Wednesday 31 December 2008

Whither Heavy Soil?

So: 2009.

Heavy Soil has, we may observe, become a little less dense on the ground as the late months of 2008 have worn on. Posts have become a tad infrequent, &c &c.

For this, Heavy Soil apologises. Y'all must be devastated.

I've been reviewing what works well – the points at which Heavy Soil is at its earthy best – and have fixed upon a change of emphasis for the new year.

Henceforth, expect to see a shift away from 'Song of the Day' posts toward review-type shenanigans. The most 'popular' (in terms of visits) post of the year, y'see, was my thoughts on Ben Folds' latest (disappointing) album, Way To Normal. Ultimately, there are many people ont' blogosphere with more time, bigger iTunes libraries, and fingers closer to the pulse.

Reviews is wot we does best. So reviews is wot we will be writin.

Enjoy the dregs of 2008, won'tcha? Slurp 'em all down, ready to refill your metaphorical (and quite possibly literal) glass in a few hours' time ...

Saturday 27 December 2008

Escaping Hallelujah Bollockry with Joan As Police Woman

With all the talk of Jeff Buckley, lately – thanks (if 'thanks' be quite the word) to X-Factor 'Hallelujah' bollockry – Heavy Soil is impelled to direct its followers ears in a wholly different direction at the Buckey crossroads.

That direction? Joan As Police Woman. Who – to these ears – is rather Buckleyesque. Not so much in terms of her vocals themselves (considerably less acrobatically inclined); more the character of the songwriting and the soul-infused performances.

I've been listening to 2008's album To Survive, from which today's Heavy Song is taken:

The swoops, changes and intensity all recall Buckley.

I'd recommend giving the whole album a listen or five – as the above track illustrates but one facet. Opener 'Honor Wishes', for instance, is like a lush, woody Portishead (combining hypnotic presence and near-funereal groove).

Throughout the album, there's a sparseness and a freeform quality to the songs that's almost classical, at times. Certainly, the music gives the impression of organicity, rather than contrivance – full of sinuous lines and pellucid arrangements.

Alternative, soul-soaked chamber pop? Something like that, perhaps.

I remember reading something said in an interview by Fyfe "Dangerfield", lead singer of the Guillemots (alongside whom I once sang tenor in the school choir, would you believe?). He said that Guillemots' aim was to make soul music cool again. Or something along those lines.

I have to say, old boy: Joan beat you to it, rather.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Heavy Downloading. Do you?

Troubled as Heavy Soil is by the weight and volume of its collection of compact discs, mp3s have long shimmered, mirage-like, as an attractively portable, low-maintenance and (above all) neat means by which to own music.

Obstacles to my adoption of (paid-for) downloading of music, however, have been numerous.

(Well, there are four of them. Which is a number. So numerous.)

1. Cost
Considering the infinitesimal cost of a single mp3 to the vendor (by which I mean the lack of physical material costs, shelf space costs, distribution costs &c), it has always annoyed me that an mp3 album is so close in price to its CD equivalent.

Especially since the quality of artwork supplied with most downloads is pitiful (come on! A single bloody thumbnail replica of the CD cover?), I feel cheated of the added-value aspects of a CD purchase. As the (altogether rather inspired) Andrew Dubber has said many a time on his New Music Strategies blog, there is vast scope for innovation in terms of the electronic freebies bundled with an mp3 download. Without prohibitive printing costs, why not include a pdf e-book chronicling an album's creation process? Demo tracks? Photos from the sessions? Videos? All things that would previously have added hugely to production/distribution costs -- now easily within reach.

2. Transferability
Thanks to the DRM copy-protection built into many mp3s available online, I am prevented from copying/sharing/freely moving my music collection. Making mp3s significantly worse than CDs – from which songs may be ripped and shared ad infinitum.

3. Quality
Often, I don't mind listening to music at 128kbps. If I'm on the bus – or listening through my computer speakers – other factors are contributing far more significantly to downgrading my listening experience than the bitrate of the mp3. But I balk – once again – at paying a premium rate (given my comments in point 1) for a product that is inferior in quality. Buying a CD, I know that the choice is mine as to the quality at which I rip the tracks. Paying to download from vanilla iTunes, I am hobbled with the worst option.

4. Choice
Here, I think, is possibly the weightiest factor in my reticence to download, however. And it's a wee smidgin on the paradoxical side.

On the internet (as many have pointed out) we have become used to getting things free. That paradigm is lodged in our minds.

The fact of this became starkly clear to me, when I realised I'd spent an hour or so searching for a free equivalent of an iPhone application I'd found that would have cost me £1.49 to buy. Because I instinctively thought: there will be a free version of that.

I'm a relatively busy fellow, who values his time highly. And – in retrospect – that wasted hour was worth far, far more to me than the £1.49 I saved myself. I don't particularly enjoy lengthy online bargain-hunts (let's be honest, indeed: I abhor them), and could certainly afford the sum in question. But my instinct led me to broaden the search.

Likewise, I have found that vast online stores such as Amazon often serve to increase my tendency to vacillate and procrastinate rather than make a purchase. If I am to shop efficiently, I know I must either discipline myself consciously (ie. set myself a time limit, budget &c in advance of commencing the online shop) or do things the old-fashioned way: get my ass out the door and into the city centre.

This is because – online – I have an inbuilt expectation: if I search longer, harder and more diligently, I will find a better/cheaper/more desirable version of this product.

In Oxford city centre, by contrast, I know exactly what shops are available, and how likely they are to contain desirable and valued items. The selection on offer is reassuringly (and purchase-encouragingly) finite – even at the same time as it may be frustrating.


I think this choice factor has been discussed less extensively than my aforelisted factors 1-3. But I think it's hugely important. Especially to vacillators and postponers such as myself.

What think'st, o readers? What are the top factors that detain you from (or encourage you to) download rather than buying physical copies?

Tell us, tell us, my pretties ...

Monday 1 December 2008

Tendrils, Colours, Dogs and Farts ... Arvo Part

Okay, so we've had a couple of literal takes on the falling theme. All well and good. But Heavy Soil ain't just about what it says on the tin, you know.

(You've read the tin, I presume? If not, you know what to do.)

So, let's have a listen (shall we?) to music that embodies – rather than simply referring to – the concept of descent.

(The Concept Of Descent. Prog-rock album-title, in the bag.)

For our embodiment of descent, then, a bit o' the contemporary classical, courtesy of the allround superb composer Arvo Part.

(Yes, it has the syllable fart in it. Grow up.)

Listen to those gossamer strings – vibrato-free, icy sonic tendrils. The way they seem constantly to strain wanly against the chords in which they find themselves bound, the melodies making futile sequential bids to rise, but being dragged ever deeper by the unremitting bass.

This is a beautifully conducted and performed recording – each entry impeccably timed, each phrase tapered with masterful control.

There's an elemental quality to the music ... earth and air ... wonderfully colourful orchestration.

Nowhere is the subsiding nature of the music better illustrated than in the passage beginning at 3.26 – built around a descending chromatic scale (series of semitone drops).

In the end, though, I suppose descent is escaped (though hardly triumphantly) – as the violins (with agonising slowness) climb to dog-whistlingly high reaches, settling finally on a faint, unwavering unison. But, what the hell. It's mostly about falling.

And wouldn't this just make cracking film music, eh?

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Andrew Lloyd Weezer

Weezer's Pinkerton is a brilliant album. Some people debate its preeminence, focusing their adulation instead upon the band's debut 'blue' album.

To them I say, 'I respectfully yet emphatically disagree with your point of view.'

Heck yes.

Falling For You (download mp3 via YouSendIt) is all about the guitar solo from 2.10, and the accompanying extra-matured-cheddar-cheesy sequence of key-changes, which could almost come from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.


... All culminating in a lovely interrupted cadence (/key change) at 2.35 (translation: you were expecting triumphant and happy; it goes sad and wistful). The beauty is that these are such hackneyed musical motifs and devices. It's almost banal. But – crucially – not even slightly so in this context.

It mentions cellos, too, thereby notching up several bonus points.

Weren't Weezer so much better before they went compression-mad? Why the hell doesn't Rivers Cuomo write songs like this any more? Songs that teeter majestically on the upturned drawing-pin balanced on the hairline division between irony and intense self-revelation.

Monday 17 November 2008

Blithe Pop From Ben Kweller

Ben Kweller is going to do us the favour, today, of kicking off a new theme – falling – with his song of the same name:

My first encounter with Mr Kweller was at a gig back in my student days. I went along to see Mull Historical Society – who were, frankly, dire – and this chap was supporting. He came onstage wildly strumming a guitar and doing his best country & western yowl.

As one, the audience – stunned into silence – turned their horrified gaze in his direction. A unilateral WTF.

Just as the jeering threatened to begin, he made a seamless transition into breezy-extrabeat-bopalong 'How It Should Be (Sha Sha)'. Mischievously superb.

Not only accomplished in terms of the musicianship on display, his set was also witty and varied. Exactly the opposite, then, of the headliners.

'Falling' was on the EP Phone Home CD that I bought at that gig ... And subsequently reappeared on Kweller's debut album. A lovely, simple, airy pop song.

(His second album, though, is a bit pants. Stick to the first, I recommend.)

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Lingering Seconds With Megan Palmer

A suspended 2nd in a minor chord. Minor 9th, if that's the way you prefer to think of it. A pretty scrunchy, yet still tonal, melodic and (relatively) accessible dissonance. And quite a nice'n at that.

Megan Palmer makes good use of these babies in today's song, Hair of the Dog (download mp3 via YouSendIt). Listen as she sings, 'Better to chase or be chased' (the second line of the song) - the way the melody stubbornly refuses to resolve, lingering on the 2nd. The motif recurs throughout.

Chord-wise, this is a simple song: nothing too tricksy happening ... Allowing the melody, with its enforced dissonance, to remain at centre-stage.

I like the unfussy, recorded-in-a-room violin – pleasantly imperfect.

If, dear Soiler, this is to your taste, why not shimmy over to the official Megan Palmer site?

Monday 3 November 2008

An ear-scything return to the credit crunch theme

A couple of weeks back, here on Heavy Soil, we indulged ourselves in topical manner with a soundtrack to the credit crunch.

Although I'd wound up that theme, musician and prolonged flickerer Mr Ally Craig yesterday sent me the following song:

In Ally's words: "Not exactly easy on the ears, harmony-wise (and that's rich coming from me), but rather good I think."

The boy jests not. It's pretty intense stuff. The deliberate, austere harmonies (bitonal, atonal) combined with a forthright, strident melodicism often apparently unrelated to its backing remind me of Benjamin Britten (one for another day, I feel).

One thing with this recording is that, on my headphones, it was almost unbearably cutting (I had to turn the volume right down to save my poor ears). Old recording. So, yes, I'd possibly advocate a bit of judicious EQing, depending on your listening context ...

Wednesday 29 October 2008

The Uncoolness Continues: Inspiro-prog

Hell, Heavy Soil's current theme (Songs It's Not Particularly Cool To Like) is fucking killing me. Damn it, it's a recipe for evenings suffused with nostalgic tears.

This in mind, I give you:

This song fucking owns. I don't care who disagrees. Flutes, a cor anglais, brass section fanfares ... Gongs and strings aplenty ... Then some quasi-flamenco guitar and vibraphone (?) action. Guitar solo in parallel thirds at around 3.20. It's all here, my friends.

Imagine a young Billicatons, if you will, absolutely entranced by this. Never mind the Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Doors or Nirvana ... Heck, it was songs like this that made me yearn to play guitar, as I sat in the back-seat of the car, my childish breath misting the window.

(Don't cry for me: I'm already dead.)

Anyhow, listen to this song. Listen to it, I beg of ye, with an open mind. Luxuriate in the progness of it all. And that lovely, melancholic first-inversion-based piano chord sequences. Luscious.

Monday 27 October 2008

Free Eels with strings. And caps lock.

Eels fans are already spoilt for rarities, thanks to the release of Useless Trinkets, earlier this year (er ... hmm ... strictly speaking, though, they ain't all that 'rare', are they, once they've been included on a major release compilation?).

Now, though, they have the chance to get their probably-not-all-that-grubby mitts on yet more music.

A 'DELUXE NUMBERED & SIGNED 4 LP EDITION - LIMITED TO 2500' of the lovely Blinking Lights and Other Revelations ships tomorrow, according to the band website.

(Caps lock, eh? Who doesn't love it?)

So, this release consists of Blinking Lights... reproduced on 3 LPs, plus (on the fourth) an 'exclusive 17 track live album, MANCHESTER 2005'.

Right now, you can download four free mp3s taken from this live collection – featuring some nice strings. Hurry, though, won't you? Apparently, these tracks are only available until Tuesday (tomorrow).

Here's the link to the free Eels mp3s. Once you've recovered from the colour scheme and 'interesting' font choices, look for the beigeish box on the lower left.

For the lazy or cautious, though, here's Heavy Soil's pick of the four:

Video sucks

Perhaps, dear Soiler, you will remember an earlier post about Ultralash's World of Suck. Fucked-up, poker-faced Sinead O'Connor, we called it.

Well, this very morning I received an email from Karry Walker (= Ultralash) with a link to her new video for the song. Filmed 'via cellphone camera'.

Take a looky.

If this piques your interest (and I hope it does), check out my review of Ultralash's album Foamy Lather – which I highly recommend.

The album, I mean.

(... Oh, what the hell ... Yeh, I recommend the review, too.)

This is an artist who is boldly experimental, uncontrived, idiosyncratic. Heavy Soil very much digs the homemade vibe that permeates her work (the above video very much included).

And, yes, soil can dig as well as be dug, thank you very much.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Your Latest Trick

Anyone who has seen the fantastic (fantastic, I tell you!) finale to the second season of The West Wing will have encountered ample evidence of the following fact:

They may not be cool, but Dire Straits fucking hit the button.

'Brothers In Arms' is the obvious song – and I'm pretty tempted to hunt down a YouTube clip of that aforementioned West Wing sequence. But I won't. I'd hate to spoil it for those of you yet to watch the episode in question.

Instead, I nominate another Dire Straits carjourney companion of old: 'Your Latest Trick'. Here's the music from YouTube – or you can listen to the song on

Dig that sax.

Oh how clever I thought these lyrics were, when I used to listen to this song on my walkman. That stunning wordplay '12 keys hanging off of my chain' ... Ah! Such things were the meat and drink of the young Billicatons.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Don't Be Embarrassed

With a deft manipulation of her rudder, the good ship Heavy Soil heads into tempestuous waters with a new theme:

Songs It May Not Be Particularly Cool To Like

This theme, my friends, is screaming out for your comments. Heck, your suggestions.

What are the songs you hate to love? The songs that would make the most tolerant indie-kid (what do you mean, "Oxymoron"?) sneer? The songs that went out and never came back – but for whose loss you secretly weep while others celebrate?

Heavy Soil wants to know. Comments, please, ladies and gentlemen!

As grease to lubricate the cogs of your mind, here's our first pick. 

Dig that lipsynch and the fact that, disturbingly, some of these guys look pretty close to the fashionistas of the moment (drummer and keyboard guy particularly) ... But the best still in store: 2.18.

I fucking love this song. It could make me cry, with its nostalgia-rich overtones of childhood car journeys.

And I bet Fieldvole will dig the video, pyrophiliac bibliothequarian that she is. So this one's for her.

Monday 20 October 2008

Unplugged Hole

To wind up the ramshackle theme, let's take someone to whom the aforementioned adjective (relative to some of the things she's been called) is practically a compliment: Courtney Love.

Rebecca was kind enough to send me a link to the video embedded below. As she points out, Ms Love screams pretty impressively in this'n (compared to Cobain, her screaming is haphazard, often somewhat weak; but not here). She also looks a good deal better pre-plastic (or, at least, pre-quite-so-much-plastic – I know not which).

Bear with the song beyond the first minute or two, because it's a slow builder.

What's the verdict, O Heavy Soilers?

Thursday 16 October 2008

Loosening the Bowels of the Earth

Gratuitous headline? Gratuitous blog.

When Heavy Soil assumed its current form, those distant – um – weeks ago, it set out its manifesto thus:
Each weekday (Monday to Friday), [Heavy Soil will provide] one recommended song or piece of music, a line or two about why I think it's interesting – and, godwilling, a link to somewhere you can listen to it., most probably.
And that's more or less what's been happening.

But here's the rub, dear Soiler: Heavy Soil does not uncover great new songs at a rate of 5 per week. The vast majority of new music to which Heavy Soil listens, indeed, is not to Heavy Soil's (highly refined) taste.

See the problem?

We are churning through good songs at a faster pace than we are discovering new ones. In business terms, I guess, this would be called an unsustainable practice. To spin a metaphor: Heavy Soil is eating into its savings. Living above its means. Exceeding its income.

Some day (new paragraph, new metaphor), Heavy Soil's iTunes pasture (currently so fertile) will be rendered barren by overfarming.

You get the picture

(You do get the picture, don't you? Please say yes. Don't make me use another metaphor.)

So, henceforth, Heavy Soil will ease off somewhat with regard to the frequency of songs of the day.

The changes

Don't cry, little one; don't cry. For the changes will, we hope, be relatively painless:
  • Posts will deviate from their one-per-weekday schedule. Instead, we'll post two or three songs of the day per week
  • Themes will run as long as they have mileage, rather than being limited or stretched to five days each

Of course, just as soon as Heavy Soil grows rich enough to retire from its day job and spend the days carrying out armchair A&R, things'll be different.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Grizzly Bear covers dead relative

Most of Grizzly Bear's album Yellow House was recorded in the (ramshackle) house of vocalist Ed Droste. Although the arrangements are fairly complex, and production is at times painstaking, it is still very much imbued with the feel of that house. So the album title is fitting.

Today's song of the day – Marla (download mp3 via YouSendIt) – is particularly interesting, having been written not by the band, but by Droste's great aunt – a "failed musician that [died] at an early age in the 1940s".

I'm not sure how many other bands have covered songs by deceased great aunts. Any offers?

Anyhow, this is rather a lovely, atmospheric, wearily melancholic song.

Listen to the creaks of the piano stool – and the woolly-yet-gongy tones of a damp old piano. There's a very nice subtle string arrangement, and all the ambient touches and subtly-mixed effects and sounds that are actually so hard to capture.

Beautiful shivery strings at 2.17 (and the way in which the figure is echoed by the piano subsequently).

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Sombre Quirkiness From Scout Niblett

Miss Scout Niblett has deliberately (or at least, I assume it's deliberate) cultivated an aesthetic that exemplifies this week's theme (which is ramshackle, in case you weren't paying attention).

Ropey tuning, thunkingly misfingered guitar chords, lazy femCobainish vocals and sparse arrangements.

Today's song of the day, then, is Scout Niblett's So Much Love To Do (download mp3 via YouSendIt), from her 2001 album Sweet Heart Fever.

If the song doesn't charm you with its title alone, perhaps you'll fall for the key changes during the splendid "It's coming after me / So I'm coming after you" phrases, and the subsequent (unrepentant) dominant seventh chord.

The fact, really, that the whole song sounds a little like something that a beginner guitarist is strumming her way through from one of those 'teach yourself guitar' books. In a good way, dash it all.

The interesting thing about Scout Niblett is that, in someone else's hands, this song performed thus would sound like a joke. She manages consistently to strike the oh-so-delicate balance between 'quirky' and sombre. Nice triangulation, ma'am.

Monday 13 October 2008

Kristin Hersh Sticks It To The Man

Kristin Hersh has been taking her engagingly perforated voice and nuanced guitar picking around fans' houses.

Eschewing the usual club touring (in an effort to "go back in musical time to before there was a music industry"), Hersh has taken a kick at the already tumbledown fourth wall separating performers from fans.

And her reasoning for doing so seems pretty sound to me:
"Normal people like music ... They don't need big corporations to tell them what music they like and they also don't need to jeopardize tomorrow's work day to drink expensive-cheap beer in the middle of the night in a rock club if that isn't their thing. They still like music."
Heavy Soil could scarcely agree more. The whole of Kristin's blog post is worth reading. And the video below – a performance of Deep Wilson "in Tom's backyard" – is today's song of the day.

As someone has commented, the nocturnal sounds combine perfectly with the music. It's a pity the sound clips when she goes loud ... But how atmospheric.

Credit Crunch Soundtrack - the Roundup

So, last week's posts chimed dolorously to the tune of the Global Financial Crisis. They were:
And what a week it's been, eh? Do you feel crunched, yet?

The new week's theme

Well, so far, we've had an instrument and we've had an event. This time round, Heavy Soil is employing the services of an adjective ... This week's theme, then, will be ramshackle.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Sunset Rubdown: 21st century troubadours

It doesn't take a conceptual leap of impenetrable genius to observe the connection between recent fiscal events and the legend of King Midas – whose wish that all he touched should turn to gold ultimately came back and kicked him up the arse (that's a direct translation from the Ancient Greek, you realise?).

Well, Friday's (ahem) song of the day is Sunset Rubdown's Magic v Midas (download mp3 via YouSendIt).

This is a fantastic song by an equally fantastic band (read my review of Random Spirit Lover, the album on which Magic vs Midas appears).

One of the album's more sedate songs (yes indeed), it is sparsely eloquent, with its confident use of silence and textural variety. Just as a fashion designer might be able to put together a mesmerising outfit composed of a multiplicity of contrasting yet complimentary fabrics, Sunset Rubdown understand how to make boldly contrasting types of sound work together.

The various parts (voice and instruments) move in a folksy kind of parallel, giving the impression of a messy Renaissance chorus: 21st century troubadours.

I like the rumbling drum rolls at around the 3-minute mark, ushering in a relentless yet reigned back accelerando, egged on by spurts of bloated-spider guitar ... And the spiraling snatches of melody, spinning like twigs in a circular current.

Great song; great album; great band. Heavy Soil endorses emphatically.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Opulent Bacharach and Costello

Painted From Memory, an albumsworth of collaboration between Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, is goddamn fantastic. The two complement one another wonderfully.

Instrumentation-wise, this is fairly opulent stuff: harp glissandi, velvety string lines, brass sections, et al. And the arching melodies and harmonic progressions are luxuriant. This is proper songwriting - the musical equivalent of an expensive clockwork watch, all its parts meticulously assembled.

Perhaps some will find it all a bit lavish, a bit put-together, a bit musicalesque. But Heavy Soil deems it very fine indeed.

Seriously, the whole album is brilliant.

May financiers everywhere find strength – God-given or otherwise – when their phones don't ring ... (And there you were thinking there was no link ... Oh ye faithless!)

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Melancholia and deliberate chintz from Tindersticks

Here's a rather charmingly melancholic, deliberately chintzy song of the day (just look at the artwork of the album Curtains, on which the song features).

This song demonstrates nicely the way in which the simplest of chord changes can, if handled well, be very effective. The simple two-chord verse sequence is repeated again and again, so that the change at 1.20 – finally – to the chorus is incredibly satisfying harmonically. Thanks, Tindersticks, for making us wait so long for it.

Good string lines leading up to and immediately after the 2-minute mark: the way they clamber wearily to their top notes.

Myself, I'd shorten this song a little, were it mine: I feel the simplicity of the harmonies and melodies would be better served by a three-to-four-minute duration.

But let's not pick nits, eh?

Tuesday 7 October 2008

The Beatles' Hymn to Bank Failures

Well, let's get an obvious choice out of the way:

Lyrically, the first verse of this is eerily apposite:

"You never give me your money;
You only give me your funny paper,
And in the middle of negotiations
You break down."

Yes, that's you down to a tee, Lehman, old boy.

Isn't it nice, the way the piano is panned hard left; guitar hard right? They used to mix things this way, back in the old days, y'know, back when stereo was a novelty.

And, yes, it's another song of the day with extreme and sudden changes. Heavy Soil makes no apologies for repeatedly enriching your days in this mildly predictable fashion – especially when the song itself is so splendidly unpredictable.

So piano balladry and lovely vocal harmonies give way to honkytonk rock'n'roll, to gospel-tinted faux-triple-time, then a charmingly received-pronunciation, children's-jingle finish.

Monday 6 October 2008

Blur's weary, deadpan examination of America

Blur's self-titled 1997 album is probably the band's most interesting ... A good bit less Britpop irony; a good bit more Coxon-fuelled, alt-American-influenced guitarwork.

Today's song of the day, though, is one of the album's least experimental. But lyrically and melodically strong – and, of course, topical:

Okay, so Damon Albarn is singing from the perspective of a weary touring musician – but these lyrics could easily enough apply to a credit crunched banker, could they not?

Good things about this song:
  • A great lead guitar entry at around 0.24
  • The fact that the string lines (which could in another manifestation be cheesy) are justified by the lyrics' talk of radio shows, tv ads and cinema classics, and is nicely lo-fi and weary
  • Likewise the rather delightful harp cameo in the middle-8: another piece of superficially elaborate and flamboyant instrumentation incorporated skillfully into a downbeat, disillusioned ballad in such a way as to sound as gaudily insubstantial as neon-lit facades and back-to-back chatshows ...

Theme for the coming week

Back before banks and financiers started skittering, tumbling and flailing like greyhounds on an ice-rink, I wrote about the global financial crisis. Specifically, I professed myself bored of the credit crunch.

Since then – few will deny – things've become a tad gloomier.

(Though I stand by my thesis that the wealthy residents of North Oxford (UK) and similar are hardly dipping below the breadline, even so.)

But, yeh. This preamble is all by way of hustling in a new theme for y'all. This week, Heavy Soil proudly presents:

A Soundtrack To The Global Financial Crisis

First post coming soon, just as soon as I've unpacked my suitcase (meanwhile, be my guest: browse my holiday snaps)

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Ben Folds, Way To Normal: enormous disappointment

Ben Folds has lost his ear

Not a single song on Way To Normal, released yesterday (in the UK; today in the states) is truly memorable. Not a single chorus could I convincingly sing back to you, right now.

Opener 'Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head)' establishes a pattern: it's well-produced, along interesting lines: studio-recorded parts are combined with live crowd sounds and suchlike. But, melodically, it's an emasculated 'Zak and Sara'. The hooks are stunted and malformed. And the humour - normally a strength of BF - is weak. The spoken outro is cringe-inducing.

Buoyant 'Dr Yang' continues this (practically album-wide) trend by which production techniques (this album is inventively, cleverly and extremely skillfully produced) and gimmickry utterly overshadow substance. The fuzzy choruses are hugely energetic and satisfyingly speaker-thrashing. But there's nothing there. The same is true, later, of pacy but empty 'Bitch Went Nuts'.

Diarrhoea in a sieve

Throughout the album, the embarrassment of riches in terms of wouldn't it be cool if we...-type ideas is matched by a very real embarrassment at the paucity of fundamentally strong material. Ben Folds has always been able to take a good song that bit further with a clever, outside-the-box musical device. One of the principal reasons for my intense admiration of Folds is his musical restlessness: his unwillingness to settle merely for a good song, but to add something unexpected and clever to make it great.

Unfortunately, in Way To Normal, he's doing the unexpected and clever things - but without the strong starting points.

So in 'The Frown Song' we have the kind of unprepared, abrupt, song-lifting key-changes that I normally applaud. But here they've nothing to lift. Or, rather, they're lifting a turd. No, wait ... Worse. They're lifting (if you'll pardon the horribly scatological extension of the metaphor) diarrhoea. In a sieve. Elsewhere, we have keyboard solos that cleverly doff a hat to multiple musical eras and genres in the space of 16 bars; hillbilly-parodying vocals; ring-modulated, crispily-synthesised piano-based beats (in 'Free Coffee') ... But what for?

'You Don't Know me', the single and duet with Regina Spektor is notable only insofar as it wastes to an almost criminal extent her vocal talents. I by no means object to the extremely poppy production and stylings of the song. BF is free, in my book, to go as pop as he likes. He has done it well before. But not here. The song is bland, featureless, bereft of direction. All the things that good pop has in abundance.

Poor Regina.

And let's talk lyrics

At times, listening to this album for the first time, I worried about Ben. He is perilously close to the deeply unbecoming: bitterness, slathering rhetoric, borderline misogyny. We don't want to hear lyrics that sound as though they're written in recriminatory tones with a particular individual in mind. It's not funny; it's embarrassing, and discomfitting. It puts me off big-style.

Cologne is affecting, lyrically. But only relative to the uninspired majority of these songs. On another BF album, it'd hardly be a standout track, as it is here: definitely sub-Jesusland (a song I didn't even much like, at the time). The chorus is pretty insipid, and, again, the melodies are not memorable. I'd challenge anyone to sing back more than a fragment of any of these songs after one or two listens.

Similarly, 'Kylie From Conneticut' is lovely, as a last track. But in the same way as a B-side might be lovely. Because you weren't expecting it. It is profoundly disappointing that a BF-ballad-by-numbers song such as this should be my favourite track on an album. At least it seems to be lyrically empathetic, rather than sneering.

What else? 'Errant Dog' is just rubbish. An unbelievably annoying song that also manages to murder a metaphor that Folds used far more effectively on the EP track 'Dog' (which is, incidentally, better than anything on this album, by leagues).

In conclusion

Folds has always been a musical shapeshifter, an ironist, an imitator and a satirist. He has always had fingers in many musical genrepies. And has happily juxtaposed styles with a charismatic, ironising wink. I know this is the kind of thing that some people find intrinsically annoying (as Fieldvole will perhaps attest) - but I've tended to feel that BF carries it off because he has always backed it up with strong musical techniques and, above all, songwriting skills.

On this album, that third leg of the stool (no link-in with my earlier scatological punning intended) - the songwriting - has disappeared.

Monday 29 September 2008

Heavy Soil is on holiday

There will be an interruption to normal service (or whatever it is that passes for 'normal' in these parts) for this week, as Heavy Soil takes what it indulgently terms a well-deserved break.

That's not to say that music-related blog posts won't appear ... But, y'know, let's just play it by ear, eh?

Saturday 27 September 2008

Heavy Soil Session: Dimensions

Well, I am pleased to present the results of the first Heavy Soil session.

A song by me called Dimensions: dimensions.mp3 (right-click and choose 'save file as' to download)

In true session style (and to curb any perfectionist tendencies) the whole thing was recorded and mixed today (though the song was already written) - and arranged to feature, yes, the cello.

I like to think that the rough edges and slightly hamfisted mix all just add to the charm. Right?

I warmly cherish the hope that, in time to come, I will record sessions featuring musicians other than myself.

If you are a musician and fancy the notion of recording a song in a day for Heavy Soil – and if you find yourself within reach of Oxford, UK – email me, won'tcha?

In case you're wondering ...

... what happened to this week's final song of the day: I'm recording it for you. Right now.

For you.

Thursday 25 September 2008

PJ Harvey's got her leather boots on

So ... Following on from Rebecca's masterful encapsulation of PJ Harvey, last week (hey, Rebecca's all about masterful encapsulations, don'tcha know?), Ms Harvey today takes her turn on song of the day.

Hell, Heavy Soil could fill a month of posts with PJH songs of the day.

This time, we encounter cello as part of an ensemble: a sextet. Which is, I promise you, every bit as spicy as it sounds.

Crack this one on at high volume and let the neighbours know that CHAMBER MUSIC ROCKS.

It's Waltonesque, percussive, textured, atmospheric ... It ain't melodic, I'll admit. But who want melody, these days?

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Tom Cora shreds that cello

Today: punk cello.

Tom Cora was an absolutely brilliant cellist who, sadly, died young. In today's song of the day, you get to hear him shredding every bit as well as any lead guitarist in his collaboration with The Ex:

Tom Cora and the Ex: State of Shock mp3 (right click and choose 'save as' to download) 

Notice how expertly he manipulates the tone of the instrument, within a single note going from buzzy, frictiony attack to harmonic – like a singer going from throaty chest voice to falsetto.

Modal melodies, trills and quarter-tone tuning one moment, chordal backing the next. Yes, that's a cello accompanying the verses. Anything a guitar can do, y'know ...

And keep with it for the closing solo, in which he goes mental. I like mental cello solos.

Thanks to Ricki (of Not Squares), who introduced me to the marvellous Mr Cora.

... And an aside: is that not a damn cool promo shot, up there?

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Nina Nastasia's paint-stripped cello

Think of the cello and – chances are – the sounds that first come to your mind's ear are sonourous, sweet-toned, full and vibrato-laden.

And, yep, the cello does all that rather well. People are always saying what a beautiful sound the instrument makes.

To my mind, that's to do with the fact that it has similar sonic characteristics and range to the human voice. Its tone is naturally pleasing to many people's ears.

... But – just like a human voice – it's an instrument that can just as effectively achieve unusual, less sweetly melifluous sounds.

Lots has been done with sweet, beautiful cello tones – and these have their place, undoubtedly – but it tends to be the more edgy, unexpected sounds (the cellistic equivalant of Kurt Cobain, Joanna Newsom or Scout Niblett's vocals) that particularly interest me, in modern cello music – as this week's Heavy Soil selections will doubtless illustrate.

Today's song, then, is Judy's In The Sandbox – from Nina Nastasia's superb album Dogs. (Download mp3 via Yousendit)

The cello here is desiccated. Brittle, rough. So much so that there's an element of fingernails-on-blackboard to the sound. The way the notes squeak and fluke between octaves.

Absolutely no vibrato, no sweetening. This is a paint-stripped cello tone. Fantastically appropriate for the song.

(On a non-cellistic note: love that huge, warm, woofing bass drum sound, and the nicely-captured finger-noise on the bass guitar from around 2.30. And great use of silence after 'breath'.)

For a bonus point (yes, okay, 'Bonus to what?' you're asking): guess who was at the recording console for this song?

Monday 22 September 2008

Mountains, bloodclots, crashing waves and tuttis: Prokofiev

Hitherto, Heavy Soil has been reasonably resolute in its contemporaneousness. Oh yeh.

But, y'know, classical music can be heavy, too.

In proof of which, I present to you the first movement of Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto in E minor (download via YouSendIt). Sometimes it's called Sinfonia Concertante. But that's a bit poncy, innit?

As you'll hear, it's a work for solo cello and a big ol' orchestra. I'd say that this stands at the apex of cello writing.

I'd also say that it'd be an absolute arse to play.

So ... please allow me to talk y'all through it.

Points of interest (/bloodclot-inducingly superb bits)

A fantastically confident orchestral opening sets out the first theme and prepares for the cello's entry. Prokofiev channels all the orchestra's might into that first solo cello note at 0.17. How to make one single instrument sound as powerful as an orchestra. Clever.

At around 1.00-1.20: what a wonderfully angular yet somehow natural climbing melody – with its vertiginous leaps and shifts.

One of the best uses of the flute in an orchestral passage (as opposed to, um, any other passage) starting at 1.45. Shiver-inducing.

Waves crashing on a dark, rocky shore from 2.15.

Hell, this is incredibly Russian-sounding music. Like Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky et al, Prokofiev is a master of orchestral colour. If you listen to much 19th-20th century Russian classical music, you will probably notice that it all sounds as though it could be a film score. This highly visual style of the Russian composers was actually called 'coloristic writing'. And was (still is) massively influential on the film composers of subsequent decades.

Fucking difficult cello lines from about 5.05 onward. This would be incredibly hard to play, take it from me. Han-Na Chang makes it sound a piece of piss, naturally. But that's hard stuff. Heavy stuff.

Get a load of that percussive cello attack going on in the semi-background at 5.38.

And notice how, throughout, themes are passed from instrument to instrument ... Call and response ... exploring and boldly juxtaposing radically different 'colours'. The sonorous resonance of the deep brass from 6.00 to 6.30 contrasting with the woodiness of the strings that's gone before.

Amazing running cello flights from 6.45 or so up to 7.30 ... another demonically difficult passage to play. Brilliant, brilliant writing.

At around 7.30, the way the sinuous, reedy, drawn out cello line is contrasted by the pizzicato (plucked) orchestra.

The fucking amazing orchestral tutti (= everyone playing at once, in a big, unified kind of way) at about 8.00, introduced fantastically by the horns, that swings us out of the shadow of a Caucasian mountain into a dazzlingly sunlit vista, before plunging us into the sudden icy drizzle of the returning second theme at 8.15. See what I mean about filmic?

... And then the beautifully unexpected resolving chord at the end – where you expect the music to sink, but instead it poignantly – brilliantly – rises.

The Grievous Pain Of Bisection

I'll close with this: do you realise how much pain it has caused me brutally to sever this brilliant work of three movements into just one for this post? This really is just the beginning.

Movement two is a tempestuous, tooth-rattlingly fast, jagged jigfit with occasional oases of almost drunkenly melancholic hiatus; and the final movement – a more stately, melodic affair, yet one replete with writhing key-changes and simmering with a fierce energy – bursts in its closing minutes into a fabulously virtuosic passage of breathlessly accelerating, manically sawing cello building to an almost impossibly torturous climax, and ending on what must actually be the highest cello note physically playable.

Hell, I'm out of breath just writing about it.

Week 5: Something A Little Different

In celebration of the fact that ... um ... there is a 5 in it, week 5 on Heavy Soil will be graced by something a little different: a theme.

Each song of the day will be in keeping with aforesaid theme. What? You already guessed that part? Okay.

Week 5's theme will be: the cello.

Stay tuned for Monday's "song" of the day in just a moment ...

Rounding up: Week 4

You know the drill: vote for your favourite. Poll at the top right of the blog. G'wan. It'll be fun.

The previous week's winner
Amidst a hail of acclaim, the popular vote was won by Mr Ally Craig. Is Heavy Soil surprised? Heavy Soil is not surprised. And endorses, ratifies and amplifies the public's verdict.

So, The People and Heavy Soil agree: Ally Craig rocks. Celebrate: go buy his single. (I get 10 pounds every time I link to that page, you know.)

Friday 19 September 2008

Heavy Soil vs Insinuating Pricks – In Defence Of Amy Winehouse

I was disgusted, some days ago, to read a thread on Drowned In Sound about Amy Winehouse. The gist of a number of individuals' more or less eloquently phrased perspectives was: "Amy Winehouse deserves to die".

So ... Drowned in Sound in puerile, attention-seeking fatuousness shock. I admit: no great surprise. I'm sure this kind of hateful commentary is played out hundreds of times every day, all over the internet.

But it had me thinking about the horrendous borderline-mysogyny with which artists such as Amy Winehouse are regarded by certain men.

(Billicatons, for those not privileged by acquaintance, is a man. He has some understanding – albeit often shrinking, reluctant, latex-gloved – of the species.)

Amy Winehouse's Appearance

Would a male artist ever be berated to anything like this degree – and with this degree of bile – for his appearance? For 'letting himself go'? Obviously not. This is hardly new: double standards according to gender.

Winehouse is regarded with hatred on account of her appearance. "Ugly bitch"? Excuse me? Since when did this become ground for criticism?

I find Winehouse's drug-ravaged appearance extremely disturbing. I am repulsed by the sinewy arms, the sunken-eyed, snarling face. I acknowledge these reactions. I am repulsed similarly by photos of famine-starved children: it's a horrible, horrible sight. There's no disapprobation in my repulsion – but I'd be lying if I claimed not to find these things deeply unpleasant aesthetically. These are humans that are looking wrong. As humans are not meant to look.

But it is not Winehouse's responsibility to pander to my aesthetic sensibilities. I'd've thought this were obvious. She is under no obligation whatsoever to give a toss about her appearance on my account, on her fans' account ... and certainly not on the account of the asinine, poseurish majority-stakeholders of Drowned In Fucking Sound.

Okay, so far so obvious. I reserve nothing but contempt for those bestial, hate-filled wretches who make such criticisms. But my sentiment would, I suppose, by echoed by most "reasonable" people.

Slyly Insinuating Pricks

What I find in many ways worse than the open misogyny of the above is the covert, self-deluding misogyny of those who ground their hatred of Winehouse on other factors. Who attempt to advance rational arguments justifying their irrational loathing.

"I don't hate her because of what she does or who she is; I just hate her for her bland music."

Now hold on right there.

Did you say bland?

You smug, ridiculous, hypocritical little prick. Winehouse's music is by no rational criterion – and here I will take no objections – bland. Sure, relative to Mahler. But relative to Vengaboys? Relative to Jessica Simpson? Relative to Chris de Burgh? Relative to that godawful Adiemus shit?

By anyone's criterion of blandness (seriously, I challenge anyone to come up with one for which this is not true), you'd have to get through a hell of a lot before you reached Amy Winehouse.

You may find her music not to your taste. You may find her voice annoying. You may consider it overproduced, derivative, simplistic ... And I may disagree or concur to whatever degree on each point. But her music cannot attract hatred on grounds of blandness.

Any niggardly bastard who tries to construct a rational, musically-founded argument in support of virulent hatred deserves worse than contempt.

(I don't know what's worse than contempt, but that bastard deserves it.)


I quite like Amy Winehouse, actually. Her music is never going to be special to me, to make me consider things in a new light. I do not love any of her songs, and I do not often listen to her albums.

But, sometimes, I put on her music and think: Yes. This is good. She has a good voice. She sings interestingly, about unusual things. The songs are very well produced, and the fusion of retro stylings and ultra-contemporary lyrical references is genuinely challenging and innovative in a mainstream pop context.

I for one would be hugely sorry if she were to die.

But, then again, were she the blandest of the bland, I reckon I'd still be sorry.

Here's her site, then. Listen to some of it. Bland? Deserving of death?

Thursday 18 September 2008

Joining a Fan Club With Jellyfish

Aw. Bless. Don't they just look so 90s?

The Vinyl District: TVD's Daily Wax | Jellyfish "Spilt Milk"

In my blog-perusals, I chanced upon the Vinyl District's tribute to Jellyfish – which brought a small twitch of glee to Heavy Soil's withered heart. Seldom does one chance upon a fellow Jellyfish-admirer.

So. Jellyfish – especially as incarnated in their (superior) second album, Spilt Milk, is a band about which very little is minimal or understated. As today's song demonstrates eloquently enough ...

It's a glossily-produced, genre-skipping, surrealistically satirical ... well, I can think of no other noun than romp.

Pretty funny lyrics, too.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Rebecca on PJ Harvey

"She's just fucking there.
She grew up in Devon."

At the bar with Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor is pretty good with her metaphors.

Here's a non-album track called Bartender – download mp3 via yousendit. It's certainly not my favourite of her songs – but I offer it up to those who may already own the albums.

(You don't own the albums? Get thee to thy chosen musical emporium!)

What to notice about this song? Apart from the nice metaphor, and the characteristically witty and beautifully performed 'trick-trick-trick-trick-trickle' passages ... I'd say the way that she takes a simple descending piano chord sequence and wallops a great big dischord into the middle of it.

... And yet, by the end of the song, you're utterly used to it. Clever.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Distinctively enormous (vocals): Shannon Wright

The two things I find particularly interesting about Shannon Wright (artist site, are her capacity for vocal yowling (in a good way: she has an extremely powerful voice) and her fusion of classical motifs and rock instrumentation.

In the latter respect, there is something a little Muse-like – though considerably lower on the bombast scale.

As for her voice ... It's enormously distinctive. Distinctively enormous. An incredibly full, forceful alto, with a characteristic waver – almost like a tape warble – to it.

It features a key-shifting, vaguely Chopin-esque arpeggic piano, punchy drumming and aforementioned vocal yowling.

Here's a video of a live show, too – for a taste of her guitary antics. Rock.

Monday 15 September 2008

If the Beach Boys had sung about rape and abortion ... Amanda Palmer

Well, this is a curious one. As you may indeed already have gathered.

It starts off normal enough: brittle, percussive piano. But pay attention to the lyrics and you'll soon observe – shall we say? – a certain disjunction between musical style and subject-matter.

Listen for yourself, Heavy Soil readers. What think'st? Beautifully-poised wit or a controversy too far? Comment away, my pretties.

Whatever you may think of the lyrics, though, you must surely applaud the fine pop production of Mr Ben Folds. He has compressed the ass off this one – and all to the good. Full of nice details.

Anyhow, Amanda Palmer released her album – Who Killed Amanda Palmer? – today. I shall be reviewing it not too long hence. Here's the official site – though, be warned: international delivery P&P is exorbitant.

... Oh, and, yes: it's that Oasis.

As ever, may I disclaim: the mp3 hereabovelinked is for, as they say, evaluative purposes only. You like it, you buy it. Um. Please.

Rounding up: week 3

So, need I say more?

Oh, alright, just a bit more then: please vote for your favourite. Poll at the top right of the page. Clicky-click, votey-vote.

The previous week's winner
Week two's contest was hotly contested, and resulted in a dramatic (indulge me, please) three-way tie between Deerhoof's Milk Man, Dresden Dolls' Girl Anachronism and Thomas Truax's Prove it to my Daughter.

Heavy Soil's song of the week? Tricky. The lamppost-swinging ebullience of Rebecca's Deerhoof review is compelling ... but, in the end, Heavy Soil bestows the mantle upon Dresden Dolls.

Friday 12 September 2008

Get violent with Rose Kemp. Ooh. Cheap.

Heavy Soil is making a quick post before Heavy Soil goes on the razz.

Leaving you with a good (genuinely unsettling) video for a good song. Violence, by Rose Kemp (website,  <--- Um, but, seriously, Rose old gal, get your website looked at. It's migraine-inducingly badly designed. All that small, badly-formated text. Agh!

Good things
Proper big heavyness, preceded by quietness. So, er, that'd be contrast once again, I guess.
And a chorus without singing. Woo.
A female vocalist who sings with body (no, not her body. Body.)

Slightly less good things
Possibly outstays its welcome just a tad? An outro too far?
Lyrically a little glib?

What think'st thou, o reader?

Thursday 11 September 2008

Three shots to the head: Okkervil River

I still haven't worked out what I think of Okkervil River. I think they're very good musicians, with an interesting sound – and good vocals ...

... but I find their songs sometimes lack shape and contrast (that word again). I'd like more musical variety within each song.

In any case, many people like them, even if Heavy Soil has yet to come out with a ringing endorsement. And they released their new album, The Stand Ins, yesterday. Awesome artwork (embroidered!) depicted above. At the time of writing, you can stream full tracks from said album on their website.

Today's song, however, is older:

The President's Dead (this mp3 is hosted on their record label site)

This song is all about what happens at 1 minute 54s, really. Listen to it and you will see why.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Ally Craig Will Make You Cool

Ally Craig is by far the best unsigned artist I can think of.

When I first saw him playing live, my reaction was exclamation-mark-punctuated silence:


He is very, very good. The kind of very, very good that is normally associated with slightly tiresome, anally-retentive, practise-noon-and-night musicians who actually turn out to play extremely boring music. Ally Craig does not do this. His superb technique is complemented by formidable musicianship and creativity.

His music is shard-punctured, mosh-defyingly time-signature-shifting, antiphonal. It is full of Pixies-like contrasts, and musical wit – but also poignancy. You care about what he's singing.

Indeed, it is music that ticks just about every box on my personal favourite-musical-elements checklist.

Signed copies of my personal favourite-musical-elements checklist are now commercially available at all good record stores.

The review, then

He has just released a double-A-side consisting of the songs Angular Spirals and Get What You Pays For. Because I'm a smug, preordering kind of chap, I also received a free bonus track in the (singularly contorted) shape of Pilot Inspektor. (For those less smugly preordering than myself, the extra track is still available, for a measly 50p extra).

These are all excellent, intelligently-written songs. And they are performed fantastically by Ally and his fellow musicians (Stephen Gilchrist of Stuffy/The Fuses ( and Pete Wareham and Ruth Goller of Acoustic Ladyland (

So – what do we have? I've already written about the bonus song, Pilot Inspektor (you know it'll be worth the extra 50p) with its witty subversiveness, wrongfooting rhythms and guitars that alternate between mechanistic regimentation and squalling release.

Angular Spirals (you know it'll be worth the extra 50p) features Ally's vocals more prominently, with the kind of sinuous, high-pitched phrases the song's title anticipates. He has a fine, versatile, nuanced voice: veering from exposed falsetto to full-voiced semi-screams. Just like the arrangements and the guitar style, it is like nothing else I have heard.

This is followed by pacey, motif-led Get What You Pays For – characterised not only by Ally's usual tightly percussive guitar, but also (in revelatory fashion) inspired saxophone work from Pete Wareham: flights of exotic birds circling above and around a grim cityscape.

Put it all together

Dear reader, I cannot endorse Mr Craig too highly. This is a single to buy now. Now, I tell you. While you can still say you were a fan before he got big.

To aid you in this noble end: a handy link to the Ally Craig online store.

Plaintive ballad meets Kung Fu Fighting: Ben Folds

Elated by the news of Ben Folds Five's imminent (albeit likely temporary) reunion, Heavy Soil drapes the song of the day mantle upon one of Mr Folds' many fine ditties:

Now, this is an old, old BFF song – that Ben Folds subsequently recorded as a solo artist in studio finery for his 2004 EP Super D. The whole EP is a mere four English pounds on iTunes, so – if you like it – don't just mp3-and-run, will ya?

What to expect? Minimal, stop-start piano and Folds' vocals at their plaintive best (Jesus, he has a good voice).

Then, 1.07: has a ride cymbal hit ever been better placed? Nice drum entry.

So, now you're about halfway through. You think you have the measure of the track, right?

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

Bring on the 80s disco stabs, tremolo octave strings and time-signature-related capriciousness.

What a B-side.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

From Brutal Assaults to Bathetic Handclaps: Ally Craig

I am an enormous admirer of contrasts in music. Often, my favourite songs are those that splice together wildly disparate sections or musical features.

Ally Craig understands contrast. From brutal guitar assault to sudden, precipitous silence; from all-out drum battery to bathetic handclaps. He understands contrast well enough to be witty with it.

Pilot Inspektor is the first half of Ally Craig's recently released double-A-side. You can listen to it on, or download the mp3 free from his MySpace page. If there is one song of the day you download this week, make it Mr Craig's.

Things to listen out for
  • Teeter-inducing silences
  • Phrases that go on one beat longer than you expect
  • Them witty handclaps
  • A very clever mimickry of Beck-like production techniques in the guitars
  • The contrast between the extreme rhythmicism of the verses and the Greenwoodian guitar squalling and wailing of the tremolo-picked solo section
  • The lyrics

This post marks the start of Ally Craig season here on Heavy Soil … For we'll be reviewing the single as a whole (on sale here) very soon.

Monday 8 September 2008

Fucked-up, poker-faced Sinead O'Connor: Ultralash

A while ago, I reviewed an album called Foamy Lather by Ultralash. You can read the full review on my MOG page.

Today's song is World of Suck (download directly from Ultralash's website) taken from said album – a genuinely fascinating, unsettling and original work. And here's what I said about it:
There's no representative track on this album – no neat encapsulation of the Ultralash sound. But I think 'World Of Suck' illustrates what I (perhaps pretentiously) think of as the band's noncommittal modernism.

Again, carried by a weighty beat (heavily distorted – bit-crushed – kit), it's a poker-faced 'Nothing Compares 2 U' (Sinead O'Connor's version) for the 00s – its lyrics juxtaposing sugary romantic platitudes with intense chauvinism:

"You're cute
Nice rack
Not fat
What's that?
You're fine
I can really talk to you."

It's a brilliantly unsettling song: by turns comical and dark, impenetrably delivered. Again, I'm reminded of PJ Harvey – in spirit and fearlessness more than in sound.

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