Monday, 29 December 2008

Top 20 Albums of the Year Countdown (part II)

Errrr, sorry. This countdown thingy hasn't gone exactly to plan. This is mainly due to a combination of a trip to Wales and something called Christmas time; mistletoe and wine, children singing Christian rhyme, logs on the fire and gifts round the tree. It was a time to rejoice and not sit at a computer all day.

Here are the next batch of 2008's premier long players...

17. Hot Chip - Made In The Dark
As the opening track 'Out at the Pictures' cranks up in tempo like an old circus organ before bursting into another effortless example of pure dance-pop genius, you would be forgiven for thinking that the clowns that gave us 'Over and Over' had taken the easy route and produced an album of party bangers to satisfy their now mainstream fan base. Not so. Although the bangers are all present and very correct, the album's title hints at the darker tone of songs found largely on its second half. Hot Chip have practically invented a new sub genre to add to their growing roster of achievements. Long live 'Electro-Soul'.
Listen to: Shake A Fist

16. Sigur Ros -
Meo Suo I Eyrum Vio Spilum End
What do Icelandic people do to display a sense of happiness? From the looks of the sleeve design they run around naked and produce records like this. Sigur Ros surprised a lot of people this year with an album that was more immediate and vocal-led than previous offerings but also one that on early listens didn't seem quite up to their usual incredibly high standard. The slow-building epic soundscapes had given way to 'songs'. Given time though, the incredible beauty of their past material shines through. Instead of building up through layers of sound that grow into a cacophony of pure joy over 12 minutes, Sigur Ros here present that joviality in shorter bursts, often with the support of a jubilant brass band. In centerpiece tracks 'Festival' and 'Ara Batur', the Icelanders match anything they have ever produced for sheer emotional scale. This is an album which would have been higher up the list were it not for the fact that it falls away a little at the end.
Listen to: Festival

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 12

Day 21: Snowman. OK. This is getting slightly ridiculous now. ANOTHER repeated chocolate. This time it's the snowman (snow-woman) from December the 17th, only today the wind is blowing in the opposite direction with the scarf being blown to the right as opposed to the left before.

Day 22: Chrismas Tree (decorated). The tree from December 7th that was then taken home by sleigh on December 18th has now been put up and decorated. Very nice it looks too. I bet the lights worked first time as well, unlike ours at home!

Day 23: A Horn? Again it's very difficult to make out exactly what this is. Unfortunately I can't upload a photo for tedious reasons. My best guess is that this is some sort of wind instrument belonging to a member of the Salvation Army.

Day 24: Father Christmas. If I was a child I would be getting pretty excited by now and the makers of the calendar have recognised this by making the chocolate a special rectangular shape adorned with everyone's favorite bearded fat father.

Day 25: "Merry Christmas". The day has finally arrived and another rectangular treat is revealed with the words "Merry Christmas" embossed on the chocolate. What a wonderfully heartfelt and warming message from 'Bon-Bon Buddies'.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Advent Calendar update 11

Day 16: Rocking horse with rider. The rocking horse from day 14 was obviously a hit with whoever it was bought for, perhaps a result of the High School Musical logos emblazoned all over it (not visible of course).

Day 17: Snowman. A man made of snow. Craziness.

Day 18: Sled/sleigh loaded with presents and tree. The cripple who was navigating the sleigh on day 4 is nowhere to be seen. So sad, especially at this time of the year.

Day 19: Festive foliage? Once again due mostly to the poor quality chocolate mold, it's not entirely clear what this actually is. My guesses are holly with berries or mistletoe. In all honesty though the 'leaves' look more like feathers plucked from the Christmas turkey.

Day 20: Teddy bear with wrapped present. The bear looks extremely excited, as if he is the one who has just received the present.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Price Is Right

This is one of the funniest things I have seen on YouTube for a while now so I thought I'd share it with all you lovely people. A kind of early Christmas present if you will. Hope you enjoy it as much as the guy in the clip clearly does.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 10

I've moved from London up to the quiet idylls of the Suffolk countryside for Christmas so haven't been on top of updating things lately. We do have internet out here in the wilderness however so you can't escape my blog that easily.

Day 12: A very old fashioned car. Again I presume this is a toy which would have been highly appreciated back in 1922 but boys these days aren't happy with anything less than a DIY crack pipe.

Day 13: Star (shooting). It seems that thirteen days into the month, the makers of this calendar were already running out of ideas as there is ANOTHER STAR. Some genius came up with the idea to add a trail behind it to make it a shooting star. Very clever.

Day 14: Rocking horse. Another toy from a bygone age. Stick some High School Musical 3 logos on it though and this would fly off the shelves.

Day 15: A bell. A 'Jingle-bell'.
A 'Jingle-bell'. Jingling all the way. Sorry.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Top 20 Albums of the Year Countdown

It's that time of the year again where 'best of' lists are everywhere, attempting to add some order and sense to the past twelve months. This blog is no different.

Although there have been some excellent singles this year it seems as though the push towards digital downloads and the ability to 'pick and chose' from, as well as 'shuffle' album tracks has perhaps, after years of predictions to this effect, started to have a negative impact on the way artists' view the Long Player format. That's not to say all have. Far from it in fact and my album of the year is a great example of this, with the band who produced it being great advocates of 'the album' as a method of presenting music as an affective and affecting art form.

I will be gradually counting down from 20 to 1 with the aim being to reveal the top 3 on New Year's Eve. Exciting isn't it?

Here are albums 20-18...

20. M83 - Saturdays=Youth
Full of gorgeous French shoegazing electro-pop that sounds as if it has been sent in a time capsule straight from the 1980s (like so much alternative music at the moment). Unlike so much alternative music at the moment however, it does this purposefully in the context of the lyrical content and its romantic, nostalgic imagery. Beautiful and currently touring with Kings Of Leon.
Listen to: Couleurs

19. Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Gaining generally below par reviews from critics (and myself) in Britain upon it's release, Coldplay's fourth album continued to help forge a successful furrow through America and the rest of the world. It still sold bucketloads in the UK though and after the inescapable singles caused me to reconsider my opinion of the album, I found it to be far more enjoyable and surprisingly innovative in places. Coldplay's weakest effort to date but I would urge anyone who dismissed it on first listen to give it another chance.
Listen to: Lovers in Japan

18. Black Mountain - In The Future
Psychedelic, riff-based rock music with even a sleeve design that looks like it was from the 70s. Canadian outfit Black Mountain released this, their second album all the way back in January but it was hardly bettered all year. Clocking in at over 57 minutes long, it's not for those with short attention spans. This album undoubtedly comes to life played, in it's entirety, in darkened rooms filled with smoke, friends and beer. Packed with some truly fantastic hook-laden tracks which lovers of classic rock will want to investigate immediately.
Listen to: Stormy High

Advent Calendar Update 9

Day 10: A toy truck. I presume this is a toy truck anyway. That's what kids want for Christmas these days isn't it? I guess it could be the cab of one of those Coca Cola trucks from "The Holiday's Are Coming" adverts.

Day 11: A toy train. Ummm...another toy. Hasn't the month gone quickly?
It's nearly halfway to Christmas...

Here's a scary picture to celebrate:

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 8

Day 9: A star. In-keeping with the astronomical theme from yesterday, today's chocolate was shaped like a star or "The" star if this is in reference to the nativity.

Some of the doors opened so far have now formed the shape of a cross. Coincidence or religious propaganda?

Monday, 8 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 7

Day 8: Three-quarters of the moon with a face.
"When you are the moon, the best form you can be is a full moon. And then the half moon... he's all right. But the full moon is the famous moon. And then three-quarters, eh, no one gives a shit about him. When does he come, two days in, to the calendar month? He's useless. Full moon. The moon. The main moon."

The Moon - Mighty Boosh

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 6

Day 7: A Christmas tree (undecorated). This tree tasted strangely nicer than all of the other chocolates so far. This is most likely due to the fact that I was more hungry at the time of eating. I wonder if there will be another tree later in the month that has been decorated? Unfortunately this was my deepest thought of the day.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 5

Day 6: A stocking filled with presents. Although to be honest it looks more like a boot with part of a severed leg sticking out of it. I don't envy the child who would be receiving this stocking. The presents inside look like strange lumps of rock or coal. Perhaps a comment on our financially troubled world but most likely another poorly moulded chocolate.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 4

Day 5: A House. Boring.

Update: On second thoughts this might have been a church which makes it only slightly more interesting; unless of course you are a devout Christian or particularly reverent at this time of the year.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 3

Day 4: Person on sled/sleigh. Gender unknown. Slightly easier to work out what the chocolate was supposed to be shaped like today. The person on the sleigh didn't look like Father Christmas so I'm guessing it was a child having fun. I also presume they were travelling at speed, being hunched over in a streamlined position. Either this or the child was a cripple. Tiny Tim perhaps from Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 2

Firstly, I have to say a big thank you to Jessica Emily Duncan who observably and very kindly pointed out that 'calendar' is spelled with an 'ar' and not 'er' as I had foolishly been spelling it. Thanks once again Jess. A Blue Peter badge will be on its way to you in the next few days; at least it would be if I had one or indeed if this was Blue Peter.

Day 3: An angel (I think). It took me around five minutes to work out what this actually was. My first guess was a broom but that's not exactly the most festive of items for a child's advent calendar, even for one with strange alien creatures on the front. After repeatedly rotating the chocolate and viewing it from several angles, I noticed what appeared to be wings on one side. Having soon discounted it as a live Christmas turkey, I concluded that this small brown mass of confectionery was in fact shaped like an angel. The blob on the top right of the chocolate (as shown below) is the head and underneath that, is I presume, a fat arm. What I had earlier thought was a brush actually seems to be a skirt and on top of the head are the angel's "golden" locks. After handling it so much, it was no surprise that the chocolate tasted pretty foul.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Advent Calendar Update 1

This year I have purchased an 'In The Night Garden' chocolate advent calendar. For those of you who aren't familiar with 'In The Night Garden', it's a BBC children's television series, particularly aimed at babies and preschool children, although one suspects most of its audience is in fact made up of students with too much time on their hands between lectures. Featuring a mixture of live action, puppetry and computer animation it has a very similar visual style to Teletubbies. The similarities don't end there though. Characters have similarly ridiculous names that were presumably dreamed up in a production meeting where Mary Jane was highly influential but strangely not acknowledged in the show's credits.

Characters include Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and my personal favourite, Makka Pakka. Makka Pakka is a small, round cream, who enjoys stacking smooth stones, repeating his name (another idea "borrowed" from Teletubbies) and washing things, especially faces. However he appears to have three piles of excrement on his head and would be well-advised to wash himself before others. Disappointingly my calendar does not feature Makka Pakka on the front. Perhaps because the sight of the poo-headed one on the box was considered as being slightly off-putting when devouring the "delicious" chocolate inside. On the plus side, there is a fun game on the reverse where you have to match the characters to their shadows. Oddly the shadows are blue but maybe that's the way things are 'In The Night Garden'. Surely if it is a 'night garden' however, the characters shouldn't have shadows at all. Just a thought.

Anyway, I will be posting the chocolates and pictures I uncover each day until Christmas...and then for the days after that until NEW YEARS!!!! Yes that's right, this amazing calendar includes cardboard-infused chocolate treats all the way until New Years day. Value for money or what?

Day 1: A candle with lit flame in old-style holder. Like the one Wee Willy Winky ran through the town with. No picture. Just a poorly moulded chocolate. A slightly disappointing start.

Day 2: A man/ woman/ witch with a big nose wearing a Santa hat. This is the most disturbing advent chocolate I have ever eaten.

Franz Ferdinand up close in London

Greetings dear readers and thank you for directing your browser in the direction of this, my new/only/first/last blog. I will be updating it with stuff which may be of some interest to you, although mainly it's just a self indulgent experiment and a way to make sure I don't forget how to write.

Last night I attended a "secret" gig by the Glaswegian guitar-pop band Franz Ferdinand. You may have heard of them. The band, more accustomed to headlining festivals were playing at a club night called "Durrr" at The End club in central London. A highly intimate and sweat inducing performance more than justified queuing for just over an hour on a blisteringly cold December night. The band previewed material from their forthcoming album 'Tonight' with an energy that suggested they were relishing playing to an audience where the whites of fan's eyes were visible and every word sung back to them audible.

In a venue which perfectly suited the band's heavily synth-laden new direction, a crowd which included The Cribs' Ryan Jarman and Kate Nash reacted to the new songs as if they were old faves. Franz Ferdinand have always been keen to make indie girls (and boys) dance and with new songs like set opener 'Turn It On', they're taking that a step further. It is no coincidence that they are road testing 'Tonight' in nightclubs. That unmistakable Franz cheesewire-guitar sound is still at the fore, but keyboards, synths and some pretty handy maraca playing by frontman Alex Kapranos now flesh out the songs to a higher degree. The band haven't abandoned their love of using retro equipment either and the synths used at the show looked to be classic Moog designs. All in all it was a fantastic night and I can highly recommend The End club and "Durrr" in particular. I've included some photos above and the setlist as well as a video below...

'Turn It On'
'The Dark Of The Matinee'
'Live Alone'
'Take Me Out'
'What She Came For'
'This Fire'

Franz Ferdinand release their new album "Tonight" on 27/01/2009 and the next single "Ulysses" around a week earlier.