Monday, July 25, 2011

This week I have been mostly not listening to: The Eagles

I stumbled across a song called 'County Line' by Cass McCombs a couple of weeks back, it’s a beautiful ballad from his album 'Wits End' about returning to a former home you never loved but which still has a hold on you. When Cass McCombs sings 'You never even tried to love me' in his soulful fragile croon it really hits you in the gut the only way a great song can. Have a listen:

While you couldn't class that song as a country song, the vocals and melody reminde me of one of my favourite country singers Gram Parsons, which in turn reminded me of how much I hate the Eagles.
If you're not familiar with Gram Parsons, he's an influential country rock singer who tragically died in 1973 from a morphine overdose at the age of 26. He was originally in the Byrds but went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers before going solo and releasing two great albums 'GP' and 'The Grievous Angel'. Gram struggled in obscurity for most of his career partly due to the colossal sales of the Eagles, who had taken country music and turned it into the musical equivalent of a Texas redneck farting into an empty KFC bucket, providing further proof that the most successful band in a genre is often the least talented and interesting. If Gram Parsons was a Flying Burrito then the Eagles were a low grade sausage roll constructed of pig snouts and anuses encased in a dry flaky pastry.
But when I was an ignorant 17 year old I thought all country music was rubbish because of the Eagles, what a fool I was. Luckily I saw past the infinitely tedious guitar solo of 'Hotel California' to the crusty golden nuggets of Neil Young and Gram Parsons underneath. Here's a bit of Gram for you. This song is called 'Brass Buttons'.

So in conclusion, don't judge country music by the Eagles or Garth Brooks in the same way you wouldn't judge all Hip Hop music by ‘Boom! Shake the room’ by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Don’t miss out on all the goodness on offer like I did.
Before I sign off take a look at this performance of the absurdly great country standard 'Galveston' by an impeccably coiffed Glen Campbell. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a protest song against war taken from the personal perspective of a man on the frontline reminiscing about his home and the love of his life. Prepare for an emotional rollercoaster.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This week I have been mostly playing: Spot the Da Vinci code

I love charity shops. There I’ve said it. Amongst the detritus people rightfully jettison from their lives (Ally McBeal box sets on VHS for example), in a charity shop you can often find treasures like a miniature drum kit or the soundtrack from Xanadu on Vinyl.
I also find it’s more rewarding to clutter your house up with recycled, second hand items that have some individuality and history rather than blindly consuming mass produced tot, after all, the human race must have accumulated enough reusable junk over the course of its history to more than satisfy future generations. Plus of course, all the proceeds go to charity which is also obviously a good thing.
But I’m not here to discuss my penchant for musty tweed jackets; I’m here to discuss a new sport that’s gripping the nation.
What is the sport in question I hear you say? Well, it’s called 'Spot the Da Vinci Code'.
The rules are as follows
'Spot the Da Vinci code' is a sport for 2 or more players that takes place in a charity shop. The aim of the game is to be the first player to 'spot' a second hand copy of the 'Da Vinci Code' by comedic author Dan Brown. The winner of the 'bout' or 'chukka' is declared when one of the players reaches 100 points.
Points are awarded as follows:
·         Once a player has 'spotted' the Da Vinci code by Dan Brown, he or she must declare the fact to the other players by saying 'Look I've spotted the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown'. The book is then independently verified by the other players to ensure it is in fact the Da Vinci code and not a different Dan Brown title (Angels and Demons or Digital Fortress for example). 10 points are then awarded to the player and the game continues until all copies of the Da Vinci code in the shop have been spotted. If all copies have been spotted and a player is still yet to reach 100 points, the game moves to the next available charity shop.
·         If 2 or more people spot the same copy of the Da Vinci code simultaneously the 10 points are shared amongst the players equally.
·         In the unlikely event of a draw, all players should contemplate why they are wasting their lives playing this game and go and do something more constructive.
Now I've been playing this sport for 3 years (I'm still undisputed world champion), and I can honestly say I have never failed to find a second hand copy of the Da Vinci code in a charity shop.
Why is this you may ask? Why is there such an overabundance of ‘Da Vinci codes’ in this cruel world? Well, I think it’s because the Da Vinci code became too popular for its own good. All of a sudden, against their better judgment, everyone had a copy.
I bet you had a copy, and like secretively gorging yourself on leftover pizza slices from your neighbours’ bin, you became ashamed, disgusted with yourself that you’d given in to the fad, and so you took your tear soiled copy of the Da Vinci code down your local charity shop with your Ally McBeal box set on VHS and you gave it away, thinking you were doing the world a favour.
But no-one’s going to buy the Da Vinci code are they? Everyone on the planet has bought a copy and given it to a charity shop themselves already you small minded fool, so what’s going to happen to them all? Can they be put to good use? Facing the uncertainty of an environmental and financial crisis as we undoubtedly are, the question must be asked; can the unwanted spawn of Dan Brown help?
I think they can, here are some suggestions:
The Da Vinci code powered car
Instead of burning fossil fuels to power your automobile, burn the Da Vinci code (I’m not condoning book burning, I love books and hold the written word as sacred, but in this case, as it’s for the greater good, I can let this one go). The tax for the Carbon produced can then be billed to Dan Brown who would be indirectly responsible. Don’t worry, he can afford it.
The Da Vinci code currency
As conventional currencies such as the Euro become obsolete, a world currency can take its place where copies of The Da Vinci code can be exchanged for goods and services.
The Da Vinci code home
Houses for the homeless can be cheaply built using copies of the Da Vinci code that are compacted together to form rudimentary bricks.
But while the bigwigs in government continue to ignore the aforementioned obvious solutions to the abundance of ludicrously mediocre thrillers in our charity shops, we can at least take solace in the sport of ‘Spot the Da Vinci code’, a ray of sunshine in our otherwise bleak lives.
I’m looking into starting a national league, if you’re interested please let me know, places are still available.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

This week I have been mostly listening to: David Comes to Life by Fucked Up

The sound of Fucked Up can be summed up by contemplating their front man 'Pink Eyes'. Imagine a large, sweating, shirtless man with copious amounts of body and facial hair running at you screaming and growling. How do you feel? Maybe a little intimidated, definitely exhilarated, and even possibly slightly aroused. These are certainly the emotions that come to the fore when I hear the thrilling mixture of 80's hardcore punk and melodic art-rock squall on 'David Comes to Life'.
People will often tell you that no-one cares about the album format anymore, that it’s been killed by the internet and the quick fix download culture, but this certainly can't be leveled at Fucked Up. In 'David Comes to Life they have fashioned a sprawling Rock Opera in four parts concerning a tragic love affair between the main protagonists David and Veronica. You by no means have to invest in the story to enjoy the album, and due to Pink Eyes almost unvarying delivery of the lyrics in a fierce guttural yell, the plot can sometimes be impenetrable, but if you're interested, the lyrics can be found here (they're not Goethe or Shakespeare but are certainly ambitious and worth a look).
After the opening, relatively sedate, chiming guitars and gentle feedback of instrumental 'Let her Rest' the pattern of the album is set by the rollicking 'Queen of Hearts'. The pounding rhythm section forms the foundation for the towering wall of sound on which Pink Eyes fierce vocals sit. These vocals are really the only harsh and abrasive thing about the bands style and they are balanced perfectly by the interplay between the three guitarists (10,000 Marbles, Gulag and Young Governor). This interplay, coupled with additional guitar overdubs brings the melodic punch and each song is laden with hooks. Guest vocals from Cults singer Madeline Follin and singer songwriter Jennifer Castle (representing the characters of Veronica and Vivian respectively) are scattered throughout the album which also provide a nice counterpoint to the uncompromising voices of David and the apparent narrator Octavio.
The pace doesn't let up after this, an acoustic guitar briefly appears at the start of 'A Slanted Tone' and 'Truth I know' before being dismissively stomped into the ground, but other than that there is no respite. The gloriously euphoric hardcore punk-pop just doesn't stop.
It’s difficult to pick out individual highlights as the songs themselves are so similar in tempo and structure; this is not a criticism by any means, if you can do something this well why deviate from it. The band have refined and perfected this sound and to me this album has the whiff of a classic about it.
The only thing I can imagine turning people off is the sheer size of the work, weighing in at 18 songs and 78 minutes it’s a monster, but it’s definitely worth investing your time and effort into, David and Veronica's story is also compelling if you have the time to dig into and decipher it.
So don't lose patience, the rewards are there for you. 'David Comes to Life' may be destined to take up its rightful place alongside previous punk epics 'London Calling' by the Clash and 'Zen Arcade' by Husker Du, or it may be criminally ignored by a public who are scared of a challenge to their attention spans, but As Pink Eyes bellows on 'Under my Nose' : It’s all been worth it.
Spod Rating: A big Fucked Up Thumbs up
Best time to listen: when riding on the back of a bomb
Worst time to listen: when lulling a newborn baby to sleep

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

This week I have been mostly listening: to Bon Iver by Bon Iver

When Bon Iver released their debut album 'For Emma forever ago' it was essentially the work of one man. The myth goes that a heartbroken, disenchanted Justin Vernon retreated to a log cabin in the woods and a few months later returned to society having created a fragile work of folk tinged beauty.
That album put Justin Vernon in demand, (he even featured on Kanye Wests 'My Dark Twisted Fantasy' last year) and after getting a full band together and going on tour the 'Blood Bank' EP emerged. This hinted at the more fleshed out sound that has now come to full fruition on 'Bon Iver'.
Whereas 'For Emma...' was created sparely around the sound of an acoustic guitar, the songs on this album are far more complex, often building from sparse piano or guitar lines to include a variety of layers of sonic gorgeousness. Pedal Steel guitar, saxophone, trumpets and strings have all been added to the mix while an amorphous concoction of sounds bubbles underneath throughout. The band also unexpectedly kicks out the jams with some relatively raucous guitar on ‘Perth’ and ‘Calgary’.
Central to the success of this album though is Bon Ivers most impressive instrument, and that is Justin Vernon’s distinctive falsetto. Whether multi-layered or drenched in reverb, the man’s soulful voice can melt a stick of butter at a hundred meters. The lyrics are often abstract and hard to decipher but the delivery is always emotive and effecting. He could be singing exerts from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and his voice would impart even those clunky words with depth and feeling.
The songs are mostly named after places (some fictional) which hints that this album is about the transition Justin Vernon has gone through from his rustic origins in a log cabin to hob knobbing with rap superstars. His and the albums journey comes to an end in the surprising ‘Beth/Rest’. Take an ultra-cheesy keyboard sound pilfered straight from an 80’s Lionel Richie song, add some saxophone and epic guitar twiddling, finally apply a sheen of MOR soft rock and you have a ballad that would make your average hipster vomit onto his moccasins. But somehow Bon Iver takes those elements with all sincerity and fashions them into a beautiful song that could arguably be the albums finest.
This is a big step forward in the evolution of Bon Ivers sound and it will be interesting to see where the enigmatic mind of Justin Vernon will take them next, wherever it is, judging by this evidence it’ll certainly be worth tagging along for the ride.
Spods Rating: Iver feeling this could be album of the year. Bon appetit.
Best time to listen: with headphones on, on your daily commute

Worst time to listen: when your moccasins are covered with vomit

Sunday, July 3, 2011

This week I have been mostly listening: to the Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues

First off, let’s get something out of the way. Helplessness Blues (the second full length album from the Fleet Foxes) is not in any way sexy or cool, very much in the same way that that grizzled old warhorse Neil Young isn't sexy or cool, but that doesn't mean it isn’t great.
Compared to their excellent debut, this album isn’t a huge departure. It bears the stamp of the Fleet Foxes signature sound in all its best moments, with the soaring close nit harmonies and rich, timeless, vocal melodies taking center stage over the rustic folk and country leanings of the songs. This time though, they seem to have added a subtlety to their approach which gives the impression the material was pored over and tweaked until it was deemed worthy by its creators for general consumption, it may not be as immediate as their previous work, but the little flourishes and nuances really grab your attention on repeated listens.
As for the lyrics, there is a definite theme of existential crises running through them. The meaning of life, love and death is pondered with some poetry as singer Robin Pecknold yearns to find his place and purpose in the world.
The centerpiece is the majestic 'Helplessness Blues', which is a distillation of all that’s great about this album. The first half of the song is Pecknold solo with an acoustic guitar for backing. He eloquently questions the nature of his own existence before the song changes tack and the full band comes in, transporting you on a cloud of heavenly harmonies to a paradise of panoramic beauty as you leave the trappings and drudgery of the modern world behind, 'If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore' he sings. Its a convincing argument to abandon your i-pad and get back to nature.

Other highlights include ‘Montezuma' and ‘Grown Ocean’, two vintage slabs of Fleet Foxes folk rock, and the stunning 'The Shrine/an Argument' which over several song segments, tells the story of a love lost before dissolving into a couple of minutes of abstract trumpet squeals. This could signal a welcome more experimental bent for the Foxes in future.
There is nothing ground breaking here, and some people may find the Fleet Foxes over earnest and lacking a sense of humour, but they have given us a thoughtful, homespun, life enriching album, which in a world where Justin Bieber is king, is surely something to be thankful for.
Spod Rating: Folking Great
Best time to listen: when possessed with a feeling of wistful melancholy
Worst time to listen: when performing a strip tease