Considering the world is about to end, it's a good thing I'm finally all caught up. . .
Folkways reissue of an initially self-issued album of traditional tunes. Absolutely wonderful guitar throughout and a really diverse selection of tunes. He has a way of presenting otherwise kind of bleak songs in a really pleasant, appealing way. The album closing tune 'Turkish Revery' illustrates this nicely. The whole album is on Spotify and it's a very engaging and nice listen. Pretty good for a guy that sounds "prissy" (**smirk**). #fuckallmusic
Magazine — Secondhand Daylight (1979)
Howard DeVoto was a not a very cheery fellow in these days. Here's 'Permafrost.' And yes, he says things that I refuse to repeat here. But dude, ignoring his obvious social issues, musically this thing just blows Joy Division away, doesn't it? Have a listen to the epic centerpiece (and probably Magazine's best song overall) 'Back to Nature' and judge for yourself. Convenient now to recognize just how well they were blending Karftwerk and Roxy Music. I can honestly say, if I had been there, I would have been a huge fan. It's not that far ahead of its time, but it's a good two or three years so. Glammy guitars + angsty lyrics + chilly synths= meet the future. Bands still want to sound this passionate and fail miserably. I venture to say it's an era we'll never see again. Haha, they were contemporaries of Joy Division and people don't care!
Rain Tree Crow — Blackwater EP (1991)
One of the best songs ever gets the single treatment. Yeah, it's only four tracks (three of which are on the proper album), but any chance I get to talk about this glorious and unfortunately forgotten classic, I'll take. This long-deleted digipack single is very cool, with a four panel fold-out design and it has the one non-album track the band recorded. Sure, I've had that song digitally for years. But it's nice to finally have a hard copy. If you've never heard the Rain Tree Crow album before, do yourself a favor and check it out. It's on Spotify in full (with 'I Drink to Forget' appended!). One of the watershed albums of British post-punk's last days, an important mark in the post-rock landscape and one of my favorite albums of all time. David Sylvian is god. RIP Mick Karn.
Andrew Bird — Hands of Glory (2012)
Andrew Bird is my nominee for musical MVP of the year. As something released late in the year, with little fanfare, after the man has already released one of the year's best albums, a fantastic non-album single and has been on tour for most of the calendar year, it was not expected that he would release another thirty-five minutes of new music this soon. Yes, there's some covers and a redo (a decidedly reserved and superior take on 'Orpheo Looks Back'), but to say that anything here is lesser or not worthy of inclusion on Break it Yourself would be an out and out lie. This is just what the band was doing for fun during those sessions and the fact that it's just as resonating, even more folky and even more organic than the full length that birthed these sessions is just magical. They played this, completely acoustic during the encore when I saw him earlier this year. It plays up the Americana and theatrical spaghetti western feel that Break it Yourself seemed to imply on songs like 'Three White Horses' and 'When that Helicopter Comes' and there's another long instrumental that's a reprise of 'Three White Horses' and a showcase for Andrew's loop station, one man pocket symphonies. Magical. Play it immediately after Break it Yourself: gloriously colorful images of folky, technology-immersed Americana will fill your head. Jesus christ, how much better can he get?!
Fotheringay — self-titled (1970)
I hate my rating system sometimes. 1 star = bad. 5 stars = good. But blindly handing out a fiver to albums like this simply does not do them justice. To understand why this gets the score it does, you need to go out, buy this album. Look at the cover. Read the liner notes. Put it on your headphones, take a walk with it. That's what I did, and. . . You know what? I'm good. I'm just. . . really satisfied right now. Track one is epic and resonating. Sandy Denny is god, too. Alcoholic, flawed god, sure, but is there any other kind? How can every song she sang be that gorgeous? And yet, here's pretty much her first album under her own direction. To say that this is probably the best album I've acquired since HB doesn't even begin to describe how good it is (because, let's face it: people still haven't really understood that one). Previously, when I thought of "British Folk Rock", I thought Pentangle because that's the best encounter I had had with such a thing (and that itself is not far off from being the best band to ever do it). But little did I know that there was an entire album as good as those previously only isolated Sandy Denny moments on Fairport albums. I mean, honestly, this thing not only has some of Sandy's best songs ever, it actually gives me genuine chill-inducing, David Axelrod-esque moments of literal brilliance on 'The Pond and the Stream'. And then it has 'Banks of the Nile' at the end! Probably my album of the year, if dates didn't matter. The best record I've heard in well over a year, at least. This CD reissue contains four complimentary live tracks. Any self-respecting music fan should get it immediately. Even my highest praise does this no respect. Obviously best ever.
The Louvin Brothers — Satan is Real (1959)
Probably more known for its campy cover art than its actual music, this came to my attention after I realized that the Byrds had covered a song from this album. And guess what? It's a darn fine harmony country album. The title track, with its mid-song sermon, is a bit goofy, but that's pretty much the only tune here that's a misfire. Just have a listen to the glorious harmonies on songs like 'The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea' or 'I'm Ready to go Home' and bask in their warmth. The religious aspect doesn't really affect how well the material is played and sung — it would be good regardless. The whole thing's on Spotify, so check it out. Fancy guitar tone throughout the entire album as well.
Travis — Closer EP (2007)
Travis b-sides! Yay! While I anticipate their forthcoming full length with growing impatience, I'll take a couple "new to me" songs any day! These come from the sessions for Boy With No Name, so as that's one of my favorite albums by the band, my expectations were pretty high. These two songs are alright. 'The Day Today' is a jubilant strummer, complete with a horn section; passable. The good one is 'This Love' which, in its first half, sounds like the basis for 'Quite Free' and that's just fun. One of the band's best choruses, as well. The second half of the tune develops into a triumphant, fist-pumping, string section-enhanced anthem. Anybody else wouldn't be able to pull it off, out of lack of sheer sincerity. Fucking Travis: cornballs that really mean it.
Belle and Sebastian — Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (2000)
Apparently, the sessions for this album were exceedingly difficult. It splintered the band and led its leader to doubt himself for years to follow. You'd never know that listening to the album's leadoff track. If this band ever sees a "best of" set, that should be on it. Where does the album lose its way, you ask? Well, when Stuart stops directing the band and starts letting it direct itself. A lot of it sounds like Arab Strap outtakes. And that makes sense because it followed that album by about eighteen months. But I'm thinking too deeply about this. Is it good? Yeah, definitely. Kind of in the second tier of the band's overall catalogue, but definitely recommended if you already know you like them. The lovely 'Waiting for the Moon to Rise' is a memorable one in that regard, while 'Don't Leave the Light On Baby' boasts string and horn charts that would make David Axelrod jealous. Most of it has a very nice, unremarkable jangly backdrop that goes down easily, but doesn't really leave a lasting impression.
Belle and Sebastian — The Life Pursuit (2006)
In which our protagonists go exceedingly twee and seem obsessed with noticeably faster tempos and keyboards. Not bad, obviously, but in retrospect, it very much feels like a prototype for the near perfection of the formula. Otherwise catchy numbers like 'White Collar Boy' and 'For the Price of a Cup of Tea' seemed dragged down by such heavy handed arrangements. When an actual vintage jangly strummer does pop up, it's pretty darned great and sticks out fairly easily because of its surroundings. Damn good song. There is a serious slant here towards purposely "retro" sounding arrangements and that's a gift and a curse. Because, while the band is very good at sounding like a 60's pop act, it feels a little cheap for them to be so derivative when they had previously been so good at being unique, despite their obvious influences. I'm mixed on this one, overall. But it's still Stuart and the gang and it's still decent, in the larger scheme. Nice to finally have a hard copy of it.
Fairport Convention — What We Did On Our Holidays (1969)
Obvious classic is obvious. The album begins with 'Fotheringay' which has got to be one of the most beautiful songs ever written. The longingly romantic way Sandy sings it, the subtle harmonies — absolute perfection. Elsewhere, they totally own a Bob Dylan song and then Richard Thompson and Sandy duet on one of the defining songs in folk rock. Again, my rating system sucks when it comes to albums like this. It's purely transcendent music that will endure past most things and just get better with age. Will be listening to this album regularly for many years to come. Outstanding.