Old and new albums of the month: January 2017

I'm starting a new feature in which I share mini-reviews of the albums I heard during the month.

Oczy Mlody by The Flaming Lips (2017)
I’ve listened to the majority of their LPs and this is among The Flaming Lips’ least memorable. Wants to be atmospheric, but too many dull moments. The vocal is uninspired and the only zeal I noticed was on the track The Castle. The first half of the album is weak. The opening two songs are too similar. Sunrise is ok yet sounds like rehash. One Night While Hunting surprised me and is when the album finally kicks into gear. The second half of the album is stronger for production choices and atmosphere and lifts my rating up to a five.

2013 by Meilyr Jones (2016)
Thanks to The Swede for the recommendation. Jones is a Welsh singer, and formerly of the band Race Horses. 2013 is his award winning debut album, which is in the vein of Neil Hannon’s chamber pop.
Especially impressed by Passionate Friend, Strange Emotional, and Olivia. Some of the other material on this left me cold. The orchestral arrangements are well done. The melody on opener How to Recognise a Work of Art was too similar to Elton John's Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting.

This Girl's in Love (A Bacharach & David Songbook) by Rumer (2016)
A likeable retro listen, her voice is easy on the ear. Not all of these songs justify the remake treatment, because sometimes they are too close to the originals. Other times, they add a new interpretation.

Future Snowbird Charlotte Cornfield (2016)
Alt-Country. A talented, underrated lyricist. Aslan and Mercury are the stand outs.

Sailin' Shoes by Little Feat (1972)
Southern Rock. Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant named Little Feat as one of their favorite bands. The album has a couple of strong moments, especially Easy to Slip and Tripe Face Boogie. But I can't help feeling there's some Rolling Stones imitation. I wouldn't describe this sophomore album as a classic, but it certainly is better written and with more energy than their dull debut.

Little Feat by Little Feat (1970)

Songs From a Room by Leonard Cohen (1969)
Cohen’s second album continues the template of his classic 1967 debut. Melancholy lyrics and acoustic guitar. The instrumentation is a bit more varied and produced, with Cohen's words still as the driving force. The poetic lyrics have a mystery about them and have aged remarkably well. His vocal as a young man is very different to his vocal as an old man. Stand outs include Bird on the Wire, The Partisan, & Seems so long ago Nancy.

Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen (1971)
Cohen's best album of the 1970s. A timeless desert island disc, which can reveal new truths in all stages of your adult life. The poetic and meaningful lyrics, the varied melodies, the emotional weight, an almost perfect album. It may be too dark and melancholy for some, but for those who are willing to go to those places it's rewarding.

New Skin for the Old Ceremony by Leonard Cohen (1974)
Is This What You Wanted and Lover Lover Lover venture into pop, I had mixed feelings about the repetitiveness of those songs. As with his song Diamonds in The Mine from Songs of Love and Hate (1971), he's experimenting with a louder vocal which is admirable but ultimately I wasn't a fan of. I connected less with New Skin for the Old Ceremony than his previous three albums. Stand out is Who by Fire. An album I need to listen to a few more times so the rating is tentative.

Death of a Ladies' Man by Leonard Cohen (1977)
Phil Spector's 'wall of sound' production is too domineering and drowns out Leonard Cohen's vocal and words.
Cohen has since said “My reputation as a ladies' man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone”

Recent Songs by Leonard Cohen (1979)
A pleasant listen and quite a romantic album. The melodies are not especially memorable and there are no signature hits, so I wouldn't call Recent Songs Cohen's best. But I like the lyrics, instrumentation and slowness. The album is different to his previous and might be a grower.
On the track The Lost Canadian (Un Canadien Errant) he surprisingly sings in French. The middle section of the record (The Traitor, Our Lady of Solitude) is especially beautiful.

Various Positions by Leonard Cohen (1984)
You can tell there’s an attempt to make the album have a stronger commercial appeal than his 1979 album. The 1980s was the decade of the big chorus and on Various Positions Leonard Cohen gives us some of his most memorable. Hallelujah is haunting but overrated. My favorites are Dance Me to the End of Love & The Law. Hunter's Lullaby sounds like a track that could have been on Recent Songs. The closer If It Be Your Will is another of his signature tunes, although to me the cover done by Antony is more powerful.

I'm Your Man by Leonard Cohen (1988)

The Future by Leonard Cohen (1992)

Ten New Songs by Leonard Cohen (2001)
Starts out well. In My Secret Life and A Thousand Kisses Deep are two of my favorite Cohen songs of his post 2000s material. I love the lyric "then you slip into the masterpiece"
Unfortunately the album can't sustain that early promise, the rest is bland, minor Cohen. His weakest since 1977's Death of a Ladies' Man.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Top 100 songs of 2016 (tracks 90-81)

Jesus Alone by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Atmospheric and epic. Arguably the most beautiful lyric of the year: "You're a distant memory in the mind of your creator, don't you see?"

Nothing's Real by Shura
Retro 80s synthpop. The title track from her debut. An upbeat tune which is actually about having a panic attack. Thanks to Josh at Cinematic Spectacle for suggesting the album.

1944 by Jamala
Don't usually care for the Eurovision Song Contest. The Ukranian winner surprised me. Powerful and gives a voice to the distress in Ukraine.

Untitled 02 by Kendrick Lamar
Leftover from To Pimp A Butterfly sessions. Best opening lyric of 2016: "Pimp-pimp hooray!"

City of Stars / La La Land (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
A weak year for soundtracks, but surely City of Stars will be remembered for years to come.
The director of the film was quoted as saying in an NPR interview: "That, I think, was a really powerful, beautiful idea to me, that if you feel enough you break into song"

Memory by Violent Femmes
Reviewers were not kind to this album which is the bands first in 16 years. Memory is an endearing little tune which fits nicely in their canon.

Intermission by Emma Pollock
She is a Scottish singer-songwriter and the track I shared is sad yet haunting.
Emma said: “A lot of the album is inspired by the death of my mum last February and the illness which preceded it. My mum had heart disease and needed support over the years.
I’m an only child and much of my headspace was consumed by that. The thing that occupied me was that sudden flip of dependency from the parent to the child. It’s terrifying, devastating, when it occurs, but it’s inevitable for many parents and children and many of us will go through it.
Knowing it’s inevitable doesn’t make it any less shocking when it happens. It’s the clash between proper ordinary demanding life, and still wanting to be a dreamer." The experience gave rise to the song Intermission, included on her 2016 LP In Search of Harperfield.

Tired as F**k by The Tragically Hip
Another find from Canada on Said the Grammophone's top 100. For someone who spends a lot of time recovering and being tired, this was a song I connected with. And not just the lyrics, these guys can play too.

The Last One To Be Loved by Rumer (Burt Bacharach cover)
Rol at My Top Tens included the LP among his favoites of 2016 and encouraged his readers to check it out. Rumer's interpretation goes in a Karen Carpenter direction and is more affecting than the Dionne Warwick performance and Burt Bacharach instrumental version.  Rumer's is up there alongside Lou Johnson's as the best rendition. I enjoyed the instrumentation on the new version, reminded me of George Harrison solo.

Under Your Always Light by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Discovered the artist on Said the Grammophone. About Canada's missing and murdered indigenous females. Like a hypnotic Malick voice-over, accompanied by modern music.

Find anything you liked? Already know some of these? As always, comments are welcome. Tracks 80-71 coming soon!

Holiday in London

This blog has been quiet lately. I do have an excuse, I recently went on a five day holiday to London with the family. We decided on staying at the Holiday Inn Express London - Vauxhall Nine Elms, which we booked in advance and cost approx. £35 per person a night. Only about two km from Big Ben! Our rooms were booked away from the main road so we (hopefully) could get a good night’s sleep. There was TV, Wi-Fi and bathroom in the room, and all-you-can-eat breakfast downstairs. I think we got a good deal. Purchased Oyster Travelcards, which you can use on underground and buses. The first night we went to an Indian restaurant nearby, the place we had looked up apparently was closed, but luckily only a few doors away there was another. Typical Indian food served in UK.

On the Monday we got an early start and had agreed on The Museum of London, which is fairly new and none of us had been to before. Basically covers the history of London going back centuries. Most was free, although you could pay for an exhibition on the 1666 fire of London, which we skipped. Most interesting to me was a temporary exhibition about the Punk subculture. In the 20th Century area they had a corner on the Brixton Riots in 1981, which turns out happened not far from our hotel in Vauxhall. The contemporary exhibitions were smaller than expected, but inspired me to dig deeper when I got home. The evening meal was at Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian restaurant serving a wide range of organic food, near Victoria Station.

We had tickets for Wicked. A popular musical that has been running for several years. A prequel to The Wizard of Oz about the younger years of the witches and their school life. Based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel. Suitable for all ages. Stupidly I had left my glasses at the hotel, and as we were quite far back, I decided to use the binoculars that are available. The actors were versatile, good singers, actors, with comic timing. I liked the colors and sets, the wizard was quite scary and a young boy nearby in the audience had to be comforted by his dad! It wasn't all spectacle and there was also some depth to the story about prejudice and the nature of evil. The music was played by a live orchestra. To me, the tunes weren’t instantly catchy, you probably have to listen a few times for the melodies to sink in. Defying Gravity was memorable for the chorus. Apparently there’s a film version in the works set for a 2019 release with Stephen Daldry as director. We took a break from tourism on the Tuesday.

Wednesday was a particularly busy day. First off we briefly stopped by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I bought the guidebook for £5, deciding it was not worth paying a lot to go in and see an empty theatre. Had a coffee in the café.

Next we strolled over the Millennium Bridge, which a few may remember featured in the opening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The picture is taken standing on the bridge with Tower Bridge in the distance.

Had an all-you-can-eat lunch for £8. Our next stop was the Charles Dickens Museum which cost £9 for an adult. This was a place my dad was especially curious to visit and Dickens’ house was like stepping into the past. Apparently Dickens had ten children and I didn't know he was politically active.

Nearby was the British Library. Especially educational to learn about the history of the Magna Carta, which they had on display in a room with audio/video soundbites. It was a first to be searched before entering a library, but in these times they have to safeguard the irreplaceable historical documents. Also available to see was the Gutenberg Bible from 1450s, considered the first printed book in Europe. The information was limited on the various other artefacts. We didn’t have time to explore the other exhibitions in the library, since we had tickets to a theatre play at the Royal Court Theatre.

I booked a play I thought would appeal to the family, so in the evening we saw The Children by Lucy Kirkwood. Critical of contemporary excess and pollution, a warning about the world we are leaving behind for our children. About retired people living in a dystopian future. Literally a kitchen sink drama as the story took place almost entirely in a kitchen! I’m not a regular theatre goer and was impressed how the actors could memorize 100 minutes of dialogue. I got the book from the shop for £3, normal price £10. Kirkwood is a talented playwright. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The audience seemed to be laughing a lot more than we were though, maybe not our kind of humor.

On Thursday, we had to leave the UK. Went to Sainsbury’s in Vauxhall and found Macbeth and Midsummer Night’s Dream on dvd. Also bought Leonard Cohen cd You Want It Darker. Found Classic Rock Magazine, which included a small book on 100 Greatest Albums Of The 1980s for £6. In the airport, I got The History of Rock for 1980, a year in music I have been covering for a blog series. Had dinner at Giraffe restaurant at Gatwick. Loud music was jarring and pricey food just ok.
That was pretty much all we had time for. Even though London isn't cheap and we had trouble finding the right buses a few times, it was an enjoyable trip.

Have you been to London and what did you see? Do we have any overlaps in terms of places we've been to? 

Top 100 songs of 2016 (tracks 100-91)

My choices this year don't reflect what's popular on the billboard charts. You could argue Rihanna's Work is the most recognizable hit of 2016, but I find it annoying rather than entertaining. That said I did like a couple of other cuts on her album Anti.

With the arrival of the internet, listening to music has become so fragmented and niche that finding music we all love is rare these days.

I wanted to wait and share the list once I had gone through the albums I wanted to. I also took the time to explore other people's year-end lists so expect a few shout outs to other blogs. The top 100 are songs that moved me emotionally, stayed with me for the arrangement, lyrical content, or because I'm a fan of the vocalist. I listened to 66 albums released in 2016 and I'm only including songs that held up to repeat listens. I've split the top 100 into ten posts, so as not to overwhelm you with everything all at once.

The links are a mix of YouTube, Soundcloud and Spotify, depending on where I could find the music. Hope you enjoy!

Nothing More to Say by The Frightnrs
Underappreciated retro rocksteady/reggae. Much of the album was recorded after the lead singer was diagnosed with ALS. He passed away in the summer, so their debut is bittersweet. The title track is the catchiest on the LP.

Glowed Up (feat. Anderson .Paak) by Kaytranada
Sounds like Kendrick Lamar, in a good way. Anderson .Paak's 2016 album Malibu underwhelmed me, although I liked what he did here as a guest vocalist.

First Crush by Empire of the Sun
A melody that got stuck in my head. Unfortunately the rest of the album was not praiseworthy.

Get Back by Memoryhouse
Drift away, soothing dream pop. The highlight on their latest.

Places To Go by Yuna
Yuna is a Malaysian singer-songwriter. The lyrics are universal. We've all got places to go, right?

So Good by Warpaint
If you like the English rock band Savages, you might like this one.

 低い午後 (hikui gogo) by Taiko Super Kicks
Thanks saidthegramophone! I'm not accustomed to listening to Japanese pop music. Has wide appeal and it doesn't matter you can't understand the words.

The Community of Hope by PJ Harvey
I included the album among my 2016 disappointments. This single was one of the bright spots.

This House by Peter Lister
Recommended by John Medd at his blog. A minimalist folk tune which I found quite affecting.

The Longest Wave by Red Hot Chili Peppers
A divisive album. A couple from the tracklist caught my attention. The other was Encore

Listened to any of these albums? Which are your favorites of the year? As always, comments are welcome. Tracks 90-81 coming soon!


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