Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Let them drink gin!


I may have narrowly missed out on tickets for the Blood Brothers / Help She Can't Swim gig, but that wasn't going to stop me going to Clwb tonight. You see, while the godfathers of screamo and the Brighton punks are doing their thing upstairs, there's plenty to enjoy downstairs too, courtesy of Kruger.

Evils, for a start.

Jamie Hale's music has found favour with everyone from Radio 1's Steve Lamacq, Rob da Bank and Huw Stephens to Hot Chip and Akira The Don - and it soon finds favour with me. Hale may perform from within a wendy house, but there's nothing remotely fey, drippy or Belle-&-Sebastian-influenced about the often playful but occasionally sinister electro that he creates within (for evidence of the latter, just check out the opening to 'There Is No Santa Claus' on the Evils MySpace page...).

Above Hale's brightly coloured plastic temporary accommodation, images of primitive computer equipment are projected onto a screen, and footage of Jeremy Beadle on 'Eureka' follows. Often playful but occasionally sinister, as I said.

Once the wendy house has been dismantled and returned to its flat-pack state, it's the turn of Gindrinker to pick up that same playful-but-sinister thread and run with it - something the maverick duo do with relish. They open with 'Ian The Dog Murderer' and follow it up with 'Covered In Bugs', the latter (concerning the discovery of a dead child) embellished with a genius additional couplet: "Two weeks of piano lessons WASTED! / They paid upfront DAMMIT!" As introductions go, it's rather more offensive than "How do you do?"

Thereafter there's a message from Kim Jong-Il, two fingers up to Tom Jones, the customary Q&A session, mutterings about being "a milksop" and "a dog trapped in a man's body", a song about 'Bullseye' and another about a local pub which manages to include both the catchphrase-in-waiting "EFFING AND FUCKING JEFFING?!" and a reference to Dionne Warwick.

Imagine if Chris Morris was a fan of Big Black, and you'll be close. This is the third time I've been exposed to Gindrinker's unique brand of terrorism, and I'm fast becoming convinced they're the most entertaining band in Cardiff.

After complaining that local bands were unjustly overlooked at the Kruger Christmas party, I'm pleased to report that the line-up the magazine had assembled for their first gig of the new year was entirely Cardiff-centric. Kruger had an additional reason for wanting to promote Space In The 50s' debut live performance, though. In the most recent issue, they point to several bands who (they suggest) were killed off by "The Curse Of Kruger"; these include Death From Above 1979, Clor and The Martini Henry Rifles - and two thirds of tonight's headliners used to be in the latter. An attempt to make amends, then.

For guitarist / vocalist Chris Warlow and bassist / vocalist Fudge Wilson, Space In The 50s don't mark a significant departure from their earlier exploits - no matter how many times between songs Warlow mentions the band name as if to stress the Martinis are dead and this is something new. There's not quite the same intensity and brick-in-the-face brutality that terrified a whole host of delicate Young Knives fans back in March, but the songs are still driven by low, meaty bass riffs and contain copious quantities of abrasive guitar.

I remain pretty much unmoved by their twenty minute set, though, not least because drummer Marvini Phillips often struggles to keep up with the necksnapping pace set by those in front of him. That said, the partisan and expectant crowd hardly cares - and perhaps these glitches will have been ironed out by the time they come to play their next gig at Buffalo in a couple of weeks' time. I might well be there to find out...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Posts win prizes

Just to say that I for one am very glad that Mike - with the assistance of several other bloggers, including Swiss Toni and Jonathan - has resurrected Post Of The Week, particularly as the vaguely regular SWSL Blogwatch feature has gone into hibernation.

I'm just not getting the time to read as many blogs as I'd like at the moment, so I'm grateful for any pointers to the best bits. Of course, the danger is that I'll be introduced to more blogs whose quality will demand that they become essential reading...

Anyway, Post Of The Week is no longer just a feature on Troubled Diva - it's now got its very own site.

Allow me to take this opportunity to mention the Nottingham blogmeet Mike's co-organising with Lisa of Rullsenberg Rules, due to take place on the afternoon of 10th March (full details here). Unfortunately it looks as though I won't be able to make it back to the East Midlands for the occasion - but if things change I'll be doing my darndest to be get over there. Anyone who's wavering can be sure Mike'll treat them to some of the city's numerous delights - it's not all guns and binge drinking, you know...
Quote of the day

"With the relaxation that comes from not being in any particular hurry, I flash my lights to allow an oncoming Range Rover to turn right. It is HM The Queen driving, with her husband HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. She has her headscarf on, like she does in the pictures.

There are two ways in which you can behave when you see a well-known celebrity person. You can gawp and goggle and point, or you can be all cool and not particularly acknowledge them. As HM The Queen is a class act, she does the latter. So does her husband HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. That is breeding for you.

Her Maj has a close encounter with blog royalty in the form of JonnyB.
"When you play Pass-The-Parcel with human body parts / Somebody might get a head but someone will get hurt"

It's been a while since there was any Los Campesinos! pluggage here on SWSL - so how's about I tell you to go to their MySpace site to see the colourful, unsettling and rather ace video for 'We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives'? It's out on Wichita on 26th February as a double A-side with 'Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)'.

Sunday, January 28, 2007



Tonight's gig is the first organised by new-kid-on-the-promoting-block The Mad Hatter. The very late withdrawal of support act Truckstop Bandits could have derailed things right from the start, but in the event it gives the DJ duo (of whom the frontwoman of The Physicists is one) longer to entertain us with a brilliant sequence of songs including Sonic Youth's 'Silver Rocket', Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Miles Away', Le Tigre's 'My My Metrocard' and The Raveonettes' 'That Great Love Sound'.

The live music kicks off with Lily Green. Since I last saw her perform her solo material, when she was making her debut in Cardiff, Lily's played a Meltdown event and become a favourite of BBC Radio Wales' Adam Walton and the Peppermint Patti team, as well as having her CD named Demo Of The Week by Organ Magazine. Suffice to say that tonight's performance suggests her star will be in the ascendancy for some time to come.

The most striking thing about Lily - aside from the way her lightning fast fingers attack the keyboard - is the sheer passion and intensity of her performances. Whether she's playing the relatively difficult and experimental electronica-tinged tracks or lightening the mood with a simpler but no less poignant song about a ladybird (which, with its sense of inquisitiveness, humanity and wonderment at the world, is reminiscent of The Flaming Lips), she is equally spellbinding, and the audience unanimously affords her due respect in the form of complete silence.

Drunk Granny, however, are a different prospect altogether. Like Gindrinker, the duo have been terrorising venues in and around Cardiff for some time now, steadily acquiring fans and cult status in the process.

The kind of drunk granny they conjure up isn't one who is mildly sozzled on sherry and who falls asleep on the sofa on Christmas Day. No, it's one who takes the occasion of her granddaughter's wedding to down glass after glass of wine, polish off a few G'n'Ts and then stand on the table, flash her knickers to the assembled guests and loudly announce she's coming out. Before falling face first into the cake.

But, intriguingly, they're not just the chaotic post-riot-grrrl blitz that that might imply. Beneath the looseness of the performance and the song structures themselves, there are melodic ambitions and some great tunes fighting to get out, like ferrets in a sack. A little bit of spit here and polish there, and songs like 'Care Home Rock' and 'Secret Garden' could buff up nicely.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Quote of the day

"What I did come to realize was this: that the strangest behaviours are always answering some very normal human need - for love, for religious meaning, for a place in the world. And that the 'weird beliefs' themselves never stood in the way of me making a human connection, be it however briefly, with them."

Louis Theroux reflects on weirdness.

SWSL is currently in the top 10 on Google for "infantilism in Wolverhampton". Needless to say, I'm rather concerned.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Every Rose has her thorn


Llan Clan take to the stage early - probably a good thing, too, as it's sure to be past their bedtime before long. The bilingual fivepiece are on the youthful side, y'see - long-haired drummer Tomos Ayres in particular can't be much older than fourteen, and it's proud parents who make up the first few rows.

But the sprightly indiepopsters have been personally selected to play by promoters Peppermint Patti for a reason, and whatever they lack in years (and occasionally in timing) they make up for in freshness and enthusiasm, closing with a heartwarming paean to their hometown Blaenau Ffestiniog. You see, Daily Mail readers - being a teenager isn't all smoking glue and sniffing crack. No, the kids are all right.

Whereas The Physicists are all wrong - but in a good way. The quartet, who count ex Bikini Kill star Tobi Vail amongst those they've impressed, are purveyors of thrashing, brattish punk songs that snarl and bite and are about "homosexuals and crack and dogs".

What really distinguishes them, though, is a guitarist who's keen to kick out warp speed AC/DC riffs and thereby divert them from towing the narrow riot grrrrl party line, and a gobby frontwoman with a sense of humour: "I just looked into the crowd and thought someone had their back to us. Then I realised it was their face. Is that bad?" Er... Anyway, The Physicists: it ain't rocket science, it's only rock 'n' roll - but I like it.

As if Sonic Youth weren't marvellous enough already, now it seems as though they can justifiably claim responsibility for effecting a 21st century entente cordiale between England and France. For Underground Railroad, whose members met in Paris but who have set up home in London, recreate the sound of the angry discordant Youth of the mid to late 1980s, just as they were working their way up to Daydream Nation.

There's a case for saying that guitarist Marion Andrau takes things a little too far into hero worship, Kim Gordon her role model in everything from dress sense to onstage movement to vocal style. After all, didn't the New Yorkers once say something about killing your idols? But I for one am glad that it's resurrection and not murder that's going on here, though their sound is murderous enough - a kicking, screaming and thoroughly satisfying racket.

And so to the headliner - not, as one wag at the bar downstairs puts it, Ross Kemp, but Underground Railroad's labelmate Rose Kemp, the daughter of Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp.

Two things are likely to dog the 22-year-old, whose album A Hand Full Of Hurricanes is released on One Little Indian early next month: firstly that her prominence is down to her parentage; and secondly, particularly given the fact that she has taken up residency in Bristol, that she is the new PJ Harvey. The first isn't anything she can control and so is grossly unfair; as for the second, she does at times court the comparison, but it's far too lazy to leave it there.

What tonight's show demonstrates is that Kemp has a raw talent of her own, most vividly apparent when she performs two solo songs (one of which, 'Fire In The Garden', can be heard on her MySpace page), sampling herself to create a choral effect, and later following them up with a breathtaking acapella song delivered from the front of the stage unassisted even by a microphone.

But it's a different matter when her backing band (consisting partly of members of one of her other groups, experimental doom-metallers VILNA) are involved; her voice is all too often submerged and lost beneath the muddy guitar sludge. Perhaps it's the fault of the sound technicians rather than Kemp's hairy cohorts themselves, but either way it's frustrating that this rough diamond is allowed little opportunity to shine.

Afterwards we're lingering downstairs before leaving when we catch Llan Clan guitarist Sion Jones being hoisted up onto someone's shoulders in order to unpin a bill poster as a keepsake. A spot of light-fingered liberation - and who could blame him? Apart, of course, from the Mail reader muttering "Damn hoodies" under his or her breath...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Know Your Enemy

"There really has to be an end to the celebration of stupidity and ignorance."

Lorraine Kelly attempts to land a left hook in the anti-Jade backlash. Shame, then, that her comments appeared in the Sun, that esteemed organ of news which appears to be dedicated solely to such celebration. Not so clever now, are we, Lorraine?
Reason to be cheerful

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, cynicism can increase the risk of heart disease. A bit unfortunate, really - I mean, it's hardly the sort of news cynics need, is it? Optimists could have taken the revelation in their stride, whistling along to 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life'...
Feel good hits of the 23rd January

1. 'The Race Is On Again' - Yo La Tengo
2. 'Metronomic Underground' - Stereolab
3. 'Your Face Looks All Wrong' - Hot Club De Paris
4. 'Jealous Girls' - The Gossip
5. 'Headache' - Underground Railroad
6. 'Suspicious Character' - The Blood Arm
7. 'Patience' - Lily Green
8. 'Half Time' - Mogwai
9. 'Luna Phase' - The Fuzz Birds
10. 'Care Home Rock' - Drunk Granny
Word up

Hurrah! News to warm the cockles just as the temperature has plummetted: BBC2's 'Balderdash & Piffle' is back for a second series this spring. Don't be a plonker (earliest recorded usage: 1966) or a tosser (earliest recorded usage: 1977) and get watching.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dairy good


Last March, Stewart Lee came to Chapter to film a DVD of his '90s Comedian' show. Now his former comedy partner Richard Herring has decided to follow suit, enlisting the services of independent Chapter-based DVD production company Go Faster Stripe and resurrecting his 2005 Edinburgh show 'Someone Likes Yoghurt' before the cameras and a select few punters - ourselves included.

Herring launches straight into a routine about Rudyard Kipling's 'If', carefully unpicking and taking issue with it with his familiar dogged persistence and incision. Unfortunately, it's not particularly funny and makes for a fairly flat and disappointing opening to the show.

It's not until he moves onto the second section, where there are some easier laughs about The Monkees having sex with monkeys, that he starts to hit his stride, making much more of the material than most comics would. The careful and exhaustive analysis of the magpie-related nursery rhyme 'One For Sorrow, Two For Joy' which follows is equally clever and hilarious. Somewhere in there Jimmy Carr is dismissed as having "no moral compass", and Peter Kay is amusingly caricatured as a comedian who "talks about things from the 1970s and school that you thought you'd forgotten but hadn't really", while subtle references to "skelingtons" and Tony Blairs" are worked in for the benefit of comedy nerds like myself.

By the time Herring gets to the fourth section of the first half, he has the bit firmly between his teeth, savaging Catholicism to brilliant effect. It's a reminder of the intelligence that underpins his most offensive and puerile observations, and of his ability to make sharp satirical points even with the bluntest of instruments. Despite having performed the show once already tonight, his energy levels are high and there's a real sense of performance in the way he harangues members of the audience (even a 16-year-old girl, on the subject of sperm the size of trout...), introducing an element of confrontation. Like Lee he is unafraid of making people feel uncomfortable - indeed it often seems to be his objective.

Herring too enjoys reflecting upon and dissecting the way comedy works as part of his act, as is most evident in the second part of the show, and the material that gives it its name. We witnessed an early prototype version of the yoghurt diatribe two years ago, and not much has changed except for its elongation and the addition of some clever references back to material from the first half of the show. As an exercise in wringing out as much humour as possible from an ostensibly trivial incident, it's perhaps slightly self-indulgent but, in fairness, also essentially the sort of thing he does as a matter of routine, albeit taken to an extreme - and, though it tries some people's patience, I'm laughing along heartily throughout.


SWSL interview with Richard Herring

SWSL review of Herring's 2004 Edinburgh show 'The Twelve Tasks Of Hercules Terrace'

Herring's thoughts on the two Chapter shows on his blog Warming Up
Bloody hell

Just popped into Spillers to discover I was too slow off the blocks for tickets to Thursday's Blood Brothers / Help She Can't Swim gig. Very annoying - partly because, with Blood Red Shoes and The Blood Arm among the bands I'll be seeing in the next few weeks, it would have made for a curious coincidence.

On a different Cardiff-music-related note, my review of the Twisted By Design compilation This Town Ain't Big Enough For The 22 Of Us is now up on the Vanity Project site.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

All change

So there I was, bumbling along happily enough.

Until a few days ago, when I made the potentially fatal mistake of deciding to give into Blogger's pressure and sign up for the New Super-Duper Upgrade. Oh dear.

I had naively believed the hype when they said it would all be smooth and trouble-free, and so was rather concerned to find that the Silent Words Speak Loudest homepage would no longer load properly and the archive links had disappeared - though mercifully the links to archived posts in the sidebar still worked.

So today, in a bid to recover my archives, I followed the advice of the Blogger help page and customised my template - the first significant change to my template since the blog was set up in October 2002. That would explain why it feels like you're in unfamiliar surroundings, then.

The problem with having done that, of course, is that my enormous and carefully constructed sidebar index has been lost. I've set about reinserting the links, but the new interface is a pain in the arse, only allowing you to order your links how you want with extreme difficulty. I've started, and believe me I will finish - but in the meantime SWSL is likely to be something of a building site.

What's more, I've lost all your comments (my comments facility was Haloscan rather than Blogger), and with the installment of the new Blogger facility I think you'll be obliged to sign in, for which I apologise - I wanted it to be as open as possible. And my Sitemeter hit counter has gone too.

The upgrade is supposed to have made it easier and more user-friendly for those who don't want to have to get to grips with the basics of HTML.

Excuse me while I go and pull my hair out.

Normal service will be resumed soon. With any luck.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The hit parade

It may be mid January, and everyone else has long since seen 2006 disappearing in the rear view mirror, but it would be remiss of me not to make mention of some of the end-of-year lists to be found elsewhere simply because my own was so tardy. So...

Special mention must go to the one-man blogging phenomenon that is Simon, whose output on Sweeping The Nation throughout December was little short of extraordinary. Amongst all the goodness, there was a review of 2006 as well as single and album of the year lists (with each of the Top 30 albums given its own post throughout the month). Simon also compiled a poll of UK Blogger Albums Of 2006, to which I and many others contributed.

Meanwhile, Swiss Toni came up with an end-of-year project of his own, enlisting the help of his readers and guest editors to compile a list of the Earworms Of The Year 2006. Not unsurprisingly, none of my Top Five made it into the Top Twenty-Five: Los Campesinos!' 'You Me Dancing!', The Icarus Line's 'Getting Bright At Night', Cat Power's 'The Greatest', The Long Blondes' 'Weekend Without Makeup' and LCD Soundsystem's 'Losing My Edge'.

And now for the best of the rest (in alphabetic order):

Are The Stars Out Tonight?: Records Of The Year / Gigs Of The Year

Casino Avenue: End-of-year Playlist

Danger! High Postage: Albums Of The Year

Expecting To Fly: Albums Of The Year 2006

funfunfun: Favourite Albums Of The Year (15-11 / 10-6 / 5-1)

Me And My CDs: The Best Of 2006 (also available in the form of a podcast)

Parallax View: Albums Of The Year 2006

Silence Is A Rhythm Too: Top 20 Albums Of The Year

Troubled Diva: Best Albums Of 2006 / Rockin' Mike's Gigs Of 2006

And just to round things off, Nick Southall of Stylus presents his Top Ten Albums Released Since Stylus Began That I Did Not Realise Were Great Until It Was Too Late To Vote For Them In End-Of-Year Polls, which includes Sonic Youth's Sonic Nurse, Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People and Electrelane's The Power Out amongst others.

And so what of 2007? There's plenty of crystal-ball-gazing on Sweeping The Nation and funfunfun, while Kenny has linked to this article from the Times, one of many in which industry bigwigs predict who will shoot to prominence over the next twelve months.

But ultimately all you really need to know is that The Arcade Fire's new album Neon Bible is out on 5th March and you can hear snippets of the new material here.

What is significant about Marks & Spencer's announcement of a five-year "eco-plan" today is not so much the plan itself - though its scope is impressively wide-ranging and its incorporation of checkable targets laudable. No, as the BBC's Business Editor Robert Peston points out, it's the thinking that has prompted the adoption of the plan in the first place.

On the one hand, it is depressing that decisions regarding environmentally and ethically conscious practices haven't been taken for their own sake. However, the fact that M&S and its chief exec Stuart Rose are convinced that the plan makes sound business sense is nevertheless enormously encouraging.

Big business has long been suspicious of and resistant to measures designed to protect the environment in the long term because they are perceived to have an unacceptably negative impact upon profit margins in the short term - so it's significant that Rose feels the changes brought about by the implementation of the plan will actually pay for themselves (the costs won't be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices) and indeed create extra revenue.

It'll be interesting to see how it all works out, and whether other business leaders hear Rose talking about environmentally conscious practices in the only language they understand (that of money), but in the meantime fair play to M&S for being the first major British retailer to make a meaningful move.
Mustn't grumble

Thanks to Jon for drawing my attention to this Guardian article discussing the disjunction between personal contentment with one's life and public dissatisfaction with the wider world - and the role of the media in fuelling or even creating the latter. No news may be good news for us, but not for those whose existence depends upon flogging us papers...
Searching for bumping into the young old soul rebel

A text from a friend received late on Friday night: "Just got pushed out the way by Kevin Rowland". Oh well, I suppose having written 'Geno' excuses that sort of behaviour.

Apparently Kev was wandering around the Civic in Wolverhampton wearing "some odd pseudo-biker gang outfit kind of thing". Obviously moved on from donkey jackets, dungarees and women's clothing...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2006

Late, very late, I know, but hopefully forgiveably so - the acquisition of a number of albums around Christmas having justified delaying the list so it reflected a broader survey of what the year had to offer.

As with most years, though, I spent much time catching up on what I missed out on last time around - as well as albums from much further back in time. LCD Soundsystem, The Duke Spirit, REM, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Silver Jews, Editors, The Wedding Present, Yourcodenameis:milo and The Vaselines have all been among those whose non-2006 albums I played to death.

And as ever, there is a shamefully long list of records I haven't heard which, judging by what I've read of them, might conceivably have made an impact on the Top 10 had I done so. Deep breath...

ABSENTEE – Schmotime
BARDO POND - Ticket Crystals
CALEXICO - Garden Ruin
CAMERA OBSCURA - Let's Get Out Of This Country
DEAD MEADOW – Feathers
THE DEARS – Gang Of Losers
THE DELGADOS – The Peel Sessions
DRESDEN DOLLS – Yes, Virginia
EVENS - Get Evens
GUILLEMOTS – Through The Window Pane
HOT CHIP – The Warning
THE HOT PUPPIES – Under The Crooked Moon
ISIS - In The Absence Of Truth
KELIS – Kelis Was Here
LCD Soundsystem – 45:33
LIARS – Drums Not Dead
THE MAGIC NUMBERS – Those The Brokes
THE MELVINS – (A) Senile Animal
METRIC – Live It Out
MIDLAKE – The Trials Of Van Occupanther
MISSION OF BURMA – The Obliterati
MUSE – Black Holes And Revelations
THE PIPETTES – We Are The Pipettes
THE RAPTURE – Pieces Of The People We Love
RED SPARROWES - Every Red Heart Shines Towards The Sun
SERENA-MANEESH – Serena-Maneesh
SOPHIA - Technology Won't Save Us
TAPES 'N' TAPES – The Loon
TILLY AND THE WALL – Wild Like Children
THE VICTORIAN ENGLISH GENTLEMENS CLUB – The Victorian English Gentlemens Club
JAMES YORKSTON – The Year Of The Leopard

You might well be wondering what I DID hear in 2006. Well, here are the honourable mentions, those albums which I enjoyed in part or wholly, some of which grazed the Top 10:

BECK – The Information
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE – Broken Social Scene
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
CLINIC – Visitations
GRAHAM COXON – Love Travels At Illegal Speeds
DEATH OF FASHION – Hello Movement
THE DRONES – Gala Mill
ENVY – Insomniac Doze
THE FLAMING LIPS – At War With The Mystics
THE FUTUREHEADS – News And Tributes
THE GOSSIP – Standing In The Way Of Control
THE GRATES – Gravity Won’t Get You High
THE LONG BLONDES – Someone To Drive You Home
LOVEMAT – The Fearless Hair Days Of Youth
MOGWAI – 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait' soundtrack
PETER BJORN & JOHN – Writer’s Block
SECRET MACHINES – Ten Silver Drops
THE SHORTWAVE SET – The Debt Collection
THE STROKES – First Impressions Of Earth
TV ON THE RADIO – Return To Cookie Mountain
VARIOUS – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The 22 Of Us
WE ARE SCIENTISTS – With Love And Squalor
THOM YORKE - The Eraser
YOU & THE ATOM BOMB – Shake Shake Hello?!
THE YOUNG KNIVES – Voices Of Animals And Men

Of those, News And Tributes was probably the biggest disappointment, lacking the bite and vivacity of its predecessor (though perversely the quieter more reflective songs like 'Thursday' and the title track were the ones to make the greatest impression) - but a few spins of the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album have not been enough to divulge the magic it's alleged to contain; the robo-funk nadirs of At War With The Mystics continue to leave a bad taste in my mouth; Clinic seem content to repeat the trick of previous records; and Voices Of Animals And Men never matched up to my (admittedly high) expectations, the clutch of excellent singles dragged down by the truly horrible 'Tailors' in particular.

Most frustrating? Both Broken Social Scene and Writer's Block have moments of brilliance, but I found both rather too patchy for real satisfaction. Meanwhile, it took me a long time to decide I did actually like Ten Silver Drops, its proggy pomposity eventually either being excused or winning me around - I'm still not sure which.

Closest to scraping into the Top 10? That would be Someone To Drive You Home, The Long Blondes' sharp and stylish debut packed full of art-pop magic. The fruit of Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan's unlikely union came close too, though it wasn't quite dark enough for my tastes. And I seem to have been alone in admiring the Strokes' third album, on which they edged away from the template and Julian Casablancas' lyrics became more intriguingly self-lacerating.

So, to business...

10. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – Show Your Bones
The NY threesome's sophomore effort took time to bed in, lacking anything as riotous as 'Date With The Night' or as unexpectedly sublime as 'Maps'. But, with bands like The Grates queueing up to fill the void, YYYs withdrew from the cheap, loud thrills of Fever To Tell and discovered texture and tone - and in the process created an album with hidden depths, rather than just glassy surfaces in which to admire one's reflection and off which to snort Columbia's finest.
Key track: 'Dudley'

9. GIANT DRAG – Hearts And Unicorns
In an NME photoshoot, Annie Hardy (Giant Drag's one remaining member now that Micah Calabrese has left) was captured with a Love Heart reading "Fuck" on the tip of her tongue. Rather appropriate, really - after all, her band's breakthrough album featured a song called 'You Fuck Like My Dad'. Hearts And Unicorns is eleven potent rock songs clad in a thick jumper of guitar fuzz of the sort shoegazery types like me would love to have got for Christmas. And that's not to mention the bonus track, an incendiary cover of Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game'...
Key track: 'Kevin Is Gay'

8. YO LA TENGO – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
There's often a late gatecrasher - last year it was Field Music, this year veteran trio Yo La Tengo, to whose charms I was finally awakened by their gig at The Point in November. Of course it helped that they had an excellent album to showcase - from the serene sweep of 'I Feel Like Going Home' and the gently propulsive 'The Race Is On Again' to the joyous levity of 'Mr Tough' and the equally unexpected rockabilly gallop of 'Watch Out For Me Ronnie'. And all bookended by two brilliant excursions to the outer limits of their art. Where have they been all my life?!
Key track: 'Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind'

7. MOGWAI – Mr Beast
Glaswegian noiseniks Mogwai released not one but two albums in 2006. With much of the quieter, more languid and experimental material portioned off for their soundtrack to 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait', Mr Beast had a mighty roar. If songs like 'Glasgow Mega-Snake' and 'We're No Here' were a cartoon superhero, they would be the Hulk, stretching, ripping and bursting their way out of their clothes, the trappings of civilisation not quite able to contain them. That said, the likes of 'Team Handed' indicated they still had a firm grip of poise and elegant restraint. My lukewarm Vanity Project review was rather premature - consider my placing it seventh equivalent to donning a hair shirt.
Key track: 'Glasgow Mega-Snake'

6. SONIC YOUTH – Rather Ripped
After Yo La Tengo, another bunch of nearly-pensionable Hobokenites - and you're probably well aware where this lot have been (nearly) all my life: in my heart. Rather Ripped (their twelvtieth, by all accounts) took 2004's superb Sonic Nurse and compressed it into an even more concise - and, yes, poppy - form. And did it brilliantly. Was it really just six years ago that they opened their All Tomorrow's Parties headline set with a half-hour-long unreleased song called 'New Drone'? It could possibly have ranked higher, but, unfortunately for them, their consistency has bred my complacency: I expected - or rather knew - it would be great, and indeed it was.
Key track: 'Incinerate'

5. ANATHALLO – Floating World
The person who first introduced me to Anathallo, Simon of Sweeping The Nation, would probably regard the inclusion of Floating World in this list as rather contentious for the simple reason that it is still awaiting an official UK release. Certainly there can be no quibbling as to the quality of the record itself, astounding in its ambition and scope, frequently breathtaking in its execution. Surely Floating World won't be allowed to sink without trace on its way across the Atlantic?
Key track: 'Hoodwink'

4. SEMIFINALISTS – Semifinalists
Like Floating World, Semifinalists' debut LP was an extraordinary feat of imagination. With Wayne Coyne and company handily sidetracked by the sort of pastiche funk for which Beck was briefly lambasted, the trio - who met as students at film school (of course) - stole in and turned out this near-masterpiece which, like The Soft Bulletin, lies on its back looking at the heavens, humble and awestruck. And yet, far from being a series of ponderously lengthy meditations (see Secret Machines' Ten Silver Drops), the record weighs in at just over half an hour. It's only dissatisfying in the sense that the listener is left thirsty for more.
Key track: 'Show The Way'

3. CAT POWER – The Greatest
When it came to the stateliness and subtlety of the instrumentation, no other record in this year's Top 10 could match Cat Power's The Greatest. Chan Marshall's search for the perfect musical foil for her wonderful voice took her to Nashville. Just a shame she didn't bump into Mark Lanegan on the way, and that, on 'Hate' in particular, she couldn't help herself from drifting into an unnecessarily maudlin and melodramatic self-loathing. So, The Greatest wasn't quite the greatest of 2006 - but it certainly came very close.
Key track: 'The Greatest'

As with Anathallo, it's to a fellow blogger that I owe my acquaintance to My Latest Novel - so step forwards and take a bow, James. Such was the quality of the Scots' startling debut that even that indier-than-thou name and over-familiarity with the works of Belle & Sebastian couldn't stop me from succumbing to its strange charms. The sound of The Arcade Fire, Arab Strap, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, a marching band and a children's choir meeting in the woods at night for a screening of 'The Wicker Man'.
Key track: 'Sister Sneaker Sister Soul'

1. HOWLING BELLS – Howling Bells
A debut LP released by former Cocteau Twins Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie's Bella Union label with something of the night about it? It's fair to say that Howling Bells' self-titled album had a lot in common with Wolves, the record it narrowly edged out for the top spot. So why did it triumph, what made it so special? Well, it conjured up the dusty highways of their native Australia without any attendant emotional aridity; they looked like the house band from the bar in Nick Cave's 'The Proposition'; Joel Stein's guitar-playing was perfection; and his sister Juanita had the sort of voice that could lure sailors to their death, even if Chan Marshall was sat singing on a neighbouring rock. But the fact that the album's centrepiece was called 'A Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts' pretty much told you all you needed to know. Scuffed, bruised, battered, bittersweet - but beautiful with it.
Key track: 'A Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts'

Lest we forget - this being the fifth year of the SWSL Top 10...

9. THE HIVES - Your New Favourite Band
8. CAVE IN - Tides Of Tomorrow
7. IDLEWILD - The Remote Part
6. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - Songs For The Deaf
3. SONIC YOUTH - Murray Street
2. INTERPOL - Turn On The Bright Lights
1. SPARTA - Wiretap Scars

10. EELS - Shootenanny!
9. CAVE IN - Antenna
8. HOT HOT HEAT - Make Up The Breakdown
7. RADIOHEAD - Hail To The Thief
6. YEAH YEAH YEAHS - Fever To Tell
5. THE STROKES - Room On Fire
4. MOGWAI - Happy Music For Happy People
3. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
2. THE MARS VOLTA - De-Loused In The Comatorium
1. THE RAVEONETTES - Chain Gang Of Love

10. CLINIC - Winchester Cathedral
9. KELIS - Tasty
8. PJ HARVEY - Uh Huh Her
7. THE ICARUS LINE - Penance Soiree
6. INTERPOL - Antics
5. THE FIERY FURNACES - Blueberry Boat
4. FRANZ FERDINAND - Franz Ferdinand
3. SONIC YOUTH - Sonic Nurse
2. THE FUTUREHEADS - The Futureheads
1. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus

10. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - Lullabies To Paralyze
9. FIELD MUSIC - Field Music
8. EELS - Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
7. FRANZ FERDINAND - You Could Have It So Much Better
6. BLOC PARTY - Silent Alarm
5. THE RAVEONETTES - Pretty In Black
4. MAXIMO PARK - A Certain Trigger
3. SIGUR ROS - Takk
2. LOW - The Great Destroyer
1. THE ARCADE FIRE - Funeral

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Caesium and water, vodka and tomato juice, sandals and white socks, Tim Westwood - things that should never mix. But what about music and politics? The latest installment of the In The Dock feature on The Art Of Noise finds me defending the idea of musicians dabbling in politics. Just a shame for my chances of victory that "dabbling" was originally my choice of word...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Quote of the day

"There's no worse sin as an artist than hiding behind cliches and abstraction. If you have something to say, it should be able to be understood by everyone. So I wanted to make sure this album had a real centre."

Kele Okereke of Bloc Party talks to the Observer's Craig McLean about their forthcoming second album A Weekend In The City, due out at the beginning of next month.

Okereke comes across as intelligent and articulate, but also as nervous, confused and paranoid. There's the familiar lack of levity; everything said seems earnest and considered. McLean suggests that he may be "beginning to grasp that he has made a brilliant album - and to worry about what that will mean in terms of personal exposure", alluding to the more personal nature of the lyrical material.

McLean's implication that A Weekend In The City is Okereke's work alone is rather disconcerting - he is part of a band, after all - and it's also a bit concerning that he is happy being interviewed in isolation from the others. Whatever, the fruit of their joint labours is high up on my shopping list for 2007.
Know Your Enemy

"Explaining rather than simply asserting Eliot's power as a poet and his theory of impersonality is the task of the critic, but it is a task which Raine continually shirks."

You can always rely on trusty old Tom Paulin for some sharp comments. This comes from his review of Craig Raine's new biography of T. S. Eliot, with which he is rather less than enamoured.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Quote of the day

"I think it's useful to seem responsible. It means I get an office at the BBC, when really they shouldn't trust me further than they can kick me".

Armando Iannucci, in conversation with Mark Lawson on BBC Four last night.

Sandwiched between the Alan Partridge Christmas special 'Knowing Me Knowing Yule' (which Iannucci co-wrote and produced) and the Christmas special of his political satire 'The Thick Of It', the hour-long interview was packed full of fascinating stuff - not least the details of his first meeting with Chris Morris, in which they met at BBC Television Centre and then drove round and round it for a couple of hours chatting because there were no parking spaces. The beginnings of a beautiful friendship indeed. For someone who, like Morris, seems to get a thrill out of being provocative, in many ways Iannucci came across as quite a conservative person, as well as an unashamed comedy enthusiast (less surprisingly).

Perhaps most revealing was Iannucci's evident unease at Partridge's infamous 1996 interview with Tony Blair in front of a youthful audience, one which was (as he said) entirely "on-message". Ten years later, and he was spoofing Blair's assassination in 'Time Trumpet', as part of The Terrorism Awards presented by Peter Snow and Philippa Forrester...

And what of 'The Thick Of It', the second series of which follows later this year? Well, there was an obvious need to keep Hugh Abbot, the bumbling minister played by Chris Langham, out of things, but what was good to see was that the programme didn't collapse without its centre.

Instead, Olly Reeder (Chris Addison) and Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi, in superb vein-popping form) took the lead, with the latter's near-breakdown particularly effective, and we were also introduced to the Shadow Minister Peter Mannion (Roger Allam) and his team, pretty much a mirror image, for whom the biggest issue of the day was nothing to do with social affairs or citizenship but whether or not Mannion should be seen wearing a tie in public.

If I had one reservation - and I never thought I'd say this - it would be that much of the humour (more than in the first series) relied upon the vulgarities exchanged between the characters. The dialogue could I think have been sharper and more witty had the emphasis not so often been on simple verbal crudity as a comic device. It perhaps had more of Jesse 'Peep Show' Armstrong about it than Iannucci himself, so it'll be interesting to see how the second series pans out.
Feel good hits of the 3rd January

1. 'Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind' - Yo La Tengo
2. 'Objects Of My Affection' - Peter Bjorn & John
3. 'Heartbreak Stroll' - The Raveonettes
4. 'Giddy Stratospheres' - The Long Blondes
5. 'El Caminos In The West' - Grandaddy
6. 'On The Beach' - Neil Young
7. 'Schizophrenia' - Sonic Youth
8. 'Old Flame' - The Arcade Fire
9. 'Black Spider' - Mogwai
10. 'Crip To Be Square' - Sweet Baboo

Incidentally, my top five Earworms of 2006 (ie not necessarily 2006 releases), as drawn from a year's worth of Feel Good Hits posts, were as follows:

1. 'You Me Dancing!' - Los Campesinos!
2. 'Getting Bright At Night' - The Icarus Line
3. 'The Greatest' - Cat Power
4. 'Weekend Without Makeup' - The Long Blondes
5. 'Losing My Edge' - LCD Soundsystem

Not surprisingly, none of them made the Top 25 as compiled by Swiss Toni...

(And don't worry, I haven't forgotten about my own increasingly tardy Top 10 Albums Of 2006 list - it's being hastily thrown together as I type. Well, not almost - I'm not quite that good at multi-tasking...)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Blogwatch: in brief

If you read one blog post this week, let it be this one in which Abby aka Girl With A One-Track Mind reflects on her "weird year" and in the process reproduces one of the charming emails sent to her in early August by Nicholas Hellen, (Acting) News Editor of The Sunday Times, shortly before the paper exposed her identity. The odious cunt.

And from a blog celebrating its third birthday to one that's less than a week old:

If you read one blog this week, let it be The Last Bus Home, the brand new home of an old friend.
Short(er) fiction

Wired Magazine asks a host of sci-fi, fantasy and horror writers to follow in Ernest Hemingway's footsteps and write a six word short story.

My favourite? Either Margaret Atwood's "Longed for him. Got him. Shit", Neal Stephenson's "Tick tock tick tock tick tick" or Brian Herbert's "Epitaph: He shouldn't have fed it".

That said, Hemingway's original is probably better than them all: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn".

Feel free to leave your own efforts in the comments box...

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)