Monday, December 31, 2007

i'll tell you some more about me

Top 20 Albums of 2007

1. Maximo Park - Our Earthly Pleasures (ST)

This is my number one album of the year for the simple reason that I have listened to it far more than any other. The reviews were lukewarm at best, but launched by the kinetic rush of opening single, "Our Velocity", this album is a cracker from start to finish.

I think what I like most about them is that for all their spikey, new wave guitars and geordie accented lyrics, they're actually quite a thoughtful band, and Paul Smith's lyrics sometimes sound like poetry. They were the best thing I saw at Glastonbury this year too.

Favourite song: Books From Boxes

1. Cherry Ghost - Thirst For Romance (LB)

The only duplicated album in these lists, and for excellent reasons. ST spoke eloquently yesterday about the brilliance of this album, and I cannot help but agree.

From the opening bars of "Thirst For Romance" it's an album full of great lyrics, old-fashioned melody and no shortage of sincerity and hope. Simon Aldred's voice is the cherry (pun intended) on the icing on the cake of this album, and it also contains two of my singles of 2007.

The haunting genius of "People Help The People" made the charts and Radio 1's playlist, but it's also hard to ignore the more upbeat charms of the final track, "Mathematics". It might not be the coolest record released in 2007, but in my opinion it is most certainly the best.

Favourite Song: Mathematics

Sunday, December 30, 2007

give me your hand and i'll hold it

Top 10 Albums of 2007

2. Cherry Ghost - Thirst For Romance (ST)

Simon Aldred is only 33 years old, but already he possesses a voice that sounds as though it has been soaked in whisky and cigarettes for at least twice that time. He's not quite into Tom Waits territory (he's far more tuneful), but he does have a voice that sounds like it has lived a little; travelled around a bit and seen the world. He certainly has a tale to tell, and it is this voice, together with the melancholy romance of the lyrics, that really lifts Cherry Ghost out of the ordinary and into something really quite special.

They're not a band who have had a great deal of hype or a great deal of presence, and they may never be cool, but they certainly do have the songs. It's a gem of an album.

Favourite Song: People Help The People

2. Tiny Dancers - Free School Milk (LB)

Sheffield-based Tiny Dancers are my band of 2007. From the first time I heard their catchy and brilliant single "Hannah, We Know" I was completely hooked.

I've seen them three times this year and, whilst frontman David Kay's glitter-adorned cheeks and odd Mexican poncho do look a bit odd, they are a brilliant live band.

It's difficult to classify their sound - it's guitar based but with a pop twinge, occasionally folky and with the odd loud guitar riff (the introduction of their first top 40 single "I Will Wait For You" is an example.)

Despite it not being my #1 album of 2007, it's the one album I'd encourage anyone to buy - there is something in their sound for everyone and if a band deserves a big break in 2008, it's these boys.

Favourite Song: Hannah, We Know (great video, too)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

so rock and roll to be alone

Top 10 Albums of 2007

3. The Good, The Bad and The Queen (ST)

Damon Albarn has now very nearly completed his transformation from "That Twat Out of Blur" to becoming a genuine auteur in his own right. Since he stopped being so concerned about how many records he sold or what other people thought of him, he has started producing some really startling music.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen aren't even really a band - apparently they are an as yet unnamed group of musicians performing an album of that name. Whatever. It's a beautiful, melancholy slow-burner of an album. As a tale of life in London, it almost forms a mature counterpoint to the juvenile ramblings on "Parklife", but such a comparison would probably be to do this album a disservice. Paul Simonon's bass is instantly recognisable, of course, as is Albarn's voice, but the whole sound of the album is one of sadness and a vague sense of foreboding. It's also a concept album in the sense that it's hard to pick off individual tracks, but the album makes best sense when listened to as a whole, in one sitting. It's not an album that will get many people out of their chair and onto the dancefloor, but it's a fantastic album nonetheless.

Favourite Song: Green Fields

3. Amy MacDonald - This Is The Life (LB)

Compared with the other young female singer-songwriters occupying the charts, Amy MacDonald eschews the "you shagged my boyfriend/you've been sick on my trainers" nonsense of the London set and, in an album belieing her years (she's 20), displays a vocal and lyrical maturity her peers can only dream of.

Opening with one of the singles of the year - the brilliant "Mr Rock and Roll", it's an album hock full of jangly guitar and songs about her beloved Scotland ("The Road To Home" was used in Glasgow's bid for the Commonwealth Games) and about life and loves, but in a way that doesn't grate or display the lack of life experiences apparent in the work of the Allen's or Nash's of this world.

It's not a perfect album - "The Youth Of Today" was obviously written by a teenager - but it's an extremely promising debut.

Favourite song: Run

Friday, December 28, 2007

the future's out to get you

Top 10 Albums of 2007

4. Kings of Leon - Because Of The Times (ST)

Not my favourite KoL album by a long chalk, but they're a band that keep on developing their sound from the original template laid down in their debut album, "Youth and Young Manhood". People apparently call them "The Southern Strokes", but really their influences are more like The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the like.... good old southern fried rock and roll.

The Kings of Leon are probably a bit more complicated than that, although it's hard to say because Caleb Followhills lyrics are almost indecipherable behind his anguished yowl. No matter, they're a brilliant band. Proper, scuzzy rock and roll. Good live band, too.

Favourite Song: My Party

4. The Hoosiers in The Trick To Life (LB)

One of the years breakthrough bands, both the Hoosiers debut single "Worried About Ray" and their follow-up "Goodbye Mr A" spent weeks inside the top 10 and this album made #1 in the charts.

The singles aren't a brilliant representation of the album, actually - the Trick to Life is much less annoying and poppy and far more melodic and reflective than you'd guess from the opening chirpy riffs of "Worried About Ray" and forthcoming single "Worst Case Scenario". Whilst the pop sensibilities have gained them many fans, I really enjoyed the depth and craft of this album more and more over several listens, save for the annoying Cure-stolen bassline of the daft "Cops and Robbers".

I might also have been swayed by them covering one of my all time pop records - Andrew Gold's "Lonely Boy" when I saw them live, also (see that here).

Great pop band, great live act, great album.

Favourite Song: Goodbye Mr A

Thursday, December 27, 2007

a left off last laugh lane

Top 10 Albums of 2007

5. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare (ST)

Could they pull the same trick off twice? Of course they could. They're absurdly, obscenely young, and Alex Turner apparently has more talent in his little fingernail than every single member every other British band put together. Or something. More than the Hoosiers, anyway. [that's a bit harsh!! - Ed]

I certainly know who has the most talent in flatshare between Alex Turner off of the Arctic Monkeys and Jon McClure off of Reverend and the Makers. Clue: it's not the taller one.

This was released very quickly after the runaway success of "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not" but this apparently didn't affect quality control.... songs like "Brianstorm", "Teddy Picker", "Balaclava", "D is for Dangerous", "Fluorescent Adolescent" and the like all proving themselves more than a match for their illustrious predecessors.

What I love most about this album is that from the opening blast of "Brianstorm", this album is really quite rock: a full on assault of guitars and drums. As a former heavy metal man, I absolutely loved it, and it meant that when I saw them at Glastonbury this year, they proved to
be a surprisingly muscular live act. That said, many of the very best moments on the album come in the quieter songs: "Fluorescent Adolescent" and "505". Turner is one of the very best lyricists in rock already.

He's twenty-one years old.


Favourite Song: 505

5. Ben's Brother - Beta Male Fairytales (LB)

This excellent album by Jamie Hartman and his band was a mild "word of mouth" success in the summer. It's a slow and gentle selection of melodic pop which, on first listen, sounds like one forty-five minute long song. However, the more you listen to this album, the better it becomes.

It's difficult to describe. On occasions Hartman sounds like Rod Stewart, but there's no rock element here. It's the perfect accompaniment to a lazy warm summers evening with a glass of wine, letting songs such as "Let Me Out" and "I Am Who I Am" wash over you.

Billy Joel comparisons are wide of the mark, but the songs have a composition not dissimilar to the great man - piano led songs about relationships, harmonica interludes and really easy on the ear. Great record.

Favourite song: Let Me Out

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

do i repulse you with my queasy smile?

Top 10 Albums of 2007

6. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (ST)

I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if this features at the top of
many people's lists for the year. In fact, I also wouldn't be that surprised if a lot of the same people wouldn't have pencilled this album at the top of their list before they'd even heard it. Arcade Fire are one of those bands that seem to inspire devotion, awe and superlatives.

I tried resisting them at first, but in the end I was powerless before their music and gave way to "Neighbourhood#2" and the rest soon followed. I was given this album for my birthday in March and my immediate reaction was to wonder what all the fuss and fanfare was about. Was it really that good a record, or was it all just a bit overwrought? In the final analysis though, I decided that although the album couldn't possibly be as good as all of the hype being thrown at it by fawning journalists, they were in fact pretty good and that songs like "Black Mirror", "Keep The Car Running", "No Cars Go" and the like were aces.

Pretty good live too, even if someone kept chucking bottles at the band. I think that's a sign of
affection in the East Midlands, but apparently less so in Canada....

Favourite Song: No Cars Go

6. Mika - Life In Cartoon Motion (LB)

This is the first album I bought in 2007 and, ultimately, the one that has spent longer in my CD player than any other.

It can be irritating, and Mika's Scissor Sisters-esque falsetto warblings certainly divide opinion, but it's clear that there is some decent quality pop fare on this album, if that's your bag.

Opening with the ubiquitous "Grace Kelly", which reached #1 in the UK on downloads alone before eventually spending five weeks at the top, it's a high energy collection of modern disco with tinges of everything from Elton John to Freddie Mercury. Packed with top 10 singles (four in all), it's the musical equivalent of being pelted with marshmallows but, for all its odd annoyance, it remains 2007's best pop album.

Favourite song: Big Girls (You Are Beautiful)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

time we give something new a try

Top 10 Albums of 2007

Merry Christmas, everyone...!

7. Interpol - Our Love To Admire (ST)

Interpol are one of my favourite bands, and when I say that I don't think "Our Love to Admire" is as good as their two previous albums, that's not to say that this is a bad album by any means... only that the benchmark has been set so impossibly high. Interpol fail to match their back catalogue ("Turn On The Bright Lights" remains one of my favourite albums of all time), but in doing so they have stretched the boundaries of their sound. They've also been doomy, introspective and blessed / cursed by a singer with a voice like an undertaker reading from a legal textbook.

With this album they've widened the scope of their ambition and have gone for something more widescreen. I don't think it's a triumph, but it's a brave failure, and one that augers well for the future of a band that might easily have otherwise been pigeonholed. Banks still needs to work a bit on his lyrics, which can sometimes seem a little leaden ("But there are days in this life when you see the teeth marks of time" - is that atrocious or poetry? I can't quite decide), but this is a band that look like they have the ability to stay the distance. With a band this good, who needs a poor imitation like Editors. I'm not sure about Carlos D's western look though. I think he looked better as an outcast from Sparks.

Favourite Song: No I In Threesome (albeit it's very unpromising song title)

7. Sigur Ros - Hvarf-Heim (LB)

I am a late convert to the Icelandic's sweeping melodic sound despite my love for 2005's "Hoppipolla". I wandered into my lounge one day a couple of months ago to hear my wife playing the beautiful "Staralfur" and since then I have been completely converted.

Hvarf-Heim is a two CD album of oddities and rareties. Hvarf is a collection of studio versions of previously unreleased songs and reworkings whereas Heim contains acoustic studio versions of songs already released.

Both are fantastic and showcase the Scandinavians' amazingly lush and widescreen sound perfectly. It's difficult to pick out a standout track from either CD, such is the beauty and the quality of both. From the spellbinding opening "Salka" through single "Hjomalind" to the previously mentioned brilliance of "Staralfur" this is simply beautiful stuff.

Favourite Song: Salka (Hvarf), Staralfur (Heim)

Monday, December 24, 2007

i just want to hear some rhythm

Top 10 Albums of 2007

8. Jamie T - Panic Prevention (ST)

I suppose it's inevitable that someone with a singing voice like Jamie T's spoken-sung-rapped essex (well, Wimbledon) tones is going to get lumped into the same box as the Lily Allens, Streets and Jack Penates of this world. Horribly unfair comparisons all. Whilst he has elements of the urchin troubadour about him, I would suggest that he has more in common with the likes of Ian Dury than any of the aforementioned notables, and live the most obvious comparison is with none other than the reggae tinged rock of The Clash.

I fell in love with "Sheila" when I heard it played by Zane Lowe on Radio One a couple of times. Initially I had to look up the playlists to see who the singer was, but before long I was standing in the Nottingham Social watching an artist who was still small enough to both play in that tiny little bar and to want to hand out hand made mix tapes to his crowd. He was brilliant. The album followed, and actually I initially found it a little disappointing after the vibrancy of his live set, and I do think that the production is a little lacking... but it's a grower, and with tunes like "Sheila", "If You Got the Money" and "Calm Down Dearest", this kid has got the songs too.

Ugly bugger though.

Favourite Song: Brand New Bass Guitar

8. Bruce Springsteen - Magic

It would be a red herring to suggest that Springsteen has "got better and better" over the years - some of the early 90's work lacked a certain quality - but "Magic" takes over where the brilliant 2002 album "The Rising" left off.

Featuring the E-Street Band, it's everything you would expect from the Boss at the peak of his powers. Driving guitar, harmonica, catchy choruses and some brilliant brass complement Springsteen's often underrated lyrics. Coming in at a shade over 45 minutes, it's a lesson in how to make a great album - keep the energy levels high from start to finish, don't include low-quality filler and leave the listener hungry for more. It might even be the best album he has ever made, you know.

Magic by name, magic by nature.

Favourite song: Your Own Worst Enemy

Sunday, December 23, 2007

another second of this excuse for taste

Top 10 albums of 2007

9. Radiohead - In Rainbows (ST)

The honesty box album. How much did I pay for it? Well, I'll tell you. I paid nothing. Zip. Not even a transaction fee. For why? Because when Radiohead were touring "Hail to the Thief" around arenas, I paid £30-odd to see them playing in Nottingham. They're a brilliant band and I've seen them live many times, but on this occasion they were awful. They played mainly electronic material from their post "OK Computer" albums, and if memory serves me correctly, they only played "Just" from their glory years. That's okay though, they can play what they want. What annoyed me more than anything else was the fact that they clearly hated being there and spent most of the night with their backs to the audience fiddling with what looked like radios. I don't remember Thom Yorke speaking to the audience once. If you don't want to play to arena crowds, don't book arenas. I swore then that next time I had the chance to see them play, I wouldn't go, and when I heard about the album, I decided that they were on probation and that I would pay them nothing because I reckon they owed me.

Is it any good? Actually, yes. This is a good album. I tend to listen to this as one block, and as I don't have an actual CD case to look at, I'm not terribly familiar with track names..... but suffice it to say that it's the most "Radiohead" thing that Radiohead have done in years. It's still spikey and awkward, but for all that it starts with a breakbeat, there are guitars on here and everything, and they sound like properly realised songs. Better yet, the songs don't sound as oblique as normal, and on a couple of occasions, Yorke even sounds like he's on the pull.

They're awkward bastards, but it's nice to have them back.

They're still not getting any money out of me though.

Favourite Song: House of Cards

9. The Ghosts - The World Is Outside (LB)

From the first time I heard their instantly catchy debut single "Stay The Night", I knew the Ghosts were going to be one of those bands that I liked.

The review of this album in Q bemoaned the fact that it sounded like someone had put the likes of Coldplay, Keane and Radiohead in a blender. Whilst this album lacks any kind of originality, it also follows that if you're a fan of those bands, you're likely to find nothing offensive here either.

It's an unoriginal sound, and their biggest problem is that they have nothing distinctive about them at all. For all that, however, they are a tight and capable live unit (for various reasons I have seen them three times this year), and from the pop sensibilities of "The World Is Outside" and "Stop" to the more carefully put together "Mind Games" it's really laid back and easy on the ear.

They're not likely to pull up any trees ever, but it's a good, solid indiepop album.

Favourite song: Stay The Night

Saturday, December 22, 2007

is it something we gotta get used to?

It wouldn't be a music blog without some sort of end-of-year review or list, would it? To this end, over the next ten days both Swiss Toni and I will count down our respective top 10 albums of 2007.

Without further ado....

10. Okkervil River - The Stage Names (ST)

This was a tough album to choose, and in putting this here, I've had to leave off albums by the likes of The White Stripes and Cold War Kids [the Cold War Kids was 206, for the record - Ed] - albums that are much more obviously up my street and far more likely to feature in "best of the year" type lists. In the end, this album pushes them all off to make the top ten, and it's a cracker too. My iPod tells me that I've had an Okkervil River Christmas song off a compilation for years ('Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas"), but I only really discovered them this year when "Our Life is Not a Movie or a Maybe" was included on the mix CD sent to me as part of the Shuffleathon CD exchange. It just knocked me down. It's such a good song that I had to get straight out and get myself the album... literally on the same day.

The songs are usually driven forwards by a pumping rock and roll riff, but there is far more to this band than that.... they have a definite country twang to them, singer Will Sheff has a very distinctive voice and the guitars in the songs are often accompanied by sweeping violins, horns, maracas, pianos, ticking clocks. It's not the first time in my life that a mix cd has turned me onto a band, but this one is certainly a keeper.

Favourite song: Our Life Is Not A Movie Or A Maybe

10. Athlete - Beyond The Neighbourhood (LB)

Eschewing the lush strings and melodies of 2005's "Tourist", Athlete returned in 2007 with an album largely ignored by the public and largely sneered at by the critics.

It's not as easily accessible or as catchy as their previous work, and the bleepy electronica can become a little irritating, but if you persist with it and give it half a dozen listens you are rewarded with an interesting and good quality album with a couple of standout tracks. I am surprised that "Hurricane" failed to perform better in the singles charts (it made #31) and the excellent "Airport Disco" eases effortlessly into the brilliant "It's Not Your Fault".

Ending with the pared-down "This Is What I Sound Like", Athlete have moved on from their jaunty beginnings and their lush string phase into a new sound which, whilst not likely to appeal to everyone, remains a cut above the indie-pop of many of their peers.

Favourite Song: Hurricane

Monday, December 10, 2007

does your granny always tell you that the old songs are the best?

Now that the top 40 singles chart includes downloads as well as actual physical singles, it's possible (with enough like-minded fools involved) to get pretty much any song, new or old, into the singles chart these days.
This is why one fifth of this weeks top 40 chart is old Christmas records. Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" was the 8th biggest selling single in the UK this week.
The Pogues, Andy Williams, Wham, Slade, Wizzard, Shaky and Band Aid make up the others, and I wouldn't be surprised to see even more seasonal favourites in there next week (Chris Rea, Bing Crosby and John and Yoko are in the top 75).
On the basis that these records are halping to keep new music by the likes of Scouting for Girls, Jason Nevins, Amy MacDonald and Dizzee Rascal out of the charts, should we be pleased that the top 40 is an accurate snapshot of what we are buying, or should it be a bona fide singles chart representing the biggest selling "new" music?