Blog Sound 2012

Monday, 5 December 2011, 23:59 | Category : Good new stuff, Lists
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Just over two years ago I was asked, for the one and only time, to contribute to the prestigious BBC Sound Of poll. This annual poll has become enough of an milestone to ensure that the main business of plenty labels and PRs for the past few months is to get their artists onto that list. I’ve been away from a computer for most of the day , and looking at the 2012 list launched earlier today, I see that it’s, well.. alright I guess. There’s good stuff on there. There are artists I’m not keen on. And there are I few I’ve never heard.

Anyway, the point with mentioning my vote was to say that one of the artists I voted for back then was Beth Jeans Houghton. She never made the 2010 list, and then disappeared. But now she back with her debut album finally out in January, and as such, seems ripe for a 2012 tip. So I voted for her again in the inaugral Blog Sound poll, and here she is in the long list, along with a bunch of other artists recommended by a few other British nusic blogs.

The point of this poll, spearheaded by Andy from The Von Pip Musical Express, isn’t to set us up in competition with the BBC, but to provide a slightly altearnative voice to the industry’s great and the good, whose selections inevetablty towards those who are surefire tips to be big in 2012 (i.e. those who have the most money behind them). There’s invitably going to be some overlap (not least because some bloggers contrubute to both polls), but it’s nice to see some decent new stuff on there. And because we’re not bound by the same rules as the BBC voters, we could even have bands like Meursault who are about to release their third album. But why not, it’ll be a  belter and if there’s any band on the list that deserves success in 2012, it’s them.

Here’s the full long list ( in no particular order)

Houdini Dax

French Wives

The Good Natured

Lianne La Havas

Theme Park

Alt J

The Jezabels.

Lucy Rose


Beth Jeans Houghton






Blogs Involved:
A Tidal Wave Of Indifference , Breaking More Waves, My Band Is Better Than Your Band,God Is In the TV, Sweeping The Nation, The Von Pip Musical Express, The Recommender, Faded Glamour, Drunken Werewolf, Flying With Anna, Not Many Experts, Under-classed Idle Ideas, Sonic Masala, Mudkiss, The Ring Master, Both Bars On, Music From A Green Window, Dots And Dashes, The Daily Growl, And Everyone’s A DJ, Kowalskiy! Just Music I Like, Cruel Rhythms, The Blue Walrus, Music Fans Mic, 17 Seconds, Eaten By Monsters, Seven Sevens, Unpeeled, NuRave Brain Wave, Peenko, Music Liberation, Song, By Toad.

Another quick word with… Dan Michaelson

Tuesday, 22 November 2011, 15:46 | Category : A quick word with..., Covers, Interviews, Video
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It’s funny to see Dan Michaelson still referred to as ‘former Absentee singer’, especially now that the release of his third album sees his solo output surpass his former band’s by 50%. But let’s not dwell on the past. The good news is that Dan’s new record Sudden Fiction is excellent; a stripped-down, melancholic late night countrified cracker. Although he’s more solo on this album than ever before, he’s more assured as a solo artist and is fast becoming a strong singular voice, carving out a clear place for himself in the messy world of music. And speaking of voice, the sparse arrangements on Sudden Fiction provide an even clearer platform for his gruff, ravaged vocals, which are as delightful as ever.

Dan’s been featured on the blog a few times in the past, but the new record gives me another opportunity to fire a handful of questions his way. Like a true gent, he responded quickly.

1. The first and most obvious question is about the lack of Coastguards in the album title. The cast list’s a bit shorter for this record – was this a natural result of producing a more stripped-down set?
The recording process for this record was much more direct than I’m used to. I engineered and produced it and recorded the vocals and guitar live together so there was really nothing in the way of me and what ended up as the song. No opportunity to edit or change anything afterwards. Although I asked some coastguards to come and add their unique parts to the songs, I felt that both the process of recording and where the songs came from were very singular. For that reason, it made sense for me to take responsibility for it by giving it my name.

2. You may have had your music classified as ‘Americana’ in the past, but this time it seems that you set out to make an Americana record. Tell us about the inspiration for the album – musical and otherwise.
The record was inspired partly by a trip I made to Texas last year. Though cliched, early mornings spent contemplating the vast, unpopulated and oddly romantic surroundings really stoked my coals and got me thumbing about what my next record might sound like.

3. How did you find the solo production of this record? Does working on your own suit you these days?
I liked working on my own for as long as I did. I wouldn’t want it that way forever, but I felt like I wanted to remove the recording engineer for this album. Engineers and producers are like translators for your ideas and that’s important but with this I wanted a direct communication of the sound, so I’ll have to accept that not everyone will hear me right the first time.

4. I looked up ‘sudden fiction’ on the internet and got this definition from the reliable Wikipedia is a “a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity”. A song seems like the perfect vehicle for this sort of fiction, but is this what you had in mind for the album?
Yes, I was reading a lot of short fiction at the time. People like Lydia Davis and Raymond Carver, and thinking about what they share with songwriting. Or what they can share. It’s not a perfect coupling but it was a way of trying to learn something about directness in language. I have no idea if it was a success in that sense.

5. How are plans for the tour shaping up? Will it be a solo show this time, or will old bandmates creep back?
This first tour will be stripped back. Piano. Pedal steel, cello and me, then early next year I’ll attempt to lure the missing Coastguards back with promises of unfathomable wealth and respect..

6. Since we’re back in the albums of the year zone again, what have you been enjoying this year?
I almost threw the towel in when I heard King Creosote’s collaboration with Jon Hopkins earlier this year. A record very close to perfect, I thought. Though I’ve only heard a handful of songs, I’m really looking forward to Keaton Henson’s album whenever he’s ready. Twin Sister seem to be fulfilling my (very limited) disco needs. Other than that, I’m looking forward to seeing Josh T Pearson play again.

Sudden Fiction is out now on Editions records. Buy from Rough Trade.

A couple of tracks from Sudden Fiction:

mp3: Dan Michaelson - Breaking Falls




A good day for new album news

Wednesday, 2 November 2011, 18:09 | Category : Good new stuff
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You know the story these days; a new album announcement accompanied by a free taster song. It works nicely for me, but often these things come along like buses. So over the past day there’s been news of three potential belters coming out in the next few months.

First up, Field Music. A band that I’ve not always clicked with, but when they hit their stride, they’re capable of great things. New album Plumb is out in February, and the new tune ‘(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing’ is classic Field Music.

Field Music - (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing by memphisindustries

Next was new Errors record Have Some Faith In Magic, out in January on Rock Action records. It’s heralded as their greatest shift in sound yet, and this first taster is a promising hint at their new ’sprawling pop’ direction. With added vocals too, although this being Errors, we’re not talking conventional singing of lyrics.

Earthscore by Rock Action Records

And finally, before both of these comes the Lil Daggers album on Song, By Toad in early December. Unlike a lot of the other Toad bands, these guys aren’t from Edinburgh. Maimi is where these scuzzy garage rockers hail from, but props to Matthew for finding these guys and putting out what’s shaping up to be a great record.

Dada Brown by Song, by Toad

All these albums are up for pre-order now. Field Music, Errors and Lil Daggers.

Echo Lake

Wednesday, 2 November 2011, 14:38 | Category : Covers, Songs, Video
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Echo Lake - Alisa from ///NO PAIN IN POP\\\ on Vimeo.

This afternoon I’ve been listening to Echo Lake, mainly because they’re the support band at tonight’s Early Years gig at CAMP Basement. On the evidence of the songs on their Soundcloud, they’re pretty much the perfect support band for The Early Years, with their dreamy shoeegazey melodies and layered guitar effects. I hope I can get down in time to see them.

Here are a few songs to whet your appetite for Echo Lake, even if you’re not going to the gig (which will be almost everyone who reads this). And the video is for their cover of Ariel Pink’s ‘Alisa’, originally recorded for Pinglewood’s Ariel Pink podcast last year. They put this bad boy up just in time for Halloween, and although I’m a couple of days late on that count, I’m just in time for tonight.

Alisa (Ariel Pink Cover) by Echo Lake

Another Day by Echo Lake

Breathe Deep by Echo Lake

The return of The Early Years

Tuesday, 1 November 2011, 13:59 | Category : Live music, Video
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You may not noticed, but I’ve been away for a while. I’m not the only one though. The Early Years were one of my favourite bands a few years back, but after seeing them at a few memorable gigs (notably their support slot at this amazing Electrelane Scala show), they seemed to disappear completely. But they’re back. They’re loading up their effects pedals and are heading down to CAMP Basement to play a reunion show tomorrow night.

I already knew about their new single (their first release in over three years), but my excitement about the gig got pushed up a notch yesterday when the above video of their rehearsals for the show suggested that they were back on blisteringly good form. They seem to have distilled all of what they were best at on their debut album, which is mainly their pounding krautrock rhythms and layered shoegaze guitars.

There will be a good few of the old fans down City Road tomorrow night, but hopefully there will be a few new ones to be converted to The Early Years cause.  This gig and new single holds out some hope of a more permanent regrouping. We can hope…

Videos for the new single tracks:

Fallen Star


For those not at the gig, the ‘Complicity’ and ‘Fallen Star single is out next week on seven inch orange vinyl via Sonic Cathedral. It will also released digitally next week as the ‘Memory Case’ EP, adding ‘Like A Suicide’ and ‘The Computer Voice’, the two tracks from the band’s 2008 single also on Sonic Cathedral.

The Returns of the King

Monday, 29 August 2011, 1:47 | Category : Stuff
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Last week, in a BBC 6 Music interview with King Creosote and Jon Hopkins about their Mercury-nominated album Diamond Mine, Kenny Anderson mentioned his songbook. Now there’s a thought. I’m trying to imagine a songbook big enough to hold all the songs written by one of the most prolific songwriters of our time.

Even though I’m sure PJ Harvey deserves to win the Mercury for her hugely impressive Let England Shake, my heart’s with KC and JH, mainly because I’ve loved Anderson’s music for so long and it’s great to see him getting some recognition for it. And it’s heartening that his success has been achieved on his own terms, since he operates almost totally outside of the music industry and its way of doing things.

I know he’s involved in the business, and even was signed briefly to a major label, but his way of working is refreshingly different. He’s assembled a gang of like-minded people around him in the Fence Collective which has grown beyond a cottage industry and punches above its weight. It might seem presumptuous to expect the music world to come to them in their wee corner of Fife, but they do, and they do. Not least in their annual Homegame festival, which sells out in seconds each year.

Anderson isn’t just physically remote from the music world, his way of working is different too. Not for him the painstaking process of perfecting a perfectly honed album every two years. He believes in just getting stuff out there. No-one really knows how many albums he’s released, on CDR, on his own Fence Records, and on bigger labels like 679 and Domino, which is why the songbook might provide the only record of his myriad works.

One of the many pleasures of King Creosote’s work is seeing how his songs develop over time. His self-released albums on Fence are often the breeding grounds for tunes that reappear later, on his higher-profile releases. So KC fans will have recognised Diamond Mine’s ‘Your Own Spell’ as a track that appeared on 2003 Fence album Psalm Clerk, which is full of songs that turn up on later records.The track’s here for your interest, but I’d strongly recommend buying the CD from Fence.

mp3: King Creosote - Your Own Spell

My favourite track on Diamond Mine is ‘Bubble’, which has apparently been around for a very long time. The first time I heard it was on last year’s excellent Cold Seeds album, a collaboration of sorts which saw Matthew Song, By Toad recording King Creosote, Meursault and Animal Magic Tricks in his house. The version is different but equally breathtaking. Again, you need to get yourself a copy of the album, not just for the KC tracks, but the others too.

mp3: Cold Seeds - Bubble

Thankfully there are more King Creosote tracks with Jon Hopkins than the brief seven that appear on the album. There’s a new EP - Honest Words - released on 19 September. On it there’s another past classic, this one from the 2008 collaboration with Fence friend HMS Ginafore, which is sadly no longer available. Enjoy, and track the CD down if you can.

mp3: HMS Ginafore & King Creosote - Aurora Boring Alias

I could go on about the development of King Creosote tracks, but I don’t want to end up boring you. I just want to encourage the casual KC listener. who maybe only knows Diamond Mine, to dig a little below the surface and discover the joys of the back catalogue. Unfortunately a lot of them are out of print, but the Fence website is your friend. If you can’t buy what you’re looking for, someone on the forum might know.

So a week on Tuesday, I’ll be quietly cheering on King Creosote and his songbook, He’ll never win, but being there is still a victory of sorts. Recognition for a unique, brilliant artist who doesn’t play by the normal rules. His Queen Elizabeth Hall gig on 9 September is already sold out. It may not be Glastonbury Pyramid Stage, but it’s a start.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Saturday, 27 August 2011, 0:16 | Category : Reviews, Video
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A Winged Victory For The Sullen is the new project combining the talents of Stars Of The Lid founder Adam Wiltzie and LA-based composer Dustin O’Halloran. It seems to bring together what they’re both best at, and form something greater than the sum of their parts. So there’s definite traces of SOTL’s ambient guitar-washed drone, and though I’m not familiar with O’Halloran’s material, it seems that the carefully stroked piano and perfectly judged strings is what he brings to the table.

The collaboration originated at a meeting of the two men in Bologna back in 2001 when Wiltzie was playing with Sparklehorse on their last European tour, and their recording and mixing adventures since have taken in a church and former DDR radio studios in Berlin and a 17th century villa near Ferrara, Italy.

The results are quietly stunning. This is a record that reflects the large acoustic spaces they sought for the recording, where everything sounds like it’s been very carefully thought about and every long note lasts exactly as long as it should. Sure, it’s minimalist and with song titles like ‘We Played Some Open Chords and Rejoiced, For The Earth Had Circled The Sun Yet Another Year‘, it’s not going to be the album of choice for yer regular Tesco CD buyer. But it would be a great shame if it was unthinkingly passed over as being too ‘difficult’. It’s not; it’s a very accessible record, but the key is to treat it with respect. In other words, don’t have it as background music. Listen to it properly, and you’ll be gently awestruck. Lovely stuff.

Your audio and visual sampler comes courtesy of two of the album tracks, the first below being created in memory of the untimely passing of Mark Linkous, The video shows the final string quartet recording sessions in the DDR radio studios last August.

A Winged Victory For The Sullen is set for release via Erased Tapes on the 12 September in the UK. Pre-order from Rough Trade.

A Winged Victory For The Sullen - Requiem For The Static King Part One by erasedtapes

mp3: A Winged Victory for the Sullen - Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears

A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Steep Hills Of Vicodin Tears by erasedtapes

Michael Kiwanuka - I’m Getting Ready

Friday, 26 August 2011, 0:10 | Category : Uncategorized
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On his debut release, there was a distinct folk element to his retro soul music, but on his new EP Michael Kiwanuka brings that right to the front, and in doing so stakes his claim to be the young British Terry Callier. Which is really saying something. The I’m Getting Ready EP is made up of three exquisite songs: the title track where Kiwukana seems to be channelling Nick Drake as well as Callier, the short and sweet folk-gospel of ‘I’ll Need You By My Side’ and the lush string arrangements of ‘Any Day Will Be Fine’, all basically saying that we’re got a major new talent here. He’s going to be huge, I’m sure, and these Adele support slots will have done that trajectory no harm. Just get to see him play soon, somewhere you can actually see his face.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for all this - you can experience ‘I’m Getting Ready’ in both audio and video right here.  I dare you to disagree.

I’m Getting Ready by MichaelKiwanuka

The EP is out on 18 September. Michael plays Bush Hall on 21 September.

Liz Green - Displacement Song

Wednesday, 24 August 2011, 0:06 | Category : Good new stuff, Live music, Songs
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When I was unexpectedly asked to contribute to the BBC’s Sound of 2010 poll, I was a little taken aback and with a short deadline to get tips back to the man at the Beeb, I stuck to the artists I was particularly obsessed with that week. One of these was Liz Green - an honest answer maybe, but she was never going to make the cut. With only a couple of seven inch-singles to her name and an album nowhere on the horizon, she wasn’t exactly the name on everyone’s lips. But that might change soon enough.

Her first proper album (not counting the now-withdrawn compilation Shadow Play) is due in November. It was recorded with the legendary Ian Watson at the legendary Toerag Studios in east London. And in proper fashion, it’s being preceded by a single ‘Displacement Song’ which is out this week.

As a taster for the album, it’s intriuging and reassuring. Although there’s a bit of a shadowy New Orleans brass thing going on, it never detracts from Liz’s voice, the uniqueness of which is the chief reason to love her music. In the past, her vocal performances and spectral arrangements have given her songs such a timeless quality, it’s like they had just been discovered on a dusty attic 78. Now thankfully, they’re still sounding like something out of time. And given that the b-side is an Andrews Sisters cover, you begin to get the idea of what Green is up to.  It’s working very well.

01 Displacement Song by Liz Green

02 Bei Mir Bis du Shoen by Liz Green

To accompany these new tunes, I thought it was worth re-posting a couple of Liz Green live tracks that appeared on this blog a while back. These tracks - one of her own and a stunning a capella Son House cover - were recorded live on BBC 6 Music for Marc Riley, who I’m sure will have her back on his show pretty soon.

mp3: Liz Green - Grinnin’ in Your Face (live on BBC 6 Music)
mp3: Liz Green - The Wall (live on BBC 6 Music)

Buy ‘Displacement Song’ from Rough Trade.

Beirut - The Rip Tide

Monday, 22 August 2011, 23:55 | Category : Reviews
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Until now, you’d have been excused for thinking that there were two Beiruts – one the creator of lush, brass-fuelled Balkan or Mexican sway-alongs (see the first two and a half albums) and the other the purveyor of obtuse bedroom electronics (Realpeople Holland and the Rough Trade digital EP). But somehow, on Zac Condon’s fourth full-length everything comes together to become one essential Beirut.

The new album The Rip Tide, released this week, is probably the least dramatic yet, but I mean that as a compliment. It feels less effusive on one hand, and less deliberately awkward on the other. There’s no globetrotting backstory. It’s just the sound of Condon feeling at ease with himself and writing some damn fine songs. Recent interviews have seen him talking about settling back in his hometown of Santa Fe, and that figures. Not just because that city lends its name to a song in lieu of more exotic locations, but the whole thing just seems less restless, more sure of itself.

Sure, there’s plenty that’s familiar. The brass is of course still strongly there. So to are the keyboards. And the songs are unmistakably Beirut. The Rip Tide is a pleasingly restrained effort – no flab, no superfluous songs. A mere nine tracks, clocking in at little over half an hour. But that’s all we need. Songs like ‘East Harlem’ and ‘Vagabond’, can already claim to be up there with the finest Condon has written, and given the luxury of time, we may well look back upon this as his finest work.

Beirut - Santa Fe by Revolver USA

Beirut - East Harlem by Revolver USA