Five From: Death Cab For Cutie

An attempt at a new feature wherein – in an effort to shake off the ‘lapsed’ status of postings – I proffer up five songs from an artist / band. Not a ‘Top Five’ as such more a potted selection should you be so inclined to check said act out….

Hailing from a Bellingham, Washington and undoubtedly influenced by the emo scene in nearby Seattle, Death Cab For Cutie have been putting out records for (gulp) 21 years now.

I got into them, like so many I guess, on the back of their widely acclaimed Transatlanticism. But then I stopped listening after the overexposure of Plans on the back of, I think, it featuring on some of those overly sappy, treacly, cheesier than a cheddar factory US teen-sitcom shows. However, in 2011 my wife surprised me with tickets to a DCFC show. I was expecting a lot of quiet acoustic numbers. Instead it was one of the best live shows I’ve seen – new material (the then-new Codes and Keys album) vastly more upbeat and superior to anything on Plans and songs that I didn’t know that meant I quickly went and picked up Narrow Stairs. The quality of those two albums (and the connection to a great night out) meant that Death Cab went up the play count list. Here’s five of those heavy rotation tunes that don’t sit in Spotify’s Top Five for DCFC:

Why’d You Want To Live Here

Title And Registration

This is the one that first got my attention and I still thoroughly enjoy it and Transatlanticism. That nagging little guitar line… I was quite chuffed when I sussed that one out.

I Will Possess Your Heart

Narrow Stairs is all too often dismissed and this song is immense with its build up of layers and pulsing rhythm – it kills live too.

You Are A Tourist

Viewed in retrospective, Codes and Keys is actually an intense break-up / pre-divorce album. Frontman Ben Gibbard had been married to Zooey Deschanel for a couple of years and was living the healthy life…. everyone labelled it his ‘happy’ album. But then the couple announced their seperation a few months later and lyrics like “If you feel just like a tourist/ In the city you were born/ Then it’s time to go/ And define your destination/ There’s so many different places to call home” take on a different meaning. Either way Codes and Keys is a bloody good album.

Little Wanderer

From their last studio album, Kintsugi. Not their strongest but a good effort and also the last to feature guitarist / occasional songwriter Chris Walla who’d been with the group from the start. With a new album strongly hinted at for this year, I’m looking forward to more.

Currently Spinning…

Ok, in an effort to return to semi-normal service here I thought I’d have a run down of what, Buffalo Tom’s latest aside, has been playing on my turntable, car stereo and iPod of late.

GrimLake – The Reality of the Naive

There’s been a lot of post-rock going into my ears of late. I’ve been taking in music from all over the shop – Germany’s Kokomo, Toundra and Audiolepsia from Barcelona… Then Lost in Kiev, one of my favourite discoveries of last year, shared that they’d been included on a free 41-track compilation. This is taken from that compilation but there’s so many great tunes on it that it’s been spinning heavily since I downloaded it.

The National – Day I Die

I don’t know why it took me so long to get a copy of the new album from The National. Their previous albums have seen heavy rotation and I enjoyed the early tracks but for some reason I only picked up Sleep Well Beast early this year. It’s a great album, one of 2017’s best, that sees the band play to their strengths while expanding their musical arsenal. Well worth investigation.

The War On Drugs – Nothing To Find

If we’re talking best albums of 2017 then The War On Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding has to be up there – that album hasn’t left my car since its release and has been played to the point I’m surprised its still holding up.


Death Cab For Cutie – No Room In Frame

Perhaps because it’s about time a new one was due from these guys but for some reason I’ve been spinning Death Cab’s Kintsugi a fair bit lately. That the vinyl came with a cd for the car never hurts. While it’s not up there with their finest – I feel a Top Five coming on – it’s a strong album nonetheless and I hope there’s more from them soon.

Pink Floyd – The Happiest Days of Our Lives / Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)

He’s a fair few years ahead of me on this one but my son is loving some Pink Floyd lately. Because Echoes is such a great compilation it’s often in the car and my son has developed a love for this particular combo. Initially it was the helicopters but I’ve often caught him singing along to ‘Another Brick…’ and  in true pre-school style there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing so this is often requested multiple times but with Gilmour’s playing as sublime as ever on this one who am I to complain.

A time of wanting but not really knowing…

My lapsed blogger status seems to have become a reality, it would seem. My new role keeping me at “off my tits” busy level. As such I didn’t find opportunity to do a “Best of” “Looking Back at” post for the last year and now that we’re almost nearing the end of January Part 2 it would be pretty pointless.

But there is one album I want to talk about and it kind of bridges a gap between best last year, this year and 1992. I’ll explain…

There were some great re-releases last year. A lot of hype went to Thommy and his  mates’ magnum opus but one of my favourites flew a little under the radar: Buffalo Tom’s  Let Me Come Over – 25th Anniversary Edition. I’ve written of BT before so won’t go too deep on the history of (one of, at least) Boston’s finest but Let Me Come Over was a breakthrough for them in terms of songwriting, contained some of their best songs and – with Tailllights Fade – almost saw them crack through into the mainstream.

Last year’s re-release didn’t add a great deal – there’s no exhaustive combing of the vaults for versions where the guitar was tuned slightly differently or the inclusion of b-sides. Instead there’s a fantastic 17 song live set on the second disc (well, 10 on the vinyl with the full lot on the digital) that sees the three-piece add more power and guitar tone to album (and career) highlights in concert up at the University of London’s student union.

Already one of my favorite albums, the reissued Let Me Come Over got a lot of plays last year, and would usually be the one album I point to as their career-best. But… but BUT: then along comes something new.

In a couple of weeks Buffalo Tom will drop Quiet and Peace. However, as an early backer on Pledge Music, I’ve been able to have this album playing in my car since December and I don’t think a week has gone by where I haven’t listened to it at least once.

I don’t think – judging by the press reviews that are starting to appear – I’m alone in saying that, 25 years after their previous such effort, Buffalo Tom have made another career highlight in Quiet and Peace.

It’s both rousing and reflective, channeling the maturity and seriousness that set them aside from other college rock bands in the early 90s, into a beautifully warm, almost autumnal feel. Sample lyric: “Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead” from ‘All Be Gone’.

When I first go into Buffalo Tom it was on the back of 2000’s Asides From compilation that marked the commencement of a hiatus for the band. It would be seven years until they got it back together. Quiet and Peace is the third album since they reconvened and, not to bag on Three Easy Peices or Skins, it’s easily the best they’ve done since and easily has had more plays than some of their latter post-hiatus records too. There’s a cohesiveness to it (perhaps down to mixing from John Agnello  – Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady.. and Buffalo Tom – or Dave Minehan’s production) and the songs sound just that little bit more well-brewed. Or maybe it was just an alignment in the cosmos or something, who knows how it happens but the ten new songs on Quiet and Peace – and the closing over of ‘Only Living Boy In New York City – make for one of Buffalo Tom’s finest collections to date, their new best record released just after celebrating the birthday of their previous one.

There’s precious little I can share in terms of songs or videos from it at the moment but keep an eye out for it in early March – Quiet and Peace is a belter of an album.


Blog Tour: Blue Night by Simone Buchholz

From the PR: “After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble. However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying under police guard in hospital, Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in.

Using all her powers of persuasion, she soon gains her charge’s confidence, and finds herself on the trail to Leipzig, a new ally, and a whole heap of lethal synthetic drugs. When she discovers that a friend and former colleague is trying to bring down Hamburg’s Albanian mafia kingpin single-handedly, it looks like Chas Riley’s dull lifeon witness protection really has been short-lived…”

Aside from a tiny bit of wear on the cover, my copy of Blue Night is pretty much pristine. There are no pages with creased corners from place marking and no cracks in the spine. Why? Because this book did not spend long in my hands. I tore through Simone Buchholz’ novel so fast as to not to leave a mark on a book that left plenty of impression on its reader. So hungrily did I rip through these 180 pages or so of tightly packed, immensely well plotted fiction that I found myself carried forward by such momentum as to be disappointed when it finished.  Not disappointed by the contents in any way whatsoever! No: disappointed that there wasn’t immediately more, more and more!

Blue Night is also deceptive – it might be a short read and require fewer trees than many but it packs in way more into its pages than many a pulp-and-ink-hungrier book manages. Between the covers (another tip of the hat to Orenda – has anyone mentioned just how many great covers come out of this publisher?) is a rich, tightly woven plot that’s brimming with intrigue and with plenty of back story woven in, compelling characters and a great approach to narrative… oh, and it all rips along at one hell of a pace.

As I’m a) an early stop on this tour and b) pretty out of touch with social media of late I haven’t seen all too many reviews for Blue Night just yet (I’m fortunate enough to have been sent a proof copy) but aside from expecting to see unanimous praise for Simone Buchholz I imagine there’ll be plenty of comparisons to other authors as time progresses so I’ll get in there early and say that I won’t draw any: Buchholz’ writing style is original and she delivers a fantastic story in a unique voice that’s a welcome blast of fresh air and a great start to the year’s reading.

I thoroughly recommend Blue Night – thanks, again, to Karen for my copy and do check out the other stops on the blogtour.

38, 39, 40…. 41! Pages Turned

I thought it was going to come down to the wire but I managed to hit my, strictly self-imposed, challenge of reading 40 books in 2017 and even managed to squeeze in an extra for added bonus points.

Oddly, aware of the looming ‘deadline’ I still pulled the hefty Phantom by Jo Nesbo from the the TBR pile to kick off the final stretch. Continuing the Harry Hole saga in chronological progression from The Snowman  I’m enjoying every instalment more than the last and Phantom was a real gripper for every one of its 550 or so pages, taking every element of the Hole saga to date and turning them up to 11. As he develops as a writer, Nesbo manages to take an almost literary-fiction style approach to the thriller genre, layering in so many different sub-plots and factors as to really mark his work out as a leader in the field.

Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Girl Who Wasn’t There is very much a book of two halves, so very distinctly different in terms of narrative style that I had to double check it was still the same story. It had been on the shelves for a year or so after my wife read it with my occasionally eyeballing it and I’m very much glad I decided to read it, if only based on the thinking that it’s slightness would enable me to reach my goal. Instead I discovered that it’s one of those deceptive short-novels, with so much packed in as to feel like a larger read. A beguiling an beautiful slow-burn of a first half coupled to a completely bat-shit crazy, what the fuck is going on, fast paced thriller of a conclusion.

With two weeks remaining in the year I thought I’d round out the 40 with the only non-fiction of the year (something of a rarity in itself) – Robert Leckie’s Helmet for my Pillow. As a big fan of HBO’s Band of Brothers and having read the material that informed that show too, I thought I’d do the same with 2010’s The Pacific. While not as absorbing, to me at least, as Band of Brothers there was an intensity about The Pacific which meant I quickly bought the books that had informed it…. and let them sit on my shelf as I never got round to them. Having been left aghast at the perception of his war by South Pacific – Robert Leckie put pen to paper to give an unflinchingly honest and occasionally harrowing description of his experience as a Marine during the Second World War. What I look for in such a book isn’t the “guts and glory” – that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to my near-pacifist mentality – it’s the accounts of normal people who find themselves in an extraordinary situations unimaginable to those of us who live in a sheltered, comfortable world (due, thinking about it, to their actions).

Helmet For My Pillow, clearly the work of a literary man, makes for a shocking read at times but I found it compelling throughout and deeply human. It certainly ranks up high in the list of those memoirs of this era I’ve read*. Leckie manages to find the humanity in what were deeply dehumanising circumstances. Particularly striking for me was this passage:

But, with the festive break from work affording more reading time I managed to clear Leckie’s book with time to spare and got started on book 41 of 2017, a gift from my wife, The Book of Mirrors by EO Chirovici, a Romanian author. Turns out this one was something of a big deal in the publishing world back in 2015 – this is Chirovici’s first novel in English and was snapped up by publishers in 23 countries, landing him a likely seven-figure sum just in publishing deals ahead of its actual publication in 2017. After all that hype is it any good? Yes, in short. I thoroughly enjoyed it even if, for the first session or two with it I was still feverish and ended up with it going round in circles in my head. It’s a simple enough whodunit that explores the reliability of memory but Chirovici delivers it with a lot of narrative play, a lot of psychological twisting and turning and a nice leaning on good old mystery and thrill.

I’ve hedged my bets for 2018 and not extended my aim beyond trying for 40 again.


*Iron Coffins by Herbert A. Werner ranks as my favourite and Alan Deere’s Nine Lives probably rubs shoulders with the U-Boat commander’s account.

I have legalised robbery, called it belief

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a strange thing that I reckon probably means more in the States than it does here. I think it’s a lot of backslapping really but seems like excuse enough for a good bout of entertainment each year as those acts inducted – depending on which member is still not speaking to another for perceived slights / lawsuits / wife fondling or other – blast through a couple of their most well-known numbers.

While I’m sure many a musical press headline will be given over to whether an estranged guitarist will rejoin his former New Jersey bandmates and plug in his talkbox, the really interesting one for me is the induction of Dire Straits.

Aside from seeing a very British band being pulled into a distinctly American ritual, the big question is whether or not Mark Knopfler will decide this is reason enough to play with those other members that are being inducted.

Given that one of those members being inducted is his brother David, who left the band all the way back in 1980 and the two have barely spoken since – it makes for quite the plot twist. While original drummer Pick Withers left in 1983 his departure was an amicable one so I doubt any issue would arise there. Of course there’s no doubt bass player, and the only other member to have been a constant, John Illsley is up for it: he’s said as much to press since the announcement and, to me, seems like the Nick Mason of the band – always up for the reunion that isn’t in his power to call.

It’s odd that Dire Straits are being inducted at all, in a way. It’s probably evidence that the “fan ballot” is now being considered, I suppose (and who would’ve pinned Dire Straits as getting that many votes?), but while there’s no denying their talent and popularity (how many people have a cd with a shimmering National Resonator on the cover? Thirty odd million?) they never seemed likely contenders for such a… recognition.

In a way they were never cool. My wife recently said – while not faulting them – they were a bit “boring.” It’s certainly true that they were never really innovators or swore on national tv or that Knopfler’s image was permanently removed from any possibility of cool thanks to those sweatbands, but I find it odd they don’t get much recognition in the same way so many other bands of that era have been offered in the urgency to bestow “legendary” status on those bands music writers remember from childhood. Rolling Stone put it succinctly “it might be a stretch to expect [millennials] to understand how band frontman Mark Knopfler, a balding thirtysomething given to wearing headbands and wristbands, used to  fill arenas full of young people. Pop stars don’t really look like dads as much as they used to. ”

I guess they’re just not ‘cool’ enough to be mentioned as influences or remembered beyond ‘Money for Nothing’ or ‘Sultans of Swing’ as far as radio programmers go.

Which is a real shame. I grew up with a grey TDK mixtape of their first four albums on heavy rotation in my Dad’s car so they form an important part of my musical education and, as I’ve said before – they’re all too often sneered at though I’m sure there’s an awful lot of guitarists and bands influenced by Knopfler’s playing. If it wouldn’t be counter-productive I’d give my right hand to play some of those licks and master that tone (I remember spending a huge amount of time learning ‘Private Investigations’).

They weren’t just four (or five or six depending on the time you caught them) blokes that looked like your geography teacher playing in a pub band. They lasted as long as they did – going against the flow of punk, new romantics and synthpop and fucking Duran Duran – and sold as many records as they did because behind the deceptively laid back phrasing and style there’s a master songwriter and formidable guitar player at work in Dire Straits’ back catalogue and to refute that is just plain ignorant. So – regardless of whether some format of the band gets up and plays ‘Romeo and Juliet’ one more time – I’m glad to see them being inducted. Well deserved.

That being said I am rooting for Knopfler, Illsley and Withers to at least play together one more time and put the thing to bed properly.

In the spirit of trying to get away from the obvious, here’s a playlist of a baker’s dozen ‘non-regulation’ tracks that you won’t find spun on radio but really should.



Pages turned

I seem to have become a lapsed blogger again. It’s what happens when life gets busy and spare time either shrinks or becomes more important. In this instance a new role has kept me busier and lunchtimes have not lent themselves to composing updates.

However – I’m now done for the year so let’s catch up, shall we?

I’m pretty much on-track to hit my self-imposed target of 40 books this year with the last one well underway with a week and change left of 2017. I managed quite a bit of progress this last month or two though with a book like The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy there’s no way to read it quickly.

Ellroy’s writing has been praised by many before and better than I’m sure I could. I will say that his is a unique and powerful voice that envelops a reader and sucks you into the seedy underbelly of 1950’s LA with a knack for the ‘big’ storylines that cross and weave into something huge. If I’m forced to I’d rate The Big Nowhere over The Black Dahlia – a much wider ranging story – and am anxious to move on to LA Confidential in the New Year.

I’ve yet to write that post I keep meaning to on Terry Pratchett. In the meantime my rebuilding of my Pratchett collection is going well. I’d say that of the 41 Discworld novels there’s what I consider a ‘golden’ period where Sir Terry hit his stride and get his style on the nose. For my money it’s from 1989’s Pyramids through to Monstrous Regiment in 2003. That’s a hell of a time frame for quality output  that recent re-reads Reaper Man and Feet of Clay both fall within. It had easily been 15 years since I’d read Reaper Man and I’d remembered nothing of it aside from ‘Death takes a holiday’ so I loved every page. The same could also be said of Feet of Clay though my memory of that one was clearer so I knew almost exactly where it was going – that being said it was still a pleasure to re-read. The Dark Side of the Sun, that being said, is pre-Discworld Pratchett and his voice was not yet found. It’s a very heavy-sci-fi book and feels, for the most part, as though Pratchett is trying too hard to force himself into a style that’s not his. There’s a brief section where the humour and narrative that would make him one of the UK’s biggest-selling authors makes an appearance but, for the most part, the 158 pages of The Dark Side of the Sun felt like a slog through three times as many.

Thinking of my need to clear a few more books by the end of the year I played a ‘cheat’ card and read 61 Hours by Lee Child – because reading a Reacher book never takes more than a couple of sittings. After being disappointed by the recent Night School I was very surprised by 61 Hours and would say it ranks up the top of those ten or so Reacher novels I’ve read to date. A great concept and plot setup and the countdown really pushes you on. The fact that Lee Child took Reacher out of his comfort zone and stuck him in an inhospitable location that often handicapped him really helped and I get the feeling Child himself was trying to shake the format up too – especially as he left Reacher’s fate unknown at the end.