Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Goodness

I haven't listened to Home, Like Noplace is There by The Hotelier, but you can sort of tell that it was a dark and harrowing album simply by listening it to the album that came next. Goodness was released earlier this year, and it's a textbook example of a 'morning after the dark night of the soul' album. If you've heard Tomorrow Morning or Daisies of the Galaxy by the Eels, you'll know exactly what I mean; those albums were released after End Times (one of those break-up albums that compares the end of a relationship to the end of the world) and Electro-Shock Blues (a musical memoir of a period during which the songwriter lost his sister to suicide and his mother to cancer) respectively, and both are relatively bright and optimistic, hopeful glimmers of light at the end of two long, dark tunnels.

That's exactly what Goodness is. It has a 'back to nature' hippie commune kinda vibe, thanks in part to the outdoorsy renditions of popular lullaby I See the Moon that serve as interludes and in larger part to the artwork, which features a group of men and women standing naked in a field: 

Fun fact: my copy of the Goodness CD was packaged in a sleeve bearing a censored version of this image, because heaven forfend that anyone should accidentally see a boob or a willy.

Goodness evokes the feeling of going outside and feeling the sun on your skin for the first time in months. It's an album about emerging from a period of isolation and reconnecting, both with the people you love and with the world around you; it's about relocating your place in the universe and learning to love and share and feel at peace again, man.

Monday, August 29, 2016

I Didn't Make it to the Knee Deep Festival This Year

I was supposed to be at the Knee Deep Festival in Cornwall this past weekend, and today's blog was going to be a '5 of the Best Bands I Saw at Knee Deep' sort of thing (y'know, like the last time I went to Knee Deep).

On this occasion, however, it wasn't to be. The two-day festival kicked off on Friday afternoon, and in an ideal universe, Vicky and I would have hit the road sometime in the late morning so as to arrive in time for the first acts. However, I was refused the day off work (two of my colleagues had already booked that date in order to attend two separate weddings), and so I didn't even leave the office until half past 5 on Friday evening. We also stopped for food before we got on the M4, and so we didn't actually reach the festival site in Trerulefoot until something like 10.30pm.

As we drove up to the car park entrance, two security guys in hi-vis vests approached us and poked their heads through the driver-side window.

"Um, we're here for the festival...?" I ventured after a moment's awkward silence.

The security guys responded by informing us that people were no longer being admitted to the festival site, and that we'd have to come back at noon the following day. This was bad news, partially because it meant we would miss the last few bands of the first day, but mostly because we had nowhere to spend the night. We drove around for a while and eventually ended up back on the other side of the Tamar, scouring Plymouth for a Premier Inn or a Travelodge with at least one vacancy. We tried four different locations; all four were fully booked. In fact, the kind tattooed man behind the reception desk of hotel number four informed me that the nearest Premier Inn with any spare rooms at all was in Bridgend, 165 miles away (about 15 more than our actual home in Cardiff).

Eventually, I ended up paying £120 for a room at a Future Inn. Our initial plan was to get some rest, regroup, and head back to Knee Deep on Saturday morning to catch the second half of the festival; when morning eventually came, however, we both agreed that the previous night's 'no room at the inn' routing had left us too shattered to bother. (Vicky was particularly traumatised, as it was she who had been driving around on unlit roads in an unfamiliar part of the country with speed cameras scrutinising her every move. It was not a fun evening.)

To cut a long story short, we didn't end up going to the Knee Deep Festival this year (to make matters worse, I discovered on the journey home that my OK Computer CD wasn't in its case - goodness knows what I've done with it). I was expecting to arrive back in Cardiff with a whole list of new bands to investigate, but instead, most of the bands on the line-up poster remain completely unknown to me.


But that, dear reader, is where you come in. You tell me: which of the bands listed above would I be blogging about right now had I actually attended the festival? Which acts should I be sad to have missed? I already know Mothers (read my review of their album here) and Flamingods (who I saw at Knee Deep '14), but what other discoveries did I miss out on this weekend? Let me know on Twitter, or leave a comment below. Feel free to include a link to the artist's music so that I can hear how much I should regret going home early.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Julien Baker Sings Your Favourite Song (Guest Post)

A couple of months ago, guest blogger Joey Baltimore sent me this post about Duran Duran and why he still listens to them 20 years after discovering their debut album for the first time. Now he's back to try and salvage his indie credibility with some words about Memphis singer-songwriter Julien Baker. Over to you, Joe...

No one who loves music likes to answer 'What’s your favourite song?' question, because there are always too many answers, or too many caveats, or it's just impossible to pin down. But still, I find myself having favourite songs for hours, days, or sometimes weeks at a time - where I just keep coming back to one or two tracks over and over again (as of July 29th, 8am-ish, my favourite track is Old Friends by Pinegrove...I'm editing this on August 12th, and I think it's still that, although Ominous Bird by The Furniture is also on heavy rotation currently).

For a long time, Photobooth by Death Cab for Cutie was one of my favourite songs, and the official Death Cab Twitter account recently sent out a link to Julien Baker covering that very track:


Covers are tricky; sometimes they're great, sometimes they're not, and it's almost always the case that if the original was something I really liked then the cover will not impress me. But Julien Baker nailed Photobooth, and now I can't decide which version I like better. Hers was so good, I'm pretty sure I had purchased her album before the end of my second play-through. Risky, but I figured that anyone able to do that could make other good stuff.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Todd Zilla


Oddly enough, A Valley Son (Sparing) was the first Grandaddy song I ever heard. I imagine most people started with something like A.M. 180 (as heard on the 28 Days Later soundtrack) or He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot (the first track on The Sophtware Slump), but not me - I started with this:

It was featured on an fantastic compilation called Fear of Music, which came free with a Broken Social Scene CD that I bought in early 2006.

A Valley Son doesn't exactly come out all guns blazing, but it has a sad, lackadaisical beauty that I gradually warmed to. Eventually, I was moved to delve deeper into Grandaddy's repertoire, and my delving was richly rewarded by the melancholy futuristic brilliance of albums like The Sophtware Slump and Under the Western Freeway

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: Farmyard & Library by Pulco

"One of the things we tried to do with the show [Monty Python's Flying Circus] was to try and do something that was so unpredictable that it had no shape and you could never say what the kind of humour was."

- Terry Jones, speaking in 1998


Ash Cooke - better known as Pulco - is an exceptionally prolific artist. Sure, it's been a solid year and a half since his last full-length album, Innovations in the Trade, but judging by his Bandcamp page he's been far from silent during that period, releasing two new EPs, two radio sessions, and an eighteen-track compilation in that time

And now we have Farmyard & Library, a bumper-sized new album that finds the king of Welsh DIY music traversing still stranger sonic territories than those heard on Innovations in the Trade. Cooke makes music the way Monty Python made comedy: constantly striving to defy expectations and do the last thing you'd predict at every turn. As a result, Farmyard & Library is a surreal collage of song; Pulco's music has its foundations in lo-fi, guitar-based indie rock, but Cooke never allows himself to be bound by genre or style. Instead, he uses indie rock structure and instrumentation as a springboard for exploration, throwing in as many surprises as he can along the way.

The sudden shift from 4/4 to 3/4 time in Unleash the Hounds is actually one of the album's tamer left-turns.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See

I got two Okkervil River CDs for Christmas last year: I shared my first impression of Black Sheep Boy in The Album Wall's penultimate post of 2015 but it occurs to me I never really mentioned the other album, 2002's Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See, here on the blog.


I'm not sure why: it's a lovely record. In fact, I think I actually preferred it to Black Sheep Boy at first, although the latter album has grown on me since I wrote that slightly lukewarm First Impressions post.

I first heard Don't Fall in Love on the M4, when Vicky and I were driving back from a post-Christmas visit to her parents' house. Its wistful, slightly folky indie sound felt perfect for that sunny December day, although we were both slightly perturbed when that off-key organ solo in Red came in for the first time. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

10 Questions for Kate Jackson

Until 2008, Kate Jackson was lead singer of The Long Blondes, a band from Sheffield who became something of a cult favourite thanks to such headrush-inducing indie pop gems as Once and Never Again and Giddy Stratospheres. The Blondes released two well-received albums - Someone to Drive You Home and "Couples" - but sadly split in October '08 after guitarist Dorian Cox suffered a stroke.

Jackson left the music scene for a while after that, throwing herself into visual art instead. Earlier this year, however, she came back with a bang: her debut solo album, British Road Movies, was released in May, and it's been very well-received indeed, both by longtime fans of The Long Blondes and by people who only discovered Kate more recently.

The record was made in collaboration with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, but while he certainly left his mark on British Road Movies (see the deliciously Suedey riffs upon which Homeward Bound and 16 Years are built), it's Jackson's songwriting and her instantly-recognisable voice that really make the album so enjoyable. Kate was kind enough to agree to a quick Q&A for The Album Wall - her answers can be found below. Enjoy!


The Album Wall: Congratulations on the new album - it's a really good listen. How have people been responding to British Road Movies thus far?

Kate Jackson: Thanks! I've had such a lovely response to the record. I really couldn't have asked for more considering it's been 8 years since I last released anything with The Long Blondes. The response to the music, the lyrics, and the artwork has been great, and people seem genuinely pleased that I've finally released this album and that I'm back making music.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Adult Teen


There's a great metaphor for adulthood on Drive Anywhere, the ninth track on - and a highlight of - Lisa Prank's first full-length album Adult Teen. "I could drive anywhere," she sings, "but there's nowhere that I really wanna go..."

I'm glad I heard Adult Teen when I did - it's very much a summer album, and it would have been a shame to discover it in September!

Children and teenagers look forward to turning 18 because adults are free to do pretty much whatever they want. But how many of us, having reached that point of no return, actually take full advantage of our independence? I'd guess that most people, upon finally being presented with life's infinite wine list, find themselves utterly stumped as to what they actually want. All of a sudden, you can go anywhere and do anything, but perhaps the most difficult part of that freedom - aside from all the grown-up responsibilities that tend to accompany it - is deciding what to do with it.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Johnny Cash Made Me a Punk (Guest Post)

Today's guest blogger is Paul Jennings, or @ovenglovespj as he's known on Twitter. Paul describes himself as a "Swansea City FC supporter", a "punk/indie/lo-fi fan", and a "piss-poor guitarist". He's here today to talk about Johnny Cash and why The Man in Black was a punk at heart.


On Father's Day this year, I tweeted "This was one of my Dad's favourites, we played it at his funeral" alongside a video of Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill. I then immediately deleted it because I thought it might be a bit maudlin for someone trying to enjoy their morning cuppa in a World's Best Dad mug.

Three years ago, I lost both of my parents over a devastating twelve week period. Music is a conduit that connects us.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Low @ Tramshed, Cardiff (2nd August 2016)

I like Low a lot but I must confess that, prior to seeing them for myself last night, I didn't expect them to be a particularly engaging live act. I bought a ticket to the Cardiff date of their current tour for two reasons:
  1. Well-known US indie bands don't visit Wales very often, so we must take what we can get.
  2. Graf from Spillers Records assured me that this was a gig not to be missed, and he's usually right about this sort of thing.
However, I can't say that I felt particularly pumped as Vicky and I made our way to Tramshed yesterday evening. Low's music is all about restraint and suspense and the spaces between the notes; they make beautiful, densely atmospheric albums (my personal favourite being 2011's C'mon), but it was my quiet suspicion that their songs - so captivating on record - would be a little dull in the flesh.

Photo courtesy of Alex Bell (@BrickitPro)

Monday, August 1, 2016

July Playlist: Your Mother Wouldn't Approve

Another month has passed, which means it's time for another monthly playlist. Here are ten tracks that I enjoyed listening to in July...and look, I've (perhaps belatedly) discovered a slick new way to share them with you!



1. You Can't Beat a Boy Who Loves the Ramones by Helen Love

(from Smash Hits)

"Who you gonna call when you're on your own? It's not the Ghostbusters - it's the Ramones!" Poppy punk fun from Swansea's finest, with a bit of Bonnie Tyler thrown in for good measure. Read my thoughts on Smash Hits here.