Mark’s Top Five of 2013

Time to once again tap into my inner Cusack and reveal my Top Five Albums of 2013.

5. Antiphon by Midlake

After the departure of lead vocalist and founding member Tim Smith, Midlake has been born again with a much more powerful sound reminiscent of Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. I saw them when they came through town and they were amazing. Here is the title track.

4. State-by Todd Rundgren

The wizard returns to original material with a true gem that works nicely as a companion piece to his 2004 release, Liars. Vintage Todd!

3. The Next Day by David Bowie

Seriously, WTF happened to David Bowie? He vanishes for 10 years and then makes one of the best albums of his career. With the January release, I truly got to enjoy it all year. There isn’t a bad track on the whole LP. Here is one of my favorite tracks

2. AM by Arctic Monkeys

The lads from Sheffield can’t seem to make a bad record. NME made it their album of the year and graced it with a rare 10 out of 10. AM is more laid back than their previous records but still packs a wallop lyrically. Alex and his stories…

Here is a live version of the first single, “Do I Wanna Know?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWRkk4rf7l8

1. San Cisco by San Cisco

The best album of 2013 belongs to Fremantle, Western Australia’s San Cisco. Much of their music was released late last year but they didn’t secure a record deal here until early this year. I have played this disc so much that it is nearly worn out. My 14 year old daughter loves it and can’t get enough of all the catchy pop hooks and down under bliss. Parts of it remind me of the 80s but yet it still sounds very fresh. I’d urge you to check out all their EPs as they have many tracks not on the album.

Here is the track that helped them get a US record deal.

Happy 2013 everyone!

The Power and Mystique Of Minneapolis

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On the fourth song into their set in the Main Room at First Avenue last night, Tom Chapman, lead singer of Battle, East Sussex’s Keane, realized he was going to have a personally transformative evening. It was during the devastating and tender track from their 2004 debut, Hopes and Fears, entitled “We Might As Well Be Strangers.” I saw him look out into the audience during the peak of the song and his face visibly changed.

The mystique that is the club First Avenue wrote its fire in the sky long ago, even before Purple Rain. It used to be a cool place to hang out even when it was a Greyhound Bus Station back in the 1930s, with its art deco vibe, air conditioning and floor checked terrazzo (which is still there today and serves as foundation of the pit). In 1970, the club opened with a two set performance by Joe Cocker and his Mad Dog Englishmen. Fitting, really, that a Brit Rocker should christen what was to become the musical mecca of the Midwest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the years and as seen by the many stars painted on the exterior of the building, god-like geniuses from rock mythology have played the Main Room and the glorified closet known as 7th Street Entry, located in the same building. Clearly, the weight of this history overwhelmed Chapman, keyboard player Tim Rice Oxley, drummer Richard Hughes and bass player Jesse Quin. But they didn’t fail under the weight of it all. Instead, they rose to the occasion played a 21 song set that heated up the hearts of the 1500 strong audience in from the below-zero temperatures outside.

After each song, I turned to my show companion, Todd (an Essex man, born and bred for musical mythology just like me) and found that his jaw was nearer to the floor than mine. We were bearing witness to yet another legendary performance at First Avenue being born. It was a shovel to the head stunning show with Chapman’s choir boy voice at the center of it all. Keane prides itself on being flawless during performances and last night was no exception. They were greatly aided by the addition of a new sound system (and a wider pit area…so long, spirally staircase with forbidden step!) and the magnificent crowd that became immediately connected to the band early in the evening.

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It was this synergy that created something quite magical last night and the emotion was evident on Tom’s face, growing stronger with each song. The set list  was a nice collection of their now 10 year history. Highlights for me were “My Shadow,” “She Has No Time,” and, of course, “Bedshaped,” one of the top ten most romantic songs of all time. Their new album, Strangeland, is a return to the feel of their debut and contains many fantastic songs, the title track being one of my favorites. The first cut on the record, “You Are Young,” is a wonderful testament from parent to child and has now become the show opener. I recommend picking up the deluxe edition as it has four extra tracks.

With each song, I gazed around and looked at the denizens of the Ave and saw it all wash over and comfort them. Lovers snuggled, arms were raised, several thousand photos were taken and every word was sung by a chorus. Before the traditional show closer, “Crystal Ball,” Tom let his feelings on the evening be known. He was humbled by the connection that was made between band, venue and audience. He struggled to find the words to describe the nature of the relationship between music and Minneapolis and it was in this moment that I realized how deeply honest he was being.

Words don’t come easily when the power of the heart and soul drives the light that is within all of us.

Here are the rest of Keane’s tour dates in the United States. Here is the link to my photos of the evening.

The Return of the Thin White Duke (finally!)

It’s been ten years since David Bowie has released any new music and most of us were beginning to think that he packed it in. He just turned 66 so no one would blame him, right? Yet here is…back with a corker of a new track called “Where are We Now?” It’s sort of a cross between Young Americans mellow Bowie and the Berlin Era. The new album, entitled The Next Day will be out March 11th in the UK and March 12th in the USA.

Here’s the new single:

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A Salve For All That Ails

It had been far too long since I’d seen a show. That’s the way it is sometimes when you have kids, school and a myriad of other things that need your attention. I have to confess that sometimes music takes a back seat in my life. Awful, I know, but it’s true.

In fact, I’d begun to notice that something was very wrong with my soul these last few months. My life just didn’t seem right. Even though I listen to music every day (especially when I run), I wasn’t letting it fully envelop me as I usually do…comfort me more in those times that are extra stressful…and remembering that this is exactly what music should be…a salve for all that ails in totality.

Of course, I knew several months ago when I bought the tickets for the Noel Gallagher-Snow Patrol show last Wednesday night that my musical spirit would be uplifted enormously. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the double bill. A Brit Rock Double Feature…what a treat! Neither band disappointed.

The evening began with Jake Bugg, a very young lad hailing from Nottingham, whose short acoustic set was reminiscient of Lee Mavers. I’d recommend picking up his disc and giving it a chance.

Noel was up next and it was an absolute corker of a set. Mixing Oasis songs with his wonderful new material, Noel showed his god like genius through 14 musical chestnuts. His first solo record, which I reviewed a while back, is so good he could have honestly played the whole thing (as his brother did when he was in town with his new band, Beady Eye) and I wouldn’t have cared. A key ingredient for me in good music is what kind of stories does the artist tell and what is their perception of the world? Noel’s lines up just about perfectly with mine and it is very evident in tracks like “Dream On” and “If I Had A Gun,” both of which were performed flawlessly with that Mancuian magic.

The real treat of the night, in terms of his new record, was “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine.” As the lyrics washed over me, the irony became very apparent. I was living in a dream about living in dream…

The Oasis tracks were great, of course. The one that really stood out was “Talk Tonight,” originally an acoustic only song, and now a full band number that sounded marvelous. Noel’s set ended with “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (of course), my soul was reset to where it should be and all was well and good with the world again.

But that wasn’t the end!

Throughout Noel’s set i kept thinking about how awesome this was that there was ANOTHER great band going on right after this. Snow Patrol did not disappoint in their 14 song set, mixing old and new songs as lead singer Gary Lightbody darted around the stage like a lanky firefly (man, is he hard to photograph!). They opened with “Hands Open” and it was obvious from the start that the band (as they always go) were going to pour their hearts into every single track.

“Crack the Shutters” was ridiculously awesome. “Run” had everyone singing along with every single word in soft and haunting, almost church like, tone. “Dark Roman Wine” was subbed in for “Make This Go On Forever” which bummed me out at first but the former is a really cool tune. “Chasing Cars” brought me to that romantic place where I can’t tell the difference between loving music and loving love. They closed the night out with “Just Say Yes,” the stand alone single from their 2009 greatest hits package.

As I filed out of the Roy Wilkins Auditorium (a perfect place to see a show, b to the w), I quietly made two promises to myself. First, to never again let music take a back seat to my daily life…allowing it always to continually heal me. Second, never let this long of time go by until my next show. This second promise was easily kept as I am going to see (ahem) BRUCE FUCKING SPRINGSTEEN (general admission tix) in eight days!

Photos of the show.

For tour info on Noel Gallagher-Snow Patrol, click here. 

 

The Modfather’s Mid-Life Renaissance

For me, music begins with John Lennon. The very first step after that is Paul Weller.

And it’s always been that way.

Ever since I heard Sound Affects by The Jam back in 1981, Paul Weller has taken me on where no other artist (save John, of course) has really taken me. A few come close…Todd Rundgren…Joe Jackson…U2…Oasis…but none really compare to Weller simply because his mark on the music world has been so exciting and diverse. The Jam were punk, soul, and absolutely fun pop with a few ballads thrown in for seasoning. The Style Council were smooth jazz, cafe chic, solid R&B, symphonic pastorals, and house music before there was such a thing.

His solo career began with acid jazz and then segued into hippie soul, power trio bombast, and psychedelia. His last record, Wake Up The Nation, charted even newer (and older) territory that completely took the UK music scene by storm. Bruce Foxton, former bass player for The Jam, even played on the punked up track, “Fast Car-Slow Traffic.” Praises were showered over him and the word was that he was moving beyond his moniker, The Modfather, and into God Like Genius mode.

With his latest release, Sonik Kicks, there is no doubt that he has arrived to lord over us from musical heaven. This 14 track album (16 if you spring for the Deluxe Edition) is simply magnificent. I’d use the phrase “tour de force” but that would be paltry in illustrating how truly amazing this fucking record is by the man who has been the soundtrack to my life of for the last 30 years.

With a nod to Kraut Rock, the album opens with “Green,” an explosion of aural delight that sends one’s heart racing directly into the matrix. “The Attic” is next with its wistful nostalgia. “Kling I Klang” could easily be on All Mod Cons or Setting Sons. “Sleep of the Serene,” a trippy instrumental, dovetails nicely with the acoustic beauty of “By The Waters.” On these last two tracks, Weller seems to be going back to the VERY under-appreciated Style Council record, Confessions of a Pop Group. “That Dangerous Age,” is the first single from the album, is next and laments the trials of being a parent to teenagers.

At this point I was already in love with the record and wasn’t fully prepared when the next track took it up another notch. “Study in Blue” completely blew me away. It could easily be on any Style Council album with its smooth cafe sound. And me, being the hopeless romantic, was completely sucked in to the abundance of amore that spills out on this track.  Having his wife Hannah sing on the track was simply brilliant as her voice adds to the perfect and never changing mood.

“Dragonfly” and “Around the Lake” are more tracks that sounds Jam-ish (The Gift era, towards the end), each with a dash of macabre thrown in. “When You’re Garden’s Overgrown” brings us back to Kraut Rock but with that signature Weller melody and refrain. This is my second favorite track on the album as Weller takes a page lyrically from the biting commentary of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The link track “Twilight” steams ahead nicely into “Drifters” sonic and aural panorama. Listening to the latter track, one is simply stunned at how fresh Weller sounds. “Paperchase” reminds me of Berlin era Bowie.

The album proper closes with a loving message to his ever growing brood of kids, “Be Happy Children.” An upbeat message for all of us, really, Weller indeed sounds happier than he ever has and why not? His music is more relevant, wonderful, and, indeed, more innovative than ever!

The Deluxe Edition contains the single from last year, “Starlite,” which is devastatingly gorgeous and “Devotion,” an acoustic rock jaunt that will put a smile on your face. I highly recommend plunking down the extra greenbacks and getting it.

Here’s my favorite track from the album, “Study in Blue.”

http://youtu.be/gK3kc63xKXQ

Thanks!

As we head into Thanksgiving, I just have to give a shout out and say thanks to the Leeds band, The Kaiser Cheifs. Last summer, the band released their fourth album and it came out in the most unique way that I have ever seen a band put out music to date .

You start here. From this link, your adventure begins in creating your own version of the album. Choose the track list, running order,artwork, and design it all yourself. Then download. The cost? £7.50 or roughly 12 bucks for 10 tracks.

Now, the Kaiser Chiefs have made 20 tracks available to choose from so if you want all of them you have to buy two albums effectively. For Brit geeks like me who have long bemoaned the extra tracks that usually end up on singles not being easily available, this is pure bliss! So, naturally, I plunked down £15. I sincerely hope that other bands from the UK take a cue from the Kaiser Chiefs and do the same thing.

Here is my favorite track from the record, “When All Is Quiet,” which has a 10cc feel to it, appealing to some of you 70s hippies!

Widescreen Music

As the dog days of summer wind on, my thoughts have turned to the disc that I have been obsessed with since its release last May. Pala by St Albans, Hertfordshire band Friendly Fires is an astounding record that achieves what I continually look for in good music: creating nostalgia for a time that never was.

Their first offering (the self titled Friendly Fires) is still played heavily in my house, in my car, and on my iPod even three years after its release. Whether it’s a long run (inside or out), a van ride with the kiddos, or 2AM at the club, Friendly Fires fits any mood or setting. I tried my best to curtail my expectations for their second album but it didn’t matter. Pala is fucking stunning and it has become the soundtrack for my summer, taking its place along their debut in continued rotation.

“If we had an manifesto for this album” says Friendly Fires’ singer and bass-player Ed Macfarlane, “it was a simple one; make an exciting, colorful pop record”

“Our goal is to make vibrant, widescreen songs” adds guitarist Edd Gibson. “but they must retain a spontaneity, have an energy and mysticism around them.”

Achieved, lads. Very well done.

Here is live version of my favorite track from the record which will likely be my Track of the Year. I’m not ashamed to admit I well up a little every time I hear it simply from how amazing this song is in both theme and style.

Back…Further Back

Towards the end of last summer, in my usual cock and balls shaft worship of each and every issue of NME, I downloaded the “Track of the Week” for August 4, 2008. More often than not, NME’s track of the week is a little clubbie, a lot indie avant garde emo shoe gazing and just alright. On that particular week, however, I knew I was beginning yet another sacred quest. Because the song I downloaded on that day, my friends, was absolutely spectacular.

I love following a UK band when they first start out. I’ve done it with so many groups and have a ton of fond memories. I recall the day back in 2000 when I purchased the “Yellow” single by Coldplay and then proceded to hyper frantically playing it for anyone who would listen. And then to watch them just blow up….so unbelievably cool! Hell,  I think I was the first kid on my block to buy the “Supersonic” single by Oasis back in 1994. So when I first heard “Make This Work” by  Magistrates, I felt that feeling…of nostalgia for a time that I had not yet experienced.

Though, I knew there was something remotely familiar about the song, and when I went to their MySpace site my deja vu was quite understandable. The Essex lads bill themselves as being a cross between Prince and The Talking Heads. First of all….what a combination. And second…they actually sound exactly like that! Quite a feat indeed.

They have spent the better part of the last nine months in the studio and last month released their second single, “Heartbreak”…also a corker. And, if you live in the UK, Magistrates are slated to open up for mother fucking Blur (!) at a series of shows this summer.

I am getting that same feeling that I got when I heard “Yellow.”

A Tortured And Wonderful Howl From The Heart

In April of 2006, Billy Lunn, guitarist, singer, and songwriter for the Welwyn Garden City, Hertforshire, England trio The Subways, was diagnosed with nodules on his vocal chords. They canceled several appearances in support of their wonderful first album Young For Eternity, including one that I had tickets for here in Minneapolis. Doctors said that years of intense screaming during his songs may have damaged his voice permanently and it was entirely possible that he would never sing again. His scream, in many ways, is one of the best in the history of rock and roll. It epitomizes that Janovian wail that only true disciples of the medium can capture and convey. An excellent example of its supremacy can be heard in the song “Rock & Roll Queen“, from Young For Eternity, a high-octane, balls-to-labia shag tune that is a must for any playlist. Shortly after the diagnosis, Lunn and his girlfriend (and bass player in the band), Charlotte Cooper, broke up. The question of whether the band would even continue weighed pretty heavily on the band. With the future of the band in doubt, Billy started writing.

And what we wrote has become the album of 2008.

In fact, it may be the album of the decade and is, without a doubt, in my top 25 records of all time. To borrow from the late Heath Ledger from Brokeback Mountain, I can’t quit this album. It is absolutely infectious on just about every level. As I listened to it the first few times, I could smell the beer, the smoke (if not illegal in your city), the vodka-Red Bulls, the sweat, the women, and the absolute human glory that is the CLUB. Every time I listen to it I get the urge to be body passed in a slimy, hoard of humanity…my Chucks flailing uncontrollably…as I revel in the majestic splendor of the pit.

Much of this feeling is due to the stellar production work of Butch Vig (of Garbage and Nirvana fame), and one really gets the sense that this is the next logical progression from Nevermind… Brit-Style. The first four songs are like Ali’s fucking fist (“Girls and Boys”, “Kalifornia”, “Alright”, and “Shake Shake”), pummeling you with such might that you are immediately brought to your knees in gratitude for hearing such great music. The next track, “Move to Newlyn”, is a wonderful travelogue that brings you on a journey of self discovery around the United Kingdom. We get back into the power with the title track “I Won’t Let You Down” (his scream at the end…OMG!), “Turnaround”, and “Obsession”, the latter of which has a terribly haunting harmony vocal by Charlotte.

Then we get to the track of the album: “Strawberry Blonde”. To say that this song is gorgeous is the understatement of… history. It is three levels above gorgeous and there hasn’t been a word yet invented to define the truth and beauty of this instant top ten love song. The album finishes with “Always Tomorrow” and “Lost Boy”, another shovel-to-the-head stunner of a track.

All or Nothing was finally released in the US a couple of weeks ago. It has been available since June in the UK. I bought it a few weeks after the UK release date when I saw no US date on the horizon. The fact that it has taken this long to release it is proof positive that American record company execs have their heads firmly up their arses regarding what is and what is not good music. I have listened to it pretty much every day since I bought it and still have not grown tired of it. You won’t either. No one will.

Because Billy approaches life like I do…fucking mega or fuck you…All or Nothing….and it is magnificent. Thank God.

Buy All or Nothing

Amazon:

The Subways - All or Nothing

Subways Links: Official Site | MySpace | Last.fm

Levi Goes *Pop*

I was recently implored to check out Pop Levi, whose music was described to me as “Bowie meets Prince.” Ummm…sign me up!

Only a year after his first full length, The Return to Form Black Magick Party, Liverpool’s own Levi Pop is set to release a follow up this summer, titled Never Never Love. Surprisingly, the Bowie meets Prince descriptor is somewhat accurate, although there’s a good helping of electro pop thrown in as well. It also reminded me a bit of what I’ve heard from Alan Wilkis.

I’ve listened to the album a few times now, and continue to enjoy it more with each listen, particularly the dance-oriented tracks. Here are two of my favorites:

Pop Levi – “Wannamama”

And the video for the title track, Never Never Love:

Never Never Love is slated for a July 15 release, but it appears that it will only be available as an import for now. But keep an eye out – I’m sure a US release (digital or physical) will follow.

Levi Pop (MySpace)