New Music from Isobel Campbell

Earlier this evening, Isobel Campbell, Mark Lanegan’s frequent collaborator and co-conspirator (formerly of Belle & Sebastian) announced via Twitter that fans could download for free her reimagined version of Franz Ferdinand’s “Walk Away” in exchange for an email address.

Though her work with the former Screaming Trees frontman has been turning several heads over the last half-decade or so, and the tour for their Hawk LP (2010) remains the most properly brooding and seductive live show I have ever scene, Bel, as a solo artist, has remained sadly elusive. The current cover of “Walk Away” is, I believe, the first we’ve heard from her since Milk White Sheets in 2006. Those familiar with the Franz Ferdinand original should take note, this is a complete reimagining of the urtrack—more closely related to the great French chanteuses of the ’60s and ’70s than any Glaswegian guitar pop you’ve ever heard—more Françoise Hardy than Franz Ferdinand.

While Milk White Sheets, blew me away by frequently applying adventurous, contemporary melodic counterpoint and harmonic colors to traditional songs and folk melodies, “Walk Away” recalls an earlier vein in the enigmatic Ms. Campbell’s body of work. Built on the foundation of a subdued jazz drum kit, simple bass line, and sustained chordal string harmonies, a fairly prominent glockenspiel countermelody to complement to her soft, sweet, and breathy vocals provides much of the textural interest here and hearkens back to her first post-B&S album, Amorino, or, even more so, to her days as The Gentle Waves.

If you follow her various social media outlets, you understand how elusive Bel can be. With only some 70 tweets to her name, you’d be forgiven for believing she’d given up on the music thing entirely. But with a recent uptick in Twitter activity (including this promising post from just over a week ago), and now the offer of this new track, it seems likely that there might more for us Isobel Campbell devotees in the relatively near future. Until then, head over to her website and trade your email address for a glimpse of what’s to come. Then, tell all your friends to do the same.

Follow Isobel on Facebook and on Twitter (@Isobel_Campbell)

Best of 2010: Albums and EPs

I feel as if I’ve read through innumerable Best Of lists this month, as, I suspect, do you (especially if you’ve managed to make it far enough down your googling results to reach my little bit webspace). And, as is usually the case, most of them probably read as a tidy summation of what began the year as the most anticipated releases of 2010 with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. But, as hard as I try, no list I can pull together could hope to effectively encapsulate the music of 2010. Of course, there are the usual gaps in my listening, as there are with anyone. But, more importantly, I think the legacy of this past year, at least in my experience, will be an idea. ‘Beauty is back‘.

With it’s near-flawless litany of releases, the genre-bending and earth-shattering work of New Amsterdam Records is proof enough that beauty is a priority once again. But add to that the utter sweetness of The Secret Sisters, rampant sexual tension of Bitter Ruin, the raw power of My Gold Mask and Dimbleby & Capper, and the sheer joy of Super Desserts and Allo Darlin’, and our rediscovery of the visceral impact of technique and execution is impossible to ignore.

I haven’t ranked the albums and EPs on this list. Their very appearance here will attest to my attachment to them (if you want more details—well, that’s what the rest of this blog is for). Still, despite the ironic egalitarianism of my Best Ofs, there is one album which stands out in my mind as the landmark achievement of 2010. This one.

Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’

Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love [review]

Bitter Ruin – Hung, Drawn, and Quartered [interview]

Dimbleby & Capper – Slick Maturity [more info]

Hooray For EarthMomo

Ivan MoultThe Mine Canary [review]

My Gold Mask – A Million Miles (From Where We Were Last)

Public Service Broadcasting – EP One

The SchoolLoveless Unbeliever [review] [interview]

The Secret SistersThe Secret Sisters

Sarah Kirkland Snider (feat. Shara Worden and Signal) – Penelope [review]

Super Desserts – Twee As Folk [review]

VictoireCathedral City [review]

Best Songs of 2010

It’s that time of year again: the time when I bombard you with list after list of my favourite musical bits of 2010. At first, I thought I might rank them like everybody else does, but I’m too in love with everything on this list to choose any one song over any other. Likewise, I reserve the right to add to this list for at least the next week. For example, in the last 10 minutes, I have realised that I had neglected to include two songs I was absolutely mad about for most of the summer (my sincerest apologies to IDRchitecture and Polarsets). No worries, though, I’ll notify the intarwebs of any amendments to this list.

So, here you go. In no particular order (well, in pseudo-alphabetical order), my favourite songs of 2010.

[Links to streaming tracks, videos, official sites, and any posts I’ve already written are provided wherever possible.]

Allo Darlin’ – “My Heart Is a Drummer” [bandcamp]

Belle & Sebastian – “I Want the World to Stop” [video] [review]

Dimbleby & Capper – “Black Smoke/ Burning House” [bandcamp] [interview] [interview part 2]

Dimbleby & Capper – “Raise It Right” [soundcloud]

Dimbleby & Capper – “Want This”  [download]

IDRchitecture – “Mortimer” [free download] [website]

Math and Physics Club – “We’re So DIY” [youtube] [website] [review]

Ivan Moult – “Fetch Me a Bucket” [video] [myspace] [review]

Polarsets – “Leave Argentina” [bandcamp]

Public Service Broadcasting – “New Dimensions in Sound” [download] [bandcamp]

Secret Sisters – “Big River” [Third Man Records page]

Sarah Kirkland Snider – “Circe and the Hanged Man” [bandcamp] [album] [website] [review]

Super Desserts – “I Only Love You Because You Can Play Guitar” [bandcamp] [album] [review]

Super Desserts – “Crush on You” [bandcamp] [album] [review]

Those Dancing Days – “Fuckarias” [mp3] [review]

BONUS: because I failed to place it in it’s proper place in 2009 (and because there is an official video now) . . .

The Black Atlantic – “Fragile Meadow” [bandcamp] [album] [website] [review]

Belle and Sebastian write about love

Occasionally, I find myself muttering things along the lines of “it’s about time for ______ to release another album”. I try not to say these things too often because I, like most of you (the discerning listeners I know you are), ultimately prefer quality over quantity and I’d hate for my favorite bands to put out something rushed and rubbish because they’re afraid I’ll start snatching up Justin Bieber records left and right if they don’t. That said, four and a half years after the release of The Life Pursuit, it really is time for Belle & Sebastian to release another record. So I think you can understand what a relief it is to add Belle and Sebastian Write About Love to the rotation.

As with any Belle & Sebastian release, there are a handful of people who are once again irate that the band haven’t slapped a new cover onto If You’re Feeling Sinister and called it a day. For the rest of us who realize that fourteen years is a long time in the life of a band (Stuart Murdoch is 42 for goodness’ sake!) and that some changes are bound to happen, there is, instead, the search for that ineffable quality that makes a Belle & Sebastian record a Belle & Sebastian record. Most will, of course, find the answer they’re looking for by the conclusion of the album’s opener “I Didn’t See It Coming” with Sarah Martin taking on the bulk of the vocals. Those holding out for an even more vintage B&S vibe will be pleased with “Read the Blessed Pages” which harks all the way back to the unreleased (to my knowledge) “Rhoda” and is, arguably, the most straightforward and personal song Stuart has put out in a decade.

Stylistically, Write About Love falls somewhere between the intricately orchestrated Dear Catastrophe Waitress and the more intimate affairs of the late 90s. Speaking of affairs, there is one holdover from last year’s excursion into God Help the Girl, namely the presence of guest vocalists. It’s not as if the band have never involved guest vocalists—who could forget Monica Queen’s epic turn on the inimitable “Lazy Line Painter Jane”?—but this time round, you might say the guest vocals have gone markedly upmarket. Most notably for casual fans of the mainstream is “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John”, a duet between Stuart Murdoch and, believe it or not, Norah Jones. It’s a juxtaposition that’s jarring at first, but after a few listens, you begin to realize that there is in fact room for Miss Jones in the B&S aesthetic. More likely to go unnoticed is the title track, a healthy dose of northern soul with a hefty cameo by Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan bound to boost my Whovian crush on my darling Sally Sparrow by at least 47 points.

While “Write About Love”, with its pitch-perfect blend of Life Pursuit and God Help the Girl, is easily the high point of the album for me, there is more still to sate your obsession for the next few years. There’s the crisply soulful “I Want the World to Stop” and Stevie Jackson’s pseudo-psychedelic “I’m Not Living In the Real World”, both of which went over beautifully with the last night’s audience at the Chicago Theater. And on the old school front is the sweetly melodic “Ghost of Rockschool” and some priceless moments scattered throughout “Calculating Bimbo”.

Those of you who are regular readers probably know what I am going to say next. It’s my favorite thing about this blogging racket: the fact that I have absolutely no obligation to maintain any semblance of neutrality. You’re only reading this because you want to know what I think about Belle and Sebastian Write About Love and I’ve only bothered to write about it because I want you to know why I was able to listen to it six hours a day for the better part of a week. God knows I’ve never seen a penny from anything I’ve ever written here and I’m certainly not beholden to any of the parties involved with this album. To my knowledge, I have only ever been in the same building as Stuart Murdoch once, but he and the rest of the Belles have been in my head for years and to hear Belle and Sebastian Write About Love is pretty solid proof that they are still there. Like I said, ineffable.