Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern)

4 03 2018

Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern) is the second in a series of blog posts attached to Spotify playlists I will be putting together, alongside my regular reviews of new releases. Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern) is the first of two playlists of some of my favourite alternative songs.

I hope my playlists will shine the light on artists that you might not be familiar with, and maybe remind you of some acts that have slipped off your radar. I would love to read your comments about the tracks I have chosen – please feel free to follow my playlists and share them.

I hope you enjoy listening to Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern).

Opening up the playlist are The Dear Hunter, with one of my favourite tracks from their Migrant album. Bring You Down is one of the band’s most accessible songs, and a great live track. That chorus!

migrant

The Dear Hunter now count one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Gavin Castleton, as one of their members, so I am even more keen to see them live again whenever they next head back to London. I also recommend The Color Spectrum and any of the Act albums, especially Act III: Life and Death.

Crowd Surf Off A Cliff by Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton is one of the most simple yet haunting songs of recent years. The key track on the Knives Don’t Have Your Back album never fails to move me.

Next up in my playlist is the more Fleetwood Mac than Fleetwood Mac pop/rock of Dreamworld by Rilo Kiley, taken from the Under The Blacklight album. I’m probably straying a little from the alternative music genre here, but its such a good song.

My most played track from St. Vincent is the short but achingly beautiful piano instrumental We Put A Pearl In The Ground from the Marry Me album. Cherokee by Cat Power, from her Sun album, is so evocative. Close your eyes and you can feel the blistering desert sun on your skin.

starsIn Our Bedroom After The War is my favourite Stars album (closely followed by Heart). Personal is a tale of dating ads and rejection, and one of Stars most heartbreaking songs. You and I Are A Gang Of Losers by The Dears is a great single, with an amazing chorus and powerful lyrics. The Gang of Losers album is the perfect starting point if you are new to the band.

Hello? Is This Thing On? by !!! or Chk Chk Chk as they are often known, is the song that first introduced me to this wonderful NYC based dance-punk band. I get real Sandanista mid-period The Clash vibes from this track. The paranoia is off the scale here, and you will not be able to keep still whilst listening to this song. Dance suckers!

open heart zooI had to include Danish prog-poppers Mew in this playlist. You can’t go wrong with any of Mews albums, but a good start would be No More Stories… from which Silas the Magic Car springs forth. The first UK artist on this playlist is Martin Grech, who has gone a little too quiet over the past few years. There have been rumblings of new material recently, so hopefully new music is not too far away. Tonight is one of my favourite songs from the Open Heart Zoo album. A lovely, beautifully paced arrangement and production.

Stay Tuned from Anja Garbarek’s Smiling & Waving features Richard Barbieri on atmospheric synths and co-production from Steven Wilson. An evolving, often stark production gives way to a delicious, Portishead like chorus.

I am a newcomer to the music of Destroyer, and whilst Poison Season and Kaputt are my favourite albums so far, Shooting Rockets (From The Desk of Night’s Ape) from Trouble In Dreams is one of their finest songs and so an obvious choice for my playlist. A bold, often discordant arrangement pays dividends after several listens.

midlakeShearwater are really an albums band, so it was hard to pick one track, but just for the vocal effects on the songs end section alone, I had to pick Leviathan, Bound from Rook. I fell in love with Midlake around the same time as Shearwater, and The Trials of Van Occupanther is such a  thoughtfully constructed album. Head Home could easily have been released in the early to mid-70s and the song surely would have been a staple of FM radio in that era.

Another stripped back song is up next, with Joseph Arthur’s A Smile That Explodes from Our Shadows Will Remain. This is the Joseph Arthur that I prefer – an intimate, natural performance from a great singer-songwriter.

Field Music cross so many genres. Whilst they clearly fit into the alternative genre, I hear shades of 10CC and other 70s acts in their adventurous arrangements. I recommend the short and sharp Plumb and their latest, Open HereThe Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ by the late Jackie Leven is the oldest track on this playlist. Leven was a Scottish songwriter who fronted the late 70s band Doll By Doll, and this song is a late career highlight.

lunatic-soul-IIThe final two tracks are worlds apart. I Need My Girl is taken from Trouble Will Find Me by The National, a band who I feel are making the best music of their career at the moment. Gravestone Hill is from Lunatic Soul II. Lunatic Soul is the progressive / electronic project from Riverside vocalist and bass guitarist Mariusz Duda. Lunatic Soul have gained a sizeable following and will shortly be releasing their sixth album. All of the albums are worth seeking out – but especially the two most recent albums – Walking On A Flashlight Beam and Fractured.

I hope you enjoyed listening to all of the songs, and maybe you’ve discovered some music you were not aware of. Feel free to leave a comment below and please share this blog / playlist. The next playlist will be the second Alternative Jewels – one of older songs – expect post-punk a-plenty.

To be informed of new posts, along with music tweets, please follow the Music Shack on Twitter @MkMusicshack.





2017 end of year favourites

23 12 2017

I haven’t done this for a few years, but here are my favourite music, tv and film releases from 2017.

Top 5 new albums

In no particular order:

Paul Draper — Spooky Action

Spooky Action from former Mansun mainman Paul Draper is a strong debut album. The songs are ambitious, a mix of new wave and alternative with a slight hint of prog. Whilst the album has hints of Drapers old band, it does not trade off nostalgia.

Tracks such as Don’t Poke The Bear and Friends Make The Worst Enemies are angry and highlight Paul Drapers powerful vocals. Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion breaks new sonic ground for Draper, and is an album highlight.

The contribution of Catherine AD aka The Anchoress  to Spooky Action is noticeable and welcome.

Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

2017 saw the release of the Tim’s 4th solo album, and my favourite to date. You can read my full review here.

The most progressive sounding release so far from the no-man vocalist, the album has a concept built around the onstage and backstage reflections of a fictional ‘classic’ Rock musician in the twilight of his career.

My favourite track on the album is one of my most played songs of the year, the haunting Nowhere Good To Go.

CousteauX – by CousteauX

The comeback of the year for me. Rising from the ashes of the late 90s band Cousteau, CousteauX take the Bowie-esque vocals of Liam McKahey and the razor sharp song-writing of Davey Ray Moor to new levels. Whilst retaining the charm of the original band, CousteauX have added a much more powerful and darker hue to their new songs.

Read my full review here.

Fader — First Light

A real surprise this one. The album crept up on me after two or three listens and it has remained a favourite throughout the year. Fader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin).

First Light is a very low-fi electronic album containing one of my favourite songs of the year in Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks”, this brooding, pulsating piece of electronica is timeless.

Read my full review here.

Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia

A mostly instrumental album, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia has picked up new fans as the year has progressed. One for fans of Mike Oldfield, John Foxx and Jean Michel Jarre, its a very moving album. The mixture of synths and a (real) brass band works surprisingly well, and Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is one of those albums that you should listen to in one sitting, in the correctly sequenced order. Turn off your shuffle!

Read my full review here.

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2017

My favourite progressive album of the year was White Willow – Future Hopes. Dropping the metal leanings of earlier albums, and adding a wonderfully colourful warm palette, Future Hopes is a synth lovers dream. My favourite track on the album is the gentle Silver And Gold. Read my full review here.

Destroyer – ken was released quite late in 2017, and is still seeping into my heart. Destroyer are definitely a marmite band – but I’m a huge fan. ken feels like a love song to the electronica of bands such as New Order. Just listen to the way the synths sweep in on opening track Sky’s Grey. An album for fans who enjoy uneasy listening!

Atone by White Moth Black Butterfly is a very commercial progressive / pop album from members of the bands TesseracT and Skyharbor. Delicate vocals (reminding me of the late George Michael at times) sit atop sweeping orchestral decorated songs.

There are some really strong performances and clever production touches to this fine album. At times I am also reminded of This Mortal Coil in some of the arrangements and reverb-heavy keyboard treatments.

Atone is on its way to becoming one of my favourite albums of the year.

The first album from Cigarettes After Sex might only have one gear – a slow gear – but I have grown to really love this album. I adore the guitar sound – sort of like The Cure mixed with I’m In Love With A German Film Star. The lyrics are intriguing, if slightly pervy and the Twin Peaks vibe makes for a rewarding listen.

Favourite re-issues

David Bowie’s A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) covers my favourite Bowie era (the “Berlin” trilogy). Apart from the dreadful error with the Heroes album (I’m still waiting for my replacement disc, record company grrrr) I’m happy with this box-set. Its great having the Moroder version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire) and the full Baal EP on CD, plus the Tony Visconti re-mix of Lodger is fascinating and very different from the original.

The 30th anniversary re-issue of Scalywag Jaz by Thomas Lang brings all the associated tracks from the period, plus live recordings and a couple of new songs, into one package. Its a great value, definitive release for one of the finest albums of the 80s.

Read my full review here.

I also think the remaster of Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac deserves a mention at this point. The deluxe version includes some fascinating (high quality) demos, 12″ mixes plus the main album has never sounded so good. Big Love from me for this 2017 reissue. I’m so sorry.

TV and Film

My favourite film in 2017 (although the film was released in 2016 I caught it on bluray this year) was Nocturnal Animals.  Produced and directed by Tom Ford, and starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon, this psychological thriller kept me in a state of unease until the very end of the film.

The TV event of the year for me was by far Twin Peaks: The Return or as it is billed on the bluray, Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. I was a fan of the original series when it aired on TV in 1990, then fell in love with it again watching the series on its DVD re-issue many years later. I had high hopes for the new series, but after the initial nostalgia fuelled first few minutes, it was clear that Twin Peaks: The Return was going to surpass the original.

It wasn’t perfect, but then neither is life. There were entire sections and episodes that frustrated and baffled, but they were out-weighed by the visceral brutality of some of the characters (new and old) and their actions. This new series took me to places both wonderful and strange, and if this is the end of the Twin Peaks story, I’m so happy that we got to witness the return.

Episode 8 – watched in the early hours (the time it was broadcast in the UK), was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I have ever had. I simply could not believe what I was watching, and I went to work shortly afterwards with a mixture of euphoria and confusion.

As well as the bluray of The Return, there are also two fascinating books from Mark Frost (The Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier) to help fill in the blanks and the missing years. What a fine way to spend your Christmas vouchers!

My other favourite TV series of 2017 was HBO’s Big Little Lies. The series starred Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern, and kept the dark, brutal secret that rumbled through the entire series out of sight to the very end.

Finally, my favourite TV re-issue from 2017 was the blu-ray of Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series.  The high definition remaster of the ITV series from 1980 features 13 spine-tingling stories starring Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliott and Brian Cox.

Here’s to a great year of music, film and TV in 2018.








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