Indie in Pakistan

I wrote something for a stalwart indie blog called No Fear of Pop. It’s on indie music in Pakistan – the troubles indie musicians face in Pakistan, to what brought them to make indie in the first place, as well as links to a fair few indie and electronic acts themselves.

Go read the piece, and try to listen to these musicians. I can’t guarantee you’ll fall in love with them, but they’re all dedicated, hardworking people who’ve put their music out for free. All they ask for, is for people to give them a listen or a mention. That’s it.

Read it here.

Top 55 albums of 2011

So, I’ve sort of cheated. Normally these lists are properly rounded (top 50, top 100), and I’m always happy to conform, but for some reason this year I’ve found it really hard to narrow my list down to 50. I just couldn’t bring myself to cut out 5 more albums. But thankfully, since this is my blog and this list is objective, I can happily settle for 55 releases.

As always, this list is considerably subjective. It’s not a list of the best albums out this year (objectively speaking, in terms of influence, skill, originality etc), it’s just a list of the albums that I’ve enjoyed immensely in 2011. Though they are in order, that order is at best half-assed (and that  includes the top ten).

So, without further ado:

55.   Immanu El – In Passage

54.   We Are Augustine – Rise Ye Sunken Ships

53.   13 & God – Own Your Ghost

52.   Sun Glitters – Everything Could Be Fine

51.   Leyland Kirby – Eager To Tear Apart The Stars

50.   CANT – Dreams Come True

49.   Yuck – Yuck

48.   Chad VanGaalen – Diaper Island

47.   Barn Own – Lost In The Glare

46.   The Field – Looping State of Mind

45.   Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien

44.   Polinski – Labyrinths

43.   Savaging Spires – Savaging Spires

42.   Shlohmo – Bad Vibes

41.   Apparat – The Devil’s Walk

40.   Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

39.   Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder

38.   Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

37.   Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

36.   Noveller – Glacial Glow

35.   Mark McGuire – Get Lost

34.   And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs

33.   The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble – From The Stairwell

32.   Blanck Mass – Blanck Mass

31.   Raised Among Wolves – Bear Tracks EP

30.   Stumbleine – For All Your Smile

29.   Matthew Cooper – Some Days Are Better Than Others

28.   Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

27.   Trouble Books and Mark McGuire – Trouble Books and Mark McGuire

26.   Conquering Animal Sound – Kammerspiel

25.   Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

24.   Wild Beasts – Smother

23.   Benoit Honore Pioulard – Plays Thelma EP

22.   Grouper – Dream/Loss

21.   Giraffes? Giraffes! – Pink Magick

20.   Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place

19.   Dustin O’Halloran – Lumiere

18.   Braids – Native Speaker

17.   St Vincent – Strange Mercy

16.   Sleepingdog – With Our Heads In The Cloud And Our Hearts  In The Field

15.   Lanterns On The Road – Gracious Tide, Take Me Home

14.   Big Deal – Lights Out

13.   The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

12.   Colin Stetson – New History Warfare vol 2: Judges

11.   The Antlers – Burst Apart

And the top 10:

10.   Nils Frahm – Felt

With microphones inside his muted piano, capturing every nuance of sound as well as the hammers and the keys, Felt is a tour-de-force of Frahm’s ability as a pianist and a musician. Every key, every chord is full of dynamics, of a sense of space and time. Felt is littered with elegant, meditative pieces, all of whom are as comfortable with silence as they are with melody. Frahm’s approach is dynamic despite being calm and though it is an album ultimately of piano pieces, Frahm’s makes it seem so much more (even though, admittedly, there are some post-production flourishes).

9.   Zola Jesus – Conatus

I’m going to be a bit disingenuous here and compare Zola Jesus (Nika Roza Danilova) to Florence Welch (of Florence & the Machine). Though I was once a fan of Welch, I found myself quite disillusioned with her this year, primarily because out of nowhere her propensity for hysterical vocals drove me up the wall. Danilova, for me, is what I wish Welch could be – a powerful vocalist who knows what restraint actually means, who knows that at the end of the day her voice exists to be moulded into a great song, rather than to have great songs moulded to her voice. Conatus is a perfect example of a musician writing an album, rather than a vocalist. Tracks like Hikikomori and Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake are quite dissimilar, but they’re held together by Danilova’s voice as it pierces through the music. Her vocals are powerful yet never overwhelming – at times you feel like you’re listening to a post-modern opera, bereft of the ostentatious and straight to the point. Though there’s much to admire in Danilova, her strongest suite in invariably her ability to craft exquisite songs and ensure that the strength of her voice carries through to the songs. Conatus was a much awaited release after the exciting Stridulum EP, and to claim that it’s done anything other than deliver on Danilova’s talent would be a considerable lie.

8.    Little Kid – Logic Songs

One of the reasons lo-fi always appeals to me is that there’s an inherent honesty in music that’s recorded on nothing but a four-track. Kenneth Boothby’s Logic Songs is the very epitome of lo-fi, an album full of starkness and tape hiss rendered atmosphere, full of lyrics that paint an atmosphere of melancholy. Boothby’s voice, to me, resembles Conor Oberst’s in timbre, but not in effect – whereas Oberst can be at times melodramatic, Boothby’s vocals are pensive and restrained; he’s telling you a story, rather than singing about it. The guitar work is sublime not because of its virtuosity, but because of how aptly it backs Boothby’s voice and words. But this isn’t an album that’s just a man with an acoustic guitar – though organs and keys occasionally make appearances, it’s when a fuzzed out guitar hits you in the gut during the latter half of You Might Not Be Right that you realize you’re listening to something truly wondrous. With field recordings to boot, Boothby’s songs also play around with structure, abandoning the banality of verse-chorus-verse for more freedom to involve the various tools he plays with. I don’t remember how I came across Logic Songs, but I couldn’t be happier that I did. It’s a testament to the very idea of music as a whole – of music as transcending expensive equipment and studios; of music as something majestic and natural.

7.    WU LYF – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain

There’s a substantial non-musical element to WU LYF – the band name (World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation), their predilection towards ‘mystery’, insofar as not giving interviews and so on – but paying any attention to it would lead to formation of opinions that have nothing to do with music. And that, ultimately, would be folly in the case of these fantastic Mancunians. WU LYF are probably the best guitar-oriented band to emerge from the UK’s shores in the past few years, and though they are far from derivative, their heritage is traceable. Recorded in an abandoned church, Go Tell Fire has swathes of reverb, with the crash cymbals sounding like nothing I’ve ever heard before. The vocals can be shouty and unintelligible at the best of times, but that’s what makes them extraordinary; they’re deliberate and visceral, fighting valiantly the urge to break free and let loose. The guitars call to mind British Sea Power and at times Interpol, masked in angular taint and melancholy. Everything about the album falls into place on every song, with highlights We Bros and Heavy Pop in particular going through a gamut of emotions before magnificent crescendos hail the end. Though the vocals will start to grate on the next album, for now at least Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is a stunning release that recalls great guitar and rhythm driven indie rock.

6.   A Winged Victory For The Sullen – A Winged Victory For The Sullen

With SOTL’s Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran directing things, half-way through the cello and the violin leading into Requiem For The Static King Part 1 you have to stop and take note of your surroundings, because by the time part 2 ends, you’re going to be asking who decided to start cutting onions in the room. Written for Mark Linkous, they broadly encapsulate the very essence of this spectacular release – beauty and melancholy. Drones are paired with strings and O’Halloran’s soft, ponderous keys for one of the year’s sincerest releases. Though it would’ve probably been easy for both these incredibly talented musicians to make a hash of things, they have instead come out with one of the most focused musical experiments of the year. By the time the slightly uplifting string work on Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears hits you, you’re fully aware that this isn’t just an astonishingly pretty album, it also happens to pack a pretty significant emotional punch. Though with O’Halloran and Wiltzie, could anything else really be expected?

5.   Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – Everything’s Getting Older

Birth, love and death, the only reasons to get dressed up” ponders Moffat on The Copper Top, narrating in his own less-than-remonstrative manner about the mundane nature of funerals. Everything on Everything’s Getting Older is borne from Moffat’s tryst with age, and as always, he’s in fine lyrical form. Moffat’s a genius because the worlds he creates aren’t fantastical (like, let’s say, Dan Bejar’s), but within his very Glaswegian, downtrodden worlds are fantasies of his own – scenarios that are as surreal as could be dreamt up. On the jaunty Glasgow Jubilee Moffat weaves a story full circle, yet it as crude and lugubrious as anything he’s written, when his whore chalks up events to “we could all be dead tomorrow.” Bill Wells too provides more than ample backing for Moffat. Ultimately though, you’re listening for more gems from Moffat, and as he rambles,  “and remember: we invented love, and that’s the greatest story ever told” on The Greatest Story Ever Told, it’s hard to deny that you know life is, oddly enough, just that much better for you after hearing (or knowing) about Aidan Moffat.

4.    Low – C’mon

Even though it’s Low and it’s natural for me to be embarrassingly excited for a new album from them, I still couldn’t resist being astonished and giddy when I first heard bootleg versions of Witches or Especially Me. There’s seemed to be an excitement within the songs themselves, a sense of movement that’s not often present in the band’s meandering, languid songwriting. C’mon is probably the happiest Low record so far and even then there’s enough melancholy on here to make Lars Von Trier look like a maudlin mug. There’s far less indication of the band being the progenitors of slowcore, as Witches and Majesty/Magic clock up an impressive BPM. Moreover, C’mon features Alan Sparhawk turning up the fuzz and manic with his guitar, recalling the noisenik genius of songs like Pissing or Do You Know How to Waltz. In Nothing but Heart, you have the song of the year as the constant refrain “I’m nothing but heart” flows over Sparhawk’s rapacious guitar. It is, by all intents and purposes, a Low album, and just another stellar addition to the band’s exceedingly phenomenal catalogue.

3.   Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

I don’t think there was an album released in 2011 that packed as much of an emotional punch as the first three songs for the latest Bon Iver album. One of my favourite musical moments of the year was when I first hear the second guitar join in on Perth with the main hammer-on riff. Despite a significant departure in terms of style from the debut, Bon Iver, Bon Iver retains Vernon’s fragile falsetto and his strong sense of melody, except this time it’s been fuelled further by a broader approach to song structures (something hinted at on The Wolves (Act I & II)). The result is an album that’s not got a single average song on it (though Beth/Rest’s attempts at pulling off a Phil Collins comes close) and never bores, primarily due to the strength of Vernon’s songwriter, but also because of his desire to not stick to a single formula. Like For Emma, Forever Ago though, you’d be hard pressed to get wind of what Vernon’s singing about. Though for many that might be a problem, for me it’s perfect because it leads to a greater focus on the music as a whole. With no lyrics to deviate your attention, your concentration is centered on the whole package. Often songwriters who’ve built their craft on starkness find the transition to a big band difficult (I’m looking at you, Sam Beam), but that’s comprehensively not been the case with Vernon. Bon Iver, Bon Iver as a result ends up as a statement of his strength as a musician and a songwriter, of a man at the top of his game, writing music to move worlds.

2.    Rustie – Glass Swords

No album this year has made me grin as much as this barn-buster by Rustie. Whether it’s the Seinfeld tribute Hover Traps or the staggeringly stunning Ultra Thizz, or even the drop to After Light which makes me want to dance till my legs come off, Glass Swords is the very epitome of a thrilling dance music record that does more than just acquiesce to a standard 4/4 kick drum beat. It references 80s new wave, funk, dubstep, techno, prog-rock, IDM and a whole host of other genres in a venerable tour-de-force of ideas that quite frankly have no right to be bunched up together yet sound this astonishing. Every track on the album has ideas layered upon ideas, all without missing a beat and without even remotely sounding like they don’t belong together. It’s a soundtrack to Blade Runner for the 21st century, to our generation’s ability to look towards the past and create something new with it, whether they be tired old labels (hipster/glam) or music (new wave/shoegaze). The last time an electronic music album blew my socks off like this was in ’07 when Burial’s Untrue was released, and I think in the pantheon of genre-moulding musicians, Rustie rightfully deserves his own section. Glass Swords, then, is overwhelming in the most brilliant manner imaginable, and I couldn’t be any more grateful for that.

1.    Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

There’s a beauty to the non-Derrida idea of deconstruction, of taking things apart and then putting them back together; to destroying and rebuilding anew. In a sense, with Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972 there is no tabula rasa, everything follows a pattern, a greater theme and a greater melody. Hecker’s known for his sense of melody, often subservient to texture, tone, or noise – and on this album his art, his very aesthete has found perfection. Recorded in a church in Iceland with Ben Frost, Ravedeath 1972 is simultaneously solemn, eerie, captivating, gorgeous and ultimately a fractured, magnificent record where a church organ lays the basis for Hecker to mould noise and sound over, to give birth to the idea of music being slowly stretched and torn apart. Moreover, what sets Hecker apart from his contemporaries is his strong sense of melody – too often when mucking about with noise and sound it’s possible to lose sense of the essence of music, the shapes and contortions that make melody and harmony. Hecker’s ability to always keep melody in tandem with dissonance has never been in such fine form, complemented too by Frost’s appearance on the piano during the final movement, In The Air (Pt 1, 2, 3). Because ambient music is not predisposed to ‘entertainment’ the way perhaps most other genres are, it leads to greater explorations of what constitutes music and sound. Hecker happens to be at the forefront of this movement, so to speak, except he still manages to retain a sense of what music is, giving his efforts greater depth – in terms of both intelligence as well as beauty. Ravedeath, 1972 is an affirmation of this man’s unique talent and approach, as well as an album of undeniable beauty. No album this year has moved me emotionally or caused me to stop and wonder about music the way this album has, and I personally cannot offer any greater platitude than that.

Top 50 albums of 2010

2010’s been a weird year for music, in my opinion. For a long time I thought it’d be absolutely fantastic. Lots of my favourite bands, for example, were going to come out with either sophomores or albums that were them finding their roots again and other such stuff. Moreover, a lot of the singles were fantastic enough to whet the apetite. Yet, despite having stumbled upon a boatload of wondrous new music, I cannot help but feel a little let down by more than a few disappointments.

Frightened Rabbit’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks for example, was a pale shadow of the band’s breakout album Midnight Organ Fight. Interpol’s self-titled was building up to be stunning, till you got past the third song. The new Boduf Songs and Kayo Dot albums were quite disappointing as well.

That said, a lot of other bands for whom expectations were high found themselves greater adulation as they more than stepped up to the plate. Arcade Fire and the National, chief among them, showed that some bands – at least when it comes to the final product – are unhindered by expectations.

Anyway, here’s my top 50 albums of 2010. These are not the albums I found to be the best via some barely objective method – these are just the albums I fell in love with during the year and listened to the most. Though they are in order, I wouldn’t pay much heed to it; I certainly didn’t.

50.       Midlake – The Courage of Others

49.       Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

48.       Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin

47.       Mount Kimbie – Crooks and Lovers

46.       Los Campesinos – Romance Is Boring

45.       The Magnetic Fields – Realism

44.       Alcest – Ecailles de Lune

43.       Slow Six – Tomorrow Becomes You

42.       Olafur Arnalds – …And They Have Escaped The Weight Of The Darkness

41.       Crippled Black Phoenix – I, Vigilante

40.       Caribou – Swim

39.       (The) Slowest Runner (In All The World) – We, Burning Giraffes

38.       Sharon Van Etten – Epic

37.       Gigi – Maintenant

36.       Clogs – The Creatures In The Garden of Lady Walton

35.       Foals – Total Life Forever

34.       Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

33.       Goldmund – Famous Places

32.       Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett

31.       The Black Keys – Brothers

30.       65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway

29.       The Cast Of Cheers – Chariot

28.       S.Carey – All We Grow

27.       Four Tet – There Is Love In You

26.       Hammock – Chasing After Shadows…Living With The Ghosts

25.       Sun Kil Moon – Admiral Fell Promises

24.       Max Richter – Infra

23.       Envy – Recitation

22.       James Blackshaw – All Is Falling

21.       Errors – Come Down With Me

20.      Surfer Blood – Astrocoast

19.       Rokurro – I Annan Heim

18.       Rosetta – A Determinism of Morality

17.       LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

16.       The Fun Years – God Was Like, No

15.       Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

14.       Deerhunter – Halycon Digest

13.       Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

12.       Rafael Anton Irisarri – The North Bend

11.       Wild Nothing – Gemini

10. Perfume Genius – Learning


Much of has been made of Perfume Genius’ (Mike Hadreas) album/band photography, where he’s shown as a waif whose just stumbled out of a bar fight. It’s not hard to, at first glance, assume that Learning will consist mostly of maudlin shite that’ll make sixteen year old girls whimper. Thankfully though, Learning is instead (though still relatively maudlin) a beast of a record written by a songwriter whose talent belies his years. ‘No one will answer your prayers / until you take off that dress’ sings Hadreas on album opener Learning, and you realize, as his fragile voice whimpers over gorgeous  minor key chords drenched in reverb, that this is something you’ll find yourself aching for whenever it’s an overcast day. The record also happens to have one of my favourite pieces of verse from the year; “He made me a tape of joy division / he told me there was part of him missing / when I was sixteen / he jumped off a building.”

Learning

Lookout, Lookout

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9. Women – Public Strain


I couldn’t get into Women’s self-titled debut back in ’08. It seemed wonderfully left-field, but for some reason or another I could never fall in love with it. Public Strain, however, was a completely different experience. Vocals lined with outrageous amounts of reverb find themselves trying to maintain some semblance of sanity amidst a violent, fuzzed out and psychedelic maelstrom. It’s a maelstrom because anything on Public Strain sounds like it could fit easily on a shoegaze, 70s psych rock, post-rock, garage rock or a straight up indie record. It really is a wonderful record, one that you’ll always find yourself surprised by.

Can’t You See

Penal Colony

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8. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs


In We Used To Wait, just before the first chorus arrives, there’s this stunning little moment of musical genius. It seems ordinary – cascading washes of synth, keys, bass and the kick drum before a crash signifies the arrival of the chorus – but it’s the perfect representation of The Suburbs itself. Lots of lovely buildup before the band explodes with their usual rancor. Yet, this isn’t Funeral with its melancholy, regardless of how ‘epic’ it may seem. This isn’t Neon Bible either. Even though The Suburbs is a decidedly Arcade Fire album, it’s far more restrained than the band’s earlier efforts. You’ll still find the bombast that’s the band’s signature, but there’s more to the orchestration than just filling the palette. Far more than both Funeral and Neon Bible combined, The Suburbs is a singular piece of music – start to finish.

Ready To Start

We Used To Wait

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7. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me


How many discs of a harpist singer-songwriter can you listen to? Especially when the vocalist is one whose voice isn’t exactly one you’re likely to fall in love with immediately? 1? 2? 3? If you answered three, you’ve met the threshold Joanna Newsom arrived at as well. Have One On Me is spread over three discs, and as arduous a task as it seems listening to it, I’ve had fewer rewarding experiences this year. Newsom’s voice seems far less grating than it ever has, and Have One On Me has her at her sparsest and most vulnerable. There are no batshit insane orchestral flourishes that peppered her previous stunner, Ys. Instead, most of the songs are barren, and it’s a testament to Newsom’s lyrical and instrumental prowess that not for one instant do you feel bored listening to all three discs. It’s a stunning work of music and heralds, in my opinion, the true coming of Newsom.

Go Long

’81

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6. Brian McBride – The Effective Disconnect


The Effective Disconnect was music recorded for the documentary, The Vanishing of the Bees. I can’t comment on how this works as an OST, since I haven’t see the documentary, but on its own even it’s a remarkable piece of melancholy. At times it veers towards sounding too much like Stars of the Lid – guitars swell and show up only to leave you gasping for more a few seconds later as they fade away behind those surreal, huge curtains. Embedded deep within the minimalist school of music, McBride’s fashioned a wonderfully austere album that’s made for that harsh, dry winter day when just a few rays of sunlight manages to find their way past the leaves, branches and trees that pepper your backyard.

Mélodrames Télégraphiés (In B Major 7th) Part 1

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5. Wolf Parade – Expo 86


What happens when you combine two prominent and immensely talented Canadian musicians? Actually, never mind that – Canadian indie rock/pop is incredibly incestuous as it is. Wolf Parade is Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs) and Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes), and if you’re looking for this year’s catchiest, yet craziest, indie rock record, you don’t need to look further than Expo 86. Chock full of the stilted chaos so prominent of Krug’s other acts, Expo 86 is a record so full of hooks, incredible lyrics, air-guitar worthy guitar parts and Bonham-esque stick destroying drum parts that it’s fairly amazing how the material recorded for the album didn’t spill onto two discs. Additionally, the high level of awesomeness maintained on the first six tracks of the album is something that I don’t think has been matched in 2010.

Little Golden Age

Ghost Pressure

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4. Beach House – Teen Dream


Yummy, yummy dream-pop goodness. What more can you ask for in life? The self-titled debut was good – Devotion was even better. Teen Dream though is an absolute corker of an album with a not a single mediocre tune on board. From opener Zebra to the meandering post-rock nature of Walk In The Park, the album is strong on hooks and just the perfect amount of atmosphere to sound like a dream-pop act without overdoing the schtick. These are, at the end of the day, just fascinating, brilliant songs, regardless of genre. Legrand’s vocals and keyboard parts are integral to the creating that sense of place so important for Beach House’s music, and she genuinely doesn’t disappoint. It’s actually quite hard to pick up on anything specific with regards to what makes this album tick so well – suffice to say it’s enough to accept that it just works as a collection of remarkable tunes.

Norway

Used To Be

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3. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt


Like Joanna Newsom, Kristian Matsson too has a voice that many would immediately find off-putting. If, however, you walk away from the The Wild Hunt as a result of that after ten seconds, you’ll miss out on the best singer-songwriter album this year. An accomplished guitarist, Matsson weaves his Dylan-esque voice in tandem with mesmerizing lyrics (“I walk upon the river like it’s easier than land / evil’s in my pocket and your will is in my hand”) to construct vignettes you’re going to struggle to break away from. Often compared to Dylan (as I’ve already done half-assedly) there’s one this Matsson does possess in his arsenal that Dylan never did – the ability to be emotive. This diminutive Swede is easily one of the greatest things to come out of Scandinavia over the past few years.

Love Is All

A Lion’s Heart


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2. Eluvium – Similes


If you go through my year-end lists the past few years, you’ll always find Eluvium or Matthew Robert Cooper amongst them. If you trawl through my blog for Eluvium-related posts, you’ll find quite a few; all of which allude to this man’s absolute genius.  Ever since I first heard Talk Amongst The Trees, Eluvium’s been one artist who seems to do no wrong for me. Similes though, is quite different from previous Eluvium fare. For starters, Cooper’s actually singing on this record – something often unheard of in ambient circles. Yet, his voice shares in itself the same qualities that so often make ambient music inimitably stunning – that floating, ethereal, wandering nature that somehow seems unaffected by the constraints of gravity. Add in some glitchy percussion and you have Cooper making the verse-chorus-verse structure his. Similes still is an ambient album through and through, and more often than not you still see the usual Eluvium brushstrokes. What makes Similes so astonishing then is not just Cooper’s inability to traverse the same territory again, but his ability to challenge himself and still come up trumps with a product that is polished. Cooper doesn’t dip his toes into water, and that genuine sincerity in his experimental nature shows up in the album itself. This, in other words, isn’t half-assed. It is instead the greatest piece of ambient music you’re likely to hear this year.

The Motion Makes Me Last

Making Up Minds

Cease To Know

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1. The National – High Violet


It’s telling that there’s a band out there who have put out three phenomenal albums (Alligator, Boxer, High Violet) – and that it’s incredibly hard to decide which one of them is actually the best. Whereas Alligator was vociferous and Boxer pensive, High Violet has The National consolidating both of those emotions – sounding instead more focused and aware of their surroundings that they’ve ever been. Berninger’s lyrics are still effortlessly quotable (“Go out at night with your headphones on, again / and walk through the Manhattan valleys of, the dead” from Anyone’s Ghost, or “You and your sister live in a Lemonworld / I want to sit in and die” from Lemonworld). The Dessner brothers on guitar are on form as well, as their guitars build collages not familiar to their previous releases. Bryan Devendorf too, is an example of what a great drummer can do – turn a good band into a great one. Him and Berninger are the ones around whom the band fashions their songs, and it’s remarkable how they seem to shine under all that. At the end of the day, it’s not hard to step back and say that The National are sonically an unremarkable band – that their sound isn’t experimental or surprising enough; that they tread well-travelled territory. Though that’s arguable, it’s still understandable. Yet, sometimes, music isn’t all about experimentation. It is, at the end of the day, about what you hear – about the strength and the quality of the songs. The National, ultimately, write breathtaking songs that’ll stick with you for ages. This is a band you’ll find soundtracking your life in general – all those breakups, those marriages and those divorces, those children and them going off to college. It’s a band that just writes some of the most amazing songs on earth, and to hell with all else.

Anyone’s Ghost

Afraid Of Everyone

Conversation 16

Sunshine

It’s been a brilliant week or so for me. Though, when I say week, I mean the week that passed before the last one. In other words, this post is about a week late.

Anyway, I graduated with a first, finally. I think I’ve studied harder my past three years than all my o/a levels combined. Soon after that news made me giddy, I released my debut EP onto the internets. Music has never come easy to me, and writing has always been tough because I’ve been my own worst critic. As a result, anything I wrote I’d quickly confine to the dumpster simply because I’d not be happy with it. That changed a month and a half ago when I wrote Gregor Samsa is Dead, Long Live Gregor Samsa and sent it to a few of my friends. The fact that they loved it made it easier for me to then start using them as critics, rather than relying solely on myself to judge my music. That ended up changing a lot of things – out of nowhere I got a genuine desire to work and write, rather than come up with a nice section of music and then imagine fame, fortune and lots of new guitar gear bought from all that fortune.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention sex there; simply because us ambient musicians don’t get laid. We aren’t rockstars you see, so why dream a dream that’s pretty impossible? So we dream about the next best thing: loads and loads and loads of guitars, pedals and amps. Maybe a few midi keyboards thrown in for good measure.

Anyway, back to my narrative. So I started writing and I started sending what I wrote to some of my friends whose input I valued highly. I pestered them with a dozen versions of my songs when they were demos, and made them comment on the slightest of changes. Though I didn’t listen to everything they said (I got a bit arrogant – whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is something only they can decide), I was exhilarated to know that they loved the final product. Even though I’d love to get a band together and make some shoegaze meets slowcore meets good old indie rock goodness, I know that at least my desire to keep making ambient music regardless of my activities in a(ny) band will always find itself untethered by the constraints of self-criticism. Partly, this is because I hope I still have the same friends to count on, and partly because releasing Snow Makes Things Perfect gives me the confidence to do it again.

music music music

I’ve got an EP out called Snow Makes Things Perfect. It’s guitar based ambient music. You can download it or stream it for free at my bandcamp page (link on the right). From now on all posts related to my own music will be on my tumblr page (again, link to the right).

If you enjoy the music, please spread it around.

Heroes

I was going to write out my thoughts on our esteemed representatives who decided to come back to Pakistan after being faced with scanners before entry into Washington. Ultimately, as much as I find the introduction of extra scanners and the “list” (14 or so countries defined as hotbeds of terrorism whose citizens/travellers are to be scrutinzed that little bit more) deplorable, you have to suck it up. Why? Cause that’s the way shit rolls. Fighting these little annoying battles are largely worthless, in my worthless opinion. Just leads to unnecessary fixation, when the broader issues get sidelined because they’re ostensibly less tangible.

But I digress. I can’t be bothered to write out my thoughts really, though this snarky NYT piece does a good job I suppose of elucidating some of the hypocrisy inherent in people like these.

Instead, I’ll just listen to one of the best records I’ve heard in 2010 (which itself has been a fantastic year for music already).

Have One On Me

It’s bad enough that any members of the female race who tend to play instruments are generally insanely attractive, but what do you do when you’re faced with someone who plays the harp?

I mean the harp, for fucks sake. Not the guitar, or the piano, or the viola/cello/violin, because that’s sexy as it is. But the harp? That’s a whole new level.

But I digress. My point was that Joanna Newsom is a goddess, least of all because she plays the harp. Mostly, it’s because despite possessing an initially less than affable voice, she writes glorious folk tales spun around her glistening harp. Her new album is called Have One On Me, and all the material is on 3 discs. That doesn’t mean that it’s huge, it would’ve filled two discs easily, but apparently separating them via 3 discs gives for a better listening experience (and it does).

Anyway, here are two songs from the album itself:

Jack Rabbits (download here)

Go Long (download here)

Frabbit

So I was trolling youtube yesterday, trying to find any pieces of Frightened Rabbit’s new album, ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks.’ Amongst other things, I found a couple of songs that I’d already heard, and a 10 minute video that had around 1 min clips of all the songs on the album. A teaser, if you will.

Anyway, I also found a song they did for christmas called ‘Walking In The Air‘, which happens to be a cover of a song for a children’s made-for-tv short film called ‘The Snowman‘.

Anyway, here’s the original:

I’ll be honest, I got the goosebumps when I heard this. I don’t know whether it’s just the song, or the frankly, outrageously brilliant imagery, but it’s quite simply amazing. The song itself has a very weird atmosphere to it; it’s not entirely jovial and neither does it have the feeling of a wide-eyed boy. In fact, it almost certainly has this very eerily quality to it. Maybe that’s what makes listening to it so visceral. Either way, it’s a phenomenal piece of music.

Here’s Frightened Rabbit’s cover of it, which in my opinion is astonishing in its own right: