20 from ‘11 so far – Part 1

I like lists. Even a brief browse of the site should make that pretty clear. As a result, read on for the first half of Just Played’s Top 20 albums from the first half of 2011. Where I’ve already reviewed the album in question, there is a link through to it, along with a listen link to Spotify and a buy link through to the marvellous Rise site, who’ll sort you out with the tunes pretty sharpish. Feel free to agree, mutter abuse or supply your own lists below. Right then…

20. Noah And The Whale – ‘Last Night On Earth’ (MERCURY)

Noah WhaleI didn’t see this coming. The debut annoyed the hell out of me and, as a result, I came late to their rather lovely, if raw, second outing, ‘The First Days Of Spring’. This is a long way from either and is a record which took some time to learn to love. However, it’s one of the feel-good indie pop records of the year to date and will sound amazing should we get much more sun. Lovely vinyl pressing comes with bonus 7” too.

“‘Last Night On Earth’, however, is the one I’ll be merrily recommending to all who’ll listen and cherry picking for my end of year compilation. Only the ruptured heart of a self-loathing blowhard could find anything to dislike about ‘Waiting For My Chance To Come’.”

Read the full review

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19. Wild Beasts – Smother’ (DOMINO)

Wild-Beasts-SmotherThe bold and sizeable leap from ‘Limbo, Panto’ to ‘Two Dancers’ was an impressive enough feat, but with ‘Smother’ Wild Beasts have honed their craft and perfected their sound. There’s been much talk of Talk Talk in recent pieces about the band and there’s certainly something of the Hollis sound to parts of this album but it’s far from being derivative. Slightly less wilfully and protrudingly pervy than its predecessor, ‘Smother’ possesses a layered and fluid sound and has been produced superbly. Guitar lines are contorted and extended, serving to underline emotions conveyed by the typically forthright lyrics. A gloriously musical album, if that doesn’t sound too stupid, Wild Beasts’ third outing is one which I still think has plenty to reveal, even at this stage.

Listen / Buy

18. The Leisure Society – ‘Into The Murky Water’ (FULL TIME HOBBY)

the-leisure-society-into-murky-waterThe first album resulted in Ivor Novello triumphs and bemused Five Live presenters having to interview frontman Nick Hemming, despite seeming to know nothing about him or his music. While ‘The Sleeper’ featured a number of beautifully constructed songs, it’s on ‘Into The Murky Water’ that they’ve truly blossomed. Although frequently described as folky, this is orchestrated indie pop with an arch sensibility and a raised eyebrow. I’m reminded, and I mean this as a compliment, of some of Mull Historical Society’s finer moments at times and ‘You Could Keep Me Talking’, a ludicrously catchy little tune, is a good snapshot of the album’s joyous sound.

Listen / Buy

17. Radiohead – The King Of Limbs’ (XL RECORDINGS)

KoLIt’s not perfect and it’s not their best. But, that doesn’t make it bad or, to these ears at least, a disappointment. There’s much to love here and the more I’ve played it, the more I’ve warmed to its eight tracks. Wonderful moments like ‘Little By Little’, ‘Codex’ and ‘Giving Up The Ghost’ are enduring delights which all have aspects of the familiar Radiohead approach People seem to be complaining that the band haven’t taken a massive leap forward with their sound and yet eleven years ago there were cries about them failing to do another ‘OK Computer’ and fourteen years ago there were some complaints when ‘OK Computer’ wasn’t another ‘The Bends’. Yep, the band have got familiar with a certain sound but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some wonderful songs here. Forgive the defensive tone of this comment, but I do really think there are some great songs here, some months after all the hype, and, as I said in the original review, people would benefit from switching all desire to judge and simply listening…a lot.

“Once it clicks, you’ll likely find yourself sitting there wondering what exactly it was about it that confused you in the first place. Just like walking down dark streets to find somewhere you’ve never previously been to before only to find the return journey seems much quicker and considerably less threatening, the more full plays you give ‘The King Of Limbs’, the less any of it jars or seems wilfully perverse.”

Read the full review

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16. Sarabeth Tucek – ‘Get Well Soon’ (SONIC CATHEDRAL)

Sarabeth Tucek Get Well SoonFollowing up a debut which was already no slouch, Sarabeth Tucek’s next step was this utterly beautiful record; a soundtrack to a number of difficult and distressing events, packaged like a late Sixties, cult singer/songwriter album of note. And that’s sort of how it sounds too. Cat Power, Callahan and Karen Dalton fans should all check in here for some wonderfully understated and finely crafted music for the soul.

“It’s the sort of album you’ll tell people about excitedly and buy for the sensitive types in your life. The album’s final lines offer a measured sense of optimism and triumph: “It just takes time, get well soon. I was once just like you, get well soon.” Many great records have been birthed out of traumatic or intense periods of an artist’s life, and to that list of fine albums can be added ‘Get Well Soon’.”

Read the full review

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15. The Middle East‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ (PIAS)

I_Want_That_You_Are_Always_Happy-ArtworkThis was a complete punt, having been drawn in by the artwork and its appearance on a couple of record shops’ recommended lists. Parts of it are hauntingly lo-fi, some bits are winningly janglesome and there are occasional moments of genuinely bleak introspection. It makes for a varied and curious early listen and my first impressions were muddled. Whilst at first the fluid approach to genre and sound can make the record seem fragmented, repeated plays give it space to breathe and time to ensnare you. For me, it was a walk in the rain, with the album seeping up from the background to suddenly coalesce into something which has held my attention ever since. I haven’t yet written in detail about ‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ because it’s so hard to categorise but I may have to work on that, as I suspect it will be higher up the list when I come to put together the more detailed end of year overview. Hugely recommended, but make sure you give it a few plays.

Listen / Buy

14. R.E.M. – ‘Collapse Into Now’ (WARNERS)

rem-collapse-into-nowIt’s not perfect and it’s not their best. But, as a long time fan of R.E.M., it was a joyous listen and it is their best since the turn of the millennium. Yes, ‘Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter’ does contain some pretty shit lyrics and, no, I don’t know why there’s that needless reprise at the end of ‘Blue’ either but there are some wonderful songs here and, for the first time in a while, their capacity to genuinely move me is back. The chorus of ‘Uberlin’ is vintage mid-paced R.E.M. while the short, sharp adrenalin burst of ‘That Someone Is You’ is close to melodic pop perfection, departing just shy of the two minute mark. ‘Walk It Back’ is the album highlight and its shuffling, understated delivery is one of Stipe’s finest recorded moments since ‘I’ve Been High’. If you want them to sound like Eighties R.E.M. then move along now and buy the ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ reissue but if you still have time for this band then I would be very surprised to hear that you were anything other than pleased with this largely excellent record.

Listen / Buy

13. Iron & Wine – ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ (4AD)

I&WThis album is curiously evocative of snow for me, despite sounding like it belongs in the sunshine. I was reviewing it during the ludicrously heavy snow fall of early December 2010 and, as such, I sometimes forget that this is actually a 2011 release. The cover is, clearly, ace and the music follows suit. While the gentle, lulling swoop of older material is rather less prominent now, Sam Beam’s music is never less than meticulously crafted and deeply affecting. ‘Godless Brother In Love’ and ‘Tree By The River’ are both absolute gems and just nudge several other tracks to be the highlights, but it’s a pretty close run thing. The music has smoother edges than on ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’ and the Seventies FM radio references in the early press material do make sense, but this is still clearly Iron & Wine and, by extension, tremendous.

“These ten songs ooze warmth, littered with classic rock gear changes, acoustic thrums and shuffling bass but the rhythmic schizophrenia from the last outing still remains intact. Although ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ is yet further down the road from ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’, it is still quite distinctively Iron & Wine. That said, if early outings left you cold and wishing that there was a little more meat on the bones, then this might be the time to commit some cash for a re-evaluation.”

Read the full review

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12. My Morning Jacket – ‘Circuital’ (V2)

My-Morning-Jacket-CircuitalOccasionally a song is so good it can eclipse the rest of an album, somewhat. That is the case with ‘Holdin’ On To Black Metal’, a song so absolutely enormous it is impossible to hear on headphones without commencing a strutting swagger replete with the sensation that you are now eight foot tall and completely invincible. It’s a song you’ll play five times in a row, a song with a children’s choir and a song with horn stabs to which you can thrust limbs in an angular fashion. And the rest of it’s pretty special too. Opener ‘Victory Dance’ is a thundering way to begin while ‘Wonderful (The Way I Feel)’ is intimate and positive without ever bordering on being saccharine, despite its title. There’s a cracking 45rpm double vinyl pressing which is the best way to experience such a sonically pleasing record.

Listen / Buy

11. Bon Iver‘Bon Iver’ (4AD)

bon iverIt was always going to be tough to follow up critics’ choice and all rounder indie sleeper smash, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ but Justin Vernon doesn’t seem to have struggled too much, on this evidence. While I liked the debut, I grew a little tired of it due largely to the good lady’s borderline obsession with it which ensured it was playing somewhere in the house almost every day for a year. This is a leap on, with a different mood, subject matter and sonic palette. Oh, the saxophone. It’s still relatively early days for this one and I can envisage it getting plenty of plays during hazy summer evenings and slowly becoming as well-worn as its predecessor. It hangs together splendidly and I’m even inclined to forgive ‘Beth/Rest’ its excesses the more I play it. Be sure to check out the cover of ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ I mentioned previously, which appeared as a b-side to first single ‘Calgary’.

“It’s an album which sounds curiously out of time. Which is not to say it is timeless, far from it in fact. ‘Bon Iver’ sounds pointedly dated at certain moments, not least on album closer ‘Beth/Rest’, which has predictably provoked buckets of wrath for its Eighties soft-rock tones. While there are undeniably contemporary references here and there, it has the feeling of a moderately successful record of old, its beauty shining through despite the particular clothes of the time it has come from.”

Read the full review

Listen / Buy


Uplifting News

As the HMV culling begins, with eleven branches and a Fopp having shut their doors this weekend, it’s a pleasure to be able to inform you of some rather more positive news in the world of music retail. Rise, 2010’s winner of the UK Independent Retailer of the Year award, has finally unveiled its online store and it’s none too shabby. Competitively priced, beautifully designed and with a comprehensive search option, navigating your way around it is actually a pleasant experience.

rise web1

You’ll find some startlingly good vinyl prices at the moment on numerous indie label releases from the last couple of years, along with some genuinely rare stuff at silly prices. Even more vinyl goodness is going to be listed on the site by the end of this week, so I’d keep your eyes peeled for what are some undeniably ridiculous bargains. Now, drenching Rise in hyperbole as I am, I should declare again my minor involvement in this music retailing behemoth. I’m doing some of the reviews for the site and you can already find my wordsmithery on the pages for the newies by Iron & Wine, The Decemberists and Jonny. In addition to this, you can find my sizeable review of the new album by The Low Anthem, ‘Smart Flesh’, here. The album’s great and I’m rather pleased with the review too. It’ll appear here in due course, but why not pop over and have a read. Then buy some stuff. I’m deadly serious about that. As we continue to see shops struggling to stay afloat, the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ has never been more apt. If you want Rise to open a store near you then you’ll need it to be operating as a viable and successful business, which means supporting it however you can. Don’t read into that, by the way. I have no insider knowledge, but as their Warwick Arts Centre branch will close in the coming months due to lack of custom, it’s worth remembering that these places are few and far between. Continue reading “Uplifting News”

January Reviews–Iron & Wine, The Decemberists & Joan As Police Woman

A little late with these, but here are this month’s Clash appearances. There’s also a splendid double page piece on David Bowie’s masterwork, ‘Station To Station’, but I’ll refrain from posting it just now as you can all purchase the magazine at the moment, should you wish to read it.


IRON & WINE – ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ (4AD)

If some voices are like Marmite – you love them or you hate them – then Sam Beam’s is like chocolate – velvety, rich and comfortingly familiar. After the broader sonic palette of ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’, this is rather more conventional fare, ‘Tree By The River’ joining the Iron & wine cannon of beautiful lullabies. Less folksy, more funky, ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ is a rather more lively, sometimes even poppy record. Even with increased early-Seventies polish, a song like ‘Godless Brother In Love’ serves to demonstrate Beam’s majestic knack for melody, his mellifluous vocal left to drift atop twinkling harp and piano. 8/10

This one has continued to delight and captivate since I wrote this back when it was all snowy at the start of December. There is a much longer, and frankly more insightful, review of this which I’ve written for the Rise website which will be going live any day now. I’ll cross post it here in due course but take my word for it, you’ll be wanting this one. It’s less jarring than aspects of the last one could be and with flashes of the laidback beauty of ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’.

Jan reviews


There are times during this record when it’s hard not to be reminded of R.E.M. in full jangle mode. Think somewhere between ‘Green’ and ‘Out Of Time’ and you’ll not be far wrong. But who’s that in the corner? Why, it’s Peter Buck, who plays on three tracks and makes the audible link a little easier to understand. Shorn of the extravagance of ‘The Hazards Of Love’ and harking back to the relative simplicity of ‘Picaresque’, this latest offering is a finessed folk-rock record to bring a little taste of long summer evening drives to the glacial January gloom. 7/10

Again, there is an extended version of this available which also graces said record shop’s website. All in good time, all in good time. However, I think this one pretty much captures the spirit of the record. There are better Decemberists albums available and there are far stranger Decemberists albums available but, is it a worthy addition to their catalogue? Absolutely. A fabulously warm sound to this one and plenty of uplifting sing-song moments.


No difficult third album syndrome for Joan Wasser, building on the sublime and slinky soulful rock which made parts of ‘To Survive’ such a delight to hear. A deceptively textured musical backdrop is, nevertheless, left to play second fiddle to consistently remarkable vocals. Album stand-out ‘Human Condition’, all hand claps and whirling bass, is destined for discerning Sunday morning soundtracks. 7/10

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the printed version of this one. Clearly, one of the longer reviews had fallen through at the last minute as this text (60 words – one of the small pieces down the side) has been expanded into a 100 worder by splicing new phrases in amongst mine. I think it’s fairly clear that it’s not one voice speaking! Anyway, self-promotion aside, this is a slow-burner, I suspect, and will likely sound a lot better during long summer evenings. I do wish she could keep some of the songs a little nearer three than five minutes, mind you.


No More Broken Promises. Probably.

As per usual, there are various plans afoot for new features and the like as we enter a new year. Inevitably, some of these will then break down around May. A Week With… anyone? However, one splendid development is Just Played’s imminent association with the rather splendid music shop Rise, which you can find in Cheltenham, Warwick Arts Centre (if you’re quick) and, most impressively, at their flagship store in Bristol. Their new sales website goes live any day now and I’ll be doing my bit to keep them supplied with reviews. I can’t stress how supremely marvellous the shop is and please read this link as a massive endorsement of Rise as a place from which to get your tunes. If you’re near one now, dive in quickly for some amazing vinyl bargains, the likes of which I’ve mentioned on the Just Played Twitter feed of late. As my annual festive jaunt around the country has served to reinforce, there are very few decent record shops knocking around and I truly believe that it’s essential for people like us to support them and keep them alive. I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll like the new Rise sales website, but I’ll leave you to all make up your own minds on that one. Their favourite albums of last year can be found here.


Please keep recommending stuff via the usual methods of email or Twitter – it really does influence what gets covered and it is impossible to grow tired of trying new music. 2010 was the most consistent year of this site’s existence, with new content appearing regularly and prompting plenty of visits. Naturally, I’m keen for that to continue this year and, once again, am happy to listen to any and all suggestions for where we go from here.

The new Gorillaz album, ‘The Fall’, is my intended listening of the choice over the next day or two, and I’ll report back for the first feature of the year thereafter. Iron & Wine, The Decemberists, Joan As Police Woman, Treefight For Sunlight, Tom Williams & The Boat and the rather special new album by The Low Anthem will all get some attention in these early weeks of the year. As has now become customary, all 2011 music coverage will be tagged as part of ‘2011 On The Record’ and, by clicking on the image found below, you’ll be able to access all of the writing concerning this year as we go along. Feel free to try it out with the ‘2010 On The Record’ tag from the cloud below right if you’d like to see such magic in action. Following on from the NME’s excellent ‘Lost Albums’ issue which was more about records which might have passed people buy, and did a thoroughly good job of convincing you to go and seek them out, Just Played will be shining a light on albums which either sold bugger all to start with or which have faded from public view as time has passed. They won’t necessarily be classics nor will they completely fit the category of ‘lost’. They’ll just be good. As I said earlier, if you wish to make any suggestions for this or any other feature, say hello on Twitter for the quickest response.

Happy New Year!