The Just Played Verdict–Radiohead ‘The King Of Limbs’

Sometimes the weight of expectation is so great that the moment of release is doomed from the off. There was genuine, palpable excitement at the news of a new Radiohead album being less than a week away. In an age when even record label PR staff operate around when albums leak, this release mechanism sidesteps the usual build up and delivers a near instant fix for everyone at the same time. As a result, when you only have five days to wait from knowing of an album’s existence to actually hearing the thing, the excitement goes from zero to fever pitch in moments. As mere mortals stirred themselves into a state of aural arousal, the live-blogging plans whirred into action and the internet sharpened its typing fingers ready to shit out tiny nuggets of barely formed enormo-opinion at a world seemingly all trying to do exactly the same thing. While I can’t deny that there is something special about everybody sharing their first listen to a record, the depressing tendency towards massive overstatement and inane hyperbole made phrases like “where are the fucking tunes”, “it’s a Thom Yorke album” and “it’s another Kid A” make me want to pierce my own eyes with shards from a smashed up copy of ‘OK Computer’. The frequent desire to be first to review albums utterly baffles me. The pleasure of being first to listen, I understand, and I often get deliriously excitable when records I’m keenly anticipating arrive in promo form, but why prioritise saying anything over saying something? To see this lunacy in action, hang around any music discussion board and watch for any reasonably big release to leak. The clamour to declare the album to be either a masterwork or a disastrous misfire is startling and I can’t imagine listening to music in this way. When I’m reviewing albums, I am always determined to ensure that each record has had sufficient time to impress me before fashioning an erudite and witty paragraph or two. I remember as a teenager with limited funds spending hours upon hours poring over any album I bought, partly due to my youthful enthusiasm and partly because I wanted my money’s worth. As someone who now buys far too many records and receives a similar number in promo form, I do find myself occasionally longing for that less cluttered approach to music. It’s amazing to see how many people are willing to abandon albums by artists they seemingly at least have a semblance of interest in after one, clearly not all that attentive, exposure. The new Noah & The Whale album is actually rather good (no, really) but on first play it just seemed bloody odd and left me slightly nauseous. Elbow’s ‘Build A Rocket Boys!’ comes across as rather one-paced on initial listens but then gradually unfurls into something quite majestic. And, let’s face it, since when have Radiohead released albums which make perfect sense after ONE FUCKING LISTEN?

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Listening to ‘In Rainbows’ the morning after the download was released I felt distinctly underwhelmed, wondering what the hell was going on with the drums and why it all seemed a bit hit and miss. I reassured myself that it would probably make sense in due course and that by the time the discbox vinyl had arrived I’d likely be glued to the speakers. That album has gone on to become one of my absolute favourite records and is as cohesive and plain beautiful a set of songs as you could wish to hear. Listen to the “ehhhh-ehhh” backing vocals which come in after several minutes of ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ and tell me you’re not just a little bit moved. That said, it took me a number of months to really acknowledge that I loved that song and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The nature of reviews is that we don’t tend to wait months and months before transcribing our opinions but, in an attempt to at least find an imperfect solution, multiple listens are essential. Writing 40 From The Noughties was a delight because I got to review albums from a position of hindsight and, in an ideal world, that would be the best way for things to work. But they don’t. I, like you, want to know what’s good now and which new releases I should be spending some of my hard earned money on. So, what is ‘The King Of Limbs’ actually like? Continue reading “The Just Played Verdict–Radiohead ‘The King Of Limbs’”

A reasonably concise update

It wouldn’t be the same if this blog didn’t just grind to a halt for a month or so every now and then, would it? I’d originally intended to rest it for a week or two while I delved into the Beatles remasters but a week leads to a fortnight, a fortnight to a month and, well, you know how it is. Quite a month, mind, including the live return of one of my all-time favourite bands, Massive Attack. If the new songs played on that drab night in Sheffield are anything to go by, the new album will be everything people have hoped for and a little bit more. There’s one new track, (I have no idea about the title, I’m afraid) sung by Horace Andy which may well be one of the best things they’ve ever done. The ‘Splitting The Atom’ EP emerged last weekend as a digital download and it’s a pretty impressive quartet of new material. The lolloping title track belies the fact that Damon Albarn has been involved this time around, while ‘Pray For Rain’, featuring vocals from TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, has a wonderful gear change about four minutes in which elevates it to ‘special’ status. You can sample it for yourself over at Spotify, purchase it as a high-quality FLAC download from 7Digital or even shell out £20 for a spangly vinyl edition from those Monkey-box-set-making-types over at The Vinyl Factory.

Beatles expenditure limited the funds for new music last month, but a few splendid things snuck though, such as the latest offering from Richard Hawley, ‘Truelove’s Gutter’, which is a muso’s dream and the very definition of a ‘headphones album’. Coming off the back of the really rather polished ‘Lady’s Bridge’, (hmm, that sounds slightly wrong) an album with only eight songs, two of which scrape the ten minute mark, it’s an absolute delight to listen to and it may well be his best. ‘Remorse Code’ is a remarkable beast, languidly atmospheric and beautifully recorded. ‘Open Up Your Door’ may have spent some time with ‘The Ocean’ from ‘Coles Corner’, mind. There is meant to be a deluxe double vinyl edition with free CD and signed photo springing up at some point but, with every additional week’s delay, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

The NME has a new editor in the shape of Krissi Murison and she’s already made a few changes. Icky changes, largely speaking. Making me actually wish Conor McNicholas hadn’t left after all kind of changes. The most unforgiveable change is the removal of Mark Beaumont’s weekly column, which was as good a reason as any to shell out £2.30 a week. Thankfully, Peter Robinson Vs has been retained, tucked away at the back now, or I may have had to have said goodbye. Again. Oh, who am I trying to kid. Still, it’s a shame as Beaumont was a witty and acerbic observer of the music scene, something the NME was always good at and I’m not sure how that hole will be filled.

The Radiohead deluxe editions for the latter half of their EMI tenure proved to be delightful additions to the collection, containing some splendid B sides which I’d never previously spent any time with and selected visual highlights from this wonderful, wonderful Later… special.

Put aside an hour and treat yourself. It’s really rather special. While I’m talking about all things Yorke, if you’ve not yet sampled the two tracks recently released as a (bloody expensive) heavyweight vinyl 12” single, you’re truly missing out. Click here to sample ‘FeelingPulledApartByHorses’ and ‘The Hollow Earth’, the latter track being one of the finest things I’ve heard all year. It’s in the same, slightly skittery vein as ‘The Eraser’, with a nagging hook and a thumping beat. It’s almost worth the insane amount the 12” costs. £10, by the way.

I’ve been ploughing through my record collection for the last few weeks, attempting to assemble a list of some kind ready for the launch of the previously trailed, ‘Just Played – Albums Of The Decade’ feature, which will be arriving fairly soon now. It’s been lovely to be reminded of albums like Daft Punk’s ‘Discoveryand Air’s ‘10 000Hz Legend’, alongside Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Howdy and Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Poses. There are some absolute certs for the final list, but it’s been interesting to realise some of the records I’d totally forgotten about that are thoroughly deserving of a place. More on that soon.

Oh, and there were those remasters I briefly mentioned at the start. I haven’t got an awful lot to add to the millions of column inches offered up over the last six weeks (and largely bought by me) so I’ll not say much. (On the other hand, recent convert, Dan of teatunes, says plenty here) Suffice to say, the more expensive of the box sets, ‘The Beatles In Mono’, is an absolute delight, with the sound punchy and remarkably clear. I feel obliged to inform you that you haven’t heard ‘Rubber Soul’ until you’ve heard the mono mix at a fair old volume – it’s a rather special moment. The packaging is wonderful and a serious step up from the fold-out card things used for the stereo reissues. As for the more widely available stereo mixes, I found that box a slight anti-climax, what with it arriving four days after the mono box had had its chance to seduce me. That said, it’s still a beguiling collection of music and those albums only available in stereo sound pretty impressive to these ears. I’ve certainly never liked ‘Abbey Road’ more than I do now. I love their catalogue now more than I ever previously have, but that’s probably no great surprise. For anyone who takes their music listening seriously, you really should get at least one of these boxes, if you haven’t already, as they are the definitive versions. Sod the money, on this occasion. Buy a few less takeaways or £40 games and treat yourself.

Oh, and if you’ve still not heard the new Maps album, sort yourself out, eh?

Be There There Later

Radiohead are playing Reading Festival tonight and it will be live on BBC3. I am, it must be said, quite excited about the prospect of watching one of the greatest bands of modern times doing their thing from the comfort of my warm and dry living room. To whet the appetite, Sky Arts have been showing a Dave Fanning interview with the band from 2008, the ‘OK Computer’ tour documentary, ‘Meeting People Is Easy’, a set from Eurockeenes 2003 and the episode of ‘From The Basement’ upon which the band featured on a near constant loop. All of which are bloody great and if you’ve not had a chance to watch the Dave Fanning interview, do so before it disappears. Thom and Ed are in good form and Fanning asks some quite decent questions which, in turn, prompt some quite decent answers. ‘Meeting People Is Easy’ appears in an edited form, but it still riveting viewing and ‘From The Basement’ features some wonderful renditions of tunes from the last two albums. In addition to all of this, VH1 are repeating the ‘In Rainbows – From The Basement’ show, which can be purchased from iTunes, tonight at 10pm. One to Sky + whilst watching the live show on BBC3. Make sure you have an ornament of choice identified in advance to look at whenever Bowman appears on screen. Don’t want to upset yourself just before seeing what should be a pretty impressive set.

Here’s some bits and bobs from Ver Tube to enjoy:

On the subject of the greatest bands of recent times, if I really want to conform to expectations, I suppose I should take a moment to deride people for caring about Noel leaving Oasis. But, I care. And they were, more often than not, a great group. I shall dwell further on the topic tomorrow. I shall leave you with one of their finer tunes.

Futuremusic – What to listen to?

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Many’s the time I’ve banged on about how I had to budget an extra tenner for each visit to my now deceased local music emporium in anticipation of me taking a shine to whatever they were playing while I was partaking of a little hot browsing action. But with good reason. I loved their shop stereo choices. I loved discussing new releases with the staff. I loved the little labels on the display products which told you about the album in a paragraph or so, hand-written and often peppered with exuberant exclamation marks. The less frequently mentioned record shop of my youth was offered a similar service, with James, owner and seemingly sole member of staff, frequently telling me that something I’d brought to the counter was shit or that what I was offering to trade in was too good to get rid of. Perhaps this delightfully honest approach to music retail played a little part in his business becoming unsustainable, but it was critical in helping to shape my musical taste. As all of our record shops die and we’re left with the increasingly dominant download, where do we get our recommendations from?

Both Amazon and iTunes invite copious reviews from the general public. Anyone who’s ever listened to a radio phone-in or watched a rolling news channel knows that, largely speaking, the people most willing to express their point of view are largely unable to express a point of view. I am well aware that writing a blog and espousing such a line of thinking is more than a little hypocritical but sod it. Go with me on this. For example, look at La Roux‘s ‘Bulletproof EP’ on iTunes and you’ll find numerous reviews, with varying degrees of coherence. One of the few currently displayed when you land of the page for ‘Bulletproof’ comes from Musetasticeldo, who writes:

But, it’s rubbish

That high pitched sh*t that we heard last time was rubbish, and amazingly, this is even worse. why the hell do people like the cr*p (sic)

Now, I’m assuming that that’s self-censorship rather than an aversion to naughty words – after all, what’s someone who listens to Muse supposed to say after it’s finished? – and the errant deployment of punctuation can be forgiven in a quick online review, but what was the writer’s purpose here? Seemingly, they truly hated ‘In For The Kill’, and yet they have returned for more. Presuming that they weren’t quite thick enough to purchase a song by an artist they don’t like, did they base their review on the iTunes thirty-second sample? In which case, it’s hardly fair and if, as I suspect, they have actually heard it numerous times elsewhere, what made them feel that it was a good use of their time to actually seek out the song on iTunes in order to contribute this rather vacuous comment?

Amazon reviews operate within similarly lax boundaries, resulting in the violently sarcastic reviews of the Peter Andre and Katie Price album and books by hateful figures like Jon Gaunt. Occasionally you hit upon someone who seems to have actually listened to the music a few times but it’s a very unreliable way to garner recommendations.

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It was possible to tailor your music purchasing to whichever shop seemed to most closely match your musical outlook. Certainly, if I lived near Brighton, Resident would receive at least one visit a week as it does all of the stuff I nostalgically bleated about above and more but, as is the case for so many of us, I don’t and the local options are all gone. That said, it’s not as bleak as it first seems and there are still some decent places to seek musical guidance in these troubling times.

Online record shops are a curious breed. They are becoming increasingly important to the indie kids of the world and yet they are competing against the cheap big boys in a fashion not dissimilar to the days of the independent record shop co-existing on the high street with HMV, Virgin and Our Price. The way they seem to be getting around this is the personal touch. I’ve talked about the wonders of Norman Records before, but I’ll briefly recap. Phil, and his team of slightly odd but hugely enthusiastic music warriors, get very involved in your access to new music. An order will receive a personal reply, a query will get a good (and often comical) paragraph with the information you require and pretty damn sharpish too. Each week, the site publishes its reviews of new music with an opinionated and irreverent edge that is far less prominent on the next site worth a look; Boomkat.

Rather more specialist than Norm – which is to say less riffs more bleeps – and considerably more aesthetically pleasing, Boomkat is an increasingly dependable source of exciting and intriguing new tunes. As well as doing a decent line in CDs and vinyl, they also offer a very impressive download service, allowing you to download your music either as 320kbps MP3s or, for a bit more cash, admittedly, FLAC files, giving you a lossless fix that iTunes don’t think you want. Try recent curio from glacial minimalist Max Richter for size to get an idea of the presentation and purchasing options provided by Boomkat. What you will notice is that the reviews are a little too earnest but sound clips allow you to balance out the bullshit. I suppose it’s possible that they only stock stuff they love – it’s certainly pretty select – but they do seem to love most of what they sell. The page is full – some might say cluttered – with all kinds of recommendations for you, including other stuff by this artist, other stuff on that label and what other people buying this item bought.

Boomkat also runs a small download boutique, if you will, entitled 14 Tracks. The idea being, the site offers you the chance to buy download batches of 14 tracks at a time, each curated by Boomkat and offering a guide to a genre, musical theme or whimsical concept. While you won’t like each one, there’s some bizarre and beautiful stuff to be heard via that method and I’d recommend a browse when you have a spare hour or two. You can search back through all of the previous collections offered.

Hardly fresh and exciting, but just as good at doing what it’s always done, is last.fm, a site which allows you to monitor your listening habits, develop musical ‘neighbours’ and compare and contrast your libraries in the hope of finding things to try. I have to say, I’ve only recently started to use it seriously, so my numbers are pretty low and it can be a little swayed if I choose to do my listens to something I’m reviewing via the iPod, but, it’s nevertheless quite an entertaining way to draw up yet more of what every muso loves. Lists. Click here and you should be able to see the list for my all time top artists on last.fm, but as, at the time of writing, even my top act only has 98 plays, it hasn’t yet got to the stage where it is a truly accurate reflection of my listening, but it’s getting there.

Once you’ve listened to enough stuff, last.fm will be able to show you people with similar tastes to yours and then you’re off. Furthermore, plenty of labels seem happy to have tracks uploaded to the site to allow you an instant listen. That said, for me, last.fm is where I get the names of potentially great artists from, before searching for them on Spotify in order to have a listen. I think Spotify’s been covered enough on here of late, and you can certainly find enough links to it across this page, but it’s worth remembering that it’s still a relatively new and fragile device. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The most conventional method of receiving musical recommendations remains. Radio is still very much alive and well, even if there’s less decent new music broadcasting going on. Zane Lowe does a reasonable job of alerting you to new stuff via his Radio 1 evening show, but the likes of Huw Stephens and Rob Da Bank are far better at digging below the surface. Over on 6music, Marc Riley and Gideon Coe are always worth a listen, both having full blown music obsessions and forever seeking out new music that’s both challenging (Riley) and easy on the ear (Coe) on a nightly basis. last.fm can knock you up a radio station of either your library or recommendations for you based on your library. Sadly, this is restricted by what’s on their catalogue and so the recommendations station isn’t always as glorious as it first seems. California based radio station KCRW offers up the rather splendid ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’, until recently hosted by music biz legend Nic Harcourt, but now helmed by Jason Bentley. Weekday mornings from 9, 5-8pm for UK listeners, are a wonderful mixture of all kinds of stuff, described by their webpage as, “progressive pop, world beat, jazz, African, reggae, classical and new music.” Indeed.

Finally, there’s the method you’re using right now. Blogs. I’m also going to include message boards at this point as I think they serve a similar purpose. At this relatively advanced stage in internet usage, it’s pretty easy to find people with similar interests to you and to join any number of different communities. I actively participate in only a few music forums, but those few forums offer me all kinds of musical recommendations and have noticeably shaped my listening habits over recent years. The few blogs that I frequent are suitably attuned to my taste in music and I know I can pretty much trust whatever they’re banging on about. For example, the previously mentioned teatunes site, which mixes musings on music with reviews of various splendid teas, covers music that is almost entirely to my taste. Indeed, they’ve only today published an article about Charles Ramsey who you may remember Just Played looking at only last week. If I see something recommended on there that I’ve not heard, I’ll endeavour to hear it as, chances are, I’ll like it too.

The final word on this issue can go to Thom Yorke. I have to confess that, sadly, this isn’t something that Thom personally confided in me; he said it as part of an interview with Believer magazine, which in turn got parped out to the UK via The Guardian. That said, it’s a decent comment and pretty neat summation of everything you’ve just been reading. Feel free to hurl alternative suggestions for where to find good new tunes at me via the comments option below.

“I don’t spend my fucking life downloading free MP3s, because I hate the websites. No one seems to know what they’re talking about. I’d much rather go to sites like Boomkat, where people know what they’re talking about. It’s brilliant. To me, that’s a business model. It’s like when I used to go to music shops in Oxford. You’re looking at this and you’re looking at that and there’s a whole line of other things going down the side saying, “You’ll probably like this,” and “You might like this.” Boomkat is very specific with the type of stuff they flog there, but I can’t see why that wouldn’t work for all music.”