Tuesday, 31 December 2013

25 BEST ALBUMS OF 2013


Narrowed down to 25, all fantastic. 


    25. THE PASTELS - Slow Summits



"In the end, Slow Summits sounds like Illumination with stronger songs. And even if part of my love for this album is stemmed in nostalgia – I don’t care. What I care for is a good tune. That and Stephen Pastel’s unforgettable croon."

Full review




     24. ED ASKEW - For The World



"Everything about For The World is just so tasteful and nice: the cover painting showing the man himself, a song called “Gertrude Stein” (which sounds like an accomplished sketch) and, most importantly, the actual music. Which is folk music – impressionistic, poetic, timeless-sounding."

Full review



     23. MARNIE STERN - The Chronicles Of Marnia


"This is not a great comparison, but I’d bring up the name of Jesca Hoop here. I get the same sense of edgy, spontaneous wonder when I listen to them. Which I’ve never really minded. A wild, charming, exciting album. A little all over the place, but in a way that actually works."


Full review



     22. ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Love From London




"Strictly for fans, of course, but I don’t see why a newcomer would not feel moved by the clever melodies and the unfading charisma of a man who’s too odd to be John Lennon and too normal to be Syd Barrett."


Full review


     
     21. THE STROKES - Comedown Machine



"The amount of flak Comedown Machine is getting is truly staggering. Because, and I want to stress my point again and again, these songs are not in any way worse than the ones that made up Is This It."


Full review



20. HOWE GELB - The Coincidentalist




"The music is genuinely good. Listening to The Coincidentalist is like drinking warm tea with milk on a nasty November day."


Full review




19. THE FALL - Re-Mit




"Smith still has it. Re-Mit is as idiosyncratic and awe-inspiring as ever. Depending on your point of view, you may consider this frightening, hilarious, ridiculous. What you absolutely can’t deny is the blinding greatness of the whole thing."


Full review


    
     18. ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER - Personal Record





"I don’t mind personal records – as long as the person in question is interesting enough. Eleanor Friedberger is."


Full review




    17. CRIME & THE CITY SOLUTION - American Twilight




"If you thought Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ latest was a little too soft, you might want to hear the latest album by this Australian band."


Full review



         
    16. ARCTIC MONKEYS - AM




"While the first two songs don’t betray too many changes (still, both were singles for a reason), the shameless falsetto opening “One For The Road” is where you know you are into something new."


Full review



  
     15. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Push The Sky Away





"However much I love the screaming, rip-roaring Cave, there’s just no denying that he always had the knack for writing a haunting, striking ballad."


Full review




    14. BABYSHAMBLES - Sequel To The Prequel




"Sequel To The Prequel (which is the sort of title that should have probably been invented sooner) has Pete’s best songs since Down In Albion. However hard you try, you just don’t waste your talent completely. "


Full review




    13. ROY HARPER - Man & Myth




"The whole thing is masterful. If I have to thank Joanna Newsom for that, I will. But mostly let's be grateful to Roy Harper himself for keeping it up and, in the process, recording one of the best albums of 2013."


Full review



    12. THE BITTER SPRINGS - Everyone's Cup Of Tea




"Everyone’s Cup Of Tea is two CD’s filled to the brim with songs of such undeniable greatness that you might as well start hating yourself for coming so late to the party."


Full review





    11. MARK KOZELEK & JIMMY LAVALLE - Perils From The Sea




"There’s no point in accusing Mark Kozelek of sounding monotonous and depressing. Besides, for all its sadness, the tunes are perfectly appealing. “Ceiling Gazing” is actually one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever heard."


Full review




     10. ALELA DIANE - After Farewell



"There’s so much depth, beauty, style to this. An album that sounds timeless from day one. Timelessness that is not just felt in a sad guitar line or Alela’s vocal intonation or even one whole song. It inhabits this album naturally, and never leaves it for one second."


Full review



     9. LUKE HAINES - Rock And Roll Animals




"You can often hear critics say that at this point this or that artist can do whatever the fuck he wants. Which often doesn’t really mean anything. Luke Haines, on the other hand, does exactly that: whatever the fuck he wants."


Full review




     8. EDWYN COLLINS - Understated


"He was good and foppish when he was Orange Juice, and he is equally good (though certainly a lot less foppish) now that he keeps his winning streak going."


Full review





 7. GRANT HART - The Argument




"A sprawling, overblown concept album based on Milton’s Paradise Lost? 20 songs, each done in a different style? All the way up to Heaven and all the way down to Hell? A less than great songwriter would have flunked it. Grant Hart succeeds on all counts."


Full review



     6. NEKO CASE - The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You




"In the absence of Kate Bush’s albums, I’m more than happy to have Neko Case. Because regardless of your opinion, the lady is awesome. No other word for that."


Full review





     5. GABRIEL BRUCE - Love In Arms



"Love In Arms is full of reference points: there’s a little Nick Cave, a little Leonard Cohen, a little Tindersticks along the way. And yet, despite all that, there’s not a second on the whole album that lacks ambition or sounds in any way derivative."


Full review



     4. DAVID BOWIE - The Next Day




"We all know that David Bowie is pop music’s greatest figure. Bar none. The Next Day is further proof."



Full review





     3. ARCADE FIRE - Reflektor




"They don’t just write songs. There’s artistic growth. There’s development. There’s a song called “Porno”. There’s James Murphy. And there’s of course that album cover."


Full review




     2. THROWING MUSES - Purgatory / Paradise




"Purgatory/Paradise sounds like a work of a terrific and obsessive songwriter courageously going through an attention-deficit phase. It’s nothing to fear though: even the 1-minute songs are hook-filled and well-written."


Full review




      1. OF MONTREAL - Lousy With Sylvianbriar 




"Your mother hung herself in the National Theater
When she was four months pregnant with your sister
Who would have been thirteen years old today
Does that make you feel any less alone in the world?"


                                                   Kevin Barnes, "Colossus"

Full review






Sunday, 29 December 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #130: The Menzingers - "Time Tables"

The Menzingers' third album, On The Impossible Past, has been my most listened to album of 2013. I just keep returning to it, again and again, for guts, catharsis and unforgettable melodies. What a band they've become. "Time Tables" is a highlight off their second album, Chamberlain Waits (2010), and I'd just like to mention that this Canadian crowd is dead in the water compared to the Irish craze these guys caused in a Dublin pub this August. 





Thursday, 26 December 2013

Book review: KATE ATKINSON - Life After Life (2013)


These days it’s all about the gimmick. Well, maybe not all, but if you want to get by in the brutally competitive world of the modern novel, it has to be something more than a plot, a character or even a bloody good twist. It has to be the gimmick. Something that could interest a bored teenager on a random city bus.

For her new novel, Life After Life, Kate Atkinson went for something very special – if not necessarily original: we get to experience the life of one Ursula Todd or, to be more precise, we get to experience the lives of Ursula Todd. A sensible alternate title would be Life After Life After Life After Life (etc.). The gimmick is that it’s not a straightforward line of events, Kate’s idea being that a life is basically just a bunch of big and small what-ifs, like what if that boy kissed Ursula against her will or what if Ursula slapped him or what if Ursula let him kiss her. It’s just one tiny episode on Ursula’s 16th birthday, behind the shrubbery, and the list of possible futures resulting from it is really quite endless – every single one making Ursula an even more complex character than she already is (there’s a bit of magic here, like foreseeing future and experiencing strong deja-vu’s). Indeed, this book is like the ending of French Lieutenant’s Woman gone totally, clinically mad.

It doesn’t always work, and a good idea used can on occasion become a good idea abused (the whole thing does, inevitably, turn into a bit of a mess towards the second half), but when it does work – it makes Life After Life a brave, compelling, entertaining novel that is not afraid to go – in a matter of a few pages – from a rural mansion called Fox Corner (a piece of idyllic Britain that belongs to Ursula’s parents) to the hysteria of Hitler’s Germany to disturbing pictures of bombed babies during the Blitz in this never-ending loop of lives.

Fine writing all around, and it was the sheer punch-like brilliance of the novel’s first page, which has to be read and reread, that proved to be so convincing. (To say nothing of the actual scene: after all, it’s not often that you get to read of an apparently successful assassination of Adolf Hitler in 1930.) The family life in Fox Corner is described with a sharp female eye for amusing details. Plus, humour and warmth are to be found in old-fashioned but irresistible lines like “Butter was plastered on to the roll with no regard for the hard labour of the cow”. Then, in a freewheeling postmodernist spree, it all gets rather Dickensian in the part where Ursula marries a young Casaubon from London called Derek. Quite an eclectic ride, then, even if that can be forgiven in a novel that spans so many decades and thrice as many lives.

Life After Life is not a particularly long novel, but it is one of those where by the end of it you feel you’ve aged together with the main character. It’s a good feeling, certainly rather reassuring, because maybe if that first chapter wasn’t convincing and you threw the book away or maybe put it back on the shelf, something undesirable or even irreparable could have happened. Or darkness would have fallen, as Kate Atkinson has it so often in this excellent novel that is a little ridiculous but mostly fantastic.


8/10


Wednesday, 25 December 2013

In The Bleak Midwinter

Gustav Holst's "In The Bleak Midwinter" is the greatest Christman carol of all time. In the absence of Luke Haines' subversive take, here's the more conventional version by Gloucester Cathedral Choir. And remember: it's awfully clichéd to be cynical at Christmas. 




MERRY CHRISTMAS


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

EP review: THE FALL - The Remainderer

Highlights: Mister Rode, Rememberance R, Touchy Pad

This shall be the last music review of 2013. And how nice it is to finish it all off with the world’s greatest band. The statement has in fact ceased to be controversial years, maybe decades ago. That is regardless of your opinion.

Not really an album but an EP. Last time Mark E. Smith released two full-length records over the course of one year was in 1988 – but let’s not get too deep into figures, something that seems rather too easy when dealing with the deranged and undying and logic-defying institution that is The Fall.

The Remainderer is brilliant, of course, but that’s because you already love The Fall, not because it’s actually great. Though maybe it is – who can tell at this point. The sound is more or less the same as it’s been for a long time (the line-up is still going strong!) and the same it was on this year’s underrated Re-Mit. Maybe a little more sloppy and loose in places, but not crucially so. The highlights include the 7-minute epic “Mister Rode” (not quite “Blindness”, but close), the terrific bass groove and Mark’s almost-angelic (did I just say that) voice during the first part of “Rememberance R” and The Fall-styled pop (anything but, of course) song “Touchy Pad”.

It’s always tempting to say something judgemental about Mark E. Smith, but the right words never come. Whatever you think about that particular individual, it’s as irrelevant as anyone’s opinion on Christmas or weather or religion or sex. You read a book like The Fallen: Searching For The Missing Members Of The Fall or you watch a YouTube footage of a recent concert where Smith doesn’t even bother to appear onstage (one of the reasons why I might just survive never seeing The Fall live), and you are filled with righteous indignation. What the fuck, Mark? But then you play the man’s new EP, and you no longer know: it’s always kind of fantastic, and what does it matter what all those past members think about Smith or whether the bloody drunkard can still stay on his feet?.. “Jetplane” will still be the song of the year.


8/10


John Doran’s recent Quietus interview with Mark E. Smith is highly recommended. Little about The Fall, of course, but plenty on Twilight, The Great British Bake Off and a few other key issues. Hilarious and mad.


Sunday, 22 December 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #129: Jethro Tull - "Cheap Day Return"

Written by Ian on a train, on the way to his hospitalized father (if memory serves), "Cheap Day Return" is one of those short acoustic beauties that show so well what a great songwriter he is. The heart-melting, slightly whimsical voice, a couple of guitars, and a melody to kill for. And the lyrics of course, full of warmth and humour and just a whiff of sadness. A classic (off Aqualung, of course, 1971).





Friday, 20 December 2013

Album review: MARK MULCAHY - Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You

Highlights: I Taketh Away, Everybody Hustles Leo, She Makes The World Turn Backwards, Where’s The Indifference Now?

This is tough songwriting. The album doesn’t sound like a smooth flow of melodic ideas, but it’s always articulate and always self-assured. Hardly a surprise, of course, since Mark Mulcahy is not new to this music thing. And yet there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s his first album since the horribly untimely death of his wife in 2008 – which makes this new urgency, this songwriting drive all the more poignant and impressive.  

Miracle Legion was the name of Mark’s original band that semi-bothered the by-then-weary jangle pop genre back in the 80’s and 90’s. While Me And Mr. Ray is a sweet enough acoustic pop album (until the inevitable R.E.M.-esque tedium sets in), Miracle Legion were nothing to be too excited about. I’d argue that Mark’s solo albums have a lot more life to them, and none of his past efforts has quite as much life as this new album.

The quirkily titled Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You is primarily a life-affirming album. You hear that in the whimsical (and slightly annoying) opening of “He’s A Magnet”, the joyful whistling of “Poison Candy Heart” (which combines the ‘candy’ tune with the ‘poison’ lyrics) and the reggae-ish (if unnecessary) groove of “My Rose Colored Friend”. Sonically, I count just one downbeat moment on the whole album, The Postal Service-like “Bailing Out On Everything Again”, and even that one isn’t especially slow. Not too inspired either, but not slow. Mostly, these songs are Mark singing exciting and often excitable melodies to lush, expressive guitar rhythms. Gets addictive after a while.

The lyrics are fittingly dark in places, but the album has a very freewheeling vibe to it. Mark throws in a clever line here, a rotten Bible putdown there, a waltzy lilt here, an anthemic verse there. The brilliant anthemic verses are the reason why “Where’s The Indifference Now?” is so good; true classic that ends the album on a high, effortlessly delightful note. A charismatic pop album.


8/10 


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Album review: ALELA DIANE - About Farewell

Highlights: About Farewell, Nothing I Can Do, I Thought I Knew, Hazel Street, Rose & Thorn

My first reaction after listening to this album: ‘is it even possible for a contemporary folk artist to record an album this good?’ There’s so much depth, beauty, style to this. An album that sounds timeless from day one. Timelessness that is not just felt in a sad guitar line or Alela’s vocal intonation or even one whole song. It inhabits this album naturally, and never leaves it for one second.

Personality in a modern folk album, not something we’ve gotten used to – with all these hoards of washed out folkies hidden behind beards and poor melodies. Misguided, vulnerable souls – some even try pretentiousness. But perhaps the word ‘modern’ is a wrong one. After all, the only thing 'modern' about Alela Diane’s new album (her fifth) is the year of its release. With its stylishly faded vibe (I hope I’m not making it sound like a stylized album – nothing of the kind), haunting backing vocals and cozily autumnal melodies, About Farewell is an album that belongs to a different time. All the more charming to have it for ourselves now, in 2013, when folk music has long gone beyond self-parody. In fact, I’m more than happy to consider it our very own Just Another Diamond Day. Needless to say, this album has just as much commercial potential.

About Farewell has one consistent feel but there’s enough melodic and instrumental variation to make these 34 minutes among the most intriguing and unjustly brief of this music year. There are piano notes falling down like drops of rain during “Nothing I Can Do” (one of the coolest middle-eights in recent memory), there’s that classic electric guitar line in “About Farewell”, there’s hazy orchestration in the seductively fleeting “I Thought I Knew”, etc.

But most importantly – there’s an intriguing mystery to this album, something only the best artists can do.


9/10   


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Book review: RACHEL KUSHNER - The Flamethrowers (2013)


Who are these people? And why are they naked?

Wishy-washy art be damned. Decent books, okay albums, nice films, a real deluge of those, should get the hell out. As something measured by shelf life, their sole purpose is to meet expectations and ‘mediocritise’ the whole thing. And while some of us would not be able to figure out what ‘the whole thing’ even is, let’s not forget that provoking love-or-hate reaction from public is exactly what art should do. What Rachel Kushner did with The Flamethrowers. Which is deliriously self-indulgent and so nonchalantly cool.

As Morrissey put it in one of his recent interviews, some people are art. By analogy, some books are art. Not in the way that a writer is an artist (not necessarily) and literature is a form of art (you’ll be amazed), but in the way that art stares at you from each and every page of these books with what could be described as a predatory smirk. This is very much the case with The Flamethrowers, a novel about a young girl from Nevada called Reno who sells her motorbike and, in pursuit of her artistic leanings, comes to New York of the 70’s to have this thing called ‘art’ smashed all over her face in a way that is frightening, thrilling, disgusting and quite overwhelming.

As with any self-respecting novel of modern times (though not on modern times), the plot of The Flamethrowers jumps all around the place. There are flashbacks you expect and there are flashbacks you don’t expect. Rachel Kushner is totally in charge of proceedings though, and she is never afraid to break things up a little: for instance, right in the middle of the novel there is a scorchingly brilliant chapter enumerating the actions of The Motherfuckers, an anarchist NY group of the 60’s, whose founder Reno meets at one of those tedious art-parties where you are equally bewildered, put off and amused. It’s an entertaining breather, but it also adds credibility (which was hardly Rachel Kushner’s main concern, to be honest) to the book swarming with mostly imaginary but perfectly realistic writers, graphic artists, sculptors, etc. Speaking of sculptors, it’s through one wealthy, minimalist artist (is there a worse combination?), Sandro Valera, that Reno gets into that world. She becomes his girlfriend – a girlfriend of a wealthy, minimalist artist. Sandro is of the Valeras, a powerful Italian family that owns a huge motorcycle empire in Rome. And Moto Valera is the bike that Reno rides.

While the premise is quite straightforward, The Flamethrowers is filled with plots. Reading the novel, I kept thinking to myself, not unpleasantly, that several books of short stories could come out of it: take that story about dead rabbits or one about a woman who got hit on the hip by a meteorite. Brilliant, intriguing ideas that come pouring out of the artist’s impressionistic, imaginative mind, and if some of it starts looking like a mess – you hang on to it like you do to a great David Lynch film. And what could possibly be easier when Rachel’s prose is so charismatic and so intoxicating, and you find yourself purring in dizzy delight: ‘he looked like Zeus lost in a casino’, ‘he said ‘cops’ with a tough, flattened New York accent, as if he were beheading the word with the chop of his voice’, etc. The prose is joyful and lush, but the devil is of course in the detail, so you get Rachel mentioning the Motherfuckers crashing an overpriced Ukrainian diner for it to later quietly resurface as a place where Reno and Sandro eat. That’s art for you. And that’s artists: naked, impotent, vaguely gifted motherfuckers quietly usurping the city like a sprawling gang of zombies.

On love or hate. Indeed, I don’t believe there is a person who would close the book thinking this was a decent, okay, nice read. There are those who would think The Flamethrowers (in itself certainly a symbol, because art does not just lead to creation) is a novel of the year and there are those who would stop reading or drag themselves through by way of a ridiculous habit. Me, I think it’s the novel of the year. It is everything art should be: bizarre, brilliant, polarizing. Interestingly, having read and loved the experience, I can’t even see Reno in my mind. But I can sense, feel, smell her, and every credit to Rachel Kushner.

In fact, my only regret is that I haven’t read Rachel’s debut novel, Telex From Cuba (2008; fantastic title at the very least). But there’s no regret like a sweet one. And yes, this review is pretentious – but then so is its subject matter and so is art.


9/10


Sunday, 15 December 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #128: Dave Kusworth - "Where Her Head Used To Lay"

Dave Kusworth is playing small venues these days. Really small. They have always been small, of course, but the later they come, the less justice there is to it. I know if I ever catch Dave and his current band in London, playing Madame Jojo's or elsewhere, and he delves into the bluesy, emotional, free-floating melodicism of a song like "Where Her Head Used To Lay" (off The Bounty Hunters, 1987), it'll all end up in tears. And how could it not. Dave Kusworth and Nikki Sudden, two true unsung rock'n'roll heroes. 




Friday, 13 December 2013

Album review: LINDA THOMPSON - Won't Be Long Now

Highlights: Love’s For Babies and Fools, If I Were a Bluebird, Nursery Rhyme Of Innocence and Experience, Never the Bride

It’s quite surprising that Linda Thompson hasn’t done too many albums since the dark, bittersweet breakup with Richard that was 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights (fantastic LP, though crucially missing the warmth and humour of I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight). There was one decent record back in 1985, and then nothing until the recent resurgence that started in 2002. Won’t Be Long Now is in fact Linda’s third album in about ten years.

All maths, of course. Two things matter, and thankfully it’s neither the cheerless album title nor the equally cheerless cover. Those two things are songs and Linda’s voice. As for the former, they are good (thanks in no small measure to Teddy Thompson, who also plays acoustic guitar and lends vocal harmonies) and perfectly capture the wonderful versatility of folk music. From sad a cappella laments (“Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk”, presented here in its unadorned live version) to lightweight, toe-tapping folk-pop (“As Fast As My Feet”) to epic Sandy Denny-esque ballads (“Never the Bride”) to wistful singalongs (the feel-good title track that ends the album, fittingly). But the classic here has to be “If I Were a Bluebird”, a near-seven-minute long ballad that has all the elegant wisdom and depth of Linda’s voice. It really does deserve to be called a folk song of the year, decade or maybe you could go even further. Truly timeless.

And of course the album sounds fantastic, what with quite a number of Thompsons scattered all over this thing. Richard is also here, playing his inimitable guitar on the brilliant opener “Love’s For Babies and Fools”, which is filled with sadness and irony in equal measure. Something folk music has always done so well. So I do hope the title and the cover shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Won’t Be Long Now; for a change, a folk album from someone who understands folk music. In a word, masterful.


8/10


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Album review: NILS FRAHM - Spaces

Highlights: Said and Done, Went Missing, Familiar, Over There, It’s Raining

For personal reasons best not dwelt upon, I find it psychologically difficult to write about Nils Frahm. But equally it’s an opportunity I cannot resist. Particularly since in many ways Spaces could well be Frahm’s quintessential album: these are intimate live recordings of old and new material, all effectively representing the full diversity of his music.

Nils Frahm is a German composer whose stark, technical minimalism manages to draw blood. He can draw it out of literally nothing, a trick best heard at the beginning of “Sad and Done”: there are fast-paced, pounding, Steve Reich like piano notes nibbling at your psyche, and then they get quieter, and you somehow hear a melody in that. The effect is so strong that when Frahm’s piano starts playing the actual melody - it sounds almost transcendental. It’s a long record (though can you say flawed?) and highlights are numerous: Nils plays my favourite piece from his best album (“Familiar” from Felt), he does a really good improvisation, and there’s even a 17-minute-long minimalist epic that goes from ambient noise to organ grandiosity to a beautiful barrage of piano notes.

It certainly helps that Nils Frahm’s music is exalted enough to be appreciated by admirers of Erik Satie (whose enticing, unfading spirit is all over mysterious mood pieces like “Went Missing”) or even Tchaikovsky (worth noting that Frahm was taught to play piano by Nahum Brodski, a student of Tchaikovsky’s last scholar), and gorgeous and ‘tuneful’ enough to be noticed by general public. A paradox (is it) exemplified by the fact that this year Frahm produced the debut album by Arcade Fire’s violinist Sarah Neufeld (Hero Brother, not too good).

Last year’s Screws was so insubstantial it barely existed, so it’s good to have 76 minutes of great, inspired Nils Frahm. As far as 2013’s minimalist music is concerned, Spaces can only be rivaled by Eluvium’s ambient classic Nightmare Ending (unreviewable). Although in terms of pure emotional impact – Nils Frahm wins hands down. 


8/10


Sunday, 8 December 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #127: Julian Cope - "I Wanna Know What's In It For Me"

Outside a number of good pop songs, Julian Cope has never been my personal hero - not even if we consider the time when he fronted The Teardrop Explodes or released his most acclaimed solo albums (Fried, Peggy Suicide, a few others). Neither his voice nor his melodies resonate with me the way they should. And Julian's current 'revolutionary' phase is way too earnest to be taken seriously. His lyrics just don't turn me on. Yet once in a while the man can pen one hell of a sweet tune: "These Things I Know", "Cunts Can Fuck Off" (I should make a sarcastic remark here, but I can't think of anything) or this little acoustic protest from 2008's Preaching Revolution EP. 




Friday, 6 December 2013

Album review: GRANT HART - The Argument

Highlights: Morningstar, Is The Sky The Limit, So Far From Heaven, Shine, Shine, Shine, Glorious, For Those Too High Aspiring

On the question of Hüsker Dü: I’m a Grant Hart man. That’s not to say Bob Mould didn’t write a number of terrific songs for the band, but Hart’s songs just hit me harder. And post breakup – not even an album as acclaimed as Copper Blue could convince me Bob has an edge over Grant as a songwriter. Last year’s Silver Age was okay, but it so hopelessly pales in comparison with this songwriting master-class from Grant Hart.

But with all due respect – The Argument shouldn’t have worked. A sprawling, overblown concept album based on Milton’s Paradise Lost? 20 songs, each done in a different style? All the way up to Heaven and all the way down to Hell? A less than great songwriter would have flunked it. Grant Hart succeeds on all counts.

By track 8, you get a clear idea the man can do no wrong, and that’s considering the fact that stylistically he does it all, from Nuggets-like garage rock (“It Was A Most Disturbing Dream”) to power pop (“Glorious”) to old-time jazz (“Underneath The Apple Tree”) – mind that I’ve just mentioned a rather short stretch of 3 songs on side two. Naturally for a concept album this long, some tracks work better than others, but work they all do: Grant knows his way around a strong pop hook or an exciting groove (even if this groove is all a song has to offer, like the hellish instrumental “War In Heaven” or the sweet but uneventful “Golden Chain”). While Grant’s voice pretty much retains its distinctly Bowie-esque quality all the way through, the instrumentation is diverse: there’s a song here that is based on the swirling sound of the accordion and there’s a song here that’s elevated to an absolutely heavenly level by the harmonica.   

Speaking of the actual concept, the whole thing is both impressive and rather daft. Brilliant and far-fetched. But then Grant Hart is merely a popsmith, so you might as well forget all about the fallen angels and apple trees and concentrate on the tunes. By all means, The Argument has some of this year’s best.


9/10