Thursday, 21 January 2010

Hi! I'm Alan the Reviewer.

And I'll be using Spotify to publish my own review of each of Pitchfork's top 50 albums of 2009! (If they're available on Spotify, that is).

Because I know next to nothing about any music published after Grandaddy's seminal 'The Sophtware Slump', you can expect my reviews to be artless, or excruciating, or both. But I will at least try to convey what I think is going through my ears - albeit in highly detailed, relentless, grinding track-by-track fashion - without resorting to masses and masses of obscure cultural references only a 'select clique' will know! Although I might just resort to a few. Ho, ho, ho. You know, I've never been part of any 'select cliques', except once, when I stripped bare-chested in front of the Hidden Cameras' Joel Gibb - although no doubt some of you will say "Joel Gibb? Who he?"!

So, I'll kick off with number 50 in Pitchfork's list: 'Songs of Shame' by Woods.

And I'll also kick off with words Pitchfork used to describe 'Songs of Shame', so that I can get a sense of what I'm about to listen to.

'Pastoral and rustic vein of songcraft' - OK.
'Evokes early Guided by Voices and the murkier depths of the Siltbreeze or Flying Nun back catalogues' - fine! The sound of flying nuns, eh?
'J Mascis... Graham Nash... earnest... wistful' - four other words. Actually that's six, isn't it? Although maybe 'J' on its own isn't a word.

Anyway, it sounds like I'm going to get some nice high-pitched strummy Americana that I'll get bored of after five tracks, with a few guitar-o-whangs thrown in, but let's listen!

Track 1: 'To Clean'. Yes, I was right, it's nice high-pitched strummy Americana with three chords in it, oh, my God, it is really high-pitched, you can't even hear the words... hmm. I like the way the drums sound like they've been recorded two miles away from the rest of the band. Two guitar solos that don't go with the rest of the music also appear at the start and end. A nice short song. It sort of does work pretty well though. Even if I probably will get bored after five tracks.

Track 2: 'The Hold'. I remember going to some squat parties where I heard chilled-out drums like this! This song has two chords, not three. And the same guitarist who really isn't giving any consideration to the chords playing underneath him. I don't know, there seem to be several guitarists playing. This song meanders and doesn't really go anywhere - it's good if you like songs where two chords repeat themselves and it doesn't really go anywhere. There are lots of them about! Any more and I'll have to get my weedkiller out - after three tracks!

Track 3: 'The Number'. Bit more of a 'trad' acoustic song, this, and there's only the one singer, and a fair bit of reverb, and a nice counterpoint guitar riff that goes 'plip, plip plop plop plip', up and down, although I doubt I can effectively render it in words. Actually this sounds a bit like 'Heartbeat' as sung by forgotten Eastenders and Heartbeat star Nick Berry, if Nick Berry was an American man striding through the corn fields of Nebraska with the wind in his hair. Nick Berry! 'Wicksy'! I must say that I'm still not really interested in the album - yet.

Track 4: 'September With Pete'. Unexpectedly, this is ten minutes long, an instrumental track, and full of dark twongy sounds, and a minute's gone and nothing's changed apart from the addition of a few more dark twongy sounds. Now elephants are trumpeting in the background... distant guitar fuzz...

...and a thought's hit me, that for a band called 'Woods', this song is very much like a walk through the woods, maybe while taking part in the Blair Witch Project or similar 'research'. Most effective - oddly fitting, even. But five minutes is up now, and I can't decide whether it's genius or noodling. Or perhaps it's the kind of song that bands like Ozric Tentacles used to put on their albums once they'd finished with the one catchy one. I don't know. Maybe I'm thinking of a different band. I'm not sure if the Tentacles had any catchy ones at all.

Is it me, or do songs this long always have a faster break-down bit in the last minute? Because this one did as well. And why is it track four? Do bands normally put their one huge one at track four? Are this lot breaking the mould?

Track 5: 'Down This Road'. This is ninety seconds long. I quite like this one because it sounds like Simon and Garfunkel after both of them have been punched in the face. It ends with one of those really catchy riffs that you feel should probably have contributed to a longer song, but you just know they couldn't be arsed. Hmm. Despite my truculence I feel like I'm beginning to get into things. I'll hang fire on the five tracks thing.

Track 6: 'Military Madness'. Ooh, I thought - a sinister, loping feel and proper country-pop songwriting! But then I realised that this one is the Graham Nash cover referred to in the Pitchfork review. Perhaps if the band stopped trying to be all ethereal and did more cheery, ramshackle stuff like this Graham Nash piece, I'd like them a bit more! A decent cover version.

Track 7: 'Born to Lose'. Another tiny song, two minutes long. The vocals are a bit higher in the mix here, and the reverb's up so far it sounds like wind is blowing... and I prefer this song to all the others so far, because it's haunting, it's mournful, and it could easily be being played by two skeletons, in a barrel, in a pit, in a Tim Burton film about dead lumberjacks. Good stuff. It's all clicking now. Well done, Woods.

Track 8: 'Echo Lake'. Or maybe not! What is it with all these tiny, two minute songs? This song would be a nondescript bluesy jammy forgettable thing, were it not for the very odd flimsy muffled sproingy-and-squelchy-at-the-same-time drum sounds that underpin it so well. But I don't think I'm going to be able to survive on a diet of musical blah and lo-fi drums for too much longer. Bah!

Track 9: 'Rain On'. This is quite a poppy one. It's 4am, and I'm Whispering Bob Harris, and you're going down the M1 past Trowell services, and it's quite cloudy, and there's a bit of mizzle in the air, and Desmond12 gets in touch from his lorry cab to say he's enjoying not having a traffic jam on the M18 for once! That's the kind of gentle country pop we have here. Roll on the penultimate track...

Track 10: 'Gypsy Hand' What I'm actually enjoying about this album is how each song varies in a tiny, tiny way. This one starts out chirpy but very small with the vocals miles away in the mix before chugging into life halfway through, breaking down into a stoner jam and finally having those nice flutey vocals rejoin the song. Slightly too much stoner jam, though. Hey, I've got the munchies! Hey, kids! Anyone got any dope before the last one?

Track 11: 'Where and What are you?'. It's the final track. Sad to say that this is eighty seconds long and not really worth my commenting, apart from that it ends with a load of not-quite-in-tune humming and things going 'bip'.

So, after listening to all that, what does Alan think? Well, Alan's prejudices about the album from reading the Pitchfork review were pretty much confirmed. It's pretty simple stuff and it's very high-pitched. But the songs, while a bit insubstantial sometimes, are *just* different enough to produce a body of work that holds together and is worth a listen - it takes a while to kick in, but that it all sounds like it's been recorded by three very long-haired men who wanted to spend an afternoon making music in a tin shack on a crag somewhere is acceptably charming, not cliched and annoying, in the end. Alan says a solid almost-seven out of ten!

Good tracks: 'Born To Lose', 'Gypsy Hand'

Weaker tracks: 'The Hold', 'September with Pete', 'Where and What Are You?'

Alan's next episode will be with you soon! Looking at how long this is, it'll probably be shorter.

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