Something for the weekend – Episode #43 – Elliott Smith “Figure 8”

I guess the time has come to review one of the best albums made by one of my favourite artists of all times…

Elliott Smith – “Figure 82000

Acclaimed indie singer/songwriter with an affecting presence and evocative lyricism who died tragically young” (All Music). I would not be able to better describe Elliott Smith and his art. I must confess that, despite his music probably representing to me everything I like either in terms of subtle lyrics, melodies, arrangements or again this mix of softness and power, it is always difficult to listen to his records as it brings a sort of constant sadness about his life. It must sound stupid but I even asked myself the question about what I could have done as a fan of his music. I know it does not make sense and that people suffering from depression are what they are… After spending the first part of his complicated youth in different US cities, Elliott Smith made a name of himself within the Portland, OR scene, as a member of rock band Heatmiser and also with his first beautiful solo albums. Through word of mouth, Gus Van Sant asked him to contribute to the soundtrack of his “Good Will Hunting” movie, which gave a surreal exposure to Elliott Smith at the 1998 Oscar awards ceremony (video below).

Figure 8” is his fifth record and the last one that was released when he was still alive. His six albums are all recommended, although I personally cannot get enough of the 1998/2000 sequence (“Either/Or“, “XO” and “Figure 8“). On this record, at a time when his mental health and addiction to drugs were bringing him down, he actually was at his best artistically speaking. Partially recorded at the prestigious Abbey Road studios in London, he succeeded in including his obsession with The Beatles in his songs, creating a beautiful mix of ‘now’ music with strong past influences. This is no secret that “The White Album” was his favourite piece of music and the influences can clearly be found in “Figure 8“. Although there are a few musical guests on the record, like for instance the excellent Pete Thomas on drums (member of Elvis Costello & The Attractions), Elliott Smith is the one playing the majority of the different instruments. He was a very talented musician for sure but also a sublime and moving lyricist. Songs like ‘Son Of Sam‘, ‘Everything Means Nothing To Me‘ or again ‘Happiness‘ are masterpieces as far as I am concerned and should be listened to on a regular basis. If not done yet, do not miss this record and the rest of what he released in a relatively short period of time.

Format: CD Bought in: 2000. To be noted: Figure 8 is a famous move amongst skaters and could be interpreted as a never-ending desire for perfection. The painting shown on the cover is still there on a wall in Los Angeles and has become a sort of memorial for those who want to pay tribute to this great artist. Rating: 10/10

Something for the weekend – Episode #42 – Steven Wilson “To The Bone”

This week, it is finally time for this blog to mention one of the best British musicians of the last thirty years. His new album will be with us next week so I thought it would make sense to review his previous studio effort.

Steven Wilson – “To The Bone2017

Steven Wilson does not necessarily look like your typical rock’n’roll beast. If one were to characterize him, he would be better described as a music fan, interested in sounds, tapes, loops but moreover in all types of music. He made a name of himself as the leader of the excellent Porcupine Tree in a genre that can be described as prog rock, closed to the hearts of those Pink Floyd or King Crimson fans. This label is not untrue but a bit lazy, having in mind music reviewers and the general audience like to stick musicians and their art in very well defined boxes…which is not all what this blog is about. Steven Wilson is actually interested in all kinds of music from jazz rock and heavy metal to soul and indie rock. He has been playing since the last decade under his own name and the more it goes, the bigger his success is (and the more diverse is music is).

To The Bone” was released in August 2017 and you will not find this record anywhere in my previous reviews… The main reason why is that its first listens gives a sense of lack of consistency…which is actually totally wrong. All tracks are indeed different and could exist in their own world. The overall intention he had was to pay homage to the great artists of his youth, like for instance Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush or again Tears For Fears. One can spot their influences and a track like the amazing “Permanating” could easily have been included on “Songs From The Big Chair” for instance. But once again it would be lazy not to listen to this record for what it is. At one hour of music, its eleven tracks display a phenomenal level of musicianship, thanks to its guests (specific mention to gorgeous Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb) but the real star of the show here is Steven Wilson and his exceptional guitar-playing skills. A few tracks like opener “To The Bone” (co-written with XTC‘s Andy Partridge) or again “Detonation” are really amongst the best songs of the latest years. I must confess having an unstoppable need to play air guitar when listening to this record! I am supposed to catch him live in September so fingers crossed…

Format: CD Bought in: 2020. To be noted: Michka Assayas’ “Very Good Trip” is probably one of the best music radio show currently available ; he recently did a specific program on Steven Wilson which is highly recommended. Rating: 9.0/10

Something for the weekend – Episode #41 – Brian Eno “Another Green World”

You may know Brian Eno for formerly being a key member of the gorgeous Roxy Music or through his production work for David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads or Coldplay amongst others but the great man has also made a bunch of fantastic records under his own name, including this one.

Brian Eno – “Another Green World1975

Brian Eno really made a name of himself as a prime member of Roxy Music in the early 70’s.Very often dressed on stage with women’s clothes and making an impression with his long blonde hair, he was the one bringing these weird synth sounds to the first two albums and basically changing what music would be in the years to come. Things were not to last and both his and Bryan Ferry‘s personalities were too different to make it a long term project. Brian Eno then left the band and was smart enough to confirm their 3rd album “Stranded” was his favourite…although he was already out. For music lovers, it meant that at the end of the day they still had Roxy Music as their favourite band (and what a band that was!) and an amazing new solo artist to follow. Brian Eno did not really cut the umbilical cord with his previous Roxy Music partners and for instance guitarist Phil Manzanera remained one of his best partners in crime for years to come. He released two fantastic albums in succession in 1974 which everyone should listen to if not done yet (“Here Come The Warm Jets” and “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)“) in which he showed his talents as a singer and composer.

Another Green World” is Brian Eno’s third record and probably his most important one, thanks to the evolution of the music he was playing at the time. Although this is not something one spontaneously registers while listening to it, there are actually nine tracks out of fourteen without lyrics, making it a real milestone for what Brian Eno would be famous for later in his career, i.e. so-called ‘ambient music’. I could describe the instruments played, the studios used or again the few prestigious guests like Robert Fripp on guitar, John Cale on viola or again Phil Collins on drums but these are mere details in light of the big picture. “Another Green World” is before all Brian Eno’s brainchild, bringing ideas and an overall sense of dreamy mood I guess you will certainly feel in this record. This is very rare to feel such a balance in music and to me Brian Eno reached something closed to perfection here. It looks I am not the only one to think the same, as confirmed in 2016 Pitchfork review. Discover and enjoy!

Format: LP Bought in: 2018 (after getting it on tape in the 80’s..and in CD in 1998). To be noted: There is a dedicated book in the great 33 1/3 series about this album (#67). Hugely recommended for those who want to dig further. Rating: 9.5/10

Something for the weekend – Episode #40 – Lou Reed “New York”

First post of the new year 2021 and the final one on this mini series about New York. I will probably review other albums made by NY musicians in the future but the next ones will be different and about something else. Pretty obvious choice this week but not doing it would have been a crime!

Lou Reed – “New York1989

Although he made a couple of very good records, one must admit that Lou Reed was considered a spent force in the second part of the 80’s. For those who want to know more about Lou Reed’s life, I will recommend again ‘Transformer’, the great biography I recently reviewed and which to me is one of the best I have ever read. As far as this blog’s writer is concerned, Lou Reed was already one of my favourite classic artists either with his work with The Velvet Underground or through his 70’s albums. He could also be considered at the time like the main influence to all these bands I loved, from R.E.M. in the USA to The Weather Prophets in the UK to give a couple of names. But getting new great releases from Lou Reed was probably not something I had considered in the late 80’s. The excitement in reading a New Musical Review of this album in January 1989 was therefore very high and I remember being very happy to finally buy a record by Lou Reed the same year when it was released rather than decades after conception.

What were the reasons then that made this album such a tour de force? First of all, Lou got again an excellent band, with brother in law Mike Rathke on guitar, Rob Wasserman on bass and the awesome Fred Maher on drums. Then, the overall reality faced by those living in New York at the time was pretty inspiring. One should not forget that we were in the Reagan / Bush Snr. times and that the former was pretty clear that curing AIDS was not the main concern of his government. The city was also not was it is now, transitioning from a cool but dangerous place to something where social divisions were increasing. Finally, and this is probably a less rational thing to explain, all great artists may lose their muse at one stage of their career and sometimes it comes back for a lot a reasons. Lou Reed was probably there at the time and he found back his inspiration in this balance of a very pure guitar sound and short stories about invented characters. This gave a sort of 57-minute concept album while each of his fourteen tracks can be listened to separately. A few of them ended up as classics of his catalogue, regularly played on stage (“Romeo Had Juliette” or again “Dirty Blvd.” for instance) but once again there is not a weak number here. I could personally listen to “Last Great American Whale“, “Beginning Of A Great Adventure” or Andy Warhol’s tribute song “Dime Store Mystery” hundreds of times…

Format: CD Bought in: 1989 To be noted: The new recently released deluxe edition (pictured above) is a treat for all Lou Reed fans and the first of potential other releases because Lou Reed Archives are now the property of the New York Library. Please find below an extract of the Montreal DVD concert, which is included in this beautiful reissue. I hope you like mullets by the way! Rating: 9.5/10

Best albums of 2020 – Top 25

..and what a year that was indeed. None of us working and living in the so-called First World countries have never experienced such a thing but who are we to complain really? This is a music blog so I do not have neither the skills nor the knowledge to write any particular relevant comments. What I can confess though is that more than ever listening to music has been a blessing, especially in a context with (almost) no live action. As with all lists, it is done to be challenged and commented. And as will all lists, it should be considered as a picture in time. I selected the following 25 albums after a pre-list of 53 of them but this is not the end (as an example, I already have regrets not to have included Cornershop‘s “England Is A Garden“…). I guess though my number 1 album of the year actually makes sense with what our world is today and I hope it will be remembered as such.

I also wanted to thank Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie for all his many at-home sessions. These were a real treat and made the first lockdown a not so bad time (well, you know what I mean…). Go and catch them on line!

#1 Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”. Released in: June 2020. I must confess that it was a very close call and that, depending on the mood of the day, my top 3 could have been differently sequenced. What made the difference probably came from the emotion felt every time I listen to this amazing record. Everything is in its right place and the attention to detail given by Phoebe Bridgers in her lyrics and arrangements is really awesome. I could of course add that she is a young lady of her time, with the hopes and issues women face today but this is more a consequence than the actual reason of recording such a piece of music. Final track “I Know The End” also happens to be my favourite song of 2020 so I guess the choice was pretty obvious. RECORD OF THE YEAR!

 #2 BC Camplight – “Shortly After Takeoff”. Released in: April 2020. This record is the third and probably final one of the so-called Manchester trilogy. BC Camplight is actually the sole project of American musician Brian Christinzio who finally found a bit of peace of mind in the North of England. His personal story and struggles would need an entire book to write but what is more important here is the way he balances dark and funny lyrics with an incredible sense of melody and musical skills. Discover this album (and his previous efforts too) and the rewards will be immense.

 #3 Fiona Apple – “Fetch The Bolt Cutters”. Released in: April 2020. Fiona Apple is an extraordinary talent and having her as number three in this list is just confirmation of all the greetings she received this year from musical reviewers all around the world. I do not have much to add vs. the review I did when she was my album of the month in April, except that this is really an record to discover if not done yet…and if you like dogs!

 #4 Happyness “Floatr”. Released in: May 2020. This album was a real grower for me throughout the year; the kind you find better and better after each listening. Happyness are a London trio and this record sounds like what kind of music Elliott Smith would have done in 2020, mixing psychedelic sounds with incredible beautiful melodies.

 #5 Childish Gambino – “3.15.20”. Released in: March 2020. Those curious enough to look more closely at the cover will spot the ‘Donald Glover presents’ mention but this is the only clue about this record which was released on digital form only on the 15th of March, hence the title… For some reason, this album is nowhere to be seen in any end of the year list while I think this is his best so far. All tracks are good and collectively have this very naked sound and inventiveness… which reminded me of the best Prince records.

 #6 Ghospoet  “I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep”. Released in: May 2020. This is the fifth album of London born musician Obaro Ejimiwe and the least one can say is that he is getting better and better with each release. Ghostpoet is to me the kind of people we need in today’s musical world, questioning society without losing sense of what a great track should be.

 #7 L.A. Salami – “The Cause Of Doubt & A Reason To Have Faith”. Released in: July 2020. This blog does not want to differentiate on purpose and promote artists you will not find in any other list; as a reminder my main goal is to share those records which genuinely moved me last year and that is no exception. Also from London, Lookman Adekunle Salami is a very active figure on the local musical scene. When he does not collaborate with others, he releases his very personal blues rock songs, making them instant classics.

 #8 Moses Sumney  “Græ”. Released in: May 2020. I am not afraid to state that Moses Sumney is probably one the greatest artists of our times and when life goes back to normal, catching him live is almost a compulsory thing. Released in two parts in 2020, “Græ” is a very ambitious record and one may sometimes feel that releasing twenty tracks was too much. However, I must say that what one lacks in immediacy, one gets it back in terms of being rewarded on the long term. A future classic?

 #9 Benjamin Biolay  “Grand Prix”. Released in: June 2020. First of all, let me confirm to all that this is not Romain Grosjean on the cover after his horrendous crash but this is indeed quite disturbing to have this man in flames. I was not that enthusiastic about his latest ”Argentinian” records but with “Grand Prix“, Benjamin Biolay is back on pole position (I know…). This is a very interesting record for 80’s post punk British music lovers and also for those attracted by smart lyrics in French. The best of both worlds really…

 #10 Lianne La Havas  “Lianne La Havas”. Out in: July 2020. This is the third album from London-based former Prince protégée Lianne La Havas and without any question her best so far. It took me a bit of time to get all this album’s subtleties but when you get there, you are quite addicted to it. For those Radiohead fans, her cover of “Weird Fishes” may be the best ever done. Your favourite record for all summers to come!

Also not to miss, the next 15!

  • 11. Arbouretum“Let It All In”
  • 12. This Is The Kit“Off Off On”
  • 13. Jetstream Pony“Jetstream Pony”
  • 14. Laura Marling “Song For Our Daughter”
  • 15. Paul McCartney“McCartney III”
  • 16. Blake Mills – “Mutable Set”
  • 17. Andy Shauf – “The Neon Skyline”
  • 18. Elvis Costello – “Hey Clockface”
  • 19. Ichon – “Pour De Vrai”
  • 20. Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes – “What Kinda Music”
  • 21. The Apartments – “In And Out Of The Light”
  • 22. Khruangbin – “Mordechai”
  • 23. Kevin Morby – “Sundowner” (very popular in Bordeaux, France!)
  • 24. The Avalanches – “We Will Always Love You”
  • 25. Fontaines D.C. – “A Hero’s Death”

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 website to get an aggregation of them all.

  • Mojo (UK music mag): 1. Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 2. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 3. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death 4. Bill Callahan Gold Record 5. Fleet Foxes Shore 6. Cornershop England Is A Garden 7. Jarv Is… Beyond The Pale 8. Run The Jewels RTJ4 9. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 10. The Flaming Lips American Head
  • Uncut (UK music mag): 1. Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 2. Fleet Foxes Shore 3. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 4. Drive-By Truckers The New OK 5. Thundercat It Is What It Is 6. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 7. Bill Callahan Gold Record 8. Jarv Is… Beyond The Pale 9. Shirley Collins Heart’s Ease 10. Laura Marling Song For Our Daughter
  • NME (UK website): 1. Run The Jewels RTJ4 2. Taylor Swift Folklore 3. Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia 4. The Strokes The New Abnormal 5. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 6. Kelly Lee Owens Inner Song 7. Rina Sawayama Sawayama 8. Haim Women In Music Pt III 9. Beabadoobee Fake It Flowers 10. J Hus Big Conspiracy
  • Rough Trade (London, Nottingham, Bristol and Brooklyn stores): 1. Sault Untitled (Black Is) 2. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 3. Rina Sawayama Sawayama 4. Laura Marling Song Four Our Daughter 5. Jarv Is… Beyond The Pale 6. Dream Wife So When You Gonna… 7. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Viscerals 8. Bdrmm Bedroom 9. Porridge Radio Every Bad 10. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Sideways To New Italy
  • Sister Ray (London Soho store): 1. Juniore Un Deux Trois 2. Andy Bell The View From Halfway Down 3. Billy Nomates Billy Nomates 4. Freddy Gibbs & The Alchemist Alfredo 5. Bdrmm Bedroom 6. Laura Marling Song Four Our Daughter 7. Kate NV Room For The Moon 8. Four Tet Sixteen Oceans 9. Thurston Moore By The Fire 10. Working Men’s Club Working Men’s Club
  • Greg Kot (Sound Opinions radio DJ #1): 1. Sault Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise) 2. Run The Jewels RTJ4 3. Melkbelly Pith 4. Angelica Garcia Cha Cha Palace 5. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 6. Bartees Strange Live Forever 7. Coriky Coriky 8. Idles Ultra Mono 9. Porridge Radio Every Bad 10. Jyoti Mama, You Can Bet!
  • Jim Derogatis (Sound Opinions radio DJ #2): 1. Shemekia Copeland Uncivil War 2. Ganser Just Look At THe Sky 3. Angelica Garcia Cha Cha Palace 4. Jason Isbell Reunions 5. Run The Jewels RTJ4 6. Lucinda Williams Good Souls Better Angels 7. Drive-By Truckers The Unravelling 8. Margo Price That’s How Rumors Get Started 9. Lydia Loveless Daughter 10. Sault Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise)
  • Pitchfork (US music website): 1. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 2. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 3. Moses Sumney græ 4. Phoebe Bridgers Punisher 5. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 6. Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 7. Yves Tumor Heaven To A Tortured Mind 8. Haim Women In Music Pt III 9. Jessie Ware What’s Your Pleasure? 10. Bad Bunny YHLQMDLG
  • Paste (US music website): 1. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 2. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 3. Run The Jewels RTJ4 4. Sault Untitled (Rise) 5. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 6. Porridge Radio Every Bad 7. Soccer Mommy Color Theory 8. Rina Sawayama Sawayama 9. Adrianne Lenker Songs 10. Moses Sumney græ
  • Les Inrocks (French mag): 1. The Strokes The New Abnormal 2. Working Men’s Club Working Men’s Club 3. Andrea Laszlo De Simone Immensita 4. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death 5. Helena Deland Someone New 6. Chassol Ludi 7. Bob Dylan Rough And Rowdy Ways 8. Gorillaz Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez 9. Ela Minus Acts Of Rebellion 10. Damso QALF
  • The Guardian (UK daily newspaper) : 1. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 2. Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia 3. Rina Sawayama Sawayama 4. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 5. Sault Untitled (Black Is) 6. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 7. Haim Women In Music Pt III 8. J Hus Big Conspiracy 9. Taylor Swift Folklore 10. Moses Sumney græ
  • The Independent (UK website) : 1. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 2. Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia 3. Waxahatchee Saint Cloud 4. Laura Marling Song For Our Daughter 5. Moses Sumney græ 6. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately 7. Haim Women In Music Pt III 8. Sufjan Stevens The Ascension 9. Adrianne Lenker Songs 10. Taylor Swift Folklore
  • Magic rpm (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Cabane Grande Est La Maison 2. Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters 3. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death 4. Car Seat Headrest Making A Door Less Open 5. Mary Lattimore Silver Ladders 6. This Is The Kit Off Off On 7. Adrianne Lenker Songs & Instrumentals 8. Oneohtrix Point Never Make Oneohtrix Point Never 9. Matt Elliott Farewell To All We Know 10. Perfume Genius Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
  • Noise Magazine (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou May Our Chambers Be Full 2. Human Impact Human Impact 3. Oranssi Pazuzu Mestarin Kynsi 4. Napalm Death Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism 5. Hum Inlet 6. Nothing The Great Dismal 7. Butch McKoy The Sick Rose 8. Tar Pond Protocol Of Constant Sadness 9. Higher Power 27 Miles Underwater 10. Untitled With Drums Hollow
  • Resident (Brighton very cool store): 1. Working Men’s Club Working Men’s Club 2. Porridge Radio Every Bad 3. Sink Ya Teeth Two 4. Moses Boyd Dark Matter 5. Bdrmm Bedroom 6. Juniore Un Deux Trois 7. Craven Faults Erratics & Unconformities 8. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death 9. BC Camplight Shortly After Takeoff 10. Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes What Kinda Music

December 2020 Album of the month: The Avalanches – “We Will Always Love You”

I am usually struggling to recommend seven albums in December but this year was different as full of interesting releases…and two great records which competed for the number 1 position. Stay tuned as I will publish very soon my traditional Top 25 of the best albums of 2020!

Album of the month: The Avalanches – “We Will Always Love You” – Everything…but good! – This is only the third album from this Australian band but their best in my opinion. First 2000 “Since I Left You” LP was a sampling classic (but a bit difficult to enjoy) while sophomore 2016 “Wildflower” did not leave much trace. This new record is a different story and although its 1h & 11minutes of music will need more listening sessions, I can already feel its greatness. Having as guests on your own record people like Tricky, Johnny Marr, MGMT, Neneh Cherry, Samanda Maitreya, Mick Jones, Perry Farrel or again Leon Bridges (just a snapshot of the list of invitees…) should not work but trust me, it does! Every track has tens of ideas without losing the melody element or dance attitude. A great record to close the year with.

Runner-up: Paul McCartney “McCartney III” – Pop Rock – I guess the man needs no introduction… Being in a position to listen to an interesting record from a 78-year old musician who basically invented pop music as we cherish it today is something which should almost consider as a reward… The “III” title was thought on purpose as the two previous ones (“I” released in 1970 and “II” released in 1980) were made in the same circumstances: in a home-made studio, Paul playing almost all instruments and without any restrain regarding ideas. This is indeed full of interesting sounds and a few songs are quite…weird (hello “Deep Deep Feeling“) while many other ones are pure McCartney’s, sounding ageless and beautiful.

  • Also recommended:
  • Louis Philippe “Thunderclouds” – Baroque Pop – A very welcome come back from Philippe Auclair, who is as good in making mini rock symphonies as he is in writing about British football!
  • Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Lounge “Doug Carn – Jazz Is Dead 005” – Jazz – Another great record in the “Jazz Is Dead” series, inviting this time fantastic Hammond organ player Doug Carn.
  • Kid Cudi – “Man On The Moon III: The Chosen” – Hip Hop – A new Kid Cudi record is always an event and this new release is no exception
  • Ryan Adams – “Wednesdays” – Pop Rock – Selecting this unexpected record may look controversial… The music is beautiful though.
  • Various Artists – “Rough Trade Stores – Counter Culture 20” – Pop Rock – Great (and long) annual compilation for our Rough Trade stores’ friends, who made the world a better place during this tough year.
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Ólafur Arnalds – “Some Kind Of Peace

Something for the weekend – Episode #39 – Television “Marquee Moon”

…and here we go for our 4th episode about NYC-influenced records. This was supposed to be the final one but so many great records came from New York that we will continue this series with a few other ones ; stay tuned! This week, we will review what is for me the quintessential NY album… which happens to be one of my favourites ever.

Television – “Marquee Moon1977

I guess this is no secret from anyone vaguely familiar with this blog that the 1975-1985 New York period is my favourite one ever, full stop. Although things changed probably not for the best in the subsequent times thanks to Giuliani and his gentrification goons, there is still a different atmosphere in the great city today and I would not miss wandering in the Bowery district for anything when I happen to be there. You will not find a better love letter to these South-East Manhattan districts than on this record. Formed in the early 70’s by Tom Verlaine (né Thomas Miller) and Richard Hell (né Richard Meyers), Television really found their formula when the latter left the band and when they regrouped with the rhythm section of Fred Smith on bass and Billy Ficca on drums, leaving the space for the extraordinary guitar playing skills of Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine. This is very interesting to note that without doomed 19th century French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, there would not have been any Patti Smith, nor Tom Verlaine. Richard Hell in particular took Rimbaud’s non-haircut style, which then influenced UK punk bands (hello Sex Pistols…) which themselves influenced postpunk bands… U2‘s The Edge for instance clearly mentioned many times that his very unique guitar playing style actually came from Television. Interviewed in 1974 by Melody Maker, here is what John Lennon said while grabbing Television…on tv: “Yeah, I can relate to them, they’re exactly as we were. Skint and loving every minute. They sound terrible but they’re OK!

What do we have then with “Marquee Moon“? A perfect rock album? Eight fantastic tracks? Incredible but also not demonstrative guitar playing from the two maestros? The best balance between poetry and street life found in lyrics ever? Well, all of this I must confess but also one of the most beautiful and iconic covers of all times, shot by legendary artist Robert Mapplethorpe. What makes this record different from the rest and important for any music lover is simultaneously his peculiarity (is it punk? is it jazz? is it psychedelic rock?) but also the fact it could not have been done anywhere else than in New York in the mid-70’s. The overall sound makes you feel protected and at home but with a sense of bitterness and urgency one can relate to the location and period. Television did not last very long and disbanded after 2nd 1978 “Adventure” LP. They later regrouped and released an excellent self-titled “Television” album in 1992 and keep on touring when they feel like it (I personally travelled to Glasgow, Scotland to catch them live…). Commercial success and sales are not that important in the grand scheme of things and I am sure that I am not the only one to have their lives changed after discovering this amazing album.

Format: LP Bought in: 1987 To be noted: Television were actually more popular in the UK than in their native United States of America, touring with Blondie and being defended by New Musical Express and Melody Maker writers at the time. Rating: 10.5/10 (rare rating for masterpieces)

November 2020 Album of the month: Ólafur Arnalds – “Some Kind Of Peace”

November was a quiet month compared to a very busy October so I though it would make sense to elect a relaxing album this time…

Album of the month: Ólafur Arnalds – “Some Kind Of Peace” – Iceland Relaxing Music – Originally from Iceland, Ólafur Arnalds has been releasing albums on a regular basis in the last ten years and has been collaborating with other artists from all genres. His most famous work is probably that he did for the beautiful and moving British series ‘ Broadchurch‘ a few years ago. He is a real talent in terms of composition and he is also very skilled because he can play any instrument from a quite piano to very noisy drums. In this new album, he succeeded in mixing all genres he has been associated with, from ambient sounds to chilly pop. You will not find a better album for this period of the year.

Runner-up: Nick Cave “Idiot Prayer – Nick Cave alone at Alexandra Palace” – Pop Rock – Talking about quiet and melodic piano sounding… Nick Cave did this streaming show a few months ago to share something with the fans and good news is that this is now available for all. As the title suggests, he is alone playing the piano in the normally buoyant and noisy Alexandra Palace, home of one of my latest live reviews. The mood is quite magical, although disturbing and weird sometimes, but it remains a must for all Nick Cave fans.

  • Also recommended:
  • Dominique A “Vie étrange – French Pop – Not an album per se, this could be considered as a few musical ideas given by the great French artist.
  • Tiña “Positive Mental Health Music” – Pop Rock – Our new favourite South London band?
  • Grandaddy – “The Sophtware Slump… On A Wooden Piano” – Pop Rock – A beautiful acoustic interpretation of one of Grandaddy’s greatest albums by their leader Jason Lytle.
  • Linkwood And Other Lands – “Face The Facts” – Chilly Stuff – Another great atmosphere record to relax with in these troubled times…
  • Chilly Gonzales – “A Very Chilly Christmas” – Xmas Record – It looks chilly was this month’s word… I personally like Xmas records and this release from the excellent Canadian musician is no exemption.
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – This Is The Kit – “Off Off On

Something for the weekend – Episode #38 – Beastie Boys “Ill Communication”

This is the third episode about the great New York city. This week, we will review the 4th album from one of the most unique bands of our times. This post is dedicated to the great Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, who passed away in 2012 at the too early age of 47.

Beastie Boys – “Ill Communication1994

I am almost sure everyone is familiar with the name of the band Beastie Boys. But do they really know how to define what they were? Well, they were a NY hip-hop trio, weren’t they? Indeed, that would be the most simplistic answer to such a question because in reality the Beastie Boys were much more than that. Built equally on its three members (Ad-Rock, Mike D. and MCA – all from upper class NY neighbourhoods), they were originally influenced by the punk/metal/hardcore scene before meeting producer Rick Rubin and releasing their first album in 1986 on Def Jam Records, THE place to be at the time and hope of legendary artists like Public Enemy or L.L. Cool J. Their first tracks were very much direct and not very subtle although full of energy and with a great sense of melody (and a nice drum machine!). They really started to develop their music with their next records, either through heavy usage of samples on 1989’s “Paul’s Boutique” or by playing their instruments in their own built studio with 1992’s “Check Your Head“.

Released in 1994, “Ill Communication” will probably not be the first album mentioned by Beastie Boys fans but this is personally that I prefer. There was no real revolution vs. previous efforts and one could talk more precisely about an evolution. The main new things to me were the more prominent role played by extra keyboard player Money Mark but also the Buddhist influences brought by MCA who at the time was very involved in the ‘Free Tibet’ movement going as far as to organise a charity festival and ending up as a close friend of the Dalai Lama. For those who prefer their music showing uniformity and concision, this album is probably not for you with its 59 minutes and the diversity of its tracks. Some may consider there are a few instrumentals too many and that the second half of the record kind of loses the plot. This is not entirely untrue but there are incredible 20th century classics like ‘Sure Shot‘ and ‘Get It Together‘. Let’s not forget as well one of the best numbers of all times with ‘Sabotage‘ and its amazing bass line. You will find below the classic and hilarious video of that song directed by Spike Jonze. The Beastie Boys kept on doing music for more than fifteen years with lots of collaborations and three more (and excellent) studio LP’s before sadly disbanding when MCA died from cancer-related complications in 2012.

Format: CD Bought in: 1994 To be noted: Apple TV has recently released a documentary / theatre performance on the Beastie Boys directed by Spike Jonze ; this is an awesome and quite moving film recommended to all. Rating: 8.5/10

Something for the weekend – Episode #37 – New York Dolls “New York Dolls”

And here you go for our 2nd episode of typical New York albums. This week, we will review an U.F.O. which remains as fresh today as when it was released almost fifty years ago…

New York Dolls – “New York Dolls1973

Have you really properly look at the cover? Isn’t it the coolest one ever? Doesn’t it make you want to fall in love with such a band? I have often been asked which times and location I would like to be reborn if such a thing could exist? I must admit that being in my early 20’s in the pre-Giuliani New York of 1972 to 1982 would have been pretty cool… Who were the New York Dolls by the way? They were THE NY band of the early 70’s and were all coming from Queens or Staten Island. After a first tour of the UK, and a first drama with the drug-related loss of original drummer Billy Murcia, they got signed for a 2-record deal and regrouped to record this first album. This was their first classic early-period and the five band members were David Johansen singing, Johnny Thunders and Syl Sylvain on guitars, Arthur Kane on bass and Jerry Nolan on drums. They were famous for their exuberant rock’n’roll style and they really lived closed to the fire. The fact that three of them died in the 90’s and 00’s at a relatively young age was probably no coincidence.

Self-titled “New York Dolls” is their debut album and was produced by the great Todd Rundgren, which may appear surprising as he was more famous for his work on complex tracks rather than on traditional rock’n’roll songs. There is no better song to open an album than ‘Personality Crisis‘; from the first note, you have no choice and have to decide if you are in or out. As far as I am concerned, this is a pure classic song and there is everything I like the most in rock music: great guitars, a voice not here to please anyone, a sense of irony and wit and a fantastic melody. All ten original tracks plus the Bo Diddley covers are properly amazing. Nobody is sure if this is hard-rock, if this is mainstream rock, if these are the American Rolling Stones or if this is punk but who cares really? With this record and their second one “Too Much Too Soon“, they changed the music world and influenced tens of bands from the punk and the post-punk era. They were unfortunately too ahead of their times and disbanded in the mid-70’s, despite Malcolm McLaren‘s efforts to re-launch them. It is to be noted that the two living members David Johansen and Syl Sylvain released three solid and decent LP’s in the 00’s but anyone can live without these… Discover their debut at any cost and play it loud!

Format: LP Bought in: 2006 To be noted: Morrissey was a fan when he was in his pre-The Smiths period and was President of the New York Dolls UK fan club. He was critical in the reunion of David Johansen, Syl Sylvain and Arthur Kane and I strongly recommend the very moving “New York Doll” documentary . Rating: 9.5/10