Monthly Archives: November 2011

Ten albums for 2011: #1

1. Let England Shake by PJ Harvey (Island)

And so to the big one. It’s an deeply unsurprising choice, seeing as I’ve been deeply in love with this record for the entire of 2011. PJ Harvey’s Mercury Prize-winning album is, for me, one of the best albums of the last decade. In fact, it shouldn’t just be given a Mercury – it should be elevated to a Nobel Prize for Art. Peej’s eight album shouldn’t be compared to other artists that might merely neatly innovate or carve out a new sub-genre. Let England Shake is a eulogy to war and the concept of war being about land – soil and dirt and trees and stones. It is about the loss of young life; a set of lullabies for their spilt blood as it mixes with the earth. Let England Shake sits comfortably alongside the war poems of W.H. Auden or Picasso’s Guernica. It is that good.

A favourite book of mine, Sebastian Faulks’ epic novel Birdsong laid bare the ravages of the Great War. The stench of death in the trenches and the futility of a soldier’s life were beautifully woven into a story of love and hope. Polly Harvey’s extraordinary album could be its soundtrack. Recorded in a cliff-top Dorset church, as if to gaze outward from her tarnished country, Let England Shake showcases one of music’s most vital artists in majestic form. Whether lamenting the brutal loss of life (“Arms and legs were in the trees,” she proffers on the astonishing ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’) or the crumbling sham of an Empire (as on the scolding title track, “Let England shake / Weighted down with the silent dead,”) Harvey’s words are poetic memorials to the fallen.

But, perhaps incredibly, this is neither a dark or depressing album. The deft and inventive instrumentation, supported by long-time collaborators John Parrish and Mick Harvey, provides the songs with light and air. Quite simply, tracks like ‘On Battleship Hill’ and ‘In The Dark Places’ are two of the finest songs you will hear this year – or any year. In 2011 Polly Jean Harvey has delivered her masterpiece – Let England Shake is an utterly magnificent album and my favourite album of this and many years..

For more information about PJ Harvey visit: www.pjharvey.net

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Ten albums for 2011: #2

2. Hearts by I Break Horses (Bella Union)

The legendary comedian Spike Milligan has one of the most famous engravings on his tombstone. It reads ‘I Told You I Was Ill’ – the final vindication of a lifetime of hypochondria. If Milligan required death to prove a point, Stockholm’s I Break Horses have used their fear of illness to create something that illuminates the living – their amazing album Hearts. I fell for Hearts in a major way – it is my favourite debut album of 2011 and would have been my number one in any ‘normal’ year. The Line Of Best Fit gave me the opportunity to do the band’s first ever interview. When I spoke to Maria Lindén and her musical partner Fredrik Balck, we were amazed to discover both the astoundingly bizarre way in which the pair met and just how deeply embedded their mutual hypochondria is in the music of I Break Horses. It went something like this;

Me: Inane question number one – how did you meet each other?

Maria: We met through this online forum where you ask a doctor about symptoms for different diseases.

Me: Really? Are you joking with me?

Maria: Ha ha. It turned out we shared the same fear of being seriously ill. Later on it also turned out we shared the same taste in music and even had some mutual friends in the tiny music scene of Stockholm.

But, out of fear and paranoia comes a luscious grandeur. Hearts took the swooning guitars of the early 90s shoegaze scene, and elevated them to a divine status via Lindén’s black-angel vocal and the ‘lub-dup’ heartbeat of Balck’s drum patterns. The track ‘Cancer’ was vivid and stark, while the shimmering ‘Load Your Eyes’ sounded like a magical mash-up of Ride, Cocteau Twins and Massive Attack.

In September, while on a business trip in Sweden, I met up with Maria and Fredrik for dinner, drinks and another (as yet unpublished) interview for The Quietus. The pair were lovely company: we dined on hors d’euvres and drank Mojitos. The next day, I walked through the quiet streets of Stockholm on a perfect Autumn morning and with Hearts as a soundtrack. It was a few minutes of undiluted happiness.

The full version of my interview with I Break Horses can be found here: http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/06/tlobf-introducing-i-break-horses/

For more information about I Break Horses visit: www.ibreakhorses.se


Ten albums for 2011: #3

3. Past Life Martyred Saints by EMA (Souterrain)

EMA is South Dakotan native Erika M. Anderson, once of experimental noise-rockers Gowns and the even more abstract Amps For Christ. This year, she released a truly stunning debut album. Past Life Martyred Saint is a deeply intense piece of music – covering issues such as death, domestic violence and self-harm, delivered over a soundscape melded from Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground and violent guitars. Erika describes her sound as “folk music meets harsh noise” – it is visceral, naked in its honesty and quite, quite brilliant. It is also the work of someone giving it one last chance to make a living out of music. 

I’ve interviewed Erika three times this year and our first meet up was before a gig in Manchester in May. Erika cuts an imposing figure – she is six feet tall and of formidable Viking stock. Her blonde bob frames a huge smile and welcoming demeanour. Contrary to how the album may superficially portray her, Erika is not miserable, neurotic or hard work. She is, in fact, a delightfully engaging interviewee; our chat is punctuated by bouts of garrulous laughter and her lascivious potty mouth. She can also tell jokes, even when put on the spot. Sort of. Here is an example of an EMA joke;

Erika: I do know one. Shit. I’m totally forgetting it. What did…. I can’t remember it. Er, what did the alien high-quality mattress salesman use as his…. Fuck. What did the alien high-quality mattress salesman use as his slogan? Or something.

Me: I don’t know – what did the alien high-quality mattress salesman use as his slogan?

Erika: ET own foam.

Me: Ha ha.

Erika: Thanks for laughing.

To be fair, Erika’s jokes did get better. So by the next time we met, she hit me with this pearler.

Erika: A guy goes into a bar with a steering wheel down his pants. The barman says ‘What’s with the steering wheel?’ and the guy says ‘I dunno, but it’s driving me nuts’

Me: *silence*

Okay, maybe only slightly better.

The full version of my interview with Erika M Anderson for The Line Of Best Fit can be found here: http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/05/tlobf-introducing-ema/

For more information about EMA visit: www.cameouttanowhere.com


Ten albums for 2011: #4

4. Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls (Fantasytrashcan/Turnstile)

Not only did Girls make one of my favourite albums of the year, they delivered a spectacularly good show at the HMV Ritz in November. At the time, I frothed about Father, Son, Holy Ghost, writing this review for AU magazine.

“On the back of the narcotic experimentation of 2009’s debut Album, the San Francisco band toured like bastards and became a band. Adding a drummer and a guitarist, the pumped-up quartet have both refined their musicianship and extended their range on this massively assured follow-up. If opener ‘Honey Bunny’ was a smiley slab of alt. rock and ‘Saying I Love You’ a sweet country lullaby, lead single ‘Vomit’ exploded into pyrotechnical mayhem. But it was the subdued hymn of ‘Just a Song’ that perfectly illustrated the confidence surging through Chris Owens’ songwriting –  Father, Son, Holy Ghost sounds like the perfect all-American album for 2011.”

I month later, I got to interview Chris Owens at a spa hotel in Londinium. He charmed me with his knowledge or the Barcelona football team (“I’ve been a diehard Barca fan since the 90s. It is mainly going to be interesting to see how Fabregas fits in – maybe Xavi will play on the left?”)  and his love of Justin Bieber – “: I’m a fan. I’ve followed him since he was just on YouTube singing in his mom’s trailer. I like him. Don’t think of the stereotype – think of the true talent that his voice has.” What’s not to love about Girls.

The full version of my interview with Chris Owens for The Quietus can be found here: http://thequietus.com/articles/06969-girls-interview-chris-owens

For more information about Girls visit: http://www.facebook.com/GIRLSsf


Ten albums for 2011: #5

5. Last Summer by Eleanor Friedberger (Merge)

Eleanor Friedberger’s debut solo album is the most recent release to make my Top 10. Although I’ve only had Last Summer for a few weeks, I’ve fallen instantly and deeply in love with it. Eleanor is one half of Fiery Furnaces, and her solo project is a gorgeous collection of songs which spotlight her love of New York and the breakdown of her relationship. But it’s a warm and joyous break-up album – if there can be such a thing. Friedberger has an ear for a gorgeous melody and the knack of picking out the details of her memory to weave a magical vision of the summer in question.

The opening track ‘My Mistakes’ is straight into its stride – Friedberger lacing a huge hook in the fug of regret. There is even a sax solo for Chrissakes. Other highlights include the nasty funk of ‘Roosevelt Island’ and the Spector-ish heartbreak of the magnificent ‘I Won’t Fall Apart On You’ which will have you checking to see if it is, in fact, a cover version. It’s not. ‘Scenes From Bensonhurst’ and ‘Inn Of The Seventh Ray’ (which is actually about a bar in Los Angeles) both neatly convey her intimate observations with a cloak of familiarity. Eleanor appears to have opened the door to her heart – it’d be rude not to have a quick look around.

For more information about Eleanor Friedberger visit: www.eleanorfriedberger.com


Ten albums for 2011: #6

6. The High Country  by Richmond Fontaine (Decor)

Richmond Fontaine’s tenth long-player is a story album – like a novella set to music. Based in a desolate logging town in Vlautin’s native Oregon, The High Country paints vivid pictures of abusive relationships, drugs use, loneliness and pent-up desperation, against a soundtrack of murder ballads, stirring rock and crackling alt. country.

I interviewed Fontaine’s heroic frontman Willy Vlautin in Manchester. We sat on same bench as I did with Faris Badwan. Vlautin – a successful author – enthralled me with his magical language and maudlin tales. For him, the inspiration for The High Country was all around him. “I live out in the country, in the woods. A lot like the story, I live surrounded by forest. It is really dark and gloomy for six months of the year but it is really beautiful,” he said when I asked how the idea for the album came about. “I came back from a tour and I was strung out and tired. Anyway, at 4.30 in the morning all these logging trucks start going by my house. They shake the whole house as they are so loud and heavy. So, I woke up and wrote ‘The Meeting On The Logging Road’; a two-minute love song. It was one of my favourite songs I’ve written, it was so easy.”

However, any Richmond Fontaine album is unlikely to be without a darker side. Having struggled with alcoholism throughout is young adult life, Vlautin was aware that The High Country would become a more ‘rounded’ story. “So, I set about writing the most romantic songs I could, set amongst where I live,” he told me. “But, because it is me, I started writing the other side – the answer to those songs – and what turned out to be this straight-up, gothic story pretty much slipped out. So while it is very romantic, it is also very violent. There is light and dark – there is even B-movie humour with the logging songs.”

The songs tell the story of a girl who works in an auto-part store and falls pregnant to a young logger. He loses his leg in a logging accident and cannot work. They marry, but she loses the baby and the relationship descends into nothingness, with the girl trapped by her circumstances. We are not particularly giving anything away; the narrative is explained in the spoken-word opener ‘Inventory’. The High Country is an unmissiable listen.

The full version of my interview with Willy Vlautin can be found here: http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/09/%E2%80%9Conce-you-lose-romance-there-is-nothing-left-but-darkness%E2%80%9D-tlobf-gets-loved-up-with-richmond-fontaine%E2%80%99s-willy-vlautin/

For more information about Richmond Fontaine visit: www.richmondfontaine.com


Ten albums for 2011: #7

7. Suck It And See  by Arctic Monkeys (Domino)

If 2009’s Humbug was a desert-wandering, Josh Homme-laced, sonic palette cleanser, Arctic Monkeys’ fourth album found them in a focused, fiery mood. Produced by trusted mucker James Ford, the Sheffield quartet took a set of fully-formed, meticulously-rehearsed songs to LA’s Sound City studios and, well, nailed them. This is not a raw indie band any longer; Suck It And See was a hugely impressive album from a formidable rock group. And first impressions can be misleading – with their usual wilfulness, the streamed teaser track ‘Brick By Brick’ was merely a glam-stomp outlier; the opening hook-laden power rock of ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ and ‘Black Treacle’ both truer to the album’s sonic tone.

Lyrically, Alex Turner may now be more oblique, but there are still plenty of trademark quips, as on the damning “Ip, dip, dog shit rock ‘n’ roll” put down on the ferocious ‘Library Pictures’ or throb of “Topless models doing semaphore” on the twinkling pop of ‘Reckless Serenade’. Closer ‘That’s Where You Are Wrong’ was a soaring gem – everything The Stone Roses’ Second Coming should have been, and proof positive that Arctic Monkeys have evolved into everything you want them to be.

I was lucky enough to interview the band back in May. We met at Alex Turner’s Private Member’s Club in Shoreditch (aka hipster heaven) and were rudely interrupted by a fire alarm. “Follow me,” suggests Alex Turner and I’m off after him, with bassist Nick O’Malley bringing up the rear, as Turner begins a speedy descent down five flights of stairs. To be fair the alarm is very, very loud and Turner, with hands clasped firmly over his ears, is not hanging around.

Outside, the two Monkeys are eager to avoid the evacuation of office workers and chefs that are milling around. As we seek out a nearby café, and with them off interview ‘duty’, Turner and O’Malley begin to chat more freely. We discuss their penchant for making roast dinners during the recording of Suck It And See (“always beef and always with Yorkshire puddings done from scratch,” states O’Malley) and favourite new bands (Turner cites psychedelic rockers Brown Brogues, while O’Malley is highly effusive about Warpaint).

And then it happens – Alex Turner momentarily forgets himself and lobs in an uncharacteristically juicy sound bite when asked about the new album. “I’m really happy with where we are on this one. I feel that this album is a really good milestone. It is exactly where we are right now – we are not chasing after anything. It is a good flag in the moon.” There is a palpable silence as the quote hangs in the air. There you have it – Suck It And See is a “Good Flag In The Moon,” © A. Turner, 2011.

The full version of my interview with Arctic Monkeys can be found here: http://iheartau.com/2011/07/arctic-monkeys/

For more information about Arctic Monkeys visit: www.arcticmonkeys.com