Monthly Archives: December 2010

S&B Annual Anthology 2010: The Results

It’s taken a while, but the votes are finally counted and calculated, the playlist is completed and the first Annual Anthology is ready to go. As I hoped at the beginning, it has been a real education for me. I specifically asked for contributions from people with a discerning taste in music, those whose tastes I respect. I wasn’t disappointed.

The trouble, as I speculated initially, was that as the votes came in, I realized there were a huge amount of individual songs being polled. I had to think of a way to order them and I hope it’s to your liking. I decided that each artist could only have one track. If they had more than one nomination, I would add them to the track that recurred most often. I counted the songs in the order they were written, five for the first, one for the last.

After refamiliarizing myself with Microsoft Exel and purchasing the tracks individually, I put them into Sound Cloud and created the playlist below. I hope it doesn’t attract the ire of any included artists… please take it as a compliment and contact me if you have an issue with it! For now, though, I hope you all enjoy the forty tunes that make up my first Annual Anthology. Many thanks to those who took the time to vote and particularly, to the kind folks who contributed some glowing words to the top ten tracks.

#1: Beach House

1. Beach House – Zebra

“Something so simple has no business being this good. The scale-led guitar intro is all pleasing innocence, something I’d like to imagine I could’ve concocted as an early-learner. Clearly wishful thinking, Alex Scally lays the groundwork for Victoria Legrand’s wistful howl and one of the year’s best albums.”

Finn Scott-Delany: newshound for the Crawley Observer and music hack for Drowned in Sound.

2. The National – Runaway

“There were eight different songs nominated for the Anthology from High Violet. It’s an indicator that The National aren’t really a singles band, but also a measure of how consistent their work is. High Violet is their most accessible, poppiest album to date. Runaway probably fits the same description, track-wise. Led by an acoustic arpeggio, backed by a plinking piano, guided by Matt Berninger’s slightly off tune vocal and strengthened by subtle splashes of horn and strings, this is simple, heady stuff. Perhaps The National’s finest moment of effortless beauty since Daughters of the Soho Riots.”

FB

3. Deerhunter – Desire Lines

“Desire Lines is just one of those songs that’s almost impossible to pin down just WHY it’s so good but I’m going to try anyway. From its opening kick drum you immediately get the sense that something important is looming; The gentle guitar line that runs through it is subtle but beautifully crafted and it builds and builds and builds to a magnificent climax. It’s close to seven minutes long but you’ll find yourself wishing it was longer.”

Stu Lewis: editor of the splendiferous Tidal Wave of Indifference

4. The Villagers – Becoming a Jackal

“The first thing that struck me about this song was how strong the lyrics were. The man is like a contemporary-classical poet of some sort! Which fills me both with admiration and immense envy… then there’s the sixties tinged melody with those little staccato chords from a big hollow bodied guitar with plenty of reverb… absolutely incredible song. Amazing record too.”

Cormac Fee: lead singer of the excellent pocket promise.

5. The Phantom Band – Everybody Knows It’s True

“If the Mercury Prize was a fair fight then The Phantom Band would have won it with Checkmate Savage; here they are with another contender. Playful, soulful, and with a bit of madness in its heart, this is as immediate as they get on an album loaded with textured slow-burners.”

Dave Kerr: seemingly five-armed Music and Online Editor of The Skinny

6. Bombay Bicycle Club – Rinse Me Down

“When I first heard this track, I was gobsmacked. I had been left a little cold by their debut album last year and certainly didn’t expect the intricate, acoustic turn BBC would take for their sophomore effort. Revisiting reviews over the past two months, it seems it’s criminally underrated. Rinse Me Down is the stunning highlight. It sounds like a cross between Murmur-era REM and freak-folkers Vetiver, which is about as high a compliment I could pay any track!”

FB

7. James Blake – Limit To Your Love

“2010 has been an exciting year for London boy James Blake. Only a handful of releases in and he has become one of the most talked about British newcomers, as well as making it to the BBC’s list of 15 hopefuls for 2011. Limit To Your Love is his most accomplished piece yet, a truly original cover of Canadian singer/songwriter Feist. Managing to push the ‘Post-Dubstep’ microcosm its melodic boundaries while keeping minimal and credible, Blake’s piano lick and vocals contrast perfectly with the spacious, sub heavy drop.
Certainly one to keep your eyes on in 2011, his self entitled debut album drops in February.”

Alexander Colmer: editor of the fresh and generous Single Serving blog.

8. Arcade Fire – Ready To Start

“Arcade Fire took 2010 to reestablish themselves as one of the finest indie bands around. The immediacy and urgency of Ready To Start is a fine representation of a band with grievances to air, axes to grind and bones to pick. That they manage to do so in such tuneful style should be something everyone is grateful for.”

FB

9. Caribou  – Sun

“I find it difficult to listen to Sun without slipping into a trance. From the album that presented Dan Snaith to the mainstream in spectacular style, this is one of the trippiest cuts. Swim is an album loaded with potential hits and quite a few got votes, but this was by far the most popular of his songs.”

FB

10. Perfume Genius – Learning

“I remember the first time I got excited about Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius) was when I downloaded a zip. file of songs ripped from his MySpace player. What I heard was both fragile while simultaneously cutting, unsure yet self-aware. My appetite was whetted and I couldn’t wait until I could actually purchase a legitimate release from him. I wasn’t let down, as during my first spin of debut ‘Learning’ I knew from the title track opener that it was going to be something special. The warm notes of Hadreas’ piano intertwined with his timid voice create something of genuine beauty. The lyrics are milky at best and have more than a shade of sinister to them; ‘no one will answer your prayers until you take off that dress/no one will hearyou’re your crying until you take your last breath’. I guess that is why I love this track so much, it completely baffles me by combining the beautiful with the dark to create a world-weary masterpiece.”

Ian Greenhill: editor of the marvellous Have Fun At Dinner and contributor to The Line Of Best Fit.

11. Foals – Spanish Sahara

12. Mountain Man – Animal Tracks

13. Twilight Sad – The Wrong Car

14. Sufjan Stevens – Too Much

15. The Black Keys – Next Girl

16. Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Company

17. The Fall – OFYC Showcase

18. The Tallest Man On Earth – King Of Spain

19. Gil Scott-Heron – Me and the Devil

20. Meursault – Crank Resolutions

21. These New Puritans – We Want War

22. Kid Canaveral – Good Morning

23. Micah P Hinson – Take Off That Dress For Me

24. The Hold Steady – The Weekenders

25. John Knox Sex Club – Honesty The Beast

26. Massive Attack – Atlas Air

27. Forest Swords – If Your Girl

28. Band of Horses – Compliments

29. Pantha du Prince – Stick To My Side

30. Midlake – Rulers, Ruling All Things

31. Laura Marling – Rambling Man

32. Incarnations – Make You Mine

33. Salem – Trapdoor

34. Big Boi – Shutterbugg

35. The New Pornographers – The Crash Years

36. Frightened Rabbit – The Wrestle

37. Cee Lo Green – Fuck You

38. LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean

39. Spoon – Got Nuffin

40. Admiral Fallow – Subbuteo


Scrawls and Bawls Top 20 Albums of 2010

Number 1... as if you didn't know

I wrote at the start of 2010 about how I hoped to vary my listening habits over the course of the year, about how I needed to listen to something other than guys with beards and guitars. Well I guess the past twelve months have been a miserable failure then. But I’ve had a lot of fun, soundtracked by the list below. Please share your own favourites in the comment box!

1. The National – High Violet

I’m not sure I should write anything more on these pages about this band, for fear of being batted off as a fanzine. Alas, there is more to come when I publish some fresh copy on High Violet, submitted today. Anyone who has read this blog will know why and how much I love this album. If not, you can easily find out.

The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio

2. Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett

I’d never really listened to much of Damien Jurado’s stuff before but this album is a thing of beauty. Sometimes Jurado sounds damaged and paranoid. At others, he sounds hopeful and whimsical. It amounts to an emotional, multi-paced masterpiece. The brilliant, sweeping strings of the opening track Cloudy Shoes meant that I didn’t listen to the rest of the album for ages – it’s that good. I was surprised not to hear more people talk or write about this album in 2010.

Damien Jurado – Cloudy Shoes

3. The Walkmen – Lisbon

This is my favourite Walkmen album. There is nothing here to rival the visceral, pounding on the door – balls to the wall rock of The Rat and strangely for a Walkmen record, Hamilton only sounds menacing and sneering in parts. It is framed by a lovely, vintage sound. The guitars have a real 50s feel throughout and the production of the album accentuates it: echoey and vacuous (that’s a good thing).

The Walkmen – Angela Surf City

4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

The perfect album for Arcade Fire to release in 2010. They’ve matured, but they still know how to pen songs you can sing in the shower, driving your car or teaching your kids (hope my boss isn’t reading this). Thematically, it’s DARK. You can read about this more extensively here.

Arcade Fire – We Used To Wait

5. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

This is the album that has made me want to pick up my guitar most in 2010. Kristian Matsson has a voice that sounds as though he’s sung round a million campfires. He reminds me of a young, naïve, Scandanavian (on the occasion his accent sneaks into his songs, it makes it all the more endearing) Bob Dylan. His rawness is a breath of fresh air. He sings like he’s got the world at his feet and the wind in his sails. If he keeps churning out records like this, he may just be right.

The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt

6. John Grant – Queen of Denmark

This one took me completely by surprise. I’d never even heard of John Grant a couple of months ago. Nor had I heard of his former band, The Czars. The story behind this one is one that’s built for rock n roll folklore. He was just about to call it a day, following his band’s disintegration. He was suicidal and unsure if he’d ever play music again. Texan band, Midlake, saw him live and fell in love. They invited him on tour and coaxed him into the studio, performing as his backing band. Queen of Denmark is the result.

This is the album I was hoping Midlake would make this year. It’s got all the ingredients: a warm, 70s FM-friendly soft rock feel; literate, clever lyrics and a dry wit that cuts a girl named Charlie (who inspires three of the tracks)to shreds, whilst simultaneously evoking a huge sense of loss. In it’s own self-deprecating way, this album reminds me of Dennis Wilson magnum opus Pacific Ocean Blue. In some ways, it’s the Bon Iver moment of 2010. Instead of going into a cabin, he was hauled into a studio. Both records are equally poignant, but this one’s much more fun.

John Grant – Queen of Denmark

7. Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry

I miss living in Edinburgh. I miss the music, the gigs, the conveyer belt of talent that seems to emanate from Scotland more than any other comparably sized place. The last gig I went to see in Edinburgh was Meursault, playing at a (I think) Limbo night. Lead singer Neil Pennycook blew me away with the sheer strength of his voice. When I first heard this album, I was slightly disappointed that his voice was lower in the mix than I expected, but as the year’s gone on, I’ve grown to love it. Lumped in with the folktronica scene, there’s a lot more emotion in this batch of songs than that label would leave you to believe. Buried beneath the fuzz, there are some amazing songs here. Perhaps the album that’s grown on me most this year.

Meursault – Crank Resolutions

8. Errors – Come Down With Me

One of the highlights of my year has been running. I ran two half marathons in November and trained for them since the end of the summer. At first, I avoided listening to music too much, preferring audiobooks and podcasts instead. I felt I could dictate my pace and zone out better when someone was talking in my ear. I got halfway through Atlas Shrugged (very slow, quite boring) and devoured a few of Chomsky’s. But when I played music, I would speed up or slow down in accordance with its tempo.

The longer I ran, though, the more I got to know my own body and its limits. I began to listen to more and more music, trialing and erring to discover what was compatible. I find electronic music best, particularly intelligent stuff. Errors fall firmly within this category and alongside M83’s stellar Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, this has been my most played and most enjoyed running album of 2010. They’re signed to Mogwai’s Rock Action label and whilst they pack all the euphoria of their stablemates, their music is inherently fun: an accolade not always bestowed upon their illustrious colleagues.

Errors – Supertribe

9. Clogs – The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton

I reviewed this way back in Spring for The Skinny and loved it. This year seems to have been dominated by lo-fi, synthy, murky pop music. So what a welcome change and joy to find a band devoted to creating intricate, complex and elaborate music. Clogs contain members of The National, but actually predate their more celebrated moniker. Chief architect is Padma Newsome, who also provides the arrangements for The National. This album is beautiful: fully recommended.

Clogs – I Used To Do

10. Perfume Genius – Learning

And speaking of lo-fi, Perfume Genius was the standout performer in that heavily saturated field this year, for me. It’s not just the production that’s threadbare here, though. Mark Hadreas hangs his torment out his bedroom window (for he’s almost certainly recorded this sitting on the edge of the scratcher) for all the passersby to see. Simple, beautiful and in parts stunningly effective, he shows that in the right hands, the old cliché can still ring true. Less can most certainly be more. This album is the anti-Clogs, but it’s equally poignant and beautiful.

Perfume Genius – Mr Peterson

11. Horse Feathers – Thistled Spring

Horse Feathers are a band I’ve loved for a few years and whilst this album isn’t as good their stunning debut, Words are Dead, it’s still a great album. In a year in which we’ve been starved of new material from Iron and Wine, this has capably filled the void. Lead singer Justin Ringle’s voice is all at once honeyed and resigned. His songs are nostalgic and sad; they seem to yearn for (as much as they sound of) a simpler era when people lived hand-to-mouth. A time when time passed more slowly and folks dealt with each other and little else in between. Sure, it’s a romanticized concept, but sometimes it’s good to dream, right?

Horse Feathers – Thistled Spring

12. Olafur Arnalds – And They Have Escaped Under the Weight Of Darkness

Over the course of 2010, I’ve become more interested in contemporary classical and ambient music. Most of what I’ve listened predates this, but I thoroughly enjoyed Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds’ latest album. I’ve already mentioned the conveyer belt of talent emerging from Scotland, but Iceland runs it close, particularly in this genre. I can’t help but feel the Scandinavians have a better outlook than us.

I watched a documentary last night about Wikileaks, in which they became incorporated on the Northern Atlantic island state. Having been screwed over by politicians in the past, they were determined to be as open and freethinking as they could and so welcomed Julian Assange with open arms. It’s a tenuous connection to make, but in the music of Arnalds and Jóhann Jóhannsson, I get the feeling that it’s more acceptable to slow down there; to do your own thing and move at your own pace… it’s freer, and perhaps that’s why they keep coming up with gems like this. Just a thought.

Olafur Arnalds – Hægt, kemur ljósið

13. The War On Drugs – Future Weather EP

My favourite EP of 2010, which I reviewed here.

The War On Drugs – Coming Through

14. Mountain Man – Made The Harbor

This is a beautiful album. A couple of years ago, Fleet Foxes reminded us just how powerful an instrument the human voice is. These three ladies from Vermont served up another dose of (almost) acapella loveliness. Perhaps their songs don’t have the depth of Fleet Foxes’ output. It’s certainly even more rustic. The vocals are so crystalline and the harmonies beautiful. One of the best Americana albums I’ve heard in 2010.

Mountain Man – Buffalo

15. Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws

I never really got into BBC’s first album, but I recall being very surprised when I heard this. They’ve hung up their amps and gone for a Nick Drake inspired acoustic set and it works wonderfully well. The album’s highlights (Rinse Me Down, Dust on the Ground) stand head and shoulders above the rest and so, in that sense, the album’s a touch unbalanced, but this was one of the nicest surprises I got this year. It reminds me hugely of Vetiver, with the lead singer’s voice just as rich and smooth as Andy Cabic’s.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Rinse Me Down

 

16. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

As is my wont, I avoided this one when it first came out. It was getting eulogized by all and sundry and I hadn’t rated their earlier albums as highly as others. This one, though, is better than its predecessors. It still hasn’t hit me as strongly as other musos, but I’ve fallen in love with some of the individual tracks. Bradford Cox is prodigiously gifted and his level of output must be a real source of envy for other musicians.

Deerhunter – Helicopter

17. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

I can’t help but feel disappointed that this record isn’t higher up on the list. The Midnight Organ Fight was one of my favourite albums of the last decade. This one really doesn’t hold a candle to it. It is a good album, with some great tracks (particularly The Wrestle), but when listening to it, I long for the rawness of what came before. Scott Hutchison can still write a great song, I think it’s in the studio where they’ve been let down, with people getting too trigger happy on the mixing desk. It remains to be seen where they go from here, but having recently left Fat Cat for Atlantic, it’s unlikely they’ll return to the sound of yore.

Frightened Rabbit – Living in Colour

18. Bill Callahan – Rough Travel for a Rare Thing

This is a live album I’ve really enjoyed this year. Bill Callahan (aka Smog) is up there with John Darnielle (Mountain Goats) when it comes to rock / indie lyricists. His songs are some of the most moving of their ilk. Hearing them in this live setting (I’ve yet to see him in concert), gives them an extra dimension.

Smog – Cold-Blooded Old Times

19. Midlake – The Courage of Others

As with Frightened Rabbit (and Band of Horses), this album was a disappointment this year. When I first got it, I really got into it and played it pretty regularly. But after the initial novelty of having new Midlake songs wore off, I came to the opinion that it was a bit one-paced. Having given it another chance this winter, I still enjoy it. There are some gorgeous tracks and moments that leave you breathless, but it’s unfortunate to be judged against the quality of …Von Occupanther. It’s unfair to say, but their superb sophomore album might act as an albatross around their collective neck for the rest of their careers.

Midlake – Winter Dies

20. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

You can read a review of Matthew Houcke’s uber-laid back third album here.

Phosphorescent – Los Angeles

Tanlines – Volume On

It’s a curious line to spin as we head down into December; but Tanlines are everywhere at the moment. As well as popping up as co-authors of Restless People’s maiden set this month, Jessie Cohen and Eric Emm have lent their collective name to remixes of everyone from Glasser, to Bombay Bicycle Club to The Tough Alliance; bringing a touch of flamboyance and colour to proceedings, without exception.

The Brooklyn pair cut their teeth in now defunct acts Professor Murder and Don Caballero, respectively. The former were proponents of shouty, dance-punk, whilst the latter paired the dynamism of metal with the intricacy of post-rock. And so remixes aside, tracing their individual trajectories offers barely any clues as to the etymology of the uniform tropicana on Volume On’ their full length debut as Tanlines.

The rigid (if the term could be applied to a genre so notoriously lithe) adherence to ‘calypso’ sounds is remarkable. Vocals come in minimalist bursts: mantras bayed low in the mix, amongst the bongos, steel drums and other forms of melodic, Caribbean metal. Volume Onis a fun record, unashamedly simple, unpretentious and not very subtle. In that respect, it follows on from the remixes that predate it.

The opening, sun-kissed chimes of ‘Reinfo’ set the tone: trancelike and exotic. ‘Real Life’, with its wailing, synthesized horns is a wonderful blast of rapture (although it’s bettered by theMemory Tapes remix, kindly included). ‘S.A.W.’ is the best track on the album: its swirling, reverb drenched vocal and riff more akin to Panda Bear than Lord Kitchener.

But the very characteristics that make Volume On initially enjoyable are the ones that raise question marks over its durability. It would be unfair to call them “one trick ponies”, given their diverse histories, but for a pair obviously blessed with such creativity, Volume On can be decidedly one-paced. How can a band who jump seamlessly from project to project, from idea to idea, limit themselves to just one over the course of an entire LP?

On Volume may well put a smile on your face this winter. There’s every chance that its best moments will have your toe tapping once you get it on your stereo. But the real question is, how long will you permit it to stay there?

Originally published at The Line Of Best Fit

Buy Tanlines

Stream Tanlines

The Line Of Best Fit: SOTD #183 // Dustin O’Halloran: ‘We Move Lightly’

There’s a reason so many contemporary composers are being drafted onto the film scores of Hollywood blockbusters. Few genres convey so much with so little. Take Shutter Island: no amount of words could suggest the sheer, heartstring tugging emotion encapsulated in the simple, devastating arrangement of Max Richter’s ‘On The Nature Of Daylight’. Berlin via LA composer Dustin O’Halloran joined this elite club when three of his early tracks were chose for the superb soundtrack to Marie Antoinette in 2006, and with good reason.

Within the illusory minimalism of O’Halloran’s compositions lies absolute gravitas. Even the breezier tracks from his forthcoming Luminere album (released in February 28 2011) are loaded with intensity and beauty. ‘We Move Lightly’ is the record’s immediate highlight. It enters with a straightforward, recurring piano arpeggio – reminiscent of Wim Mertens. As the track progresses, strings well around its epicentre, bringing (depending on your mood at the time of listening) exquisite urgency, foreboding and euphoria.

Therein lays the singularity of music like this; like Richter, like Hauschka. They possess an inherent flexibility that can be moulded by producers and filmmakers to pique whichever emotion they so wish. ‘We Move Lightly’ is a classic, gorgeous example. A man much wiser than me, Pete Seeger, once summed this sentiment up much more succinctly when he said: “any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” I rest my case…

[Dustin O’Halloran: We Move Lightly]

Originally published here

Koreanosaurus Boseongensis

I recently had an article about dinosaurs published on the front cover of the Gwangju News. I’ve spent a little time trying to extract the pages, create new PDFs and upload the article in its original form but haven’t been able to do so. Since it was proving to be such a ballache, here is the article in text only format. I found researching and writing this piece very enjoyable and hope you will too. I’ve been making a conscious effort to write outside my comfort zone and hopefully it’ll pay off…

Me with Professors Huh and Shin

Korea is a country fixated on technology. Time Magazine recently named the English teaching robot as one of the best inventions of 2010. They have the fastest broadband connection in the world and what was until recently the fastest railway system. You could easily be forgiven for assuming that all Koreans were hurtling towards the future at breakneck speed. But in a quiet corner of Gwangju, there is vital work ongoing that’s establishing and defining the peninsula’s unbreakable bond with the past.

The official approval of Koreanosaurus Boseongensis as a new genus and species in October locked the eyes of the scientific world onto the Korea Dinosaur Research Center at Chonnam University. But in truth, it’s just the latest in a long line of remarkable discoveries by Professor Min Huh and his team of researchers.  Korea has proven to be one of the most fertile hunting grounds for excavation teams: now the aptly named Koreanosaurus can take pride of place as the jewel in the crown.

The fossilized remains were discovered in Bibong-ri Boseong, Jeollanam-do (a town more noted for its luscious green tea plantations) in 2003 by Professor Huh’s team. After seven years of excavation, preparation, research and reconstruction, they were finally given the green light to go public with their findings just a few weeks ago. Professor Huh admits it’s been a “very exciting and busy time.”

He is Korea’s top dinosaur expert, respected the world over for his discoveries. He is also the Dean of the Natural Sciences Department of Chonnam. But sitting in his research facility, tucked away at the back of the university, he is amicable and accessible. He manages to simplify everything: offering bite-sized pieces of information, easily digested by those without a background in geology.  He explains about how 100 million years ago, there was only one, super continent. Thus, Korea was connected to China and Mongolia, two other areas rich in dinosaur fossils.

The conditions in Korea were perfect for attracting prehistoric wildlife, in all shapes and sizes. Large parts of what is now Jeollanam-do were lakes; which explains the huge collection of dinosaur footprints, eggs and bone fossils in the area. The county provided some much needed watering holes. The extent of Professor Huh’s findings in the region shouldn’t be understated. He recalls his first fruitful excavation, in Haenam in 1996.

“I didn’t know anything about large dinosaur footprints at the time,” he explains. “I found one, about ten centimeters wide, it looked like the roots of a plant, embedded in sedimentary rock bedding. We kept looking and found more and more. I contacted Professor Martin Lockley, an expert in Colorado University and told him about the find. He was shocked and said only: ‘how many?’”

In total, they found 823 dinosaur and 443 pterosaur footprints Haenam. It is the largest pterosaur (the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight. The most famous pterosaur is the pterodactyl) print site in the world. They also found the world’s oldest webbed bird footprint, dating back 85 million years. In fact, Haenam is unique in being the only site in the world where footprints of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, birds and arthropods (ancient arachnids, crustaceans and insects) have been found in the same locale.

Professor Huh’s next excavation brought him to Hwasun, where he explained that to date his team have uncovered more than 1,800 wide-ranging dinosaur footprints, as well as a trackway which exhibits the fastest speed of any dinosaur in Korea. In Yeosu, they found the world’s longest ornithopod (small, bipedal plant-eating dinosaurs, often birdlike) trackway in the world, amongst 3,853 other footprints.

Goseong, further down the coast towards Busan, has also proven to be a fruitful location for

Professor Huh. In times gone by, Korea’s second city was nothing but water: a huge lake, comparable in size to Lake Superior. As such, it too proved a popular habitat for dinosaurs and has the world’s highest density of dinosaur footprints, with over 5,000 being located, across many different species.

But it was in Boseong that Professor Huh’s remarkable and ultimate achievement was to be unveiled. Unsurprisingly, he beams as he proudly shows me the remains of a skeleton. Koreanosaurus Boseongensis is smaller than you might think. “Jurassic Park was just a movie,” the Professor explains, smiling. “It really wasn’t historically accurate.” The team, too, were initially surprised by the finding. Most of the footprints in the area are indicative of much larger creatures: they were puzzled by the remains.

The Korean team’s expertise is mostly in footprints. They enlisted Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist from Belgium to confirm that the Koreanosaurus is, indeed, unique to Korea only. It is assumed that it moved primarily on all fours, because of its overall body-plan and the location of the discovery. This, in itself, is an uncommon feature.

Professor Huh continues: “We think it was capable of digging, because of the position of its arms. This would have helped it to find shelter and digging holes with which to lay eggs and raise its young. It was an ornithopod with long legs and neck, but with shorter hindlegs. We believe it moved quite slowly.”

The Professor explained that Koreanosaurus was about a metre tall, and 2.5 long. It weighed about one hundred kilograms and lived in the late Cretaceous period (99.6 million to 65.5 million years ago). The discovery is his most exciting yet, he admits, but there is much work to be done. The next task to hand is to examine and try to establish links between bones and eggs found in the area. Watching the research student buzz round the lab, it’s easy to see that they won’t stop until they have answers.

As Professor Huh places a one hundred million year old bone in my hand, I can’t help but reflect on the minor role in world history human beings have played. We have roamed the earth, in our current form, for a mere two hundred thousand years. Dinosaurs ruled the domain for over three hundred million. The dinosaurs of Korea were wiped out by a series of comets and volcanoes (which resulted in the formation of amongst others, Mudeung Mountain). We may just be doing similarly devastating damage; all within the blink of an eye that has been our lifespan.

Last Year’s Best Albums List Revisited

The Antlers: They're Not There

Reading my Best Albums List from last year is a bit depressing and makes me wary as to what records I will include this year. From this list, only a handful have remained as ‘sustained players’ through 2010. Those are numbers 1, 2, 5, 8 and 9. I still stand by my choice of The Mountain Goats as number 1. In fact, I think it’s a criminally underrated album.

Of those on this list, I think the one that has grown most in my estimation in 2010 is The Phantom Band’s Checkmate Savage. The one which has fallen furthest is undoubtedly Fever Ray’s eponymous debut, which I was loving this time last year, but don’t recall playing more than a couple of times in 2010.

There are also some albums I’ve only really gotten around to this year that were released last. Albums that I would have included in the list with the benefit of hindsight and a bigger wallet would have been:

Amadou and Mariam: Welcome To Mali

[Amadou and Mariam – Sabali]

 

The Antlers: Hospice (this would possibly give Mountain Goats a run for the top position)

[Antlers – Kettering]

 

Withered Hand: Good News

[Withered Hand – Hard On]

 

Bill Callahan: Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

[Bill Callahan – Faith / Void]

 

The Low Anthem: Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

[The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin]

 

Megafaun: Gather, Form and Fly

[Megafaun – Kauffman’s Ballad]

As much as I love lists and look forward to the end of year influx, I know that lots of them are assembled hastily. When The Skinny asked me for my own list at the beginning of November, I was utterly unprepared! I managed to get a pretty accurate list of what I’d loved this year together, but it made me realize how much good music I’d missed out on… how many albums were on my ‘Must Hear’ list. That said, I think their list this year is their best ever… very eclectic and all-inclusive. Not just populist choices, which is nice to see.

I think when I compile 2010’s list over the next few days, I’ll need to consider the durability of the albums. Which ones will I still be listening to a few months or years down the line? I believe 2010 has been much stronger than 2009 in terms of releases, across the board.  Last year I didn’t really have to think about which album was my favourite… it was a no-brainer. This year, though, I’ve really had to think about it and it’s changed a few times over the past months. I think we’ve been really spoiled and I have enjoyed trawling back through the releases to formulate my thoughts.

I do wonder about people who post their 100 favourite albums of any given year. How much time can you really devote to 100 albums over the course of twelve months? I listen to a fair bit of music and in the past (increasingly again more recently) review a fair pile too. A couple of years back, I was reviewing maybe 40 albums a year. I probably hated around 50% of those. I could in no way have listened to enough music that I loved (or even liked) to rank them in a top 100! Perhaps I’m too skeptical.

Here’s 2009’s list:

  • The Mountain Goats – The Life Of The World To Come (review)
  • The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (read here)
  • Fever Ray – Fever Ray
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
  • The xx – xx
  • Butcher Boy – React Or Die (review)
  • The Twilight Sad – Forget The Night Ahead
  • The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage
  • Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
  • Nurses – Apple’s Acre (review)
  • Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
  • Doves – Kingdom of Rust
  • Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
  • Monsters Of Folk – Monsters Of Folk (review)
  • Zoey Van Goey – The Cage Was Unlocked All Along (review)
  • Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms
  • Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
  • Wildbirds and Peacedrums – The Snake (review)
  • The Maccabees – Wall of Arms (review)
  • The Skinny: 10 of 2010 (#2): The National – High Violet (Interview with Scott Devendorf)

    From humble beginnings, The National have become one of the most celebrated acts around. And with High Violet, they’ve taken their art to a new level, as I found out from Scott Devendorf.

    The National are no strangers to these pages, nor indeed to these yearly charts of ours. Both Boxer (2007) and Alligator(2005) featured highly in their respective end of year polls. Looking back at the release of High Violet in May, then, it’s hard to assess what exactly the expectation might have been, but even the most optimistic speculators would have struggled to call this one. The National are not populists. They are a band one hundred percent committed to attaining musical excellence, on their terms. And yet, here they are, with a UK number 5 album (Billboard number 3) under their belt and five albums in, the world at their feet.

    Reflecting on 2010, bassist, guitarist and pianist Scott Devendorf admits being “surprised, given the long road the band has taken.” For him, High Violet is “the culmination of a lot of work, over a lot of years.” As is seemingly the band’s wont, Devendorf speaks humbly and modestly of the their achievements. “All we ever wanted was for people to enjoy our records and come to our shows,” he says. But there is no doubt in his mind that the band’s recent success has been a key factor in making High Violet the record it is.

    “A key thing for us was being able to afford our own studio. We built one at the end of the Boxer tour and were able to work at our own, often glacial pace. It gave us more opportunity to experiment with different types of recording, without feeling the pressure of the commercial studios. We had a lot of people help out on the record, too: Régine (Chassagne) from Arcade Fire, Justin (Vernon) from Bon Iver, Sufjan (Stevens)… to name just a few. That was also a product of having the studio. People could just come in when they were available.”

    For many music fans, it’s refreshing to see a band as hardworking as The National become successful, particularly without compromising their values. And whilst there are certainly audible experiments on High Violet, there’s a discernable lineage from its predecessors. They didn’t reinvent the wheel, and Devendorf was happy to explain how exactly they arrived at the sound:

    Alligator is a rougher record; it came with lyrics that were about an independent guy out on the street at night.Boxer was a statelier, orchestral piece. The lyrics were more about relationships with others. High Violet is a little in between, sonically. It’s a little rougher than Boxer as far as the type of song and the texture of the sound. The lyrics are more about the relationship that began with Boxer, now beyond its infant stage and it’s about dealing with that. I think it’s certainly more about tones and layers. It’s a lot like archaeology. Or maybe sculpture.”

    The analogy flourishes, as we finally get around to asking what the band had hoped for back in Spring. “Well, we were just happy with the album. We’re mostly focused on producing the best music we can.” Art, then, the only way it should be.

    Originally published here

    The rest of The Skinny’s list, incidentally, is:

    1. Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me

    2. The National: High Violet

    3. Caribou: Swim

    4. The Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

    5. The Phantom Band: The Wants

    6. Beach House: Teen Dream

    7. Pantha Du Prince: Black Noise

    8. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening

    9. The Books: The Way Out

    10. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

    The Skinny: 10 of 2010 (#4): Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

    Having had three years to stew on it, it’s fair to say that Neon Bible wasn’t the follow up we were hoping for after Funeral (our album of the year back in 2005). The reactionary hyperbole soon subsided to reveal a good, solid album: nothing more, nothing less. And so, when The Suburbs arrived in August, there were a few skeptical heads awaiting it and a general air of indifference amongst parts of the media. Arcade Fire’s third album, though, represents a quantum leap forward for the Montreal band. Naysayers have been left to eat their words and fans finally have a worthy successor to their brilliant first album.

    But The Suburbs is by no means Funeral Mark II. In fact, it’s not until the fifth track (the iridescent Empty Room) that they even pander to their blockbusting whim. This is an altogether more subtle and mature piece of work. At times the lyrics seem to be plucked from the mouths of the kids of Funeral, all grown up and realising that the world isn’t such a wonderful place after all. Parts of Suburbs are dark – filled with disillusionment, resignation and regret. They are drained of the optimism that characterized their early work; the years of working for the “businessmen who drink their blood” (Ready to Start) have taken their toll. Thematically, The Suburbs is a complete inversion of their glorious debut.

    Thankfully, it’s not in Arcade Fire’s nature to let their gripes get in the way of a good tune. The undercurrents remain exactly that: buried beneath a constant barrage of beauty. OnThe Suburbs, they have repressed some of the (fantastically) flamboyant elements of yore and adhered to more traditional song structures. Yet, impressively, they still sound vital and original. Their approach is arguably simpler and less exuberant than the band we fell for, but no less thrilling.

    From the piano led splendour of its title track and album highlight We Used to Wait, to Régine Chassagne’s star turn on the Blondie aping Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) and the introspective Suburban War, this is one of the most musically accomplished and enjoyable albums to be released in quite some time. It’s good to have them back.

    Originally published here.