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.

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

7 09 2014

ryan adamsOpening with the first single Gimme Something Good, this self-titled album is the 14th by Ryan Adams, and it’s already shaping up to be my favourite Ryan Adams album since 2004’s Love Is Hell.

The album has a late 70s Bruce Springsteen/ Tom Petty feel to it. I think it’s safe to say that this is a classic rock influenced album.

Heartbreaker Benmont Tench provides the organ and piano so no surprise that there are nods to the classic Tom Petty Damn the Torpedoes sound

The sparse instrumentation on the intro to Kim is a joy to hear – just guitar, vocals and a distant keyboard before the full band kicks in.

“I watched you walk away, to be with him, Kim”

The production also harks to a bygone era – instruments panned sharply left or right, dry reverb-free drums. This album could have been released in 1979 and would not have sounded out of time.

Am I Safe is an acoustic driven but lyrically edgy track with some wonderful Johnny Marr’esque riffing. And maybe a hint of Fleetwood Mac in the backing vocals. A definite highlight of the album.

“All these things keep runnin’ through my mind”

My Wrecking Ball is a Springsteen like title, and a Springsteen like lyric (it’s all about cars and girls, right?). A stripped back arrangement highlights Ryan’s wonderfully gritty vocals.

Stay With Me ups the tempo and has a powerful, top drawer chorus (the guitar riff underpinning the build up sends shivers).

Feels Like Fire is a great driving song – perfectly build for the long drives on the freeway! I Just Might grows from a chugging guitar and vocals intro as the band creeps in. I love the way the lyrics mirror the playing – as Ryan sings that he doesn’t want to lose control, the mood shifts up a gear.

Tired of Giving Up feels strangely uplifting, even with it’s downbeat lyrics. Album closer Let Go is short, sharp and to the point, not overstaying it’s welcome. Just as it hits you, the song is over.

This is probably the most focussed Ryan Adams album for a long time, and all the better for it.

Buy Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams on Amazon UK

Buy Ryan Adams – Love is Hell on Amazon UK

You might also like this deluxe edition of the classic Damn the Torpedoes album from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Joseph Arthur – The Ballad of Boogie Christ

8 06 2013

The Ballad of Boogie ChristJoseph Arthur’s 10th studio album was originally available via Pledgemusic, and will be released more widely via Lonely Astronaut Records on June 11 2013.

Album opener Currency of Love is a 50’s sounding track, that would not sound out of place in a David Lynch movie or as a song on a long-lost Roy Orbison album.

Saint of Impossible Causes has an incredibly addictive and uplifting chorus, and a move forward to the 1960’s with the sitars on the verses.

The title track is very New York sounding, complete with Lou Reed Transformer referencing backing vocals and is an essay on a modern-day messiah.

“Christ would love hip-hop, metal and soul”

What is noticeable on this album is the more expansive backing than recent Arthur releases – lush strings, horn sections and a real widescreen production are very much the order of the day.  The album’s first ballad I Used to Know How To Walk on Water is an album highlight, with a vibrant, deep bassline and jazzy piano and drums.

Wait for Your Lights is simply classic Joseph Arthur. A tight, simple beat and descending piano lines, Wait for your Lights is an instant favourite and one of the best tracks on the album.

Joseph Arthur

I Miss the Zoo is a more fully-realised take of the track that appeared on 2012’s Redemption City. An brutally honest tale of missing the high’s of a former lifestyle, to quote the lyrics “Even tho life is much better now”. A simple backing of heavily pounded acoustic guitar, bass, piano and organ let the powerful lyrics and increasingly impassioned vocal tell the story.

“I miss salvation in syringes and angels of mercy, in blooms of smoke numbing rain”

It’s OK to Be Young / Gone would not have sounded out-of-place on my favourite Joseph Arthur album, Our Shadows Will Remain. Some lovely Frippesque guitar textures layer this song.

Joseph Arthur

Still Life Honey Rose has a scent of the desert, and a real late 70’s Fleetwood Mac vibe. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album.

Black Flowers is the shortest song in the collection, and zips along at a furious pace, with some crazy percussion under-pinning the one-line chorus, and what sounds like Herb Alpert smuggling his Tijuana Brass into the studio towards the end of the song

King of Cleveland reminds me a little of the mood of Arcade Fire‘s The Suburbs album – an America long-gone, and the song seems to point to a personal history in Ohio that is also consigned to memory.

“And she cut you”

Album closer All the Old Heroes is the longest track on the album, clocking in at just over 7 minutes, and appears to be another of the albums songs about escaping addiction.

“All the old heroes are like children to me now.
As I come to burn your shame away, without knowing exactly how.”

The Ballad of Boogie Christ was apparently put together over a period of 10 years, in between other album releases and with a mixture of old and new songs recorded with a wide cast of musicians in a variety of studios across America. Yet surprisingly for such a potentially haphazard collection of songs and styles, the album comes across as Arthur’s most focused and coherent release to date, and it may well be the album that finally leads to greater recognition beyond his existing audience.

The Ballad of Boogie Christ

Currency of Love
Saint of Impossible Causes
The Ballad of Boogie Christ
I Used to Know How To Walk on Water
Wait for Your Lights
I Miss the Zoo
It’s OK to Be Young / Gone
Still Life Honey Rose
Black Flowers
King of Cleveland
Famous Friends along the Coast
All the Old Heroes

Buy Joseph Arthur albums from Amazon UK

The Ballad of Boogie Christ

Our Shadows Will Remain

Visit the Joseph Arthur website.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours [35th Anniversary 3CD Deluxe Edition]

2 02 2013

Fleetwood Mac - RumoursAn album I’ve previously bought on vinyl, cassette and CD, and now a 3 CD deluxe edition. So it’s clearly an album I like, along with over 40 million purchasers of this album!

Disc one of the 3CD Deluxe Edition is the remastered version of the original album, including extra B-side track Silver Springs. This remaster is the 2004 one, which did not need improving.

Dreams is one of my favourite songs, I never tire of hearing this track. Unless it’s the version by The Corrs, who just lobbed a shed-load of flutes and an Everything But The Girl Missing beat over the top. Avoid.

Sorry about that – back to Fleetwood Mac. If you don’t own Rumours, and are a casual fan, the single disc version will be enough for you. If you are a die-hard fan, for a few pounds more, the 3-disc edition is the definitive version.

Rumours, originally released in February 1977, was a staple of FM radio in the late 70s, and you will be surprised at how many of these songs you know if you grew up in that golden era.

You Make Loving Fun is sprinkled with lovely harmonies, and driven by chunky rhythm guitar and crystal clear solos by Lindsey Buckingham.

Fans of Formula One racing on the BBC in the late 70s / 80s will recognise the iconic bass line towards the end of The Chain, one of the album’s strongest songs.

The remaster brings elements to the fore that I had missed on earlier incarnations, such as the highly percussive multi-layered guitar, and intricate harmonies (? underpinned by accordion) on Never Going Back Again.

This edition of the album ends with Silver Springs, which was originally the b-side to Go Your Own Way.

Disc 2 is a live collection, recorded during the 1977 Rumours tour in Oklahoma, Tulsa, Nashville and Columbia. Several non-Rumours tracks feature, the highlight being Rhiannon clocking in at nearly 8 minutes.

Another longer-than-the-album take is Gold Dust Woman, with its wonderful Rhodes v chorused guitar intro. The live Go Your Own Way has a great new-wave guitar intro, and the live disc ends with Christine Mcvie’s Songbird.

Fleetwood Mac "Rumours" 3-CD Deluxe Edition

Disc three is made of up alternative versions, demos and out-takes from the sessions. These tracks often contain tape hiss, sparse instrumentation, in-song chatter and are no way near the fidelity of the studio album. However, what they lack in audio quality they certainly make up for by offering a peek into the creative process.

My favourite is Dreams (take 2) – built around electric piano and rough guitar, the backing music sounds nothing like the album version, but the vocal melody is intact, and it’s a moving performance by Stevie Nicks.

Never Going Back Again [Acoustic Duet] is more fully formed than some of the tracks on disc three. Keep Me There [With Vocal] is interesting, as it includes the famous outro (a shortened version) that was later added to The Chain.

Fleetwood Mac

Silver Springs [Early Take] contains another fine Nicks vocal, and an echo laden backing track that differs enough from the finished version to make it an intriguing listen.

Planets Of The Universe [Demo] is a piano and vocals version of the track that later appeared on the Stevie Nicks Trouble in Shangri-La album. The lyrics are very raw and direct, and I prefer this version to the Trouble in Shangri-La studio version that was released in 2001.

I’m glad I bought this new version of Rumours – and I’m now embarking on a Big Mac of the Fleetwood variety binge. I’ve ordered the expanded Tusk re-issue and 25 Years – The Chain 4-CD compilation.

Buy Rumours [35th Anniversary Edition] – 3CD Deluxe Edition from Amazon

Buy Rumours [35th Anniversary Edition] – single disc edition from Amazon

Watch a live version of Dreams from 1977:

2010 Review

30 12 2010

Blimey, it’s that time of year already.  2010 flew by….

Here are my thoughts on my favourite music , film and TV from 2010.


Francis and the Lights

My most played artist of 2010 (last.fm stats are so useful!) was Francis and the Lights.  I first came across the band, who are led by the enigmatic, and wonderfully named, Francis Farewell Starlite, in the Summer of 2010.

It was one of those chance discoveries, where I saw the name mentioned in a magazine, headed over to Youtube and saw (and fell in love with) the video for Darling, It’s Alright.

Francis and the Lights first full length album, It’ll Be Better was not out in the UK at the time, so I ordered a copy from the States.

The album highlight is the closing track, Get In The Car.

“You gotta be careful
These guys will eat you alive
You gotta believe me
You’re gonna want me by your side”

I don’t want to spoil the story, but it’s certainly no love song.

Sounding, vocally, like a cross between Randy Edelman and Peter Gabriel, and musically (at times) like early 80’s Prince, It’ll Be Better flows well as apparently the songs were recorded using the same instruments throughout, to give a feeling of cohesiveness.  So scattered amongst the 80’s synth sounds, are barely processed guitars and piano and a symmetry that makes sure the songs hit you immediately.

Tap the Phone is one of the more modern sounding songs on the album, and one of those rare songs that doesn’t waste a single note.

“I should tap the phone, take a taxi home
Write a song for the radio, then I could hear you
When you’re on the phone
And you could hear me on the radio”

For Days has programmed drums that sound as if they were lifted from Prince’s Parade album, but with a buzzsaw synth line, a supremely funky guitar and haunting piano.  Pure pop magic.

“If there was just an air strike or a natural disaster, You coulda been mine.”

Also recommended, from the A Modern Promise EP (2008), is the song Night Watchman – a lovely pop song about voyeurism.

Buy It’ll Be Better from Amazon UK

Buy A Modern Promise from Amazon UK

Everything Everything

Another new band, this time from the UK.  Their Man Alive album was released in late August, and follows a string of single releases dating back to 2008.  The songs are varied, with lovely layered harmony vocals, inventive guitar and nods to bands such as Talking Heads, Yes, XTC and even The Associates.

With many time signature changes (often within the same song) and quirky vocal tics, there is plenty to keep you listening throughout the 50 minutes of this charming album.

The production duties were handled by David Kosten (Bat for Lashes / Joseph Arthur and sometime no-man collaborator), and I hope he stays on board for the next album, as he added so much to the mix.

“If all the boys say you did it, and all the girls say you did it,
and if all the boys say you did it, and all the girls say you did it
Then man, you’re as guilty as the ones that came before, you sleepwalked over here, the drawbridge creaks ignored.”
Leave The Engine Room lyrics

If you don’t jump out of your chair and dance round the room like a dervish during Photoshop Handsome, you are already dead.

“Airbrush! What have you done with my landscape?
Flooding the fields with this clone shape?
Where is the country you died for?
And what is the century?
And Ah-Ah-Ah! Who did your Photoshop handsome?
You ready for reincarnation?
Gotta come back as something less frantic
You gotta banish that army of panic
Gotta come back as something organic.”

Schoolin’ has become my favourite from the album over time, mainly because of the middle 8 that sounds like it’s fallen straight off no-man’s Lighthouse.

Buy Everything Everything from Amazon UK.

Gavin Castleton

Portland, Oregon’s Gavin Castleton is a singer/songwriter I came across late in 2009, via someone’s end of year list on Facebook.  See, sometimes these lists are worthwhile!  Gavin’s music varies between progressive jazz-tinged pop, through to electronica and even rap, with traditional song arrangements and looping experiments.

My first purchase was the wonderful album called Home.  An album about a relationship breakdown, with the added complication of a zombie attack.  Yep, you read that correctly. It’s an intriguing idea, and surprisingly it works.

Home is a schizophrenic album, with twists and turns, and many genre changes, but like a good film, stick with it, and after repeated listening’s, its beauty will surely charm you.

“I might’ve survived if it weren’t for her eyes
that were eating mine up
She wanted a job so I brought her the forms
with my eyes held shut”
Coffeelocks from Home

Gavin is incredibly prolific, and hugely independent (through circumstances, not necessarily choice), and 2010 brought another new album, Won Over Frequency, which was released without record company backing late in 2010.

Stand out tracks include the slow-burning Why Is It So Hard? and the country-tinged I Only Haunt.

“I don’t love, I only haunt”.

My favourite Gavin Castleton album is For the Love of Pete, which was released in 2007.  It’s the most traditional (for the want of a better word) album from Gavin.

The beatbox driven Good Manbaby, and deep bass powered Tiny Triggers are current favourites.

Gavin does not have the support of a record label, so every purchase of his music is poured back into his next project, so have a listen to his music from the links below, but please don’t download his music for free, if you like it, buy it.

Listen to Gavin’s music on Soundcloud or via his official website.

Stream The Human Torch from the album Home

Buy Gavin Castleton music on cdbaby or iTunes

View Gavin Castleton videos, including the looping cover of Sledgehammer and the wonderful cover of Eyes in the back of my Head.

Lone Wolf

The Devil and I is the debut release from Lone Wolf aka Paul Marshall.  Leeds musician Paul Marshall released an album called Vultures in 2007, but his first release under the Lone Wolf moniker is a very different beast.  Losing the folk influences, and drawing from a wider instrumental palette, the Devil and I is as lyrically rich as it is musically.

I was drawn into the album by the single Keep Your Eyes On The Road, and its Sledgehammer inspired video.

Opener This Is War is the story of a nightmare relationship.

“I used my chemistry skills to bake her every pill she could swallow.
She prayed to god and she called me a sinner, science isn’t the way to win her.
She gave me every disease under the sun before she ran for another town.
My body reacts to her.
How bodies react to her.”

We Could Use Your Blood is my favourite song on the album, with a wonderful use of haunting trumpet and bells to lift the final chorus.

“I’m tired of the mutes in my life.
And I’m tired of this glass body.
It’s only transparent from the outside.
And my bee-stung lips have sank a fair few ships,
While they continue to flap like hummingbird’s wings deep into the night. “

15 Letters is a murder ballad, sung from the perspective of the deceased.

“My name will remain an unclimbable mountain in life.”

A wonderful album, and one that seeps into your soul after repeated listenings.  Here’s hoping for more from Lone Wolf in 2010.

Buy The Devil and I from Amazon UK
LoneWolf blog

John Grant

Queen of Denmark was a must buy for me, because of the Midlake connection (the band back Grant on the album).  Sounding very much like an album from the mid-70’s, with lush backing vocals and not sounding out-of-place in the company of Bread or Fleetwood Mac, Queen of Denmark reveals more when you dig deeper.  Silver Platter Club even sounds like Carole Bayer Sager meets Gilbert O’Sullivan, but in a good way, I kid you not!

John Grant was the singer in the US band The Czars, and this debut solo release apparently comes from the viewpoint of a gay man struggling for survival in a small town in America, and some of the songs touch on Grant’s struggles with addiction (pretty graphically, on the album’s title track, very uneasy listening).

Marz is a shopping list of all the treats available in a long-gone sweet store from Grant’s childhood.  Another standout track on the album is TC and Honeybear, an affectionate tale of a former love.

“For Tc and his Honeybear, the world will not stop moving
For rendezvous and longing stares and hearts that won’t stop burning”

There is humour, nostalgia and warmth displayed throughout the songs, held together by Grant’s effortless, rich baritone vocals.

My favourite song is actually one of the tracks from the limited edition bonus version, the simple piano, strings and vocals arrangement of Fireflies really highlights the beauty and sorrow in the song.

“I can smell the flowers,
they died long ago.
How I long for you.”

Buy The Queen of Denmark on Amazon UK
John Grant Myspace site

Arcade Fire

The Suburbs is summed up perfectly by its cover artwork, hinting at a time and a world long since disappeared.

Probably their most cohesive album, and one that should really be listened to as one complete piece.  The Suburbs is another of this year’s albums that references a bygone era, in this case taking cues from late 70’s Springsteen, the lean new wave pop of The Cars and The Psychedelic Furs.

Rococo is a ClockWork Orange-esque take on Mall-life, whereas Sprawl I (Flatland) is a slow-burning anthem, managing to be both menacing and nostalgic at the same time.

“Took a drive into the sprawl
To find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me but I’m still far away”

Buy The Suburbs on Amazon UK

Bruce Springsteen

2010 was the year I rediscovered Bruce Springsteen. My favourite Bruce albums were always The RiverThe Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and especially Darkness on the Edge of Town.  I went along to the UK premiere of the film The Promise In November, which was attended by the Boss himself.  The documentary looks at the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and some of the songs that failed to make the final cut.  It was a fascinating look at this landmark album, and I treated myself to the box-set that contained a DVD of the documntary, a remastered version of Darkness on the Edge of Town and a double disc of The Promise, songs from the Darkness sessions.

Darkness on the Edge of Town sounds amazing in this remastered version, it’s like hearing a new album.  I’m still blown away by Candy’s Room, Badlands, Racing in the Street and Prove it all Night.  I find it hard to believe that I first heard these songs 32 years ago.

The Promise is not an album of fillers or countless versions of the same songs, virtually all these tracks could, and perhaps should, have been released back in the late 70’s.  Some of the songs were hits – Because the Night for Patti Smith, and Fire for The Pointer Sisters. The versions by the original writer do not disappoint. Save my Love has that signature E-Street band piano sound, and The Promise should have been on Darkness on the Edge of Town, it could easily have closed the album.

Buy The Promise on Amazon UK
Buy The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3CD+3DVD) on Amazon UK
Buy The Promise: Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (3CD/3Blu-ray) on Amazon UK


Into The Wild

Ok, not a new film, but one I’ve just seen.  Directed by Sean Penn, and starring Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless who leaves a life of comfort and safety to find a different way of life in the wild, open spaces of the US.

It’s an often bleak story, but lit up along the way with the now renamed Alexander Supertramp and his interaction with those he comes across as he heads to his destination, Alaska.  So sad, but so moving.

Buy Into The Wild on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

Let the Right One In

As above, one bought on blu-ray this year, and a horror classic. In my eyes, the film deserves to be talked of in the same way that The Shining, Omen or The Exorcist are described as genre-defining movies.

Forget the obvious gore and dumbed down modern horror that films such as Saw serve up. Let the Right One In is restrained in what it shows you, but the darkness is in the way in which this story was filmed. It looks absolutely stunning, and the effects are simple yet effective.

The film was remade in 2010 as Let Me In, but I’m sticking with the cold beauty of the original Swedish version.

Buy Let The Right One In on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK


Any Human Heart

A four-part Channel 4 adaptation of the book by William Boyd.  Telling the story of Logan Mountstuart from pre-Second World War up to the early 90’s, and his life, his loves, and his painful losses that haunt him to the end.

Memories are triggered by long-forgotten pictures, letters, notes and drawings. A powerful and moving adaptation, and easily my favourite TV event of the year.

Buy Any Human Heart on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

The Pacific

From the same team that put together Band of Brothers a few years ago, whilst not as satisfying (the character building throughout the series is not as strong as Band of Brothers) but offering a much more accurate portrayal of the devastation and sheer brutality of war.

Buy The Pacific on DVD or blu-ray on Amazon UK

Buy Band of Brothers on DVD or blu-ray

Buy The Pacific / Band of Brothers DVD gift-set

Midlake – The Courage of Others

2 02 2010

The Courage of Others is Midlakes third, and finest album, and is the follow-up to 2006’s The Trials of Van Occupanther. Released on former Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde‘s Bella Union label (which is also the home of Fleet Foxes & The Dears), the album has received mixed write-ups on Amazon, with some listeners complaining about the lack of variety and pace, and how there are no tracks as instantly compelling as Roscoe or Head Home.

On first listen, that might be the case, but listening to the album in it’s entirety, in order, you know, the old fashioned, pre-Ipod shuffle way, the songs creep up on you. And that’s the key, don’t expect instant returns here. I received the CD in the post on Monday morning, and 48 hours later, the music is working its magic on me.

If all that grows
Starts to fade, starts to falter
Oh let me inside, let me inside not to wake

The Courage of Others is a much more pastoral sounding Midlake album. Whereas the sound of The Trials of Van Occupanther was influenced by Classic Rock, and mid 70s Fleetwood Mac in particular, The Courage of Others is a more slower paced album, and is apparently inspired by British Folk, and artists such as Nick Drake and Fairport Convention in particular.

Rulers, Ruling All Things was the first song to hit home, and is the closest to previous Midlake songs.

Thinking the world was mine to be lost in
I ran with the freedom and sang in between

The song is the first in a trilogy of the albums strongest songs. Children Of The Grounds is one of the few mostly electric songs on the album.

We’re not all the same in this town

Before anyone shouts “Judas”, the following track Bring Down, brings back the acoustic guitars, flutes and the mood of summers long past.

Tim Smith shares the vocals with Stephanie Dosen on Bring Down, to my ears the standout track on the album.

I may never have the courage of others
I would not approach you at all
I was always taught to worry about things, all the many things you can’t control

There a real mood of melancholy in The Courage Of Others, which is no bad thing. If you stick with the album (it is an album after all, not a collection of songs) and don’t dip into individual tracks, but treat this as a complete work, you are likely to be rewarded with an album that will stay with you for a long, long time.

Acts Of Man / Winter Dies / Small Mountain / Core Of Nature /
Fortune / Rulers, Ruling All Things / Children Of The Grounds /
Bring Down / The Horn / The Courage Of Others / In The Ground

Lyrics quoted © Midlake
Bella Union – Bellacd 224
Released February 2010
Midlake website
The Courage of Others on Amazon UK

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