Thursday 24 December 2009

Albums of 2009

So it's that time of year, when you look back over the music you discovered over the past 12 months, and try to figure out what has meant the most. Not that these are necessarily the best albums of 2009 - I'm not really sure what that means - but they are the one's I felt most attached to, listened to most, would most recommend. So, in no particular order, here goes:

Grizzly Bear - "Veckatamist"
Not easy listening at all, but really worth the effort.

Noah and the Whale - "The first days of Spring"
A remarkable second album, excellent lyrics, beautiful songs. Listen in one go for maximum impact

Animal Collective - "Merriweather Post Pavilion"
Everyone's favourite American undergound act. Innovative, tuneful, lovely.

Portico Quartet - "Isla"
My favourite jazz album of 09: very distinctive sound, great tunes

Great Lake Swimmers - "Lost Channels"
Something melancholic about Canadian folk rockers GLS; I like it alot

Temper Trap - "Conditions"
The backlash has already started, but I love the songs and that voice

The XX - "XX"
Reminds me of much, but sounds new and different at the same time

The Mummers - "Tale to Tell"
I found their performance on Later with Jools mesmerising. Bjork-ish vocals with a more English feel

Woods - "Songs of Shame"
More American folky ramblings which I seem drawn to these days

Woodpigeon - "Treasury Library Canada"
The second Canadian group in my list. But don't let that put you off, it's great

The Low Anthem - "Oh My God, Charlie Darwin"
In truth I'm not mad on all of this album, but the good tracks are superb and make up for the rockier/less convincing others

Jack Penate - "Everything is New"
Who would have thought that JP would make a critically acclaimed second album loved by the charts and Zane Lowe? My favourite pop album of 09.

Jimi Tenor and Tony Allen - "Inspiration Information 4"
Jazz + African funk = excellent album

Laura Gibson - "Beasts of Seasons"
Portland singer songwriter. Haunting, sad, lovely songs

Bon Iver - "Blood Bank"
Not really an album but an EP, but for someone still reeling from the wonderful "For Emma, Forever ago" album of 2008 this was enough to prove that Justin Vernon has more than one record in him. Thank goodness.

So there it is. There's loads more but you have to stop somewhere. I heartily recommend all of the above 15 albums to you.

Saturday 5 December 2009

In praise of... Guy Garvey

Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey only has one radio show. It's just 2 hours per week, on BBC 6Music. But it's an important show, in that it points to a possible future direction for digital music radio stations to make them stand out in a world of ubiquitous online music.

The question is this: as broadband becomes the norm, and services such as Spotify give you free access to a huge virtual library, what is the point of a digital music radio station? By this, I mean, how can a digital music radio station stand out from the other services on offer, either as a radio station or as a digital music service?

Doing what existing radio stations do is surely not the answer, simply because they are already doing it, and there's frankly lots of them doing it. And the audience are really quite happy with their existing radio listening choices. Doing what Spotify does is not only impossible for a radio station, but again is not distinctive because Spotify (etc) already does it very well thank you.

So where does that leave new digital music stations?

One answer is in becoming a trusted guide offering curated recommendations, which is something that Spotify isn't that great at, despite various playlist sites which allow you to create a spotify playlist. Which brings me back to Guy Garvey. His show is a "must listen" for me, because I've come to trust that there's a high chance he will introduce me to an artist (new or old) or track or album that I really want to investigate. I value that highly.

This is what I would call "high value" content, combining carefully chosen music, interesting and informative bits between the music, some humour, and audience involvement in parts of the show (e.g."Song for Guy"). Importantly, there's really nothing in the two hours that places it in any particular day or time, meaning there's no jarring time checks or news summaries when you listen on-demand. This stands out enough for me to make the effort to spend time with it.

The ultimate irony of all this is that although I often listen to his show on-demand, it's actually a genius piece of old-school scheduling - late Sunday evening - which really works as a broadcast. A perfect end to the weekend. Or whenever you choose to listen.