Monday, 15 October 2007

NationalModSpot : GaelicFilles 1

Once again, I totally forgot that this year's Royal National Mod is on at the moment, in Fort William. The National Mod is like the Scots Gaelic equivalent of the Welsh Eisteddfod, with competitions in singing, poetry, piping, and clarsach playing, amongst others. I was hoping to have a new Capercaillie album to post about by this point, but it hasn't materialised yet,so instead, in honour of the Mod, I'll write a few posts about my favourite female Gaelic singers.

First up, Karen Matheson,both solo and as a member of Capercaillie. The band were the first Gaelic music I came across; you can read more info in my previous post here .

Karen has released three solo albums; 1996's The Dreaming Sea, Time To Fall (2002) and Downriver, in 2005. TDS is a mixture of English and Gaelic songs, while TTF and Downriver are almostly exclusively Englsh and Gaelic respectively. I much prefer Karen's Gaelic singing so I haven't bothered to buy TTF yet; the other two CDs are quite distinct in style. TDS has more of a "pop" production, whereas Downriver has a more organic "live" feel. My favourite-ever Karen song is on the latter record, "Crucan Na bPaiste" (Burial Place Of The Children). This is a song written by the Irish novelist Brendan Graham for a character in one of his novels. The burial place referred to in the title is a children's graveyard in County Mayo in Ireland, and the song is a mother's lament for her dead daughter. Karen's singing perfectly evokes an atmosphere of sorrow, which is enhanced by a gorgeously sad uilleann pipe solo.

"'Ic Iain 'ic Sheumais" from TDS is one of many versions of this song, a battle song from North Uist. "Rithill Aill" is a mouth-music song which took me a while to get into, but once I did I loved it, due to its fantastic rhythm.

The main benefit I have drawn from discovering Capercaillie and Karen is that they introduced me to Gaelic poetry, particularly the works of Domhnall Ruadh Choruna (1887-1967) and Sorley Maclean (1911-1996), admittedly with varying degrees of success; Domhnall Ruadh Choruna was mainly a poet of war, but he wrote one of the finest Gaelic love poems, indeed one of the finest Gaelic poems full stop, "An Eala Bhan" (The White Swan). "An Eala Bhan" is a war poem in the sense that it is set in the trenches of WW1 and describes conditions therein, but it is addressed to a girl back home in North Uist -the White Swan of the title.
Capercaillie have recorded the poem set to music twice; on their debut Cascade and on 1993's Secret People . The melody is as beautiful as the words.

For a long while "An Eala Bhan" was my favourite Gaelic poem, and it's still in the top 3, but I can't really "get in to" Choruna's other work. In contrast, I love Sorley Maclean's poetry in general. Karen Matheson has recorded "Calbharaigh" (Calvary), and Capercaillie have recorded Am Mur Gorm (The Blue Rampart), which is from the sequence "Dain Do Eimhir agus Dain Eile" (Poems to Eimhir and Other Poems), Maclean's most famous work. Donald Shaw set it to music and added an English verse on 1998's Beautiful Wasteland. The poem is incredibly evocative anyway, but Shaw's music (ignoring the English verse, the purpose of which I don't know) captures the rhythm of the words perfectly.

"Crucan Na bPaiste" (mp3)

" 'ic Iain 'i Sheumais" (mp3)

"Rithill Aill" (mp3)

"An Eala Bhan" (Cascade version) (mp3)

"An Eala Bhan" (Secret People version) (mp3)

"Am Mur Gorm" (mp3)

Extra: "The Tree" (mp3)

Official Karen Matheson website (link)
Official Sorley Maclean website (link)
Official National Mod website (link)

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

He believes in beauty

Bjork's first three albums (four if you include Telegram ) grabbed me as soon as I heard them; Post-Homogenic I kind of lost interest a bit. Sure, the albums were good, but listening to them wasn't terribly enjoyable. Admittedly, I was only 6 when "It's Oh So Quiet" was released, and so when I got Post a few years later I expected it to be more of the same. When it wasn't, I only liked half or so of the album initially. I left it for a while and bought Debut instead. I still love Debut; "Human Behaviour", "Big Time Sensuality", "Come To Me"...virtually every track is near-perfect pop. There are so many different Bjork releases about that it's not really practical to be completist. Today however I managed to get two Debut-era releases at hilariously reasonable prices: the 2-track "Venus As A Boy" US promo and the "Best Mixes From Debut For All The People Who Don't Buy White Labels" EP.

The best remix on the "Debut" EP in my opinion is the Black Dog mix of "Anchor Song". In the best possible way it sound like the original arrangement's horns have got stuck in the CD player,and the saxophones have got a bit scratched. The vocal floats unaltered over what sounds like it should be an aural mess but isn't, until a wonderful a capella section in the middle then everything just....stops. In the final 20 seconds, 4m30s of dissonance resolves itself, leading to a great, mellow ending.

The "VAaB" promo has an edited album version (meh) and the 7" American Dream mix, which I can only describe as beautiful. Twinkly, soothing, yet with funky drums as well...the only problem I have with it is that the sleevenote says it was remixed by Mick Hucknall...the Mick Hucknall? Really? If so, it's the best thing the ginger crooner's ever done.

Anchor Song (Black Dog Mix) (mp3)

Venus As A Boy (7" American Dream Mix) (mp3)

Official Bjork site (link)

Friday, 21 September 2007

Comment vais-je faire? Tu ne reviens pas

Today I finally got hold of Françoise Hardy's 2004 album Tant de Belles Choses, which gives me an excuse to write about my absolute favourite yéyé fille.
Françoise signed with Vogue records in 1961, and released the phenomenally successful "Tous Les Garçons et Les Filles", which sold 2 million copies. She went on to release a number of albums with Vogue before leaving them in 1967. Although my knowledge post-Vogue is a bit patchy (I'm trying to work my way through the later albums), inasmuch as I've heard the odd song but not many complete albums, I would say her early Vogue material is my favourite; there's not a song I don't like pre-68. I got into Françoise in 2004 just before TdBC came out but at that point I didn't know where to find new French CDs in shops, so I'm still playing catch-up.

Tant De Belles Choses is great, a bit soporific at times but the rest makes up for it:

Soir de Gala (mp3)
La Folie Ordinaire (mp3)

Two great Vogue-era tracks:

Si C'est Ça (mp3)
Le Premier Bonheur du Jour (mp3)

official Françoise Hardy website (link)

Thursday, 13 September 2007

We had a promise made; we were in love

Most people will know at least one song by The Knife, since José Gonzalez covered "Heartbeats" a couple of years ago. If you don't, The Knife are a Swedish brother/sister duo, Olof and Karin Dreijer, who make dark, synth-based pop. They tend to shun media attention (hence the masks above). Karin sang on "What Else is There" by Royksopp; the video is another example of media-avoidance. Only on the second or third viewing did I realise it's not Karin performing in the video, but model Marianne Schröder.
I bought the band's last album Deep Cuts on the strength of "Heartbeats" alone. The good songs were really good; some of it I didn't like so much. So when their latest album Silent Shout came out last year I was a bit "meh", especially since the first review I saw was possibly the only bad review given (Q Magazine gave the CD one star. The review can be summarised as "tuneless mess". Q Mag's given some dodgy reviews in its time, and this is an extreme example of them getting it wrong). But then, in July, Brille re-released a "deluxe edition" of Silent Shout. I'm a sucker for bonus discs, and have been hankering after the release for a while. i just got it yesterday and the package is pretty amazing. You get the original album, a live DVD with some amazing visuals and a CD with the audio of the DVD. Also on the DVD is every video the band have ever made plus a short film. Even if you have the Deep Cuts re-issue (which includes a bonus DVD with 5 music videos and the short film) it's worth getting for the other 15.

I've not got round to watching the whole DVD yet, but a highlight of the live audio is definitely "Heartbeats". The more glittery elements- and the steel drums- of the original have been removed, leaving a dark, shimering song which could easily fit on Silent Shout proper. Of the album tracks, I really like "Forest Families".

"Heartbeats" (live) (mp3)

"Forest Families" (mp3)

Official Knife website (link)

Monday, 3 September 2007

Whatever I got doesn't stay together

Another "lost" band (so far at least): Fried consist of the former Fine Young Cannibals bassist, David Steele, and Jonte Short, a former gospel singer from New Orleans. They released an eponymous album in 2004, but it pretty much sank without trace despite some exposure on TV. They recently re-released the album with a new title (Things Change), new artwork and a tweaked tracklisting, removing a couple from the previous release and adding three new songs. "Whatever I Choose I Lose" is one of the best songs on the album, though most of it is pretty good. Of the songs that didn't make the cut the second time around, I like "Getaway" the most; it has a great bassline and is very groovy.

"Whatever I Choose, I Lose" (mp3)
"Getaway" (mp3)

official (somewhat bare) Fried website (link)

Saturday, 1 September 2007

How do I know you feel it? How do I know it's true?

OK, you're thinking. You know that's Annie Lennox in the top picture, but who the hell are they in the other one, and why are they in the same post?

Basically, because they both recorded one of my favourite songs and they are both fantastic. The band are The Blue Nile, one of Scotland's least-prolific acts and best kept secrets. They have released 4 albums in 23 years: A Walk Across The Rooftops (1984), Hats (1989), Peace At Last (1996) and High(2004).

Hats reached #12 and was their most successful release. The band are something of an enigma: even their official website appears to have disappeared. However, their frontman Paul Buchanan has collaborated with a number of other artists including Annie Lennox. He wrote the song "The Gift" for her 1992 album Diva and she recorded my 2nd-favourite* Blue Nile song, "The Downtown Lights", on her covers album, Medusa. Both versions are as good as the other, though the original does sound distinctly 80s at the beginning. The lyrics are fantastic and the arrangement(s) are very evocative. Buchanan's understated vocals and synthdrums combined create a very atmospheric song.

On a related note, Annie Lennox releases her new single "Dark Road" on the 24th of September, and an album follows on the 1st of October. I bought her last album, but barring two songs which were amazing, the CD was largely disappointing. Since Annie is generally fabulous, I really hope this album will be a return to form.

The Blue Nile- "The Downtown Lights" (mp3)

Annie Lennox-"The Downtown Lights" (mp3)

* favourite is "I Love This Life" their debut single, which until recently was only available on a scarce vinyl, since the original issuers, RSO, disappeared. In 2004 the song and its b-side were made available on the (still pretty scarce) "I Would Never" single, from High. Track down a copy if you can: it's a truly fantastic song.

"I Love This Life" (mp3)

You'll never know all the ways I tried

Robyn is from Sweden, and previously was best known in the UK for the 90s hit "Show Me Love" until recently, when her collaboration with Andreas Kleerup "With Every Heartbeat" got to number one. Back in November '06 she released The Rakamonie EP , which includes the amazing ballad version of "Be Mine!". "Be Mine!" is the best thing on her recent, self-titled album, totally different from the ballad version, and really should be the next single. But it's not going to be: that apparently will be "Handle Me", released in late October.
To benefit from the success of "With Every Heartbeat" the UK version of "Robyn" is being re-released with a bonus track. The original Swedish release featured different artwork and different arrangements of two tracks, "Robotboy" and "Bum Like You". The original BLY is far better, I have no idea why they changed it.

"Be Mine!" (ballad version) (mp3)
"Bum Like You" (original version) (mp3)

official Robyn website (link)

Friday, 31 August 2007

J'ai un chagrin de baby doll

Mordi at Blowupdoll (link) has just posted the video to one of the best French pop songs, ever- "Boule de Flipper" by Corynne Charby. I know nothing of her apart from what's on Wikipedia, so, she was a model who went into movies, had a tiny bit of success, then in the mid-80s, released some music. As far as I understand, BdF was her biggest hit, and deservedly so. It's full of great imagery which I'm not going to try and explain, in case I get it totally wrong and someone with native French spots my mistakes. Just trust me, it's amazing.

*I do have the single version, somewhere, but can't find it. If I do, I'll post it, but I like the 12" version more, anyway.

"Boule de Flipper" (12" version) (mp3)

EDIT: I found it- "Boule de Flipper" (single edit) (mp3)

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

I'll show you places you have never been

Freshlyground are a 7-piece "afro-fusion" band based in South Africa, with members from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. They are fronted by the distinctive voice of Zolani Mahola (the girl at the front of the picture), singing in Xhosa and English,. There is a strong pop element in their work, as exemplified by their biggest single, "Doo Be Doo", which at one point was the most-played song on South African radio. Their new album "Ma'Cheri" will be released on September the 3rd in South Africa: given that they took over 2 years to release their last album Nomvula in the UK, I'm not holding my breath for a quick release. Though the band do now have a distribution deal with SonyBMG...

EDIT: apparently the new album will be available on from September the 3rd, according to whoever answers Freshlyground's email.

"Doo Be Doo" (mp3)
"I Am The Man" (mp3)
"Doo Be Doo "(Suli & Stef Remix) (mp3)

Official Freshlyground website (link)

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Chant thy praise I ever will

Capercaillie are one of the most successful Scottish folk bands ever, having sold over 1 million albums. Their 1992 single "Coisich, a Ruin" was the first Gaelic song to reach the UK top 40; Sean Connery described their vocalist, Karen Matheson, as having "a throat surely touched by God".
The songs may be centuries old, but Capercaille mix them with modern, diverse instrumentation (exemplified by "Coisich a Ruin", or the African vocal duo featured on Beautiful Wasteland)
In 1995, they released a compilation of their soundtrack work, for various Scottish TV programmes:The Blood Is Strong. This included original instrumentals as well as traditional songs,including re-recordings of previously released work. Two of the re-recorded songs were previously only available on Capercaillie's (now rare) first album, Cascade, which was released in 1984. "An Gille Ban" is a rather different arrangement from the 1984 version (titled "An t-Iarla Diurach", The Earl Of Jura, on Cascade), replacing the sparse whistle-and-synth backing with layered synths, fiddle and percussion. "Maideanan Na h-Airidh" ("Maighdeanan Na H-Airidh", The Sheiling Lass ) sticks pretty much to the original piano arrangement, but changes key; some of the verses are removed.
It took me a while to get used to the new versions. Cascade is very simply recorded, and Matheson's voice sings higher; however, once I got used to the more complicated production, I realised the newer versions were just as good.

"An Gille Ban" (mp3)
"Maideanan Na h-Airidh" (mp3)

A podcast interview (August 2007) from the West Highland Free Press with Donald Shaw of Capercaillie (link)

Official Capercaillie website (link)

Lyrics with English translations are available at Celtic Lyrics Corner (link)

Sunday, 1 July 2007

You go disco, and I'll go my way

I'm a late convert to Belle and Sebastian; the first album I bought of theirs was "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" in 2003, after hearing "I'm A Cuckoo" and seeing the CD going cheap. I knew of them, that there weren't just 2 people in the band, and that they had a song called "The Boy With The Arab Strap", but that was it. DCW is a great album- especially "I'm A Cuckoo", "You Don't Send Me", "If She Wants Me" and "Stay Loose"- but after buying the rest of B&S's catalogue, it's not my favourite. That would either be their debut, Tigermilk, or their compilation of E.P.s, "Push Barman To Open Old Wounds". Since I mostly listen to music in shuffle mode in mp3 form, I really have favourite B&S songs. "Electronic Renaissance" (mp3) is from "Tigermilk", but totally unrepresentative of the album. It's the most electronic (unsurprisingly) song the band have ever recorded, and one of their best. It is as beautiful as the rest of the album, but in a different way. I'll admit it took me a while to listen past the 20second mark, but once the drums kick in from 1:15-1:20, the song becomes suddenly brilliant.

A more traditional B&S song is"This Is Just A Modern Rock Song" (mp3) from the 1998 E.P. of the same name. Again, I didn't get into this immediately- you have to listen past the low-key beginning, then suddenly a gorgeous instrumental section kicks in, shunting the song out of "good" into "amazing", making you listen closer to the lyrics and the tone of the vocals, and at least for me, making you realise how beautiful the song is.

Not knowing the backstory to most of B&S's songs when I first listened, my mind created my own scenarios behind each song, so it's possible that the songs which move me aren't meant to be moving at all. However, TIJAMRS takes me somewhere few other songs do. There is at least one other B&S song which affects me similarly, but for different reasons: more about that some other time.

Official B&S website (link)

Friday, 22 June 2007

I know you're watching me

Andrea Corr's debut solo CD is out in the UK this Monday, the 25th of June. Produced by Nellee Hooper, the record is a departure from the Corrs' usual style, with more obvious electronic influences. Of the tracks that are available, the most successful song is "Hello Boys"(mp3).
Written from a brothel madam's point of view, the song comes on like Goldfrapp without the malevolent undercurrent. You get the feeling that although Corr might treat you mean 'til you beg for mercy, she'll ask nicely first.

Official Andrea Corr Website (link)

En plus, je sais que ça t'excite

Camille is best known in the UK for her 2005 album "Le Fil" (The Thread), in which every song is built on one continous note running through the recording. She also sung on the first Nouvelle Vague CD. However, Le Fil is not her debut release; in 2002 she released "Le sac des filles". Unlike "Le Fil" the record uses conventional song structures, but unusual elements remain, for example the apparent crockery fight that breaks out halfway through "Les Ex". (mp3)

The song features on her 2006"Live Au Trianon" CD, losing the crockery and flute line in favour of beatboxing and piano: the CD gets a UK release in July according to

Les ex (live) (mp3)
Au port (live) (mp3)

Official Camille Website (link)

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