A Week With… 17. The National – High Violet

Never has the title of this feature been more accurate than with this particular record. It has completely dominated the musical landscape of the last seven days. And yet, despite all of this, I find myself unable to conjure the words to successfully articulate quite why I am so utterly besotted with this particular collection of eleven songs by a band I’ve previously liked, rather than loved. I’ve already consigned three abortive attempts at this review to the binary wasteland and I’d begun to think that it just wasn’t to be. But then last night things changed.


A sprawling conversation had alighted on whether writing could truly convey thoughts, as sometimes we have the capacity to think, to feel, to experience without having the appropriate vocabulary on hand to adequately represent those particular moments in our lives. Although the original subject matter had been literature, it didn’t take me long to steer it towards the inevitable terrain of music and the example I found myself citing was this very album: ‘High Violet’. I’d been listening to it on the train en route last night, staring out wistfully at the rapidly changing sights before they retreated into the distance. It seemed so perfectly suited to that moment. But it had also seemed perfectly suited as an accompaniment to an early morning walk to my local sorting office last weekend, the propulsion of Bryan Devendorf’s drumming falling sweetly in line with my determined pace. Indeed, this record is seemingly the perfect soundtrack to life itself, for now at least. Having much to mull over at present and with a number of weeks to play out before any solace might be sought, it could well be that ‘High Violet’ is heading for that curious status of ‘record that defines a period in my life’, a title that is handed out so rarely that it’s hard to conceive of it being plausible barely a week after the album’s appearance. Perhaps that is why I can’t quite find the words right now – I don’t want to explain it, I don’t want to box it off, say “done” and move on to the next feature. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been truly head over heels with a record and it’s a feeling I’d like to last as long as possible because it’s an absolute joy.

But, if I carry on writing about not writing, I’m going to end up coming across as some sort of sub-Paul Morley twerp and that really isn’t my intention. This record is littered with slow-burning melodies that catch you unawares and then lay siege to your mind in five or six second loops for days on end. Initial listens might not convince you that you’re in the presence of greatness, but make an exception, for me. Try it a couple of times back to back, see which tracks start to dominate, which guitar refrains resonate with you and which moments of understated vocal performance really communicate a sense of paranoia, frustration or loss. Which is not to say that this is either a depressing album or an album in which one might wallow. Yes, Matt Berninger’s baritone hardly conjures images of rolling green fields and sunny evenings, but, as with the Tindersticks, this doesn’t automatically make for gloomy music. There are moments on ‘High Violet’ that are plain euphoric; I’ve found myself over-enthusiastically air-drumming to ‘Conversation 16’ and recent single ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, while the choruses of both ‘Anyone’s Ghost’ and ‘Afraid Of Anyone’, even despite the latter’s obviously bleak outlook, have restorative effects far beyond mere food and drink.

The cohesive nature of this album ensures that I can’t just hear one song from it; I need to hear them all. Ticking all of the boxes for a first track, ‘Terrible Love’ slowly builds from fuzzy uncertainty to layered enormity with true class and the washes of sound establish a fairly consistent approach for the subsequent ten tunes. The purple patch from ‘Afraid Of Anyone’ to ‘Conversation 16‘, comprising five songs in all, is as good a run of tracks on any release I’ve heard so far this year. Neil Hannon, guesting on this week’s Roundtable on 6 Music, commented on how The National sound unashamedly like The National and that, for all the influences and reference points across the album, they have a unique musical style. And he’s not wrong. The ultimate aim of this piece is to get you to explore that particular sound, to click on one of these YouTube videos or to launch the album in Spotify via the image above, so as to experience this quite remarkable record. There are many, many positive reviews out there if you’re after a very precise ‘it sounds like this’ or ‘this track’s better than that track’ kind of commentary (and yes I know that’s what I normally do and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it) but on this occasion I’m going to have to leave those conclusions up to you. Enjoy.

2010 inverted

Futuremusic Begins


Futuremusic will run for the next few weeks here on Just Played, looking at how our access to music is changing, how people spend their money on music and some of the artists attempting to do things their way. To begin, the really rather wonderful, Tom Williams & The Boat.

I blame Steve Lamacq for this one. During a not especially sunny week spent in Northumberland almost exactly a year ago, I found myself tuning in to Lammo’s 6music afternoon show rather a lot. This was partly down to me reading his excellent autobiography at the time and partly because it was pretty good at drowning out the sound of incessant rain. One afternoon, his guests were Tom Williams & The Boat. Thinking back now, I can’t be absolutely certain what about them caused them to click so perfectly with me, but they were only half way through their first song as I reached for my phone to store the name of this curious new band. Since then, I’ve immersed myself in the world of their leader and ridiculously keen publicist, Tom Williams.

The music is what you’d broadly term ‘indie’ but each EP they’ve thus far put out meanders backwards and forwards across that rather vague terrain, at times sounding rather folksy, with some very well utilised violin on certain tracks. They fit into the finest indie tradition of ridiculously catchy, storytelling jingle jangle which has kept the NME staff in beer money for decades. At times they gather momentum like Arcade Fire in a power cut, while the love of late sixties folk is hard to deny. The slightly rough around the edges sound also brings to mind recent records by Malcolm Middleton, only less Scottish. Tracks like ‘Got Fuel’, ‘Half Mast’, ‘Train Station Car Park’, ‘Concentrate’ and marvellous new single, ’90mph’ (particularly for fans of Middleton’s recent single, ‘Red Travellin’ Socks’) all deserve the opportunity to caress your ears.

But, I hear you cry, why are Tom Williams & The Boat getting a mention in the rather brilliantly-titled new feature, ‘Futuremusic‘? Well, dear reader, this band are putting in extraordinary levels of effort in their hunt for popularity. Tom has embraced the idea of giving away bits and bobs via the internet and building your online support with aplomb and, having already furnished fans with numerous demos, live tracks and advance songs in recent months, he’s just undertaken a month of extreme generosity, giving away four volumes of ‘Home Recordings’ via his website. You simply need to fill out a request form and the lovely chap will email you a download link for the recordings. Naturally, these are of variable quality – both in terms of songwriting and audio recording – but they give you a pretty good idea of what makes him really rather special.

In addition to the free music, Tom appears to spend most of the time that he’s not using for recording or playing live online, sending endless updates on Myspace and Facebook and taking the time to respond to each and every email that comes his way. Just see what happens if you take him up on his offer of free ‘Home Recordings’ downloads. Finally, Tom Williams & The Boat have thus far released their records themselves in beautiful, handmade packages featuring lyrics sheets, random inserts and even the chance to get a cut price T-shirt. Wireboat Recordings as the label is known, still have stock of some of the earlier EPs and I would suggest you treat yourself right now. If you want to go for one in particular, I’d recommend the ‘Got Fuel EP’.

Regular readers may remember me banging on about Tom’s track ‘Half Mast’ last summer, with its marvellous line, “I don’t have a hoodie set at half mast, sitting on my fringe like  balaclava on my chin”. For a short while, here’s a chance to hear that track. Clicky. Naturally, if anyone involved with Tom Williams & The Boat objects to this being here for a little while, I’ll take it down. But I doubt they will. And that’s kind of the point. They want you to hear them, they want you to enjoy their tunes and I suspect you will.

Do you have hallucinatory visions of The Chuckle Brothers?

Mojo readers – is it wrong to like that cover of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da‘ by Gabriella Cilmi that’s on this month’s free CD? Clearly, it’s dreadful, wrong and naughty, but something about it got under my skin. Surreal, to say the least. Not a great start, I know, wittering on about a track you’ll only know if you buy a certain magazine. Not unusual, either.

The post had a few surprises in it today. Firstly, the new Herman Dune album, ‘Next Year In Zion’, which is really rather good. Never taken to them in the past, but, on first impressions, it sounds splendid. They haven’t changed particularly, perhaps I have.

Secondly, a new album from Misty’s Big Adventure! Oh yes! The last one only came out towards the end of last year, but even so there is more to delight, thrill and confuzzle your ears. ‘Television’s People’ is a concept album about a troubled man seeking solace in daytime stodge who ends up getting sucked into the TV. Delightfully bizarre, but not especially surprising when it comes to Misty’s. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of this lot  then a) you’re not a long-standing, loyal reader of the Vinyl Junkies internet presence (fair enough, really) and b) you’re in for an absolute treat. Start with the album, ‘The Black Hole’ and then buy everything else. Anyhoo, this album is wonderfully good and comes with a quite brilliant press release by Grandmaster Gareth (the head honcho). I truly hope the good folk of Misty’s and SL records won’t mind that I’ve temporarily placed track 10, ‘There Is Hope’ on the Muxtape, simply because of its comic genius. It documents the daytime commercials coming alive in the head of the man at the centre of the story and he starts to believe that the telly is talking to him. Superb. Naturally, if anyone’s pissed off at its presence on the Mux, please let me know and it’ll disappear rapidly. That also goes for any of the new bands whose material I’ve popped on there as a taster for those who’d like to go and spend their hard earned quids on some independent releases.

As I believe I mentioned the other day, I was off on my jolly holidays last week and upon arrival I was heartened by the lack of phone reception and utterly shite TV signal. I was subsequently startled when I turned on the DAB radio and had the strongest reception I’ve ever had. Figure that out. Anyway, as a result of that, I ended up spending some time with 6music outside of the Gideon Coe show. In particular, I spent a few afternoons with the ever-delightful Lammo. Only the other week I was praising his blog and now it’s the turn of his radio show. His ‘New Favourite Band’ feature is a logical extension of what he’s been doing on the radio for years and years. Quite simply, each week he identifies a new act to which he’s taken a shine. Last week it was Tom Williams & The Boat. It’s a good band name that. Although the name at the start is nothing out of the ordinary, by adding ‘& The Boat‘ on the end, the name is suddenly memorable. It would’ve been enough to keep it lodged in my mind until I got back to the world of Google. Obviously, I’m geeky enough that if I ever happen upon music I like when I can’t do anything about it, I save the name of act and song as a draft text message, but if I wasn’t a geek, I’d still have been able to remember their name.

Anyway, we got sidetracked there. Tom Williams & The Boat’s latest release is the ‘Got Fuel EP’, which you can get from this website. It’s a delightful little package, coming as it does in a PVC sleeve with a wraparound sleeve made of glossy photos stuck to sugar paper. Inside, you get two more photos, a lyric sheet and, of course, the rather splendid CD. ‘Got Fuel’ is a delightfully woozy indie singalong that has been going round in my head for the best part of this week. To confuse matters, there’s a song called ‘Pete & The Pirates’ that actually sounds like a menacing version of The Young Republic and ‘Half Mast’ contains one of my current favourite lyrical refrains; “I don’t have a hoodie set at half mast, sitting on my fringe like  balaclava on my chin.” I’m not putting it on the Mux because I think the bloke deserves £6 for that alone.

The whole EP is great but, should you want more convincing, over on the main TW&TB site there are loads of free downloads, including some rather amusing covers. Treat yourself.

One final act of note today. Our Broken Garden are a new act on the, quite superb, Bella Union label. She – for it is only one woman, Anna Broensted of Efterklang – had an EP out back in April called, ‘Lost Sailor’ and there’s a new album on the way in September, entitled ‘When Your Blackening Shows’. Nothing else to tell, I’m afraid, but you can be thoroughly enchanted by the tunes over at the Myspace page.



A curator, if you will

I’m not even sure what radio show it was, back in the day, one of the stations I listened to used to do a music press review on a Wednesday. Actually, it might have been in the early days of 6music when Andrew Collins‘ afternoon show (RIP) was still called ‘Teatime‘. Anyway, I used to love hearing the cherry-picked highlights and treated it as a buyer’s guide. Sadly, there isn’t enough music press to make that particularly worthy these days, but, on this occasion, indulge me.

There are two things I’ve been meaning to share with you. The first is the rather excellent list of ‘Things heard at the Latitude festival‘ in this month’s Uncut.

Some of my favourites:

  • “Pimm’s me up to the power of two!”
  • Heard over a walkie-talkie: “Child control to the Poetry Arena!”
  • “Seriously, I thought it was called Ricky Pedia. I assumed it was a bloke with a really popular MySpace page.”
  • Woman on phone telling her friends where to meet her: “I’m directly below the cloud that looks a bit like Cyprus.”

Splendid stuff.

The second item of note is in today’s NME. Now, I know that every few months I keep saying almost nice things about this magazine but it really has shown signs of improvement recently. For a start, the woefully pretentious letter from the editor – and his picture, for that matter – has disappeared from the third page and the writing just seems sharper and funnier. Mark Beaumont having a weekly column can only be a good thing. Anyway, this week, the main feature is a huge interview with Noel Gallagher. Say what you like about Oasis, and most people do, Noel is fantastically good value when it comes to interviews. Never one to disappoint, this time around it’s regarding Jay-Z.

“I never dissed that guy. But there’s no point going on about it or you end up sounding like Heather Mills.”

Fair point, well made. It’s worth £2.20 to read the whole thing.

And finally, today’s new music mutterings:

They describe themselves as ‘ambient/electronica/pop’, which’ll do for me. That said, one track, ‘Handcuffs‘ is pure indie joy from start to finish. If you’ve already visited the VJ myspace then that’s the track that blares out at you when the page loads. Good, innit? They’re good Welsh boys, are Man Without Country. That’s who I’m on about, by the way. There are delightful moments in the aforementioned track where you’re left in no doubt about the band’s country of origin and I can’t deny that I love it all the more because of that. The other tracks that you can hear on their Myspace and iSound pages have a little more of that ambient feel to them, but if you love innovative, energetic songs then you should give them a few minutes of your time.

So, in conclusion, don’t read this…

I love Steve Lamacq. Not like that. Obviously. Although, I guess I could pretend if I could get near his record collection. He was the aural comfort blanket on the nineties and I adored listening every evening to the Session. Jo Whiley‘s subsequent media whoredom has tainted her legacy a little and I now tend to just remember Steve’s grand work. These days he’s on Radio 1, Radio 2 and the afternoon host on BBC 6 Music, also home to the beloved Gideon Coe. His shows remain a delight, but he’s gone back to his roots and you can read his musings on music in blog form. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s still as bloody great as he was back in his pre-radio days.

Go here for a number of witty, eloquent and downright entertaining blog posts.

Why do I bother?

I hardly said a word

I’ve had a thoroughly splendid week in terms of listening pleasure. I had an interesting conversation about musical snobbery and what makes a good pop song during several hours in bar that played the most chronic selection of shite I’ve heard in some time. A quick comment about how the Girls Aloud track playing when we went in was probably the best thing that they’d managed in about two hours spiraled off into something far more complicated. Anyway, the conversation leads me nicely to my first point of interest this week, Lily Allen.

A few months ago I read that she’d posted a couple of new tracks on her Myspace and I made a mental note to have a listen at some point. I finally did that today and I’m pleasantly surprised. There were some decent tracks on debut album; sampling Allen Toussaint is always good by me and ‘Alfie‘ is pop genius, but for the new record she’s gone in an electro-pop direction. The two new tunes are splendid, in particular the first offering, ‘I Don’t Know’ which has an enjoyable quiet/loud Girls Aloud/Sugababes feel to it. Not that I imagine she’d be especially thrilled with the comparison. The second track, ‘I Could Say’ sounds a little like a Pet Shop Boys ballad. Anyhoo, whatever I think, I’d recommend having a listen via the link above.

Speaking of the PSBs, they recently recorded a cover of Madness‘My Girl’ while rehearsing for a live performance with Suggs. On this delightful demo, Neil takes lead vocals and it’s a wonderfully quirky take on a classic tune. You can access it via the ‘exclusive tracks’ page in the ‘Product’ area on their website. Or you could just click here. You choose, why don’t you?

A final true ‘pop’ moment before moving on. As I’m pointing out rather splendid bits of popular music that I’m rather fond of, I’ll give a quick mention to Rihanna‘s ‘Don’t Stop The Music’. Now, I know this isn’t exactly new and I know that you probably cut your ears off after the ninety-seventh time you heard ‘Umbrella‘, but this is a true pop classic. Meticulously crafted, never quite as fast as you think it’s going to be and yet deceptively uplifting. Ver Tube allows a listen below.

I’ve been living with Weller‘s ’22 Dreams’ for a week now, and it’s almost as good as the reviews are suggesting. Let’s get one thing straight before we go on – it ain’t a five-star kind of album. It can’t be, really, because of its quite deliberate ebbs and flows. A few tracks add nothing, and the final, noodly instrumental track, ‘Night Lights’ really outstays its welcome. But it’s a definite four-star kind of album and one which repays repeated listens. That’s not especially surprising when you bear in mind that there are 21 tracks to absorb. Apparently, the deluxe edition has sold out already, but you’ll not be missing much if you’ve not got it. ‘Rip Up The Pages’ and ‘Love’s Got Me Crazy’ are the additional tunes – both rather good, and probably more deserving of a place on the main album that some of the more fanciful farting about, but all of that stuff does rather add to its charm. Have a listen via the link below and make sure you do it in one sitting; it works better that way.

I should just finish by noting the fact that a true great, Bo Diddley died earlier this week. If you know nowt about the man or his music, you should probably get that sorted. One of the ‘Chess‘ collections should suffice. Some far more professional and worthy tributes can be found via the following links:

1. Richard Hawley’s tribute on the BBC site

2. First ten minutes of Gary Crowley’s show, filling in for Tom Robinson on 6music on Friday 6th June

3. Mark Lamarr’s ‘God’s Jukebox’ from Saturday 7th June. Various tunes and references throughout.

Duffing is very much the anti-shabba

Attentive readers of the blog will have noticed the new clickable banner at the bottom of the page. It refers to Gideon Coe‘s quite brilliant radio show on BBC 6Music. I get nothing from doing this, naturally, I just love the show and think you might do so too. I was always rather fond of Mr Coe when he was in the mid-morning slot on the station, a gig he occupied from the station’s launch in 2002 until October of last year. At that point, a straight swap was made George Lamb, then-host of the station’s late show. I have to confess that I was actually quite pleased, as previously I’d had bugger all chance of hearing Gideon as I was in no position to listen to his daytime show at work. Catching his show when enjoying time off was always a delight, but it always seemed a shame that I couldn’t hear more of it.

Gideon has created a wonderful show in the 10pm-1am slot and I cannot think of another radio programme being broadcast anywhere in the world that I rate higher than this one. The music is absolutely spot on and the sense of community is right up there with the work of the late, great Peelie. With regard to the music; as a reader of this blog I’m guessing we have at least vaguely similar tastes in tunes and therefore I should utter some brief words of caution. Unless you can afford to dispense with a tenner a week as a result of hearing something great that you previously didn’t know existed, don’t tune in. Only last night, I sent $8, via Paypal, to Matinee Recordings for the debut EP by Northern Portrait as a result of hearing one of the tracks on Gid’s show.

The listener interaction makes for one of the most pleasant ends to a day I can think of, and it’s not just about inviting emails and texts. Far from it. In fact, it’s all about the topics he chooses to pursue and the quaint regular features such as ‘Paintbox Jury’ (famous-ish albums covers, re-done in Paint) and ‘Duffing’ (listeners’ emails in which they have a gentle moan about the world – all ages welcome.) On top of all of this, Gideon is, quite simply, a very witty man. At a time when silly little catchphrases and tales of getting drunk constitute ‘radio banter’, it’s a relief to listen to a show where it’s acceptable to:

a) give a shit about music


b) have at least a modicum of intelligence

It’s rarer than you’d think these days.

Were this blog a school playground, at least one person would now be shouting, ‘Why don’t you just marry him if you love him that much?’ such is my eulogising about the show. But it’s all perfectly sincere. It’s nice to hear a show that seems designed for you. If it was bollocks then I wouldn’t waste your precious time with it, but I genuinely believe you should have a listen. You may well like it muchly.

Gideon’s video manifesto for the late show

Last Night’s Show

Oh, and don’t, whatever you do, play the new Portishead 12″, ‘Machine Gun’, at 33 1/3 rpm. It’ll fair make you shit yourself.