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!


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.

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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