Albums of my years – 2002

It’s time for a little less conversation, a little more action, please. Steak knife! We were makin’ our way downtown, walkin’ fast, faces pass and we’re homebound, boot cut!, while Las Ketchup treated us to the Ketchup Song and Eminem asked us what we’d do if we had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything we ever wanted. Dope dick! Avril Lavigne tried to reinvent how to wear ties AND the way we write ‘sk8er’ and ‘boi’ (the latter, oddly, seems to have stuck), pawn shop!, and Enrique Iglesias wanted to be our hero, baby. Con job! That’s right; it’s 2002! Oh, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers tried to say they’d be there, waiting for…

It was a strange year. I think that that the events and aftermath of 9/11 still cast a shadow. I dunno, it feels like it was a subdued year looking back at the music world. Plenty still happened – I mean, Nickleback left the stage at a festival in Portugal midway after their second song as a unimpressed audience sent a few rocks their way, Graham Coxon left Blur, Paul McCartney married his second wife Heather Mills (that would work out well – met her once, can’t say she was even slightly pleasant, in contrast to the ever-charming Paul), and Coachella returned to its two-day format. Normally not noteworthy in itself but 2002’s is: Dave Grohl played both days, the second with his Foo Fighters having already played the first with Queens of the Stone Age having drummed on their 2002 release Songs for the Deaf and toured behind the album. However, there was a lot of animosity amongst the Foos and the band were on the verge of splitting up (One by One languishing in an unfinished / unreleasable state and Dave enjoying being a drummer not a front-man again) – however, the band felt suitably delighted and bolstered by their Coachella set and decided to give both band and the album another go.

There were some pretty heavy farewells in 2002.  Feeder’s drummer Jon Lee committed suicide, Dudley Moore died after years with a debilitatingly degenerative brain disorder, Dee Dee Ramon died from a heroin overdose, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes was killed in a car accident, The Who’s John Entwistle died after a heart attack and, December 22nd, Joe Strummer suddenly died due to an an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. He was 50. 

On April 19th, after years of drug addiction and seemingly deliberate chasing to its logical conclusion, Layne Staley was found dead in his apartment. He weighed just 39kg and his partially decomposed body required identification by dental records. He’d kept away from people gradually isolating himself from everyone he knew over a period of years, emaciated, lost most of his teeth and several fingers. He’d died on April 5th – the same days Kurt Cobain 8 years previous – aged just 34.

It’s hard to think of music from the year that stands out. My obvious first ‘go to’ is Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising which was both a comeback of great proportions and Springsteen’s response to 9/11. I’ve covered it before as part of my Least to Most on the Boss but it’s still worth highlighting as one of the best of 2002’s albums. 

Damien Rice’s O was released in 2002 as was Regina Spektor’s Songs and Alanis Moriessette’s Under Rug Swept – none of which were too shabby at all really. Paul Westerberg – free of major label input and big-name producers – turned in one of his strongest solo albums to date, Stereo (and released a counterpart Mono as his Grandpaboy alias which was just as bloody good). 

Wilco released their epic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on Nonesuch after Warner Bros. had refused to release it. It would be widely acclaimed and cited as one of the decade’s finest. Up yours Warner Bros., I guess. Following the enthusiastic reception to 2001’s ‘Green’ album, Weezer released Maladroit – the first to feature Scott Shriner on bass – a harder edged and absolutely belting album. Jerry Cantrell released his second solo album Degradation Trip, Sonic Youth the brilliant Murray Street which harkened back to longer, more experimental songs while feeling tighter and more structured, Red Hot Chili Peppers released By The Way and The Flaming Lips dropped Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.  

Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground arrived from Bright Eyes in August and Interpol released their debut Turn On The Bright Lights. There was also new albums from Nada Surf with Let Go and Iron & Wine with the sublime The Creek Drank the Cradle. Foo Fighters’ One by One arrived via the thumping lead single ‘All My Life’ in October and the Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf was released in August. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released the lacklustre The Last DJ and Audioslave – which featured Chris Cornell members of Rage Against the Machine – released their powerful selt-titled debut Audioslave.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor released another genre-classic with Yanqui U.X.O. which did away with the field recordings and replaced them with pure, raw-sounding angry and epic post-rock. They’d go on hiatus shortly after its release and wouldn’t release another album for ten years.

Not calling it a day after taking a year-long break following the events of Roskilde and touring in support of Binaural, Pearl Jam returned in 2002 with Riot Act – an all-too-often overlooked album which gets stronger with each repeated listen. But, I’ve covered both that album and Pearl Jam’s ‘lost’ period pretty extensively already on this blog.

So… a bit of a quiet year on the release front from my wheelhouse but there’s one from 2002 that I continually put on and lose myself in: 

Sigur Rós – ()

How to talk about an album like ()… an album with no real title other than ‘brackets’ and with no official track titles? 

Sigur Rós’ third album was a real surprise for many who were probably expecting a direct continuation of the work on Ágætis byrjun. In a way, it is. But it’s also perhaps the most left-field in their main catalogue. Now, of course, some seven years down the road from their last proper studio album as they busy themselves with releases of projects built around loops and programmed fractions of music it doesn’t seem so.

However, the reason I love () so much is the feel of this album. Back in 2002 I’d just caught on to the band on the strength of their previous album and remember getting hold of this new, I loved everything about it from it’s wonderfully minimal packaging and artwork to the click of distortion that opens and ends the album.

It’s split into two distinct halves – the first four tracks more ‘light and optimistic’ and I still get a sense of ‘aaahhh’ when ‘Untitled 1’ – or ‘Vaka’ as it would become known – kicks in all these years later. 

Sigur Rós didn’t make any massive changes to their sound for () – those more dramatic shifts would come later – but the subtle adjustments, the gentle smoothing and make it seem like a more ethereal (and I hate using that word especially as so many use it when describing this band) sound than previously achieved or since as Takk would feel like it was a more logical follow up to Ágætis byrjun in a way. The success of that album, driven thanks to the success of ‘Hoppípolla’ means that () is often forgotten.

I kind of see Sigur Rós work like that of Pink Floyd’s – you know it was made by a group of people using traditional instruments and yet, somehow, it seems untouchable and slightly removed from the ordinary and it’s never been more apparent than on ().

Albums of my years – 2001

Now that we’re back in the atmosphere with drops of Jupiter in our hair we can reflect on the year in which Travis wanted us to ‘sing, sing sing sing sing sing sing’, we got our freak on with Missy Elliott, Pink got the party started while Lifehouse were hanging by a moment (whatever the hell that means), we discovered that heaven is a halfpipe and Nelly wanted us to ride wit him. Yup; it’s 2001.

It’s that year the world got knocked off its axis in September and we’re still dealing with the fall out, the “War on Terror” began, an earthquake of massive proportions in India killed 20,000 people and Apple released iTunes. 

At the Drive-In, Cast, Catatonia, L7, Elastica, Ride, Sunny Day Real Estate (again),  and Anal Cunt all called it quits in 2001. Arcade Fire, Audioslave, The Dresden Dolls, Fall Out Boy, The Fire Theft, Jet, My Chemical Romance, M83, The Mars Volta and The Postal Service were amongst those bands forming this year. We also said goodbye to George Harrison in 2001. After fighting lung cancer, which had spread to his brain, George Harrison died at Paul McCartney’s house in LA on 29 November 2001. His ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in keeping with Hindu tradition. A concert – the Concert for George – would be held on the one year anniversary of his death as a celebration as his life and work.

So who released what? Any good albums arriving in 2001? Well, this was the year Jack Johnson released his first album, Brushfire Fairytales, John Frusciante revealed what it’s like To Record Only Water for 10 Days, Spoon released Girls Can Tell and Aerosmith released a bit of a stinker in Just Push Play

Semisonic released their brilliant third, Dashboard Confessional pushed emo twee to new lengths with The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (and, currently, final) album All About Chemisty, Ben Harper and Bruce Springsteen both released decent live albums (which don’t count on this list), Red House Painters released their last album Old Ramon and Neil Finn released his second solo album One Nil.

Colin Hay released his sixth solo album, Going Somewhere, Mogwai released the brilliant (there’s not a Mogwai album I don’t like) Rock Action and, sticking with post-rock, Explosions In The Sky released their second album Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever. Released on September 4th the album’s artwork became a bit of an issue very quickly and picked up media attention as the liner notes of contain a picture of an airplane and the text “This Plane Will Crash Tomorrow”. Oh, and The Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band may not have settled on the wording of their band’s name yet but released their second: Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward.

Mercury Rev released the superb All Is Dream, Bob Dylan continued his late-career comeback with Love and Theft, Ben Folds’s first solo album Rockin’ The Suberbs arrived in 2001 as did Tori Amos’ concept album Strange Little Girls, Eels’ Souljacker, Radiohead gave us the amazing Amnesiac, My Morning Jacket’s second At Dawn, Death Cab for Cutie’s The Photo Album, Bush’s lacklustre The Golden State and Incubus’ Morning View which contains the great lyric “the garbage truck beeps as it backs up and I start my day thinking about what I’ve thrown away”. 

The Shins released Oh, Inverted World, The White Stripes kicked into a new gear with White Blood Cells and Tool gave us the beast that is Laterlus. We got a couple of slabs of the good ‘pop-rock’ from Weezer with their green Weezer and Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American (which would soon be retitled).REM’s Reveal, the first point at which I went ‘meh’ with their studio albums, arrived in 2001 and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gave us the gorgeious No More Shall We Part and Sparklehorse the wonderful It’s a Wonderful Life.

When it comes to the albums released in 2001 that sit on my shelves, the one that’s probably been played the most and I think of as being of that year, it’s:

Ryan Adams – Gold

I know, I know; it’s both a pretty obvious choice and his name is somewhat… contentious these days, but Gold was an album that instantly made good on the promise of Heartbreaker and took him up a gear. It also contains a huge amount of cracking tunes. 

The thing about Gold… I wouldn’t even say it’s Adams’ finest but it’s easily his most unabashedly open and accessible (and best selling) set of tunes that just goes down so easy but there’s so much more at work behind what initially sound like a simple set of tunes: take ‘New York, New York’ (the timing of its release and video was pretty fateful) with it’s gorgeous organ fills and horn section that kicks in at the end:

It’s such a warm and lush sounding album, the production perfectly suiting Adams’ then writing style that moves away from the stripped back sound of his solo debut Heartbreaker and makes use of major-label clout and carte blanche to make an album rich in arrangements that nods to some of those most hallowed of his influences, predominantly of the 70’s rock variety, while remaining distinctly contemporary and keeping such flourishes in-check so they don’t over-power. I listen to ‘Rescue Blues’ (which was featured, oddly, in the Owen Wilson film ‘Behind Enemy Lines’) and hear those gorgeous ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ background singers:

Then there’s great songs like ‘La Cienega Just Smile’ which I’ve already highlighed, or ‘Firecracker’ or ‘Stars Go Blue’… it’s chock full of them.

There’s an argument that it suffers from CD bloat at 16 tracks but that in itself is down to the start of what would be a long, drawn-out bone of contention between Adams and his new label Lost Highway: Gold was envisioned as a double but the label weren’t having that. For all the freedom they allowed him in making the album and its sound that was too much for them. They took some of the tracks intended for ‘LP2’ and made a single disc, with the remainder put on a limited ‘bonus disc’ edition. A move Ryan would describe as “Fucking my fans over and making them pay extra for a record I wanted to be a double album. They counted that as one record.”

It was the start of a strange relationship – when they heard his intended follow up Love Is Hell they rejected it as being too uncommercial. The result was that Adams would record Rock ‘n’ Roll in two weeks (it showed) and Love Is Hell would be split into two separate EPs. When these proved successful, Lost Highway stuck em back together into a single album. When his deal with Lost Highway was complete – no doubt sped up by Ryan Adams releasing three albums within a seven-month period in 2005 – he’d form his own and point out that despite an already heavy back catalogue, there were more still that the label had said no to releasing. 

However, all that (and a whole lot more) lay ahead. In 2001 Gold was the album that propelled Ryan Adams forward in his craft and into a lot more peoples’ record collection. It’s a great bunch of tunes that I still slip into the CD player nearly 20 years later and while its production soaks up cues from influences of decades prior and its lyrics remain universal, it has a very distinct 2001 feel to me.

Blog Tour: Containment by Vanda Symon

From the PR: “Chaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins.

Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead. What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea … a diver who didn’t die of drowning…

As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still
have more victims…”

I’m not sure you could find a more fitting title for a book to review in light of current events… but this is not a virus-related story 😀

Let’s start by saying this: Vanda Symon really knows how to hook a reader. 2018’s Overkill had one of the most gripping and devastatingly affective cold openers I’ve ever read. Last year’s The Ringmaster barrelled along at an addictive pace and Containment, the third in the Sam Shepard series, throws in enough twists and layers of intrigue to keep your fingers glued to the cover. It’s one of those “just one more chapter” books that can cost you sleep.

The notion of a grounded container ship is one that’s always fascinated me – Symon does a great job of summing up just how bloody weird and wrong the thing looks – and makes for a great kick off and centre point for the plot. Nothing good comes from looting, folks. Everything – from international drug trafficking, murder and a very unexpected motive – starts here with this unlikely of scenes and combining it with Shephard’s physical and emotional disorientation makes for a great read.

Containment is a brilliantly paced novel with plenty of unexpected plot curves and bags of humour too. I think what I enjoy most about this series is the manner in which all the seemingly unrelated threads gradually come together and you realise – a few cracking red herrings aside – you’re building to something special by way of a reveal – and as for the ending? I’m not gonna give away any spoilers but: holy shit what a punch in the gut. Vanda Symon just keeps ratcheting up the ante with every chapter. Can’t wait to see what’s next in this series because there’s no way that’s an ending as much as a ‘to be continued…’

I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend Containment – my thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy and to Anne for inviting to take part in this blog tour (I think this might be my first since June) check out the other stops as below.

50 Great Films to Mumble About

Ok, so back at the end of 2018 I put together a list of 50 Great Reads having been inspired by A Thousand Mistakes’ own list. I also pointed out that I doubted I’d be able to put together a list of 50 Great Films as he had done.

Turns out I could. Once again; this isn’t my saying ‘these are the best’ – it’s more ‘these are my favourites’ and ‘I could watch these time and time again’.  Looking at it laid out after compiling I’m not-really surprised by how many De Niro outings there are on here. There was a time he was untouchable. A couple of directors that don’t have MS as their initials get a few multiple listings but I reckon it’s a fairly rounded list that crosses genres and spans 70 years from 1946 – 2016.

So, in no order, except alphabetical:

Almost Famous (2000) Director: Cameron Crowe Starring: Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup
Amelie (2001) Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Starring: Audrey Tautou, Matthieu Kassovitz, Jamel Debbouze
Back to the Future (1985) Director: Robert Zemeckis Starring: Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
The Big Lebowski(1998) Directors: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi
Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (2008) Director: Danny Boon Starring: Danny Boon, Kad Merad
Black Cat, White Cat (1998) Director: Emir Kusturica Starring: Bajram Severdzan, Srdjan ‘Zika’ Todorovic, Branka Katic
Blade Runner (1982) Director: Ridley Scott Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Director: George Roy Hill Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford
Casino (1995) Director: Martin Scorsese Starring: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Director: Steven Spielberg Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon
Cool Hand Luke (1967) Director: Stuart Rosenberg Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin
The Darjeeling Limited (2007) Director: Wes Anderson Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman
Das Boot (1981) Director: Wolfgang Peterson Starring,Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer
The Deer Hunter(1978) Director: Michael Cimino Starring: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep
Dr Strangelove (1964) Director: Stanley Kubrick Starring: Peter Sellers, George C Scott
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Director: Michel Gondry Starring: Kate Winslet, Jim Carey
For A Few Dollars More (1965) Director: Sergio Leone Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef
Forest Gump (1994) Director: Robert Zemeckis Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise
Ghost In The Shell (1995) Director: Mamoru Oshii Starring (Voice Cast): Atsuko Tanaka,
Akio Ōtsuka
The Godfather Pt 2 (1974) Director: Francis Ford Coppola Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1965) Director: Sergio Leone Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
Goodfellas (1990) Director: Martin Scorsese Starring: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci
The Great Beauty (2013) Director: Paolo Sorrentino Starring: Toni Servillo, Sabrina Ferilli
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Director: Wes Anderson Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham
Groundhog Day (1993) Director: Harold Ramis Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell
High Fidelity (2000) Director: Stephen Frears Starring: John Cussack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black
Hot Fuzz (2007) Director: Edgar Wright Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
How to Steal a Million (1966) Director: William Wyler Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole
The Intouchables (2011) Directors: Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano Starring: François Cluzet
Omar Sy
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Director: Frank Capra Starring: James Steward, Donna Reed
LA Confidential (1997) Director: Curtis Hanson Starring: Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger
The Last Emperor (1987) Director: Bernardo Bertolucci Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole
Life is a Miracle (2004) Director:Emir Kusturica Starring: Slavko Štimac, Nataša Šolak
Life of Brian (1979) Director: Terry Jones Starring: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gillam, Michael Palin, Terry Jones
The Long Good Friday (1981) Director: John Mackenzie Starring: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren,
Miller’s Crossing (1990) Directors: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro
Mona Lisa (1986) Director: Neil Jordan Starring: Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine, Robbie Coltrane
Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Director: Sergio Leone Starring: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci
The Pianist (2002) Director: Roman Polanski Starring: Adrian Brody
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) Director: John Hughes Starring: John Candy, Steve Martin
Ponyo (2008) Director: Hayao Miyazaki Starring (Voice Cast): Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi
Raging Bull (1981) Director: Martin Scorsese Starring: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Rain Man (1988) Director: Barry Levinson Starring: Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Valeria Golino
Saving Private Ryan (1998) Director: Steven Spielberg Starring: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon
Shaun of the Dead (2004) Director: Edgar Wright Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Subway (1985) Director: Luc Besson Starring: Christopher Lambert, Isabelle Adjani
Tales from the Golden Age (2009) Directors: Cristian Mungiu, Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Höfer, Constantin Popescu Starring: Diana Cavallioti, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean
Taxi Driver (1976) Director: Martin Scorsese Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybil Shephard, Harvey Keitel
Torn Curtain (1966) Director: Alfred Hitchcock Starring: Paul Newman, Julie Andrews
Your Name  (2016) Director: Makoto Shinkai Starring (Voice Cast): Ryunosuke Kamiki
Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yūki

Least to Most: Pearl Jam – No Code

“It’s a record that is semi-unprofessional. We were just kind of winging it and trying stuff that maybe didn’t quite work… But you listen to it ten years later and go, ‘Fuck! That’s jamming!'”
Stone Gossard

July 12th 1995, in the middle of a heatwave in Chicago (one that accounted for 739 heat-related deaths in five days), Pearl Jam were feeling the itch. The night before they had played a massive 31-song set to 47,000 fans at the city’s Soldier Field and wanted to make the most of the energy from the show (and Vitalogy tour), they entered a studio at Chicago Recording Company to lay down some songs for their next album. No rest for the wicked. Jeff Ament would later admit that “I don’t think we’d quite figured out how to schedule ourselves at that point.” They were there for a week with songs like ‘Off He Goes’ and ‘In My Tree’ coming from those sessions.

Recording proper for No Code picked up in the start of 1996 and marked the start of a tense period for the band. For one thing, Jeff Ament didn’t know that work was underway until three days into sessions and “wasn’t super involved with that record on any level.” Meanwhile there were persistent rumours of a power-struggle within Pearl Jam – that Eddie was taking control of the band over Stone and Jeff with Ament even walking out of sessions on several occasions on what he perceived as Vedder’s stifling of his own writing. Whereas the bass player now says that “really what was happening was that Ed was bringing in complete songs and nobody else was. The cream was floating to the top.”

Vedder was hitting new pay dirt as a songwriter – writing increasingly personal and reflective songs as well as making jumps in his melody and hook writing. ‘Off He Goes’ is actually a song as an apology for his being a shit friend.

A look at the songwriting credits shows that a large chunk of No Code‘s songs are all-Vedder and the singer was behind every lyric with the exception of Stone Gossard’s ‘Mankind’.

Meanwhile the band were still playing shows. Jack Irons pointed out that “It was difficult to tour and play these shows that were two or three hours long and then force ourselves to produce something in a studio,” while Brendan O’Brien (behind the desk for his third Pearl Jam album) would also add that “Ed’s typically the guy who finishes off the songs…But by the end of No Code, he was so burnt, it was so much work for him.”

Why were the band so tired? It could be down to the strain of the Vitalogy tour – this was their first without playing Ticketmaster venues which meant a huge amount of work went into organising every show, something that Gossard stated took the fun out of being in the band. It could be the fact that in 1995 the band, minus Vedder, had backed Neil Young on his Mirror Ball album and European tour. It could also be the fact that this was the band’s fourth album in just five years – No Code and Ten were both released five years apart to the day – and they simply hadn’t stopped since.

BUT. But but but…. No Code is, despite all this, a fucking awesome album and one that is bristling with their finest songs. It’s not a first-listen album. It was the third Pearl Jam album I bought as I’d love ‘Red Mosquito’ so much after hearing it on Live on Two Legs – this was pre-Amazon and when you could only really get what the music shop had in on a given day or order specific titles – and it took me a while to grow to love this album as much as I do but every time I do I hear more and more that blows me away.

The only reason I don’t say out-and-out that this is their finest is that I genuinely feel the sound-quality detracts from these songs. It could be the fact they were deliberately trying to take the commercial edge off (Kurt Cobain and In Utero have a lot to answer for) or – as Brendan O’Brien would point out – the issues and technical hiccups from working at Stone Gossard’s Studio Litho. But the songs sound restrained, even tired – no real surprise. Mike McCready would later say “I think we kind of rushed it a little bit” as the songs were more jam-session than finished but his and Vedder’s ‘Present Tense’ is easily in my Pearl Jam Top Five and always elicits a suitable rapturous response when played live:

Oddly enough, when the band almost re-made No Code with Yield  a couple of years later with a deliberately accessible sound and more sharing of the songwriting, the sound was perfect but the songs weren’t quite as strong.

Speaking of strong, No Code isn’t all experimentation. There’s a volley of some of Pearl Jam’s fiercest rockers on amongst its thirteen tracks with Hail Hail’, ‘Lukin’ and ‘Habit’.

From it’s hushed opener ‘Sometimes’ – compared to the forceful openings of the three previous albums – to the roaring ‘Habit’ and ‘Lukin’ via the tribal rhythms of ‘In My Tree’ and up to the sedate closer ‘Around The Bend’, No Code is Pearl Jam’s most diverse record and one of their strongest collection of songs. If only the sound / mix were as clear as it deserved to be this would be top of this list every day for me.

Blog Tour: Overkill by Vanda Symon

From the PR: “When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide.

But all is not what it seems. Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town.

To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands. To find the murderer … and clear her name. A taut, atmospheric and page-turning thriller.”

You know, when I sit down to compose these reviews I often struggle with how to start. An overview? A powerful quote? An insight into the author’s life…

Not so with Overkill, no – I know exactly where to start with this little beauty: the beginning. That beginning. Holy crap. I’ve read a fair old chunk of thrillers and a modest village’s library’s worth of fiction and it’s true; the beginning of a book is key – if you can’t hook a reader in the first few page (I disagree with the three word rule, though) why would they take it to the till and read further? The opening prologue of Overkill is one of the most gripping and devastatingly affective I’ve ever read. I can’t think of another book that’s hit me so hard in its first few pages.

After that I had to read on. I couldn’t not. I needed to keep going and I dare anyone to read the prologue and feel otherwise.

It’s not only the beginning though – Overkill delivers on its opening promise in spades. It’s massively addictive and beautifully written; Vanda Symon writes in a style more akin to literary fiction prose and has a real gift.

I tore through this one in a few hits of late night, adrenaline fuelled sittings. Sam Shepard is a great character and I loved the setting and it’s always a joy to discover writers from and stories set in countries I’d not yet ventured and I genuinely look forward to more in the series.

In Overkill Vanda Symon has written something very special: an intense and powerful thriller told with a combination of prose and narrative that elevates her novel head and shoulders above the pack and makes it a serious contender for one of the year’s best reads.

My thanks to Orenda Books for my copy of Overkill and Anne Cater for asking me to take part in the BlogTour.

Page turning, 2018 Part 1

I read a lot last year. I cleared 41 books in total, surpassing my target by 1. So, did I extend my target for this year? No, I’m going for 40 again – it seems like a good target and I don’t think I’d necessarily find more reading time in my days to get another 10 in.

That being said, I’m already off to a strong start to the year with 7 down and 2 on the go at the moment.

Oddly enough, there’s a bit of a theme that ties three of these four – and at least another four on the TBR for the next couple of months – together that wasn’t necessarily intended but Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park was the first of the year and probably set the ball rolling.

Gorky Park was one of those books I’d often see in bookshops and ponder its contents before moving on but, this time, I read the back and took it home. An absolute 5 Star book – well deserving of the attention and praised it received. A crime thriller set in Soviet Union during the Cold War, Gorky Park reads more like literary fiction than your standard thriller and is so thoroughly engrossing and, in Arkady, powered by a great character – I’m genuinely glad that this one evolved into a series of novels and will  be adding the following instalments (along with everything Ellroy’s) to my longer term reading list.

Trying to vary my reading I thought I’d take a stab at a ‘classic’ early on this year and ended up continuing a theme. One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is set in a Soviet labour camp in the early 1950s and follows the single day of one of the prisoners – Ivan Denisovich. Ivan’s deep into a 10 year sentence for ‘spying’ – he’d escaped his German captors during the war, made it back to his lines and was arrested as a spy. Solzhenitsyn had first-hand experience of the Gulag system and it adds a sense of weight and truth to this novel (if you’re up for a heavier read his Gulag Archipelago is a game-changer). It’s a short but intense read and noteable as it was one of the first accounts of Stalinist repression to have been published (less than 10 years after Old Whiskers’ death).

Of course, there’s always a need for something lighter and, as my Discworld collection slowly grows toward completion, I’ve usually got a Terry Pratchett novel ready to reread for the first time in at least a decade. I had – again – forgotten just how painfully funny The Last Continent is. First published in 1998, that means it had been two decades since I’d last read it and, as I had the briefest of memories of it and remembered nothing of its plot it was akin to reading it for the first time. Pratchett’s parody of Australian culture and media touch-points – Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee all get a warm roasting – easily sits as one of his funniest and most accessible reads. The invention of Vegemite and Australian slang, in particular, had me chuckling into the night.

Back in 2016 I read Joseph Kanon’s Leaving Berlin. It’s a great novel, a cold-war thriller set in Berlin as the divide was going up. Another book-shop spotting, this year’s Defectors again finds Mr Kanon setting his work in the cold war, this time – spotting that them yet? – in Moscow. As the title suggests, Defectors tackles the theme of the defections in the 1950s / 60s and, specifically, what came next. A former CIA agent, Frank Weeks slipped the net and escaped to Moscow and, over a decade later, sends word to his brother, Simon, that he – and the Soviet State – wish to publish his memoirs and wants to use Simon’s publishing house to do so.

Leaving aside the twists of the plot for fear of giving anything away, where Defectors excels is in the depiction of life for those former ‘field agents without a field’ – living in a strange suspended state, a  sort of prison within the larger prison of the Soviet Empire. Technically ‘free’ to be yet only allowed to travel to enclosed dacha complexes, use certain stores and continually monitored. Kanon manages to fill his story with sufficiently realistic and historically accurate details to make it ring true without overdoing it and slowing down the momentum – this is a thriller after all. Kanon clearly an author whose back catalogue now warrants investigation.

Up next: more Russian classics, some World War Two diaries and some new novels from Nordic Noir’s godfathers…

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.

 

Away Message – Currently Listening

Believe it or not Tony isn’t at home, please leave a message at the beep….

I’m on holiday at the moment but here’s a little of what’s been spinning in my ears of late…

Am fost la munte și mi-a plăcut – Unde Erai In 1995?

Appropriate on two levels as a) I’m in Romania right now and b) I did just go to the mountains and liked it a lot (am fost la munte și mi-a plăcut) but I discovered this post-rock band from București a little before I left. Their album S-A Rezolvat. Nu Se Poate – released this year – is great. There’s something of The Wall era Floyd about that opening guitar line – and other parts of the album – that I love.

Lost in Kiev – Insomnia 

In “it’s a small world”… I saw a picture of this French group’s album Nuit Noir along with the description ‘dark, looming epic post-rockintertwined with a spoken word narrative’ and new it was for me. I’ve barely stopped listening since. Oddly enough only as I put it here do I also hear some Pink Floyd element in the keyboards too.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Empty Arms

You know when you don’t listen to something for ages and then you hear it and kick yourself for having omitted it from your playlist for so long? This came on in a GBK while we having a burger a while back and, yup, I kicked myself and went home and put SRV back into rotation.

The Hold Steady – Stuck Between Stations

So I’m now up to The Hold Steady’s third and – I think – breakthrough album Boys and Girls in America and it’s fucking awesome. At once it’s a case of kicking myself for not having heard it sooner and feeling like it’s so familiar.