Archive for November, 2009


Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday, Ruby Tuesday and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #91

I explained my loathing of Christmas last year, and all I can say is how happy I am not to be working retail (it was getting pretty close as the resumés kept going out to no avail last year). I’m already feeling the funk creep in (not the Parliament kind) as I avoid the shopping centres and try my hardest to block out my mother’s moaning about not having enough extended family for holiday occasions (the dig at my singleness is duly noted – if only she could understand what pure joy I have in my own company…she’d likely have me sectioned).

Apparently, Christmas sales are down this year, not because of the credit crunch or the recession or whatever else you want to call the routine economic trough, but because we don’t have any snow yet. I find that peculiar. Are we, as humans, that affected by climate conditions when engaging in capitalism? So, not only can we blame obesity on our snow and extreme cold, but we can also accuse frozen precipitation for our economic woes and proclivities. Just think – if global warming really takes off, Manitoba just might end up a communist province. Hmmm…has anyone checked into how much snow Russia got at the beginning of glasnost?

I did solve one problem for this year: I went ahead and downloaded that pesky Christmas with the California Raisins claymation special that we hunt for in our basement every year. Although, now that’s one less tradition and I feel a little emptier inside.

As I did with my Halloween mix this year, I will merely add on some tracks to last year’s compilation. There are considerably less palatable Christmas tunes than there are Halloween ones, so I’ve tried my best to ferret out some other good ones, or at least ones that won’t make you want to cut yourself on ornament shards or climb into the chimney, curl up and die. New tracks include offerings from: yet another Eddie Argos project, Glam Chops; the witty Eugene McGuinness, who came in as a runner-up in my top albums last year; darkwavers I Love Poland, who cover The Waitresses’ Christmas classic; a bouncy bit of holiday house from Saint Etienne; Hyperbubble and their double-speed synthpoppy carolling; the best track from the How the Grinch Stole Christmas; some acoustic anti-capitalist balladry from Rufus Wainwright; Yeah Yeah Yeahs and an unconventional bit of festive pop; IAMX’s ethereal French version of Silent Night, which I put up under a different post last winter; Jane Siberry and a characteristically gently sweet holiday song; a Ryuichi Sakamoto piano instrumental from the film of the same name that also starred Sakamoto; a 1972 classic from Harry Nilsson; and the rather hilarious duet between Stephen Colbert and Elvis Costello, which first appeared in Stephen Colbert’s Christmas special last year. Following the tradition of Better Than Fruitcake, this mix is called Better Than Mincemeat. Why call bits of fruit drowned in alcohol “meat”? Truly disappointing for those of us who enjoy meat.

Next weekend…Year-End Round-Up.

Christmas Number One – The Black Arts

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight) – The Ramones

Father Christmas – The Kinks

Countdown to Christmas – Glam Chops

Christmas in Killarney – Eugene McGuinness

We Three Kings – Reverend Horton Heat

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Bright Eyes

Little Drummer Boy – The Dandy Warhols

Christmas Wrapping – I Love Poland

I Was Born on Christmas Day – Saint Etienne

Away in a Manger – Hyperbubble

Christmas Reindeer – The Knife

Can You Hear What I Hear? – Bodies of Water

Frosty the Snowman – Cocteau Twins

Christmas Fire – The Deer Tracks

She Came Home For Christmas – Mew

Put the Lights on the Tree – Sufjan Stevens

Child’s Christmas in Wales – John Cale

Fairytale of New York – Stars

The Christmas Song – The Raveonettes

Christmas is Cancelled – The Long Blondes

A Christmas Duel – The Hives and Cyndi Lauper

White Christmas – The Pipettes

Sleigh Ride – The Ronettes

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews

You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch – How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Spotlight on Christmas – Rufus Wainwright

It’s Christmas Time – Yo La Tengo

All I Want for Christmas – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Carol of the Bells – The Polyphonic Spree

December Will Be Magic Again – Kate Bush

Winter Wonderland – Goldfrapp

Christmas and Train Trips and Things – Trembling Blue Stars

It’s Xmas So We’ll Stop – Frightened Rabbit

Merry Christmas (I Love You) – Hawksley Workman

Listening to Otis Redding At Home During Christmas – Okkervil River

Last Christmas – Manic Street Preachers

Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Christmas Song – Mogwai

Douce Nuit – IAMX

Are You Burning, Little Candle? – Jane Siberry

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence – Ryuichi Sakamoto

Remember (Christmas) – Harry Nilsson

There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In – Stephen Colbert and Elvis Costello

Christmas on Earth – Momus

The Christmas Wish – Kermit the Frog

Weekly Mix #91 (Zip File)


My Top 40 Albums of 2009: Numbers 32 Through 25

As promised, here’s the second installment of my top albums of 2009. The year carried on into March, which brought us releases from some very familiar acts (and in the case of the one-man Bono show, sometimes too familiar), such as U2, The Prodigy, PJ Harvey and John Parish, Prince, Gomez, and Pet Shop Boys. We also had albums from The Decemberists, The Whitest Boy Alive, The Great Lake Swimmers, MSTRKRFT, vitaminsforyou, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Polly Scattergood, Neko Case, Royksopp, Julie Doiron, Peter, Bjorn and John, and lastly, the Filthy Dukes, who already made my countdown. The Rakes gave their swansong with a Klang and one half of The Knife went more obscurely experimental as Fever Ray.

April signalled the return of Camera Obscura, Bat for Lashes, The Veils, The Noisettes, Doves, Super Furry Animals, Metric, Junior Boys, Butcher Boy, El Perro del Mar, Art Brut, and Silversun Pickups. It also became the month for debuts from The Mummers, Dananananaykroyd, Micachu and the Shapes, and the truly odd “supergroup” of Tinted Windows, which features the likes of James Iha and Taylor Hanson (sounds like a bad practical joke, doesn’t it?). Spearmint frontman, Shirley Lee, dropped his first solo record, and Depeche Mode delivered a disappointing one, especially after the relative success of Playing the Angel.

Back to the countdown…

32. Primary Colours – The Horrors
I admit it – like many music fans, I dismissed the skinny-jean-wearing, back-comb-coiffed Horrors when they released their first album. With the NME covering them and Noel Fielding boosting them, it all just seemed like a pale imitation (pun intended) of goth nonsense. And so I kicked against listening to their sophomore record, flicking and clicking swiftly through some player that streamed the full album and ignoring the incessant buzz about it, hoping the hum was from the flies gathering around the moribund band. Then I actually forced myself to have a proper listen in the name of giving as many 2009 releases a chance as I could. And I had to acknowledge the less than exciting cartoonish antics were over, and The Horrors had made an admirable album. It very obviously borrows from both post-punk and shoegaze, but it does so with a youthful, fresh energy and sweeping sense of melody. What The Raveonettes are to The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Horrors now are to Echo & the Bunnymen.

Who Can Say – The Horrors

Scarlet Fields – The Horrors

31. Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons
I came to the debut album from this London indie folk band late and only after being alerted by Rol over at Sunset Over Slawit. It took a moment for me to get into the record, but when I did, it started to move me in a similar fashion to how Frightened Rabbit does. Their folk style is more traditional than Frightened Rabbit, but the ragged, yet erudite, world weariness comes through with the same intensity. As frantic banjo jostles against soaring choruses, Mumford & Sons craft poignant mini-narratives of vulnerability, heartbreak, hope, regret, vindictiveness, and stunning lines like “if only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won.” As gentle as a good weep and as self-affirming as a good scream, this record is catharsis at its finest.

The Cave – Mumford & Sons

Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons

30. Polly Scattergood – Polly Scattergood
This oddly menacing debut by Ms Scattergood grabbed me with its emotionally-exhausting fragility and hand-wringing vocals (you can read my original review here). The self-psychoanaylsis is gripping as her voice slips in between sweet childishness and erratic descents into a slightly mad register. Lines are dropped, whipped and pulled taut as she recounts an incredibly agitated mental state, exacerbated by toxic relationships and niggling insecurities. Sure, it’s overwrought, but you sense the violent emotion hovering behind the rasps and coos and it is all delivered more articulately and artistically than most adolescent angst. The music, which features subtle electronic accents, drum machines and keyboards, provides a fluid backdrop for the turmoil of the lyrics’ delivery, lapping gently and pushing at the cracks like a stream full of drowned flowers.

Please Don’t Touch – Polly Scattergood

Bunny Club – Polly Scattergood

29. Sun Gangs – The Veils
This third album from The Veils is a beautiful exploration of an “unmanned universe.” Finn Andrews’ voice never ceases giving me chills and his passionate, literary lyrics of emotional fractures pair perfectly with the dark warmth in the sulfur-smoky depths of the music. The Veils even had a competition around the time of the album’s release, where you could come up with a creative way of expressing what you thought a “sun gang” is. I submitted a poem, which wasn’t anything more than a rather slapdash job from a very rusty poet, but as yet, I haven’t heard about the results (considering it is now six months later, I figure the contest was aborted somewhere along the way). If you’re curious about what I submitted as an entry, you can read it here, and if you want to read what I thought about the album earlier in the year, click here.

Sun Gangs – The Veils

Killed By the Boom – The Veils

28. Merriweather Post Pavilion – Animal Collective
This album will likely crown a lot of lists this year – it was like that decision was unanimously declared by hipsters back upon its January release. And while it won’t be topping my list, nor even making it into the top half (I’m contrary that way), it is worthy of a spot. Their neo-psychedelic music manages to be both brittle and soulful with swirling, overdubbed sounds filtered through reverb; like an eternally gushing fountain, it bubbles over with melodic strains that also feel so delicate that they may drift away at any moment like an errant balloon. The lyrics are full of a pleasurable, giddy glee, and the album ends up feeling like all of the seasons crashing in on you at once: the heady perfume of spring, the golden laziness of summer, the crisp brightness of fall, and the mesmerizing hush of winter. Merry weather indeed.

My Girls – Animal Collective

Bluish – Animal Collective

27. Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack – Karen O and the Kids
I would name Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s most famous picture book one of my new favourite films. It lived beyond the hype, stretching what was a naturally limited narrative into a piece of art that doesn’t offer any specific resolutions while keeping the thematic content intact. There’s an interesting darkness at its heart, which when placed in such close proximity to the idea of the child, can create a disturbing dissonance for some people. Working in an academic setting devoted to the study of young people, I heard a variety of opinions about the film, including one comment about the almost unsettling surreality. This same person then went on to mention the soundtrack and how significant it is to know the music’s context in relation to the film, meaning Karen O’s own identity becomes wrapped up in the interpretation of the narrative. And it’s true; however, I would like to take a slightly less academic look at it and say how perfectly the music fit the film’s atmophere and contributed to the chaos. I can’t imagine a better sound to accompany this movie. Karen O’s child-like voice could have been that of a bratty, young boy with ADHD who escaped and became king of the wild things, but it also brings that dazzling, rambling feel of childhood – the place where everything is made up as you go along. In many ways, the film reminds you that the adults are just making it up as they go along, too.

All is Love – Karen O and the Kids

Hideaway – Karen O and the Kids

26. Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees – Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees
I only became aware of this Canadian band nearly two months ago when I attended a Dragonette show with them as the opening act. Their self-titled debut is an electronic maelstrom of splintered samples, high-pitched whines and dirty guitars. The distorted, warped vocals of Rebekah Higgs blur in and out of the highly-danceable beats. Grinding like a MSTRKRFT fronted by Peaches, this album is filled with enough manic complexities to keep it from being just another catchy electro record. And in some spots it gets downright dreamy.

You Don’t Miss Me – Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees

Danse Danse Resolution – Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees

25. It’s Blitz – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Oddly enough, I’ve never really listened to a lot of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. No good reason. It’s not that I ever thought they weren’t a decent band and I was fully aware of Karen O’s onstage antics, but I guess I never really stopped to pay closer attention. Then I heard Zero this year. People can argue that the band lost something in their new glammy accessibility, but it made me (and others) take notice, and Zero became one of my favourite songs of the year along with Heads Will Roll. But there’s more here than glitzy electro; you’ll also find a chimerical whimsy in slower tracks. Skeletons is a stand-out track in its synthy re-imagining of celtic ballads, and Runaway is a twinkling symphony. I’m now going back to find out what exactly I missed by skimming over their previous two albums. Along with their involvement in the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack, it’s definitely the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ year.

Zero – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Skeletons – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

This week’s runner-up to the countdown is Sugar Sugar by Diving With Andy. I don’t think this French band is all that well-known, at least not in the online circles I travel in, but I’m glad I finally came across them. They are retro loungey and as sweet as their album title. Conjuring up the insouciance of the chic 60s and sometimes using a James Bond-like sweepingly decadent background, Sugar Sugar feels as shambolic and sensuous as a bohemian Sunday morning in Paris.

Sugar Sugar – Diving With Andy

This weekend will feature the last proper weekly mix of the year before the Year-End Round-Up starts. But you’ll have to wait til next Friday for more of this list.


For Your Entertainment: The Adam Lambert Controversy

I don’t watch most music award shows, and I haven’t watched nor even noticed the American Music Awards since I was a teenager. But where there’s self-righteous, bigoted furore, I’m there. Because my mother tends to half-watch entertainment news programs (the implication being entertainment is actually worthy of being called news and that all news is now entertainment), along with a heavy dose of “reality” tv, I only became aware of the so-called Adam Lambert controversy last night. Apparently, the runner-up in this year’s American Idol kicked off the promo for his debut record with a live performance on the AMAs, which notably airs on the Disney-owned ABC network. And apparently, the performance was a wee bit too naughty. Naturally intrigued by the media uproar, I decided to watch the performance (I had to download it via a torrent because YouTube maintains it’s copyrighted material). To Disney’s chagrin, Lambert the sheepish lion, he was not. PR savvy, yes.

As with most performances of this nature, I didn’t notice anything particularly awry or offensive. Suggestive pop song, check. S & M-costumed dancers, check. Semi-naked writhing, check. Crotch grabbing, check. Pretend fellatio, check. Same-sex kiss, check. Admittedly, I’m not the average middle American ABC-viewer. But if you insert someone like Britney Spears into the formula, you’ll feel like you’ve seen it all before. However, because it was Lambert, who is openly homosexual, parts of the performance were blurred out in later airings of the live footage. You can pop in any number of alternative scenarios, including overt, clobber-you-in-the-head heterosexual sexuality, heterosexuals masquerading as homosexual for the titillation of others, and scantily-clad dancers who don’t openly reference “deviant” sexual practices, and suddenly, the likelihood of censorship goes down exponentially. You can connote all you want right up until a wardrobe malfunction and/or a big slap of gay in your face.

I don’t know why I still get shocked by puritanical hypocrisy in relation to the US. It’s why Adam Lambert couldn’t have actually won American Idol despite quite obviously being more entertaining and stronger vocally than the guy who eventually won. It’s why they cancelled his Good Morning America performance. But my jaw does still slacken a bit. Perhaps because I’m used to reading books, watching films/tv and listening to music that isn’t remotely conservative, especially in the gender/sexuality department. A high percentage of my favourite artists are gay or bi-sexual, and frankly, you’d think S & M is so passé by now in a post-post-punk age. I’m not likely to be shocked at Lambert’s trite lyrics (“I told ya I’m ‘a hold ya down until you’re amazed” – I think he may have gotten so worked up he forgot how to speak English) when Chris Corner sings lines like “I can hold you down by candlelight/With indifference.” The kiss between Lambert and his male, ostensibly straight keyboardist actually made me chuckle because of the indifferent reaction from both parties; the keyboardist just gets back to work without missing one non-chalant bounce to the music.

Interestingly enough, while supposedly 1500 people complained about the “indecent” kiss, others like
Rosie Swash on the Guardian website, actually griped about the dangerous link between sex and violence. Oh, dear. Firstly, as far as I can tell, most interpersonal relations are rife with power differentials, including sex. The fact that some people take this further and consent – note the word consent – to sado-masochism is just that, a fact. To quote Depeche Mode, it’s a lot like life. Secondly, I don’t believe Lambert is attempting to shake off his American Idol roots (those never go away), especially when he’s pandering to the mainstream with catchy, dancey pop songs with suggestive lyrics. Pop music is built on selling sex. And Lambert just did what hundreds of pop stars have done before him – generated publicity through controversy. The difference between him and other gay Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, is his campy, over-the-topness; Lambert somehow ironically managed to offend more people by turning his sexuality into an ultimately unthreatening cartoon than if he had quietly stepped out of the spotlight while stepping out of the closet. He could be/has been accused of trivializing and playing to gay stereotypes, but when it is play, the agenda isn’t likely to be very serious. As if that massive picture frame enclosing the stage didn’t already give you a clue about his intentions.

These kinds of teacup tempests, like Lady GaGa’s MTV VMA spectacle (read my opinion about that here), essentially reveal more about society than anything else. Will I buy into Adam Lambert’s music? No, just as I won’t with Lady GaGa’s. I don’t get much out of them musically, but I can appreciate their attempts at challenging what constitutes acceptable representations on popular stages. In the schlockfest of manufactured awards shows made to celebrate disposable, mass-produced music, hyperbolic renditions should be expected. There’s nothing terribly subtle about Lambert in the first place – choosing to collaborate with Matt Bellamy and Justin Hawkins on his album shows you what level of theatricality I’m talking about. Lambert’s only crime was throwing everything but the pubescent boy chained to the kitchen sink into one performance.

I’m more offended by objectification without admission, which nearly every other pop star engages in. These performers who shake their barely-covered butt cheeks and gyrate their pelvises may not be attached to leashes and harnesses, but they’re no less tied up in bondage.

Master & Servant – Depeche Mode

Kiss & Swallow (Moonbootica Remix) – IAMX


My Top 40 Albums of 2009: Numbers 40 Through 33

As with most things this year, this first installment of my favourite albums of 2009 is a few days late. Last year, I posted one of these every Friday until the last week of the year. Of course I was also basically unemployed. I will try my hardest to post the remaining four installments on time. I only recently realized that it was also the end of the decade, and after having a mini panic attack, I’ve decided that I will only do a top albums of the decade list if I feel like it.

If you were with me for this last year, you’ll recall I tried to run down the main album releases throughout the year while writing a blurb on each of eight albums for each post in the countdown. By the time I hit my top eight records, the blurbs are a bit larger and I’m usually kicking myself about missing something out or wanting to change the order slightly. And probably the most difficult installments to create are the first couple – my very favourite albums seldom change, but I tend to shuffle around the lesser ones as my mood shifts its fickle little feet. I also include one runner-up to the list in each installment, so make sure you scroll right to the bottom. Feel free to criticize or let me know what your favourite albums of 2009 are.

The last year of the noughties began with a few notable releases in January, including albums from John Frusciante, Bruce Springsteen, Franz Ferdinand, White Lies, Stuck in the Sound, Andrew Bird, and It Hugs Back along with a slew of ampersand bands like Matt & Kim, Antony & the Johnsons and Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees. Animal Collective’s critically acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavilion also released to the slavering jaws of indie hipsters everywhere. February saw the return of the Mozfather and the less exciting return of Lily Allen. It also featured releases from Jessie Evans, The Joy Formidable, David Shane Smith, Yuksek, Gentleman Reg, and another solo turn by Robyn Hitchcock. The unfortunate dog vomit that is the sophomore record from The Fray was balanced out by the raved-about-C86-throwback The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

And so off we go to the countdown…

40. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix
It’s a tad ambitious inserting your band’s name where Mozart’s should be, but high on their increasing visibility through 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That and its accompanying hit Marie Antoinette-assoicated single Consolation Prizes, Phoenix went right ahead. Judging by the opening two tracks, Lisztomania and 1901, you’d think the French band was going to continue squarely on the path of Consolation Prizes, eschewing the loungier end of their retro pop for frothy powder wigs of song; then something rather more interesting happens by track four, Love Like a Sunset Pt. 1. It is also unfortunately where some critics seemed to fall out of love with the record as the music builds through buzzing and bubbling electronic textures to some vocals by the time you hit the considerably shorter Love Like a Sunset Pt. 2. And perhaps the record seems a bit disjointed in spots because Thomas Mars and Co decided to use Eno’s Oblique Strategies. Even if I don’t love every track on this album, it does prove that Phoenix is at least thinking about different ways of being pop.

1901 – Phoenix

Love Like a Sunset (Pts 1 and 2) – Phoenix

39. Through Fire – Twiggy Frostbite
Last year, I included Swedish band, The Deer Tracks, in my Top 40, and this year, it’s Twiggy Frostbite, which shares both sound and members with The Deer Tracks. That same vocal which defined the whispering tenderness of The Deer Tracks is present here, as ephemeral as a light puff of throat-warmed breath melting frost on the windowpane. The music itself descends like a feathery snowfall, sending droplets of purified sound into your ears; it is both spare and expansive, filling emptiness you never knew was there.

Eye For an Eye – Twiggy Frostbite

Thrown in Two- Twiggy Frostbite

38. The Empyrean – John Frusciante
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have always just been incidental in my life – I’ve heard them on the radio since I was a child and never really gave them much more thought, let alone any solo projects which ensued. I now realize how mistaken I was to dismiss former guitarist/songwriter John Frusciante, especially since I’m only just taking notice at solo album number ten. The album title itself can be defined as “highest heaven” and “the pure element of fire,” and there is something definitely ethereal about the strains of mournful virtuoso guitar, bouncing and wavering like dying stars gasping their last celestial, dusty breath. At the same time, there’s a steady burn of psychedelic jamming, and Frusciante’s vocals hover around the edges of sound like a satellite broadcast or as though sung through a cellophane envelope of ozone. A couple of the tracks on the record even feature Johnny Marr. One of my favourite songs on this record is the opening track, Before the Beginning, which is epic and anthemic just by using electric guitar and slow, minimal drums. His version of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren is also androgynously beautiful, strong and fragile. Like the soundtrack to the birth of the cosmos, this album surprised me in wonderful ways.

Before the Beginning – John Frusciante

Central – John Frusciante

37. Travels With Myself and Another – Future of the Left
Rising from the angry ashes of Welsh band Mclusky, Future of the Left has crept in and out of my music playlists for the last couple of years. With the release of this second album, I’ve taken far more notice, and felt comforted after the unfortunate dissipation of Mclusky. This sophomore album is full of snarling, punk jabs and augmented by rather expansive banks of melodic guitar. The relentless melody grinds against the raw vocals and short bursts of Gang of Four-like minimalism, creating a less predictable sort of noise rock. Bloodied screams punch through lyrics about existential angst, religion, economic realities, drunkeness, and the random meaninglessness of events, scattering myths and mores in its wake. This album is like punk music for the dramatic, but with a pitch-perfect sense of satirical humour.

The Hope That House Built – Future of the Left

That Damned Fly – Future of the Left

36. Nonsense in the Dark – The Filthy Dukes
This London-based synthpop band pretty much came out of nowhere for me earlier this year, eventually even going on to mix their own FabricLive record. Nonsense in the Dark then went on to entrap me in some of the sweetest electro melodies and beats that I’ve heard this year. The track This Rhythm is one of my favourite songs of the year, and the rest of the album keeps the momentum going with Tron-like precision. There is definitely a whiff of the 80s about this record in its often New Romantic-like vocals and robot disco sound, but it isn’t forced; these songs were expertly handcrafted for dance. Even the slower numbers like the title track retain a pop sensibility as alluring as a sweep of ultraviolet mascara. And one of my favourite artists, frYars, makes a guest vocal appearance on Poison the Ivy.

Elevator – Filthy Dukes

Messages – Filthy Dukes

35. Yes – Pet Shop Boys
It was a happy technicolour day (with ironic cloud cover) when Tennant and Lowe came back with their tenth studio album after three years (read my review here). While it could be argued that the duo had lost some of their spark over the past few albums, Yes showed that they have kept their ascerbic, urbane commentary as memorable as their music. Whether observing the trainwreck that was Pete Doherty and Kate Moss (Pandemonium) or dissecting fame and wealth more generally (Love Etc., Beautiful People), they proved that they could still create music with icy distance and gloriously brilliant flourishes while questioning how a concept like love fits into our wireless new world. Testing the shiny surfaces of this decade, they hit their targets time after time, their bows as arched as an eyebrow. 

All Over the World – Pet Shop Boys

Did You See Me Coming – Pet Shop Boys

34. xx – The xx
I admittedly came late to the xx party, not bothering with listening to the album until this month. As much as their cryptic name suggests, they lurked about my periphery for several months, topping the Hype Machine for days at a time. I then discovered that this low key, dreamy record was poignant in its chiming guitars, clipped xylophone and prominent kicks of bass. The vocals from Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sims are aloof yet soulful, a duet of hushed pains and pleasures. It’s a subdued record, but all the more powerful in its compressed containment. In Shelter, there’s a heartbreaking simplicity to the lines: “Maybe I had said, something that was wrong/can I make it better with the lights turned on?” xx is an album alive with subtext, begging to be uncovered.

VCR -The xx

Shelter -The xx

33. Temporary Pleasure – Simian Mobile Disco
I’ve been a fan of Simian Mobile Disco for a few years now, and this sophomore album has reinforced my love for them. This time they’ve utilized a plethora of guest vocalists, including Gruff Rhys, Beth Ditto, Jamie Liddell, Alexis Taylor, and Yeasayer’s Chris Keating. All of these singers lend more than just their voices; there is a distinct shift in feel and genre despite the consistency of SMD’s electro backdrop complementing them. For example, Rhys’s song generates a psychedelic sheen, Ditto’s song turns into a soul disco number, Taylor’s track becomes an exotic sort of electro, inheriting some of Hot Chip’s flavour, and Keating’s Audacity of Huge takes a laundry list of materialism to a skittery arcade sound. The possible schizophrenia holds together brilliantly with the glassy beats rolling into one another like a silvery necklace shot through with lasers.

Cream Dream (featuring Gruff Rhys) – Simian Mobile Disco

Cruel Intentions (featuring Beth Ditto) – Simian Mobile Disco

This installment’s honourable mention is God Help the Girl’s self-titled album. It’s an interesting release in that it’s basically an offshoot of Belle & Sebastian and that it’s a soundtrack to a musical film yet to be released. The 1960s French pop sound that Scottish bands like Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura have embraced is all over this album like a warm mustard-tinted sweater while focusing on a distinctly feminine set of vocals, including Catherine Ireton, Celia Garcia, Dina Bankole, Brittany Stallings, Asya, and Anna Miles. While Stuart Murdoch makes an appearance himself and also incorporates a guest vocal from Neil Hannon, this is a female-focused narrative as evident from the title itself. Filled with the off-kilter wit and retro tweeness that defines his regular band, Murdoch’s foray into musical films is off to a good start with this soundtrack.

God Help the Girl – God Help the Girl

Stay tuned for the next installment of the countdown this Friday.


The Countdown to Blast-Off: 40th Anniversary Special Edition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity

David Bowie Space Oddity 40th

I’m a cynical sort when it comes to re-releases, re-packages, deluxe editions, etc – they’re obvious marketing tactics from record labels seeking to gain the maximum mileage out of the same material, especially as they try to bolster the inevitable decline in physical sales. Having said that, I’m going to remain completely transparent here and say I received advances of both the Duran Duran re-releases and the 40th Anniversary Special Edition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity from EMI; because both David Bowie and Duran Duran contributed generously to my early music education, I felt it would be worth exploring these specific reissues (of course David Bowie also remains my favourite solo artist in the world, which will make me naturally curious in anything released under his name). Tomorrow, on November 17, this 2-disc Special Edition of Space Oddity is due for release, including a digipak with a booklet of extended notes and photographs (I can’t make a comment on that bit because my copy is just the promo copy of the music).

Space Oddity is of course the crucial breakthrough for David Bowie, allowing him to leave gravediggers and laughing gnomes behind. The title track remains a classic song that will forever be included on Bowie compilations, and it hinted at the space-tastic, alienated voyages to come. The story of Major Tom proved to be so popular that it became the album’s title in 1972 after the record had been released in 1969 under the titles David Bowie and Man of Words/Man of Music. I’m not sure about other Bowie fans, but I don’t include it in my top five Bowie records; I adore the title track and Letter to Hermione, a soul-baring, moody ballad to a former girlfriend, but rarely listen to the other songs. It’s an album that clearly shows where Bowie was coming from in terms of influences – it was a little bit folk and a little bit proggy, likely inspired by both Bob Dylan and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. While Bowie has always been a sharp-eyed magpie of myriad genres and creative ideas, he seemed to find his true footing on my favourite Bowie album, Hunky Dory. Again, I really love the title track of The Man Who Sold the World, but many of the tracks from that record just don’t live up to it, whereas its successor was confident and memorable from start to finish, the first hints of glam rock stirring in its undercurrents. I think the rambling folk side of Space Oddity simply didn’t appeal to me as much as his campy glam and icy experimentalism and therefore remained less memorable for me.

Having gone back to listen to this re-mastered version of Bowie’s debut, I’ve revised my opinions a bit. If you don’t pay closer attention to lyrics, you could dismiss many of the tracks as hangovers from the Summer of Love; delving deeper, I began to realize, that like Bowie’s work and identity in general, it is not to be taken at face value. Several tracks are critical of hippie counterculture and fearful of madness, the latter being a rather constant thread throughout Bowie’s career. Album conclusion Memory of a Free Festival is now reminding me of Jarvis Cocker’s observations twenty-five years later in Pulp’s Sorted for E’s & Wizz; it seems like the disillusion and comedown of a participant in a loved-up scene is a perennial theme. One of many brilliant verses in this song:

Touch, we touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life.
We claimed the very source of joy ran through.
It didn’t, but it seemed that way.
I kissed a lot of people that day.

Unfortunately, the end of song and its repetition of “The Sun Machine is coming down/and we’re gonna have a party” still gets a little too Hey Jude-like for me; both endless finales end up lodging in my brain and irritating me. I have also come to embrace the quite epic Cygnet Committee, which tells the story of a sorrowful messianic leader who ends up violently destroyed along with all he represents; this song also very obviously points to future leitmotifs for Bowie. One of my favourite lines is: “My friends talk/Of glory untold dream, where all is God and God is just a word.” It’s a shame that, in my mind, poetry like this remained overshadowed by the musical style for so long.

The deeply rooted sense of never knowing the self and treating the self as a performance, which David Bowie took to great lengths through multiple musical genres, are some of my favourite aspects of his art, and they’re written all over this debut. Another one of the folky jaunty tunes that I generally didn’t take much interest in was Janine, but through repeated listens, several lyrics stood out:

Janine, Janine, you’d like to know me well,
But I’ve got things inside my head
That even I can’t face.

Janine, Janine, you’d like to crash my walls,
But if you take an axe to me
You’ll kill another man
Not me at all.

Several years later, he was still not up to facing himself and was much too fast to do so.

The second disc of this edition features the bonus material, which is mostly comprised of previously unreleased tracks, including early demos, BBC radio sessions, and even the full-length stereo version of the Italian version of Space Oddity re-titled Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola. Despite the fact I’m a big Bowie fan, I don’t actually own any previous special editions or collectors’ sets, so I haven’t heard any of this bonus material before, including the song London Bye Ta Ta, which reminds me of The Kinks’ David Watts and by extension, Blur’s Tracy Jacks. I think I’ve stayed away from buying the special Bowie recordings all these years because his back catalogue of demos, rarities, live sessions and bootlegs seem like a staggering monster that I can never hope to master. It’s ludicrously autistic of me to think of it that way, but it’s no coincidence that I identify with Bowie’s paranoia of going mad as well.

As with the special edition of Duran Duran’s Rio, I would say this reissue of Space Oddity is something for consummate collectors (though many hard-core Bowie fans may have already ferreted out a fair portion of this material). Despite the infinite flogging of Bowie’s back catalogue, I appreciate this re-release if only because it forced me to take a closer listen to a part of Bowie’s output that I inexplicably hadn’t done so much in the past. And in the absence of new releases from my favourite solo artist for the last six years, it assuages an iota of my thirst for new Bowie material. Space Oddity was Bowie’s understated countdown to a blast-off to happen a few years later, an orbit he hasn’t come down from since.

Cygnet Committee – David Bowie

Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola (Full-Length Stereo Version) – David Bowie


Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #90


Time’s whipping by so fast that I have to start planning out these last weeks of 2009 on CTRR. Last year, there were several festive year-end features on the old yuletide blog (groan if you must), including my Year-End Round-Up weekly mixes, the countdown of my Top 40 albums of the year, the Christmas weekly mix, and the New Year’s Eve party mix. And I still have to work in my Day of 200 songs before all of this kicks off.

This week’s mix will be a winter one despite the fact that it actually hasn’t felt terribly wintery here. We’ve been uncharacteristically warm and have not had any snow yet (of course I’ll write this and then a blizzard will fall on my head whilst waiting for the bus). At any rate, here it is for your listening pleasure. I’ve been told that it provides a welcome alternative to Christmas tunes. This mix is called Blow Thou Winter Wind.

The First Time You Saw Snow – Shirley Lee

Winter – The Dodos

The Dead of Winter – Martin Carr

Walk Out to Winter – Aztec Camera

Red High Heels – Jane Siberry

Il Neige – France Gall

Snowfall Sorrow – Secret Shine

A Winter’s Sky – The Pipettes

December – Teenage Fanclub

Permafrost – Magazine

Snow – Pooma

Sit Down By the Fire – The Veils

It’s Snowing on the Moon – St. Christopher

Midnight Sun – David Sylvian

Snow Country – Paniyolo

You and My Winter – Snow in Mexico

Snow – The Trashcan Sinatras

Snowfalls in November – Julie Doiron

Peacock Dance – Matt Kanelos

Eisblume – Hauschka


Weekly Mix #90 (Zip File)


When They Were Emperors: Duran Duran’s Collector’s Edition Rio and Live at Hammersmith DVD

Duran Duran Rio Collector's Edition

Many shy away from admitting they enjoy some Duran Duran; the fact they had thousands of teenage girls screaming for them for a few years somehow degrades their pop value (teenage girl fans are apparently credibility-suckers – another argument for another time). As a band, Simon LeBon and Co generally take the flak for the sins of the 80s: excess, commercialist greed, hyperbolic style, etc. I, myself, was a teenager in the 90s when I first heard Duran Duran, and while listening to songs like Planet Earth, Girls on Film, Hungry Like the Wolf, and The Reflex, I became a fan. Later, as I realized that I was really only interested in the first few Duran Duran albums and that the band had disintegrated quite spectacularly by the time I was halfway through high school (I distinctly remember Electric Barbarella playing on the radio then), I became more interested in their contribution to early music videos. Should you so choose, you can click here to read an undergrad essay I wrote about the post-colonial issues in their Rio-era videos. So, I suppose I could add post-colonial imperialism to their list of misdemeanors, but for some reason, as you can see, Duran Duran never left me. At least, the original incarnation of Duran Duran never did. And with EMI’s release of the Collector’s Edition of Rio coinciding with the release of a DVD/CD combo of their 1982 gig in Hammersmith, I’m starting to reflect on the insane success and inevitable decline of the band and what exactly appealed to me when I first heard them fifteen years ago.

Rio, like its bookends, Duran Duran and Seven and the Ragged Tiger, appealed to me because its lyrics largely didn’t make sense. Let me explain. Like abstractions of a dreamworld, Duran Duran lyrics were often so oddly phrased that they seemed extraordinary – sure, a vague plotline that might involve pursuit of romance/sex was present, but the metaphors and diction weren’t straightforward. Examples in Hungry Like the Wolf include: “Dark in the city night is a wire/Steam in the subway earth is afire,” “Smell like I sound I’m lost in a crowd,” and “Strut on a line it’s discord and rhyme.” When the ostensibly awkward lyrics collided with the music, the songs became otherworldly. Their blend of disco, post-punk and New Romantic synthpop still stands up today; the crisp, clean drums and glacial synths glide over the organic groove, making the music feel like it could simultaneously shatter in icy shards while undulating under that elastic bass rhythm and wailing sax. Their self-titled debut leaned more heavily on cold electro and spiky punk energy to fashion a strange alien glamour that drew from the past and future at the same time, a feature that they absorbed from New Wave and blew out to its extremes. Rio, in particular, takes exoticism to new heights; not only do the videos for the record signal this quite clearly, but take the example of Save a Prayer and its bizarre ululating synth that mimicks Tarzan’s call. And my all-time favourite Duran Duran song, The Chauffeur, happens to be the finale of Rio; the haunting, Teutonic coolness is still tempered with what sounds like South American pan pipe sounds, and it continues to give me chills like creeping shadows.

The Collector’s Edition of their 1982 record is just that: for collectors. The first disc is the digital remastering of the original tracks along with a Carnival Remix of My Own Way and US album remixes of Rio, Lonely in Your Nightmare, Hungry Like the Wolf and Hold Back the Rain. It includes a second disc of bonus material, including Manchester Square demos (recorded 28 August 1981) of Last Chance on the Stairway, My Own Way, New Religion, and Like an Angel, and various b-sides and remixes. It is best enjoyed by Duranies and those who never got a hold of these alternate tracks or b-sides via other channels through the years. The problem with this re-release, as it is with many bands I’m sure, is that there just isn’t much point digging into the back catalogue for alternate versions when differences are often so subtle that it takes either a really dedicated fan or a really trained ear to care. For instance the difference between the original Rio and the US Rio is that on the latter track, there’s a looser snare and a shorter intro of TARDIS-like noises; in the end, the US mix feels softer, but I only realized this by flipping back and forth between the two until my brain smoked. Yes, the second disc of demos are more clearly differentiated from the originals, but are likely most interesting for hard-core collectors (and of course for me, I was most drawn to the alternate acoustic version of The Chauffeur). For a Duran Duran completist, this edition would be useful, and if you don’t already own a copy of Rio, you could spring for this one as something beyond the regular; however, then you may as well go for the similarly priced Collector’s Edition vinyl.

Duran Duran Live at Hammersmith

Now, to the Live at Hammersmith ’82 DVD/CD. I’ve never seen Duran Duran live, and at this point in both their history and mine, I don’t think I want to. However, I do admit to enjoying the early live footage of tours and performances, and this Hammersmith gig is one of those. What strikes me the most about concerts like this one is the feeling of witnessing a band at their zenith. One can argue about when exactly Duran Duran peaked (the end was definitely with Live Aid), but I would contend that 1982 was the moment. They were worldwide superstars with two successful albums and videos in high rotation on MTV, the absurdity hadn’t quite overshadowed them yet (as it did in a video like Wild Boys) and the jaded strain hadn’t gotten to them at this point. It is the MTV-darling, visual component of their identity that makes these live performances worth watching. Because I’m personally drawn to androgyny and glam style, Duran Duran’s image would have always been attractive to me; the band was aesthetically pleasing, especially Nick Rhodes and his David Sylvian-pilfered look, moving like a beautiful automaton over his keyboards.

This gig is also an energetic, lean performance, by which I mean the setlist didn’t contain much filler (when a band only has two albums to draw from, it’s can be expected to be tighter). Even when doing the slower, slightly darker numbers, they appeared to come from some place of fantasy and youthful exuberance – they couldn’t believe their good fortune, and took you with them on that ride to the top. I will also say that I hadn’t been aware that Duran Duran did a cover version of Cockney Rebel’s Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), which they do quite admirably in the encore of this performance.

As bonus material, this DVD features the Rio-era music videos and TOTP performances, and oddly enough, I don’t remember having ever seen the video for Lonely in Your Nightmare before – it would have been helpful for that essay on visual rhetoric and post-colonialism. These videos, more than the others from Duran Duran, remain iconic in their imperialist adventurer guise, and remain fascinating to me precisely because they were shot with epic budgets on location in “exotic” locales. It becomes incredibly difficult to dissociate the songs from the video imagery, and I think it’s interesting to compare and contrast these videos with other iconic New Romantic videos like those of Adam and the Ants; by drawing on the past images of Victorian and Edwardian dandy dress, they inherited notions of British empire by proxy. And if I combine that with an appropriation of “other” musical sounds from those who would have been conquered by the British, I’ve got an extension for my original essay. Again, an argument for another time.

Despite the fact they came from a legitimate background of punk/glam rock and despite their former massive popularity, why were/are Duran Duran so denigrated? Perhaps, unlike their heroes David Bowie and Roxy Music, their artificial glamour ceased to be a pose. They showed off a little too much, they seemed to be wrapped up in their own hyperbole and absurdity. Maybe their collective pretty boy image also made it less likely they would be taken seriously by critics. And then, there were those armies of hysterical girls.

Considering the massacre that was Red Carpet Massacre and the second departure of Andy Taylor a few years ago, Duran Duran’s music now sounds like middle-aged desperation. Their breathless courting of producers like Timbaland and Mark Ronson depresses me because it signals quite clearly that Duran Duran no longer know who they are as a band and are aching for someone else to tell them who to be. All that had once been fresh energy and style has leached away into hollow attempts to stay current and hip. It’s not as though they’re the only band in this situation; not too many artists sustain a high level of interesting musical output beyond a decade or so. Being boxed in by those heavy 80s brackets doesn’t help. And so I prefer to turn my attention to twenty-seven years ago when Duran Duran were emperors of their own paradise.

The Chauffeur (Sing Blue Silver Version) – Duran Duran

Rio (Live at the Hammersmith ’82) – Duran Duran


Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mixes #88 and #89


To play catch up from last week’s missed mix, I’m giving you two once again. They’re timely with their themes, the first being all German artists and the second being songs about war. In fact, in many ways these two themes are inextricably linked. As everyone celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, it inevitably brings Berlin’s extraordinary history, along with Germany’s more generally, back into the spotlight. And Cold War is war after all.

I’ve written about how much I love Berlin here before, and it still remains one of my top cities in the world. It was the hub around which so many ideologies and political agendas marched in the twentieth century. And that surreal wall and its solid representation of clashing ideologies will continue to inspire art. That sense of artistic freedom amidst continual opposition is also something so characteristic of Berlin. Additionally, I’m just generally interested in German history as a whole, having taken courses in university and having read several books on the subject. For a country that was historically impossible to unify, the “reunification” in 1989 was made all the more poignant. It’s definitely more complex than that and far more fraught than the fireworks and celebratory dominoes would have you believe, but I think it’s far preferable to that absurd division.

Germany will always be significant to me because that’s where my dad is from, and thus, where half of my family background lies. I’ve visited Germany twice in my life, and fully intend to do so again in the near future. And as a music fan, I can’t ignore Germany’s contribution to the electronic/experimental scene. It’s also rather fortuitous that I just viewed a BBC documentary on Krautrock a couple of weeks ago; it was actually pretty informative since I only had vague ideas of that particular music scene. I knew about Can, Neu!, Faust, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, but never really stopped to think about the motivation behind that kind of experimentalism. In post-war Germany, young people were trying to make sense of the past while distancing themselves from both it and an increasingly Anglo-American present. The result was a truly revolutionary vision of music that continues to influence electronic music today; of course it also influenced musicians contemporary with them – through that documentary, I discovered that Brian Eno had gone to visit Harmonia (which included members of Neu! and Cluster), taping them before working with Bowie on those Berlin albums.

So, this mix includes several of those early bands, but also some much more current ones, and a few unique ones in between, like Nina Hagen and Klaus Nomi. This one’s called Die Mauer Wird Fallen.

Disco Fantasy – Mikrofisch

Hero – Neu!

Der Räuber und der Prinz – DAF

Pogo (The Horrors remix) – Digitalism

Jeffer (Modeselektor Remix) – Boys Noize

Yeah – Tiefschwarz

U Can Dance – DJ Hell

Showroom Dummies – Kraftwerk

Mother Sky (Pilooski Edit) – Can

Sweet Lies – Booka Shade

Nights Off – Siriusmo

Happy Go Lucky – Polarkreis 18

Tag für Tag – Xmal Deutschland

Tierlieb – Abwärts

The Twist (Live) – Klaus Nomi

Michail Michail (Gorbachev Rap) – Nina Hagen

Steh auf Berlin – Einstürzende Neubauten

Hauberg – Hauschka

Propeller 9 – The Notwist

Limelight – Apparat

Weekly Mix #88 (Zip File)


I don’t think my views have changed much since last year’s Remembrance Day post. I find all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the day to be a bit hollow. Yes, my grandfather died in World War II, but to wear a poppy and have a moment of silence once a year doesn’t mean much when armed conflict just goes on and on around the world. Remembrance Day becomes a superficial day of reassurance – the reality of war can be painted away with the ennobling brush. Soldiers aren’t victims of the decisions of those in power, whose deaths were in vain, they’re sacrifices for a noble cause. Noble causes that continue on in places we have no business being in anyway. War is a commerical enterprise with expendable losses. We valorize to cope. This one’s called War Inc.

The Intense Humming of Evil – Manic Street Preachers

An I For An I – IAMX

New Dress – Depeche Mode

He’d Send in the Army – Gang of Four

When Ya Get Drafted – Dead Kennedys

Melancholy Soliders – The Skids

Radio Free Europe (Original Hib-Tone Single) – R.E.M.

Missiles (BBC Session) – The Sound

U.S. Forces – Midnight Oil

Poppy Day – Siouxsie and the Banshees

Straight to Hell – The Clash

Man at C & A – The Specials

Bullet the Blue Sky – U2

Soldier’s Poem – Muse

Army Dreamers – Kate Bush

My Youngest Son Came Home – Billy Bragg

Shipbuilding – Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Universal Soldier – Donovan

Voir un ami pleurer – Jacques Brel

In Our Bedroom After the War – Stars

Weekly Mix #89 (Zip File)


Ode to the Fermata of the Welsh Condition: David Sylvian’s Manafon

David Sylvian Manafon

David Sylvian, former frontman of one of my favorite bands, Japan, has proven time and again that he is an artist to keep watching and listening to. Not only does he possess one of the most captivating voices, but he has never been content to stay put in one musical genre; he’s remained fluid and interesting for the last thirty years, collaborating with numerous experimental forces like Holger Czukay and Ryuichi Sakamoto. His latest album, Manafon, is no exception. As far as I can discern, the album was largely recorded via improvisation, yet its lyrics are mainly inspired by the Welsh poet/rector, R.S. Thomas, whose North Wales parish included the village Manafon. I read in a recent interview with Sylvian that Thomas interested him because of his seemingly contradictory beliefs: staunch Christian ideals and a violent, misanthropic nationalism. In fact, Thomas supported the Welsh nationalist movement Meibion Glyndŵr, calling for a campaign to deface English-owned homes, and he once said “what is one death against the death of the whole Welsh nation?” I, myself, don’t know how contradictory those two beliefs are, especially given Christian fundamentalism and patriotism going quite hand in glove; however, Thomas still makes for an interesting, relatively dark subject for an album. What I find so fascinating about Thomas is his melancholy in the face of a supposedly loving God and his perspective on Welsh character and its seemingly soul-destroying propensity for wallowing in nostalgia. The latter “past as a prison” idea is a point I’ve heard from other Welsh artists before, and ultimately, even the Christian misanthropy could be construed as quite Welsh when looking at the history of Methodism in Wales. This strain of Protestantism appears to have taken on the dour atmosphere of the Welsh rain. At the same time, Wales is also full of a magic that is as deep as the valleys and of a lyrical, sing-song language made for music and poetry. And Sylvian’s Manafon manages to take in all of these various tendrils of Welshness and works them into an uncompromising piece of art.

Admittedly, this album (and some of Sylvian’s other work) may not be everyone’s cup of tea – it pushes so hard at the rules and boundaries of music in such an understated fashion that some may find it tedious or boring. In other words, there is no immediacy in this record. You must arch and stretch to meet it, but when you do, it seeps into your bones and nestles there like a Pre-Cambrian fossil. Recorded over the period of three years in three different cities with fifteen artists including Sylvian, there’s a meandering quality to the music. It takes its time just as you would imagine those pastoral, downtrodden characters portrayed in Thomas’s poetry do. It comes up close around you like the penetrating isolation of a parish in North Wales.

This album is easier to discuss as whole piece rather than individual tracks because I found myself so thoroughly cocooned in it, that making separations ceased to matter. Sylvian and his band of experimental artists end up sculpting a sonic structure largely out of silence; in a way, they use silence as yet one more instrument. Like the white space in graphic design and the clean lines of modern furniture, this silence makes the album starkly beautiful and quietly alive. When instruments do finally come in, a small flutter of saxophone, some splayed guitar strings, droplets of piano, all of your attention is upon them; sometimes they actually startle you from the rich silence. Sylvian’s characteristically languid vocal style, though slightly more ragged and deeper now, is enchanting, and his phrasing for this record is a mixture of accapella gospel and a poetry reading. He draws out each line meaningfully, and makes space for the twinkling, twitching music to creep up the walls like ivy. Each track tugs at you, drawing you forward in unexpected ways, and it feels like you must follow along as Sylvian finds his own unpredictable way through his words.

The lyrical content most definitely matters in Manafon, especially considering the connection to Thomas, and it is sometimes explicit in this connection (as in the final title track, which includes the characteristically Thomasonian lyric, “There’s a man down in the valley who doesn’t speak in his own tongue/He bears a grudge against the English/A tune to which his songs are sung”), and sometimes not as explicit as in a track like Emily Dickinson. However, even when the subject matter seems to veer away from the foundation of R.S. Thomas, its mood and themes remain consistent. Emily Dickinson is a perfect complement, in a sense, because of her own darkness and isolation. The opening song on Manafon, entitled Small Metal Gods, sets up that sense of isolation, perhaps as a communication of Thomas’s own emotional state when moved to the small parish. Like Dickinson, Thomas seemed rather disconnected from the people around him, only opening up in his poetry. The mystery of the artistic process is probed and extapolated in this record.

Some of my favourite lyrics are in the track Random Acts of Senseless Violence. The following lyrics unroll over nearly seven minutes:

I’ve put away my childish things
Abandoned my silence too
For the future will contain
Random acts of senseless violence

The target’s hit will be non-specific
We’ll roll the numbers play with chance
All suitable locations unplanned in advance

Someone’s back kitchen, stacked like a factory
With improvised devices, there’s bound to injuries
With improvised devices…

No phone-ins, no courtesy, no kindness
And the future will contain
Random acts of senseless violence

And it’s not just the boredom
It’s something endemic
It’s the fear of disorder
Stretched to its limits

Not only does it seem to take in Thomas’s rather militant nationalism that bordered on terrorism, but the section on improvised devices refers quite neatly back to the actual method of the song itself. I also love that the song ends with: “And the safety of numbers is just a contrivance/For the future will contain/Random acts of senseless violence/Democracy is very…/Democracy is very, very…” As Sylvian leaves the unfinished statement dangling as an ellipse, a cipher that can’t be filled adequately.

Manafon is truly bottomless. Its pregnant silences give birth to gripping anticipation, labouring as intensely and as constantly as the stalwart, seemingly defeated figures in Thomas’s poetry. Sylvian has arranged an astounding assortment of avant-garde musicians to create a music more omnipresent than God and more mortal than R.S. Thomas. A low simmer of rage and a clammy mist of ennui combine to form a focused atmosphere of anger and surrender. An ode to the fermata that is the Welsh condition.

Random Acts of Senseless Violence – David Sylvian

Manafon – David Sylvian


“Celebrate that day alone…in sombre isolation”: Birthday Greys

I still feel the same way about my birthday as I did last year – probably even more so. A general sense of malaise bordering on abject disappointment and mild despair. I really am that maudlin. Or it’s just compounded with my regular mood trough. Another year, another jumbled assortment of unfulfilled goals. In the great words of Howard Moon, “You should celebrate that day alone…in sombre isolation.” There’s no doubt that if I had a birthday party, which I haven’t since I was a child, it would end up like Howard Moon’s; I’d be dancing away in muted clothing and an ill-fitting man-corset with one friend who didn’t really like me anyway as everyone else hoped I would leave. I will try my hardest to post one more review this week. For now, enjoy some birthday tunes. And definitely not Tusk in its entirety, with the pauses as Lindsay Buckingham intended.

Happy Birthday – Altered Images

The Happy Birthday Song – Andrew Bird

Happy Birthday – The Birthday Party

All the Birthdays – The Apartments

Birthday (Daytrotter Session) – Junior Boys

Birthday (Jim & William Reid Christmas Eve Mix) – The Sugarcubes

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Gigs Attended

Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can' the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome