New Music Monday: Count To Fire & Weller

Any band born out of a love of Wilco and My Morning Jacket deserves, at the very least, a quick listen. Such namedropping was enough to lure my attention in my inbox last week and the band in question, Count To Fire, have a mighty single on the way in September. Hailing from Exeter but recorded in Canada, this lot sound a little like The Coral with added pedal steel. They may look a bit Mumfordy but don’t be alarmed.

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The album appears to have been out for yonks but a renewed push means that ‘I’m The Man You Need’ will be released on 7” vinyl on September 12th. With such solid gold influences, the melody is as good as you’d expect and the vocal starts off sounding a little like a slightly less fragile Ron Sexsmith. Provided he was from Exeter, of course. Have a listen below and see what you make of it.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, Paul Weller’s ludicrously strong late-period purple patch continues apace with this belting bit of disco-soul. At first ‘Starlite’ seems a little slight but that chorus does its job and before long it’ll have earworm status, mark my words. Weller’s gorgeously emotive voice has been put to fine use in recent years and it’s heartening to hear a man who clearly loves his soul music adding something new and relevant to the genre. It’ll be out on August 7th, backed by various remixes, and won’t be on the forthcoming new album.

Mercury Music Prize 2010 shortlist – Just Played Verdict

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I know that convention dictates that I start off with a sizeable rant about the MASSIVE WANKERS who decide on the Mercury shortlist and moan about how safe and, largely, shit the choice of albums is. I whine about how there are so many more deserving titles out there and wonder why they even bother doing this. Well, fuck convention.

It’s not a bad shortlist really. Could be a hell of a lot worse and there are some rather good albums on it. Yes, you can tell that almost nobody on that judging panel is medically allowed to let their blood pressure rise too dramatically and that ‘a nice glass of red’ probably accompanies all of these records rather effectively, but that doesn’t immediately make them all crap records. Just Biffy Clyro, and that was crap long before it got this nomination. Indeed, it has been crap since the hellish day that the group birthed it through the band’s collective arsehole; the result of a blessed constipation that finally subsided only to gift our ears with this limp, fetid dross.

I wasn’t exactly enraptured by the Foals album either, but it certainly has its moments. The vocals are a lot less ‘toddler with a foot stuck in a door’ and a bit more ‘artsy indie band with ridiculous hair’. The sound is a massive leap on from the frankly infuriating debut which started badly with the atrocious cover and didn’t improve much thereafter. This one is bold, adventurous and, at times at least, rather good. Also in the ‘no need to get the bunting out’ category is Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘The Sea’. This particular record received such astonishingly positive press that it seemed like we were about to witness the second coming, albeit it at No.17 in the Asda album chart. It is quite nice. She’s stopped banging on about putting records on and is now singing about sad things because of the, admittedly tragic, loss of her husband. Musically it’s much less annoying than her MOR stylings of old but, for the life of me, I couldn’t really tell what it was that I was meant to be so overwhelmed by.

Then there’s the folk-pop boy band in waiting, Mumford And Sons. They are, as far as I’m concerned, traitorous bastards for wooing us with lovely limited 10” single releases only to then not put the album out on vinyl. Add into that the fact that they are now so ubiquitous they’re like flying ants or pollen and it’s hard to retain the early love. The songs are undeniably great and Marcus Mumford has a cracking voice. But, the production is oh-so-very polished and somewhere along the line it seemed to lose its soul a little. I’m by no means trying to be all snobby about this record; I still quite like it, but from the very first play it didn’t sound as raw it could have and should have and that’s a great shame. That said, I’m not sure it would be on this list if they’d gone down that route.

Dizzee Rascal, love him or hate him (or just laugh at him for being a bit of a cock), has produced some belting pop songs of late and such a consistent run of hits deserves recognition. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t really offer anything else to match those glorious singles and only serves to confirm that he is best in small doses. When in a good mood. And not especially bothered about what you’re listening to. A plausible choice, a maker of top pop but not an album to yearn for or fall in love with.

I’m genuinely delighted to see the marvellous I Am Kloot on the list with the recently released splendour of ‘Sky At Night’. I recently explained just why this record is deserving of a place in your collection and it is as good an album as the band have released to date. The vocals are quite beautiful and Guy Garvey’s string arrangements are superbly measured and precisely executed. As good a straight indie record as you’ll hear this year. Which briefly brings me to ‘Golden’ by Kit Downes Trio, which is potentially as good a jazz record as I haven’t heard this year. Is that the sound of a token being laid down I hear? Solitary nod to the ‘other’, I hear you cry. Well, yes. It’s not on Spotify, so I’ve not yet had the pleasure but, as I did with The Invisible last year, I’ll endeavour to have a listen. Find out what I end up thinking by following the Just Played Twitter here.

Wild Beasts’ ‘Two Dancers’ feels too old to be on this list, released as it was at the arse end of last summer but, it’s a wonderfully confident listen. By now, I’m sure you’ll know about Hayden Thorpe’s distinctive yelp, like a randy panda after a quick listen to ‘Grace’. It’s quite a voice and, while it might initially irritate, stick at it for there is much to love about ‘Two Dancers’. It took me a while to really get it, hence its absence from last year’s best of list. Unlike ‘xx’ by The xx, which rocketed up to second place in almost no time at all. It’s become a quite popular activity to criticise The xx for being trendy art-school types as a result of all of the hype they’ve received. Now, let’s briefly pause to consider why that is such a fuckwitted brainfart of an approach to this delicately grand music. They didn’t ask for the hype, it just gathered around them and, admittedly not always but sometimes, it happens for a reason. This time it was because of how good they are. The album is perfectly measured, charmingly executed and it offered something a little different towards the end of 2009, sounding quite unlike everything else released at the time. See here for my ‘40 From The Noughties’ piece about this one.

Old man Weller keeps on churning them out and, deep breath, he’s actually managed two great solo records in row. Indeed, I actually rather liked ‘As Is Now’ too, so that’s at least two and a half really. ‘Wake Up The Nation’ has been lauded as his best solo record in some quarters and has had fifty-something blokes in denim pogoing around like they don’t have mortgages, with their stomachs following soon behind. It is good, mind, and I have enjoyed great chunks of it. Initial plays felt a little like being able to hear a migraine, it was so phenomenally busy, but once you’ve adjusted to the frenetic pace of the thing, it actually shines through as a bloody decent set of songs. It firstly tells us that he has a cracking record collection, featuring plenty of southern and northern soul, and secondly that he has decided that prancing around in the street pissed with a near child on your arm and having one of the world’s shittest haircuts on your bonce doesn’t stop you from reminding people you were in The Jam. Fair play to him, I say.

Which leaves us with two. One of which, ‘Becoming A Jackal’ by Villagers, was recommended by Martin Rossiter (ex-Gene and thoroughly spiffing bloke) on Twitter a while back and I was won over almost instantly. I somehow missed the Later… performance that, apparently, turned most people in this record’s direction. I can see where the Rufus Wainwright comparisons come from, stylistically if not vocally, along with faint echoes of Simon and Garfunkel. It’s clever, melodic, sometimes melancholy singer-songwriter indie and it is executed to perfection. It’s a grower, a charmer and a winner. Though probably not of the Mercury Music Prize.

Not that I actually think that the quite divine Miss Marling will carry off the crown. I can’t help wondering if it will actually go the way of The xx or Mumford in the end, but that doesn’t stop this remarkable record being something to celebrate, shout about and buy in copious quantities for loved ones and friends. I’ve previously explored just what makes this such a mature and beguiling collection of songs, but suffice to say my opinion hasn’t changed, save to like it just a little bit more still. ‘Rambling Man’ is Joni, and Mazzy Star and Laura Veirs and oh so many other magical musicians rolled into one and yet still topped by a unique and stirring voice. She is a rare, rare talent and someone to be truly treasured.

Personally, I’m in a three way split with I Am Kloot, The xx and Laura Marling but, were I required to dish it out myself right now, I’d hand it to Laura. However, when the near paralytic Jools Holland steps up to the microphone in September, don’t be surprised if he utters the words, “and the winner is… The xx.”

2010 inverted

Dancing About Architecture

Thought I might start posting up my reviews after they’ve long since been digested in print. This is partly for vanity and partly for the purpose of sharing what I (largely) believe to be some decent writing. I’ll begin with this post containing my shorter reviews from the January and February issues of Clash. I’ve already posted up my Tindersticks piece which originally appeared in the January issue. The rest are all below for your perusal. Thought for a second I was having another Green DayAmerican Idiot’ moment with the Marina and the Diamonds album, but a few reviews have appeared recently with a similar view to mine, so I’m not looking too renegade anymore for simply pointing out that it’s over-produced and too polished. It is, by the way. One last thing, the rating system is their requirement not mine and, occasionally, what appears hear may not match what appeared in print. I’ve had a few scores subbed down a point in the past and I’m sure it’ll happen again in the future.

Let’s get on with it then, shall we?

JANUARY 2010:

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THE MAGNETIC FIELDS – ‘Realism’ (NONESUCH)

After a brief foray into self-sabotage with 2008’s intentionally noisy ‘Distortion’, Stephin Merritt has returned to the sound that made us love him in the first place. ‘Realism’ is a charming burst of cascading piano, shimmering cello and lyrics about trying to “shove you off the nearest bridge.”

Album standout, ‘Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree’ jangles along merrily despite containing the instruction, “if they don’t like you, screw them,” and a ludicrously silly but utterly wonderful chorus sung in German. Eccentric, endearingly arch and with an acute pop sensibility, this is the most accessible Magnetic Fields record to date. 8/10

God, I wish I’d had more words to write about this one. How do you capture the latest work by one of the most arch and intriguing lyricists around in a little over 100 words?

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Keb Darge and Paul Weller Present Lost & Found – Real R’n’B and Soul’ (BBE)

Punch the air Northern Soul, gritty and passionate funk and heartbroken r’n’b compiled by two fanatical music lovers – it’s exactly the resounding triumph you might expect it to be. ‘Stronger That Her Love’ by The Flirtations sounds like Motown girl group classic you’ve somehow never heard, while the doo-wop with attitude feel of The Intruders’ ‘Hang On In There’ makes a welcome appearance.

Weller’s half of the compilation just edges it, partly because it contains the absolutely essential ‘Call Me’ by Emmitt Long. A mid-paced, horn-infused organ-driven charmer that Al Green in his pomp wouldn’t have sniffed at, it’s one of a number of absolute gems here. 8/10

Get the limited vinyl pressing of this one. It’s a cracking set of songs and it sounds ludicrously good at a high volume.

FEBRUARY 2010:

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KATHRYN WILLIAMS – ‘The Quickening’ (ONE LITTLE INDIAN)

Eleven years into a recording career that has garnered a small but loyal following, Kathryn Williams may well be casting the net wider with this first release for her new label. A witty, warm and intelligent songwriter, Williams has always had a way with words and, when she sings “watch you in my mind, all through my lunchtime” in ‘Wanting And Waiting’, she perfectly captures that lovesick feeling of wishing the day away so you can be back with that special someone. ‘The Quickening’ may be her finest release to date, with folk, jazz and pop influences all merging into a rather special whole. 8/10

Having lived with this for another couple of months, I would stand by the suggestion that this could well be her best to date. It’s a very accomplished record with some truly beautiful singing on it.

THE LOUNGS – Big Wow’ (FRESH HAIR RECORDS)

The musical landscape is a poorer place for the absence of The Beta Band, who disbanded back in 2004. For those still pining for unusual sounding indie music with a wry sense of humour and laced with killer melodies, meet The Loungs. Their debut, ‘We Are The Champ’, sounded like the Super Furries after too many E numbers, while this second outing is a cross between the aforementioned Beta Band and the unashamed retro of The Bees. Beware ‘Jack Sarfatti’, however, which sounds dangerously like the Kaiser Chiefs. There really is no need for that. Oh, and as I suspect you’re still wondering, it’s pronounced ‘Lungs’. 7/10

Their first album was a big favourite of mine and this one doesn’t disappoint. They’re funding it all themselves this time round so please don’t go off trying to Google an illegal download of this one. Buy it.

MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS – ‘The Family Jewels’ (679/ATLANTIC)

Marina Diamandis was responsible for one of 2009’s best singles, ‘I Am Not A Robot’, an infectious pop track featuring a unique vocal with more fluctuations than Florence sat on a washing machine. Sadly, its parent album doesn’t always maintain such standards. While ‘Numb’ and ‘Are You Satisfied?’ are similarly excellent, things sometimes feel a little forced, such as on the hideously titled ‘Hermit The Frog’ and ‘Shampain’. Marina describes the album as “intricately produced” and that’s where the problem lies. Such attention to detail leaves some of the songs feeling pretty sterile and, as a result, it’s a frustrating listen. Cherry pick wisely. 6/10

I really wanted this album to be brilliant. I remember being absolutely thrilled when I got asked to review it a couple of days before Christmas, but when I actually played it I found the experience fatiguing. I like to think that this brief review conveyed that fact, but Alexis Petridis’ review in The Guardian explored this line of thinking in far more effective fashion here.

2010 on the record