Friday, 28 January 2011

Top 5 Books I read in 2010

Another great year of reading. I didn't manage quite as many as 2009 but read a lot of wonderful books both contemporary and classic.

1. Cormac McCarthy "No Country for Old Men" - Reading the book helped me understand the film, and re-watching the film helped me understand the book.

2. Christopher Brookmyre "A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil" - Well structured crime novel that intertwines a murder investigation with the story of the characters growing up together from primary school to adult life. Brookmyre's black humour never far from the surface.

3. Andrew Collins "Still Suitable for Miners - Billy Bragg" - Biography of the "eighties protest singer" which proves he is actually so much more. Fascinating mix of music and political history. Bragg appears to be a genuinely nice bloke who has achieved the right balance between success and happiness.

4. David Peace "The Damned United" - Having failed to catch the film last year I thought I might as well read the novel before watching the DVD. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Peace's fictionalisation of real events it's Clough's personality that shines through and helps create a story as entertaining as his football teams.

5. Michael Morpurgo "War Horse" - Saved me from deciding which one of Chandler's "The High Window" or Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" I was going to have to leave out. "War Horse" is a moving tale of a horse sold to the British Army, during the first world war, and sent to the support the effort on the western front. Very well written story that captures the futility of war whilst maintaining a feeling of optimism for the future. A children's book that deserves much broader recognition.


Friday, 21 January 2011

Top 5 Gigs of 2010

A cracking year for gigs. Plenty of contenders for the top five and a couple of enjoyable nights watching bands of my friends (here & here).

1. youthmovies at The Borderline (26th March) - Second to last gig ever and final London appearance by the sadly overlooked Oxford based uncategorizable combo. A really special night in which they played just about everything I could have asked for. Support from Adam Gnade was excellent too.
Picture courtesy of Drowned In Sound.

2. Les Savy Fav at The Electric Ballroom (22nd November) - Second gig of the year at the Electric Ballroom. A Silver Mount Zion were a little under par, in March, but Les Savy Fav were absolutely mental. Lead singer, Tim Harrington, spent most of the night in the audience (par for the course for LSF) whilst the band played as tight a set as you could possibly ask for.

3. Japandroids at The ICA (23rd February) - First of two trips to see Japandroids who totally rip it up on stage. Crowd reaction was a little disappointing, possibly due to a "too cool for school" scenester crowd. Saw them do a similar show at the Garage in May in which the crowd got a little more involved but the band energy at the ICA made for a stunning night.
Picture courtesy of catgirl at SongKick.

4. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan at The Barbican (10th September) - After a number of sweaty "jumping up and down" style gigs it was quite pleasant to see a more sedate sit down show. I'd been wanting to see Isobel & Mark for a while and they didn't disappoint. Very little interaction with the audience (none at all from Mr Lanegan) but a brilliant set of songs taken from all three albums. Willy Mason supported and came on mid-way through the main set to do a couple of numbers with Isobel.

5. The Godfathers at The 100 Club (17th June) - Close run thing between the Godfathers and Arcade Fire at the O2 for the final place. This was a celebration of the Godfathers 25th anniversary and a chance to see them in a great venue. Having seen them a few times recently I probably wouldn't have bothered otherwise but it turned out to be a cracking show and one of the best I've seen them do.
Picture courtesy of Daniel Luis Garcia at Flickr

Check out this summary of my gig year from the good folk at SongKick.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Top 5 Songs of 2010

My favourite songs of the year.

If you have Spotify there's a playlist of the contenders. HTTP version here or Spotify URI here. Not sure how well either will work but one of them should do the trick.

1. "You Won't Let Me Down Again" Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Isobel and Mark pull off the Album and Song double. There's a proper video which I can't embed here.

2. "Shoot First" Jim Jones Revue - The loudest band in the world returned with a second album as ear splittingly brilliant as their first.

3. "Art Czars" Japandroids - The 'Droids released a series of 7" singles spread over the year and this was the first. A spikey punk blast that has been a highlight of their live set this year.

4. "Let's Get Out Of Here" Les Savy Fav - Their album didn't do much for me on first few listens, but an electric live performance at the similarly named Ballroom in Camden brought the songs to life. This one's my favourite.

5. "Drunk Girls" LCD Soundsystem - Stupidly simple song and probably the first single that caught my attention this year.


Friday, 7 January 2011

Top 5 Albums of 2010

My annual review of the year and, as is traditional, let's start with my favourite Albums.

1. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan "Hawk" - The third album from Ms Campbell and Mr Gravel Throat and I reckon their best yet. Debut release "Ballad of the Broken Seas" came out in 2006 and was a bit of a sleeper hit for me making my Top 5 albums of 2008. After a decent but not radically different second album I wasn't expecting a great deal from "Hawk" but it seems to combine the best elements of their previous releases and take the song writing to a new level. A couple of tracks with Willy Mason and a corking garage-blues instrumental add a bit of variety but it's the duets between Isobel and Mark that really hit home.

2. A Silver Mount Zion "Kollaps Tradixionales" - They're not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but in the year that Godspeed You! Black Emperor reformed they remain my favourite post-rock combo.

3. Burns Unit "Side Show" - An 8-piece Scottish-Canadian "supergroup" formed out of a one-week songwriting retreat called "Burnsong". It was meant to be a one off but they got on so well they decided to turn it into an ongoing project. The band consists of folk singer Karine Polwart; alt-folk royalty King Creosote and former Delgado Emma Pollock plus Indo-Caledonian pop artist Future Pilot AKA; multi-instrumentalist Kim Edgar; drummer/producer Mattie Foulds; energetic piano-man Michael Johnston and virtuosic rapper MC Soom T. Quite a mixed bag of influences but one that pulls together seamlessy.

4. Sky Larkin "Kaleide" - Had heard passing mention of Sky Larkin before seeing them support Les Savy Fav in November, but nothing to suggest I ought to be checking them out. They played an interesting half hour set, including a cover of a song by the third support that day, which intrigued me. However, it was the moment when Kate Harkin (singer & guitarist) lept on Tim Harrington's shoulders, just as Tim was about to haul himself back on stage after another typical audience walkabout, to scream the lyrics of the Les Savy Fav song that I decided I needed to check them out.

5. Arcade Fire "The Suburbs" - It's their least enjoyable album so far but the bar was set pretty high and this still manages some moments of brilliance. Seeing them perform the songs live, a thrilling performance at the O2, helped me get to grips with the album and it's been growing on me ever since.


Saturday, 1 January 2011

Top 5 New Year resolutions 2011

First a very Happy New Year to you all! I hope you're still too drunk for the hangover to have kicked in yet.

I'm not one for making New Years resolutions (well, I'm not one for sticking to them at any rate) so I wasn't completely certain about the validity of doing this. However, there are a few things I really need to achieve this year and I figured if I actually publish a list, visible to the entire population of the Internet (or at the very least 6 people I know personally), I might actually stick them out.

1. Lose Weight - I've had a shocking year on the weight front. Hit 40 and suddenly everything goes south. A lack of exercise (see No. 2) hasn't helped, but my failure to adapt my diet is the main cause. I need to cut out the snacks, and reduce the portion size.

2. Get fitter - My achilles has prevented me doing most of the sports I actually enjoy, and some intense periods at work (coupled with a lack of self-motivation) have reduced my appearances in the gym. I need to take the rowing machine by the handles and start burning the fat.

3. Work off the list of jobs that need doing round the house - Procrastination is my middle name and there's a stack of things that need doing around the house I've been ignoring for far too long. Of course some of these will be beyond my fairly poor skills with DIY but I can no longer sit by and let them go unresolved.

4. Play the Guitar - Been trying to do this since I was 13 without much success. I suspect I may have left it too late to start my international rock star career, however, I'm still keen to get some sort of tune out of my acoustic.

5. Spend less time on the PC - Bit of a catch-22 as that would also mean less top fives, but I've had too many late nights when I've either begun some random Internet search marathon or found a late night documentory about bee farming to watch (that's a euphemism obviously). I plan to be in bed by 12 at the latest and turn the PC off by 11.

I'd also like to find a nice hat to wear. Not a baseball cap or a wooly one but something classic. The sort of hat that Cary Grant might have worn. Let me know if you've any ideas what sort of style might suit me.