Saturday, December 12, 2009

Concert Review: Depeche Mode / Soulsavers - live at the O2, Dublin


This was my first visit to the O2 (formerly known as the Point). The Point was never one of my favourite venues. Eddie Vedder commented about it on stage at a Pearl Jam gig circa 2000, when he told a long and rambling story and then said "what's the point? It's a great place to play in Dublin." But the truth is it was little more than a large warehouse with poor sound and tortuous queues for bar and toilets.

The new venue is completely opened out, which has the effect of the gig being visible (and audible) from the bar. Discovered it's way too easy to get beer. Disturbingly, they also sell buckets of popcorn, just like the cinema. That's entertainment?!

Anyway, enough of the venue and on to the music. Soulsavers were on stage when we arrived. Lanegan was wearing a suit and surrounded by musicians, there must have been more than 10 on the stage (including backing singers). The set was a mixture of their last 2 albums, solo Mark Lanegan (Hit The City and Kingdoms of Rain were highlights) and they finished with a Spacemen 3 cover, Feel So Good. They were pretty good, though would like to see them in a smaller venue - the sound in the O2 is still a bit muddy. Lanegan was his usual compelling presence, standing still at the mic stand, and the band played well, though the backing singers were a little OTT, over-'gospelly', maybe?

Depeche Mode followed up which was a completely different experience. Last time I saw them was in 1994 in the same venue when singer Dave Gahan was in his 'rock god' drug phase, and they were very impressive. They began with tracks from their most recent album, Sounds of the Universe which got an OK reception but most fans were here for the older stuff. I had forgotten how small Gahan is, he's really tiny. The sound was too polished for my liking, it was hard to pick out the instruments, it just sounded like one mass globule of sound. Maybe that was deliberate?

Anyway they rolled out many of the 'classics' - A Question of Time, Personal Jesus, Walking In My Shoes, and both Gahan and Martin Gore were in fine voice, but the experience was a little like watching a video or listening to a CD. Perhaps the venue was too big for me? One of the songs they played was Miles Away. It felt like it.

Have to have a word about the merchandise: €70 for a Depeche Mode hoodie was almost as amusing as the popcorn sellers!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top 30 of the Decade: 10-1

10. THE NATIONAL – Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003)
This is the album where the National really established their sound. It begins with the brooding Cardinal Song, then moves into more upbeat tracks like Slipping Husband, before letting rip on highpoint Available where the guitars are turned up and singer Matt Berninger is reduced to screaming at the end of the song.

9. INTERPOL – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
Yes, it’s heavily influenced by Joy Division and late 70s/early 80s bands. But the band just get it so right. A lot of it is quite atmospheric (Untitled, Hands Away, Leif Erikson) but it also contains its fair share of anthems like Obstacle #1 and PDA. They tried for the rest of the decade to live up to this but didn’t quite manage it.

8. THE NATIONAL – Alligator (2005)
A great progression from Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, the album is full of great songs like Karen, Lit Up and emotional songs like The Geese of Beverley Road. Most of the songs are downtempo, dominated by Matt Berninger’s baritone but also featuring great guitar work. You either buy into this or you don’t. It’s essentially a drinking album for those of us with a past…

7. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Songs for the Deaf (2002)
A chaotic collection of metal, hard rock and heavy blues. It’s driven by Josh Homme but there’s a great mix of his songs and others sung by Mark Lanegan and screamed by Nick Olivieri. The songs are punctuated by snatches of radio which can be a little annoying, but at it’s best it’s driving rock that demands to be listened to.

6. EDDIE VEDDER – Into the Wild OST (2007)
On a personal level, this is the album I’ve been waiting for some time. I’ve always felt that Eddie Vedder had a way with a slow song and in my opinion he delivers them with pathos, along the lines of Bruce Springsteen. I’d love to hear Vedder’s version of Springsteen’s Nebraska album. While this is not the most varied collection it perfectly invokes Jon Krakauer’s novel.

5. SONIC YOUTH – Rather Ripped (2006)
This is the album where Sonic Youth left noise behind and turned in an album full of really good songs. Even Kim Gordon was somewhat tamed on this album which turns the noise down but the guitars up. The album is just great song after great song, many of which I feel justified in calling anthems.

4. RYAN ADAMS – Love Is Hell (2003)
On this album Ryan Adams largely left alt-country behind and recorded album of rainy day mid-tempo downbeat anthems, drawing on The Smiths, Radiohead, Lloyd Cole and even Prince. Lost Highway did their best to sabotage it – they didn’t feel it had commercial appeal so they asked him to try again (he came back with Rock N Roll, possibly his weakest effort) and released Love Is Hell is 2 separate EPs. However a few months later the released it ‘as the artist originally’ intended, as one album. It hangs together well as an album, apart from his stripped down version of Oasis’ Wonderwall, a series of slightly mopey songs for those days when your nerve endings are a little frayed.

3. SUN KIL MOON – April (2008)
A great return to form for Mark Kozelek, who had got bogged down earlier in the decade with cover albums. This one is a great mix of acoustic guitar led ballads ie Lucky Man, Unlit Hallway, which features a nice touch of banjo and the beautiful Blue Orchids; and electric guitar workouts, the best of which being the 10 minute long Tonight the Sky which is very self-indulgent but also very good. It won’t convert a new generation of fans, but it definitely pleased this loyal fan.

2. THE NATIONAL – Boxer (2007)
The first thing that struck me with this album is they appear to have made the musical arrangements more complex. Everything from the guitar, bass, piano, drums and the brass featured on the album avoids the obvious route which works to the benefit of the songs. It’s not a huge departure from Alligator but the songs are exceptionally strong. Of the faster ones, Mistaken for Strangers, Brainy and Slow Show are very strong but the heart of the album for me is the last 4 tracks, which are mostly slow.

1. MARK LANEGAN BAND – Bubblegum (2004)
Lanegan probably had the most diverse career of the decade, with a plethora of collaborations, but this album showed his talents to the full. His great strength is that wonderful deep, gravelly voice, which dominates any of his songs. What was great about Bubblegum is it signalled a departure from previous solo albums, which are all kind of blues-folk in nature. This album also had some ‘blues-folk’ but mixed it up with some heavier tracks and also featured samples and electronics. It was as if the collaborative work he had been doing rubbed off. Some of the highlights are: Hit the City, a driving duet with PJ Harvey, the slinky Wedding Dress and emotional highlight One Hundred Days.

Top 30 albums of the Decade: 30-11

So here goes. In a month’s time this list could look a lot different:

30. LOW – The Great Destroyer (2005)
29. ISOBEL CAMPBELL & MARK LANEGAN – Ballad of the Broken Seas (2006)
28. JOHNNY CASH – Solitary Man: American Recordings III (2000)
27. TINDERSTICKS – Waiting for the Moon (2003)
26. RYAN ADAMS – 29 (2005)
25. RICHMOND FONTAINE – Post to Wire (2004)
24. SONIC YOUTH – Murray Street (2002)
23. ROBERT FORSTER – The Evangelist (2008)
22. RADIOHEAD – In Rainbows (2007)
21. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Rated R (2000)
20. THURSTON MOORE – Trees Outside the Academy (2007)
19. SOULSAVERS – Broken (2009)
18. MORRISSEY – You Are The Quarry (2004)
17. THE GO-BETWEENS – Oceans Apart (2005)
16. STUART A. STAPLES – Leaving Songs (2006)
15. RADIOHEAD – Kid A (2000)
14. DOVES – Lost Souls (2000)
13. DAKOTA SUITE – Signal Hill (2000)
12. AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB – Love Songs for Patriots (2004)
11. SONIC YOUTH – Sonic Nurse (2004)

Top 10 to follow

Top 10 of 2009: 5-1

5: Richmond Fontaine – We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River

Now that the aforementioned Morrissey has renounced unwieldy song titles, Richmond Fontaine have ‘stepped up to the plate.’ Here’s my review:

http://sacredcowpats.blogspot.com/2009/09/review-richmond-fontaine-we-used-to.html

4: Pearl Jam - Backspacer

I love Pearl Jam. Well, it’s probably the idea of Pearl Jam I love more than the actuality, but I love what I think they are. They are like the last, old-school bit rock band who are ok to like. Their last few albums had been somewhat patchy, but Eddie Vedder released a solo album soundtrack to Into the Wild 2 years ago where he absolutely nailed the essence of the film. It made me wonder why he hadn’t released a quieter album years ago.

Anyway, enough of that, Backspacer was billed as the ‘Pearl Jam having fun again’ album. They sound ‘alive’ (boom boom) and revitalised on the faster numbers, but the slower ones are generally more memorable. Not just the wonderful Just Breathe, an acoustic ballad with strings in the vein of Into the Wild, but also the mid-paced Speed of Sound, a kind of slow-burning anthem which only a band like Pearl Jam could pull off. The final track, appropriately named The End is almost a little much, but Vedder’s vocal, where his voice almost cracks, makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand out. The final line of the song “I’m here, but not much longer” is a downbeat note to end on. Some have interpreted it as the end for Pearl Jam??

Note: the album also came with a code which gives access to 2 full concert downloads, which is nice touch for the rabid fans.

3: Mark Eitzel – Klamath

Mr American Music Club’s latest album was almost entirely created using his laptop and a guitar. It sounds very insubstantial when you hear it first, and drifts by almost unnoticed. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the slowburner of the year. Given time the songs (as opposed to the 2 instrumentals) gradually reveal themselves. Blood on My Hands is a strong, self-deprecated waltz, while I Live In This Place is classic Eitzel, with the memorable line “I know I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life” (here’s hoping). Why I’m Bullshit is another strong track, which is a little more self-flagellation from Eitzel. All of the above would be tiresome except for the fact that the music is generally very strong. His vocals are a little low in the mix, would be great to hear him more prominently (a la his live shows) but after a few haphazard electronic experiments, he appears to have finally mastered it with this album.


2: Sonic Youth – The Eternal

Sonic Youth’s albums of this decade are arguably up there with their strongest work. Advancing years seems to suit them. The Eternal is a strong collection of songs, probably a little heavier than the likes of Sonic Nurse and Rather Ripped but no real noisy freak-outs. Kim gets her quota of songs, with mixed results (God bless her she likes to shout), but she’s a little more tuneful on Malibu Gas Station (which reminds me of Juliana Hatfield of all people) and Massage the History. Thurston chips in with some strong songs, the best of which being Antenna, while Lee’s 2 tracks – What We Know and Walkin Blue are among the strongest on the album.

1: Soulsavers - Broken

See my previous review:

http://sacredcowpats.blogspot.com/2009/10/review-soulsavers-broken.html

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Top 10 of 2009: 10-6

In my view, not a vintage year for music. I’ll get deeper into this when I scribble up my albums of the decade. Nevertheless here are my albums of 2009:

10: David Sylvian – Manafon


9: Iggy Pop – Preliminaires

A bizarre little album which saw Iggy abandon punk-rock and write contemplative songs and spoken word pieces, some inspired by the writer Michel Houllebecq which mostly used a muted, jazz-tinged backing. It’s in a similar vein to 1999’s Avenue B, though more pretentious and ultimately less successful. I could have lived without Iggy crooning in French on Les Feuilles Mortes (repeated twice on the album). The album feels more like a soundtrack with musical motifs recurring over different tracks on the album.

8: Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures

Have only just got hold of this and I suspect if I’d heard it months ago it’s be higher up the list. For those who don’t know this is a collaboration between Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and John Paul Jones (ex-Led Zeppelin). And it rocks its considerable socks off. It’s a little daunting listening to this, 13 tracks, some of which are 7 minutes long. If it had been trimmed down it could have been really great. It’s very much driven by Homme, but at it’s best (Dead End Friends) it’s fat-free, straight down the line rock in a QOTSA vein. Scumbag Blues invokes Cream in their prime (a good thing), while on Bandoliers, Homme does his best Mark Lanegan impersonation to terrific effect. Not so successful is the Led Zep like Elephants with its shifting time signatures, it comes across as excessive and bloated. It’s a little exhausting listening to all of it. 8 four minute tracks would have been superb.

7: Alice in Chains – Black Gives Way to Blue

Now this is a surprise. On paper it really shouldn’t work. How dare they release another album without Layne! However, this album is dominated by guitarist and co-vocalist Jerry Cantrell, who clearly had a bigger influence on their sound than I realised in the 90s. Indeed, it’s as if this album is a natural progression from 1995’s self-titled album (their last studio album with Layne). Replacement William DuVall by no means embarrasses himself and fits in seamlessly, especially on the heavier numbers like All Secrets Known and Check My Brain. The slower numbers are a little embarrassing, mostly sung by Cantrell, they come across as clich├ęd grunge ballads. Still, not a bad effort.

6: Morrissey – Years of Refusal

All the hype in advance of this album said that it would be Morrissey’s best effort yet. I should’ve known that this would set me up for a fall. The single (Morrissey still believes in singles, and is prone to complaining on stage when the local record shops don’t stock his) I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris is wonderful, and his voice has seldom been in better shape. Unfortunately the rest of the album doesn’t follow in this vein. The music is busy, there’s almost too much going on, between Spanish guitars, mariachi horns (and that’s just one song) and a lot of heavy guitars, which leaves our hero straining to keep up. The songs are still Morrissey songs, which makes them pretty strong, but there are too many forgettable ones to make it a real classic. Some of the songs are a bit Morrissey-by-numbers (I’m OK By Myself). Having said all that, he remains a great singer and a good songwriter, but I think he needs to keep the band out of the studio and experiment a little. Just allow his songs to breathe.

Review of the Decade - Part 5: RIP

Layne Staley: 22nd August 1967 – 5th April 2002
There was a depressing inevitability about Layne’s death. As the singer with ‘grunge’ band Alice in Chains, he had struggled with heroin addiction for many years, indeed wrote about it openly on their 1992 album Dirt. He had retreated from the spotlight in his latter years, his last high profile appearance was on MTV Unplugged in 1996 where he appeared to be struggling. He was found two weeks after his death, when police broke into his apartment. Cause of death was adjudged to be an overdose. He contributed vocals and lyrics to all of Alice in Chains albums in the 1990s. Strangely the band reformed in 2008 with a replacement singer, William DuVall. It’s worth checking out the album Dirt, if you like their heavier side, or Jar of Flies for moodier acoustic music.

Nina Simone: 21st February 1933 – 12th January 2003
Nina Simone died of breast cancer in 2003. A giant of the jazz/blues scene, she had not recorded for 10 years or so, yet has a strong body of work which belongs in anyone’s music collection. Hard to distil her career down into highlights, but Feeling Good will probably become her signature tune. A comprehensive ‘best of’ is definitely worth seeking out.

Johnny Cash: 26th February 1932 – 12th September 2003
Cash died in 2003 four months after his wife. While best known for country music, his deep voice and black apparel caused him to be adopted by younger followers in the mid-90s, when he recorded a series of stripped-down, largely acoustic albums known as the American Recordings, which interspersed original songs with unusual covers of artists like Beck, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden.

Elliott Smith: 6th August 1969 – 21st October 2003
Primarily known for guitar-based acoustic music, Elliott Smith recorded a series of albums in the 1990s and early 2000s. Earlier albums were largely acoustic, though later albums saw him achieve a degree of success and an Oscar nomination with a more-fleshed out sound. He did however struggle with depression and drug addiction, and took his life in 2003.

Grant McLennan: 12th February 1958 – 6th May 2006
Played in the Go-Betweens, main songwriter and guitarist along with Robert Forster. His songs tended to be more upbeat than Forster’s, and generally had a more commercial sound (though little commercial success). The band released several albums in the 1980s but split in 1990. He released solo albums in the 90s before regrouping with Forster in 1999 for 3 further Go-Betweens albums. The band’s reunion was brought to an abrupt end due to McLennan’s death of a heart attack.

Ron Asheton: 17th July 1948 – 6th January 2009

See previous entry: http://sacredcowpats.blogspot.com/2009/02/ron-asheton-rip.html

John Martyn: 11th September 1948 – 29th January 2009
John Martyn had a long musical career from the late 60s till the 2000s, with his albums straddling folk, jazz and blues and a slurred vocal style. His 1973 album Solid Air contained his best-known songs, the title track (a tribute to Nick Drake) and May You Never. Much of his work was experimental as he explored ambient sounds, however alcohol and drugs became the ruin of him. He was forced to have his right leg amputated in 2004 and died in 2009 of double pneumonia.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Concert Review: Sonic Youth – live at Vicar Street 6th December 2009


Finally fulfilled my long-held desire to Sonic Youth live last night! (Shock horror! Concert review appears on time!) Had previously been to a Thurston Moore solo gig 2 years ago which was seriously good, so this had a fair bit to live up to.

Got a bit delayed on the way there so missed the support act. It was a seriously packed gig, no room to move, with an interesting mix of people – purple-haired weirdo – check! Guy who looked like Thurston Moore’s son – check! Incongruous person you wouldn’t expect to find there – check! (author Roddy Doyle)

The band came on and pretty much blew my socks off. The set was dominated by tracks from recent album The Eternal, which for the most part were improved upon live. The sound was seriously powerful, I suppose that’s what results from 3 people playing guitar at the same time. Kim Gordon was centre-stage, bawling out numbers with her usual ‘attitude’. There seems to be a distorted Dorian Gray thing going on with the band, Kim, Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley look a lot younger than the 50 years that they must be at this stage, but Lee Ranaldo looks almost a generation older with his grey, almost white hair. Thurston had the ‘rock star’ poses off to a tee, which he managed to pull off despite being about six and a half feet tall. Watching him playing guitar was never short of excitement, with Lee and Kim also ‘giving it loads’. Some of the Eternal album tracks which hadn’t previously grabbed me sounded superb live, especially Calming the Snake, which was very powerful with its giant riff and Kim’s chaotic vocals.

It wasn’t easy to discern much vocals with the guitar assault, and Lee in particular was hard to make out. Conversely, his 2 songs, What We Know and Walkin Blue were some of the stronger songs of the night. The rhythm section, Steve on drums and Mark Ibold looking like an overgrown schoolboy on bass gave sterling support. There were a few older tracks thrown in, mostly their older 80s material like Tom Violence.

They finished with Kim’s long drawn out Massage the History before returning to do a couple of songs off Daydream Nation and then finally ending with the nihilistic Death Valley ’69 which always disturbs and charms in equal measure.

It was great to see a band who, despite being around more than 25 years, have unmistakably got what it takes live. Watching and listening to a really noisy, loud, life-affirming bands is one of the most exhilarating musical experiences this music fan can have. Long may they continue to be both a creative and powerful force, on CD and on stage.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Review of the Decade - Part 4: Splits

The Screaming Trees called it a day in 2000. They had begun recording a follow-up to 1996’s Dust but there was no interest from any record company. After a 15 year career where they moved from a punky sound to a more classic rock sound in the 90s, they provided a vehicle for Mark Lanegan to refine his vocal talents. Accompanied by the Conner brothers and Mark Pickerel on drums, they recorded 7 albums, the best of which being the aforementioned Dust and 1992’s Sweet Oblivion. Pickerel tired of the notorious infighting in the group (who often brawled on stage) and left in 1992 to pursue other musical projects, with Barrett Martin replacing him.

While never approaching anything like a ‘hit’, the track Nearly Lost You featured on the Singles soundtrack which saw the band lumped in with ‘grunge’, as they hailed from Ellensburg, near Seattle. Interestingly Josh Homme had been playing live with them, would have been great to have heard how he would fitted in with the band on an album. Lanegan went on to a solo career punctuated by collaborations, Van Conner plays with Valis, Gary Lee Conner lives in Texas while Barrett Martin became a Zen monk and artist.

Red House Painters had in truth been over for some time, as their final album, Old Ramon was recorded in 1998 but due to record company politics wasn't released till 2001. The band had evolved into a vehicle for Mark Kozelek, though he dissolved it after this album and re-emerged, with RHP drummer Anthony Koutsos in tow, as Sun Kil Moon.

16 Horsepower was the bible-driven, fire and brimstone preacher band of David Eugene Edwards, who released what I would consider to be modern Goth, in a similar vein to Nick Cave. Latter albums emphasised the moodier side of the band, getting away from stomping anthems and they split in 2005, leaving Edwards to concentrate on his new project Woven Hand.

Arab Strap were a Scottish duo who specialised in sordid tales of drinking, misogyny and squalor over moody, sometimes acoustic backing accompanied by electronic beats. There was only so many times they could continue this formula without repeating themselves and they split in 2006, with Malcolm Middleton releasing solo albums and Aidan Moffat recording under the name Lucky Pierre.

Review of the Decade - Part 3: The truly strange

In 2000, Mark Kozelek broke a near on 4 year silence to put out a 7 song mini-album, Rock n Roll Singer, which featured 3 ACDC songs done in his own stripped down acoustic style. Not content with that, the following year he put out a whole album of ACDC songs, What’s Next to the Moon. He proved himself to be the king of cover versions in the ‘noughties’ as in 2005 he released an album of Modest Mouse covers (Tiny Cities) under his Sun Kil Moon bandname.

Mark Eitzel went from returning from a 3 year silence with an album of electronica (2001’s Invisible Man) to a dreadful album of covers (2002’s Music for Courage and Confidence), then an album of his songs recorded with a Greek orchestra (2003’s Ugly American), reformed American Music Club in 2004 as mentioned earlier, returned to electronica on 2005’s Candy Ass (terrible title), brought out another band album in 2008 and finally nailed electronica on 2009’s Klamath.

Lou Reed recorded an album of spoken word and songs based on Edgar Allan Poe – The Raven, which was available as a single or double album.

David Sylvian left melodic pop behind with his ‘difficult’ solo albums Blemish and Manafon, though his collaborative Nine Horses project was a little more accessible.

Review of the Decade - Part 2: Reformations

The Go-Betweens kicked off a trend of bands reforming in 2000. The Go-Betweens had sat out the 90s, leaving Robert and Grant to release solo albums. When The Friends of Rachel Worth came out in 2000, it signified a rebirth for the band, not aping former glories but peddling a brand of world wise melodies which easily stood up with previously released material. After 2 more strong albums (Bright Yellow, Bright Orange and Oceans Apart) the band came to an abrupt end with the passing of Grant McLennan.

American Music Club also (improbably) reformed in 2004. The Love Songs for Patriots album contained a number of great Eitzel songs and bettered any of his solo albums, which served only to prove that he needed the band more than he thought! The band reformed without steel guitar player Bruce Kaphan, and for the follow-up album, The Golden Age, which was a lot smoother-sounding, the only 2 original members were Mark Eitzel and Vudi. Eitzel has continued to put out solo albums also, but the band still appears to be a going concern. Which is a good thing.

The Lemonheads reformed in name but in reality was just Evan Dando plus assorted guests. Their self-titled album in 2006 was a little punkier than their 90s albums and contained some pretty good songs, along with some fairly indistinctive ones, but for the most part it worked. Unfortunately Dando went and blew it all with a pretty useless follow-up album, Varshons, which consisted of some pretty bizarre (in a bad way) covers.

Tindersticks went on a short-term hiatus after 2003’s Waiting for the Moon, during which time singer Stuart Staples (or as he calls himself Stuart ‘A’ Staples) released a couple of solo albums. These didn’t differ greatly from Tindersticks, a little more stripped-down, but dominated by Stuart’s morose croon. 3 of the 6 members of the band regrouped for 2008’s The Hungry Saw which is every bit as good as previous albums, and plans are in place for another album, Falling Down a Mountain, early next year.

Most bizarrely of all, given the untimely death of singer Layne Staley, Alice In Chains reformed with a new singer, William DuVall, and released an album, Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009. And the funny thing is the album sounds like it could have been released a year or two after 1995’s self-titled album. The combination of DuVall and guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s vocals are incredibly close to the Staley/Cantrell combination of before, which is really quite odd when you think about it. Many of the heavier tracks (All Secrets Knowns and Check My Brain) stand up well against the older material, though the slower, less heavy material is a little dull. Word is that pop-grunge kings Stone Temple Pilots, who reformed for touring purposes in 2008 are recording an album, let’s hope it’s not an embarrassment.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review of the Decade - Part 1: New names

Here I go then, jumping on the end of decade/best of articles, just like everyone else. Here is a snapshot of new bands in this decade.

The older I get the less easily I discover new music, but the early part of this decade threw up a few. Doves released their debut, Lost Souls in 2000, a welcome dose of widescreen Manchester misery, following in the downtrodden footsteps of Joy Division and the Smiths. In a similar vein, Elbow released their debut, Asleep in the Back in 2001. Though Doves’ album was the more impressive, by the end of the decade it was Elbow who had gained the plaudits, helped in no small way by their Mercury Prize win in 2008. In my view neither has surpassed their debut, indeed, Doves’ subsequent albums seemed to consciously move away from it.

On the Irish front, David Kitt emerged in 2000 with a series of low key, goose-bump inducing gigs and a wonderful mini-album, Small Moments, showcasing his soft vocals, acoustic guitar and electronic beats. Subsequent albums (and gigs) went for a bigger sound, and ultimately diminishing returns. Word is that he is playing with Tindersticks now.

Gemma Hayes’s debut album Night on my Side was an interesting blend of Nick Drake-esque acoustic folk and rougher pop with shades of My Bloody Valentine. Unfortunately the record company got hold of her and airbrushed any roughness out of her music, and her follow-up albums concentrated on smooth pop, much less endearing.

Mark Kozelek junked his Red House Painters band name and re-emerged under the name Sun Kil Moon. It wasn’t a major departure from RHP, though it did give him the freedom to be even more indulgent, with long-drawn out Crazy Horse style rockers and pretty acoustic tracks on the albums Ghost of Great Highway and April. His songwriting remained as strong as ever, which is why it was somewhat of a surprise to hear his cover album of Modest Mouse tracks, Tiny Cities. I guess it can be filed alongside his ACDC cover albums.

Mark Lanegan evolved from tortured solo artist to serial collaborator. Apart from 2 solo albums, he also found time to guest on Queens of the Stone Age albums, record 2 albums of largely folky tracks with Isobel Campbell, collaborate with Greg Dulli as the Gutter Twins, and interestingly appear as lead vocalist on 2 albums by electronica duo Soulsavers. His singing remains as strong as ever, irrespective of the backing, truly a great voice of the decade.

The National began life in 2001 with an unremarkable country-tinged self-titled album. Happily, this template was blown out of the water by 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. The title says everything to me about their music, describing it a lot better than I can. While they have been compared with Tindersticks, Morrissey and other ‘miserabilists’, singer Matt Berninger proved a more varied vocalist on this album, letting rip on a couple of songs. They fine-tuned this further again on the follow ups, Alligator and Boxer. In my view, best new band of the decade.

The Strokes got a lot of attention for their debut, 2001’s Is This It, which distilled a New York attitude, reminding many of Television’s Marquee Moon. And pretty damn good it was too, 11 shortish songs delivered in half an hour. Their follow up albums didn’t quite deliver on the first. It was a similar story with Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights, their debut released in 2002 was a great collection of songs, drawing heavily on Joy Division. They also spawned a series of imitators of the imitators (Editors, Boy Division, can’t believe it’s not Ian Curtis… ok I made the last 2 up but they’ll probably mean more than the bands who did actually surface).

After the demise of alt-country band Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams launched his solo career with the critically acclaimed Heartbreaker. He spent the decade recording and releasing as many albums in as many different styles as he could, some brilliant (Love Is Hell, 29), others less so (Rock N Roll). Although he was inclined to annoy with his interviews, erratic live shows and general attention-seeking, he has proved himself above all else to be a talented songwriter.

Woven Hand sprung from the ashes of 16 Horsepower. While not a huge departure, if 16 Horsepower were fire and brimstone, Woven Hand were burning embers for the most part. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, essentially Bible bashing Goth with Americana overtones but it does. Their self-titled debut set the template for future albums, all in a similar vein.

Towards the end of the decade, Peter Broderick emerged from the shadow of Efterklang, releasing beautifully crafted albums of alternately classical and acoustic music, though I suspect the next decade will see him release something definitive.