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A. McAuley (Sheffield, UK)

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The Socialites (Joe Goddard Remix)
The Socialites (Joe Goddard Remix)
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb remix, 16 Jun 2013
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I'm not normally a fan of Dirty Projectors or of Hot Chip, but this takes the original song and beautifully reconstructs it into an absolutely stunning slice of disco-pop. Amber Coffman's are treated with particular care, giving the whole song a real emotional resonance. One of my favourite songs of the year so far; highly recommended.

Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock-star Fantasist
Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock-star Fantasist
by Simon Armitage
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Second volume of witty, superbly written memoirs, 18 Feb 2009
Simon Armitage occupies a fairly unique cultural position. On one hand he is one of the nation's best-known poets; tipped for the Poet Laureate and known to students across the land from their GCSE anthologies (it speaks highly of his work that he is known and liked by said GCSE students, according to some very rough polling by your reviewer). Simultaneously he is something of a counter-cultural icon; many will have first come across his work in the halcyon days of Mark and Lard's Radio 1 show in the early 1990s and he has a passion for post-punk groups such as the Fall and Young Marble Giants.

Gig is Armitage's second collection of memoirs, alongside 1998's equally excellent All Points North, and as with the previous volume this is a varied collection of recollections, poems, anecdotes and gig reviews. These, in part at least, have a common theme in exploring Armitage's forty-something reflections on his career as a poet and frustrated rock-star, including the formation of the band The Scaremongers (I know, but it's better than Fantastic Gammon; Armitage's father wryly suggests Midlife Crisis), through which he lives out some of his adolescent dreams of rock stardom.

The book is infused with his usual self-deprecating humour, as well as Armitage's genuine passion for rock music, poetry and that corner of West Yorkshire that "begins where the goalpost of the M1 meets the crossbar of the M62". At times, it's also a moving account; Armitage reflects thoughtfully on the condition of the forty-something male, and on the events and individuals who have influenced him in a touching, sensitive way. As a (nearly) forty-something frustrated rock-star myself, I enjoyed every page of this; and if you are contemplating a mid-life crisis, buy this before you spend thousands of pounds on a powerful sports car you don't need!

The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present
The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present
by Scott Plagenhoef
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.62

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hours of pleasure for a certain type of musical obsessive, 3 Feb 2009
Firstly a bit of background information (in all probability if you're looking at this review you're already well aware of Pitchfork's origins and status, so feel free to skip to the next paragraph). Pitchfork is a Chicago-based daily web-zine devoted to music reviews, interviews and news. Its focus is on independent music but also includes electronic, rap, dance, folk, metal, and more left field music. Pitchfork's influence and approach seems to produce some fairly lively and at times deeply divided opinion; they have been credited for helping to `break' acts such as Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! and more recently Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes, whilst others criticize their alleged obscurist tendencies and pretentious reviewing style.

Amongst their most popular articles are the "best-of" lists; best albums of the 1970s, best songs of 2003 and so on, so it's not altogether surprising that Scott Plagenhoef (Pitchfork editor-in-chief) and Ryan Schreiber (Pitchfork founder) have decided to put together the Pitchfork 500; an attempt, in Schreiber's own words to "dig into the 500 best songs of the past three decades, starting with the year that changed everything: 1977". The content is then divided into nine chapters, each documenting a three year period, so Chapter One covers 1977-1979, for example. There are also frequent page long sections that focus on a particular genre, Italo disco or twee pop, for example.

The standard of the writing and research is unsurprisingly, consistently excellent. The selections will please many and frustrate others; many would agree that Radiohead, Outkast and the Strokes deserve a place, whilst others may scratch their heads at the inclusion of Brainiac, Unrest and Archers of Loaf (not me I hasten to add; Archers Of Loaf's Web In Front is a post grunge classic). Despite Pitchfork's somewhat po-faced reputation, there is wit here too; the inclusion of a brief "Nanofads: From Grebo to Glitch" section, for example (cow punk or digital hardcore anyone?). Of course any work like this is an exercise in being contentious to a degree, but I have thoroughly enjoyed dipping into this, and reminding myself of some forgotten gems (Yo La Tengo's "From A Motel 6") and picking up a whole set of new additions for the Amazon Wish List (how the heck did I miss out on Built To Spill for all these years?).

So perhaps not a text for the casual music fan, but there's hours of pleasure to be gained for a certain type of musical obsessive; and if you recognized all or most of the bands above, that probably includes you.

Rough Trade - Counter Culture 2008
Rough Trade - Counter Culture 2008
Offered by Books-and-Sounds
Price: £13.25

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best compilation to start the New Year with (again), 25 Jan 2009
I love these Rough Trade end-of-year compilations. Each year since 2002, Rough Trade has produced a Counter Culture double CD and they've become an essential purchase for me in recent years; always my first order of the New Year (this year narrowly beating the Animal Collective album).

If you're not already familiar with the format it goes something like this; two CDs, each with twenty plus tracks, rounding up a selection of the year's most interesting releases, as chosen by the staff in London's Rough Trade stores. Over recent years the format seems to have settled into CD1 featuring the quieter tracks, whilst CD2 includes the more banging selections. For me they serve two purposes; a reminder of all the things I meant to purchase during the last year and never got around to and also to highlight a few gems that I may have missed.

So this year's selections includes contributions from the widely acclaimed; Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, those on the edge of big things; Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls (I hope) and those who will always be overlooked by the mainstream; Softboiled Eggies anyone? And whilst Rough Trade may be regarded as an `indie' label, the Counter Culture selection is genuinely eclectic, taking in hip-hop (Rustie, Yo! Majesty), dubstep (2562's haunting Kameleon), metal (Boris) and folk (The Acorn). You also get comprehensive liner-notes and release details for each track, written with genuine passion, warmth and wit.

So if you're looking for a round-up of many of 2008's more interesting, original or just plain off-the-wall releases this compilation represents an excellent investment. It's a pity that Rough Trade's equally interesting genre based compilations (Post Punk, Electronica etc.) seem to have ended; it would be good to see them return in 2009.

Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance
Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance
by Dean Wareham
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (Black) Postcards from the edge..., 21 Jan 2009
"I hope his parents, his ex-wife, his former bandmates, the bands he played on tour with, and his brother don't read it."
Julia Cafritz

Dean Wareham, one-time singer-guitarist with Galaxie 500 and Luna, now half of Dean & Britta, produced this unflinchingly honest autobiographical account. The first half details his early life in New Zealand and later New York before charting the rise and eventual split of Galaxie 500. From the very first paragraph it becomes clear that we shouldn't be holding our breath for the Galaxie 500 reunion. Wareham's increasing frustration and eventual decision to quit the band are recounted in unflinching detail. This section also captures an era in both the American and British indie scene that was fascinating and is far less widely documented than the grunge years which followed.

The second half of the book examines Wareham's time with Luna. Again, he seems remarkably honest regarding his relationship with band members, drug use and sexual encounters, particularly the relationship that eventually destroyed his marriage. Whilst it's clear that Wareham retains a passion for rock `n' roll, this second part also conveys the tedium and frustration of being in a band which was critically acclaimed but never sufficiently fashionable to break big.

There are plenty of rock memoirs to choose from these days and Black Postcards is probably only going to appeal to those with at least a passing interest in Wareham's career. His honesty is to his credit; he is prepared to paint an unsympathetic self portrait frequently, and this gives greater credibility to his equally unforgiving view of so many of the individuals, bands and organisations he has known and worked with. Black Postcards indeed.

The Chemistry Of Common Life
The Chemistry Of Common Life
Price: £6.31

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic, ambitious Canadian hardcore, 14 Jan 2009
2008 saw Fu**ed Up establish themselves as an increasingly talked about act; NME touted them (for at least five minutes) and they featured in a number of end of year `Best of...'s; notably reaching 17 in Pitchfork's end of year round up, whilst the Onion's A.V. Club made it their number two album of 2008 (with only TV On The Radio ahead of them).

This Canadian outfit emerged from Toronto's hardcore scene having formed way back in 2002 and have established a growing reputation as something special. Hidden World, their previous double album from 2006, attracted sufficient interest to ensure that they were signed to Matador.

Chemistry... is undoubtedly hardcore, but it's also ambitious, epic and hugely impressive. Opening track Son The Father sets the tone with it's furious call and response vocal, massive riff and strident condemnation of religion. Vocalist Pink Eyes (all the band employ bizarre monikers such as 10,000 marbles) gravelly vocal style won't be to everyone's taste, but adds to the sense of anger in tracks like Crooked Head. Relatively straightforward tracks like Days Of Last, mix with delicate instrumental numbers like Golden Seal. The band's three guitarists are well used, laying down dense, complex textures, notably on No Epiphany. Comparisons have been made to Husker Dü and these are valid; not perhaps in terms of sound, but in terms of sheer ambition and desire to really redefine their genre. Chemistry... is a hugely rewarding record; it's complexity ensures that you constantly notice different elements, and it deserves to reach a wider audience.

Fu**ed Up's label, Matador are very good at offering free MP3s of their acts and selections from this album have been available of late. Finally, it's pleasant to buy a CD where the album art is a thing of beauty; 2008 seems to have been a year of interesting releases marred by rubbish artwork.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 9, 2010 4:16 PM GMT

Microcastle / Weird Era Continued
Microcastle / Weird Era Continued
Price: £12.14

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't judge this by it's cover..., 31 Dec 2008
When did 4AD suddenly get its act together? It appeared to be a label living on its (admittedly very fine) history, bereft of new talent, endlessly re-issuing the same Pixies/Muses/Cocteaus material. Then all of a sudden a roster that includes many of 2008's finest; Bon Iver, TV On The Radio, Dept of Eagles and Deerhunter amongst others, signals a welcome renaissance.

Deerhunter's third album has been much anticipated by the US indie media, after the plaudits received for Cryptograms, their previous 2007 album. Microcastles is, overall, worth the wait. Deerhunter are on Kranky in the US but licensed to 4AD in the UK and their music is frequently reminiscent of the sound of both labels; there are fuzzy ambient swathes but there is also a real hazy pop sensibility at work, particularly on 'Nothing Ever Happens' and 'Never Stop'. Comparisons with fellow 4AD alumni such as the Breeders, Ultra-Vivid Scene and even A.R.Kane are valid.

Although it's not mentioned in the Amazon blurb above, Microcastles was initially issued with (and may well still include) an entire bonus album, Weird Era Count. The story goes that, following the leaking of Microcastles onto the internet, the band wanted to reward those fans who purchased it upon release, so recorded Weird Era Count, which was itself subsequently leaked onto the 'net. The bonus disc is impressive; not your usual collection of out-takes and unfinished ideas from the studio floor (In Rainbows CD2 anyone?).

For those wanting to hear more, the 4AD site is at the time of writing (December 2008) offering a free MP3 of album highlight 'Nothing Ever Happens'. Those wanting more of the same should definitely hear second album 'Cryptograms' as well as front-man Bradford Cox's 'Atlas Sound' album, also released on 4AD this year.

Overall I'd recommend Microcastles; the album does sag a little in the middle and the cover art is shockingly poor (worst 4AD sleeve ever?), but it certainly deserves it's place in my end of 2008 `Best of..." list.

Un Dia
Un Dia
Price: £15.04

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just don't call it world music..., 13 Nov 2008
This review is from: Un Dia (Audio CD)
Singer songwriter Juana Molina, has had a not altogether ordinary musical career. Up until the mid-1990s when she chose to concentrate on making music she was better known in her native Argentina and across the Spanish speaking world, as a comedic television actress. Since then however, she has produced five albums of increasingly intriguing and experimental music.

Her music is refreshingly hard to pigeonhole; i-Tunes assures me this is `world music' (surely the most unhelpful of all labels?). Certainly her music is folk-tinged; acoustic guitars tend to feature heavily in all her work, and Un Día is no exception, however she also employs an array of electronic tones and effects, that ensures her work is far from traditional folk and nearer the work of bands like Psapp, Tunng and Adem (who she toured with as part of the excellent Zero Degrees of Separation tour in 2007).

Un Día progresses naturally from it's predecessor, the excellent Son (2007). Some of the tracks would not sound out of place on her previous releases, however others make more use of electronic effects than previous efforts This is particularly notable on the opening title track and Lo Dejamos, which begins with woozy sounding keyboard squelches that wouldn't be out of place on a Boards of Canada album. Molina also seems to be making more and more use of her voice as an instrument, often heavily layered and treated (reminiscent of Björk's Medúlla).

Molina has produced another very fine album, perhaps a little less immediate than Son, but which repays repeated listens enormously. There are numerous highlights, but ¿Quién? (Suite), which reinterprets a track from previous album Segundo (2000) is hard to beat. She is perhaps not Domino's best known or most obvious signing, but her beautifully crafted and unique music is something to treasure.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 2, 2010 4:26 AM GMT

By Permission Of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London
By Permission Of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London
by Adrian Tinniswood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough and well-written account, 13 Aug 2008
Firstly a confession, despite or perhaps because of my occupation as a teacher of History, I read very few History texts. However a favourable review by a colleague led me to Tinniswood's excellent book.

Tinniswood has clearly researched this volume meticulously, drawing on previous histories of the Great Fire and a wealth of primary material. The events of 1666 are carefully placed within the political and social context of the period, in particular the Restoration and reign of Charles II and the wars against the Dutch. The unfolding of the Fire itself is recounted with an eye for fascinating details, such as Samuel Pepys burying his Parmesan cheese as the fire drew near to his home. Again Tinniswood draws expertly upon the contemporary accounts and evidence. Tinniswood also cleverly examines the aftermath of the Fire, in particular the process by which the rebuilding of London was undertaken and the way in which compensation was provided to the many thousands who had lost homes or livelihoods.

Tinniswood's account also touches upon contemporary themes; the treatment of the many migrants living in seventeenth century London during and after the events of 1666, and the desire to blame foreign agents for deliberately starting the fire. These issues are dealt with sensitively and expertly.

I would recommend this volume to anyone interested in this fascinating historical event. Tinniswood has produced an account that is strongly rooted in thorough historical research, whilst maintaining an engaging written style.

Lo-Fi Sounds, Hi-Fi Heart
Lo-Fi Sounds, Hi-Fi Heart
Offered by groove_temple
Price: £13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Tidy compilation of Reading lo-fi singles and b-sides, 8 July 2008
Anything released by the excellent Track & Field Organisation is always worthy of attention (see also Broken Family Band, Darren Hayman & the Secondary Modern) and this round-up of Saloon's now hard-to-find singles, b-sides and one or two rarities, contains many fine moments.

Recorded between 1999 and 2004, most of the material presented here never made it on to either of Saloon's two albums; 2002's (This Is) What We Call Progress and If We Meet In The Future, released in 2003. Only Girls Are The New Boys, from ...Progress is included, and as a shorter, single version.

Saloon always drew comparison with the likes of Stereolab and Broadcast, and to an extent these are fair comparisons. The lo-fi, at times farfisa heavy, slightly lounge, slightly Velvet Underground sound certainly bears a resemblance with early material from the `Lab or Broadcast's early Warp singles. Try Saloon's Have You Seen The Light alongside Nihilist Assault Group from Stereolab's Mars Audiac Quintet, for example.

However it would be unfair to dismiss Saloon on this basis. They produced a clutch of delightful, and at times surprisingly noisy sounding indie-pop gems and richly deserved to feature in Peel's Festive 50 on no less than four occasions; Impact and Free Fall in 2001 and Have You Seen The Light and Girls Are The New Boys in 2002, which achieved the number one spot in the 50 that year. All four tracks are featured here and they are unsurprisingly amongst the finest moments on the album.

Saloon drifted apart by 2004, though I've Found A Way, the final, previously unreleased track here, suggests they were still capable of much more, with its Velvets-style pop hooks and infectious harmony vocals.

My only real criticism is of the packaging; surely a lost opportunity to provide more detailed sleeve notes on the singles and reproduce some of the lovely sleeve art that accompanied the original releases.

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