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

Good cover choice for 6 Music

A few years ago, I encountered Jo Good hosting a report from some summer festival or other on one of the MTV channels. Her clear passion for the music combined with an intelligent and, most enjoyably, surreal sense of humour left its mark on me and I duly noted the name and resolved to keep an eye and ear out for her in the future. Her barely disguised ridiculing of some of the cheesier soft-porn offerings found in the dance music countdown, The Galaxy Chart, which it turned out she also hosted, was a refreshing alternative from the customary ‘that was… this is…. aren’t they both amazing?’ style of MTV presenting.

jp jo 6music

Some time later, Good turned up at Xfm, having previously been networked around numerous commercial stations doing a live music programme sponsored by one of the big mobile phone companies. This struck me as a remarkably good fit, although her stint there didn’t last all that long in the end. As the playlist got ever more strict and depressingly predictable, it seemed that Xfm was determined to dispatch, or drive out, most of the decent on air talent and Jo’s show was shown the door.

Last year, she then popped up on her ‘local’ commercial station, Key 103, doing weekend lates, playing NOW albums on shuffle. But then, in a stroke of genius, the 6 Music chiefs opted to use Jo for some cover on the station and a perfect match was uncovered. With sufficient musical freedom to influence and shape the sound of the programmes and a core playlist of splendid stuff, it meant that you weren’t only listening for the bits between the songs. Whereas many DJs are criticised for not caring about the music or for not communicating honestly with their audience, Jo sounds like an intelligent, articulate, fanatical consumer of music who is simply speaking to like minded people and loving every second of it. Her approach to her shows on 6 Music so far has been hugely endearing, her genuine love of the station and its audience so audibly clear for all listening. She’s back on the station from tomorrow (Sunday 14th March) for six days solid, 10am-1pm, firstly filling the slot freshly vacated by Jon Richardson and then as part of a week of cover for Lauren Laverne. I suspect she’ll do the remaining couple of Sundays before Cerys starts in April, but I don’t know for certain. In light of recent news about the station, it seems a little odd to describe Jo Good as a rising star at 6 Music, but the controllers would do well to ensure that we get to hear more of her in the future. If you can have a listen at some point this week, I really recommend you give her show a go. Last time she was on, Jo caused me to buy the Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve remix of Midlake’s ‘Roscoe’ and an album by Margo Guryan, entitled Take A Picture’ and both are well worth a listen. In that sense, she fits in perfectly with the culture of the very best shows on 6 Music – Gideon Coe, Steve Lamacq, Marc Riley, the Freak Zone – in that she’s a trustworthy voice in the wilderness of discovering music that’s new to you. Exactly what the BBC should do, no?

Quick Link for readers of The Guardian’s Website

If you’re clicking through to the site today from The Guardian’s website, as it seems many of you are, the 6 Music article to which they refer can be found quickly by clicking on the image below. Naturally, I’d be more than a little chuffed if you had a read of some of the other articles posted here, which include interviews with Gaz and Danny from Supergrass and up and coming indie act Tom Williams & The Boat and a countdown of Just Played’s 40 albums from The Noughties.

6music Link

(More frequent, if less well thought out, comments available by following Just Played on Twitter)

Wittering Wednesdays: New music, old music and 6 Music

It’s been a while since my last stream-of-consciousness muso thought vomit, so I should probably put that right. Not like there isn’t plenty to talk about, eh? In the last hour or so, I got to hear the new material on the forthcoming Doves Best Of so as to enable a review I need to turn around fairly rapidly. Across the two CDs of the special edition can be found a number of previously unreleased bits and bobs, but it’s the songs that have never been released in any shape or form that will draw the most attention. Rest assured, the new tracks don’t stick out amongst the many highlights from the band’s first twelve years. ‘Blue Water’, a track that has been knocking around in the back waters of the internet for almost a decade, is a fine, fine way to kick off the second disc, the swaggering ‘Drifter’ then appears smack in the middle of the disc. The former shuffles along with that wonderful stuttering drum pattern so well deployed on ‘Here It Comes’ and ‘Drifter’ features overlooked talent Simon Aldred, of Cherry Ghost. While both new songs on disc two are fantastic, it’s worth pausing to note the quite brilliant sequencing of the songs, as undertaken by the band themselves. It actually hangs together like a proper record, with the same ups and downs in mood and pace that we’ve come to expect from a typical Doves studio outing. ‘The Last Son’ is saved from the icky obscurity of being an iTunes only bonus track while ‘Friday’s Dust’ appears in its ‘Capital Tower Session’ guise, sounding even more stark and raw than the not especially bells and whistles version from ‘The Last Broadcast’. The decision to include a small number of album tracks seems at first to be an odd one, but the choices have clearly been made carefully and I can’t really see any harm in a couple of these beauts slotting in across the disc when, without them, it would just have had less tracks on it. Don’t kid yourself that they got in the way of new songs and, similarly, it’s easy to cry about favourite b-sides not making the cut but the obvious time taken in getting this selection right and, even more precisely, in the right order means I have no complaints. The main disc, featuring a veritable cornucopia of melodic indie class, is augmented by forthcoming single ‘Andalucia’ which, loosely speaking, is one of their upbeat turbo-chuggers. It’s a good ‘un and, after several dozen listens, you’ll know it inside out but it’s no world-beater. My slightly subdued first impressions may have something to do with it sitting between ‘The Man Who Told Everything’ and ‘Caught By The River’, two songs which did more than a little to soften the tricky late-teen to shit-I’m-actually-an-adult transition period. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll be banging on about how great it is. You watch.

Oh, and just to completely contradict what I said earlier, ‘Brazil’ from the ‘Winter Hill’ 7” really did deserve another outing! To be fair, I can’t see how it would have fitted, so here it is for your delectation and delight. You’ll have to turn your speakers up a bit.

I’ve been listening to the new Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings record, ‘I Learned The Hard Way’ quite a lot recently and it’s one of those rare beasts – an album that sounds incredibly warm… on CD! Regular readers will know of my obsession with vinyl and my general preference for its sound. This is largely as a result of the maximised and just plain bloody loud nature of most newly released CDs so, when one comes along that actually sounds good even when you turn it up loud on some decent speakers, it’s cause for celebration. I loved the first three Sharon Jones albums and this one isn’t a radical departure so, unsurprisingly, I love this one too. I need to listen a little more closely to make any meaningful judgements, but if you’re waiting on this one, you’ll not be disappointed.

The news about 6 Music continues to disappoint and disturb. There are those who are arguing that this is part of some complex ploy to generate publicity for the station and that its future was never really in doubt. Unlikely, I would suggest, but if it does turn out to be true, it still seems a bit mean to put people Lauren Laverne through the on air experience she faced yesterday morning, starting her show just minutes after the station’s closure was confirmed. She dealt with it with the good grace, intelligence and passion which has seen her become a firm 6 Music favourite and delivered one of the finest shows to be heard in the morning slot since Gideon Coe was shunted off to nights. Not that that actually seems all that bad an idea now that I’m happily established in my routine of spending ludicrous amounts of cash on an almost nightly basis at the behest of the genial music enthusiast and waffler-without-compare. His current stint covering breakfast is making for surprisingly pleasant morning car journeys and his presence on the station is a prime example of how it perfectly communicates with its audience. Watching Paxman make Mark Thompson look like the school bully after he’s been caught bang to rights by the head, threatened with exclusion and had his parents dragged in (and, frankly, like he’d shat himself a few minutes before going on air and couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit) was an absolute delight. He looked out of touch, out of his depth and out of line with popular thought. Thankfully for him, they also had Kelvin MacKenzie on, so he still wasn’t the biggest twat in the room. Even better than this, was Adam Buxton offering Thompson out for a fight on Channel 4 News a few hours earlier. Cutting to him for a serious response, Jon Snow asked Buxton if he had anything to say to Mark Thompson. To which he replied, "Mark ‘Thommo’ Thompson, I’m inviting you for a fight. I could take you, I’ve been practising." I’d click that, if I were you. It’s worth watching how remarkably serious he remains whilst saying it. Thompson appears to have no idea what is going on. Presumably not a member of Black Squadron?

Currently waiting on a couple of sizeable jiffy bags, so I’ll endeavour to offer a round-up of new things that have come this way of late by the weekend at the latest. That should include new Matinee signings The Electric Pop Group, the dreadfully named but beautiful sounding Allo Darlin’ and the new album from Tracey Thorn. Good good. Feel free to say hello on twitter – @justplayed is, perhaps unsurprisingly, where I am or you could always email. Address on the ‘About Just Played’ page. Speak to you soon.

A Week With… 9. BBC 6 Music


On Monday morning, Gideon Coe tweeted that, having completed a week’s holiday, he would be back on his 6 Music evening show later that day and for the rest of the week, before spending a week covering the breakfast show. I was overjoyed at this news, Coe having previously been a regular, and unsurprisingly excellent, deputy to Phill Jupitus during the early years of his breakfast show. This additional role at the station came to an end and seemed unlikely to ever be reprised after Gideon was buffeted off the morning show and shunted to the late show in place of his daytime replacement, George Lamb in the latter part of 2007. A return to breakfast cover seemed to suggest a positive repositioning of 6 Music, potentially in light of the recent BBC Trust report which suggested that the station needed to commit itself to presenters with strong musical knowledge. Things were looking up. And then I listened to Tony Livesey’s 5 Live show on Thursday night.

The report in The Times that was being discussed declared, with no hint of ambiguity, that the BBC would soon announce that, as part of a raft of cost-cutting measures, it would close 6 Music. I was quite surprised by how taken aback by this news I actually was. It soon became clear how much I actually value this curious digital radio station. Marc Riley, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, Guy Garvey, Adam & Joe, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Bacon, Stuart Maconie and, most of all, Gideon Coe, host shows that I adore and, while I may not catch every second of every one of their shows, when it comes to radio listening, there’s little else to tempt me towards my radio coming from other sources, and absolutely nothing from the commercial radio sector. Say what you like about fair competition and BBC monopolies, but there isn’t a single commercial radio station that could hold my attention for more than thirty minutes, let alone command repeat listens. I’m sure that plenty of that does come down to the fact that the Beeb can broadcast programmes without the fear of poor advertising sales for the ad-breaks, but that doesn’t negate the point that widespread suggestions that music fans will be catered for elsewhere are complete bollocks.


I go through phases of allowing myself to listen to Gideon Coe’s late show (Monday-Thursday, 9pm – midnight) as a result of the financial implications associated with each three hour programme I consume. This week alone, I ordered CDs as a result of three of the four shows I listened to. Indeed, so expensive is a week of Coe shows that I’m increasingly convinced that we have incredibly similar tastes in music, only he knows an awful lot more about it than I do. He is a warm, convivial and humble host, making you feel thoroughly involved in every show. Coe conveys his great enthusiasm for the music he plays in an understated, unassuming and yet hugely contagious fashion. I truly believe that is the best music show you can hope to hear on British radio. The Sam Prekop, Mojave 3, A Certain Ratio and Lee Hazlewood tribute album CDs which I’ve been enjoying greatly over the last couple of days would not be in this house were it not for that one particular radio programme. There are dozens of other examples, just from that one programme alone. I’ve also encountered, and subsequently purchased copies of, brilliant music on Lamacq’s afternoon show, Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone, Craig Charles’ Funk and Soul Show, Marc Riley’s evening and on the recommendation of regular cover host, Jo Good. I’m sure that are numerous other recommendations which I’m forgetting right now, but even that list says a lot about how utterly in tune with their listeners the 6 Music team are.

I make no bold statements about the need to join Facebook groups or to add a twibbon to your picture on Twitter, but I do think it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge what a wonderful station 6 Music is. Yes, George Lamb was a mistake that took a long time to sort out and yes, sometimes the daytime playlist can get a little clogged with identikit indie bands, but the vast majority of the 6 Music output is excellent and occasionally it’s truly outstanding. As a station, its musical scope makes it unique and its presenting team isn’t too shabby either. I am a staunch defender of the BBC and consider it to be ludicrously good value for money. I am well aware of why its competitors have their reasons to campaign fiercely against it, but some of the more general anti-BBC sentiment has always baffled me. I can only hope that the mass outpouring of something bordering on grief at this dreadful news may have some influence on the final decision. I’m preparing for the worst but, for now, I’ll continue enjoying radio’s best. Jarvis is on right now and Gideon’s on breakfast tomorrow. That’ll do nicely.