Tag Archives: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

“Baby You Left Me Sad And High.” – An Overly Personal Look At My Top 6 Albums Of 2013

It’s easy to forget in the flurry of lists that inevitably appears at this time of year, but music is ultimately a personal thing (…I don’t think that’s the first time I’ve said something like that on this blog). All told, this has been a pretty blockbuster year, particularly when 2012 felt relatively lean in comparison (to me, at least). With so many great records around, how do you decide the most worthy of praise? Personally, I keep coming back to the albums that have the greatest emotional resonance – and in that regard, 2013 has conspired to produce half a dozen records that align with the various emotions I’ve often felt this year. “…But I will not spill my guts out.”  – though if you read between the lines, perhaps I’ve come a little closer to doing so than I’d care to admit…

6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

A friend of mine compared the words of Nick Cave to the ramblings of a madman when I was playing this record on a drive home, and to be honest, I found it difficult to refute him – but then, the line between madness and genius is one that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have often straddled. Cave’s lyrics on Push The Sky Away may seem impenetrable on first listen, but focus on them a little more intently and you’ll find some surprising moments of clarity – and I’m not just talking about the year’s most oddly prescient reference to Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus (on ‘Higgs Boson Blues’).

There’s the wounded pride of ‘Mermaids’, whose opening lines suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks one evening (“She was a catch, and we were a match. I was the match that would fire up her snatch. There was a catch: I was no match.”), or the desperate longing of ‘We Real Cool’, perhaps epitomised by the line “Wikipedia is heaven, when you don’t wanna remember no more.” But its most stirring moment comes at the close of the album, with ‘Push The Sky Away’ having the quiet yet bloody-minded determination of a man close to breaking point – “You’ve gotta just keep on pushing, keep on pushing, push the sky away.”

5. Daughter – If You Leave

Daughter - If You Leave

Daughter – If You Leave

Honestly, Daughter could pretty much have been designed by committee to appeal to me. Beautiful shrinking violet of a singer whose voice is gentle while still having an undeniable power? Check. Lyrics about love, loss and heartache? Check. Set to a backdrop of swooning guitars and tasteful percussion? Check. Thankfully, If You Leave never seems as cynically conceived as that – indeed, it’s a record of such sincerity that one can’t escape the feeling that vocalist Elena Tonra might be nursing some serious emotional wounds.

Don’t get me wrong, the music is gorgeous, but it’s the way it combines with Tonra’s lyrics that really makes this album so special. She’s at her most affecting when she’s making the kind of desperate pleas that will no doubt go unrecognised by the one person they’re aimed at: “Don’t bring tomorrow, ’cause I already know I’ll lose you.” / “Please take me back to when I was yours.” / “Give me touch, ’cause I’ve been missing it.” But she’s also equally moving when dealing with other aspects of loss and heartache, as evidenced by ‘Still’s portrayal of a disintegrating relationship or ‘Youth’s bitter inability to let go of the past. Even ‘Human’, the one moment of defiant resilience on If You Leave, ends in defeat – “Despite everything, I’m still human… but I think I’m dying here.”

4. Arctic Monkeys – AM

Arctic Monkeys - AM

Arctic Monkeys – AM

If Daughter have effortlessly captured the feeling of heartbreak on If You Leave , then Arctic Monkeys have created an unlikely yet perfect companion piece in AM – an album that focuses on romantic and sexual obsession. It’s there from the off with the sultry groove of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ (“…if this feeling flows both ways?”), before ‘R U Mine?’ ramps up the ante and throws down the gauntlet to a desired partner – “Are you mine tomorrow, or just mine tonight?” It’s an album about being obsessed with someone whether you’re awake or asleep – “I dreamt about you nearly every night this week.” / “I just cannot manage to make it through the day without thinking of you lately.” – and also about trying to satisfy that desire (‘One For The Road’, ‘Knee Socks’).

But it also touches on the situations that would lead these thoughts to occupy your mind – being too close to the one who used to love you (‘Fireside’), seeing an old flame and feeling like they could do so much better than their current beau (‘Snap Out Of It’), or simply being completely wasted (‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’). In the end though, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ closes the album with the admission that Turner is ultimately following his heart rather than his libido – though he’d certainly like to satisfy the latter in the process.

3. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Jon Hopkins - Immunity

Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Wait a minute, isn’t this all supposed to be about feelings and emotions? What’s a largely wordless album of electronica doing here? And yet, the reason I love Immunity is precisely because Jon Hopkins manages to imbue his electronica with a sense of emotion. Perhaps it’s most obvious on the sensual, throbbing ‘Collider’, a song which bristles with a relentless sexual energy. It’s immediately followed by the most perfectly-placed comedown in ‘Abandon Window’, which is all stark pianos and ambient swells, together with the fireworks exploding in the distance, as if to emphasise some far-off celebration that the listener is barely part of. King Creosote also appears on the title track to add even more emotional weight to proceedings, with his distant, mournful voice delivering lines like “you said forever was unkind,” as the record comes to a beautiful climax.

But even outside of that, there’s joy to be had in the pure, propulsive techno of  ‘We Disappear’ and ‘Open Eye Signal’, or the way that the piano chords cut through ‘Breathe This Air’ like a moment of clarity. All told, Immunity combines relentless thrills with a melancholy comedown to create one of the year’s most smartly constructed and perfectly-paced records.

2. These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds

These New Puritans - Field Of Reeds

These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds

Again, the latest record from These New Puritans might seem like an odd fit in this list. Were it not for the sheer emotional power of my number one album, Field Of Reeds would probably take its place thanks to its unquestionable compositional mastery. But under the surface, it too is an emotional record – frontman and chief composer Jack Barnett has stressed as much in interviews. The album is able to match the power of classical music to create feelings without words – epitomised by the lump-in-your-throat moment when ‘Organ Eternal’ reaches its crescendo – with the ability to be explicit with words in the manner of a pop song, as on ‘Nothing Else’ (“I pray that just for a minute, real life and dreaming swap places”).

Make no mistake, These New Puritans have crafted an emotional journey on Field Of Reeds – just not in a conventional manner. But then, one shouldn’t expect anything remotely nearing ‘conventional’ from the band these days – and that’s another reason why I love them. (You can find many more reasons in my review of the record over on Soundsphere Magazine.)

1. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Over the past five years, The National have gone from being a band I like and casually listen to now and again, to one I absolutely adore. 2010’s High Violet was the catalyst (as I’m sure it was for many others), slowly winning me over and causing me to re-visit the copies of Boxer and Alligator that I already owned but had yet to truly fall in love with. By the time I had attended the ATP event that the band curated at the end of 2012, they’d captured a permanent piece of my (medium-sized American English) heart. All of which leads us to Trouble Will Find Me, whose mere existence made it an almost certain contender for album of the year in my eyes – but that didn’t stop it from having the settling-in period that all records by The National seem to have. But when it hit, it hit hard.

Pretty much every single song on this album has at least something about it that yanks at my heart or sets my mind racing – and I’m hardly even going to have room to mention the wonderful sonics on display, such is the intense nature of this record’s lyrics. ‘Demons’ describes a feeling of social inadequacy, (“But when I walk into a room I do not light it up. FUCK.”), ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ cuts to the heart of emotional turmoil (“I have only two emotions: careful fear and dead devotion. I can’t get the balance right.”) and ‘Graceless’ tackles feelings of self-loathing (“You can’t imagine how I hate this, graceless.”).

But many of the record’s finest moments concern matters of the heart. ‘Fireproof’ portrays the devastating realisation of a gulf between two ex-lovers (“You’re a million miles away, doesn’t matter any more.), the final lines of ‘This Is The Last Time’ perfectly sum up the bittersweet nature of lost love (“Baby you gave me bad ideas. Baby you left me sad and high.”), ‘Slipped’ mourns a would-be relationship that will never come to fruition (“I’ll be a friend and a fuck and everything, but I’ll never be anything you ever want me to be.”), ‘I Need My Girl’ captures the way losing someone can make us feel incomplete (“I can’t get my head around it, I keep feeling smaller and smaller. I need my girl.”) – I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll just leave you with one final example, a line from ‘Hard To Find’ that caught me completely off-guard when I wasn’t even listening to the album – I saw it while reading through the lyrics. “I’m not holding out for you, but I’m still watching for the signs. If I tried, you’d probably be hard to find.” 

The lyric “And if you want to see me cry, play Let It Be or Nevermind,” appears in the chorus of ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ – and I can’t help but think that, years from now, Trouble Will Find Me might be cited by some future artist as being similarly tear-inducing. It certainly has that effect on me sometimes.

Find a Spotify playlist containing all these albums here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Music

The 8 best things I saw at Latitude Festival 2009.

It may go against the title of this blog to write a post so full of praise as this one undoubtedly will be, but fuck it – there was a hell of a lot of good stuff on offer at Latitude this year and I made a lot of new personal discoveries. Without further ado then, the 8* best things I saw at Latitude ’09.

(*Yes, it would’ve been 10 but there’s already about 1500 words here, and there were too many bands vying for the 9 and 10 slots. I’ll cover everything else I saw soon, promise.)

8. Wildbirds & Peacedrums

Imagine, if you will, the voices of Feist and Beth Ditto compacted into one sleek, Swedish package. That’s Mariam Wallentin, who with husband Andreas Werliin comprises Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. The duo make music that’s almost entirely percussive, with drums, timpani and other percussion instruments forming an intense background for Mariam’s spectacular voice. The duo play and sing with an energy that makes it difficult not to be drawn in – indeed, their final song sees Mariam whacking her drums so hard that she manages to make one of her drumsticks fly off to the side of the stage. Their set was intriguing throughout, but ‘There Is No Light’ stood out for me with it’s soulful vocal delivery and incessant drumbeat. If you’re looking for something a little different from your average guitar band, then Wildbirds & Peacedrums will definitely sate your appetite.

7. The Temper Trap

Namedropped by the BBC as ones to watch at the start of the year, The Temper Trap showed that they’re not just another hype band with their impressive performance on Friday. The band have a dense, epic sound that gives the impression that they’re made for big stages already, from the swooning, blissful tones and sweetly sung vocal of ‘Sweet Disposition’ to the racy, infectious paranoia of ‘Science Of Fear’. And, true to the spirit of Latitude as a festival for everyone, a cheerful-looking grey-haired chap who must have been at least in his 50s or so bounces past me with his wife and declares to a similarly-aged couple, “This band are fucking amazing!” Broad appeal and massive tunes too? Sounds like the Temper Trap could be on to a winner.

6. Grace Jones

Having got a tad bored of Spiritualized and increasingly irritated by the collection of jeb-ends that I was stood near in the tent, I made my way to the main stage to catch the last half an hour or so of Grace Jones. And you know what? I wish I’d seen the whole damn thing, because the spectacle she put on was fantastic. Within a few minutes of me turning up, she was strutting her way through ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, intent on getting up close and personal with the crowd. “I need a big man,” she intoned, approaching the edge of the stage and pointing to a no-doubt terrified member of stage security, before parading around the barriers on the shoulders of said ‘big man’, reaching out and touching the worked up crowd. Further show(wo)manship was came in the form of outrageous hats (including a crystal-encrusted number that reflected coloured lights across the stage) and enough flaunting of that impossibly-toned body to allure even the biggest prude. Seriously, she turned 61 in May and still has the body of a 20-something – absolutely insane. She wrapped things up by  producing a hula hoop and then casually (casually!) gyrating her way through her final number while effortlessly singing and introducing the members of her band.

As she thanks us and leaves the stage, the clamour for more is deafening, even as the lights go up. But just as it looks like the crowd’s appreciation is going to go unrecognised, Grace storms back out onto the stage. “There’s a fucking curfew!” she booms, frustrated that she can’t continue to play. The plug on the PA is quickly pulled before she can say her parting words of thanks, but the fact that the icon has reciprocated the crowd’s appreciation by simply returning to the stage is enough. I can now honestly say that I’d pay good money to see a Grace Jones show – and that’s something I’d never even considered coming into the festival.

5. Editors

I’m sure many people rolled their eyes when they heard that Editors were ‘going electro’ for their forthcoming third album In This Light And On This Evening, but within the space of an hour (or, more accurately, four new songs), the doubters may well have had to reconsider. Starting bravely with a new song that features both smooth synths and somewhat jarring staccato samples that sound like tyres skidding, the transformation is complete when classic set-closer ‘Fingers In The Factories’ segues effortlessly into the last of their new songs – and with moody, Depeche Mode synths, thumping beats and God-bothering lyrics (“If there really was a god here/he’d have raised a hand by now”), it’s absolutely amazing. And yet, it’s still unmistakably the same Editors we know and love – they’re still making upliftingly gloomy music, it’s just that they’re using different tools for the job.

4. Thom Yorke

Some of the people I was with at the festival were disappointed by Thom Yorke’s solo slot on Sunday, but to be honest I can’t understand why. It had classic Radiohead tracks (‘Everything In It’s Right Place’, ‘There There’), brilliant solo songs (‘The Eraser’, ‘Harrowdown Hill’), intriguing new songs (‘Follow Me Around’, The Present Tense’ – floating around on Youtube as we speak, a fact that was wryly acknowledged by Yorke during his set), ‘True Love Waits’ got a rare live airing, and he played an absolutely gorgeous solo version of ‘Videotape’, (my personal favourite track from In Rainbows) – what more could you want? I mean, you weren’t expecting him to play ‘Creep’ or something were you?

3. Bat For Lashes

Anybody who thought that Bat For Lashes don’t quite cut it live was surely forced to eat their words, regurgitate them, and eat them again after Natasha Khan’s utterly spellbinding performance on Friday night. There was certainly a lot of interest in her – the tent was so rammed that I could barely see anything. But what I heard confirmed my love for Khan’s work – big, echoy drums and chiming, swirling, epic instrumentation serve as a wonderful backdrop for her beautiful voice and almost fairytale lyrics. Spine-tingling highlights for me were enchanting opener ‘Glass’, ‘Siren Song’, ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’ and the bombastic, mystical brilliance of ‘Two Planets’. Although it seems that most people were sticking around to hear ‘Daniel’ – saved as a set closer of course, it was undoubtedly the song that got the biggest response. For me, Bat For Lashes stands head and shoulders above the crop of female solo artists that have cropped up this year, and performances like this just serve to confirm that.

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Having only listened to a small amount of his material, I didn’t feel like I knew that much about Nick Cave going into the Festival. But if there’s one thing I definitely know afterwards, it’s this: He’s bloody awesome live. The man has a spectacular way with words and a voice to match, and together with his Bad Seeds he rattled through a cross-section of tracks from their back catalogue. From the chugging, distorted riffs of ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ to the death row theatrics of ‘The Mercy Seat’, every moment is compelling – and never more so than during set-closer ‘Stagger Lee’, with Cave delivering its menacing wild-west story with a swagger in his step and fire in his eyes. To be fair though, violinist/guitarist Warren Ellis (a “big, bearded fucker” as Cave calls him at one point) does his best to steal the show – particularly during ‘We Call Upon The Author’, which sees him sprawled on the floor, inducing an effects-pedal based freakout whilst also shouting out backing vocals. Together with Cave’s imposing presence, it makes for a performance that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.

1. Fever Ray

Mesmerising. Bewildering. Brilliant.

Those are some of the words I would try to use use to sum up the genius of Fever Ray, (aka Karin Dreijer Anderson from The Knife), but nothing can quite convey just how amazing it was. Karin and her band were wearing striking, elaborate costumes (and there were huge cheers when she finally removed her cape/mask combination), but that only served to accentuate the bizarre brilliance of the music. Whirring electronic noise, minimal beats, ominous synths, infectious guitar loops, tribal drumming – these are just some of the things that make up the band’s wondrous soundscapes. However, it’s Karin’s voice that’s the star of the show – at times sounding very much reminiscent of her vocals for The Knife, but at others warped to an almost demonic growl. Add into the mix her dark, often cryptic lyrics and you’ve got a package that you can’t tear your ears away from. Stirring stuff, and despite the stiff competition, the best thing I saw all festival.

1 Comment

Filed under Live, Music