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.