Friday 25 December 2009

Top 5 Christmas Albums

A very merry Christmas to you all.

Having already done Songs and Films I was rapidly running out of ideas for Crimbo top fives but this one seemed like a topic I could have a fair crack at. Most of these are available to listen for free via Spotify (if you're not signed up and need an invite let me know). Full list on Amazon here

1. Various "A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector" (1963)
Classic compilation of Christmas songs recorded by Spector's roster of Artists. Darlene Love, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and of course the wonderful Ronettes.

2. Low "Christmas EP" (1999)
So, officially, this is an E.P. but these eight tracks are a genuine contrast to the standard Christmas fare. Low's characteristic restrained and sparse style provide the perfect theme for the end of a long Christmas day. When everyone has gone home and you're left putting away the crockery and finding places to store all the new toys.

3. Jethro Tull "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album" (2003)
A compilation of Tull's best known Christmas songs (re-recorded), bulked out with some new songs and traditional covers.

4. Vince Guaraldi Trio "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)
The soundtrack to the television special of the same name. I'm not a big Jazz fan but this is music that takes me back to my childhood and a point when Christmas was the most exciting time of the year.

5. The Ventures "The Ventures' Christmas Album" (1965)
Sixties surf instrumentalists take on the Christmas song in their own inimitable style. Versions of their own hits segue (almost) seamlessly into Crimbo classics.

That'll be it until later in the New Year when I'll be back with my favourites of 2009. Have a great holiday and best wishes for 2010.

Friday 18 December 2009

Top 5 Songs of the 2000s

This was hard. I narrowed it down from a long list of 20 tracks (partial Spotify playlist here if my link works). XFM and Absolute Radio have both recently completed a similar exercise. "Mr Brightside" by The Killers won the XFM vote. Absolute Radio are still counting down their list. I don't think any of my songs even made their respective top 100. Still, it probably goes to prove how much great music has been released in the 2000s (particularly 2006 it turns out). Though my choices are better, obviously. I've also added a YouTube clip of each song for you're listening pleasure.

1. "Hold Me In The River" Brakes (2006) from The Beatific Visions
The moment Brakes grew up from a quirky side project into a fully fledged rock'n'roll band.

2. "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)" Arcade Fire (2004) from Funeral
Difficult to pick one song from Funeral that I like any more than the others but this is a cracker and a live favourite too.

3. "Breathless" Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (2004) from The Lyre Of Orpheus
Stunning and beautiful song from the Bad Seeds 2004 double album. Not the sort of thing you'd expect from Mr Cave.

4. "Eight Days of Hell" And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (2006) from So Divided
I find it impossible to listen to this song without singing along and beaming from ear to ear (not the easiest of things to do at the same time). Despite the title and the subject matter this is one of the most upbeat songs you're likely to hear.

Video on YouTube

5. "Ballad of the Broken Seas" Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (2006) from Ballad of the Broken Seas
Gravel voiced Lanegan provides the perfect counterfoil for Ms Campbell's delicate ballad.

Friday 11 December 2009

Top 5 Albums of the 2000s

Continuing my run down of the best of the noughts these are my favourite albums of the decade.

1. "Funeral" Arcade Fire (2005) - Difficult to find words to do this justice. This is art rock without the pretension. A brilliant big sound full of joy, energy and excitement.

2. "White Blood Cells" The White Stripes (2001) - I'd read a fair bit about the White Stripes before picking up this, their third album, but I couldn't imagine a guitar and drums duo could actually make anything sound this amazing. "White Blood Cells" is full of stripped down raw energy but underlying it all there's some great songmanship. The White Stripes turned out to be much more than their hype suggested and led me on a trail into Garage Rock and beyond. I love most of their first four albums (not so keen on the later output) but this remains my favourite.

3. "The Greatest" Cat Power (2006) - It took me a long time to get round to listening to Cat Power and this was the first album I heard. It's got a wonderful lush Memphis soul sound that accentuates Chan Marshall's gorgeous yet fragile voice. This is an album I can put on at any time of the day and feel happier about life when it's finished.

4. "Relationship of Command" At The Drive-In (2000) - ATDI arrived in an explosion of noise and hair, blew everyone away with their post-hardcore sonic attack, then promptly split up on the verge of making it massive. It was probably for the best as it would have been hard to top this album and various subsequent projects have veered a little too closely to Spinal Tap's "Jazz Odyssey" for my liking.

5. "Ys" Joanna Newsome (2006) - I'd previously avoided the apparently squeaky voiced performances of Ms Newsome but the critical clamour for this album intrigued me enough to give it a go and I was converted. On first listen it's easy to dismiss this as whimsical or contrived but there's a depth of feeling and intensity that shines through.


Friday 4 December 2009

Top 5 Films of the 2000s

Doing lists of the best things of the decade seems to be in vogue right now and seeing as it doesn't involve a lot of thought I figured I'd follow suit.

1. Sin City (2005 dir. Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller/Quentin Tarantino)
Based on Frank Miller's neo-noir series of graphic novels this is a visual feast. I hadn't read the comics before seeing the film so had no pre-conceived ideas about what it should look like but as far as I can tell it's pretty much spot on. Love the ensemble cast and the Tarantino style story segments. Thrilling stuff.
iMDB entry

2. City of God (2002 dir. Fernando Meirelles/Katia Lund)
Brazilian drama about organised crime in Rio de Janeiro. Very few genuine actors used, most of the cast came from the Rio favelas which makes for a gritty and authentic feel that really aids the story telling. Close run thing between Sin City and this for the number one slot.
iMDB entry

3. Walk The Line (2006 dir. James Mangold)
Johnny Cash biopic which focuses on the love affair between Cash (brilliantly portrayed by Joaquin Pheonix) and June Carter (an equally great performance from Reese Witherspoon).
iMDB entry

4. Black Hawk Down (2001 dir. Ridley Scott)
Film about the Battle of Mogadishu and the US effort to capture a Somali warlord. Ridley Scott is one of my all time favourite directors and managed to create a conflict based movie that compares well with the very best war movies.
iMDB entry

5. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001 dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Another noir film in which Billy Bob Thornton plays a laconic, chain-smoking barber who blackmails his wife's boss in an attempt to raise money to invest in a dry cleaning company. Filmed in colour but transferred to black and white it has the feel of a 1940s classic which is enhanced by a wonderfully understated performance from Thornton.
iMDB entry