Five of the Best: #8: Alexis Somerville

The second last in the Five of the Best series is from Alexis Somerville. Alexis is a journo who has written for Plan B, Aesthetica and Nude. Some great albums in here, my own will follow (hopefully tomorrow). Happy New Year!

Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)



When I first heard it

A Saturday night in November 2007, drunk and wondering where I was (incidentally: on the 13th floor of a skyscraper in Taipei, Taiwan at about 3am).

Why I love it

I have to admit, I’d almost forgotten about Radiohead. After obsessive listening to OK Computer, Kid A etc. as a college student, I developed new obsessions and Radiohead slipped my mind for a while. So I wasn’t even excited when they released a new album, though it captured my attention for its unusual payment options (what? You can pay as much or as little as you like to download it?!) which clearly worked to their advantage as it entered the US Billboard charts and UK album charts at number one.

I heard about all this and yet I still didn’t download it as I was living approximately 6,000 miles from home without the internet. And then I went to an indie disco (appropriately named Idioteque after the Radiohead song) and found someone who owned it. Initially I listened to it not once but several times in a row.

I was shocked and slightly ashamed. How could I have forgotten about Radiohead?! They were always impressive, let’s face it, and now… an album of exquisitely beautiful songs which are both interesting and oddly accessible. Not proggy experimentalism or guitar-heavy rock (though they do those impeccably well too) but pared down, lyrically astounding platforms for Thom Yorke’s voice and the band’s ability to create an atmosphere.

What it reminds me of

A strangely unfestive yet magical Christmas in Taiwan, listening to it on repeat forever and never getting bored.

Standout track

Reckoner

Beirut – Gulag Orkestar (2006)







When I first heard it

When exploring a friend’s computer for exciting music two or three years ago.

Why I love it

Zach Condon’s voice, the instrumentation, the melodies, the atmospherics and the fact that it’s a ridiculously impressive debut. Surely at 20 Condon didn’t have the life experience to make music which sounded like it had been recorded by a seasoned, virtuoso Eastern European gypsy… but somehow he pulled it off.

What it reminds me of

My friend Lewis bragging about how he was going to listen to it on a solo trip from Poland to China by rail. It seemed the perfect setting and I was insanely jealous. Although he got his MP3 player nicked by Manchester United fans in Russia so it didn’t all pan out.

Standout track

Postcards from Italy

Geoff Muldaur – Private Astronomy: A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke (2003)







When I first heard it

When I raided my dad’s CD collection a few years ago.

Why I love it

It introduced me to the music of Bix Beiderbecke and has its own delightful take on the 1920s jazz musician’s work. Featuring the likes of Loudon Wainwright III and Martha Wainwright alongside Muldaur’s chamber arrangements and extraordinary vocals, some jazz purists hate it simply for not being Beiderbecke. But it manages to avoid gimmickry and is respectful in its tribute while injecting something new into the diverse mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks. Muldaur employs a mix of exceptional classical and jazz musicians and the album as a whole is a creative, intelligent homage to the jazz innovator.

What it reminds me of

Family Christmases in York and adding my favourite track – There Ain’t No Sweet Man, with guest vocalist Martha Wainwright – to every mix CD I made for a while.

Standout track

There Ain’t No Sweet Man

Low – Things We Lost in the Fire (2001)







When I first heard it

At university in Leeds in 2005. Someone put Sunflowers on a compilation for me and I went out and bought the album immediately.

Why I love it

They do so much with so little, and make melancholy beautiful. This record should be depressing, it should be too slow for comfort. But instead it’s chillingly ambient and engaging. The songwriting is weirdly brilliant and the sparse instrumentation perfectly fitting.

What it reminds me of

Being blown away by their live set at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2007.

Standout track

In Metal

Feist – The Reminder (2007)







When I first heard it

On a Singapore Airlines flight to Taiwan in September 2007, having just bid goodbye to my friends and family for the last time in what would be over a year.

Why I love it

Leslie Feist’s voice and the elegant simplicity of her melodies. Also, The Reminder was written on the road and inspired by brief stays in various global hotels, a theme which was particularly easy for me to identify with at the time.

What it reminds me of

The beginning of my time in Taiwan. The plane journey as I drifted in and out of sleep, catching occasional glimpses of pretty Singaporean air hostesses and far-away seas. Sitting outside a restaurant in the intense October heat as my friends plugged in their speakers to the outdoor power supply and The Reminder soundtracked our meal. Settling into my new apartment with its huge balcony and views of temples, rundown skyscrapers and misty mountains.

Standout track

So Sorry

Choice Cut Video: Beirut – Postcards From Italy

http://www.youtube.com/v/RjzVbXeD_8E&hl=en_GB&fs=1&

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