>Desert Island Discs

>A discussion which has brought an uncharacteristically interesting debate in middle class households throughout Britain has been – ‘What would be your Desert Island Discs?’ Well having finally heeded the call the good people at Radio 4 have given me the chance to make my choices official. Before you rise up in outrage that a nobody such as myself has been given such an honour you best realise that anybody can! Go here to post your own. For those unfamiliar with the format this is the BBC explanation:

” The format is simple – a guest is invited to choose eight discs, a book and a luxury to take with them as they’re castaway on a mythical desert island.  They’re given the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible.  During the interview they explain their choices and discuss key moments in their lives, people and events that have influenced and inspired them and brought them to where they are today.”

>A browser and a rich black lady

>I’m talking OPERA of course! Well I thought it was clever but I never profess to be great wit. Anyhow, seamless link over I’m doing another five to check out but after the bright lights and pounding beats of Dance I’ve gone in a very different direction for this one. I’m no more knowledgeable about this one either so frankly as a blogger I’m failing but hopefully my hokey charm will save me. So here goes, five Opera songs I absolutely love…

Barcarole by Offenbach (from The Tales of Hoffman)
Unsurprisingly my adoration of this piece originates from it being used to stunning effect in a wonderful film. If you have seen La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) – and I’m sure you have – you will recognise it from that. I was actually lucky enough to visit the town where the film was made Arezzo in Tuscany on my honeymoon but that’s a needless tangent. The music is utterly enchanting, like being swept along in a dream and it perfectly encapsulates that feeling of being utterly in love in someone. Enjoy.

Un bel di vedremo by Puccini (from Madame Butterfly)

If Barcarolle is all about the enchanting feeling of being in love, Un bel di vedremo is all about the pain that love brings. I can honestly say I have never heard a more utterly heartbreaking yet at the same time completely compelling female vocal than Maria Callas performing this track from Puccini’s opera. I especially love the brevity of the track – it is short yet fuelled with emotion and sticks in the mind long after it has finished. A side note which some of you might like to know is that Pinkerton by Weezer is said to be loosely based on the story of Madama Butterfly. The album is named after B.F. Pinkerton and is based around similar themes of lost love and sexual longing with a heavy Japanese influence. River Cuomo and Puccini – who knew?

Una furtiva Lagrima by Donizetti (from L’elisir d’amore)

One thing about Opera that I have always quite liked is quite frankly I often massively misread the message of the song due to the language issues. This is a classic example – for me the tenor appears defiant yet forlorn when in fact he has apparently just found out his ‘love potion’ works. This might be treason but the story in Opera is usually an absolute load of bollocks but despite massive flaws a narrative is vital to effectively tie the collection of songs together. Let’s face it if a naff story about borderline date rape inspired Donizetti to write this then fair play to it. I’ve included a first for the blog – a vocal which is over a hundred years old. According to those who know about these things i.e. not I, Enrico Caruso is the greatest tenor of all time and based on this performance it is hard to disagree. Masterful.

va, Pensiero by Verdi (from Nabucco)
Stirring can’t begin to cover this hypnotically powerful patriotic ode. This song has such power to move the emotions that the myth was long perpetuated that a defiant encore of va, Pensiero was the trigger for the final unification of Italy. This differs from my other choice so far as it does not focus upon a single vocal instead showcasing the majesty of orchestra and choir working in perfect harmony.

Let me know your thoughts and I’d love some suggestions of other genres to get the five treatment.

Published in: on 15/10/2010 at 9:04 pm  Comments (1)  

>Covered in sunshine

>Okay some weird phenonmena known as sunshine has appeared (albeit briefly) today so I’m not going to stay indoors typing away. Instead have a few videos of entertaining covers to put a smile on your faces:


>What was the space dog called?*

>I know I have been neglecting my blogging duties and can only apologise. I have promised a good friend with an imminent birthday I’d review an album for him so here goes…

Astro Coast by Surfer Blood

Astro is a very exciting word. Seriously. Stick it in front of a more mundane noun and you transform it into something exciting and mysterious. No company could successfully market ‘fake grass’ so instead we had hoardes of New Labour money flushed headmasters eagerly shelling out for ‘ASTRO TURF.’ The Farm are an uncomfortable repetitive dour scouse beat combo from the early nineties, yet when you add Astro they become an animated family trying to get by running an agricultural business on an asteroid; who could ever forget ASTRO FARM? It’s basically The Wire in space. Even the short lived, ill-fated ‘biscuit smarties’ were briefly a top seller at Lound Road garage purely because they were called Cadbury’s ASTROs. All of this means I cannot help but admire the moxy of Surfer Blood before I even listen to their debut album. They have cautioned against any possible laissez-faire attitude with a simple edition of the magic word. So onto Astro Coast we go…

The album opens with Swim – a song if you didn’t know who it was by you have probably heard used to make an exciting montage link on TV. It has a catchy pop hook ready made for festivals and chugs along at refreshingly merry pace. The first interesting point to note is the singer is a fan of The Shins. In fact his dream appears to be James Mercer singing covers of sadly short-lived britpop phenomenon Symposium. The vocal effect could be lifted straight off Oh Inverted World which when placed in a garage rock track should be a disaster but actually works extremely well. Despite this New Mexico vocal flavour the predominant music influence is avowedly British. I have heard this group compared to Weezer and I will no doubt address that later in this review but on first song alone they are more reminiscent of early Feeder than Rivers and co. This British influence bleeds into track two which would be at home in the background on This Life or even on the seminal indie-comp Shine Too. Floating Vibes is much more interesting than Swim and thankfully reveals a band with more depth. The melody is still rightly free of unnecessary noodling but the elements on this track are far more effectively balanced producing a richer sound which provides a platform for some really interesting realist song writing reflecting on the fragility of early success. This is a surprising topic for a band at such an early stage of their own career and shows stark self-awareness that brings to mind Alex Turner (though lacking comparable talent of lyrical composition). Take It Easy regretfully never escapes the spectre of a Vampire Weekend off-cut which blunts any impact. For me this is the first candidate to be a skipper. It is not alone – not every track on this album maintains the highest standards of quality (Neighbour Riffs – the point?) but that is to be expected on a debut album by a young band.

I have to say on balance though I’m really impressed; there are elements of a truly exciting band – the interplay of vocals particularly in the use of harmonies shows a real grasp of how to craft a song. Again unsurprisingly for a debut album the influences are worn on the sleeve including Room on Fire era Strokes (Harmonix), Wes Anderson movies (Twin Peaks) and Pavement (Catholic Pagans). The standout track of the latter half of the album – and possibly the whole album – is Slow Jabroni which though abysmally titled is a majestic slow-burner which subtley builds to a crescendo. This song must be festival gold. It is also the only track for me which warrants the Weezer golden period comparisons. The slow burning build is reminiscent of Only In Dreams and I can see how reviewers have jumped on this. However – and I mean no malice when I say it – to compare this album to Blue and Pinkerton is wholly wrong. At no point on any level does it approach the brilliance of either of those two albums. Lyrically and musically Blue and Pinkerton deserve to be considered two of the finest albums ever made. I actually think it is wholly unfair and detrimental to Surfer Blood for lazy critics to trot out the comparison. Cuomo’s descent into self-parody in recent years has ignited a yearning for early Weezer and this pressure is wrongly being thrust onto raw bands like Surfer Blood who as this album shows possess huge potential.

As an album this certainly contains far more positive moments than filler. Ultimately though it fails to be truly memorable and too often sounds like songs ‘in the style of’. I will definitely continue to take an interest in Surfer Blood and look forward to them developing their own sound. On this evidence they have a long road ahead but are certainly moving in the right direction.

Six and a half out of Ten.

*If you’ve made it this far I applaud you, the dog’s name was Dinko

Published in: on 23/08/2010 at 9:10 am  Comments (2)  

>Birthday Blog!

>It was twenty seven years ago today that I entered the world. So much has changed in that time, in this blog I am going to describe the top 100 key events during my lifetime.

Or perhaps not as frankly that would be far too much like work (I’m a history teacher) so instead I am going to share with you three albums that in my humble opinion you really, REALLY should own.

Weezer – by Weezer (also known as the Blue album)

It saddens me to say it but I wish Rivers Cuomo had never decided to bring Weezer back together after Pinkerton. Much like the return of Family Guy after a hiatus their output since has become a more and more desperate to recapture the glorious early days with increasingly embarassing efforts to appear relevant. The new song is garbage and sticking the fat bloke from Lost as the album cover is like, so edgy, and like, hilarious! I sound far too grumpy for a man enjoying his birthday so I’ll quickly return to focus on Weezer’s debut. If you do not own this album I envy you, I would love to experience listening to it for the first time. The good news is everytime you listen it’s like a hit of sunshine; the opening bars of My Name is Jonas never fail to give me a surge of excitement. I’m not going to do an in-depth track by track analysis as I have a limited knowledge of synonyms for brilliant. Just bloody buy it.

Three great tracks: No One Else, Say It Aint So, Surf Wax America
Like this? You may also like: The Replacements; Lemonheads; Death Cab for Cutie;
Rating: 9 1/2 out of 10

Innervisions – by Stevie Wonder

Growing up mum and dad always had Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix on so I knew of them without really considering them anything special as they were my parents’ music. I can’t remember exactly when or why but have a strong memory of being about 17 and for the first time really listening to Songs in the Key of Life. From that moment I was hooked, and I consider Stevie’s Golden Period (’72-’80) to be just about the finest music ever created. The pick of the bunch is Innervisions. Music as social commentary is often overtly worthy and tedious, yet on this album it is nothing of the sort. Wonder has an ability like no other to create joy; if you dispute that try and listen to the opening of Sir Duke without smiling. This album is absolutely packed full of songs guaranteed to have you at the very least tapping your feet but more likely dancing around the house like an idiot (perhaps that’s just me). It is in fact easy to listen to this album purely as a dance record and in this form it undoubtedly succeeds but when you actually listen to what Stevie is singing about you realise that this is nothing short of poetry. James Brown may be more closely associated with black rights yet I find his blunt approach and bellious delivery to be off-putting and even patronising. Wonder manages to weave in relevant social commentary about 1970s America into his songs with a subtletly that enriches rather than detracts from the musical joy. His music speaks to people in a way few others manage; only Dylan, Young and Springsteen have had a comparable impact.

Three great tracks: Visions, Living for the City, He’s Misstra know it all
Like this? You may also like: Gil Scott-Heron; The Fugees; Mos Def;

Rating: 9 1/2 out of 10

Buena Vista Social Club – by Buena Vista Social Club

First of all I know my ignorance is staggering. Recommending this to anyone with a knowledge of Cuban music is a bit like saying ‘hey have you heard Definitely Maybe by this Oasis band?’ My knowledge of Cuban music is regrettably minimal so for me this album was a fantastic introduction. I took an extremely roundabout way of getting into it. The roots can probably traced to my Peru trip where I loved the music even if the panpipes were a bit overkill by the end. Shortly after having arrived back and like any self-respecting middle class Guardian reader I decided I was now ‘into World Music.’ A documentary came on TV about the making of this album and experiencing music for the first time visually was an unusual method but the songs really shone out for me. Ever since this album has regularly brightened up a rainy afternoon in my classroom slogging through marking. It showcases a wide variety of styles and performers but what is always consistent is the sky high standard of musicianship and infectious rhythms. If you have never listened to latin music I urge you to give it a go.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8c6u4PFKg_o (El Carretero)
Three great tracks: Chan Chan, Y Tú Qué Has Hecho?, ElCarretero
Like this? You may also like: Ibrahim Ferrer; Omara Portuondo; Rubén Gonzaléz
Rating:  81/2 out of 10

Published in: on 12/08/2010 at 11:38 am  Comments (2)