow rising to the challenge of probably the first lp that was expected to sell and Shirley Lee's (of Spearmint) wildly ambitious Spring Summer Autumn Winter.

10 - Ed Sheeran +

yes I know he is everywhere and all that , I sleep on coaches , I've toured for ages , I've written millions of songs has got a bit tiresome, but ignore the hype that is a low key lp full of warmth, clever lyrics and subtle tunes

9 - Diamond Mine - King Creosote and Jon Hopkins

A concept lp of sorts about life in a Scottish fishing village, songs by the marmite vocals of King Creosote and field work from Jon Hopkins creates a lp of mood to get lost in. Only complaint is that it is too short and sweet

8 - Into the Murky Water - The Leisure Society

A step away from the folk towards the pop and arrangements that would fit nicely on a Prefab Sprout lp - an lp that gets better with each listen

7 - 50 Words for Snow - Kate Bush

2 lps in a year (even if one is reworkings) blimey Kate is getting prolific! In isolation the songs are okay but put hem together and the whole lp is a triumph of emotion and mood. Mainly built around voice and piano some of the guest appearances can jar but that is a minor quibble

6 - Last Night on Earth - Noah and the Whale

Insanely catchy , the spirit of 80s FM music crossed with a bit of Lou Reed Transformer and only an echo of they nu folk past.  Each track could be a single.

5 - Under the Dark Cloth - Duke Spirit

Not everyone's cup of tea, the Duke ploughs his own furrow . Here are orchestral songs inspired by photographs in the New York Metropolitan Museum. "I love you yes I do" this aint

4 - Helping Hands - Butcher Boy

Richer in sound , more inventive in structure , each lp they make gets better and better

3 - Coldest Winter for 100 Years - Wild Swans

Return of 80s could have been contenders with a real state of nation address . By far the best thing they've done and probably surprise of the year for me

2 - A Different Kind of Fix - The Bombay Bicycle Club

A move away form their acoustic lp of last year Flaws, there a great influx of styles and imagination whilst sticking to the guitar Bass drums  indie feel. I think they are going to be around for a long time yet

1 - Boots Met My Face - Admiral Fallow

Elbow meets Mumford and Sons meets Deacon Blue - should be an unholy mess but somehow works - played it to death when it first came out

So that is it for 2011 - let me know what I've missed

You can find a compilation of the above here - it is only going to be up for a couple of weeks.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A Year in Film - Best of 2011

This is an even more misleading title than the best of books as I now only really ever see films on dvd or Sky so it is a mix of 2010/11 ie my favourite films I've seen this year. i warn you now as i get older I seem to be getting more populist in my film taste (I blame too many art house films in my 20s). So if you are a fan of Terence Malik then I'd probably look away now!

Here are mine so what are yours?

10 - Somewhere

yes I know nothing happens and who wants to know about the tribulations of privileged films stars, but it is strangely hypnotic

9 - Bridesmaids

Despite the fact i spent the first 20 mins thinking one of the characters was Ricky Gervais in drag, I wasn't too distracted not to spend alot of the time laughing out loud. It is crude and coarse but it has a heart

8 - This Town

Ben Aflecks second feature as director and  he balances some power house performances with the subtlest of touches

7 - The Secret in Their Eyes

Probably has lots of analogies with Argentina's political history, but i enjoyed it as a straight murder mystery / love story. See it now before the usual awful remake

6 - True Grit

Good enough to finally be able to forgive them for having to sit through the Lady killers

5 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Told you I was populist. Amongst the noise and the bangs it is worth it for Alan Rickman's performance as Snape alone

4 - The King's Speech

Populist and predictable. 3 actors at the top of their game

3 - Winter's Bone

Has the US ever seemed such a foreign country as the Us in this film. The central performance is outstandingly good

2 - Animal Kingdom

Plays out like an Australian Scorsese

1 - Social Network

Somehow made geeks , computers and rich kids compelling viewing

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Year in Books - Best of 2011

Okay maybe not a best of 2011 more a favourites of what I've read in 2011 but that doesn't have a snappy title.

10 - Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar by D J Connell

Muriel's Wedding meets Strictly Ballroom where it all comes good at a hairdressing competition. Genuine smirk out loud moments

9 - Stone's Fall by Iain Pears

A puzzle box of a novel that combines high finance, murder , espionage and love.

8 - Palo Alto by James Franco

Short stories of dead soul youth in minimalistic style that recalls early Brett Easton Ellis from annoyingly multi talented actor

7 - Forgetting Zoe by Ray Robinson

Harrowing tale of the capture and imprisonment of a young girl but a tale told of the capacity to survive with heart and sense of hope  ... and much better than The Room

6 - Imperial Bedrooms - Bret Easton Ellis

Revisiting the characters of Less Than Zero, with the characters older put playing out the same parts with a whole new set of insecurities. - mixes the banal , with the horror and sharp shocks of emotion

5 - Boxer Beetle - Ned Beauman

Debut novel packed with more ideas than a lot of authors manage in their whole career. Unlike anything else you are likely to read in  long time

4 - Beatles - Lars Saabye Christensen

Coming of age novel following 4 friends who bond over music with each chapter loosely themed around one of the fab 4s song titles

3 -  Something to Tell You - Hanif Kureishi

Another Kureishi book and another mid life crisis, but this time told with real warmth and humour as well as a cast of supporting characters that you can really care for

2 - Last Night in Twisted River - John Irving

Not his best but better than most. It is as ever epic in scope but personal in its core relationships, funny , tragic and wise ... oh and reassuringly a kind of bear and a farting dog feature

1 - A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

Short stories disguised as a novel. Forget the last clunky chapter, this is joy with at its heart the power of both music and love

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Happy Christmas

Here's wishing you a fantastic christmas and hoping you have a wonderful time with people you love

Christmas in the City - Alien Envoy

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar

For once a novel that has made me laugh out loud as the jacket quotes promise!

DJ Connell's debut novel takes the cliched view of the macho Austrlain and turns it on its head
Julian is growing up in Tasmania where to be a boy means bbqs and ball games. What it certainly doesn't mean is wanting a doll for your birthday and a career in hairdressing.

Whilst Julan's dad is desperate  to practise fast bowling at his son, Julian is more interested in forming an after school club where boys hang around naked.
Julian grows up convinced that he has star quality and "small screenability". His father can't understand why he isnt more like his daughter , "The Locomotive whose fast bowling arm is also the one she punches with.

As Julian pinballs between school and a series of dead end jobs , he plans for stardom. As each plan goes belly up the lies he tells become even more outrageous.

With his parents splitting up , job failure after job failure and an ever increasing waistline it looks like his shot at fame is doomed before it begins. However like all feel good stories, it all comes down to the nail biting climax , in this case the Tasmanian hairdressing competition.

DJ Connell, in Julian has created a fresh and unique voice and then surrounded him with a variety of characters equally as colourful.  Amid all the bright colours and comedy there are also moments or real pathos

The nearest I can think to describe it is imagine the world of Strictly Ballroom mixed with Muriel's Wedding in a book and I don't think you'd be far out

You can buy Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar here

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Strange Covers - Ahk-toong Bay-bi

I've got a bit of a strange relationship with U2 that swings between thinking they are fantastic (Zooropa , Achtung Baby , Unforgettable Fire) to them having me reach for the off button (Rattle and Hum, Pop, all that flag waving of the first 3 lps) to what is more worrying indifference (The last 2 lps have completely passed me by  - not sure I could even name a track from either of them)

However recently the anniversary of the release of for me their high water mark in creativity has signalled a rush of activity. Big collectors box sets , a BBC 4 documentary (strangely completely devoid of the sense of fun and mischief that seeped into the lp and tour it was celebrating), Glastonbury ,etc.

Q magazine have marked the occasion by giving away a version of the lp made up of cover versions. Some are straightforward (The Fray try to out U2 U2, some are a misfires (I don't really get Glasvegas and there version of Acrobat does nothing to change that) and some that take the song to a different place. (Patti Smith , the Killers are interesting versions and One gets the Damien Rice treatment)

The most effective is by Basildon's best who were having their own rock and roll moment at the time having released the all conquering Violator

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

novelty part 2

A couple of weeks ago I posted my one novelty record. However this comes close to a second. It cae out on a limited release lp Skellington by Julian Cope (I can still remember buying it in Fopp on the Byres Road). It was ,along with another limited release Droolian which I also had, worth quite abit of money at the time.

As I hardly ever played the lps (Droolian I think I played once and immediately knew I'd never play it again) I eventually decided to sell them both... only for literally the next day the announcement came out that both would shortly get a wider cd release.

My own fault record buying is for listening to gold is for investing in

Anyway this is a heartfelt tribute to Robert Mitchum .... one hell of a guy!

The part in Ryan's Daughter when you lose your wife
I've never seen a more dignified man in my life

Scratch that, I've just looked on Amazon and it seems they are back up to silly prices!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas download from Black

Colin Vearncombe otherwise known as Black has released a free xmas download for all members of his mailing list. For the price of your email address you can download a copy of new track Best Man a gorgeous piano ballad

The link can be found here  - go on it is great early xmas present! Get in quick it is only available until Boxing Day

Monday, 19 December 2011

Misery Monday part 7/26 - Del Amitri

Although I prefer the pre long hair and side burns Del Amitri they have produced some killer sad songs when the turn down the Neil Young tendencies. Not the saddest one they've done , I think that would go to First Rule of Love or One Thing Left to Do but something in this song strikes a chord.

Maybe it is the image of the couple in the car driving through the night in silence , maybe it is the simple use of "hon", the wondering at what exactly "the thing we've done" is? My guess is they have both left partners and he has a nagging doubt..

When you're driving with the brakes on
When you're swimming with your boots on
It's hard to say you love someone and its hard to say you don't

Driving with The Brakes on - Del Amitri

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Strange Covers - Divine Comedy

If you really don't like the Divine Comedy or Duke Special or dont get much of a thrill from exploring youtube then fear not this is the last post in the mini series

Finally up is a cover of David Bowie's Life on Mars, played with Yann Tiersen who I don't know much about excpet that he plays very small pianos

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Strange Covers - Duke Special

Both Neil Hannon and Duke Special seem happy to have a go at the odd cover version.

Here is a stunning version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Power of Love

Friday, 16 December 2011

Duke Special v Neil Hannon - part 4

Final part and again dont let the tongue in cheek interview put you off , stick around for a great version of Abba's The Winner Takes it All.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Duke Special V Neil Hannon part 3

Part 3 sees Neil Hannon take the lead on his Songs of Love followed by Duke Special lead his Our Love Goes Deeper Than This

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Duke Special v Neil Hannon part 2

Part of the Neil Hannon and Duke Special duel sees a stunning version of Duke Special's No Cover Up performed by Neil Hannon and is the best thing on the programme. Duke Special returns the favour with a non too shabby version of Hannon's Mastermind.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Duke Special V Neil Hannon part 1

One writing yesterdays post I stumbled across a few other youtube gems that has created a week's mini theme. Neil Hannon and Duke Special have written together in the past but were brought together to be interviewd and perform on Irish television.

The mock we cant stand each other is a bit smug at times however the playing is magical. They take turns at the piano with playing or dueting on each others songs.

The programme is split into 4 parts so over the next 4 days I'll cover off the whole thing.

Part one sets the scene (don't get too disheartened by the cringeworthy opening , stick around until the songs start.)

Monday, 12 December 2011

music and pictures - Duke Special

AS I've mentioned before this year has been a bit thin for me as far as lps I really love is concerned. However at the end there has been a bit of a rush.

The new one by Duke Special is well its a bit special. Not one for the simple pop song anymore, the lp was a kind of commission.

I'll leave the sleeve notes to explain

After performing a small festival in new york in march 2010 I was asked by spectrum , an initiative of the museum to visit the following day. They wanted to consider a collaboration with the dept of photographs and an exhibition of the work of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand. The songs on this recording are the result of a year's living with the images, reading about the photographers and their subjects, their equipment and the times in which they lived and worked. They were first performed in March 2011 in New York at the Metropolitan museum of art.

The songs co written with Boo Hewerdine. Neil Hannon and poet Padraig O Tuama are lush orchestrated affairs which at their heart have some gorgeous tunes and story telling lyrics.

My only gripe with the lp is that lyric booklet doesn't sow the photos concerned but has one of those magic eye like things that you need to do something with you smart phone to access.

You can buy the lp from Duke Specials website here 

Better still you can see the original concert here

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Lazy Sunday- The Bluetones

Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile is a track from The Bluetones debut lp. It skips along nicely!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Novelty Time

Everyone should own at least one novelty record and here is mine. A totally over the top vocal performance by the late great Jon Pertwee (the first new romantic?) to the Dr Who theme.  I've had a strange desire to frilly dress shirts and a cape ever since.

Who needs flashy sets and CGI when you can have this..........

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Blood's A Rover - James Ellroy

James Ellroy is probably best known for the LA quartet of novels that included LA Confidential. By the end of that series of novels with their myriad of complex characters and labyrinth plots, Ellroys' writing had developed an almost free form jazz like quality, where short sharp statements and dialogue made no sense in isolation but meaning came from an almost improvisational flow.

The Blood's a Rover is the third novel in a trilogy that paints the LA Quartet's theme and style on a much wider canvas. Through 3 main characters Ellroy takes us to the diseased heart of a whole country. Fact and Fiction are merged and conspiracy is over layered on conspiracy to an extent that would have Oliver Stone blushing.

Bloods a Rover finishes a story started in American Tabloid that had the Bay of Pigs and JFKs assassination at it's core , and continued with the Cold Sixty Thousand that delved into Vietnam and the assassination of Martin Luther King.

The final book focuses on a struggle between Edgar Hoover, the Mafia and Howard Hughes for the dark soul of a county. Caught in the middle are  3 characters all of who have moral compasses that don't exactly point north. It is part of Ellroy's skill that despite doing some truly horrific things there remains a core sense of caring what happens to his characters and a sense of shock and sadness when the body count starts to rise

Ellroy has gradually toned down his more free form excesses with the story telling in this book almost linear.

What makes all 3 books work so well is how Ellroy manages to juggle endless characters that orbit around the central trio , a plot that has your head spinning with a pace that never lets up. It is an exhausting but extremely rewarding read  

Not quite the best in the series that goes to the Cold Sixty Thousand but a fitting end to a wildly ambitious trilogy in which Ellroy has created the polar opposite of the American Dream

You can buy book one American Tabloid here .. if you do stick wit it. The first few chapters may get you scratching your head but the rhythm of the writing soon gets you hooked.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

life of a song - The Waterboys

One of the Lps I've bought this year is In A Special Place by the Waterboys. This is basically a load of piano backed demos that went on to form the basis of the This is the Sea lp.

It got me thinking about the life of a song and how its personality must grow and change as it moves through various versions until it is taken on by others and covered.

Even with the original artist the song will continue to evolve. I've seen the waterboys live a few times and songs get new arrangements , new lyrics seemingly with every tour. 

Luckily Mike Scott seems on a bit of a mission to release everything he has committed to tape, with a 2 cd set of This is The Sea as well as the Secret Life of the Waterboys all released prior to In a Special Place.

I've chosen This is the Sea to show 3 versions. The first is as appears on the lp (apparently edited down form about 20m verses!) , the second a faster alter ego and the third is the live version. All have there own personality

......and finally through the wonders of youtube a cover version that takes it to another place

If you are intrested in how the songs on This is the Sea were born then you can buy In a Special Place here

Monday, 5 December 2011

Misery Monday - Ricky Ross

Misery monday this week turns to remembrance. Ricky Ross's 5th solo lp (if you count the one released pre Deacon Blue) is the one I like best. This is partly due to the production of David Scott who brings some of the Pearlfisher's richness of sound but mainly due to the fact that the songwriting is consistently high

The song for this monday is dedicated to Deacon Blue guitarist Graeme Kelling who died form cancer before the lp was released . It's a great tribute and relates to the final times the 2 spent together.

I know you couldnt see
But I was there to watch you sleep
And I figured out Jesus was wanting you more

In the End - Ricky Ross

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Lazy Sunday - Stranglers

Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a single by the Stranglers. It a bit of a precursor to their more melodic approach , a kind of speeded up Golden Brown. I could never resist the "God Forbid" refrain

Duchess - The Stranglers

Saturday, 3 December 2011

2 for the price of 1

Trevor Jones, one half of Miracle Mile and now top blogger hissyfit has release two fantastic solo lps that I've written about before (Keepers and Hopeland)

Both lps have a number of spoken word tracks as well as more traditional songs. Trevor has pulled the best of the "song" tracks together onto one lp Ghost of Song , just in case the idea of the spoken word elements put people off taking the plunge. He honestly puts it that the 2 lps didn't sell that well and he doesn't want the songs to get lost.

If you want something warm and melodic for a winter's evening, then get hold of a copy , it is songwriting of the highest quality, the aural equivalent of a malt whisky.

Like all good lps that grow on you - its an lp for life not just for xmas! (I dont think I'll be asked to do the band's marketing anytime soon!)

Even better you can buy the lp for £10 and get any Miracle Mile lp for free -you can find the link and a bit more detail about the lp here

Friday, 2 December 2011

my indie past - What next for the Bodines?

One of my favourite bands from the C86 era were the Bodines who I've written about here.

Once they were picked up and then unceremoniously dropped by a major label after their debut lp they seemed to reappear and then disappear a couple more times for one off singles and then nothing.

The lead singer appeared a couple of years after the final single in Medalark Eleven. They released one lp which moved towards a more groove based sound that formed the basis of what a lot of indie bands were doing at the time.

It did however contain this gorgeous bit of pop that echoed the Bodines at their best

I Call Your Name - Medalark Eleven

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - The Secret Speech

Tom Rob Smith's debut Child 44 garnered lots of critical praise for the author and managed that trick of appealing to both the literary (it made the Booker long list as that year's usual token nod to crime fiction) and the mass market thriller fans. It centred on the search for a serial killer of children in Stalin's Russia where there is no such thing as murder. Leo Demidoc ,KGB officer, was therefore stuck investigating crimes that, in terms of the party, officially didn't exist. Reviews likened it to Gorky Park.

The book however was much more than an edge of your seat thriller (although it was also a really good edge of your seat thriller) with themes of betrayal and loyalty combined with a knowledge and detail in the writing that painted a convincing social history of the USSR at this time.

The follow up picks up with Leo and his family again after the death of Stalin and the consequences of Khrushchev's recognition of the state's crimes and pledges of reform (the secret speech of the title).

The plot revolves around Leo and his family being targeted as a result of a betrayal Leo had carried out when acting undercover 7years earlier. The action shifts from Moscow to the Siberian prison camps before finally ending up in Hungary to witness the crushing of rebellion.

Reading other reviews this sequel seems to divide opinion. For some it maintains Child 44's thrill of climax after climax bringing to life a lost and hidden time. For others the plot stumbles from one messy scene to another until it ends up in the realms of hollywood fantasy.

For me the book lies somewhere in the middle. The set pieces are thrilling and the whole book moves along, as did Child 44, at a break neck pace. However unlike Child 44, increasingly as the book progresses a sense of reality goes out of the window and I found myself thinking "hang on a minute". The nuances of the first book have been replaced with a bit more of wham bam approach (can see the film adaptation already in my head)

Overall a bit of a disappointment but still enough there to make me want to know what happens in the final part of the trilogy and hope the heights of Child 44 are reached again

you can buy the Secret Speech here (although I'd go for Child 44 every time)