2008 - in retrospect (part 1)

cast yr mind back to midnight, december 31st, 2007, and - that's if you remember anything at all - you'll remember after all the drunken kisses and well wishes for the year forthcoming. what immediately followed (for me, anyway) was puns of varying degrees of quality on the year 2008. 'two-thousand-and-mate' was a popular one. 'two-thousand-and-hate' rhymed well enough, but didn't feel right. but the best one, and the one that stuck 'til way past the cider 'n' wine new years day hangover faded away, was 'two-thousand-and-great'. aside from being just an effective play on words, it made me feel genuinely confident and optimistic about the twelve months ahead. and in retrospect, that confidence was completely justified. pretty much everything about this year went great, from personal accomplishments, experiences and relationships, to the little extras that make life better - like music, books and film.
what follows is a list of those extras that made '08 great for me, starting with my favourite album and favourite gig. i'll try to steer away from the usual chutney you'll be reading on every blog, webzine and publication this time of year, cuz no one wants to read about Vampire Weekend and/or Fleet Foxes for the 643rd time this year, even if good things is all i'd have to say about them. however, one concession i will make is...

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (12th of May, UK commerical release)
my dead cert, all round favourite album of this year. i know, i know technically it was self-released in '07, but the general public (me, obv) didn't know about it til the commercial release from Jagjaguwar in May of this year. it took me a surprisingly long time to get into this album, considering how fon
d i am of it now. i bought it completely on a whim after reading the five-star review in Mojo, because it seemed to tick all the boxes i have for my lovelorn, one-man-and-a-guitar singer/songwriters. just like the critics and record-buying public, i was drawn in by the "recording in hibernation" PR story (which i'm sure i don't need to reiterate in detail here), and felt i had to get to know his songs. since then, it's had the same effect on me as 2005's Illinois by Sufjan Stevens - a life-enhancing album that you wish you could experience for the first time all over again. but its one of those records that, once you get beneath the surface of the songs and you know them inside and out, you won't be able to remember what life was like before you heard it.
which leads me on to...

Bon Iver, Wild Beasts & No Age @ Pressure Point, Brighton (15th of May)
...this. taking place as part of The Great Escape festival in Brighton's tiny (soon to be closed) Pressure Point venue, it's only in retrospect that i can genuinely appreciate what a special gig this was. at the time it just seemed like two relatively hip acts sharing the stage at a magazine-sponsered leg of a festival, nothing to blog about. but when the queue for entry started to form and snake along the pavement and up the street, often haphazardly spilling onto the roadside, i started to wonder. was everyone here just for Bon Iver? had everyone been enjoying the exact same listening experience as me for the past week or so? at this point i was still to find out the album had been available in some format for nearly a year, but even so, it felt like overkill for a one-man band with nine songs from out of Nowheresville, USA. it took until halfway through the set, for Justin Vernon to coax everyone in the room into singing along to the haunting refrain in "The Wolves" ('What might have been lost...'), that i was completely convinced the hype was justified. as if i needed further reassurance of the devotion he commanded, he took his acoustic guitar in hand and marched into the middle of the packed room and sang the album highlight "Skinny Love" without a microphone, and with every repeated bridge of 'My my my, My my my, My my', the audience contribution got louder, converting more unbelievers each time. without a doubt one of the best gigs i've ever attended, and i'm sure nearly everyone in attendence would concur.
such an act is hard to follow, and that unenviable task was given to Wild Beasts. another hyped-up band with a debut LP this year, the crowd had substantially thinned by the time they took the stage. their indistinct brand of Talking Heads'ish awkward pop definitely failed to impress. but i've since given a couple of studio recordings a listen ("His Grinning Skull", "The Devil's Crayon"), and they fare much better than the live interpretations. it's probably another case of a band who, when given the budget and studio time, can get their songs sounding exactly how they want, but the structures fall flat when they're faced with recreating them for the stage.
by the end of their set the crowd was filling out in places, the feverish anticipation starting to build for No Age. by this point i had been a No Age geek for some time, listening to Weirdo Rippers on a daily basis since '07 and tracking down every b-side from the limited vinyl EPs that had been cherry picked to make up that excellent compilation release. their debut album proper, Nouns, had been released earlier that month and i had been keeping it on repeat and soaking up all the tv static'y scummy noise pop it had to offer since it leaked to blogs earlier in the year. i hadn't seen them live yet and had high expectations, which had doubled since entering the venue and witnessing Bon Iver. the sheer volume with which they burst into action was startling, making opener and Nouns highlight "Teen Creeps" identifiable only by its dental records and a killer riff. halfway through the set came the first single "Eraser", a track i was one listen away from starting to skip on my mp3 player, was reanimated in a live setting. guitarist Randy Randall playing the minute-long intro riff wandering around the stage and into the crowd, before drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt chimed in, bringing the track to life by pounding on the drums with a force i'd not seen since watching Dave Grohl on my old Nirvana VHS. i soon realised that No Age are such a unique band, i felt instantly ridiculous for having tried to weigh them up against Bon Iver not half an hour before. they're two bands worlds apart in sense, style, and scene - but because they have the fortune of coming from similar DIY roots in one country (California and Wisconsin are close together when compared to the rest of the world), and both having debut albums in '08 on hip labels, they'll never be so far apart that a lazy blogger won't try and see a parallel between the two when they share a stage at a UK festival.

mp3: Bon Iver - "The Wolves (Act I and II)"
mp3: No Age - "Here Should Be My Home"


broken records, avalanche 6/11/08

these were taken last month at an instore gig in Avalanche Records on Cockburn Street. the band is Broken Records, a nice little folk band from Edinburgh. they reminded me of other Scottish folk types like My Latest Novel, but with the added Guillemots'y brassy pop edge that a lot of the "hotly tipped for '09" bands are sporting. currently doing the familiar circuit of touring, releasing records, touring, recieving lukewarm-at-best press from NME, and more touring, i'd keep an eye out for them in the near future.
the 'cigarette burn' holes on the last photo - i don't know how they got there, but i think it's Boots fault. they scanned them, and i think the negative sheets ripped somewhere. anyway, i like the happy accidents and how it came out so i included it in the set.


mixtape #1 - cold music

Mixtape #1 - Cold Music (Ambiance for Autumn and Winter) is obviously not an actual cassette tape or anything. but it's not a podcast as there are seperate MP3 files included, and it's not a full-blown mix as i haven't used a program to fade or sync the tracks to fit into one another - so a mixtape is the best way to describe it really. so says Wikipedia: "a compilation of songs in a specific order... which usually reflects the musical tastes of its compiler... a conceptual mix of songs linked by theme or mood". you don't argue with Wikipedia.
the picture (not taken by me) is of a Bed & Breakfast in Strathyre, Perthshire. it makes Winter in Scotland look idyllic and picturesque, when the reality of it is a dark, rainy, freezing couple of months, allowing for about eight hours of sunlight a day.
i've never been on the best of terms with Winter, in fact it's even injured me once or twice. the rest of the year i have an immune system like the Berlin Wall circa 1980, then December rolls around and i'm bedridden for the best part of it. the song choices reflect my relationship with this particular season - they weren't written to warm the cockles of yr heart on Christmas day. what follows is a selection of cold, hissing, clinical electronics and moonlit campfire songs that condense when exhaled.

Side A
1. The Radio Dept. - "Annie Laurie"
appears on Annie Laurie EP, 2002
2. Deepchord Presents Echospace - "First Point of Aries"
appears on The Coldest Season, 2007
3. Atlas Sound - "Headphones"
appears on Stereogum Presents Enjoyed: A Tribute to Björk's Post, 2008
4. Desolation Wilderness - "Come Over In Your Silver Car"
appears on White Light Strobing, 2008
5. James Blackshaw - "Past Has Not Passed"
appears on Litany of Echoes, 2008
6. Horse Feathers - "Helen"
appears on House With No Home, 2008
7. The Twilight Sad - "Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters"
appears on Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, 2007

Side B
1. Grouper
- "Invisible"
appears on Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, 2008
2. Burial - "Night Bus"
appears on Burial, 2006
3. Spacemen 3 - "Feel So Sad (Reprise)"
appears on Recurring, 1991
4. Björk - "Cocoon (Instrumental)"
original version appears on Vespertine, 2001
5. Bon Iver - "The Wolves (Act I and II)"
appears on For Emma, Forever Ago, 2008
6. Explosions In The Sky - "What Do You Go Home To? (Mountains Mix)"
appears on All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone bonus disc, 2007
7. Windy & Carl - "Snow Covers Everything"
appears on Songs for the Broken Hearted, 2008
8. Do Make Say Think - "A Tender History in Rust"
appears on You, You're a History in Rust, 2007

Download Mix via zSHARE

it's meant to be listened to on decent speakers or headphones, so please don't rely on yr laptop's skinny pipes to push it out. it's only ten seconds under 80 minutes in length, so if your CD writer is a cruel mistress and refusing to write it, get hold of a C90 cassette and fulfill its Christmas wish to become a real live mixtape!


apple o'

this is a set of digital photographs taken to test the timing, available lighting and suitable shutter speeds in my kitchen... as part of a film project exploring the freezing and blurring of movement.
the kitchen's not the ideal environment to be doing my first shots for this project, but i haven't been best prepared for anything recently and i don't have much of a choice! i'll be developing the film tomorrow so hopefully i'll get some prints up before the end of the week. if they never materialise then you'll trust they came out terrible.

i decided to do these shots involving apples frozen in mid-air in reference to Magritte's apple themed paintings (The Son of Man, The Listening Room, and This is not an Apple) - plus they're yummy. for the pictures that emphasise movement with blur, i've thought about exploring something with birds - but Man in the Bowler Hat is something i'll leave to the surrealists.
check out the irrefutable evidence of scary skeletal hands in that last pic. who needs halloween costumes with digits like that?


big city, bright lights, cool people

the results of one day of nice weather in brighton, england:

yeah, there is a lot of Fern, but with such a photogenic person around it seemed churlish not to take advantage. the last one of the rock is badly out of focus, a result of not using my glasses when focusing. i still kinda like the way it came out, so i'm still using it for my flyer project in college, but if i could retake it i would.

currently bangin' on about:
Spacemen 3 - "Big City"
a cast of cool people who are easy to be around
Nathan Fake bootlegs
the raddest vintage shops on Earth being in Brighton
Charlie Brooker's Dead Set on E4
Liars - Drum's Not Dead
Pink, the novel by Gus Van Sant
always travelling but never moving (the time i've spent sitting completely still on a mode of public transport the past two months is incalculable)
Burn After Reading
Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavillion bootlegs


totally wired

there hasn't been any updates in weeks for legitimate reasons, though justifying to someone else why there hasn't been an update for a blog that no one reads is something i'm struggling to justify to myself. all paradoxical dilemmas aside, i haven't updated in an age cuz of one big fat hairy reason: studying photography @ college. it's on four days a week and it being in Edinburgh means i leave at 7am and i'm back at 7pm at the earliest - not a lot of time to listen, watch or read, let alone blog about any of them.
the first course i've attended that has an engaging subject to study and isn't completely full of plebs is something to consume oneself in, and i've done so up until this day. it's been a bit of a slow one this week. there's no deadlines until the middle of october, and i rarely do my best work unless i'm under pressure, so i've been copping it sweet - until i'm at breaking point, naked in a pungent bath of dev, stop and fix going up to my shins, hours before an evaluation. i'll be posting some of my work in coming updates.
other developments (lol) include me DJ'ing at the Cameo cinema/bar in Edinburgh soon, for a night exclusively centered around post-punk. the wildly varying forms that post-punk and its revivalists take on means i can legitimately put Bauhaus (pictured) then Altered Images one after the other without anyone batting an eyelid. if anyone tries to tell me one is actually goth punk and the other's actually new wave, i'll fucking glass them. i'll post a minimix of some the tracks from the night on here, so everyone can get totally wirrred. i'll post the date later on when i get a definite date - at the moment it's looking like 12th of November. keep yr calenders free.

by the end of the week hopefully, i'll have a post full of bands i've been obsessed with the past couple of weeks, packed to the gills with MP3s for previewing-purposes-only or some other disclaimer chutney. in other news, i just saw the Soulwax documentary, Part of the Weekend Never Dies. from what i've heard (i've never had the pleasure of seeing them), it doesn't fully capture the essence of the band as a kickin' live act and full-on remixing machine, but it certainly does try. the movie itself feels like a remix of previously existing footage, constantly splicing scenes, songs and interviews on top of one another to the extent where one would need to be on the same drugs as the crowd at Fabric to keep up with all of it. including interviews with the Dewaele brothers themselves - and other dudes from the disco-dance-punk scene, with hefty contributions from James Murphy ("what's wrong with the word "scene"?!" begs Murphy in one... scene), Erol Alkan, and Tiga - it tries to paint a portrait of a band who, in one of their many forms, have been on the road non-stop since 2005. their first incarnation as a pretty-fucking-good-actually dance'y alternative rock band is barely touched upon, all you get is the dullest member of Klaxons mentioning that Any Minute Now is one of the best albums he's ever heard, then it quickly cuts to someone gurnin' and gulpin' overly-expensive bottled water while "Funkytown" gets mashed up with "NY Excuse".
this problem aside, it's actually a pretty accurate representation of the 2006/07 dance explosion. which is a pretty hard thing to achieve these days, given the speed with which it grew from something to be ashamed of and try your darnest to keep off yr last.fm account, to the most hip, incestual and sickeningly in-yr-face scene on the planet. with each band, club, DJ, and minor MySpace celebrity remixing each other and blogging each other at such a furious pace, The Guardian didn't even have time to write an misspelled, ill-informed, and overwrought article about Londons flowering dance artists for their Sunday supplements. for this reason, it is necessary viewing if you have found yourself in a club at any point over the past couple of years, wondering if you should keep dancing during that middle section on the Erol remix of "Waters of Nazareth", just before the beat DROPS and you get yr groove back. you know what i'm talking about.


conor oberst

this, the first solo album in twelve years by Bright Eyes' resident singer/borderline alcoholic/songwriter Conor Oberst, is a record that's been on my mp3 player and my mind in equal amounts. at first, i was a little dismissive - pre-release hype was giving me the impression this was another attempt at Conor's grand vision he had for 2007's Bright Eyes album, Cassadaga. its widescreen cinematic scope and overarching themes of religion, redemption and the rapture, along with the bleating female backing vocals and overbearing orchestral score, seemed to alienate every fan who'd been keeping up with him since those basement tapes recorded on four-track for the earliest incarnation of Saddle Creek Records way back in 1993.
his principal songwriting vehicle, Bright Eyes, had been attracting more public adoration and press attention with each album (the band's studio output includes seven albums and countless EPs), primarily due to the unsettling honesty of Oberst's lyrics - each song eloquently detailed family tragedy, heartbreak, clinical depression, drug and alcohol abuse, even suicide attempts. what came a close second was fans and casual observers like interest in seeing him drink and snort himself into self-destruction. he was perfect pop culture martyr material... Elliott Smith's face was too ugly for t-shirts and no one had left a good-looking corpse since Kurt Cobain. alas, the road to oblivion seemed to hit a cul-de-sac at the tail end of 2005 on the tour for Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. after a year spent constantly touring the two albums he had released that year (the other being I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning) and doing copious amounts of mushrooms, it collapsed into cancelled dates and press controversy due to a coked-up slur about then-recently deceased DJ John Peel at Glastonbury. rather unfairly, his barely comprehensible comments were blown out of proportion, and overshadowed what was the most successful year for Bright Eyes so far.
Oberst took a step back from the abyss, and following the conclusion of the tour, Bright Eyes remained inactive for the greater part of 2006. this rare lull in (musical) activity sparked a change in him, and subsequently his material. he travelled the US, visiting the community of mediums and clairvoyants in Florida called Cassadaga, hung out, relaxed, and grew his hair long. fuckin' hippie. when Bright Eyes came back in early 2007 with the Four Winds EP, the mellow, countrified sound he hinted at on I'm Wide Awake... came in full swing, fiddle 'n' all. the following LP, Cassadaga, attracted all the press attention and rave reviews that I'm Wide Awake... and Digital Ash... enjoyed, but the hardcore "'Creekers" didn't take to it. he seemed to have lost what made him so captivating in the first place, forgetting that the simple sound of his voice and a guitar was what made career-defining songs like "Lua" and "Waste of Paint" what they were. he exchanged the bleak naval-gazing for clumsy meditations on faith ("The Bible is blind, the Torah is deaf, the Qur'an is mute/if you burned them all together you'd get close to the truth") and the end of the world ("From the madness of the governments to the vengeance of the sea/Everything is eclipsed by the shape of destiny"). to his credit, he aimed high, but his words fell short of doing justice to the heavy subject matter, and the production seemed to hold the record back - Mike Mogis' slick 'n' shiny studio moves tried to convey lush landscapes to compliment songs more upbeat numbers like Make a Plan to Love Me and Cleanse Song, but came off sounding as barren as the "sterile soil" as described in No One Would Riot For Less.
so now, on Conor Oberst, he takes another step back, but it's not a regression. keeping in mind the heights he tried to conquer with his last album, he scales it down to the bare essentials to cover the terrain with ease.
Oberst retains the gift for careful wordplay that once again synchronizes with his deft guitar playing seamlessly, possibly better than it ever has. eschewing the multiple-studio engineering sheen (an absent Mike Mogis is the primary reason this is an album by Conor Oberst, not a Bright Eyes one), he seems content again to record rough live takes with his buddies and bandmates, only this time it's around a campire in the Mexican desert rather than Omaha basements. everything about it sounds so comfortable, the only way you'd know he left the country to record it is the lyrical references to crossing the border and running away with yr girlfriend in album highlights "Moab" and "NYC-Gone, Gone". these songs in particular are heartwarming listens, a perfect antidote to the stubborn sentiment Benjamin Gibbard conveyed in Death Cab For Cutie's "Blacking Out The Friction" ("I think that it's brainless to assume that making changes to your window's view will give a new perspective").
it's not all beer and sunshine though, as he evidently still has a little bit of the pessimist in him. the protest spirit of Bob Dylan takes hold of him on songs like "Lenders in the Temple", in which he conjures up wild imagery ("The starving children ain't got no mother/There's pink flamingos living in the mall"), and delivers more of the classic wunderkind meditations on the "Why Me?" nature of the music business ("The lights are out, where'd everybody go?"). this and a couple of other songs are filtered with the same empty-music-hall echo that plagued some of the worst songs on Cassadaga - it's put to slightly better use here, but it's still not as welcome as the intimate bedroom acoustics of songs like "A Song to Pass the Time" would be.
on a lighter note, on "Get-Well-Cards" and "I Don't Want To Die (In The Hospital)", he channels the 1966, rock 'n' roll "Judas!" Dylan spirit. again, both tracks sound like a band (namely the Mystic Valley Band) just having fun. the title for the latter might mislead some to believe it's another suicide-attempt ballad like those that featured on Fevers and Mirrors and Lifted..., but the truth is it couldn't be more removed. the song bounds along with burning hope that the song's protagonist might yet live to see the world outside his ward again, and begs you to help him get his boots back so he can "feel the earth against my feet/as the cold wind calls for me". it remains my personal favourite on the album, and one of my favourite all-time Oberst compositions.
i feel i should spare you all the PR cud chewin' for this album, debating over whether it's a Bright Eyes follow-up or a straight Conor Oberst record, and just treat it for what it is: a real chance for Conor to redeem himself, get his head screwed on straight and get on with making albums like how he used to. on this LP, he manages all three.
now if you've read this far, the chances are you're a Bright Eyes fan and have bought/downloaded/whatever this album already, and made your judgement. if that judgement is one of negativity and despair, missing the days when he'd spill his guts to you on CD like it was over the phone with a dear friend, i'd say get over it. he's almost thirty or something now, no one is that angsty forever. Cassadaga had it's low points, but one feels after listening to this record that was just a hiccup, a blip on an otherwise upward trajectory. give Conor Oberst another listen. hell, give Cassadaga another listen just to make sure you weren't cavin' in to fan-boy pressure when you said it sucked.

Conor Oberst - I Don't Want To Die (In The Hospital)


birchville cat motel

every blog has a first post! may as well hit the ground running, with a one-man noise project that's so hip, so current, so earth-shatteringly NOW... that as of October 9th 2008, they will cease to exist. catch him while you can. if you live in Australia or New Zealand.
i've only just this week heard the skull rattlingly lovely LP Four Freckle Constellation from Wellington's Birchville Cat Motel (just one of the many banners this Campbell Kneale guy operates under), and upon looking up MySpace for some info on this complete non-entity, i discover he's "splitting up" after a four date tour of Australia and New Zealand in October. what timing!
the dude's also more prolific than Bradford Cox after a night of Red Bull and eight balls. while the world (well, me) hasn't been listening, he's chalked up innumerable releases on different labels in different countries, including collaborations with Lee Ranaldo and, another band who are gettin' while it's good, Yellow Swans. with music this loud, distorted and nigh on impenetrable, it's little wonder he's spent however many years recording and touring the world in relative obscurity. but the flipside to that harsh drone is a hypnotic, sweet blissful void, lulling you to sleep before it invades yr nightmares. it reminds one of recent exploits from Bristol's Fuck Buttons (albeit in a slightly less palatable format), and is even more reminiscent of all the Portland, OR noise crews who've been toiling in this particular musical field since the early 90's.
if you dig all that, or just want yr head to feel like it's burning up on re-entry, check out this 6 track LP from Conspiracy Records out of Belgium, or check his MySpace for info on internet-only releases.
meanwhile, here's an mp3 of the title track from the offending album...
Birchville Cat Motel - Four Freckle Constellation