Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
Masses of new stuff by great people out now, so much that one might feasibly need them to be listed and detailed in ascending order of greatness. Now with links to pretty much everything! And prettier!
Ted Leo – Living With The Living
This one isn’t actually great, it’s mildly okay. The reggae-style track I linked a while back (I can’t do so again, it’s been taken down) is so sumptuously mad that everything else on the album sound frustratingly structureless and unremarkable. A couple have wonderful moments – the chorus refrain in Army Bound, the tightly rhyming lyrics of Colleen, the steady sunny riff of Costa Brava, and the anthemic outtro of the okay-pretty-good Lost Brigade – but none hold together as a full and perfect pop song the way Me And Mia, Walking To Do and Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone did. I find myself listening to Unwanted Things more often than every other song combined. :(
Low – Drums And Guns (streaming MP3 and video, ‘Breaker’)
This is great, but coming after the dazzlingly great The Great Destroyer, seems profoundly less great than it ought to. The main reason for that is that it’s about the war, and therefore unspeakably bleak, slow and grim. The other main reason for it is utterly bizarre: all the vocals come entirely from the right-hand channel. This makes it completely horrible to listen to on headphones, and I’d assume there was something wrong with my copy if I hadn’t also listened to someone else’s. It’s feels like you’ve got Swimming Ear, which certainly adds to the atmosphere of unease, but hardly captures the full impact of being shot to death on a baking hot oil field. And it’s really just annoying.
I have plenty of room in my heart for bleak, and Low do it every bit as well as Godspeed, You Black Emperor! (oem), but Low do every mood as well as its undisputed masters. And when they do pop-put-through-the-meat-grinder, as they did on Destroyer, they’re like nothing else on Earth.
Most people find the CYHSY guy’s voice annoying, including a lot of their biggest fans. I think I do, in fact. It’s just incredibly addictive, even when it’s annoying you, like tapping a pen against the desk. It seems to scratch some phantom itch that can never quite be sated, so you never quite get your fill of it. It’s hoarse, scraping, often tuneless, but I think I would need to take up smoking if I had to stop listening to it.
The new album’s nuts. I love it. I find Yankee Go Home annoying in a non-addictive way (slightly cloying), but elsewhere the honking, rattling, sing-song mess of Satan Said Dance, the conversational rhythm of Mother Won’t You Keep The Castles In The Air And Burning? (oqm, and a great title), and the Fridmannesque crackling booms of Emily Jean Stock all do something to my brain that I find most agreeable. In fact, those fuzzy booming kick-drums sounded so Fridmannesque that I looked it up, and sure enough, the album was produced by Dave Fridmann. Ha! He’s the guy who made the Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin sound so good, but deserves far more of your respect for making The Delgados’ career highlight The Great Eastern what it was.
Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (video, ‘Dashboard’)
I sense that a lot of Mouse fans were nervous that their uncharacteristically optimistic single Float On had become such a hit, because it’s the angst and bile we love them for. I wasn’t, I loved Float On, I love it when grouchy people find something they can’t help but smile at, but even I’m kind of glad that Dead has plenty of spite to go around. The opening of March Into The Sea is every bit as spittle-flickingly violent as the angriest moments of Cowboy Dan, and the “Ah-ha-ha”s are just barely controlled. Elsewhere vocalist Brock sounds like he’s about to lose control even on the “Shake-shake-shake-shake-shake” of the otherwise upbeat Missed The Boat, and that’s the vital thing. It’s that ill-concealed energy that makes Modest Mouse so cathartic to listen to, whether it’s exultant or vitriolic, and Dead simmers with it throughout.
Feist – The Reminder
I’m repeatedly appalled at how many people don’t know Feist. I came by her via an unconventional channel – I think it was the only time ace tech blog Waxy.org took a break from talking about social web stuff or his son to mention music, and link the video for the extraordinary Mushaboom. You’ll probably be told at some point in your life that she’s from Broken Social Scene, which is offputting (they’re okay) and misleading. She shares nothing musically with them, she’s somewhere between Cat Power and Beth Orton.
The rest of her first album wasn’t anything like as juicy as that wild nonsense, but the new one is triumphant throughout. Even some of the tracks that seem understated on first listen – Limit To Your Love; Past In Present; My Moon, My Man (video) – turn out to be full of fantastic moments you didn’t notice (how did I ever miss the “Whoa-wha-who!”s in the former?). And when she wears it on her sleeve, as she does on the fleeting-but-ecstatic One Two Three Four (video), it’s impossible not to succumb to the virulently infectious joy.
It might not be the revelation that The Greatest was for Cat Power, but it shows the same sudden confidence, and it’s just as satisfying for it. Quite apart from actually shouting “Ha!” in the middle of the lovably fearless I Feel It All, she takes on the old Nina Simone song See-Line Woman, wryly retitles it to Sea-Lion Woman (video), then proceeds to do such a staggering reworking of it that you’re left wondering what the hell the point of the original was. I couldn’t tell you with regular words what happens when she stops singing for the second time in this song, but something like ‘climactoplectic’ would be in the ballpark.
Only a couple of songs are too ponderous for their own good – Intuition and So Sorry don’t give you much reason to go back to them – but more often she finds a way to make the sparse remarkable. The soulful Brandy Alexander is soothing where it ought to be boring, Honey Honey gets indecent mileage out of a simple vocal filter elegantly used, and even The Park’s 16-bit mono atmosphere sounds inexplicably sunny. The only other criticism I could possibly level is that, when I noticed the album playing in a Seattle Starbucks, acknowledging it to the barrista failed to get me into the kind of brilliant conversation I’ve become accustomed to having with beautiful strangers in America. Her friend had put it on. She had thought it was Bjork at first. And much as I love Bjork, I could no longer feign interest.
Blonde Redhead – 23: like it.
Sondre Lerche – Phantom Punch: don’t like it.
The Bird And The Bee – The Bird And The Bee: fuck!
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Bloc Party – Weekend In The City
They’re both fine, if you like stuff that’s fine, rather than, say, awesome. They’re good news for people who like okay music.
Peter, Bjorn And John – Writer’s Block
These guys are hugely exciting, and I have no excuse for not having noticed them for the first five or six years of their existence. They did come up occasionally on Joy’s podcast, but there was usually something more immediately shiny like The Sounds or PAS/CAL to distract me. They’re exciting because the many fantastic tracks on this album are all fantastic in completely different ways. That icy whistle of Young Folks (video) is pulling Groove Armada’s trick of hanging a whole song on a single, carefree hook, and still managing to make it sound vital and fresh. The muffled cathedral echo of the vocals on Chills is as serene as Readymade at their best. And Up Against The Wall’s steadily mounting drone sounds like a homage to American Analogue Set.
I guess what I’ve ended up saying here is that they’re exciting because they sound like everybody else, but that’s obviously not it. The sleepy vocals (all three of them) set them apart, as the one consistent thread throughout, and it’s hearing them against such fresh backdrops each time that make it work.
Maxi Geil And Playcolt – Making Love In The Sunshine
Hottest song ever. It might be too sharply written to be truly romantic – “This kind of love is like the Red Brigade / What was so scary once is now a little bit quaint” – but even the call-and-response bit just sounds like violent, wild sex. It helps that it’s about violent, wild sex, but it’s more a case of the music being expertly crafted around the subject matter than any kind of inference on the part of the listener. The crescendo itself actually makes things happen to me that aren’t supposed to happen from just listening to something.
Wild Beasts – Brave Bulging Bouyant Clairvoyants
I’ve talked about this here before, so I won’t again, but in case anyone missed it: imagine if Scooby Doo could sing, and sing so beautifully that a little piece of you died each time you heard it. That is the Wild Beasts.
Siobhan Donaghy – So You Say (mp3)
The chorus in this blares, like they switched a whole other set of speakers on. It seems to come from somewhere else entirely, without stopping coming from the regular place, by which I mean to say that it is loud and great and all over the place. I was listening to it on my MP3 player on the way back from Al’s wedding, in the car, admittedly still slightly drunk from the previous night, and found myself almost unable to believe that no-one else in the car was hearing it full-volume when it hit the “Don’t say a thing about me” line.
All three of these found on Fluxblog, the best thing to happen to music since John Peel.
bob_Arctor: It's funny how now Arcade Fire is too mainstream. Cuh! Didn't used to be. Hate when that happens. I heard The Aliens on the radio the other day, shocking!
And the new Modest Mouse is great. Are the albums previous to Good News For People Who Like Okay Music as good as these two new ones?
Jason L: "Thou shalt not stop liking a band just because they've become popular" - http://www.youtube.c... ...oN6XfyQsr4
Jason L: Argh! American quotation marks! I was so careful!
Matthew: Wow, I wish that my write-ups for those three songs were anywhere as good as yours! Well done, especially re: Maxi Geil -- I've had three shots at that one song, and I think you said exactly what I've wanted to say each time.
Tom Francis: Fanboy gasp! It's Matthew Perpetua, of Fluxblog!
For the benefit of those who don't read it, for me this is a bit like having William Shakespeare comment on my SWAT 4 screenplay to say "I wish my plays were as good as yours".
Thanks, Matthew. I would also express gratitude for the many songs you provide, if I could only think of a song title that would somehow reflect that message.
Bob: yes, mostly! I must admit it's been years since I listened to them as albums, I just keep the best tracks on my grand playlist, but there are plenty of those. My favourites are Life Like Weeds, Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes, Doing The Cockroach and Teeth Like God's Shoeshine (?), which are all from Lonesome Crowded West and Moon And Antarctica. The other two I don't recall liking a great deal.
David: Our tastes are probably too dissimilar for us to have a great deal of crossover, but thanks for that link to So You Say. Siobhan's amazing and I've heard her acoustic version that she did on CapitalFM - it sounds great. Can't wait for the album, comes out some time in June I think.