Still not dead, still just resting

The semester is winding down, yay! Though of course that means that final exams and papers are winding up – not so yay. I’m gonna be busy until mid-May, so I don’t think I’ll get the last of my Best of 2009 posts up until then.

But! Until then, here are a few musical notes…

Mark your calendars:

  • Richard Ashcroft returns with his new band United Nations of Sound on June 7, when their album Redemption drops. The righteous first single from the album, “Are You Ready?”, and its video were released in January 2010, and the tune’s been getting stuck in my head ever since. A good thing, of course! The fan club-only (unless you know where to look, nudge nudge wink wink) digital download, “Third Eye (Colombus Circle),” has yet to make a big impression on me. Perhaps it’s a good thing it’s not an album track, because while it has some cool melodic and lyrical ideas, it strikes me as a bit under-developed. A sketch of a song, if you will. In any case, I’m still mega-stoked to hear the new album – my second most-anticipated release of the year.

2010 albums I’ve loved lately:

More on these gems later. :)

2010 songs I’ve been digging:

More on these later, too!

Hope everyone in the blogging ‘verse is doing well!

Good news and sad news

So the year is coming to a close – and you know what that means! My “best of 2009” posts are coming soon. :)

First, though, some musical notes:

Richard Ashcroft

Richard Ashcroft must be busy – a recent article details how he not only composed the title song for The Journey, a film that “aims to highlight the plight of sex trafficking,” but he also recently recorded “‘between 20-30 songs'” with rap producer No ID! Hopefully we’ll hear what Ashcroft and No ID have come up with in 2010, but for now you can buy “The Journey” on iTunes – and as it says on Ashcroft’s official site, your purchase of the track from the film means that “money will be donated to the Helen Bamber Foundation” (“a UK-based human rights organisation, formed in April 2005 to help rebuild lives and inspire a new self-esteem in survivors of gross human rights violations”). Great song, and an even greater cause.

Brittany Murphy
Brittany Murphy

Very unexpectedly and sadly, today actress/sometime singer Brittany Murphy died of cardiac arrest. She was only 32. I knew of Murphy for two things that I love: her voicing of King Of The Hill character Luanne, and her vocal performance on the Paul Oakenfold 2006 song “Faster Kill Pussycat.” “Faster Kill Pussycat” was and still is one of those perfect summer songs to me, and her great work on that track led me to wonder if Murphy might start up a pop career at some point. Brittany Murphy will be missed.

The Verve – Forth (2008)

So The Verve released Forth on August 26, and I’ve listened to it a few times now. I was pretty psyched about this album, and I think it delivered. It’s not mind-blowing, and it meanders a bit sometimes, but when it’s good it’s glorious.

ForthThings start off swimmingly with “Sit And Wonder.” I adore this song. It’s the sort of song you get lost in – there’s tons of reverb on the guitars and Richard Ashcroft’s vocals, making for an epic, atmospheric sound. Love love love the chorus. If you only download one song from Forth, make it “Sit And Wonder.”

What can I say about “Love Is Noise”? It’s one of my favorite songs of the summer (along with Rihanna’s “Disturbia”) and it’s just plain great. Strangely enough, its ultra-catchy pop-ness sounds kind of out of place on Forth‘s collection of spaced-out jams and rockers. “Rather Be” comes next and the chord progression or whatever calls to mind Richard Ashcroft’s solo singles “Break The Night With Colour” and “Check The Meaning”. I love the sentiment of the song – “I’d rather be here than anywhere, is there anywhere better than here?” Ashcroft sings, probably of a relationship. Cool beans.

“Judas” is next and has a tripped-out feel. The guitars are nice and Richard Ashcroft’s voice is expressive and somewhat relaxing, actually, but this song marks the beginning of some serious meandering. And by “meandering” I mean that the song lasts for what feels like forever and doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The next song is the best example of this. I’ll come right out and say that I don’t like “Numbness” at all. Not one bit. It’s just not good. And it goes on for six and a half minutes. If you’re into shoegaze style music, then you might like “Numbness.” Otherwise, you’ll probably fall asleep halfway into it.

I’m reminded of “I Get My Beat” (a solo Richard Ashcroft number) when I listen to “I See Houses”, and though I do like “I See Houses,” I like “I Get My Beat” a lot more. “I See Houses” brings us out of the doldrums of “Numbness” but it’s “Noise Epic” that blasts away any lingering memories of that mess. It’s a little over 8 minutes long but it never feels that way. Awesome guitar work, cool vocals, and bangin’ drums make for a song that really lives up to its name.

bandisherelove“Valium Skies” is a really pretty little song (the shortest on the album) that isn’t quite memorable, but every time I listen to it I really love it. “Columbo,” I have to be honest, didn’t really make any impression on me. It’s another shoegaze style bit of meandering. All is forgiven, though, with “Appalachian Springs.” The album started off strong and ends strong with an equally epic tune. It’s another atmospheric song that sounds excellent in headphones, where you can pick out all the little lovely guitar flourishes. If only more albums ended like this!

Go check out Forth on iTunes! :)

Richard Ashcroft – Keys To The World (2006)

Richard Ashcroft is back with The Verve, but I’m hoping that he’ll also continue releasing solo stuff. The Verve are great but it was Richard’s music that led me to them in the first place. Some say that “Bitter Sweet Symphony” is the crowning glory of Richard’s career, but I say that most of his solo work is pretty darn spiffy, too.

645Case in point: the first half of Keys To The World. Kicking off with “Why Not Nothing?” and its sing-along chorus (I can just imagine this being sung in pubs!), Keys is the album that introduced me to Richard Ashcroft. “Why Not Nothing?” has a great energy and great lyrics that question everything from politics to God. “Music Is Power” is, for me, the song that sums up Richard Ashcroft’s work – he believes that music really is power, a power for good:

‘Cause music is power, it’s easing your soul
Rockin’ like a cradle, yeah it won’t let you go

If the melody’s timeless, oh it won’t let you down
You can feel the air moving, submit to the sound…

It’s such a feel-good track. :) “Break The Night With Colour” is next and I really can’t say enough about this song. I went through a rough time last year and that title (along with “Happiness Is An Option” by the Pet Shop Boys) sort of puts words to the feeling I had when I was finally getting better. I learned that life doesn’t have to be sad – it can be happy, and I could be happy. So I felt like I really was breaking the night (the badness) with color (happiness), if that makes any sense at all! Anyways, enough of my life story. “Break The Night With Colour” is based around a harpsichord and that’s probably why it has such a cool sound. This is one song where I think the lyrics make the song even better – sometimes it doesn’t really matter what the lyrics are, so long as the music is good, but here they work really well.

richard1A tender ballad comes next in the form of “Words Just Get In The Way.” The chorus in this song is so beautiful and true – words do sometimes just get in the way! “Keys To The World” is probably the coolest song on the album. It has a female vocal sample – it sounds like something out of a house track! – and fantastic low strings pushing things along. Dark, moody, and wonderful.

Sadly, the last half of the album is pretty forgettable, except for “Sweet Brother Malcolm,” which is thoroughly depressing but very pretty, with strings, piano, and an expressive vocal from Richard. “Cry ‘Til The Morning” is too long at 5:04, and sounds a little whiny (but I still like it for some reason!). Sort of in the same vein is “Why Do Lovers?”. I switch between liking and not liking “Simple Song” – but it has such a positive feel (strings, guitars, beats) that I can’t not like it! Still, it’s not one that I play often. Finally, “World Keeps Turning” closes the album… rather boringly.

But! The B-sides from the singles of this album, and the bonus track from Japan, make up for the last half of Keys To The World, especially the rollicking “Long Way Down” and the gorgeous “The Direction” are the ones you must get. You can find those on iTunes and other places online like 7Digital. :)

So, give Keys To The World a try! :)

The Verve – Love Is Noise

Wooo! The Verve are back with “Love Is Noise” (which you can hear on their MySpace), the first single from their forthcoming album. It’s great stuff. It’s quite a bit different from their past output – it leans closer to pop/rock than shoegaze, and I think it’s fab!

Sorry for this rather short and silly post – but I’m loving this song so much, I just had to share! :)

Albums I’m excited about!

There are a few albums that will be released over the summer and into the fall that I’m excited about. Here are my thoughts:

  • NiyazNine Heavens (June 24 2008) / Azam Ali, Loga Ramin Torkian, and Carmen Rizzo (Niyaz) are releasing their second album, Nine Heavens, on June 24. I’m a big fan of their self-titled debut – a mesmerizing blend of Persian folk and electronic music – and I can’t wait to hear the great new tunes they’ve come up with. What makes Nine Heavens ultra-nifty is that it comes with a disc of the songs played acoustically. You can download one of the tracks here (I haven’t, because I want to wait to hear the album in its entirety!)!
  • The Verve – TBA (August 2008?) / Richard Ashcroft and friends are back together and I for one am looking forward to hearing what they’ve come up with. First single “Love Is Noise” is going to be played on the BBC’s Radio One – you can listen to it live here – on June 23. Exciting stuff!
  • Mylène Farmer – TBA (Fall 2008) /The first single from the as-yet-untitled album, “Dégénération,” has been released to French radio stations and is floating around online. “Dégénération” isn’t my fave Mylene song, and it probably never will be, but it certainly is a cool sounding song. Can’t wait to hear the whole album!
  • Dido – TBA (September 2008?) / Dido’s new album has been in the works forever, it seems, but I’m betting that it’ll be worth the wait. Her first two albums, No Angel and Life For Rent, are excellent pieces of downtempo pop and it’ll be interesting to hear how her music has progressed in the years since.

I’m sure other new albums will come about that I’ll love, but these are the ones I’m marking my calendar for! :)

Richard Ashcroft – Alone With Everybody (2000)

richwindowRichard Ashcroft was born in 1971 and grew up in Skelmersdale, Lancashire. He began his career as the frontman of alt-rock band The Verve. The Verve, who had won the approval of critics with their debut album, finally gained commercial success with their third album, 1997’s Urban Hymns. It featured ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony,’ a (really brilliant) song made infamous for the legal troubles it caused. Perhaps as a result of this (and other issues), The Verve split up in 1999, but just this past June they announced that they were getting back together for a tour and a new album.

After the split, Richard got to work on starting up a solo career and in June 2000, he released Alone With Everybody. The album is lushly produced – lots of strings, lots of guitars, keyboards – and exquisitely detailed with lovely little guitar flourishes, a touch of saxophone, a whisper of a flute… Richard’s vocals are great and pull you into the music – when he sings, you just have to listen.

Richard_Ashcroft_-_Alone_With_Everybody-frontThe gorgeous ‘A Song For The Lovers’ kicks off the album in style. 5 minutes and 26 seconds of pure greatness: epic strings soar above the driving beat while guitars, flickers of sax, and a distorted organ melody work their way through the mix. The greatness doesn’t end with ‘A Song For The Lovers,’ though. ‘I Get My Beat’ is a sweet, string-based love song that rolls along leisurely with its easygoing beat and trumpet accents. Things mellow out even more with the low-key ‘Brave New World,’ which manages to stay fresh all the way through its 5 minutes and 59 seconds.

Upping the tempo a bit, ‘New York’ is Richard’s guitar-driven ode to the great city (‘it’s a state of mind’), with some neat effects throughout. ‘You On My Mind In My Sleep’ continues in the vein of ‘Brave New World’ and features some lovely piano work, and then ‘Crazy World’ gives us more greatness with its beautiful string-laden chorus.

The only track on Alone With Everybody that I don’t dig that much is ‘On A Beach.’ It’s a perfectly fine song but it’s kinda bland, which is definitely not a word to describe the following track. ‘Money To Burn’ contains yet more pure greatness with smoldering guitars and a nifty bit where the song strips down then comes back in full force – excellent stuff!

‘Slow Was My Heart’ is a lovely, soft, country-tinged love song, completely in contrast in tone to the next track, the upbeat sing-along ‘C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)’. Next to the rest of the stunning tracks it sounds surprisingly average, but it’s still a feel-good song!

But the closing track, ‘Everybody,’ is not really feel-good at all. Musically it is warm and laid-back, but the lyrics are terribly depressing: ‘everybody’s gotta feel the weight of death sometime… let it break the magic beauty of your fragile mind’. It’s a bit of a strange way to end an album. The fantastic B-side to the ‘Money To Burn’ single, ‘Leave Me High,’ would have been a perfect conclusion to Alone With Everybody. But that’s just a small complaint about an album that has more than a few moments of pure greatness! :)

Alone With Everybody was Richard Ashcroft’s first solo offering, and what a debut! If you like this album, check out his other two, Human Conditions and the amazing Keys To The World. Also worth hearing are his live gigs, the audio of which you can find on iTunes and elsewhere online if you know where to look. ;) If you’ve never heard anything by Richard, Alone With Everybody is a great place to start.