I’ve read reviews of Anna von Hausswolff’s previous albums in print magazines and online, but I had never bought any of her music. Then I read a four-star review of her new album, Dead Magic, in the April issue of MOJO Magazine where James McNair described her vocal performance for the song “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra” as “…astonishing. With its whoops, shudders and sandpaper-throated expulsions, her singing sounds like an exorcism”. Okay then, tell me more! McNair describes where and how the album was created:
Recorded in nine days, largely using the hulking 20th century pipe-organ at Copenhagen’s Marmorkirken, or Marble Church, …With it’s spidery strings, drones, suspensions and drama-rich support from Hausswolff’s five-piece backing band, Dead Magic comes on like a horror soundtrack-in-waiting, its 47-minute journey bridged by just five songs. Thematically, it’s big on myths, legends and oblivion, and the darker more esoteric kind of magic you wouldn’t likely associate with Ali Bongo.
Never mind other people’s perceptions; she’s more perplexed by her reaction to her own music. “When I start becoming ugly, or raw or unfiltered, that’s also when the most interesting things happen,” she says. “But I feel shame because that’s not how you’re supposed to present yourself as a female. I’m quite a modern girl – and luckily in Sweden we have a very open mind towards women in arts – but I still get that feeling that I’m in a place I shouldn’t be, doing things you really shouldn’t do, like I’m fighting the ideals projected down from our ancestors.”
The paucity of women in extreme music means these stereotypes are even tougher to break: “They have to defend what they’re doing so hard because they’re in a male-dominated genre, so there’s more focus on them being female than on their work. It’s still weird for people to see someone screaming her nuts out, playing loud music. I think, how can it be shocking any more? We still haven’t broken down our idea of how the genders should be.” Old, male pipe organ custodians just about manage to avoid patting her on the head when they show her around their instruments. “Usually I just smile and let the music speak for itself, and then afterwards they’re always shocked and don’t know what to say any more.”
And then I watched this video, and you should too, like right now.
KEXP is gearing up for it’s fall pledge drive, and this time it’s asking listeners to vote on their top twelve artists of all time. They will be counting down through the list of top artists during their pledge drive that begins September 26th.
Name me an artist as good as Polly Harvey now. Polly is one of the best artists we’ve got and she’s not a pop star. She’s no bullshit and that’s why she can make incredible music. The reason I don’t want bullshit is I wanna be a PJ Harvey. – Tricky, MOJO Magazine, July 2013.
And I don’t know what’s up with the editor of MOJO, but this quote continues with “I don’t wanna be in the” and stops. I’d like to know what Tricky doesn’t want to be in, and you probably do too. So MOJO and Tricky, if you happen to land here, how does that end?
Okay so I am a couple weeks late getting this list posted for several reasons, but mainly because it’s so difficult to choose which twenty of the fifty-six 2011 albums I purchased belong on the list.
The top five are the albums I’ve listened to the most during the year, and two of the top five are by groups that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve, especially in the United States.
1. Capsula – In the Land of Silver Souls. This is the album I’ve listened to probably a hundred times, and I never tire of it. Their sound is part seventies Bowie, part Stooges, part Sonic Youth, a pinch of Link Wray, and a whole lot of “it.” Martin Guevara on guitar and vocals, Coni Duchess on bass and vocals, and Ignacio Villarejo on drums take all of their influences an blend them into one of the best sounding sonic stews I’ve ever heard. Top tracks are “Wild Fascination,” “Communication,” and “Hit ‘n’ Miss.”
Now that you’ve watched that video, you’ll probably want to go buy the CD. Good luck. Right here in Seattle where’ve they’ve been in heavy rotation on KEXP and have played two shows in the past six months (The Comet and the KEXP BBQ), you can’t find their music at Sonic Boom, Easy Street Records, Silver Platters, or any other store I’ve wandered into. The album is on the BCore Disc label, which must have very poor distribution in the U.S. Amazon sometimes has it, and you can buy it from the band for $10 if you go to a show. So what I guess I am saying is go to a show, see the band, buy their music, spread the word. (I guess you pod people can download it too.)
2. P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake. When I read that P.J. was working on an album of songs she plays on an autoharp, I thought that’s gonna be pretty weird. What it is, is a masterpiece – an incredibly focused, forceful collection of passionate and sometimes angry songs about war. Here’s one of the twelve films by Seamus Murphy that are available on YouTube and on a DVD now available in the UK that hasn’t yet made it across the pond.
3. Tom Waits – Bad as Me. It’s been a long time since Tom Waits put out an album of all new songs, and it was worth the wait. Tom uses all his voices in this album. He delivers the rockers “Bad as Me” and “Satisfied” in a howling gravelly voice with a nice shout-out to Mick and Keith, and “Back in the Crowd” and “Last Leaf” in deep, slightly raspy melodious voice.
4. The Decemberists – The King is Dead. I had heard the Decemberists on the radio quite a few times, but I never paid much attention to them until this album came out. This is a pop album that the band says was influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees, XTC, and R.E.M. (Peter Buck plays guitar on three songs.) Top tracks are “Calamity Song,” “Down by the Water” and “This is Why We Fight.”
Be sure and watch the video for “Calamity Song” too. It was inspired by the David Foster Walace novel, Infinite Jest.
5. The Duke Spirit – Bruiser. This album was released in Europe in September and has not yet been released in the U.S. where they don’t get near the attention they deserve. KEXP has recently started playing a couple of tracks, so maybe the band will get a little traction and release their album in the U.S. soon. Liela Moss has one of the sexiest voices in rock ‘n roll today, and the band backs her up brilliantly. Key tracks are “Don’t Wait,” and “Surrender.”
7. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh. This album will grow on you. With lyrics like, “Then she left me here reeling with that time-release feeling/Like a long wisp of hunger, I swung from the ceiling” how could it not?
9. Viva Voce – The Future Will Destroy You. The album was released on the first day of summer and this guitar-heavy, retro-psychedelic-pop record instantly became the soundtrack to my summer. It’s a great one to listen to while driving through the city on the way home.
10. Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi. She’s got pipes, she can play guitar, and she’s got impeccable taste. Here’s a list of her influential albums from the November 2011 issue of Uncut Magazine: Aladdin Sane – David Bowie, Death of a Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen, Heaven or Las Vegas – Cocteau Twins, Gris-Gris – Dr. John, Grace – Jeff Buckley, The Ecstasy of Gold – Ennio Morricone, Quartet for the End of Time – Olivier Messiaen, Let Love In – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Wild is the Wind – Nina Simone, and Limehouse Blues – Django Reinhardt. ‘Nuff said.
19. John Doe – Keeper. It’s John’s “happy” record. No, really. Listen to “Little Tiger” and “Lucky Penny.”
20.Wild Flag – Wild Flag. Carrie Brownstein’s new band: “What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin? What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog? The answer is: WILD FLAG.”
Honorable mentions to: Dave Alvin, The Cave Singers, Danger Mouse and Daniel Luppi, Ry Cooder, Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell, The Kills, The Pimps of Joytime, The Roots, Sons and Daughters, Tinariwen, Trombone Shorty, and Thurston Moore.
P.J. Harvey takes top honors in England for “Let England Shake”
This week the monthly English music magazines, MOJO and Uncut, released their lists of the top 50 albums of the year. Let England Shake topped both lists.
Uncut Top 10
P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake
Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest
Metronomy – The English Riviera
White Denim – D
Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen
The Horrors – Skying xl
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
Wild Beasts – Smother
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake
The Horrors – Skying xl
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit
Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow
White Denim – D
Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen
Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
Tom Waits – Bad as Me
Wild Beasts – Smother
I’ll leave it to Spider Stacy of the Pogues to describe the importance of P.J. Harvey’s music. Here’s an excerpt from the the feature article about her in Uncut:
I am beyond flattered that she should have been listening to us while making a record of such beauty as Let England Shake. There is no one else like her. She’s peerless, one of the very few contemporary artists in any discipline whose clarity and profundity of vision have sharpened and deepened over the years to a point where she now seems to be working in a field defined only by herself. Her empathy, her erudition, the sense of connection between blood and clay and the bones and roots of the world echo something that could so nearly be lost, but is always somewhere to be found, hovering in the air or lying in the soil below us: the dark red life of these rainy islands.
With that said, I’ll leave you with a video to one of the songs off the award winning album.
Zippy and I boarded a plane from Seattle bound for San Francisco on Thursday afternoon so we could see P.J. Harvey at the Warfield Theater. We made it from the airport to the hotel at the wharf in good time, drank some Anchor Steam from bottles, and then caught a cab to Lefty O’Douls for some draught Anchor Steam. From there we walked to Showdogs for a quick bite and a pint from the local 21st Amendment Brewery before heading into the theater around 8:00.
They frisked us at the entryway. I have been to thousands of concerts, and I can’t recall ever being frisked before entering. I guess they were looking for bottles of booze and cameras larger than cell phones. Good choice not to bring mine along.
We stood in the second tier ring of the main floor of the theater a little to the right while we drank some more beer. Eventually a server came by and we ordered two double whiskies from her, for $20 each. (At that price, I can see why people might want to try smuggling some in, although the drinks were more like quadruples than doubles.)
P.J. kept the house waiting for over an hour. She walked onstage wearing a Victorian style white dress featuring what looked like shark gills on the sides (to me anyway) and some crazy black-feather hair extensions. There are some pretty decent color photos over on this Flickr page and a well-written review by Jim Harrington of the Oakland Tribunehere – with three small, dark photos. And a professional photographer took some great black-and-white photos that you can see right here.
PJ played an eighteen song set made up mostly of songs off her new album, Let England Shake!. She opened with the title track from the new album followed by the second track, “The Words that Maketh Murder.” She played a few older songs including “Down by the Water” and “C’mon Billy” from 1995’s To Bring You My Love and she opened the three-song encore with “Big Exit” from 2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.
And if you want to read a longer, more detailed review and look at some blurry camera-phone photos, go here. There’s much said in that post about the chattering audience, but I don’t remember it being a big problem where we were standing.
Things I found while flipping through the pages of the April 2011 issue of MOJO Magazine.
Nick Cave lost control of his black Jaguar and crashed it into a speed camera. It happened in Sussex last December while he was driving with his two ten-year-old sons in the car. No other car was involved in the crash, and no one was hurt.
Fans of Patti Smith will happy to learn that there’s a new book of photos by photographer Judy Linn, Patti Smith 1969 – 1976. Judy Linn shot the cover photo for Patti’s second album, Radio Ethiopia. The new book of photos covers much of the same time period that Patti Smith wrote about in her National Book Award winning memoir, Just Kids, so this new book of photos should make a great companion to that book.
Ziggy Marley has teamed up with Jim Mahfood and Joe Casey to produce a graphic novel titled MARIJUANAMAN.
Based on a character conceived by Ziggy Marley, written by Man of Action Studios JOE CASEY (GØDLAND, BUTCHER BAKER) and illustrated by JIM MAHFOOD (KICK DRUM COMIX, MIX TAPE), MARIJUANAMAN promises to shatter all expectations — this is not the comic you think it is! The oversized deluxe hardcover graphic novel tells the tale of a noble extraterrestrial champion, who has arrived on Earth to deliver an important message, and at the same time save his own planet.
“MARIJUANAMAN represents the hope of the future… the hope that we will utilize all of the power that the universe has given us to save our planet,” Marley explained.
P.J. Harvey speaks with John Harris about her career and her new album, Let England Shake! P.J. says, “I did always sense that men in particular were a bit frightened of me (laughs). Which has continued to thid say, I think. And about what’s behind the songs on her new album:
No government is listening to what people want. And there’s this hideous demise of everything around us, and the way everything has become so orientated around making money, to the point of everything being dissolved: everything of quality and of meaning. I couldn’t contain that any longer. It was eating me up. And where are the people actually putting this into song? I was, and am, profoundly affected by the wars that England is taking part in. It became a starting point for me, to try and talk about that – because I felt so sick to my stomach, with every single article I would read about what was happening.
The new DeVotchKa! album, 100 Lovers, garnered only two stars from MOJO. (They will be at the Paramount Theater in Seattle this Saturday night.)
And Peter Buck says, “But believe me, my entire life is a joke.”
New P.J. Harvey video “The Words that Maketh Murder”
From P.J. Harvey’s new album, Let England Shake, due to be released February 15th, here is the video for the song “The Words that Maketh Murder,” featuring Polly and her autoharp, directed by Seamus Murphy.
It’s New Year’s Eve and KEXP is just about ready to star their countdown of the best albums of 2009. I’ll be listening and commenting on that later but, for now, here’s what you need to know.
The Top 10 Albums of 2009
1. Rising Mountains – Capsula: I first heard Capsula on KEXP on July 3rd and I was immediately hooked. They are the most exciting band I’ve heard since discovering The Duke Spirit three years ago. The band is originally from Buenes Aires, Argentina and they relocated to Bilbao, Spain. They are a guitar driven, hard rocking band that knows how to write songs with catchy lyrics and great hooks. The album is currently available as an import only. You can get it at Amazon. I suggest you go there now and buy it. They will be coming to the U.S. in March for a show in NYC and then will be in Austin for SXSW. See them if you can. More about them here.
2. Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever – Scott H. Biram: Gorby turned me on to this guy by giving me an earlier album to listen to. In May, I went to Austin with Gorby and Zippy, and we saw Scott live at The Continental Club. GREAT one-man show. I bought the album shortly after that, and I’ve been listening to it constantly. Junkyard blues just don’t get any better than this. Scott Biram will be in Seattle at the Tractor Tavern on Friday, February 12th. See you there.
3. Truelove’s Gutter – Richard Hawley: I read a review of this album in MOJO magazine, and immediately went out and bought it. It is by far the most sonically interesting album of 2009. He uses some really rare instruments: the glass harmonica (based on the haunting tone you get when rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a wine glass – a.k.a. the hydrocrystalphone invented by Benjamin Franklin), the waterphone, the cristal Baschet, the ondes Martenot(kind of like a theremin), and a musical saw. The key track on this album is “Remorse Code.” Can’t stop listening to it.
4. One Fast Move or I’m Gone, Kerouac’s Big Sur – Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard: I am a huge fan of Jack Kerouac, so I bought this they day it came out. The cd is the soundtrack to a movie about Kerouac’s journey back to California to get some down time at Ferlinghetti’s seaside cabin. The film is excellent. It features readings of Big Sur by the man himself. Kerouac’s voice is intoxicating. I could listen to it for hours. Oh, and the music by Farrar and Gibbard is stripped down and soulful. I recommend “California Zephyr” and The “Void.” They will be performing at The Showbox in Seattle on Sunday, January 24th.
5. Wilco (the album) – Wilco: The guitar work by Nels Cline on this record is incredible. The songs are great. Tweedy sounds great. What more can you ask for from a Wilco album?
6. I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers: This is a beautiful sounding album produced by Rick Rubin who fleshed out the trio of banjoists and drummer with piano and sometimes lush orchestration. The title track and “Tin Man” are my favorites.
7. Broken – Soulsavers: This is Mark Lanegan at his best. A dark brooding album that matches his voice perfectly. He gets excellent vocal support from Rosa Agostino (a.k.a. Red Ghost), and Richard Hawley makes an appearance too.
8. Welcome Joy – The Cave Singers: I heard of this band, but never really knew what they were about until I saw them at Bumbershoot. It’s real rootsy stuff with catchy lyrics and great vocals. “At the Cut” and “Leap” are my favorites.
9. The Spirit of Apollo – N.A.S.A.: That stands for North America South America. It’s a duo that pulled together a whole lot of artists to sing vocals on twenty-some songs. Who? David Byrne, Chuck D, Tom Waits, Kool Keith, Kanye West, Mia, Del the Funky Homosapien, and more. The first song I heard was “Spacious Thoughts” featuring Tom Waits and Kool Keith. You just have to hear it. The two with David Byrne, “The People Tree” and “Money” are really great.
10. A Woman A Man Walked By – P.J. Harvey & John Parish: The album starts out with one of my favorite songs of the year, “Black Hearted Love,” a pop song, and then it veers off in all different directions. Thanks to “That Irsih Fella on my block, I got to see P.J. and John put on a great show at The Moore Theater this year. P.J. was in perfect form, and John and the band were tight. They are PROFESSIONALS!
The Top Teen Albums of 2009
11. Tell ’em What Your Name Is –Black Joe Lewis and the Honeydrippers: My Austin pals told me about this band last year. Black Joe Lewis has a huge fan base in Austin, and I was lucky to see the band at a sold out show there in May. I love the fun energy in this album. “Get Yo Shit” and “I’m Broke” are the shit.
12. ¡Let Freedom Ring! – Chuck Prophet 13. Horehound – The Dead Weather 14. Middle Cyclone– Neko Case 15. Together Through Life – Bob Dylan 16. Hombre Lobo – Eels 17. Through the Devil Softly – Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions 18. Secret, Profane, & Sugarcane – Elvis Costello 19. The Eternal– Sonic Youth
and number 20… Backspacer – Pearl Jam
This year’s best series of reissues is of course the first four albums by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds out on Mute records: The First Born is Dead, From Her to Eternity, Kicking Against the Pricks, and Your Funeral, My Trial. Buy them all and play them loud.
The best live album of the year is Tom Waits’ Glitter and Doom.