Friday, December 30, 2005

About the music's top 10 albums of 2005

I originally posted this a while back but right now everybody seems to be putting theirs out so I thought I would move it up the list a little.

I've been asked to compile my top 10 albums of the year for a magazine. It was something I hadn't really given much thought to until now. So after a bit of head scratching I've made it. Number one was easy, but I had a bit more trouble deciding the bottom five. Close contenders were Maria Taylor 11:11 and Iron & Wine's Woman King, but then it is only an EP. Here we go.

1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

2. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning

3. Sigur Ros - Takk

4. Josh Rouse- Nashville

5. Ryan Adams – Cold Roses

6. Arcade Fire – Funeral

7. Brendan Benson – The Alternative To Love

8. Richmond Fontaine – The Fitzgerald

9 Duke Special – Adventures in Gramophone

10. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree

Top 10 lists are by their nature controversial. Who would you change/add? Leave a comment.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bright Eyes - Motion Sickness

Artist - Bright Eyes
Album - Motion Sickness [Live Recordings]
Label - Saddle Creek


Imagine Motion Sickness as a vinyl or a tape where you have to physically get up out of your chair and walk over to your stereo to change sides. I say this because it will help to conceptualise the album. Take the first 8 tracks as side A. They draw almost exclusively from I'm Wide Awake it's Morning, sounding exactly as the studio cuts, but without the polish. Towards the end of the side, a track from Lifted and one from Fevers and Mirrors, "A Scale, a Mirror and Those Indifferent Clocks" makes an appearance re-worked in the style of I'm Wide Awake, but losing something in the process.

It may be with disappointment that you turn over to side B, but the remaining seven tracks provide a reason for buying this record. It is packed with rarities and covers including Elliot Smith (Biggest Lie), Fiest (Mushaboom) and Lua B-side (True Blue). The real high-light that draws the biggest cheers is the charged, quivering, Bush-bashing "When the President Talks to God". Although musically under-par, the weaknesses can be overlooked in lieu of the cutting lyrics and emotional delivery.

Motion Sickness documents Conor Oberst at a transition; the cross over from underground to big time. It is the sound of his most successful tour to date. He has matured and is more relaxed and confident. "Landlocked blues" showcases his one man and guitar strength. His voice always sounds sincere and empathetic. The magnetism of Oberst is in his naked emotionalism, his quivering tremor and personal identification. Were it not for side B, Motion Sickness would be a purchase for obsessive fans only, but the later tracks bring merit and catalogue the live Bright Eyes previously unavailable on record.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Belfast short film - Endgame

Click on the photo above to view Endgame, a wonderful Northern Irish short film set in Belfast. Martin, a primary school teacher in Belfast, is captured by paramilitaries after being caught up in a shoot out. His fate hinges on the matter of his identity. It was robbed of first place in the Turner Classic Movies 2005 short films competition. Check out the other great shorts too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Frames, 20 December 2005

ARTIST The Frames
VENUE The Ulster Hall, Belfast
DATE 20 December 2005

Play it again Glen

Something happens to a band as it increases in stature. The more gigs they play the bigger their appeal, the larger the venue and the wider the audience. Whereas at the start, dedicated fans pack out tiny venues, by the time they reach the Ulster Hall there are plenty of hangers on. This was the problem tonight. It seemed that the majority of people had heard about the Frames in passing and thought it would be a night out for a few drinks with some music in the background. The audience were very noisy.

The sound wasn't great either; the vocal mix was too low and when Glen went to play his acoustic it sounded so shrill and top end like TV static. But neither the sound nor the audience was the real problem. The Frames have been playing this set for years now. It’s the same jokes, the same covers and almost the same audience banter.

If this was your first Frames show it would still have been impressive. But if, like me, you've seen them a few times before, it was uninspiring. Don't get me wrong, I love the Frames, but I felt like I had heard it all before. They played fewer songs from Burn the Maps than this time last year. At the end of a long tour, they are well oiled, but almost routine. There were highlights; the second half of the concert was much better,
Your Face made a welcome appearance, as did the wonderful Fitzcarraldo in the final encore. Star Star was the sing along it always is but the band lacked the originality that made them one of the best live acts in the world. I hope it's a blip. I hope the Frames re-invent their show, so it's not like turning up and listening to Set List again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Woody Allen has a new picture coming out. Match Point is set in London, stars Scarlett Johansson and does not feature Woody. He talks to the Guardian about comedy, tragedy and beautiful women.

'He's a sleazy little megalomaniac who's frightened of women," said Helen Hunt's character in the Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and this is Allen turning directly to his critics and saying, I know, I know - but can you blame me?'

Read the full article here

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The top 15 movies of 2005

Stylus magazine has compiled a fascinating list of it's top 15 movies of 2005. It features blockbusters beside art-house documentaries. Some expected, and some not so. Well worth printing out and sticking to your fridge until you've seen them all. The only noteable exception is Primer, my number one film of the year.

I won't list them here to keep the surprise, but click here to check it out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wilco - Kicking Television: Live in Chicago




Wilco were going to release a live DVD, as is the style these days. But then Wilco never much cared for current trends, so they decided to kick television and release a 2xCD live album recorded last year in the Chicago's Vic Theatre.

In short it's incredible. I've never heard a live album sound so good. The mix is perfect, almost like Wilco rocking out right there in your living room. It manages to perfectly capture a moment in time: the new six man band functioning as a single entity at the height of their Ghost is Born tour. Nels Cline is given free reign over his guitar and manages to create sounds that surpass upon the studio recordings.

Apart from a couple of Woody Guthrie tracks, Kicking Television draws mainly from the band's previous two efforts. It opens with a reinvented Misunderstood from Being There. The band immediately displaying a new-found confidence in their peerless ability. For those who found their Nonesuch records a bit experimental, hearing the band recreate them live will remind you that first and foremost Wilco write straightforward rock songs with decent melodies.

Jeff Tweedy includes a little of his crowd banter, but not too much that you'll grow tired of listening to it. It works well as an audio disc. It keeps the mystery. You wonder why people cheer for seemingly no reason, but most of all it focuses on great music. The loudest cheer of the night is when Tweedy sings “do you still love rock and roll?” With bands like Wilco on current form, it would be hard not to.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I've added an RSS feed to the blog. This means that you can stay up-to-the-minute with all the goings on of AboutTheMusic. I reccomend the free FeedReader - ( newsreader. It's not the prettiest but it does everything you want a feed reader for. Install it, and then click on the RSS button on the right, and insert that link as a feed to your reader. Enjoy!

What a difference 5 years makes

Five years ago today Al Gore phoned George Bush to formally concede the presidency. Since then the United States has suffered it's worst ever terrorist attack, become embroiled in a disastrous foreign war and bungled the response to a natural catastrophe.

Today the Guardian has six American commentators on the half decade of Bush. I particuarly reccomend the former Clinton White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers,
read them all here.

John Parkes - Faithlessnessless LP




John Parkes is an almost man. He's been in so many bands that nearly made it but has never gotten a lucky break. Perhaps he's due one. Faithlessnessless LP is twelve witty, humourous and clever little folk pop songs covering everything from teenagers on northern council estates to protesting against nuclear weapons.

The cover isn't much to look at but the songs are worth a listen. He sees what most don't. He can sing a song comparing a beautiful woman to a cigarette and make it sound reasonable (Cigarette). Parkes has an ear for melody much needed originality. Musically it's all guitar and voice with a little harmonica, like a light-hearted Dylan. The lack musical variation can be a little wearying, but it's the lyrics that keep you listening to the end. Whether he's singing about the days when the left meant left on Politics or CCTV and pedophiles on To Go Around John Parkes is one of a kind.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Kubb - Mother cd review





It's not even piffle, it's piffle lite. Kubb typifies everything wrong with the music industry today. Mother is heavily promoted, but without merit. It's Keane with electric guitars and oh-so-insincere emotion. It's where they listened to Coldplay and thought they too could fake some feelings. It's Katie Melua for coffee-table music-listeners who like whatever is advertised at Tesco and fits neatly into their Ikea CD-tower.

Kubb have been compared to Jeff Buckley but thats insulting the late great artist. Sure the singer has a reasonably wide range but he lacks any of the innovation. This record will appeal to fans of James Blunt and other weedy male singer-songwriters and half-baked indie kids. Kubb fills twelve tracks by ripping off Lennon, Buckley and even Queen, but adding nothing of their own.

That he has already been on Later with Jools Holland, is taking up the airwaves on Radio 1and the cd racks of your local retailer is a travesty; there are plenty of more deserving artists. The singer has a voice, but he's more suited to pop-idol than penning his own serious music. Perhaps if we ignore this song-writing by numbers it will go away.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Narnia represents everything atheists object to in religion

Polly Toynbee has an interesting piece in the Guardian today.

Blogger is having some problems with parenthesis, so please excuse me if there are funny symbols instead of quote marks.

The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw gives the film five stars and says, "There is no need for anyone to get into a PC huff about its Christian allegory," but Polly is having none of that.

Laying her atheistic cards on the table she calls the Christian theme of Narnia "profoundly manipulative" an "arm-twisting emotional call to believers."

She is also firmly of the opinion that religion, and most of all Christianity is an emotional crutch for people who can not take responsibility for their own decisions. She says "Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?"

She calls Narnia "muscular Christianity - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right." Aslan is "everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can."

But what if it is true? Lewis said that if the incarnation was true it is the most important event in the history of the universe. That is a weighty statement, but one not said lightly considering all that hinges upon it. If Jesus was who he says he was then it has profound implications for everyone. And as Lewis also said, if he was not who he said he was, then he can not even be a great moral teacher, he is mad on the level of someone who calls themselves a poached egg. He claimed to be the Son of God. People believed him. They still do, they divided the calendar to life before and after his time on earth. Christianity is everywhere in Western society. This is a debate we need to have.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ryan Adams 29 feedback

Have you had a chance to listen to 29 yet? One track for every year past 20. Each track nine minutes long. Self indulgent? Yes. Old enough to know better? Should be. The best of his three releases this year? Not likely.

At times it sounds like a continuation of his latest Jacksonville style country, at times a bit more Love is Hell remorse and self pity. Of course, it may grow on me. Given time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tunes for the energy review

Gas prices have spiked due to a recent cold snap in the UK and Ireland. Consequently the press is blaming Jonnie European Foreigner for hoarding all the gas and not letting us have any. Yesterday Tony Blair effectively announced a whole load of new nuclear power stations to combat the current insecurity of supply. I thought of the perfect song to accompany this latest shift in policy.

Ryan Adams Nuclear


Then I started thinking what other songs would fit with the Energy Policy review?

REM It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

Ash Meltdown

Joanne Rand and the Little Big Band Radiation on My Windshield

Can you think of any more? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ryan Adams - 29

The last of the trilogy of Ryan releases is due next month. But if, like me, you're a little impatient, you can hear it in its entirety here

72 Bands? No chance.

Apparently this photo

alludes to the names of 72 bands. For example, there is a guy smashing pumpkins on the ground. Get it? Well, below are the one's I've managed to spot so far. See how many you can do. What have I missed?

Alice in chains
Cowboy junkies
The police
Black Flag
50 Cent
Presidents of the United States of America
Black Crowes
Crowded house
Talking Heads
Beach boys
Red hot chilli peppers
Smashing pumpkins
nine inch nails
matchbox twenty
Scissor sisters
the doors
the manic street preachers
white snake
led zeppelin
the rolling stones
the boombtown rats
the shadows
the eagles
they might be giants (?)
the police

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Comes With A [Final] Smile

I have been privileged enough to contribute to what many people believe as the finest music magazine in existence, Comes With a Smile. A few days ago I found a not from the editor in my in-box. It read much like a scrawled epilogue from a dying friend. I’ve paraphrased it below:

Due for mid-January 2006 publication, Comes with a Smile's landmark twentieth issue looks likely to be our last.

Reluctant to be confined by genre and frankly oblivious to (and frequently appalled by) what constitutes "newsworthy" elsewhere in the media, Comes with a Smile's raison d'etre has always been to engage with our readership via conversations with and critiques of musicians and music that we deem 'important' (without the elitism that suggests), and the overriding impression from your response is that we have succeeded. 'So why stop now?' you ask. In short, we've become victims of our own success. Furthermore I'll admit it's been tough to sustain my various roles at the magazine without a salary and the Idea of entering a ninth year further in the red than at any time since our inception in 1997, seems a foolhardy 'career move' at best. To stop now feels less like turning my back on something and more like turning around to face the wolves who have sat patiently on my doorstep for too long.

I have truly never read a better publication. If there is only one issue left, then if for nothing else than posterity’s sake, I urge you to buy a copy. It’s available in Borders, but go to email Matt the editor and ask him for a copy. If anyone has deep pockets perhaps we’ll see an issue #21 as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

More lions and witches

A friend looked at my blog and said the only thing he liked was the comment on Narnia. So, bearing in mind my audience, here is another.

The BBC profiles Christianity in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

The Lion, the Witch... is a book that took three months to knock out yet won the hearts and minds of millions.

There can also be few children's books that contain so much theology as the Narnia stories. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is about atonement and resurrection, divine self-sacrifice and redemption. That might sound a bit much for a children's story, and something for parents rather than their audience to pick up on. But not necessarily.'

The Narnia books then are an unusual blend of the Bible, pagan legend, fairy tale, medieval epic, myth and parable. Perhaps the only thing missing is a hobbit.'

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Top ten bands in America today

Largehearted boy has compiled a list of his top ten bands in America today. He and I see eye to eye on some things, both naming Sufjan Stevens as number one. We concur on a few others, his list is as follows. Read his comments and listen to mp3s of the artists here .

1. Sufjan Stevens
2. The Mountain Goats
3. Anthony and the Johnsons
4. The Fiery Furnaces
5. Bright Eyes
6. MF Doom
7. Sleater-Kinney
8. My Morning Jacket
9. CocoRosie
10. John Vanderslice

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wilco rocks my sitting room

The new live wilco album was awaiting my return to Belfast on Sunday night. I made some coffee, slipped it in the cd player and sat back on the couch. The wonderful sound of wilco filled the living room. It was like they were right there with me, I felt as if I should make more coffee. I’ll leave a review soon, but so far, it rocks. The sound of wilco live surpasses the studio versions, and while some albums struggle to convey what being there is like, Kicking Television manages with ease. It was released yesterday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ryan Adams - Jacksonville City Nights

ARTIST     Ryan Adams

ALBUM     Jacksonville City Nights

LABEL     Lost Highway/Universal

Ok, I know this review is a little late. You’ve probably heard Jacksonville by now, but I’ve found it hard to make up my mind. In writing this I’m hoping to exorcise my indecision. I won’t throw the word prolific around but by the law of averages, due to sheer volume of songs Ryan releases, they won’t all be good. They were great on his first couple of solo releases, dipped a lot on Rock ‘n’ Roll, and returned to form on Love is Hell and most of Cold Roses. So is Jacksonville City Nights any good?

Yes and no. Everybody says it’s really country, its Adams trying to be Gram Parsons, and it is, but in a different way to Whiskeytown. And I like his country stuff, but some of this I can’t stomach. Norah Jones on Dear John misfires, I think he had to include it because she sang on it. Pa, and September return to the monanings and groanings of Love is Hell which seems a regression considering the heights of Cold Roses. But then some of the tracks are great which is where my problem lies. I love ‘the end’, ‘a kiss before I go’, ‘hardest part’ and similarly titled ‘hard way to fall’. The band feel is great, like a bar room, whiskey-soaked, honkey tonk piano and pedal steel group.

Lyrically the album treads now-familiar ground. There is lots of death, or suspicion of it (‘September’, ‘Pa’), the pains of love ‘the hardest part’ and missing a lover ‘kiss before I go’. Some tracks has Adams playing the rhyming game, trying to fit as many words as possible into the line. The UK version includes a wonderful version of ‘You were always on my mind’, Adams singing it as if it was written for his voice.
So I’m left if not sitting, if not on the fence, at least leaning against it. Jacksonville is a valuable addition to the Ryan Adams canon, but not the album I had hoped for. 29, his next release is meant to be 9 long sad songs, so perhaps Cold Roses was his best this year.

Do you agree? Leave a comment.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Even more shameless self promotion

A while ago I posted a download of a song I wrote. I know of one person who listened to it. So for that person, here's another. It features the magnificent Paul Campbell from The Smiles. Yet again, it's another demo. This is taken from the Songs from a Spring Day collection.

An incident at a restaurant


Good news! Everybody's favourite Madird-relocated Nashville singer-songwriter Josh Rouse has announced the release of Bedroom Classics Vol 2 EP on Tuesday November 8th via iTunes. According to Josh,'Bedroom Classics, Vol. 2 consists of 5 tracks, some instrumental and some with my voice. I'm excited about it, it's really moody and different from anything I've put out." Apparently the CD will be available at gigs, and a limited quantity from his website, so if you like to have a cover I'd hold out for that.

Other Josh news is a European tour with a date booked at The Village in Dublin on December 8th.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sufjan Stevens links

Linked below are a couple of great Sufjan Stevens articles.

This one is a live review in Tikkun,

and this one is a review in Pitchfork

Both deal with the dichotomy of being loved by critics, adored by fans, yet struggling to find a box to push him into because of his "christian" beliefs.

The Frames

After a flurry of recent posting, things seem to have dried up somewhat. There will be a few more CD reviews coming, but what really has me salivating is the prospect of seeing Ireland's best band, The Frames in Belfast on 20 December at the Ulster Hall. Always a good gig. Rumour also has it that Mogwai are playing a showcase gig of new material at the Spring and Airbrake in January, that should be fun.

To whet your apetite for the Frames live throughout Europe in November and December check out a very recent recording from their chilled out American tour.

The Frames: 2005-10-22, Chicago [flac]

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Brave and the Bold cd review




Now this really is an interesting collaboration. Tortoise and Will Oldham/Bonnie 'Prince' Billy are not exactly similar artists. Oldham is the king of simple and straightforward indie alt-folk. The only experimental thing about him is his wide range of monikers. Tortoise howerver are an entirely different kettle of fish. Tortoise favour grand, instrumental soundscapes and aren't regarded as the most accessible of groups. There are similarities: both are from Chicago, and Oldham is keen on collaborations, his last record, Superwolf made jointly with Matt Sweeney.

Instead of writing new material together, they decided to reinterpret a wide range of covers. The ten tracks range from Elton John's Daniel, to Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road; but none are as you've heard them before. Predictably it's a little hit and miss. Like most collaborations some tracks lean to one artist and few find true balance. But fans of either artist will find something to enjoy and though the quality varies, for the most part it is of a high standard. All tracks abound with creativity and ingenuity, a truly Brave and Bold side project.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Duke Special, Empire Music Hall, 27 Oct 2005

DATE__________27 OCTOBER 2005

What does it take to ‘make it’? Surely the big time is not a simple formula of talent = success. That the most downloaded song of the summer was by James Blunt is ample evidence that excessive talent isn’t necessary. It also puts to bed the idea that originality or lyrical ingenuity is a necessary pre-requisite. In fact, fortune seems to be as simple as being in the right place at the right time.

If the world was fair and the righteous prospered, Duke Special would be topping the charts. He’s talented, original, charming, honest, and has a timeless ability to write great songs. Behind the masquerades of dreadlocks and mascara, he sings catchy, clever, piano pop songs. He is adored by all he encounters, which is all too few.

But things are looking up, and he just might break through to a wider audience. If tonight was anything to go by, his number must be coming up. The second of a two-night stint at the Empire, as part of the Belfast Festival, was sold out and buzzing with anticipation. He was backed by an extraordinary collection of people who perfectly fit his eccentric circus-carnival image. His percussionist stole the show; rarely sitting still for more than one song, he was banging whatever came to hand, including cheese graters and wooden boxes.

The show was a bit shambolic, piano’s were swapped around, there were musical interludes and the number on stage grew with every song, but that only added to the party feeling. For the first of two encores Duke invited his sisters to accompany him on ‘My only sunshine’. He never fails to give it his all, and sang ‘Freewheel’ and other standouts from Adventures in Gramaphone like it was his last gig. If not the most clinical performance it was a lot of fun, and perhaps the last time we see him in a small venue. Surely fame and fortune beckon.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chris T-T review

This guy writes protest songs in a similar vein to woody Guthry and Bob Dylan, but for the 2000's, about Tony Blair and Iraq.




chrisThe first thing that strikes you about Chris T-T is that he’s unashamedly political. Those of you who believe that music and politics should not mix stop reading now.

‘9 Red Songs’ is a collection of protest songs recorded and produced by Jon Clayton at London’s One Cat Studio. Chris T-T has the wonderful ability of coupling radical politics with dark sarcasm, often causing much offence. Whether he’s singing about Tony Blair’s non-existent heart (‘Tony’s Heart’) or hunting supporters (‘The Huntsman Comes A-Marchin’), Chris wears his heart, beating, bloody and bruised on his sleeve.

9 Red Songs has a bedroom-record feel to it; very natural reverbs and shining acoustics bringing an emotional weight to what could have easily been an alienating rant. The acoustic guitar, banjo, cello and accordion sound will appeal to those who like their music the right side of folk.

Chris T-T’s main pulling-power is his refreshing ‘real-world’ approach, often considered more important than the songs themselves. And this is indeed the case, the songs are good but don’t cut it when compared to the cream of the alt. folk scene. However, in a political world where the wealthy trample the poor, and a musical world were James Blunt and Coldplay rule, Chris T-T (or more importantly, his honesty) is indispensable.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mi and L'au


Mi is a female Finnish model. L'au is a French soundtrack producer. Mi and L'au meet in Paris, fall head over heels in love, and move to the woods in Finland to live happily every after in peace making very slow, quiet records.

Think a bit Bjork, a bit Joanna Newsom, a bit Devandra Banhart (labelmates), a bit Anthony and the Johnsons and you're almost there. The music is all sparse, and delicate, and slightly unsettling- voice, acoustic guitars, and other orchestrations. It's not really the weird folk stuff that's going about at the minute, but perhaps a distant cousin of it.

If you imagine what music made in the Finnish woods would sound like, then it probably sounds like Mi and L'au. There are no fast songs, no hooks, no singles you must burn, but that's not the point. Together they are enchanting, as beguiling as the Greek sirens Odysseus tried to resist. It's one to watch for if you like your Scandanavian folk wispy and melancholic.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Shameless self promotion

Occasionaly I put my money where my mouth is and instead of criticising other people's music, I make my own. I have a few songs kicking around which formed a couple of demos, and I thought I would gradually post them on the blogosphere and see if anyone downloads them. If this improves your day then my mission is achieved.

This is my most recent song. It's called "Guilty".

I'm sure you know by now to right click on the link and go to "save as" to download.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Narnia is ‘racist’ and ‘misogynistic’ says Pullman

Author Philip Pullman has attacked the CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, calling them ‘racist’ and ‘misogynistic’. His biggest chriticism is that as it is supposed to have Christian references, it lacks Christian virtues. He claims that there is not a trace of love in the books, instead they are ‘reactonary’ and ‘prejudiced’.

Now I’ve read the Narnia stories, and I’m pretty sure Pullman hasn’t from his comments. To say that it lacks Christian virtues is a bit naïve as the whole story is a classic battle of good against evil, one that Pullman himself has ripped off with every book he writes. It tells the story of Aslan, the good character coming to save Narnia from the reign of the White Witch by sacrificing himself so that the others can be saved. Towards the end of The Lion, the Witch… he breathes new life into all the prisoners who had been turned into stone. Aslan rescues Edmund, despite the fact that he had joined the side of the White Whitch and spurned Aslan.

But there is no love in Narnia? It’s just prejudiced? I think Pullman had better do some reading. It sounds to me like a sound bite for some cheap publicity. On a discussion board I saw, someone had joined Pullman’s criticism slamming the Narnia chronicles claiming that they were “derisive about vegetarianism”. Oh please.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Richmond Fontaine 5 October 2005, Belfast

ARTIST Richmond Fontaine + The Amazing Pilots
VENUE The Spring and Airbrake
DATE 5 October 2005

A real alt-country treat was brought to the Spring and Airbrake courtesy of the excellent Open House Festival. Fresh from a stint supporting Pedro the Lion in the USA The Amazing Pilots joined Portland's Richmond Fontaine. RF broke through to Irish audiences after the release of 2004's Post to Wire. Now touring in support of the stripped down Fitzgerald album they visited Belfast for the first time. “We love Ireland, especially the horses, but this is our first trip to the North.” lead singer Willy Vlautin tells Alternative Ulster.

The Pilots quickly won the applause of the crowd during their short support set with easy melodies and silky guitar sounds taken from their latest record Hello My Captor. When the four members of RF ambled onto the stage around ten o’clock, Willie was in story teller mode. He has an ability to bring to life the characters in his music, from gun-toting Harley Davidson girls to drinking shots of vinegar for lunch and losing on the horses. Live, the louder songs from Post to Wire excelled and while they typically describe the desolate and destitute, on stage their enthusiasm is palpable. Richmond Fontaine are one of few remaining great American songwriters, let’s hope it’s not long until they’re back.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Sufjan Stevens at the Spring and Airbrake

Sufjan Stevens
The Spring and Airbrake, Belfast
13 October 2005

After the release of his latest record, Illinois, Sufjan (pronounced Soof-yan) Stevens has become something of an underground phenomenon. His name is regularly followed by the phrase ‘the-next-big-thing’. He’s sold out three consecutive dates in London on his current tour and last night sold out Belfast.

Backed by his six-piece band, all decked in orange and navy cheer-leading gear, Sufjan took us on a tour of Michigan and Illinois, through the small towns of Jacksonville and Dakota to the big cities of Detroit and Chicago. They were choreographed to perfection. Before many of the songs he led a cheer, “give us a J! Give us an A! Give us a C! Give us an K! Give us an S! Give us an O! Give us an N! Give us a VILLE! Whaddawe got? JACKSONVILLE” Not being a native American raised on pom-poms and cheers, this was all rather novel. It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen cheerleaders at a gig.

Oh and the music was great too. Trumpets, banjo’s organs, the whole works. The songs mutated live from their recorded versions with different intros and extended endings. They played quite a short set, but covering most of Illinois, with a couple from Seven Swans and Michigan.

The band were polished and professional. The audience were not. The mix was quite low, and Sufjan sings softly at the best of times, so loud shhh’s were frequently ordered, but people continued to talk anyway, and the bar kept smashing glass. The crowded venue added to the excitement but, at the same time detracted from a good performance by Sufjan and his cheerleaders.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fatal attraction

Like legions of others, my ipod changed my life. I have been perfectly satisfied by it. Until now that is. Suddenly I feel envy.

Apple have announced the new ipod. And it plays video.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Coming soon on about the music...

What's in store for this niche of cyberspace? Well there have been a few new records through the door, and appearing on this page will be

THE CONSTANTINES - Tournament of Hearts (Subpop)

HOLOPAW - self titled - (Subpop)

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - Jacksonville City Nights (Lost Highway)

Calexico/Iron & Wine - In the Reins - (Overcoat records)

Bell Orchestre - recording a tape the colour of light - (Rough Trade records)

Plus an interview with Richmond Fontaine, and live reviews of the above and Sufjan Stevens. Watch this space.

Monday, October 10, 2005

KC Rules OK!!


Based in the kingdom of Fife, Kenny Anderson has been recording and releasing literally gazillions of albums on his own Fence record label for about the last ten years. King Creosote's third commercially released album, KC Rules OK follows the much acclaimed 'Rocket DIY' which got him voted one of the top 50 Scottish bands of all time. Recorded with 'The Earlies', KC Rules OK is a beautiful collection of touching, funny, sad, poignant and heartbreaking songs. Like Belle & Sebastien, KC finds wonder in the minutiae of adult relationships; trips to Safeway and unromantic garlic breath. Maguerita Red is as bohemian and heartfelt a song that you'll hear in a long time. His Scottish accent is clearly identifiable as he sings and lends a certain charm to the small town folk feel. In all it's an album worth investigating.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Richmond Fontaine

Richmond Fontaine are rolling into Belfast on Wednesday to play as part of the Open House Festival at the Limelight. It's a treat to have one of the greatest american storytellers in our city. I'll be reviewing the gig and interviewing the guys. Watch this space! If you have any questions you would like asked leave a comment.

Monday, October 03, 2005

My girlfriend says...

My girlfriend is one of the faithful few who frequently reads my blog. She maintains that while I write about coffee and wine, riots and politics, (not to mention a lot of music), I never mention her.

So here she is. Heather my love.

Arabian Mocha Java

My friend, and black apron coffee master, Jonny Ross gave me a bag of the holy grail of coffee, Arabian Mocha-Java yesterday. A blend of Yemen and Java coffees, this exotic combination creates a balance of soft spice, smooth body and a slight berry aroma. It is apparently the first ever blend, made by Dutch 17th Century coffee traders. It has virtually no aciditiy at all, making it smooth, but with a voluptuous body. Apparently it’s great. I have yet to open the beans and stick them in my grinder, but I plan to later on today. Thanks Jonny.

Friday, September 30, 2005

We will become like birds




Erin McKeown, the Massachusetts-based 27-year-old with a bachelor's degree in ethno-musicology from Brown University seems to have settled down to a genre at last. This fresh batch of breezy folk-pop has the intimate earthiness of Wilco but with a radio-friendly ear.

Instead of playing everything herself, her band perfectly complement her voice, allowing Erin to show the many facets of her song writing. The opening track Aspera, is a grounded hymn over surging drums and bass. The albums hinges on Float, her most effective song yet. Part wonder and part despair, her intimate and vulnerable vocals peak with crescendos of Hallelujah. She's not another pretty blank coffee house mouthpiece. This is enough to carry even the most calloused listener away with the birds.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Socialism, New Labour, Blair and Brown

There's been a lot of talk this week about the Blair-Brown changeover and when it will or won't come. Will the team work with Brown as the PM? Blair was the visionary but Brown kept his feet on the ground. Blair had the ideas and Brown counted the cost. But can Brown come up with it all by himself? At heart he is a Scottish Puritan, and his socialist roots are only thinly veiled.

I think what will eventually undo labour isn't going to be a wonderful campaign by David Davis or whoever the next Tory leader is, but money. Quite simply, labour governments run out of money. This tax and spend policy by Brown is nice when things are going well, but he's broken his own rules. The IMF were proved right, growth is slowing, public sector borrowing is ballooning, something will have to give. We'll run out of money.

Anyway,Anatole Kaletsky has written a very insightful piece about the would-be PM. It's called
Gordon Brown is still tempted by the besetting sin of old-style socialism

THE MOST IMPORTANT sentence spoken from the Labour Party conference in Brighton this week was Tony Blair’s simple definition of his entire political project: “New Labour was first and foremost about disentangling ends and means.” Read the rest of this article here

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Orenda Fink album review




"Anything you can do I can do better" must be the mantra in Azure Ray. Hot on the heels of Maria Taylor's 11:11, Orenda Fink, the other half of Azure Ray, tries her hand at a solo record. While Taylor sticks to easily digestible dreamy pop, Fink grapples with spirituality, oppression, and the mystical and external world. Inspired by travels in Cambodia, India and backed by Haitian choirs she asserts "Prophets, pimps, angels, whores/ There ain't no devil, there ain't no lord"

Sufjan Stevens and Nick Cave can make wonderful albums about the finer points of theology but Fink struggles to find humour or optimisim. At times the bittersweetness is beautiful, at times crushing. It's much more inventive than her musical partner's solo effort, but expends too much effort to create a musical other worldly feel at the expense of coherent songs.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bush Whacking

Donald Rumsfeld is giving President Bush his daily military briefing. He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed in an accident.”

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sit stunned at this unusual display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks:

''How many's a Brazillion…??!'

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

New music

I got a few new records recently. First of all I had to go out and buy the limited edition version of Takk by Sigur Ros. It's wonderful. A little hard back book, a bit like the limited edition amnesiac record, with some beautiful artwork and the CD is held in a card page with a bird shape cut out of it. Oh, and the record is pretty great too.

Rather less aesthetically pleasing I got 1990 by Daniel Johnston. I heard about him at the Glen Hansard concert in Lisburn. He played a lovely cover and then recommended 1990 as the album to get. Daniel used to write hundreds of songs a day as a form of therapy on a little cassette recorder and then sell them in the street. Each tape was unique, eventually attracting record label interest. He has an interesting voice, and original lyrics.

Another record I found in my letterbox today was by Orenda Fink, the other half of Azure Ray (that role taken by the delightful Maria Taylor). Apparently it's all about spiritual journeys in Haiti and India. Could be Sgt Peppers then? I haven't listened to it yet but plan to later on today. The guys from Now It's Overhead and Bright Eyes perform on it. A promising start. Other new music I'm excited about is the new Jacksonville City Nights album. But more to come on that when I get a copy.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

There's somthing in the air

I enjoy thinking of songs to play as a soundtrack to my life. There’s always something to fit what you’re seeing. This past week that song has been Thunderclap Newman’s There’s Something in the air.

As I hear the helicopters circling over head, gun shots in the distance, rising smoke and traffic lights littered across the streets of Belfast I’ve been thinking

Call out the instigator because there's something in the air.
We've got to get together sooner or later because the revolution's here.
And you know it's right.
And you know that it's right.
We have got to get it together.
We have got to get it together now.

Pent up aggression and frustration with the peace process has boiled over, the catalyst was a re-routed orange order march. The loyalist community took it as an excuse to go on a bit of riot. It’s not all political. If you’re making a statement by bulldozing down streetlights, you don’t take the ATM machine with you. If you hi-jack a bus to burn it, you don’t rob the passengers before letting them off.

And what does the orange order say? They’d do it all again. Change nothing. Apparently it’s all the fault of the police.

An English woman, Libby Purves wrote in the times a very insightful piece entitled, provocatively enough, Orangemen: why they suck. She says Ulster's hypocritical Protestants are too one-eyed to see the obvious benefits of Christian humility. Worth a read, whether you agree or not. Read it here.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I don't believe it...

I’m not one to write about football. I don’t know very much about it, certainly not enough to speak with any authority. But I do know a miracle when I see one. And last night the powers that be were playing for Northern Ireland.

Walking home through Belfast I had to avoid scores of intoxicated green-faced supporters, dodge cars draped with Northern flags and listen to seemingly ridiculous chants of ‘we’re going to win the world cup’.

Earlier on in the day my driver said a draw would be a historic result.

After debating whether or not to go out and watch the match on a big screen surrounded by drunks, I put the television on, pressed the mute button and opened the window. The noise from nearby Windsor Park flooded in providing real surround sound.

As the match kicked off optimism was high, we cheered each crunching northern irish tackle and boo-ed every English touch of the ball. Half time came and we hadn’t conceded. It seemed a bit too good to be true, an England goal had to arrive some time. But it didn’t, and on the 73rd minute, David Healy, now a local legend, slotted home what will be one of the most talked about goals in North Irish history.

We whooped and cheered. Then it almost happened again. It was a bit much. The underdogs triumph, almost a Hollywood ending. Our boys aren’t meant to perform like this.

It would have been a perfect night but for the Republic's defeat by France. That dastardly Henry.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tik Takk

Takk, the new album from Sigur Ros is released on 12 September. I think it's fair to say that everybody at 66 Ulsterville Gardens is pretty excited. Dave went to see them in Glasgow and described it as "an out of body experience". Could have been the drink.

Having had the privilige of listening to a promo I think the excitement is justified. Sigur Ros started small with lots of funny noises and not much else on Von Brigidi, then Agaetis Byrjun and 2002's () found Sigur Ros feeling their way to bigger and better things.

But now they're signed to a major label. Before you can say "corporate whore" rest assured Takk displays the hall mark signs of limited edition packaging, publicity blitz, big money producers fat cats.

It's provoked a bit of controversy. On the whole everybody thinks Takk is great, including me I should add. But for some, notably the well-respected WIRE magazine, thnk "pattern so often repeated, it becomes formulaic, with some tracks simply existing as extended codas for their predecessors" and "What began as an intriguing Icelandic mixof abstraction and emotion has ended up sounding like an indie Last Night of the Proms." They have a point. The big buck producer has obviously said, Coldplay are doing this great 'build it up into something big thing, so why don't you guys do it too'. And so Sigur Ros comply. And they do it well, no problem there, but they do it in every song.

It's like EMI told them what a chorus is for. I liked the twinkling paino of untitled #3 on (), and the low organ opening the album. Now we have trumpets that sound like Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It's always difficult to see your favourite band grow up and be loved by everyone. They're not your secret anymore. Sigur Ros are no longer the select of music snobs and gurus, now they're music for the people. Quibbles aside, Takk is great, even in its limited edition packaging.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Music snob?

I like to think that I know a bit about music. That I may have some obscure bootlegs and rarities in my collection. I listen to vinyl and can think of few better ways than to spend an afternoon knee deep in dusty record sleeves in my local used record store. It is to like-minded individuals that Michael Crowly of the Times wrote this piece.

iPod came and broke your heart

Michael Crowley

Rock snobs’ days are numbered when their collections can be downloaded in minutes
“SINCE THE DAWN of rock, there have been individuals, usually young men, of argumentative tendencies who have lorded their encyclopedic musical knowledge over others.” So states the introduction of the Rock Snob’s Dictionary, compiled by David Kamp and Steven Daly. I like to believe I’m not the insufferable dweeb suggested by this definition. But I do place an unusual, perhaps irrational, value on rock music. I take considerable pride in my huge collection and carefully refined taste. And I consider bad rock taste — or, worse, no rock taste at all — clear evidence of a fallow soul. I am, in other words, a certified rock snob. But I fear that rock snobs are in grave danger. We are being ruined by the iPod.

While the term “rock snob” has a pejorative ring, the label also implies real social advantages. The rock snob presides as a musical wise man to whom friends turn for opinions and recommendations; he can judiciously distribute access to various rare and exotic prizes in his collection. “Oh my God, where did you find this?” are a rock snob’s favourite words to hear. His highest calling is the creation of lovingly compiled mix CDs designed to dazzle their recipients with a blend of erudition, obscurity and pure melodic dolomite. Recently, I unearthed a little-known cover of the gentle Gram Parsons country classic Hickory Wind, bellowed out by Bob Mould and Vic Chestnutt, which moved friends to tears. It was rock snob bliss.

In some ways, then, the iPod revolution is a rock snob’s dream. Now, nearly all rock music is almost instantly attainable, either via our friends’ computers or through online file-sharing networks. Music swapping on a mass scale allows my music collection to grow larger and faster than I’d ever imagined. And I can now summon any rare track from the online ether.

But there’s a dark side to the iPod era. Snobbery subsists on exclusivity. And the ownership of a huge and eclectic music collection has become ordinary. Thanks to the iPod, and digital music generally, anyone can quickly build a glorious 10,000-song collection. Adding insult to injury, this process often comes directly at the rock snob’s expense. We are suddenly plagued by musical parasites. For instance, a friend of middling taste recently leeched 700 songs from my computer. He offered his own library in return, but it wasn’t much. In rock snob terms, I was a Boston Brahmin and he was a Beverly Hillbilly — one who certainly hadn’t earned that highly obscure album of AC/DC songs performed as tender acoustic ballads but was sure to go bragging to all his friends about it. Even worse was the girlfriend to whom I gave an iPod. She promptly plugged it into my computer and was soon holding in her hand a duplicate version of my 5,000-song library — a library that had taken some 20 years, thousands of dollars and about as many hours to accumulate. She’d downloaded it all within five minutes. And, a few months later, she was gone, taking my intimate musical DNA with her.

I’m not alone in these frustrations. “Even for a recovering rock snob, such as myself,” Daly told me, “it’s a little disturbing to hear a civilian music fan boast that he has the complete set of Trojan reggae box-sets on his iPod sitting alongside 9,000 other tracks that he probably neither needs nor deserves.”

But resistance is futile. Even the rock snob’s habitat, the record shop, is under siege. Say farewell to places like Championship Vinyl, the archetypal record store featured in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. “The shop smells of stale smoke, damp and plastic dust-covers, and it’s narrow and dingy and overcrowded, partly because that’s what I wanted — this is what record shops should look like,” explains Hornby’s proprietor, Rob.

Like great used bookstores, the Championship Vinyls of the world are destinations where the browsing and people-watching is half the fun. Equally gratifying is the hunt for elusive albums in a store’s musty bins, a quest that demands time, persistence and cunning, and whose serendipitous payoffs are nearly as rewarding as the music itself. Speaking of book-collecting, the philosopher Walter Benjamin spoke of “the thrill of acquisition”. But, when everything’s instantly available online, the thrill is gone.

Benjamin also savoured the physical element of building a collection — gazing at his trophies, reminiscing about where he acquired them, unfurling memories from his ownership. “The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed,” he said. But there’s nothing magic about a formless digital file. I even find myself nostalgic for the tape-trading culture of Grateful Dead fans who used to drive for hours in their VW vans to swap bootleg concert tapes. My older brother still has a set of bootleg tapes he copied from a friend some 20 years ago during a California bike trip. Having survived travels from Thailand to Mexico, the tapes have acquired an almost totemic quality in his mind. I feel the same way about certain old CDs, whose cases have become pleasantly scuffed and weathered during travels through multiple dorm rooms and city apartments but still smile out at me from their shelves like old friends.

Soon our collections will be all ones and zeroes stored deep in hard drives, instantly transferable and completely unsatisfying as possessions. And we rock snobs will have become as obsolete as CDs themselves.

Michael Crowley is a senior editor at The New Republic

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Glen Hansard live in Lisburn

ARTIST: Glen Hansard
VENUE: Lisburn Island Arts Centre
DATE: 17 August 2005

I think what keeps people going to live shows is the
idea that it can break down barriers and provide a
transcendental experience. That’s a bold claim but
there are moments, often too few, where the music
unites singer and audience, where the crowd is not a
collection of individuals, but one. Where people leave
behind their differences and focus on the same thing.

“This moment right now, this is my favourite part of a
gig,” said Glen Hansard lead singer of The Frames at
the Lisburn Arts Centre last night, “where I’m not
playing anything but we’re all involved”. He stood
alone on the stage with his hands in the air as the
audience sang a simple melody. The guitar dangled
loose and silent, and for a moment everyone was

The Frames have often been described as the best live
band in Ireland, including U2. What they lack in 100ft
video screens and light shows they make up for in
camaraderie. They know their audience intimately, and
every time Frames gig feels like you’re at home with
your friends again. Even more so when Glen plays alone
to a small, packed, seated auditorium. He bantered
with the crowd, changed his set list to their whims,
told stories from his childhood and exchanged tips on
the best way to speak in a Northern accent.

Earlier in the day he had recorded an interview about
Van-the-man Morrison. “He’s the greatest man from your
part of the world!” Glen exclaimed before performing
another Van cover. He was on top form, his vocal range
stretching far and wide, singing with passion until
occasionally having a fit of the giggles. “I can’t
believe I just wrecked a perfectly intimate song” he
confessed after an impromptu end to what was meant to
be the very last tune of the night, but agreed with
the audience that he would have to do just one more.
Even that wasn’t the last, to a standing ovation he
brought his Czech friend on to sing Lenoard Cohen’s
Hallelujah completely unplugged on bended knee, very
much as Damien Rice ended many of his shows.

The comparisons between Glen and Damien grow
increasingly. The Dublin songwriters have toured
extensively together, use the same live tricks with
female backing singers, and now have co-written a
number of songs for a film; but Glen wasn’t meant to
say that. He drew mainly from the Frames glorious and
extensive back catalogue with a few covers thrown in
for good measure.

Every Frames gig is an amazing experience, and even
without the other three Frames, Glen still has
the charm and charisma to summon the magic that keeps
us coming back for more.