Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Aug. 3rd: Trying to talk over the sound of rushing blood

Karine Polwart- Scribbled In Chalk (2006, Spit & Polish)

I don't know why it's taken me this long to  listen to this album: I bought it years ago, I've seen Karine Polwart live about 3 times for various reasons, I knew I had this somewhere, and every time I thought 'you have to listen to that CD' but..didn't. Now she's come to my attention again as part of the Burns Unit 'folk supergroup' and I finally got off my arse and gave this album a shot.

Polwart was the lead singer of Scots folk band Malinky, and has collaborated with various other folky people- the Battlefield Band, Lau, etc etc.Scribbled In Chalk is her second album, after 2004's Faultlines. She has a lovely, unmistakeably Scottish voice. The words that come to me listening to this are 'accessible folk'. In fact I'm wondering whether I'd categorise this as folk at all- but everyone else seems to be, so I guess I must be the odd one out. To me almost every track here could fit right in on the playlists of modern commercial radio, particularly Radio 2. The album is very much in the 'radio-friendly female singersongwriter' mould, albeit with the occasional bit of piano accordion. If you like Emma Pollock, or King Creosote's major label outings, you'll like this. Intelligent, adult pop-rock, basically. 'Hole In The Heart' and 'Baleerie Baloo'-about a Scots missionary killed at Auchwitz- are particular standouts, but it's all of a pretty high standard. 'Terminal Star' has a really great string arrangement, as does the aforementioned 'Hole...'
I really can't knock this; there are other albums which move me, excite me, make me dance,whatever, more, but Scribbled In Chalk is a really nice listen, especially if you like distinctive voices.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

July 14th: In love with second best

Barenaked Ladies- Maybe You Should Drive (1994,Sire)

We're back to the 'bought in a French record shop secondhand' pile... I love, love, love BNL's début album Gordon. There's not a dud on it, and it's full of genuinely affecting, well written songs- the big hit, 'If I Had A Million Dollars' isn't even in the top 5. 'Be My Yoko Ono', 'The Flag', 'Wrap Your Arms Around Me', 'Brian Wilson', 'What A Good Boy', etc etc are all excellent, and haven't dated at all (if you overlook the occasional Milli Vanilli reference). Unfortunately, the band have never really bettered it. They have had  moments of occasional brilliance since- 'Break Your Heart' from 1996's Born On A Pirate Ship, for example- but have never had an another album with such a run of good songs.
I bought  Maybe You Should Drive expecting Gordon mk. 2. It just didn't happn.There is nothing which touches me to the degree that 'Blame It On Me' does...there is, more seriously, a serious lack of memorable tunes.  With the exception of 'A', I can't see myself being able to hum any of this album by this time next week.
It's not a complete damp squib;'Everything Old Is New Again' is a good example of Steven Page's talent for writing about tragic relationships; 'Great Provider''s production has stood the test of time well.

Generally, the whole album just feels slightly empty. The inclusion of preppy pop songs like 'A'(complete with archetypal crap key change!) or 'Jane' jars with me...which is odd, because BNL are after all basically a pop band. 
I'm guessing mine is a minority opinion, but honestly, buy Gordon or Born On A Pirate Ship instead. They're less obviously commercial and the quality of song is far higher.
I really like BNL. I just don't get this.

Friday, 9 July 2010

July 9th: Peu m'importe...On est comme deux Jackson Five

Benjamin Biolay- Trash Yéyé (2007, Virgin France)

Benjamin Biolay is, basically, the new Gainsbourg. It may seem a lazy comparison but in this case, it's an apt one. Biolay is a singer-songwriter, sometime actor and record producer who is at the forefront of modern, intelligent, literate French pop. Trash Yéyé  was his last album for Virgin/EMI before they dropped him after unsatisfactory sales (he then came back with a double LP on an independent label which got rave reviews, so EMI are probably kicking themselves).

Take Gainsbourg. Remove the dirty-old-man element. Add even more talent for lyrical inventiveness. Voila- you've got Benjamin Biolay. His understated vocal style resembles a mix of Serge & Etienne Daho;  his arrangements are full of lush strings, cinematic flourishes and 70s influences. You could go down a list of "essential bits for a  chanson album" and most of them would be here. Although much is familiar, that's not to say that the album is clichéd; it does what it does very well. There are surprises along the way: 'Laissez Aboyer Les Chiens' which starts off  like a French Portishead, the discoish arrangement of 'Rendez Vous Qui Sait'.....the utterly incongrous Bobby McFerrin sample at the end of 'Bien Avant'. Which shouldn't work, but does.

There are various, numerous French artists doing chanson ("nouvelle" or otherwise) badly. Biolay isn't one of them. Anglophone countries' general rejection of foreign-language music will probably prevent him from getting the wider recognition he deserves.

July 8th: ...The most beautiful mistake of the year.

King Creosote- Radge Weekend Starts Here (Fence, 2001)

Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, is very probably Scotland's most prolific musician.I've lost count of how many albums he's put out by this point (50? Maybe?) and it's impossible to be sure, because you will never hear all or even most of them: the majority are limited-run CD-Rs on his own label, the acclaimed Fence Collective based in Fife, Scotland.
In addition to his self--released CD-Rs and Fence LPs, KC has put out a couple of albums for Warners/679 and a fair few for Domino- these tend to include several songs rerecorded from rarer releases and are well worth a buy. one of the limited-run albums, which i was lucky enough to pick up at a gig. Like all of KC's work, what holds it together is a) Kenny's frankly lovely voice and b) the quality of the songwriting. relatively light on the dictaphone-tastic and spoken word tracks which characterise his CD-Rs, and includes at least 3 songs which stand up with the best of his work. Firstly, a cover of  Lone Pigeon's 'Heaven Come Down Tonight' which takes an already beautiful song and rearranges it with amazing vocal harmonies; Handwashed, apparently the album's 'Calvinist disapproval' moment-sample lyric, "It's great that you hollow out canoes"- and my favourite track, 'Mantra-rap'. Ace arrangement, lovely vocals, clever yet affecting lyrics- there's no way to really go wrong with that.


So, sticking to the timescale of the 100 days project didn't happen, basically because life got in the way-and when I was signing up I forgot that I was moving a few thousand miles round the world midway through the 100 days. Um...not my most switched-on moment. However, there's still a large pile of unlistened stuff on my floor now I've come back from the temporary foreign exile, and it taunts me every time I walk past it. So I'm going to try and finish the pile, for my own satisfaction if nothing else. I can't promise daily updates, but this time I've got someone behind me to kick my arse if I get lazy, so hopefully I'll have no excuse...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Dec. 20th: I read a magazine that said, 'by 17, your life is at an end'

Charlotte Gainsbourg-5:55 (Because Music, 2006)

Charlotte Gainsbourg is the daughter of Serge and Jane Birkin. Her first recording was called 'Lemon Incest'. A duet with her father. Cue controversy. 5:55 is her first LP as an adult, and is mostly written by Gainsbourg fans Air, with input from Neil Hannon,Jarvis Cocker, and Nigel Godrich, amongst others. All but one track is in English.
If Gainsbourg was attempting to make something distinct from the work of her parents, she pretty much fails: she sings with the same enunciated delivery as her mother, and the songs sound like Serge album tracks, particularly the swirling string arrangements. It makes the listening experience slightly unnerving; the material is unknown but also feels very familiar. This could easily have been released in 1971.
That's not to say the album is a failure. It's a pretty good album, particulary the single 'Songs That We Sing'. It's perfectly competent; I just can't shake the feeling that I'm listening to a Jane 'n' Serge duets album from the 70s.I really can't,

Dec.19th:You could have made my summer-I should have leapt upon you

James Yorkston- The Year of The Leopard (Domino,2006)

Confession time: I am a huge Fence Collective fan, of which James Yorkston forms a part-hell, it's through Fence that I heard about the 100 Days project. Despite this, I don't know James Yorkston's work that well. I own most of the records, but haven't got round to listening to all of them properly. I've seen him live twice but still, only know a couple of albums properly. This is one I don't.
It's pretty much the archetypal JY album; acoustic guitar, the occasional clarinet, accordions, fairly sedate. There are some really lovely songs on this- in particular 'I  Awoke', in a less spartan arrangement than on his mini-album Hoopoe, the title track and 'Summer Song'. In a way, the album is strangely predictable. There are no huge surprises and the tracks pretty much flow into each other (except for the stream-of-conciousness vocal/electronic combo of 'Woozy With Cider'. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it makes for an album that works as a cohesive whole. Although this is a more immediately accessible collection, I'd still say that I prefer JY's 2002, Moving Up Country.

Dec. 18th: Tout seul dans l'arène je me suis perdu

-M- -Mister Mystère (Barclay, 2009)

-M- is the pseudonym of Mathieu Chedid, French singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and son of French-Libanese chasonnier Louis Chedid (hence the pseudonym, to avoid pigeonholing, I think). Mister Mystère is his 4th vocal album; he also has one instrumental LP and a soundtrack to his name.
I may as well say it straight off- I love this album. I haven't heard much of his earlier stuff (yet- it's further down the pile) but what I have heard, I like. Stylistically the album's a bit of a mixture: straight chanson, arrangements strongly reminiscent of  Malian pop, bank robberies in musical form (!), funk....particular favourites are 'Amssétou'-the Mali-esque one-'Est-ce c'est ça?',whose intro sounds weirdly identical to the Kook's 'Naive', and 'Le Roi des Ombres' which has a truly brilliant intro and arrangement,very atmospheric, almost 70s-esque. 
As far as I know Amazon UK don't have this yet. do, obviously,and iTunes. It's worth seeking out, preferably in physical format:you get a DVD with extra songs as well.  

Damn exams, and Christmas,and new year, and minibreaks...

RIGHT. This is TERRIBLE, I know. I'm almost up to date- I have loads of days' worth written up,just not typed on blogger- SO. The plan in to type up a few at a time, and hopefully get up to date that way. To be honest the idea of it is scaring me slightly but we'll see how it goes....