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Albums of the Year: 2007

December 15th, 2009 No comments

This is the final part of the series of my favourite top ten albums of every year through the ’00s. And to celebrate it, I accidentally wrote 11 reviews. So these are a top 11 then. There is still a link up to my top 20 albums of 2008, which covers that year, and I’ll post a similar mix of my top 20 for 2009 once I have decided which they are. As before, I’m sad to leave out some fine albums from ’07, including efforts by Josh Ritter, Kate Walsh, Laura Gibson, Rilo Kiley, Jens Lekman, Maria Taylor, Rickie Lee Jones, Feist, Billie the Vision & the Dancers, A Fine Frenzy, The National, Brooke Fraser, Foo Fighters, Over The Rhine, Andrew Bird, Josh Rouse, Iron & Wine, Miranda Lambert, Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles, Common, Tim McGraw, The Shins, Abra Moore…

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Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

The Wilco cognoscenti are rather too ready to dismiss the unpretentious Sky Blue Sky, measuring it against the experimentations of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. This is an uncomplicated album, and does what its creators set out to do admirably. Here, Jeff Tweedy and chums eschew cacophonic innovations for a straight-forward, mellow rock album that channels the ’60s (Dylan, Grateful Dead, Abbey Road-era Beatles) and ’70s (Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Thin Lizzy) without losing its identity as a Wilco album. Sky Blue Sky is immediate and intimate. Nels Cline’s guitar work is an utter joy. The highlight here is Impossible Germany, with Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline duelling on a magnificent guitar solo, an integral part of the song’s lyrics, that borrows from Gary Moore (check out Thin Lizzy’s Sarah) and Carlos Santana.
Wilco – Either Way.mp3
Wilco – Impossible Germany.mp3

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Brandi Carlile – The Story

The name Brandi Carlile suggests a fake-breasted airhead straight outta the Playboy Mansion. As the reader may have guessed by dint of her inclusion on this list, that notion is way of the mark. Carlile is a hugely talented writer and singer of solid rock and country-rock songs. I liked her eponymous 2005 debut, which was rather more rootsy than this set. Here Carlile straddles genres, veering from rock (My Song) to folk-pop (Turpentine) to country (“Have You Ever”). Her distinctive voice can whisper softly and soar ferociously (hear the climactic Joplinesque roar on the title track). The lyrics booklet reveals that Carlile wrote some of the songs as a teenager in 2000 or earlier, hinting at a precocious talent.
Brandi Carlile – The Story.mp3

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Loney, Dear – Loney Noir

The bizzarely named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen) is something of a genius working in his Stockholm bedroom studio, in which he conducts an orchestra consisting of himself. Operating mostly under the cover of earphones so as not to wake the rest of the household, his songs tend to start softly before building up to a multi-layered, orgasmic crescendo. The melodies are pretty — even twee, in the way Belle & Sebastian are twee — and Svanängen’s high and slight voice is appealing enough, within the context of his music. But I have no idea whether the lyrics are any good; I’ve never really listened to them; I rather have the bedroom symphonies wash over me.
Loney, Dear – Saturday Waits.mp3
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Nicole Atkins – Neptune City

Neptune City came out at a time when Amy Winehouse, another artists borrowing from pop’s rich legacy, was absolutely everywhere. I prefer Atkins’ eclectic references over Winehouse’s mannered soul pastiche. Neptune City is, in places, like Petula Clark covering Blondie through an ABBA filter — glorious pop. On other tracks, Atkins does torchsong soul (“The Way It Is”), or goes into ’80s throwback mode, sounding like the B-52s as sung by Sandie Shaw on Broadway (“Love Surreal” or the rousing “Brooklyn On Fire”, which featured here). Elsewhere there are hints of Phil Spector’s production and Edith Piaf and Joni Mitchell. It should be a total retro mess, but it isn’t. It sounds entirely modern. Neptune City may not be an entirely cohesive album, but it is rather fabulous.
Nicole Atkins – Love Surreal.mp3

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Holmes Brothers – State Of Grace

Some time ago I posted the Holmes’ Brothers gospel-blues style cover of Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me (HERE) from this album. That track was my introduction to the Holmes Brothers, who had released nine albums before this one, starting in 1991 — more than three decades after the two Holmes brothers, Sherman and Wendell, started in the music business. The third member, drummer Popsy Dixon, hooked up with them in the mid-’60s. But they did not become the Holmes Brothers until 1979, having spent the interim as a covers bar-band. Covering blues, soul, gospel, country and even a spot of bluegrass, State Of Grace is warm and often surprising, especially in the Virginian group’s interpretation of other people’s songs, which include tracks by Lyle Lovett (twice), Credence Clearwater Revival, Nick Lowe, Hank Williams Sr and Johnny Mathis. Guesting here with the three brothers are Joan Osborne (who championed the Holmes Brothers in the 1990s), The Band’s Levon Helms and Rosanne Cash. Featured here is the Hank Williams song, featuring Cash.
The Holmes Brothers (with Rosanne Cash) – I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.mp3

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

I can’t claim to be much of an Animal Collective fan. I’m sure I would be if I had the patience to get into them. I was not going to have patience either with this solo album by Collective’s drummer Noah Lennox. But I was attracted to it by the cover art and a glowing Pitchfork review. For some reason I ended up playing Person Pitch on loop, and was entranced by it. The critics in their reviews invariably referenced Brian Wilson, and coming a couple of years after SmiLE (another album I got into by playing it on loop) was released, that is neither surprising nor inaccurate. Person Pitch is a glorious psychedelic trip, especially the epic Bros, that owes a tip of the hat also to the Beatles.

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Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge

It is this album’s misfortune to be chronologically sandwiched between Hawley’s two masterpieces, 2005’s Coles Corner and this year’s Truelove’s Gutter, two of the decades finest albums. Lady’s Bridge may not quite reach the heights of those masterpieces, but it gets damn close. It is a very, very good album, with no weak point. It is mostly a sad collection. The gorgeous opener, Valentine, will move the vulnerable listener to tears, or close to it, especially when the strings swell and the drums emphasise the anguish. A couple of rockabilly songs and the upbeat Tonight The Streets Are Ours lighten the mood before suitably gloomy (and very lovely) songs called Our Darkness and The Sun Refused To Shine close the set.

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Missy Higgins – On A Clear Night

Where Missy Higgins full debut album The Sound Of White (with its astonishing title track) was mostly plaintive in sound; On A Clear Night is more accessible and upbeat. Higgins invests her intelligent lyrics with evocative vocals. The Sound Of White dealt much with trauma and depression; On A Clear Night is frequently life affirming, talking of escape, healing and self-assertion. Thankfully Higgins’ toned down her distinctive Australian accent which previously came perilously close to making her sound like an Aussie wicketkeeper. This is the kind of album that may at first seem slight, but its depth reveals itself after repeated listens. Crowded House’s Neil Finn makes an appearance on the album, contributing guitar to Peachy and backing vocals to the lovely Going North. That’s what it says on the booklet; I can barely hear the guy.
Missy Higgins – Going North.mp3

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Bright Eyes – Cassadaga

In 2005, Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was by far my album of the year. It was an immediately accessible album in ways its predecessors were not. Cassadaga is not as easy to fall in love with as I’m Wide Awake. It is a grower which requires a few spins before its full beauty reveals itself. Songs that at first do not seem much creep into the ear slowly, and then take root. It is a richly textured, and cohesive album. Connor Oberst’s poetic lyrics are delivered here with greater self-assurance and less of a quiver than on preceding albums. At times, the album overreaches in its ambitions, and another spoken intro on the first track is simply pretentious. For this album Oberst roped in guests such as the marvellous Maria Taylor, Gillian Welch and Rilo Kiley’s Jason Boesel (whose backing vocals on the excellent “If The Brakeman Turns My Way” provide an album highlight).
Bright Eyes – If The Brakeman Turns My Way.mp3

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Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine

Rosie Thomas’ fourth album is her most consistent. It’s for albums like these that the hackneyed phrase “achingly beautiful” was invented for. On These Friends Of Mine, she is supported by her friends Damien Jurado, Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens. The lyrical thread running through the album is love and New York, sometimes both together. Recorded as live, the album is engagingly intimate. The sparse, moving “Why Waste More Time?” is preceded by an appealingly giggly count-in. The cover version of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”, nice though it is, seems redundant, but Tomas’ interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” captures the intense delicacy of the original. The highlight, however, is “Much Farther To Go”, a love song in which the arrangement, harmonies and lyrics coalesce to create an evocative hymn to deep yearning (like Nicole Atkins’ Brooklyn’s On Fire, it featured here).
Rosie Thomas – If This City Never Sleeps.mp3

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Colbie Caillat – Coco

Like Lily Allen and Kate Nash before her, Colbie Caillat launched herself into the pop charts on the strength of Internet buzz. Releasing her music first on MySpace, she was soon picked up by the music blog community. Her debut album, titled rather cornily after her childhood nickname, is breezy folk-pop of the sort usually associated, by way of deceptive shorthand, with the rather more boring Jack Johnson. In sound Caillat is much closer to Tristan Prettyman, her fellow Californian who burst on to the scene equally unexpectedly in 2005. This is summer music, agreeably laid-back yet effervescent, and, crucially, not banal.
Colbie Caillat – Battle.mp3

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My top 10 albums for 2008 (not a vintage year) were:
Jay Brannan – Goddamned
Ron Sexsmith – Exit Strategy Of The Soul
Tift Merritt – Another Country
The Weepies – Hideaway
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers
Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
Ben Folds – Way To Normal
Hello Saferide – More Modern Short Stories…
Neil Diamond – Home Before Dark

Full post here

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More Albums of the Year

Heads and senses

November 2nd, 2009 1 comment

iris

Very occasionally a group of people get together on the Touchedmix blog and post mixes on a particular theme. Last week, the theme was HEADS, with their features and their functions. I thought readers of this little corner of the music blogosphere might be interested in the two mixes I banged together.

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OVER MY HEAD MIX
1. Aztec Camera – Head Is Happy (Heart’s Insane) (1985)
2. Crowded House – Pineapple Head (live) (1996/2006)
3. Johnny Cash – Mean Eyed Cat (1996)
4. The Dillards – I’ve Just Seen A Face (1968)
5. The Holmes Brothers – Smiling Face Hiding A Weeping Heart (2006)
6. Paul Anka – Eyes Without A Face (2006)
7. The Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces Sometimes (1971)
8. Justine Washington – I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face (1964)
9. The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You (1959)
10. Mississippi Sheikhs – I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You (1938)
11. Robert Mitchum – Mama Looka Boo Boo (Shut Your Mouth-Go Away) (1958)
12. Emile Ford & the Checkmates – Them There Eyes (1960)
13. Lewis Taylor – Blue Eyes (2000)
14. Andrew Bird – A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left (2005)
15. Nada Surf – The Way You Wear Your Head (2002)
16. The Sweet – The Lies In Your Eyes (1975)
17. Ben Folds – Doctor My Eyes (2002)
18. Josh Ritter – One More Mouth (2006)
19. Kaki King – Saving Days In A Frozen Head (2008)
20. The Lilac Time – The Darkness Of Her Eyes (1991)
21. Thomas Dybdahl – Pale Green Eyes (2009)
22. Ryan Adams – Halloweenhead (2007)
23. The Cardigans – Give Me Your Eyes (2005)

DOWNLOAD

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Justine Washington is better known as Baby Washington; this is the original version of the song covered to good effect by Dusty Springfield.

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SENSES WORKING OVERTIME MIX
1. David Bowie – Can You Hear Me (1975)
2. Tim Buckley – I Can’t See You (1966)
3. Herman Düne – I Wish That I Could See You Soon (2006)
4. Devics – If We Cannot See (2006)
5. Richard Hawley – Can You Hear The Rain, Love (2001)
6. Scott Walker – You’re Gonna Hear From Me (1967)
7. The Righteous Brothers – See That Girl (1965)
8. Chris Montez – The More I See You (1966)
9. Cass Elliot – I’ll Be Seeing You (1973)
10. Blind Boy Fuller – What’s That Smells Like Fish (1938)
11. Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking (1955)
12. The Supremes – I Hear A Symphony (1965)
13. Jim Messina – Seeing You (For The First Time) (1979)
14. Baby Huey – Listen To Me (1971)
15. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Taste Of Cindy (1985)
16. K’s Choice – A Sound That Only You Can Hear (1995)
17. Mull Historical Society – Watching Xanadu (2001)
18. Ron Sexsmith & Don Kerr – Listen (2005)
19. Rosanne Cash – I Was Watching You (2006)
20. The Magic Numbers – I See You, You See Me (2005)
21. Paul Anka – Smells Like Teen Spirit (2005)

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Unrequited love – Glad To Be Unhappy

February 6th, 2009 11 comments

What is worse: losing a love you once had, or never been loved, or not being able consummate reciprocated love, or never having been loved back? They all suck, of course, and we’ll visit all of these in this series. Here we deal with unrequited love, a subject we’ll return to again later in the series.

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The Mamas and the Papas – Glad To Be Unhappy.mp3
glad-to-be-unhappyThe group’s main songwriter John Phillips was a bit of a bastard. He had Cass Elliott singing about being fat, and he had his not always scrupulously faithful wife Michelle sing about her inability to remain monogamous. On 1967’s Glad To Be Unhappy he had Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott sing about unrequited love — knowing well that Cass was in unreciprocated love with Denny and that Denny was in love with John’s wife (need I post a Venn diagram?). There was, clearly, a lot of pain. So John has them croon the sadistic taunt “Like a straying baby lamb, with no Mama and no Papa, I’m so unhappy”! And then the mocking: “I can’t win, but here I am, more than glad to be unhappy.” The sentiment is not foreign to the experience of unrequited love, of course. “But for someone you adore, it’s a pleasure to be sad.” That ties in with the lyric of a song used in last year’s series (and which will be recycled this year): “There is pleasure to be had in this kind of pain” — the emotional masochism is a lifeline to hope, the delusion that the true love will come eventually.

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The Holmes Brothers – I Want You To Want Me.mp3
holmes-brothersThis is a slowed down, quite superb cover of the Cheap Trick hit by the blues/soul/gospel Holmes Brothers. The lyrics make more sense when sung by a goofy pop-rocker, but this version is just too lovely to be ignored. Unsurprisingly, the singer is promising sacrifices to get the girl, right down to shining “up the old brown shoes” and making himself even more presentable by wearing a new shirt (throw in the use of deodorant and shampoo, and you might clinch the deal). It is not clear, of course, whether our hero’s sartorial countenance is the problem. Indeed, he seems quite clueless if he thinks that shiny shoes will provide comfort to the girl who seems to be experiencing a case of dejection herself, as our singer observes: “Feelin’ all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin’. Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I see you cryin’?” Or is he just projecting?

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Damien Jurado – Simple Hello.mp3
Frienditis is the condition when the person you’re in love with just wants to be friends. It usually happens to nice guys. Women love these men, but “just not in that way” (the dreaded phrase). And if she gets a boyfriend, the former confidante might well be dispatched (and he’d be an idiot to stick around anyway, having her relationship mock him into perpetuity). This is what seems to have happened here. Damien in his 2005 song recalls that “we used to be friends” who’d talk on the phone every night. He later reveals that she has her own group of pals now, having previously established that she now completely ignores him (“Simple hello would’ve been nice. Instead you walked right by”). But this isn’t a song about just friendship; his feelings obviously ran deeper. Now she has a man: “Every time I see you with him I think: ‘Why even try?’” It’s not that Damien is bitter; he is despairing: “Think I’ve had enough, and I think I’ve lost control …Think I’ve lost my mind.” Sorry, mate, but you‘re on your own here. Burn the pictures. Let her go.

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Ani DiFranco – Untouchable Face (live).mp3
ani_difranco2There is an even more acute sense of hopelessness when the object of unrequited affection is in a solid, happy relationship. So it is in this superb song. “I think you two are forever, and I hate to say it, but you’re perfect together.” Which sounds pretty magnanimous. Except it isn’t, as we learn in the next verse: “So fuck you and your untouchable face, and fuck you for existing in the first place.” Quite right. This isn’t in angry outburst, though. There is some self-loathing and immense sadness in this song. Witness the final verse: “In the back room there’s a lamp that hangs over the pool table, and when the fan is on it swings gently side to side. There’s a changing constellation of balls as we are playing. I see Orion and say nothing. The only thing I can think of saying…is fuck you.”

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Weezer – Only In Dreams.mp3
weezer-blueAfter all this profundity, we can find refuge in Weezer and in dreamland. Mr Cuomo is in love: “She’s in the air, in between molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide”, but evidently he is too shy or otherwise reluctant to approach her, except in his dreams where he has the courage to ask her to dance, and she accepts (rhyming ‘dance’ with ‘chance’ – charity impels me to interpret this as a shrewd homage to the lyrical genius of Abba). In his fantasy he is charming and considerate, literally sweeping the girl off her feet on the dancefloor: “It’s a good thing that you float in the air – that way there’s no way I will crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces.” We imagine she laughs with her head tilting back, revealing her throat (Body Language 101: it means she wants you). We don’t go to Weezer for lyrical sophistication, so we see the conclusion coming: “But when we wake, it’s all been erased.”

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The Association – Cherish.mp3
This 1966 hit was recommended last year by the great whiteray of Echoes In The Wind. The opening verse is perfectly eloquent in expressing the yearning of the fool in unrequited love: “Cherish is the word I use to describe all the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside. You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I had told you; you don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could hold you; you don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could mould you into someone who could cherish me as much as I cherish you.”  Then comes the despondent resignation: “Perish is the word that more than applies to the hope in my heart, each time I realise that I am not gonna be the one to share your dreams.” So wonderfully poetic, you’d think she’d fall for him. And yet: “I’m beginning to think that man has never found the words that could make you want me, that have the right amount of letters, just the right sound that could make you hear, make you see, that you are driving me out of my mind.” The trouble is, our bard here thinks that she’ll call bullshit on his attempts of persuasion: “Oh, I could say I need you, but then you’d realise that I want you, just like a thousand other guys who’d say they loved you with all the rest of their lies, when all they wanted was to touch your face, your hands and gaze into your eyes.” And here’s the obstacle many people in unrequited love face: they are so fearful of rejection, the end of the dream, that they will scratch for excuses not to make a move. Some other schmuck will, she will fall for it, and The Association will sing their beautiful and sad song forever.

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Barenaked Ladies – Jane.mp3
The songs so far have described pretty straightforward situations of unrequited love. This one is more complex. He is what seems to have happened. Our hero met the apparently very lovely Jane (named after a Toronto street corner) in a shop where she worked. They moved in together and, at Jane’s insistence the relationship remained platonic (he’d sing and she’d dye his hair; sounds like frienditis to me). Jane is being admired by many men, but doesn’t want relationships. “Jane doesn’t think a man could ever be faithful.” Experience might have given her good reason to think that. And our hero seems to agree. “Jane isn’t giving me a chance to be shameful.” And he seems to think that the relationship wouldn’t work anyway (“I wrote a letter, she should have got it yesterday. That life could be better by being together is what I cannot explain to Jane”). The housesharing arrangement ends – nicely put by reference to Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando. Jane still works at the shop, and our hero is “still dazzled by her smile while I shoplift there”.

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Billy Bragg – The Saturday Boy.mp3
billy-braggThere aren’t many songs that feature the word “unrequited”. We’ve had Glad To Be Unhappy earlier, and here’s Billy Bragg using it in perhaps the best song from his 1984 debut album. It’s the poignant story of a schoolboy crush. At first she reciprocates the affection, but after a while (which in schoolboy terms is a wink of the eye) things cool off. “But I never made the first team, I just made the first team laugh. And she never came to the phone, she was always in the bath.” The boy experiences his first broken heart, poor kid. “In the end, it took me a dictionary to find out the meaning of ‘unrequited’, while she was giving herself for free at a party to which I was never invited.”