Aural Delights Radio Show – 7th December 2011 – Albums of the Year Part One

Yes folks it’s that time of year again where people huddle in darkened corners to make lists of the things they have been listening to during the year in an effort to remind you of the cool things you may have missed. Last year I did something like this but was a bit more specific and did radio shows on best gig, best act, best album etc – but I only had one show then so I was limited on what I could ram down your ears during the last few weeks of the year.

This year – with a little more air time available – I thought I would concentrate on albums for this show – so for this week and the next three in the run up to Christmas I am playing a track each from what I and a select bunch of chums (Fall Fans and DJs mostly) feel have been the best releases in the long form format during in 2011. This proved exceedingly difficult of course in that people are troublesome types and when you ask them to list their five favourite albums of the year they deliver lists which numerically vary between 0 and 30 odd albums. So I have to use my judgement and skill (don’t laugh) to get down to around 50 albums which at least made us smile amongst all of the Elbow/Muse/Coldplay clones out there in the wide and wacky world of rock and roll.

The criteria for getting on the list is that it must be a full album, not a re-release and have been released during 2011.

You are not going to see a great number of local bands in this list as they will be dealt with in a “review of the year” run of shows on Salford Music Scene.

So the first batch – in no particular order – as nominated are:

PJ Harvey – The Last Living Rose – Let England Shake (February) – I have to admit to initially being a bit disappointed with this after the magic of “White Chalk”, however it holds up well ten months later and at least she is back to her best on the words side of things after the dip in quality on the last album with John Parrish. This is probably her most political album to date and reflects the state of the nation quite effectively. There are one or two Polly Jean classics on here and the stripped down sound suits her best. Begs the question mind you where she goes next with her music.

Dave Graney – I’m Gonna Release Your  Soul – Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Where I Hide (April) —  an abiding obsession for me, wherein the high priest of coolness reinvents a number of tunes from his back catalogue.  The album was recorded at Soundpark in Melbourne by Graney and the Lurid Yellow Mist and mixed by Victor Van Vugt in New York.  It was released with Graney’s second book, 1001 Australian Nights, by Affirm Press, which concentrates on his life as an artist and performer, which I must track down and read – not had the time. The excellent track featured is actually an old Coral Snakes number from 1994 which was  released on the “You Wanna Be There But You Don’t Wanna Travel”  album (also on The Baddest compilation).

Ryan Adams – Chains of Love – Ashes and Fire (October) – back to his very best after a long lay-off. Incredibly laid back and a little less angry than he has been previously. Some commentators likened it to Bob Dylan in the 1970s which I think is a little lame frankly. This is an artist who, after many years of mis-direction, appears to have found his inner voice and how to express it coherently and cogently.

Earth – Old Black – Angels and Darkness, Demons of Light Volume 1 (February) – Dylan Carlson, like Ryan Adams, had been on an extended break (five years) and came back with a totally re-invented sound for Earth. The trademark drones are there but this is an altogether more ambient and laminal sound. The restrained tension in this music creates a unique listening experience and removes the band from the general melting pot of doom to create something rather special. A perfect example of less is more in music.

The Raveonettes – Recharge and Revolt – Raven Is The Grave (April) – the one album which caused the greatest amount of debate amongst the participants in this little exercise. Views varied from admiration to “I only play the first track” through to “very disappointing”. Given I came to this band late in their existence I found myself erring on the side of positive – the reviewers felt that the sound had got “more pop” and “less guitar” – coming at it cold, with no back history as such, I found it to be a good listen. The band have defined sound of their own which is well worth over a listen.

Rocket from the Tombs – Sister Love Train – Barfly (October) another gap between initial formation and release (however in this instance some 36 years) the band that would become Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys, returns with it’s debut album. Uniquely quirky and rather marvelous in a way that anything associated with David Thomas usually is. Sounds nothing like the original band of course, for any number of reasons, but mostly I guess the experience of the collected members from their other work has taken the initial plan and moved it on somewhat.

Atlas Sound – Mona Lisa – Parallax (November) – Bradford Cox, of Deerhunter of course, in his solo guise. The third “proper” album after the flurry of Bedroom Databank releases last year. There is a clearer link between his main bands work on this release which moves between a populist sound and the more experimental end of his work in this incarnation.

Grails – All the colors of the dark – Deep Politics (March) – a little self indulgence from me here as no-one else picked this album but I think it is so marvelous that it requires inclusion. The Portland bands back catalogue is replete with some excellent instrumental, and mostly post-rock, music – however in this instance they have upped their game considerable with some excellent writing – touching on an almost cinematic approach to their writing. This track alone is worth the price of the album.

Mogwai – San Pedro – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (February) – Ten albums in and the grandaddies of post-rock seem to have gone back to their initial agenda for an album which, whilst not their best, still kicks the bottom of most of the young pretenders out there. There is enough variety in here as well to keep the most jaded of listeners entertained.

The Ettes – Excuse – Wicked Will (August) – some would argue (and I would be one of them) that Greg Cartwright’s production on the predecessor to this release removed a lot of the primal cohones of The Ettes. This album gets us back to the core garage rock sound of the group. Thus demonstrating no doubt that recording garage rock in London works, but it completely fails in Nashville.

The Strange Boys – Punk’s Pajamas – Live  Music (October) – a group feted by the Alliance DJs on Salford City Radio after hearing their sophomore outing “Be Brave” in 2010. This is better and just as weird/strange/unique/wonderful as the first two albums. This can sound as though they are doing things without much effort until you start to burrow deeply into the layers of musical history that makes up this bands work.

Boston Spaceships – Tourist UFO – Let It Beard (August) – if you have immersed yourself into the music of Guided By Voices over the years then you are duty bound stick with Robert Pollard to see what madness he is going to deliver next. Pleased to say that five albums in to this ongoing  endeavour  with John Moen of The Decemberists and Chris Slusarenko of The Takeovers that he hasn’t lost his ability to be utterly unigue and surprise the listener. There are a fair few guest guitarists on this if you would to play spot the star – Colin Newman, Steve Wynn etc etc

65 Days of Static – Space Montage – Silent Running Rescore (November) – gone are the angry young men of the previously releases with their intense and breathtaking re-invention of math and post rock – instead we have an excellent soundtrack to an excellent movie. A band that deserves a lot more attention than it has got hitherto has grown up somewhat.

To listen to the show – click the link below

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Aural Delights 9th March

Mostly new things on this weeks show with a couple of classics for good measure

  1. Orange Juice – Felicity – Coals to Newcastle – from the excellently constructed compilation an equally excellently constructed piece of pop magic.
  2. The Crookes – Godless Girl – Single – from the new album “Chasing After Ghosts” this Sheffield band play FAC 251 on 26th March (or maybe 25th it’s a bit confusing on their My Space page)
  3. Little Volcanoes – Drum Roll at the Cash Machine – Pre-release – Manc wunderkinds doing what they do best……
  4. Periscope – Barefoot – Charity Download – the ever lovely and talented Mr Swinney regales our ears with more musical magic – hope over here and download it and then donate something – it’s for a good cause.
  5. Electric Furnace – Goodnight Bloodsuckers –Sound and Fury EP – a bit of metal from the Rhondda to liven up your ossicles…..
  6. Fidel and the Castros – Take It Away – Demo – great name and a great demo sent in by this band …. I predict great things
  7. Traffic – 40,000 Headmen –  Welcome to the Canteen – classic track from one of Traffics best albums.
  8. Letters to Fiesta – Blue Giants – Demo – interesting name and an excellent sound from another Manc band.
  9. Danny Short – Bottles of Red Wine– Love Has Gone – Another great track from Dan’s new album which is out in April…be sure to check out the free download of his Reputation EP here.
  10. Drama – Iso – Single – The single being released on March 14th is now to appear on Classic Rock Magazine’s May Edition covermount CD which is released in April.
  11. The Winchester Club – Negative Liberty – Negative Liberty – new album out 23rd March, touring soon but not playing north of London unfortunately.
  12. Twilight Hotel – The Master – When the Wolves Go Blind – rather marvellous new album from the musical partnership of Brandy Zdan & Dave Quanbury. I like them because I can’t pigeon hole them!
  13. The Counterpoints – Catalyst – Promo – from Berkshire, and described as being echoes of the entire history of British popular music, you can find out what all the fuss is about by visiting their websites http://www.thecounterpoints.com and http://www.myspace.com/counterpoints
  14. Grails – Future Primitive – Deep  Politics – I whitter on endlessly about how good this is elsewhere on this blog. Another contender for album of the year.

You can listen to the show here……

try as I might…….

(1) ……I can’t get into Elbow, and the new album Build A Rocket Boys, whilst starting well enough, merely serves to reinforce that feeling.  The opener “The Birds” gave me some sort of hope that I might start to understand the music and its appeal. There is something lush and compelling about the string arrangements that build on a basic rhythm, and it’s drawn from the rich history of the (almost) progressive rock era with cinematic production. I almost feel as those I am going to enjoy it but then the repetitive one note piano of “Lippy Kids” sort carries on the doleful and slow feeling of the first track. It’s all beautifully put together and the melodies are excellent but somehow I crave variety. Garvey has got an exquisite voice but it seems to be operating on one level for the first two tracks. Matters get a tad more exciting by track 3 but again Guy appears to be, stylistically at least, in some sort of para-crooner mode, and the weird choral effects don’t work for me. “Neat Little Rows” has some chutzpah and structurally is interesting,  whereas  the country and northern folk stich of “Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl” – with weird sprinkles of what sounds like  an overloaded Fender Rhodes is so laid back it hurts. The theme of the repeated one piano note returns with “The Night Will Always Win” is almost church like …… “High Ideals” has a nice funky feel but gets washed away in layers of keyboards……at this point it strikes that I’m listening to a peculiar northern english version of chanson with melodrama being the key element. It’s like Radiohead without the weird bits, the angst levels are high, and the emotions are stretched to near breaking point. “Open Arms” is formula Elbow with grand gestures and big choruses…..the reprise of “The Birds” has a guest vocal from someone I should probably recognise, but don’t……the closing “Dear Friends” is a cloying thing.

The inkies love it as do the arbiters of taste at the beeb beeb ceeb  so I’m probably a lone voice in the wilderness but sorry, I just can’t get into it.

(2) …….I am trying to enjoy the new R.E.M. album….it’s starts well enough in that it sounds remarkably un-R.E.M. like even the trademark Stipe vocal style has been subtly altered but then it sort of collapses into those sort of fist punching stadium rock tropes that for some totally ridiculous and unfathomable reason makes me think I listening to The Who….by Umlaut Berlin (track 3) though they are back in familiar territory rolling guitar and rolling vocals, rolling inexorably around in a R.E.M. like way…….I was rather hoping that they were covering Curved Air’s “It Happened Today”  but they aren’t unfortunately it’s an odd sort of para-folk ramble replete with howling vocal sections…… there’s a maudlin sentimentality about the whole affair…..”Every Day Is Yours To Win” threatens to leap out and a be bit special but sort of stutters in a laboured middle eight …. trouble is i’ve heard all of this before and there is no wow factor, until “Mine Smell Like Honey” kicks in with a bit of gusto, but then loses it with the weak chorus section…..the rest I sort of flicked through until the closing “Blue” which sort of caught my ear with its loud guitar and its spoken word part and Patti Smith vocal, the last minute of keening guitar is rather marvellous ………best thing on the album making up in no small part for has gone before.

Once again I appear to be in a minority with quite a few good reviews tottering round t’internet……

(3)…….I can’t stop myself from listening to the marvellous album by Grails ………..

Originally a post-rock outfit with elements of hard rock, their  2008 album “Doomsdayer’s Holiday”  was a lot more ambient and more in the post-rock genre. On the new one  “Deep Politics”, this is even more to the fore full of  cinematic moments. I’ve argued elsewhere that post-rock is the new prog and the indeed the signature instruments of the first prog era – Moogs, mellotrons, strings, and choral bits –  are as part of the soundscape as much as the guitars and masses of interweaving percussion. The opener  “Future Primitive” sets the scene with an  immense laminal feel, guitars, strings and all manner of tones and noises all interact to create a great sonic experience.

“All the Colors of the Dark,” with the basics of an extended piano riff and  mutant slide guitar, is added to by strings and  choir that  drives to to a zenith and then falls away to a wonderfully understated ending. Ennio Morricone comes to mind when listening to this lush music. Structurally it’s a strange-ish amalgam of Calexico and Tortoise with arrangements by John Barry. “Corridors of Power” is a beautiful atmospheric piece with a heavily reverbed snare and sensitive world music feel, whereas the title track for the album comes across initially as a simple piano ballad which slowly builds into a huge conundrum of a piece – retaining the core of the initial melody but slowly adding layers of orchestral wonderousness. “Daughter of Bilitis” continues this theme where blues piano floats over seering guitar whereas as the mammoth “Almost Grew My Hair” takes a totally different turn with strummed acoustic guitar loops under surging riffs and drones moving into a seriously manic piece of freak-out post-rock which then switches to a reflective airy section and another theme entirely which tends towards the prog before melting into a psychedelic maelstrom of Krautrock madness in a celidh.

The opening ambient tropes of “I led three lives” are particularly fine with a lean towards AMM in parts – but this soon changes to a repetitive thudding bass sound and sheets of mangled guitar developing into stately guitar structures and the most effective piece on the album tumbling, as it does between some sort of improvisation and written structures. After that the closing “Deep Snow” takes the pressure off with a gentle introduction and somewhat restrained, albeit still very cinematic, acoustic guitar led piece.

Highly recommended……