The pre-New Years blogfest didn’t quite go as planned, thanks to the intrusion of pesky real life, and my own stupidity in underestimating the effort required to read and summarise an entire years’ worth of film reviews. I move into a flat in London tomorrow – an event aligned so neatly with the start of the new year I’m finding it difficult not to self-mythologise, but also meaning I won’t have broadband for a little while, but I’ve got a few end-of-year articles I’m hoping to polish and put up here. Watch this space, but for now enjoy this month-by-month account of the year in music (and double your fun with this YouTube playlist, featuring all 12 songs).JANUARY Kanye West – All of the LightsOr, how I discovered that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had been my favourite album of 2010 all along, I’d just never listened to it. Running some beautiful strings and piano into big, punch-to-the-face beats, punctuated with those horns, there is always at least one thing going on. All of the Lights also features some of Rihanna’s finest work (and, in the video, the most I’ve ever understood why the entire universe fancies her) alongside a great segment owned by Kid Cudi, and appearances by Fergie, Charlie Wilson, John Legend, Tony Williams, Alicia Keys, La Roux, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Alvin Fields and Ken Lewis. It should be a mess but Yeezy, in full 21st-Century-Brian-Wilson mode, stitches it all together perfectly to make an instant classic that would soundtrack the climax of every house party for the rest of the year.FEBRUARY Kimya Dawson – Walk Like ThunderFrom music that sounds best at 2am coming through a stack of speakers, via a wall of human flesh that’s screaming a rough approximation of the lyrics, to headphone music for those 2ams spent alone. Walk Like Thunder is a 10 minute epic that fully earns its length. The listener is trapped in a confessional booth with Kimya’s voice and sparse atmospheric music, only blooming out at the very end into an Aesop Rock cameo. It’s pretty blunt, lyrically, but I’d venture that’s the point – people do everything they can to avoid talking about death, and maybe that should change.MARCH Rebecca Black – FridayAm I being contrary? Well, maybe a little. (I briefly considered including Swagger Jagger instead, playing the same role). But I’ve genuinely got a lot of joy out of this song over this year – some of those lyrics are genius in their banality, if your mind is pitched just right, and it’s sweet-natured enough, and I think it’s unfairly become a byword for rubbish pop. Rubbish pop is mediocre, and the mind-blowing literality and creepy older rent-a-rapper of Friday is not that, by any yardstick. This goes out to all those 344,303 dislikes on YouTube – grow up, it’s at least pretty good.APRIL Childish Gambino – BreakJanuary, redux. All of the Lights was so good it stretched into two of my favourite songs of the year – this is a remix, kind of, but it’s so much more than that. It’s in a relationship with the original, definitely, referring back and twisting its lines, but picks something new out of it – a sort of melancholy sweetness – like a friend telling you the answer to one of those Magic Eye puzzles. And then Mr Glover does his thing, dropping some nicely dense lines thick with reference, wordplay and an almost unhealthy interest in Asian women in a way that reminds you that in his other life, Donald is a well-loved comedian and writer. The meeting of those two simple ideas – cartoony rap and confessional emoting – would spark a love affair that lasted all year.MAY The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Glass Table GirlsThe most important thing I heard all year. 2011 was the year I really got into hip-hop and R’n’B, and Kanye and The Weeknd (and Miles “Strong Opinions” Bradley’s Tumblr) are probably equally responsible. It’s already pretty obvious that the three mixtapes The Weeknd released this year will be leaving grubby pawprints all over pop for some time to come. (Plus, last night Christopher “Mancrush” Sparrow pointed out to me that it should be pronounced The Weakn’d. That kind of hidden-in-plain-sight wordplay would pretty much guarantees The Weeknd a place on this list.) I’m not specifically thinking about this track here, mind – anything off of House of Balloons is good with me. Less than than individual songs, it’s the aesthetic choices, and the trail of thick gloomy atmosphere it leaves, that have stuck with me.JUNE Emmy the Great – A Woman, A Woman, A Century of SleepAnd Emmy returns from the wilderness semi-unrecognisable, having shed some of the folkiness and acerbic one liners in favour of grander sounds and more obscure lyrics. It’s all a bit rather more grown-up, and you sense that, in another life, this is the year Emma Lee Moss would have moved from short stories to writing novels. That’s rarely something I mean in a good way, but the razor-sharp confidence of Emmy Mk 2 makes for something fully the equal, and opposite, of all the old material.JULY Drake – Marvin’s RoomBy this point, the year’s ruling aesthetic was official set – moody late-nite R’n’B/hip-hop full of loneliness and isolation and unpleasantly irresponsible drinking. Marvin’s Room is simply a fine example of that. It employs beats that sound the way H.R. Giger’s industrial/organic artwork looks, mixing straightforward rap verses with sung choruses which stretch out Drake’s voice into something quivering and completely separable from the rest of the sounds. Meanwhile, snippets of phone conversation flit in and out, repurposing the skit tradition into something that fits the post-Weeknd aesthetic.There’s something about its deployment of the n-word that I’m not fully comfortable with, and the slow-motion repeat of the bridge is only just on the right side of being silly, but Marvin’s Room provides a stylish bridge between House of Balloons and the Chris Rock guest appearance on My […]
Los Campesinos! released an album just over a month ago. It was inevitable I was going to write about it, and the odds were good it would be something long and overly theatrical. And boy did I deliver on those two promises. “They were a teenage crush, the last of my actual teen years. We were into all the same stuff. I was quiet and awkward, they were noisy and joyful the way . Theirs was the name I scribbled into the margins of notebooks. When I scribbled in margins, it read AS 4 LC!, encircled in a clumsy red-pen heart. Now, we’re both a little older, both like to think we’re a little wiser. In the interim, there have been drunken passes, the occasional disagreement, and the discovery that one of us really likes football and one of us doesn’t. (“I’m not sure if it’s love anymore…” croons Gareth in my ear. Steady on, now.) Today the more refined LC! fan snorts at the mention of You! Me! Dancing!. We’ve changed. And that’s healthy.” It’s possibly the finest use of The Dirty Mistress as a discrete entity I’ve managed. Messy, long, indulgent, heart-on-emo-sleeve, playing with form and dipping into personalities I’ve written in since that first Hold On Now, Youngster review. I’m really proud of it – almost as much as I am embarrassed – and I’d like to think it might hold interest for non-LC! fans because it’s about the album discovery process in general, and about a few other things, I think. This site, at least in my head, is meant to be the respectable face of things, and if I do write about Hello Sadness for it, it will be distilled into a more digestible review. So, it’s a piece I would only have done on Tumblr. Which is why I’m slightly sad to be curtailing this particular experiment. Feeling less like I had to write vaguely publishable stuff freed me up over the summer, to play with everything from recipes . And lots and lots of pictures of cute animals. But doing anything for it – at least, anything beyond reblogging other people’s stuff – slowed down a lot recently. Given that the original idea was to have content be more regular, to encourage people to stick it in their bookmarks, having a Tumblr has become kind of pointless. So consider this a rebranding, a refocusing, and all that PR rubbish.
[You have selected: Alex Spencer] And Christmas is complete. Los Campesinos! release, alongside the eventual announcement of Big Secret Project ‘Heat Rash’ (more on this elsewhere, I’m sure), a Christmas song. It’s called Kindle A Flame In Her Heart and it is a Los Campesinos! song, and therefore good. (In my opinion. It has been called to my attention that, upsettingly, not everyone shares my views.) It namechecks almost every single piece of stock Christmas imagery: from Robin Redbreast to mistletoe, via lumps of coal and herald angels. It features the words “Merry Christmas”. It is, undeniably, a song about Christmas. However: it sounds like a song by Los Campesinos!. This is key, definitely. I’ve been doing my yearly playlist-making recently, gathering together all the Christmas songs I like. For the first time, I’ve been using Spotify. Which has led, inevitably and dangerously, to playing it around other people. Namely the lovely girlfriend. Quoth: “But it’s not very … Christmassy, though, is it?” Which is kind of true. Almost no other human being on the planet would associate any of this alternative Christmas sountrack with the festive season, and fair enough. That’s kind of the point of being alternative, I guess. But the truth is: the majority of these songs don’t instill any sense of Christmasness, even in me. Every other emotion exists across the spectrum of music. My years-long quest for a different kind of Christmas song can’t be unique. Does it come down to that age-old chestnut? They don’t make proper Christmas songs anymore? It’s not as if people aren’t trying. Kindle A Flame… is a particularly strong offender in the not-very-Christmassy stakes. By my calculations, you need exactly one thing to make a song sound like Christmas: bells. These are in abundant supply on the playlist. But take one of the Sufjan Stevens tracks, off his five-disc epic Songs for Christmas. In theory, that ticks all the traditional boxes, much more than, say, Wham!’s Last Christmas. But at the end of the day, which one feels more like Christmas? Maybe it’s a matter of tradition, and these songs need more time to settle. Low’s Just Like Christmas does help me feel like it’s Christmas – and the question of trying to make yourself feel like it’s Christmas is one of the great mysteries of our age, stretching far beyond the humble Christmas song – which is probably a result of it having been in my festive life for half a decade now. But this yearly tradition, and a least a few of its fellow songs, stretches back at least one Christmas further than that. It’s a tightrope. You need to have heard songs enough for them to embed into your Christmas memories. On the other hand… Well, let’s take the cautionary tale of the biggest Alternative Christmas song of all time. Once upon a time the Pogues had a well-earned place in that playlist. Fairytale of New York is a fine song, sufficiently Christmassy without sacrificing being, y’know, good. It’s the kind of thing that gets played in the family car and in my bedroom. Then, three Christmasses ago: the whole radio-censoring thing blew up, and it got, somewhat counter-intuitively, played even more than usual. It became The Christmas Song, it was everywhere, and I got sick of hearing it. Maybe the problem with Christmas songs isn’t their individual quality. By their very nature, Christmas songs have to be repeated over and over and over and over and over in a very short space of time, in order to become Christmas songs. Very few songs can stand up to that level of repetition. The underlying point here is that I can’t imagine a new song entering the Christmas canon. This isn’t an alternative vs. mainsteam problem, as such. Lady Gaga’s just released a Christmas song. The biggest pop star on the planet right now. Will it make a dent on the Christmas compilations, the Christmas adverts, the mass consensus of Christmas songs? It just feels impossible. Which leaves us with the same set of faintly naff Christmas songs, passed down from generation to generation. On one hand, that’s quite a sweet image. On the other … well, you want a picture of Christmas Yet To Come? Imagine Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody stamping on a human ear – forever. About the author: Alex Spencer is the slightly deranged genius whothought this blog might be a good idea. Of course,it might not really be Alex after all. After that onedark night a few years ago, it’s been suggestedhe split into three parts, all of them pure evil…
So it was the last issue of Redbrick I can ever legally contribute to. And they had a redesign and it was largely beautiful and I had a whole page to myself. And, lo!, the page was made of two things 1.An interview with Gareth of Los Campesinos!. I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, now. I bring you this on the weekend I finally got Xiu Xiu, having admitted to Gareth I didn’t get Xiu Xiu. Meeting the lead singer of one of your favourite bands is one of those life experiences that you can only build up too much and as such can only be disappointing. He was, after all, only human. That is the theme of my write-up. 2.A re-do of my old Spotify 2.0 article, rewritten to be accessible to the proles. As such, it’s probably a better piece, as I can only indulge myself 70% of the way. It’s still got the violent imagery, though, you’ll be pleased to know. You sick, sick puppies.
day 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angry And the bottom has, inevitably, started to fall out of British summer, making today an even more perfect Kenickie day than yesterday… Los Campesinos! – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed It should be pointed out that I don’t really listen to music as an anger-reliever or -enhancer. This is largely because I’m not very good at getting angry, certainly not for an extended period of time. Put it down to a testosterone deficiency or whatever. However, the stuff I do like that would usually be considered ‘angry’ (Rage Against Machine, Gallows, most good hip-hop) is used for having a good time with. I nearly slipped Orchestra of Wolves into yesterday’s position for making this point. Even WABWAD doesn’t make me angry, per se, but I can’t help, no doubt to the bemusements of other pedestrians, but shout along: “I cannot emphasise enough that my bodyIs a badly designed, poorly put together vesselHarbouring these diminishing, so called vital organs HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRSTI HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST” This loses some of its power written down (like almost all LC! lyrics, for reasons we’ll get into/have gotten into another time) but those capitals are well earned. These sorts of carve-them-into-your-arm bits are dotted across the song (“We kid ourselves there’s future in the hugging/But there is no hugging future”*) and it’s easy to see how, if I ever actually learn to get angry, they might come in useful. *Why does almost every choice I make try its hardest to contravene the site’s (arbitrary, but fun) family-friendly rules? Naughty, naughty. As my mom once bemoaned… those rockstars, they like the f-word, don’t they?
After realising how easily I lose track of what I’ve actually listened to/watched/read/played over a year by the end, I came up with the notion of a more regular periodic journal of what I’ve listened to, loved, or been affected by. So, as we arrive at the end of March (and the beginning, apparently, of Spring), I give you more lists, and links (Spotify, unless unavailable or irrelevant).This isn’t the end of any discussion, it’s the start. Take this list and recommend stuff I should be immersing myself in. Please.x Also the source of my most commented-on t-shirt of 2010:Los Campesinos! – Romance is BoringI pre-emptively called this “almost definitely my favourite album of 2010” before even hearing it. Whether that will stand true remains to be seen – come on, 2010, if you think you’re hard enough. I said it immediately, expecting it to change with time, but it hasn’t and I don’t think it will: this isn’t my favourite LC! record. I wanted it push further in the direction The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future suggested, into full-on emo territory. But I’m damning with faint praise here. Romance is Boring isn’t boring. It certainly isn’t a disappointment, and it sparked my love affair with LC! again completely effortlessly. It just doesn’t strike me as a particularly good entry-point into the band, and so isn’t a terribly useful record to talk about. That doesn’t stop it being a stunning piece of work. Hairiest album:Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip – The Logic of ChanceAbout which I suspect I’d have slightly different things to say, had I not been to see them live yesterday. With the beats pushed to the fore (in full t-shirt-quivering bass-heavy glory), and Scroobius’ lyrics feeling slightly more organic in person, the new stuff makes more sense. But it hasn’t changed the fact that Dan Le Sac has grown hugely, and absolutely owns this record, while the words sometimes come off a bit contrived. As recently found in my (lovely) girlfriend’s fridge:Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New HereOne of those things that dropped into my life (thanks, Sam Cowley!) to immediate awe. It deserves more time than I’ve given it, and I don’t know enough about Mr Scott-Heron to comment properly (apparently it’s a more personal album than his usual political material, he hasn’t been around for decades, he was in prison) but that’s part of it. This is one of those albums that is bigger than you, that you just have to bow down to and accept. The ‘companion to reading’ album:The Knife – Tomorrow, In A YearI guess this is the most ‘challenging’ album I’ve spent time with this year (having rejected Joanna Newsom as not for me), being the mysterious Swedish duo’s foray into opera. It’s about Darwin and evolution, apparently. I’m proud to say my boy Sam Langtree beat Pitchfork to the idea that it works mimetically, evolving from a sparse nothingness into some top-quality, almost-traditional Knife material. You must, must, must listen to this through the best speakers you can possibly get access to. On a laptop, it sounds underwhelming but, through a nice soundsystem, it overwhelms. Whether it stands up past that experience, I’m still not sure, but it’s worth a go. It’s already been a strong year for albums which, being an over-analytical music-type, is reassuring. Last year was all singles, but we seem to be looking at a healthy long-form crop in 2010. But the singles are still important. When aren’t they? I can’t believe I didn’t drop a mention to Music Go Music’s Warm In The Shadows in my 2009 round-ups. On repeat, it helped me through 12,000 words of essay-writing in January, and while that’s made it kind of difficult to love the same way in a non-work context, it’s still beautiful and ethereal. Then there’s the Lady Gaga Telephone video, which is of course phenomenal and the pinnacle of everything the Lady’s been working toward – for now. It’s also retroactively increased my enjoyment of the song in general, which I’m always faintly suspicious of. On the other hand: cigarette sunglasses. Right now, my life is dominated by Rihanna’s Rude Boy. It’s one of of those delightful moments where a big pop star finally clicks for me, though I haven’t experimented with Rihanna’s backcatalogue to see if it does more for me post-Rude Boy. Just… the ultimate dominant/submissive, self-aware/silly, masculine/feminine, endlessly quotable/catchy sexy song. I mean, you’ve heard it, haven’t you? “Give it to me baby like boom boom boom”. My 2010 cinematic life has been more dictated by what I didn’t watch rather than what I watched. I haven’t seen Avatar, still, or The Hurt Locker. Ponyo fled from cinemas before I got a chance to see it, and I never got to rewatch Where The Wild Things Are, which I still think deserves better treatment than the melting-screen, broken sound version I saw. I have seen Alice in Wonderland which was okay but had a lack of ideas (always an issue when you’re doing an Alice story) and wasn’t all that stylistically impressive (crippling when you’ve got Tim Burton to direct an Alice film) and 3D is still a load of rubbish.* One game has pierced through all the (rather good, but still largely unexplored) Christmas games to unquestionably dominate my year so far. It’s also dominated the year of my housemates, as discussion of nefarious plans (and misfunctioning files, being a play-by-email game) becomes a standard between those involved in the game. That game is Solium Infernum, a very much turn-based strategy boardgame set in Hell. It’s as little of an Alex Spencer game as exists in this world, and I don’t have the vocabulary to fully capture its majesty, but it deserves your time (try the demo), and the time and annoyance of the people around you. In comics, it’s a bit harder to judge what’s (as they most certainly do not say in the business) hot […]
So it’s finally happened. Originally part of my planned Valentine’s related love extravaganza, I let loose about a band I love. A lot.*My words found themselves, dazed and confused, on the page in the esteemed publication Redbrick. You can see the edited-for-paper version at the Redbrick website. And it’s good. I’m pleased with it. But I’m here today to talk about the extended, nearly-double-the-length version that I’ve just unleashed onto the internet. It’s almost dangerously bloggy, but I felt its home remained with Redbrick, not least because it starts: “Los Campesinos! were the first band I ever wrote about for Redbrick, back when my cheeks were rosier and I still believed in Santa. Comparing them to the musical version of fizzy pop, I gave Hold On Now, Youngster… an 8. A couple of years and a couple of hundred listens to the album later: this is a public apology.” And I only get more reverential from there. Find out just how far I’ll go on…well, the Redbrick website again. Everything I talk about in the article is available on Spotify– just be warned of the other, Spanish Los Campesinos! on there. *Both that I love a lot, and that I gushed a lot.
Without some dope words to step to.* It’s been my birthday- a week-and-a-bit long extravaganza of partying, consumption of food and alcohol, and occasional self-harm. Which means I’m 21- taking stock of my life time, I suppose. But more importantly, each day flowing into the next and threading an endless canvas of hangover, I haven’t been able to update here. And I’ve got some really stuff kicking around on the internet, and specifically at my beloved Redbrick. First up is (co-produced with beautiful co-ed Erica A Vernon), my 60-minute round-up of 2009’s singles. Generally speaking, the best, but sometimes just the most important-seeming. I say a lot of vaguely controversial things like “DIZZEE RASCAL – DIRTEE CASHYeah, it’s not Bonkers (overplayed) or Holiday (failed single pushed until people believed they must like it). There’s a little something more to Dirtee Cash; the playful Rascal of old striking out at the world at a speed that mean you don’t notice. And that title can be only be a dig at the haters.” Though our photo-collage doesn’t seem to have been put up online, trust me when I say it was beautiful. Read the lot here. (And in the interests of multi-media content, a complete Spotify playlist.) Even more excitingly, our Top 40 Albums of the Decade comes to a close. It kicked off back in October, all the way back here. But if you’re just looking for a quick fix, and find out who was #1, check here. (For anyone keeping track, I wrote #21: The Libertines – Up The Bracket #19: Los Campesinos – Hold On Now, Youngster… #14: Daft Punk – Discovery #4: Radiohead – Kid A) I’m really proud of this list; it had a few WTF moments, I suspect, while the top end of the list was probably a bit generic (which is not to say wrong), but there are some really good you-should-listen-to-this-becauses on there. And you should listen to most of them. *A quick Google to double-check the lyrics (before bending them) proves that this is pretty much the go-to heading for ‘haven’t posted in a while’ blogs. I am no beautiful, unique snowflake.
In this post-Watchmen-film era, with a whole subculture finally able to exhale (and, possibly, roll their eyes) in unison, the usual mutterings in the common press have risen. What to read next, perhaps comics are acceptable, who Alan Moore is and why he’s clever. I joined in, writing an article on music and comics for my beloved Redbrick. Wherein, I compare Alphabeat to Spider-man; kiss relevant, talented arses; say a few things I already regret (not proud of the phrase “mainstream dirge”.)But I digress: I really enjoyed doing the “research” on this one, ans am pretty proud of it, in general, though it’s not as pretty online as it is on the page.And, okay, I used the phrase “post-Watchmen” with deliberate pretention up there. I had a brief moment of reckless optimism the other day: this is getting comics into peoples’ hands, and for a film that’s not doing that extraordinarily well, it feels like Watchmen is a bit ubiquitous at the moment: in all the bookshops, especially. I don’t think I’m one of those comics fans who is too bothered (anymore) about the medium having any kind of credibility, but I have to admit, the idea felt nice.On reflection, I think I was just being silly, though.