My Blog Virginity

This week it’s Jake Lawson who has decided to write a lovely blog for you all to digest – he’s introduced himself nicely so that I don’t have to do it. Read and enjoy! – Jake

Hello, I am Jake (the second) and will be contributing a post to this and hopefully more in the future!

I just finished a degree in politics at Leeds University and am looking to start a Masters degree in September at the same place, I hail from Lancaster and spend a lot of time listening to music. My tastes are generally of a rock/indie persuasion but the variety and overlaps therein render the use of such a category pretty much obsolete. Ill probably write about music in themes or just stuff I’ve been listening to- I hope to be of some interest to people reading.

Thanks to Jake (the first) and Phil for the opportunity to vent my musical frustrations and elations.. They may live to regret allowing me to do it here but I will censor the fucks and bastards to the best of my ability. This post will be on the top two most played bands on my ipod of the last month- as fitting an introduction as any to my musical tastes as they also happen to be two of my favourite bands.

The Hold Steady

First up is a brief introduction to old man bar rock favourites the hold steady.

Based in Brooklyn, the music revolves around Craig Finn’s intelligent, infective lyrics and drunk-dad-at-karaoke vocals, Tad Kubler’s crunching guitar work, the swooping piano and organ loops of (the now sadly departed) Franz Nicolay- they managed to carve an indefinite mark on the middle-aged man bit of my soul I’ve yet to see.

The music:

Active since 2004- they’ve had 5 albums to date.

A quick one from their first, more garage rock oriented album:

Their third album ‘Boys and Girls in America’ (2006), for me their finest hour (technically 40 and a bit minutes but you know what I mean). 2 stand out tracks- chips ahoy and stuck between stations.

The lyrical density of the songs borne of Craig Finn’s lyrics and delivery lends the hold steady a real distinctive feel- his voice takes a little getting used to but I think the musical rewards are justified. The succinct storytelling structure of chips ahoy almost fools you into thinking simplicity and pure song writing intellect couldn’t coexist so effortlessly together in the 4-minute rock record- that song will be played at my funeral, it’s already in my legal will.

The narrative in stuck between stations is a little bit more academic than the girl-boy-horse-telepathy chronicle of chips ahoy. The basic story revolves around the fusion of an account of teenage life in America and the plight and eventual suicide of American poet John Berryman (not to be confused with John Barrowman- the guy who minces around on sing with the stars and dr. who). The song is a great piece of intense, packed song writing synthesised with driven guitar and rhythm section work.. The lyrics seem at once poetic and impossibly compact for a song of 4 minutes:

“The Devil and John Berryman took a walk together
They ended up on Washington talking to the river
He said “I surrounded myself with doctors and deep thinkers
But big heads with soft bodies make for lousy lovers”.
There was that night that we thought that John Berryman could fly.
But he didn’t so he died.
She said “you’re pretty good with words but words won’t save your life”
And they didn’t so he died.
He was drunk and exhausted, but he was critically acclaimed and respected”

If I were to go into that, it’d probably take another thousand words- I’ll move on… Their last album ‘heaven is whenever’ saw a departure from the previous line up, losing the original keyboardist and gaining a guitar player (who looks like huggy bear)

The happy result…

Go and see them live. I’ve been 7 times now and I’m still not bored.

The National

Another American, Brooklyn-based 5/6/7 piece this one…

Going for a good ten years they have 7 albums under their belts- I think it was Mark Radcliffe on a Glastonbury highlights show from this year who described the national as sounding something like Bruce Springsteen performing and writing songs with Joy Division. Probably something close to the truth really – the core of the band is composed of two sets of twins as the instrumental section- the Dessner brothers as lead guitarists and the Devendorf brothers as the rhythm section. Make a lovely noise, sometimes softer and sometimes heavier- you get the feeling they can pick and choose on their albums which adds a great range of depth and diversity to the sound. The distinctive baritone noises that come out of the mouth of Matt Berninger also offer something a little different than the standard indie offerings of the day, not afraid to throw a few violins at a record to spruce it up a bit either.

I was introduced to their 2005 album ‘alligator’ by a housemate last year and was blown away by it. Too many to pick from this album but you can have… lit up. :

I can never quite work out what that song is about- some of my favourite song lyrics can be found therein though:

“And everything surrounds you, and it doesn’t fade
Nothing like this sound I make
That only lasts the season
And only heard by, bedroom kids who buy it for that reason”

Listening to that reminded me how good the album is. Buy it.

Their next offering came in the form of ‘boxer’ (2007), another really, really good record. The big debate seems to be which between this and alligator is the best album but if I am honest I’m just happy to have both in my record collection. It’s no great departure musically but perhaps more accessible on some levels- call it more hits or something… my favourite:

Their newest album ‘high violet’ was released this year. Off the back of snowballing publicity through the ‘alligator’ and ‘boxer’ albums – did really well, I think it reached #5 over here in the album charts.

It’s a brooding, dark record which really sounds like something big and blunt has crawled up Matt Berninger’s arse- it definitely grew on me from the first listen.

One of the less (but not that much less) sober moments off the album can be found here:

Laden with emotion and the crashing disappointment of the hindsight of failed relationships the song manages to soar into a crescendo of hopeful beginnings, trumpets and bittersweet irony. Listened to that song about 8 times the first time I heard it. Sure as I am of the quality of the song, I’m also pretty sure the park the guy is in at 1:50 on the video is shot in Williamson’s park, Lancaster- with his bottle of white lightning hidden away in his trench coat.

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