March 2018 Album of the month: Buffalo Tom “Quiet and Peace”

Can one have a job and still write such a monthly review? Easy peasy mate, especially in such another good month in terms of quality and quantity. Those who peruse this blog on a regular basis will find familiar names this time…

Album of the month: Buffalo Tom“Quiet and Peace” – Pop Rock – Buffalo Tom was one of the best bands of the 90’s and their style was a kind of Bruce Springsteen meets Nirvana sound. They reformed a few years ago and one of the best gig I attended last year was when they played their classic “Let Me Come Over” album in their entirety. Their recent LP’s were fine but not as good as their peak period so this new album was a real surprise…and such a treat I must say. Their sound is as sharp as that of a young band and melodies are beautiful. Welcome back again guys!

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  • Runner-up: Tracey Thorn“Record” – Pop Electro – One of my favourite female voices ever, Tracey Thorn was the lead singer of Everything But The Girl. She has been releasing records in the last fifteen years on a not-so-regular basis and for this new effort, she has particularly polished her sound. Her voice has changed as well but the emotion is still here. I attended recently a Rough Trade event when she was interviewed by the great John Grant (with whom I had a nice 10-minute chat) and the least one can say is that her music gives more emotion than her slightly cold and controlled personality…

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  • Also recommended:
    • Jack White “Boarding House Reach” – Pop Rock…but also R’n’B! – Jack White takes risks and does not play only blues and rock-shock! A few misshapes but a few amazing tracks as well.
    • Yo La Tengo – “There’s a Riot Going on” – Pop Rock- Moody and Krautrock sounding LP from one of the best American bands of all times.
    • The Men “Drift” – Rock – Every song is different… Is it the best band’s name in rock?
    • Anna von Hausswolff “Dead Magic” – Church organ Metal – A truly amazing and different record from this Swedish female musician and singer.
    • The Breeders “All Nerve” – Pop Rock – The return of the classic line-up from Kim Deal’s main project, now that she is out of Pixies…
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – MGMT – “Little Dark Age

 

February 2018 Album of the month: MGMT “Little Dark Age”

What have in common old favourites or newcomers like Franz Ferdinand, Ezra Furman, Hookworms, The Soft Moon, Joan As Police Woman, Superchunk, Born Ruffians, Grant-Lee Phillips or again The Low Anthem? Well, they all released good records in February but did not make the cut to be in this selection. One of the best month for sure since I started these reviews.

Album of the month: MGMT“Little Dark Age” – Pop Rock – I must say I was not expecting anything anymore from these two Californians. As almost everyone on this planet, I liked and played a lot their debut album “Oracular Spectacular which to me was a very promising record, especially in the balance they had found between success and experimentation. It looks the band were not at ease with such a success and did everything they could to alienate themselves from their fan base by releasing two interesting but difficult psychedelic records in 2010 (“Congratulations“) and 2013 (“MGMT“). What a surprise then to have them back at such a level of excellence. All 10 songs of this LP are great, can be whistled under the shower and mix a pop easiness with cool sounds and bittersweet lyrics. I guess they needed these few years to be back on track. Enjoy!

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  • Runner-up: Field Music “Open Here” – Pop Rock – Another amazing album from the Brewis brothers. I have been posting a lot about this band and still cannot understand why they are not more massive… Their new album is as usual very inventive in terms of melodies and sounds but this time they added up a political conscience. One should remember they come from Sunderland, known in the UK as Brexit city with its 62% of Leave voters and they are neither proud nor happy about it. “Count It Up” in particular is a nice and effective song about all the privileges we have in the so-called Western countries without realising it. I met them recently at a Rough Trade concert and signing event and they were as nice as one could guess. Keep up the good work boys.

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  • Also recommended:
    • Ought “Room Inside The World” – Pop Rock – Excellent angular music from this Canadian band lead by the great Tim Darcy.
    • Rhye – “Blood” – Syrupy Soul – Sade reincarnated as a male Canadian singer.
    • Marlon Williams “Make Way For Love” – Rock – Beautiful break-up songs. If you like Chris Isaak or Richard Hawley, this is for you.
    • Richard Russell “Everything Is Recorded” – Electro R’n’B – Soulful music from the XL label boss with invitees, including Sampha‘s fantastic voice
    • The Skull Defekts “Skull Defekts” – Noisy – Final album from this band from Sweden ; the most powerful record since the start of the year.
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Ty Segall – “Freedom’s Goblin

 

A magical night with Flyte, Heath Street Baptist Church, 23rd February 2018

There is something incredible indeed when one loves music… How can this young band I had never heard of before last August suddenly becomes one of my favourite? How can a guy in his late forties be moved by youngsters in their 20’s playing classical pop/rock? That is really the beauty of it I guess and why I will keep on trying to discovering new bands and genres hopefully until my last breath.

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Flyte released their first proper album “The Loved Ones” last August and although I did not pay much attention first, it happened to be a grower and eventually one of my favourite albums of 2017 (ranked #5 in my end of the year-list). Claiming they are here to create a new style of music would be a lie. To my mind, their goal is to keep on the tradition of great pop/rock as, say, a blacksmith would like to keep on working on stuff the way his elders used to do so but in a modern way. Spontaneous influences to me are bands such as Prefab Sprout, The Bluebells or Pale Fountains for instance. In other words, all those great bands which appeared in the 80’s and wanted to keep on the great work done by their own influences.

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Last Friday’s gig was a special one as it was held in the beautiful context of the Heath Street Baptist Church, in the Hampstead borough, one of the most beautiful places in London. The 400-something tickets sold out in a few minutes and I was very happy to be one of the lucky few. The band really look like they are out of university as they are really young but also very much dedicated to their art…rather than their clothes or hair style. They played all the album, an old “classic” and also two great brand new songs. The musicianship of the four members is incredible either concerning their pure talent or on the team spirit they showed throughout the gig. Special mention in particular to keyboard/guitar player Sam Berridge who wrote in a couple of days the arrangements for the strings quartet which accompanied the band on the majority of the tracks.

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They have a formidable singer and leader with Will Taylor for sure but the four of them sing beautifully as well. The peak of the evening was without doubt their a capella cover of Alvvays‘ “Archie, Marry Me“, the kind of song which gives shivers down one’s spine. As Will said at the end of the gig, like a pastor speaking to his faithful listeners, “Spread the good word”. You will not find a more beautiful band than Flyte; discover them!

Clouds and Fire! Two artists at the top of their game: Iron & Wine (London Apollo, 16th February 2018) & Kendrick Lamar (Wembley Arena, 20th February 2018)

Two very different concerts within four days except that these two artists are among my favourite ones and currently at the top of their games so I thought it would be interesting to write a common review.

  • Iron & Wine, London Eventim Apollo, 16th February 2018

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For those who have not read yet the many posts I did on this band, Iron & Wine is the musical and stage name of Sam Beam, a very talented guy from Texas who happened also to be a father of five daughters …and the owner one of the most beautiful beards in the indie rock scene. He has been a long favourite of mine, basically since 2007 when I cherished his “The Shepherd’s Dog” album after driving through Texas that year. I have been lucky to catch him on stage in a few countries (USA, France, UK) and these gigs have never been anything else than pure joy so good is the guy on stage.

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Half Waif, the project of American-Indian Nandi Rose Plunkett singer, was a very good opening act. Funnily enough, I was seated just near her aunt and uncle (from Ashford, UK!) who were both very proud and moved by their niece’s beautiful voice.

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Sam Beam got on stage a bit later and he was as usual a mixed bag of emotion, cynicism and great humour. However, his great personality would be nothing without the beauty of his voice and songs and once again that was an amazing gig. There is a quality in his voice and melodies which may look common at first hearing for the non-converted but which is in reality completely different from that of a regular folk singer. First, his arrangements are always very subtle and influenced by pop, rock or even hip hop sometimes (he did a great cover of New Order‘s “Love Vigilantes“). Secondly, his themes and lyrics are nothing but extraordinary, mixing day-to-day life and poetry sometimes in the same sentence. Catch him live if you can or at least start to listen to these recommended records if you want to know more.

  • Kendrick Lamar, Wembley Arena, 20th February 2018

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I had a sort of hesitation to catch the incredible Kendrick Lamar on stage but I eventually went to see this gig, having the pleasure of being accompanied by my favourite teenager. For those who followed this blog on a regular basis, you will probably know I am a huge fan of this young rapper (well, not so young as I spotted he is now in his early 30’s) and that his last records have all been in my end of the year list (ALBUM OF THE YEAR actually in 2015). So indeed there was no real reason not to catch him live. However, I was a bit afraid to have again the Drake syndrome, i.e. not to find live Kendrick Lamar’s songs as good on stage as they are on records.

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It was fortunately not to be so and I must say it was an incredible and dense show. The great James Blake, his subtle electro/rock music and his beautiful voice put everyone in the right mood for the arrival of Kend…, sorry Kenny, our kung-fu turtle master of the evening. The guy played all night on his own on stage and unless I am wrong, there was no musician anywhere and the music was totally sampled from his records. The show itself was very good and full of rhythm and energy, although there was sometimes too much fire lights and special effects to my taste.

To put it differently, it could have been a not so pleasant mass celebration kind of show but that was not the case at all, thanks to the charismatic but quite humble personality of that evening’s host. Clothed in a beautiful colourful suit, our MC showed to his audience as much talent as energy and respect to his audience. One cannot say the guy is idle as after two sold-out gigs at the O2 Arena the previous week, he went back to the US to entertain the NBA All-Star before travelling back to London. ..and you may have noted he was the main musical force under the OST of the Black Panther movie, just released a few days ago. In a nutshell, Kendrick Lamar is currently at the top of his game in terms of art and like all great artists in such a position (say David Bowie, Prince, Radiohead or again Jack White), he does not sleep on his laurels but takes advantage of this period to be as productive as one can be. Good job Kenny!

The Rolling Stones discography : Part Four – The 90’s until today

With four records to review in the last 29 years, this review was quick to do. Quite interesting though as apart from the last blues covers album releases in 2016, I did not remember at all the other three in terms of content. I even listened to “Stripped” from 1995, thinking it was a covers’ album while it was actually a sort of live album. Anyway, here is the final package of the whole review. I hope you liked it and that it made you want again to listen to classic records or forgotten ones from this incredible band.

Complete review: Part I (the 60’s) – Part II (the 70’s) – Part III (the 80’s)

 Voodoo Lounge (1994) : Once again, the band delivers the goods on this LP, supervised by the excellent producer Don Was. Five years since their previous album, in times when in five years music trends can be created and over with, the Rolling Stones would now face the same questions again and again: “why are we still doing it having in mind we won’t have an impact anymore?”, “Shall we stick to our blues roots (Keith) or try to update our sound (Mick)?”, “Do we really love each other?”. I guess the answers lie in the questions… This album anyway is particularly successful in getting a dynamic and modern sound while keeping the band close to their essence. A few tracks are really amazing and are regularly played in concerts. So, in a nutshell, another very good one! Oh, and by the way…, Bill Wyman is not a Rolling Stones member anymore if anyone is interested…(8/10). Key tracks : “Love Is Strong“, “You Got Me Rocking” & “Moon Is Up“.

 Bridges To Babylon (1997) :  Considered by many fans and critics are one of the worst ones, I tried once again to listen to it without prejudice and fresh ears and I must say I was quite excited as totally oblivious of this album. I know it may appear as a lack of critical sense (which is the ANTI-ME!) but I have to admit this one really good as well. Of course, there are a few misses here and there, due to Mick’s eagerness to sound sometimes like a real cool hip-hop dude but overall a very enjoyable album. Look at the three tracks I selected and tell me these are not great ones! (7.5/10). Key tracks : “Anybody Seen My Baby“, “Out Of Control” & “Saint Of Me”.

 A Bigger Bang (2005) : …and here we are, the Rolling Stones releasing an album of original songs in the 21st century; who would have thought about it really? This album was mainly the brainchild of Keith Richards and one can feel indeed a nice and constant blues rock feel through it. The main issue is that there are 16 songs on this album and a few of them are just okish. It would have made a killer 10-track LP but overall still a nice and dignified effort.  (7/10). Key tracks : “Let Me Down Slow”, “Biggest Mistake” & “Laugh, I Nearly Died“.

 Blue & Lonesome (2016) :  More than ten years since their last studio album and with an unexpected December 2016 release (meaning a bit late to be in the traditional best of lists…including mine), this album is actually only made out of blues covers. The original plan for the band was to gather in a London studio and rehearse original material. It looks though that nothing good came out of it and the band started to play a few obscure blues covers to have fun and get the energy. One song was recorded, then a second one and little by little the band realised they had a new album. And what an amazing album this is! To me, blues is a great form of music to catch on stage but somehow slightly boring and repetitive on records…which is not true at all here. The Rolling Stones play as if their lives of men in their seventies depended on it, the sound is huge and pure and Mick sings with an ageless voice. One of their best records ever. (9/10). Key tracks : “Commit A Crime“, “All Of Your Love” & “Ride ‘Em On Down”.

 

…and so the verdict is that there is no awful Rolling Stones record, that a few forgotten ones are excellent and deserve to be listened to again and that their classics are even better than their reputation. Long live to The Rolling Stones!

 

A kind of magic: Jeff Tweedy (Wilco frontman) playing acoustic songs at the Barbican, 3rd February 2018

I was looking forward to seeing this gig for a long time first because I like the guy so much but also as it was held in my beloved Barbican Centre, the best cultural place in London. It had not been too long a time since I last caught Jeff Tweedy on stage as part of Wilco but last night’s gig was different as it was purely solo acoustic Tweedy.

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A bit of a dream come true concert to be honest as to me Jeff Tweedy is the definition of what a musician should be: amazing songwriter, beautiful voice, very much involved in the current times we are living (Wilco is with The National amongst President Obama’s favourite bands thanks to their Chicago common origins) and also a great passionate producer who has revitalised Mavis Staples‘ career.

After a very nice opening from US-exile English “person” (as he said) James Elkington, Jeff arrived on stage, alone as expected with just an acoustic guitar…and his Stetson hat. Playing amazing songs the acoustic way is always a difficult and tricky exercise, especially when they are known for the beauty and richness of their arrangements. No such hesitation last night though. Jeff started his set with probably three of his best songs (“Via Chicago“, “I am trying to break your heart” and “Ashes of American flags“) with such a natural beauty and emotion that we were all ready for a fantastic evening. Jeff Tweedy is known not to have a particular setlist and to play depending on the mood. Well, his mood must have been particularly good and relaxed as the choice of songs was incredible, including my best favourite Wilco song (“Impossible Germany“), making it all a superb setlist.

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An amazing set then…and a few incredible funny moments taking place throught the dialogues between him and the audience, which was made of a majority of American citizens. Very funny talks about his signature guitar, his hat, how he tunes his guitar or the beauty of not having hits in one’s career when one has to play live. The most moving and funny thing though was when he sang the last verse of the Wilco/Billy Bragg song based on Woody Guthrie lyrics (“Remember the mountain bed“) as requested by a female audience member. He actually did it, therefore making her delighted, and told us then that he should do it more often, i.e. only sing one verse per song rather than bothering to play entire songs! Not sure if it sounds so great when one does not live the actual moment but trust me that one was good…

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For those who went this far in the review, I recommend his 2017 album “Together at last” which is basically in the same spirit as last night’s concert or Wilco’s best records as selected in my Top 100 encyclopaedia (let’s be proud of our work!).

January 2018 Album of the month: Ty Segall “Freedom’s Goblin”

Another new year, long hours spent listening to new records, once again happily surprised by the diversity and quantity of good records in all styles of music, difficult decision to make (what? no Django Django?, no Calexico?), …you know the drill. To keep the level of excellence since this review has been initiated a year ago, the album of the month is a fantastic one. It looks also that despite a few statements done here and there in the press, rock music is here to stay. I have been listening to lots of records this month and the ones which gave me excitement, passion or emotion were pure rock’n’roll records done by young men. So all is not lost…and rock is far from being dead!

Album of the month: Ty Segall“Freedom’s Goblin” – Rock – One of the hardest working men in show-business along Dave Grohl or Jack White, Ty Segall has been releasing an impressive number of records in the last five years, either under his name or through his many projects. I have been following his production for a few years now and caught him live playing drums like a maniac at the End of the Road festival in 2015. This new album though is by far his best and most ambitious one. With 19 tracks and 1h 15minutes of music, Ty Segall revisits all his great influencers (Neil Young, garage rock, Elliott Smith, The Velvet Underground or again The Beatles‘ White Album) whilst making it sound very modern and more importantly his own. A record to listen again and again to enjoy all its treasures. A very good way to start the year!

 

  • Runner-up: The Limiñanas “Shadow People” – Garage Rock – Originally from the nice Perpignan area in France, Lionel (voice and guitar) and Marie (drums) Limiñana are a married couple and have been making records for a few years now. Their main music love is clearly garage rock but with a touch of post-punk influences (The Cure or Joy Division amongst others). Their new album has been recorded with the help of the great Anton Newcombe from The Brian Jonestown Massacre and one can feel a new freshness in their sounds. I was lucky to see them live recently as Rough Trade East and their set was excellent. Nice chat as well afterwards with a Catalan accent!

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  • Also recommended:
    • Shame “Songs of Praise” – Rock – Debut LP from South London young band with Gang Of Four / Magazine influences.
    • No Age – “Snares Like a Haircut” – Rock – Less angry as usual ; their best album so far.
    • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club “Wrong Creatures” – Rock – Always the same, always different… Good to have them back
    • Nils Frahm “All Melody” – Classical Electro – Beautiful new effort from the Berliner
    • Arthur H “Amour Chien Fou” – French chanson – A double album from the worst English accent singer ever! A few songs are very moving.
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – U2 – “Songs Of Experience

 

The Rolling Stones discography : Part Three – The 80’s

…and here we are, reaching the infamous 80’s, the decade when all major artists (Neil Young, Paul McCartney, David Bowie,…) faced supposedly difficult artistic times. I guess this is also spontaneously the kind of comments one would do about The Rolling Stones in the 80’s. But apart from the pink and yellow aerobic outfits worn by Mick Jagger, were the 80’s such a bad time in terms of pure music releases? Well, it looks that was not so…and I must say as I had a really good time listening to all these records again.

Complete review: Part I (the 60’s) – Part II (the 70’s) – Part IV (the 90’s until today)

Emotional Rescue Emotional Rescue (1980) : This album can be considered as a little brother of their previous LP “Some Girls“. Of course, it would be known if it were such a good album but there are a few amazing tracks also here, trying to mix their rock’n’roll roots with a bit of disco. A few songs are also very original, which makes this album a very singular one. To (re)discover . (8/10). Key tracks : “Dance (Pt.1)“, “Down In The Hole” & “Emotional Rescue“.

Tattoo You Tattoo You (1981) : Another Rolling Stones album just one year after their previous one; we are indeed talking about another age here compared to their production sequence in the years to come. This album was supposed to express their returning back to their original roots…and this is not really so as to my mind, when you have Keith Richards in your band, you will always more or less be close to your blues and rock’n’roll roots. Not the masterpiece a few fans or journalists want this to be, this is still a very solid album…and it has “Start Me Up” on it, one of their greatest live songs ever! (7.5/10). Key tracks : “Start Me Up“, “Heaven” & “Waiting On A Friend”.

Undercover Undercover (1983) : With its nice and modern cover, this album could appear as a desperate tentative to remain hip amongst a young public fan, at a time when hip-hop was starting to grow as a genre. I must say this album aged quite well and a few songs are really rough and primitive. Once again, having Charlie Watts and Keith Richards in your band is the best cure to fight the disease other artists got in the early 80’s in terms of awful sounds. (7/10). Key tracks : “Undercover Of The Night”, Too Much Blood” & “Pretty Beat Up“.

Dirty Work Dirty Work (1986) : Ok, the cover is ugly and one can feel the animosity between the Glimmer Twins at that stage. This is supposed to be their weakest album of all times and I remember reading a quite critical review in the NME at the time. On a personal matter, this was the year when music for me was magical with all these amazing bands and artists such as The Smiths, The Fall, Prince, The Go-Betweens, Sonic Youth, Elvis Costello,… (have a look at NME’s 1986 list and you will be amazed). However, the beauty in listening back with no prejudice to albums is that one can be surprised sometimes. And I was, in particular by the constant aggression and energy felt throughout the tracks. Another one to (re) discover I must say. (7.5/10). Key tracks : “One Hit (To The Body)”, “Harlem Shuffle” & “Winning Ugly.

Steel Wheels Steel Wheels (1989) : And here we are, reaching the end of the 80’s…with one of their best albums of all times. I am not sure many music lovers share this with me but I remember being a huge fan of this album at the time of its release and a new listening did not change my mind at all. I could easily have chosen 5 or 6 excellent tracks, in particular the amazing “Continental Drift” recorded with Moroccan musicians. Let’s not forget that The Rolling Stones were virtually no more and that Mick Jagger just came back to Keith Richards when he realised he would never had as much success with his solo career. As Keith told him on the phone, “…darling, this thing is bigger than the both of us…” (9/10). Key tracks : “Mixed Emotions”, “Rock And A Hard Place” & “Can’t Be Seen”.

So the 80’s were actually quite a good decade for The Rolling Stones. Stay tuned for the final part of this review and their latest releases since the start of the 90’s!

Johnny Hallyday, Céline Dion, Adele: a few thoughts and reflexions about good and bad taste in music

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that“. I could easily adapt Bill Shankly’s legendary quote by replacing football by music. I had in mind never to write bad things in this blog, whose aim was to share my enthusiasm and love of music and make friends or readers discover new sounds and records. However, writing about things one does not like can also be an interesting exercise.

As a French citizen and considering myself as attached to my country for what I am and to the UK for my pop culture tastes (music, movies, literature and football between others), I have weirdly faced difficult times recently. I will try to explain these feelings below and write a few thoughts about it…

  • Johnny Hallyday’s recent passing

“Le Rock est mort” (eg “Rock is dead”) is one of the things you could find in magazines a few weeks ago in France. For those not familiar with the guy, Johnny Hallyday (real name Jean-Philippe Smet) was a superstar in France and considered as THE French rocker. He acted in a few movies as well and was overall a celebrity everyone was aware of in France. He passed away in early December from lung cancer at the age of 74 and the whole nation mourned for a few days. It looks there was more than 1 million people in the streets of Paris to celebrate and give him a last farewell.

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Although I had nothing against the man who had his flaws but no more no less than all of us, I felt really not at ease with what happened after his death. Once again, I do respect people mourning his leaving this Earth and to be more precise, there is nothing more sad than seeing all these people dying from cancer. The issue was not there: to make it short, Johnny Hallyday’s music is for me the enemy and I remember having put his name on the black list given to the DJ of my wedding’s party twenty years ago… I guess his music is everything I do not like in music: no subtlety in words which are piling up layers after layers of clichés, strong and “in your face” voice which does not give room from compromise (hate or love it), very poor music which is neither rock nor pure French chanson. I do recognize his importance in giving a bit of blues and rock culture in France in the early 60’s and this is amazing to realise that The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix opened shows for him or that Jimmy Page played on a few of his records, knowing that this was during his pre-Led Zeppelin golden age and that he was basically playing with everyone. But having said this, Johnny Hallyday is to me the epitome of what is not cool in music especially when I was younger: how could you love The Jesus and Mary Chain, Marvin Gaye, John Coltrane or again The Clash and find a drop of interest in Johnny Hallyday’s music? With age, and having learnt to have a different view of what is cool or uncool (cf. my recent gig’s review of Daryl Hall & John Oates), I still think his music remains very poor in a world where one could listen to thousands of good records. And to me having a Harley Davidson bike and wearing a perfecto does not mean you have a “rock’n’roll attitude”… Eric Cantona is certainly much more rock’n’roll in his behaviour.

I guess I made my point here. In a nutshell: can we respect such a national event whilst having a different opinion as well? The madness felt on social networks was really symbolic of our current age and to me did not allow any different views…

  • Adele: good or bad?

Once again, not sure if a) I can give a clear answer to such a reply b) my contribution will an impact bigger than that of a micro fly… Anyway, let’s give it a try. Adele has been seen as the saviour of the music industry in the last ten years as she has been selling millions of records, especially in the UK and the USA. I do not want to be snobbish but I had never heard one of her songs (maybe portions of a song called “Hello” on the radio a few months ago) so I thought it was the right moment to use my streaming service and listen to her records without prejudice. One of my closest music buddies with excellent taste is a fan of hers so I thought that it could not be that bad a moment to spare.

However, I must say I was quite disappointed overall. I quite enjoyed her first record (“19” – released in 2008) as I found a certain freshness and originality in songs and musical structure. A bit boring sometimes but a great voice indeed and not a cliché in sight. Rating of 6.5/10.

This is on the second album (“21” -released in 2011) that things started to be a bit more difficult for me as a listener. One can feel in this record a certain lack of innocence, probably coming from the huge success of her first record and the pressure on her artistic and social life. There are a few good songs (“I’ll be waiting“), a few boring ones (“LovesongThe Cure cover, really?) and a few awful ones (“Don’t you remember“) in the atrocious Celine Dion / Whitney Houston style. Rating of 5/10.

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The least one could talk about her latest album (“25” released in 2015), the better. There is no musical personality in this record anymore and she sings as if she would like to prove us she has deep lungs. A few songs are really atrocious (“Hello“, “I Miss You” and “Sweetest Devotion“) and a rating a 4/10 is quite generous.

…but once again, who am I to judge? Her music is considered complex and full of soul by many and I can recognize this. This is just that I personally do not like singers and musicians who overstate so I guess this is not for me.

  • Celine Dion: can a singer be less cool?

..well, I guess not but once again all this is relative. Johnny Hallyday was a good and generous guy, Adele is probably a good person and mother and Celine Dion is a very good person.

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At least, this is what this book reveals and what a shocker for an indie rock / deep soul / hip-hop / free jazz fan! “Let’s talk about love” by Carl Wilson is part of the great 33 1/3 series (cf. a post done a few years ago about this fantastic book series).

Carl Wilson is the kind of person who has similar taste as mine I guess and in particular a found adoration for the late great Elliott Smith. The starting point of the book comes from the infamous Oscar ceremony of 1998 when a very awkward Elliott Smith played on stage his beautiful song “Miss Misery” from Gus Van Sant‘s movie “Good Will Hunting“. What made this performance difficult to watch was the unbalance between  Elliott in a weird and too large white suit, alone on stage, very frail, in front of all these very rich and successful Hollywood moguls who were thinking “What the heck?…”. As expected, bad taste and power won that night and Celine Dion was the winner with the “Titanic” horrendous song.

What is more interesting is what happened backstage. The only natural, warm and friendly person of all with Elliott was actually Celine Dion. This simple fact gave to Carl Wilson the envy to go further and discover more about Celine Dion, her past, her family stories, what made her songs so successful, etc… At the end of the day, this is probably one of the best music books I read and I must say I would not have envisaged it while reluctantly buying it.

  • What next?

Well,…nothing I guess and these few thoughts probably did not add anything to this debate. But as The Byrds once said, I’ll probably feel better after writing this post.

See you soon to talk about (hopefully) good music!

Best albums of 2017 – Top 25.

Another year goes by and the more it goes, the less it seems to make sense … but not more or less than in the previous 3,000 years I guess. On these philosophical words, let’s focus on what this blog’s editor knows best, i.e. build nice end of the year lists!

Thanks to the nice suggestion of a friend, I started at the beginning of 2017 reviews of the best albums of the month. Quite a nice story and overall it meant that I listened to even more music thanks the intensive use of the streaming service I am subscribed to but also to regular visits to my local favourite stores, Rough Trade in particular. I tried to listen to all styles of music (folk, jazz, metal, pop, world, indie, soul, hip-hop,…) and hopefully without any prejudice. I can therefore proudly claim and make official that indeed big sellers such as Katie Perry, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus or again Sam Smith have all released completely boring, uninteresting or sometimes atrocious records. Not a question of snobbishness but these records are produced without any invention, emotion or soul. The below list is of course subjective but as every year is a mix of newcomers, mature bands, artist I discovered on stage or people who had an impact in 2017. I could have easily select 100 albums I can come back to on a regular basis but that was not the point.

Top 25 this year and without further due, let’s start with our Album of the Year which is a masterpiece! For the sake of clarity, you can click this year on two links: the first one will take you to the monthly review when this album went out and the second one to a potential live review if any.

Pure Comedy

#1 Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy”. Out in: April 2017Live review What makes a record one’s album of the year. Beautiful music in the way Elton John could do in his peak in the 70’s with a touch of indie rock attitude? Angry and beautiful words against the state of the world ? Sensitive songs about the difficulty in being in love and making a relationship work ? Poetry ? Amazing presence on stage ? Probably all of this but to me what made it album of the year was the constant companionship and pure rough emotion I found in this album since it went out. Joshua Tillman is definitely increasing his game with every release. Stream it, buy it, read the words, catch him live; Father John Misty has made by far the RECORD OF THE YEAR!

Yesterday's Gone #2 Loyle Carner – “Yesterday’s Gone”. Out in: January 2017. This is the amazing debut album of the young London rapper Coyle Larner. His artist name is Loyle Carner as this is the way he used to pronounce his name when he was a kid due to dyslexia. He was also diagnosed as having behaviour trouble at that age but the young man found an escape in theatre and music. After the devastating death of his father in law, he went back to his music and released this very personal album full of great soul and jazz samples. Welcome to the club of great artists young man and keep on bringing a Man Utd Eric Cantona on stage.

DAMN. #3 Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.” Out in: April 2017. Kendrick Lamar does not need this blog to be more famous or more critically appreciated as it looks the whole world loves him now.. and other artists too as he appeared this year on many other tracks (U2, Miguel or again N.E.R.D amongst many others). This is an extraordinary album again and the young man is definitely the current most talented artist. Every new album is an exciting event so let’s hope it will last for a few more extra years.

Aromanticism #4 Moses Sumney– “Aromanticism”. Out in: September 2017. Live review. Those who are familiar with this blog may remember the emotion and positive shock I had whilst catching this young American artist live at End of the Road festival. His debut album is as amazing as he is on stage. He has the voice of an angel servicing very personal, melodic and original-sounding songs. If Bjork was a Black American young man in his 20’s, she would probably sound like him. To discover without further due.

The Loved Ones #5 Flyte – “The Loved Ones”. Out in: August 2017. A real grower that one as it was not in my August 2017 selection. This record made me young again as I discovered them after catching the cover of the record in a billboard in London (as used to be the case in ancient times). This young band from London made what I consider a classic in terms of melody and freshness of the sounds while respecting the grand tradition of great bands from the past such as Prefab Sprout, The Bluebells, Aztec Camera or again The Dream Academy. If such influences do not make you want to discover it, English pop rock bands must not be your taste!

Hot Thoughts #6 Spoon  “Hot Thoughts”. Out in: March 2017. Live review. Another great LP by this truly exceptional band. The difficulty with bands like Spoon (or The National for instance) is that one is so used to quality with each release that one has to favour more glamorous things or new ones. Let’s not fall into this easy trap and celebrate one of the most inventive bands of our times. The more they go, the better they are it seems…

Moonshine Freeze #7 This Is The Kit- “Moonshine Freeze”. Out in: July 2017. Live review. This is the second time that Kate Sable’s band ends up in our best of the year ranking after 2015 excellent “Bashed Out”. Her music is also getting more mature and accomplished and her peers start to recognize such a talent. Folk music for those who do not like it.

Lotta Sea Lice #8 Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile  “Lotta Sea Love”. Out in: October 2017. This is typically the kind of collaboration which should have been interesting at best as very often two great artists playing together do not produce something amazing. This is totally untrue here between the young Australian singer and her male American counterpart. They built a friendship while meeting on tour, experienced a few songs and then ended making a proper LP. Very refreshing Velvet Underground-sounding music and nice words relating the troubles for those travelling a lot for their work (I guess not only musicians could relate to this!).

All - Amerikkkan Bada$$ #9 Joey Bada$$  “All – Amerikkkan Bada$$”. Out in: April 2017. Firstly for those of you who follow with the same intensity as I did “Mr. Robot”, let me precise that this is indeed the same Joey who plays Leon in the series. Having said that, Joey Bada$$ is first and foremost a great MC. This is the third hip-hop album in this selection and although I have been listening to tens of them, nothing moves me more than rappers talking about the state of the world on great soul and jazz beats and samples. Am I really that old-school?

Sleep Well Beast #10 The National  “Sleep Well Beast”. Out in: September 2017. Live review. …and here they are in this selection as well. Not a surprise for regular readers of this blog as I guess they probably have been my favourite band of the current decade. Great album as usual but this time with a leap forward in terms of electronic sounds and songs structure. In other words, they keep on being more inventive while staying what they are. One of the greatest bands of our times.

Painted Ruins #11 Grizzly Bear  “Painted Ruins”. Out in: August 2017. Live reviewGrizzly Bear have once more delivered the goods and this album is probably that where you will find the most beautiful voices of them all. This band keeps on going forward in their own very singular way and every new listen brings extra discoveries and entertainment. A great album to enter their world and potentially go backwards to their previous LP’s.

A Deeper Understanding #12 The War On Drugs  “A Deeper Understanding”. Out in: August 2017. His 2014 album “Lost In A Dream” was a masterpiece although for some reason it did not end in my end of the year list at the time; not sure why… I write “his” as the band is really the brainchild of Adam Granduciel. This new opus is as good as the previous one and the way to describe it best is to associate it with the early 80’s Bruce Springsteen records (“Born In The USA” or “Tunnel Of Love”) with an indie attitude. Play it on and you will dance to it!

Songs of Experience #13 U2  “Songs Of Experience”. Out in: December 2017. A very recent release so once again quite difficult to judge as a record very often needs time to reveal if it is a good one, a classic…or a a fake! My gut feeling is that this is one of U2’s best and a few songs already sound like stadium classics. After the fantastic “Joshua Tree” tour this year, I am looking forward to catching them… backstage for their next tour!

I See You #14 The Xx  “I See You”. Out in: January 2017. This record is on the opposite side vs. the previous one in terms of date as it was released very early in January. I had already forgotten its beauty and I had to listen to it again to get it right. The song “On Hold” is particularly very moving for this blog’s writer ; the reason being probably the great use of a Hall & Oates sample…

American Dream #15 LCD Soundsystem  “American Dream”.  Out in: September 2017. Live review. So it was not really the end of LCD Soundsystem when its leader James Murphy decided to end it all in 2011 at the Madison Square Garden… Well, I guess we should be delighted then as their comeback record is as good as their previous ones, keeping the New York Grooooove Thang sound. One of the best dance machine ever is back!

Slowdive #16 Slowdive -“Slowdive”. Out in: May 2017. Live review. Excellent shoegazing band comeback #1.

Weather Diaries #17 Ride – “Weather Diaries”. Out in: June 2017. Live review. Excellent shoe gazing band comeback #2.

Mental Illness #18 Aimee Mann – “Mental Illness”. Out in: March 2017. Live review. One of the most beautiful and singular female voices.

Masseduction #19 St. Vincent – “Masseduction”. Out in: October 2017. Perfect and moving pop music from a young woman #1.

Melodrama #20 Lorde – “Melodrama”. Out in: June 2017. Perfect and moving pop music from a young woman #2.

Villains #21 Queens Of The Stone Age – “Villains”. Out in: August 2017. No Villains, only Heroes!    

Dark Days and Canapés #22 Ghostpoet – “Dark Days + Canapés”. Out in: August 2017. Former call center British employee ; all roads lead to Rome!      

Witness #23 Benjamin Booker – “Witness”. Out in: June 2017. Blues Soul Punk Rock young master.      

In Spades #24 The Afghan Whigs – “In Spades”. Out in: May 2017. Live review. Second excellent album since they reformed.

Drunk #25 Thundercat – “Drunk”. Out in: February 2017. Soul and hip hop bass player gets solo.

So it looks the power of Anglo-Saxon music is over if you read a few magazines…but my selection is made out of artists and bands from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland only. I guess this is what moves me the most. The more it goes, the more this selection is well balanced between men and women…although I must recognize that this is still dominated by male US rock.

Other voices’ (websites, magazines, records stores, etc…) Top 10.

You will find below a selection of other lists but there are so many of them that you may also want to go to the albumoftheyear.org website to get an aggregation of them all (© JG from Garidech). Kendrick Lamar being the definite winner it seems…

  • Mojo (music mag): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. Nadia Reid Preservation 3. Queens Of The Stone Age Villains 4. A Tribe Called Quest We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service 5. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 6. St. Vincent Masseduction 7. Kendrick Lamar DAMN 8. Hurray For The Riff Raff The Navigator 9. Sleaford Mods English Tapas 10. Aldous Harding Party
  • Uncut (music mag): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN 4. The Weather Station The Weather Station 5. Joan Shelley Joan Shelley 6. Richard Dawson Peasant 7. The National Sleep Well Beast 8. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 9. St. Vincent Masseduction 10. Hurray For The Riff Raff The Navigator
  • NME (not as great as it used to be…): 1. Lorde Melodrama 2. Wolfe Alice Visions Of A Life 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. LCD Soundsytem American Dream 6. J Hus Common Sense 7. SZA CTRL 8. Lana Del Rey Lust For Life 9. Wiley The Godfather 10. Liam Gallagher As You Were
  • Rough Trade (London, Nottingham, Bristol and Brooklyn stores): 1. Aldous Harding Post Party 2. Ryan Adams Prisoner 3. Bjork Utopia 4. Big Thief Capacity 5. Colter Wall Colter Wall 6. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex 7. The Big Moon Love In The 4th Dimension 8. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 9. Thundercat Drunk 10. Here Lies Man Here Lies Man
  • Fopp (UK stores): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. The Xx I See You 3. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. Richard Dawson Peasant 6. Fleet Foxes Crack-Up 7. Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit The Nashville Sound 8. Tinariwen Elwan 9. The National Sleep Well Beast 10. Grizzly Bear Painted Ruins
  • HMV (UK stores): 1. St. Vincent Masseduction 2. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 3. The National Sleep Well Beast 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex 6. Alvvays Antisocialites 7. Aldous Harding Party 8. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 9. Slowdive Slowdive 10. The Horrors V
  • Greg Kot (Sound Opinions radio DJ #1): 1. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 3 2. Ted Leo The Hanged Man 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Sir the Baptist Saint Or Sinner 5. Downtown Boys Cost Of Living 6. Protomartyr Relatives In Descent 7. Vic Mensa The Autobiography 8. Mavis Staples If All I Was Was Black 9. Moses Sumney Aromanticism 10. Priests Nothing Feels Natural
  • Jim Derogatis (Sound Opinions radio DJ #2): 1. The Regrettes Fell Your Feelings Fool! 2. Downtown Boys Cost Of Living 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Priests Nothing Feels Natural 5. Rips Rips 6. Aimee Mann Mental Illness 7. Vic Mensa The Autobiography 8. The Feelies In Between 9. Wire Silver/Lead 10. Courtney Barnett And Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice
  • Pitchfork (music website): 1. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2. SZA Ctrl 3. King Krule The OOZ 4. Kelela Take Me Apart 5. Lorde Melodrama 6. Moses Sumney Aromanticism 7. Vince Staples Big Fish Theory 8. Tyler, The Creator Flower Boy 9. Fever Ray Plunge 10. Jlin Black Origami
  • Paste (music website): 1. Jay Som Everybody Works 2. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 3. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 4. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 3 5. Courtney Barnett And Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 6. Sheer Mag Need To Feel Your Love 7. Alvvays Antisocialites 8. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 9. Mount Eerie A Crow Looked At Me 10. Sampha Process
  • Les Inrocks (French mag): 1. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2. King Krule The OOZ 3. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 4. Migos Culture 5. Alex Cameron Forced Witness 6. Juliette Armanet Petite Amie 7. Mac DeMarco This Old Dog 8. Orelsan La Fête Est Finie 9. Damso Ipséité 10. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex
  • The Guardian (UK daily newspaper) : 1. St. Vincent Masseduction 2. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 3. SZA Ctrl 4. Lorde Melodrama 5. Perfume Genius No Shape  6. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 7. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 8. Thundercat Drunk 9. Kelela Take Me Apart 10. Richard Dawson Peasant
  • The Independent (UK website) : 1. Loyle Carner Yesterday’s Gone 2. Lorde Melodrama 3. Rapsody Laila’s Wisdom 4. Perfume Genius No Shape 5. SZA Ctrl 6. Ghostpoet Dark Days + Canapes 7. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 8. Syd Fin 9. Jessie Ware Glasshouse 10. Trampolene Swansea To Hornsey
  • Magic rpm (French bimonthly magazine, back in 2017…but already over in 2018?) : 1. Grizzly Bear Painted Ruins 2. Aldous Harding Party 3. Midget! Ferme Tes Jolis Cieux 4. Slowdive Slowdive 5. Kadjha Bonet The Visitor 6. Charlotte Gainsbourg Rest 7. Flotation Toy Warning The Machine That Made Us 8. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 9. Forever Pavot La Pantoufle 10. Big Thief Capacity
  • Noise Magazine (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Quicksand Interiors 2. Blut Aus Nord Deus Salutis Meae 3. Jessica93 Guilty Species 4. Slowdive Slowdive 5. Dead Cross Dead Cross 6. Algiers The Underside Of Power 7. Oxbow Thin Black Duke 8. Crystal Fairy Crystal Fairy 9. Sleaford Mods English Tapas 10. At The Drive-In In.ter a.lia