Christmas and New Year’s Eve have just gone by and a rather tumultuous year is over. This is the time of the year many of us badly need some uplifting music. I do, for sure. In the old days that used to mean making your own mix-tape, raiding your own larder of music to do a compilation of what you’d think would go down well with a tumbler or two of eggnog on a nice cold evening.
It could be a tedious affair, working with analog tape machines and LPs or even after compact discs made their way to our music collection. I was fortunate enough to have some certified music fiends as friends who every so often showered their generosity on me in the form of mix-tapes that they’d culled from their vast and, sometimes, eclectic collections.
All of that is history now. The Internet and mp3 players make it all so easy. As long as you’ve digitised much of your music collection (which music nut hasn’t?) you can make your own playlists with mere clicks of the mouse. Or you can do much better: tap into some great podcaster who does it for you. So, during the past two weeks when Tim Young’s Contrast Podcast released two of its three-instalment annual Festive Fifty, I couldn’t wait to download them. Young, a British musician, runs a blog and a podcast. The blog is essentially a back-story for the podcast , which is weekly (every Tuesday) and is compiled using contributions and user participation.
Festive Fifty’s first instalment had 17 songs, each introduced by a contributor’s remark, often witty, sometimes insightful. The bands were from across genres yet each of their songs turned out to be a gem. It began with Young’s own contribution, Spiderman on Hollywood by The Wedding Present, an indie band from Leeds, UK that was born in 1985. The Wedding Present counts among its biggest influences, the music of Gang of Four, a short-lived (1977-1983) yet hugely influential post-punk band, also from Leeds. Then there was Beck’s Gamma Ray, Elvis Costello’s Stella Hurt, Sigur Ros’s Gobbledigook and many others.
I found a bunch of them to be outstanding. While Iceland’s Sigur Ros I’ve heard a lot of in the recent past and I’d wholeheartedly recommend (post-rock, minimalist, melodious), there were many others worth trying. Like British Sea Power; Brighton-based purveyors of wholesome rock. I’ve got a couple of British Sea Power albums and I’ve never found the eight-year-old band disappointing. And, not to forget veteran rocker Elvis Costello whose track on the podcast was from his last release, Momofuku, named after the Japanese inventor of instant ramen noodles. I’ve made a mental note of checking out that album.
Besides the songs, it’s the Festive Fifty’s commentators that make the podcast a must-download every Tuesday (that’s when Young uploads it). I’m particularly fond of a guy called JC mainly because of his pronounced Scottish accent and a penchant for pulling out bands from Scotland. JC runs an excellent mp3 blog (where each post comes with songs that you can download) called The Vinyl Villain that showcases some awesome music.
Anyway, his contribution to the Festive Fifty was Glasgow-based Frightened Rabbit’s Keep Yourself Warm. If you haven’t tried Frightened Rabbit, I’d recommend you do so immediately, especially their album, The Midnight Organ Fight. To buy it, head over to www.emusic.com for a digital copy. Taste-making music website Pitchfork rates that album by the often bass-less trio (don’t worry; muscular drumming makes up whenever the thick strings are absent) 8.1. I’d say it’s a perfect 10.
Other bands that the Festive Fifty has urged me towards include Britain’s Half Man Half Biscuit. These Merseysiders have been playing for the past 24 years but are woefully under-rated, although the legendary late DJ John Peel gave them airplay and a pat on the back. HMHB, as they’re known as among devotees, make music that has deliciously sardonic lyrics.
After listening to Totnes Bickering Fair, their song on the Festive Fifty, I’m already a fan. The second instalment of Festive Fifty had 16 songs. Bands that caught my ear included Northern Portrait, a Copenhagen band that is just a year old and sounds uncannily like the Smiths or, rather, Morrissey; Vampire Weekend, the preppie New Yorkers who provide an astonishing blend of Afro-beat and western classical whipped up with rock; and Ida Maria, a powerful newish singer from Norway, who I think is worth watching.
But one song off the podcast has been playing in my head non-stop: British post-punk veterans, The Fall’s 50-Year-Old Man. Hmm… I wonder why?