Next to share their favourites of the year is part man part canine Barry-Sean…
What a fantastic year for music this has been for me. I don’t just mean for music that has been produced this year but more about the music that I’ve discovered from previous years (or, more accurately in most cases, music that has been discovered for me). And, because I’ve spent a lot of time going backwards and forwards to London on the train, I’ve had loads of listening time. Hurrah!
So here we go. Here’s my top ten songs of 2011.
10. Sissy & The Blisters – Let Her Go
When MM first introduced me to Sissy & The Blisters, I wasn’t too fussed. But they’ve grown on me over the past few months. Let Her Go starts off sounding like the Editors covering Placebo. But it does remain a truly S&tB song throughout and has a wonderfully catchy chorus. A great start to my top 10, I think.
9. Tom Williams & The Boat – See My Evil
My favourite track from the fantastic Too Slow, released early in the year. It’s an album that’s so good I could have easily included at least one more track from it in my top ten songs of the year. But no, let’s keep things varied.
Tom Williams & The Boat produce some pretty dark songs and this one bounds from one grim situation to another with a vocal that flicks between contempt and resignation accompanied by a tortured but catchy guitar riff. Pure brilliance!
I’m well behind the mackerel shoal in getting to love the Roadside Graves. While the other mackerels were waxing lyrical about songs like Far And Wide and Liv Tyler, I just wasn’t getting it. And then Double Feature came along and it was like having a bucket of water thrown over my head. Suddenly everything made sense and I understood what all the fuss was about.
Double Feature is from the concept album We Can Take Care of Ourselves and feels like a story … its just I’m not really sure what its about. But it builds beautifully and transported me to a drive-in on a middle-America summer evening. Atmospheric and tuneful with a great pace and vocals. If you’ve not listened to Roadside Graves before, please do try this first … then go and buy the album.
Another band I didn’t really ‘get’ but Shake Me Down from the album Thank You Happy Birthday caught my attention and held it from the opening chords. And I’ve carried on playing regularly since I first heard it in March.
I couldn’t tell you what musical genre this track fits into but its somewhere between rock and Americana. I’m just not sure where.
I love Deer Tick. They’re a really talented bunch of chaps who can switch between songs about the painful side of love (listen to Ashamed from their War Elephant album) to rollocking, lets-just-have-a-beer-and-party singalongs. The Bump falls well and truly into the latter category. Any song that can make me smile and stamp my foot along to it every time I hear it has got to be worth a place in my top ten, hasn’t it?
5. Ha Ha Tonka – Usual Suspects
I’m not really a ‘fun song’ sort of bloke but from the opening, jangly chords I fell in love with this. It’s just three and a half minutes of fun and it never fails to give me that feel-good feeling. If you’re ever a bit down in the mouth, this is sure to pick you up.
Pure atmosphere … a bit like a modern day Ocean Rain (for younger readers that’s an Echo & The Bunnymen track from their sublime album of the same name).
This songs meanders gently along with breathy, haunting vocals that takes you to a place where you can almost feel the creak of wood beneath your feet and feel the rain on your face. Beautiful.
3. Richmond Fontaine – Lost in the Trees
Now we’re into the really serious stuff. This track has been on so many of playlists this year and I’ve never tired of it. A dark tale of a party in the woods that goes badly wrong.
The backing riff is as moody as the lyrics and, sorry to namedrop the Bunnymen again, brings to mind the brilliant Do It Clean. To be honest the only reason this isn’t at number one is because I couldn’t make my mind up between my top three songs of the year and not all of them can be number one. It is a great, great track though.
2. The Decemberists – January Hymn
Again, this could have been number one (but equally could have been number three) but just got pipped at the post.
January Hymn is a beautiful, atmospheric song that tells of a fella who goes out clearing his drive of snow on a snowy day. He thinks of his love who has left him and all the things he should have said before she left.
You’d expect the Decemberists to come up with quality tunes and lyrics but this is so good you can picture the scenes as Colin Meloy sings them. Genius.
Twilight Hotel – Mahogany Veneer
A moody (and slightly sad) road trip as Twilight Hotel take us across America, visiting some of the places you wanted necessarily want to see, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina being a great example.
The entire song conjures up so many images in the mind to a backdrop of a melancholic melody. I do love story songs and this has become one of my favourites. Not necessarily for the story itself but for the intelligent way Twilight Hotel have matched lyrics with tune and brought them together to create a dark, dark journey.
A thumping, foot-tapping tune that seems to push the buttons of the fellas in our office more than the ladies. Great tune … enough said.
Lovely Eggs – Don’t Look At Me (I Don’t Like It)
This got in my head back at the start of autumn and just stayed there. Daft lyrics set to a late seventies punky tune with a distinctive and quite addictive vocal. Great fun.
Mr Plow – Typhus
Not such great fun but you’ve got to love a song about a killer disease haven’t you? If you’re mad enough not to want to listen to this all the way through … just about everyone dies in the end! Don’t listen to this is if you’re feeling low though, eh?
Download Mr Plow – Typhus mp3 (from Joyful In Song We Are)
The Whalers – That Rabbit
If this had been a 2011 song, it would have been top five. I love this.
This would have been my number two if it had been this year. It conjures up memories of sitting on a Friday evening train on the way back from London and marvelling at the Berkshire countryside in early spring. For me, this tune will always remind me of the coming of lighter evenings and warmer days.
And this would have been my number one. Brilliant lyrics that starts with the storyteller’s girlfriend storming out after a row. The storyteller goes on to reflect on the downside of being in love. I‘m not going to say anything else. Just that if you only listen to one of the songs I’ve talked about here, please make it this one.
Okkervil River – John Allyn Smith Sails
Aaaaah, Okkervil River. Why didn’t I know about you before this year? These guys were one of my highlights of End of the Road 2011. This is another dark tale but without the moody tune to go with it. There’s also a brilliant cameo by a well-known tune towards the end of the song that I absolutely love.
Modest Mouse – Doin’ the Cockroach
I love Modest Mouse and I think this is as good as the brilliant Float On. It might be an acquired taste, I don’t know, but it has dominated my playlists for much of the year and I truly wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get past the aforementioned Float On and into some of MM’s other tunes.
Ray Wylie Hubbard – Choctaw Bingo
And lastly, a song from way, way back that seems to have passed me by. Shame on me and shame for me. I’ve put the Ray Wylie Hubbard version here but I love the live version by James McMurtry & The Heartless Bastards too. Its eight and a half minutes of roister-doistering, foot-stomping that will have you hooked as quickly as the crystal meth that Uncle Slayton cooks up. Great story, great song, glad its in my ITunes collection.
Siskiyou – Revolution Blues
My favourite Neil Young tune covered perfectly. Perhaps even more tortured and paranoid than the original vocal, Siskiyou have really done the brilliance of Revolution Blues proud.
Black Keys – Ummm Oh Yeah (Dearest)
This is a standout track from an outstanding album of Buddy Holly covers. I was brought up on Buddy Holly and have come to love his music almost as much as my dad loves it. I could have easily picked out half a dozen tracks from the sublime Rave On Buddy Holly album but Ummm Oh Yeah (Dearest) is my favourite Buddy Holly original so this is the one I’m putting forward in my favourite covers of the year.
Fresh off the back of the acclaim and success of latest album The King Is Dead, The Decemberists headed into our neck of the woods this week to play a short series of live dates.
Birmingham HMV Institute is a good fit for the band, it is an old and beautiful historical building with many tales to tell – the intelligent, literate (and often historical) rock stories of the band seem likely to be a perfect match for the surroundings.
And so it proves, following a pleasant enough opening set from Blind Pilot, the band enter stage left and open with Leslie Anne Levine from Castaways and Cutouts before three songs from the new album, Calamity Song, the outstanding Rox In The Box and Rise To Me are met with fervent delight from the capacity crowd.
It is said often enough that Colin Meloy is an unlikely rock star and it is true enough. As my gig-buddy Matt astutely observes, he takes some time to settle into the rhythm of the evening. Not awkward as such, but while crowd banter and minor on stage hiccups are laughed off, there seems to be an edge of slight irritation over any loss of control that is carefully repressed early on. We are a few songs in before the mood of the audience and the bookish charm of the band’s playing takes over and he seems to relax and start to truly enjoy himself.
The middle section sees some of the classics from their back catalogue, a compelling version of The Engine Driver is followed by a perfectly judged change of pace and tempo with the excellent Won’t Want for Love (Margaret In the Taiga), a rapturously received Crane Wife and a churning, dramatic Annan Water.
A couple more from the new album, including the countryish jangle of Down By The Water leads into the set finale; an epic crowd singalong of Sixteen Military Wives that is perfectly controlled and orchestrated by the band.
We get two encores, the first is new album stand out Don’t Carry It All, and rollicking sea shanty The Mariner’s Revenge Song. Finally they return again for a poignant version of June Hymn that calms and settles the crowd ready for the journey home.
Finally my grateful thanks to ace photographer Jon Mackay for the use of the pictures. Click here or use the link on the right to see more of his work.