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Posts tagged ‘Leonard Cohen’

Favourite Music 2015

I’m planing to get a post about my favourite books of the year up in the next week or so, but in the meantime I thought I might pull together a quick post about some of the albums I’ve enjoyed this year. As I said when I did this last year, this makes no pretence that it’s comprehensive or objective, instead it’s a selection of things I’ve loved over the past twelve months. Rather than try and make a definitive selection of my absolute favourites I’ve arranged them in (mostly) mostly alphabetical order. Hopefully I’ve also managed to remember enough to save myself from a supplemental post about all the ones I’ve forgotten.

And so, without further ado, here they are …

Asaf Avidan, Gold Shadow
One of my absolute favourite albums of 2015 was by Israeli singer-songwriter Asaf Avidan. I’d not heard of Avidan until I read a review of his latest album, Gold Shadow, but it’s a stunner, anchored by Avidan’s distinctive vocals and  a wonderfully retro yet oddly timeless feel that sounds as if it could have been recorded 50 years ago or last week.

 

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Closer to home I loved Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. People in Australia and the US have already written reams about Barnett and this record, suffice it to say I saw her live last year, and the record is as smart, funny and utterly self-possessed as she was on stage.

 

Blur, The Magic Whip
I also loved Blur’s comeback album, The Magic Whip. It’s not quite Parklike (although what is), but they sound as smart and sharp and tight as they always did, and when I saw them in Sydney earlier in the year they were totally amazing.

 

Leonard Cohen, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour
Leonard Cohen turned 80 last year, and celebrated by releasing the brilliant Popular Problems. this year he was back with Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, a collection of live versions of lesser-known tracks from his back catalogue plus a couple of new songs, and while it’s not as coherent or focussed as Popular Problems, it’s still a pleasingly rich and occasionally unexpected record that more than holds its own in Cohen’s recent discography, and one I’ve come to like more and more with every new listen.

 

The Decemberists, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
The Decemberists’ What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is a frontrunner for the title of my favourite album of the year, and certainly one of the ones I’ve listened to the most. I know some long-time fans are a bit dismayed by the more radio-friendly songwriting (as much as that term makes any sense these days) but I love almost every track on it (and who couldn’t love an album that contains the lyric “And me, seventeen and terminally fey”?). The Florasongs EP they released late in the year is great as well.

 

Diane Coffee, Everybody’s a Good Dog
Blissed out Beach Boys and soul perfection from one half of Oxygen. Insanely enjoyable.

 

Destroyer, Poison Season
I’ve never quite connected with The New Pornographers’ albums, but I really enjoyed their front man,  Dan Bejar’s side project, Destroyer’s new one, Poison Season. I remember reading Bejar saying the album was a tribute to Hunky Dory, but to me it sounds like a brilliant art pop reworking of Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen (most obviously on the second track, ‘Dream Lover’).

 

Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series Volume 12: The Cutting Edge
What’s there to say? Different interpretations and working versions of many of the songs on three of my favourite albums of all time, many of which are as good or better as the originals. You don’t have to be the sort of Dylan obsessive who’s got the energy to listen to an entire album of outtakes of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ to love this collection, and tracks like the version of ‘Love Minus One’ are worth the price of admission all on their own. Weepingly brilliant.

 

Sharon van Etten, I Don’t Want To Let You Down
I adored van Etten’s last album, Are We There, and although these songs from the same sessions are basically an extension of that album that’s fine by me. Gorgeous, intense, visceral.

 

Colleen Green, I Want To Grow Up
On a first listen Colleen Green’s album sounds like a piece or perfectly pitched grungy guitar punk pop. But dig a little deeper and something darker and more complex begins to appear.

Julia Holter, Have You In My Wilderness
Julia Holter’s previous albums were curious combinations of experimental soundscape and pop melodies, but on her new one she let her pop sensibility come to the fore, and created something really special. I’d be tempted to complain it’s occasionally a bit tasteful (a problem that afflicts a lot of contemporary indie pop IMHO) but on a more careful listen that impression is wiped away by the lyrics, the strength of the songwriting and the complexity of the arrangements. It’s a beautiful record.

 

Elle King, Love Stuff
Elle King’s debut album, Love Stuff, seemed to come out of nowhere when it turned up earlier in the year, but since it was released it’s picked up two Grammy nominations. Imagine a 26 year-old Wanda Jackson and you’ll be pretty much on the money.

 

Joanna Newsom, Divers
There’s a clear line of influence flowing from Kate Bush to Joanna Newsom, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that Newsom is a genuine original, with a fascinating and increasingly clear aesthetic that’s all her own.

 

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
There’s been a lot of retro-soul and soul-inflected music around this year, perhaps most obviously Leon Bridges’ surprise hit debut, Coming Home. Although I’m always a little uneasy about music that so deliberately (and often slavishly) invokes the past, I liked Coming Home, and in particular the big single, ‘Better Man’, and I also liked Anderson East’s similarly pitch-perfect recreation of the sound of the late 1960s, Delilah. But much as I enjoyed both Bridges’ and East’s albums, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ excursion into the same territory in their self-titled debut outshone both in terms of energy and urgency.

 

Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color/Thunderbitch, Thunderbitch
Meanwhile the band that probably did the most to initiate the whole new soul movement, the Alabama Shakes, finally released their much-delayed second album, Sound and Color, and used it to make it clear they had no intention of being pigeonholed by those sorts of labels by delivering a record that pushed outward toward garage rock and funk and even punk. Sound and Color has a lot of great moments, and although Brittany Howard’s voice and charisma mostly overcomes the fact the songs on Sound and Color only occasionally reaches the same heights as those the Shakes’ 2012 album, Boys and Girls, you couldn’t say the same about Howard’s side-project, Thunderbitch, which was released with little fanfare later in the year, and packs more exultant energy and joy into its 33 minutes than the most bands  find in a lifetime (for reasons I don’t understand none of Thunderbitch’s videos seem to be available in Australia but you can listen to a few tracks on their website).

 

Bill Ryder-Jones, West Kirby County Primary
I also loved Bill Ryder-Jones’ gorgeous, damaged West Kirby County Primary, an album that wears its debt to The Velvet Underground on its sleeve, but which also has a vulnerable beauty (and a host of scuzzy pop hooks) all of its own. Another contender for my favourite record of the year.

 

Bruce Springsteen, The Ties That Bind
I’ve only had a chance to listen to it once and watch the documentary (which is terrific, and a reminder of how interesting Springsteen is about the craft of songwriting and painstaking way he imagines and creates his albums) but like Amanda Rose I’m going to dispense with the fantasy I might not love an album made up of a remastered version of one of my all-time Favourite Springsteen albums and 20-odd new tracks from the same sessions might not be one of the best things I’ll hear this year.

 

The Vaccines, English Graffiti
48 minutes of New Wave influenced punk pop perfection. I feel happy every time I hear it. What more is there to say?

 

Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
I quite enjoyed Katie Crutchfield’s first album as Waxahatchee, American Weekend, but her second, Ivy Tripp, is on a whole other level. Grungy, 1990s influenced guitars meet intimate lyrics and delicate melodies. It’s great stuff.

 

Matthew E. White, Fresh Blood
Matthew E. White’s new album is really just a second helping of the retro-soul-influenced rock and roll that made his first album, Big Inner, so much fun, although it’s richer and more accessible than Big Inner. But what it does have is one of my favourite songs of the year, the sneakily catchy ‘Rock and Roll is Cold’. Put memories of Warren Zevon out of your head, give it a whirl and enjoy.

 

The Beatles, 1+
And finally, I’m not sure whether they really count as an album, but it was difficult not to love the rerelease of the Beatles’ 1, if only for the two discs of beautifully restored videos that accompanied with it. I haven’t had a chance to listen closely to the Giles Martin remasters of the songs themselves (and I’m not sure I wholly approve of that particular exercise) but the videos are an absolute joy.

 

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Favourite Music 2014: Part One

I’m planning to post something about my favourite books of 2014 next week, but in the meantime I thought I might pull together a list of some of my favourite albums of the past year.

I’m not going to pretend what follows is comprehensive or make any claim to objectivity. Instead it’s a very personal list of things I’ve loved over the past twelve months. That being the case I haven’t tried to rank them or pick out absolute favourites; instead I’ve listed them alphabetically, although because the full list is a bit unwieldy I’ve decided to spread it across three posts. This first one covers A to D, the second, which will be published on Wednesday, covers E to L, and the third, which will go up Friday, covers M to Z (together with a few honourable mentions).

Alvvays, Alvvays
Think Best Coast or a dreamy mash-up of Teenage Fanclub and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Gorgeous hooks, fuzzy guitars, shimmering production and gorgeous echoes of the 1950s and the glassy cool of Blondie and New Wave. It could be from 1982 or 1990 or last week, but that nostalgic timelessness is part of what makes it so magical. And ‘Archie, Marry Me’ is worth the price of admission all on its own.

Rodrigo Amarante, Cavalo
I bought this one on a whim but I’m so glad I did. Although he’s recorded several albums with Brazilian band Los Hermanos, Amarante is probably best known in the Anglophone world for his work with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti as part of the underrated Little Joy. Cavalo is his first album and it’s wonderful, featuring songs in French, Portuguese and English, and wending its way through delicately retro numbers like the opener, ‘Nada Em Vão’ and ‘Irene’ to sneaky dance tracks like ‘Hourglass’ and gorgeous, almost unclassifiable creations like ‘Mon Nom’.

Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker
I love, love, love this album. Right from the nod to Chuck Berry in the opening bars of the first track, ‘Violent Shiver’, it’s just electric, using Booker’s raspy vocals and the deliberately rough and ready production to anchor a series of tightly written yet loosely played songs that combine elements of blues, punk and the garage rock of Pavement and The Strokes. There’s not a bad song on it, but the one I come back to over and over again is the glorious, gospel-influenced ‘Slow Coming’, a song that seems to nod implicitly to Sam Cooke’s classic ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.

Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems
I have to confess I was a bit of a latecomer to Leonard Cohen, but over the past few years I’ve become more and more fascinated by him and his work. All the qualities that make Cohen so singular are on display on Popular Problems, which easily measures up to Cohen’s work in the late-1960s and early-1970s (and leaves his work in the early years of this century for dead), and shifts with startlingly ease from the sardonic wit of ‘Almost Like The Blues’ (“There’s torture and there’s killing/And there’s all my bad reviews/The war, the children missing/Lord, it’s almost like the blues”) to beautiful love songs like ‘Did I Ever Love You’ and the delicate restraint of ‘You Got Me Singing’. And the physical version of the album also includes a wonderfully designed fold-out booklet featuring a series of images of a half-dressed Cohen cleaning his shoes, offering a wonderfully restrained tribute to both Cohen’s fascination with Buddhism and the shadow of mortality that helps lend this slyly vital album its particular beauty.

(While you’re listening to the songs I suggest you take a few minutes to check out the photos of Cohen on Hydra in the 1960s that have surfaced in recent years, many of which also feature George Johnston and Charmian Clift, and this excellent piece about them by Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell).

The Delines, Colfax
I’m a huge fan of Willy Vlautin’s work, both as a member of Richmond Fontaine and as the author of novels such as Lean on Pete and The Free, so I was very excited when I heard he’d quietly assembled The Delines, a new group featuring Richmond Fontaine drummer Sean Oldham, Decemberists keyboardist Jenny Conlee and Damnations singer Amy Boone, and that excitement was absolutely borne out by their debut album, Colfax. I’ve written about Vlautin’s songwriting before, but the songs on Colfax show all the emotional intelligence and gift for compressed narrative that make his work with Richmond Fontaine so special, as songs like ‘The Oil Rigs At Night’ make eloquently clear.

Bob Dylan, The Complete Basement Tapes
I’ve never sought out any of the endless bootlegs of Dylan and the Band’s sessions at Big Pink in 1968, which means my exposure to the great white whale of modern music was restricted to the overproduced 1975 collection, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to that now I’ve heard the real thing. I ponied up for the absurdly overpriced six CD complete version (which justifies its exorbitant price tag with two beautiful hardback books of photos, but lacks the extensive liner notes that helped make last year’s Another Self-Portrait so fascinating), and although the slightly less-obsessive fan might well do just as well with the two CD selection, it’s still a thrilling experience, filled with a sense of play and delight in the possibility of the music. I’ll leave it to others to unpick the importance and pleasures of this collection, all I have to say is whether you think you’re a Dylan fan or not, try and lay your hands on a copy: it’s wonderful.