100 for 2000 – #100. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #10. Mumford & Sons
(Island)

2009 was a frankly stunning year for music. So many great albums that didn’t make the ten, mainly cos there could only be ten. From life long faves (Wilco, Bob Evans, Rhett Miller, Pearl Jam and Phoenix) to newer bands who came back with awesome albums (Franz Ferdinand, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Clem Snide, Vic Chesnutt, Bottle Rockets) and surprising new acts (Passion Pit, Joel Plaskett, Yves Klein Blue)…I can only hope 2010 is half as good.

Then there was Mumford & Sons, and their record Sigh No More. Coming out at the end of 2009, with an unlikely radio hit in Little Lion Man, I was struck by how honest this album was/is. Whatever else you want to say about this band, they are all heart, in an era where that matters less than ever.

The obvious touch stone here is bluegrass – in it’s most sing-along, euphoric form. The playing is impeccable. They’ve translated it to a bigger setting, but it’s still the place where this all begins.

But if that was it, then they would just be the new Old Crow Medicine Show. Something else has gotten through, and it’s the lyrics. Completely lacking in irony, pretty much every song is about love, sung passionately and directly.

Love that will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you
It will set you free

That’s from the opening, title track, and shows from the onset these guys aren’t fucking around with anything but the greatest themes of all. And they’ve got choruses big enough to hold them too.

Little Lion Man still sounds fantastic, but I avoided it on radio. Roll Away Your Stone and Awake My Soul are even better.

Honesty is always an illusion in music, but whatever it is this band is trying to say, they are doing it with classic rock ‘n’ roll passion. And so, the decade ends with a reminder that writing from the heart and playing the fuck out of those songs still works.

Little Lion Man. Future sounds a lot like the past.

Advertisements

100 for 2000 – #99. La Roux – La Roux

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #9. La Roux – La Roux
(Polydor)

I sometimes think that at another time, another year, I might have hated this record. But for some reason, this was a year for the girls. And as much as it’s flashy commercial pop, there is something really gritty and 80s about La Roux. I love how it nods to Yaz, whose Only You I have been in love with all my life, but only got a best of a year or so before I heard this album.

Front woman Elly Jackson‘s voice is a problem for some, but it’s really what makes this band for me. It doesn’t sound like the same old Kelly Clarkson generic popster. It is a hugely distinctive voice. There’s something kind of ugly about it, and yet singing such pretty melodies – it makes for something quite captivating.

2009 was not a year for rock. There just wasn’t that many good rock records. And my interests in electronica continues. So for that, I embraced this record, with all it’s blips and blops. And they are great blips and blops.

The big singles are all flawless slices of pop. Bulletproof was the unexpected breakout hit. It’s a rush, with a big chorus hook, and everyone from buskers to M Ward covered it immediately. I’m Not Your Toy and In For the Kill are just as good.

What the hell is Jackson singing about? I have no idea. Bulletproof sounds like some sort of empowering anthem, but it’s probably best to not read the lyrics off the page. There’s just enough to keep you hooked though. Tigerlily‘s awesome, awesome refrain of ‘burning with desire for a kiss‘ tells you all you need to know about the song.

There’s even a couple of great, quieter moments. As If By Magic dials the energy down for a touching moment. The haunting, dramatic Armour Love is a perfect way to (almost) end the album.

Seeing La Roux at Shepherd’s Bush Empire late last year was fantastic. That brittle voice held up, and watching Jackson throw herself (and that dangerous hairdo) around the stage was great. Every girl in the place sang every word to Bulletproof in defiance of…well…something I’m sure. Who cares. Pop music doesn’t need to be that deep.

Elly Jackson of La Roux doesn’t do much dancing in the Bulletproof clip. Still a blistering pop song.

100 for 2000 – #98. Loudon Wainwright III – High Wide & Handsome, The Charlie Poole Project

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #8. Loudon Wainwright III – High Wide And Handsome, The Charlie Poole Project
(Proper)

Funny what a few weeks can do. At the end of 2009, Loudon Wainwright III’s double album High Wide And Handsome was something I liked but barely had time to get to know. After a string of events, I gave it some time and I’m in love. Barely 8 weeks into the new year and I’m already rewriting history.

Some fact. This album is a tribute to Charlie Poole, and old timey rambler who you can find on the Harry Smith Anthology. As well as well known Poole songs, Wainwright wrote a couple of songs in his honour, and then a couple that taps into his spirit.

What’s great about this record though, is that you don’t have to know anything about Charlie Poole. It’s a proper modern Americana album, with eternal themes of good times, hard liquor, sentimentality and sadness. And at 30 songs, it never sounds samey – going from Brill Building pop to Gospel, bluegrass, honky tonk and quite a few other stops in between.

Terry Gross’s awesome radio program, Fresh Air (on NPR) did a long feature on this album. It was a great interview, which is what made me go out and pick this record up. More surprisingly, it topped Fresh Air’s best albums of the year list (along with, amazingly, Taylor Swift). Finally, the sad passing of Kate McGarrigle spurred me on yet again to give this album a few spins.

So yeah – if you like old timey stuff, you’ll like this. Wainwright‘s cheeky wit is still there. But it’s a bit more of a collaboration. And it’s sometimes a little odd how stright he plays it in some songs. But hey, he’s getting old and aging gracefully.

Here’s some songs I love, if you feel like checking them out. Ramblin’ Blues, Old and Only In the Way, The Man In the Moon, I’m the Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World. Then there’s the title track, written affectionately for Poole, but can apply to Wainwright as well. Both men lived life to the fullest.

So Wainwright won a Grammy for this old album. And he’s sounding really great on here. Maybe it’s a new chapter for him. I hope so.

No videos sadly, but this is a little trailer about the album, with some great insight.

100 for 2000 – #97. The Mummers – Tale To Tell

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #7. The Mummers – Tale To Tell
(Big Bass Drum)

I’ve tried many times to describe this band, and I always make a meal of it. Bjork meets Alice In Wonderland? Somehow that seems to miss the mark, although that’s how I’ve seen it described. It’s orchestrated pop with circus theatrics. In the middle of it is Raissa, as wonderful a voice as I’ve ever heard. The Mummers had a Tale To Tell, and it’s an amazing one.

Raissa actually had a music career that already ended, having a pop hit almost 10 years ago. Returning home to a life of the ordinary, she began thinking of this fantasy land in her head, and started writing songs. She met up with a few old musical connections, and met one new one – producer Mark Horwood. Together with Horwood, Raissa created this majestic soundscape, with the help of 20 odd musicians that filed in and out of Horwood‘s tree house studio.

The album itself, is magical. I caught the band on Jools Holland, and it blew my little mind. Raissa sang with all the joy of the world, and the band chirped away behind her. March Of the Dawn was the single, and it sounds like nothing else on radio. Rufus Wainwright might think it’s needlessly cinematic. And it only gets better from there.

Wonderland is so sweeping, you can see the dancers in the ballroom if you close your eyes. This Is Heaven shimmers with such joy, like a childhood cartoon on a spring day. My personal favourite is Nightbus, where the streets and fantasy come together. The fantasy is over, but just until tomorrow, but right now it’s the night bus home.

The band slowly climbed the ladder, playing Glastonbury and gathering quite an audience. And then out of nowhere, a few shows were cancelled. Then news came out that Horwood had committed suicide.

I don’t know what to say about this. I don’t know the band, or Horwood, or anyone. All I know is I’ve met many young talented people in my life, many who couldn’t handle the world they were given. Most of them survived, some didn’t. And that funny time when a band is taking off, and everything changes – becomes real. It’s a funny time. I am, still, feeling very sad about this guy I’ve never known. It’s some consolation that he crafted such an excellent album before it was all over.

I dragged a couple of friends to their next show. It might have been their last. The band seemed committed, more than ever, to survive. Raissa, who already had one dream fall apart, didn’t look like she was about to let go of this one.

This is going to be one of those records. Like the first Association album, or Murmur, where everyone from the band, the producers and history itself, came together. It’s a special album, and now, it will be unique. I do hope the Mummers continue. And perhaps, Raissa will just reinvent herself again.

There were no clips for Tale To Tell, but here’s that Jools Holland performance that turned me onto them in the first place.

100 for 2000 – #96. Bell X1 – Blue Lights On the Runway

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #6. Bell X1 – Blue Lights On the Runway
(BellyUp)

Casey has this thing – it’s called a pie chart band. Take all the things you like in music, and the ratio of which you like them. So if you like guitars quite a bit, you like short songs, you like female singers…whatever it is. And then find a band that matches that. A band that has all the things you like, and in roughly the right amounts. In 2009, my pie chart band was Bell X1, and the album Blue Lights On the Runway got me there.

Bell X1, from Ireland, mine the same dark, clever pop as a band like Nada Surf. But they add a big dollop of electronica (later, I found out this was new to this record for them), an they are also gifted with Paul Noonan, who has an amazing gift for lyrics, and has a fantastic voice to boot.

The opening track hooked me from the get-go. Ribs Of a Broken Umbrella crashes in with an anthemic keyboard riff, stops and starts, screams, buzzes and grooves it’s way out the door five minutes later. Later I would discover the song was about an old man the band met in New York. He had travelled to New York decades ago to marry his true love, but he never found her. He stayed in the city, looking for her ever since.

This record sounds amazing (it’s produced by old Elvis Costello engineer Roger Bechirian). There is a lot of sonic detail – well placed guitar hook, the twiddle of keys, an electronic swirl… all serves to add colour to this record. But it fits in with the mood of the record – which is over information in our world of madness. In the Great Defector, Noonan sings in high speed about throwing up as a plane lands, marveling at all that’s going on around him. It’s a maddening blur.

Taking aside the awesome rockers, there’s also some excellent intimate moments. Most of it comes lyrically; Scaling the north face of your neck, sings Noonan, on How Your Heart Is Wired. Whether it’s silly images like flicking knickers like a one stringed harp, or the straight faced affection of Light Catches Your Face, everything’s clicking.

There’s also a healthy dose of self depreciation. They call themselves Blow Ins at one point. Elsewhere, Noonan wonders what it would be like to play in A Better Band.

So yay! A new band, one with many old albums to explore. 2009 was such a great year for music. But it’s always so great to find one of those pie chart bands. That I’ll be with this band for a few albums, a few years.

Ribs Of A Broken Umbrella by Bell X1. Everything great about this band comes together on this track. Pity the film clip is an edit version of the track.

100 for 2000 – #95. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #5. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug
(Domino)

Arctic Monkeys have become one of my favourite bands, sneaking in with 2 (or 3, if you count Last Shadow Puppets) perfect records, year on year. And I struggle to think of another modern UK guitar band I even like. These guys are so far ahead of the pack that they are their own thing. But, like all great bands, they’ve moved on just as everyone else is catching up. Humbug is something new.

Alex Turner built his reputation on kitchen sink poetry (the title of their first album is a nod to Alan Sillitoe), but that clever detail is all but gone. It’s all metaphor and imagery. Drinking and fighting has been replaced by sex. All those tight, taut rhythms have gone to a more stoner rock place.

Sex is all over this record. My Propeller is pretty much Turner’s penis. On Dangerous Animals he screams “Let’s make a mess, lioness“. Potion Approaching he tells a girl that “Your’s is the only ocean that I want to swing from“. And the music suits it – huge and echo-y and groove heavy.

The masterpiece here is Crying Lightning. It hangs over the record in the way, say, Cortez the Killer hangs over Zuma. Maybe in 30 years, kids will pick up this album because it’s the one with Crying Lightning on it. It’s yet another ode of mysterious women who get what they want, with an impossible riff, a chorus sung three different ways. In fact, Turner has never sung this well.

Then there’s the ballad Cornerstone. Although it’s familiar ground to LSP stuff (or their own b-side Bakery), it’s Turner‘s best ballad yet. Full of darkness and drama, it’s some madness about a guy wanting to sleep with a girl, yet call her by her sister’s name.

It’s an album full of twisted sexual politics, murky morals and desperate characters. And I guess it was the year for it. I did a lot of drinking this year. And met some girls that did me no good. It’s not the devil, but the sad darkness in all of us, well I took a dip. And this album was playing when I did it.

It’s amazing the distance this band has travelled in just four years. I Bet That You Look Good On the Dancefloor sounds like the work of a different band.

Chances of another album this year seems unlikely. But 2011…lets see them change again.

Crying Lightning. I don’t see this leaving the setlist for many, many years to come.

100 for 2000 – #94. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2009 – #4. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
(Rough Trade)

I’m a big Pulp fan. I liked both Jarvis Cocker and the band and his first solo album was good, but it was the logical Jarvis minus Pulp equation. It lacked a musical mission. Anyway, the man is back, and with a fire in his belly. Divorce, old age, and just general disgust is back. Further Complications indeed.

Cocker has never, ever rocked this hard. He has a new young band, and the lush indie disco that has been his staple for decades is gone (except for in one important song). Steve Albini being behind the dials might explain it. But the guitars, the rawness and the abrasive-ness is all suit the new Jarvis Cocker.

The lust is back. First single is the roaring Angela (is she a call girl? Where else does one get complimentary showers?), all guitars and fuzz. It follows on from the blistering title track, both leading you to think this might a be a record where Sherlock Holmes is fronting the Stooges.

Cocker sounds so confident on here, and you can tell that he is happy being so angry again. Eschewing the sweet but dark ballads of his last record, here Cocker goes for the throat. Nowhere is better than I Never Said I Was Deep, bursting the bubble on his nerd-chic, celebrating his need for sex and women.

Fuckingsong is another highlight. Using a song as a phallic symbol, and how shit that actually is. In Leftovers he is pleading with a younger women to give an old man some affection. It’s enough to make Loudon Wainwright III blush.

In short, he is taking the same place as someone like Nick Cave. Gracefully aging disgracefully. His best work has always been ones that make you think twice. Did he really say that? I met her at the museum of paleontology/and I make no bones about it. What?

When you think you have the album pegged, it all ends with You’re In My Eyes (Discosong). It would sound like a traditional Cocker number, if not for the fact that the synth samples, and in fact the whole song, is mixed so very low. The effect sounds like a dirty old man whispering in your ear a come on as a sleazy song plays in the background.

Cocker is cutting loose. After a misstep, we now have a new template of what a Jarvis Cocker solo record can be.

Further Complications by Jarvis Cocker. He’s never been so rock.