Not quite ‘Just Played’ but nearly

Rain pours, Harriet Wheeler gently soothes the soul and the need for a jumper gradually creeps up on you. A good day, methinks. It’s strange to be mulling over the previous ten years of music, continuing to listen to a fair old pile of new stuff and already listening to some of the wondrous stuff that awaits in 2010. The Just Played Albums of the Decade feature will begin shortly and I have every hope that it’ll be at least quite good. The list is close to finished but, simultaneously, subject to a great deal of change. The end of year list is also coming together alongside the larger venture, but its progress is repeatedly stalled by the number of ‘late greats’ entering the fray.

In the last few weeks I’ve had my first listens to recent albums by Norah Jones, Hidden Cameras, Cate Le Bon, Cerys Matthews, Molina and Johnson, Mumford & Sons, Emmy The Great and Julian Casablancas. In addition, Noah And The Whale’s album got its first detailed listen and turned out to be really rather good while Monsters Of Folk, The xx, Cheryl Cole and Kings Of Convenience were explored in more detail. There have been so many fantastic records this year that it’s hard to know where to start.

Still, I’ll have a go. If the Cerys Matthews album was credited to Duffy instead, it’d be a chart-shagging behemoth of a record. As it is, it’ll sell a few thousand and turn up for £3 in Fopp within six months. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, ‘Don’t Look Down’ is a soulful set of beautifully constructed pop songs. It’s hard to believe that the same person was responsible for ‘The Balled Of Tom Jones’, in conjunction with Space.

The Norah Jones album is being touted as the ‘Norah Jones album for people who don’t like Norah Jones albums’. That’s clearly spurious bollocks, because if you like this then you do and, oh well, nevermind, eh? Still, it’s very, very good and more than a little noisier than her previous offerings. I always quite liked her somewhat sneered at laid back jazzy early albums but this is definitely her strongest offering to date. Far more bluesy and benefiting from the presence of some of those responsible for Tom Waits’ ‘Mule Variations’. Not Tom Waits though, I should add. It’s already available via the little green blob, so click the image below and enjoy.

Norah 

The cryptically named Molina and Johnson are a double act comprising of Jason Molina and Will Johnson. Molina will likely be familiar to you as the man behind the always enchanting Magnolia Electric Co and, having already provided one of the better album of the year with that band’s ‘Josephine’, has now managed to turn in a second belter before the year is out. Far more sparse than the aforementioned, ‘Josephine’, this is a bleakly beautiful collection of melancholic music boosted by deft and subtle playing. Wait till it’s dark, grab a cup of something warm and sit by the window looking at the stars and hit play.

molina-johnson

My new found love of Cate Le Bon came about as a result of a happy coincidence. Having heard her named mentioned in a few places and seen her profiled in a couple of magazines I knew of her, without knowing what she actually sounded like. I found myself thumbing through the singles in Spillers the other week and happened upon her self-released 7”, ‘No One Can Drag Me Down’, from a couple of years back. It sat in the bag for a few days until I finally dusted it down and gave it a go. Four play of each side later I was hooked. I can’t actually remember the last single that I gave instant repeated play to and this one truly deserves it. Click here and you can download both sides of that single for absolutely nothing. I will be absolutely amazed if you’re not glad to have done so. That might well lead you to her recently released debut album which doesn’t sound quite as Coral-y as that particular single but is one of the most charmingly simple collection of folky songs I’ve heard all year. It is, inevitably, available on Spotify.

cate

David McAlmont has set about adding lyrics to a number of pieces by genius composer (and Divine Comedy inspiration) Michael Nyman. It probably shouldn’t work but, providing you’re a fan on McAlmont’s voice in the first place, it’s remarkably successful. I’m only the first couple of listens in at this stage but I’m strangely hooked. In the same way that Neil Hannon adding vocals to Yann Tiersen’s ‘Les Jours Tristes’ should have been a bit of a balls up but really, truly wasn’t, McAlmont’s mellifluous vocals are a perfect fit for the dramatic endeavours of Nyman and I suspect this one has the capacity to become a firm favourite before too long. Let Spotify be your guide:

mcalmont nyman(and should you wish to test my theory, here’s ‘Les Jours Tristes’ without Neil and then with – both are rather nice, eh?)

I was never hugely fond of the early sound of Idlewild. They always struck me a bit too much energy and noise and not quite enough in the tunes department. I reviewed their 2005 album, ‘Warnings/Promises’, and remember quite liking it and wondering if things had changed. A recent purchase of their best of for £3 confirmed that I’d perhaps been a little hard on the increasingly early-REM aping Scots. Their latest album, ‘Post Electric Blues’, has lifted them higher in my affections and with good reason: it’s a bloody good collection of songs. At times poppier than they’ve been in the past, this album is probably far too late to put their star back in the ascendancy but I suspect its quality will surprise you if you have them chalked up as indie also-rans who never quite delivered. It may have taken them a while, but they’ve very much turned up with the goods. (Plus, there’s a lovely vinyl pressing on the Newport based Diverse Vinyl label)

idlewild

For those who follow my Twitter postings, Ellie Goulding should not be an unfamiliar name. She is responsible for one of the THE pop songs of 2009, ‘Under The Sheets’. With unashamedly enormous beats all over the place and a quirky vocal it pummels along for almost four minutes, doing everything great pop music should: slowly building to euphoria, staying just the right side of annoyingly repetitive, going a little bit dreamy around the two and a half minute mark before gradually returning to the enormous sound of the chorus. Oh yes, my music loving brethren, this is what it’s all about. You might, of course, think it’s bobbins. But I suspect that would make you wrong. (The b-side, ‘Fighter Plane’ is also rather good)

elliecover

On the subject of top notch pop, if you’ve not heard Jamie from The xx’s version of Florence’s cover of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ then you should probably do something about that. Don’t be put off by the arse-shreddingly mediocre Florence reading, this remix is wonderful, entirely in keeping with The xx’s own fabulous debut album. 

I shall conclude by briefly gloating about some of the wonderful new music I’ve been listening to over the last couple of weeks. The first month of 2010 will deliver both a new Tindersticks album and SupergrassGaz and Danny doing a covers album as The Hot Rats. I spoke to the latter band for a ‘New for 2010’ piece and they are, quite rightly, rather proud of the twelve reinterpretations they’ve opted for. Their take on ‘Love Is The Drug’, ‘Love Cats’ and, most notably, ‘Fight For Your Right’ have been keeping me thoroughly entertained for a little while now and any Supergrass fans can sit back in anticipation of a genuinely wonderful collection of songs. Some versions are more conventional than others but all are delivered with gusto and style. Not all covers albums have to be ‘Swing When You’re Winning’, ‘Allow Us To Be Frank’ or ‘Studio 150’. This one is much more of a ‘Pin Ups’.

As for the new Tindersticks album, ‘Falling Down A Mountain’, it only arrived yesterday and I’m still a little bit too giddy to be particularly objective about it but suffice to say it’s another quality addition to a back catalogue that barely puts a foot wrong. It’s a little rougher round the edges than 2008’s ‘The Hungry Saw’ and it’s musically less restrained than that, nevertheless really rather beautiful, previous record. There are occasional hints of the more claustrophobic production sound of ‘Curtains’ and ‘The Second Tindersticks album’ on a couple of tracks, while closer ‘Piano Music’ is an epic instrumental piece which certainly evokes times gone by.

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Not quite just played, but recently

It’s been a while since I did a rambling ‘things-I’ve-been-listening-to-and-quite-like’ type post, so this be one of them.  While plenty of new stuff has crept in, this week has involved a lot of Manics. I’ve been suckered in by the Mini-LP, 2CD Japanese reissues of their studio albums prior to ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, despite owning all of them and most of the accompanying b-sides. They are utterly lovely though and it has resulted in me realising a couple of things. Firstly, I know the b-sides from the ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth’ like they are unofficial national anthems, something that’s not replicated with the more recent albums, suggesting that as I’ve got older, I’ve spent less time with b-sides, despite rabidly gathering them all up. Secondly, as a direct consequence of the last point, the bonus tracks on ‘Lifeblood’, in particular, took me aback. They’re really very, very good and the consistency was still there, even if my attention wasn’t. Oh, and it was another excuse to listen to their gloriously bombastic version of ‘Umbrella’. I love the idea of bonus disc reissues and the notion of an alternative history being offered up by those lesser-known songs. Sadly, very few reissues offer much of any real merit, but these are wonderful collections and this allows me to now say that I didn’t just buy them because they’re shiny and nice. I also bought them to reevaluate a musical legacy. Albeit one in shiny packaging.

I bought The Low Anthem album, ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, whilst down in London for a bit of real life, over the counter, music you can touch, record shopping back in April. Back then, it was proudly described as a ‘Rough Trade Exclusive’ and it came in a blue card, hand stamped sleeve. It struck me as a marvellous but curious little record and certain tracks got pretty regular plays. I now find it quite surprising to see it receiving a sizeable media focus; it seemed such a tiny, niche release only a few months back. Anyway, because I’m a sad obsessive, I ended up purchasing the vinyl pressing of the new Bella Union release of this wonderful album this week and it sounds absolutely magnificent. It turns out that I haven’t actually bought exactly the same thing twice. Apparently, the album’s been remastered in the interim and resequenced for some reason. I can’t say I really noticed all the much in the way of sonic difference, but then people say that their debut album, ‘What The Crow Brings’, is poorly recorded and I think that sounds rather lovely too. What I can recommend is the pressing quality of this vinyl edition and also that aforementioned debut album which you can buy from their site as a CD preorder (they’re making some more copies – hand stamped and all that malarky) along with a free, instant download to be getting on with. It’s worth also noting that this is yet another solid gold release by Bella Union, a label seemingly unable to do any wrong. Peruse their site, click buy next to pretty much anything and you’ll not be disappointed.

The latest Ohbijou record, ‘Beacons’, is getting played rather a lot round these parts. Ethereal is probably the best word for it and, frankly, it’s more eloquent than sodding marvellous which is the only other way I’ve got for describing it. Pick any track at random, have a listen and I defy you to not fall in love with it. Seriously. Did I mention that it’s on Bella Union?

The new album by The Rumble Strips arrived this week and my first impressions were not great. Apparently, it’s a big step on from the last album, it’s less like Dexy’s and it had added Mark Ronson. Hmm. It’s not a huge success. Firstly, they still sound very like Dexy’s at times, just not as well as they did on the first album and thus it is less enjoyable. Secondly, the sense of fun that made me really rather warm to their debut (‘Girls And Boys In Love’, in particular) doesn’t seem to be there. Now, this is fine in itself, but not when it hasn’t really been replaced with anything else. I’ll give it time, but I think the attempted reinvention may not have been necessary after all.

Plenty of time has been spent picking over all of the b-sides and remixes offered up by the luxurious and really rather shiny (spot the pattern?) Girls Aloud singles collection box set. It’s not hugely revelatory – I knew they were great beforehand, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable stuff for dipping in and out of. The musical equivalent of a ‘toilet book’, I suppose. For example, the weird vocoder effects used on the single mix of ‘Untouchable’ didn’t warrant an additional purchase after buying the album, but it makes for an enjoyable listen when offered up as part of as massive collection of top-notch pop.

I continue to delight in the majesty of the self-titled album by The Duckworth Lewis Method, such is its summery splendour. They recently performed ‘Test Match Special’ on Test Match Special. Arf, arf! What larks. Still, a suitable way to celebrate a decent performance by England this weekend. Alternatively, celebrate shite boats and being pissed by downloading the bonus track, ‘Pedalo’, from iTunes. It was one of the first albums I reviewed for my new glossy-paged home and this leads me nicely to talking about one of the other records from that first batch: Magnolia Electric Co‘s ‘Josephine’, which is Jason Molina‘s finest record in absolutely yonks. And that’s taking as given that the last few have been of a high quality nevertheless. In entirely predictable fashion, I bought the vinyl to accompany my promo CD and it is a fantastic pressing. This is all the more impressive as I’ve found Secretly Canadian vinyl to be of a varying standard in the past and this record truly deserved a decent outing on wax. And so it is. It’s soulful, it’s warm and yet still oddly bleak. Such is Molina’s way with a guitar. If neither Magnolia Electric Co nor his earlier outings as Songs : Ohia aren’t in your record collection you really should set about correcting that criminal oversight.

The quite simply bloody lovely new record by Wilco arrived from the delightfully mispriced (£8.98, free delivery!) Amazon this week and it does not disappoint. Although it seems to be getting some revisionist slagging, I loved ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and so already had high hopes for the appallingly titled, ‘Wilco (The Album)’. The vinyl pressing (What do you expect? It matters!!) is exceptional and the music’s not far behind. At times gently chugging, at times more upbeat and almost poppy than Wilco have been for some time, it’s a concise, summery record that you need to get now so it can soundtrack any remaining nice weather before the end of August. Or you could just wait until the inevitable reissue with a bonus disc that seems to have been the norm for the last few records. Tracks like ‘The Thanks I Get’ were simply tossed out as ‘bonus material’, despite being of album-worthy standard. Here’s hoping for more suitably spiffing bonus stuff this time out.

Having mentioned during the Glastonbury weekend blog overload that I was rather taken with The Hot 8 Brass Band, I’ve been giving their album a few listens of late and, while it’s not one I’ll play from start to finish all that often, it’s does have some truly inspired moments. The take on ‘What’s My Name’ by Snoop Doggy Dogg is reason enough to buy the record, before you even get to the charming interpretation of ‘Sexual Healing’. Suitably bargainous price and copies in stock here.

I’ll conclude with my current favourite pop nuggets. I recently mentioned that I’ve come round to the idea that La Roux, despite looking like an aggressive baby, has released one of the songs of the year with ‘Bulletproof’ and I can’t really see what might actually better it right now. I’m quite taken with the Freemasons single with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, even if she does sing “Heartbreak, make me a darn-ser.” It niggles away at your head that one and it’s hard to shake off. ‘New In Town’ by Little Boots is rather charming but I don’t imagine it has much staying power. The whole of the latest Pet Shop Boys album is still satisfying the vast majority of my pop needs. Feel free to recommend me any great new pop you can think of below.

Right then, suitably rambling as always but with a twist this time. The good folks at both teatunes and Jo-Whiley-hating* The Word magazine regularly share Spotify playlists relating to what they’re banging on about. So, I thought I’d shamelessly steal the idea and try it myself. It doesn’t cover everything listed here – Magnolia Electric Co’s new album’s not on there yet, neither are the Wilco album or La Roux – but it’ll give you a nice idea. Try it by clicking here.

 

*T’was them that made us have Fearne Cotton on daytimes. They killed her.

He’d help her if he existed

The last few weeks have been little short of musical alchemy. Every disc I lay my hand on turns out to be gold. Or at least quite good, but that sort of statement doesn’t lend itself to outrageously hyperbolic opening statements. Whether it’s a vinyl copy of Iron & Wine‘s ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’, Cinerama‘s ‘Va Va Voom’ or ‘God Help The Girl’ by Stuart Murdoch and his interchangeable sixties women, they’ve all been a delight to hear. In amongst all of this, I’ve been playing as much Blur as I can fit into any remaining gaps in the day. Lovely stuff. And yet, I continue to keep feeding CDs into iTunes. Why? I want them all to be on the iPod. Will I actually listen to them on the iPod? Clearly, that doesn’t matter, I simply need to keep ripping and ripping. Virtually all of my listening is done via my decent (but nowhere near as decent as I’d love it to be) separates system and yet ensuring that all of those great tracks are there for an emergency situation – provided I have the not-all-that-often-carried-around-with-me iPod to hand – seems essential.

It did get me to thinking about the luxury of choice and what this can mean sometimes. I actually had to make a conscious effort to give Eels, Malcolm Middleton and Kasabian another spin last weekend, just so that they didn’t get overlooked by other stuff. In what world is it acceptable for albums that have been out for all of seven minutes and twelve seconds to have already slipped down the pecking order. And, I hasten to add, they’re not shit. They haven’t slipped due to piss poor songwriting or mediocre vocals. Nope, I just have a constant stream of music pouring into my ears and, at times, it doesn’t really feel like I’m in charge of it. Another good example is the new Magnolia Electric Co album, which I was sent in order to review about four weeks back. I played it five or six times before attempting to put fingers to keyboard, but I haven’t listened to it much since. Not because it’s not brilliant (it’s one of Jason Molina‘s best ever records) but simply because there’s loads of other stuff. I’m an idiot. With each new jiffy bag or reasonably well structured vinyl mailer, I’m running off to switch the amp on, but how much time are all of these records getting? Is it only me that’s suffering from this problem? I imagine it afflicts people who download by the, er, external-hard-drive-load (really fucking catchy phrase) more than most, but there may be a few format obsessives like myself out there who have similar issues. Still, not to worry. I still seem to be falling in love with albums at same rate as always, so it must all be going in somehow.

Back to Blur for a moment. I would imagine you’ve had a look at some of the many videos I posted links to on the site last week by now and, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably still ever-so-slightly taken aback by just how great they were. I had actually forgotten just how much I love that band and it took all of thirty seconds of the video of ‘There’s No Other Way’ to remind me of that amorous instinct. They just look like they’re having so much fun, not to mention sounding bloody marvellous while they’re at it. I’ll confess to having bought a copy of ‘Midlife’, the rather terribly named alternative anthology of their reign as chart-shagging tunesmiths when picking up a few things from Morrisons the other day. It was cheap and it seemed like the done thing. Yes, I have all of these songs already. Yes, even the 7″ remix of ‘Death Of A Party’. Indeed, the packaging is a bit weak, but the songs, oh the songs! A random running order of songs apparently chosen by the band actually serves to highlight just what is so special about Blur. ‘He Thought Of Cars’ sounds imperious removed from the surrounds of ‘The Great Escape’, while ‘Blue Jeans’ suddenly seems like it must have been a huge hit rather than an overlooked album gem. Off to see them shortly and I really, truly can’t wait. If you don’t like Blur you’ll have to humour me. That said, if you don’t like Blur, you’re a nutter and you shouldn’t be hanging out around here.

I’m going to persevere with the twitter account for a bit longer. Quick thoughts on records being listened to at any one time seems like the way to go. That and shameless advertising for the blog.

Anyhoo, that’s me for now. If you didn’t catch ‘Psychoville’ last night, nip over to the iPlayer right now and treat yourself. That link’s also worth clicking on in order to see that in the ‘More Like This’ section, the iPlayer recommends ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’. Splendid. In fact, while I’m on about telly, have a quick zip through last night’s ‘That Mitchell And Webb Look’ for the fantastically well observed sketch about their ‘hit and miss sketch show’.

I even went to Port Talbot for them

Last week, I attended my thirteenth Manics concert. Even I had started to wonder if I might actually get bored of them at some point and yet they proved once again why I adore them quite so much. The three of them truly love being in that band. They love being on stage with each other, they love playing those songs for these people and James seems to have really grown into the role of all-conquering showman. On this recent tour, they played the whole of the new album, ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, took a ten minute break and then belted out an hour of classics. It’s hard to pick fault with a second of it.

‘JFPL’ is a monstrously great rock album. It’s been called The Holy Bible’s second coming and, to be fair, there are some similarities but I’m still not sure that that’s the best way to approach this album. If anything, it’s the perfect blend of the Manics just prior to Richey’s disappearance and the Manics not long thereafter. The quite beautiful arrangements on ‘This Joke Sport Severed’ and ‘William’s Last Words’ are pure ‘late period Manics’, while the splendidly shouty chorus of ‘All Is Vanity’ and  the terrifying propulsion of ‘She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’ come straight from the military era of 1994. It’s a truly fabulous album and a likely contender for my album of the year. That said, if you’ve never liked the Manics, this isn’t going to change your mind.

The rapturous response to pretty much every song in the classics set further reinforced my belief that I will never tire of this band. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is one of the best songs of all time to witness live and the ferocity of this latest rendition was probably the best performance of it I’ve ever witnessed. Even early b-side, ‘Sorrow 16’ (great chorus, forgettable verse), prompted plenty of cheers and by the time we were all haplessly singing along to ‘A Design For Life’ the world had been put to rights and James, Nicky and Sean had triumphed once again. God, I love this band.

I spent much of last night gazing out of the window at perpetual drizzle whilst listening to a selection of Manics b-sides from across the years, although I seemed to alight on the ‘Everything Must Go’ era. (Yes, I am sad enough to have all of the b-sides categorised by album on the iPod.) Now, I know that my love of these tracks come from my fanboy-ish desire to hoover up every last note whenever possible and thus, with familiarity, so often a liking grows, but I genuinely believe that there is some outrageously good songwriting tucked away on numerous Manics b-sides. If I were to pick three, just from that era, for you to track down, I’d send you off to hear ‘No One Knows What It Feels Like To Be Me’, ‘Mr Carbohydrate‘ and ‘First Republic’. Go on, treat yourself. And if you can’t, there’s an email address in the previous post, get in touch and I’ll see if I can help you, er, find the songs.

***

As for albums of the year, if I had to pick my top 5 right now, it’d be these…

5. Super Furry AnimalsDark Days / Light Years

4. Trashcan SinatrasIn The Music

3. Graham CoxonThe Spinning Top

2. Manic Street PreachersJournal For Plague Lovers

1. DovesKingdom Of Rust

It’ll all change, of course, but there have been some truly wonderful albums already this year. Bubbling under for that list are Grizzly Bear, Lily Allen, Jarvis, Madness, Duckworth Lewis Method, Moz and the new Magnolia Electric Co album, ‘Josephine‘, which is the best thing Jason Molina’s ever done. I’ve not had it that long, so it’s not in the top 5 just yet, but I suspect it may get there.

What’s your ratio?

Musical Revelations Of The Week:

Rilo Kiley – ‘Under The Blacklight‘ – Hello. I’m a cool person. I scour the internet for leaked albums on a minute-by-minute basis. I don’t give a really smug fuck whether it’s supposed to be good or not because I must hear everything so that I can be really cool when I slag it off on some internet message boards. I don’t give a shit about having an informed opinion, as long I’m one of the first and one of the most outrageous. Man, this Rilo Kiley record is a big bag of wank. Jeez, this sucks out loud.
OR. I’ve played this album four times now, and I’m genuinely loving it more and more with each play. It’s a pop/soul record with a hint of country, in all the right ways. There’s an almost camp disco number, a few funkier pop tracks and some truly soulful tunes that demonstrate just how spellbinding Jenny Lewis‘ voice is. The lyrics aren’t always amazing, but it’s not something Rilo Kiley were previously known for. Provided you enjoy quality pop and soul, alongside whatever other genres, ignore the trendy muppets and give this record a shot.
Magnolia Electric Co – ‘Sojourner‘ – As I think I’ve already said, this is a beautifully presented set that gathers together four different recording sessions offering the different faces of Jason Molina‘s musical persona. Excellent value for money and a nice split between bluesy rock and contemplative, eerie solo pieces.
Emitt Rhodes – ‘Emitt Rhodes‘ – It’s his debut that’s doing the business for me right now, after I finally got a decent vinyl copy through in the post. To sample his rather excellent wares you need only go back to this post. Often described as like early solo Macca, I would argue that he’s even less smug. Genuinely beautiful pop songs, recorded at home and delightfully murky records that just bung everything together and ooze melody. Hard to describe him, but I’m starting to think he ranks right up there in terms of ‘perfect pop writers’ with the afore-mentioned Macca, Motown’s H-D-H, the Pet Shop Boys and Neil Finn.

Non-musical Revelations Of The Week:
The X Factor – Definitely in the ‘non’ section this one. Is it me, or is Dermot not especially fond of spending his time standing around outside the main audition room waiting for the contestants to come out? Almost every time one of the utter loonies who go in for this show came out weeping and losing the plot, he was nowhere to be seen. Still, nice to know that there’s no risk of Kate Thornton popping up at any point. The first show seemed to lack some of the zip of previous series. Naturally I’ll waste an hour every week from here on, but I expect better.
House – Mmmmm. What a conclusion to the third season. The final two episodes air this coming Thursday on Five and the penultimate show features a chess-playing teenager with a serious attitude problem. But that’s not really the main issue. Foreman’s leaving and he’s only got a couple of weeks left. Will he stay? Will he go? If you’re a fan of this drama then I’m sure you’re gripped by recent events, and if you’re not, see previous posts about how best to remedy this. Advance warning for the season finale that will air straight after the normal timeslot at 10pm this Thursday. A great episode that has a very neat approach to the necessary end of season cliffhanger. Why Five have felt the need to give away loads of the plot in the advert, I’ll never know.
Harry Thompson – ‘Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven Village Cricketers Take on the World‘ – I don’t feature books often enough on here. The Tom Waits biog by Patrick Humphries is a great read, by the way. Anyway, this is a delightful tale of whimsy and comical endeavour told with wit, charm and humility. Yes, cricket is the central theme, but it’s essentially stories about friends getting into various situations and dealing with the shit that everyday life throws up. If you want something to keep you smirking, without requiring a huge amount of intellectual perspiration then this is for you.

Oh, the anticipation

Gosh, Mock The Week is rather funny. That Frankie Boyle does come out with some outrageous stuff. Chortle.
Anyway, that Magnolia Electric Co boxset. I suspect that may be the least grandiose introduction it’ll ever get, but what do you expect from a two-bit blog that doesn’t really get freebies? It’s lovely. ‘Sojourner‘ comes in a little wooden box with a slidy lid and the band logo on the front. It’s got a weird, utterly useless poster, four CDs, a DVD and some glossy cards explaining each of the discs. Oh, and a medallion. Let’s not dwell on that or we might think that Magnolia Electric Co are wankers.
The music, for that, as I am occasionally prone to forgetting, is what it’s all about, is rather splendid. Recorded across four different locations – hence the four discs – and each featuring a different line up – Molina being the only constant, the sounds vary from full-on blues-rock right down to sparse, solo, acoustic recordings full of background hiss and fuzz. None of it is less than splendid.
However, I can save myself a lot of time on the reviewing here. First up, if you’ve never bought a Magnolia Electric Co/Songs : Ohia/ Jason Molina record before, this isn’t the one to start with. If you have then it’s very easy to give you some reference points. The most obvious starting block is the ‘Fading Trails‘ album from last year, which features selected highlights from these four sessions, hence the fact that it doesn’t hold together as well as most of Molina’s albums. If the majority of it was up to scratch for you then this set is an absolute must. If you’ve not gone down the MEC route, but did like Songs : Ohia, then my guess is that you were turned off by the fuller production and bluesier, Neil Young feel to the last Songs : Ohia album, ‘Magnolia Electric Co‘. In which case, you will enjoy approximately half of the boxset with ease, but I suspect the other 50% could win you over if you give it a chance. It’s still fairly restrained and contemplative, even when it gets as close as Molina can manage to ‘rocking out’.
It is, essentially, a collection of music that lays out the different approaches that one man has taken towards music over the years. It takes all of the things that have made Molina’s records great for the last however-many years and condenses them down into one set of tunes. It’s a greatest hits featuring tunes that, in the main, you’ve never heard before.
Remember, cheapest option is to buy direct from Secretly Canadian.

I lied. Not on purpose like.

Ok, so I never got around to writing anything about the Magnolia Electric Co box. I will, eventually. It’s not like I haven’t written loads recently though, is it? Feel free to chime in on any of the topics using the comments buttons, although it would seem that the ever-increasing band of readers prefer to simply read and mull in the private domain of their own minds. And why not?
Bought a cheap copy of the new Shellac album today. My first Shellac album. Whatthefuckisallthataboutthen? Yikes. Good fun though. And fair play to the Super Furries for surpassing themselves with the cover of their new single. It’s late. Til tomorrow…