Wilco (the album)

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Wilco are probably best known for their 2 albums ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ and ‘A Ghost Is Born’. YHF, as many people will know, is my all time favourite album. It’s simply stunning and A Ghost Is Born is not too far behind in my eyes. The boundaries that these albums broke with their experimantal noise elements garnered comparisons to Radiohead and other bands who push the boundaries of ‘conventional’ music. So when Sky Blue Sky dropped a couple of years ago, many of those people who fell in love with Wilco because of the 2 previous albums could not forgive or perhaps understand what had happened. Here was an album which did not immerse itself in untraditional elements but instead focused on delivering songs of real beauty. Gone was the experimental creativity of songs such as ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’ and ‘Poor Places’ and in in their place came the simple majesty of tunes such as ‘You Are My Face’ and ‘Impossible Germany’. I think there was an air of disappointment amongst many that Wilco had not ventured further into the obscure. That they had somehow failed by not pushing the boundaries once again. For me, Sky Blue Sky was simply magnificent because by not doing what everyone expected them to do they once again pushed the boundaries as a band and stopped themselves going stale. And lets not forget, this is a band whose albums from AM right through to Sky Blue Sky could hardly be called ‘similar’. Just like Blur, Wilco are a band who, without doubt, re-shape and change with each album and that in itself is something which makes them stand out from the rest.

Wilco (the album) was released yesterday on Nonesuch records. As always my anticipation for a Wilco album was exceptionally high and I have to say that I have not been disappointed. No doubt the Wilco bashers who raised their ugly heads upon the release of Sky Blue Sky will be out in force again claiming that they are no longer the exciting prospect that they were back in 2001. I’d argue to the contrary, that this album is packed with brilliant, brilliant songs and musicianship as good as anything that has gone before, if not as diverse. I must admit that the first 2 tracks did not grab me by the balls to begin with, but from the moment ‘One Wing’ kicks in the album soars (pardon the pun) and never looks back. ‘Bull Black Nova’ is nothing short of brilliant and ‘Country Disappeared’ and ‘Everlasting Everything’ are up there too as potential Wilco classics. There is a rich diversity of songs on offer and, as a vocalist, Jeff Tweedy as never sounded as confident. This is a band that finally appears comfortable in its own skin and has found the line up that will continue to create brilliant music for years to come – Nels Cline and Glen Kotche must be 2 of the most exciting musicians alive today. Surely there’s nothing wrong with not always pushing boundaries when you consistently write songs that make your contemporaries look average. There is no doubt in my mind that Wilco do exactly that.

TSP Grade = A-

Eaten By Monsters – Scaring The Pets EP

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Well this is an interesting one. It’s always difficult when somebody who reads your blog, and I guess you class as a distant friend, sends you their new ep to review. There is a lovely review of this here. Anyway, I was originally going to review this for songbytoad but decided that i didn’t have time and that I’d save it for this blog. After all, this is my blog and I want to save some of the good stuff for myself!

Anyways, I have to be honest, this is not like anything I’m used to. It’s a totally new experience for me. The vocal style is particularly odd. But this is not a criticim. In fact I am drawn in by the lovely vocal lines on this EP. It’s something quite fabulous in fact and adds something special to the music. ‘Bedroom Nerves’ is class. It’s an ear grabbing start to an interesting EP, which continues in the same vein with ‘Our Little Secret’. It’s difficult for me to find a reference a point with this band. I’m not used to this style of music. It feels fresh to my ears in a really positive way and this EP is certainly hitting the right spots and I guess ultimately the main thing is appreciating whats going on. I may not be able to compare this in any way, but for me that is the best thing about the EP – for me Eaten By Monsters are doing their own thing and doing it really well. I would recommend that you check this record out and decide for yourself. Enjoy.

TSP Grade = B-

Idlewild – Post Electric Blues

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Photo by Sarah Roberts

So the picture attached to this post is just for my wife. You see, she has a thing for Roddy Woomble. Rod Jones, Idlewild’s guitarist lives just around the corner from us in Leith (or used to) and Pamela did once ask me if I thought that if she hung about outside his flat entrance Roddy might visit him one time whilst she was there. It’s all in jest of course, she’s a normal girl really! Anyways, I was going to put up a picture of the band, but then I thought they might detract from Roddy so, Pamela, this is just for you!

But don’t be confused, this post is not about Roddy Woomble solely but indeed a review of Idlewild’s brand new album ‘Post Electric Blues’ which is not actually released yet as far as I am aware nor am I aware when it’s official release is. You see, us dedicated Idlewild fans were given the opportunity to get early copies of the new album by pre-ordering and helping the band finance an album that, as far as I am aware, is a self release. As such, we get the album early, our names on the inside sleeve and we get to download live tracks taken from their string of King Tuts shows at the end of last year. It’s a lovely touch from the band if you ask me and I feel very lucky to have the album at this stage before its release to the wider world.

Idlewild will forever have a special place in my heart. 100 Broken Windows used to accompany me on trips between Dundee and Arbroath on the old, tedious Arbroath Road and is, without doubt, on my all time top 10 albums list. I love that album. I will never tire of it. I’ve also said before on this blog how important I think Roddy Woomble is as a Scottish musician. Not only has he produced some great albums with Idlewild, he’s also curated Ballad of the Books, released a brilliant Scottish Folk solo album and more recently another great folk album with John McCusker and Kris Drever among other things. So yeah, my wife fancies him and I think he’s a magnificent artist.

I have to be honest, I thought ‘Make A New World’ was a brilliant record. Clocking in at about 30 minutes it was almost the perfect length for the kind of album it was. But that’s what I love most about Idlewild, not knowing what to expect next and this album is no exception as I fully expected a follow on from the previous album. It’s all a bit of a surprise to be honest. Opening track ‘Younger Than America’ is simply brilliant reminding me in a strange way of Counting Crows at their very ‘Murder Of One’ best. But this album sees Idlewild drifting more towards Scottish folk elements than ever before. The American twangs of previous albums are still evident but wonderful little Scottish folk songs such as ‘(The Night Will) Bring You Back To Life’, ‘Take Me Back To The Islands’ and ‘Takes Me Back In Time’ would sit easily on one of Woomble’s more recent folk exploits. As ever though the band still rock out when they can and there are brilliant guitar riffs a plenty as well as the always excellent backing vocals of Rod Jones. This is an interesting change of direction for Idlewild. I’m still getting used to it if I’m honest. But it’s been on repeat since it arrived last weekend so it’s safe to say that it’s a winner in my eyes. I don’t think they’ll ever match 100 Broken Windows, but if they keep putting out albums of this quality then I’ll keep paying to help them make them. Lovely stuff.

Out of respect for the request made by the band, I’m not posting any of the new tunes but I will shortly fire up some old favourites to enjoy.

TSP Grade = B-

The Steinberg Principle Goes Mainstream

So, as of this weekend it’s unlikely that there will be any posts on my blog for a couple of weeks. This is because the lovely Matthew Toad over at songbytoad has asked me, bart of eagleowl fame and our good friend, and general musical jack in the box, dylan to look after his blog whilst he is on holiday with his lovely wife. This means that for 2 weeks I can basically let loose on his site about the music that I love and that he should love!!! Oh the joy. But seriously, it’s not often that you get asked to do something like this and I am well honoured to be asked. It’s going to be fun. I’m going from the underground to the mainstream of blogging though so I’d better start acting professional for a minute! And you never know, I might make a few new friends along the way! It feels nice to think I’ll be able to throw so many of the bands that I love at a wider audience. I intend to make the most of it. 🙂

Grading System

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Given the fuss made recently over Broken Records getting 2 out of 5 in the Skinny and the grading system that they use, I have decided that here at The Steinberg Principle, a University style of grading system shall be put in place. This will work something like this:

A = Excellent or aprrox 90%–100%
B = Above average or approx 80%–89%
C = Average or approx 70%–79%
D = Below average or approx 60%–69%
F = Fail or approx 0%-59%

Hopefully this system will work. I will go back and grade the albums I’ve reviewed to date accordingly! 😉

Withered Hand – You’re Not Alone EP

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Well, whilst everyone else gets all excited by the drama of the Broken Records album I’m getting excited by a totally different Edinburgh artist’s latest EP. ‘You’re Not Alone EP’ is Withered Hand’s follow up to the phenomonal ‘Religious Songs EP’ and is a taster of what is to come later this year when he releases his first album proper. I have not actually bought this record as yet but have spent the morning listening to it on SL Records website and I am loving every single second of it. This is an artist worth getting excited about, trust me. This is an EP worth it’s weight in gold. I first heard ‘No cigarettes’ as a demo on myspace when it was entitled ‘The Golden Age’ and I fell in love with it. I actually think it’s the best song Withered Hand has released to date. It’s simpy magnificent. The lyrics are wonderful, the song is Elliott Smith esque as it floats a long and the wonderful instrumentation provided by King Creosote – who incidentally recorded and produced the EP – is just perfect foder for the song. This is lo-fi music at its very, very best. ‘Oldsmobile Car’ is an interesting one for me as I actually heard Meursault’s cover version before I heard this original. It’s different in tone, texture and approach but the song is so good. Its odd to be hearing the original after the cover version and I haven’t decided which I like more – but I have decided that either way it’s a brilliant piece of song writing. ‘Big Ten Four’ is a tribute to the late Paul Carter, an Edinburgh artist whose art is displayed on the cover of the EP. It’s a tragically beautiful and sad song. And the final number on the EP ‘R U Corageous’ is a cover (I forget who by) but is beautifully arranged and produced. Sparse but with a lovely dreamyness to it. This is a fantastic follow up to Religious Songs and leaves a real sense of excitement about the album which is due out later this year. You can hear the EP here. Make sure you do.

TSP Grade = B+

Broken Records – Until The Earth Begins To Part

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So I was tempted not to review this record at all. I was actually going to avoid saying anything about it because to be honest I think it will be difficult to be impartial and not be swayed by the fact that I know the guys and like them both as people and as a band. So lets get this bit out of the way first:

A) I’ve never really listened to the Waterboys and my knowledge of the Levellers is limited – so I wouldn’t know if there is a comparison to be made there.
B) They sound fuck all like The Arcade Fire.
C) I don’t like Beirut BUT like Broken Records, so no comparisons will be made there.
D) I haven’t read the NME review, I have read the Skinny review and numerous others online.
E) Who gives a fuck about any of the above??

Ok. Thats the housekeeping out of the way, and so to the album itself. Well, I have to say that pure and simply I have enjoyed listening to the album on repeat all day long. I will undoubtedly need more time to properly absorb the tracks and as I do I am sure my opinion about things will change. First off though, for me, it’s not the album of the year by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve already read some people proclaim it as such but these people tend to be the people who know the band and, like me, fell in love with their music through seeing them live in Edinburgh on numerous occasions and getting to know them as the lovely blokes they are. Nor do I agree with the Skinny that the album merits only 2 out of 5! However, whilst I do think the criticism was perhaps a bit strong in that article and perhaps a touch personal for my liking, I do agree with some of the points made and consider that everyone is entitled to their opinion and the band are big enough and old enough to deal with that of that I am sure. What Broken Records have done for the music scene in Edinburgh is irrelevant, the only thing that needs to be answered in any review is “is the album any good” and all other issues matter not one jot.

I admit, I was always worried about this record, simply because I fell in love with Broken Records as a live band and was worried that the production of the record would fail to capture the raw emotion and energy that is delivered by the band in the live setting. And to that end, I’m still struggling at the moment if I am honest – it’s just not rough enough, nor raw enough for me, but that’s a totally personal thing and doesn’t have a baring on the quality of the song writing. And it’s in this respect that the album delivers. Title track aside, every track is strong with stand out tracks for me being ‘Wolves’ and the simply stunningly wonderful ‘Ghosts’. Whilst I do slightly agree with the Skinny about Jamie’s vocals throughout the album (they feel over powering rather than oversung – but I think this has to do with me being used to hearing them in a live setting where everything is much louder, and I got a shock at the power of his voice being pushed to the front of the music), I have to say that the vocal line on Ghosts took my breath away. That song is truly special, just wonderful. All the songs we know and love from the past year or so of gigging are present and correct and its therefore hard to criticise given how much I’ve loved those songs when I’ve heard them live. If this review focused on the production of the record only then it may not be so positive, but on songs alone this album is nothing but a fucking good listen. Sure, I’d have liked to have heard a few more slow numbers myself, but again, that’s personal taste and driven by the fact that I know how good they can be when they bring it right down. Listen – if you can, buy this album and make your own mind up. There are always ways to pick an album a part but if the songs are good, then the songs are good. And these songs are really fucking good. Fact.

www.brokenrecords.com

TSP Grade = B