Mixcloud

Friday, 24 December 2010

The best Christmas songs...?

...the problem is that they often get overlooked as many people have been turned off by the ubiquity of a relatively small sample of the music that is out there. But it’s good that some of us can all still embrace our inner cheese, whether it’s for Last Christmas, Wonderful Christmas Time, or A Spaceman Came Travelling. It’s just that it's hard to have a rational opinion about songs that you hear non-stop for one-twelfth of your life.

I mean, I don’t really know what I think of Slade performing “Merry Xmas Everybody” anymore – I remember enjoying it when I was small and, as I love many Slade songs now, I can only presume that if I heard this song for the first time noe I’d love it too.

On the other hand, I know that I’ve never liked Wizzard’s “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday”, which always felt like an overly cynical attempt to be Christmassy. Even as a child I recall being unconvinced by the opening line “When the snowman brings the snow” – it never made sense to me and, if anything, it would be the snow that brings the snowman. If you’ve lost me after the first line then you have no chance.

I DO know that I like “Do They Know It’s Christmas” though – with it’s melody not a million miles away from Hymn by Ultravox (and the theme tune to Z Cars). Particularly good is the Extended Remix featuring Christmas messages from some of the contributors (best quote has to go to Bruce Watson of Big Country for “Feed the people – stay alive!”)

Anyway, for those who want something new to love, here’s five of the greatest Christmas songs that your local Asda seem to overlook every year.

Sufjan Stevens – Sister Winter : there’s loads of great songs scattered across the 6+ Christmas EPs that Sufjan has done – this one is arguably the most uplifiting and moving of them all. With the full melody not arriving until 3 minutes into the song and an ending that should win over even the most hardened scrooge. If you aren’t close to tears by the end of this song then the chances are that a piece of you died a long long time ago.

Cristina – Things Fall Apart : of course, it’s not all plain sailing at Christmas. A yet to be recognised 30 year old disco-not-disco classic. My favourite line being “they’d killed a tree of 97 years and smothered it in lights and silver tears”, or maybe the rude one!

The Departure Lounge – Christmas Downer : Probably summarises 21st Century Christmas better than anyone else with the lines “is anybody gonna really get the things they want? Everybody’s hoping next year is gonna be the one”

Low – Just Like Christmas : A song about how Christmas isn’t what’s on the outside (snow and stuff), but what is on the inside (in particular feeling like a child again). It dawned on me recently that there is nothing in this song that says it is Christmas time, just that it felt like Christmas – for all we know it could be actually be a summer song.

El-Vez – Feliz Navi-nada : the PIL-sampling, punk cover of a Puerto Rican Christmas song by a Mexican Elvis Impersonator. What’s not to love?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

2010 On The Way Up and On The Way Down

Following on from Recommendations Part One (5 Dec), and due to popular demand (one request and counting), here's a couple of cobbled-together playlists


Being Spotify, it only touches the surface of the things I'd like to include, so no Cats and Cats and Cats, which is a shame.

Enjoy

Sunday, 5 December 2010

2010 Recommended. Part One

Okay, so it's December and most of the planet have their "best of"s out already - a million and one opinions to sort through... But, wait, I'm still buying and hearing new things - I won't know what my best of albums for 2010 are until some point in 2011 at the earliest. I heard Propaganda by Sparks for the first time the other day, so it looks like I've not even finalised by best of 1974 yet.

Anyway, rather than wait another 36 years to do my 2010 retrospective, here's a selection of some of the best albums I've heard so far - hopefully Santa will bring me some more surprises, so there may be a “part 2” at a later date; or maybe not.

21 Albums in alphabetical order - of course.

Warning: Some of the descriptions might not make immediate sense.


The List:

Anoraak - Wherever the Sun Sets

Cats and Cats and Cats – I Wish I Had an Atlas

Drums of Death – Generation Hexed

Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea

Field Music – Field Music (Measure)

Four Tet – There is Love In You

Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

Gonjasufi – A Sufi and a Killer

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Grinderman - Grinderman 2

Hot Chip - One Life Stand

LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

Steve Mason - Boys Outside

Neu! - Neu! 86

OMD - History of Modern

Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise

Perfume Genius - Learning

The Phantom Band - The Wants

PVT – Church With No Magic

Tame Impala – Inner Speaker

Yeasayer - Odd Blood


And in more detail...

Anoraak – Wherever the Sun Sets

I’m assuming that these guys are French, given that this is an impeccable selection of Phoenix/Air-esque electronic pop tunes teleported from the mid 80s.

Cats and Cats and Cats – I Wish I Had an Atlas

I saw this lot, high on fizzy pop (them, not me - I was on my way from the Cider Bus), playing on a bandstand in the market place at Glastonbury in 2007 when they must have been about 12 years old. Three years later and they release an album, sounding like a bunch of sea shanties merged with math-rock and punk.

Drums of Death – Generation Hexed

Described on the album's sticker as "Rave horns and love songs". That’s all you need to know.

Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea

Warning: listening to this on headphones will make you feel detached from reality. I was listening to this on the bus home tonight and nearly missed my stop.

Field Music – Field Music (Measure)

XTC meets Fleetwood Mac is one of a thousand comparisons I could make. A hugely ambitious, sprawling album.

Four Tet – There is Love In You

A disappointment and two dimensional on first listen. But repeated listening on headphones (or just loud) made me realise there’s actually at least four dimensions to this album.

Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

Subtle, late-night acoustic electronica for you to dance/sit/lie down to (delete depending on your mood). Lovely.

Gonjasufi – A Sufi and a Killer

I can't find the words to summarise this album, so here's one of the songs...“Kowboyz and Indians, Kowboyz and Indians, Kowboyz and Indian’s. Real Kowboyz and real Indians. Mm mmm , m m m mmmm, mm mm , m m m mmmm” etc.

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Do I need to say anything about this? Another masterclass in the art of the album. Cartoon facade no longer necessary.

Grinderman - Grinderman 2

More psychedelic than their previous album, but Nick Cave is still one of those rare artists who gets the balance right between humour and darkness – “my baby calls me the loch ness monster, two great big humps and then I’m gone”. Listen to the last track - Bellringer Blues" upside down for full effect.

Hot Chip - One Life Stand

Their last couple of albums had 2 or 3 songs that would subtly worm their melodies into your brain. This one has loads of them. Addictive. I’d also recommend the joint live album they’ve just released with LCD Soundsystem. Their set is brilliant; LCD’s is pretty good too (although slightly out of tune)

LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

Possibly the weakest of LCD Soundsystem’s studio albums (this one only meriting a mere 8/10) is still head and shoulders above most other music. As usual there are a couple of best-song-of-the-year singles on it: Drunk Girls, which sounds more like David Bowie doing a cover of "White Light White Heat" than David Bowie's actual cover version of "White Light White Heat" from 1973 and, one of those upliftingly melancholic dance tunes that James Murphy does so well, I Can Change.

Steve Mason - Boys Outside

Always one for including everything but the kitchen sink in his songs (The Beta Band did, after all, use pots and pans as percussion instruments), this is much more stripped back, letting the lovely melancholic songs shine through. The Richard X production does seem to have involved setting the graphics equaliser halfway between the “hall” and “bathroom” though.

Neu! - Neu! 86

OK, so it was recorded in 1986, but it’s never been released with this tracklisting or mix before, so I’m classing it as new (Neu). It fits in quite neatly with a many of the modern bands who try and bring the Neu template into the 3-4 minute pop tune (See: The Black Neon, Fujiya & Miyagi etc).

OMD - History of Modern

Speaking of Neu-esque... About 2 songs longer than it needs to be, but still an excellent return by OMD – each song using previous OMD eras as a template. Being one of the first bands to bring the Neu! thing into the pop song (and charts) way back in the 80s, they deserve your respect - it wasn't all bad dancing. If you don’t have enough time or patience, at least listen to New Holy Ground and The Right Side.

Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise

Electronica? Ambient house? Psychedelic electro-acoustic soundscapes?! Or just lovely?!

Perfume Genius - Learning

Lo-fi piano and vocals. Includes the best song ever about a schoolboy’s close friendship with his male teacher who introduces him to Joy Division before topping himself.

The Phantom Band - The Wants

Providers of last year’s best album. Providers of this year’s best album.o This is how 21stcentury rock should sound - a towering monolith of a record; very eclectic (doo wop anyone?), but totally modern. Guitars, anologue synths, melodicas, beards, Kraut grooves and a VL-Tone. Oh and the best tunes of the year. A very “Tim” sort of album.

PVT – Church With No Magic

Previously called Pivot (“PIVOT!”) until they faced a lawsuit from the letters I and O. Like Battles with an alternative-rock record collection.

Tame Impala – Inner Speaker

Blissed out psychedelic rock – if the Beatles had recorded Revolver in 2010 with the Flaming Lips and Oasis had never existed.

Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Described by most reviewers as Yeasayer “going pop”, by which they mean “it sounds a bit 80s and has better production than their last album”. To me, it’s what “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” would have sounded like if Eno/Byrne had given each track a chorus or two.