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The new year cometh

December 28th, 2007 No comments

For the final post of 2007 we’re looking to the new year. Ten songs which review the year gone by and anticipate the next. I don’t like New Year’s Eve much. I resent the pressure of having to have a good time as time hurtles forward another digit closer to the year of my death. Bah! Still, don’t let me spoil it for you. And look, Ma, no U2!


Death Cab For Cutie – The New Year.mp3

The song that kicked off the stunning Transatlanticism album (the title of which I dedicate to the British music writer Robin Carmody) so brilliantly. Will you feel any different at 00:01 on January 1? I think Death Cab are due another album soon, which gives us a good reason to be welcome 2008 with some anticipation. I hear a new album by Postal Service, which features Death Cab singer Ben Gibbard, is on its way, too. And last night I listened to Nada Surf’s new album Lucky, out on February 8, on which Gibbard guests. Lucky deserves much buzz; it’s a very fine album.

District Six – New Year.mp3
Go to any New Year’s Eve party in Cape Town’s coloured (mixed-race) community, and you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid this song from the hugely popular and deeply moving musical District Six. The eponymous area was a large working-class suburb on the foot of Table Mountain, on the edges of the city centre, populated mainly by coloureds, one of four main population groups by which people were classified under apartheid. In 1966, the apartheid regime decided that District Six was a slum “” which it was, seeing that the white rulers had little interest in developing and upgrading the area. By the mid-70s, District Six had been cleared, and the inhabitants of this close-knit community were removed to ghettos far away from the city (while huge swathes of the area are still vacant today!). Some of these new ghettos were cruelly named after District Six landmarks, so as to drive home the humiliation. District Six – The Musical captured the life in District Six, and its demise, with great humour and heartbreaking pathos. “New Year” illustrates the party spirit in the community. With its blend of global musical influences, the song is representative of the traditional sound of the coloured community (though most would probably rather listen to hip hop, R&B or jazz fusion).

Hello Saferide – 2006.mp3
The wonderful Annika Norlin wakes up on New Year’s morning and already knows it’ll be “another shitty year”. She makes resolutions (” I will learn a new word each day. Today”s word is dejected”), chief among them, “there”s you”. “I”m going to be with you. I haven”t told you yet, but I”m going to be with you.” Oh, I think I’m in love with Annika. (more Hello Saferide here)

K’s Choice – Another Year.mp3
For some, the new year promises another cycle of being in a rut, which in itself can be a soul-destroying comfort zone, as Belgium’s finest observe. “You’re not sick, so you can”t heal. But I wonder do you feel the need to cry: ‘I’m out of here’?” Sarah Bettens’ smoky voice rarely sounded better than on this track. (more Sarah Bettens here)

The Weepies – Not Your Year.mp3
Not your life, more like. The Weepies have a good way of putting into words the vague unhappinesses of life. “Movies, TV screens reflect just what you expected. There”s a world of shiny people somewhere else, out there following their bliss, living easy, getting kissed, while you wonder what else you”re doing wrong.” (more Weepies here)

Maria Taylor – Leap Year.mp3
Well, 2008 is a leap year. So this song gets included on strength of its apposite title, even if it has little to do with the coming 366 days. The excellent Maria Taylor actually does make reference to the seasons in this touching song, from 2005’s 11:11, about a relationship that is somehow stuck. (more Maria Taylor here)

Dan Fogelberg – Same Old Lang Syne.mp3
Apart from the title, seasonal reference and the strains of Auld Lang Syne in the fade out, this has nothing to do with the forced jollities on December 31. In fact, there is nothing jolly about this apparently autobiographical encounter between Fogelberg and his old school girlfriend whom he meets by chance and they trade their stories. He finds that they could be great together if not for circumstances and unloved architects. The final line is quite wonderful. Sadly Fogelberg died a couple of weeks ago, putting to rest my briefly running gag of “fogelberging” as an euphemism. (more Dan Fogelberg here)

Mindy Smith – What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.mp3
I really like Mindy Smith, but I’m uncertain about her Christmas album. Is The Man trying to turn her into Norah bleedin’ Jones? This standard has been recorded by many great singers, as well as by the likes of Diana Krall and Vonda Shepard. Mindy’s version has a lovely torchsong jazz arrangement, and as always her voice is lovely. The problem is this: here she sings the tune; on her originals (and her stunning cover version of “Jolene”), she lives the songs. (more Mindy Smith here)

The Walkmen – New Year’s Eve.mp3
Brilliant piano riff, great drums, and wonderfully alcohol-soaked vocals in this 2004 indie song about”¦er…a break-up? Adultery? Alienation in a relationship? Not a song to play after the corks pop.

Abba – Happy New Year.mp3
Among all these not terribly jolly songs, Abba deliver the right note of cautious optimism and anticipation. Life’s a bit shit, but, hey, let’s say Happy New Year, because things might get better. Here’s hoping it will, for all of us. Happy New Year everybody, see you in 2008.

The Songbirds: Vol 2

August 5th, 2007 2 comments

Harris Tweed
It’s cheating a bit to include in a review of “songbirds” a group, but Harris Tweed’s wonderfully talented singer Cherilyn Macneil is a bona fide songbird, as the songs here, from last year’s debut The Younger, bear out. “Ode To Confusion” is how Regina Spektor might sound if she was cute. The other two might recall Brandi Carlile: a bit of guitar, an ear for a good melody, and poignant lyrics. And the oddly-titled “Le Musketeer est Brave” features one of my favourite lines at the moment: “In my dream I am running, I”m casting off my shoes and socks and my broken heart.” Music to fall in love with. Londoners can catch Harris Tweed on September 23 & 25 (for Scottish and German dates see their MySpace page).
Harris Tweed – Ode To Confusion.mp3
Harris Tweed – Beautiful Mystery.mp3
Harris Tweed – Le Musketeer est Brave.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile’s name may suggest an airhead pop princess; but that is one thing she certainly isn’t. Expect her sophomore album The Story to create a lot of attention. In a way, it could be a pity when the Grammy nominations come in, because that kind of recognition usually spells an end to an artist’s credibility, leading to unwarranted vilification because people with less good taste than we are have are now buying the music we of the impeccable taste have hyped in first place (irony metres are on, yes?). Whatever happens, The Story is a gorgeous album, fusing folk and country (as on “Have You Ever”) with the occasional dash of guitar rock (“My Song”). Add Carlile’s exquisite songwriting skills and distinctive voice to the mix, and you have something quite special.
Brandi Carlile – My Song.mp3
Brandi Carlile – Have You Ever.mp3
Brandi Carlile – The Story.mp3 (previously uploaded)
Brandi Carlile – Throw It All Away.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Hello Saferide
Hello Saferide is Swedish indie-folk singer Annika Norlin, who picked up a massive amount of deserved Internet buzz over the past few months. “The Quiz”, from last year’s long-titled EP, remains a favourite song of mine; hell, it made me fall in love with Annika (evidence here). That song makes reference to her being “still scared of feet”, following up on the original revelation in “Get Sick Soon”. It’s a cute song, in which Annika hopes that the object of her love would catch the ‘flu so that she might lovingly nurse her guy. “Best Friend” has a similarly quirky sentiment, expressing affection for her best friend by way of wishing that they might be lesbians so as be in love with each other. Get free Hello Saferide songs here. And check out her great new single over at this fine blog.
Hello Saferide – Get Sick Soon.mp3
Hello Saferide – My Best Friend.mp3


Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles
You’ll hear a lot about Sarah Borges yet (perhaps you already have). Somebody used the term “honky tonk country”, which isn’t totally off the mark, but Borges’ music has many more layers. Certainly you pick up the smells of bars, beer and cigarettes hearing this attitude-filled stuff — and I’m not talking Billy Ray Cyrus linedancing crap either. This songbird snarls and roars and dictates her own terms. And you just know that the hapless Broken Singles will be discarded before you can say: “Fuck off, Gretchen”.
Sarah Borges – Come Back To Me.mp3
Sarah Borges – Lonely Town Of Love.mp3

Suzanne Vega
Vega is one of the godmothers of the current lot of songbirds. Songs like “Marlene On The Wall” borrowed from Joni, Rita and Carole, but they also set the template for those who’d follow. These tracks are from her new album, Crime & Beauty, which has received mixed reviews. Granted, half of the album is musically rather forgettable, but when it’s good, it really is good. I especially like the Carlos Jobim & Astrud Gilberto vibe of “Pornographer’s Dream”, which is a bit incongruent with the subject matter (for a companion piece, seek out The Weepies’ “Dating A Porn Star”. And, yes, The Weepies’ very incredibly desirably lovely swoonable Deb Talan will be featured soon). But Vega’s power never resided in her melody, less so in the vocals; Vega is a songwriter, and you connect with her on account of the lyrics. And thee, Crime & Beauty is totally rewarding.
Suzanne Vega – Pornographer’s Dream.mp3
Suzanne Vega – Frank And Ava.mp3
Suzanne Vega – Angel’s Doorway.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Tack så mycket for the music, Sverige

March 15th, 2007 4 comments

The centre of the Indie music universe is turning out to be Sweden. It started a decade ago with the international emergence of the Cardigans. Today the likes of the idiosyncratic Jens Lekman, the Shout Out Louds, and Peter Bjorn & John contribute to the country”s fertile music landscape.

HELLO SAFERIDE
And then there is Hello Saferide (Annika Norlin), whose one-and-a-half albums have created a measure of Internet buzz. Sparsely instrumentated, sometimes it”s just an acoustic guitar and handclaps, Hello Saferide has an infectious, often quirky and sometimes very pretty sound that belies the often dark lyrics (such as the ill-wishes addressed to an ex-boyfriend on “Valentine”s Day“).

Hello Saferide”s quest for love finds expression in unexpected ways, be it the benign stalker in “High School Stalker“ or the resolution for the “shitty”new year of getting together with a chap who doesn”t know it yet (“2006″), or the interrogation in “The Quiz”. On other songs, she tries to reconnect with an old confidante (“Long Lost Penpal”). “My Best Friend” (video here) expresses the wish that she and the eponymous pal could be lesbians so that they could be lovers (a sweet sentiment, but imagine a guy telling his straight best friend that he wishes they could be gay together. Even postfacing such a statement with a heartfelt “MAAN” probably wouldn”t save the friendship, the enormity of the compliment notwithstanding).

The instant classic is “The Quiz” (listen to it here, video here), a catchy acoustic number with utterly enchanting lyrics. She states her appreciation for a romantic prospect “” he is attentive, made the effort to clean up the bathroom, cooks good soup, and has fine taste in music (Townes van Zandt, Jens Lekman, Rickie Lee Jones), though perhaps he should not display his full set of Star Wars Special Edition DVDs too prominently “” before introducing her compatibility quiz. Her fear of feet and concomitant request that socks be worn at all times would, alas, kill off any romantic notions the lopvely Annika and I might entertain ““ unless my non-fragrant, beautifully shaped and perfectly smooth feet might help her conquer that very strange phobia”¦

Download
Hello Saferide – My Best Friend
Hello Saferide – High School Stalker
Hello Saferide – Valentine”s Day
Hello Saferide – If I Don’t Write This Song, Someone I Love Will Die
Hello Saferide – San Francisco


SALEM al FAKIR
Salem al Fakir explores pop and soul genres in a unique manner. The voice may need some getting used to, but the talent is immediately apparent. One minute you listen to the “˜70s soul throwback “Good Song”, which recalls The Spinners, next you may hear a celtic prog gig which would not be amiss on a Gabriel-era Genesis LP. It”s all innovative and great fun.

Salem al Faikr – Good Song.mp3

I’M FROM BARCELONA
Believe the hype: 29-member group I”m From Barcelona are quite excellent in their genre of twee indie-pop, If you can handle songs about treehouses (or tweehouses) or oversleeping on a Monday. Listen to it in the wrong mood and you might hate it. But give it another chance, and be rewarded by an exuberance that creates the brand of giddy happiness one might experience when drinking a cold raspberry soda after a good game of football at a satisfying picnic in a lovely park on a hot day.

I’m From Barcelona – Oversleeping

LONEY DEAR
The album of 2007 awards at Any Major Dude HQ has an early contender in Loney, Noir by the idiosyncratically named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen, who features on the I”m From Barcelona album). Imagine Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie turning into a multi-dubbing Brian Wilson after OD-ing on Arcade Fire, and you might get a vague idea of Loney Dear”s wondrous music. The songs on this apparently home-produced album typically begin softly before building up into a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink crescendo. It should result in discordant racket, instead the listener is immersed in sounds of astonishing beauty.

Loney, Dear – No One Can Win
Loney, Dear – Carrying A Stone

HERMAN DÃœNE
Herman Düne might sound like a geography teacher, but is in fact a group. “I Wish That I Could See You Soon” sounds like the illegitimate lovechild of Van Morrison”s “Brown Eyed Girl” and any number of Desmond Dekker songs “” and it”s glorious. Listen also to “This Summer”, also on 2006″s Giant album, which evokes lazy days in lush sunshine in the Carribbean ““ just the sound to hear a song about “the lithium fucking with your brain”.

Herman Düne – I Wish I Could See You Soon.mp3

Download also:
Sambassadeur – Between The Lines
Sambassadeur – New Moon
Sambassadeur – Kate
The Radio Dept – The Worst Taste In Music (video here)
The Radio Dept – Against The Tide

More about Swedish Indie music, with free MP3s, at Hello Sur

prise!
Loads of Scandinavian downloads here (including Loney, Dear’s astonishing “I Am John”)