Friday 9 February 2024

Ten Years... Gone

Exactly 10 years ago to the day, Is This The Life? was launched. It started off with a clear direction - to document all the significant events in my life and relate them to the music I was listening to and discovering at the time. I achieved that. I also worked in lots of articles about gigs, songs and albums that I wanted to say something about, and showed my love for a number of significant artists who have contributed in some way to all the pleasure and pain I've experienced over the past 52-and-a-bit years.

In recent times though, it's all become a bit of a chore. Partly, it's because there is no clear direction anymore, everything has become a bit random and sporadic. It's also partly down to me not feeling I have much more to say. This could very easily become a blog dedicated to R.E.M. and going by the stats for past R.E.M. posts I've done, I'd probably get more readers and feedback if I decided to do that. Give the people what they want, right? But to be honest, that doesn't interest me. While I love R.E.M. with a passion (and I've certainly talked about the passion a fair bit...), I love new music, new bands, new thrills too. I still go to gigs as often as I can (though hasn't that become so much more expensive post-Covid?), and I'm buying more new vinyl than I have done in more than 30 years (ditto). But recent attempts to write about this have been difficult. To be honest, I've been finding it really hard to sit and write about anything for quite a while.

And so, after much consideration, I mark the 10th anniversary of my first post with this - the last post to appear on Is This The Life?. This river has finally reached its sea.

Don't cry. It's really not worth it.

I've decided to retire the blog for good and instead offer occasional contributions to other blogs as and when I feel inspired to do so. The only things I'll update are my gig list (purely for my own record) and the links to articles I write for others.

So, the final act - some music. Here are the first three goodbye songs that sprung to mind. They're all 90s indie songs which is a bit of a narrow field, but I can't even be bothered to think about it further. To be fair though, they're good songs.

Here's the song that gives this post its title (and includes the lyric at the top of the page):

And finally... in my very first post, I quoted Lou Reed and linked to a Velvet Underground track. So my very last post will conclude with another Velvet Underground song, only covered by probably the most influential band of my life, and one I have written countless things about both here and on other sites. So here are some closing credits. Quite literally. This is the very end of the groundbreaking concert movie Tourfilm, documenting R.E.M.'s massive Green Tour thoughout 1989. It broke a lot of moulds with regards how concert films "should" be made. I've broken no moulds whatsoever in terms of how blogs should be written, but it has been (mostly) fun. Hwyl fawr fy nghyfeillion, a diolch.

Sunday 24 December 2023

2023: 23 Highlights (pt.4)

The last post of 2023 - and it's a final summary of my 23 fave records of the year, starting off with some great EPs, including a couple of debuts.

Hallan - 'The Noise Of A Firing Gun'
Second EP from a band I'd never even heard of until Steve Lamacq played this brilliant track on his 6Music show. Definitely worth checking them out, they have some very good, powerful tracks in their small canon, full of cutting, cynical and often scathing lyrics about modern society, culture and politics. The Unwomanly Face Of War is inspired by the real-life stories detailed in the book of the same name by Nobel award-winning author Svetlana Alexievich.


Heartworms - 'A Comforting Notion'
Lambrini Girls - 'You're Welcome'

Both of these were mentioned back in my short run of posts in the summer, so here's a different track from each. Both EPs are debuts and show a lot of promise.


Micky Dolenz - 'Dolenz Sings R.E.M.'
Now this is one that will probably surprise you as much as it surprised me. I normally steer well clear of things like this, but I'd read good things about it so gave it a go. And who would have thought that a 78-year-old former member of a band who were made up for a TV show in the 60s could, in 2023, have made an EP of songs by my favourite band of all time and, in a couple of cases, actually make them sound better? Shiny Happy People is nowhere near as excruciatingly sickly as the original, and Leaving New York makes me wish R.E.M. had made all of 'Around The Sun' as vaguely listenable as this. But this version of Radio Free Europe tops the lot - classic American power-pop with a touch of psych thrown in! Bonkers but brilliant. (Oh, and the sleeve depicts Dolenz outside Wuxtry Records, the very store where Peter Buck and Michael Stipe first met. Nice touch.)


And a few more albums to round things off. To be fair, I could have included a few more (H. Hawkline, Shame, even the Tolhurst/Budgie/Lee collaboration etc.), but that would take it over the 23 which kind of defeats the point of having 23 for '23. What a silly rule to make...

SHONEN KNIFE - 'Our Best Place'
I mean, you know what to expect. You can't be disappointed with a Shonen Knife record. A shame though that my favourite track (Ocean Sunfish) isn't on YouTube to post here, but hey, this will do nicely.

THERAPY? - 'Cold Hard Fire'
Continuing their recent string of excellent albums, the Northern Irish trio delivered their 16th set of short sharp shocks, trimmed of fat and filler, and as riffy, angry and blunt as ever.

BIG BLISS - 'Vital Return'
Not sure how Big Bliss passed me by before now, but their second album sounds exactly like the sort of thing I should've picked up on, evoking classic 80s US 'college bands' like a certain Athens, GA. quartet...

It's been ELEVEN years since Jenny's last studio album, and this year she released two! The first comprised instrumental ambient pieces, while 'Avalanche' was more akin to what us fans love about her.

SQUID - 'O Monolith'
A Squid record is never less than interesting. Their second full-length continues that tradition. "We were keen for things surrounding this album not to make too much sense," they tell us. Box ticked!

EASY STAR ALL-STARS - 'Ziggy Stardub'
What's that? A classic Bowie record done reggae-style? Count me in! The latest in the Easy Star All-Stars' series of iconic album remakes featuring a host of special guest vocalists, and it's one of the best.

As for what 2024 holds? Well the debut album from Sprints is out in January which is hugely exciting - make sure you buy it! A new Idles album is also just around the corner, and Grandaddy have new stuff coming out too! But, if this track is anything to go by, the new Nadine Shah record due in February could already be a contender for album of the year. I mean, this is just FUCKING BRILLIANT!


And that's it. You haven't heard much from me this year. Be prepared to hear even less of me in 2024. But there will be an announcement in February so stay tuned. Cheers all.

Sunday 17 December 2023

2023: 23 Highlights (pt. 3)

Just in case you're even remotely interested, here's a few more of my fave albums of 2023.

We Are Scientists - 'Lobes'
Me and We Are Scientists go waaay back. I won't pretend I've been with them since the start, but when they broke through in the UK with their debut album in 2005 I took them in and have followed them ever since. They've been up and down in my affections ever since, but have now put out two successive records that I have loved for the first time in a while. 'Lobes' is a lot more synth-heavy than its immediate predecessor, but it's been done exceptionally well - those tunes really do sparkle.

The Keening - 'Little Bird'
The Keening is the new solo project of Rebecca Verson, former frontwoman of doom metal merchants SubRosa. She's very much keeping with the doomy feel, but it feels more expansive and broad than her previous band's work. Her label describes 'Little Bird' thus: "A web of lush orchestration, American Gothic sensibilities and wintry murder ballads set against a backdrop of dark, shimmering folk [...] flowing with flute, strings, harp, French horn, piano, organ and hammered dulcimer." It is as good as that sounds.

Teleman - 'Good Time/Hard Time'
I like this one as MrsRobster loves Teleman and if she's happy, I'm happy. The album's theme of facing challenges and overcoming them, as well as the way various aspects of nature intertwine in order to survive, grow and evolve, may have been inspired by the loss of founder member Jonny Sanders who left the band in 2020. It's their first record as a trio, but they appear to be doing OK, as Trees Grow High (MrsRobster's fave track) illustrates.

Amber Arcades - 'Barefoot On Diamond Road'
PJ Harvey - 'I Inside The Old Year Dying'

I've lumped these two together as I already mentioned them back in my summer trio of posts. Well, in the case of Polly Jean, I posted the first single and my thinly-veiled excitement for her first new proper record in seven years. It took a while to grow on me, but naturally it's brilliant with some wonderfully original flourishes and imbued with some old Dorset dialect in the lyrics. Annelotte de Graaf took five years to deliver her latest record as Amber Arcades, but it was worth the wait. Another grower with, as you would expect, some really good songs on it.

Final post next week.

Sunday 10 December 2023

2023: 23 Highlights (pt. 2)

Another selection of my year's highlights...

Gaz Coombes - 'Turn The Car Around'
Another strong set of songs from Gaz. While his former Supergrass bandmate Danny Goffey still makes records that hark back to their 90s glory days, Gaz is forging a more lasting legacy for himself. 'Turn The Car Around', his fourth solo album, might be his most interesting effort yet. This is my favourite track.

Gemma Ray - 'Gemma Ray & The Death Bell Gang'
Mind, if Gaz Coombes is pushing the envelope, then Gemma Ray seems to have pushed it, addressed it and sent it to the moon! Her ninth - NINTH! - album is a major departure from her trademark twangy-guitar sound. Not a bad thing - in spite of the love I have for her, I did find her last two records to be far less interesting than her previous work. So this time she's gone full experimental psych mode. Once you get over the shock, the songs start to reveal themselves and you find bits of the Gemma Ray in them you always loved from the start. It's the record that has grown on me more than any other this year.

Boygenius - 'The Record'
There can't really be many people in the world who have not been made aware of Boygenius this year. I'm always wary of so-called "supergroups" - they're more often than not less than the sum of their parts. But to be fair, anything Phoebe Bridgers is involved in seems to come up smelling of roses. Getting back with Julian Baker and Lucy Dacus after a brief stint together a few years ago has yielded a really good record which covers similar ground to those made seperately by each member, yet the chemistry of them working together does add something extra special to the mix. Like their vocal harmonies *swoon*...

Myrkur - 'Spine'
Amalie Bruun - aka Myrkur - is difficult to categorise. She blends dark Scandanavian folk music with black metal to make something that often sounds like neither. 'Spine' adds a smattering of electronics to the proceedings and it resulted in possibly her best record yet. At times spine-tingling, at others terrifying, but never less than gripping.

Another batch to follow next week...

Sunday 3 December 2023

2023: 23 Highlights (pt. 1)

Crikey! Is it that time of year again? That was quick. I shall refrain from the waffle, other than to say it's been a decent year for new music, even if I haven't been to much in the way of gigs this year. It's getting to be very expensive with a few things I really wanted to go to costing more than I'm willing to pay. That said, three gigs are booked for next year already but at least two others exceeded my budget. Concerts, it seems, are now joining the long list of elitist pasttimes that mere mortals like us have been priced out of. I might have to start going to poetry gigs as they are much cheaper (we recently went to one in Cardiff and have another booked in Bath in March).

Anyway, onto the positives - my 23 fave records of 2023 (see what I did there?). As per usual I shall offer up a weekly dose of tunes that have cheered me over the past 12 months, starting with what is possibly my top 4...

Queens Of The Stone Age - 'In Times New Roman'
In which Josh Homme and his crew reveal themselves to be big fans of David Bowie circa 1977-1980. 'In Times New Roman' is in many ways a typical QotSA album - the big riffs, the strong melodies, some off-kilter moments - but it also sounds like they went to Berlin with Tony Visconti and Robert Fripp, listened to 'Low', "Heroes", 'Lodger' and 'Scary Monsters' on rotation for a month and then set about making a David Bowie album. Josh even sounds like the great man at times. It is, quite frankly, brilliant and has been played at least once a week since its release around here.

Margo Price - 'Strays' & 'Strays II'
Two records, not one, but both are equally deserving of a mention, and in all honesty, I think of them as one. Here, Margo moves further away from her country roots and more into fully-fledged Americana, and with a host of collaborators - who include Sharon Van Etten, Mike Campbell and Lucius - 'Strays' 1 & 2 take us on a psychedelic journey of the mid-west with tales of despair, defiance and hope. It's wonderful stuff.

Coach Party - 'Killjoy'
Here's a band who have been floating around for a few years, releasing a string of increasingly well-received EPs and gigging relentlessly. 'Killjoy' is a blast from start to finish, veering from Riot-grrl-infused punk (Parasite) and infectious punk-pop (What's The Point In Life?) to pure melodic indie-pop a la Alvvays and the Primitives (July, Be That Girl). It hurtles through 10 songs in less than 28 minutes but never leaves me feeling short-changed. This is a band to keep your eyes on.

Das Koolies - 'DK.01'
On the two previous occasions I've posted about Das Koolies, you lot have completely ignored it. Out of pure spite, I'm posting about them for a third time. With the Super Furry Animals no longer being "a thing", and Gruff Rhys happy to make quirky, melancholic, country-tinged pop songs your nan might like, the "other four" want to take us back to the fields of North Wales with a massive sound system, a fistful of ecstasy pills and brain-vibrating beats. Of course, there'a quite a few indications that they were four-fifths of one of the best and most influential Welsh bands of all time, and many of 'DK.01''s songs have been works-in-progress for a long time (some date back to the early 90s, in fact), but it does sound fresh and original. And not many acts can get away with making their debut album a double!

More next week.

Friday 28 July 2023

R.E.M. Top 40

A quick post to make you aware of this rundown the members of R.E.M. did for NME. Each member chose their 10 favourite R.E.M. tracks and it makes for interesting reading. Note the (almost) complete absence of IRS-era tracks from Stipe's list? And Bill Berry's inclusion of both Rotary 10 and Voice Of Harold. Can't really tell if he took this seriously or not...

It doesn't look like any song is chosen twice, which makes the glaring omissions even more... glaring. I mean, no Fall On Me? No Radio Free Europe? No At My Most Beautiful? Mind, if you had to choose just 10 R.E.M. songs (a la JC's Imaginary Albums), there's bound to be some controversy...

Here's mine (in no particular order):

World Leader Pretend
Country Feedback
Let Me In
Finest Worksong
Begin The Begin
Fall On Me
Living Well Is The Best Revenge
Life And How To Live It
Turn You Inside Out
At My Most Beautiful

To be fair, ask me next week and half of that list would be different... 

Two vids, including a jawdropping rendition of Country Feedback with Neil Young!


Friday 12 May 2023

Some songs (part 3)

The last one of these before I slither back into my dark little pit for a while. It's been pleasant enough rearing my head for a few days but the daylight gives me headaches...

To kick off this final little foray into 2023's greatest hits so far, I'm only heading up the road for a band I recently mentioned in a piece I wrote for the great SWC over at No Badger Required. The Bug Club never fail to put a smile on the faces of MrsRobster and I. Their quirky Velvet Underground-esque stylings have soundtracked many a car journey this year. Their latest single does not appear on their recent album and it's a bit longer than you'd normally expect from them, but it's teriffic nonetheless.

Talking of the Velvet Underground... listen to this track off the new Amber Arcades record and tell me it doesn't rip-off Lou Reed's Street Hassle. Go on, I dare you! I have to be honest though, I love this track. It's the highlight of Annelotte's new album which is actually a bit of a grower overall.


And finally, a bit of an odd one. The Last Dinner Party have appeared from seemingly nowhere. They've played some gigs in and around the London area but before releasing a single song they were added to a bill supporting the Rolling Stones and signed by a major label. They are at pains to deny they have insider connections, but you can tell from their accents they don't exactly hail from an inner city council estate, so there are plenty of suspicions surrounding their seemingly instant rise. All I'll say on the matter is that this, their debut single, is a dead good song. Not one to play in front of yer granny, and it will no doubt be aired on an episode of the excruciatingly awful toff-fest that is Made In Chelsea, but even so, it's a dead good song. And *ahem* nothing matters apart from that...

I'll get me coat... TTFN.

Monday 8 May 2023

Some songs (part 2)

A few more fave tunes from 2023 so far. Starting off with Heartworms, a one-woman project inspired by the racism and sexism faced by protagonist Jojo Orme and her sheer defiance at overcoming it all. She recently released her debut EP on the revered Speedy Wunderground label and she sounds awfully posh on it, but don't let that put you off. She's worked hard to get where she is so she has my total respect. Worth reading this NME article to get a sense of where she's coming from (and you won't get me recommending much written in the NME from the past 15-20 years...) This track and its accompanying video are just sensational.

The Tubs are a sort-of indie supergroup based in London, but if they don't make you think of early 80s US college bands a la R.E.M., The dBs and the Feelies, then I don't know what will. Obviously I emailed our old (sadly ex-blogging) friend Brian about The Tubs and they were already on his radar way across the pond...

And finally for today - I hope you're already aware of this, but if not... PJ Harvey is BACK! Yes, I know she's never been away really, but she's just announced her first proper studio album since 2016. It's due later in the year, but for now she's given us our first taster.

A third and final post may follow shortly...

Friday 5 May 2023

Some songs (part 1)

I just felt the urge to share a few tracks that I've been enjoying this year. There will probably be two or three posts to fulfil this agenda. I'll let you get back to your lives then. So in no particular order:

Das Koolies are basically Super Furry Animals minus Gruff Rhys. And they are, as you would expect, UTTERLY BRILLIANT. Their debut album is coming later in the year, and an EP was released a couple months ago. Here's the title track of said EP:

I know next to nothing about Sleaze, but when Steve Lamacq played Daffodils on his 6 Music show recently I was smitten. Think a little bit Pulp, a little bit Divine Comedy and a little bit Lawrence (Felt, Denim, Go-Kart Mozart, etc.)... Despite the jaunty tune, it's a rather sad, almost tragic song about someone desperately trying to save his ultimately doomed marriage.

Finishing today on a raucous high. Lambrini Girls is a crap band name, but when their guitars crunch like this, who cares? Another band I know little about, but that will be rectified.

Thursday 29 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 4)

In a year when the UK has become an even bigger laughing stock around the world than ever before (thanks Tories, you've done it again!), the one thing that's kept many of us going is music. Quite frankly, what else do we have? Today, I present the last batch of my 22 favourite albums of 2022 and there's a real international flavour about it. USA, Germany, Sweden, Jamaica, England and, of course, Wales are all represented.

The final seven had to be carefully whittled down from about twice that number, but I think I've made the right decisions. They are not listed in any particular order.

WIDOWSPEAK - 'The Jacket'
I was unfamiliar with Brooklyn duo Widowspeak before I heard Everything Is Simple this year, and surprised 'The Jacket' is their sixth album. More fool me. I've really been enjoying this record.

xPROPAGANDA - 'The Heart is Strange'
Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag teamed up with original Propaganda producer Steve Lipson for the first time in 37 years and made a record that is far better than it had any right to be.

HORACE ANDY - 'Midnight Rocker'
Now 71, Horace Andy shows no sign of slowing down, and his voice is as wonderful as ever. Recorded with Adrian Sherwood, 'Midnight Rocker' has been lauded as one of his best records this century.

After a few ropey overly-woke albums that verged on self-parody, Frank made a welcome return to his hardcore roots (hence the album title). He's certainly at his best when he's like this.

CATE LE BON - 'Pompeii'
It took a bit of time to get into Cate's 6th album, mainly because of its pace, but repeated listens have been rewarding. This clip of her at Glastonbury is just brilliant. The chainmail really suits her!

FIRST AID KIT - 'Palomino'
I had a feeling that the Söderberg sisters were treading water a bit after their last couple of albums, but 'Palomino' restored my faith. A really good set of songs with one or two new sounds creeping in.

Editors' output has been somewhat patchy in recent years, but 'EBM', featuring new member Benjamin Power (aka Blanck Mass), could be their best record in some time. It's certainly been worthy of a few plays here.

And a few notable extras I just couldn't ignore. In alphabetical order...

I'm not one to throw a load more negativity into an already very negative world, but for the record, I just want to state how massively disappointed I was with the following records. I had high expectations for these, especially the first one which, considering how long it's been since their previous record, is particularly poor.

YEAH YEAH YEAHS - 'Cool It Down'
GWENNO - 'Tresor'
ALVVAYS - 'Blue Rev'

And that's it for another year folks. I'm going to let the blog lie dormant again for a bit as I'm not really feeling it right now. We'll see what happens. Ta-ta.