Archive for December, 2009

Albums of 2009

December 23, 2009

I’ve managed to listen to quite a good number of new albums this year so I thought I would make a list of my favourite.  I’ll try and give you a brief review of each album, a few of my favourite tracks from each and a video of a song from the album.

Top 10 Albums of 2009


1). Wild Beasts- Two Dancers
For those unfamiliar with Wild Beasts, they are a band originating from Kendal, Cumbria and now based in Leeds.  I came across this album while browsing through well-received albums that came out this year.  After looking these guys up I could tell precisely what was so appealing about them.  They have a unique sound that perhaps is better heard than described but it has certainly kept me listening throughout the year.

Top Tracks:
Hooting & Howling, All the King’s Men, We Still Got the Taste Dancin’ on Our Tongues


2). The xx- xx
The xx is an indie band from South-West London consisting of four 20 year olds whose debut album hit stores in August of this year.  The combination of Oliver Sim and RomyMadley Croft’s quiet, calm and breathy vocals gives a dreamy and floaty feel to their music.  The arrangements almost feel minimalist in their subtlety, however, they are perfectly formed and everything combines to make some truly wonderful music.

Top Tracks
: Crystalised, Islands, Infinity

 


3). Eels- Hombre Lobo
As can be read from the subtitle of Eels’ Hombre Lobo, 12 Songs of Desire, the album is a concept album based on tales of desire, told from the point of view of a character created by lead singer E (Mark Everett).  The character is the, now grown-up, Dog Faced Boy from the track of that name on the 2001 Souljacker album, hence the title of this album being Hombre Lobo which means Werewolf in Spanish.  The tracks alternate from those that burst with the energy of lust and desire (such as Prizefighter and Lilac Breeze) to the sadder melancholy of longing and wanting something unobtainable or unachievable (as on The Longing and My Timing is Off).

Top Tracks:
Lilac Breeze, Fresh Blood, Ordinary Man


4). The Antlers- Hospice

Probably the most deeply touching and emotional album of the year.  The Antlers’ Hospice tells the narrative of a man losing a loved one to bone cancer and watching her die.  The whole tale is carried through some of the most beautiful songs this year and is such a convincing story that it’s surprisingly that songs are not actually coming from a personal experience.  Hospice is actually the result of a Justin Vernon-esque period of social isolation went through by vocalist Peter Silberman, making this the second brilliant album to come from such an experience (maybe all musicians should start doing it).

Top Tracks: Bear, Two, Wake


5). Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career
For those unfamiliar with Camera Obscura, they are a Scottish indie band fronted by lead singer Tracyanne Campbell.  Scottish singers have a tendency to for somewhat gloomy vocals (it’s probably the weather) and Tracyanne Campbell certainly brings a good touch of that to her music.  However, this can perhaps be expected from what is essentially a break-up album.  Also, the general sadness of the lyrics doesn’t mean that the melodies can’t be bright, as on ‘French Navy’.  The melodies are truly strong throughout and the there is enough variety in the vocal stylings of Miss Campbell to make this album a really great listen.

Top Tracks: French Navy, The Sweetest Thing, Careless Love


6). Imogen Heap- Ellipse
Four years ago, Imogen Heap released what would I suppose be considered her breakthrough album ‘Speak for Yourself’.  She didn’t really make it into the mainstream but I imagine a good number of people would recognise the tracks ‘Headlock’ and ‘Goodnight and Go’ if they were played to them.  Heap didn’t really rush to capitalise on this success and has only now released a follow-up to her 2005 release.  Ellipse is the new release from Imogen Heap and its quality is certainly on a par with Speak for Yourself with beautiful vocals flowing over electronic backdrops.  The only real criticism I have of the album is that there isn’t really anything new here, nothing that really stands out as being radically different from anything on Speak For Yourself.  More of the same certainly isn’t a bad thing but it would have been nice to have something a little fresher on the album.  Despite this, Ellipse is still a beautiful album with some wonderful songs and I would always welcome more material from such a great artist.

Top Tracks:
First Train Home, Wait It Out, 2-1


7). Regina Spektor- Far
By far the quirkiest artist on the list is everyone’s favourite Soviet-born female singer-songwriter Regina Spektor.  Much like Imogen Heap, Regina Spektor is an excellent vocalist outside of the mainstream with her own individual style.  Regina tends to opt for a more sparse musical backing with the piano playing the most prominent role.  While this clearly isn’t anything revolutionary the really quirky element of Regina Spektor’s work is in some choice of lyrics and subject matter.  For example, lyrics such as ‘we built a computer from macaroni pieces’ and ‘I’ve got a perfect body because my eyelashes catch my sweat’ feature in songs across the album.  Also the song ‘Wallet’ is a song revolving around a lost wallet and it contents, ending with the lines ‘you’ll never know me, I’ll never know you but you’ll be so happy when they call you up’.  Whether the song is a witty criticism of the hyperbolic nature of love songs or simply an attempt to make something sweet out of something very mundane can only be speculated at but this is some of eccentricity you get from Regina Spektor.  I suppose this could be equally annoying to some people as it is endearing to others but I have to say that most of the tracks on the album aren’t quite as bizarre. 

Top Tracks: Eet, Blue Lips, Dance Anthem of the 80’s


8). Raekwon- Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2
Raekwon, with an assist from the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan, returns with a sequel to his classic 1995 album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx that snaps up the rap album of the year award.  The album also boasts what is probably the best rap track of the year in the de-facto opener ‘House of Flying Daggers’, which has the Wu-Tang Clan on top, vicious and visceral form.  There isn’t anything really new here in regards of what a Raekwon or Wu-Tang album sounds like, apart from the fact that RZA only produces three tracks, but it feels so much fresher in times when far too much rap music attempts to crossover (The Blueprint 3 being case-in-point).  Now I cannot completely blame people for making commercial rap music (some of it is quite good) but personally I love some rugged and raw rap and that is Raekwon’s album all over.  A true Wu-Tang album and fully worthy of holding the heavily load of being an official sequel to the legendary ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’.

Top Tracks: House of Flying Daggers, New Wu, Kiss the Ring


9). Mos Def- The Ecstatic
Those who follow rap music may be aware of Mos Def as one of the big names in underground rap, perhaps best known for his collaborative work with fellow underground rap star Talib Kweli, as Black Star.  However, non-rap fans may be able to recognise Mos Def from his acting career.  His most prominent acting roles to date include playing Ford Prefect in the 2005 remake of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and co-starring alongside Jack Black in Be Kind Rewind.  Whether you recognise him or not and whatever you think of the movies he has starred in, let me tell you that Mos Def is a very talented rapper.  To qualify that statement, Mos Def can freestyle amazing raps off the top of his head and at speed too, just type ‘Mos Def Freestyle’ into YouTube to find out what I’m talking about.  Mos Def’s talent for the short witty and intelligent rap is certainly injected into the album and is reflected in runtime of the tracks with less than half exceeding 2mins 30secs.  I think this suites Mos Def’s style and also makes a seemingly unwieldy 16 tracks much more palatable.  The whole album just feels like a breath of fresh air in comparison to your average rap album these days, with no hooks, some authentic rap talent, a mere two guest appearances (from Slick Rick on Auditorium and Talib Kweli on History) and lyrical subject matter that isn’t all about money, killing, sex and misogyny.  In a year with a lack of major rap releases this really is a hidden gem and well worthy of anyone’s attention.

Top Tracks: Auditorium, Quiet Dog Bite Hard, Life in Marvellous Times


10). Girls-Album
Girls’ Album covers quite a lot of ground in its twelve tracks with themes of drug-use (which are pretty much present throughout), enjoying the Summer (with Surf Rock inspiration) and failed relationships.  However, the jewel in the crown of the album has to be the amazing ‘Hellhole Ratrace’.  The song somehow manages the seemigly impossible task of being both uplifting and deeply saddening at the same time.  As Christopher Owens sings out the chorus ‘I don’t want to cry my whole life through/I want to do some laughing too/So come on, come on and laugh with’ the message is one of savouring life but one can’t help but get the feeling of what kind of dark place inspired such lyrics.  As it turns out Christopher Owens has had a difficult life with his family being involved in the ‘Children of God’ cult.  His older brother died due to the cult not allowing him medical attention, his father left and the cult sometimes forced his mother to prostitute herself.  The inner darkness of Owens is also reflected in a number of other tracks on the album and the emotional undercurrent is certainly intriguing.

Top Tracks: Lust for Life, Hellhole Ratrace, Lauren Marie

Twilight: New Moon Review

December 9, 2009

Greetings!

On Sunday evening, I went with Erin, Sarah and Katy to see the new Twilight movie, New Moon.  Obviously the hype around this movie has been massive but I thought I would go and check it out for myself.  Also, I have to say I went to see the first Twilight film with my sister, not knowing what the whole thing was, and actually quite enjoyed it.  Yes, the revelation that the real reason that vampires don’t come out in the daylight is because they are glittery was laughable, but as I remember, I found it quite enjoyable.  Sadly, as you may well be expecting by now, the same could not be said for the new movie New Moon.  Basically, if you are not a hormonal female teenager (in which case you’ll enjoy admiring the muscled bodies of Robert Pattison and Taylor Lautner, who spend considerable amounts of the movie topless- Hurray for feminism!) or someone who loves the Twilight books so much that any form of visual adaption would satisfy you then you then I can’t see why you would enjoy this film.

I have to say now that I haven’t read the books, for better or worse, but personally I think it makes me considerably less bias as I have no interest in seeing good in this movie where there isn’t.  My female housemates keep telling me that the book is much better, of which I have no doubt, however, this movie remains to be poor.  Although I have to say I am critical of the whole premise of the story, at least as it is potrayed in the film.   As far as I can see, the main female character, Bella Swan, is a far from endearing hormonal teen with an incredible level of angst.  It seems fairly clear that practically no Twilight fan that I’ve spoken to actually likes her character despite the fact that she is the main character.  Also, the whole story really boils down to a love triangle between this over-emotional teenage girl and two teenage boys.  It just so happens these teenage boys have deep dark supernatural secrets, you sure know how to pick them Bella, randomly picked from folklore.  It’s just a teen drama with vampires and werewolves in it, the story isn’t clever and just seems like a convoluted mess when you consider the other plot points that are mixed in- such as Bella’s immunity to vampire powers, which is apparently important in ways which are completely unexplored.  The film also fails to actually advance the storyline in any meaningful way, it might as well just be an introduction to Jacob Black’s character because that in effect is all that happens.  The situation at the start of the film of Bella wanting to become a vampire so she can be with Edward is exactly the same as the situation at the end, if the film makers hadn’t added in a bit of action there would be virtually nothing to this movie at all.

Aside from the fundamental problems with the very story on which the film is based I have other issues about how the film is presented.  Remember all those great characters from the first Twilight film? No?  Well nevermind because they won’t be appearing in this movie anyway.  In an odd decision, the movie seems to completely ignore all the other characters they went to the bother of introducing in the first film.  A funny point I found was that people repeatedly tell Bella not to be so reckless and crazy because she should think about Charlie- in my head I had to try hard to figure out who Charlie was but apparently it’s her dad.  None of the characters, outside of Bella and Jacob and to a much lesser extent Edward, are advanced at all and despite scenes of her continually abandoning her school friends and turning reclusive they all immediately forgive her for no adequately explained reason (apart from the fact that everyone seems to find her attractive- despite the whole manic depression thing).

Another issue is the soundtrack, it isn’t that the soundtrack is bad, in fact it has some great artists on it, including Bon Iver, St. Vincent, Muse, Lykke Li and Thom Yorke.  However, the way the music is incorporated into the film I thought generally detracted from the film rather than adding to the experience.  It seems the only way they could figure out to put the music in was to stop everything else that was happening and have some pointless montage while the song played.  They might as well have just put an advert for the movie soundtrack in the film because making such an excessive point of it felt like exactly the same thing.

After all that ranting, I should probably summarise that I thought Twilight: New Moon was a poor movie and considerably worse than the original movie, in my opinion.  It is far from deserving of the hype it has received and should be treated with the realistic vision that there are few redeeming features of this other than its affiliation with a popular series of books and, if you’re a teenage girl, the attractive young male actors.

Peace Out!