It was that Wednesday when the storm was sinkin’ low… some mid-week tunes

Here we are on week eighteen of January and it feels like a suitable moment to take stock on what – in between sunning myself on tropical shores and spending my money on fast women and slow horses – I’ve been punishing my ears with this last week or so.

Camp Cope – Caroline

I’d seen Camp Cope’s 2022 album Running With The Hurricane crop up on a few ‘best of year’ lists recently and have spent this week hooked on it. It’s absolute cracker.

Alexi Murdoch – Through The Dark

Occasionally I’ll flick on an episode of something while I’m chewing down my lunch (usually in between the second and third meat courses while the servants are refilling the wine). I recently flicked on an episode of ‘House’ in which this song featured and I found myself captivated by it – in a way it recalls those moody acoustic bruisers that Pearl Jam would drop in their middle period.

Laura Cox – So Long

‘Half English – half French, 100% Rock n Roll’ is how Laura Cox describes herself. All I know is I’ve been digging her new album of late – she fits into that blues rock vibe with a nice meaty tone.

Tori Amos – Pretty Good Year

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Tori Amos’ first couple of albums since 1357’s appraisal of Little Earthquakes and they’ve both been rereleased in pretty coloured vinyl packages recently too. My cassette versions of them are holding up ok so I’m not about to drop coin on replacing them but there’s genuine gold in those albums. Related question: does anyone burn cds anymore?

Russian Circles – Ethel

The whole Memorials album is strong but there’s something so transportive about ‘Ethel’ that it’s a regular player on my Post-Rock playlist. I know, even as a lover of the genre, some post-rock tunes can hang around longer than an unwanted politician but this one is in, out, done in just four minutes of brilliance.

Slowdive – Slomo

Speaking of transportive…. I’v played Slowdive’s Slowdive more times than I can count since it joined my collection at the tail end of 2021 and it was only a week or so ago that, when slipping the lp back into the sleeve, I realised it had a download code in there. Since then it’s been on the regular in the car too – there’s something immediately soothing about ‘Slomo’ in particular that makes it as an ideal to cue up for the drive home as it does chilling out at home after a hard day’s drinking and hitting the pipe.

2022 en revue

With January dragging its heels and with my usual sense of procrastination spreading posts out ever thinner, the time is probably past to look back at that music of 2022 that tickled my fancy. And yet…

In music terms, at least that which sits within this blog’s wheelhouse, 2022 was a bit of an outlier in as much as there’s not one specific album that stands out as ‘album of the year’ for me.

I listened to a shed load and, I’d like to think, broadened my musical palette somewhat if only geographically. Holding off on the ‘new’ stuff for a moment, it was 2022 that I took a deeper diver into Neil Young’s back catalogue. Having had my curiosity piqued by a compilation cd included with a magazine (one that wasn’t hits heavy) I also picked up his book ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ -typically I embarked on this journey as Mr Young pulled his music from Spotify and so I’ve been exploring his albums (from This Note’s For You thru to Mirrorball thus far) on cassette – this feels somehow appropriate to me. So Neil Young and, in particular, Ragged Glory was a pretty regular sound in 2022.

While it was released in 2021, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram’s 662 was ‘new to me’ last year and got a shit load of plays from me in 2022 as both my son and I get a real kick out of his guitar tone. On a similar note, 2022 was the year I discovered Larkin Poe thanks to a random flick over to a different DAB station. Their 2022 album Blood Harmony is a cracking listen.

Thinking back there were a number of songs that stand out. A good chunk of these came from spending two weeks listening to the radio over in France – which is probably the longest I’ve consistently done so and stayed with the one station. The down side to that being that you hear a lot of Maneskin’s bloody ‘Supermodel’. The upside was hearing songs like Sting’s ‘Rushing Water’ and tracks like Adé’s ‘Tout Savoir’ and Marie-Flore’s ‘Mal barré’. Tracks that wouldn’t normally sit within my wheelhouse but their connection to a great memory means they’re in the mix for 2022’s favourites.

On the subject of individual songs, there were a couple of albums that I expected to like a lot more than I did which were home to some good tunes even if the rest weren’t quite up to muster. I’m thinking here of Eddie Vedder’s Earthling and songs like ‘Invincible’, ‘Long Way’ and Brother The Cloud’ which definitely sit up with his finest. I’d hoped for more from Regina Spektor’s first album in six years but Home, before and after wasn’t quite there. It’s home to a good few tracks though, amongst which ‘Up the Mountain’ got a lot of plays this year.

Anywho, if there wasn’t one particular ‘album of the year’ for me in 2022, there were a good few that stood out and got plenty of spins:

Placebo – Never Let Me Go

This was a surprise for me – I hadn’t bought a new Placebo album since Meds in 2006 but after hearing the lead of singles (including plenty of plays of ‘Beautiful James’ on French radio), streaming the album more times than I could count I actually bought the album toward the end of year and it’s a real solid, consistent return to form for the band that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Melody’s Echo Chamber – Emotional Eternal

Apparently the aim of this album is for the listener to find their bliss while Melody Prochet searches for hers. This was another discovery via the radio and the album has had many a play over 2022 – there’s a lot to love on this melodic, psych/dream-pop record with hints of baroque, gallic and shoegaze sounds melding together and gliding along on a trippy vibe from start to finish.

Built to Spill – When The Wind Forgets Your Name

A new Built to Spill album is always worth checking in for – they seem to come along so infrequently these days – and this tight, taut and guitar-tastic offering from Doug Martsch (this time working with Brazilian band Oruã’s rhythm section) is a late-career stunner.

Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

The idea that a band could consistently release such brilliant albums as Big Thief have done is bonkers – but then they did call their debut Masterpiece. Seemingly not content with two fucking great albums in 2019, Big Thief hunkered down at the tail-end of 2020 and spent five months recording songs in five different locations. The result, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is that rarest of things – a double album that’s essential throughout: spanning, as it does, the full range of Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting range while still highlighting the strength of the band as a unit.

Soccer Mommy – Sometimes Forever

All signs that Soccer Mommy’s new album was going to be a cracker were in place – the progression evident on Sophie Allison’s previous albums and EPs was evident and Sometimes Forever didn’t disappoint. Appropriately sitting next to last year’s album from Snail Mail in my collection, Sometimes Forever uses those guitar-driven, often slow-build / reveal, mood setters to offset intense and sometimes confessional lyrics to great affect. The pop-minded melodies, big choruses and electronic production touches make this her fullest sound and best yet.

Am Fost La Munte Și Mi-a Plăcut – La Vale

There were a lot of great post-rock albums in 2022 and while it’s a close call with Exxassen’s Le Voyage, Am Fost La Munte Și Mi-a Plăcut’s La Vale has easily had the most plays from me in 2022.

Hailing from Bucharest, their riff-driven take on post-rock has been a favourite of mine for some years now and La Vale is a fantastic slab of the good stuff.

I’ve even put together a playlist of those tunes that stand out as highlights from 2022 – some mentioned here, some not – in no particular order so probably best enjoyed on shuffle, should you be so inclined.

My baby’s gone, with the wind. Train roll on. Tuesday’s… tunes

Where does the time go? While I work up a few longer-form posts I thought the time was right to drop a quick summary of those aural delights I’ve been enjoying of late.

Larkin Poe – Deep Stays Down

Having only recently been turned on to Larkin Poe it was pretty damn decent of them to release a new album – Blood Harmony – so soon for me to enjoy. Gotta love how ‘Deep Stays Down’ builds up before unleashing, the whole album is a blast.

Luna Amară – Om

Luna Amară are a Romanian band – hailing from Cluj-Napoca. My wife picked up their album Nord for me when she had to pop over recently. There’s some really decent stuff on there and ‘Om’ is a favourite. He’s really giving it some on the chorus – Liber respiră, Fii tu fii om, Totul inspiră, Fii tu fii om / Breathe freely, be you – be human, everything inspires, be you – be human

Wolf Alice – Smile

I was late to the party with Wolf Alice’s 2021 album Blue Weekend. I bought it for my wife – as she wasn’t – but after hearing it each time I use her car (I don’t agree with her radio presets) I’ve really been enjoying it and, having drifted away after their first album, realise I’ve missed a lot.

Hum – Stars

Just because it’s great

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Live at the Fillmore, 1997)

It’s no secret around these parts that the 1994 thru 1999 / Wildflowers thru Echo is my favourite Tom Petty & Heartbreaker’s period – they were mining such a rich seam as borne out by recent re-releases and the newly released Live at the Fillmore, 1997 is just fucking amazing. They were never better than this – they were great before and carried on being brilliant live (as the equally wonderful Live Anthology proves) but this captures PEAK Petty and Heartbreakers and I’ve been gorging on this since it dropped.

Bruce Springsteen – Galveston Bay

As time goes on I enjoy The Ghost of Tom Joad more and more – not that I didn’t already. A song like ‘Galveston Bay’ is so ridiculously good, it feels like the simplest of songs but what Bruce gets across with a bare, simple guitar line and five minutes is immense. I was gifted this one on wax for my birthday a few weeks back and have been soaking up the gorgeous atmosphere these tracks evoke once again on a pretty regular basis.

I’ll admit that I wonder now – five years plus on – whether my Least to Most Springsteen list would look the same and where recent additions Western Stars and Letter To You would fit but with the exciting news that Bruce is prepping a box of five unreleased post-1988 albums I think I’ll wait before reevaluating as, based on what I’ve heard from those likely inclusions, there’s to be some real gold there.

Soccer Mommy – I’m On Fire

Keeping it Bruce… at some point recently my son heard ‘I’m On Fire’ in the car and wanted to hear the rest when we got in the house. Cueing up the track on Spotify meant that, following on from Springsteen’s own we got the covers – the first of which was from Soccer Mommy whose own Sometimes, Forever has been a massive spinner this year. ‘Im On Fire’ seems a popular cover choice for female artists – I wouldn’t want to suggest any reasons why – and Sophie Allison does a cracking take on it here.

Drinking to the seldom seen kid: Monday spins

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley… it seems each time I build up a head of steam on here the train falters just a few miles out of the station.

But let’s persevere, shall we, and slip back in by commencing another week with a summary of those songs that have been getting some love from my ears of late.

Exxasens – Le-Voyage, Pt2: (Back to Space)

There’s a wonderful, rich seam of post-rock in Spain. Bands like Toundra, Astralia, Audiolepsia and, of course Exxasens are regular spinners for me. I particularly love those bands from the Catalonia region – to my ears there’s something more of the melodic bent to their brand of post-rock and Exxasens, from Bareclona, typify this beautifully. Plus, a lot of their releases are space-themed and I do love a bit of the space race. This is from their gorgeous new album Le-Voyage.

M’dou Moctar – Chismiten

Thanks to tuning in to The Rough Guide to Desert Blues – courtesy of 1537’s reminder to do so – songs like this often slip into one of my Spotify play lists and this one really made me sit up and pay attention. M’dou Moctar is a mean Tuareg guitarist and his brand of Saharan rock / desert blues just soars… it blows my mind sometimes how music of this calibre comes from places you might least expect it.

James McMurtry – Canola Fields

Changing gears pretty sharply here… you know when a monarch slips this mortal coil the radio stations here have to change gears too and adopt songs from a more suitable sombre tone, pre-approved play list. The commercial stations also have to do away with adverts – whether this is a requirement or because maybe hearing that prick James Cordon enthusing about their printer’s ink coffee during a period of ‘national mourning’ isn’t the image McDonald’s wants I don’t know.
However, it does mean I both listen more to stations I wouldn’t normally and tend to hear those tunes that wouldn’t get much airplay usually. Driving back from some rave in an aircraft hanger or massive acid bender somewhere during that period I flicked the radio over and caught this one and was hooked. More specifically I caught the lyrics, the moody tone and the guitar work and was hooked. Alt.Country has often throne up some fucking great lyrics (see Bill Mallonnee and the Vigilantes of Love’s ‘Resplendent’) and this is another prime example of how to get across a novel’s worth in a song without over stuffing the sandwich – due diligence later on enjoying the album of the same name revealed the James is the son of writer Larry McMurtry so it’s clear where the story-telling gene comes from.

Cassandra Jenkins – Michelangelo

Speaking of bruising guitar tones…. the combination of Cassandra Jenkins’ vocals and that tone on this one caught my ears on one of those ‘Best of 2021’ comps that I dug out of the door bucket in the car and slipped on whilst drunkenly careening down country lanes after an all-night booze-up. Her album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature is one I’d missed entirely last year but have been enjoying lately – the variety of styles, all underpinned with Jenkins’ voice and great performances – makes for a real enjoyable spin.

The Hold Steady – Denver Haircut

The Hold Steady’s return, and return to form, had kind of been unnoticed by me but I’ve been belatedly really digging their last two efforts – Open Door Policy and Thrashing Thru The Passion – and while the ‘indie’ scene seems to be overrun by sprechgesang of late it’s a timely reminder that Craig Finn had been effortlessly putting lyrically dense narratives against some blistering riffs long before it was the cool thing.

The War On Drugs – Oceans of Darkness

Last year’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore was another slab of perfection from The War On Drugs. Unfortunately they’re signed to a massive label which means that its success warrants a ‘deluxe edition’ re-release less than a year later and, as if to excuse such a step, they’ve included a new tune. Still, that’s what streaming is for. It’s a bloody belter though and shame it wasn’t included first time round.

The Beatles – Taxman (2022 mix)

Paul McCartney once said “I’m not signing that, that’s disgusting. Put it away.” He also, apparently, said no to helping George Harrison with the lyrics for ‘Taxman’ so Lennon – who wasn’t involved with either heroin or Yoko at this point – did. Since spending time with ‘Get Back’ I’ve been enjoying The Beatles more than before and while I’m not about to go out and drop any money on the upcoming massive archival release of Revolver (my favourite Beatles album) I will be enjoying nuggets like this as they pop up on the streamers. 

If you’ll just come with me you’ll see the beauty of Tuesday afternoon spins

Lo and behold I’m still here. As the kick in the dangly bits of Monday slips into Tuesday afternoon I thought it as suitable a time as any to put together a few of those things I’ve been listening to, a veritable smorgasbord of aural delights as big as… well.. what feels like the right length for a blog post, really.

Pixies – There’s A Moon On

New Pixies? It’s a pretty safe bet that anything they release will end up being welcomed by my lugholes.

Idlewild – Love Steals Us from Loneliness

Idlewild were a great band – I say were; I think they got back together but I’ve not heard anything of their more recent material – and so I was pretty chuffed to find their fourth album Warnings / Promises had received a vinyl release and it’s had a good few spins since picking up on sale a few weeks back.

Melody’s Echo Chamber – Where the Water Clears the Illusion

So Tame Impala gets a lot of play in Hill House as my wife is a big fan. There’s a lot of connections between the dude (Kevin Parker) and Melody Prochet who is Melody’s Echo Chamber that I don’t really know too much but it’s no surprise there’s a similar vibe to the music too. Anyway, this came up on the radio a while back as an intro and I’m really digging all the different elements – there’s some hints of shoegaze, space-rock and dream pop in there – in here and brew they create.

Kurt Vile – Wages of Sin

Speaking of things getting a good few spins; Kurt Vile’s new album (watch my moves) is yet another welcome addition – he just gets better with each passing album and they’re all such a great vibe to get lost in and if you add that vibe it to a Springsteen classic…

Soccer Mommy – Shotgun

I feel like I should have heard Soccer Mommy – the musical endeavour of Sophie Allison – before now. Probably because if you spin to the bottom of the Snail Mail listing (or whatever you call it) on Spotify Soccer Mommy is listed down there next to Lucy Dacus… instead it was having heard this one on the radio and then hitting up the streaming service to hear more.

Rage Against The Machine – Freedom

There’s been a real nostalgia drive in my house of late – harking back to that last great decade of music. Rage have featured heavily. They made three fucking intense and great albums and signed out (albeit with a covers album as number four) and this… well it doesn’t need any words.

OK so I don’t do TikTok or much social media in general but there’s this dude on there who I got send a link to – Jacob Givens. Honestly if I could hug him I would, he feels like a kindred spirit and it was seeing some of his videos that kicked off the nostalgia push so I’ll share one here as he’s also on youtube:

Hey hey, rise up: Friday’s spins

As I seem to be slipping back into the habit of posting more frequently, it feels like a fitting time to drop one of those ‘this is what I’ve been listening to’ posts that have peppered this blog previously as we head giddily into the weekend.

Pink Floyd – Hey Hey, Rise Up

Is this cheating? It only came out today but I’ve listened to it a good half dozen or so times already and it grows on me more each time. The first new Pink Floyd song in 28 years (songs from The Endless River were re-heated leftovers after all) is real grower – a gentle very-Floyd strum accompanying a powerful vocal from Ukrainian singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk giving way after a minute or so to a suitably screaming solo from David Gilmour that seems to be more an anguished scream of a protest song and keeps reaching those glorious notes so associated with the guitarist and Floyd. I’ve got a feeling that this song – a reaction to extraordinary times with added fuel as a result of Gilmour’s personal connection – is likely a one-off though.

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Wanna Wait

It took me until this year to fall head over heels with The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore because Atlantic Records are one of those major labels who seem to enjoy taking the piss with prices. The album was going for close to £40 on my preferred format and the fact that I could usually pick up a double on a lesser money grabbing label for half that meant I didn’t add it to my collection until I picked up the CD for under a fiver this year. It’s a brilliant album that’s been in the car pretty solidly over the last month or three. ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ is both a highlight and representative of the album as a whole – it builds from a deceptively simple very-80s beat before expanding into a much more involved, seemingly boundless song that’s dripping in that sun-kissed AOR vibe circa ’87 (think Tunnel of Love) underpinned by a guitars whose tone and fluidity leave me feeling sticky and satisfied.

The Mysterines – Hung Up

I’ve mentioned this group before and have been digging every song they’ve released thus far as they were on of those bands oft-played on 6Music during my commute. I’ve been spinning and loving their debut Reeling this week after I was able to make it to my usual dealer to collect my pre-order and I’m looking forward to where they take it next.

Loop – Heaven’s End

I have to wonder if the guy that owns my usual record shop has one of those ‘I will now sell five copies of “The Three EPs” by The Beta Band’ moments before I visit because when I stopped by to pick-up The Mysterines’ record he was playing an album to which both my wife and I both said “who is this?… it’s good!” As a result Loop’s debut Heaven’s End from 1987 is nestled in my collection and has been played quite a bit since. Think raw, Detroit-punk imbued trance-rock with hypnotic, discordant guitars and you’re on the way. I thought it was early Mudhoney at first but there’s elements of shoegaze in the mix with these drone-like soundscapes. I read a review that referred to this as “sound(ing) like the soundtrack to a missing hallucination scene from Easy Rider.”

Monty Python – I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio

My son has been discovering and generally enjoying Monty Python of late. Given that he’s only 8 there’s plenty that gets skipped or simply not shown but he was so loving ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ that the ’45 was added to the collection. This one was on the flip side and has probably been played more as it seems to hit the same mass enjoyment buttons shared by 8 and 41 year olds.

Dire Straits – News

I went to a record fair last weekend and all I got was this lousy t-shirt the only record I walked away with was Dire Strait’s Communique. A nice, clean and well-kept copy for a fiver hits about right for me. I think Communique gets a bit of a bad rap – it was a bit of a rush job after their first album took off and doesn’t have a hook akin to ‘Sultans of Swing’ and isn’t a patch on Making Movies but in ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’, ‘News’, ‘Where Do You Think You’re Going?’ ‘Angel of Mercy’ and ‘Portobello Belle’ does has have five cracking Dire Straits song and it’s more laid-back, subdued style is perfect for a certain vibe.

Earthling – Eddie Vedder takes it ‘solo’

I’m still here. I’m not quite finding my blogging mojo for reasons various but, hey, if there was anything that was gonna stir the juices a bit it was gonna be Pearl Jam related, right? And a solo album from Eddie Vedder that’s neither a soundtrack or sixteen ukulele tunes was always gonna be worth investigating.

First things first – it’s a manage expectations job. It’s not 1994 anymore and those expecting a Vedder solo album to be something that would represent the singer of ‘Not For You’, say, are living in the past with Walter Sobchack, man. I’ll admit I kind held a smidge of a hope for it though. See, while there are three decades of beautiful tradition, 2022’s Eddie Vedder is a different man. Let’s face it: it’s unlikely that he would have made an album of ukulele songs or caught the same wave that inspired Into The Wild straight after writing ‘Leash’. But, as Pearl Jam’s albums in the decades that followed that last great gasp for music have shown, Vedder remains a crafter of fine lyrics and tunes – as exemplified on 2020’s unexpectedly* strong Gigaton – as he matures.

Hearing the manner he’s been able to bring that sense of inner peace while still screaming at external torments – be they political or global – has made for many of Pearl Jam’s finer moments of the last couple of decades. For a band that’s often demonstrated that the sum is greater than the value of its parts, the real question was whether this would work outside of Pearl Jam on a more traditional (read: with full band backing not just four strings) solo album?

First impressions via lead-off single ‘The Long Way’ were promising – nice melody, lot of Tom Petty vibes while sounding like Eddie having fun without trying to sound like Pearl Jam. It even features Benmont Tench on the hammond organ, the first time the Heartbreaker had taken his equipment out of storage for use since the last Heartbreakers’ tour.

Then my anticipation stalled upon hearing ‘The Haves.’ In fact, it fell asleep. It’s a song with a good lyric but it’s straight-forward tack and lack of hook make the five minute run time feel four times as long. It’s not until the last minute or so that Vedder really seems to get into it from a vocal point. ‘Brother the Cloud’ however sent me to the ‘pre-order’ button**: it’s a fine tune that leans into the Pearl Jam sound without feeling like it’s trying to imitate and an inspired lyric from Vedder that’s seemingly about the passing of two people both called Chris:

Oddly for a solo album, there’s not a single Vedder / Vedder credit – all songs apparently born out of jam sessions with a band made up of Josh Klinghoffer, Chad Smith and Andrew Watt (who also produced) with Vedder smashing lyrics out at a clip that he hadn’t for some time. It means that these songs feel airier and have a spring in their step that speak of the speed at which the project came together and reached our ears. It also feels like Vedder had a real blast making this album. There’s no real head-on tackling of weighty issues and Vedder paints with the brighter, more vibrant rock colours that Pearl Jam typically avoids.

Sometimes this works really well – the previously mentioned ‘Long Way’ and ‘Brother the Cloud’ along with ‘Fallout Today’ and opener ‘Invincible’ shine as initial highlights: there’s a looseness and willingness to play about the music, ‘Fallout Today’ adds another entry into Vedder’s strong-women narratives and the multi-tracking of Vedder’s voice in ‘Invincible’ makes a great entry point for the album. According to a recent chat between Vedder and Springsteen it was the first music written and the last lyric completed:

This looser spontaneity gives Earthing a feel of an Eddie Vedder & Friends Rave Up. Despite the co-write credits, it’s clearly Eddie’s show throughout, though. While the ‘Earthlings’ are made up of big-name players they never contribute anything musically that would make you say, for example, ‘man, Chad’s such an awesome drummer, that fill made me need new undies’. It’s a feeling that’s borne out by the choice of guests on the album’s last volley of tunes too. Vedder has said that he approached the tracklist as he would a concert; toward the end you get a little more relaxed and bring out the guests. Much in in the same way as nobody has walked away from a Pearl Jam show saying “fuck, that dude from The Buzzcocks really added to ‘Rockin’ In the Free World’ tonight” nobody could say that the worst Beatle brings anything other than his name to ‘Mrs Mills’. If we’re keeping the same metaphor you’d guess Elton John was hanging around side stage and dragged on to trade vocals with Eddie on ‘Picture’ but managed to sound more like a South Park parody of himself with a song that feels like it should be accompanying some animated film about two animal friends. The real highlight in terms of guests is the fittingly all-too-brief moment in which Vedder accompanies his father on the closing ‘On My Way’:

For those familiar with the history of Vedder’s discovery that the guy he’d thought was his father ‘was nothing but a…’ that fuelled a large part of his and Pearl Jam’s initial angst, it feels like a fittingly emotional way for Vedder to end this album. Putting to bed some of his troubles on an album where he seems to be having more fun than he’s had on record in a long time.

Much like you’d expect from an ‘Eddie Vedder & Friends’ show, Earthling is a lot of fun and at times a damn fine listen. Those moments when Vedder is on form and giving it his all are great. Even when he’s leaning back and his forays into different styles don’t always land – his inherent abilities and unmistakable voice (though the effects of smoking on his voice prevent him breathing as much into a lyric as he once did) mean that even the lesser of these songs still offer a reason to tune in.

But – Elton John aside – what stops Earthling being brilliant is the sound and production, which fails on at least three tracks. It’s flat, sonically, where it could be really interesting – it’s all volume and no nuance or texture and feels out of place. It all sits on the shoulders of ‘super-producer’ Andrew Watt who, despite his fan status, is better known for his work with the likes of, ahem, Justin Bieber, Post Malone, 5 Seconds of Summer and Miley Cyrus. I’m all for experimenting with new producers; Brendan O’ Brien was hardly an established name when Pearl Jam started working with him and the sonic experiments of Binaural, Riot Act and Gigaton yielded glorious results. However, Watt’s approach of pushing everything up loud drowns songs like ‘Rose of Jericho’ and ‘Good and Evil’ when a little nuance and texture could’ve bought them to life, meanwhile the over-processed sound of ‘The Dark’ would be more at home on a song from some X-Factor pop-puppets or John Shanks produced Bon Jovi record (THE HORROR!). It made me want to go back and listen to Gigaton (no bad thing) and hope that the mutterings that Watt will produce the next Pearl Jam album amount to so much promo-cycle air.

How-fucking-ever: the diversity and full-bodied nature of its highlights make Earthling the better of his solo albums. While it’s not the Eddie Vedder solo album we may have expected, in many ways it does a more than admirable job of straddling both the range of his musical lexicon and tastes past and present in a way that his single-theme solo efforts to date failed to do. It captures a once angry young man comfortable in middle-age and having a great time some thirty years down the line from his grimace appearing on the cover of Time magazine. Given how many of his contemporaries are listed as casualties of the ‘scene’ we should be happy that Vedder is both here and that the easy, Eddie-having-fun vibe that fact brings still makes for a blast on repeated – albeit five songs lighter than intended – listens.

*Backspacer and Lightning Bolt had their moments but Gigaton found Pearl Jam embracing a new producer and sounding tighter than a duck’s arse.

**On cd this time as vinyl production is still feeling the impact of supply chain issues coupled with the the unholy revival of a Swedish crap heap and an equally awful album of ‘heartbreak’ karaoke fodder.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…

Despite another morning of waiting for the ice to dissolve from its windscreen before blasting the Ferrari’s mighty engine off of my drive and into the school-run and commute, the steady bead of afternoon sunlight in my eyes and the calling of the blogging urge has pulled me from my hibernation.

Where have I been? Fucking nowhere there’s a pandemic on and the rules change as much as that cockwomble-in-charge’s excuses do, triple-jabbed or not.

What have I been doing? The break wasn’t intended it just happened, maybe I’d lost my mojo, maybe I just needed to switch off a little. I’ve been reading a lot (potentially to be detailed later but Franzen’s latest was as excellent as expected, The Passenger is an amazing ‘lost’ novel rediscovered and Anna Karenina is proving the Russian beauty I wish I’d read sooner), using the festive break to watch films old (unlikely to be detailed later so Bad Boys 2 was as awful as I thought it would be, Face-Off has not aged well at all while Beverly Hills Cop is still a time-capsule joy) and new (Don’t Look Up suffers from split-personality only one half of which is very good, the other shite) of an evening instead of falling asleep in a cattle-truked daze. Oh, and watching Get Back*.

Of course, I’ve also been consuming music across as many formats and mediums as I can including catching up with some 2021’s finest. As Aphoristic Album Reviews points out in his fine summary of the year: putting together a list of a best albums during the year in question always feels a bit weird. What if your favourite artist surprise released a new album on Christmas Day? There’s also the fact that I don’t always get to absorb ‘new’ albums until that end of year break. Anywho, with that in mind and keeping it short and sweet, here are my five favourites of 2021.

Mogwai – As The Love Continues

Mogwai came out swinging in February with As The Love Continues. After the restrictions of 2020 (especially tougher in Scotland than here) gave them an opportunity to work distraction-free on their album, they produced one of their finest ever some 24 years after their debut and a very early and easy contender for AOTY. It bristles with great tunes, a warmth and thrust that they’ve not exhibited in a decade. A big hit with critics and fans alike it actually hit the top of the album charts here (surely that’s the first post-rock album to do so?),it felt too good to be true at the start of 2021 and, tens of plays later, still feels too good to be true at the start of 2022.

Snail Mail – Valentine

I was already hooked on this album on Spotify but after finding the vinyl under the tree this year I’ve fallen ever deeper under its spell (more reason to leave those lists until the year has passed). ‘Sold’ to me as a midway point between Hole and Lucy Dacus, Snail Mail’s second album is a glorious slab of 90’s inspired, emotionally fuelled alt-rock with real range and power.

Dinosaur Jr – Sweep It Into Space

The reunited Dinosaur Jr ‘classic’ lineup have now put out more albums than the three of their original run and one more than the various iterations of the band put out during its major label run. What’s surprising is that they’re still bitingly keen and putting out solid and inspired albums that always have plenty of great tunes on them and a lot of J Mascis’ always dazzling guitar solos. The addition of Kurt Vile as co-producer and occasional rhythm and acoustic guitar player has yielded one of their most sonically interesting and just plain-fucking-great-to-listen-to albums thus far and has been a regular spinner since it dropped in April.

Lucy Dacus – Home Video

I loved Lucy Dacus’ 2018 Historian. Why, then, it took so long for me to pick up Home Video is beyond me.. perhaps it was too much to listen to and too little time but, when my local announced a re-stock I made sure one of them had my name on and I’m glad I did: Home Video is just brilliant: Dacus goes from strength to strength here with an album richer in sound and more personal in lyrics – a compelling mix of alt-rockers and gut-wrench ballads.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – God’s Pee AT STATE’S END

Two post-rock giants releasing great albums in the same year? Yup. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress and Luciferian Towers were ok but didn’t move me in the way that ‘old’ GY!BE and even ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend did… yet AT STATE’S END is a powerful return to that earlier form. Reintroducing found recordings and, like Don’t Bend… delivers two monumental slabs of post-rock with the band’s glorious build-ups from scratchy, static transmissions to crescendos that make your soul go ‘oh fuck YES! interspersed with a couple of drone tracks as if to cleanse the palate.

If this were a Top 10 it would also have included The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore (a brilliant album that’s way too over-priced on vinyl to have been added to my collection and made the Top 5), Explosions In The Sky’s Big Bend (three post-rock albums in the Top 5 would be pushing it though), The Weather Station’s Ignorance and My Morning Jacket’s self-titled album while Ben Howard would’ve taken an honourable mention for his Collections From The Whiteout.

My favourite ‘Old Stuff Revisited’ release of 2021 is a tie between Tom Petty’s Finding Wildflowers and the re-cast Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture ‘She’s the One’) – that Rick Rubin helmed era of tunes from ’94 thru to 99’s Echo was a rich seam for Petty and these archival releases and new versions are like visiting a golden era and finding it even better than you remembered.

That was 2021… 2022 already has some promising releases on the horizon. I’m eagerly anticipating new albums from The Mysterines, Big Thief, Eddie Vedder (of course), Placebo (for the first time in a while) as well as ‘it could still happens’ like Springsteen’s Tracks 2 to name a few.

*Finding a way to summarise my thoughts on Get Back is likely to take a while

Monday spins

Here we are with the weekend behind us and staring down the barrel of another week. So, on the day that always feels like a kick in the pills, here’s a quick wander down the path of tunes I’ve been giving a lot of ear time this last week.

Eddie Vedder – Long Way

An Eddie Vedder solo song without a hint of a ukulele? Yup – what’s more there’s an album on the way (I think he plays all instruments but that might be a malicious rumour from the fan forums) following quickly on the heels of the ‘Flag Day’ soundtrack he’d put out earlier. This is a real Tom Petty vibing track, rather than a Pearl Jam song that didn’t pass muster, and that’s no bad thing.

Regina Spektor – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

I’ve been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli films recently with my son and ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (which isn’t a Studio Ghibli but from Laika, another studio with a very strong set of films under its belt) came up. It’s got a great soundtrack as you’d expect from a film about a boy with a magical instrument, and while it’s mostly originals there’s this really cool cover of a – frankly – stone cold classic that runs with the credits. I don’t think Regina Spektor has put out a lot of late but she put out a couple of belters back in the day.

Sting – Rushing Water

I can’t say I’ve paid much attention to Sting’s solo output for a long time. I don’t think he’s put out much in the way of ‘straight ahead’ solo music for a bit. If I recall there’s been a musical about a ship, a winter solstice themed album, some tosh with Shaggy, duets…. if anything I’ve listened to his daughter’s work more than his. That being said, turns out he’s got a new album called The Bridge on the way. Not a cover of Billy Joel’s album, more one primed with ‘pop-rock’ tunes that he put together over the last year when nobody could really do anything outside for more than five minutes. Maybe I’m getting older but this seems like a pretty good upbeat and cheerful place to be.

Aerosmith – Boogie Man

We’re all victims of algorithms aren’t we…. I guess because I’d talked about Joe Perry’s book out load in the presence of my phone Prime recommended I watch Aerosmith’s ‘Rock for the Rising Sun’ concert doc. It’s an alright live doc but the most interesting thing was hearing them dust off ‘Boogie Man’ – the almost-instrumental closing track from their gargantuan selling Get A Grip. It’s been in my head ever since and has got me pondering an Aerosmith Least to Most series…

Pixies – Here Comes Your Man (’87 version)

When picking up my copy of the Trompe Le Monde anniversary press from my local record shop I decided to add the Pixies EP aka The Purple Tape to my collection which is a collection of those songs recorded during the band’s first studio session in 1987 that didn’t make it to Come On Pilgrim and it’s a great blast of ‘pure’ Pixies magic.

Pink Floyd – One Slip (2019 Remix)

As part of The Later Years box set Pink Floyd decided to remix their oft-derided 1987 A Momentary Lapse of Reason, their first without that cockwomble Roger Waters shouting at them about how shit they were. Because of Waters’ shouting neither Nick Mason or Richard Wright had enough confidence in their playing to contribute much to the album and it was mostly Gilmour and session musician – hence the remix that’s about to be released as a stand-alone outside of the box set. It features new drum parts from Nick Mason as well as the restoration for Richard Wright’s keyboard contributions to “restore the creative balance between the three Pink Floyd members”. It also sheers off some of the overwrought 80’s production that hampered the original too. Having loved it on The Later Years I’m glad it’s getting a wider reissue.

Midweek spins

Here we are on the downhill stretch to the weekend once again and I thought it an opportune time to pull up a chair, pour a mug of the caffeinated stuff and take a butchers at those tunes that have been on repeat this week.

Elliott Smith – Let’s Get Lost

My wife recently added Air’s instalment of Late Night Tales to the record collection and that – as if I needed one – was a prompt to dust off From a Basement on the Hill this week and enjoy the gorgeousness of Elliott’s last (albeit posthumously released) studio collection.

Tad – Trash Truck

Tad loomed loud and large at the heavier end of the Seattle scene spectrum. Flicking through the racks in a charity shop a few weeks back I found an original copy of 8-Way Santa (before the couple on the cover found it and threatened to sue) still with its shrink wrap for a measly £8 (considerably lower than current market rate). Had to be done.

Metallica – Sad But True

Sticking with the heavy for a moment – with the album’s 30th Anniversary pushing a lot of attention toward it, I’ve had Metallica’s ‘Black’ album hammering away in the car for a few days this week, it’s one of those landmark albums from a period in 1991 that was just dripping in classic albums.

Placebo – Beautiful James

A couple of years ago I thought it was curtains for Placebo – their newer stuff was approaching the bottom of the barrel. On the evidence of ‘Beautiful James’ which harkens back to their Meds sound I’d say the layoff – seven years since their last album – has done them some good.

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

More proof, if needed, that the next War On Drugs album is gonna be a good ‘un.

My Morning Jacket – Regularly Scheduled Programming

Apparently, in summer 2019, MMJ played a set of shows that were to be their last for some time and were going to be calling it quits for a bit with whispers of retiring the band. Instead those shows reinvigorated them and they decided to get back to cutting great music together. Somewhat sidelined by the pandemic, that new music is finally here and I’ve had ‘Regularly Scheduled Programming’ on repeat this week.