Top 10 Albums of 2012 So Far….Part 1

Here’s 10-6. The rest later.

10. Loudon Wainwright III – Older Than My Old Man Now

I have loved the last two LW3 albums – (“High Wide And Handsome” and “Songs For the New Depression”). In his later years, he has made thematic albums, and this time, to honour him being older than his father when he died, it’s about age. 15 songs all about getting older – either wanting life to last twice as long (‘Double Lifetime’), being nostalgic for sex (‘I Remember Sex’) or time travel (‘Date Line’) – it’s amazing that he picked a theme this time that gives and gives.

It’s his usual mix. A couple of witty and clever numbers, then a couple of jaw dropping songs of stark directness. ‘FCC – in C’ is my favourite of the lot. He even rocks out a little on ‘The Here And Now’. But mainly it’s his love of folk, bluegrass and since ‘High Wide And Handsome’ that banjo.

9. Lightships – Electric Cables

Lightships is Gerald Love of Teenage Fanclub. It’s his first solo record, and on his own, it’s pretty clear what he brings to his day job. It’s VERY pretty. Very twinkly. It’s close to Belle & Sebastian in many moments – or Real Estate. It’s dreamy, jangly pop or the Sarah Records variety. It sounds a little like a throwback to the British jangly 80s, but it’s warm and lovely in a modern way.

It’s a confident debut. Every note, every guitar line, every harmony is perfectly placed. It takes it time. On first listen it sounds a bit samey (it’s broken up nicely on vinyl) – but go for a walk in the sun with it. Especially by the water. It’s quiet and medative, bit it’s deep and interesting too. The vocals are lightly buried in the wall of jangly guitars – it’s an album about sound.

But some moments do threaten to break free of it’s relaxed mood – the stunning ‘Sweetness In Her Spark’ is a sure bet for the end of year playlist.

8. Regina Spektor – What We Saw From The Cheap Seats

This is at 8 because I feel like I’m still getting to know this album. And maybe because it’s not the knock-out Regina Spektor album that I keep waiting for. The single ‘All The Rowboats’ was a bit of a dummy pass. That restless, relentless single is unlike the rest of the album. Stripping away the production excesses of “Far”, there are plenty of Regina and piano moments here. She lets her voice and her songs shine through.

Pretty moments shine through on first listens. ‘How’ is breathtaking – the kind of ballad that would have probably been boring in other hands. There’s some touching intimacy, such as ‘Firewood’. And then just when it all gets a bit serious and well crafted, there’s ‘Rowboats’ and the brilliant, brilliant ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’. I mean, just calling a song that is a risky move – how could anything beat the Brel song? But it’s a bit of pure pop bliss.

It’s not as good as Begin To Hope – something has been lost. But it’s a solid yet eclectic album. I can’t wait to get to know it better.

7. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

This album has like 7 or 8 of the best songs I’ve heard all year. None of them sound like they’re from the same album. And then a couple of the worse songs I’ve heard all year as well. And that’s Springsteen for ya. He attempts to reach the heights few others do – and he’s willing to risk failing by doing it. So, we have another late era, wildly inconsistent album by the boss. But still full of lyrical fire and rock ‘n’ roll power.

I find this album rattling around in my head all the time. Those thundering moments – the chorus of ‘Shackled And Drawn’, the cry of ‘Easy Money’ and the title track itself. There’s a folky feel to the rockers – like a strng band giving it all. He’s lost little of his fire over the years

Then there’s a couple of wonderful songs about spooky suburbia. ‘Jack Of All Trades’ is probably his best character study since ‘Devils And Dust’. ‘You’ve Got It’ is a man that is not afraid to look you in the eye and tell it to you straight. Great songs by a man who is still pumping out great songs, 40 years into his career.

Then why the fuck is there crap like the hip hop fusion of ‘Rocky Ground’? This album is all over the place. But hey, great in the iPod era – great when you shuffle through a 2012 playlist. Can you fault the man for trying? Maybe just 6 places you can.

6. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

OK, so first of all, terrible album title. And cover. It’s enough to put me off trying this band out, despite all the great notices they’ve been getting from folks I respect. But I’m glad I did. This is a soulful rock record. I’ve been obsessed by the Stones of late, and the Alabama Shakes have been occupying the same place in my ears and heart.

Brittany Howard’s voice. What an instrument. You just know this voice will be with us for a couple of decades. But it’s not just Brittany’s show. The band are firing on all cylinders here. Tasteful but all over the place. Simple but rocking hard. It’s one for the riff heads – the guitar playing is extraordinary.

The band have some sort of hazy ‘save me’ sort of thing going on. It’s very gospel – which suits their sound. It’s not the most lyrically compelling moment – but hopefully that will come. But it’s rock ‘n’ soul – and something new as well. Finally some swing is back – and for once, I’m not alone in thinking this is a good thing.

100 for 2000 – #66. Regina Spektor – Begin To Hope

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.

2006 – #6. Regina Spektor – Begin To Hope
(Sire)

Emily was quite surprised with me, as we stood in line, outside that synagogue in Marble Arch. How can I not have heard Regina Spektor? It was a good question. Somehow she just missed me by. I think I got her mixed up with Ronnie Spector. So here we were then, lining up to see her. I had not heard a note of her music. I was still so new to London, and she was doing a short showcase at a beautiful synagogue. It was the launch of her album Begin To Hope.

She only did 8 or 9 songs that night, but I was blown away. I was actually in love by the first song – Summer In the City. A lonely, sexy ballad about missing a faraway lover, it wrapped up my time so far in London. Missing friends, wishing it was summer, drinking too much.

The rest of that gig was filled mainly with material from Begin To Hope, and each was better than the next. For the next year or so, this album became a big part of my life. It seemed the deeper I dug, the more rewards I found.

I have a soft spot for girl-y singer songwriter stuff. I always have, and it’s somewhere between a crush and being in love. Or maybe it’s more like a soap opera. And I’m not in love with Regina Spektor, the person (or Angie Hart, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Beth Orton etc) – I’m in love with the mysterious girl who exists for about 45 minutes on their records.

But to really get the most out of Regina Spektor, you have to meet her halfway. Her strange erratic melodies, and her imagery – cereal boxes, dolphins, wonder bread, November Rain. But between the clever stuff, there is real heart. The climax of On the Radio sums it up. After questioning funny things about life and love, she backtracks and spells it out

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood

It’s probably one of the most beautiful expressions of love and life I’ve ever heard.

I still carry this album with me. For albums about love, girls and matters of the heart, it’s the most important album for me in the late 20s. Every minor and major encounter with love has been reflected on this album. The intimacy of drool on another’s pillow (Samson), a night in with a little bag of cocaine (Hotel Song), trying to kiss anywhere except the mouth (That Time)…and so much more.

A few years after that synagogue show, Regina came up in conversation. I brought up that show, that awesome first show. Well, turns out Mike somehow had a recording of the show. Which I now have as well. It’s pretty cool to have a recording of a show that changed your life.

The Great Leap Forwards Top Ten Of 2009 (so far)

Lily Album - Its definitely her

Lily Album - It's definitely her

We are a blog after all. So lets make some lists.

Top 10 albums of the year so far

1. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
2. God Help the Girl – s/t
3. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
4. Bell X1 – Blue Lights On the Runway
5. Rhett Miller – s/t
6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
7. Wilco – Wilco (the Album)
8. The Mummers – Tale To Tell
9. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
10. Bob Evans – Goodnight, Bull Creek!

We’ll leave the full babble for the end of the year. But Lily Allen‘s new, confident, mature, nasty, fun record has topped our list so far, with Stuart Murdoch’s new project God Help the Girl coming in a very close second. Jarvis Cocker starts all over as a British Nick Cave figure. So far a wonderful year for music and so much more to come.

So many albums only just missed out. Here’s our top 10 songs not on our top 10 albums list.

1. Phoenix – Lisztomania
2. Yves Klein Blue – Getting Wise
3. Regina Spektor – Dance Anthem Of the 80s
4. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – A Teenager In Love
5. Casiotone For the Painfully Alone – Natural Light
6. Franz Ferdinand – Katherine Kiss Me
7. Doves – 10:03
8. Camera Obscura – You Told A Lie
9. Gomez – Airstream Driver
10. Jason Lytle – Yours Truly, The Commuter