Brian Wilson: “I am Brian Wilson” biography and Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds live, London Palladium, 20th May 2016

Another post on a music giant who is very much alive despite what one could have guessed thirty or forty years ago. I had already wrote something on the movie “Love and Mercy” released in 2015 and about two phases in the life of the leader of The Beach Boys but 2016 has also been rich in Brian Wilson’s events.

  • Brian Wilson present Pet Sounds, London Palladium, 20th May 2016

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, full band

I had fantastic memories of the way Brian Wilson and his great band of (mainly) youngsters played live his doomed SMiLE masterpiece in March 2004 and did not want to miss the same concept for The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”. There are three categories of people in life: those who have never heard about The Beach Boys (no, they do not live in a cave and I have a few of them in my family), those who know a few tracks and consider this is a minor band singing about surf and nice pop songs… and the others who know that digging into The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s records is a never-ending reward, especially the period going from 1965 to 1975. “Pet Sounds” is by no way an obscure or underground record as it is regularly ranked amongst the best records of all times by magazines or websites, the most recent being for instance Uncut 200 best records of all times late 2015. This is for sure very personal but really if you love music, you must buy (buy, not stream) this record and at least give it a try.

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, with Al Jardine

Having said that, how was the 74-old man doing on stage when one is aware about his life and the constant fights he had against mental illness. Well, if one were to concentrate solely on Brian Wilson, the show would definitely be weird as he does not sing as beautifully as he used to do and as he stays sat down the whole show pretending to play his keyboard once in a while. However, when one looks at the overall picture and the excellence of the band in playing with beauty and fidelity these immense songs, one can only agree that it was a fantastic show. I must say that this is the feedback I had from our prestigious guests from New York, NY who traveled over the Atlantic to experience this show and were delighted.

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, greetings

The band was amazing, first because they played all these traditional but also weird instruments with grace but also because there were two former Beach Boys, namely the legendary Al Jardine but also the amazing South African Blondie Chaplin who played as much in his career with the Beach Boys as with the Rolling Stones…and Brian Wilson was there also with a good presence, introducing his beautiful songs with a mix a humility and naivety (“I was very happy to use a bike bell on that song”). A special reward for Al Jardine’s son Matthew for the way he backed up Brian Wilson and sang the high-pitched voices’ parts. The setlist was tremendous as on top of playing Pet Sounds in its entirety the band also played lots of great other Beach Boys tracks.

  • “I am Brian Wilson” written with Ben Greenman

Interviews of Brian Wilson are often a burden for journalists as he rarely says things out of pure material ones, such as “Paul McCartney really liked “God Only Knows”” or “I have a good band and am very happy to play in London” …but who cares to be honest? Having Brian Wilson alive with us today is quite a miracle when one thinks about all his life and his struggles with mental illness and poor health. This is why I was not expecting anything from this book…and I was wrong.

Image result for i am brian wilson

All credit goes to Ben Greenman who succeeded in having Brian Wilson talk simply and openly about everything with no taboo at all and with method and order. I had already read his collaboration with Questlove of the Roots called “Mo’ Meta Blues” and I must say he did again an excellent job with Brian Wilson. For those who saw the movie, you will learn more about the other periods of Brian’s life but also got directly to the source regarding the main events described in the film. For others not that familiar with him, you will discover the life of a man who managed (with a little help from his friends) to get over the voices in his head and build a career and a family. Of course, the style is a bit childish sometimes (Brian likes to describe his food!) and very far from Bruce Springsteen’s style in his biography “Born to Run” but once again this is not what is essential here. On my side, I finally learnt the real reason behind Brian Wilson being deaf from the right ear and can only thank him for all the joy his “working” left ear brought to people like me.

 

Death of a ladies’ man – Leonard Cohen’s studio albums

I never had a simple relationship with Leonard Cohen and his music. Of course, I have always recognised the beauty of his songs and the fantastic character he was but he never touched me like artists such as Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen did for instance. Michka Assayas did in October ’16 one full week of programs on his songs and I must say it made me re-discover the work of this great man. His recent death was a shock as well although one could only see that he was very active until his last days and that he had a beautiful and blossoming life until the end. I thought listening again to all his studio albums was probably the best way to reflect on his work and give my modest feedback…

 Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967): His debut album when he was already 33-year old, which already made him different from his contemporaries who very often had finished their careers at that canonical age. The story is quite known for those interested by his life: Leonard Cohen was already a celebrated poet and writer but he realised there was more money to be made in the music business, hence this first LP. This is probably his most classic and famous record, which bears in particular the worldwide known song “Suzanne”. The formula is simple: Leonard sings with his beautiful deep voice ten songs with a very lean instrumentation (very often a bit of acoustic guitar and that’s it). What makes this record eternal is the quality of the songs and their peculiar stories which were very often true and just facts that Leonard Cohen lived and put through poetry. Best tracks: “Sisters of Mercy”, “So Long, Marianne” and “Hey, that’s no Way to say Goodbye”. 9/10

 Songs from a room (1969) :  …and here is for me the first concrete example of a not-that-great LP from Leonard Cohen… The music is really boring and the sense of melodies very often nonexistent. What remains then for the listener? A few great songs for sure but not all of them can be considered as such. Listen without prejudice and I guess many of you will feel that way. Best tracks: “Bird on the Wire” , “The Partisan” and “You know who I am”. 7/10

 Songs of Love and Hate (1971) : has an album ever had such a clear title? Probably the best album from Leonard Cohen and that where he has never been more bitter or sharper in his words. As usual, if you like very complex music chords, forget it but if your idea of music is authenticity, great lyrics and emotional songs sung from a gravel voice, this is for you. Another recurring trend in his career is the way a few of these songs will have better singers cover them, like “Avalanche” covered by Nick Cave in 1985 for instance. …and as Lloyd Cole once said in a concert I attended in the early 00’s, “Famous Blue Raincoat” is (one) of the best songs ever. Best tracks: “Avalanche”, “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and “Famous Blue Raincoat”. 9/10

 New Skin for the old Ceremony (1974) : this is probably my favourite album from the great Canadian. The main reason is probably because to me this is the one where the musicality is the best, in the sense that one feels a close-to-perfect balance between his traditional guitar sound and added production. Probably the album where you will be able to listen to real sounds of drums and bass… and even a bit of groove. Well, we are not talking about Pharell Williams but you know what I mean,a “groovy” Leonard Cohen. Fantastic songs once again but this has been a recurring thing throughout his career so nothing new here. Best tracks: “Lover, lover, lover”, “There is a war” and “Take this longing” . 9.5/10

 Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977) : this is actually where things start to be embarrassing and awkward… This album does not have a good reputation for sure but I did not care one second about such consideration and was actually quite excited to listen to it again with fresh ears. For those who know their music history, they will be familiar with the fact that this record was produced by the formerly great Phil Spector. However, the guy was already on a declining slope and more famous for his eccentricities than for his work as his masterpieces were already behind him…and yes, that’s the one where he put his gun on Leo’s temples during a recording session. But the issue does not come from this but more from the fact that these songs are overall ok but often poorly producted and sometimes with weak melodies. I challenge everyone to listen to the song “Fingerprints” and find it good. So not his best record for sure… Best tracks: “Paper Thin Hotel”, “Dont’ Go Home with your Hard-On” and “Death of a Ladies’ Man”. 5/10

 Recent songs (1979) : not the most famous album of the great Canadian but one of his most solid ones. After the Phil Spector’s atypical record, Leonard Cohen was back to his more traditional sound but in a warmer way than usual and helped by subtle musical gems. One amazing song with “Came so far for Beauty” whereas the rest can be heard as a long moody sequence of tracks, sung quite beautifully. One thing though that would start a trend felt also in the next records: this is the place where one can feel the first (over?) use of female choirs. I have nothing against it (hello, Spiritualized) but here this is sometimes a bit out-of-place as far as I am concerned. Best tracks: “Humbled in Love”, “Came so far for Beauty” and “Our Lady of Solitude”. 7.5/10

 Various Positions (1984) : the first of his muzak albums… For those not familiar with the meaning of muzak, there is an expression in French :”musique d’ascenseur” (elevator music). This is probably too harsh as there are amazing songs in this record and sometimes the balance is really good as on the opener “Dance me to the end of love”. But overall, the music is much too dated with the sound of these awful 80’s synthesizers and organs and also these female choirs which do not bring anything at all. The best example being by far the immense song “Hallelujah”. The world should be eternally grateful to John Cale for spotting such beauty in this song and covering it in a style that Jeff Buckley would make its own a few years later. Best tracks : “Dance me to the End of Love”, “The Law” and “Hallelujah”. 6.5/10

Image result for i'm your man cover I’m your Man (1988) : as reviewed above, it would be foolish to say that Leonard Cohen had actually retired from music so talking about a comeback would be improper. However, that was the general feeling from all critics and audience alike as this LP was not really expected either in terms of being available but also in terms of music excellence. I know I am probably not consistent by criticizing on one side an album like “Various Positions” and praising “I’m your Man” when one focuses on the musical production. The only difference is that here Leonard Cohen goes until the end of his vision by incorporating only new sounds rather than being between a rock and a hard place. To make it short, this album uses new technology as good as the Pet Shop Boys do it. But that would be nothing without the songs of course and here you definitely have a few classics so re-discover this album again if not already the case. Best tracks : ” First we take Manhattan”, “Everybody knows” and “Tower of Song”. 8.5/10

Image result for the future leonard cohen The Future (1992) : unless you are the #1 worldwide fan of the late great Canadian, I guess everyone with a sense of artistry will admit that the cover with the bird, the heart and the handcuffs will not deserve a prize. ..and yes, I know this cannot be a criteria when one has in mind the cover of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds“. Anyway, this is neither the greatest Leonard Cohen LP… nor a tragedy as the songs are quite enjoyable in a sort of soporific-it’s-cold-outside-let’s-stay-home-read-a-book-and-play-this-record but this is not the main thing I want from music. As usual, there are a few great songs and “The Future” is one of them for sure but also a few embarrassing moments like the last almost-instrumental track “Tacoma trailer”. Best tracks : “The Future”, “Waiting for the Miracle” and “Democracy”. 6/10

 Ten New Songs (2001) : This record came out after nine years of silence, the longest interval between two albums at a time when Leonard Cohen was reaching his 67th year, so still a young man compared to other veterans. However, one can really feel here a man completely out of current trends, doing what he does best, ie singing calmly deep words with his gravel voice on top of quiet music. Once again, the music background is the real issue here as this is really to inoffensive and cheesy. Not terrible to one’s ears but quite boring to be honest. Not the kind or records you want to play regularly if you like music and the thousands of other exciting records to listen to. Best tracks: “In my Secret Life”, ” A Thousand Kisses Deep” and “By the Rivers Dark”. 5.5/10

 Dear Heather (2004) : First to all, “Dear Heather” is really the kind of record to listen to in specific moods and times of the day… In other words, quite a good record to listen to late at night, ideally in the umpteenth floor of a big tower with a view on the lights of the city… and not the kind you want to hear if you want super exciting music. This album is a bit the extreme for me regarding my muzak tolerance…but the songs are sometimes great, the mood makes sense very often and Leonard sings with the weight and wisdom of a not so young man. The thing is that there are really great songs but also terrible ones (hello “Undertow” and “Dear Heather”). Really difficult to judge on an objective manner so let’s be charmed by the great man and let’s not be too harsh… Best tracks : “Because of”, “The Letters” and “There for You”. 6/10

 Old Ideas (2012) : The first album of what I would call the farewell/twilight trilogy and a very good surprise to be honest. I bought this record quite mechanically I must say as when you are a music lover,… well you buy new records by Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones or Daft Punk whatever the reviews or the possibility of streaming… and this is one of those records I probably listened to a couple of times only. This is a much better one than his three previous efforts mainly due to the fact that the music is warmer and played with beautiful new instruments, such as a banjo or a violin. Interesting to note as well that Leonard Cohen is now clear about how to sing or rather how to tell stories whereas I was not convinced by his previous records. A few great songs and more than ever the regular themes of guilt, religion, disappointment, etc…on which Nick Cave based his career! Best tracks : “Going Home”, “Amen” and “Darkness”. 7/10

 Popular Problems (2014) : Another very solid effort from master Yoda and what a pleasure to get news from him on a regular basis so late in his career! Another thing I like about Leonard Cohen and his albums is that they are short and concise, which is a quality that fellow hip-hop artists should benefit sometimes. A very sharp album, where neither a word nor a note is superfluous. One should not be surprised by the quality of the writing when one knows the author but still there is such youth in these words that difficult not to be impressed. As usual, the music would benefit from having even less and I guess you understood that I am not a huge fan of female choir. What a pity that Leonard Cohen did not record with Rick Rubin as Johnny Cash did, as the results would have been amazing. Best tracks: “Almost like the Blues”, ” Did I ever love you” and “Nevermind”. 7.5/10

 You want it darker (2016) : Hopefully the last album from the great man as a) it looks it was conceived as such by his author b) nobody wants albums like the ones done after Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain died… This record has been out since mid-October 2016, i.e. two/three weeks before the sad news of the passing of Leonard Cohen and the mood is indeed very religious. Although not the masterpiece claimed in a few reviews, this is a beautiful way to say goodbye, thanks in particular to the great production of his son Adam Cohen. I am repeating myself but these last three albums will probably get better and better every year and this is quite difficult to judge such a fresh piece of art. Best tracks : “You want it darker”, “It seemed the better Way” and “Steer you Way”. 8/10

The verdict

14 studio albums in a row in around 3 weeks. Am I clearer on my musical relationship with Leonard Cohen? Slightly… I definitely recommend for anyone to own his four best albums and then one could create a great playlist with a few tracks here and there from the other LP’s. What is sure is that the world has been a better place with Leonard Cohen and that his influence on bands or on a certain way of seeing life and art has been immense. Musically speaking, it is true that not all his LP’s were great but who could say so apart from a few amazing artists? Alternatively, I would recommend one of the recent live albums (London or Dublin for instance) but also the fantastic compilation curated by les Inrocks in 1991 called “I’m your Fan”. Great covers by Pixies, Lloyd Cole, Nick Cave, Ian Mc Culloch…and so on. Probably the best way to listen to these songs is when they are sung by others.

R.I.P. Leo and thanks for making life on Earth a bit easier.

 

Musical leaves in London 25&26th July 2015 ;The Jam/Brian Wilson/Badly Drawn Boy

The Jam, Somerset House, 2015 - Band

I remember being super excited two years ago when I spent a great week-end in London, enjoying the “David Bowie is…” exhibition at the V&A and a Dexys Midnight Runners concert. I must say that although I have been in London for a year now, I still get more or less the same feeling of excitement every week-end when discovering this amazing city with endless treasures. Funny then that without knowing it, I sort of got recently the same kind of week-end as that mentioned above with three great events.

I started on Saturday by visiting an exhibition at the prestigious and beautiful Somerset House, home in particular of the recommended Courtauld Gallery. Actually this exhibition was about…The Jam! Interesting to see how popular culture and tradition mix so well in this city. For those not familiar with The Jam, they were Paul Weller’s first band and probably the most popular in the UK between 1977 and 1982, when their leader decided to stop at the peak of their popularity to go towards new musical adventures. It created a kind of trauma within the British youth at that time but showed as well the spirit of independence Paul Weller has been having for 5 decades now. The exhibition showed a great balance between memorabilia objects (guitars, pictures, clothes,…) and movies of concerts and clips. Funny to see former and current mod fans visiting the exhibition (well I guess I am one of them…) not hiding smiles and enthusiasm but still in well-behaved manners!

Love and Mercy

 

Change of place and direction Notting Hill for an early evening session at the beautiful Gate Theatre to watch “Love and Mercy” starring John Cusack. Based on the life of Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys, the film is focused on two periods of his life : first the 1965-1968 years, source of extreme genius…and the start of his mental issues and then the end of the 80’s when he re-entered the life of normal people but at a certain price. I strongly recommend this very moving movie for all those interested in rock’n’roll myths, knowing what one can see on the screen is really close to what actually happened. Good to see for once a movie based on music facts not too Hollywood-driven in its transcription of it all. For you all Beach Boys fans, the scenes in the studio describing the sessions that made “Pet Sounds” and the doomed “Smile” albums are fantastic.

Badly Drawn Boy, Barbican London, 2015

…which brought us now to Sunday when I had a ticket to see live Badly Drawn Boy performing his first LP from 2000 “The Hour of Bewilderbeast“. The show was taking place at the Barbican Hall, situated on the Eastern side of town, in a very modern area stuck between offices and the Shoreditch neighbourhood. Always great to discover new places and theatre halls and that one was particularly amazing and with a great quality of sound. Not sure if this album rings a bell for many of you but this is clearly not the case in the UK where this is one of the classics of the last decade. Crazy of how time flies as to me it was still quite a recent LP and Badly Drawn Boy quite a new singer whereas we are talking about 15 years ago… What makes this LP so astonishing is a mix of modernity and classic songs, as if basically it had been done in the 60’s…or now but by a very strong individual. One can say whatever they want about Damon Gough (his real name) but strong individual he is indeed… Wearing his traditional wool hat (well it was 18 degrees in rainy London so for once the hat might have been justified), he showed his pride and happiness in being celebrated by such an enthusiastic crowd and I must say I spotted a few tears of joy here and there. The band was very subtile as well, being able to slow down and playing beautiful strings while getting noisy and/or funky when needed. BDB, Barbican 2015 setlist was based on songs from his other albums but the first part of the show was where the emotion was. (Re)discover him and start by this LP if you do not know this artist ; the rewards will be immense.

TOP 100 Artists/Bands of all Times : 2-5

5. The Beach Boys

from : Hawthorne,California, USA / first great sounds : 60’s / style : teenage symphonies / essential albums : Pet Sounds (1966) , Smiley Smile (1967), Wild Honey (1967), Surf’s Up (1971), Holland (1973), The Smile Sessions (2011) / Click to read more in the blog

My Top 5 should not be much surprise for those who know my musical tastes, starting with the Beach Boys and their genius leader Brian Wilson. I would not talk about the fact that their music has to be discovered beyond the nice pop-surf songs as this is now a known and agreed fact. “Pet Sounds” in particular has often been recognized as one of the best albums ever made and it is true that its richness and subtlety is not something you get blasé about. Even though Brian Wilson burnt his brain when doing “Smile” and never really got over it, there has been amazing songs throughout their career. The way Carl, Brian, Dennis, Mike and Al mixed their voices one with another has been for me one of the mysteries of life and I must say I always feel the same emotion when I hear such perfection.

4. Stevie Wonder

a7406fea0c9ca358b703515589ab82c1 from : Saginaw, MI, USA / first great sounds : 60’s / style : music of his mind / essential albums : Music of my Mind (1972), Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974), Songs in the Key of Life (1976) / Click to read more in the blog

Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions is my favourite album ever so it might sound weird to find its creator “only” at rank number 4… I guess I wrote everything I wanted to share regarding the early 70’s for Stevie and his tremendous range of five fantastic albums in a row (please click on link above). The sounds, the melodies, the creativity, the voice, the themes,….everything good in life can be found in these albums. The man is still on top on stage as was for instance his amazing performance at Austin City Limits Festival in 2011.

3. Roxy Music

 from : London, England / first great sounds : 70’s / style : glamour rock / essential albums : Roxy Music (1972), For Your Pleasure (1973), Stranded (1973), Country Life (1974), Siren (1975) / Click to read more in the blog

Another weird ranking as Roxy Music is for sure my favourite band but I guess the artists ranked #2 are more than a band. I think I wrote as well the essence of what this band represents for me in a former post (please click above). I would only insist once again that their first 5 LP’s are absolutely indispensable and not only for the covers ! As in all strong artistic adventures, this band lived so many things in such a short time that this sounds almost unbelievable today. And with Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera and Andy McKay, you have four musicians who literally changed the way music is now.

2. The Beatles

154 from : Liverpool, England / first great sounds : 60’s / style : genius / essential albums : A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), Magical Mystery Tour (1967), The White Album (1968), Abbey Road (1969) / Click to read more in the blog

Another weird ranking as you generally either do not really like this band or you breathe through their music, consider them as Gods and put them number 1 in front of any other bands. Well, I must admit I had lots of second thoughts between the first 3 of my TOP 100. However, the Beatles are crucial for many music lovers as I was amongst the people who grew up having their records as first lovers. I remember very well saving money and buying their LP’s one by one and discovering every time an amazing universe. I have probably read around 15 books about this band and always discover new facts. What is the most amazing is what they lived in such a short period of time : music innovation, movies, travels, studio time, changes in their personal lives, etc… These guys lived forty years in ten. I hope their songs will be sung forever.

Best of 2011 : Top 20!

So here we are again, putting names and feelings and rationality in boxes and ranking… Not sure what for once more and I agree that it may seem pointless in such a history-weighted year with acceleration of events everywhere on our little planet, except as always the envy of sharing a great artistic passion in these troubled times. A year spent seeing many bands live, buying, listening and hearing literally hundreds of records, files, videos, sites, magazines, etc.. and here are the results with a Top 20 albums of 2011. Please comment, buy, listen, take a guitar and play, go to a show, whatever but any little action would mean a lot for your host. If you could particularly give your Top 3 of the year in the comments, that would be very much welcome. And if you had not been on the blog since a year ago, there are plenty of reviews to read so advertise it!

Cover (The English Riviera:Metronomy)  Album of the Year – MetronomyThe English Riviera” Really easy choice this year as this gorgeous LP did not suffer any competitors to get the number one tag, as far as I am concerned. Lead by Joseph Mount, Metronomy is an English band and this is their third album. Last one was quite good but what makes a band go from good to great is always a fascinating phenomena. With a new rhythm section (and what amazing drummer and bassist Anna Prior and Gbenga Adelekan are…), this record left a bit aside the electro side they were famous for to create pop music that is at the same time smart, danceable, intelligent, popular and…well, simply great. I would assimilate this record to the best done by LCD Soundsystem but with an English perspective. In “The Bay”, one of the best tracks of the LP, Joseph Mount sings the following lyrics “…You may have the body but do you have the songs?”. Dear Joseph, you do not have one but eleven fantastic songs and you made by far the album of the year.

Cover (Apocalypse:Bill Callahan)  My number 2 – Bill CallahanApocalypse” Bill Callahan has been an old friend (metaphorically speaking of course) of this blog and you might want to review the two concert reviews done this year on the blog. What makes the former Smog leader get in such a high position in our best of this year? Probably the fact that with these seven songs he succeeded more than ever to make simple and acoustic music sound deep. A very deep voice, deep lyrics and deep emotional music, I strongly recommend this LP to anyone who is attracted to ageless music.

Cover (C'mon:Low)  My number 3 – LowC’mon” Talking about emotion, simplicity, many albums done and two shows reviewed this year, here is my bronze medal of the year. Still based on the core married couple of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, Low plays very very slow music which could be compared to grunge music played for churches. I admit this is an easy shortcut but their music has been a beauty for many years and this record is amongst their best.

Other great records of my top 20 (by alphabetical order)

Cover (El Camino:The Black Keys) The Black KeysEl Camino” The Black Keys took everyone by surprise with this record that went out late in the year in December but their formula is more efficient than ever. Written with the help of DJ Danger Mouse (cf. below), this LP is less soulful than the previous one “Brothers” and closer to their original drums and guitar formula but sooooooooooo good! Video of the year as well for the “Lonely Boy” video ; if your feet do not move, you must be reading this from heaven or hell.

Cover (Rome:Danger Mouse) Danger Mouse and Daniele LuppiRome” I would never have enough words to praise the great Danger Mouse (real name Brian Burton) whose projects are all great, either mixing The Beatles and Jay-Z for the “Grey Album”, making an album with the singer of the Shins or as half-part of the soul/pop/hip-hop duo Gnarls Barkley. This year, he recorded an homage to italian movies of the 70’s with one Daniel Luppi, actually playing with musicians that used to play on Ennio Morricone records. The two guest singers really made the difference here: Norah Jones (her best work ever!) and Jack White always on top and concentrating on his beautiful voice. THE surprise of the year.

 Daniel DarcLa taille de mon âme” Our usual Frenchie in this list is once again Daniel Darc. Please read his story in this blog’s review of his late concert in Paris. It may be a bit tricky for non-French speakers to get it and awkward for French-speakers as well as this is pure emotional music but with a rock’n’roll mindset as well. Most funny lyrics with “J’ai peur des noix de coco depuis Keith Richards, j’irai en enfer avec Richard Hell”!

Cover (Skying:The Horrors) The HorrorsSkying” Very close to the podium for this English band for their third LP. Their second one was already one of the best of 2009 and for this one they decided to produce it themselves. They are now definitely amongst the great and these guys are really in love with music, mixing 60’s psychedelic and post-punk influences in a great way. Faris Badwan is for me the man of the year as he did another great album as half of duo Cat’s Eyes (great name too!). Please click on to read review of their Rock en Seine show.

Cover (Kiss Each Other Clean:Iron & Wine) Iron And WineKiss Each Other Clean” When one clicks Iron and Wine in allmusic website, one gets Iron Maiden as first choice of related bands! Thank you allmusic as I could describe their music as completely the opposite although I have nothing against pure good metal once in a while. Lead by the multi-talented Sam Beam, this record is beautiful as always as far as melodies are concerned but this time with more musicians and richness which makes it above what he did before. Best show of the great Austin City Limits festival as far as I am concerned as well.

Cover (I Am Very Far:Okkervil River) Okkervil RiverI Am Very Far” Another one of these bands coming from Austin, Texas, mixing at the same time epic songs in a very subtle environment. One more, why this record compared to the previous ones done before? Probably a question of timing and the fact that I had been very enthusiastic about the show they played in Paris this year. Discover this band and you will be rewarded.

Cover (Last of the Country Gentlemen:Josh T. Pearson) Josh T. PearsonLast Of The Country Gentlemen” A resurrection here coming from the former leader of Texas band Lift to Experience. After years spent in the wilderness and thanks in part to a Creperie (!) restaurant in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, Josh Pearson gave us this year his first solo LP, mainly acoustic and with very long but captivating songs. Click on for review of the show he did this year at the Café de la Danse in Paris.

 RadioheadThe King Of Limbs” One of our favorite bands ever, Radiohead went on playing tricks with their fans this year by getting this new record out of nowhere at the start of the year with the same policy as their last album “In Rainbows” with download first before any physical format such as the traditional CD or a limited edition with vinyl and newspaper inside. And the actual music in here? Well, a bit weird as impossible to remember a song from scratch but every time the needle gets on the record, one has to admit that Radiohead is still a top band, mixing electro sounds with great rhythm and the gorgeous voice of Thom Yorke.

 Lou Reed & MetallicaLulu” This may be probably the record that brought the most hatred in the music press and web community. I think I had never seen the critics so divided but boy, when people did not like it, they made it known! I personally liked it a lot and felt that this improbable meeting of two kinds made tremendous loud…but quiet music as well. I had seen Robert Trujillo in the audience attending Lou Reed show in Paris this year and one has to know that the great Lou is not in good physical shape, suffering from diabetes. The story “Lulu” is based on the play adapted by Robert Wilson on the story of this 19th century lady who fell down from high society in the gutters of life. Listen without prejudice.

Cover (Undun:The Roots) The RootsUndun” 2011 has not been the best hip-hop year for your host as I did not get the fuzz around the Odd Future crew and as Jay-Z and Kanye West’s common album was nice whereas we were expecting much better. So back to one of hip-hop oldest and best bands to deliver the goods…very late as this LP went out mid-december. The Roots are now hosting the “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” show in the US and it gave them access to their studio on a 24/7 basis, allowing them to experiment basically with whatever they have in mind. “Undun” is based on the story of a guy growing, living and dying in the suburbs and was inspired by an old track from Sufjan Stevens. Mixing genres, beats and singer, this LP is a real grower, better with every listen and finishing with a classical suite (not very common in hip-hop) on which Sufjan Stevens plays the piano.

Cover (Strange Mercy:St. Vincent) St. VincentStrange Mercy” This is the third album done by Annie Clark under the St. Vincent moniker and she really grows in stature with every year that goes on. This pretty and shy young woman makes today the most original music I know from a female perspective but always with a sense of melody. Discover this great artist, either by clicking on earlier review of her reinterpreting Tom Waits or in the excellent 4AD label sessions.

Cover (Marble Son:Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter) Jesse Sykes And The Sweet HereafterMarble Son” One of the best surprises of the year for me as I had associated Jesse Sykes with nice but sometimes boring pure Americana music in the past. Wrong! Her new album mixes at the same time nice melodies and handcrafted American epic songs with a kind of drone Sunn O))) influenced slow metal mood, which made it one of the most fascinating music of the year. And great music to drive to!

 Cover (Nine Types of Light:TV on the Radio) TV On The RadioNine Types Of Light” One of our regular bands of the end-of-the year list, TV On The Radio went from NY to California to record their new LP and one can really feel a more relaxed mood. Are we as surprised by this record as we used to be when we discovered this band? No, for sure. Are they still leading the pack in terms of excellence, creativity and emotion? Yes! If you have never heard about this band, this is a very good way to enter their world. And I give you not one but two concert reviews for 2011 you lucky readers!

Cover (Smoke Ring For My Halo:Kurt Vile) Kurt VileSmoke Ring For My Halo” Or how to be inventive and sound as completely new with a familiar basis (talk Beck or Sonic Youth but on a more laid-back mood). Kurt Vile went one step ahead this year and his album is an ongoing pleasure for whoever wants cool but demanding music. Please check the video I took in Austin to get a better idea of what I am talking about.

Cover (The Whole Love:Wilco) WilcoThe Whole Love” Having a new Wilco record is a bit like what getting a new Pavement record used to be 15 years ago : excitement, pleasure and with the same sound overall but always with a few changes in their sound or song structures. “The Whole Love” could be described as a kind of summary of all they do well, that is to say pure American rock with weird sounds interfering once in a while the whole project. They also regularly are in our best-of but that is very much deserved as Jeff Tweedy and his guys are one of the most interesting and fascinating bands of our times.

Cover (Smother:Wild Beasts) Wild BeastsSmother” This band came on top with their second album “Two Dancers” in 2009 and their latest LP is really as good as the last one, going further in the typical English vein of great voices but with groovier tracks. And they were also at Austin City Limits!

Cover (Gentle Spirit:Jonathan Wilson) Jonathan WilsonGentle Spirit” Not a newcomer in the music business as this guy owns a studio in Los Angeles and produced many records for all the US bands we cherish but this is his “real” first LP. A fantastic album with songs that own as much to Neil Young as to American great vocalists bands, this is a record either to listen to near the fire or on the beach in the summer.

Very close to this list : Arctic MonkeysSuck It And See” / James Blake S/T”/ CascadeurThe Human Octopuss” / ColdplayMylo Xyloto” / Cymbals Eat GuitarsLenses Alien” / Death Cab For CutieCodes And Keys”/ The DecemberistsThe King Is Dead” / Dutch UnclesCadenza” / Foo FightersWasting Light” / Eleanor FriedbergerLast Summer” / Noel Gallagher’s High Flying BirdsS/T”/ Arthur HBaba Love” / Joan As Police WomanThe Deep Field” / JusticeAudio, Video, Disco” / J. MascisSeveral Shades of Why” / Red Hot Chili PeppersI’m With You”/ Suuns Zeroes QC”/ Vivian GirlsShare The Joy” / Tom WaitsBad As Me” / Wild FlagS/T”… and many, many, many records not in this list!

Other top 3’s  (PJ Harvey quite loved in the UK and Bon Iver in the US…):

-> New Musical Express (UK weekly mag.): 1. PJ Harvey “Let England Shake” 2. Metronomy “The English Riviera” 3. The Horrors :”Skying

-> Uncut (UK monthly mag.): 1. PJ Harvey “Let England Shake” 2. Gillian Welch “The Harrow And The Harvest” 3. Metronomy “The English Riviera

-> Mojo (UK monthly mag.): 1. PJ Harvey “Let England Shake” 2. The Horrors “Skying” 3. Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues

-> Paste (US web mag.): 1. Bon Iver “bon iver, bon iver” 2. Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues” 3. My Morning Jacket “Circuital

-> Pitchfork  (US website): 1. Bon Iver “bon iver, bon iver” 2. Destroyer “Kaputt” 3. M83 “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

-> Les Inrockuptibles (French weekly mag.): 1. The Black Keys “El Camino” 2. Metronomy “The English Riviera” 3. Wu Lyf “Go Tell Fire Mountain” Their “best of 2011 Hors-Série” is particularly recommended as excellent and coming with a CD of their prefered tracks of the year.

-> Magic rpm (French monthly mag.): 1. Girls “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” 2. Destroyer “Kaputt” 3. Baxter Dury “Happy Soup

-> New Noise (French bimester mag.): 1. The Skull Defekts “Peer Amid” 2. Battles “Gloss Drop ” 3. Cheveu “1000″

-> Sound Opinions (US music podcast) Greg Kot’s 1. Wild Flag “Wild Flag” 2. The Roots “Undun” 3. tUnE-yArDs “WHOKILL” Jim DeRogatis’ 1. Le Butcherettes “Sin Sin Sin” 2. Wild Flag “Wild Flag” 3. Das Racist “Relax”

-> Robert Haymoncollins (Bristol, UK,blog): This is a Top 10 with no particular order but we have three records in common

-> Fargo (Paris records store): 1. Kurt Vile “Smoke Ring For My Halo” 2. Bill Callahan “Apocalypse” 3. Ryan Adams “Ashes & Fire

-> Ground Zero (Paris records store): Top 10 – no order – 2 records in common

-> Other Music (NY records store): 1. Kurt Vile “Smoke Ring For My Halo” 2. Zomby “Dedication” 3. Andt Stott “Passed Me By / We Stay Together

Box Sets and Reissues

Always mixed feelings here as do we music fans have to enjoy beautifully remastered editions of great albums from the past with extra tracks, books and photos and do we have to be cynical, knowing that the records industry count on us to buy these overly priced sets? I think the right way as a consumer is to keep balance between what is really new and worthwhile vs. what is purely a repackaged stuff. Not always easy I must say… 2011 was clearly the reissue year : R.EM., Nirvana, The Jesus and May Chain, Paul Mc Cartney, The Smiths, Can, Smashing Pumpkins, Primal Scream, The Rolling Stones, This Mortal Coil, The Who, Serge Gainsbourg, Mikey Newbury, etc…

  Best Box SetThe Beach BoysThe Smile Sessions” To make it short, here is the story of this music : in 1966, Brian Wilson (leader of the Beach Boys) following the success of their LP “Pet Sounds” and wanting to compete with The Beatles’s “Revolver” began work on his “Smile” project. Drugs, mental issues and heavy pressure he put on himself made him abandon the project later in the year and he would never be the same again. A few tracks appear little by little on official albums or bootlegs but the real discovery was to see Brian Wilson back in shape in 2004 playing “Smile” live and recording what could/should have been. Now seven years after, we are given the full package in this box-set for completists (5 CD’s and 2 LP’s) with the full sessions done by the band at the time. This is something that us music fans never thought we would be able to hear but this is true now. If your budget is limited and you do not want to hear 27 sessions of “Heroes and Villains” (which I can understand!), there is a shorter great 2-CD version. BUY IT!

  Best ReissueMarvin GayeWhat’s Going On” Your host will soon be writing a best of the year 1971 as this truly was one of the best years ever for music. Voted best album ever by New Musical Express in 1985, this is the record where Marvin Gaye emancipated himself from the Tamla Motown owner (and brother-in-law) Berry Gordy, wanting to stop singing silly love songs but giving his vision of the world. Best soul music ever for me on this record and the themes in it make it so 2011 : environmental issues, war in foreign countries, corruption and tax, etc… This reissue has one LP with the original mix and 2 CD’s with a remastered version and bonus tracks. Whatever the edition you chose, no one can live without this music at home!

So great year one more as all years for the music lovers since.. forever. A special goodbye to R.EM. who disbanded with dignity this year and whom we will never thank enough to introduce us to American bands  and to the White Stripes. A special thought to the big man Clarence Clemmons who disappeared much too early (“Jungleland” sax solo forever!). Stay tuned to Virgins and Philistines blog and see you soon!