Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Favourite Albums of 2016 So Far

2016 is just about half-over, the last six months having rocketed past with the velocity of a drumstick that the guy on the stool wasn't gripping properly. Today, I thought I'd share ten of my favourite albums from the first half of the year, so that's exactly what I've done: find them all listed below (in alphabetical order, just in case these turn out to be the best albums of 2016 overall - I want to preserve a little bit of mystery for my end-of-year list!)

Adore Life - Savages

"Thrillingly confrontational...almost scarily compelling"

Standout Tracks: Evil // I Need Something New // T.I.W.Y.G.
Read More: Savage Orders


Amen & Goodbye - Yeasayer

"A colourful cornucopia of bouncy pop and blissed-out psychedelia"

Standout Tracks: Silly Me // Dead Sea Scrolls // Cold Night

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Midnight Organ Fight

Roughly five years have passed since I heard Frightened Rabbit's The Midnight Organ Fight for the first time, and yet it was only a few weeks ago that I looked at that title again and said to myself, "Hey, that's a euphemism for fucking, isn't it?"


In fact, upon revisiting Organ Fight, I found a lot more references to sex than I remembered. Okay, Keep Yourself Warm was always pretty obviously about casual sexual encounters ("It takes more than fucking someone you don't know to keep warm"), but I never really noticed until now what Scott Hutchison was singing about on songs like The Twist and Fast Blood.

"Midnight organ fight, yours gives in to mine..."

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bury Me at Makeout Creek: Mitski Gets Milhoused

I've seen a lot of people talking about Puberty 2, the new album from Mitski, over the past couple of weeks. Apparently it's very good - I'd love to throw my hot take into the mix, but sadly I haven't got around to picking up my copy of Puberty 2 from Spillers yet.

Instead, I'd like to talk about Mitski's previous album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek


This was one of the albums on that long list of recommendations I received from my survey respondents last month, and I really love it - it's dramatic, emotive, and it rocks. Here's my favourite track, First Love / Late Spring:


One of the many things I like about Bury Me at Makeout Creek is the fact that its name is a Simpsons quotation. More specifically, it's a Milhouse Van Houten quotation: Bart Simpson's blue-haired, bespectacled best friend delivers the line after being hit by a bus in the episode Faith Off.


Now, I considered writing a big, albumwally analysis of Bury Me at Makeout Creek and how Mitski Miyawaki is secretly singing from the point of view of Milhouse himself. Or possibly Milhouse's future girlfriend. Or maybe a twentysomething Milhouse who is now in a romantic relationship with Bart. As you can see, though, I couldn't quite make up my mind on what angle I wanted to approach this from.

Still, I remain convinced that Milhouse is in this album somewhere. so what I've decided to do is select a key lyric from each of Makeout Creek's ten tracks and accompany each one with a fitting picture of Milhouse from the awesome frinkiac.com. Please enjoy, and hopefully I'll have some proper thoughts to share with you once I've listened to Puberty 2 a few times.

Track 1: Texas Reznikoff



"But I've been anywhere, and it's not what I want, I wanna be still with you"

Track 2: Townie



"I'm holding my breath with a baseball bat, though I don't know what I'm waiting for"

Track 3: First Love / Late Spring



"One word from you and I would jump off of this ledge I'm on, baby - tell me "don't" so I can crawl back in"

Track 4: Francis Forever



"I look up at the gaps of sunlight, I miss you more than anything"


Track 5: I Don't Smoke



"If you need to be mean, be mean to me, I can take it and put it inside of me"

Track 6: Jobless Monday



"He only loves me when there's a means he means to end"

Track 7: Drunk Walk Home


"Fuck you and your money, I'm tired of your money"

Track 8: I Will



"I will take good care of you, I will take good care of you"

Track 9: Carry Me Out


"I drive when it rains, at night when it rains I drive, and the headlight spirits, they lead me down the Styx, so black it shines"

Track 10: Last Words of a Shooting Star




"I am relieved that the turbulence wasn't forecasted, I couldn't have changed anyway"


Bury Me at Makeout Creek is available to buy from Mitski's Bandcamp page. If you enjoyed this, you may also want to check out the Milhouse-inspired all-emo playlist that was recently featured on The Grey Estates.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pink Flag & Send (Guest Post)

Last month, Christophe from the band La Forme wrote a guest blog post for The Album Wall about Neu! '75. A lot of people seemed to enjoy that post, so today Christophe is back to talk about another of his favourite bands: post-punk pioneers Wire.



There is little fat on the bones of Pink Flag. Wire's debut album, released in 1977, contains 21 tracks but whistles past in a blur of accelerated punk. Much of Pink Flag is an exercise in subtraction, the band exploring how much they could remove from a song without completely killing it. If punk was a reaction against the flourishes, indulgences and the technical musicianship of prog rock - music stripped back to its essential components - Wire seemed to be more interested in punk as an intellectual exercise as opposed to a simple act of rebellion.


You get the impression that, even as they were making Pink Flag, Wire were already keen to get somewhere else and explore something new. Pink Flag was already peeking out beyond the constraints of punk, suggesting that Wire possessed a bigger musical palette than their contemporaries and had better ideas. This was duly confirmed with the release of their next album, the brilliant Chairs Missing.

The band would spend much of their career largely ignoring Pink Flag, instead dedicating themselves to continually forging forward, never wishing to repeat themselves. Wire were not interested in nostalgia, and as a result they would rarely revisit any of their work once it had been physically released.

Monday, June 20, 2016

10 Questions for Hallelujah the Hills

"How do you make people like your latest album? Release another album."

Hallelujah the Hills are an American band based in Boston, Massachusetts. They released their fifth full-length album, A Band is Something to Figure Out, a couple of months ago; intellectual yet anthemic, accomplished yet thrillingly raggedy, it's a must-listen for fans of Titus Andronicus, The Hold Steady, and other purveyors of big rock music with brains.

Ryan Walsh, the man at the helm of Hallelujah the Hills, was kind enough to take part in a quick Q&A and shed a little light on his group's latest opus. Here's how that went...

Photo by Courtney Brooke Hall (Ryan Walsh is the one in the middle)

The Album Wall: Hi Ryan, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions about your new album. Let's start with the title - is a band something for the listener to figure out, or something for the people in the band to figure out?

Ryan Walsh:
It's both. Mostly it's a title about my personal relationship with music, being a fan of so many bands over the course of my life, and trying to understand what the purpose of music might be.

TAW: This album and its constituent tracks feel a lot more streamlined and straightforward than Have You Ever Done Something Evil?, the previous HtH album. Was this a deliberate move?

RW:
It's always deliberate on our part to not sound like the rest of the other albums, most certainly the one that came right before it. There's a joke I made up. It goes like this: "How do you make people like your latest album? Release another album."

TAW: Why did you make up a story about Woody Guthrie predicting punk rock?

RW: We didn't make that up. Or we made up part of it, but some parts of it were true. Or what happened to us because what we made it up is true, I think. I honestly cannot remember at this point.

TAW: "Twister! Ouija! Fault lines! Freebies! Stag films! My maps! Bookmarks! Adoration!" What's the connection between all the things you're yelling about in We Have the Perimeter Surrounded?

RW: The connection between those things is that they are all things I thought of to live inside the song. "Every single thing that I could think of" is part of the chorus lyrics. The song was written, originally, with 80 verses. I stayed up all night writing verses. It was literally "every single thing that I could think of".


TAW: "What do the people want? The people don't know what they want!" Was this line (taken from album opener What Do The People Want) intended as a political statement? I feel like it's a pretty good explanation for recent events in both the UK and the US...

RW: It's political in the sense that it's about the tug of war that goes on between groups of people (a family, a town, a band, a country) when they try to decide what's best for the group. The decisions we end up making in groups suggests, to me, that on some level we really must not know what we want.

TAW: I love the song New Phone Who Dis - it does a great job of adding depth to the album's sound, and it serves as a much-needed breather between the intensity of Hassle Magnet and the two triumphant tracks that close the album. What does the phrase 'new phone who dis' mean in the context of this track?

RW: 'New Phone Who Dis' was/is a popular internet meme. I wanted to take a funny phrase I liked and write a very sad song around it.


TAW: Who is The Girl with Electronics Inside?

RW: My friend David has a website called Out of Stock where he assigns stock photos to various artists, and they have to create something in reaction to that photo. I pulled this photo.

I was trying to imagine sometime in the future where people will actually incorporate electronic elements into their bodies, like microchips or Google contact lenses and such. Maybe not so far off. The first thing I thought of was how much certain sections of the population were going to deem this to be an unholy abomination. Then I imagined pop songs that were, like, in defence of their sweetheart who had opted-in on some inner electronic enhancements. That was the thinking behind this song.

TAW: What were you listening to during this album's gestation?

RW: In the fall of 2015, I was listening to Joanna Newsom's Divers a lot, as well as an instrumental playlist I had made. And the rehearsal room demos of these songs we kept recording.


TAW: What's your favourite track on A Band is Something to Figure Out?

RW: Hassle Magnet.



TAW: I believe you're releasing a 'companion EP' to A Band is Something to Figure Out next month - what will this add to the work as a whole?

RW: The companion EP is called Movement Scorekeepers. It's out July 8th on Jealous Butcher records. It's six 1-minute songs meant to recreate the emotional arc of a 45-minute album in a few brief moments. We wrote a lot of it by band improvisation, which was brand new for us. Fun!

You can buy A Band is Something to Figure Out from Hallelujah the Hills' Bandcamp page.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Little My's Last Beeps

For a brief period in the mid-to-late noughties, it seemed like the surest route to indie acclaim was simply to form a band consisting of as many members as you could find. Groups like Los Campesinos! (7 people), Architecture in Helsinki (8 people), and Broken Social Scene (goodness knows) proved that more sometimes is better, with albums like Hold on Now, Youngster... and In Case We Die racking up high scores with the likes of Pitchfork, Stylus et al.

My experiences with these artists (all of whom are still active, although both AiH and Los Camps have fewer members nowadays so perhaps there's been a bit of streamlining in recent years) could be mapped into a kind of family tree: I first discovered Los Campesinos! when they supported Broken Social Scene at The Point in Cardiff, and in turn, it was a support slot at a Los Camps show that first brought Little My to my attention. They were another band with a larger-than-average list of members; according to their Wikipedia entry, Little My consisted of "nine core members, with up to 21 additional satellite members at any given performance". In fact, it wasn't so much a band as it was a collective of musically-inclined people from around Cardiff, kind of like the Welsh capital's very own answer to Broken Social Scene.

'But Joel,' I hear you cry, 'why are you referring to Little My in the past tense? Didn't they release a new album, like, less than a month ago?'


They did indeed, reader - it's called Beeps. and that's the album cover up there. Here's one of its tracks, entitled It Was Christmas When I Fell Apart:


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Flux Capacitor vs. Painted Shut


Last summer, I discovered a wonderful album called Flux Capacitor by a wonderful band called The Burning Hell. Regular readers (if in fact I have any) may remember that I wrote a blog post around that time all about Flux Capacitor and how its characters repeatedly manage to find power in powerlessness.

More recently, I acquired an album called Painted Shut by Hop Along. Those hypothetical regular readers will no doubt have already heard the album's standout track - the spectacular Waitress - in my May playlist, but here it is again for everyone else:

"COMMON KIIIIND, COMMON KI-I-I-I-IND IT'S A VERY COMMON KIND"

While it managed to escape my attention until only a few weeks ago, Painted Shut actually came out last year. Shortly before its release, Hop Along gave an interview with Stereogum, and Frances Quinlan - owner of that tremendous voice you were hopefully just listening to - stated that the album was "about power and lack thereof...it's about powerlessness".

I came across that Stereogum interview just the other day (having already had Painted Shut on heavy rotation for a week or two) and Quinlan's description of her album's key theme sent me straight back to Flux Capacitor. Since then, I've been listening to both albums and thinking hard about the different ways that these songs and the characters within them respond to situations that make them feel powerless.

Monday, June 13, 2016

You Can't Have That Band - They're Mine!

Last month, I conducted an informal music survey to find out more about how we consume music here in the UK. The final question on this survey was this optional extra:
Recommend me a great album I've never heard before.
148 of my 217 respondents rose to this challenge, and irritatingly enough, most of them were successful - that is, the vast majority of those 148 people did indeed recommend albums that were completely unknown to me.

This left me with a long, long, long list of albums that I now feel honour-bound to check out. Excluding the few albums I already knew like Wolf Alice's My Love is Cool, I've managed to listen to 4 of those recommendations so far, the first of which was Earth & Earthly Things by a Nothern Irish outfit called Cutaways.


I made Earth & Earthly Things the first step on my journey of discovery for one simple reason: it was free. It proved to be a good choice: the album is packed with great riffs and melodies, and its general feel is reminiscent of a slightly more approachable Los Campesinos! which is a big plus in my book.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Album Wall is 3!

On the 10th of June, 2013, I published a blog post listing some of my favourite album openers (including Dance Yrself Clean by LCD Soundsystem and The Chad Who Loved Me by Mansun).

3 whole years and 450 posts later, The Album Wall is somehow still going strong. Writing this blog has opened my ears to all kinds of music I might not have heard otherwise; it's also given me an excuse to interview some of my favourite artists, interact with loads of other great bloggers/writers, and generally overthink my favourite music, old and new, like never before.

What I'm trying to say is thank you all for reading this blog, responding to my haphazard keyboard slaps, and enabling my albumwalling for 3 whole years. You are all ace and I hope The Album Wall has introduced you to something you like and/or encouraged you to think about something you already liked from a slightly different angle.

If you'd like to do something special for the blog's 3rd birthday, any combination of the following would make a fantastic present:
  • Follow The Album Wall on Twitter! @TheAlbumWall

  • Like The Album Wall on Facebook! The address is www.facebook.com/thealbumwall

  • Subscribe to The Album Wall's mailing list! The signup form can be found here.

  • Write a guest blog post! Guest posts are always welcome because a) it's nice to get some viewpoints beside my own on here occasionally, and b) each one frees up a little of my time and energy, which helps me to make my own posts better and more in-depth. Just pick an album you love, write some words about it, and email those words to thealbumwall@outlook.com.

  • Download Songs About Albums: Volume 1! It's available for FREE at thealbumwall.bandcamp.com.

  • Share thealbumwall.blogspot.co.uk with someone who might enjoy it! Whether you do it via Twitter, Facebook, message in a bottle, or plain ol' word of mouth, spreading the word is always very much appreciated!
Thanks again for staying interested for all this time - normal service resumes on Monday!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Review: British Road Movies by Kate Jackson


Kate Jackson (erstwhile lead singer of The Long Blondes) released her debut solo LP last month, and there was much rejoicing. British Road Movies is a loose concept album that checks in with numerous different characters as they hurtle along roads and around roundabouts en route to their respective destinations. Jackson finds a curious sort of romance in the beiges and greys of Britain's roadways - the gorgeous artwork, featuring Jackson's own portrait of a motorway flyover, is an excellent example of this - and like all the best long car journeys, the scenery remains diverse and varied throughout.

Monday, June 6, 2016

In Defence of Duran Duran (Guest Post)

Today's guest blogger is Joey Baltimore, a music and board game enthusiast from the USA. Joe has introduced me to lots of great bands (including Hallelujah the Hills and Hop Along, both of whom feature in my latest monthly playlist), and so I was a little surprised when this cool American guy - my portal to the States and all the awesome rock music being made there - offered to write a guest blog post about his appreciation for Duran Duran.

Now, I've never really listened to Duran Duran - to my mind, they were a bunch of aspirational New Romantic Tory boys who were mainly known for making videos full of scantily-clad women and music that was slightly worse than Spandau Ballet's. Still, I'm always happy to be proven wrong, so here's Joe on why you and I should give DD another go:

On April 4, 2016, The Album Wall had a nice entry discussing #realmusic meme nonsense. Then in May, when Joel was soliciting guest posts for the blog, this exchange happened:

Me: "I wonder how many words I can write about Duran Duran"
Joel: "I suspect you're joking..."

OUTRAGE. Why would anyone suspect I was joking when I referenced Duran Duran? According to the band's Wikipedia page, they were called the 'Fab Five' and compared to the Beatles (I cannot prove that Simon LeBon is not an avid Wikipedia editor). Why would people not take this seriously? Is it because they had a stylist before they had a record contract?* Is it because of this quote about the formation of the band?
"We wouldn't buy records by ugly groups," [Duran Duran keyboardist Nick] Rhodes told People, adding that when he and [John] Taylor decided to start a band they "had vivid ideas of what we wanted to look and sound like, but we looked at the instruments and said, 'Do we have to learn to play these things?'"
Whatever the reason is, I'm here to say I wasn't joking: if you love catchy pop songs, and you like music that makes people want to dance, go listen to Duran Duran again (or for the first time). There is no doubt that their second album, Rio, is their most popular and probably their best. But I've got a special spot in my heart for the band's self-titled debut.


I can't recall when I first heard Duran Duran, but it was probably in the late '80s, while I was visiting an older cousin. I was familiar with the singles Rio and Hungry like the Wolf from the constant MTV rotation (here's where people complain that MTV used to play videos...they did, it was great, move along). But then I got to borrow the full record, and hear the non-single tracks, and I was hooked. The bass on the album is great; it's moving around constantly.  The songs are pop songs, they're written with choruses that get stuck in your head, choruses that you want to hum after you've heard them. This is music that's meant to be consumed purely for entertainment purposes and it does a great job.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Who Stole the Record Industry?

Earlier this week, Roger Daltrey revealed that The Who have no plans to make a new album any time soon:
"We've talked about it, but it's not going to be easy. There's no record industry anymore. Why would I make a record? I would have to pay to make a record. There's no royalties so I can't see that ever happening...How do you get the money to make the records? I don't know. I'm certainly not going to pay money to give my music away free. I can't afford to do that. I've got other things I could waste the money on."
Let's ignore for a moment the fact that Roger Daltrey is a multi-millionaire who could easily come up with the money to make a record if he wanted to; as @metaboatchris correctly pointed out on Twitter the other day, the point isn't that The Who can't afford to make an album, it's that they probably wouldn't sell enough copies to recoup the costs.

Photograph from teamrock.com

So why is that, exactly? Daltrey clearly blames the rise of Spotify and other music streaming services that allow listeners to consume entire albums without actually having to purchase them. To be fair, there are a couple of good points lurking in the singer's tirade: I do agree that musicians deserve to be paid for their work, and it's no secret that artists make very little from Spotify streams unless they're racking up literally millions of them.

But Daltrey's insistence that the internet has "stolen" the record industry is kind of bizarre. There's plenty of evidence that albums sell in spite of Spotify et al, from the stampeding success of Adele's 25 late last year (it's been certified platinum nine times over) to the little music consumption survey that I conducted myself last month (in which the majority of respondents said that buying a physical copy is still the first thing they do when their favourite artist releases a new album). Believe it or not, some people even buy albums via the internet. The Who are a pretty well-known band - they headlined Glastonbury last year, for God's sake - so why is Daltrey worried that his fans wouldn't support a new release?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

May Playlist: My Heart Just Sunk

A new month means a new monthly playlist - here are 10 tracks, old and new, that made my ears very happy in May:

1. Waitress - Hop Along
(from Painted Shut)
Frances Quinlan from Hop Along (a band recommended to me in the wake of this blog post) is my favourite vocalist in rock right now. Her voice is at its best when she pushes it to and beyond its limits; there are moments in Waitress when it sounds like her throat is about to explode, and those moments are glorious. Top riff, too.