Archives for posts with tag: Frank Ocean
The reformed, but hopefully not too reformed, Afghan Whigs

The reformed, but hopefully not too reformed, Afghan Whigs

I read somewhere that this was nominated for cover version of the year. Not a bad choice. A slow build of a song that peaks in intensity after the lyrics have faded. It’s under-stated but threatens more to come. Dulli’s voice seems to constantly suggest something more extreme to come and yet manages to remain in check. How will a new song with the intensity of ‘What Jail is Like’ come across? Will one arrive? The promise of ‘Lovecrimes’ would suggest something even better to come.

‘Lovecrimes’ is one of two cover versions that the Afghan Whigs gave away online last year to celebrate their return to the live arena. Reports from these concerts suggest that they have been a wonderful return to form from a band that always had something left to prove. Back in the 1990s they were never quite the zeitgeist. As grunge took off they developed in popularity but were always outsiders from Cincinnati to the Seattle-based party. They sounded a bit southern and soulful at a time when it was better to be north-western and alienated, though they oozed the latter but in a  more adult and relationship-based form. They covered The Supremes’ ‘My World is Empty Without You’ with a wonderful injection of malice and yet the very idea of covering The Supremes would have sent most grunge fans running for the hills. Their album ‘Gentlemen’ from 1992 was superb and is highly recommended as a place to start and yet it never quite managed to fully get them into the mainstream public conception. Frontman Greg Dulli was viewed as difficult and his stage persona viewed as macho at a time when artists were supposed to scream to reveal their vulnerability. Lyrics may have suggested otherwise and perhaps his persona was more honest than others around the scene of the time. The somewhat ‘Debonair’ macho-loverman persona never seemed to be a problem for Nick Cave and/or his fans. Would The Afghan Whigs ever have got away with an album of murder ballads? What would they have done with Kylie? Subsequent albums seemed to see a shift towards diminishing relevance despite good reviews. Final album ‘1965’ was a wonderfully soulful ride that barely raised a ripple and seemingly got buried by their label. Nowadays it has become more and more expensive through Amazon UK – £16 at the moment when, just a few years ago, I recall it could be picked up from the same company for next to nothing. The increase suggests that the demand is out there for new material or even deluxe reissues. They could even reissue the promo ties and cufflinks that accompanied ‘Gentlemen’. Very smart they were too, though I’m not sure I’d stretch to £200 on ebay as some fool once did.

Grunge cufflinks? £200 a go.

Grunge cufflinks? £200 a go.

This glimpse of the new, 21st century Whigs along with ‘See and Don’t See’ (also available from their website) immediately sounds familiar to fans. Many of us were only fully made aware of the band through the soul covers novelty aspect at the time and took it from there. Lyrically, Ocean’s (you know I mean Frank and not Billy, right?) song immediately introduces sex and metaphorical bullets which seems appropriate for his interpreters. Perhaps the shuffle beat and strings seem a little dated, or do they hark back to the era where the Afghan Whigs got left behind and from which they now re-emerge? Either way, moody, light trip-hop will delight the dinner party crowd who still love their ‘real’ vinyl authenticity as it was when they started to buy music more seriously, or when they left it behind. Y’all know who you are. For me though, the only thing that spoils the oozing sexual tension of ‘Lovecrimes’ is the repeated “Murder, murder, murder she wrote” which suddenly brings an image of Angela Lansbury to mind and that’s really ruined the mood for personally speaking but, you know, whatever floats your boat.




I have been looking forward to completing this less and less and have put it off as whenever I sit to type, another end of year list with another new album at number one appears from somewhere. There really do seem to be more than enough of these things now and so its time to wrap mine up as it increases in chronic insignificance by the minute. I’ve done a top 50 albums for a few years now, here’s this year’s lot:

Dexys - One Day I'm Going to Soar. My favourite album of the year.

Dexys – One Day I’m Going to Soar. My favourite album of the year.

1.  Dexys – One Day I’m Going To Soar
2.  First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
3.  Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
4   Forward Strategy Group – Labour Division
5.  The Sea and Cake – Runner
6.  The Walkmen – Heaven
7.  Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. City
8.  Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
9.  Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
10. The Chromatics – Kill For Love
11. Giant Giant Sand – Tucson
12. Cody Chesnutt – Landing on a Hundred
13. EL-P – Cancer for Cure
14. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Big Moon Ritual
15. The Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
16. Bob Dylan – Tempest
17. Actress – RIP
18. The Men – Open Your Heart
19. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
20. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
21. Lee Ranaldo – Between the Times and the Tides
22. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
23. Dr. John – Locked Down
24. Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral
25. John Talabot – Fin
26. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
27. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
28. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
29. The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know
30. The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth
31. Goat – World Music
32. Django Django – Django Django
33. Death Grips – The Money Store
34. Grimes – Visions
35. Toy – Toy
36. Screaming Females – Ugly
37. Errors – Have Some Faith in Magic
38. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
39. The Allah-Las – The Allah-Las
40. The Dirty Three – Toward the Low Sun
41.  Woods – Bend Beyond
42. Liars – WIXIW
43. Tame Impala – Lonerism
44. Billy Hart – All Our Reasons
45. ‘Allo Darlin – Europe
46. Holy Other – Held
47. Nas – Life is Good
48. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky
49. Laurel Halo – Quarantine
50. Beak – >>

This has been a good year for good albums as far as I can tell. I have quite liked a hell of a lot of music and have at times thought that some of it was very good. Excellence has come in small amounts, brief flashes on otherwise less essential sounding albums. There’s about a minute on the Toy album which sounds like the best thing ever but it is a pinnacle they fail to maintain. Plenty of hyped or supposedly big, important albums left me feeling nonplussed. At least the XX album was short in its dullness, Toy dragged, Grizzly Bear sounded promising at first but nothing much new has emerged after the first few listens and I think I actually prefer Daniel Rossen’s EP, Dirty Projectors did quite well when I thought they might have soared and I preferred the first Tame Impala album’s raw quality which seems a little airbrushed out of ‘Lonerism’. Hot Chip seem to have become the electro 1oCC, Calexico sounded dull and I won’t touch that half-baked idea of an album that Flaming Lips farted out with a bargepole (hmm…seems there are 2 ways to read that sentence and one sounds painful). I keep listening to the excellent-sounding Spiritualized album hoping to remember something about it afterwards, but I can’t and so it must be dull to my ears even if I do like the sound. Was Frank Ocean THAT good? It strikes me as being filled with promise but not as fully realised as The Weeknd trilogy. How good can a song that uses Forrest Gump as a metaphor actually be? Even the strong albums released by the elderly didn’t quite excel for me, except for Dexys which was a surprise. Dylan’s ‘Tempest’ was almost great but that Titanic song followed to a tribute to John Lennon which really does suggest that Bob has only just found out he’s dead kind of ruin it. Leonard Cohen’s album has some powerful songs but lacks a little colour and shade for me. I have no idea what Neil Young though he was up to this year but I find it baffling that he actually gave up smoking weed this year as his book and two albums with Crazy Horse suggest the opposite. Dr John’s album was excellent, sounding like Captain Beefheart singing soul with Tinariwen in places –  a wonderful combination of desert and delta. The only real, consensus I can find on lists and including my own opinion, would be Sharon Van Etten and the fact that had that Burial EP been an actual album, it would have won album of the decade by now.

Everything But The Young Marble Giants?

Everything But The Young Marble Giants?

Well, that’s the moaning out of the way so what about positives? The Dexys album is a fine, fine thing. A Celtic soul concept album of the highest order. Sure, his singing voice leaves a little to be desired and isn’t really acting his age but the world needs that these days. The songs stand out and stick in the mind as well as being blended with familiar riffs and melodies too. An album about never settling down from the mind of a man in his 50s seems appropriate for this year as so many of the better albums of the year have been made by performers over 50, even 70 – Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Bruce Springsteen, Lee Ranaldo, Giant Giant Sand as well as Billy Hart’s album on ECM (this year’s token jazz effort?)  but perhaps not the two Neil Young efforts though two in a year seems pretty unsettled too. Even the 40 somethings seem to be doing good things especially as I never thought I’d become a fan of Chris Robinson back in his Black Crowes days.

First Aid Kit are probably the best Swedish country duo of sisters I’ll ever hear. Wonderful harmonies Especially on the sublime ‘Emmylou’. Sharon Van Etten seems to harmonise with herself at times. Either of these albums could have been the best of the year or possibly a little lower. Essentially it was hard to separate whether I was impressed or genuinely into these albums at times, though ‘Emmylou’ does tip the balance in First Aid Kit’s favour. It’s all been very nice so far despite the messy break up documented on Dexys’ album. However, things change with Forward Strategy Group. Industrial influences creep into their classic techno sound to create something both unsettling yet surprisingly infectious and not anonymous at all. Then rounding out the top 5 is a very under-rated album from The Sea and Cake, ‘Runner’, which seems like a career high by a large margin. Songs seem important rather than the lush sounds that have dominated recent albums although the mini-album, ‘The Moonlight Butterfly’ did point the way to this achievement. Now regret not going to see them live in Mexico City last March.

'Runner' - a return to form for The Sea and Cake.

‘Runner’ – a return to form for The Sea and Cake.

I could run through the whole 50 like this but sense that would get a little wearing as so many little summaries of this year’s albums have been produced in the past month that googling them or even just checking in with should pretty much cover every possible opinion there is to express. Better to focus on mentioning less popular selections like the already mentioned Forward Strategy Group and The Sea and Cake. For example, no round-up I’ve seen seems to have mentioned that Giant Giant Sand’s album is one of Howe Gelb’s best, that the Chris Robinson Brotherhood really can cook up a groove or that Lee Ranaldo has politely laid down a gauntlet for Thurston and Kim to try to improve upon. Screaming Females, Woods and The Cloud Nothings all weighed in with impressive albums this year and my belated discovery of Errors has opened up a world of electro-Mogwai tunes. This morning, I have been blown away a little more by the Dr. John album and it strikes me that this is the problem with the list that I have above. Maybe by June next year I’ll be able to look back on the best albums of 2012 but for now they are still finding their mark even 6 months or more after buying them. Writing this paragraph has made me realise that I haven’t heard the Errors album for a while and need to do so again. This could keep happening for a long time and suggests that 2012 might end up being a rich year for music once compared with what is to come.

Enough! Apologies for any repetition, but its hard to spot mine from what I’ve already read in countless other lists. I should have known that writing a piece about the pointlessness of end of year lists ( would immediately lead me into doing exactly that. As a result, I have deliberated over a messy list on a piece of paper for weeks rather than actually thinking about something with a little more substance to it. Ultimately, that’s why lists should be avoided but also why they are so enjoyable. I should write in more depth about some of these albums in the future, but for now you can expect singles and compilations/reissues etc. lists to follow but feel quietly pleased that I’ve overcome a problem if they don’t.

Minelli, better than The Stone Roses in 1989 according to actual music journalists.

This started off as a brief comment then became a short article. Later it merged with another idea but then detached itself again to become what can be found below these italics. Apologies for any structural inaccuracies that may occur as a result. It’s very difficult to check for these errors when you’re not sure what you want your final outcome to be anyway.

What is the album of the year? It used to be a mystery until the December publication of various music magazines and other sources. Actually, there would only be a couple of lists worth checking. Others you knew were being perused because liking music beyond a certain point is quite an anal activity. As a result I would always want to know what my subscribed music magazine’s favourite albums of the year were. This was initially the Record Mirror getting me into Big Audio Dynamite by making their debut release ‘This IS…’ their album of the year of 1985, of course they were wrong about that and should have given it to Prefab Sprout or The Jesus and Mary Chain. The Record Mirror just wasn’t left field enough (though they would have loved Leftfield) and in 1989 they felt The Stone Roses debut album was only the 6th best album of the year. I’d be willing to state that they might have had a point with hindsight and yet records reveal that they put Liza Minelli’s ‘Results’ at 5 and never paid any attention to their opinions again. Subsequently I would switch between the Melody Maker and NME quite regularly but really both Xmas issues would be purchased for this very anal of activities. I’d also look at Sounds to see what they said although their goth tendencies always threw my wary suspicion on the lists…Rose of Avalanche, you say? Hmm…

When throwing ourselves over to listings we are basically giving up judgement in case we make errors and we instead depend on the opinions of others to form our own. This would be an annual issue and has been furthered by many more monthly magazines coming into the equation, then there’s websites and blogs. Now we have lists every 6 months just in case you want to catch up in advance and there is also Album of the Year, a website dedicated to key reviews of albums and producing an average percentage rating based on the reviews it has covered or is allowed to cover. As a result, you can tell at a glance what the album of the year would be if the year were to stop immediately. Currently it looks like Frank Ocean is holding off Swans – an enduring image or possibly an ill-conceived metaphor for the former’s sexuality issues which he left off the album. Want to know what the best rap album of the year is? Well, there’s a separate section for that. Want to go out or stay in and find out about new music using your own wits? Well, this site can still be of interest but shouldn’t be a crutch. The discerning music obsessive needs to be more attentive to certain details.

Facts emerge – rap albums may get slated but regularly seem to average higher than indiekid or hipster music – why are the reviewers universal within the genre? The top albums often have great power and impact but I honestly don’t see the songs emerging either from the second most famous Ocean in pop or Swans’ low growling genius. I am writing about Swans album before actually getting around to buying it – but I feel it’s fairly safe to make these claims. The opposite of low growling genius has to be white indiepop. It’ll never average above 80% because it is always so-so. So why do people buy so much of it? None of it seems to sell a lot of copies anymore but there will be about 3 new quite good albums of it to choose from every week. By the end of the year, the songs have made their mark and these albums which will be 20th best of the year in April, miraculously hold that position through the rest of the year despite a few albums released since April being above them in the chart. Surely this is a flaw in logic. Yes, but more than that, listing and number scores will always produce flawed results. Also, there will always be average which groups everything in together. So far this year on AOTY, 85% would get 5th place but 82% might not make the top 25. Are a bunch of 20 or 30-somethings opinions ever going to be that exact a science? I’d like to think not and at, some level, I would imagine they would too as it would leave them open to further Portlandia satire – not that that hasn’t happened already to Pitchfork. Maybe they will go for Album of the Year next.

Yes, the facts seem to be that the highest average scores for albums in a year may also reflect the albums which journalists are scared to put down. Any old indie crap can be slagged off in a review or two, lowering their average into the 70s but would those same journalists dare to claim that Frank Ocean’s album leaves little in the memory afterwards even if it sounds good when it’s on? How do you go about claiming that the massive Swans package, a summation of the career of a genuinely frightening group, might not be any cop? Occasional anomalies break through and I have no idea why they and readers think the Grizzly Bear album is so good when the reality is that it seems to drift after 4 or 5 songs and shows distinct dangers of heading towards the stadiums to become the thinking hipster’s Coldplay. It is interesting to note that, while site users agree that Tame Impala and Kendrick Lamar have produced 2 of the best 5 albums of the year, they don’t feel as moved by Ocean, Swans or Fiona Apple. This is in no way surprising and yet while it allows Grizzly Bear to move into the 5, the users’ ratings seem to also go a little left field by selecting the Burial EP and Lost in the Trees.

The Hipster Coldplay? Certainly not very grizzly anyway, unlike…

Proper grizzly and probably more of a Swans fan.

The problem with basing album of the year on reviews is that they have no ability to sense the album’s impact. They may be written when the band is unknown but they may become huge by the end of the year. I don’t recall the first Stone Roses getting superb reviews when it first appeared in May 1989, good but not superb. Its reissue is described as divine though. Even ‘The Second Coming’ seems to get a lot of critical sympathy these days. The current desire for immediacy cannot be healthy and also allows music journalists to truly set trends and leave those inconvenient punters out of it. In this world Shack albums will get attention rather than disappearing once the excellent review has been published. Can any more bands ever be allowed to fall through the cracks? Or will the cracks get bigger if an 80% average is needed to be among the top 25 for a year. However, aren’t lost bands just exceptions to a rule which generally seemed to get rid of most of the rubbish…most! Besides, for me, this still fails to explain the users’ love of Lost in the Trees. Maybe people still genuinely and sincerely appreciate music, maybe it’s the tragic personal history behind the album which grabs people more than journalists or maybe this really isn’t an exact science and I should drop it. After all, I’m not sure the sales of this album have shot up due to its continued status as a reader favourite.

Another factor negating lists can be that an album still finds itself on rotation and getting notice 8 or 9 months after its February release but a lauded album reviewed in November doesn’t have to hang around in the reviewer’s mind for as long to make the top ten and, equally, that November slow burner only gets appreciated during the following year. It makes you wonder why some groups seem to have a policy of deliberately avoiding the lists with some albums that are released in December and also cynically releasing albums in January that might be get lost in October, but with little competition now receive album of the month plaudits. This is precisely why lists don’t work in my view. I cannot compare the Tame Impala album that I’ve been listening to for a couple of weeks or so with The Twilight Sad album I got in January. Reviews suggest the latter to be weaker and yet, until the Tame Impala album becomes more familiar, the former seems to have the best tunes. If a January album is the best album of the year then surely a great album released in October can only be fully appreciated almost halfway into the following year.

Lists, for me, are indicative of a more worrying trend. Liking music is now a quaint obsession and terribly polite with it. Few albums seem to score less than 50% and so the website also reveals to us that no music is shit anymore, which is possibly the opposite of many viewpoints on the matter. I don’t expect musicians to be dead before they hit 25 and to boast of criminal records even if the polite set likes its rappers to do so. No, it’s more of an issue with opinion, division, discussion and the following essential truth about music: MY FAVOURITE BAND ARE BETTER THAN YOUR FAVOURITE BAND! Believing anything else makes for unworthy viewpoints to be expressed. We don’t have to hate each other’s choices but there must surely be disagreement rather than clusters of hipsters at festivals discussing how good everything is. There is an economic downturn; we therefore need to use taste to cull some of the chaff that has crept into our lives with its 73% award and vaguely comforting songs that we can’t remember. This is supposed to be music that we care about, not just another disposable consumer item. People who want to discuss consumer culture are on the rise and seem unable to live without this year’s mobile, maybe they are the ones to blame for turning music appreciation into a meaningless trial by list and review.

I hope to continue trying to put substance into my music use rather than substance abuse into my music. I will of course be preparing my own end of year list which will be similar to the others. Apologies in advance to Swans then, as your album costs 250 pesos on iTunes, I’m going to get it for under a tenner from the UK and brought over in a suitcase by my mother. As she arrives on December 14th, the only way that Swans album can make the top ten is to be on endless repeat over the festive period. Much as I love that idea, it probably won’t be happening.