Friday, 22 February 2013


It's been almost a year since I posted here, so it's doubtful that too many folks are still perusing these pages, but I wanted to put at least a placeholder here for anyone stumbling across this erstwhile outlet for my music ramblings.

Though my burning passion to spread great music continues unabated, the spaces in which I choose to share it have morphed considerably.

The following reasons, to my mind, would seem to feed into this:

  • MP3 blogging largely passed out of usefulness with the advent of Spotify and other streaming services, at least for my ends. Why waste time shifting digital files around between devices, taking up valuable hard drive space, when the "celestial jukebox" will serve it up at the touch of an app?
  • My son Benjamin and my new job happily came along during the middle of 2012, leaving time for "fun writing" at a minimum.
  • There are hundreds of thousands of music blogs, possibly even millions by now. Although I love the outlet that H-T-A has afforded me since I fired it up in 2008, I didn't feel I was offering anything all that unique.I suppose I preferred to scale back rather than add to the noise, in some respects.
  • In the absence of MP3s being a suitable long term sharing mechanism for music, I wasn't sure which channels would replace them. YouTube vids? Haphazard quality. Soundcloud/Bandcamp embeds? Possibly, but not ubiquitous for every artist. Spotify links? Too early to have a big enough user base, at least at this time last year.
My discussions about music and new artists are now fragmented across social media and my Spotify inbox, which has served me surprisingly well in finding recommendations and sharing my own. Although I have no firm plans to resurrect a hub for these activities, I do see integration as being a big theme for online content this year, so there is every chance that things will coalesce back into some regular writing.

Until then, tweet your favourite new music to me @AboveTheStatic or read my more marketing-oriented music writing here. See you on the other side. 

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Trick Tracks: Propagandhi - Die Jugend Marschiert

Of my top listened songs on Last.FM, amongst the usual suspects of indie rock (The Hold Steady, The National) and alt-metal (Tool, deftones), lies a single punk rock track. 

Standing out like a mohawk in a sea of lank, greasy metal hair, Propagandhi's 'Die Jugend Marschiert' - alternatively titled 'America's Army' - proudly reps the part of my soul that wants all music to kick against the pricks.

It starts off rather inauspiciously, if somewhat suspiciously, with a clip of German children singing a jolly song. Unfortunately, the rapturous "Zieg Heil!" as it fades out suggests that this is no innocent school trip, but more likely something culled from a Hitler Youth propaganda film. 

So far, so controversial...

What follows is as anthemic a toll of introductory guitars as I've heard in any tune, punk or otherwise. The sheer climb and attack is such a statement of intent that one could be forgiven for expecting everything to fall flat from here on in. Happily, as these righteous Canadian firebrands forge on, the power just keeps coming.

 Lyrically, 'Die Jugend Marschiert' is creatively acerbic, delivering a military statement on nothing short of governmental control of a nation's youth. "Deep down you've always known: your children belong to us", chimes the matter of fact summary of this satirical address, with various other asides to control mechanisms and sublimated, nefarious end games. "Cut the outraged parent routine / Shut your mouth and get back in your seat" announces the speaker, stamping out any desire you may have to voice an opinion of your own. 

This song accepts no feedback, this is how it is.

Whatever your thoughts on the subject matter, Propagandhi, and this track in particular, have that key element of great punk rock; provoking a reaction through serrated guitars and sneering lyrics that refuse to cede ground. 

The initial allure lies simply in the riff, the long term replay value in the deeper topics mined by the lyrics. Whichever part I'm in the mood for, that ferocious opening never ceases to set my skin on edge.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

REVIEW: The Shins - Port of Morrow

Finally, it dawned on me this week: The Shins are THE indie/power pop of my generation. They'll be the band that, like Big Star before them, future fans look back to and ask how this band wasn't universally adored.

Not that James Mercer and company aren't well renowned. On the contrary, the band is one of indie's leading lights, still exciting fans for an album release at a time when heavy release date promotions seem increasingly redundant. Mainstream crossover eludes them, however, and they certainly won't be the name on your Mum's Christmas list (only 274 shopping days left folks).

And that's just fine.

Having The Shins in our own litle circle of indie royalty works for the selfish bastard in me, who doesn't want to hear 'Simple Song' in every strip maill from New Jersey to New Mexico (surely  they're both old now....I digress...)

New release 'Port of Morrow' rams that point home beautifully, residing happily in the suburb of gorgeously addictive, sunshine indie, rather than moving to the disparate and shallow city centre that is mainstream popular music. It is a safe place to which we can retreat, when keeping up with the latest fused sub-genres of the music we so love becomes confused to the point of fatigue.

That's nice Ste, so what about the songs, eh?

Well they're everything you've come to expect from The Shins, including that slight dose of the unexpected. The aforementioned 'Simple Song' has been hovering around preview listening for a couple of months now and provides the familiar face introducing us to this new group of tunes, as did 'Phantom Limb' and 'So Says I' on previous records. Before that, though, there lies the pleasing entry point of 'The Rifle's Spiral', a bounding, reflective song with a celestial underbelly. It contrasts exquisitely with its more ebullient neighbour, familiar yet intriguing in equal measure.

September by The Shins

Therein lies one example of just how Mr Mercer skillfully juxtaposes varied emotions, including the more downbeat, from song to song, whilst still managing to elicit an overall feeling of wellbeing as the last tracks spins out. There are lyrical cases in point as well, ranging from the wistful nature of 'September' ("I've been selfish and full of pride / She knows deep down there's a little child") to the seemingly bleak ("See you were my lifeline when the world was exploding / Footholds eroding") but tending to a more optimistic delivery. 'Fall of '82' in particular, from whence the latter couplet springs, is springing, spritely, and would barely hint at the underlying melancholy, were it not for their life through Mercer's words.

The Shins have only ever delivered consistently splendid albums and 'Port of Morrow' is a fine addition to their impressive canon. In my own personal rankings it probably places firmly behind 'Chutes Too Narrow', nestling comfortably alongside 'Wincing The Night Away' for a second place photo finish. 

Such is the quality of all the albums, though, that these placings are akin to picking out diamonds; there are important differences under the surface, but they're all strikingly shiny to the naked eye. Whether new to the band or a long time admirer, I can only envisage most who listen to 'Port of Morrow' to find it quite the gem.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

REVIEW: The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know

The Twilight Sad have, for me, always been a band whose sound well matches their monicker. Downbeat, introspective, and with layers of peculiar beauty, it's not hard to imagine aimless wanders along the Clyde at dusk, searching for something all too intangible.

On new album 'No One Can Ever Know', however, the Scottish group tread new ground. Or at least add some fresh earth to keep their sound fertile.

Fixed to their past material by that distinctive sombre vocal of James Graham, the band explore more than the contemplative indie rock of past releases (of which 'Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters' is heartily recommended). They branch into a number of 80's post-punk/new wave influences, from the distinctly Joy Division pulse running through the atmospheric 'Kill It In The Morning', to warmer Depeche-isms on ' Another Bed ', which seethes in the quietest possible manner to great effect.

Where 'No One Can Ever Know' excels is in weaving a disconcertingly positive feeling into songs that should otherwise remain unrelentingly dour. To further the obvious homeland allusions, the effect is not dissimilar from a shaft of sunlight breaking all too brieflt through the heavily clouded Highland skies. 

Take 'Don't Look At Me', which seems to relay the tougher moments of a torrid affair yet, in passages, burns brightly with optimistic synths and the touching cry of "I still want you!" Placed alongside other potentially redemptive songs such as 'Dead City', the contrast with darker moments like 'Not Sleeping' and 'Alphabet' leaves a lasting impression.

Not that The Twilight Sad don't still specialize in sound tracking those bleak, wet and foggy late winter nights, when the world seems so much smaller. They do, with room to spare. But they add space to the songs in just the right places, allowing the listener a moment to hope and dream before plunging back into the darkness. Therein lies the morose brilliance of this album and the skilled manipulators of emotion behind its creation.